Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Lichfield Diocese: Renewal Event

Not much more needs to be said than to read the poster above and get a few like-minded people to jump in a car (preferably yours - stealing cars is rarely considered to be a good vehicle for witness) and get yourself there.


When apparently sensible people prove otherwise!

I don't know about you but I am very concerned about the way people think and act these days. Take a look at the various communities around you for a minute and you'll see what I mean.

Church: One of us walked in to a local shop yesterday to be told that they had heard that the local church was going to be knocked down to enable more housing to be built in there area. When it was pointed out that the church owned the land and that there had been no discussion, suggestion or even planning meeting regarding such an action - the response was, 'Oh yeah! (shrug)'

The same is true of the many accounts of sin and general naughtiness that people have engaged in. I have even been at the wrong end of it myself when someone came and said how they had heard from (person 1) that (person 2) had told them how I (the accused) had thrown (person 3) out of the church.

So I asked them whether they, knowing me, thought that I might even have thrown anyone out of a church and after a minute or two spent thinking (now that caused a bit of pain that they had to think that long) they answered, 'Of course not!'

So I asked them, 'So why did you believe it when you heard to from (person 1)?' The response was, 'Oooh! I don't know know, but they were so convincing!'

The problem is that gossip is always juicy and people are always ready to listen to those things that tickle the ears and point fingers at others. The Bible deals with the issue of gossip (which is often labelled more correctly as 'slander') and also with the way.

It would be so nice to find Christians working on the understanding that: 'One person's story sounds great until you hear the other person's side of things.'

This is, of course, a biblical take on things (Proverbs 18.17). The best way to deal with people who might share things out of concern (not the opportunity to share a bit of juicy conversation at all!) is to ask them what they did with the information when it was being given:

Did they check the accuracy of the information?

have they found out the story from the other side's viewpoint?

Did they offer to broker a conversation and restore the peace?

We are called to restore those caught in sin (gently*) and to reconcile those who are separated by division; perhaps Colossians 3.13 is a help here:

'You need to bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.' 

This is who and what and how we are to live, and to assist others to live.

After all, Jesus came to reconcile us to God - we live to reconcile others to God and to one another because we are called to imitate Jesus, the Christ. Do we?

Not when we gossip and slander and enjoy the juicy titbits - we need to stop and check the facts and be careful how we pass stuff on to others. Check your sources and be looking to reconcile rather than repeat. This is the way the Gospel is lived out and the love of God seen to be in action. Before you hit the 'Enter' key or send that email:

Stop - Think - Pray - Be sure of your facts - Think Again - Press 'Enter'

And here's a little note for those who use Facebook: 

WARNING: From the 1st October Facebook is making public every stupid thing you have ever posted and done.
Not only that but they are going to tell God, the tooth fairy and Richard Dorking about you (and I'm only convinced that two of them are fictional characters so there's cause for real concern here!) unless you pay £5.99 for every month you have been a member.
BUT, if you cut and paste this on your Facebook page before midnight, when the angel of being charged will be checking ALL accounts, then it will pass over and you will be free from all the penalties which otherwise would have been yours. 
This is not a spoof, the information can be found on the website of a Liberal Democrat supporter and has been endorsed by a man in a white rhinestone suit who was singing outside Farm Foods in Tamworth yesterday (so much for those who thought he was dead!).
Be warned - if you don't repost this then be prepared to pay for your use and for your sins (I know one of the three is watching). 
This is not a spoof, there are so many people on Facebook making this information known and there are many who knew someone who has a friend who knows that this is true also. This is official.

ps. If you find there's no underwear on your washing line in the morning don't come rushing to me - it's all part of the same plot to expose you!

* Galatians 6.1

Morning Prayer - 30 September 2015t

Jerome, Translator of the Scriptures, Teacher of the Faith, 420

Psalm 77
I cry aloud to God; I cry aloud to God and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I have sought the Lord; by night my hand is stretched out and does not tire; my soul refuses comfort. I think upon God and I groan; I ponder, and my spirit faints.

