Sunday, 9 April 2017

'Following the man on the donkey' - transcript of sermon Palm Sunday 2017 St Anne's, Brown Edge

St Anne’s Brown Edge Palm Sunday 2017

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11.

On most Thursday nights, you will find me at the Ingestre stables helping with Stafford RDA. The ponies we use are docile beast, sometimes too docile.

Of course, for our riders with both learning and physical disabilities they have to be.

Also in the stable block are some magnificent horses, some big show jumpers. 

They are strong of limb, with keen eyes, sleek coats, fit and healthy.

Having served five years in Newmarket as an apprentice jockey, I can appreciate a fine looking horse.

Today I want to bring to present you with two people – one riding on a donkey and the other on a magnificent horse. Both represent two very different Kingdoms and everyone follows one of these people and is governed by the laws of whichever Kingdom they choose to live in.

The Prefect Pontius Pilate entered into the province in AD 26 and was to serve for 10 years as an emissary of Emperor Tiberius. 

He came at the head of an occupying army and entered Jerusalem with soldiers carrying their banners and effigies.  Previous Prefects had grudgingly accepted that Jerusalem was a most Holy City for the Jews, the place where heaven and earth met in the Temple itself with its Holy of Holies. It was only after a riot broke out that Pilate had them removed.

Pilate it would appear was rather like the Borg in Star Trek with their oft-repeated mantra, ‘you are an inferior race, you will be assimilated’, and, ‘resistance is futile. ‘

For most of the time, Pilate was garrisoned at Caesarea except during Festivals when he would move into the Antonia Fortress, which overlooked the Temple Mound. Keep in mind the picture of Pilate arriving ahead of his cohort of troops to bolster the number of troops in Jerusalem, barging their way through the crowds, hands close by their short swords.

We do not have exact records but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people lived in Jerusalem. During the Feast of the Passover, this would swell to around 4 million. The Temple Mound could accommodate 1 million people.

The occupying Roman Army would be on high alert during the religious Festival of Passover that celebrated the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

It is into this heady mix that Jesus comes to make his bold move. It is obvious Jesus knew exactly what he was doing – he knew the Scriptures, he knew about the prophecies of Zechariah.

He had even arranged to acquire the appropriate beast – not a magnificent horse leading a cohort of heavily armed soldiers, but rather a humble donkey, a young foal colt that by this account needed to have mother there also.

‘Say to the daughter of Zion, see your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey.’

As Jesus begins to enter into Jerusalem, he is recognized, especially by those from up north, recognized as one of their own.

Recognized as the one who has brought healing and controversy, whose teaching is with a hitherto unknown authority. 

Is it these people that begin to cheer, wave and chant and shout out ‘Hosanna’ – Lord Save Us.’

‘When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Most likely, not at all the same crowd who would in a few days’ time shout for his death, for Jesus to be crucified.  Those people, in all probability, were a selective group mainly of Jerusalemites, southerners.

We will of course be rehearsing once more this cosmic drama of the man on the donkey and the man on the horse, both representing two Kingdoms coming toe to toe.

John’s account bristles with electricity as Jesus stands before Pilate. It is not easy to say for sure who is on trial.

Certainly, Pilate has power of a sort, the power that can bring death, and very often does.

In his Lenten book, ‘Dethroning Mammon’ Justin Welby discusses speaking ‘truth to power.’

‘What is truth’ asks Pilate.

That phrase is very much under discussion in our own day and age with much talk about fake news.

Jesus was to declare on one occasion, ‘I am the truth and the way and the life.’

Today our choice is to either to follow the man riding the horse or the man riding the donkey.

Should you choose to follow the man on the donkey you should be aware of where this is all heading?

It is towards the cross and crucifixion – before resurrection, new life and ascension.

The cross that speaks of suffering and that may come to us as indeed it comes to many of those who have chosen to follow the man on the donkey.

However, more than that, despite the modesty of most depictions of the crucifixion, Jesus would have been stripped naked. In every sense of the word, he gave up everything.

Therefore the challenge is, are we ready to give up everything to follow the man on the donkey.

Our homes, jobs, families, position, prestige, money, as St Augustine said, ‘Jesus will be Lord of all or he will not be Lord at all.’

Saul was knocked of his horse, then as Paul, began to follow the man on the donkey with a willingness to give up everything and to follow him…

He wrote to the Philippians (3.8), ‘More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ’

Our New Testament reading, also from Philippians, invites us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus as outlined in the wonderful ‘Hymn of Christ’ – in Greek called the ‘Hymn of the Kenosis’ – self-emptying.

