Something for Sunday

A book that I made good use of in my early days in the ministry was entitled; “Experiments in Bible Study” by Hans Rudi-Weber. I tried out a number of his Bible study experiments in various churches and they all seemed to go well.

One of them was on our epistle passage for this Sunday (1 Peter 3: 13-22) and was entitled; The Hope that is in You. The key verse is verse 15. “Always be ready to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you but do it with gentleness and reverence”.

This is what the author wrote in his notes: “The hope of the early Christians was that Christ is Lord and that his cause would win. This hope became visible in their daily life. Their priorities obviously differed from those of the people surrounding them. They were even ready to suffer and die for that hope Such a visible hope astonished or irritated their neighbours and colleagues. So questions arose, not only friendly questions but also accusations. Christians were summoned before the judge. In a literal sense they has to make a defence of their hope.

In the early church evangelism was thus not only an organised activity by especially gifted persons. It was much more the spontaneous and non-aggressive gossiping of the gospel by ordinary Christians in the course of their daily life. And the secret of it all was the hope which had become visible in the daily life of the Christians.”

So the question for you and I is simply this. How, today, can our Christian hope become visible in our lives? Addressing this question led to many fruitful exchanges.

Malcolm Guite’s poem spoke to me:

And where is Jesus, this strange Easter day?
Not lost in our locked churches anymore
Than he was sealed in that dark sepulchre.
And he is up and risen, long before,
The locks are loosed; the stone was rolled away,
Alive, at large, and making his strong way
Into the world he gave his life to save,
No need to seek him in his empty grave.

He might have been a wafer in the hands
Of priests this day, or music from the lips
Of red robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from Church, shakes off our linen bands
To don his apron with a nurse he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.

On Thursday we applauded, for he came
And served us in a thousand names and faces
Mopping our sickroom floors and catching traces
Of that corona which was death to him:
Good Friday happened in a thousand places
Where Jesus held the helpless, died with them
That they might share his Easter in their need,
Now they are risen with him, risen indeed.


You can hear Malcolm read his poem if you go to the blog page on his web site:
www.malcolmguite.wordpress.com/blog
Spotted in the Tablet this weekend

There is a Balm.

The death toll in the UK from the COVID-19 virus has topped 32,000. Worldwide the number is approaching 300,000. A tsunami of suffering, grief, and anxiety is crashing over us.

Thousands have been furloughed from their jobs. Businesses have closed down. Families face shortages of life’s essentials. Those with the fewest resources at the beginning of the pandemic have been hardest hit.

We are all feeling the strain, especially since none of us can see clearly when this will end and what the new normal will be like. And yet some refuse to take even simple measures to protect their vulnerable neighbours from infection.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

White vigilantes shot Ahmaud Arbery to death. He was a 25-year-old unarmed black man jogging through their neighbourhood in Georgia, USA. Viewing Arbery through the lens of their own prejudice, they presumed that a running black man must be a criminal.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

When I dwell on what is happening in the world and in our society I become sad, appaled, anxious and angry. I know there will be some of you who will want to share a Jesus-y bit of wisdom with me. John 14:1 springs to mind “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” So, let me just be straight up here: If you’re telling me that Jesus is telling me that having faith means that the world won’t break my heart, give me a migraine, and sometimes send me running for the hills, then I’ll never be faithful. Count me out. Because I don’t see how you can love in the midst of this beautiful, horrifying, electrifying, messy place called Earth without being shattered.

Now I don’t mean that life on this planet is crushingly depressing. My spirit soars at the everyday heroism of NHS staff and care workers. Sunrises and starry nights leave me amazed. Our dog Rolo… well, don’t get me started.

And yet, greed, selfishness, violence, prejudice, oppression, and poverty stir something deep within me. These ways of being—and the carnage they leave in their wake—cannot stand. We must resist them. We must persevere in our pursuit of a world in which every human being is treated with the dignity they deserve as the beloved children of God, a world where no one is expendable, no one is replaceable. Where the elderly in care homes are as valued as a few billionaire businessman desperate to boost their profits. In other words, we cannot allow ourselves to be disheartened even if our hearts are troubled.

I think that’s what Jesus was telling his friends on the night before he died. Here’s my version of the passage I mentioned above:

‘Things are going to get worse before they get better, life will be messy, and loving others will leave its mark- scar tissue on your soul. But, but always remember I’m with you in all of this. Sometimes it won’t seem like we are getting any where, trust me love wins out and in a few days I will prove it to you!’ (John14:1 Totally Unauthorised Version)

Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA who famously preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel and left most of the Royal Family looking like they had been hit in the face with a wet Haddock, frequently draws on the text of Spirituals to make a Jesus’ point. One he often quotes is -“Sometimes I feel discouraged/ And think my life in vain/ But then the Holy Spirit/ Revives my soul again./ There is a balm in Gilead.

I admit. At the moment, my heart is troubled. Maybe yours is, too. But I am not disheartened. For there is a balm if you seek it.

