Saturday, 22 December 2012


The angel said to Mary : “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you...”

Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. But Jesus could not have been born, and there would have been no story to tell and no good news to proclaim, without the involvement of other ‘key players’ – if I may refer to them like that. First of all there was Mary, of course, and in our tradition she doesn’t always get the attention she deserves. She has her royal place in blue at the centre of the manger scene, but of course everybody looks at the baby – as always seems to be the case. Then there’s Joseph, who gets even less attention, and is generally placed a few steps behind (like Prince Philip!), looking on benignly while the shepherds and the wise men hog the front rows. And that’s a pity really because he clearly plays an absolutely key role both in the birth story and in bringing up this precious boy.

But there’s another key player who generally gets even less attention and doesn’t appear in any manger scene, but without whom there would have been no baby and no story to tell – and that’s the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings God to earth in human form -  a miracle that passes all human understanding.

When God acts on the human stage, it is always and only by the working of the Holy Spirit. It seems to be part of our human nature that we are always trying to do God’s work for him. We plan services and events and organise missions, and engage in evangelism, and say our prayers and read our Bibles. But unless we worship in the Spirit, the liturgy is lifeless; unless we pray in the Spirit, the deepest longings of the human heart never surface; unless the Spirit guides us as we read the scriptures or interpret the words of my lips now to the understanding of your hearts, we are engaged in worthy activities, no doubt, but human breath never quite becomes the breath of life; nor in communion does the bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ. And so we wait and pray and say – Come Holy Spirit and work miracles in our midst. The Holy Spirit is the Agent through whom God works on earth – and we have to wait for him to come or our human efforts are in vain.

The Jewish people had done a great deal of waiting. They had suffered oppression after oppression, and every time they had tried to gain their freedom by their own hands and in their own time, they had been crushed. And so those with spiritual insight had come to realise that nothing of significance happens until God acts – and God acts through the Holy Spirit. It is only when God takes the initiative that the miracle happens, and everything changes.

And so the prophets had seen that nothing lasting would change until God came down among them and acted in the love and power of the Holy Spirit, and in the person of the one they came to call ‘Messiah’ – the One anointed and appointed by God – the new Moses, the new David, the new High Priest, the new and mighty Prophet, the one who would stride out and shepherd his people. And so with every new catastrophe, they flung out their arms and cried to God with their complaint ‘How Long, O Lord, how long?’

Listen to the prophet Habakkuk expressing just this sense of waiting and longing for God to act: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, Violence! But you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (1: 2-4).

And the Lord replied: “The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” (2:3)

I have mentioned before that there are two words in Greek for ‘Time’. One is ‘Chronos’ – that is clock time, human time (hence all the English words associated with chronology etc). The other word is ‘Kairos’ – and that is God’s time, God’s moment, the time when the Holy Spirit acts, and God’s kingdom is revealed for all those with eyes to see. We pray for those critical moments in history when God acts through the Spirit and the world changes.

And what we celebrate at Christmas is that Kairos - that moment – that began when the angel met with a young village girl from Nazareth, and told her that the Holy Spirit was at work in her life and, through her, the world was about to change for ever. The Holy Spirit is the agent of Mission, and God’s mission to the world had begun in earnest.

Any mission to God’s people, and to the world beyond, can begin only when the Holy Spirit acts. Until then, we must wait and pray, and watch for the signs that God is on the move.

Since time immemorial this has presented us humans with two difficulties. The first is the we become impatient, and try to get on with it ourselves. How many sides of A4 have been written describing what God might do if only we wrote the right mission statement and started the action and made inspirational plans? But Psalm 127 reminds us that “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain” and “in vain you rise up early and stay up late...”. Ours is not an new problem.

The second difficulty we face is that, when the Holy Spirit does begin to work, we don’t recognise it, because the Holy Spirit specialises in doing something new, something we didn’t quite expect – even though the signs were there all along. When Herod learned from the wise men that God was in action and the great king was born, he summoned all the religious leaders and asked where this birth must have taken place. And they put their learned heads together and came up with the right answer – Bethlehem. But it seems that not one of them bothered to go there to see for themselves. And so it was left to humble shepherds to see the angels proclaiming the holy birth, and wise men from far away to notice the star and follow where it led.

When Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and came announcing that the Kingdom of God was now knocking at the door, fishermen heard and responded, while the religious leaders denounced it all as dangerous nonsense.

The Holy Spirit does something new and unexpected in Mary, and in Jesus, and the religious people can’t cope with it. It doesn’t fit their traditions, their understanding of the scriptures, their expectations. And so the religious establishment writes off the work of the Holy Spirit as clearly a mistake – some sort of computer error! Sadly, religion doesn’t seem to change much. It’s just happened again at the Church of England’s General Synod. The Holy Spirit has manifestly called women to priestly ministry with all that involves in terms of responsibility, and holy people say ‘No, no – that’s impossible! It doesn’t fit our traditions, our understanding of the scriptures, our expectations! That can’t be right!’ But the Holy Spirit blows a fresh wind – always the wind of change – where he will, and either we feel his holy breath and respond, or we dismiss it all as an aberration. And we hear Jesus, as in Mark 7: 7,8 (quoting Isaiah) ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ And Jesus adds: ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’

Contrast Peter, described in Acts 10, when the Holy Spirit takes him to Caesarea and confronts him with the Roman centurion Cornelius, and presents him with clear evidence that the Holy Spirit has fallen on Gentiles as well as Jews. And Peter accepts the evidence of his own eyes and baptises Cornelius and his household. How far would the Christian mission have got if Peter had responded by saying ‘No, no, this is not possible – it’s against the rules and traditions?’

The Holy Spirit blows where he wills, Jesus tells us (John 3: 8). He blew the breath of life upon Mary, and – probably not being hampered by too much religion – she listened and accepted the angel’s message, and went on to celebrate in words that have rung round the world for 2000 years -  that God has honoured the humble and those who are open to his word, and brought down the proud, the hypocritical, and the self-important – those who think beyond any doubt that they are certainly right.

One of our Christmas newsletters ends with words taken from a certain Professor M’Pherson: I paraphrase slightly...‘The Christian doctrine of the birth of Jesus and the gospel story, argue for an intervention by God, rather than an emergence from the human imagination. It is difficult to believe that humans, on their own, would invent a crucified corpse as a role-model. The gospel story  - part history, part mystery, is too strange and beautiful.’

The story of the annunciation could hardly be a better illustration of that description of the work of the Holy Spirit – so unexpected, so new, so strange, so beautiful.

What does that suggest for us as individual Christians and as St Michael’s this Christmas and in the year to come? I believe it suggests a waiting on God for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not too many human plans, but a great deal of quiet prayer and an expectation of the unexpected. An openness to the Spirit, who – in your life and in mine, and in our fellowship together – will do something unexpected – new, strange and – in his own special way – beautiful. Here’s to a truly Spirit filled Christmas and New Year!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Sermon for the 16 December 2012 - What Should We Do? – Luke 3: 7-18

John the Baptist is a commanding figure who appears twice during every Advent season. On the second and third Sunday of Advent, John appears, dressed as a prophet in his strange outfit of camel hair and leather belt. His speaking style is gruff and blunt, occasionally even insulting.

