Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008, Carol Service, Bruce

I love Christmas decorations, especially the more imaginative ones. There are some very festive ones installed along the Frimley road. They are bright, multicoloured, and the flash merrily. Very Christmassy. And the clever thing is that you have to be driving at a certain speed to get them to come on. If you go fast enough, the decoration flashes at you, and you are rewarded with the number 30. It’s lovely.

The number is always 30, though. I wonder if you can get a different number if you go faster?

Or do you think I might have misunderstood the point?

Thousands of outraged fans are flooding Facebook, Myspace and other sites with vitriol: Alexandra Burke seems a lovely girl and sings well, but how can she understand a song like Hallelujah. It sounds vaguely spiritual, and religious, liturgical even. How appropriate to release it for the Christmas market.

Except that it is mournful, wistful, a song about a doomed love affair. The bible references are to King David being tempted into adultery with Bathsheba, and Samson having his hair cut by Delilah (OK, she did not do the actual cutting). After this service, I hope that you will stay for some refreshments, but you may still have time to go home and download the Jeff Buckley version as a protest before the polls close this evening.

Unless you prefer one of Leonard Cohen’s original versions.

And all of this might seem entirely irrelevant to you.

But how hard do we find it sometimes to engage with the real meaning of Christmas?

It is familiar territory to bemoan the increasing commercialism, the tawdry offerings of the entertainment industry, the stress that families face when forced to spend time together for the holiday. Even church does not seem to be as good as we remember it from our younger days.

But pause to savour this story that we have been telling, our story of how God loves us and what he has done about it.

From the sin of the first humans recorded in Genesis, through the faith of Abraham and the other patriarchs, through the sins of Samson and David alluded to by Cohen in his song, through the promises made by the prophets of a coming deliverer, through the story of Jesus born as one of us.

Let’s not miss the point of all this. O come, all ye people full of faith: each of us is being personally invited to seek out Jesus and make our personal response to him. The journey you are engaged on may seem as long and tortuous as the journey of any shepherd or wise person from the east, but this is the time to band together with fellow travellers to seek him.

The St Michael’s are a rum lot, but we are purposefully seeking to encounter God together, in Camberley, in 2008 and into 2009, and we are open for all to join us.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas time.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008 Advent 4 Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38, Bruce

Many of us have been out delivering invitations to the people of our parish. A good proportion of the doors I visited have notices requesting that no junk mail be delivered. What is junk Mail? The mass and random distribution of unsolicited advertising material.

As it was my turn to write the message on the back this year, I was prepared to answer anyone who challenged me that this was a personal message from me. More seriously, I would that these are not random. We are trying to cultivate a relationship with the folk who live in our parish, and these leaflets are one small part of that strategy.

The heart of any advertising is that we can offer something that will be of benefit, which the people we are talking to are as yet unaware of. How many of us thought ten years ago that we would never need a mobile phone? And how many of us carry one now?

And yet, there are many products that are offered to me on a regular basis that I am sure I can do without, at least for the present.

And so we turn to Mary. She is favoured, gifted, not in a position that she has earned. How is she to respond?

Some of us visited the Nativity at Wintershall last Wednesday. It was a wonderful and evocative production that inspired worship. And yet, it all looked a little predictable and easy. The angel made his announcement, Mary looked a little perturbed for a moment, and then said OK.

But we are told that she was ‘greatly troubled’ at the words of the angel. She was shocked to the core. The angel feels it necessary to tell her not to be afraid, and well she might have been, both to receive this messenger and to hear his message.

Mary also ‘wondered’ at the words. She thought carefully and explored all that they could mean. She responded with an instinctive love for and trust in God, but she also responded with her mind.

On the face of it, he is telling her something that is good news. Every pious and patriotic Jew has yearned for, hoped for, the birth a deliverer, one to sit on the throne of King David. That she realised the enormity is shown by the song she sings a little later on: My soul magnifies the Lord, he has cast down the mighty and rescued the weak … But she has not expected it to happen now, and for her own life to be so affected, so impacted by the event.

How prepared are we for God to ‘turn up’? We are a community that prays some wonderful prayers, and sings some grand hymns and songs. We celebrate every year the birth of almighty God as one of us, a baby in humble circumstances. Our faith is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we are united in worship, as we gather round the table where he invites us to eat and drink with him.

What at first might have been seen as the renewal of Judaism turned out to be in fact the renewal of the world. In the same way, God wants to renew St Michael’s, and therefore contribute to the renewing of Camberley and the whole world.

God is making us an offer that at first might seem inopportune, or even uncomfortable, that we should allow our lives to be impacted, changed by his activity. It is not a random, unsolicited offering. It is his gift to the people he loves, to us, whom he has chosen to be part of the bearing of his Son for our town, our circle of family and friends, at this time and from this place.

We need to pray and debate and work and give, in order to be part of God’s plan for the renewal of St Michael’s.

Mary was troubled, and she wondered.

If we are to be in any way really touched by God, I suspect that will lead us to be troubled, and will get us wondering a lot.

But God will overshadow us by his Spirit, and nothing is impossible with him.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Sunday 30 November 2008 Advent 1, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37, Bruce

Welcome to the season of Advent. … he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

This is a season in which to live, consciously in the light of eternity. It is about the future, but is rooted in an historical occurrence.

Jesus in Mark 13 is answering questions about the future of the Temple. Far from being an impressive edifice that will last for ages, he prophesies that it will be totally destroyed. He uses the most extravagant of figures of speech, taken from Isaiah; the sun and the moon will be darkened, the earth will shake. We sometimes do the same kind of thing when we speak of a disaster of biblical proportions; we look at the current financial crisis and wonder if it’s the end of the world as we know it. It is still today a usual way of speaking in the east to talk of the mother and father of all disasters. The sky is falling on my head.

What generation would see all this? Those who were around at the truly earth shaking moment, when Jesus died and rose again. Is it true that he is the promised Messiah? Yes, he has taken over from the Temple as the focus of humankind’s relationship with God, and this was proved in AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed.

Daniel 7 talks of the coming of the Son of Man, taking his authority after a time of suffering. Jesus speaks of himself as the Son who has come into his authority, and inaugurates the period of God’s kingly rule here on earth. All of time since Jesus rose from the dead has been this new age, and we still live in it.

There is an alternative view that these prophecies of Jesus should be read with reference to current world events. This is relatively modern, going back to J N Derby in the early 19th Century, and popularised through the Schofield version of the bible; generations of readers believe the words of scripture and the copious footnotes that laid out the future history of the earth. This way of interpreting scripture had a boost in the early 1970’s with the publication Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth, and most recently with Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series.

But we should always ask three questions when we read the Bible. What did it mean to the writer and first hearers? What does it mean to us today? And what should we do about it?

It seems plain that to Mark, Jesus was quite openly saying that there were some things he did know: Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it would be terrible. There were some things Jesus did not know: the exact time these events would take place, although that meant they had to be ready.

All of this was recorded faithfully, and in Mark’s case almost certainly before AD 70. The Christians were able to escape before the armies of Titus arrived to besiege the city, because they had kept in mind the words of Jesus.

However, the urgency and vibrancy of Jesus’ words echo down the ages to us. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his words will not. As we live in this age between the first and second comings, so we also must heed the words to keep watch.

Paul writing to the Corinthians thanks God for the Grace he has given them. They do not lack any spiritual gift as they wait for Jesus Christ to be revealed. From the rest of the letters to them, we learn that this was a church torn by power struggles, turning a blind eye to moral lapses, and confused and casual in their approaches to worship. And yet God has called them into fellowship with his Son, and God is faithful, able to keep them strong so that they will be blameless on that day.

And so we enter this season of Advent together. It is the reminder that this world is broken, far from perfect, and that we share in that imperfection. But a seed has been planted within each of us of Christ. We can hack back the undergrowth, lift out the weeds, pour in prayer and study of the word, and allow God to do a new work in us.

Things will not stay the same. Thankfully, there will be an end, when Jesus will ensure justice and goodness for all.

As three of our number are confirmed today, it is a celebration not of them having arrived, but rather that they have joined us on the journey. Can you remember your baptism or confirmation? Whether it was last year or longer ago than we care to remember, I call each of us to revisit our vows. This is a season in which to live, consciously in the light of eternity.

May we be filled with a spirit of trust and wakefulness this Adventide.

Discussion Questions
1. How do we respond to the often confusing words of our reading?
2. What do we think that these passages have to say to us as individuals and as the community of St Michael’s today?
3. What will during Advent do that is different or extra, so that we might become more like Jesus?

Sunday 23 November 2008 Christ the King Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:15-23 Melanie

I wonder if you have heard the childrens story about the blindmen and the elephant. It is about 6 blindmen, and their attempts to make sense of the elephant in front of them. The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. "How smooth! An elephant is like a wall." The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. "How round! An elephant is like a snake." The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear." The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. "How tall! An elephant is like a tree." The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan." The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope." It’s a simple story, but profound. Each man tried to make sense of the shape, but could only feel one aspect of the animal. We have a similar situation here this morning with two very different pictures of Christ.

In our New Testament reading we had the wonderful message in Ephesians where Jesus is described as the head of all things, and above every name that is named. All the fullness of God dwelt in him, and he reconciled all things to himself. This is an image of a divine king, with all the authority and power over creation.

The second picture from Matthew is quite different. Matthew shows us how Jesus sees his earthly journey as one of vulnerability, suffering and brokenness. Here is a suffering king who lives alongside us in our vulnerability and brokenness. He comes to us not in power, but in humility. This is the king who washed feet and touched lepers.

