Advent 2 – Stars in the heavens – Saturday 9th December – Ezekiel 36:24-28

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A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. v26

Ezekiel was a prophet and watchman, who repeatedly endorsed that in seemingly hopeless situations and obstacles we may have, God’s plan for the world will be fulfilled. You may have heard the saying that the church is full of perfect people, who have got life sussed! I beg to differ. A church is a community of people who have recognised their weaknesses and know they need God for strength and courage. Once a person recognises this, then God starts to move to change hearts and mind; to be more God-centred not self-centred. In essence, this is what the voice of Ezekiel says to us this day.

Lord let the words of Ezekiel sink deep in my heart. Amen

 

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‘God-centered’ Families

the beauty of sand

Family trees…… more to the point tracing family trees. Who has traced their family tree?. There are even books and leaflets you can get on how to do it properly. The TV schedules have really gone to town on this; many celebrities have traced their families. The newsreader Moira Stuart, and David Tenant otherwise known as Dr who, Deidre Barlow from Coronation street to name but three… and we also have Long Lost Families, where individuals attempt to find long lost relatives.

My cousin traced my grandma’s family back about 4 generations, and found out we came from Gloucester.We put such importance on our names. It gives us our identity, our heritage, our individuality, or uniqueness.Another example is …..family doctors . How is it that some families have a series of doctors, vicars, or plumbers  in past generations?

Having an identity, a base, a family is vitally important.

But in our society  there are people who are struggling with identity; with where they come from and …who is their family

  • Homelessness where many thousands of people whom roam the pavements and seek to find shelter from the harsh realities of our world .
  • Leprosy where who have been alienated from society, rejected by family members because of a skin disease and the effects of that disease of their bodies
  • Refugees and asylum seekers where those speaking out against injustice, conflict and people who have been displaced particularly those is war-torn countries who have lost their family roots.

Families and particular ‘identity’ is important to us, for they tell us and those around us who we are.

Many people use a wonderful image to describe our ‘church family’… a dysfunctional family !… We have many relationships to consider, some positive and affirming, others can be very challenging and destructive.

Like the sand in the picture above, each particle of sand is unique and beautiful , yet different and distinctive. It can be risky living next to a particle of sand that has very sharp edges !!

We may speak the words of a Christian, but do we really open up and live a risky Christian life, where our words and actions are spoken in love… knowing that in doing so, our reputation will be judged and opinions formed for we are adhering the sacredness of God.

Living our lives in love… is risky; it means that we can never said we have got it right.

It means that love is source of strength and our life…or as a wise woman said to me a long time ago, love is the currency of eternity.

Love is the essential ingredient of our behaviour, but as I mentioned earlier it has a cost. The cost is that we must be vulnerable, exposed , not allowing the abrasive elements of our characteristics come to the fore but to allow God to speak for us

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’

We may feel that we are not mature enough to speak for God, by the very nature of plucking, building and planting it means challenge and change, but God recognizes our fear and promises us to be with us as we step out in faith to obey.

Family trees…..whatever your surname, …..however you trace back your family, …remember that  we are all in the family of God, and being part of that family means that we live our lives in tension with the secular and the sacred world.

Next time you speak, next time you utter any words, ask yourself are they the sacred words of love from God.

Prayer

Lord like the grain of sand that is washed repeatedly on the shore .

Wash me in the waters of Love ,

That I may seek to do your will

That I may strive to walk the extra mile

That I may speak words of love as the ‘currency’ of a Christian.

Amen

Tent people or Temple people

5_tent-church

The other day I was visiting a parish in Madras. After the service I was talking with the elders. I asked them ‘What function does this church perform?’ They were a bit embarrassed. Then one of them said, ‘It caters for the needs of its members. I said, “Then it should be disbanded.'” (Bishop) Lesslie Newbigin, 1974.

This quote certainly makes you think about the purpose of the church in today’s context. However unfortunately, many people still think the church is a club for ‘do-gooders’, and a place where we can just care for each other inside the four secure (or maybe crumbling ) walls.

This quote from Leslie Newbiggin , addresses the fact that the Church is not about looking after the people who attend this so called ‘exclusive club’… but the primary function of the church is to walk with those who are outside the church, to address injustice, and to reach out to the unlovely.

Whether we like it or not, many Christian churches have developed into  ‘Temple People’, putting their efforts into maintaining buildings, looking inward when we should be looking outward. One church I know removed some beautiful stained glass windows and replaced them with plain glass … so they could see the world buzzing about outside the church building during their Sunday service.

The early Church in the New Testament focussed their energy in gathering, praying and discerning, a ‘Tent People’ looking outside as to where to pitch our so called ‘Tent’. Some Churches can be excellent at addressing the needs of people outside the church … they are very switched on and aware of what needs to be done, nevertheless, ‘Tent people’ are not just about doing the caring and serving; Tent people need to be with God , listen to what God is calling them to be, and be flexible and be open enough to move with the times.

