Friday, 28 August 2015

Morning Prayer - 28 August 2015

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 430

Psalm 139
O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You mark out my journeys and my resting place and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. You encompass me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast. 

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night,’ Even darkness is no darkness with you; the night is as clear as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are your works, my soul knows well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished; already in your book were all my members written, as day by day they were fashioned when as yet there was none of them.

How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I count them, they are more in number than the sand, and at the end, I am still in your presence. 

O that you would slay the wicked, O God, that the bloodthirsty might depart from me! They speak against you with wicked intent; your enemies take up your name for evil.

Do I not oppose those, O Lord, who oppose you?
Do I not abhor those who rise up against you?

I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my own enemies also. Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and examine my thoughts. See if there is any way of wickedness in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

Habakkuk 2.6-end
Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them,
‘Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!’

How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge? Will not your own creditors suddenly rise, and those who make you tremble wake up? Then you will be booty for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you - because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth, to cities and all who live in them. 

‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm!’ 
You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork. 

‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed, and found a city on iniquity!’
Is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labour only to feed the flames, and nations weary themselves for nothing? 
But the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 

‘Alas for you who make your neighbours drink, pouring out your wrath until they are drunk, in order to gaze on their nakedness!’ 
You will be sated with contempt instead of glory. Drink, you yourself, and stagger! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and shame will come upon your glory! For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you; the destruction of the animals will terrify you - because of human bloodshed and violence to the earth, to cities and all who live in them. 

What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it - a cast image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in what has been made, though the product is only an idol that cannot speak!
Alas for you who say to the wood, ‘Wake up!’ to silent stone, ‘Rouse yourself!’ Can it teach?
See, it is plated with gold and silver, and there is no breath in it at all. 

But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! 

Mark 7.31-end
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

The Collect
Merciful Lord,
who turned Augustine from his sins to be a faithful bishop and teacher: grant that we may follow him in penitence and discipline till our restless hearts find their rest in you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Morning Prayer - 27 August 2015

Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387

Psalm 113
Give praise, you servants of the Lord, O praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.

From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised. The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, that has his throne so high, yet humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth?

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ashes, To set them with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a place in the house and makes her a joyful mother of children.

Psalm 115
Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory, for the sake of your loving mercy and truth. 

Why should the nations say, ‘Where is now their God?’
As for our God, he is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes have they, but cannot see; They have ears, but cannot hear; noses have they, but cannot smell; They have hands, but cannot feel; feet have they, but cannot walk; not a whisper do they make from their throats. Those who make them shall become like them and so will all who put their trust in them. But you, Israel, put your trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield.
House of Aaron, trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield. You that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield.

The Lord has been mindful of us and he will bless us; may he bless the house of Israel; may he bless the house of Aaron; May he bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great together. May the Lord increase you more and more, you and your children after you. May you be blest by the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth he has entrusted to his children. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor those gone down into silence;But we will bless the Lord, from this time forth for evermore. 

Habakkuk 1.12-2.5
Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One?
You shall not die. O Lord, you have marked them for judgement; and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment. 
Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? 
You have made people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. 

The enemy brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net, he gathers them in his seine; so he rejoices and exults. 
Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his seine; for by them his portion is lavish, and his food is rich. 
Is he then to keep on emptying his net, and destroying nations without mercy? 

I will stand at my watch-post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.  For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.  

Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own. 

Mark 7.24-30
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

The Collect
Faithful God,
who strengthened Monica, the mother of Augustine, with wisdom,
and through her patient endurance encouraged him to seek after you:
give us the will to persist in prayer that those who stray from you may be brought to faith in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Morning Prayer - 26 August 2015

Psalm 110
The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’

May the Lord stretch forth the sceptre of your power; rule from Zion in the midst of your enemies.
‘Noble are you on this day of your birth; on the holy mountain, from the womb of the dawn the dew of your new birth is upon you.’

