Friday, 31 July 2009

Sermon for Sunday 2 August 2009 - Melanie

John 6:24-35

For those of you who enjoy baking, I found this bread recipe recently – you might want to try it.

Mum’s bread recipe
• Remove teddy bear from oven and preheat oven to 230.
• Melt 1 cup margarine in saucepan.
• Remove teddy bear from oven and tell Billy "no, no."
• Spread melted margarine in loaf tin.
• Take margarine tub away from Billy and clean cupboards.
• Measure 350g bread flour.
• Take margarine tub away from Billy again and bathe cat.
• Apply antiseptic and bandages to scratches sustained while removing margarine from cat's tail.
• Assemble ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp yeast, ½ tsp sugar, and 200ml water
• Take smouldering teddy bear from oven and open all doors and windows for ventilation.
• Take telephone away from Billy and assure party on the line the call was a mistake. Call BT and attempt to have long distance call removed from bill.
• Sift dry ingredients in bowl and beat well.
• Let cat out of refrigerator.
• Add water and knead dough.
• Rescue cat and take razor away from Billy. Explain to kids that you have no idea if shaved cats will sunburn. Throw cat outside while there's still time and he's still able to run away.
• Wait for dough to rise
• Take the teddy bear out of the broiler and throw it away -- far away.
• Answer the door and meekly explain to nice policeman that you didn't know Billy had slipped out of the house and was heading for the street. Put Billy in playpen.
• Shape the dough to fit into the loaf tin. Bake for 45 mins.
• Answer door and apologize to neighbour for Billy having stuck a garden hose in man's letterbox. Promise to pay for ruined carpet.
• Tie Billy to clothesline.
• Remove burned bread from oven
A bit of fun – but it does bring us to the subject of the gospel today : I am the bread of life.
Those words are so familiar to us today
that it is sometimes difficult to have a sense
of the impact of the words spoken by Jesus.

What is it about bread that is so nourishing for us?
So filling
So essential
That we could not live without it.
We can get a clue from looking at the word bread
in different languages.
In Hebrew it is lehem.
So we get the word Beth (pronounced Bet) meaning house
then lehem – meaning bread
House of bread.
But the same word lahme in Arabic means meat.
So Bet – lehem becomes house of meat.
Bread or meat –
vital to life.
Then there is the Latin.
Cum pane – with bread
has given roots for our modern word companion,
or accompaniment
It implies sharing together,
eating together,
nourishing each other,
walking together.
The one Who accompanies is like a midwife,
helping us to come to Iife,
to live more fully.
It is at the heart of all human growth.
We human beings need to walk together, encouraging each other to continue the journey of growth and the struggle for liberation,
and to break through the shell of egotism
that engulfs us and prevents us from
realizing our full humanity

And then of course there are different traditions around the world with bread.
I heard a story of one western traveler who spent some time with the Bedouin – the nomads in Egypt.
As he travelled with them,
he discovered that part of the hospitality
of the father of the tent dwellers
was to pour out at his feet the equivalent of a bushel of cakes of bread.
The nomads in the desert bake all their bread during the few times when they are close to a generous supply of water.
They make a lot of bread and carry it with them as they travel.
To prevent it from becoming stale on the journey
they bake their bread with a thick hermetically sealed crust,
which keeps the inside moist and fresh.
Once a cake of bread is opened, it must be eaten more or less all at once,
because it cannot be saved.
The father of the tent dwellers picked up one of the cakes of bread at the traveler’s feet and broke it open.
The traveller scooped out the insides and ate the delicious bread.
But even as he was eating the first cake,
the father of the tent dwellers broke another and put it before him.
The traveller thanked him and said that he had had enough now,
but he was urged on to a third one, even though he was only nibbling at a second.
The traveller tried to say that he was very full,
and that he would need to leave soon.
Could the father of the tent dwellers help him to get back to the jeep or take him to the monastery?
He knew that time was pressing,
and he needed to get on somewhere else.
But the father of the tent dwellers broke the third cake,
and urged him to have a fourth.