He issues a call for baptism, repentance, insisting that his fellow Jews start over again and receive the baptism of water normally required only of converts. The crowds come out to be baptised, they are eager for a fresh start, and what does John call them? A brood of viper's - a bunch of baby snakes! That’ll win a few hearts!

But John had a point, though, it’s simply this. They must not rely on what their faithful ancestors did. They must not rely on his baptism of them in the river. If they are repentant, if they have undergone a change of mind, a change in how they live, then that must appear obvious in their behaviour. Just as the owner of an orchard expects the trees to bear fruit, so they also are expected to produce fruit, the glorious fruits of repentance.

What John says produces a response in those who hear him. They ask the obvious question, "What then should we do?" Three groups of people ask this question, and each group gets its answer.

Let's look first at those most deserving of suspicion: the tax collectors. Let’s keep in mind that tax collectors in John's time and place not only represent an imperial occupying power, but are notorious for keeping the difference between what they can extract from the population and what Rome requires of them. Tax collecting is a lucrative racket for those with little or no conscience.
But these tax collectors have undergone a change. "What should we do?" they ask John the Baptist. He tells them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

Next some soldiers approach him. These soldiers are Jewish men in the service of the local ruler who governs at the pleasure of imperial Rome. They are in the unenviable position of enforcing the will of an occupying power in their own homeland. Local patriots despise them as traitors.  They ask the same question as the tax collectors, "What shall we do?"
Jesus tells them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

But the bulk of the thousands of people who are cut to heart by John's call for works of repentance are neither tax collectors nor soldiers; they are not public figures but private individuals. Like you and I. They also ask about the fruit they must produce. "What are we to do?"  John responds, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

John the Baptist tells these tax collectors, soldiers, and private citizens that the glorious fruits of repentance include much that is ordinary. They are to cease from extortion, bullying, and grumbling about money. They are to share with the destitute their surplus clothing and food. John does not ask for anything explicitly religious such as fasting or temple sacrifices. He does not demand the extraordinary, such as his own relocation to the wilderness. What he tells these private citizens, soldiers, and tax collectors is that opportunities to bear fruit appear right in front of them every day. He does not lay down an exhaustive program, a complete way to live, for those who have undergone a baptism of repentance. He simply points out the first step they can take in a new direction. By their repentant behaviour - by what they abstain from doing and what they choose to do - they will leave themselves open to wherever God directs them next.

John presumes that those listening to him will keep asking this question as their situations change: "What should we do?" Later the answers they hear may not come from the lips of a prophet, but from their own struggling hearts.

If those newly baptised in the Jordan have the opportunity and obligation to bear fruits of repentance, certainly those who have received the far greater baptism bestowed on them by Jesus with the Spirit and fire, are expected to bear such fruit as well. The opportunity and obligation to do so will appear in the place John indicated: right in front of them and us. The here and now.

In New Testament Greek, the word for repentance is metanoia, which means literally a change of mind that determines how we live. What opportunities for metanoia appear right in front of us now? What do those opportunities ask of us? To raise the question again, this time about ourselves, "What should we do?"

We could look at our lives. Recognise the places where it is broken. With whom do we need to reconcile before the feast of Christmas comes?
We could look at how we use power (not the electric stuff). Do we use it justly, or are we part of the problem?
We could look at what you have, in our wardrobes, our fridge/freezer, our bank accounts. If we own two coats, if we possess food in abundance, is it time for us to share?

Today's gospel identifies John's gruff and blunt demands as good news. These demands are targeted at us too. When we hear them in faith, we also recognise them as good news. They speak of the fruit we can produce. And when our faith produces fruit, then the world becomes different and so do we.

This in itself is good news. So too is other people's realisation that Jesus remains active in the world, a realisation that comes to them, that consoles and challenges them, because they see it in our lives.

Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, you trouble our hearts with the question, "What should we do?"
Help us recognise how answers to that question are near at hand, right in front of our faces.
Help us to act on our faith by daily choices we make for reconciliation, for justice, for sharing, for joy. May we never cease to ask, "What should we do?" and may we never stop trusting that you will give us an answer. Amen.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sunday 9 December 2012, Advent 2, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6, Bruce
God is at work in the most surprising places.  Luke carefully tells us all the important people who are in charge; he names the emperor Tiberius, the governor Pilate, the tetrarchs Herod and Philip and Lysanius, and the high-priests Annas and Caiaphas.  But where is God on the move?  Today he might have said that it was when Elizabeth was queen, and David Cameron was PM, and Boris Johnson was mayor of London, David Hodge was leader of Surrey County Council, and Bruce Mansell was mayor of Surrey Heath, that the word of the Lord came to someone you never heard of, who lives in a shelter in the woods behind Tomlinscote.  And he starts to quote Chaucer or Shakespeare with reference to today.
As we start a year with Luke, we notice his attention to historical detail, and his concern that all are included in the good news.  “And all people will see God’s salvation.”  He is not quoting merely a poet or playwright from the past, but the scriptures that would be read and studied every day, and he is applying them to everyday life, even in a backwater like the wilderness of Judea.  The coming of Jesus is significant for every single human being, and every effort must be made to share his love and make him known.  If you are expecting an important guest, you make every effort to get things nice and in order for them.  How much more should the coming of a king mean the complete transformation of the roadway to ease their passage?  Many of us have perhaps witnessed the preparations that are made when a VIP comes to town.  In the same way John quotes the words of Isaiah that valleys must be filled in and hills levelled off to make it easier for the monarch to pass.  There is a rumour that the hill outside St Michael’s was lowered because Queen Victoria did not like it.
John is of course talking about each of individual lives.  He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The path that must be smoothed is the way for Jesus to come into our hearts.  The obstacles to be removed are everything that prevents us from responding to and surrendering to his love.  Advent is a season for reflection, a mini Lent, when we prepare our hearts to meet the king.
It is meeting the king that is uppermost in Paul’s mind as he begins his letter to the Philippians.   He is writing from jail.  The letter is sometimes called the epistle of joy, because Paul so often mentions being joyful or giving thanks, but it is also a letter that reveals him to be aged, frail, and enduring hardship.  He seems to feel that his time on this earth is drawing to a close, and so he is frank and direct in all that he says.
Everything he writes is in the context that the day of the Lord is drawing near.  God has begun a good work in us, he says, and he will continue it until he completes it when the day of Christ arrives.  In other words, we have this Advent hope that there is a new world coming, a new heaven and a new earth.  At the moment we are living in the time between the first coming of Jesus and his second.  His life for us and his death for us on the cross has broken the power of sin and given us forgiveness and new life, but we do not yet see the fulfilment.  We are living as citizens of heaven (3:20) now, today, even when we can be suffering and in chains (1:14).  We are part of a church and a world where people can seem to be motivated by selfish ambition (1:17), vain conceit (2:3), whose god is their stomach (3:19), who can fall out like Eudodia and Syntyche (4:2).  Paul is in prison in Rome, possibly on trial for his life, but he is thinking of his friends in Philippi.  He talks of the deep affection that he feels for them – literally a feeling in his bowels.  He prays for them that they would be one in love for each other, living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ, standing firm in one spirit, striving together as one for the faith (1:27).
This Advent, as we hurry on our preparations for Christmas, motivated by a desire to make it a wonderful celebration for family and friends, so may we also deliberately make our preparations for the future.  We want to be ready, blameless, on the day that we meet Jesus.  The place and time of preparation is here and now.
Today, set aside some time for silence, reflection and prayer.
Today, invite Jesus afresh into your life, open all the doors to every part of your heart.
Today, be on the watch for people you can bring a blessing to, by a word or gesture or kindness shown.
May God give to each of us a heart where mountains are brought low, valleys are filled, where our love may abound in knowledge and depth of insight, and where the king can come in and continue his work to change us to be like him.