You will not let my eyelids close; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old; I remember the years long past; I commune with my heart in the night; my spirit searches for understanding. 

Will the Lord cast us off for ever? 
Will he no more show us his favour?
Has his loving mercy clean gone for ever?
Has his promise come to an end for evermore?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he shut up his compassion in displeasure?

And I said, ‘My grief is this: that the right hand of the Most High has lost its strength.’ I will remember the works of the Lord and call to mind your wonders of old time. I will meditate on all your works and ponder your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; who is so great a god as our God? 

You are the God who worked wonders and declared your power among the peoples. With a mighty arm you redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you and were afraid; the depths also were troubled. The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side; the voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the ground; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, but your footsteps were not known. You led your people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Ezekiel 12.1-16
 The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile. Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark; you shall cover your face, so that you may not see the land; for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.

I did just as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands; I brought it out in the dark, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.

In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, “What are you doing?” Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel in it.” Say, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.” And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage on his shoulder in the dark, and shall go out; hea shall dig through the wall and carry it through; he shall cover his face, so that he may not see the land with his eyes. I will spread my net over him, and he shall be caught in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it; and he shall die there. I will scatter to every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops; and I will unsheathe the sword behind them. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries. But I will let a few of them escape from the sword, from famine and pestilence, so that they may tell of all their abominations among the nations where they go; then they shall know that I am the Lord.

Mark 14.26-42
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep will be scattered.” 

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

The Collect
Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; 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.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Estate Church? Don't miss out ...

...on an opportunity to meet with others who minister in this special area of ministry and not only mingle with others who share in this ministry but get some inspiration and become part of a most supportive, and able, network for the form of ministry.

The National Estate Churches Network (NECN), a group who exist to offer encouragement, prayer and support for those engaged in Estate Church ministry, are hosting two one-day conferences over the coming weeks. The theme:

Sense and Sensitivity: Taking Care with Estate Mission:

Whatever our style of mission, there's always a tendency to offer to others what we think the faith should look and feel like. But what if God wants to offer something different that suits each and every culture and subculture? 

So how do we mission with Sense and Sensitivity? 

How do we Take care with Estate Mission

How do we learn what God is already doing in the Housing Estates and get alongside him in it? 

The answer is simple: Come along to one of the venues on offer and take a look at the current trends and thinking with regard to mission and reflect upon how each approach might be undertaken sensitively, and insensitively, and discuss concerns and assess potential benefits as we share stories and reflect on places seeking to do it right. 

Both speakers and practitioners share their ideas, concerns and challenges to help those who come gain some fresh insight and lots of new ideas to try. 

This is a conference for lay people, not just ministers, from ALL denominations - it's not just limited, or of use to, those in estate churches - so why not get a few people together and use what has proved in the past to be an excellent day and fire up those with whom you work (and, of course, you too)!

The cost is kept as low as possibly - £20 (including lunch and hot drinks) - and to cut travel costs the same programme is offered in two locations - one north and one south (which is pretty joined up thinking I reckon).

So why not get some people together and come along and take the opportunity to meet old friends and make new? 

Don't miss the chance to find out how to be a housing estate Christian with pride and (without) prejudice!

                        click HERE to book a place at the London Conference

                            or HERE to book a place at the Leeds Conference

Morning Prayer - 29 September 2015

Michael and All Angels

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. My soul shall glory in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Look upon him and be radiant and your faces shall not be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.

O taste and see that the Lord is gracious; blessed is the one who trusts in him. Fear the Lord, all you his holy ones, for those who fear him lack nothing. Lions may lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good. 

Come, my children, and listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is there who delights in life and longs for days to enjoy good things?

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from lying words. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their cry. 
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cry and the Lord hears them and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those who are crushed in spirit.

Many are the troubles of the righteous; from them all will the Lord deliver them. He keeps all their bones, so that not one of them is broken. But evil shall slay the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and will condemn none who seek refuge in him.

