Category Archives: Learning

WOTW Sunday 6th September 2020

Lectionary Readings this week:

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Ezekiel 33: 7-11
Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20

These can all be read online using today’s Lectionary Page.

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Exodus 12: The Passover Lamb

In terms of its significance, this passage is HUGE. The story of the Passover is the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt. It is the story of God’s faithfulness, it is the story of new beginnings, and it sets the scene for the whole New Testament. It’s huge.

In this passage we read about the death of the first born son, and the freedom from bondage which follows. Jesus claims this story for himself, especially in John’s Gospel. For John, Jesus is clearly the first born of God (the ‘only-begotten’ son of 3:16). The death of Jesus (“the first born of God”) brings escape from slavery (to sin) for God’s people. John makes a further Passover connection by making Jesus the ‘Lamb of God‘ and setting the Crucifixion on the day of the Passover, thus making Jesus the Lamb slain with the other Passover lambs.

What must die in order to bring life? In this Post-COVID Era, might even the Church be required to die that it might be born again?

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Psalm 149: A Victor’s Praise Song

What was it like to hear that the war had been won? Many in our Sutton Park Circuit can recall the end of WW2, and many more the news of Victory in the Falklands Conflict of 1982.

Was the victory in each case ascribed to God? There certainly were many joyful church services in England, with church bells ringing out their victory peals. I wonder if German or Argentine Christians ascribed their defeat to God too?

God’s people emerged from their oppression under the Egyptians (see the Exodus reading) with much thanksgiving of the kind recorded in this Psalm. “God is on our side!” was their rallying cry. They felt invincible. But then, slowly, they ascribed their fortunes less to God and more to their own strength – God became sidelined and then they suffered defeat. “God has deserted us!” they cried.

Those of a more mature faith will praise God not only when victory is being celebrated but also in the very depths of despair. Indeed, in despair, faith is the only thing which can be grasped. It is the only possible expression of hope.

Extremism is dangerous – not just for its acts of terror but also for its warped sense of doctrine. I am talking not just about Islamic extremists, but also Christian extremists. Crying “God is great!” in either English or Arabic before marching out with weapons aloft is essentially suggesting that God requires murder in order to bring about peace. Really?

Walter Brueggemann, always a worthy read, offers this thought in his reflections on this Psalm:

This ready juxtaposition of praise to YHWH and exaltation of military power is a recurring liturgical-ideological practice when a nation is at war. The purpose of such a ready juxtaposition is to legitimate military action and to identify such action with the purposes of God. This temptation is a palpable one, of course, in the Old Testament, where “church and state,” “temple and monarchy,” were so closely intertwined. In a directly derivative way, the same practice reappears in the contemporary United States, where chauvinism regularly and readily identifies national purpose with divine intention. Thus, in World War II, it was “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” In more recent U.S. military adventurism in the Mideast, it is recurringly “God Bless America,” a compelling echo of Israel’s ancient and theo-military claim.

Brueggemann, Walter. Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (p. 617). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Do we also tend to confuse national purpose with divine intervention? If not on a national scale, do we not tend to muddy the waters between our choices and “God’s plan for my life”? How can we explore the interface between the two with integrity?

Yet perhaps we began all this discussion on completely the wrong foot. Reading this Psalm through Christian eyes, rather than through the eyes of God’s post-Exodus people, maybe we misunderstood the very basic word ‘victory’. For surely fighting against ‘flesh and blood’ is not what we are about any more. Just read Ephesians 6. Maybe the only context for which we should be reflecting on ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ is in the context of Holy Communion, where our meal together represents the flesh (bread) and blood (wine) of Christ, the living body, the Church.

Maybe instead, the real meaning of ‘victory’ is actually ‘salvation’. Maybe, after all, the victory is indeed ours in Jesus Christ. When we re-read this Psalm with a praise song in our mouth because we are victorious over sin and death through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – then we take this Psalm to a whole new level. Even the double-edged sword of Psalm 149:6 is actually a reference to the Word of God.

To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
Who yielded his life in atonement for sin,
Who opened the life-gate that all may go in:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son;
And give him the glory—great things he has done!