The Lord has sworn and will not retract: ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’
The king at your right hand, O Lord, shall smite down kings in the day of his wrath.
In all his majesty, he shall judge among the nations, smiting heads over all the wide earth. He shall drink from the brook beside the way; therefore shall he lift high his head.

Psalm 111
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.

The works of the Lord are great, sought out by all who delight in them. His work is full of majesty and honour and his righteousness endures for ever. He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He gave food to those who feared him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He showed his people the power of his works in giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever; they are done in truth and equity. He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant for ever; holy and awesome is his name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have those who live by it; his praise endures for ever.

Psalm 112
Blessed are those who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land, a generation of the faithful that will be blest. Wealth and riches will be in their house, and their righteousness endures for ever. Light shines in the darkness for the upright; gracious and full of compassion are the righteous. It goes well with those who are generous in lending and order their affairs with justice, For they will never be shaken; the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance.
They will not be afraid of any evil tidings; their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their heart is sustained and will not fear, until they see the downfall of their foes.
They have given freely to the poor; their righteousness stands fast for ever; their head will be exalted with honour.

The wicked shall see it and be angry; they shall gnash their teeth in despair; the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Habakkuk 1.1-11
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous - therefore judgement comes forth perverted.

Look at the nations, and see!
Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.
For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.
Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves at dusk; their horses charge.
Their horsemen come from far away; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence, with faces pressing forward; they gather captives like sand.
At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport.
They laugh at every fortress, and heap up earth to take it.
Then they sweep by like the wind; they transgress and become guilty; their own might is their god!

Mark 7.14-23
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Morning Prayer - 24 August 2015

Bartholomew the Apostle

Psalm 86
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.

Preserve my soul, for I am faithful; save your servant, for I put my trust in you.

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For you, Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer and listen to the voice of my supplication. In the day of my distress I will call upon you, for you will answer me. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, nor any works like yours. All nations you have made shall come and worship you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wonderful things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.

I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your name for evermore; For great is your steadfast love towards me, for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave. 

O God, the proud rise up against me and a ruthless horde seek after my life; they have not set you before their eyes. But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth. Turn to me and have mercy upon me; give your strength to your servant and save the child of your handmaid. Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

Psalm 117
O praise the Lord, all you nations; praise him, all you peoples. For great is his steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Alleluia.

Genesis 28.10-17
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

John 1.43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your word:
grant that your Church may love that word which he believed and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Can't make it to church? 23 August 2015

Here we are pounding our way through the year with a new term approaching and the Summer holidays already beginning, like the tan, to fade. But out green season (ordinary time) continues to roll on unabated as we consider Joshua's words, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!' (word on a poster by our front door for years when I was a student - got lost in the move and never replaced it).

Joshua's words come after the Israelites have entered in the promised land and there's always the chance that once the struggle is ended and the travels and battles ceased that will will get lazy and forget where our priorities, and our thanks, really lie. Joshua calls upon the people to make a choice:

Serve the gods of (this age and) this land


Choose to serve the LORD

The people answer rightly and make the right choice: 'Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods.' The problem is that many of us - churched and unchurched - are not making the same responses in our lives, even though so many of us make them with our tongues it is obvious that, as we find with the Old testament's 'people of God', what we say doesn't always turn up in the living out of it.

So I'll start with a challenge: Living out your faith - How do you do yours?

If you, like me so very often, have answered, 'Not that well actually,' then it is time to stop and reflect and remedy that situation.