Psalm 150
O praise God in his holiness; praise him in the firmament of his power. 
Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the blast of the trumpet; praise him upon the harp and lyre.
Praise him with timbrel and dances; praise him upon the strings and pipe.
Praise him with ringing cymbals; praise him upon the clashing cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Daniel 12.1-4
“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the eartha shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky,b and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evilc shall increase.”

Acts 12.1-11
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, ‘Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’

The Collect
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order: grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven, so, at your command, they may help and defend us on earth; 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.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Morning Prayer - 28 September 2015

Psalm 106.1-10
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious, for his faithfulness endures for ever. Who can express the mighty acts of the Lord or show forth all his praise?

Blessed are those who observe what is right and always do what is just. Remember me, O Lord, in the favour you bear for your people; visit me in the day of your salvation; that I may see the prosperity of your chosen and rejoice in the gladness of your people, and exult with your inheritance.

We have sinned like our forebears; we have done wrong and dealt wickedly. In Egypt they did not consider your wonders, nor remember the abundance of your faithful love; they rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
But he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his power to be known.
He rebuked the Red Sea and it was dried up; so he led them through the deep as through the wilderness.
He saved them from the adversary’s hand and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

Jonah 1
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’

The sailors said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ ‘I am a Hebrew,’ he replied. ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?’ For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

2 Peter 3.14-18
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

The Collect
God of glory, the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have to gain the pearl beyond all price, through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Can't make it to church? 27 September 2015

The green season that is Ordinary Time has almost run its course and today's reading present us with a very human Moses who is found complaining about thoseGod has given him as he asks: 'hat have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?' I love this because it shows a human side to the man and resonates well with the experiences of every leader (Church or secular) who at some time will have undoubtedly uttered the same sort of sentiments I am sure.

So read the Numbers passage and then stop and spare a thought for those who lead congregations, asking yourself whether you might be one of those who would cause such a question to be asked of God (and if you are, what are you going to do to remedy that situation?). And whilst your there, take a look at the moaning of the people in the first bit: Cucumbers? Probably the only thing I've not had a church member moan at :-)

The second thing to take from the numbers find a resonance in the James passage as we find Moses spoken of as having met with God he comes down and, 'he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.' This passing on of the mantle, the laying on of hands and imparting God's living power into others: Same thing goes for the elders and praying for the sick - have you been prayed for in that way? Have I prayed for others like that? We'll consider that in a moment but we need to consider the last nugget from the Numbers passage in the shape of being jealous about who 'does the stuff'?

Yesterday (Saturday) I passed a bunch of Christian who were doing some quite aggressive outreach: something which brought a 'Hallelujah' and an, 'Oh no!' in equal measure. They were pouncing on shoppers as they passed and challenging them about the power of God. As the noticed the dog collar they looked the other way or otherwise avoided me and so, as I neared the end of the pack I smiled at one of the older members and wished them a good morning. "Do you have someone who is physicallly ill? Would you like to see what the power of God looks like?' they asked!

'Cheeky Wotsit!,' I thought, 'So I pointed out that I had seen it many times before and had witness the blind see and many other physical healing during my time as a believer and, 'No, I didn't happen to have an ill person in my pockets at the moment!'

I was so pleased to see people witnessing - and in a marginally better way than the muppet around the corner screaming into a microphone about God, hell and a sad and bitter life (I assumed they also supported the Villa or Chelsea ;-) ) but the arrogance of assuming that they had it all and the assumption that I, looking like an Anglican (or perhaps worse still for these pentecostal types - a Catholic*) shows how the 'jealous for' bit found here and in the Gospel is still alive and well. But we don't live like that, do we?

The James passage asks some great questions of us; and provides some sound answers too:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Then that person should pray. 

Is anyone among you happy? Then that person should sing songs of praise.