Ephesians  : 1 – 7 & 11 – 16       John 17 : 20 – 24

On this Advent Sunday we reach the last of our sermon series on the subjects covered by the Alpha Renewed Course – and it’s entitled “What about the Church?”.

Up to now the Alpha Course has concentrated entirely on personal faith. What is the true basis of my Christian Faith? How can I come to true faith, grow in faith, and grow in personal Christian maturity? Then we covered subjects such as prayer, Bible reading, guidance and healing – all from a mainly personal perspective.

Each of these is indeed a deeply personal matter which you need to examine for ourselves – no-one can do it for you. But we are not supposed to do any of this entirely on our own. The Church is the Family of God and it is essential that we are embraced within that family in order that we may find loving mutual support. Our Church exists in order that we may together find a deepening faith, a growing faith; that we may worship God and pray to Him together as well as on our own; that we may grow in our understanding of the Bible together as well as on our own; that we may find mutual support and guidance, both giving and receiving. It is indeed in the practical and spiritual support that we give each other within God’s Family that we ought to be at our most attractive to those outside. So many people are lonely, isolated, longing for true loving support. So many frankly have lost their way and searching around rather sadly and desperately for the way forward. So many want a family to belong to which will not dominate, manipulate or fail them in times of need or when they have made mistakes. Christmas is advertised as a family time, but too often family reunions result in disharmony and breakdown. Can the Church be a true model of the Family of God? Sadly we often fail – but we should never stop trying to live up to our calling from God.

I want to suggest that we look at this under three headings this morning. The Family in Harmony; The Family in Action; and The Family Journey.

THE FAMILY IN HARMONY. St John tells us that, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all Christians who would come after them, that ‘all of them may be one’ and that the Church might be ‘brought to complete unity to let the world know that you (Father) have sent me...’

Similarly Paul urges his readers in Ephesians 4: 3 ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace...’ And to achieve this every Christian needs to be ‘completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love.’

If we are not united in love together as a Church, we are failing God, failing each other, and failing the world outside, to which we are supposed to be setting an example of loving harmony which will irresistibly draw people in.

Advent is time to consider God’s judgment. Advent is a time to wake up out of sleep and look to our laurels. Advent is a time for repentance – for putting right anything that has gone wrong. How can we celebrate the glory of Christmas together if we, as a Church, are disunited and not at ease with each other? How indeed can we share the Peace together unless we truly mean what we say and what our gestures convey?

That is not, of course, to say that we will always agree with one another about everything. The dynamic of the family means that – if we all agreed about everything – we would be a rather tame, lifeless body, stifling creative debate and initiative and standing still when we ought to make progress under the Holy Spirit.

The question is rather how we handle different ideas and opinions. The Christian is called upon to be prepared to sacrifice our preferences; to allow practical love to have the final word; to exercise the Fruit of the Spirit which (as Paul tells us in Galatians 5: 22,23) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And to that he adds in Colossians 3: 13: ‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’

If we could demonstrate a family life together like that, I am convinced that people from outside would be beating a path to our door. If the Lord of Advent were to return today, how would he find his servants? We need to search our hearts and – as necessary – be reconciled with our brothers and sisters and with God. St Michael’s must be a united, loving family, attractive and welcoming to all who come. And if we are not living up to that high standard, Advent is the time to reflect, repent, and change.

THE FAMILY IN ACTION. Alongside harmony goes diversity. God has made each one of us different, and his Holy Spirit has endowed each one of us with different gifts. This principle is laid out very clearly in our first reading this morning from Ephesians 4 and (as we don’t have time to study it in detail now) take this printed sheet home with you and muse prayerfully over this important passage.

Every one of us has a gift from God – probably several – which He wants us to contribute to the family. One of the most exciting experiences I have had over my years in parish life has been to see people discover their gifts – mostly gifts which they didn’t know they had – and see them blossom. Often those gifts are not the obvious ones or the most spectacular. They are the gifts of observing someone’s need and responding imaginatively; gifts of knowing how to encourage people; gifts of sharing their experiences in a way that reaches the hearts of others and draws people into faith. Gifts of practical love and caring, of knowing how to resolve differences constructively, gifts of bringing people together and creating harmony where there would otherwise be tension.

Alongside these are so many people who find out exciting things about themselves. We have Pastoral Assistants who – a few years ago – would probably never have imagined themselves representing the Church, and finding that they can do it well. People undertaking Growing Leaders Courses who would never thought of themselves in leadership positions; potential preachers who are discovering new gifts. People starting by taking on small, practical tasks and finding their confidence grow and blossoming. The Church needs such a wide variety of gifts, from the gift of hospitality and hosting the tea and coffee, through the gift of generous giving, to the gift of teaching, evangelism, and charismatic leadership. And not one of these is superior to another – we need them all, just as (in Paul’s illustration), the body needs its small and apparently insignificant parts (often working behind the scenes) just as badly as those parts which appear more important.

The Church Family which is working in loving and effective harmony, and making use of all the gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, is the Church we must strive for, pray for, work for.

THE FAMILY JOURNEY. No Church stands still, just as no Christian stands still. Either we grow or we decline. We are all on a journey towards the heavenly city to which Advent summons us – and that summons is to each one of us. Wake up! Repent! Renew your first love and faith. This is the Advent call spelt out for us by Paul in Romans 13 : 11 – 13 : “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.”

We are journeying together towards a promised land – journeying towards the light. If we can catch the vision of Advent and then Christmas in the right spirit, we will feel ourselves driven -  impelled - by the Holy Spirit to become a Church Family that is truly in harmony, using all our gifts, and travelling forward together into a new year which will then be full of promise. What changes will you make this Advent?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sermon for Sunday 25th November 2012 - How any Why should I tell others?

