Sunday, 14 May 2017

'The Glory of God is Man' - transcript of sermon St Anne's, Brown Edge May 14th 2017

Sermon – St Anne’s Brown Edge 14th May 2017

We have just returned from our post Easter break during which we spent a day in Barcelona.

Some people from the Cruise ship went to see the famous football stadium, others to the Park Guel and yet others to the many other wonderful buildings in the city.

Jane and I had booked tickets for the Sagrada Familia.  This is the most astonishing building you are ever likely to encounter by the artist/architect Gaudi.   

The Sagrada Familia is Gaudi­'s crowning achievement that is a work in progress! 

This ornate church embodies both the renowned Catalan architect's ambitious imagination and his religious devotion. 

There is nothing understated about the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí­'s magnum opus. Its slender spires tower over the Catalan capital, and every surface is intricate and significant. It is truly a marvel, incorporating both Christian symbolism and organic forms in its own unique style.

Gaudi was so dedicated to this project that he lived onsite for 16 years (and is buried in the crypt below).

It was Gaudí's wish that the people finance the temple’s construction. Entrance fees therefore go towards the completion of the church on which work began in 1882.

When it is finished in 2026 - on the 100th anniversary of Gaudí­'s death - the Sagrada Familia will have taken 144 years to complete. The original plan called for eighteen spires, the tallest of which will be 172.5m, thus making it the tallest church spire in the world. This is just a little lower than the highest mountain overlooking the city – because man cannot outdo God!

The Temple in Jerusalem that Jesus would have known was of equal magnificence before the Romans in AD70 destroyed it. It was able to accommodate a million people and was the size of six football pitches.

Standing on top of Mount Moriah gleaming white stone embellished with gold, it would have taken your breath away glinting in the strong sunlight.

Not only was it an awesome building it was also considered the place where heaven and earth came together.

Little wonder people misunderstood and scoffed when Jesus said, ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.’

From our reading in the Acts of the Apostles we heard the concluding part of Stephen’s martyrdom, the first of many to give their lives in testimony to their faith in Jesus.

Earlier he had had said these damming words…

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:  “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?

That is always a danger – when we think we can place God in a building however magnificent. Or when our worship is so caught up in the wonder of the building we lose sight of the glory of God to which it seeks to give testimony.

I think that if Gaudi ever thought that people would come to ‘worship’ the ‘Sagrada Familia’ he would want it torn down so that one stone was not left standing on another.

Buildings also feature in our Gospel reading from John and here we have a Mansion with many rooms.

Taken as it reads it is just a tad confusing. Yet hidden away in this passage are many gems that have become very familiar quotes.

One of John’s ‘I am’ quotes – ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’


‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’

‘No one comes to the Father but through me’

Then there are the many rooms to which Jesus promises to lead us.

This is often used at funerals seeking to give comfort that in heaven there is a place for everyone – some pressing that hard and saying that everyone will come to accept God and a room will be ready for them in heaven.

However, heaven is not a place Christians go to when they die – that is not the Christian hope despite the popularity of such thinking, even in our culture that talks in such a way. ‘Stars in heaven’, ‘gone on ahead and waiting to be reunited,’ ‘there’s a home for little children, beyond the bright blue sky.’  All very nice and well meaning yet unbiblical.

The journey Jesus is going on alluded to here is through death and resurrection.  

Once that has been glorious achieved there will be a new relationship made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit who would come and take up residence with those who invite God into their lives.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was an outstanding monument – Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is also quite literally breath taking.

Yet neither of these comes close to the wonder of a man, woman, boy or girl alive in Christ.

Gloria Dei est vivens homo!

‘The Glory of God is living man’ said St Irenaeus.

Saint Teresa of Ávila wrote ‘An Interior Castle’ in 1577 as a guide for spiritual development.

Through service and prayer, the pilgrim is guided through a castle containing seven mansions, which she interpreted as the journey of faith through seven stages, ending with union with God.

We journey on becoming more and more like Christ.

'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.'

So here is the question – where is Jesus now?