Is anyone among you sick? Then that person should send for the elders of the church to pray over them. They should ask the elders to anoint them with olive oil in the name of the Lord.

And the cherry here is regarding those who have sinned and strayed from the truth:
Anyone who keeps a sinner from going astray will save them from death.

Four absolutely rocking thoughts regarding ministry and Christian living - but don't forget that we are called to restore those who are caught up in sin gently because it's easy to sin ourselves if we do it in the wrong way.

The elders, should be filled with the Spirit just as the seventy were in the Numbers passage - common sense that bit, innit?

Bit of sound thinking to take away for free!

And so we land with the Gospel reading and there's the resonance with being jealous about who is doing the stuff (would that many more were) and the 'if it offends or causes you to sin - cut it off' bit!

I'm going to credit you with enough nous to see the connections and to consider the attitudes here and in the Numbers reading regarding jealousy about ministry and the like. We need to support and pray for all who are truly trying to do the stuff out there - perhaps we might need to offer some guidance or correction (and the way it is given and received are the test of this in terms of being sound I would offer) - but I'm sure you can join the dots.

But the 'chop it off' bit. My take on this is that when faced with the loss of a body part because it is engaged in, or perhaps leads you into, sin that the rational person would step back and take the extreme presented her as the warning shot across the bows and stop whatever it is that they are doing. This is the reaching of an absolute rather than a casual caution!

So, whatever you continually or habitually do that is wrong, STOP IT. 

So here we are - a quick overview of some of the highlights of today's readings with a hope you'll read this and take something from it and the passages before you - and here's a prayer to start you praying for the Church, the world, your town, the needs of others and those who have departed this life (and those who remain to mourn their passing):

The collect
Gracious God, you call us to fullness of life: deliver us from unbelief and banish our anxieties with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Numbers 11.4-6,10-16, 24-29
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents.

The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.  He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?

Did I conceive all these people?

Did I give them birth?

Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?

Where can I get meat for all these people?

They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’

I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.

If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me - if I have found favour in your eyes - and do not let me face my own ruin.”

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you.

The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent.  

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied - but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.  

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

James 5.13-20
Is anyone among you in trouble? Then that person should pray. Is anyone among you happy? Then that person should sing songs of praise.
Is anyone among you sick? Then that person should send for the elders of the church to pray over them. They should ask the elders to anoint them with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer offered by those who have faith will make the sick person well. The Lord will heal them. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another. Pray for one another so that you might be healed. The prayer of a godly person is powerful. Things happen because of it.
Elijah was a human being, just as we are. He prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain. And it didn’t rain on the land for three and a half years. Then he prayed again. That time it rained. And the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, suppose one of you wanders away from the truth. And suppose someone brings that person back. Then here is what I want you to remember. Anyone who keeps a sinner from going astray will save them from death. God will erase many sins by forgiving them.

Mark 9.38-50
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones - those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where“ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?

Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

*Many years ago whilst in ministry in a pentecostal church it was the party line that those of the RC persuasion were to be considered as unbelievers and were fair game for conversion into the truer heresy, whoops - I meant faith,  that was our brand of church. Once when pointing out the Spirit-filled RC believers I knew I was almost made to stand in the naughty corner!!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Morning Prayer - 25 September 2015

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, Spiritual Writer, 1626
Sergei of Radonezh, Russian Monastic Reformer, Teacher of the Faith, 1392
Ember Day

Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness; according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults and my sin is ever before me. 

Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and righteous in your judgement. I have been wicked even from my birth, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

Behold, you desire truth deep within me and shall make me understand wisdom in the depths of my heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice. Turn your face from my sins and blot out all my misdeeds.

Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy spirit from me. Give me again the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your gracious spirit; Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked and sinners shall return to you. Deliver me from my guilt, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it; you take no delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

O be favourable and gracious to Zion; build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness, the burnt offerings and oblations; then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.

Psalm 54
Save me, O God, by your name and vindicate me by your power. Hear my prayer, O God; give heed to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless seek after my life; they have not set God before them.

Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who upholds my life. May evil rebound on those who lie in wait for me; destroy them in your faithfulness. An offering of a free heart will I give you and praise your name, O Lord, for it is gracious. For he has delivered me out of all my trouble, and my eye has seen the downfall of my enemies.

Ezekiel 8
In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the LordGod fell upon me there. I looked, and there was a figure that looked like a human being; below what appeared to be its loins it was fire, and above the loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming amber. It stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, to the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I had seen in the valley. Then God said to me, ‘O mortal, lift up your eyes now in the direction of the north.’ So I lifted up my eyes towards the north, and there, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. He said to me, ‘Mortal, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? Yet you will see still greater abominations.’

 And he brought me to the entrance of the court; I looked, and there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, dig through the wall’; and when I dug through the wall, there was an entrance. He said to me, ‘Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.’ So I went in and looked; there, portrayed on the wall all round, were all kinds of creeping things, and loathsome animals, and all the idols of the house of Israel. Before them stood seventy of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the fragrant cloud of incense was ascending. Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of images? For they say, “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.” ’ He said also to me, ‘You will see still greater abominations that they are committing.’
 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord; women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O mortal? You will see still greater abominations than these.’

 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; there, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces towards the east, prostrating themselves to the sun towards the east. Then he said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O mortal? Is it not bad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here? Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further? See, they are putting the branch to their nose! Therefore I will act in wrath; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry in my hearing with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.’

Mark 13.24-31
‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The Collect
Lord God,
who gave to Lancelot Andrewes many gifts of your Holy Spirit,
making him a man of prayer and a pastor of your people:
perfect in us that which is lacking in your gifts,
      of faith, to increase it,
      of hope, to establish it,
      of love, to kindle it,
that we may live in the light of your grace and glory;
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, 24 September 2015

Do you know where to stick your church?

No, not something rude - I'd like to offer a little challenge this morning:

Take a look at these two images and think about what your can see, and perhaps what you know and perhaps what you assume about the two buildings, the people in them and the people around them - what are the differences (and similarities) between them? 

A recent conversation I overheard (and keep back from) was heading towards, 'Burn the cathedrals and put those in sector ministry in the diocese to the sword'. A foolish misunderstanding of many of the realities of church and yet a realistic observation when some are considered as well!

So Take a look and have think about them:

Here are some of the possible responses:

One has a black border around it - but it isn't dying (intact it's pretty stable and showing gentle signs of growth - of all sorts).

One has blue skies around its domed splendour - but I'd hazard to suggest that it's not all sunshine and roses being there!

One has only one room whereas the other has many rooms - one can accommodate about sixty people whilst the crypt in the other holds about two hundred more than that!

One is pretty and the other is merely something utilitarian and considered by some to be anything but pretty (which is why weddings and baptisms go elsewhere perhaps?).

One is in the centre of an Estate Church: An Urban priority area. The other is situated within one of the most prosperous centres of commerce and law in the world.

One has around fifteen percent of those who come in full-time work - I was told by someone in the other that that's probably the other way round there!

Some might think about the difference between the two locations in terms of IMD numbers (Index of Multiple Deprivation - the higher the number the better the area) one is around 8,500 and the other around 28,000.

One of them charges people to come in (£18 for an adult and £8 for a child) and the other doesn't charge admission (perhaps there's nothing to see?).

One of them has to pay parish share whist the other appears to be exempt (and in fact receives money from the Church Commissioners) from that charge. I'm told that's because they struggle to pay the bills - but then again that's a common area for both I would think.

Some might think that the worship styles differ, after all one has a robed choir and p

Perhaps you've thought of a different difference? If so, plonk it in the comments area and we can see what others have come up with and perhaps grasp some insights which would have otherwise been passed by and ignored.

Here are a few of my own observations to add so grit to the machinery (or hopefully, grist to the mill!):

The differences?