Sermon for Sunday 25th November 2012 – 1 Peter 3: 8-16 and Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission - How and Why should I tell others? – Christ the King

Which of us haven’t at some time wished we could have a time over again; that we could undo some thoughtless and angry word, some rash commitment or unwise judgement, or some careless mistake? Does that sound familiar? Like most things, when you’ve heard them once, you’ve heard them enough! The great wonder of the story of Easter, by contract, is that we can hear its message again and again, yet it goes on being as true and relevant today as it was yesterday, and as it will continue to be tomorrow and the next, ad infinitum.

How different that is from most modern-day news headlines, as I was reminded a while ago when lifting carpets in the course of redecorating. Beneath these were newspapers dating back three years or so, yet the events on the front pages seemed trivial, filled with the names and faces of yesteryear. Not that you have to go back years for that to be true; in our high-tech media age, even yesterday’s news is old hat. The good news of the resurrection is different. WHY? Because it continues to change lives in the present, each day offering hope and new beginnings to believers across the world. Easter Day may be over, but we cannot consign the message it proclaims to the past. It is still good news, today and every day!

And before Jesus departed to His heavenly throne to take His position as Lord and Christ, He spent a final time with His eleven disciples. The last command that He gave them was this: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

If these are the last words that Jesus gave His disciples, we must consider that they are of the utmost importance not just to Him, but to ourselves as well. Jesus commands us to tell others about Him. You may ask, "Why me? Aren't there others more equipped to do that? I am not a preacher or evangelist. I don’t know what to say."

The first and foremost reason that we should tell others about Him is that this is His command. The disciple Luke, recorded in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Christ commanded us to tell others about Him and promised to give us power to do it. In the same way that a person is called to be a witness in a legal proceeding, we are asked to be His witnesses. In a legal proceeding, the witness testifies to the things that they have personally seen and heard; they will give an account based on what they have observed or experienced insofar as it has relevant to the proceedings. As Christians, we have the opportunity and responsibility to tell others what we have "seen" and "heard" and what we have experienced in our walk with the Lord.

Think about what we have received. To know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is the greatest thing in all of life's experiences, indeed in the entire universe. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46).

Second, we are the only ones who can tell our story. No one can adequately describe the wonderful things that have changed in your life since you have surrendered yourself to Christ. It is your story; no one else can tell it. If Christ has done great things for us, we have the privilege of sharing that good news with others. "'Return home and tell how much God has done for you.' So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him" (Luke 8:39).

The greatest part of telling others about the Lord is that we now have the opportunity to affect the lives of others for good; now they will have the chance to come to know Christ as their Saviour. The great blessing that is in our lives can be shared with someone else to bring him or her hope. If the desolate and downtrodden woman at the well could be a witness, certainly you and I can do the same. "Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?'" (John 4:28-29).

Jesus commands us to tell others of His great salvation. He wants everyone to know about Him. He suffered a horrible death so that all of mankind could be reconciled to the Father. The only way for that truth to be known is for someone to tell it. We are that "someone." Why should we tell others? We should tell others because they need to know that Jesus loves them and longs to give them life. He desires to rescue each one from the pit and consequences of sin.

At the beginning of this sermon I spoke about newspapers and how stories which are today’s news will become yesterday’s news tomorrow. But the good news of Christ has been in the public eye for over two thousand years, and still there are millions of people who don’t yet have a personal relationship with God. They still do not know that they are loved and cherished by him. They need a personal encounter with Him through you and me. “What if I get it wrong?” I hear you say. Don’t worry all of us make mistakes but God is the forgiver and will make all things new. We need to remember that God has given us the instructions, the tools and a helper, the Holy Spirit. So we have our stories, praying that blind eyes will be opened and that we might have boldness to speak and above all God’s authority and POWER.

For "The Lord . . . is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). We need never fear that we will be left alone to speak for Him without support; He will always give us what to say and power to be effective. "And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28
:20). AMEN.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Sunday 18 November 2012 Mark 7:31-37 Does God Heal Today? Bruce

With a sigh, Jesus looked up to heaven and said to the man “Be opened”.
The man was deaf, and could hardly speak.  So he was described as deaf and mute, but the main problem seems to have been his hearing.
Hearing is a major theme in Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus.  Jesus told the parable of the soils earlier (in chapter four).  One of his main points was that there were those who would keep hearing but never understand.  When he returned to his home town (at the beginning of chapter six), it seemed that the majority were determined not to “hear” what he had to say, or to believe that God was with him and in him.  Later in chapter eight he warns his disciples against the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod”:  “Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”
So Jesus says to the man: “Be opened”.  Is he just talking to the physical ears, or to the whole person?  We pray a prayer that we will be Open – for all that God has for us, open for all that he would teach us, open for all (those others) who seek after him, and open to follow him wherever he leads us.
Our question this week is “Does God Heal Today?”  Healing involves the whole person.  Jesus spent his life bringing healing, sometimes physical, sometimes of the inner person and of relationships with God.  He taught his disciples to do the same, first modelling healing for them, and then sending them out to do it for themselves.  Finally he sent them (and us) out into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching all that he had himself done, including healing.
The ears of the man in the gospel were opened, and he was enabled to speak.  We are never meant to forget that God cares for our physical wellbeing and we pray for those who are sick.  We ask for them to be blessed and comforted.  We give thanks for the skill and dedication of everyone in the medical professions and pray that their work will be effective.  We are also open to receive the gift of faith that someone can be physically healed and their disease taken away.
Every one of us is unique.  We are each discovering our own path to God through Jesus by the work of his Spirit.  We get a clue to this from the actions of Jesus.  We do not read anywhere else that he placed his fingers in someone’s ears, or that he spat and touched anyone else’s tongue.  This seems to have been special, just what was needed for this man.
When we pray for anyone, we are always open for what God might be saying or suggesting.  It is good to take time, to pray and to wait, remembering all that we have said before about guidance.
Be opened.

Friday, 9 November 2012

11 NOVEMBER 2012. REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY. ALPHA RENEWED THEME: ‘HOW CAN I RESIST EVIL?’ Ephesian 6 : 10 – 20 Luke 11 : 14 – 22

I have come up with three headings for you as we consider (under the general Alpha Renewed umbrella) how we resist evil in the world on this Remembrance Sunday :  Recognise    Resist         Rejoice

Recognise : If we are to resist evil in the name and in the power of Christ, then the first essential is to recognise it when it shows its face in our lives and in our world. But isn’t it obvious – the difference between good and evil? When we see a film or a play – perhaps you have just seen the latest James Bond film – isn’t it crystal clear who are the ‘goodies’ and who are the ‘baddies’? Well, in a highly simplified drama, perhaps it is. But in real life, evil usually wears a very attractive, often respectable, and indeed often deceitfully glamorous cloak. Evil also puts a clever question mark against our powers of judgment.

