Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Special Child - A Candlemas Reflection

I've ummm'd and ahhh'd a bit about posting this - it's the text of a sermon I preached for Candlemas this year. But a few people have asked to read it, so I thought I'd go ahead and make it available, especially given the upcoming General Synod debate on 'Valuing People with Down's Syndrome' on Saturday 10th February.
In case you wondered, the Bible readings for the day were Malachi 3.1-5, Hebrews 2.14-18 & Luke 2.22-40.


A young couple enter the temple with a six week old baby. They’re just one family among many, doing their religious duty according to the Law of Moses, apparently no different to any others there - though less well off than some as they bring a pair of birds in place of a lamb and a pigeon. But they know they are different – that their child is different. Since before he was born they have been told he is ‘special,’ that people may not accept him because he’s been made differently - and yet He will lead those who come to know him to a greater understanding, a deeper relationship, with the very God the crowds have come to the temple to connect with.

But since he was conceived, there has been at least half an eye on his death. His mother’s partner would have been within his rights to have her stoned to death while he was still growing in her womb. Even having survived past birth, there would be threats to his life in childhood, causing his family to flee the country & become refugees, strangers in a strange land, alienated from family and friends and their usual support networks.

As he grew there would be rejection, attempted beatings and even attempted murder due to the way he challenged people’s perceptions of what it is to be ‘normal.’ And eventually there would be pain, torture, humiliation and death placed upon a young man whose main message was one of love. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

It’s been a challenging week for me as I’ve considered our readings for the feast of the Presentation, Candlemas as it’s known, as the realisation of some of the emotion, stress and pressure that Mary & Joseph must have felt has mingled with my own experience of Fatherhood and the fragility of life.

By nature it is a bittersweet festival anyway, looking back to the joy and hope of the coming of the Messiah we recently enjoyed at Christmas, but also looking forward to an onrushing period of Lent, culminating in the pain of Good Friday. For us this is understood, and bearable, as we know the rest of the story. But imagine hearing the words of the Nunc Dimmitis, the song of Simeon, as Mary or Joseph. 
This random old man spots them through the crowds, is moved by the Holy Spirit to go across to them, to take the child in his arms and suddenly some of the most wonderful words in the New Testament pour out of him – words which on one hand celebrate the dawning of the light of God’s salvation, yet on the other warn Mary of the pain that she must expect and of the division that her Son will provoke among God’s people.

And this has, I don’t know, rattled me a bit this week. You see, next Saturday General Synod, the governing body of the Church of England where our representatives set church law and shape the identity of the C of E, will be given the chance to debate a motion entitled Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome. This is mainly as a response to the roll out of a simple blood test for Down’s Syndrome that the National Screening committee approved almost 2 years ago.  

Now, you may have seen this test, called NIPT, reported at the time as a huge breakthrough, wonderful news for all. The headlines most of the press went with were hugely positive – after all, it should reduce the need for invasive testing procedures, which trigger around 350 cases of miscarriage every year. So this is good news, that will bring comfort and clarity to many at a difficult time in their lives.

But aside from the muddied waters surrounding some of the claims put out to the press by the companies who stand to profit from the test, such as downplaying the information that up to 50% of positive results in younger women will actually be false positives, the conflict for me comes because the sad fact is that most women, when their baby tests positive for Down’s, will choose to have an abortion.

Currently around 90 per cent of pregnancies that involve the condition end in a termination, with the steady rise blamed on increased access to blood tests via private clinics. In Denmark, the head of a midwife association proclaimed: "When you can discover almost all the foetuses with Down Syndrome, then we are approaching a situation in which almost all of them will be aborted."

And even more sadly, there is a part of me that can understand this.

Because my youngest daughter has Down’s Syndrome - Trisomy 21 in medical speak due to the presence of 3 copies of the 21st chromosome. And from the moment medical staff suspected she had Down’s she went from a ‘pregnancy’ to a ‘risk’, and the expectation, the path they encouraged, was that of ending her life before birth.

We were told how hard it would be, how much she - and we - would suffer, and were met with surprise and disbelief when we maintained our decision to continue with the pregnancy.