Physical:  Size - Age of the buildings - Location - one is an icon, the other an eyesore (a quote!)

Spiritual: None at all - both seek to witness to the saving power of the cross and the servanthood of Jesus, the Christ. It's all about scale and audience and opportunity. One has a massive footfall and a great tourist trade whilst the other has none of the above!

But when it comes to knowing where to stick a church building, the smaller of the two does something very important for it ministers God's love in a place where hardship, adversity and struggle are quite often to be found (yes, I know that happens in the City of London too, but it's a matter of scale). 

Reputation: The majority of people are in awe of those who work in the larger of the two buildings. How often to you hear an estate church or urban priority minister doing 'Thought for the Day' or being quoted in one of the national papers? The answer is that generally you don't unless there's been something juicy in terms of news. The truth is that the smaller, dare I say more community engaged (now there's an invite to a punch up if I ever heard one), little churches are largely only of import to the people and the communities that they serve.

Extend this to include rural churches and you'll find yourself struggling just as much for although they are a lifeline to many and the remain community cohesion for many in a place, they just aren't counted as equal to the big and splendid places of worship (where sadly admission is charged and egos can be as polished as their floors). I must just tip my hat to the congregation of St Ethelbert - East Wretham, Norfolk to the community that it is and for the wonderful service they had recently to celebrate 150 years since the building's was rebuilt; and a thumbs up to the bishop of Norwich for a great bit of history, Bible and pastoral gathered into his sermon on that day. 

Rural churches are a treasure and focus for many a community

Sustaining the witness: And it is here that perhaps the real difference is to be found for should any conversation of closing an iconic building such as the larger featured here there would be uproar. How could we countenance closing a 'national treasure' and a place of such importance to the tourist industry? I can envisage the letter to the Times now. But when it comes to the smaller, those where 'can't pay - can't have' means the end is nigh, what of the people we serve and where and how do we do are evangelism (of course as a missioner I'll point to pubs and homes and mention 'fresh expressions' but the public understanding is that, as we close building we are no longer voice or influence for good (and God).


Close the smaller of the two pictured here and it wouldn't attract a column inch in the national - I know that because the others who have closed their doors and been merged and reorganised haven't!

Church buildings need to be where the need is and this means that some, where communities have moved away or been incorporated into larger gatherings of people, do need to be closed to make them relevant and among the people they seek to serve. The problem is that we are not just about the 'cure of souls' but we also have the role of being 'curators of a place's memories' too and this means we have more listed building than we need and spend more on upkeep than perhaps we do on evangelising our communities - a situation that cannot continue. So there is the question of ownership and the issue of making Christ known - two areas of friction which leave nasty chafes in embarrassing places (i.e.. in the public domain).

Our challenge: Where I am there are many who treasure the large, imposing and quite ancient building in the centre of town; but few actually come into it as part of the normal congregation. This changes a little when there is a baptism or wedding and more so when there is a funeral, for then it is the old or the pretty church that attracts them all. The smaller churches, unless they are picturesque places, only tend to do baptisms for those with whom they have a relationship and weddings (done one here in the past ten years) are even more difficult (because people want nice photos in a pretty setting) are always done elsewhere.

Answers? These are the hardest bit in all this. As we close treasured, yet almost empty church buildings, and remove clergy: Or better still create multi-beneficed monstrosities: the winner of the ghastliest being eleven church buildings and almost as many communities in a diocese I will not name.

A friend of mine (well they were before I started writing this) who works in a cathedral was telling me how tight the purse strings were in their magnificent pile of stone. The problem was that as they told me about their challenges all I could see was how well off and extremely comfortable they, and their place, were when held up against some in parish ministry I know.

Now I am aware that we can always find those better, and worse, off that ourselves and that balance is they key. ALL of the expressions of Church: Cathedral, Parish, District and freshly expressed are valid and worthwhile; the minute we start thinking otherwise is the day when the Church, standing against itself, begins the final phase of decline and heads towards extinction.