If we go right back to that ancient story that tells a story of timeless truth – Adam and Eve – we find the serpent in wonderfully deceptive guise. As Eve looks hungrily at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and her mouth waters, the serpent whispers in her ear: “Did God say that you mustn’t eat this fruit?” And she begins to doubt her memory and her judgment. Questions pose themselves: ‘Why would God not want me to know the difference between good and evil?’ ‘This fruit looks so good to eat, what possible harm can be done if I eat some just once?’ ‘I’ll just try one and see what it tastes like, God won’t notice’. And by the time she has shared all this with Adam and he has thought about it too, confusion is reigning, and the seeds of all kinds of doubts and questions have been raised. There’s a wonderful painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526) of that moment which depicts Adam scratching his head and looking thoroughly puzzled. They have lost the ability to recognise right from wrong, good from evil.

The writer of this story in Genesis has depicted an iconic representation of the human condition. ‘I know stealing is generally wrong. But I need money so badly at the moment, and it won’t be noticed, so just this once surely it will be all right.’ ‘I know adultery is wrong, but my love is so strong, and it won’t do any harm, will it?’ We are deceived because we fail to recognise the enemy, and fall straight into his trap.

We are deceived also because we are taken in by the glamour of what appears to be on offer. This was Faust’s problem. Who could resist a pact with the devil when it offers eternal youthfulness and vigour? But unfortunately the promise turns out to be false. The devil does not deliver on his promises. We look at celebrities and wish we could win the lottery, so that we too could have a mansion in London, and one in the country, and a private jet, and all the beautiful things that surround that lifestyle. And no-one seems to have warned us of the terrible isolation and loneliness, the superficiality of endless parties and empty hearts.

We ought to read more often from the Book of Proverbs. For example twice (at 14:12 & 16:25) we read there: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” There are so many warnings to us to recognise the enemy. Ponder Proverbs 9:17,18 : “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious! But little do they know that the dead are there, and her guests are in the depths of the grave.”

How the forces of sin and death masquerade as desirable and glamorous! When the First World War was declared, how all those young men rushed forward to win their spurs, urged on by their eager women-folk! They thought war was glamorous, and that they would give the enemy a good thumping and be home by Christmas. Whether that war was right or wrong in principle is another matter. But it was wrapped up in glamorous, patriotic fervour that left ten million military dead and seven million civilians, plus an uncountable number crippled for life physically or mentally. And it ended with a so-called peace treaty that, however well intentioned, led inevitably to the rise of the greater evil of Nazism and the 2nd World War. It left a deep depression on the western mind and society which scarred the whole of the 20th century. When Hitler rose to power, millions believed he represented salvation for his country – good not evil. There were just a few who detected the truth that lay underneath the surface.

This is not for a moment to doubt the good intentions, the courage and the bravery of those whom we rightly remember today. And there is a very strong case which personally I believe in for a just war, and the need to defend freedom and civilisation. But it is, I think, not too much to say that, in the process, the devil had a field day and the result was incalculable tragedy.

Evil masquerades as good, and darkness masquerades as light. The first essential in resisting evil is to recognise the enemy.  Peter writes in his first letter (1 Peter 5: 8,9): “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith...” Look behind the glamour and the temptation and the attraction and see the deadly results, the broken hearts and the empty promises.

Resist : As that verse tells us, recognition is such a big step towards resisting and standing firm in the faith. And for instructions as to how we do this, we turn to our first reading today, Ephesians 6: 10 – 20. “Be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes......”

Paul was writing from prison, most probably in Rome, and it looks as if he was actually looking at a Roman soldier guarding him. This enables him to paint an extraordinarily vivid picture of how we can arm ourselves for the fight. Some Christians prayerfully and mentally put on this armour every morning. ‘Put on the belt of truth buckled round your waist’. Lord, today I will be truthful in all my words and actions.  ‘Put on the breastplate of righteousness’. Lord I will seek with all my heart today to do what is right in your sight. ‘Have your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’. Lord, today I will seek to be a peacemaker, and someone who brings the good news of Jesus to those I encounter. ‘Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’. Lord, today I will be strong in the true faith, and in that faith I will have the strength to ward off every attack. ‘Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God’. Lord, today I will wear the crown of my salvation, and with your biblical word in my mind and in my heart, I will know how to distinguish right from wrong. ‘And pray in the Spirit (that’s the Holy Spirit of God) and be alert’. Lord, today I will maintain a prayerful attitude in whatever I say, think or do, and I will watch out so that I am guided rightly down the highway of righteousness, and don’t unwittingly wander down all the slip roads that end up in ditches and muddy fields.

As James puts it so powerfully in his letter (4:7): “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”      And that knowledge of victory in Christ leads us to our third heading:

Victory : In our Gospel reading from Luke 11, we read how Jesus has decisively overcome all the forces of evil – everything that is represented in Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 (verse 12): Our struggle is “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

The ministry of Jesus here on earth reveals him at every point defeating the powers of evil and darkness – healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead. And that victory comes to a decisive conclusion on the cross and in the resurrection, when just as the powers of evil think they have won a total victory, they realise that they have been totally and eternally defeated.

At the end of the day it is not our strength and faith that defeats the powers of evil and darkness, it is the power of Christ and his cross and resurrection. If you have put your trust for salvation in Christ and him alone, then your victory has already been won, and the kingdom of God has come upon you. The man who is stronger than all the powers of evil and darkness has taken control of your house.

So recognise, resist and fight the good fight with all the strength that God supplies. But when – as we do – we fail and fall and come back sadly in confession – it is in the knowledge that Jesus our victorious Saviour has conquered all the powers of sin and death, and we join in saying for ourselves – and today on behalf of all those who gave their lives on our behalf and whom we remember with gratitude – in Paul’s great words at the end of his magnificent passage on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 : 54 – 57:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

All Saints Sunday 4 November 2012 Proverbs 3:1-7, Hebrews 13:1-7, How does God Guide us? Bruce

