Sunday, 8 April 2018

'That Jesus lived and died is beyond question - the question that remains is did Jesus die and then live?' - transcript of sermon Second Sunday of Easter 2018 St Anne's Brown Edge

Sermon St Anne’s Brown Edge Second Sunday of Easter 2018

Around Easter 2017 an article from the Guardian was being pushed around the social media.  The article was outlining the case for the historicity of Jesus. It was the concluding sentence that attracted me.

It said something like this, ‘it is beyond question that Jesus lived and died, the real question however is whether he died and lived.’

Interestingly recent research has shown that just under half of English adults believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Yet whether Jesus died and lived remains the most important question to ask and to answer.  Far more important than Hawking’s search for black holes, a lot more significant that whether Russia was complicit in the nerve agent attack.

If you answer yes to that question then everything changes, the world, the universe, everything.

And as someone who believes it to be true I would argue that whether you believe it or not the world, the universe and everything has changed for ever anyway.

How might that be, what has changed, who has changed?

One thing that can change is ourselves as new life is offered out to us both individually and corporately as the People of God, as a Faith Community as a Church.

A part of my Lent reading was 40 Stories of Hope.

Forty stories of lives transformed from all kinds of mess and violence and brutality by the love and transforming grace of God offered through Jesus’ sacrifice. 

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Perhaps we might couple this with John 10.10 where Jesus has been talking about his being the Good Shepherd, something we can relate to very well at this time of year.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

As God’s people we live in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom come upon earth, such as we pray for regularly in the Lord’s Prayer.

We also as God’s people have been raised to new life…

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2.6

Like many Christians and Faith Communities you may well have embarked upon some Lenten study.

However doesn’t it strike you as odd that we seek to undertake such reflection and study during Lent and then when we come to the critical point in the story, the resurrection and the celebration of Easter, we stop?

Surely our hearts cry should be, now in the light of this new reality, that Jesus is raised from death, how should we live?

As we heard from our reading in Acts the infant Church began to live in a very different way, and do remember that society was marked by class and cultural barriers that could never be crossed.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

So is that the answer, are we seek to emulate the early church in Jerusalem?

Not too many people think this passage sets a blue print for the life of the people of God in every age.

However, very helpfully for today Andrew Roberts, a Methodist Minister has written about the emerging Faith Community exploring the familiar passage of Acts 2.42-47 that also talks about the selling of goods and holding everything in common, picked up again in the passage we heard today from Acts 4.32-35.

Andrew notes to what he refers to as Ten Holy Habits for both individuals and as a Community of Faith.

The ten habits are: biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, giving, service, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship and the making of more disciples. 

Andrew has further developed his book into a Training Course where these Holy Habits can be explored in more depth.

Our Lenten study and discipline may be over but ought we not to continue with our studies, especially as we seek to learn and understand more of Jesus, just who was and is this man?

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

We need to read, heed and take to heart our Scriptures as a daily discipline.

I heard it said recently that in the Old Testament the New Testament is contained and in the New Testament the Old Testament is explained.

This is the meta-narrative, the Big Story of God’s redeeming the whole of the cosmos and you and I as God’s people who have responded to His invitation of grace are called to be co-workers with God in this great enterprise.

Michael Quoist in his book ‘The Christian Response’ put it like this…

‘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.’

Maybe what Andrew offers is a good place to begin such a study of how we should now live as the People of God in Brown Edge in the light of the resurrection of Jesus.

How do you think you measure up here as the People of God at St Anne’s, Brown Edge?

Biblical teaching
Breaking of bread
Eating together
Gladness and generosity
Making more disciples

A good litmus test is to be found Acts 2.47

They broke bread together in their homes all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. 

Do you have the good will of the people of Brown Edge?

Do you share meals with each other?

Are you known as those who ‘all the while praise God?’

Is the Lord adding to your number those who are being saved?

On encountering the Risen Christ Thomas’ life was transformed, ‘but blessed,’ said Jesus, ‘are those who have not seen and yet believe.

