Saturday, 24 October 2009

Bible Sunday: 25th October 2Tim:3:14- 4:6 John 5: 36- 47 Caroline Blake

A woman is sitting on the train, reading her Bible. A man sitting next to her, seeming amused, asks her:
“You don’t really believe what it says in there do you?”
“Every word”, she replies.
“OK, he asks. How about the Noah story, the flood, the animals – do you believe that?”
“Absolutely ”, she replies.
“What about God creating the universe in six days?”
“All true, I believe every word”.
“What about Jonah – how could a man live for three days in the belly of a whale?” he asks.
“Yes, I believe that too”, she says.
“Well, how could that be? How could he breathe?”
“I don’t know”, she said. “When I get to Heaven, I’ll ask him”.
“What if he’s not in Heaven?” the man asks.
The woman replies: “In that case, you can ask him”.

Interpreting the Bible today:

We can laugh at the joke but have you ever had conversations like that or found yourself asking those sort of questions? I’ve been having long distance discussions via Facebook with a long lost school friend in Australia, who’s a fervent atheist. His big problem with Christianity isn’t that he thinks science or Richard Dawkins have disproved the existence of God but that he finds the Bible utterly incomprehensible. He accepts that not all Christians take every word of the Bible as literally true and that there are different traditions and approaches within the Church towards interpreting the Bible.
But he really struggles with the tricky bits, that if we’re honest, we probably struggle with also.
For example, the parts of the Old Testament, such as the Fall of Jericho, where Joshua’s army are told to slaughter every living thing in the city. The section ends with the verse: “So the Lord was with Joshua”. Did God really tell his people to slaughter innocent women and children? If so, how do we reconcile this God with a God who according to the Psalms, like Psalm 103, is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”?
The God of the New Testament, who “so loved the world that he sent his only Son…not to condemn the world but to save it”.? These are questions that people often ask, including my friend, and questions that some Christians struggle with also.

Today is Bible Sunday and as we think about the Bible and today’s world, its good to address these issues. How do we handle and interpret the Bible as Christians? We’ve had the famous passage from 2Tim.3: “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man (or people of God) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.

I’m sure that no matter which church tradition we’re from, we’d agree that all Scripture is God breathed, it is inspired by God and carries divine authority. Its stood the test of time but its under tremendous attack in the secular humanistic age in which we’re living., even to the extent where at an art exhibition in Glasgow, a copy of the Bible was daubed with profanities for its so called homophobia – you may have heard about this on the news not long ago.
Its perhaps never been more important that Christians are engaging with these difficult issues on how we interpret the Bible in the world we’re living in today. Its not easy, and its not going to satisfy enquirers and sceptics if we simply say we believe what the Bible teaches because even Christians can’t agree about what the Bible teaches.

What can we agree on? What are the aspects of our faith that are non-negotiable? The Creed encapsulates the essentials of our faith, and most Christians from a variety of backgrounds can unite on that. But other issues are not so clear cut. Women bishops, homosexuality – there are equally sincere Christians who hold opposite views.

The danger is that the Church can become so bogged down in these arguments that it loses sight of its main purpose for existence – to be part of God’s mission in the world, pointing people to Jesus Christ. And the media dismisses the church as being irrelevant and outdated when its perceived as hung up on these issues. And yet, for many Christians, who are passionate about the Bible , these are deeply serious issues as they are about something far deeper and fundamental.

What are the timeless, unchanging truths in the Bible? How do we express them in the kind of language that modern people understand?
Are there aspects of the Bible that need to be reinterpreted for each generation?
Fascinating questions and ones that I think we should all be wrestling with if we want to meet the challenges of faith in the 21st century.

Perhaps this seems disturbing for some of us. For those people who have been brought up as Christians and can remember when Britain was far more ostensibly a Christian country it perhaps seems shocking to be asking these sorts of questions. Are we showing irreverence to the Bible by attempting to interpret it and apply our own human understanding?

Does the Bible have anything new to say to us?