As part of our Alpha Renewed programme, we look at how God guides us.  We would all like to do the right thing – the problem is that we do not always know what that right thing is.  We might like to imagine a heavenly GPS system where a voice that we have chosen guides us unerringly through life.  Reality is not like that.  We have all heard stories of people who have ended up miles from their intended destination, or who have been directed to drive through an impassable obstacle.
GPS (Global Positioning System) is actually useful and accurate.  It relies upon 24 satellites in orbit around the earth, positions so that four are always in line of sight.  The mini computer in your possession can talk to each of these satellites and calculate its position with great accuracy.  As you are moving, and as trees, buildings or weather can obscure the satellites, you will see that it is actually a complex set of relationships at work.
Our two readings this morning look at the complex set of relationships that form our Christian walk, approaching it from different directions.
The voice of Proverbs calls us to listen, to take heed of the teachings in the Law, which will lead us into a relationship of trust with our Lord.  It talks of the heart, love and faithfulness, trust, submission.  These are inward virtues that speak of a growing relationship.  The bible is not a rule book that we learn by heart, but it is more a guide book that gives us clues about how others have interacted with God and how we can learn to do the same.
We find the same emphasis in the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews.  The writer has comprehensively demonstrated that Jesus has fulfilled the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures, that he is the heir to King David, that he is heir to the High Priests, that he is now our man in heaven where he prays for us, and that he is the author and the finisher of the faith in which we now live.
How are we to live out that faith?  The answer is in relationships.  We are taught here about how to respond to three different sorts of people.  They are given to us in sequence, but we are to do them all at the same time.
First, we are to keep loving one another as brothers and sisters.  We are not members of a club who sometimes just get together.  Jesus has bound us together with him with the ties of family, of blood.  All Saints is the season when we remember that we are joined together with all whom God has brought into the family.  We are joined with all who love Jesus or who have ever loved him, people who worship Jesus in a variety of languages and cultures, on all the continents of the world, and those who worship him on a distant shore.
We are exhorted here to live this love out, worshipping and working together among those whom God has placed us.  Why are we told to keep loving each other?  I think because we do not find it easy to do.  This is a narrow path, with a wide ditch on each side.  One the one hand, there are churches where people can appear quite hard or uncaring.  I heard of one new vicar whose only sermon for the first year was that we should be kind to each other.  After all, that is what it says on the tin, and what we look for from followers of Jesus.  On the other hand, we can place politeness and kindness at such a premium that we fail to really connect with each other.  I always tell my engaged couples that people in love can be the most dishonest; we shy away from telling the truth, or find ourselves saying things like “Let’s not go there”.  If we do not know each other’s little idiosyncrasies, if we are comfortable with a shell of politeness that keeps us from really knowing each other, then perhaps we need to know each other better.  Jesus had hundreds of followers, but found it necessary to spend time with a smaller group of twelve, so that they could really get to know him.
I have found that the surest way that I have received guidance has been when I have prayed and reflected on scripture, in the company of trusted brothers and sisters who have become friends, and we have become guides for each other.  This has linked with the tradition of Christians from the past who have faced similar trials or decisions.  This series of links is like the multiple messages from satellites that help us get a ‘fix’ on our true position – with God. 
Second we are to reach out, to be hospitable to ‘outsiders’.  For all that relationships within the church can be challenging and growth inducing, there is a comfort spending time with our Christian brothers and sisters.  The whole message of scripture, however, is that God is reaching out   and we are called to do the same.  Having a faith and sharing it are essentials.  Doing this through acts of kindness and compassion are mandatory.  God so loved the world that he gave ….  Go into all the world and make disciples ….  This is why Camberley Connections will be such an opportunity for us to join for a week with other churches in the town to share God’s love with our families and neighbours, our colleagues and our friends.  More detail of this exciting ecumenical mission will be given in the coming months, but keep the week from Mothering Sunday to St Patrick’s Day free!
Third, we are to remember those who are suffering, specifically those in prison.  Today is also being kept as Persecuted Church Sunday, and so we remember all our fellow saints, brothers and sisters who face hard times because of their Christian faith.  We remember and pray for those who are threatened or attacked because they are judged guilty of apostasy to another faith, or because their expression of the Christian faith is outlawed.  We pray that churches can be rebuilt in Egypt, and that Christians will be kept safe in Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and so many other places.  We pray for those who set the legal and moral agendas here in our own country, for teachers and medical staff who must walk a fine line in issues of faith and practice.
The passage from Hebrews continues with advice to seek a pure life – free from sexual sin, a simple life free from the love of money, an ordered life – working together in mutual submission and respect for authority, and in a life centred on Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
How does God guide us?
Your GPS can be relied upon if you programme in the correct destination.  Every day we programme in our heart’s desire, for his name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, his will to be done, here on earth, in our lives, as it is in heaven.  This is to ‘in all our ways submit to him, and he will make our paths straight.’

Sermon for Sunday 28 October 2012 How and why should I read the Bible –Bible Sunday – Psalm 19:7-14 and Mark 12: 18-27

I am so glad that I did not start reading my Bible at the Gospel passage we have today.  I think I would have been put off reading it as, in applying the scripture to, I have no brother-in-laws and then I would have read that the men speaking out did not know what they were talking about. I would have had some doubts and some questions so I can understand that when people read the bible; it can be difficult to comprehend and unless you have someone around to explain it to you or you are blessed with a commentary. It can be daunting and off putting to the extent that we give up.  This was not God’s plan and wasn’t intended to be read through from beginning to end like a story book. As we know the bible is a collection of books, put together at various points in the history of the people whose story it tells, and edited several times in the process. So discovering the context of what we are reading should be one of first things we do. It is helpful, too, to think about the nature of the story and how does fit with my life.
The Psalmist in our first reading hints at why we should read it. We should read it because it is life giving, it tells of a love so precious and also that it is worth more than gold. That as we read it and begin to understand its meaning, and engage with the writers and the people referred in the Bible, we will over time begin to enjoy reading the Bible.
Think about what you enjoy doing.  It that worth rejoicing, celebrating (cross-stitch). The psalmist begins by celebrating the wonder of creation and there is every reason for us to enjoy all the kind of things we’ve just thought about because they are ways of celebrating. But it is more than that; it is actually joining God in his celebration of the wonderful world He had provided for us. The psalmist speaks of God speaking to us and sharing His heart through His words to us. For the psalmist tells us that God’s words are more than to be desired, they are gold, no they are worth more than gold. No doubt over your life time you will have received a gift of gold, like an engagement ring with its promise of love and fidelity, which is treasured and valued – gold will last a life time. The psalmist tells us the God’s word is like gold and as such is a privilege of knowing something of God’s mind. It is sweeter that pure honey.
So do we read the bible because it is made of Gold and tastes like honey? No.  We ought to read it because it is of great value and tells us of the love that God has for us. A love that speaks of a relationship that God wants with us, it is full of promises, power, guidance, forgiveness of peace and joy. God’s word speaks of Revival (verse7). A bit like, ‘I need a cup of coffee’! God’s word revives the soul. That does not mean just the Spiritual part of us but the whole of us. It gives new strength. In Isaiah 55: 1-3 invites those you are thirsty for the word to delight ourselves in rich food so that we may live. In John’s gospel we are told that we can have ‘living water’ – water that is life sustaining but also spring up within us. God given; joyful vitality that overflows from us that we can’t help but give it to others. Reading the bible on its own it not enough. If we are serious about reading the bible we will want to put it into action. God wants us to be a local blessing to others.
God word enlightens the eyes. We can get into a lot of trouble if we can’t see clearly. That’s why we have opticians but even with the best glasses, most people don’t actually see clearly. They may marvel at creation but often don’t see what is really good and worth celebrating and worth holding onto to the things are meaningful and fulfilling.
There is much to confuse around us. What values should we live by? What will really give us a fulfilled and flourished life? Is fulfilment to be found in all that the TV adverts tells us? Is the best answer necessarily the most appealing one? What scripture does is nourish us with a Godly and real world view. This helps us see the deceptions in all those people and things that seek us the ‘this’ and ‘that’ as answers to our problems. Even more vitality, scripture helps us recognise that our worth is not in possessions but in being loved by God. When the cataracts are removed there is sheer joy at being able to see things, people surroundings more clearly. This is what God’s word does, helps us to see more clearly in the world, and situations we live in.
God’s word leads to forgiveness. ‘Clear me from my hidden faults’. Being forgiven is liberating and restorative.  It is a bit like feeling unwell, it’s sapping your energy and you don’t know why. So you go to the doctors and discover what is wrong. Medication prescribed and after a short while you feel better, you have much more energy and enjoying life more. This is also true about Gods forgiving heart. It is a wonderful relief to know that all we despise about ourselves and all that damages us, and all that blocks off our relationship with God can be dealt with. What joyful freedom being forgiven brings.
The psalmist knew all this about God for he was able to know God as his personal refuge (rock) and redeemer. He had a relationship with God and had first-hand experience of God’s workings in his life. For only those who obey God are happy!
The psalmist engaged his imagination and that helped him to explore God and also things about his own personality. This is what we ought to do too as all the stories in the Bible are written out of experience; all alike give us a framework, a vocabulary for dealing with the ideas that are perhaps too painful, too difficult, misunderstood to deal with directly. Stories don’t necessarily illustrate, make things easy. They involve us, provoke us into response.  They all contribute to one big story, the story of God’s love affair with His people. ‘You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you’. (Isaiah 43:4). The bible is not a book of instructions, but an invitation to listen to God’s story, which is our story too. God invites us to discover who we are as we follow the events describe in the Old Testament and respond to the challenge of his prophets who, like Nathan (David and Bathsheba), brought people face to face with the consequences of their choices. And in the New Testament, we meet the word of God in a fresh way in Jesus, and think about how we might have responded if we had been there with him. What does it mean to be precious in God’s eyes? It means we are loved but we won’t be spoilt. Jesus knew himself to be loved, but he was not spared the cross or the feeling of being alone. However, he also knew that God is faithful, and that nothing in the end will be able to separate us from God’s love.
The wonderful thing of the story of God is that His love continues as our personal story unfolds. The challenge for us is to discover where God is in the particular circumstances of our lives, or in the world around us. The Bible can help us not so much by giving us the right answers to our questions, but by helping us to ask the right questions, and nudging us into making appropriate responses. When we read the bible we need to ask ‘How is this, the word of God for us today?’ Amen.
1.       What does it mean to you to be precious in God’s eyes?
2.       What do you find difficult about the Bible? Is there anything we can do to help you?
3.       Have you read anything in the Bible which has corrected an aspect of your beliefs or behaviour?
4.       ‘What the Scriptures said, God said.’ Do you share that view>