That my brothers and sisters includes both you and me – believing and blessed that we might bless others that they in turn may believe. 

Then they in turn having come to believe are blessed and then bless others who then come to believe - and thus the Church grows and God’s Kingdom is established on earth as in heaven.

Thus the reality of Jesus’ resurrection changes the world as people have their lives transformed and then begin to transform their communities as they live out the new life as a Resurrected Community of Faith.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Brown Edge needs you to live out an authentic resurrected life so that the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy may know he is defeated and that now in Jesus people may have life, and have it to the full.

Let us pray…

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Captain's Log April 2018

March was another month where the weather caused cancellations playing havoc with the diary.

In my capacity as Chair of Trustee’s for Rural Mission Solutions I met with Barry Osborne and Joy Howell at Selly Oak.  Joy has now been offered work with RMS to forward and foster work with children in a rural context. In due course she will be presenting a webinar and meanwhile Joy will be drawing up valuable resources that can help in children’s ministry in a rural areas.  Barry and I also presented a webinar as part of our Seasons and Cycles looking at the forthcoming summer season. It is available on YouTube – follow the link at under ‘what we do.’

Staffordshire County Show – an interesting planning meeting at which we had two representatives from Rising Brook Baptist Church join us. (RBBC is a very large Church in Stafford)  Please pray for a fruitful outcome of this partnership. This year we hope they will supply us with a few folk to act as Host’s and also refreshments. Our good friends at House of Bread who have provided us refreshments in the past have grown and expanded and are no longer in a position to help out in this way. 

I had an excellent Review Meeting with Bishop Geoff and Archdeacon Matthew and then a few weeks later with George Fisher (Line Manager).  We are all mindful of my retirement in June 2019 and seeking to focus on successors for some pieces of work such as the County Show, and then to concentrate on particular pieces of work and people with whom I have been walking alongside.  I very much doubt if there will be a like for like replacement but the ministry I have been able to do has proved to be of great value. So consideration will need to be given to what support can be offered to parishes and benefices post June 2019.

I had a great time with Revd Captain David Collier, new into post (January 2018) at St Saviours and All Saints, Branston and Burton. I spoke at their Café Holy Communion Evening Service. (A rather odd animal!) I was invited to speak about my ministry and brought it around to talking about my coming to faith, my ministry and vocation and then challenging them to consider their own vocations and calling.

A preachment at my home church of St John’s on Palm Sunday.  I invited people to consider whether they we following the man on the horse, Pontius Pilate representing the world, or the man on the donkey, Jesus, representing the Kingdom of God.  It was very well received and the transcript is available on my blog.

I also met with all three of my Pilgrims this month, walking alongside them as their Spiritual Companion. I really like the mix of Pilgrims I am engaged with in this way.

Some appointments and engagements....

(Weather permitting!)

APRIL 2018

Easter Sunday and leading the SonRise Service at Stafford Castle 6.30am.

Wednesday 4th
Farming Community Network meeting including Dementia Friendly Training from Dementia Action Alliance.

Sunday 8th
Preaching and leading Service of the Word at St Anne’s, Brown Edge.

From Monday 9th – 12th Jane and I will be on Retreat at The Sheldon Centre. On the Thursday we are going to Cornwall overnight to catch up with the grandchildren (and their parents) and see if we have time to call in to talk about putting our house back on the market. On the way back we have an overnight stop at Bristol to catch up with Joe & Alex.

Sunday 15th
Rescheduled Stafford Half Marathon and raising sponsorship for The Farming Community Network.

Text - GFCN51 £2 to 70070

Monday 16th
Church Army Regional Day in Sheffield.

Tuesday 17th
Meeting with Alan Betts as we make plans for the first session of Frontline Discipleship, ‘Preaching for your Frontline.’   (See Wednesday evening)

Wednesday 18th
In the morning meeting with newly appointed Priest, Julia Babb. In the evening ‘Frontline Discipleship One Year Course’ begins for St Lawrence, Biddulph.  Pray for their Vicar, Steven Dyson.