We’ve probably all been in houses for meals where
it has seemed impossible to say no.
Somehow the gift of food is linked to the gift of the self.
To reject food seems to be rejecting the giver of the food ;
and to consume the food is to offer the gift giver the greatest affirmation.
This poor traveler found himself in exactly the same position.
He was forcing himself to eat a third cake and to nibble at a fourth.
Even then his host was urging him to a fifth, sixth and even a seventh.
When the travelers protests became louder and more forceful,
the father of the tent dwellers did something incredible.
He took one cake after the other from all that were lying on the ground –
all the bread of his family –
and broke each one open in front of the traveler.
The gesture was unmistakable.
He wanted the traveler to know that he had withheld nothing,
that he had put everything at the traveler’s disposal.
He wanted him to know that he had been well received,
and that by this gesture,
this extravagant waste,
this complete sacrifice,
he would be persuaded, convinced of his kindness.

When we hear a story like this,
we begin to appreciate just what Jesus meant
when he said
I am the bread of life.

I am the very essence of life,
the heart,
the physical and spiritual essential of life.
The meat,
the companion,
the accompanier –
all that you need in this life.

You might know the story of the bread church in Liverpool.
The church was called ‘Somewhere Else’ (the name arose because the church meets
above a shop called News from Nowhere)

The old Methodist
Central Hall in Liverpool city centre had been closed, and a lady called Barbara Glasson
was given the following brief:
‘Go and find if there’s a place for the Methodist
church in the city centre; and for God’s sake do something different.’
And taking with her the word ‘bread’ which had come to her, she went.
As Barbara wandered the streets,
meeting and talking to people,
she discovered rhythms,
a sense of the place.
And she started making bread with some friends.
(I don’t think she used the recipe we heard at the beginning)

People became involved in bread making,
some through providing ingredients,
others through coming to find out what was going on, and gradually the community grew.
The church became a focus for many people
– some of them quite needy.
Barbara found herself responding to those with mental health issues,
and those who had been abused?
But through it all God is at work:
in the welcome,
in the faithsharing group,
in Sunday worship,
weddings and baptisms,
in the bubbling up of vocations to ordained ministry.
Barbara describes her ministry as that of a scarecrow.
She has looked lovingly at an empty patch,
hoping for signs of life,
staying with the belief in the invisible things God has sown.

Bread then is vital to life in so many ways.
And today in our service we break bread together. Just as the children of Israel received bread from heaven,
God was breaking bread with Israel,
and so also Christ broke bread with his apostles.
Nothing has been kept back from us by God.
Nothing has been withheld,
and all has been generously supplied.
The divine self emptying love of God
is present with us today
as we too break bread together.
Let us remember too that it was in breaking bread
that the disciples eyes were opened
as they traveled the Emmaus road
and they showed warm hospitality to a stranger.
So as we too assemble as a community,
gather and welcome
and share our lives on the road,
let us pray that our eyes too will be opened
to the risen Christ among us ;
and that as we come together today to break bread,
we will remember those words of Christ
I am the bread of life.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sermon for Sunday 26 July 2009

John 6:1-15 - FAITH - Kim

The story of feeding the 5000 is a well known one and it speaks of about faith.

Andrew said to Jesus, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" But isn't that the age old question. We look at what we have then we see the many who need more than we can possibility give so we ask, but “what are they among so many”. This lad didn't realise how much he had until he gave it over to the Lord. He saw he had only 5 loaves and 2 fish, but the Lord saw it as a gift to be used to feed the hungry people. The Lord made much of the little the boy was willing to give.

Notice, who did the action in this story, Jesus and the boy. It shows the faith of the boy and the power of Jesus to use our gifts to a great purpose. Notice how this all begins. The crowds had gathered and it was time to eat. The crowds numbered about 5,000 men plus women and children. And Jesus says to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread so that these people may eat?" Notice the respond that Philip makes, he comments that it would take more than eights months’ wages. Philip never once asks Jesus what he can do about the situation. Never turns to Jesus and asks him to do something, he relies on his own resources and because of that he fails. Philip is like many of us, we rely on our own resources we rely on me, myself and I so when the tough situations in life come along we have a difficult time coping with them. Philip viewed the situation hopeless even though Jesus was right there, he didn't turn to him and because Philip could not see beyond his own power, he could not help in the situation.

We are like Philip. We see need, we look at our resources, and we decide that we are powerless to help, so we don't do anything. We never think of turning our resources over to Jesus, we never think that maybe he can do something with our little gifts in a way we would never think of doing. Our faith as Philip's faith in the power of Jesus to change situations is often lacking. We would rather trust our own resources, own power, own pride and maybe even fail, instead of turning everything over to Jesus and letting him be in charge.