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God!
And every offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives:
Chorus

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our rapture, when Jesus we see:
Chorus

Frances Jane van Alstyne (Fanny Crosby) (1820–1915) Public domain text

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Ezekiel 33: The Prophet Must Call For Repentance

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you” my mother used to call after us as we rushed off on yet another ill-advised scheme. Another favourite was the paradoxical “If you break a leg don’t come running to me!”

“You proceed at your own risk” warn the stark signs by the weather-worn coastal footpaths. In other words, don’t sue us. OK. We get it.

Stay safe! has become the new sign-off in emails. The risk of COVID-19 transmission is real and we have had to rely on experts to help us reduce the risk of contagion as much as practically possible. We are all better off because of the advice heeded.

In other areas I wonder if we are increasingly risk-averse. Of course we want to be safe and to keep our loved ones from unnecessary danger, but to my mind a few grazed knees and the occasional bloodied nose are better teachers of risk for children than the cushioned asphalt and soft bark in today’s playgrounds. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that men, in particular, need a certain level of risk to be stimulated – if one risk is minimised (for example the forced use of seatbelts in a car) then they will look for ways of increasing risk elsewhere (for example by driving faster). And who doesn’t love the thrill of the chase in the latest James Bond movie?

We are hopeless about calculating relative probabilities of risk anyway – we may be up in arms about the perceived risk of a new mobile phone mast near our home, while blissfully carrying on smoking or sunbathing – each carrying far higher risks than the most powerful mobile phone mast.

Can this be taken too far? Warnings are still important of course. In this passage we find Ezekiel being summoned to warn the people of God or face God’s wrath himself. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ezekiel warns the people, but it does no good. God’s people chose to ignore the warnings and so ended up taking full responsibility for what followed.

And that, my friends, is how the story of the Exile begins.

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Romans 13: Love Is The Fulfilling Of The Law

Let’s get this straight. Again. Being a Christian does not mean “Keeping the 10 Commandments”. Paul had plenty to say against that sort of teaching (known as “legalism”). Being a Christian is following Jesus into fullness of life, a life he named as “The Kingdom of God” – a life of justice, joy, peace and love. This is the passage in Romans which explains why Love has effectively abolished the 10 Commandments.

Love, says Paul, is what you are supposed to be doing. It’s not some wishy-washy gooey feeling, it’s meant to be hard work. Love is patient, kind – all of that – yet it remains a conscious choice and one which we must cultivate. When we love, says Paul, that’s when we are fulfilling the Law. In fact, “Love God, Love your neighbour” is absolutely the same as your prohibitions and exhortations of the Commandments of Moses. For if you loved God, you wouldn’t set up false images or profane God’s name. If you truly loved your neighbour, you wouldn’t murder them, steal from them or sleep with them outside marriage. Love does no wrong, so love is the Law of God.

It’s as clear as day is from night, urges Paul. Live in the day, live in the light.

Wake up, live, and love.

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Matthew 18: Unity Within The Church

Every sermon I’ve heard on this passage, and probably every sermon I have preached too, has started with the phrase “If another member of the church sins against you”. It struck me this week that perhaps we have been getting it wrong all the time.

You see, it’s so easy to define the church from our position. To start with the premise that we are “in” and then to go on to justify our in-ness and then define what “others” have to do in order to be counted as “in” as well. To put it bluntly, we often say, “I’m saved/redeemed/doctrinally-sound and this is what you have to do, poor you, in order that you can be too”.

The stark picture from Scripture, however, is that wherever we draw the circle around ourself and our friends, and call the circle “church”, we find Jesus not inside the circle but outside it with the “outcasts and sinners“. Let’s just get rid of the circle altogether, and remind ourselves of John Wesley’s “Four Alls”. No-one is beyond the reach of God’s love. And that, only by God’s amazing grace and mercy, even includes us.

So look at this passage again. Perhaps you’ve been attending your church for years. Now read the opening words of Jesus in this reading as though they are addressed, not to you, but to someone else. Maybe even to one of those ‘outsiders’ who has only joined the church recently. Jesus is saying to them, “Has somebody grieved your Spirit? Then speak to them and point out their fault.”

And maybe that person at fault is actually you, and it is you who are being summoned. Then, maybe, because you find it all so preposterous, they are obliged to bring others along, and eventually the whole church. If you still can’t be reconciled with them, then perhaps it is you who has to leave, not them.