Thursday 19th
‘Chew & Chat’ – informal lunch meeting at Rising Brook Baptist Church. Out in the evening helping as I do most Thursday with RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association)

Saturday 21st
With Janet Arnold at St James’, Newchapel. We are going to spend the morning together looking at Evangelism as an Integral Heartbeat using the Five I’s of Parish Evangelism.

Monday 23rd – Thursday 26th
Lichfield Diocese Clergy Conference – and I get to go as well!  Great time of networking and catching up with folk, with some teaching and worship of course!

Saturday 28th
St John’s, Littleworth, Away Day.
(Going with Jane as participant)   

Sunday 29th
Tixall & Ingestre Messy Church in the afternoon.

Monday 30th
Personal Quiet Day

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The man on the horse or the man on the donkey - transcript of sermon St John's, Littleworth Palm Sunday 2018

Palm Sunday St John’s   Littleworth

Psalm 118.1-2, 19-end Mark 11.1-11

Some of you will know that back in the 1960's I served time as an Apprentice Jockey.

Today I want to talk to you about a competition between a man on a donkey and a man on a horse.

The competion is for the very soul of the human race

And we need to study the form and be very careful which one we choose.

You could lose more than the shirt off your back…

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10.28

The man on the horse entered Jerusalem from the West at the head of a large army.

This was the new Procurator, Pontius Pilate taking up his post in  AD26 under the Emperor Tiberius.

He marched his cohort of legionaries with all their standards right into the Temple Mount – and caused a riot.  

As the legionaries drew their gladius’ many of the Jews simply knelt down and offered their necks to the blades.

Not the best start to ruling and governing the region.

So on this occasion the standards were removed from the Temple Mount.

However we may view his later encounter with Jesus, Pilate was no push over and among other things kept the Robes of the High Priest. They had to go and ask him if they could use them when ceremony required it.  He was also not averse to creaming off some of the Temple money.

The man on the donkey entered Jerusalem from the East. 

Bethpage was probably a very small settlement close to Bethany which itself lay around two miles East of Jerusalem.

We know of course about Bethany as the home of Jesus friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

And if the man on the horse knew what he was doing entering into Jerusalem at the head of a conquering army with all the might, power and pomp of Imperial Rome, so did the man on the donkey.

The man on the donkey was an itinerant preacher, teacher, healer and he done many great miracles.

“See,” the Pharisees where to say on one occasion, “this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"  John 12.19

And the man on the donkey knew the Hebrew Scriptures; he knew the prophets and the prophecies.

If Pilate’s troops carried in their symbols and signs so did Jesus.  

Rejoice with all your heart, people of Zion! Shout in triumph, people of Jerusalem! Look! Your King is coming to you: He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and rides on a donkey, on a colt, a young pack animal.  Zechariah 9.9

He would have known exactly what he was doing and we get a sense of this by the very careful orchestration of procuring a donkey for him to use.

Worth noting that no one had ridden on this young colt before – which is probably why in Matthew’s account we have the jenny, the colt’s mother, brought along to help keep the colt calm among the crowds. 

However I have to say as someone who has ridden horses I have deep respect here for Jesus.

Here in these two men we have two Kingdoms.

The Kingdom of God or as Matthew puts it, the Kingdom of Heaven in deference to his Jewish readers, and the kingdom of the world, here represented by the reigning super power of the day, the sprawling Roman Empire.

And the Roman Empire had travelling evangelist who would enter villages, towns and cities like Jerusalem proclaiming the good news, the evangel.

Gathering a crowd around, the evangelist would tell the latest good news about a recent conquest by the Empire, or of the Emperor’s birthday or some other notable event.

Hold that in mind and heed these words from Mark 1.14-15

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Proclaiming the Gospel of God – God’s Good News.

And remember that repentance always means more than a feeling of remorse or sorry – it is a change of mind leading to a change of action, a turning 180 degrees.

Jesus offered a choice of serving another King and another Kingdom.

We will hear this played out in the forthcoming drama of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem and his death by crucifixion.