God bless and stay safe

Alan.

Thy Kingdom Come .. Prayer Resources

general prayer journal

If you would like to download copies of the Thy Kingdom Come Prayer Journal they are available directly here or by clicking https://www.thykingdomcome.global/sites/default/files/2020-04/Prayer%20Journal%202020%20C19V.pdf

thy-kingdom-come-prayer-journal-0420

The Methodist Thy Kingdom Come Prayer Journal written by the Methodist Youth President is available directly here or by clicking https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/16916/thy-kingdom-come-prayer-journal.pdf

Hard copies are available…. For details please see https://www.cpo.org.uk/thykingdomcome

 

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come

tkc 2

A few years ago the Archbishop of Canterbury started an annual prayer initiative called Thy Kingdom Come to run between Ascension day and Pentecost. The basis of this is that each of us sign up to pray each day for five people we know who are not Christians. Although it was initially an Anglican initiative its now totally ecumenical; the Methodist Church has contributed a free prayer manual for each day and there are resources for Catholics and Orthodox Christians to use. Further information on how to download or get hard copies is available by clicking https://www.thykingdomcome.global/lightuptheworld

I’ll post further updates on how we can be involved but I wanted to draw your attention to the Digital Family Interactive Prayer Map  so that you can order or download to get ready.

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This is a fun way of using a smart phone app to learn to pray together and you can find full details on https://www.thykingdomcome.global/resources/digital-family-prayer-adventure-map.

It’s well worth a look and there are podcasts and instructions how to get started as well as a great video from Justin Welby & Gemma.

 

 

Something for Sunday. John 14: 1-14

Now here are comfortable words. Do not be troubled, do not be worried or upset-fortify yourselves by faith in God and the one whom he has sent. Yet we are troubled, worried and we are often upset about many things-some of these are large and important matters others appear trivial at least to others. All of them create feelings of distress and fear that gnaw at our souls so that we cease to be the people we could be.

We know what we are worried about but what might the first disciples have been worried about. And what might the first hearers of John’s gospel have been worried about. I see their worries under two heads:

First a fear of separation. Jesus is going. These words are addressed to the disciples by way of farewell. He is going and they cannot follow. Not at once at least. There is to be an absence almost a sense of desolation. Jesus admits as much.

How is this to be coped with? Can it be coped with?

Our own experiences of separation, of loss and bereavement crowd in upon us. How can our hearts not be troubled? It is not for nothing that this passage is usually read at funerals. Jesus tries to fortify his disciples but the death that he is to die is his own.

Secondly a fear of failure. We are always taught to read texts in context and immediately prior to this famous verse is the account of Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial before the cock crowed three times. Now there was failure! And the other disciples were no better. All forsook him and fled.

But our failures and theirs should be distinguished from God’s cause. As I never tire of saying we should be pessimistic about man but optimistic about God.

Jesus is going on ahead of his disciples. He is going to his death, which he has freely accepted. This death is necessary. It is the preparation that is made for those who will come after. This is the death that will break every barrier down so that the boundless love of the father can reach out to everyone, fill our hearts with love and change the world.

And it is the way that his disciples are called to follow. Yes Jesus does call his disciples to come and walk with him the way of the cross. And everyone who follows that way finds that by embracing the deaths we must die there truly is nothing to be afraid of and that death really is swallowed up in the victory of love.

In the life of the Church this is the Easter season. Our hearts should be full of joy and peace. In fact they are not. We are worried and perplexed. We have said many times that Christ is risen. But if he is risen where is he and is he coming soon. We have proclaimed the good news but the world goes on much as before. Could it all be our fault? Is our faith inadequate? Are we feeling to make progress? Is it our inadequacies that stand in the way of Christ’s return?

Jesus message to the first disciples and to us is reassuring. Have courage. Jesus can cope with our inadequacies. Jesus has just foretold that their leader Peter will fail-indeed that he will deny everything. Yet they are not to be distressed. Don’t believe in the wrong things he says.

Instead place your trust in Jesus, have confidence in the mystery of love revealed in the cross and the resurrection. Share his risen life, share his words and continue his works. You won’t be alone, instead be encouraged by all the signs of love that have been revealed to us in the last two months.

Who do you think you are?

Personality indicator types has been used by many organisations over the years when appointing new personnel. The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator is perhaps the best known. When thinking about Christian Discipleship Michelle Morris of the UMC uses the four gospels to speak of four different ‘disciple types’ we find in church. (Michelle J. Morris – ‘Gospel Discipleship’, Abingdon Press, 2020.) 

These types may also help us to understand how many of our church members are coping, or not in the current lockdown. 

1. Mattheans. Mattheans are characterised by Matthew 28:19a – “Go therefor…” Mattheans love a tick list, concrete action. They want to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Mattheans are the ones who will rip a hole in the roof and lower their friend to see Jesus. Methodist Committees are full of Mattheans. 

But now they are told stop! Mattheans have become anxious for they have nothing to do. This is a time for them to take a sabbath from work and focus on God. 