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18
“Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people,
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods. It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

But where I am at the moment we are going through 1 Corinthians and today Paul's bus stops and chapters twelve and thirteen:

1 Corinthians 12.27-13.3; 12-13
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.
First, God has placed apostles in the church. Second, he has placed prophets in the church. Third, he has placed teachers in the church. Then he has given to the church miracles and gifts of healing. He also has given the gift of helping others and the gift of guiding the church. God also has given the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages. 
Is everyone an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? 
Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages they had not known before? Do all explain what is said in those languages? 
But above all, you should want the more important gifts.
But now I will show you the best way of all.
Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings or of angels. If I don’t have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal.
Suppose I have the gift of prophecy. 
Suppose I can understand all the secret things of God and know everything about him.  And suppose I have enough faith to move mountains.  If I don’t have love, I am nothing at all. 
Suppose I give everything I have to poor people.  And suppose I give myself over to a difficult life so I can brag. If I don’t have love, I get nothing at all.

Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a foggy mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. 

What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely but the three most important things to have are faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of them is love.

The greatest of them all is indeed love - and this love takes a man and a piece of wood to a place where His life is given up, not taken, for us all (and 'us' means everyone - not just the cozy Christians) so that we might be reconciled with God.

Personally, I think the combining the two passages as we have is a bit naff in that what we have is two gems, chapter twelve should be complete as on chapter as there is so much there for us regarding gifts and service and the like. But this was pretty much dealt with last Sunday and so, other than to say visit that, I'll move on to chapter thirteen.

Love is something amazing for it look past the wrongs that we engage in and offers us arms that embrace and hands that wipe away tears. That said, we must never lose sight of the fact that love never rejects but we must never forget that love does not condone our wrongdoings either.

The essence of 1 Corinthians is that love builds a habitation, a shelter, for the focus of that love in the storms of life and in the heats of the moment. Love is always inclusive and yet never permissive. 

The problem we have is that we make love something quite trivial in the light of the cross. We exchange the word for things that are sometimes limited and rather tawdry and there are times when what we really mean when we use the 'L' word is actually another with the same letter: Lust.

We use the word 'love' to justify our desires for people and things and positions of authority and the like and yet the reality is something weaker and less worthy. 

As a pastor I find some people who change their relationships like others change their sock. Often, and always, they tell me of how this is the real thing and yet it, rather sadly, never is! But the key to love is that it is about giving and not getting. It is about seeing something good done in, and for, the life of the focus of your love, which brings us nicely back to Joshua as I ask who are you going to serve?

I meet many people who tell me they are Christians and yet the focus of their love is all too often themselves and I am sad when I see people putting everything into the god of self and struggle to reap any benefits from that relationship.

Love is not made ours by the putting off of enmity and strife (but there would be less stress in the world if everyone at least sought this).

Love is not brought about by seeking to put aside, or avoiding being the focus of, hatred (but at least that would be a start in finding ways to live in peace).

Love is something we have a duty to engage in. It is something God commands us to do )'love your neighbour...', in fact we are clearly told: 'We can't say ewe love God and hate the person before us'). 

We do not have a choice but to love and those who are the focus of our love are loved in the same way that God shows His love for us: A sacrificial, non-cost counting, non  'what's in it for me' existence.

Who are you gonna serve?

How are you going to love?

John 6.56-69
Glory to you, O Lord.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” 

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ

And so we come to the Gospel and as the 'Bread discourse' of John six closes we find two things especially important for us to consider (and yew, I know there are many others):

i. When asked if they were leaving too, the disciples said:
Lord, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. 
We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Words which are up there with those said by the people in the Joshua reading: 'Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods. It was the Lord our God himself who ... (did everything for us). Jesus has the words of eternal life, and is the Word who brings eternal life - bargain or what?

Would that those who want to be disciples today would utter those words and live by them.

ii. The taking into ourselves the presence of Jesus, something we do spiritually, in a physical way. To have Jesus taken into ourselves via prone lips, this is something special beyond measure and this is what we do when we commune with God, and each other, at the altar rail. 

'Eat this bread and you will live, not just foray, but for eternity,' this is the promise of the true bread. This is the reason that the Eucharist is more than a reminder, a 'mere memorial' as one non-conformist colleague put it. This is the reason that so many of us put such great store in the Eucharist and the reasons that, because of us gathering to share it, that the Church continues as it does.