With Down’s one of the ‘serious disabilities’ where late term abortion is still permitted, meaning any time before birth – with two cases being highlighted of women being offered terminations at 37 weeks – the questions, the reminder we could always try again for a "normal" one, the knowing looks and the occasional distain continued throughout the pregnancy.

But just for a moment imagine if all of our potential problems, foibles and personality traits – both real and suspected - had been laid bare in front of our parents before our birth.

That instead of ‘congratulations’ they were given a heap of statistics on what might go wrong with you as you grew.

And imagine if all Mary had heard was the negatives Jesus life would bring – you’re too young to have a baby, you’re not married, the child will be different, divisive, be accused of mental illness and demon possession, will break your heart more than once - and will die a criminals’ death for stirring up trouble against those in authority.

I think this highlights the problem we face whenever we de-personalise anybody. It becomes so much easier to treat people as things when their existence is merely grouped into a short phrase or category, when they go from being individuals with hopes and dreams, created in the image of God and with the same blood of life flowing through them, to simply a “Down’s sufferer” or a “bunch of migrants” – something worth pondering so close to the end of Holocaust Memorial week, especially as thousands of disabled patients were killed by the Nazis in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms in the first experiments to test that equipment while children under 3 identified with disabilities were sent for euthanasia disguised as additional care.

But each person on this planet is much more than a stereotype or a statistic. Each and every person is valued by God for who they are created to be.

And the words that pour forth from Simeon, this amazing piece of scriptural poetry that is still used to bring comfort & blessing by the Church in funeral services and every night in a service of prayer and reflection called Compline, points us to a world-altering truth. It reminds us of a recurrent theme of the Old Testament, one possibly little noticed by most people of the time, gently resonating almost like an echo through time and space - God’s purpose of blessing extends beyond Israel, to include all people, who will be blessed through God’s blessing of Abraham.

It is at this moment we discover the universal scope of God’s church – good news for us in here, as without the amazing outpouring of God’s grace we would still be outsiders, destined to remain estranged from our Father – grouped together as merely “a bunch of Gentiles.” And also good news for those we might describe as ‘out there,’ who we have a responsibility to pray for, to show God’s light and love to, and to help find their way back home to their Lord and redeemer, whatever group society deems they should fit into.

It strikes me the beauty of God is in his eye for detail. No sparrow falls, not one hair of our head is lost, without God noticing. Whatever stage of life or health we are in, whatever gender, nationality, skin colour or chromosomes we were born with, God still cares about each one of us, about the situations we face, and wants us to talk to Him about them, bring them before Him in prayer, and trust in the blood of his Son Jesus, poured out at Calvary for our Salvation, and the Holy Spirit given freely to live within us to help us remain in a right relationship with him.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Those who want to paint us as deluded, as out of touch, for believing in the risen Christ, for seeking to do unto others as we would have done to us and loving our neighbours as ourselves, miss the point.

We are not ashamed of the Gospel as we know it to be the only thing that holds up as true in a world that is seemingly designed to keep us in our place, that wants us to seek the material over the spiritual and live in fear of those around us, in fear of the unknown. We can hold fast to the Gospel because we know that Christ has experienced all this world could throw at Him and still reigns triumphant. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Phoebe’s arrival in our lives has brought challenges, pain and heartache greater than I had ever thought possible. But then so did the arrival of our other three children – such is the paradoxical nature of true love.
Since before she was born we have been told she is a ‘risk,’ – that people will not accept her because she has been made differently.

Yet so far she has blessed many who have come to know her, including me, with a greater understanding, a deeper relationship, with the very God the crowds in the temple all those centuries ago came to connect with.

This is not because she has Down’s Syndrome, or even despite her having Down’s Syndrome – it is because she is who she was created to be by He who “formed her inward parts; who knit her together in her mother’s womb.”
The grace of God poured out upon us through Jesus life, death and resurrection is ours because he loves us, loves you, indiscriminately and desires the best for each one of us, His children.

He sees past the smoke and mirrors of who society claims we are, even who we sometimes pretend to be, and instead sees us as he created us to be, and longs for us to allow him to work in our lives, refine us like the precious gold we are, and present us as a gift to the world, a beacon that points the way to Him.