In your own journey of faith, I wonder which image of Christ you engage with, or perhaps it is a mixture of both images. Of the two pictures I would like to reflect a little on Matthew’s portrayal of Christ as the suffering king. It is an incredibly human picture, and it is worth spending some time on this human aspect of Christ at this time of year when we approach Christ coming to us in the form of a baby. Christ is portrayed as hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison. Yet the righteous who ministered didn’t recognise the face of Christ in those they met. Did they expect Christ to be all powerful? All consuming?

A bit like our picture in Ephesians
Rather than the broken, humble man that they helped each day.

Faith is not easy for many people. For myself faith is a precious gift that is both fragile and elusive. One moment it is clear and strong, the next it seems to have crumbled and vanished. The same might be said about our experience of the presence of God. One moment God can feel almost tangibly present, the next as if he’s disappeared, gone far away leaving us alone, empty, and frighteningly vulnerable.

Throughout tough times I have clung on to the picture we heard today of Christ as a suffering servant. Because it is in the vulnerability of Christ that we immediately get a sense of Christ’s compassion and strength. As we allow ourselves to be drawn into the familiar words we know that we are in the presence of a man of sorrows. Even in the light of his resurrection these images of sorrow cannot be taken away. This is a king who comes to us in the vulnerability and brokenness of the cross.

However we see Christ, one of the most uncomfortable things about having faith in God is the fact that we are called to live out God’s Kingdom in our own lives. The message for us is to share our journey with all around us - even those we would rather avoid. If we are witnesses to Christ in this world, then we have no choice but to come alongside the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner. We are called to see God in difficult places, not just when we get there, but there already, in the people living and dying there. This journey that we are following with God is one that we share with others.

Sharing the journey means opening ourselves to others as we come into relationship with them. Exposing our own feelings and vulnerability is not easy. There will be times when walking with others on their journey will mean sharing their pain and struggles. It will mean not being able to offer solutions, or ways out, from a position of power, but simply coming alongside in our own weakness - just as Christ did.

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King today, we are on the brink of advent. We are waiting for a birth that has not yet happened. We wait and watch. We know that we wait with a king who has risen, one who draws us out of ourselves and calls us to live in relationship with him and with those around us. It is not an easy calling, but it is a road that brings great riches in this life and the next.

Sermon for Sunday 16th November 2008 Second Sunday before Advent

Benjamin Franklin once said; "Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?" The reading is about how we should use the things that God gives us.
We know that God is generous. A talent in Jesus' time was a valuable sum of money worth about two years' wages. We see from this parable that God is generous giving, say, £200,000 to the first servant, £80,000 to the second and £40,000 to the third. Think of the many blessings that God has given you. Life, family, friends, a home, possessions, health, freedom, abilities, energy, etc... and Last Sunday we gave thanks for the freedom that was secured through the sacrifice of many people including those who died and suffered through two world wars and the seventy other conflicts since.
Also, God gives every believer at least one special gift to serve the body of believers. Do you know what that gift is? You might be better asking a fellow Christian who knows you they will be able to tell you what that gift is. And with our gifts and talents comes responsibility; God expects us to use properly what is loaned to us. Everything you and I have is on loan from God. We can't take it with us when we die! God expects us to use what he has entrusted to us for His glory, to further His ways. To help the poor, sick, oppressed, homeless, imprisoned, persecuted. To grow in our knowledge and trust of God and to share this with others. To put it another way we are the face of Christ and the church in whatever we do and where ever we are. We are the faces of Christ in our workplaces, homes, leisure activities, church, school, shops, in our communities.
We need to realise that this parable teaches that we have a responsibility to make our salvation visible and secure by using the gifts that God gives. This will involve us taking risks, stepping out in faith, relying upon God and the gifts that He gives. It will involve some or many failures. The person who hasn't failed has never really tried.
It is said that Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in producing a storage battery. We might assume the inventor would have had some serious doubts along the way. But when asked if he ever became discouraged working so long without results, Edison replied, "Results? Why, I know 50,000 things that won't work."
We have been entrusted with this beautiful church, all the people in the parish and each other. We are all the face of Christ and of the Church. It is not just up to Bruce, Robert, Melanie and Kim its up to all of us to share the good news of Christ to those outside in the community. To make sure that this Church stays open and is fit for purpose for years to come. To make sure that this building meets the needs of the people even if it feels uncomfortable or daunting. We are the body of Christ and of the Church. And if God is for us who can be against us? Don’t answer that one! Anyone visiting the sick at home or in hospital, or lends a hand or takes on a job for someone, represents the Church, Jesus himself. It’s not just the job for the vicar or the curates. It’s not just up to individuals it’s up to all of us.
For like the third servant condemned by his master for doing nothing, so too will we. The servant had not given a second thought to even cautiously investing what had been entrusted to him for a guaranteed but small return. He just played it safe. This parable is a challenge to all who are complacent in their faith, thinking that they are 'safe' yet failing to live the life that God requires of them.
In the service of God there is one ability that is the greatest ability of all. It is not sociability, compatibility, accountability, adaptability, or reliability? Is availability! If we are not available to God, no matter what other kind of ability we have, it is no good. Ability without availability is a liability.
And that means to place one's self totally, absolutely, completely at God's disposal for Him to do anything and everything He wants to do in, through, with and for us, when He chooses. Anything less than that is putting restrictions on God and writing fine print in our commitment contract to Jesus Christ. It is His servant-like attitude that provides an example to us of how we should serve God the Father.
Last Sunday we remember those who sacrificed themselves for their country and for all this meant to them. How much more should we sacrifice ourselves for God who is so much greater than any country and has given us so much, materially and spiritually. He has opened the way to eternal life for us through the sacrifice of His only Son on the cross.
One day Jesus will return and, as we say in the Creed, judge the living and the dead. Everyone will be judged by their response to the Lord Jesus. Those who have acknowledged them with their lips but not their lives will be condemned. The third servant was denounced by the master, do we want to be denounced by the Jesus? And cheat ourselves out of heaven?
We may feel that the responsibility for restoring St. Michael’s, the community inside and outside the church too huge for us to do. It is BUT I know that if we all work together with all our different skills and talents and knowledge and with God on our side – then bit by bit, brick by brick, spiritual seed sowing here and there we will do it. It will take years, we may not be here long enough to see it finished – It will happen because we want to be like the first two servants who readily received their master's gift and joyfully set about trying to use it for his advantage. We want to hear these words for ourselves. `Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!'
The master rewarded them by giving them further responsibilities and inviting them to share in his joy. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is saying "Use it! Don't lose it". Just as an athlete who disciplines himself, training hard and eating the right foods will improve so the believer who works hard serving the Lord and disciplines themselves will grow in spiritual stature.
Prayer: Lord you have given us so much, more than we deserve, give us hearts, minds and show and keep reminding us of our gifts you have given us so that we can make good use of them and help to further your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Three questions:
A] "What am I investing in?" One way of answering this is to examine how we spend our time, money and energy. If we were to construct a league table using these factors where would God be?
B] Where am I talented? What gifts has God given you, materially and spiritually?
C] How can better serve God? We need more people to help. Like many churches we have a small number of people doing the vast majority of the tasks within the church. We need people to help with the Sunday Club, SMYL, to welcome people at the door, to help serving refreshments, and many other things. Every member of the church is equipped and called to help to build it up, numerically and spiritually.
Don't doubt your ability, just give your availability and God will honour that and help you to fulfil the task he is calling you to.

Friday, 7 November 2008


1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18
This morning we live in the present, and it’s very important that we do. The New Testament encourages us to live with the Lord day by day, trusting Him to guide us and to provide for us. We are neither to live in the past (whether filled with regret or loss on the one hand, or nostalgia on the other) – nor are we to be over-concerned about the future beyond the bounds of good stewardship. Christ commands that we be not over-anxious about tomorrow, but allow our lives to be suffused with his peace and joy which pass all understanding. Paul writes “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour; now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). And so, today, we rejoice to say “The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us!”

Nevertheless, our Christian lives in God’s present have to be placed in a framework of God’s past and God’s future. God’s plan for his creation had a beginning and we are assured that it will have an end, in which all the mysteries, doubts, joys and sufferings of this world will find their final resolution. Last Sunday as we celebrated All Saints Day, we read from Revelation and celebrated that great day when Christ is finally glorified, we shall see his face, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. It is of that great day that Paul writes in our first reading from 1Thessalonians 4.

When and how God will bring all his plans to fulfilment no-one can say. The New Testament writers struggle as we do, because if you cannot imagine such a thing, you cannot describe it. You can only conjure up images and words which try to hint at what it will achieve, viewed from our perspective.

In this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul has one particular purpose in mind. He is writing to a group of Christians who expect Christ to return in glory very soon and establish his kingdom in all its fullness. And they have a problem which is deeply troubling them. As time goes by, a number of them are dying, and they are becoming very sad because they believe that these people will miss the Lord’s glorious return. Paul’s purpose in this section of his letter is to reassure them that they won’t miss out.

What they have forgotten is that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will all his followers be raised from the dead. And they will, so to speak, take precedence in the resurrection, and take absolutely full part in Christ’s glory. Moreover, we shall be reunited with those who have gone before us in the faith and (as he says) “So we will (all) be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Today we look back with thankfulness to those who gave their lives in the cause of justice, freedom and faith, and remember them with gratitude. But there must be few among us who have not experienced the loss of loved ones, and so Paul’s words speak to all of us. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection and that one day all our griefs and doubts and puzzles will be resolved, and we shall be together with the Lord who will wipe away all tears from our eyes. For those we love, this is what we can call ‘hopeful grieving’. One day we shall all be together with the Lord. Therefore, let us (like those 1st century Christians) encourage one another with these words.
Matthew 25: 1 – 13
The coming of the Bridegroom in Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel is clearly another reference to that great day when God’s Kingdom will come to its fulfilment. We are beginning to prepare for the season of Advent, the theme of which is the Coming of Christ, and so it’s appropriate that we are beginning to hear warnings about ‘staying awake’ – ‘keeping watch’ – and being prepared for the cry to go up that the Bridegroom is on his way, ‘Come out to meet him’ – when the great heavenly alarm clock sounds to herald the last day.