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sunday 21 October 2012, Matthew 6:5-14, The Lord’s Prayer, Bruce

"Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses."
"Our Father, who are in Heaven, Howard be thy name."
"Our Father, who art in Heaven, how didja know my name?"
"Give us this day our jelly bread."
"Lead a snot into temptation." (Someone who thought he was praying for his little sister to get into trouble.) 
These misquotes by children might make us smile, but they point out the possibility that a well known prayer can be mumbled out on a regular basis, and not be understood.

In Matthew’s gospel the prayer comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and seems to form the centre.  Everything that Jesus teaches about how to be a disciple and to live well, hinges on prayer.  Jesus gave to his disciples everywhere, to us, this prayer as a pattern that helps us to encounter God and grow in Him.  From very early in the history of the church, beleivers were encouraged to memorise this prayer, along with other key texts.  The Apostle’s Creed tells us what to believe, the Ten Commandments tell us what to do, and the Lord’s Prayer tells us what to desire.  It is part of our story, of how we can grow to be more like Jesus.

1. Our Father, who art in heaven

2. Your name – may it be hallowed         }
3. Your kingdom – may it come             }on earth as it is in heaven
4. Your will – may it be done                  }

5. Give us this day our daily bread
6. Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us
7. Lead us not into temptation/trials
8. Deliver us from evil(the evil one)

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.

What we pray and the order that we pray it in seems to very significant.  There are three requests towards and honouring God, and then four requests about our needs.

First, when we Jesus tells us to call God Father, he is not saying that God is like earthly fathers; he is saying that we have this privilege and joy of aspiring to be like our heavenly Father.  He is in heaven – all-powerful and mighty, but he is our Father – caring and noticing each small detail.  He is our Father – we are part of a family that fills all of time and space.

Requests 2 3 and 4 are in the passive tense.  There is nothing any of us can do to make God’s name more honoured, his kingdom come sooner, or bring about his will; but as we pray this we find our wills stirred that we want to see this happen, here on earth, now.  We find ourselves tending to think and desire different things – God’s things.  Our highest priority is to see the name, the kingdom, the will of God honoured and obeyed here one earth, in our lives.

The fifth request is for the material things we need.  Food, shelter, clothes – the necessities God knows that that we need and is delighted to supply.  The Jews of the first century would have heard this as an echo of the manna provided in the wilderness on a daily basis to the children of Israel.  In the west where there are always shops open, stuffed with food, we do not always pray this with the urgency of our brothers and sisters in less privileged areas.  We even start to pray for luxuries that are not evil in themselves but reveal that there is work to be done in establishing God’s priorities in our lives.

The sixth request is for another necessity, this time a spiritual one – forgiveness.  This is free and unconditional – on God’s part.  He forgives us, not because we are loving and forgiving but because he is loving and forgiving.  Sometimes we are given medical procedure or drug and it is not immediately obvious that it has ‘taken’ or is working; but a test can show that things are going well.  When we find ourselves able to forgive then it indicates that we have received his kind forgiveness to us.

Jesus knew all about testing and temptation.  He tells us to pray that we will not be led there, and in praying we will also be conscious of his guiding presence to lead us to avoid harmful influences and to fill our minds with all that is good.

This petition is closely linked to the previous one.  Jesus knew that trials and difficulties were inescapable for him and will be for us.  The reality of our Christian walk will be tested and but we pray for God’s protecting love to circle us and all whom we love, and we know that when we enter the valley, he is right there with us to protect and guide.

The last part of the prayer as we pray it, the Doxology, seems to have been added later by the early church and follows the standard Jewish practice to giving all the glory to God.  It brings us full circle , back to the praise and adoration with which we started the prayer, and acknowledging that God is the one who can make these things happen.

“Amen” is the word which signifies our acceptance, our “buy in” to the whole process.  It is our signature on the cheque, our pressing the Submit button that says we accept all the conditions.  As we join in and say this together, so we are united in obedience to our God and Father, as he has been revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion Starters

1.     If you had to share this prayer with someone who had never heard it before, which part do you think would surprise them most?
2.     How do you feel when we describe God as Our Father?
3.     How does a concern for God’s name, his kingdom, his will, affect how we think and act?
4.     Why do you think the petitions are in the order that they are in?


Philippians 1 : 3 – 11      John 10 :  22 – 30

Sermons between October and December are following the general themes of the Alpha Renewed Course, and today we come to a subject which I believe to be of absolutely fundamental importance – ‘Can I be sure of my faith?’

