Sermons 2012

ADVENT – Waiting;  Preparing;  Hoping

Romans 12: 9-21 

So here we are again on Advent Sunday, the start of the Christian calendar.  In the Church we don’t start our year on January the first, that belongs to the secular world with the Roman God Janus starting things off in January.  Of course we’re still part of the same world, but we’ve got something different to say about it.

The earth on which we live is turning itself round once a day, and as it does so is revolving round the sun once a year.  It all started about 13 billion years ago with what the scientists call THE BIG BANG.  But since then the Christian religion has had its own ‘big bang’, which is what I like to call ‘the Jesus event’.  That is, the birth, life and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, and this event has got us moving in a different direction.

At the same time as we are going round the Roman calendar from January to December, we are also going round the Christian calendar from Advent to Christmas and on to Lent and Easter, then Pentecost and Trinity.  And here we are back at Advent.  Wherever the earth that we live on is going, we don’t know.  But we can’t stop the world and get off, much as we might like to do, so we’ve just got to hang on and keep going.  Nevertheless at the same time under the impact of our own Big Bang, the Jesus event, we can be on another journey, a spiritual journey travelling towards the full realisation of who we are.

And who are we?  It is our Christian belief that we are related to God in whom all things exist.  And that it is our destiny to be ‘one with God’ in some way that, at the moment, is beyond our grasp, beyond our understanding.  But we can feel it and believe in it.  Through the life and teaching of Jesus we are now on that spiritual journey towards a deeper experience of our ‘oneness with God’ as we travel through the Christian calendar each year.

The different stages on this calendar are like ‘pit stops’ in formula one motor-racing.  We pull in for refuelling, refreshment and clarification of the way to go.  And today we’ve just pulled in to Advent.  And the refreshment comes to us in three courses, starter, main course and sweet, which are WAITING, PREPARING AND HOPING, three dishes which I am now about to serve up.

First of all Advent is about WAITING.  But it is a special kind of waiting.  Let me try to explain it this way.  A little girl in Sunday School was asked, “What does Advent mean?”  And she said, “I can’t wait!”  And that is exactly what it does mean!

Sometimes we use words in a very strange way!  We say the opposite of what we mean in order to make a greater impact.  Teenagers if they like something a lot, they might say “Yeah, it’s wicked!”, which in itself is a ‘bad’ word, but in that context it means ‘even better than good!’  And while that little girl was probably thinking of Father Christmas and what he would bring, she had put her finger on an Advent truth.  I CAN’T WAIT actually means I CAN WAIT, and I will wait, because something exciting is going to happen.

Advent is waiting for the coming of Jesus.  But Advent came last year and the year before that.  Are we not just going round in circles?  No, not if we ‘can’t wait’.  Not if our expectations are high.  Not if Jesus has already come in some way into our lives, but we need to find more about what that coming means.  So Advent is to remind us that what’s already happened needs to keep on happening.  Today you’re a year older than the last time you pulled in to Advent.  Your spiritual life has moved on, you’re not the same person, and you should be waiting and wanting to move on even further and deeper into that ‘oneness with God’ in whose image and likeness you are made.  And so we need to get ready for that coming again.  Do some preparation. And that is the second course which I am now about to serve up.

This spiritual journey that we’re on has some things in common with that other journey that we are also on, the physical journey of our body through the Roman calendar from January to December.  We are still part of ‘this world’ and so we’re on both journeys together, the physical and the spiritual, and in both we tend to make mistakes and get things wrong.  We make the wrong choices, lose our vision and enthusiasm, take short cuts and get lost, or we acquire too much baggage and get weighed down.  So Advent is the time for a bit of soul-searching, sorting out priorities, clearing away rubbish and getting ready for a fresh coming of the Saviour.

We don’t just get saved once and then it’s all over!  We don’t just sit back contentedly clutching our ticket to heaven.  It’s not like that.  That’s a travesty of religion.  Being saved is a process.  There’s always work to do.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Get hold of the spiritual equivalent of axes and spades and set to work.  Get the place ready for the coming of Jesus, yet again.  The place?  What place is that?  The place is YOU, your heart and mind, the very centre of your being, that’s where Jesus wants to meet you so that changes can happen and you can become like him and live for the truths that he lived for.