From my own experience, and I’m sure a vast body of Christians from all ages, I would say that as we come together, with an attitude of humility, recognising that the Bible is the Word of God, its divinely inspired, and we ask it to speak to us afresh, it will do so. It won’t undermine its key message, of God’s love for the world, and his supreme self revelation and saving act in Jesus, but it will throw up new insights and perspectives as we seek to discern God’s saving work in the world today.
A rabbi likened the scriptures to a precious gem. As you turn it over, the light refracts differently , giving you a reflection you haven’t seen before. Have you had that experience of reading a well known Bible passage and suddenly seeing something you’ve never seen before? What fresh insights might the Holy Spirit be wanting to show us as we study the whole Word of God and apply its timeless truths to today?

During my training, we were split into groups and asked to prepare and preach a six minute sermon on the passage from Mark 4 on Jesus calming the storm. It was fascinating to hear the different insights and perspectives that came out of that one short passage. God had something unique to say through each person but he also used the experiences, personalities and backgrounds of each person.
Whilst I wouldn’t presume to compare trainee Readers with the patriarchs, prophets and apostles, I think it’s a bit like that with the way the Bible was written. God breathing his word, divinely inspired, through many different people from many different backgrounds over a huge period of time. There’s an underlying unity and thread all through the Scriptures which is God’s gradually unfolding self revelation to humanity, through Israel and supremely through Jesus.
Its God breathed but also human. God used human beings, with their different cultures, experiences and backgrounds through which to speak and as we approach the Bible we need to interpret it afresh for our generation and understand that that we haven’t extracted all the meaning we can get out of it . It’s a living word, that continues to speak to us today. To quote from Rob Bell, a minister and speaker, “When you embrace the text as living and active, when you enter into its story, when you keep turning the gem, you never come to the end”.

Jesus is the Living Word
I don’t know about you but I find that exciting. And to return to our gospel reading today from John 5 Jesus himself rebukes the Pharisees for being so bogged down in the Word of God that they can’t recognise the Living Word himself, standing amongst them! Jesus is the Word made flesh. Sadly its possible to know the Bible like the back of your hand, be able to quote it but not know the One who is himself the Word. There have always been people who claimed to be Christians, who knew the Bible thoroughly, but didn’t have “the love of God in their hearts” as Jesus says in this passage. The Crusaders, the Inquisition, and all the persecution carried out by Christians against so called heretics.
And to a lesser degree, the factions that are still around in the Church, that divide Christians. No matter how much we claim to know and love the Bible, if we don’t have the love of God in our hearts, we don’t truly love and know Jesus, the Supreme Word Himself.

Going back to my friend in Australia, I suspect that his problems in making any sense of the Bible stem partly from his baggage and preconceptions that he’s bringing with him as he reads it. It may also be that he’s not coming with an open mind, genuinely seeking spiritual truth, but looking for ammunition to further his own atheist agenda. But God has a habit of catching people unawares and as he picks out the parts of the Bible he believes undermines its truth claims, it may be that he’ll meet the Living Word, Jesus, himself.

We need that relationship with the Living Word, Jesus, to understand the written Word . He illuminates it, brings it to life so that it has the power to speak to us. In John 6:63 he says “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life”. The Word of God is spirit and life to us when we’re in a relationship with the Living Word. Before I became a Christian, I knew certain parts of the Bible but they didn’t mean anything to me. At best, I thought they were nice words but they had no personal impact on me. It was only when I started searching spiritually, or, maybe, God was searching for me, that it started to make sense. And as I read the Gospels particularly, Jesus started to become real and his words started speaking to me personally.

Some of you know my father and have heard his testimony but he’s an example of someone to whom the Bible made little sense until he encountered Jesus Christ. He came from a non-observant Jewish background, and had been spiritually seeking for years. The rest of my family became Christians but church and the Bible did nothing for him. He just couldn’t see where Jesus fitted into it all.