Why not take a little time to reflect upon Jesus as the living bread and what this might mean for you - and as you do, reflect also on the words of today's collect:

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayers
God of all mercy,
in this eucharist you have set aside our sins and given us your healing:
grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Evangelism: It's about more than instilling fear or false hope.

Had a very strange conversation with someone today regarding what being a Christian is all about. Strange because they seemed to think that what we are 'selling' is an access all areas [AAA] pass for heaven. Stranger still because they also seemed to think that it was about exchanging hell for heaven and, 'All you need to do is believe that Jesus is God,' and (as they say) the 'job's a good'un!'

So I asked them where they got their information from and they named a church and one of the 'evangelists' they'd encountered through becoming engaged with it. 'All I have to do is say that Jesus is God and I don't get to go to hell any more,' they said, 'So I'm a Christian now and I get to go to heaven!'

'So,' I naively (and perhaps just a little foolishly asked, 'You're a Christian and go to church and read your Bible and pray and all that stuff now? Great!'

Back came the response, 'No, I don't go to church or do all that Bible and praying stuff. I just had to repeat something about being sorry and wanting to be on the same side as Jesus. So I did it and now I don't get to go to hell anymore.' The explanation was accompanied by a bit of a withering look as if they thought I must be a bit dim as I didn't 'get it'. But the problem was that I did and now I had two choices:

i. smile and wish them well and walk away as quickly as I could, or

ii. explain what the heaven and hell, Jesus is God and all that stuff was really about.

Of course as (or so it seems) so many of my colleagues appear to struggle with hell and the devil and all that stuff I should have taken option 'i' and legged it, but (you could have guessed) I didn't! What was good was that the other person in my conversation was at least using salvation language (or am I the only one to notice that the 'are you saved?/I am saved!' terminology has pretty much disappeared from the Christian phrasebook there days?). When I entered in to this Christianity stuff that was the whole essence: 'I was lost but Jesus found me, I was destined for hell but now by the blood I am saved.'

These days we tend to talk about being committed (something many people talk about after having met me) or about being a follower - which, don't get me wrong, are excellent qualities to have - but somewhere there needs to be that nasty word 'sin' and an understanding of how some/many/all* of the things that we do go against that which God tells us might be best for us.

We don't appear to be able to talk about being reconciled to God (that means coming into relationship with Him+**) by the blood of Christ. Part of this is some wallybean who got loads of publicity over what they call Penal Substitutionary Atonement (meaning that Jesus takes our place on the cross and that His death sets us free from sin and restores the relationship between us and God) by labelling it as 'cosmic child abuse'. The other part is because we want a God who is found running through fields of daisies and all that blood and stuff gets in the way of that and makes it a little more distasteful. What a shame God didn't realise all the problems using the cross would bring later on and change it so that Jesus merely got six numbers on the lottery and used the money to pay everyone's fines (or pay for a good lawyer)!

So we talked and I explained what they had probably said and what they meant and they told me that that wasn't what they thought it was and I told them that it probably was and they said, 'Well, in that case I'm going to hell then aren't I?' ... and then they left (promising to give me a call to continue the conversation).

Now as much as I'm not sure I helped them with their 'being Christian' thing I do think I kept some integrity over the whole thing. The problem is that this has got me thinking about the number of people that 'the Church' engages with who are claimed as a scalp and led into a prayer they don't understand because they are told it will save them from going to hell. Jesus is not about going to hell but about reconciliation with God. His death remove the impediment (sin) that separates us from God - everything else is (in my book) secondary. This goes for prosperity (a false doctrine I fear) and so much of the other stuff I see peddled.

What is on offer is relationship, and therefore peace, with God.

What is on offer is the ability to become different (and by this I also mean  'better') people because of our changed mindsets and the desire to live as God calls us to live.

What is on offer is something more than a 'get out of hell free' card and the opportunity for someone to tell others how they've 'led people to Christ' when they most obviously haven't.