So we’ve had two courses, waiting expectantly and preparing the way.  And here comes the third course, the sweet.  And it is sweet because it is HOPE.  Along with faith and love, hope is one of the three things that last forever, three things that we will always need.  Hope shines like a light through the darkness of each present moment.  We need never be overwhelmed by what we are going through, whatever it is.

In the last few verses of the Bible Jesus is depicted as The Bright Morning Star.  Now in the Roman calendar that star is Venus, and you can see it just before dawn as it tells of the coming day.  But in the Christian calendar the bright morning star is Jesus, the Star of Hope, the hope that the darkness will pass and the light of a new day will dawn.  (Revelation 22:16)

Peter in his letter tells us that “the light of the morning star is shining in your hearts”.   (2 Peter 1:19)  Not in the sky like Venus, but in your hearts!  That star is the whole Jesus event, his birth, life and teaching, his death and the life that goes on beyond death.  So there’s plenty to get your teeth into and chew on.

Advent, a three course meal.  I can’t wait, so therefore I will, expecting something to happen.  And I’ll get ready for it by doing a bit of housework, there’s still plenty of rubbish in there!  And all the time, whatever else happens, I will be filled with hope.

Donald Horsfield,  2nd December 2012

Jacob – wrestling with God

Genesis 32: 3-8, 22-29a

This morning we are going to look at the Biblical story of Jacob.  He was one of the founding fathers of the Jewish nation.  In the Jewish religion, Judaism, the people look back to the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were father, son and grandson.  It was they who started the great Biblical adventure of searching for God and in the process, being themselves found by God.  Because that is how it works!  God is not so much there to be found, as there to find us.

God is a great mystery, but we are invited into it to feel our way and do a bit of exploring.  And in the process, finding ourselves.  Finding who we are and how we relate to that mystery, in which we live and move and have our being, which is God.  Seek and you will find but also, seek and you will be found, because God is looking for you to bring you deeper into the mystery.

So what we read in the Bible, which is Jacob’s search for God, has to become your search for God.  So don’t get stuck on the text, let the Spirit lead you.  If we look at Jacob’s story we might find something to help us on our own search.  Jacob has fallen out with his twin brother Esau.  Rebecca is their mother and Jacob is her favourite.  But parents shouldn’t have ‘favourites’ should they?  The situation was fraught with tension, they were not a happy family!  Jacob is sent off to visit his uncle Laban who is Rebecca’s brother.  Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and Rebecca was hoping that Jacob would marry one of them.  As it turned out he married both of them!  And between them they had twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel, but that was many years later.

Just at the moment Jacob is on his way to Laban’s place.  It’s a long way and he has to sleep overnight.  But there are no bed-and-breakfasts, so he camped out in the bush, put his head on a stone for a pillow and went to sleep.  And he had a dream, and what a dream it was!  He saw a staircase, or a ladder, reaching up to the sky with angels going up and down.  And in his dream Jacob heard a voice.  “I am the God of your father Isaac and your grandfather Abraham.  I will give to you this land that you are in.  Your descendants will be as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore.  I will always be with you to guide and protect you.”

This is one of the stories of the founding of the Jewish nation.  The Jewish people wrote those stories to confirm what they had come to believe – that they were God’s chosen people.  But the Christian Church has adopted these stories as part of its own Scriptures, and some even say that ‘Christians’ are now ‘God’s chosen people’.  But the truth is that God doesn’t have any favourites (Acts 10:34f).  God is not like Rebecca favouring Jacob over Esau.  That way of thinking about God has divided the human family, with different religions fighting and killing and claiming exclusive rights and privileged access to that ladder that goes up to God.  But there is no ladder and God doesn’t live up there anyway.  God doesn’t come down a heavenly staircase from somewhere up in the sky.  So where does God come from?  Let’s hear another story of Jacob’s adventures which will give us a better answer to that question.

When Jacob had that dream he was on his way to visit his uncle Laban who had these two daughters Leah and Rachel.  He was going there because life at home with Father and Mother and twin brother Esau was getting pretty close to boiling point.  One of the reasons was that while Esau was the elder brother and so would be head of the family when their father Isaac died, Jacob had deceitfully stolen that blessing and Esau was blazing with anger.  So things had to cool down and Jacob left to visit Laban.  And on the way he had that vision in a dream, the dream we call Jacob’s Ladder, at the place called Bethel.