We will watch again as Jesus and Pilate stand before each other, both representing diametrically opposed kingdoms.

And during this tense drama on one occasion we hear Jesus say, My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."  John 18.36

We will see Peter waving his sword around in the dark as they come to arrest Jesus and we will hear Jesus say, "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Jesus offered not violent revolution but rather a loving revelation.

He outlined in particular what it means to live as the People of God in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Beatitudes which someone once described as beautiful attitudes. . 

The man on the donkey or the man on the horse

My first post as a Church Army Evangelist was in the Diocese of St Alban's. Alban was a Romano-British citizen of the third century in the Roman city of Verulamium.  He gave shelter to a stranger fleeing from persecution who turned out to be Christian priest.  Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be taught more about Christianity, then still a forbidden religion.
Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive priest.  But Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, exchanged clothes with the priest, allowing him to escape. (Although he was later captured and executed)

So Alban was arrested instead and brought before the city magistrate.   Alban refused to sacrifice to the emperor and the Roman gods. When asked to identify himself he declared: ‘I am called Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things’.

The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment due to the priest.  He was brought out of the town and up the hillside to the site of execution where he was beheaded. The first Christian martyr to shed blood on English soil.
Today Verulamium is a ruin while Alban is remembered by a magnificent Abbey and a city named in his honour along with St Alban’s Diocese. 

As you leave here today and go into the week ahead you will have to make a choice, either the man on the donkey or the man on the horse – either the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world.

There is no middle ground – because either Jesus is Lord or Caesar is Lord.

In Jesus’ final earthy discourse recorded by Matthew in what we call the Great Commission we read…

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 26.18 

St Augustine wrote – ‘If Jesus be not Lord of all then he is not Lord at all.’

Allegiance to the man on the donkey may bring you into conflict with the people who follow the man on the horse, but remember the way of Jesus, the way of loving revelation, the way that leads to life and life in all its fullness.

And today we still have evangelist from both the kingdom of the world and from the Kingdom of God.

And right here and right now you and I have a choice to make, and that choice will affect every aspect of our lives.

The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the World – it is always our choice, such is the grace and love of God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever should believe in him should die but have everlasting life.

As you leave this place and enter into the week ahead can I implore you to think very carefully about the choice you will make?

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.“ Joshua 24.15

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Captain's Blog February/March 2018

A slightly different ‘Chewing the Cud’ to begin the month of February. Ordinarily we have no agenda and let the conversations flow freely. However on this occasion we had invited Di Wallace along who gave us a short introduction to her work with Dementia Action Alliance and the plan to make Staffordshire Dementia Friendly.

We have invited Di back to speak to the next meeting of our Staffordshire FCN Group.  Mental health issues continue to feature in the work of FCN.

For some Churches the Christmass season ends with The Presentation of Christ (Candlemass) on the 2nd February.  As such it provides a perfect alternative for a Christingle. So we wrapped this together and at Ingestre (a very small village just outside Stafford) in a Church building that is beautiful and yet has very little space to move around in, I helped to lead a Candlemass–Christingle - Messy Church.  An interesting challenge!

COVER-Hope-at-Easter-coverHOPE 18 is very much underway with some fabulous resources.   I have been reading the 40 Stories of Hope and found it very inspiring. I also made a HOPE 18 presentation to the PCC of my home church, St John’s, highlighting some of the opportunities and material available throughout the year.

I have picked up my regular visit to St Anne’s, Brown Edge. This month was my first visit this year; January was cancelled due to snow.  Brown Edge is a continuing challenge as there is rarely more than ten people who attend regularly.  However the Fresh Expression ‘Connect2’ held at the school continues to develop apace.

It was also ill health that meant Jane and I were asked to jump in and lead the adults at St John’s, Church@4 ‘Hot Potato’ exploring happiness.  Did you know that the UK ranks 19 in the 2017 Happiness Scale? Fascinating subject once you begin to explore it. 

We had an interesting day as Spiritual Companions being addressed by a Priest from the Diocesan Deliverance Team.  This whole issue remains one in which there is little guidance and a common mind across the Church.  It is also very open to misuse and abuse and does need to have a very pragmatic and sensible approach.

Another ‘training day’ was the Diocesan RNG Team (Reaching New Generations) looking at Children and the Rural Church.  I was asked to share something of my experience and I told the story of St Mary’s in Sheviock, Cornwall.  And I loved the reordering of the rural church we met in (St Peter's, Stoke-on-Tern) with all pews removed, kitchen installed and two toilets. 

On rural I have set up a dedicated Lichfield Diocese Rural Mission Page that is going well with some great threads and information.

I had a good time  at St James’, Newchapel with their newish Priest (and Church Army Sister) Janet Arnold. I preached in the morning and then after lunch we explored Discipleship, Vocation and Evangelism as part of the Diocesan direction of travel. 

 I also had a splendid meeting with Linda who is helping us review and refreshed the Rural Evangelism Course on the Germinate ARC – I really like the slides she has produced and some of the review suggestions within the material.

The month concluded with a Gathering of the Diocesan Community of Evangelist. We heard from Jan Harney who has had a fascinating journey and along the way shared her love of God in the most natural way.  It is wonderful to hear what happens when someone moves in obedience and says yes to God and follows the lead. 
        Some appointments in March 

Thursday 1st
Tabitha’s birthday and a tad strange not to have her here with us to celebrate.

Saturday 3rd
Attending ‘Next Steps’ at Lichfield Cathedral. A diocesan gathering celebrating and updating on the ‘Diocesan direction of travel’ launched March 2017

Sunday 4th
Meeting with Christine at Stoke Hospital to talk through my role as Locum Chaplain at Stafford Hospital.

Monday 5th
Meeting with JC as his Spiritual Companion. Friends that do lunch - ‘Chew n Chat’

Tuesday 6th
Personal Quiet Day at The Hermitage

Wednesday 7th
Rural Mission Solutions Meeting at Selly Oak. Barry and I are meeting with someone who might be able to do some ad-hoc children’s ministry for RMS.

Thursday 8th
Staffordshire County Show Core Team planning meeting.

(10th & 11th – weekend with Tabitha & Peter)

Tuesday 13th
Review Meeting with Bishop Geoff & Archdeacon Matthew.  In the evening Jane and I leading St John’s Lent Group.

Wednesday 14th
Meeting with JM as his Spiritual Companion.

Friday 16th
This is Interview Day with prospective new incumbents for St John’s Littleworth with Tixall & Ingestre.  Jane is involved in this process.

Sunday 18th
Stafford Half Marathon – running this year for FCN
Text - GFCN51 £2 to 70070

In the evening at St Saviours Church to talk to their Café Church about my ministry.

Monday 19th
Stafford Prison Fellowship Update & Prayer Meeting.

Wednesday 21st
Jane’s Birthday!

Thursday 22nd
Review with George Fisher (Line Manager)

Friday 23rd
Meeting with DC as his spiritual companion

Saturday 24th
RMS Webinar – Summer Mission Ideas & Resources

Palm Sunday 25th
Preaching at St John the Baptist Littleworth
Monday 26th
Attending Mothers’ Union Quiet Day

Tuesday 27th
With my own Spiritual Companion

Friday 30th
Good Friday Walk of Witness through Stafford

(Easter Sunday and I am giving a lead again on our Son-Rise Service at Stafford Castle) 

Family News – everything is much the same with Daniel still enjoying working nearer home. And our lovely youngest granddaughter, Lowenna celebrated her 3rd birthday. Also set to work nearer home with a new job is Peter, which will be good. Tabitha continues to work at The Range, very close to home. They are really settling into their life together and it is lovely to see them blossom.  Joe is doing okay but prayers welcomed for the travelling he does especially in this bad weather.  Jane celebrates her birthday and no doubt will be thinking about last year when she fell over and had a very nasty break in her shoulder.  Jane also continues to be very busy with St John’s in a variety of ways.