2. Markeans. Markeans are characterised 2Corinthians 3:17 – “The Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit is there is freedom.” Mark’s gospel is characterised by the word immediately. Mark has Jesus and his disciple rushing from place to place, village to village. Markeans are often on project or evangelism committees, they are great starters but they are not always finishers.  

But now they have to slow down. Markeans are feeling exhausted even though they have nothing to do. Now is the time to breath, take stock and tie up some loose ends. 

3. Lukeans. Lukeans are characterised by Luke 10:25-29 – “Love your neighbour…” Lukeans should wear a badge that says ‘Happy to Help’. They are the huggers in the church, they pull people together. They are great in organising the lunch club or drop in time. 

But now they are told keep your distance. Social distancing, and worse, self isolation are an anathema for the Lukean, they are feeling helpless at this time. they have to discover the worth of the internet , Skype and Zoom. 

4. Johanians. Johanians are characterised by John13:15 -“I have set you and example..” These are often the thinkers and ponderers of the church. Great at leading study groups, but they look to others for authority before giving leadership. 

But now leadership looks different, there is no example to follow. Johanians are feeling lost. Now is the time to observe and pay attention, where does love break out and where does it fail? Then plan for the ‘new’ church in the post lockdown world. 

Now before you start looking at others in the congregation and say “I know what type you are!” take a look in the mirror and ask who am I and what you can do to help the church in the new post lockdown world. 

Banishing the shadows

As Christians we believe that out of death has come new life. This is what we are celebrating during these easter weeks. However due to Coronavirus our celebrations have been very different, we have not been ‘in Church’. However I would comment that you have been ‘in church’ it’s just that you have not been in a church building.

At the beginning of the current lockdown we would have been hard-pressed to believe that out of this terrible pandemic new life could arise for churches. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. Take church buildings, for example. Their size, shape and cost have shaped worship, ministry and mindsets for millennia. They have been both a blessing and a burden.

But once church buildings had to shut down, congregations found something quite surprising. People were suddenly freed of the constraints of their buildings, and the nature and scope of worship changed.

Throughout my ministry I have found that the most powerful group in any church has been the Property Committee and with its close friend, the Finance Committee, the maintenance of a building has become the de facto ministry the church, a concept Bishop Robert Schnase of the UMC calls a shadow mission. (‘Just Say Yes’ – Robert Schnase, Cokebury Press, 2016). When our buildings control our ministry, it can be difficult to break free of historical precedents. The ghosts of worshippers past (and present!), as much as the structure of the building, play a part in reinforcing the ‘we always do it this way’ attitude of many congregations.

But the coronavirus has done for many churches what they could not do for themselves. Not only have congregations been forced out of their buildings, the size and scope of worship has changed. Congregations are now moving from building-based worship to relationship-based worship.

Worship has become a distributed experience, and is no longer centralised in one building, worship is being reinvented. Whether we are worshipping with, emailed orders of worship, pre-recorded videos, Facebook Live, or in some other fashion, worship takes on a new feel. Instead of being solely building-based, worship can become both more intimate, more immediate and more geographically dispersed.

All of a sudden, it’s no longer the building that gives shape to worship, but the relationships. Those relationships include both person-to-person and person-to-divine relationships. 

Worship has become more interactive. Often there will be a comments screen alongside the live link where people share greetings, comment on the message, offer prayers as the service progresses and they share them with all attending not just mutter to those next to them.

Worship is more authentic. When you livestream worship, gone is the distance between the pulpit and the pew. The immediacy of a camera means the message must be more authentic, and more relevant, to connect with people. Especially people whose experience of accessing and processing information is based around technology.

The shutdown of churches has forced rapid changes on congregational life. There is no guarantee that these changes will automatically translate into permanat culture changes in the life of the church. In fact when the lockdown is lifted there will be a major pushback from those who feel they have lost control of ‘their’ church during this period. How do we intentionally transform these quick shifts into positive, sustainable culture changes? 

First, we must speak of the online experience in positive terms. Yes, there have been issues and glitches along the way. Yes, we may be missing each other greatly. Yes, we may miss our building. Yes, we may miss the freedoms the pandemic has momentarily taken from us. However, framing the online experience with gratitude will help us keep this option alive once social distancing has been safely eased.

Second, we must expand our options. Once people have online options, they treasure them. Online worship means that people can participate in worship while traveling, indisposed, sick or even feeling lazy. Even when face-to-face worship is once again available we must consider live-streaming worship or prerecording a simpler act of worship for those unable to attend.

Thirdly, we must extend our options. Unlike starting an additional worship service in church, which depends on a certain number of people to attend to be considered viable, recorded online worship has a completely different shelf life. It can be experienced hours or months later and still be fresh.

For many of us who are leading worship most Sundays the expansion of online worship has been amazing. I now ‘go to church’ every day as I access worship from many different sources and am greatly blessed.

May you find blessings wherever they are to be found at this time

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.