We have to tackle this in steps. Before I can be sure of my Christian Faith, I have to establish that I do actually have a true and active Christian Faith. Statistics show that although very few people today are actually professed atheists, and the great majority will pray in times of difficulty, a huge number of people (including many regular church-goers) will say they are unsure, and have not yet reached the point at which they can say that they know that they have placed their trust and their lives in the hands of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for this life and the next – because that’s what it means to be a Christian.

The word ‘Christian’ centres on the name of Christ. It is far more than just a general belief that God exists. As James remarks in his New Testament letter, even the demons believe that, and it makes them tremble. Christ stands at the very centre and focal point of the Christian faith, and He must stand at the very centre of our life. He has come knocking at our life’s door, and it’s vital that we have opened and invited him in, and acknowledged him as our Lord.

This may have happened gradually or at a consciously remembered moment, as it was with me 53 years ago. In the early church, Christians were known as those of ‘The Way’ – those who followed in the way of Jesus. And the Christian life is helpfully thought of as a pilgrimage, in which we are on a journey – our ‘way’ – to the promised land. In the New Testament there are two roads, the Damascus Road and the Emmaus Road. Paul was on the road to Damascus when the risen Jesus revealed himself to him in a moment of blinding light, and his life was changed for ever. Whether or not there is a blinding light, that is very many people’s experience. However long the time of quiet preparation may have been, there comes a moment of revelation, a moment of decision, a moment of truth. And when we respond to that challenge and say Yes, it is not just an intellectual response, nor yet essentially an emotional response, it is a response of the will. We decide to say Yes, and invite the risen Lord to become for us Lord and Saviour.

But there is also the Emmaus Road to faith. Perplexed and confused disciples were walking along that road when the risen Jesus drew up alongside and began to walk beside them. And as they walked together, Jesus talked to them about the Scriptures and explained to them what they needed to know about him and how it had been in the very nature of who he was that he must rise from the dead, and become Lord of all. And as he spoke over this period of time, their spiritual eyes were opened, and they said afterwards that, on looking back, they could remember how their hearts burnt within them, and when at last they realized that Jesus was risen and beside them, they realized also that somewhere deep down they had known this even as they walked with him.

Both roads to a living faith are valid and you will know which is the road you took, and equally whether you are still on a road which has not yet quite led to a living faith. If you believe yourself to be in that last category, and still treading that difficult ridge with uncertainty and procrastination as a chasm on one side, and the leap of faith into personal commitment on the other, you may come to Communion in this service, and simply, in prayer, commit your life to Christ as you receive the sacrament of the cross, where he died for the forgiveness of your sins and with the offer of a new life. It could well be for you a life changing experience.

Or you may like simply to stay behind at the back of the Church at the end of the service, where I and others will be very privileged to answer questions, give assurance, and pray with you.
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Now, if you have that living faith, you will want to know whether it will hold good for ever and is the rock on which you can build the rest of your life, or if it could be snatched away from you through sin or failure, doubt or just like the fading of a once beautiful vision.

In answer to that, the Gospel proclaims the doctrine of Christian Assurance. It is simply based on the fact that God is always true to his promises which are eternal, and that – once Christ has taken hold of you life – he will never let you go.

When such teaching is presented, many people respond with doubt. They say that they are deeply fallible, prone to sin and failure, and that to believe that they are saved eternally is therefore arrogant and it must be more humble to say that they hope they will remain faithful but they must never count on it.

Now, of course, if it depended on our steadfastness and our maintaining the discipline and vision of our initial vibrant faith, that would be only too true. Fortunately it does not. Once we have taken that step of personal commitment to Christ as Lord and Saviour, our assurance is based on God’s steadfast promise and not on our only too fallible faith.

Listen to Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading from John 10: 27 – 30 : “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater that all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

And listen again to Paul’s words which we read from Philippians 1: 6 I am “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” – that is the final day of judgment. God will carry it through to completion – not you.

There is a hugely important truth that I am anxious above all to get across to you this morning. The Christian is a person who has become God’s child through faith in Jesus Christ, and God wants you to know that you belong to him and you belong to him for ever, no matter what. He wants you to be sure so that you can be confident and grow in the faith.

Consider a child growing up in a family. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of child. One knows instinctively that he/she is loved unconditionally and that, whatever happens, that child will always belong and be loved and acknowledged. The other child feels equally instinctively that he/she needs to earn the love of the parents. This child will be loved if they do well, behave well, and please their parents, but that love is somehow conditional. It may not have been exactly spelt out in so many words, but the result will be a child and later an adult who will forever be striving to please and to gain approval which is the road to love. That person is likely to spend the rest of their lives trying to prove something. I need hardly say that that can have serious and negative consequences which may dog that person all their life.

Many Christians instinctively fall into this second category. They think that life consists in trying to please God because, if they don’t, God will cease to love them and they will be rejected. That is not what God wants and it’s a recipe for a very insecure and impoverished Christian life.

God wants every single person who truly trusts in Christ for their salvation to know that they are loved unconditionally and eternally. We may sin and fail and sometimes fall away, just as a child will do many things which displease and disappoint the parents. But the child who is loved unconditionally knows deep down, like the prodigal son, that the moment they turn back, they will be welcomed with open arms and a restored relationship. The love has always been there, strong and true and unwavering.

Of course we want to live as those who please God. But the child who is loved unconditionally grows up to be confident and assured and will please the parents through natural response, not as a means of extracting a reluctant love. Just so, the Christian’s good life will be a natural and joyful response to a secure salvation already promised through Jesus, and never as a means to try and secure God’s approval and salvation through works of merit.

Now of course we will not be consistent in our Christian experience and feelings. Sometimes we will know that God is near and we will experience that eternal love like a warming sun. Other times our faith will be at a low ebb, and the clouds will cover the skies and it will seem that God is distant if indeed He is there at all.

So let me leave you with a story of three mountain climbers, whose names are Fact, Faith and Feeling. In the Christian life, Fact leads the way and, when the mountain is steep or dangerous, he secures his rope around a rock whose name is Christ, the Saviour. Faith follows and is securely roped to Fact. Feelings follows on last. Feelings are fickle and often all over the place. It may depend on many factors – health, life experience, sin and even the weather. Our Christian experience is wayward and whether God feels close or not will depend on a dozen factors which have nothing to do with God. But if we keep Fact, Faith and Feeling in the right order, our faith (however dim sometimes) will always look up and remain roped to the Fact of God’s promises through Christ. And Feeling will follow on behind and not lose its way amid the stresses and strains of life.

If your faith is in Christ, he will never desert you. And God wants you to know that his love is unconditional and that he wants you to grow in the Christian life with confidence, assurance and joy. So many Christians get this wrong – please don’t be one of them. In Jesus, God holds you in his arms, and he will never let you go. It is in that knowledge that we worship and praise him today, and for ever. Amen.