Well as Stephen was killed, he was standing at the right hand of God – which is a nice touch as we more often correctly talk of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. Here he is standing as if to welcome the first Christian martyr.

However, Jesus is also present in His people, the Church, the Body of Christ upon earth.

'…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'

We hope one day to return to Barcelona and to visit the Sagrada Familia – maybe even in 2026 when it is completed.

Because this is a work in progress and is growing almost organically.

Therefore, my question is, are people looking at you and me, as the people of God, as a holy priesthood, and seeing more and more of the glory of God reflected in our lives as we grow into the likeness of Christ. Because we are also a work in progress.

Peter is emphatic as to what we needs to happen by way of clearing out debris and the things that get in the way of our growing into Christ's likeness.

'Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.'  

Then the glorious, breath-taking beautiful, wonderful glory of glory, reflecting back praise to God as we recognize that we are…

a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’

That my brothers and sisters is our calling, our destiny – and I am convinced that if we could but show even a measure of this then people would flock to see it much in the same way they flock today to view the glories of the Sagrada Familia.

And I am talking about right here and right now in Brown Edge.

‘So then let us also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let us throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.’ Hebrews 12.1-2

As a runner, I know a thing or two about stripping away ‘extra baggage’ to help run the race. Let me ask you what ‘extra baggage’ might you be carrying, and what ‘extra baggage’ might St Anne’s, Brown Edge be carrying that is slowing it down and tripping it up and not allowing the Christ light to shine through.

The John passage may be a tad confusing, yet one thing is as plain as a pikestaff – we are to fix our eyes upon Jesus and look only to him, not that we might gain heaven when we die but rather reflect His glory on our earthly pilgrimage thus bearing witness to God’s love, mercy and grace. To be brought into one of the many rooms in the mansion that has our name upon it, so that in this God given space designed especially for us, we may flourish and grow more into the full stature of Christ likeness.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3.20-21

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Church Army Preachment St Michael's Lichfield - transcript of sermon

St Michael's Lichfield CA Preachment

April 30th 2017

New Testament           Acts 2 v 14a and 36-41
Gospel                           Luke 24 v 13-35

Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the story of two disciples encountering the Christ on the road to Emmaus.

And three very particular points I would want to draw out from these passages allied to the work and ministry of the Church Army.

Numbers matter, individuals matter and you do not need scholarship or a degree to share faith or to talk about Jesus.

Over the last twenty odd years, the Church has been gathering more solid data, mainly through the Mission Returns sent into the diocese.  The information required has been tweaked and changed over the years to accommodate developments such as Fresh Expression of Church.

Originally, it was basic uSa numbers gathered in October – sometime skewed with a Harvest Service. This plus attendance at Easter and Christmass gave some measure of facts, figures and stats.

A more detailed report was published in January 2014 ‘Anecdote to Evidence.’

The Church Army’s Research Unit led by George Lings has been at the forefront of mapping out the emerging Fresh Expressions of Church and made a vital contribution to that document.

Now personally, I am not a stats geek and figures tend to make my eyes glaze over.

There are also those who state very strongly that numbers are not important, that we are wasting time with all this head counting malarkey.

‘Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number.’

(By the way, have you ever wondered about the logistics of baptising three thousand people?) 

Of course, numbers do not tell the whole story but they certainly tell a story – a story of how faithful we are at passing on the faith to the next generation.

And numbers mattered to the Founder of Church Army, Wilson Carlile.

They mattered as a young man when Wilson Carlile avowed to make £20,000 by the age of 25.  

He achieved his ambition in the family silk mercers business. However, following the collapse of the Stock Market and a bout of sickness at the age of 26, Wilson Carlile embraced the Christian Faith.

(You can read a little of his story in our magazine ShareIt)

Wilson Carlile became an Anglican priest and in 1882 founded the Church Army.

Again, numbers mattered and Carlile had a vision to create a mass movement of ordinary men and woman who were able to share their faith in their homes, in their work places or wherever they might find themselves.

‘Can you tell the Gospel in the same homely language of the workshop’ was one of his challenges.