But in fact the idea of staying awake and keeping watch doesn’t catch the right translation here. Notice that the wise as well as the foolish girls became drowsy and fell asleep. The difference was that the wise ones had enough oil with them, and the foolish ones didn’t. So the right translation is “Be Prepared”, because if, as a disciple, you are prepared, then you can lie down and sleep in confidence, rather than trying fruitlessly to stay awake in anxiety.

Having enough oil must therefore refer to a steady relationship with the Lord which lasts over time and doesn’t run out. We keep this relationship alive by embracing him as he speaks to us through his Word, through Prayer, through meeting with him in our Worship, and taking him to ourself in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We keep it alive by listening to his commands and keeping them – caring for the needy, loving one another and being united in his Body which is the Church. That way we keep the relationship alive and close, and no distance can insinuate itself between us and our Lord.

Notice the test at the end. The Lord says to the foolish maidens: “I don’t know you.” In August I was preaching about the test of the disciple in John’s Gospel being whether we ‘recognise’ Jesus when he appears among us. Now it’s the other way round. When he comes among us, does He recognise you – or me?

It can easily happen in life that you have a great friend, but – over the years – you lose touch. Perhaps the years go by, and gradually (subtly, imperceptibly) the relationship fades to the point where the other person no longer really knows you, and eventually fails to recognise you. If that happens there will come a point when it is too late to re-establish the relationship. What once was precious, has gone. We must never allow that to happen in our relationship with Jesus.

On this Remembrance Sunday we look back with gratitude, and we look forward with great hope. But both the beginning and the end belong to Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, and so the summons is to stay close to the One who holds in his hands both our beginning and our end, because he holds the key to life, death and resurrection, and in him is our present, our future – our hope and our salvation. Stay close – and live each day in faith and in hope.

What does the oil that keeps the lamp alight signify for you today?
Compare Matthew 7: 21 – 23. What makes the Lord recognise and know us personally? Can you think of other relevant passages such as Matthew 25: 31 – 46?
Thinking personally, what is it that makes you feel especially close to the Lord so that you recognise each other?

SERMON : 26.10. 2008. OCTOBER SERIES: “LEARNING TO TRUST HIM” – 4 : “HE WILL GO ON PROVIDING” ROBERT. Philippians 4: 4 – 20 Matthew 6: 19 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...” One of the most clearly focused, memorable and challenging of the commandments Jesus gave us.

Let’s take a closer look. What treasure is he talking about? It seems clear he has primarily in mind material wealth in whatever form we might choose to keep it. The sort of wealth that moth and rust can destroy, or which can be stolen. If he were preaching today, he might rephrase it: “Do not store up your worldly savings in banks where it will be gambled away faster than if you had put it all on the horses, or in stocks and shares where irrational fear will somehow impel people and institutions you are never likely to meet to sell it all off under your nose at bargain prices. Neither put it under your bed in cash where some opportunist burglar may snatch it away the moment your back is turned.”

What is your greatest treasure? It may, of course, not be a material possession at all in the normal sense of the word. It may be a relationship. A husband, wife, son, daughter, friend. That treasure, too, can be snatched away as sadly we hear too often on the news – by a landmine in Afghanistan, a knife or a bullet in the street, or a careless driver on the Motorway. Life and health can be only too fragile; fortunes can be made and lost remarkably quickly; hopes and ambitions blossom but often crumble over time. The pessimistic (not to say ironic) verses of old Omar Khayyam echo down the centuries:

“The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
turns ashes – or it prospers; and anon,
like snow upon the desert’s dusty face
lighting a little hour or two – is gone.”

From a Christian viewpoint, this is not gloomy pessimism – it is simply realism. Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, but store up treasure in heaven, is good advice both for the present and the future. It means right priorities both for this life and the next.

We now have a strong atheistic advertising campaign launched in London to counter current Christian advertising. So on the side of London buses we have the advertisement: “God Probably Does Not Exist. Don’t worry - Enjoy Life!”

Well, I have to say as a Christian that (on the whole) I don’t worry, and I certainly do enjoy life. And my Christian faith is central to that enjoyment. But I remain conscious that I am mortal and this world is my temporary home. And so I try my best to hold everything I have dear in an open palm of the hand. There are two ways to hold things you treasure – in a clenched fist, and with an open hand, palm up. You actually enjoy it more in an open palm. You can see it better, enjoy it more, and you look with a greater awareness because you know that (like a beautiful butterfly) it may not stay long.

Our first reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians which he wrote while in a Roman prison – hardly the place you would choose for a holiday. Yet it is one of his most joyful and thankful letters. Today’s reading begins with the exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again ‘Rejoice’.” Now that would be something to put on the side of a London bus!

And because he is writing in a time of hardship, he has wise words for us in difficult circumstances. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

He then goes on to tell us to focus our minds – not on the negative, the worst case scenario, or in escapism – but on everything that is noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

That is clearly the focus he has achieved in his enormously difficult circumstances in prison (and, remember, he had done nothing wrong), because he then recommends the frame of mind he has achieved: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” May I strongly recommend that you read this passage again – and again – and even commit it to memory.

This is the fourth in our October series of sermons under the heading “Learning to Trust Him” and the title for today is: “He will go on providing.” In the midst of an uncertain life, the Christian learns not to be anxious because our trust is deep in God, who is our rock and our strength, the same yesterday, today and forever. Whatever your circumstances today, and whatever problems or uncertainties you may be facing tomorrow, may the peace of God, which transcends understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

I would end there this morning, but this October series requires us to focus this trust down on to one area of our life, and the life of our church in particular – and that is the Renewal Project for St Michael’s. Having received two presentations at the beginning of this month, we are now in a period of reflection, prayer and choice. How does today’s theme relate to that?

Come back to the overall title: “Learning to Trust Him” and the particular theme for today “He will go on providing”. A moment’s reflection will show us immediately how relevant they are. The proposals we have seen outlined are difficult – difficult to envisage, often difficult to understand, difficult to decide, certainly difficult to put into practice let alone pay for. But if we follow Paul’s words, we are not to go milling around, probably getting more confused in the process, especially at a time when it is essential that the church is totally united in faith and vision. We are not to be anxious, but we are to pray with thanksgiving and focus on everything that is noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable. We are to trust God who has guarded and guided this church for the past 150 years and who is not going to stop now, unless we drive out the Holy Spirit with our own set ideas and prejudices and ambitions.

And as we can’t even take the next step of examining the scope and cost of the various elements without spending a very considerable sum of money, we need to learn to trust God with our giving in a new way. If we truly believe that God will go on providing for us personally, then we will feel generous and confident enough to provide God’s church with the means for him to lead us forward.

This project is going to be a great test of our practical faith. He is going to ask us to put it into action probably in ways we have not contemplated before. We must not fail the test. We certainly do not need to fail, because the God we are here to worship today is utterly trustworthy. If we put our practical trust where our spiritual mouth is, He will certainly not fail us – and what He has in store for us both personally and as a church, is more wonderful than we can begin to imagine.

What does it mean to store up treasure in heaven? How do we do it?
What is the connection between your treasure and your heart?
How are we called to put this into practice (a) in our personal lives and (b) in our church?

Sunday 19 October 2008 1 Timothy 6:6-10 Luke 18:18-30 Melanie

We pray that God would meet us where we are and move us on to where he would have us be. Amen

I wonder how many of you have ever played this game? Hands up those who haven't done this? Thrown a stone in a still clear pond, and watched the ripples go out and out. Further and further. Everyone here must have done this - Thrown a stone - to see how far you can throw, or competed with someone else. All of a sudden that one action causes endless activity in the water - and yet at the centre is still that one stone, that one place where things are still.

In a way it's the same as we have done today - come away from all that activity that surrounds us, busy lives, things to be done, the ripples and activity of day to day life. We've come away from all that activity, for just a short time, to this place of stillness and quietness. To a place where we can come to God. It is an action that goes against society - against the busyness, the constant movement that surrounds us every day.

It is an action that reminds me of the bestseller book ″The cellist of Sarajevo″. It is the true story of life in a war torn city. Sarajevo was surrounded by snipers, who would take pot shots at anything that moved below them in the city square. Buildings were destroyed - architecture gone; ruins of houses were all that was left. The opera house had been burnt down. In the middle of all this sat a young man. He used to be a cellist in the opera house. All he had now was a burnt stool that he had recovered from the opera house. As he sat in his room he gazed out across the square, and saw people queuing up to buy bread - that most basic of food - just queuing for bread. As he watches this little group of people, a sniper opened fire from a rooftop and killed 22 of them. 22 people dead in an instant. Something snapped in the cellist. He took his stool and his cello, and went to the burnt out remains of the opera house. He sat on the remains of the stage, now open to the elements, and played. He played an adagio by Albinoni. The first time he played, some people came to watch. At the end they didn't clap, they just quietly went away. The next day he did the same - took his stool, and cello, sat on the stage and played. A few more people came, but again no one clapped - they quietly went on their way. The cellist did this for 22 days - one day for each of those that had been killed. Each day, more people came to watch and listen. Each day they all went away silently.