Eventually, out of the blue, he received a letter from a woman who had met my mum through a Christian healing group, five years previously and had been prompted to pray for him. In the letter she explained that she believed God had asked her to tell him that it was time to choose, and she quoted from several parts of the Bible, all with the same theme of choosing.
“Choose this day whom you will serve”. (Joshua 24:15)
Many people, receiving a letter like that, would probably dismiss it as serious religious derangement , but the moment he read it, my father knew instantly that he was a believer in Jesus Christ. He started to read the Bible and Jesus’ words hit him, “like a sledgehammer” to use his words. When he read “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, he knew beyond any doubt that He is and wondered why he’d never seen it before. Now he can’t get enough of his Bible and is passionate about sharing its truths to help Christians grow in their faith. Isn’t God amazing!

We need Jesus, the Living Word, to bring life to the written Word

The Living Word and the written Word coming together. Without knowing the Living Word, we cannot partake of the power of the written word. And it does have power. Heb. 4:12 puts it like this: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”.

Jesus, the Living Word, comes to live in our hearts, as we offer our lives to him, and so his written word comes alive within us, speaks to us and nurtures us. Isaiah 55, our Old Testament reading for today, says “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me, hear me that your soul may live”. Similarly, today’s Psalm, Psalm 19: 7 says “ The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul”. God’s word nourishes, feeds and strengthens us. It teaches, and comforts. The writer, Victor Hugo, says:”I have found in the Bible words for my inmost thoughts; songs for my joy, utterance for my hidden griefs and pleadings for my shame and feebleness”.

How is the Bible changing us? How do we use it to engage with our world?
Its an amazing Book . Divinely inspired, yet provoking a whole range of reactions, from love and reverence to confusion, bewilderment, anger, division and even hatred.
How are we responding to this Book? Dare I ask it but are we reading it regularly? The Bible Society produced some disturbing statistics indicating that its a low percentage of churchgoers that read their Bibles regularly and yet in Third World countries people will walk for two days to get a copy of the Bible.

If we’ve been Christians for a long time is it still speaking to us in fresh ways? Exciting us, challenging us, disturbing us? Changing us? Are we wrestling with it as we hold the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other and attempt to discern what God might be saying to the Church and today’s world? Can we engage in discussion with the Richard Dawkins’ followers, a hostile media, the spiritual seekers who won’t come near church?

Are we praying and thinking through together our response to these challenges? And above all, are we continually coming to Jesus, the Living Word, that we might have life and the love of God in our hearts? Lets pray that we may be people rooted in God’s Word, filled with his Spirit, showing Jesus, the Living Word, to our rootless, lost generation.

Questions for Small Groups:
Do you find parts of the Bible difficult? If so, how do you respond to that?
What would you say are the “essentials” of Christianity, that are non-negotiable?
Have you experienced fresh insights or perspectives when reading a well known Bible passage? Can you give examples?
What is your own faith story? What impact has the Bible had in your life?
Do you agree that Christians need to be engaging with the issues of today? In which ways can we do so?

Sunday 18 October 2009, St Luke, Luke 10:1-9, Bruce

In Luke’s Gospel, the first ten chapters, we find much about Jesus, his message, his methods.

He was announced by John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and quoting Isaiah: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’

Jesus quotes Isaiah of himself, that he has been ‘sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners’.

After many healings, miracles and exorcisms, he says that he must keep on the move: ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’

He calls Simon and the others to ‘come and catch men’, and they follow him’. He calls Levi, who ‘got up, left everything to follow him.’

He responds to enquiries from the disciples of John that miracles are taking place and that ‘the good news is preached to the poor’.

He teaches his own disciples that not all will receive the good news and act on it, by telling them of the parable of the sower and the soils, in the context that he ‘travelled from one town to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.’

He says we are all to be like a lamp on a stand, shining brightly. We should ‘consider carefully how we listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him’. As if to prove it, his own family try to have him committed! He miraculously sets free the demon possessed man called Legion, but the people of that land are scared and ask him to leave.

Then Jesus sends out the Twelve, to ‘drive out all demons and cure diseases’ and ‘to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.’

On their return, when they witness the feeding of the five thousand, Peter correctly announces that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and Jesus responds that he is going up to Jerusalem to die; shortly after he is transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah appear to discuss his departure. The whole direction of the Gospel changes, as Jesus ‘resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went to a Samaritan village to get things ready for him.’