Now Andrew saw the same problem, he saw all the hungry people and he knew there wasn't enough money to buy food. So Andrew went out among the crowd to see what could be done. He found a boy who had a picnic lunch. It was only enough food to feed one hungry, growing boy, but Andrew decides instead to go and tells Jesus what he had found. Andrew might have had thoughts similar to this: "Well, this boy has only a limited amount of food? But maybe Jesus can do something with it. Yes, I will tell Jesus, if he can calm an angry sea, if he can heal people, if he can turn water into wine, surely he can do something with bread and fish. So, Andrew takes his resources to Jesus. He turns over to Jesus what he has found out. He lets Jesus be in control of his resources.

Then Jesus turns the little into much. Jesus takes the 5 loaves and 2 fish and he turns it into enough food to feed 5,000 men plus women and children with 12 baskets of food left over. Andrew knew that Jesus could do something very special with the limited resources that were present. Jesus took a few fish, bread and turned it into a feast for over 5 000 people.

Andrew is like the boy in the following story: A boy walking along a beach. All along the shore there were thousands of starfish washed up. You could hardly walk on the sand for them. The boy was putting a few in his bucket and taking them back to the sea. A man came along and said, “There are thousands if starfish stranded. Why do you bother? You will hardly make an impression. You will only be able to put a few back.” The boy replied. “It will matter for these few and it will matter to me.” Though our effort may be small, it is counted as worthwhile, and who knows what God will do with it?

Andrew took what the little boy had and shared it with Jesus and look what happened. Andrew did not understand exactly what Jesus could do with the boy's loaves few fish. He really wasn't quite sure what Jesus could do, or how this could help the crowd, but it is important to note even with his doubts, and wondering he still gave this resource over to Jesus, he still surrendered his own will to the will of Jesus.

We are called upon by Jesus to do the same thing. Even if we cannot understand what Jesus will do with our resources, even if we think what we have is very little, we must have faith that Jesus can do something special with our gifts. Remember the story of the widow's mite. She gave the smallest coin, but Jesus said her gift was special because she gave all she had. She was willing to turn her resources over to God so that God in his mysterious way could do something very special with it. It is this kind of faith and trust in God that we are called upon to possess. It is this thinking that everything we have is a gift from the creator, and it is our responsibility to give to him those resources which he has given us for him to use in his way to further his kingdom. He doesn't want us to give with strings attached, or conditions, but he wants our free gifts, he wants our gifts because of the great love we have for him.

We tend to look at ourselves as people who have worked to get everything we have by ourselves. Most of us have worked hard to reach the kind of level of living we have, but just think about those gifts, those talents, those people in your life who were there when you needed, maybe, a helping hand or an encouraging word, or a piece of advice, all of those kinds of things I feel are God's hand working in our lives. So, yes, we have made ourselves what we are, but at the same time we have not done it alone, because God's hand was in there guiding the process whether we were aware of it or not. So isn't it appropriate for us to give back to him some of what he has so generously given to us?

This story is about giving back to God what he has given to us so that God can make out of our little, much. Philip saw the hungry and didn't know what could be done, Andrew saw the hungry and brought a little boy to the Lord hoping that the Lord could do something. He wasn't sure how the Lord would use his gift, but he gave it the Lord, anyway.

And here was a boy who had a picnic lunch, in it contained the poorest bread, and some pickled fish. Probably, his whole meal for the day. And now these men want him to turn it all over to a man named Jesus? Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind? There must have been a lot of thought, questions, of hoping that it would all work out. But the one thing that definitely went though his heart and mind was some faith in this man Jesus not to cheat or hurt or let him go hungry for he was willing to hand over to him the only food he had. Here was a boy with a simple faith. Faith, enough to turn over to Jesus all that he had. He turned over to Jesus not only his bread and fish, but his entire life, for he trusted Jesus to take care of him, to not let him go away from there hungry.

Each week in the YP and verbally, Clergy will ask is there any more ‘Angels’ for the Renewal Project and if you need a modern day story I can think of the SMYL group who on a cold January night walked down to MacDonald’s with their £3 and had a meal together and learning about the children of Cambodia said ‘We must do something!’ ‘What can we do?’ said another. ‘We can raise the money!’ and one could say the rest is history. But God turned their small effort into something bigger than they thought on their own. God turned the £72 they wanted to raise into £510. Allowing them to give £255 to the Renewal Project and give £255 to the Children of Cambodia. Enough to feed 1470 children plus a football.