Fast forward twenty years!  Jacob is now married to both Leah and Rachel.  There are lots of children and lots of cattle and sheep and goats and camels, because Jacob had prospered.  He had become a weathly farmer and land owner.  As you probably know, there’s something special about the relationship of twins.  And Jacob was feeling ‘drawn back’ to his original family home and especially to his brother whom he had once cheated by stealing from him their father’s blessing.  Jacob was feeling guilty, remorseful, with a need to be forgiven.  So he sent word to Esau that he was returning home.  He packed up the whole household, everything, wives and children and servants, cattle and sheep and goats, the lot.  And they all set off.  Word was that Esau had also prospered, even more-so than Jacob.  And he was coming out to meet Jacob with four hundred men!

“Oh dear” thought Jacob, “he’s going to get his own back and punish me for what I did to him”.  Jacob was scared, he didn’t know what to do,  He thought about the vision he’d seen twenty years ago, and the voice he’d heard.  “I will bless you and lead you.  Your descendants will be as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore.”   “What does all that mean” he thought.  He didn’t know and anyway he had a more immediate problem on his mind.  So he got some of his best animals and sent them to Esau as a peace-offering.  But still he was worried about what might happen.

They came to the river Jabbock.  Jacob sent all his family and belongings over to the other side, but he stayed where he was.  And that is when it happened.  That’s where the wrestling match began!  That’s always when the wrestling match begins, when you have divested yourself of all your possessions and your acquisitions, and your attachments to the things of this world.  And there is just you and your thoughts and your memories.  But on this occasion Jacob felt that there was somebody else there too.  If you had been there, you wouldn’t have seen anybody else.  You would have just seen Jacob sitting there on a stone, with his head in his hands, deep in thought.  And that is where the wrestling match was going on, in his head, in the depth of his mind.  Jacob had a problem which he was wrestling with, and he wasn’t going to let go until he had solved it.

But how could he solve it, because he himself was the problem.  He was wrestling with himself, with his ‘better self’.  These two, yourself and your better self, are inextricably intertwined, tangled, inseparable, not only in Jacob, but in everybody.  Just you – always means yourself and your better self.  Who can win this wrestling march?  Jacob finally came to see that he wasn’t going to win, but he wasn’t going to let go either!  He came to realise that whoever, or whatever, he was wrestling with, was some form of Higher Power, and that he had to submit.  Which he did by giving his name.

In the culture of the times in which Jacob lived, giving your name was equivalent to submission.  Your name was who you were, it was your essence.  It represented your soul, your spirit, the real you.  And Jacob submitted.  He gave his name to the one he was wrestling with.  And you could say that that was the moment he was ‘born again’, he became a new person and got a new name Israel, which simply means ‘wrestling with God’.  That is what the word Israel means – one who wrestles with God – which we should all be doing.  You win this wrestling match with God by making your submission.  You put yourself into the hands of a Higher Power.  Jacob then said, “now tell me your name”.  But there was no answer.  God doesn’t have a name!

You may remember that Moses later also asked God for his name.  But JEHOVA is not a name!  How can God have a name!  The word ‘Jehova’ means I AM.  God just IS.  The fact of existence in which we exist and move and have our being.  And in which, and with which, we have to wrestle as Jacob did, to find meaning and purpose for our lives.  The word GOD represents an ideal, a perfection that inspires us and draws us on.  God doesn’t come down a ladder from heaven.  God just IS, and always IS, with us.  But we have to do the wrestling and this particular story of Jacob lets us into the secret of how to win that wrestling match.

But let’s say a little bit more about this submission.  It’s something of a paradox.  The result of making this submission is that you become better, stronger, happier, and more fully yourself.  Like Jacob you have told God your name, that is, you are now completely open to the influence of the God you are struggling with.  And the essence of God flows into you, love, joy, peace, goodness.  It’s no wonder Jacob got a new name, he became a new man.

The same thing happened to the disciples of Jesus.  Their old self, their old ideas of God, were emptied out and the vacuum filled with what Jesus called ‘new wine’.  Simon became Peter, Saul of Tarsus became Paul, and that’s when things really ‘took off’.  It’s not a grovelling submission where you are enslaved to the one you have submitted to.  It’s an experience of being ‘set free’ to become the person you really are.  And you find you have the desire, the drive and the energy, to BE that person, with God’s help.