And the pain (aside from the whole encounter)? It is this: Once someone has said the 'sinner's prayer' and been told that they are now Christians, it is a really hard job to engage with them properly and effectively. For many, this is a 'one hit wonder' moment and so it needs to be done correctly and with proper parenting and disciple-making things added into the mix.

Apart from that yesterday went really well thanks :-)

* This depends on who it is you're talking too. I often find the more narrow-minded the person I'm talking to is then the greater the degree of sin (which means error or being wrong) I appear to possess. Sadly this is something shared by both fundamental and liberal types who between them corner the market on bigotry and condemnation.

** Another struggle as some now tell me I shouldn't call God 'Him' as it offends some people.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Morning Prayer - 21 August 2015

Psalm 88
O Lord, God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before you. Let my prayer come into your presence; incline your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles; my life draws near to the land of death. I am counted as one gone down to the Pit; I am like one that has no strength, Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have laid me in the lowest pit, in a place of darkness in the abyss. Your anger lies heavy upon me, and you have afflicted me with all your waves. You have put my friends far from me and made me to be abhorred by them. I am so fast in prison that I cannot get free; my eyes fail from all my trouble. 

Lord, I have called daily upon you; I have stretched out my hands to you. 
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand up and praise you?
Shall your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Shall your wonders be known in the dark or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?

But as for me, O Lord, I will cry to you; early in the morning my prayer shall come before you. Lord, why have you rejected my soul?
Why have you hidden your face from me?
I have been wretched and at the point of death from my youth; I suffer your terrors and am no more seen. Your wrath sweeps over me; your horrors are come to destroy me; All day long they come about me like water; they close me in on every side. Lover and friend have you put far from me and hid my companions out of my sight.

Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving and be glad in him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God and a great king above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have moulded the dry land.

Come, let us worship and bow down and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, on that day at Massah in the wilderness, when your forebears tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my works. Forty years long I detested that generation and said, “This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways.” So I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter into my rest.” ’

Micah 5.2-end
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. 

If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers. They shall rule the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with the drawn sword; they shall rescue us from the Assyrians if they come into our land or tread within our border. 

Then the remnant of Jacob, surrounded by many peoples, shall be like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not depend upon people or wait for any mortal. And among the nations the remnant of Jacob, surrounded by many peoples, shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, with no one to deliver. Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off. 

On that day, says the Lord, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you and destroy your towns. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey. 

Mark 6.14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. 

The Collect
O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

No Communion for you!

Struggling out of my sleeping bag I think to myself, 'Sunday - Hallelujah!'

It's a quarter past seven in the morning and, as befits the month of August, the day has started well. The clouds are high and sparsely placed, the birds are singing and all around me is the sound of gentle breathing as others sleep on.

Feeling just a little guilty I shower, dress and, as quietly as I can, I make my way to the car to fulfil the first mission of the day: Communion.

The journey is painless for the sun is shining and the roads are empty as I make my way to the church I have chosen to visit this morning. Arriving with a couple of minutes to spare before the billed start time I reach into my pocket for some change to feed the meter and then I realise my first mistake; the change is in the other trousers!

'No worry,' I think as I pull out a five pound note from the back pocket (which should't be there but thankfully is)  I head for the shops to get change. But of course it is a Sunday morning and, being now just after eight, everywhere is closed! It's then that help, in the form of a dog walker, appears on the horizon. Well, he would have been helpful if he hadn't explained how the the last 'proper' newsagent had closed his doors a few weeks earlier and so my only hope was the large news and magazine (and everything else) chain store 'just up the road'!

When I got there, it was also closed but fortunately another dog walker (angels in disguise perhaps?) upon hearing of my quest for change as I sought directions to another shop managed to give me a pocket full of shrapnel in exchange for my ratty fiver - Thanks be to God or what?