However, in God’s economy things are often turned upside down.

What certainly looked like a dead would be messiah hanging on a Roman Cross, was not the end of the story at all, but only the beginning of a completely new chapter.

As we read in Colossians 2.15,

In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

To follow the man on the horse and to align yourself with the rulers and authorities of this world leads to darkness, destruction and death.  You have only to look around you to see the truth of this.

To follow the man on the donkey leads to light, love and life – ‘I have come, said Jesus, that you might have life and life in all its fullness. ‘

I put before you today the words of Joshua 24.15

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

The man on the donkey or the man on the horse - it is your choice!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Captain's Blog April 2017

Captain's Log April 2017

Free Range Dairy - I attended a fascinating one-day conference on ‘free range farming’  The main concept is that the cows must be out to pasture for at least six months.  There is also a strong driver for the farmer to engage with a local market and not simply ship the milk off to a large dairy.  The other key message is that milk is not milk is not milk – i.e. milk carries different chemicals and taste different according to what the cows are fed and their environment.  With the rise of Coffee Shops, we are now used to the idea that coffee comes in a variety of forms and we make a personal choice.  We need to begin to adopt the same principle for milk, recognizing that the choice will be reflected in the price. Cheap coffee taste like cheap coffee - cheap milk taste like cheap milk.  (I have a short report of the Day if you want to know more about speakers and the issues addressed)

Keeping with farming, we had another excellent ‘Chewing the Cud.’  This is our informal FCN gathering over coffee with friends from farming and involved in support networks such as Agricultural Chaplains and R.A.B.I. 

Further involvement with FCN was an exploratory meeting with representatives from Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. We are exploring a way of offering mutual support across the three counties.

Only one preachment this month at St Anne’s, Brown Edge for my regular second Sunday visit.

Stafford Half Marathon – the weather was a challenge with some sections having to battle into a strong head wind. My time was a tad slower this year, 2.19.10 (last year 2.13.00.) To date I have raised around £350 for ‘House of Bread.’  Retrospective sponsorship is welcome!

The end of the month was another ‘rural’ conference, “Brexit & the Rural Future” with an excellent line up of speakers.  (As acting RO for the Diocese, I was drawn onto the planning team). A report will be available in due course from RuSource.

Then another great project I have become involved with is a NHS Prayer Walk. I am helping with publicity and social media. 

There is also a FB Group (closed) -  if you want to engage ask me to add you to the group or give you an invitation. (You will need your own FB account)

Some upcoming engagements....

Sunday 2nd April
St John’s APCM

Tuesday 4th
Personal Quiet Day

Saturday 8th
St John’s Away Day with John Coyne as Speaker. As we move into a Vacancy in the summer this will be an important time for the Church to gather and take stock and plan for the future together.

  Palm Sunday 9th
Preaching at St Anne’s, Brown Edge

Tuesday 11th
On Call Emergency Chaplain Cover for Stafford Hospital 4.30pm – 8.30am (next day)

Wednesday 12th
‘Chewing the Cud’
On Call Emergency Chaplain Cover for Stafford Hospital 4.30pm – 8.30am (next day)

Good Friday 14th
‘Walk of Witness’ – Love Stafford

Easter Sunday 16th
Pulling together ‘SonRise’ Service at Stafford Castle 5.45am.

Thursday 20th
On Call Emergency Chaplain Cover for Stafford Hospital 4.30pm – 8.30am (next day)

Monday 24th – Thursday 27th
‘On Fire Mission Conference’

Friday 28th
Meeting with tax consultant

Sunday 30th
Church Army Preachment at St Michael’s, Lichfield.

Then if all goes according to plan, Jane and I will be taking a short break…

 Monday 1st – Tuesday 9th May 2017

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Reflecting God's Glory - transcript of sermon Second Sunday in Lent 2017

Sermon – Second Sunday in Lent 2017

St Anne’s Brown Edge

Nicodemus knew, just as we all know that for something to ‘be born’ it requires a preceding act.  

This is the season for spring lambs and spring calves. This only happens because some time back around October the ewes were put to the tup and cows if not AI then to the bull around June time last year. Even in agriculture, the seed has to be planted and fertilised, it will not grow sitting in the dark in a barrel or bag.
For humans beings the most important preceding act goes back to Genesis 2.7 – ‘then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. ‘
For many Christian this was referenced on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the Lenten Season with the Imposition of Ashes with the words,
‘Remember o mortal that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’
In John’s Gospel 20.22 we read ‘And with that he (Jesus) breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”

This is quite literally a life giving second breath, a second birth – offered as gift.
When Jesus talks about being born again, Nicodemus begins to think through the mechanics, ‘how can you enter your mother’s womb a second time.’ 

However, in the wonderful prologue to John’s Gospel we read, …’But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God.
Our inherited breath from Adam is tainted with sin and brings death; the second Adam offers us the breath of new life – a life that offers life in all its fullness. (cf. John 10.10)
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive, and should prevail;
To be fully, gloriously and wonderfully human we need to born of the water and the spirit.

Two ideas are carried in the image of being born of water. One is the natural process of birth when we are quite literally born of water. The other idea is spiritual cleansing as in Baptism.
However, natural birth and being born again are acts of grace freely given, to be lovingly accepted and embraced.

With reference to Abraham, Paul argues in the passage we heard from Romans about grace and the life of Faith being a gift that we cannot earn.
‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now the wages of the workers are not credited as a gift, but as an obligation.
This is picked up even stronger in the Letter to the Ephesians,
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.… Ephesians 2.8-10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.…

There is a tradition in the Orthodox Church called Theosis,* which is about our growing into the very likeness and fullness and stature of Christ, picking up passages such as we find in Ephesians 4.13,
‘And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.’

What a joy, what a calling and what a privilege to be the image bearers of God towards His good creation and towards others – Imago Dei reflected in the mirror you look into.

Imago Dei - the image of God, in the faces of those around you today.

In those who have been born of the water and of the spirit.

In those who have been born again.
In those who have opened up their hearts and said…

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee

The second century St Irenaeus said, ‘the glory of God is living man.’ 
                              (“Gloria Dei est vivens homo.”)

That is our true destiny, our one true calling – to reflect back glory to God through our humanity enlivened by God’s Spirit.   
Just what might that mean, to reflect glory back to God in each and every situation we find ourselves in.

In each and every conversation we have.
In each and every engagement that we have with people.

In particular just what does that mean, to reflect back glory to God, when we face challenging or difficulties – as surely we all do from time to time.
There is a line in a beautiful and very meaningful contemporary worship song ‘In Christ Alone’, that has caused some controversy -

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
Some change that line that talks of God’s wrath and instead sing…

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The Love of God was glorified.

‘For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’  (John 3.17)
Even as he was lifted up, as Moses lifted up the snake to bring healing to all who looked upon it, so Jesus, in his death brings healing for all who will look to him with the eyes of faith and accept by grace that we can now be inheritors of the Faith of Abraham. Born not of flesh and blood, as ethnic Israel, but rather born again of the Spirit of God.

As we go out into the world this coming week, to our places of work, to the school, at various clubs and gatherings, and to the shops, how we going to testify that we have been born again and reflect glory back to God.
Maybe by heeding Matt 5.16…

‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’  
Therefore, the question to each and every one of us here this morning is just how bright is the lamp of faith in our lives?

 Let us pray…
Prayer –

O Holy and Ancient of Days, Good Father and Mother to us all; we thank you that we are most gloriously made and most wonderfully born again in Christ. May we reflect your glory in all that we do, think and say and help us to call forth from your creation your praise and glory. To the end that Your Kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Captain's Blog - March 2017

I had my first meeting on the Executive Committee of Love Stafford last month. Great to hear what is happening around the town and in particular the deepening relationship with the Local Authorities.  They are increasingly recognising the added value Faith Communities bring to the town through a whole range of projects and programmes.

An FCN Staffordshire Group meeting this month. I have also been involved in a ‘case’ that is ongoing with a difficult family dispute that has been rumbling on for years. Please pray for wisdom and a good resolution. I do hope that if your church is in a rural setting that you are are in contact with your local FCN Group.  They would value your support and prayers and there may be an occasion that an FCN volunteer could signpost someone to something that you are doing that may be of help. Perhaps you run a dementia cafĂ© or something similar.

St Bartholomew's MAP Group. This is proving to be a little difficult. Prayers again welcomed for a good resolution to some very sensitive issues.

A I ran the final session of Faith Pictures for St Peter's Rickerscote.  I know I mentioned this last time but it really  is very good and perfect for small rural churches to help people gain confidence in sharing their faith story.

Only one preachment this month with my friends at St Anne’s, Brown Edge. We have had refreshments on the last couple of occasions that I have been for my monhtly visit and it does make quite a difference. Encouraging people to chat and get to know each other a little better.  Here is a link to the transcript of the sermon.

We have had a trip to Cornwall this month. Our daughter-in-law Tracey had organised a ‘Secret Hen Party’ for Tabitha that included a Princess Party in the afternoon with the two flower girls, her young neices, Kerryn and Lowenna. Then in the evening a meal out in Fowey plus a few cocktails.  Tabitha didn’t know we were going to be there nor three of her bridemaids who made the trip down to Cornwall. A fabulous occasion all round.  Us men, Peter, Daniel and I (plus dog) went off for a walk in the afternoon, going around one of my favourite walks in Mevaggissy and then Fowey.

On the way back Jane and I stayed at the Sheldon Centre for a four day self-led retreat. This is such a joy. To be totally free from the diary and things that must be done. Time to walk, pray, chat, read and even watch a bit of TV without that nagging feeling of I should really be doing, x, y or z.

However, it was straight back into a Webinar for Rural Mission Solutions on the Saturday morning. Then on the Sunday driving down to Chelmsford to work with Barry Osborne on a Rural Consultation Day with the Diocese of Chelmsford on Monday.

Captains Log for March  2017

Ash Wednesday 1st
Tabitha’s Birthday (A significant one!)

Thursday 2nd 
Meeting with Michelle exploring CA training.

Monday 6th
Meeting with JC as his Spiritual Companion

Tuesday 7th
Attending a day conference by the ‘Free Range Diary Network.’

Wednesday 8th
FCN ‘Chewing the Cud’ 10.30am Amerton Craft Farm

Thursday 9th
‘Love Stafford’ leaders Bible Study and Prayer Meeting

Sunday 12th
Preaching and leading Service of the Word at St Anne’s, Brown Edge

Wednesday 15th
Combined Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire FCN Group meeting to discuss possible new clustering for mutual support

Thursday 16th
Diocesan Rural Mission Group

Sunday 19th
Stafford Half Marathon and seeking sponsorship for House of Bread, a great local charity that works alongside the homeless and vulnerable.

Tuesday 21st
Jane’s Birthday

Wednesday 22nd
‘Chew n Chat’ at Rising Brook Baptist – informal lunch time meeting

Thursday 23rd
Spiritual Directors Gathering

Friday 24th
Mothers’ Union Quiet Day (going as a Member)

Monday 27th
Meeting with my own Spiritual Companion

Tuesday 28th
Meeting to begin reviewing the ‘Rural Evangelism Course’ on the Germinate ARC website.  In the afternoon meeting with Steven Dyson, ‘newish’ vicar for St Lawrence, Biddulph. Going to be talking about the parish running a year long LICC package.

Wednesday 29th
Stafford Show planning meeting

Thursday 30th
Day Conference ‘BREXIT AND THE RURAL FUTURE’ Implications for churches and communities.  Full Programme and booking:

Sunday, 12 February 2017

'Looking backwards to go forwards' - transcript of sermon 17th February 2017

Sermon – St Anne’s Brown Edge 12th February 2017

Deuteronomy 30.15-20 Psalm 119.1-8
1 Corinthians 3.1-9 Matthew 5.21-37

Here we are, a dozen Christian gathered together on the 12th February 2017 in a place called Brown Edge on the very edge of Stoke.

Here we are in this rather strange building and before us are some very ancient texts – and it is good to remind ourselves that these texts are ancient texts, none of them less than 1,500 years old.
Manifestly what we are doing here this morning is of little concern or interest to the majority of people in and around Brown Edge.

And as we sit in here this morning the world out there, we might say, appears to be going to hell in a handcart.
We have one of the most powerful men in the world of one of the most powerful nations not giving a great deal of thought to any texts, ancient or contemporary. Admitting to receiving news mostly through TV.

He prefers to tweet – government and pronouncements reduced to 140 characters.
Across the world at the moment there are an estimated 1.5 billion people living in an area of armed conflict or a war zone.

Europe has taken a million migrants and refugees fleeing the violence and war.  They are amongst us, and they are traumatised, especially the children and not 3,000 but 350 is scandalous.
In our own country, we have campaigns to end hunger, one shortly to begin in Stafford. Food Banks have become normalised.

Our heath service is on the verge of collapse.

We have seen advancement with robotics and AI and it is predicted that they will replace a good percentage of humans in the work place over the next twenty years.
People are beginning to seek cybernetic implants for aesthetic reasons and not simple prosthetic because of the loss of a limb.   

Members of the Cybernetics Society say this will become as mainstream as tattoos and body piercing has over recent years.
Today, if you were to read one daily newspaper from cover to cover, you would absorb more information that a person would have done in the whole of their life 100 years ago.

There is an increasing call for gender to be a matter of personal choice and not specified as male female binary but anywhere along that spectrum. This is leading to more gender-neutral toiles in public places, schools and colleges.
And we sit here this morning with these ancient texts and going through some rather strange rituals.

However, do not these very text, written by men and woman over thousands of years, men and woman inspired by God's Holy Spirit, do not these texts tell us a different story.
Do they not tell us that this earth is God’s good creation and that God is bringing everything back into good order?

Do they not tell us about how God became man and then became King – King of over all. We find that supremely in Philippians 2 – ‘The Hymn of the Kenosis’ or ‘Song of Self-Emptying.’
Do these texts not tell us about the people of God as they grasped the reality of God come amongst them – of sins forgiven and the possibility of reconciliation not only with God but also with each other?

If, Jesus says, you come to the Temple, to bring an offering, and as you get near to a Holy God in the Temple, and you realise you are in contention with a brother or sister (not necessarily relatives I think we can presume) then leave your gift and go and be reconciled. That would mean a round trip of about a week – now that’s a serious undertaking.
Our Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (mountains are important for Matthew and the places where key things happen) and it would appear that Jesus is saying that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart, perhaps with verses like this one in mind.

From Ezekiel 36.26-27
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.…

And this is a choice put before us as we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy…
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it

So, what is your choice individually and what is your choice as the people of God in Brown Edge?
Just what does it mean to love the Lord, walk in his ways and keep his commandments, his statutes, and his judgments? 

It would appear for the most part that the People of Israel thought this meant keeping rules and following regulations. Regulations that Jesus was to say on one occasion, that appear bright and shiny on the outside, like whitened tombs, but inside are full of dead men’s bones.
Jesus calls for a heart surgery that removes stony hearts that are satisfied with ritual and regulations for one that beats with the blood and fire and passion of the living God.

Jesus call for radical discipleship where we would rather mutilate ourselves than offend God and go against his good will and create dis-ease with our brothers and sisters. 
Cutting of hands and tearing out eyes is a serious suggestion – albeit obvious hyperbole.

Jesus knows that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
Jesus knows that the thought is father to the deed and must be stopped at source.

Jesus knows what it is to live as an authentic human being and invites us to follow him.
Jesus invites us to become a different kind of community where love and forgiveness prevail.

Jesus calls us to demonstrate that we as the People of God are people of hope and we know that God is bringing everything to good order.
However, how do we go about doing that?

I would want to suggest that it isn’t by pulling up the gang plank on the Ark and shutting ourselves in and away from the world with all its problems and challenges.
Sitting here singing familiar hymns and going through certain rituals and studying ancient texts in some vain hope that we can escape from all that is going on in the world.

In The Message translation of John’s Prologue, we hear this…
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

If we are to have anything meaningful to say to our neighbourhood, I would want to suggest that we need to do far more than we already do to be and become an authentic Faith Community of God’s people set here in Brown Edge.

We need to gather regularly as God’s people to study together and wrestle with these ancient texts. We need to do more life together, to eat more together and most certainly to pray more together with and for each other and for the wider community in which God has called you.

In these dangerous times, in these times of huge complexities, where there is so much uncertainly, so much pain and suffering we need to speak with a different voice and with confidence that this is God’s good world and that God is bringing all things together for the good. That we, as a Community of God’s Kingdom People, demonstrate how to live as authentic human beings in today’s world and to invite others into this Community, so that they might taste and see that the Lord is good. So, that they may have their own heart transplant and come to experience life in all its fullness.

In the ancient world, such radical communities quickly spread the Gospel around the Roman Empire.  Today, such Communities and Fresh Expression of Church are offering hopeful signs and showing real growth. You can read about this in this month’s copy of Inspire magazine.

Maybe the Churches future does lie in the past – if we go back far enough!

Let us pray…

O Saviour Christ, in whose way of love lays the secret of all life, and the hope of all people, we pray for quiet courage to match this hour. We did not choose to be born or to live in such an age; but let its problems challenge us, its discoveries exhilarate us, its injustices anger us, it possibilities inspire us, and its vigour renew us. Pour out upon us a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit; make us bold and courageous in sharing faith in both word and deed for your Kingdom’s sake we ask.