Donald Horsfield  18th November 2012

MOSES – A Man with a Past

Exodus 2:11-15, 3:1-8a

The Old Testament is a fascinating book.  Well, it’s not ‘A’ book at all – its actually 39 books fastened together, and covering hundreds of years in the life of one nation in the Middle East – the nation of Israel.

For the people of Israel it’s their Holy Book which they read from beginning to end in their synagogue worship.  For us ‘gentiles’ some of it is heavy going and not very interesting, but some parts seem to be ‘alive’ with a spirit that crosses the boundaries of time and religion.  Even in the 21st century it can come alive for us today, it can ‘ring bells’, and we can know that God is speaking to us.

God is not really interested in our different religions or in our religious differences.  God looks deeper than that to the underlying values which make us the people that we are.  It’s not so much what we ‘SAY we believe’, but what we DO, that God is interested in.  “By their fruit you will know them” is what Jesus said.  Unfortunately religions have gone down a different road where what you ‘say you believe’ is all important.  But whatever the name of your religion, we are ALL PEOPLE, part of the human family, created in the image and likeness of God and made to be ‘at one’ with God.  And at that deeper level we are all the same; that’s where God speaks to us.  And so we can listen and learn from one another, and this morning we’re going to listen and learn from the life of Moses.

We know that Moses had some exciting adventures, from the moment of his birth floating down the river Nile in a basket, and so on.  But now we’re going to meet him as a grown man.  And he’s what you might call ‘a man with a past’, and one that he’d rather forget, because as a young man he found himself in a situation which got ‘out of hand’, out of control.  He lost control of himself, and an Egyptian lay dead at his feet.  And Moses had to flee for his life.  So he was a man with a past.  And who isn’t?  We probably haven’t killed anybody like Moses did, but we all have a past.  Things said and done, or not said and not done, that we wish had been otherwise.  But, whatever happened, it doesn’t have to be a burden that weighs us down.  There is forgiveness, and sometimes the hardest part is to forgive yourself.  Well, if God can forgive us, surely we can forgive ourselves?  We have no right not to!  So don’t be overburdened by your past, face it, be sorry for whatever it is, and be set free so that you can be more available for what needs doing in the present, not struggling through life under a burden of guilt.

It took Moses quite a while to work through his past, but when he had, that’s when he heard God’s call.  “Moses!”  “Who me?”  “Yes you”.  “There must be some mistake”.  “No, it’s you I want”.  “But I’m nobody, I have nothing”.  “That’s right, and those are just the qualifications I’m looking for”.

This call of God can happen to anybody at any time.  You hear it, not with your ears, but with the ears of your ears, down inside, where the ‘real’ you resides.  It’s the spirit of God calling to your spirit.  And if you respond it doesn’t matter what your qualifications are, you just say, “Yes, it’s me.  I’m here”.  And that will get the conversation going and you don’t know where it will lead.  And you don’t have to be in church, or reading the Bible, it can happen in the most secular and unexpected places.

It happened to Moses while he was looking after his father-in-law’s sheep.  He’d been doing it for years, covering the same ground, back and forth, up and down.  He knew the place inside out, but on this day there was something different.  That prickly bush.  He’d passed it a million times, and torn his cloak on it more often that he cared to remember.  That bush suddenly seemed to be ‘on fire’, but not ‘burning’ as you would expect.  It wasn’t being destroyed, it was some ‘other kind’ of fire.  And Moses was drawn to it.  The text says that “he turned aside from where he was going”, and that’s when he heard his name called.  It’s a very personal experience.

If there had been anybody else there they wouldn’t have heard what Moses heard.  And they wouldn’t have seen what Moses saw.  The burning bush was an externalisation of the fire burning in Moses’ heart and mind.  This story, this passage of Scripture is telling us about a spiritual encounter with God.  We have to look beyond the physical and the objective, they’re just stage props, the drama itself is going on in Moses’ own soul.  It’s deep calling to deep.  God’s spirit calling to Moses’ spirit.

Moses turned aside from where he was going and gave it his full attention.  He was listening like he’d never listened before.  He was hearing what John’s Gospel describes as the call of the Good Shepherd.  “The sheep hear his voice, he calls them by name and leads them out” (10:3)

Moses was about to be ‘led out’ into new territory.  Then Moses heard more than just his name.  “I have seen the affliction of my people.  I have heard their cry.  I know their suffering and I have come to deliver them.  You will be my agent.  I will do it through you.”