By not just talking about, but by living out the Gospel we can experience Christ in our lives as fully as Simeon did in the temple, and proclaim his as confidently as Anna did to all whom we meet. And however difficult and painful it can be to accept the Christ into our lives, whatever the ‘risks’ we’re told well have to face as disciples of the risen Lord, we find that, just as we did with Phoebe, the blessings far outweigh the costs. Because a love so pure, so powerful, so life changing, is worth more than anything.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

What sort of society?

This is the lead article I wrote for this month's Parish magazine (which went on sale today). I thought it worth publishing in the light of Saturday's press release. I only had 1 side of A4 to play with, so could have written a lot more - maybe another day!

The Curate Writes…

It won’t surprise many of you I was very interested to watch the recent BBC2 documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, presented by Sally Phillips, about Down's syndrome and the ethics of pregnancy screening.
In January, it was announced that the NHS would be offering a Non-Invasive Pre-Natal Test (NIPT) which is believed to be 99% accurate in detecting Down’s Syndrome in pregnancies. This in itself is not a bad thing. But, at the moment, nine out of ten British women terminate after being given a positive diagnosis. Since the NIPT became available privately in the UK, terminations have gone up by a third. In Iceland 100% of positive tests result in abortion, and Denmark has pledged to be “Down’s free” by 2030. 
It has since been revealed that Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are looking at “the lifetime costs of caring for children and adults with Down’s syndrome,” to determine if “testing for all is cost-effective.” This has raised huge concerns amongst some that there is a move to eradicate a certain group of people, born with an extra chromosome, on the grounds they may cost more than the ‘average’ person to take care of.
The danger with this terminology, this focus on the potential problem and not the person, is that it breeds fear and misunderstanding – amongst parents-to-be, amongst families, amongst society as a whole. We see similar incidences in the press over child refugees, over those who receive benefits, people from ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, people who are ‘too old’. When we start speaking of people as things, as a problem to be solved – if we start talking about who deserves a place in our society based on economic or productivity grounds – we are on a dangerous path.
Ultimately, as Christians we believe each person is created in the image of God. The psalmist reminds us it was God who knit us together in our mother’s womb. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth,” says Psalm 139:15. And, if we take our faith seriously, we cannot be anything but welcoming to those different yet equally valuable to God. Because none of us deserve a place in God’s kingdom, not a single one of us has the ‘right’ to eternal life, the ‘right’ to a relationship with our creator. It is only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, that we are able to stand in the presence of God and proclaim the hope we have.
From the moment we were informed our daughter Phoebe was at high risk (not chance, risk) of having Down’s, we were told in great detail of the negatives, the extremes the condition may bring, but none of the positives. Yet she has never ‘suffered’ from Down’s Syndrome (though she certainly suffered from a heart condition we were told was “no problem” to fix!) And to watch her dance, see how she loves those around her and how she prays and praises Jesus is a far cry from the picture painted to us in that little airless room 3 years ago.
St. Paul reminds us that we are the body of Christ. “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,” he tells the church in Corinth, reminding them “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”
In the documentary, Sally Phillips says “If we have a society that is unable to care for people, the problem is not the person.” What sort of a society do we want to be? What sort does God want us to be?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Book Review - Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life by Sheridan Vosey

Two years ago I met a couple of Australian pilgrims on their way to Durham Cathedral to see the Lindisfarne Gospels. It was a very modern meeting, arranged via Twitter after I had stumbled across their project, and led me to spend a Saturday evening & Sunday morning in the very enjoyable company of DJ Konz & Sheridan Vosey, including visiting both St. Andrew’s and (their original destination) St. Peter’s as part of their epic journey. Fast forward 6 months & I find myself in a hospital watching my youngest child recovering from open heart surgery aged just 8 weeks. Beside me is a book which I am reading to try & keep  sane during this hardest of times – Resurrection Year by the aforementioned Sheridan Vosey, who along with DJ and many others around the world have been bathing my daughter in prayer. So when the opportunity to review Sheridan’s new book arose, I couldn’t turn it down – especially given its subject matter.