‘After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.’ When Jesus appeared at a place, they were expecting him; they had had a foretaste of who he was and what he could do.

‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ This is still true today! If the numbers of people in church is reported as declining, what can we do about this?

‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ The mainspring is prayer, something we can all do, from the youngest to the oldest.

‘Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’ We will often be the answers to our own prayers! And the task will not always be easy.

‘Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals’ How often do we allow concerns for comfort and security to slow us down and possibly miss opportunities to serve?

‘Do not greet anyone on the road’ Middle eastern politeness meant that you might be involved in long conversations, obliged to accept hospitality, and therefore kept from your urgent mission.

‘Say “Peace to this house”.’ Offer the shalom of God; it will be accepted by those who are seeking after God.

‘Eat what is set before you.’ Share the lives of the people you visit; this is incarnational. It is also appropriate for those who receive ministry to provide the resources to pay for it!

‘Heal the sick who are there and tell them: “The kingdom of God is near you.”’ Do good for them in material ways, but bring them the spiritual blessings of prayer, healing and God’s word.

So, what should we be spending our money on? As a church community, we are here primarily for mission. We are heirs to those first disciples and the only way that we can with any integrity claim to be Christ’s is to follow his methods and mission. We are called to pray and seek him, but also to plan and work methodically to share the good news of the kingdom of God with the people of our generation.

The good news is that this does not have to be expensive. If we, each of us, take our share in being messengers, gossiping the good news, this will be far the most telling, effective way to help those whom we like and love, serving them by sharing the good news of the kingdom with them. And all else that we do, the building, services, groups, meetings, all – are held up the light of Jesus, to ensure that we are not doing them in any way just for our convenience but so that God’s kingdom can be built.

And above all, we need to pray. Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the power of the Holy spirit to come upon them, and then the will be his ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Questions for discussion
1. What do you make of the picture of Jesus on the move, planning and orchestrating his mission?
2. How often do we allow concerns for comfort and security to slow us down and possibly miss opportunities to serve?
3. What examples can we give of times when we have been distracted by ‘greetings along the road’?
4. What do you understand by ‘Eat what is set before you’?
5. What message would you like the PCC to hear about the way that we raise and spend money?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Sunday 11 October 2009, Sermon on Mark 10:17-31, Kim

(How Big is your Heart?)