And Jesus provided, didn't he? He provided for this boy and for more than 5,000 people. What if all of us turned over our resources to Jesus, what if we surrendered to him our entire lives, what if we trusted him to provide for us, can you imagine what he could do!


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sunday 19th July 2009 - Mark 6:30 - Melanie

I came across this story recently.
A 9 year old had recently moved with her family from the grey smoky environment of post war Liverpool, to the wild west coast beach of Piha, just outside Auckland, New Zealand.
The little girl enjoyed the joy and freedom of running barefoot over the dark heavy sand to get to the rock pools. She enjoyed searching for treasures and catching glimpses of life in another dimension ; she was captivated by the smell of the sea, its pure saltiness undiluted by fog or fumes.
She especially enjoyed watching the red and purple crabs. They were bigger than anything she had seen before. They skittered along the sand and rocks, sliding and dancing on the wet surface as they moved out of sight.
She was so enchanted by the crabs that she wanted to capture the moment. So she hid a dead red crab’s shell in her pocket. When she got home, she wrapped it in cotton wool, and safely put it in a flat red elastoplast tin rescued from the rubbish. Then she buried the tin in the depths of her woolly jumper drawer.
The crabshell only came to light many months later when a less than fragrant smell overcame her mother when she was sorting out clothes. She was scolded for her silliness and the crab, now drab, its riotous red ruined by decay, was thrown in the bin.
I was reminded of the story when I read the gospel reading for today.
Jesus’ words to his disciples, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’,
are familiar to us.
We all know the need to rest.
What though is surprising is the point in the story where this phrase occurs.
The disciples had returned to Jesus full of excitement
about what they had been doing and teaching.
We can almost sense the buzz of eager students
anxious to tell their teacher about their success.
My reaction would have been – fantastic
Now go and do some more.
Jesus again pulls us up short with his response –
come away to a deserted place and rest.
The contrast couldn’t be more marked.
From a hive of activity
to rest and retreat
So often we try to organise ‘quiet day’s’ when life is less busy ;
when work is less stressful ;
when activities at home stop.
In fact the time most of us probably need a quiet day
is when life is at full pelt.
When the children are screaming
there’s a pile of washing up to do,
another meeting to attend
another deadline to meet.
It’s at these points that we need to step back
and create a few moments of space ;
of time when we can be with God.
It is through stepping back that we are able to
then step forward.

How then does the story of the crab fit into this?
I think that the times of stepping back –
those odd moments of space –
or even a whole day’s quiet,
are like rock pools.

They mirror the time available to us
between the tides of life’s routines which govern our day.
They are like pools of provision
that offer a few hours in which to explore what might
be revealed about God ;
they give us a chance to contemplate
and the chance to be caught up in the mystery of creation
to become children again
surprised by discoveries about ourselves and our God.
Rock pools are attractive.
There is always the possibility that something wonderful will be revealed in the next one that we dip into.
We know from our experience of God that there is always something more –
because God is a creative God who wants to engage in creation and longs to include us.

Rock pools need a discipline of stillness and attention.
It is easy to give a pool only a passing glance
because there seems to be little of interest.
But when we make ourselves stop and wait and watch,
we often find that a tiny movement takes our attention,
and we witness something special –
a starfish tentacle,
or a flash of tiny fish.
God’s delicate touch –
a wisp of the spirit’s breath,
a tender word,
a minute shift in our interior landscape,
tiptoes into the receptivity of our silence.

When the surface of the pool is disturbed by wind
or made opaque by cloud cover,
we are reminded of life’s demands
and how hard it can be to make space
to honour the interior life and give
attention to our personal well being.

In rock pools we catch glimpses of shy creatures
retreating into safety,
like ideas whose life is not yet ready to be seen.
With patience and time,
both will reappear and allow their reality to be explored.

Of course we don’t need to find rock pools each time we need a time of quiet.
It is possible to have noisy activities around us, and still adopt an interior silence.
We just need to look closely at the reality of our creation.
It might be part of the woods nearby,
the flight of a bird,
or the neighbour’s baby learning to walk.
Whatever we do, all of us need to move away from the bustle of busyness into the rhythm of the natural world again.

We are reminding ourselves of our humanity
and mortality,
our blossoming and our beauty,
our fragility and our fruitfulness.
More importantly we are giving our passionate
ever pursuing God
the chance to catch up
and sit awhile with us in the silence that only lovers share.