Now, if you think back, that’s what Moses himself had in mind when he killed the Egyptian.  He was hoping that the people of Israel would rise up in rebellion and he, Moses, would lead them into freedom.  But it wasn’t the right time or the right place, and anyway Moses wasn’t ready.  He had to go back to school, in the wilderness, and learn a few lessons.  And now, many years later, here he was, having this burning bush experience.  The time was right.

Moses was now changed from a man with a past to a man with a future, and with a job to do.  And there are still ‘jobs to be done’, big ones and little ones.  It doesn’t matter which you do.  All that matters is that people today are listening like Moses to the voice within, spirit to spirit, deep to deep, hearing the call of God to do whatever you’re being called to do.

Donald Horsfield, 4th November 2012

ENJOY; EXPLORE; EXHIBIT

Mark 7:1-23 NRSV

The two big events of this year have been the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games, and in different ways they were both involved with ‘handing on’ something to somebody else.

The Queen as head of state will ‘hand on’ that position when she’s ready, or even before that if fate takes a hand as it did when her father, King George the sixth, died and handed the crown on to his elder daughter, Elizabeth.

Before the Games started the Olympic torch was handed on from person to person, going round the whole country.  And in the Games themselves, in the 4×100 metres relay, the baton is handed on, except in our case we failed to do it properly and got disqualified.  And in four year’s time the torch will be handed on to the city of Rio in Brazil.

What are we handing on in the Church from one generation to the next?  Well look around.  Where is the next generation.  Not here!  But if they were here, what is it that we would, or perhaps should, be handing on?  That’s the question I want to ask: it’s the subject I want to deal with in this sermon.

Is it not pretty obvious that something has gone wrong?  We are not passing on whatever we are supposed to be passing on…

What is it that churches and religions want to hand on?  Is there something that we’ve received, that we should preserve, and then hand on to the next generation, and if so, what is it?  The Olympic torch is handed on, the relay baton is handed on, but what do we hand on?

If we go back to the Scriptures, and the time of Jesus, we come across the word TRADITION.  That was what was being handed on in those days.  The ‘tradition’ was being preserved, unchanged, (because it was regarded as unchangeable – you can’t tamper with what’s been written by the very hand of God).  But do we not need to think about this a bit more carefully, because experience tells us that sooner or later, in the process of handing on, those who are receiving it will find that the tradition has gone dead, it’s got no life in it anymore, even if it once had.

And that was the position Jesus found himself in, and he felt and believed that he had to do something about it.

What happens with any ‘tradition about God’ is that the tradition itself takes the place of God, and then the religion becomes just a matter of saying and doing and following ‘the tradition’; following the tradition without thinking, or questioning, or listening to the voice of God at a deeper level than the tradition.

When God gets locked up in any tradition, be it in doctrines, creeds or scriptures, the Spirit fades away and loses its power (2 Corinthians 3:6).  Paul knew this very well because he’d ‘been there and done that’.  He was a Pharisee, and he says that he was ‘extremely religious’, which means that he was ‘fanatical’ about observing the tradition (Galatians 1:14).  And that’s why he went about persecuting the followers of Jesus, because Jesus had given them a new understanding of tradition, a new way of thinking about God as a presence and power in their daily lives.

According to Jesus people should avoid getting bogged down and trapped in any set of words.  He never wrote anything himself.  The purpose of religion is to bring us into a living relationship with God, or as Paul put it in the Roman letter, “God’s Spirit embracing our spirit and drawing us to himself” (8:16).

Certainly we can read the tradition and learn from it, but it must not take the place of a personal, spiritual experience of God’s presence, because that is what we must pass on to those coming after us.  And for that there are three things that we must do.  We must learn to ENJOY God; EXPLORE God; and EXHIBIT God.  And when we start doing that, something will happen, and by itself, in its own time, under its own power, there will be a handing on of what everybody needs to know.

Let’s have a quick look at these three:  ENJOY, EXPLORE, EXHIBIT.  Undoubtedly, “some” ancient writings are full of wisdom!  For instance, in one very old catechism, we are told that “the main purpose of life is to know God and ENJOY him forever”.