And here we bring in another of my three points. Peter, was not trained for the Priesthood - by what knowledge we can glean from the Gospel’s, he was a rough and ready fisherman.

 There is nothing wrong with education and we should all strive to learn as much as we are able. However, having all the answers and a degree in 1st century Greek are not a prerequisite for sharing our Faith.

Over the years, the vision of a mass movement began to fade and the Church Army for the most part became an elite corps of Officers with very few troops.

One of the reasons for the title of Captains, apart from the popularity of military metaphors at the end of the 19th century, is that the Captain would have soldiers under their command.  These would be men and woman who while continuing in their daily lives joined the Captain on outdoor speaking engagements and other charitable acts.

Woman, as Sister, came later and here, Wilson Carlile’s sister, Marie stepped up and assisted her brother.  Because women could not minister in any form in the Church of England at the time, Church Army trained its woman as nursing sisters.  This gave them an opportunity to evangelize through this medium of a caring profession.

Some eight years ago under the very youthful Mark Russel as our CEO the Church Army began a serious review process.

We appointed someone to work alongside us for three years seeking to explore the charism of Carlile and consider what that might look like in the 21st century.

In September 2012 in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, where Prebandary Wilson Carlile is buried, the Church Army became an Acknowledged Mission Community.

Becoming a Mission Community has given the Church Army an opportunity to revisit the idea of being a mass movement and people can become members of the Church Army Mission Community as a Companion whilst continuing in their current situation. 

There are in fact four Pathways, Commissioned, Covenanted, Co-workers and Companions – and our numbers are steadily growing.  Today we are around 500 strong across the United Kingdom, both Lay and Ordained.

The Church Army uniform and many aspects may have changed over the years, however the core message remains the same, sharing faith through words and actions.

Our CEO, Mark Russel sits on the Archbishop’s Evangelism Task Force, and as you may know, Justin Welby has made evangelism one of his three priorities.

In his 2015 Lambeth Lecture speaking on evangelism he said... 

‘The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.’

All the members of the Church Army Mission Community would say a very loud Amen to that.

That is why throughout this country, Church Army Officers and all members of the Mission Community walk alongside people much in the same way as Jesus walked alongside those two disciple on the road to Emmaus, because individuals matter.

Many of those whom we walk alongside are the least, the last and the lost, those on the margins.

Working alongside local Churches we have over a dozen Centres of Mission where two or more Officers are based engaging in a variety of ministries, tailored to meet local needs.

Other Officers, as individuals, work in parishes, benefices, deaneries and some across a diocese in a specialized role, such as youth and children, or with the homeless.

My own role as Mission & Growth Partner sees me working across the Stafford Episcopal Area walking alongside parishes, benefices and deaneries seeking to encourage, enable and equip them for mission and evangelism.

So, let me return to that challenge of Wilson Carlile and ask you…

‘Are you able to share your hope and faith in the risen Lord Jesus in words that make sense and that can be understood by those you meet on your frontline - in shops, cafes, bars, gyms, schools, work places.’

If someone here this morning, or indeed someone you might meet in the week ahead, asked how he or she could become a Christian what answer would you give.

In closing let me mention one brilliant Church Army resource that could help you in that regard.   

Faith Pictures is a free course to download that helps you to frame your own faith story. It is serious fun, and a great way for us to begin talking about our faith to each other using metaphors and everyday items. If we can begin to feel comfortable talking to each other about our faith and our journey to faith, it will come more easily with other people outside the Church context.

For one definition of evangelism from D T Niles is simply ‘one beggar telling another where to get bread.’

Let me close with some words from His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1before I invite Jane to sing the words of the Chiefs Consecration prayer, words that I hope you may echo in your own hearts in dedication to walk alongside people, helping them to encounter the risen Lord.

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.

Jane sing...        (And now O Father, mindful of the love)

Now and here I give myself to you,
and now and here you give yourself to me;
and now and here I find your love within.
Break through me, Lord, that others I may win;
your wounded body and your life blood poured
impel me forth to live and preach you, Lord.

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