You see, I couldn’t think of a better individual to explore what it means to live a resilient, Christ-centred life. Having endured (with his wife Merryn) the heartache of seeing their dreams of parenthood shattered, the couple moved from their native Australia to Oxfordshire to start their lives again. During this tumultuous time Sheridan decided to experiment with reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7, on a daily basis. Not just the comforting parts, but the whole thing. The result, says Sheridan, was dramatic:

"My reading of the Sermon each day began to shape me…my heart was slowly being recalibrated to the heart of Jesus, who lived out everything he preached. Without my realizing it, this was all helping me to start again."
Straight away it’s worth noting this is not a Christian “self-help” book. Speaking from the experience of his own wounds Sheridan doesn’t pretend that trials and troubles won’t come, that the storms of life will rage. What his writing offers, however, is an insight into how Jesus’ famous words can be applied to our daily lives, can permeate our souls and help the Holy Spirit bring us healing, purpose & a desire to seek out the life we were created to live.
Dividing the message of the Sermon into six sections, Sheridan explores:
"Your Invitation” – Jesus request for us to ‘come’;
“Your Calling” – what Jesus has called us to be and do;
“Your Relationships” – Jesus sanctification of each part of human relations, seeking to make each thing ‘Holy’;
“Your Practices” – Jesus guidance on the Way to live out His purpose for our lives;
“Your Choices” – Jesus guidance, instruction and warnings across the decisions we make, big and small, in our daily lives;
“Your Resilient Life” – guidance for moving Jesus message from our head to our hearts and living out a life shaped by Him no matter what is thrown at us.
Along the way there are questions to ponder, allowing the reader to focus their thoughts on what has been said. Each section concludes with a strong summary which directs us back to Jesus’ desire to help us build the resilience that will see us through the trials of being His disciples, His friends, His people.
Throughout the book Sheridan’s writing is smooth and at times poetic, giving memorable quotes and images, all adding to the impression of exploring the text in the company of a warm, learned friend. He draws on stories, anecdotes and a rich variety of Biblical images to draw us deeper into the Sermon – not only on a personal level, but as a means of showing how Jesus words run like a life-giving stream throughout eternity, consistent with the heart God displays for His people across all of Scripture.
For me this is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book. Sheridan has carefully avoided the whole thing becoming a long exercise in Jesus-speak naval gazing. Underpinning the whole narrative is a sense that through aligning ourselves to Jesus will for our lives we can have a hugely positive impact on those around us, both friends and strangers alike. Our God is a missional God – He did not send Jesus simply to save the people of Israel, but to give His life for the whole world. Time and again Sheridan encourages us to explore how reimagining our goals, ambitions and values in the light of the Sermon on the Mount can help us show Jesus’ love to those around us.
Overall this is a great resource for Christian people looking to deepen their relationship with Jesus and would work well in small group setting (with an accompanying study guide available soon), as a personal resource, or as a way to help Jesus begin bringing encouragement and healing to people facing times of sorrow or hardship. Highly recommended.                          
You can find out more about Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life
by Sheridan Vosey  on the official website. The book is available from most good retailers, including: 
Discovery House UK:
Barnes & Noble:
Discovery House US:


Saturday, 26 July 2014

In Summer...

Thought I'd post my lead article for the August/September edition of the Parish magazine - feel free to let me know what you think!


The Curate Writes...

Finally the summer's here – the air is warm, the kids are off school (and running around, yelling!), the sky is blue, and in a few days time will be full of aircraft as the Sunderland Air Show gets off the ground. This is all great, a cause for rejoicing. Yet as I sit to write this, my Twitter feed keeps distracting me. The BBC News website keeps grabbing my attention:
This mark stands for Nazarene. In last few days ISIS
in Mosul put this mark on the homes of the
Christians to mark them out for death.
* The conflict in Gaza, where the air is warm, the kids are off school (and running around, yelling), the sky is blue and also contains aircraft, rockets and bullets. More than 640 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in the past 15 days of fighting.

* Mosul, Iraq, where tens of thousands of our brothers & sisters in Christ have fled after being offered an unattractive choice by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): convert, pay an unaffordable religious tax, or be put to the sword.

* Flight MH17, allegedly shot down by pro-Russian rebels, killing 283 passengers of which 80 were children.

* The ongoing situations in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, North Korea.

* The latest statistics showing that worldwide a child is trafficked every 30 seconds: that's about 1.2 million children or the population of Birmingham.