So, in these times of intense activity,
where many of us have a tendency to rush rather than rest
let us take moments out,
times when we can dwell with God,
and times when we too can ‘come away to a deserted place and rest a while’.

Questions for discussion

Are there points in your lives where there is stillness and rest?

What do you think about Jesus idea of ‘come away’ when life seems to be in full swing.

Some people ‘diarise’ quiet times ; others fit quiet times in when needed. What do you find is the best method for you.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009



Ephesians 1: 3 – 14 Mark 6: 14 – 29

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins with a glorious, sustained hymn of praise to God. It’s one of the great highlights of the New Testament. But it’s also (typically of Paul) highly compressed. In fact the entire passage we read this morning from verse 3 to verse 14 is (in Paul’s Greek) one continuous sentence, which almost seems to have no end. (To make it readable, let alone understandable, our English translation divides it up for us into sentences and two paragraphs.)

Its compass is immense. Paul looks back to a time before creation, when God made his plan for our world, for us, and our redemption. And he looks forward to the time when God will bring that plan to its fulfilment, which will mean that everything which is now divided, in a state of discord and in bondage to sin, will be redeemed and brought into a new order of reconciliation, freedom, harmony and beauty.

And Paul says that we Christians are already blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. We may not always realise it, but the Christian possesses already every blessing and gift which God can bestow. It is no doubt the case that we often leave those blessings idle in our spiritual bank account, and fail to draw them out, appreciate their value and put them to full use. But potentially, every blessing that God can give, is ours to experience and live out in daily life.

God has chosen us – yes, you and me – to be holy and blameless in his sight (verse 4). He has adopted us as his own children, with all the privileges that brings (verse 5). He has poured his love and grace upon each one of us freely in Christ and wants us to enjoy that knowledge of being loved, being free, being empowered to live lives to God’s glory. God has redeemed us from the power and bondage of sin, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (verse 7). God has filled us with hope, by giving us a real glimpse of his end-plan towards which we are travelling, when He will bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ (verse 10). And God has given us the priceless gift of the Holy Spirit, which not only empowers us for our Christian life, but is the guarantee that you and I will one day inherit the full glory of God’s kingdom (verses 13,14).

Paul’s heart and mind simply burst with joy and praise when he considers just how blessed and privileged we are – and he wants our hearts and minds to burst with joy and praise too.

We may not always see it and appreciate it as we should – and sadly, sometimes, we are tempted to find the pull of sin and the glory of this world even more alluring than the joy of Christ. But God’s love and salvation remain secure and they must be the rock on which we build our lives, and live it out day by day.

So we are blessed to the point of overflowing. God has blessed us with every good gift. And yet – and yet....we do not live on cloud nine every day of the week.

Paul is writing this letter from the confines of prison (or at least house arrest) in Rome. He is soon to face martyrdom for his faith in the Lord who has won him all these wonderful blessings.

John the Baptist has been arrested and imprisoned for criticising his political masters – a fate experienced by countless thousands every day in this age as then. And now he is beheaded because a drunken, debauched ruler has made a rash, ridiculous promise to a manipulative girl and her mother, and then doesn’t want to lose face in front of his guests. A pathetic episode which nevertheless costs John his life – and God does not intervene to prevent it.

And as John has prepared the way for the announcement of the coming kingdom in Jesus, so now in a sense he is preparing the way for the death of Jesus, at the instigation of manipulative politicians who just don’t want anyone rocking the boat, and a governor to whom justice is less important than the inconvenience of a political row, and to whom the death of an innocent man is of no particular consequence and all in a day’s work.

Paul writes about how blessed he is by God, yet he writes too (as I mentioned the last time I preached), about his battles with suffering, depression, imprisonment, discouragement, attacks on his integrity, his preaching, and much else beside.

We too face trials of many kinds, and maybe you are wrestling with troubles of one kind and another today. Reactions will vary. John the Baptist, at one point at least, began to wonder if he had been wrong about Jesus, and sent a message from prison asking for reassurance whether Jesus was the promised Saviour or not. It was a natural doubt. Jesus in Gethsemane begged God to take the cup of suffering away, and yet was able to submit to God’s purpose for him. In Philippians 3: 10,11, Paul finds he can rejoice in his sufferings when he writes:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

We are all Christian pilgrims on the road to glory and the new creation. And it’s important that we don’t try to separate out the spiritual blessings from the earthly human troubles. Please remember that we hold them both together in our one human life. We don’t pretend that earthly suffering can be pushed under the surface, or always banished with a prayer. The spiritual blessings and the earthly pilgrimage are bound up together – intertwined - as every great Christian has discovered. Jesus himself found that the greatest blessing and glory the world has ever seen could only be achieved through suffering and death.