‘Tent people’ are nomadic, as they sometimes can be seen as doing things a little differently, nevertheless the words from Newbiggin area real challenge to all of us, … not to be complacent, not to assume we have the right answers, but to listen to the guidance of God’s Spirit that moves deep within us.

God of the Tent and Temple

Help us to be aware of the needs of your world

to Listen , and not to assume we know best.

to Encourage , and not to assume we can do better,

to Love, and not to state conditions .

Walking on the edge

walking on the edge

Every year, ministers in the United Reformed Church attend a Spring/ Summer school. This year is an opportunity to consider with colleagues what is means to be part of the ‘Leadership team’ in URC churches in the 21st century. .

The speaker‘s opening words caught my attention, ‘Leadership ..  is a risky place to be ,for  if you are too near the edge you can fall off into chaos, and if you are not on the edge you solidify and become stagnant’.

In past years, church members have been associated with the Church from cradle to grave ( many  over 60 and 70 years),  absorbed faith knowledge and then repeated it. Hence the phrase, it’s always worked, it was fine for me, so why change ? Change can mean uncertainty and anxiety, but if we are to be on the edge, then change must happen. By that I mean not just about Church buildings, but about a change of heart and understanding of what it means to be a disciple and be a relevant church in today’s society.

The question was posed that being ‘church on the edge’, means that we must appreciate that society has changed. In the last 40yrs, Medical knowledge has increased, so too has Technology, Engineering and of course  Theology. We live in an age where we have a choice, and vital to our choosing is discussion and discernment. Alongside that is journeying with people, who are trying to find out what God means to them, through discussion not blind acceptance.

Its seems to me that being in ‘Shared Leadership in Churches (and by that I just don’t just mean  the minister but the whole appointed Eldership as well) can easy be perceived as ‘Management’, however management is about problem solving. Leadership asks the question .. why are we doing this and is it the right thing to further the Kingdom of God..

For the church to have a viable future, the Gospel must not just be spoken about , but to be lived out, where forgiveness and inclusivity changes lives, and so transformation to hope and wholeness can be visibly seen.

I have no answers, save that I know that I believe the people of God need to know they are beloved and treasured by God, and that the rebuilding of trust, restoring confidence and renewing of hope must happen. I am grateful for David Grosch Miller for his thoughtful reflections, however he left a challenging call to all of us … we are called to be, not just pastors…. but prophets. I am grateful he used Moses in Exodus as an example of Leadership, with all his faults, flawed humanity and hesitations, he trusted God.

God who led your people out of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey,

We pray that you would lead us to the edge,

Not so we can fall into chaos, but we can see the true landscape ahead of us

Be in our minds that we may reflect on issues of faith with clarity

Be in our mouths that we may speak words that bring wholeness

Be in our steps , so we may walk alongside the edge with confidence knowing you are there to hold us and guide us.

We ask this in Jesus name

Amen

Growing in Grace

ImageOne of the most wonderful, comical and I think realistic observations of teenagers growing up are in the Harry Enfield TV shows and the sketches of Kevin and Perry. Teenagers at their worst, speaking in monosyllables, teenage babble, and Kevin has a total disrespect for his parents. I can recall this programme vividly as I had a teenager at that time….who had adopted some , although not all I am glad to say traits of Kevin and his friend Perry.

Everything was an effort.. to communicate … to learn… to generally be sociable and polite.. and as for Church.. well I think it was fair to say .. it was not high on their agendas….. and being connected and having a relationship with God was like speaking another language to them

Did you know that the Bible only gives us one story and one comment on the life of Jesus from the time he was approaching the teenage years until he’s a thirty-something starting his ministry?.. Luke 2 : 41-52

He is twelve years old.. on the verge of adolescence, and he has a mind of his own… and to a young man who has his mind set on learning about God and growing in grace , he cannot see why Mary has panicked so much !!

I remember experiencing the terrible possibility of losing my grandson William… It was a couple of years ago, granted a lot younger than Jesus is supposed to have been … but I had been walking with my mum at the Lowry centre.. He was with me on moment.. then gone from my side the next.. my heart sank , then panic , then fear , then how do I explain it  to his Mum. We found him a minute later sat on a step, watching the rays of the sun through his fingers !

Teachers tell us that Children are a joy to teach , yet they also tell us of children who disturb others , and that all too often they come from Dysfunctional families … indeed the Christian church is often referred to as a dysfunctional family… with petulant teenagers, rival siblings, anxious Mum’s and judgemental Grandfathers and Grandmothers

However the key ingredients for families… is to be nurtured in God’s grace .. to be immersed in the grace that God Gives us… not the Cheap Grace that Dietrich Bonhoffer speaks about, that is  Grace which ignores discipleship, Grace that ignores the cross and Grace that does not require repentance.

To Grow in Grace means to aware of God’s goodness , to be aware of the bountiful gifts God wants to give us .. Jesus recognised this as he sat in the synagogue as a young man, he recognized God and wanted to Grow in maturity, wisdom and stature.

At the start of the New Year, and as 2013 progresses, I pray that all people grow in wisdom , surrounded by God’s Grace… what a world that would be !!

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

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