The list could go on, does go on, and it's overwhelming. Amongst all the stuff going on in our own individual lives, our own daily battles, stresses and concerns it all seems too much to take in. It leaves us, as Christians, with really hard questions. What can I do about this? Where is God in all of it?

Well, you'd expect me to say we should pray – and we should. But with such huge overpowering issues our own personal prayers can seem so little, & God can seem so far removed that we don't know where to start. So I find myself turning to St. Paul's letter to the Romans, and the second half of chapter 8, beginning at verse 18. For all of us, life can be unimaginably hard. For many in our list above, hell on earth. But through the life, death & resurrection of Jesus there is hope. We cannot see it, but we long for it. We cannot find the words to ask for it, but the Spirit intercedes for us. The darkness that enfolds us seems impenetrable, the gulf between us & God far too wide, yet there is nothing in, of, above or below this world that can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A wise man, when asked how to eat an elephant, replied “one bite at a time.” So we need to start small: praying the Spirit will help us to pray, meditating on the passage from Romans (and others that the Lord places on our hearts), giving what we can to charities who directly help those caught up in these situations, like Christian Aid working in Gaza, or Tearfund's “No Child Taken” campaign. And those questions that keep running around our heads? Maybe consider joining the Alpha course that will start in October, where we'll explore together our Christian faith & get to know the Lord, and each other, that bit better.

Keep praying. Keep hoping. Give thanks for what we have, and rejoice in the Lord always!
For more on the situation in Iraq, including things we can be doing to help, visit the dedicated #WeAreN page on the Parish website - 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Constant Gardener

This is the sermon I delivered at the 8:00am & 9:30am Eucharist at St. Andrew's this morning. The readings were Genesis 28:10-19a, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.


Brothers and sisters, I feel I should begin with a confession – I am a very poor gardener!

This mainly comes from not being a big fan of weeding.

The house we were in at college had a steep bank that led up to the road – too steep for the kids to play on, hard work to climb, and not really much use for any kind of garden without major re-sculpting work. When we moved in it was completely covered in weeds, which we attempted to hack back. This became an ongoing battle – one we couldn’t win, as we could never give it the time it required. Eventually, as the weeds got higher, the landlords brought in a gardener. This ‘kind gentleman’ turned up, cast his ‘expert’ eye over the scene…then got out a strimmer, chopped the weeds back to ground level & departed. Now, anyone with any knowledge of weeds will immediately spot the problem – about 3 months later the weeds were back, bigger & stronger thanks to the weather over the summer. Eventually, we organised a gardener of our own to come out. This one dug the weeds out by their roots, turned over the soil & planted good plants to help keep them at bay – in the words of our neighbour, this one “knew what he was doing!”

In our Gospel reading today we find Jesus taking part in the earliest recorded episode of Gardener’s Question Time. Just before this, as Junior Church explained so brilliantly last week, he’s spoken of a farmer scattering seed with varying degrees of success, and here Jesus talks about weeds entangled in an important crop of wheat. He explains the weeds are the children of the evil one, and it appears they have been sent to stunt the growth, hold back, and endanger the children of the kingdom.

This got me thinking about how much time I spend tending the garden of my life. When I look at the soil of my heart, I hope I’m doing the right things to make it good and fertile. I try to give it the right nutrients – time spent in church listening to teaching, and engaging in fellowship. I try to plant good seed in it – the word of God through the scriptures. But, as those in the gospel reading discovered, sometimes weeds begin to grow unbidden and, apparently, unaided. The slaves of the householder appear truly shocked that this has happened – they expected only good crops to grow.

All the right precautions had been taken - the ground ploughed up and prepared, only the best seed sown; and yet here come the weeds, tightly bound to the crop.

Possibly fearing blame, they look to quickly rectify the problem, but the householder is good & wise – he knows the only way to remove the weeds completely is to pull them out at the root, and at this point that would damage the crop as well. He casts his expert eye over the situation and urges patience, knowing that when the time is right the weeds can be destroyed and the crop gathered in.