But the miracle was that during that time he played, none of the snipers opened fire. It was as if they recognized that this was a sacred moment, a moment that they could not touch or harm; a moment when God was truly present in that war torn city.

What was even more amazing was that one action was replicated across the world. In New York 22 orchestras joined together to play. All over the world people came together in recognition of those 22 anonymous individuals. The one action by the cellist reverberated throughout the world.
We may never know the consequences of our own acts of kindness. Neither should we. They are there and are held with integrity before God. They are often simple actions that ripple outwards towards others.

Let's go back to those ripples. The interesting thing is that the deeper we throw the stone, the more ripples there are. Unless we get the depth, we don't get the impact of the stone in the same way. With God too, unless we have that deep still point at the centre, our actions are not going to be as effective.

How does this fit into our readings today? Both speak of what lies in our deepest heart. One speaks of what it is that we love most. If we love money beyond other things, then our roots, our heart will be in the wrong place. The other tells of the rich young man. For him, he seemed to have everything in his life in place. But his heart was fixed on riches rather than on what was really important. If our hearts are shaped by wealth rather than the deeper mysteries of life, how can we expect our actions to ripple out and have any real impact on those around? Unless we take time to know God at our very deepest level, we will struggle to make an impact on the world around us.
The readings we have today do not speak against those who are rich or wealthy. Rather they ask difficult questions about where our hearts lie. In which country do we dwell? What drives our innermost thoughts? What will be our answer?

Are we to be like the cellist who had nothing to give except music? Or are we, like the rich man, to turn away with sadness because in our deepest being we prefer to dwell with riches?

Material wealth and security or the unfathomable riches of God - the choice is ours.

Sunday 12 October 2008 Matthew 6:1-4 Learning to Trust Him - Step by Step Bruce

Earlier this year I was helping my daughter with a topic in her A level history – the USA. We looked at prohibition, and then at the 1929 Wall Street Crash. I wonder if in 80 years, school pupils will be doing projects on the economic situation in 2008, what the governments and bankers did wrong (or right), and how ordinary people lived through it all.

When we planned this series “Learning to Trust Him” earlier in the year, we had no idea that the rollercoaster ride would be so scary and bumpy. As Kim reminded us last week, there are many in the lesser developed world who must literally pray “Give us each day bread enough for today”. There are many in our own society, perhaps in our circle of family and friends, who have fears about their job, their home, their heating, their retirement.

The good news contained in the bible and still speaking to us today is that we can trust God to provide for our needs. This is true for us as individuals, and it is true for us as the community of the church of Jesus Christ.

I use that language of community, fellowship, involvement, and yet I am aware that we each have our own understanding of what it means to be a Christian. A friend of mine has suggested that there are six ways to think of Church:


We are not all the same. It is important to start from where we are, not where someone else thinks we ought to be. So I bring to you three questions:

Where would you be at your happiest?
Where in fact are you?
Would you like to take a step forward?

So, what do they look like, these six ways of seeing church?

“I give a bit when I am asked because the church ought to be there in case I need it”
Church can sometimes feel a bit like a lifebuoy. There in the background, for emergencies. I’m really glad its there for important times in people’s lives and to support those who are having a rough time. I know it does a lot of good. I want the church to be there for me when I need it too but I realise it costs money to keep it going. I am willing to help out when I am asked, but I don’t think it is necessary to get involved any further than that on a regular basis.
Am I ready to give money to help ensure that the church is there whenever I might need it for myself, my family or my friends? If so, how should I work out how much and how regularly is appropriate, given its value?

“I’m happy to pay towards the cost of the bits of the church that I want and enjoy”The church offers lots of good things which help many people. I see myself as a customer, and I am happy to pay for those things that the church does that benefit me or that I approve of.
Am I ready to give money to help the church do all that it does? How can I work out what is worth paying for, and how much is my fair share?

“The work of the Church is important to me, so I will support it.”
Supporting the church is important. I might not go very often myself, but I feel strongly enough that it should be there for others. So I make sure that I support the church. I am a member, just not a very active member.
Am I ready to give money to help ensure that the church is there whenever I might need it for myself, my family or my friends? If so, how should I work out how much and how regularly is appropriate, given its value?

“I see myself as a member and I wish to contribute to my fair share of the costs”
When we are committed to an organisation, we agree to pay the annual subscription costs. We recognise the value of belonging to that group and that ultimately members carry the responsibility for the costs involved. It is all part of being committed. By contributing to the church on a regular basis, we underpin our sense of belonging and commitment to its upkeep and ongoing work.
Have I taken the trouble to discover how much it costs for our church to carry out its mission? Have I thought and prayed about how much I could contribute towards that cost, having regard to my own financial circumstances?

“My understanding of being a disciple is that I should put God first in my life”
‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ asks the Vicar of every godparent and parent at a child’s baptism. ‘I submit to Christ.’ each replies.
Submission is about recognising a higher power and giving in to that power. Submitting to Christ means putting him first in my life. My desires do not dominate my life but my response to Jesus Christ does. Jesus is in charge of my life and my giving responds to God and his mission rather than just meeting the needs of the Church.
Is my professed submission to Christ in my life reflected in how I deal with my money so that it is used first for his mission and his purpose for us? What would submission mean as I look at my income, my wealth and how I spend it?

“I am called to be Christ-like, and so I give both joyfully and sacrificially – following Jesus Christ”
Jesus had it all - a place in heaven next to his Father and honour and respect to which he was entitled. He did not need to strive for recognition and success, it was his to command but he turned his back on it all and gave it up to become a human baby, born illegitimate, to a teenage girl. He became a refugee and was brought up in a very undesirable area of the Middle East where he spent his ministry touching undesirables, healing the sick, performing miracles and pointing towards the Kingdom of God. He was falsely accused and crucified. He did all of that for us – so that we could see just how much he loved us.
We recognise that we cannot repay Jesus’ amazing sacrifice for us, but we can give praise and thanks by offering ourselves and all that he has given to us in humble adoration.
When I consider the sacrifice Jesus made for us, what is its practical influence on the decisions I make about money and other possessions?

This about you. It does not matter what others are doing. It does not matter what others think of you. Each of us might be feeling better or worse about this subject. The fact remains that God loves us completely, absolutely, as we are, not because of what we do or how much we give.

My request to you today is that you resolve to learn to trust him, more and more, day by day. Take a step forward, even a small one, in prayer, in reading the scriptures, and in giving.
Where would you be at your happiest?
Where in fact are you?
Would you like to take a step forward?

Saturday, 4 October 2008


Key Verse
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:31-31)

The modern Western world is built on anxiety. You see it on the faces of people hurrying to work. You see it even more as they travel home, tired but without having solved life’s problems. The faces are weary, puzzled, living with the unanswerable question as to what it all means. This world thrives on people setting higher and higher goals for themselves, and each other, so that they can worry all day and all year about whether they will reach them. If they do, they will set new ones. If they don’t, they will feel they have failed. Was this really how we were supposed to live?

Jesus’ warnings indicate that much of the world at least, for much of human history, has faced the same problem. The difference, though, is the level at which anxiety strikes. Many of Jesus’ hearers only just had enough to live on, and there was always the prospect that one day they would not have even that. Most of them would have one spare garment, but no more. As with many in today’s non-Western world, one disaster – the family breadwinner being sick or injured, for example – could mean instant destitution. And it was to people like that, not to people worried about affording a new 4 by 4 and foreign holidays, that Jesus gave his clear and striking commands about not worrying over food and clothing. I could not help thinking, while writing this, about a woman I saw on a TV programme sitting by the roadside outside a village in the Darfur region. “Do not Worry… “. I know the situation out there is so complex it beggars belief but in this day and age she should not have to worry – her needs should be met. (Just like that). The current economic crisis, we all know, should never have happened, it should never have got this far but as usual greed and grasping – must have the latest this and that – I know it is more complex than that. The problem is that it’s not just the must have’s that will bear the blunt of this, the have not’s will become worse off as people re-think their priorities and ‘giving’ because things are more expensive. I personally believe it is a challenge to us to continue to ‘give’ as usual, if not more, so that the have not’s and charities are not ground into the ground. After all God has provided and He will continue to provide, but do we trust him to do so?

We now know that anxiety itself can be a killer, stress and worry can cause disease, or contribute to it – producing the enchanting prospect of people worrying about worrying, a downward spiral that perhaps only a good sense of humour can break. As with so much of his teachings, what Jesus says here goes to the heart of the way we are. To inhale a bracing lungful of his good sense is health-giving at every level, but his warnings and commands go deeper as well, down to the roots of the problem he faced in confronting his contemporaries with the message of God’s kingdom. This wasn’t just good advice on how to live a happy, carefree life. This was a challenge to the very centre of his world and to the very centre of our world today and the centre of our world tomorrow.

The kingdom of God is, at its heart, about God’s sovereignty sweeping the world with love and power, so that human beings, each made in God’s image and each one loved dearly, may relax in the knowledge that God is in control. Reflecting on the birds and the flowers isn’t meant to encourage a kind of romantic nature-mysticism, but to stimulate serious understanding: God the creator loves to give good gifts, love to give us the kingdom – love that is, to bring his sovereign care and rescue right to our own doors. At the heart of the appeal is the difference that Israel should have recognised, between ‘the nations of the world’ and those who call God ‘Father’ – that is, between Gentile nations and Israel herself. If the gods you worship are distant and removed, or are simply nature-gods without personhood of their own, then of course you will be worried. If our God is the father who calls us his child, what is to stop us from trusting him? He has provided and will continue to provide.