‘Knowing God’ is to be enjoyed.  Is that your experience?  ‘Joy’ is one of the gifts of the Spirit.  It’s there as part of the Spirit’s presence in your life.  It’s more than just ‘happiness’ that comes and goes.  Joy lies deeper than that.  It’s not easy to put into words, but it’s about finding something within yourself that is totally reliable and trustworthy and satisfying.  It’s you being in touch with your deeper self.  It’s your spirit being held by God’s Spirit, and you feeling ‘at home’, at peace, loved and wanted.  That’s enjoying God, and there’s no greater joy.

But it’s not just ‘sit back and enjoy’.  It’s enjoy, and get on with learning and knowing more about your relationship with God.  And that brings us to the second word which is EXPLORE.

Life still is, and always will be, a mystery.  We are invited to explore that mystery.  But to do it in your own way.  Let the Spirit lead you to understand who you really are, and how you are related to other people, to the world around you, and therefore to God.  Life is an exploration and it can be an exciting adventure with lots to learn, with the need to grow and develop, so that you don’t get stuck in just following a lifeless tradition.

Even as we grow old and our bodies are doing what they always will do, which is decay, the exploration can go on.  The spirit is eternal, and there is no end to what we can discover about the God who is love.

The life of a person who is ENJOYING God, and EXPLORING God, will be contagious, it will spread.  There’s no need to worry about tradition, ‘something’ will be happening.  And that ‘something’ will hand itself on.  People will see it, and feel it, and want it.  The life and presence of the Spirit of God will be EXHIBITED.  It will just be there as a witness, and evidence, of what is happening in your life.

It’s not a case of ‘showing off’, but rather of ‘showing out’, or as Jesus said to his disciples, “let your light shine”,  so that it might shine on somebody else’s path and lead them into the truth that you are living by, which is that God is there to be ENJOYED and EXPLORED and EXHIBITED.

Donald Horsfield,  21st October 2012

Waging Peace

Isaiah 2:4   Matthew 5:38-48  (v 48 substitute ‘merciful’ for ‘perfect’)

This morning I want to talk about ‘waging peace’, which may sound a little bit unusual because we normally talk about ‘waging war’.  The verb ‘to wage’ means … that you do it, as if to earn a wage … do it as if your life depended on it, you put your heart and soul into it, you do it with a will, because it provides the ‘wages’ that you have to live on.

And that’s the way we have ‘waged wars’.  Wars have been fought ever since people realised that stones could be thrown and a piece of wood can be used as a club to hit people with.  And since then of course, weapons of war have become more sophisticated.  We have learned to ‘wage war’ more effectively; killing more people, destroying towns and cities, crops and fields and factories, and whatever else people need to live on.

Wars are still being waged and vast sums of money are being spent that could be used for other purposes, for building hospitals and schools and lifting people out of poverty.  Vast sums are being used to make and sell weapons of war, bombs and guns and missiles, until today the world is saturated with the means of destruction.

Is there no end to it?  Is there no alternative?  What if we learnt how to ‘wage peace’ with the same determination and investment that have been used to wage war?  Is it not time that we learnt how to wage peace?  Is there any guidance?  Is there anyone who can show us how to do it?

Well, we don’t have to look far to find a different way.  A higher and better way of living together as one people in this one world.  The prophet Isaiah tells us that ‘God’ wants us to stop waging war, and start learning how to wage peace: learn how to turn swords into plough shares and spears into pruning hooks, or in up to date language, how to turn tanks into tractors and missiles into medicine.

And of course, Jesus himself was in that line of Hebrew prophets, and he called his followers to be actively engaged in waging peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, they are truly the children of God.  Don’t just follow the way of the world”, he says, “show them a different way.  Bless those who persecute you, pray for your enemies, don’t repay evil with evil.  But overcome evil with good.”

And there are the words of today’s reading in Matthew, which I now want to examine because they are important for understanding Jesus’ way of waging peace.

Jesus begins by quoting a popular belief that most people of his day would have subscribed to – “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  “Forget it”, Jesus told them, “that’s not for you.  Not for you if you want to be peace makers, if you want to live as the children of God”.  So he told them how to be peacemakers – “Don’t take revenge on anybody who does you wrong.”  And the words ‘take revenge’ are the translation of a military term meaning ‘to shoot back’.  “Don’t do it”, said Jesus, “don’t answer in kind.  Find some other way because violence only produces more violence.”

 Waging war will never produce peace.  It might stop war for a while after millions have been slaughtered, but it won’t produce peace, as we know only too well.  The war to end war only produced the next war and the horrors of war are still with us, fuelled by countries selling weapons to those doing the killing.  We shall have to learn how to wage peace with the same commitment that we have waged war.  “Don’t answer in kind.  Find some other way because violence only produces more violence.”