When I first read the theme title for today sermon - ‘Anyone who had a Heart’…. Cilla Black’s song came to mind, then ‘Give it some Heart’ – the advertisement for Heart Radio, Shredded Wheat, The logo ‘Give Blood’, and The British Heart Foundation. Amazingly four words had conjured up five different things in my head all of which have nothing to do with the sermon. Except the word Heart. A relatively small organ that does some amazingly humongous things – let’s face it – if it didn’t work we would be dead.
I remember the first time I read this story I was seven years old, reading Mark’s Gospel in bed. When I got to verse 25, I was so alarmed that I shut the Bible, jumped out of bed, and ran into my parents’ room. I shook my mother out of a sound sleep. "Mum," I whispered urgently, "Jesus says that rich people don’t go to heaven!" "We are not rich. Go back to bed," came my mum’s response.
I knew better. I knew I had all I needed plus lots more. I would later learn of fascinating attempts to soften the text (the use of the word "camel" for "rope," of "eye of the needle" for "a small gate"), but the little girl inside me knew that these words of Jesus were clear and hard and scary.
Mark 10:17-31 hangs on the question of eternal life. The rich man wants to know how to get it. The disciples want to know who can have it. And the good news that Jesus offers is this: "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
This story is one of the healing stories. The rich man runs up to Jesus and kneels, just as countless other Jesus-pursuers have done throughout the Book of Mark. The scene is set for him to request and receive healing, and his running and kneeling show that his request is both urgent and sincere. But he is the one person in the entire book who rejects the healing offered him.
"Jesus, looking at him, loved him." He offers him healing. "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." What is the healing that this man needs? What he lacks is that he does not lack. This man is possessed -- but only by his possessions. Jesus is offering to free him of his possession, to cure him of his excess. But the rich man turns his back.
I grieve too. I have accumulated so much since first reading this text. Am I also possessed, but only of possessions? Am I refusing to be healed by Jesus? What can I do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. For mortals it’s impossible. But not for God. To say we must give up all our wealth in order to be saved puts the burden on us to save ourselves. Neither wealth nor divestment of wealth saves us. God does. Even Jesus realised he could not save himself.
Yes, there is still the problem of having too much stuff. It keeps us from realising our need for God because we use it as a buffer against vulnerability. We use it to fill the emptiness in our souls. We use it to feel less susceptible to the vagaries of life. It keeps us from seeing how needy we are.
The rich man’s secure status in life led him to keep asking the wrong question: What can I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus’ response was that there was nothing he or anyone else could do. And Jesus told him to release his wealth and give it to the poor -- to grow closer perhaps to the fragility of life, to take his own place among the poor.
The poor, the sick, the demon-possessed and the children of whom Jesus speaks all live close to the fragility of life. They are thus more likely and more able to respond to a vulnerable Christ. The disciples freed themselves of what would stand between them and that fragility and were somehow able to follow the One whose life would soon be a ransom for many. In many ways we have to be like children, like Samuel or like those who know they are really sick or like disciples who have let go of all the things they once relied on -- in order even to see how much we need Jesus.
What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Even then, letting go of it all is beyond our capacity. The hardest news Jesus has is the best news we could get -- our salvation is impossible except for God. "But not for God; for God all things are possible."
So what can we do with the problem of too much stuff? There is always the danger of being possessed by things. Instead of owning things, they begin to own us and we become possessed by our possessions – or some of us are possessed by the lack of them! We spend much of our lives seeking to gain, to get, to have, and we can be in danger of losing sight of loving and giving of ourselves. Money can be a good reflection of this. Some people’s pockets are as hard to touch as their hearts.
How BIG are our hearts? Are they big enough to look at what we have and decide to share it with our neighbours, those in need? Are they big enough to get involved with the community outside these four walls? Are they big enough to be a disciple of Christ seven days a week? Are they big enough to get involved with the down and outs, the sick, the vulnerable, the children, the abused and the abusers? Are they big enough to give more of our time, talents and money? Are they big enough to give God ourselves? Are they big enough to abandon our comfort zones to share God’s Heart with the world we live in? If they are not, then just like we would die should our heart stop beating, the love of God would cease to be known.
In a moment Samuel, who as yet knows nothing about wealth and possessions except perhaps a favourite toy or his dummy, if he has one, is to be Baptised into the Family of God, a family who loves him and who will do what ever they can to encourage him to grow in the love and knowledge of God so that he will not be like the young ruler. Prayerfully, he will grow up to have a BIG heart. But before Bruce wets his head let us close our eyes and imagine:
Imagine a table. I want you to put on it all the things you want to give to God: your time, your talents, your money, your home, your friends, your loved one; your job, your plans, your future. We are going to need a great big table. We raise up the things we want to give God and say, ’All things come from you, O God, and of your own do we give you.’ But wait, one thing that God wants is still missing. Who knows what it is? GOD WANTS YOU – your Big Heart – More than any gift, more than gold or silver, God wants you. God wants you to give yourself to him. God wants you to give your love. God wants you more than anything. St. Paul said, ‘If I give away all my possessions….. but do not have love, I gain nothing’. (1 Cor 13:3).
Lets pray…..


1. Towards the end of the sermon there is a list of things that God wants from us. Which ones do you/would you find hardest to give over to him and why?

2. We all have talents/gifts/skills. Name yours. If you are unsure what they are, ask the person sitting next to you.

3. How often do you get to use your T/G/S's. If not often or do not use them - would you like to? How can we help you to use yours?

4. How do you feel about the fact that 'for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible?' Knowing that all things are possible with God - does it inspire you to give over to God the things you are unable to? To use your gifts to His glory?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Sunday 4 October 2009

Leviticus 23

We built a Shelter or Booth at the front of church, and reflected on God's goodness in the past, how in the midst of uncertainties we can trust him now and in the future.