The final appeal, in this passage which is repeated at various stages in Luke gospel, is not necessarily for all followers of Jesus to get rid of all their possessions. Luke himself, in Acts, describes Christian communities in which most members lived in their own houses with their own goods around them, and there is no suggestion that they are second-class or rebellious members of God’s people. Jesus is returning to the sharing of inheritance with which the passage began, and is showing us the opposite attitude to the grasping and greed which he saw there.

When he speaks of ‘treasure in heaven’, here and elsewhere, this does not mean treasure that you will only possess after death. ‘Heaven’ is God’s created reality, which as the Lord’s Prayer suggests will one day bring ‘earth’ to his way of thinking. What matters is that the kingdom of God is bringing the values and priorities of God himself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world. Those who welcome Jesus and his kingdom-message must learn to abandon greed and anxiety and live by His values and priorities. In other words trust him – He has provided down the ages, He is providing now and He will provide for the future.

Today here at St. Michael’s we have our Harvest Celebrations where we give thanks to God for his great goodness, love, mercy and provision. It is right to do this. However, I believe we also need to take stock of what we have – write an inventory list – it might take some time – it might not – then ask ourselves do we really need this – it is just clutter – is it in the way of our life with God – do we need to get rid of it – sell it, give it away to someone who will benefit from it more than we do, or give it back?! If we sell items – who do we give the money too – send it to where God is showing us. What is in our life’s that is hindering God from moving in our lives? This listing is not just about our possessions, our work, hobbies etc – it is also about what’s in and on our hearts – do we have any unforgiveness, hurts, graspings, resentments, hatredness etc. Then when we have taken stock, we can truly say this prayer:-

‘Thank You Father that you care so much for us that you give us chances to take stock and de-clutter our lives. That you give us second/third/fourth chances. We have lived much of our lives in ignorance of the wealth and peace of your Kingdom. We have sometimes lived as if there is no Tomorrow. We have worried and fretted and feared. We have doubted your promises and not trusted you. Please forgive us and increase our peripheral vision that we might see and live in your Kingdom now, and in the age to come. In Jesus' name and in his power, we pray’. Amen.

1. Jesus gives five reasons in 12:22-30 why we shouldn't worry and strive over the material needs of life, food, clothing, shelter, and the like. What are they? (Read very carefully and then list the reasons).
2. God's care over sparrows is mentioned in 12:6-8. Ravens are mentioned in 12:24. What is similar about these statements? How does the raven differ from the sparrow, from a Jewish viewpoint?
Jesus refers to our focus on material possessions in three negative ways. The first is "worry." What are the other two”:
worry (12:22, 24, 25) ________ (12:28b) ________ (12:32)
3. In what sense is this sin?
4. What is the significance to you that the Father has given you the Kingdom (12:32-32). How does it make you feel? What does it consist of? How is it effective in this life? How is it effective in the life to come?
5. Why should you sell possessions and give to the poor (12:32). What sense does that make?
6. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? (12:34) How can you know?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Sunday 28 September 2008 Revelation 12:7-12 John 1:47-end ST MICHAEL Bruce

In August 2005 I was given the words to our first song this morning. It summed up my hopes and aspirations for what it means to be a Christian here at St Michael’s. I am intrigued to notice that the phrase Open to All was there then, and possibly has been with me for all my Christian life. I think I am still so amazed that God could love even someone like me, that I am determined that his church should reach out to everyone, to be Open for All.

Tomorrow is the feast of St Michael and All Angels. Ray Simpson comments that “Michael is looked upon in scripture as the protector of the individual against evil forces and as the protector of the God-honouring nation against hostile forces. In the Apocrypha Michael is portrayed as ‘the great captain’ who also wards off the devil at people’s deathbeds and escorts them to heaven. Later Christians also regarded Michael as a healer. Many Christian churches on high places are dedicated to St Michael, which means ‘who is like God’: often these are associated with angelic appearances.”

In our first reading today, we read from Revelation of the warfare in the heavenlies. The pivotal role played by Michael is mentioned, but the focus is on the triumph of the Christ, Jesus, the Lamb; we hear of the sacrificial love of the people of God, and the word of their testimony.

In the second reading we revisit the story from John’s Gospel that Robert preached about on St Bartholomew’s day, where Jesus encounters Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael. Nathanael has been meditating on the story of Jacob’s vision of God, and of a stairway where angels ascended and descended from heaven. Robert’s key point was that Nathanael was someone who recognised Jesus when he came, and that we should be a church community which makes that possible for people today. St Michael’s needs to be renewed as we ask what sort of people God is calling us to be, and what sort of building will help us to live that out.

The writers of Lectionaries have had us return to the passage today, however, because it mentions angels.

Why angels? Because they are fundamental to our understanding of God and of how we fit into his world. The New Testament is full of language that refers to Powers, Principalities, Thrones, Dominions, and so on. It may seem archaic and outmoded to us, but it is of great importance. Walter Wink writes:

“ … our eyes and minds are themselves captive to a way of seeing and thinking that can only regard such entities as mere fantasies …. Thus a gulf has been fixed between us and the biblical writers. We use the same words but project them into a wholly different world of meanings. What they meant by power and what we mean are incommensurate. If our goal is to understand the New Testament’s conception of the Powers, we cannot do so simply by applying our own modern sociological categories of power. We must instead attend carefully to the unique vocabulary and conceptions of the first century and try to grasp what the people of that time might have meant by power, within the linguistic field of their own worldview and mythic systems. It is a virtue to disbelieve what does not exist. It is dangerous to disbelieve what exists outside our limited categories.”

If the ancients spilt a drink, or tripped over a step, they did not necessarily see that as a demon fiddling with them. They were as matter of fact as we are. But they were not trapped by a materialistic mindset that limited their appreciation of how the world really works. Organisations and groupings of people have a spirit, what some have called an angel. When the Head of Education for a midlands borough was asked “What makes a good school”, he replied that it was one with “a good spirit”. We cannot always define it, but we know what it means. Some of us have been here when we looked at the concept of the “Angel of the Church”. You will remember that the four factors that come to mind are the physical setting of the church, its history, the leadership, and the sense of call to be who God wants us to be.

For over 157 years St Michael’s has sought to answer that call to be open to all. People who know us speak of a warmth of welcome, and worship that is carefully crafted to meet the needs of many different sorts of people.

Why St Michael? The front cover of the September Magazine posed the question “What is St Michael’s for?” The various images speak of community and love, but also recall the imagery of conflict that is associated with the name of Michael. He carries a sword and a shield, and is ready to combat evil. The banner that Louise Graham painted for us in 1996 puts into pictorial form the truth that we are in a conflict. Exactly as in the first century, there exists cruelty and injustice in the world today. There are wars and disasters. The financial and economic systems are tottering. In our local context there are people who are sad and feel neglected, relationships in difficulty, pride and disillusion. When we pray “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we remind ourselves that we inhabit two worlds and seek to bring this earth into alignment with heaven. When we pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”, we do this because Jesus knew that we need to do so.

The church is at the forefront of this struggle. Jesus said he would build his church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The body of men and women, boys and girls, who have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus, and who together form God’s family here on earth are central to his plan. They, we, reveal his love and grace throughout the world. I believe in the church!

But that does not mean that every manifestation of church is obedient or will survive. There are areas such as Turkey and Northern Africa which were thriving Christian communities once, but today are hardly Christian at all. There are many chapels and church buildings in this country that have been demolished or converted to other use.

Why us? Why should we pour effort and resource into St Michael’s? Surely that can only be justified if we are convinced that it is God’s will. This is the question that we addressed together 18 months ago. We felt strongly that in a town of 30,000, where 1,500 are in church on an average Sunday, there is room for the existing eleven churches, and that St Michael’s is essential to this task. We have a unique “take” on what it means to be a loving, serving, worshipping Christian today. We are a varied family of folk, centred on Jesus Christ, each aspiring to be a disciple becoming more like Christ, each aspiring to be a minister serving more like Christ, each working to build the community of Christ and each ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, so that more people can be helped to encounter God in Christ for themselves, and grow in him.

We find our reason for being in the statement Open for All. Can I encourage you to take that phrase and roll it around your mind? Open for All …

Kinds of people?
Age groups?
Levels of physical ability?
Insights into who God is?
Kinds of music?
New possibilities?

As people and society change, we must constantly be aware and alert, so that we can continue to be as open in 2008, 2009, 2013, as we were in 1851, 1893, 1913. Our only safety lies in a constant, real time encounter with God, and an openness to keep growing in him.

Next Friday marks an important milestone in our pilgrimage, our journey together. Two firms of architects will come and each give a presentation of how this building can be secured so that it will continue to be Open for All in the future. There has been a long gap over the summer in terms of information, because there has been nothing to report. But now we are all invited to a public meeting that is Open for All. The meeting is ostensibly about the building, but it is actually about something much more important and fundamental than that.

What kind of people is God calling us to be? How will we live it out? It is hard for us to visualise the future. We cannot easily build on our past experience because so many possibilities have been blocked off from us. When couples are cancelling their weddings because they cannot afford a hotel reception, we have never been in the position to offer a church hall large enough. When we struggle to accommodate the growing Sunday Club, how can we conceive of future ministry to children and young people?

And how is it to be afforded? How open are we to the idea that God, the living God, will supply all our needs out of his riches in glory? That when we ask him for our daily bread, this is more than a meaningless phrase repeated, it is the actual experience of God’s people day by day. He will provide for us. Are we resolutely self sufficient, or are we open to all that God would like to do in us and for us, learning to trust him?