The next bit of this passage, about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile, needs to be looked at more closely.  This is the peacemakers strategy of how to respond to aggression in a non-violent way.  There are three ways of responding to aggression.  You could be cringing and fearful and just give in.  Or you could respond to violence with more violence.  But there’s a third way.  It’s an alternative to aggression, it’s the way of waging peace.

The passage says, “If anyone slaps you on your right cheek …”   Just think about it.  If you were slapping somebody on their ‘right cheek’, you’d have to do it with the back of your hand.  The incident is not about a fist in the face, it’s a slap in the face.  A slap is given to humiliate, to put somebody in their place, to show them who’s boss.  The Romans would have done it to the local people.  This is one reason Jesus is mentioning it.  But even the Jews would do it to one another.  Superiors would slap inferiors, parents would slap their children, men would slap their wives, and masters their slaves.

So there is an alternative to either hitting back or just accepting it.  It’s called ‘non-violent resistance’, and Jesus is basing it on his teaching about the Kingdom of God.  In the Kingdom of God there is equality and fairness, there is love and generosity, respect and dignity given to all, because all are children of God.  Turn the other cheek and let them do it again, if they will.  Shock them and shame them by your courage and conviction.  Let them see how pathetic (and weak) they really are.  This is the principle of non-violent  resistance.  Those of you who have seen the film GANDHI will remember how effectively he did just that where the South African policeman was beating him … and finally walked away in confusion.  Of course doing it this way might provoke even more violence.  Nobody’s saying that waging peace is an easy option.  It’s not without a price to pay, but it’s a different price to waging war.

Jesus presses home the point with another example.  If you get to court and are treated unjustly as many of them were, and to pay your fine you had to sell the very clothes that you were wearing, give them your underwear as well, and stand there naked before them.  This would have been a non-violent protest against an unjust legal system, because in Judaism nakedness was shameful.  Not so much to the person concerned, but to those who saw the nakedness, the judges , the lawyers and the prosecution.

The same point is made by offering to go the extra mile.  The first mile was compulsory.  People had to help Roman soldiers carry their equipment.  And here we have Jesus confronting the rule of the Roman Empire with the rules of the Kingdom of God.  One is based on violence, the other is based on compassion.  By offering to go on for an extra mile, the authority of the Roman Empire was in effect being rediculed.  The soldier would be bamboozled.  “What’s going on here,” he would think.  He would be losing the initiative in the face of something that was undermining the military might of Rome and making it look silly.

Non-violent resistance is a way of asserting human dignity, and a way of shaming violent oppressors.  This is ‘down-to-earth’ Jesus doing the ‘down-to-earth’ business of showing how to live by God’s rule in a sinful world.  Not paying back evil with evil but overcoming evil with good.  Don’t curse your enemies, love them.  But don’t be sentimental and soft on them.  Expose the sinfulness of their ways.  Don’t just copy them in being violent.

In the face of evil we can surrender and give in, or we can fight back with the same violence that has been shown to us.  But sooner or later we must come to realise that neither of these is good enough.  There is another way.  It’s the way of Jesus and as yet largely untried.  It’s the way of waging peace, of using non-violent means to resolve disputes and confrontations.

These Scripture passages are showing us ‘the principles’ of a third way.  Followers of Jesus need to work out these principles in the context of our own day and age, not just copy them.  The times are different but the principles are the same.  Don’t answer violence with violence.  Seek peace and pursue it and be ready to pay the price of waging peace instead of waging war.

 Donald Horsfield, 7th October 2012

God’s Generosity is Hard to Take

 Amos 5:18-24,  Matthew 20:1-16

God can speak to us at any time, in any situation.  You don’t have to be in church or reading the Bible.  You can’t narrow God down to just one religion because God is greater than any religion.  God is the God of creation, God of the whole of life, and wherever there is life, there is the presence and power of God.  It is there to be felt and known by anybody who is willing to respond.

Religion itself is actually a narrowing down of God.  Religion is what we do because the concept of God is too big for us to handle.  And so we bring God down to our level where we can understand, and to some extent be in control – which is fair enough!  But we shouldn’t be surprised when God breaks out of our narrowed down religion and challenges us to bigger and better ways of understanding and responding.