Yet this passage is not about creating division but about working for unity. It is absolutely not a proof text for forcing others to change to be like us, nor even for others to force us to be like them. It is, however, a call to love. A call to forgive. A call to reconciliation.

The church that reconciles itself amongst its own members is a better beacon for God’s love than a church with any number of grand words or costly outreach programs. And there, then, gently within its midst, where the church is gathered not in the name of bruised egos but in the name of the risen Jesus, there Christ is among them.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

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Grace and peace,
Stephen

Hybrid Church

Is a Hybrid Church the new way following Lock down?  A brief report by Marion and Tom Watts following attendance at two virtual meetings organised by the Learning Network, West midlands.  Led by Deacon Kerry Scarlet, John Pedley and Geoff Bond.

Marion and I and others from Sutton Park Circuit were at two interesting and exciting virtual meetings on the mornings of Tuesday and Thursday 28 and 30 July about worshipping in a Hybrid Church.  What is a hybrid church I hear you ask?  Well very simply it is “a gathering online and in person”.  Prior to the virus lock down we met for worship in church and since lock down some of us have worshipped in virtual congregations via technology, face book etc.  A hybrid act of worship could combine the traditional worship in our buildings for those able and interested and link it to those who want to be part of worship via the use of modern technology.

Note for number geeks: Some figures from the first meeting, if every link counted on a virtual worship on average represents two people worshipping (some just one, others couples and up to families of five) then the Birmingham District Easter Day Service had well over 1,000 worshippers during the service and we have over 500 worshippers on a typical Sunday.  I have included those thoughts to let you know about surveys mentioned in our meeting.  Three separate surveys have recorded that between 24% and 27% of people in the UK are joining in a virtual act of worship on a Sunday.  Surveys prior to the virus showed 7-10% attended worship in a Christian Church on a typical Sunday.  We don’t have to be a number geek to see the potential!

I’m sure that everyone who has watched a virtual service cannot fail to be impressed by the number of different people from all ages and all backgrounds who have taken part in the leading of such services; demonstrating its potential.  The first grouping of these additional numbers applies to the younger elements of society.  It has been a breath of fresh air to be part of the Birmingham District acts of worship on Sunday mornings, the music has been to an exceptional standard, the sermons have been challenging with real Good News and the testimony supplied by the younger members of our churches has been amazing.  We would all agree that the future of the church lies with people younger than 40 and particularly those aged below 25 and it is these age ranges that have shared their faith so openly and so meaningfully.

The hybrid church is seen as worship that is available both in our re-opened buildings and also available to people’s homes by technology.  This means that our churches have the opportunity to attract those tasting the Christian Faith by technology, those who have difficulties in making it to church on many Sundays and those who want to return to the building; particularly for direct fellowship with each other.  If we are unable to sing in the building, then there will be those who may for a change want to join the services online so that they may enjoy singing along.  All of which demonstrates the wonderful potential for bringing worship into today’s world and attracting new people and others that have previously given up.  One thing that this will mean is that congregations need to brush-up on their evangelism, sharing with new people online, discussing worship styles and introducing new ways and telling people that church now offers the possibility to worship within a building or at home, all making use of exciting technology that we can share together and with our communities.

The second meeting was particularly showing interest in inclusive church particularly for people with disabilities.  Hybrid church will mean that we can be available to people who may consider themselves on the margins of society, those for whom going to a church building is fraught with difficulties, those who can’t always get the transport organised and also those for whom Sunday morning is simply too much hassle.  Some more figures: 20% of children have special needs and therefore this often means their families find it impossible to attend a church building; yet it does not necessarily mean they’re not interested in the Christian Faith.  45% of people with disabilities are over 65, how many of these might find hybrid church as their way to Jesus?  Finally, 90% of families with children, who have special needs are unchurched; surely the church should be able to respond to such families with the love of God.

The leaders of these meetings will shortly be letting us have more details about the meetings and the way forward for the Christian ‘Hybrid’ Church and we will hope to be able to share these with our circuit churches.

So, Hybrid Church!  How exciting is that, how many more people will be given the opportunity to come to Christ because God’s gift of technology is at last being put to real use, how many of our churches will be able to share the love of God with people on the fringes of faith?