Now, some might say it’s easy to avoid weeds – just don’t plant them in the first place! We all probably feel we have a good grasp of right and wrong, and try to avoid ‘sinning.’ I doubt any of us go ‘looking’ for trouble; we avoid the usual suspects of sin – murder, theft, adultery. We may try even harder, attempting to live out the things Jesus highlighted in the sermon on the mount – seeking reconciliation instead of anger, avoiding lust, turning the other cheek. But it isn’t just about the big things. What else holds us back from our relationship with Jesus?

Weeds come in all shapes & sizes. Some are deep rooted and tough to shift. Some even flower, and externally don’t look too out of place or wrong. But these are habitual weeds, the things we do often and without thinking, that stifle the growth of the seed God plants in us by using up the goodness it needs to flourish.

Just as a weed blocks light and consumes nutrients, these habits block our vision of the light of Christ and steal the precious time we need to nurture that which God has given us. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have hobbies, pastimes, fun! But when these things detract from our relationship with the risen Lord they become a problem. All around us are things that can help us pass the time, but can become overwhelming. If I claim I haven’t got time to read the Bible every day, but spend a couple of hours doing the crossword or looking at Facebook, I may need to do some pruning. If I don’t have time to pray, but know the latest plot twist in Eastenders, I may need to find my trowel and gloves. Lets take a few moments now and ask ourselves - When did I last take a good look around my garden and ask, “what weeds have I left to grow recently?”

Some weeds are smaller - so less of a problem, right? But think of the dandelion – one strong gust of wind and it’s seeds scatter far and wide, and in no time more dandelions spring up all over the place. When we look at our own lives, what are the little things we do that affect other people’s growth in God?

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, was quite keen on our actions not damaging the relationship others had with the Lord. There are things we probably don’t see any harm in. Things we do that we can happily hold alongside our Christian walk. But just because we don’t think they harm us, that doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to others. Lets think again for a moment. What seeds blow from my garden into others? Will these seeds bear fruit…or choke the life from those around me?

My biggest problem in the garden is I find it hard to tell the weeds from the plants. The slaves in the story appear to have had a similar concern. But help is at hand.

Unlike the bloke who strimmed my slopes, we have access to the expert in tending our particular garden – one who can advise us on what is best because he managed to tend his own garden perfectly, and wants ours to thrive and produce an abundant crop. When did we last ask the expert gardener, the one witnesses believe “knew what he was doing,” the Lord, the giver of life to help us to remove those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with those who we love, and with him?

We’ll pause again for a few moments. Let’s take some time to wander around the garden of our lives, our hearts, and ask Jesus to help us check for weeds.


One thing about a good garden – people stop and look at it. People ask how it got to be like that; what we did differently to make it so attractive; why is it so abundant, so full of life? Friends, neighbours, complete strangers see something special and want to know how to get it for themselves.

We all know the best way for any gardener to find new work is word of mouth – the recommendation of a friend, who has experienced their work, means more than any fancy advert or promotion! Are we ready to tell those who ask how our garden got to look so good!?

As we come to the communion table, to remember Jesus life and death for our salvation, we use the produce of good human gardening; maybe we should take the opportunity to ask him to clear out the weeds, dig over the soil, and fertilize our hearts with his body and his blood. Are we prepared to work with him, tend the good seed he has planted in us, and let the Holy Spirit blow the seed of that crop far and wide? Are we ready to let him loose with his trowel?


Friday, 18 July 2014

♪♫Listen... do you want to know a secret? ♪ ♫

This sermon was preached at the 10am midweek Eucharist on 16th July at St. Andrew's. The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:25-27.
Listen... do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?
Woah wo wo,
Closer, let me whisper in your ear.
Say the words you long to he-e-ear,
I'm in love with you.
Woo oo oo oo oo...♪
Who can name the song?
That's right, “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by The Beatles. It's a simple little song, lasts less than 2 minutes, and was a track on their first album. A Lennon & McCartney original, it was written for George Harrison to sing, crafted to be deliberately undemanding as he had a limited vocal range.
But like many things in life there is a beauty in it's almost naïve outlook on life – reading between the lines I see the shyness of the approach to the girl, the fear of others finding out the depth of his feelings lest they see him as soppy or uncool, yet the need to tell her as it just is too big a thing to keep inside.
Jesus, in his prayer recorded in Matthew's Gospel, also has a secret. He knows the Father. He really knows the Father. And nobody can know the Father unless they know Him, because only He can reveal the Father. The people who think they know it all, those who think they are wise, learned, who think they know God through their rules and traditions are missing the point. It is through the childlike naïvety of love that the Father is truly known.