As Christian pilgrims we journey on day by day in fellowship with Christ who travelled the road before us, and although the road may be rough and rocky as well as smooth, God blesses us and redeems us and empowers us and can heal us too, in every situation, as we
keep our eyes fixed on the heavenly home and the new kingdom to which we travel. For (as I quoted last month), Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18......”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, ye inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sunday 5 July 2009 Mark 6:1-6: Unbelief, Doubt & Faith - Experiencing the Difference Kim

In Gordon MacDonald’s "Christ's Followers in the Real World" there is a story of Bill and his dumper truck. It goes like this:
“It had rained for several days, and the dirt road—a narrow passage through the woods to our old home—was a strip of mud. But just how muddy it had become was not apparent until Bill, the local cement-and-gravel man, drove onto the property with his dump truck loaded with sand and crushed rock I'd ordered early that morning. My intentions for the day had included some improvement on our driveway. But that wasn't going to happen—on that day, anyway—because the eight rear, weight-bearing wheels on Bill's truck suddenly sank to the axles in the saturated ground. It didn't take long for Bill to conclude that he wasn't going to go any farther, and so he turned off the engine, climbed down from the cab, and stood for a moment looking quietly at the undignified posture of his vehicle. Moments later he broke his silence. Like most rural workers, Bill frequently expresses his deeper feelings through the use of a special, somewhat limited, vocabulary of nouns and adjectives. In this case he used only one of those words. The word is only four letters long, but because he repeated it several more times, I knew exactly what he thought about my mud and his stupidity for not foreseeing what was likely to happen on a dirt road after all that rain. Then, he turned gave me a sheepish grin and mumbled an apology. Anxieties expressed, we began to study how we could pull the truck with its heavy load from the mud. The plan was to first, off-loaded the rock and sand to lighten the weight on the wheels. Then drive over to Bill's gravel pit, loaded his bulldozer on a flatbed, and return. Bill was confident that the problem would be solved quickly. He attached the ends of a chain to the back of the Caterpillar and to the front of the truck. He revved up the bulldozer's diesel engine and started to pull. I watched as the chain became taut and began to bear the strain of the tug-of-war between raw horsepower and my muddy driveway. The mud won! The problem wasn't with the bulldozer; it was certainly adequate. But the chain wasn't. It couldn't take the strain put on it. Good for some things. Bill's chain simply didn't measure up to this task. It broke as if it were a piece of string. Three times Bill used the remaining length of chain to pull on the front of the truck, and three times the chain snapped. With each failure, Bill expanded further on the vocabulary reserved for stressful situations. And he no longer bothered to apologise. Obviously, a heavier chain was needed: one that matched the demands of the situation. And only when we returned to the gravel pit and found one, did we get the job done. The bulldozer's power was more than adequate, and with the chain of greater strength, it quickly prevailed over the mud. The truck obediently came forth.
That dumper truck is a picture, of you and me in life's darker moments: those times when we feel trapped in the mud of difficult questions and choices, or murky circumstances and painful consequences in life. When there is fear, dread, intimidation, or doubt; when there is a numbing sense of loneliness, insignificance, or apathy. Perhaps we could call those times, common to all of us, the muddy moments of personal experience. We all have muddy moments. Your muddy moments may differ from mine, but regardless of their variety, they are just as real to each of us when we get bogged down. Metaphorically speaking, when muddy moments come, we are likely to spin our "wheels," exhaust our "fuel," put wear on our "engines," and seem to get nowhere. It would be nice to think that we could go through life without ever getting axle-deep in muddy moments. But given our blind spots and rebel-prone spirits, given the unpredictability of other people's choices that have untold rippling effects, and given the random consequences of evil in our world, some muddy moments are a certainty for each of us and should be anticipated. As a businessman, Bill, was realistic; he anticipated muddy moments in his business. And that's part of the reason he kept chains in his shed at the gravel pit. He had to be prepared to pull his machinery out of holes. And when one chain couldn't do the job, he had another one that did. He would have been a naive truck driver if he'd trusted in his "luck" to keep out of muddy holes. No, he knew that he couldn't go out and make a living if he wasn't willing to take some risks that might end up in muddy moments. The chains were there to use when that happened.
We each spend a lifetime developing a view of life in this world that is like a chain. It is your view of life, your faith, your version of reality. I think of my faith as something like Bill's chains when I regularly ask myself, "Is my faith capable of standing up under the tension that goes between power and problem? Does it reach far enough? Does it hold when the mud is the deepest?" Our faith is not made exclusively for muddy moments naturally, but in those times of extreme duress our faith is put to the severest tests and shown to be adequate and realistic or not. In our gospel reading today we find people using three different kinds of faith chains. Doubting faith, Unbelieving faith, Saving faith. Lets consider each and decide which one best fits our faith today.A Doubting Faith - The People Questioned Jesus: Mark 6:2 It’s not wrong to have doubts or questions. We all have them. I Know I do. The true relationship of faith to doubt, is closer to that of courage and fear. Fear need be no threat to courage. What courage cannot afford is recklessness. Take a mountain climber, a Grand Prix racing driver or Army officer. Each one demonstrates a courage which controls his fear and subdues his emotions so that risks are made responsibly and actions in the face of danger are carefully calculated. It is the same with faith and doubt. Doubt is not the opposite of saving faith, unbelief is. Doubt is not necessarily nor automatically the end of faith. What destroys faith is the disobedience that hardens into unbelief. From the moment we are born, we are all doubters. The first sound we make is a cry of terror. "What is this world I