The problem is that whilst I admire the wonderful buildings (as long as I can decide whether and what to give as I enter or leave) and marvel at the history and architecture and the music on offer, this in itself will not get the baby saved, bathed and given the bread of life. 

The same is true of the wonderful examples of parish church which are self-contained, self-satisfied and self-serving: If they don't serve the community around them and don't proclaim the Gospel to those inside and outside their wall, then what are they good for?

And again, look at some of the 'missional' churches out there. Those places who claim to be effective for the Lord and excelling in promoting the Gospel: If they are then we need to sustain them if they cannot because of an inability to pay on the part of the people they serve. We are heading to a time when those who can afford to have a church building will have them and those who cannot, will not. Basic economics: if you can't pay for it then you can't have it (even with non-stipendiary and ordained local minister [AKA licensed lay ministers).

This is an important debate - one that needs to be open-handed and big-hearted and yet, like many things Anglican, there is a danger that the divide between haves' and 'have nots' will see but one side win rather than some from both sides. 

So read, look and think and develop some reasoned thinking before you need it, because as it stands, need it you will. Do you know where to stick your church building*?


* Polite answers only please - and remember, there are many sharp bits to a church building so be charitable too!

Morning Prayer - 24 September 2015

Psalm 56
Have mercy on me, O God, for they trample over me; all day long they assault and oppress me. My adversaries trample over me all the day long; many are they that make proud war against me. In the day of my fear I put my trust in you, in God whose word I praise. In God I trust, and will not fear, for what can flesh do to me? All day long they wound me with words; their every thought is to do me evil. They stir up trouble; they lie in wait; marking my steps, they seek my life.  Shall they escape for all their wickedness? In anger, O God, cast the peoples down. You have counted up my groaning; put my tears into your bottle; are they not written in your book?

Then shall my enemies turn back on the day when I call upon you; this I know, for God is on my side. In God whose word I praise, in the Lord whose word I praise, in God I trust and will not fear: what can flesh do to me?

To you, O God, will I fulfil my vows; to you will I present my offerings of thanks, for you will deliver my soul from death and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

Psalm 57
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for my soul takes refuge in you; in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until the storm of destruction has passed by. I will call upon the Most High God, the God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me and rebuke those that would trample upon me; God will send forth his love and his faithfulness. I lie in the midst of lions, people whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory over all the earth. 

They have laid a net for my feet; my soul is pressed down; they have dug a pit before me and will fall into it themselves. My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; I will sing and give you praise. Awake, my soul; awake, harp and lyre, that I may awaken the dawn. I will give you thanks, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praise to you among the nations. For your loving-kindness is as high as the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory over all the earth.

Psalm 63
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul is athirst for you. My flesh also faints for you, as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So would I gaze upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. 

Your loving-kindness is better than life itself and so my lips shall praise you. I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name. My soul shall be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night. For you have been my helper and under the shadow of your wings will I rejoice. My soul clings to you your right hand shall hold me fast. But those who seek my soul to destroy it shall go down to the depths of the earth; let them fall by the edge of the sword and become a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all those who swear by him shall be glad, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

Ezekiel 3.12-end
 Then the spirit lifted me up, and as the glory of the Lord rose from its place, I heard behind me the sound of loud rumbling; it was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, that sounded like a loud rumbling. The spirit lifted me up and bore me away; I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who lived by the river Chebar. And I sat there among them, stunned, for seven days.

 At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life.
 Then the hand of the Lord was upon me there; and he said to me, Rise up, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you. So I rose up and went out into the valley; and the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. The spirit entered into me, and set me on my feet; and he spoke with me and said to me: Go, shut yourself inside your house. As for you, mortal, cords shall be placed on you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people; and I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be speechless and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; let those who will hear, hear; and let those who refuse to hear, refuse; for they are a rebellious house.

Mark 13.14-23
‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.

The Collect
O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know  what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
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.