I return quickly to the meter and pay up - It is now almost ten past eight as I make my way into the church building - and upon entering there is no sound to be heard (other than the new shoes which creak like I have some form of prosthetic limb  -  solutions for a cure most welcome).  I can't see, or hear, a soul. I look up the church and there's nothing! Walked to the Est end and found not a soul - 'Is this what church decline looks like?' I wonder as I walk back down the aisle.

But then, from nowhere it seems, there's a chap standing in front of me. I explain my quest and he points me to the corner at the rear of the building and the door set into the wall. Creaking off as I mumble my thanks I head for the door, which I cautiously open, and look in, to find a figure resplendent in their chasuble (green of course - this is obviously proper church!) giving communion to the last of the five people assembled at the altar rail.

Not wishing to interrupt the proceedings I step back, close the door and head for the exit - it is now nineteen minutes past eight!

As I reach the door the same chap appears, again form nowhere obvious (perhaps he's an angel or maybe a Troll - but as there's no bridge, I'll go for the former) so I explain what had happened. 'Oh, you should just have gone in and taken communion, the Vicar probably wouldn't have been bothered by you coming in at the end,' he says.

But I would have been - so I leave to see if I could find an eight-thirty kick off somewhere.

Making my way along the road along which I came I come to another church, which I had passed earlier but the noticeboard only proclaims a 'main service' at ten-thirty,  and pull into the car park in the hope that I might find some notice or person knocking around. The car park is deserted and so I head back to the car. As I am leaving I notice a light on in the church building - it is now eight twenty-four!

Filled with hope I find an unlocked door and head into the building. I hear a voice and so, feeling a little excited that I might have struck gold, I creep quietly in only to hear the priest pronouncing the blessing (eight twenty-five!) and so I turn around and head back to the car. As I do, I am greeted by someone in the car park (but at least I was greeted) to whom my plight is swiftly laid out.

It transpires that there's communion in their church every Sunday at eight am. I am almost accused of something approaching tardiness as they tell me that, 'The service it is publicised in the weekly notice sheet which we give out at the main service!' So had I been last week to the main service I would have known that there was something earlier on offer! The cherry is placed onto the situation when the words, 'It's not on the noticeboard because no one outside the church' comes to it!

'God help us!' I think to myself, ' Of course no one outside the church comes - no one else knows it's going on!' Then, before I begin to rant a look like a complete lunatic, I smile and mumble thanks as I head back to the car.

As I do, I'm told that they think there's am eight-thirty service at St Wobblplots in the ditch!

Well there are churches on the map!

I dive into the car and punch the name into the sat nav and set off. I arrive outside the door at eight thirty-six and dive out of the car like a man possessed looking for the way in(always a bad move as you find yourself entering the hushed building breathing like a candidate for an obscene phone call competition).

Rushing up the path to the door I grasp the handle and turn it. it's blinking well locked!

I try the side door (wouldn't be the first time I've visited a church where the early service is accessed by a secret door or via the tradesmen's entrance) but those too are locked shut!

Five minutes later I am accepting defeat.

There's nothing on the noticeboard proclaiming any times or services. No telephone number: Nada! Not a sausage. it's is a quarter to nine and I am accepting the failure stoically as I walk back to the car. In fact I am starting to find it funny!

As I reach the gate there's sheet of A4 in a plastic wallet on the grass which, being a nice bloke, I pick up to throw away. On it are the words (in Red): 'No Communion today!'

Too flipping right I think as I drive away :-)

Now some serious issues come out of this:

i. What's the point of having a noticeboard if you only have the 'main service' on it? 

ii. If you do only have the 'main service' on your noticeboard can you complain that, 'Only those in the church come to it?'.

iii. With the increase of 'point something' and 'multiple beneficed jobs' - have I experienced something that will only increase as the economy measures bite?

iv. Who the heck does communion in twenty minutes (and how - and why?)???

There are many more questions, but they will do to start with.

'unless we tell them - how will they come?'