With prayer, discussion in house groups, reading of the new ideas as they are born, more discussion in church meetings, with volunteers and of course the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps, as has happened so many times throughout the history of God’s people, just perhaps, this terrible time of lock down and suffering will, with God’s Grace, enable us in the Sutton Park Methodist Circuit to bring hybrid church to our community, country and, who knows to play our part in reaching out to the world the world.  With God’s help we may become a church that doesn’t sit and wait, but a church that reaches out; Alleluia amen!

Marion and Tom Watts

GDPR Data Audits

Thanks to all Church Stewards who have been working hard on completing these for each church. I have compiled a spreadsheet based on the examples you have listed which others may find useful in completing their own. I also offer the presentation from this morning’s Q&A session which was well attended.

Please note that these are just guidelines. You will obviously have to edit the boxes to match what happens at your own church.

Your hard work is much appreciated. Stephen

GDPR for Church Stewards 24th July 9:30am

A reminder to all Church Stewards that we shall be meeting via Zoom at 09:30 on Friday 24th July to talk about GDPR in the Local Church. The aims of the meeting will be to help each church complete two documents:

  1. The Processor Record for that Church
  2. The Data Audit for that Church

It is hoped that at least one representative from each church will attend, although there is no upper limit. I will use screen sharing to show you where to find the template documents you need on the TMCP website and how to fill them both in. Remember that the deadline for completing these is 1st September 2020 in time for the Circuit Meeting.

Thank you to all the churches who have already submitted their Data Audit documents to me for comment. Your annotated documents will greatly help the other churches who are still working on theirs.

The Zoom Meeting ID is 899 6072 1913

Please get in touch with me if you don’t have the password.

I look forward to seeing you there.
Stephen

Circuit Steward Report June 2020 by Marion Watts

Four months ago the word zoom, to me, meant a camera lens or to rush around. Now Zoom is an accepted way of holding meetings, Bible Studies, coffee mornings, pastoral support and keeping in touch with family and friends. I thought conference calls were just for highflying executives, but Methodism has embraced this as a way of conducting essential business. The Methodist Conference will be held ‘virtually’ at the end of the month.

Likewise, how many of us thought that we would be willing to be videoed while singing, reading The Bible or praying, in preparation for Circuit and District services, possibly being seen by hundreds on Facebook or You Tube. How quickly we adapt! This has been just one aspect of the Corona Virus pandemic and I hope that you don’t think that I am trivialising the effects of the last few months.

People have been challenged, traumatised, bereaved, isolated, exhausted and scared. People are needing foodbanks more than ever, worrying about their jobs, schooling, exams, and their very futures. At the very time we have needed each other most we have had to keep physically apart. But in the midst of this suffering what an amazing response there has been across the age range, from virtual choirs, sponsored walks, volunteer shoppers, prayer chains, and so much more. We recognise that not everyone is able or willing to engage with technology and their needs must be met, across Sutton Park Circuit individual churches have found ways to maintain contact with their own congregations, especially those without email. As a CLT we have explored ways of reaching out to everyone and I thank all the Ministers for their endeavours. I also wish to thank John and Naomi for their continuing support, dealing with Treasury matters is even more testing in the current situation for John.

How will life look in another 6 months? How will Church look in another 6 months? We just don’t know other than it will be different because we are all different, affected by our individual experiences. One thing that won’t be different is our unchanging God – always with us, always loving us. So we look and plan ahead in faith and holding all things in prayer.

Marion Watts, Senior Circuit Steward

“Words On The Word”

Over the coming weeks I plan to contribute my thoughts on the Lectionary Readings for each Sunday, which some folk around the Circuit may wish to read at home in place of a sermon. Rather than create multiple similar posts each week, I will simply replace old editions with the latest issue. May God bless us all as we open the Scriptures together.

Words On The Word – Sunday 29th March

Using down time to get GDPR up to date :-)

Local Churches in the Circuit now have many folk confined to working at home. A good use of the time now would be to make progress with the GDPR Data Audit, which is due in from all churches at the September Circuit Meeting.

What Needs to Be Done

Go to the TMCP website https://www.tmcp.org.uk/about/data-protection

Scroll down to this section:

Template Notices, Registers and Forms

Read the first and the third, and fill in the first two. What could be more fun?

Questions, as ever, to me. Stephen.Froggatt@methodist.org.uk