The Beatles nearly didn't make it – on New Years Day 1962 they had an audition with DECCA, at the time one of the biggest record labels, who rejected them declaring “guitar bands are on the way out!” The want on to sign for EMI & be hailed as the greatest & most influential band of all time. Rumour has it that the DECCA executives used to get the tapes of the audition out every year & torture themselves, trying to work out how they let them get away.

You see, these self-styled wise and intelligent men were so certain they knew everything they missed what was right in front of them. They had spent so long giving instruction, claiming to know best that when something truly unique and world-changing appeared, they wrote it off & missed the boat.

How often do we miss the simple things? How often do we get so caught up in our knowledge, our understanding, our tradition, that we fail to see the person standing in front of us. Jesus, through prayer & through the scriptures, is constantly seeking to whisper in our ears “I'm in love with you.”

Let those words sit with you for a moment.

I deliberately didn't say “Jesus loves you,” because that almost doesn't do the depth of his feelings for each one of us justice. He is in love with us. With me. With you. Being in love alludes to the exciting, scary, fireworks and passion part of a relationship – and that is what a relationship with Jesus can be like, if we let it. Because if we allow ourselves to be a bit naïve, a bit childlike in our approach - if we allow Him to whisper in our ear – we find His Spirit can fire us in incredible ways. And like the song we may want to nervously whisper about this relationship as it's scary and precious and almost a bit silly but, if we let that love, His incredible, sacrificial love, grow inside us, suddenly it's hard to keep inside. It spills out into our relationships, our actions, the way we live. And we find ourselves introducing people to Jesus – not big black Bible on the street corner evangelism, but in the way you introduce a friend or loved one to people. And because they know you & trust your judgement their more likely to give somebody you know a chance, and before you know it this love for each one of us becomes the worst kept secret in the world.
Maybe that sounds all too simple. Naïve. Not the kind of thing for us rational grown-ups, more what you may say to an infant...

Listen. Do you want to know a secret...?



Monday, 23 June 2014

Prayer for World Cup host cities

The latest in my series on the other side of the World Cup is another post from Mark & Suzana Greenwood. This time it's a series Prayer Points related to the World Cup host cities - please pray during the World Cup for the following cities and issues:

São Paulo – Rede Evangleica Nacional de Ação Social (RENAS) – – is a network of Christians who care about people´s social social situation. Their headquarters is in São Paulo. RENAS is promoting the “Bola na Rede Campaign” – “Ball in the net – a Christian movement that campaigns against sexual exploitation and violence against children and teenagers during the World Cup. “Ball in the netwill develop different actions in all the 12 World Cup hosting cities.

This coming Saturday the youth from Edward and Ana Greenwood´s church will campaign on a square near where they live, giving out leaflets and “vaccinating against violence”. This vaccine consists of talking to people on the streets and ask them if they want to be vaccinated against violence. If they say yes, they are given a sweet. The idea is to bring awareness and bring the subject out into to the open, with the intention of discouraging people who might have come to World Cup with the wrong intention (i.e. sex tourism, which involves a lot of adolescents and children).

Salvador – Large numbers of people in Salvador follow African Traditional Religions, such as Candomblé, or Spiritist beliefs, like Umbanda.  Salvador also has got a strong Baptist Convention, with evangelistic and social work amongst drug addicts, and one of the oldest church based community projects in Brazil – at Grace Baptist Church.

Rio de Janeiro – Rio de Janeiro is where the Headquarters of the Brazilian Baptist Convention (CBB) are. Also there are the Headquarters of the Baptist National Mission Board (JMN) and the Baptist World Mission Board (JMM), all three in walking distance of Maracanã Stadium, where the World Cup final will be held. The National Mission Board will be organizing evangelism during the World Cup in all the hosting cities, in and around the stadia. CBB is also ceding two of its office areas to Christian radio guys from UK and USA, who will be broadcasting commentaries and documentaries, from a Christian perspective, through thousands of relay stations throughout the world.