am entering?" we cry. "Will my needs be met? Why has my warm secure world changed? Can I really be sure someone out there will feed me and clothe me and care for me?" Nothing in the infant naturally trusts the universe to be fully sensitive to his needs. The baby wants proof - a full tummy, dry clothing, a warm bed, above all, loving attention, those secure arms and that gentle voice and that eye to eye contact - then and only then will he/she begin to trust and smile. In an adult, doubt is but faith suffering from mistreatment or malnutrition. Underneath everything lies trust. From friendships of children to agreements among nations, life depends on trust. Counting on people is trust. Trust is the shared silence, the exchanged look, the expressive touch. Crying for help is trust, shaking hands is trust, a kiss is trust. The highest reaches of love and life depend on trust. There are no more important questions in life than, "Whom can I trust?" The ultimate question. "Can I trust God?" Jesus offered evidence of God's love to prove his claims. Jesus returned to Nazareth because he loved the community in which he had been raised as a boy even though a year before He had been rejected and evicted from the synagogue (Luke 4:16-30). He probably knew each by name. This time, they did not evict Him: they simply did not take Him seriously. Two things astonished these people: His mighty works and His wonderful wisdom. Now there is nothing remarkable in that - indeed I would expect people to find the claims of Jesus astonishing. Jesus claims to be creator, to be both God and man, to have come to earth to rescue us from sin and evil. He claims he will come and live with us in our bodies to enable us to become like him. He claims to hold our eternal destinies in his hands. If we don't find that astonishing. If we have never had any doubts about these claims then it can only be because we do not know that this is what Christianity is all about. His wisdom and miracles. The value of doubt is that it can detect error. We live in a fallen world. All is not true, so not everything should be believed. Doubt is the acid test for truth, the best solvent for error, the Geiger counter for detecting falsehood, the sieve to catch unwanted lumps of irrationality. If anyone says "Just believe" don't. If anyone has to say "Don't you trust me?" don't.I encourage my children to question assumptions, to test theories, to doubt strangers, and I would like to encourage us to do the same. But I also invite us to consider that wisdom, to consider those miracles and ask ourselves the same question the Nazarenes asked, "Where did this man get these things? What's this wisdom that has been given him that he even does miracles!" The search for an answer will lead our doubting faith in one of two directions. The facts will drive us to either saving faith or unbelieving faith, depending not so much on our hearts and minds, as much as our will. For Jesus demands a response, repentance and faith, trust and obedience, a whole change of lifestyle from what we want to what he wants, and that isn't easy not always popular. A Doubting faith, a good place to start, but not to remain.An Unbelieving Faith - The Neighbours Offended by Jesus : Mark 6:3-4 It may sound something of a contradiction to talk about unbelieving faith. But the reality is we all have faith. Martin Robinson’s book called "The Faith of the Unbeliever" points out that unbelievers do not believe in nothing. They often have a very definite set of beliefs, which they may hold just as passionately as so called believers hold to their faith. Research has shown that in today’s society Good actions are more important than right beliefs. Religion is intensely private. The church is largely irrelevant. We could debate the relative merits of these beliefs, till cows come home. The issue that cuts through all the fog is what are we to make of Jesus Christ? And that brings us back to our story. What was the problem for the Nazarenes? Why were they unable to trust Him and experience the wonders of His power and grace as had others? Because like many religious people today who have spent much of their lives in church, they thought they really knew Him, when in fact they didn't know him at all. After all, He had been their neighbour for nearly thirty years, they had seen Him at work in the carpenter's shop, and He appeared to be just another Nazarene. The tragedy is that they ask the right questions but with the wrong attitude. Prejudice so overrules all the evidence that they answer themselves, "Is not this the carpenter? the son of Mary?" The people were "offended at Him," which literally means "they stumbled over Him." The Greek word gives us our English word scandalize. "They could not explain Him, so they rejected Him." That is where scepticism becomes cynicism, where doubt turns into unbelief. Their questions of enquiry became rhetorical, with the sneer of prejudice and the sting of unbelief. That is why it is futile to argue with someone who will not face the facts - because they are no longer looking for an answer but an excuse. Don't give them one. The contempt shown by the Nazarenes said nothing about Jesus Christ, but it said a great deal about them! A Doubting Faith, an Unbelieving Faith.A Saving Faith - The Disciples Followed Jesus : Mark 6:1 Where is the evidence of Faith in this passage? Its there - Mark 6:1. "The Disciples followed Jesus." Don't ignore or underestimate these profound words. Obedience is the path to faith. Obedience is the Pathway to Experiencing Faith. (John 14:21, 23) "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him... If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Obedience is the Pathway to Enlarging our Faith "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32). When we begin to learn to drive we think when we have passed our test we have learnt everything there is to know about driving. Wrong. We may know the theory, now we have to apply it. If you obey the Highway Code you are free to travel anywhere in the country, safely and speedily. Ignore the Highway Code and you drive at your peril. Speed or drive recklessly and you could easily loose your licence or your freedom. Only obedience brings lasting freedom. Obedience is the Pathway to Giving Evidence of Faith. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35). That is what we are here for today - to give evidence before a sceptical world that Jesus is alive, that we have experienced his love and we want to share it. In other words. To believe in Jesus, to experience a saving faith is to be in 'one mind', that what Jesus has said and done is true. To disbelieve is also to be in one mind but in rejecting Jesus. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at once, to be in two minds. Jesus saying, "Stop doubting and believe".