Today we are privileged to gather to praise God, together with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven. When we do this we are not withdrawing from the real world, we are consciously inhabiting the real world, where God’s love and power are made concrete in the lives we live, and the decisions we make. May God bless you this St Michael’s tide.

Please bow your heads for a special prayer for our Renewal Project:

Dear Lord,
help us so to encounter you,
that we may daily grow in faith and love,
open to all that you have for us,
open for all that you would teach us,
open to all who seek for you,
and open to follow you wherever you lead us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Discussion Starters
1. What is St Michael’s for?
2. How can we be more Open for All?
3. What actions or ministries can you imagine that God might be calling us to here in Camberley?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Sunday 21 September 2008 Matthew 9:9-13 St Matthew The Church Reaching Out in Christ Bruce

It was on 21 September 1995 that I was installed as vicar of St Michael’s. 21 September is the feast of St Matthew. He is almost certainly the man named as Levi in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, and we reckon that he manned a customs post at the frontier between the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas and Philip, or with the Ten Towns region. Jesus recruits him as a disciple by interrupting him at work. I know how annoying it can be when we get an unsolicited call or visit, usually to sell us something. I wonder what Matthew’s initial response was?

There does not seem to have been much discussion: Jesus says “Follow me,” and that is what Matthew does. I notice two things. First, Jesus has been travelling about the area, teaching and doing notable healings and miracles. He is well known. It may be that Matthew is awed, excited, at the thought that Jesus, the rabbi, the teacher, has approached him; and he responds straight away. Second, tax collectors and customs inspectors were not respectable people. Shared meals were important occasions in the time of Jesus. People who ate together felt they belonged together. Pharisees used meals to meet like-minded friends, to express their devotion to God through the careful observance of food and purity laws. Matthew knew he would never receive an invitation to such a dinner, yet here was the Teacher calling him, and arranging to come and eat at his house!

Jesus is roundly criticised for reaching out to Matthew. Surely to have any claim to be godly, he should know better than to keep such company? To enter Matthew’s house is to be at almost certain risk of ceremonial defilement, mixing with those of doubtful lifestyle and lax regard for the dietary rules. Without doubt, in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus is wrong.

It is all about Purpose. The Pharisees saw their chief purpose as being right, keeping the regulations. Jesus saw his chief purpose as helping people to encounter God and grow in him. It is all about people. A healer must get his or her hands dirty.

Jesus quotes Hosea 6. When he says “Go and learn what this means”, he is calling us to reflection. It is not about the surface meaning about the correct way to offer up a sacrifice, it is about the underlying concern, that religion can be merely external, relying on formal codes and observances, where ritual demands have taken the place of love.

So, Jesus was well known (Matthew was thrilled that Jesus called him), and there was a lack of shared understanding about his true mission (the Pharisees were not thrilled).

To tackle the first, how well known is Jesus today? Bonnie Appleton from the Diocese shared some research with the PCC recently, to the effect that only 8% of children have any contact with the church. The majority of the population live lives that demonstrate that Jesus is at best marginal, if he figures in their consciousness at all. Perhaps 10% of the population is in church once a month.

Whose responsibility is it to work at this? We rely upon the grace of God, but we also must respond in obedience. Faith is primarily individual; we each need our personal encounter. But faith is also public. We are called to live in community, demonstrating the love of God within and outside the church.

We do this by praying regularly for our families, neighbours, colleagues and friends. We do this by being prepared to answer their questions when they ask about Jesus. We do this by delivering a leaflet to every home in the parish. We do this by sponsoring events like the Brass Band Concert – funds for a popular and deserving local cause, but also an opportunity for strangers to visit us here. We do this by providing a building for public worship and community use. This was seen as a need in the 1840’s and the church opened in 1851. As Victorian society burgeoned and changed, so the building was altered and added to for forty years, to try to keep up with the needs of society – that it what it is here for. Today we are called to do all that we can to preserve this building, and enhance it so that it can continue to meet the needs of our community and make Jesus Christ known.

The second question is to clarify our understanding of the mission. We are to be Open to All. There is not a single person who is debarred from being a member of our church community. Historically the Church of England has been the church of the middle class and the gentry, but we should be concerned to reach out to everyone. We are called to have a care of the aged and the very young. We must labour to reach and teach the educated and those who have no confidence with written words and philosophical ideas. We must care for the abused and the abuser, the unforgiven and those who struggle to forgive. The evidence is that if Vue were to get their all-day alcohol licence, Jesus would have been in there till late at night (as well as spending hours in solitary prayer to his Father).

For the past 13 years I have tried to offer a leadership into a growing deepening relationship with God. We have tried to be Open to All. We aspire to be a Growing Community of Faith. Matthew was seized by a way of life where Jesus was central, his hearts desire was to be a disciple and a servant (minister) of the gospel, he served and built his community, and he shared in reaching out to others, whatever their background.

Questions to Stimulate Discussion
Where were you 13 years ago? Where would you like to be in 13 years time?
In what ways would you feel that you have encountered God afresh and are growing in him?
How good do you think St Michael’s is at making Jesus well known? What could we do better?
How “open” do you feel St Michael’s is to all? Are there people you are surprised to see here? Are there people, or groups of people, who surprise you by their absence?

Sermon Sunday 14 September 2008 St Killian's, Bissingen Ephesians 4:1-6 Preached by Bruce In German

This is my English text. Thanks to Pastor Eva-Marie Freudenreich and Talita for producing the German text that follows at the end!

Thank you for the welcome, it is very good to be here again.

I have been asked to speak on this short passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. It is a favourite passage of mineIf you read the first three chapters, they are all about our position in Christ. We are “seated” with him in heavenly places. In other words, while we live our lives here on earth, we do so in the knowledge that we are united with Christ, that he has done all that is needed to bring about our salvation, and we can rely upon him. This does not absolve us from doing good things, but God has prepared in advance good things for us to do. Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we are also united with each other in him.

So far in the letter he has been describing who we are and the benefits that are ours, but now we come to Paul’s first real command to the Christians in Ephesus, and also to us. We are to live in a manner worthy of the calling we have received. Literally, we are to walk worthily.

It is very important to have correct, orthodox beliefs. But these are of no use if we do not reflect them in every day life. Indeed the orthodoxy of our beliefs is to be measured in six ways: humility and gentleness, patience and forbearance, love and unity. These can all be summarised under the one heading of Love.

This is the Christian life summed up! A firm in England called Ronseal make paints and varnishes. Their tagline is “It does what it says on the tin.” “Ronseal quick-drying floor varnish: it dries quickly and makes your floor look beautiful. It does what it says on the tin.”

Paul says that it says on the tin that Christians will be known by a way of life that is humble, gentle, patient and bearing with people, loving and devoted to unity. It was Jesus who said: “They will know you are Christians by the love you have for each other”.

So Paul appeals to the Christians of Ephesus, and to us, to live as those who are in Christ. Those who are not Christians know very well how Christians are supposed to live. It probably never happens here in Germany, but in England it is not uncommon to hear someone say:

“So and so is a church going Christian, but they are so hard-hearted, or critical, or proud, or self-seeking, …. If that is what Christians are like, then I do not want to be one.”

Our young people have a phrase: “If you want to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”

So what does it mean to walk like this? Paul explores this in the rest of the letter, giving wise advice for the whole field of our relationships, both domestic and public. He addresses us as neighbours, husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employed, all in a most down to earth way. Finally he gives advice on how we can stand against the enemy.

It is all summed up, however, in the words of our passage before us.

Humility or lowliness was much despised in the ancient world. The Greeks never used their word for humility in a context of approval or admiration. They understood it to mean servile, abject, or subservient. When Paul asks us to be humble, however, he is saying that we should be like Jesus, who came to be servant of all. Humility is essential to unity. Pride lies behind all discord. We need to be not so concerned for our own position, but instead to give respect to the views of others. In this way we will be promoting unity in God’s family of the church and more widely in society.

Gentleness or meekness is a quality of moderation. To be meek is not to be weak. It is to have a balanced personality, able to be strong, but not asserting one’s personal rights. Jesus described himself as being ‘gentle and lowly of heart’.

Humility and meekness form a natural couple. The meek person thinks little about his personal claims, while the humble person does not dwell on his or her personal merits.

The third and fourth qualities also go together. Patience is longsuffering towards aggravating people, while forbearance is that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace.

Love is constructively to seek the welfare of others. It is the foundation of Christian unity, because it is the heart and essence of God. We receive his love, we reflect his love to those around us. We have no choice. Paul writes as a prisoner of, or possibly for, Christ. Physically, he is under restraint; more importantly he is constrained to live a life in union with Christ, and under the influence of his Spirit. Paul is holding open the cell door and inviting us to join him in a glorious captivity that sets us free.

Our union with the one God leads us inevitably into unity with each other. There have been attempts to form visible unity between the different branches of the Church, based on negotiations about doctrine and rules and ways of organising. But none of these will mean anything or make any progress if they are not founded on the love and friendship that Paul speaks of here. There is only one God, not many. Therefore there exists in truth only one church. We maintain different denominations and movements. This could be described as a sin against the unity of God and the love he calls us to share in this world.

In Camberley there are ten churches, representing six denominations. We are trying to do more together. Paradoxically, the more we do together, the more difficult it is as we get to know each other better, and also experience the different understandings and ways of being that we bring with us from the past. But there is the great possibility that we will discover the humility and gentleness, the patience and forbearance, the love of Christ in each other. This will enable us to be transformed into the true representation here on earth of God’s gracious presence in heaven.

As we continue to explore the link between our towns, and between our church families, let us resolve walk to truly live the life, to do what it says on the tin.

May the Lord bless each of you. Amen.