Recife – Known as the most violent city in Brazil, Recife is a beautiful place, with a traditional Baptist Seminary and a large number of churches involved in Social Action. Another Baptist seminary there, originally a women’s college, the Christian Education Seminary (SEC), has trained hundreds of missionaries and Christian social workers over the years, who now serve God throughout the world.

Porto Alegre – Porto Alegre is capital to the least evangelised state in Brazil, and also has many followers of Candomblé and Umbanda. One of the Baptist Conventions that works in Porto Alegre, the Pioneer Baptist Convention, has as one of its aims that every church be involved in at least one Social Project. The other Convention (Rio Grande do Sul Convention) has a very active women’s ministry.

Manaus – In the headquarters of the Amazonas Baptist Convention, in Manaus, Executive Secretary Pr Teodoro holds a prayer meeting with his staff every day. His work covers a huge geographical area. The nearest major city to Manuas, Tabatinga, on the border with Peru, is 2 hours’ flight away.  The Baptist Convention of Amazonas runs a children´s home for orphans and children who cannot be with their parents. Churches in Curitiba and São Paulo also have children´s homes. This type work has become very challenging recently, due to significant changes in the law. Pray for wisdom for the leaders at this very difficult time.

Natal – Natal is capital to one of the poorest states in Brazil, Rio Grande do Norte, but also has one of the most beautiful coastlines. The Baptist Seminary there, recently set up by BMS missionaries, now enables locals to train for the ministry without moving to other states. Margaret Swires worked there for many years in the Baptist Convention, setting up the Social Action Department.

Fortaleza - Like most Brazilian cities, Fortaleza is a place of extreme inequalities. The international airport, opened just over a decade ago, while helping to boost the economy, is also an open door for sex tourism, similar to what has been happening in Recife for even longer. Local government and churches are fighting against this, however it is a situation with no simple solution. Please pray for Jailma who is heading up the “Ball in the Net” campaign there.

Curitiba – Capital of Paraná, and now one of the better-organized and most developed cities in Brazil, Curitiba was home for BMS missionaries for decades. These missionaries planted many of the churches in and around Curitiba and also developed many Social Projects, as well as working in the Bible College, training ministers. The Paraná Baptist Convention has as one of their aims to plant a church in every prison.

Cuiabá – Cuiabá is the geographical centre of South America, and the heart of the Brazilian soya industry boom. Many people of indigenous origin live in and around the city, and there is a evangelical training college, called AMI, for pastors from a number of different tribes. Folk come from all over Brazil for this specialized training, which understands the tribal cultures like no other college does.

Brasília – Brasilia is Brazil’s capital, where the country’s politicians work. Fighting corruption has been a slogan for the present government, for the opposition and for protesters from the population in general. Brazil has progressed on the road against corruption, however, much still needs to be done. Please pray for wisdom and fairness among politicians, and for the presidential election, to be held in October.

There are plenty of people unhappy with the fact that much public money has been spent on building stadiums.  U$642 million was spent to rebuild the stadium in Brasilia, almost double than what had been planned. One of the points protesters make is that there is not a strong football team in Brasilia, and the odds of filling the stadium for any games after the World Cup are very small.

Belo Horizonte – The Social Department in the state Baptist Convention is the most well developed in the Brazilian Baptist Convention. Simone, who leads it, is very involved in Child Protection work and is, herself, a foster mother. She is also running the “Ball in the Net” campaign there. There are many churches with social projects around the city, and some of the biggest churches in Brazil.

Four of the hosting cities, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Fortaleza, have churches which run the Space-to-Fly programme for children aged 7 to 11.

During the World Cup, these children are enjoying all sorts of activities which enable them to learn more about their country, looking at the maps where the different cities are. Brazil is a huge country, from Porto Alegre, in the South, to Manaus, in the North, it takes at least 6 hours by plane, non-stop. It is not possible to go by road.

At Pepes (pre-school projects designed to help children, especially those in extreme poverty, be prepared to go to school) and Space-to-Fly, children also are involved discussions that help them to see that, even though the World Cup is fun, there is much more to life than football, and Jesus is certainly more important than football.
You can see the article in it's original form here.