Back to Bill and his chain. Chains are comprised of links. At the foundry each one is forged with the anticipation that it will stand up under an anticipated amount of stress. Some tiny chains are designed to support only a locket or a cross about your neck. Some chains are designed to constrain a prisoner. And some are made for lugging heavy logs out of a forest. The heaviest chains I've seen are used to raise ships' anchors from the floor of the seabed and pull heavy-duty dumper trucks out of muddy holes. You don't want a necklace-strength chain to lift an anchor. And of course, you don't need a chain made for a ship to put around a person's neck. You do want a chain with links forged to face up to the demands of the situation. At each stage of my life I have needed a faith that not only made sense in the peak moments of success but also brought hope and new starts in muddy moments of failure. I have sought a faith capable of helping me accept the person I am who is nevertheless special and valuable in the eyes of the One who put the spark of life in me. There is a chain fit for every situation. When Bill needed one, it was ready, hanging in his shed. For too many years I, and perhaps you, have been too comfortable with versions of reality or faith that, like a lightweight chain, are only useful for the good times. But life, as I am sure you have painfully discovered, has its muddy moments. And if we do not have a chain that is strong enough, the mud will win and drag us down. A faith that is not real-world tested might have the same problem. If you are looking for a chain that will pull you through the worst of this life and get you to heaven, then you need a chain made in heaven. Three chains. Three kinds of faith. Only one will do. Only one is strong enough. A doubting or unbelieving faith will not do. We need to make sure ours is a saving faith. A faith that is placed firmly and securely in our Saviour. Then you will indeed find God is more certain, more faithful and more gracious than our doubting, faltering views of him.Yesterday I discovered a prayer I had written in the front of a book in 1977, 32 years ago. You may like to join me. "Dear Lord, I have a doubting faith, help me find the answers to those doubts and learn to trust you. I have an unbelieving faith, forgive me for denying you and causing others to stumble. I need your saving faith. May the faith that I profess become the faith I show in my actions, and that my doubts no longer be unbelief and no longer founded. For Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen"