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.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Captains Blog February 2017

My first engagement with Faith Pictures began this month and I really like it. It is so much fun and yet has a great way of engendering some fantastic conversations about our Faith and our journeys to faith.  It gets a massive thumbs up from me! Check out the Church Army web site for more details -

Three preachment's this month

St Anne’s, Brown Edge for my regular monthly visit.

St Bartholomew’s, Norton-le-Moor – this is a parish that I am also meeting with regularly to discuss their MAP alongside a short Scriptural reflection. I also met with their PCC this month.

St James’ Barton-under-Needwood for a Church Army preachment.

On most occasions I will put a transcript of my sermons on my Blog.

Exciting plans emerging from planning meetings for the Shrewsbury Flower Show and the Staffordshire County Show.  On the latter I have been invited to be the Honorary Show Chaplain. 

We had another great ‘Chewing the Cud’ – based around FCN. These are open meetings and our next one is on the 8th march 10.30 at Amerton Farm, Stafford. We are also having several cases coming in and could I please ask you to pray for Farmer K. The situation is very challenging. We are also desperate for more ‘case workers’ who need to have some knowledge of farming.

With the retirement of our Rural Officer I have been picking up some of this work. In particular I was invited to attend a meeting of the Central RO’s  who are planning an exciting Day Conference on Brexit on the 30th March and to be held at Germinate ARC, Stoneliegh Park.

‘Love Stafford’ was launched a year ago picking up a rather tired ‘Churches Together.’  A year on and we are in good heart and have engaged together in numerous projects and ‘leaders’ meet monthly for a short time of prayer.  We had a fantastic celebration with a Mission Market Place and I was able to take along a Church Army display.  I have also been invited to sit on the Executive of Love Stafford. I am particularly keen to use my contacts to try and draw in our more Catholic minded friends in the Anglican Church and it would also be nice to see the Roman Catholics get more involved.   

 With the Report ‘Setting God’s People Free’* recently published it is a great joy to be part of a team working with LICC to create a Suite of Resources to help with Frontline Discipleship. It is our hope that as we journey over six to twelve months with a church/benefice there will be a change in practices that will lead to a cultural shift in churches. It is about viewing the 10 hours spent in church activities alongside the 110 hours ‘outside’ through a different perspective and one that sees the symbiotic relationship between gathered and dispersed church.

Some appointments & engagements

Wednesday 1st
Meeting with George Fisher as Line Manager
In the evening Session 5 ‘Faith Pictures’

Thursday 2nd
Love Stafford Executive – my first meeting

Monday 6th
Meeting with my Spiritual Companion
Lunch at Shallowford House & meeting those new in post following their weekend together.
In the afternoon FCN Staffordshire Group meeting

Wednesday 8th
Session 6 ‘Faith Pictures’ with St Peter’s Rickerscote. Last session – so where do we go from here?

Thursday 9th
Love Stafford Leaders Prayer Meeting

Saturday 11th
Attending Book Review with Mark Ireland and Mike Booker ‘Making New Disciples’

Sunday 12th
Preaching and leading Morning Prayer at St Anne’s Brown Edge

Monday 13th
Personal Quite Day

Tuesday 14th
Church Army Cluster (I am now Lichfield Diocese CA Cluster Coordinator)

Wednesday 15th
Social Supper with Bishop Geoff and Archdeacon Matthew and respective spouses

Thursday 16th
‘Chew & Chat’ at Brook CafĂ©, Rising Brook Baptist Church. Lunch and chat with friend(s)

Also in this period above, I need to prepare for a Webinar and a Diocesan Rural Consultation Day.

Friday 17th – Friday 24th
Taking some time out that will include a self-led retreat (both Jane and I) at the Sheldon Centre with the Mary & Martha Society.

Saturday 25th
Rural Ministry Solutions – Webinar looking at the opportunity for Spring.

Monday 27th
Rural Ministry Solutions – Rural Mission Consultation for the Diocese of Chelmsford, in partnership with Barry Osborne.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Jesus - Light of the World (transcript of Sermon 29/01/17

Church Army Preachment St James’ Barton-under-Needwood
29th January 2017 – Candlemass & Church Army Preachment 

Candlemass – that takes its name from the time when all the candles that were going to be used in the church for that year would be blessed. This was tied in with the Feast of the Presentation when Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses consecrated their first born to the Lord.

This is outlined in Exodus 13 and ratified in Leviticus 12.8 ‘If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.’

Jesus – Light of the World

‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

Now what is your image of this scene – of Mary and Joseph with Jesus going into the Temple?

Have you got a picture of something like a parish church, perhaps like this one, maybe a baptism party type thing.

On the other hand, maybe you go a bit bigger and think of a cathedral.

That is still nowhere near big enough.

The Temple Mound was the size of six football pitches having been greatly extended by Herod.

It rose in some places over twenty stories high and had blocks of stone over a 100 tons and one a massive 400 tons.  The whole complex could accommodate 1 million people.

You have to think of thousands of people coming and going, the animals being brought for sacrifice, the Levites singing and music blaring out, the Rabbis in the porticoes with their disciples debating and discussing as only Jews can – loudly and with passion.

Into this melee, first Simeon and then Anna led by the Holy Spirit declared this one child of these particular parents to be the one who would bring salvation to all and be as a light to the Gentiles.

Nothing indeed short of a miracle.

And men and woman filled with the Holy Spirit have continued to point out Jesus to others – something the Church Army has been doing for the last 135 years since our foundation in 1882.

Wilson Carlile the Founder of Church Army and known affectionately as The Chief was a charismatic clergyman who had been involved with the great Moody and Sankey Rallies alongside William Booth.

Carlile's life as a young and successful businessman and subsequent conversion are fascinating – but a story for another time.

His first curacy was at St Mary Abbots in London where he began outdoor preaching and drew such a crowd as the police asked his vicar to stop him because the crowds were blocking traffic.

In 1882, his energies and evangelistic zeal found a ready outlet as he was invited to draw together some small and failing home mission charities.

His vision was to create a mass movement – he wanted to see men and woman fired up with the Gospel and able to speak out that Gospel in their places of work and at home. 

Outdoor gatherings continued as he declared war on sin and reckless living.  

There are some very exciting tales of his being shot at and beaten up and very regularly had eggs thrown at him and his brave stalwarts standing alongside him.

The Church Army much like the Salvation Army that had started a few years previous took the military discipline seriously.  

However, the Salvation Army expanded this much further as William Booth took the SA out of its Methodist roots.

Carlile was a radical and wanted the Church Army to remain firmly with the Church of England, to remind the Church of its obligations to share faith in words and deeds.

Initially this was for laymen – but shortly after, in 1889, his sister Marie Carlile joined him, and the woman’s work began.

Because there was no place for woman in ministry in the Church of England at this time the woman trained as medical sisters at hospitals – hence their title ‘Sisters’.

Captains, and we have only the one rank, were so called because ideally they had a 100 soldiers under their command who would engage with the Captain in the battle against, sin, the world and the devil.

Unlike the SA, the Church Army never grew to much more than a thousand Officers and although autonomous sister societies sprang up around the world it remained a home based mission.

The CA has shifted and morphed a great deal over those 135 years and in particular since 2006.

In an unprecedented and bold move, the Board appointed a Youth Minister from Christ Church Chorleywood, 31-year-old Mark Russell, to become the Chief Secretary. Mark soon styled himself CEO, just one of the many things he would change. 

Mark cherished the charisma of Carlile but recognized that for the most part Church Army had dwindled down to a core of elite Officers, all doing fantastic work, but with very few troops and with a real need to change our  modus operandi.

One of the most significant changes came in 2012 when after several years of consultation and review the Church Army became an Acknowledged Mission Community. A special Service to mark the occasion was held in September in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral where Wilson Carlile is buried. Carlile died in 1942.

The Church Army now has four pathways –

  • Commissioned Evangelist
  • Covenanted Evangelist
  • Co-workers
  • Companions

During the process of discernment, we also reviewed our policy of taking away someone’s Church Army Commission when they became ordained, the Church Army being principally a Lay organisation. This policy was rescinded and subsequently a number of clergy, men and woman, have received back their Commission and been accepted as members of the Church Army Mission Community.

Today we now have around 600 members of the Mission Community scattered across the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Ireland both North and South.

One of our new ways of operating is in Centres of Mission. Here there will be a Lead Evangelist, who will have alongside them two or three other Officers, possibly an Evangelist-in-Training and maybe engaging with local Companions.

The aim is to bring people to a living faith in Jesus Christ. In line with our DARE strategy, our Centres of Mission have the following vision:

      ·     Doing evangelism
  • Advocating evangelism
  • Resourcing evangelism
  • Enabling evangelism
This vision sees our Centres of Mission collaborating closely with the host dioceses and local churches to offer their expertise and provide training to help other Christians share their faith through words and action.

We now have over twenty of these with an increasing number of dioceses asking to host one in their diocese.

One opened last year in Tuam in the far North West tip of Northern Ireland – in partnership with help from the Roman Catholic diocese who offered the use of Offices in their Diocesan House as base.

We do still have a few residential Centres and one in particular could take up a whole story itself – the Marylebone Project. Do go on line later and check it out – it is amazing. They take woman in danger off the streets and as refugees and offer them emergency shelter. Then they are able to support and walk alongside the woman until they can be housed in a flat of their own. The Marylebone Project offers the only Day Centre dedicated to woman in London. 

Last year, the Marylebone Project settled 86 formerly homeless women into independent living. The project also provided more than 40,000 bed nights to vulnerable women and supported some 300 women a week through its day centre during 2016. 

There is lots more I could tell you – about my own work, or the Amber Project in Cardiff working with young people who self-harm.  

Come and chat to Jane or me and visit our display and take some material with you.  The Church Army is a charity and needs to raise funds to help in its work of going out to the margins of society engaging with the least, the last and the lost. 

Therefore, I thank you for your gift and your prayers.

And in all of this let us not forget where we began – with the infant Jesus being proclaimed as the Light of the World and the bringer of salvation.

Through the work of Church Army thousands upon thousands of men, woman, boys and girls have found that Jesus is their friend, had their dignity restored, their lives renewed and discovered a personal relationship with God that sets them on a new course.  Salvation indeed in its fullest sense – new life now - and a hope for the future.

Church Army Commissioned Evangelist, Covenanted Evangelist, Co-Workers and Companions are servants of the Gospel.

What about you – how are you responding to God’s call, which comes to each and every one of us as Baptized believers, how are you serving the Gospel day by day in all the places you go and in all the things you do and with all the people you meet.

You are a unique and irreplaceable actor in the drama of human history, and Jesus Christ has need of you to make known his salvific work in this particular place and at this particular moment in history.’

Michael Quoist in his book ‘The Christian Response’

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Behold - the Lamb of God!

St Bartholomew 15th January 2017

At the danger of making this a three-point sermon, there are in fact three points I would like to draw out from our Gospel reading for this morning.

Verse 29 – ‘The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’

Note if you will that, it says the sin of the world, singular, not sins plural as often misquoted.

So – what exactly might the sin of the world be?

I have been pondering this and looking at commentaries and various video clips. 

The common understanding is that it is rejection and rebellion against God.

However, I am still puzzling over this and in particular when it says, ‘sin of the world.’

Could it be that the world, the created order is somehow caught up in sin?

Is this what lies behind Romans 8.22…?

‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’

In Mark 16.15 we read, 'Jesus said to them go into all the world and preach the Gospel...'

That is certainly something St Francis took to heart.

Graham Tomlin in his 2014 book ‘The Widening Circle’ - priesthood as a way of blessing the world, argues that the role of the Priest is to model Christ as the Great High Priest. Their call is to mediate and enable creation to give glory back to God. In this task, the priest reminds the people of God of their role in enabling humanities role in enabling creation to give glory back to the Creator.

In short – we need an expansive view of sin and salvation that includes not only the sin of the individual but also the sin of the world.

Maybe the Holy Hill vision of Isaiah chapter 11 is the true destiny of creation.

 To remind you that chapter begins with…

‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.’

It then goes on to say…

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 

The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah prophesied that, The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.

‘Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.

Our Gospel account continues…

 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

And here I want to say something about discipleship and being disciples, my second point. 

Matthew closes his Gospel with a command from Jesus to his followers to go and make disciples of all the nations.

He does not tell them to build or establish a church, so people can become ‘churchgoers’ – he doesn’t ask us to encourage people to be good people, he commands us to make disciples.

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”  “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

This tells us something about how being a disciple was understood in the 1st century – the way of Jesus’ disciples.

Let me put it like this. If you decided to become a disciple of Fr Stuart, you would want to hear his teaching and so you would gather around him to listen to what he taught. However, you would also want to know how he lived, how he ate, drank, and how be conducted himself in day-to-day life. You would want to follow him everywhere you possibly could. In short, you would want to mirror everything Fr Stuart did and become a carbon copy because you believed he offered the best way and model of being in the world. 

As Disciples of Christ we are called to be ‘little Christ’ – to be as Christ in the world, to be the ongoing incarnation – Emmanuel through us. 

Ephesians 4:11-13

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.” Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter

My third point – disciples make disciples, how could it not be so.

If we have found and been captivated by the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and know our sins have been forgiven. If we have found in Him Good News – then surely, as night follows day we would want to share that with others wouldn’t we.

Not in a preachy, constantly Scripture quoting judgmental sort of way… 

‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3.15

To win some we need to be winsome.

To summarize…

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and invites us to become His devoted disciple making disciples who proclaim in word and deed the Good News that God will bring everything into good order with a redeemed and conjoined heaven and earth.

Therefore to quote Mother Julian, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’

Let me close with a short Mediation from His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1

And only where God is seen does life truly begin.
Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
Each of us is loved,
Each of us is necessary.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel,
By the encounter with Christ.
There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.