Gottesdienst am 14. 09. 08 mit englischer Partnergemeinde
Im Namen Gottes des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen.
17. n. Trinitatis; sieghafter Glaube
Wochenspruch:"Unser Glaube ist der Sieg, der die Welt überwunden hat" (1. Johannes 5,4)
Lied: "Morgenlicht leuchtet" 455, 1-3
Wochenpsalm: 25 713
Wir beten:
Gott,am Morgen dieses Sonntags kommen wir und danken dir, dass wir in der Gemeinschaft mit unseren Freunden aus Camberley diesen Gottesdienst feiern.wir kommen zu dir, um Ruhe und Geborgenheit zu finden.Wir blicken zurück auf eine Woche mit ihren leisen und mit ihren raschen Tagen,auf volle Stunden und auf Stunden der Ruhe.Laß' uns Dich im Zurückblicken finden!Laß' uns erkennen, wie Du in der letzten Woche mit uns gegangen bist,damit wir mit Mut und Zuversicht in die kommende Zeit gehen können im wissen, daß du uns mit deiner Hilfe nahe bist - und schenke uns jetzt einen guten Gottesdienst.Amen
Stilles Gebet
Wenn ich dich anrufe, dann erhörst du mich und gibst meiner Seele große Kraft. Amen.Schriftlesung Jesaja 49, 1-6
"Lobet, den Herren, alle dir ihn ehren," 447,1-3+6
Unser heutiger Predigttext steht im 4.Kapitel des Briefes an die Epheser. Dort wird uns gesagt (Verse 1-6):
So ermahne ich euch nun, ich, der Gefangene in dem Herrn, daß ihr der Berufung würdig lebt, mit der ihr berufen seid, in aller Demut und Sanftmut, in Geduld.Ertragt einer den andern in Liebe und seid darauf bedacht, zu wahren die Einigkeit im Geist durch das Band des Friedens:ein Leib und ein Geist, wie ihr auch berufen seid zu einer Hoffnung eurer Berufung; ein Herr, ein Glaube, eine Taufe; ein Gott und Vater aller, der da ist über allen und durch alle und in allen.
Gott segne diese Worte an uns allen.
Predigt (Bruce)
„Nun danket alle Gott mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,“ 321
Wir beten:
Du, unser Bruder Jesus Christus,du bist in unsere Welt gekommen, und du willst mitten unter uns sein durch deinen Geist in deinem Wort und in deiner Gemeinde.Gib, daß wir dich erkennen,gib, daß wir dir begegnen - in den Zeichen und Wundern, die du unter uns wirkst.Wo Menschen dein Wort weitergeben;wo Menschen in deinem Namen handeln;wo Menschen deine Liebe weiterschenken,zum Glauben ermutigen und Hoffnung eröffnen.

Wir bitten dich für alle, die gelähmt und unbeweglich sind,weil sie unter einer schweren Krankheit leiden,weil sie vom Leben enttäuscht worden sind,weil sie liebe Angehörige verloren haben,weil sie nicht mehr weiter wissen.Wir bitten dich für uns selbst,die wir uns oft genug nicht von der Stelle wagen,weil wir Angst haben,weil wir unser Vertrauen nur noch in uns selbst und nicht mehr in dich setzten.
Wir bitten dich für deine weltweite Kirche und unsere Gemeinde, daß wir erkennen: Du, Herr, baust deine Kirche und rufst uns zu deinen Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern.Du begegnest uns in deiner Gemeinde als der lebendige Herr.Gib uns dafür offene Augen und Ohren und einen wachen Geist, der dich und dein Wirken erkennt.Segne unsere Gemeinschaft mit unseren Freunden und lass uns alle zu Zeugen deiner Gerechtigkeit, deines Friedens und deiner Liebe. Amen.
Vater unser
Lied: "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren," 316, 1+2+6

Friday, 12 September 2008

Sunday 14 September 2008 Ephesians John 17 The Unity of the Church, Melanie

There was once an old monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Centuries earlier it had been a thriving monastery where many dedicated monks lived and worked and had great influence, but now only five monks lived there and they were all over 70 years old.
This was clearly a dying order.
A few miles from the monastery lived an old hermit who many thought was a prophet. One day as the monks agonized over the impending demise of their order, they decided to visit the hermit to see if he might have some advice for them. Perhaps he would be able to see the future and show them what they could do to save the monastery.
The hermit welcomed the five monks to his hut, but when they explained the purpose of their visit he could only commiserate with them. ‘Yes I understand how it is’, said the hermit,’ the spirit has gone out of the people, hardly anyone cares much for the old things anymore’. ‘Is there anything you can tell us’, the Abbot enquired of the hermit, ‘that could help us to save the monastery?’
‘No I am sorry’, said the hermit. ‘I don’t know how your monastery can be saved. The only thing that I can tell you is that one of you is an Apostle of God’. The monks were both disappointed and confused by the hermit’s cryptic statement. They returned to the monastery wondering what the hermit could have meant by the statement ‘one of you is an Apostle of God’.
For months after their visit, the monks pondered the significance of the hermit’s words. ‘One of us is an Apostle of God’, they mused. ‘Did he actually mean, one of us monks here at the monastery? That is impossible. We are all too old, we are all too insignificant. On the other hand, what if it is true and if it is true, then which one of us is it? ‘Do you suppose he meant the Abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man, a man of wisdom and light. He couldn’t have meant Brother Elred. Elred gets crotchety at times and is difficult to reason with. On the other hand, he is almost always right. Maybe the hermit did mean Brother Elred. But surely he could not have meant Brother Philip? Brother Philip is so passive, so shy, a real nobody. Still he is always there when you need him. He is loyal and trustworthy. Yes, he could have meant Philip. Of course the hermit didn’t mean me, he couldn’t possibly have meant me. I am just an ordinary person.
Yet suppose he did. Suppose I am an Apostle of God. Oh God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for you. Or could I?’
As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them might actually be an Apostle of God and on the off chance that each monk himself might be the apostle spoken of by the hermit, each monk began to treat himself with extraordinary respect.
Because the monastery was situated in a beautiful forest, many people came there to picnic on its lawn and to walk on its paths and now and then to go into the tiny chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate from them, permeating the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, people began to bring their friends to show them this special place, and their friends brought their friends. As more and more visitors came, some of the younger men started to talk with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them, then another, then another. Within a few years, the monastery had once again become a thriving order and thanks to the hermit’s wisdom a vibrant centre of light and spirituality throughout the region.

This is a lovely story of growth, and it sprang to mind when I read the two readings set for today. In our first reading we have Paul talking about the church. Through the church the wisdom of God is to be made known to the rulers and authorities. There is a sense in this passage of the coming together of Jews and Gentiles. It was such a radical message that we can’t begin to imagine it today. The idea of Gentiles being placed alongside Jews would have been anathema to the Jewish people. Theirs was the chosen race, they were the people of God, they were predestined to be the ones who were saved, the whole of the Old Testament is about the history of the Jewish people, they occupied a unique place in Christianity.

A good Jew believed that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell, that God loved only Israel of all the nations that had been made. It was not lawful for a Jew to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth for that would be to help bring another Gentile into the world. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Even to go into a Gentile house rendered a Jew unclean. Paul himself was imprisoned after being wrongly accused of bringing the Gentile Trophimus beyond the barrier (Acts 21.28-29).

For Paul to say that the Gentiles were part of this great plan was as radical to them as eating pork, or abandoning ritual washing. It would have been unheard of. Yet here was Paul saying that this was the great mystery – the mystery that the church was to proclaim. That there was unity between Jews and Gentiles, unity amongst the faithful people of God.

Then we had the passage from John. A prayer spoken by Jesus for his disciples – that they may be one.

But this time it is spoken with the heartfelt cry of one who knows that unity must come from within rather than without. He speaks of unity with the Father, that ‘they may be in us’. On the one hand we have a passage talking of external unity amongst the Jews and Gentiles, and on the other hand a passage speaking of internal unity, between God and ourselves. It is important to bear both perspectives in mind when we think about unity. As the monks in the story discovered, growth and unity doesn’t happen unless there is a focus on both the inner and the outer. Today the reality is that despite all the moves towards church unity, there are as many if not more divisions today than ever, splinter groups breaking away over questions of doctrine, worship and church practice. All too often, instead of testifying to the love of Christ, our relationships with other Christians speak instead of our human fallibility, turning people away from the Church instead of drawing them towards it.

How then do we achieve unity that moves beyond the external, that moves beyond papering over the differences, a unity that comes from the depths, rather than glosses over the surface? Perhaps we will always have to start with what is external – what can be seen by the human eye. Perhaps we have to allow the natural conflict of human relationships.

If any of you remember the TV series The Monastery, shown a few years ago, you will remember how much conflict there was between the participants, as they lived and worked in the environment of the monastery. Yet it was only through allowing that conflict to surface that each of the people in the series realised how much they had to address at a deeper level. In other words it was only through coming to terms with external relationships that each was able to discern something of the inner union with God that Christ was praying for in our second passage.

Inner and outer unity are inextricably linked.

Unity in the church through the wisdom of Christ is something that we can achieve. But if we are to achieve a meaningful unity, then we must go beyond the surface, and look to the inner unity that Christ wanted for each one of us. This means healing at a deep level – and is something that we should allow time and space to happen. Like the monks in our opening story, once it starts to happen we will experience an inner transformation, and that will be reflected in an outer transformation of relationships.
Perhaps our prayer for today and next week should be that we allow Christ to change us from within, and that we experience union with God, and unity in the church.

Questions for Discussion

Read John 17. Can you imagine Jesus describing unity in the church as optional? How essential is it for you?
What have you found that most helps you to get on with other Christians? And what makes it difficult?
Which of the things from question 2 are internal, and which external?
Read Ephesians 4:1-6: how can we live this out?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Sunday 7th September 2008 Nehemiah 1, Building for the future in Christ, Kim

This book follows the story of Nehemiah. He led a group of exiles home to Jerusalem and rebuilt the city’s ruined walls. When we first meet him in Chapter 1, he is the King’s wine-taster. Like Esther and Daniel, he had reached a very high position in the Royal Court. He received the King’s permission to rebuild Jerusalem, and he was made Governor.

Chapters 3-7 makes very exciting reading! Nehemiah’s enemies started by mocking the wall-builders: ‘Can you make building stones out of heaps of burned rubble?’ ‘Even a fox could knock it down!’ But the mockery soon turned into threats, attacks, plots on Nehemiah’s life and false reports to the King. Nehemiah succeeded because of his faith in God… ‘But now, God makes me strong!’ In Chapters 8 -10, Ezra appears and reads the ‘Book of the Law’ (probably the Bible’s first five books) to the people. Shocked that they have disobeyed God’s law, they turn back to him. In the last chapters 11-13, Nehemiah leads a joyful procession around the newly completed walls of Jerusalem. Against all the odds, the Jewish people had returned home in style.

The Book of Nehemiah is about:

- One man and what he achieved for God.
- Teamwork and what can happen when people get united and excited in obeying God.
- Putting down foundations, keeping going even when it is hard work, and bringing the task to completion.
- Problems and difficulties (success did not come easily – at one point the work almost ground to a halt when the team lost its unity).

Nehemiah was a remarkable individual, living in a time when God was at work to restore and rebuild his people. Ring any bells? Nehemiah knew what it was that God had called him to do. He knew that he had to be faithful and obedient to God, and to do all that he could to understand what God wanted him to do. Nehemiah was in just the same position as you and me - and everyone else who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Your calling, your purpose in life, my calling, my purpose in life is to be faithful and obedient to God, and to the very best of our understanding, to do what he wants us to do.

God asked Nehemiah to give his time and energy, to use all his administrative and organisational skills, helping the people of Jerusalem to restore the ruined walls of that city. This work was more than just another building project; it was a public demonstration of the work of God… the rebuilt walls would be like a sign announcing the truth that God had not abandoned his people, that he still had a purpose for them and a future for them. We’re not aiming for that? Are we?
We read about how despite the opposition of neighbouring territories, the rebuilding programme had continued… stone by stone, brick by brick. Even when the opposition was so strong that it was thought that an attack was imminent…still the people had been organised so that some defended while others kept on working on the wall. Nothing had stopped the wall rebuilding programme. But now… something came to light, that threatened to make all their hard work useless and without any point or purpose. It wasn’t danger or opposition from outside… it was a threat from the inside. Or to put it another way…. One part of the people of God was complaining about the behaviour of another part of the people of God. There was deep DIVISION in this community. A division that had developed over time, but which had now reached crisis point.

Does that sound familiar at all?
Think of the issues of Women Bishops or Homosexuality.

Now in Nehemiah’s time the people of God weren’t arguing about the role of women, or human sexuality… but they were a divided community. What was going on that undermined the life and witness of the people of God? To answer the question we need to go back a few years, to the time when the people of Israel first moved into the Promised Land, God had gave instructions to see that the whole land and the wealth of the land was shared fairly between all the people of Israel. There was enough land for everyone’s needs, and it was shared equally. In Nehemiah’s time, life in the Promised Land was hard, food was in short supply. And it was not easy growing crops and raising livestock on farmland that had been spoiled by foreign invaders who had destroyed vineyards, olive groves and ploughed salt into the fields. But in this difficult situation there were some people who still had more than enough for themselves, and there were others who were starving. Now you might think this difference didn’t have to be a problem… I mean if the people of God are a community who care for one another, the very rich could help the very poor couldn’t they? Surely they would have known the OT command that said “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Well it seems that some rich people had been helping the poor… but only in a way that helped them. They had been lending them money at extortionate rates of interest that the poor people simply couldn’t afford to pay back.

Does that situation sound familiar?

Debt was a major problem in Nehemiah’s time, just as it is now. People were getting into debt in order to try to keep themselves and their families alive, not getting into debt just so they could watch the Olympics on a new flat screen TV!

When Nehemiah listened to the complaints of the people who were in debt he went straight to the rich nobles and officials and said… “You are oppressing your own relatives by charging them interest when they borrow money!” Nehemiah realised what the real problem was. The people of God had ignored the rules that God had already given to them to help them. In the records of what God said to his people through the prophet Moses… there was a very clear rule for the people of God. If you lend money to a fellow Hebrew in need, do not be like a money lender, charging interest. (Exodus 22-25). In the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that rule is repeated five times. It was a rule that said if another member of the people of God is in need, you are not supposed to make a profit out of them you are supposed to HELP them!!

There was an outcry and division in the life of the people of God simply because they had taken no notice of God’s commands to them, whether because they forgot them, or ignored them, either way they were not living in the way that God had told them to. That’s why things had gone wrong.

What was Nehemiah’s answer?

He called a public meeting. He told the people that all loans were going to stop right away, even the ones that were OK, where no interest had been charged. He said that all the debts must be cancelled and all the property that had been mortgaged must be restored to the rightful owners and all interest received must be paid back.

What is truly amazing? They agreed to do it!!

I don’t think that’s because Nehemiah was a powerful and domineering figure who bullied people into doing what he wanted. This was a man who had learned to be humble, who had served as a waiter to the King for years. He was willing to be a servant and that he led by example… he didn’t even claim for himself the payments that were his due from the people, so that he didn’t add to their burdens. I don’t think the people did what Nehemiah said just because he was an exceptionally gifted leader, which he certainly was. It seems as if what is going on here is that in this community, struggling to rebuild itself, the people are willing to learn what it is that God wants them to do, and they are willing to be obedient… not obedient to Nehemiah, but obedient to God. A willingness to be obedient to God… that is what is important if divisions are to be healed. The division that there is today in the Anglican Communion can never be healed until we are all willing to be obedient to all that we can understand of God’s word to us in the Bible.
So what has the story of Nehemiah got to do with us, here in St. Michael’s in the parish of Yorktown, Camberley?

Nehemiah’s story is true. It really happened. Jerusalem was in ruins. St. Michael’s Church is not in ruins – not yet anyway – it does need restoration work both inside and out, as do we the people inside and outside. It needed someone with a vision and real concern to get it re-built and Nehemiah set to work and got it done. We need a church full of people with God’s vision for the future on how this wonderful building can be made better and serve not just those who are here today but those yet to come. Yes, and when we get discouraged this story can help us to get a different perspective on things.

Nehemiah set about building a city and a community. This is what we are aiming to do. Yes – one person agreeing with me would be good. In the New Testament this building work becomes a picture of personal and church growth. The Letter from Jude encourages the people to ‘keep on building yourselves up on your most sacred faith’ (verse 20) and the Letter to the Ephesians tells them to ‘build up the Body of Christ’ (4:12). The important building work for today is in personal spiritual growth, having a building fit for the purpose so that numerical growth can begin, and growth in fellowship.

This story is about the right time – I believe it is the right time for St. Michael’s– it’s about conviction, responsibility – we all have a duty to share the good news with those outside which means change, it means engaging, commitment – Nehemiah’s workforce were not constructors – they were ordinary people who were committed to the rebuilding – How committed are you to the renewal project, unity – we can agree to disagree sometimes, watchfulness – being ever ready, praying regularly, fervently – you may think that you are not able to do very much – wrong – this project is going to need all the prayers warriors we can muster – it’s going to need 24/7 prayer, and battling on even when it looks like a lost cause.

It points out the pit falls of the enemy within and the enemy outside (the devil will do his best to put a wedge in, create division, place doubts about the decisions being made, about the people overseeing it). Brothers and Sisters please if you have a concern, doubt, a question, please come along on the 3rd October, if you can’t then let someone know, if you need a lift, ask someone – if you get no joy – ask another and keep asking till you do or put it in writing and give it to a Church Warden or Simon. If you can’t make it at all and there are enough Simon will come along on a Saturday morning – architects may not be there – he is willing to get everyone opinion.

Your voice matters.

Above all it means change and we all know we love change. Change requires transition. Transition is not the same as change. Change refers to the external factors – new building, men in yellow hats, dust, re-structuring and things being difference. Transition is about the inner emotional, psychological and spiritual adjustments we as a community must make if are to live well and even flourish in what will changed around us. If change is about what is beginning, transition is about the journey we must take to achieve that – from the past, through the present and into the future. This will need time and space and it may seem as if we moving at snails pace. But it is transition that enables change to be effective. Our relationship with our past enables us to embrace the future and this needs time and cannot be hurried. Because change without transition is coercion. It is imposed. Unless time is given for transition, change, however worthy and Godly, will always be resented at some level. To make the journey into the new, we must honour our past.

The Nehemiah story can offer us help in these things. The lessons Nehemiah learned can give us pointers as we think about how we can build this church, how we can grow as Christian people, how the numbers in our church can grow, and how the fellowship that we experience with others can deepen.


1. Nehemiah prayed fervently each step of the way – what different aspects of prayer can you find examples of in the passage (1:2-11)?
2. How can we bring these different aspects of prayer into out own prayer life: either: - in our private prayers? – our family prayers and in our church prayers?
3. How do you react when trouble and strive come your way?
4. What role do you feel God is calling you to in the life of St. Michael’s and the community outside?