There ‘are’ people who point this out to us – the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, and of course Jesus himself was regarded as one of these prophets.  Religious people should always have in the back of their minds, and bring it to the forefront occasionally, the words of the prophet Amos speaking about God and religion.  Amos tells the people, you think religion is the way to God, but if it doesn’t produce justice and righteousness in the way you live your lives and the way you treat other people, God doesn’t want anything to do with it.

But that’s by way of introduction to what I want to say to you now.  I have a text, but it is not from the Bible, it’s from life.  It’s something I read somewhere, I don’t even know where, but the truth of it made an impression on me and I want to share it with you.  The words are these – God’s generosity is hard to take ….  Is it, and if it is, why is it?  I want to look at three stories from the Bible where God’s generosity was hard to take, and find out why that was so.  So that if we are finding it hard to take, we can do something about it.

The first one is the story of Jonah.  And of course it is only a story, but with an important meaning, and we don’t want that meaning to be swallowed up by the whale.  It’s Jonah we’re interested in, and we need to know why he found God’s generosity hard to take.

Jonah was a preacher with a very narrow religious outlook.  For him everything was simple and clear.  You reap what you sow, and if you sin you’ll be punished by God.  Ninevah was a sinful city and Jonah felt called to go and pronounce God’s judgement.  This he did, eventually, and then he sat down on a hillside to watch the ‘fireworks’ as the city was destroyed by the wrath of God.  But nothing happened because the whole city had a change of heart.  People started being decent and kind to one another.  And Jonah got very angry because what he said would happen, didn’t happen.  He really wanted to see those people punished rather than forgiven.

The story of Jonah is telling us about bad religion, which is too narrow and needs to change.  If, like Jonah, we want the wicked to be punished rather than forgiven, we’ve still got some soul-searching to do.  God’s generosity can be hard to take, and if it is, as Jesus himself said, we’ve got to take the plank out of our own eye.

Next we look at one of Jesus’ parables.  It’s the parable of the two brothers.  One went off with his inheritance and squandered it.  He just blew it, in ways that you can imagine a young man doing in the big city.  The other brother stayed at home and looked after the family farm where his father was getting on a bit and couldn’t do much himself.  The ‘prodigal son’ finally regretted his foolishness and returned home, somewhat fearfully, only to be swept off his feet by the generosity of his father, who had been praying for his return and whose love for him had never faltered.  They had a great party in celebration of the prodigal’s return, except that the older brother didn’t join in.  The father’s generosity was too hard for him to take, so he kept away, muttering and grumbling to himself .  It’s a parable.  The father is a picture of what Jesus understood to be the generosity and loving kindness of God.  And so we have to decide where we stand – with the elder brother or the young brother.  Actually the father’s generosity was hard to take even for the prodigal son, because he had to admit his own foolishness and shame and humble himself.  It wasn’t just an easy option.  There’s a price to be paid for humbling yourself, but it is always worth it.

God’s generosity is a powerful force, perhaps the only force for changing bad religion into good religion.  God’s generosity has to be reflected in the lives of those who claim to have a good religion.

We look now at another parable, the one we heard read.  What a startling and challenging tale that is.  Whose side are you on, the grumbling workers or the generous employer?  I imagine they don’t often read this parable out at the meetings of Trade Unions.  But the teaching of Jesus is not about Trade Unions, it’s about the Kingdom of God.  It’s first of all about our own relationship with God, and then, on the basis of that, our relationship with others.  If we find God’s Kingdom in our own hearts and minds, everything will flow from that.

This parable is all about God’s generosity, abundant generosity, over-flowing generosity, totally undeserved generosity, mind-blowing generosity.  And if that’s what God is like, and Jesus says it is, we are all very likely to find it hard to take.  Maybe not hard to accept for ourselves, but hard to take as a way of life for us to follow because, by and large, we are not God-like enough.

God’s generosity breaks the rules, it overides the boundaries, it’s too inclusive, it doesn’t sort people out enough for our liking.  We’d rather hear about the sheep and the goats – as long as we are the sheep, of course!  In God’s Kingdom the only ones to be excluded are those like Jonah and the Elder Brother who exclude themselves because they can’t live up to that quality of generosity which is the hallmark of God’s Kingdom.  Well, Jesus lived up to it and even died for it, and we are invited to be followers of his.

Donald Horsfield,  2nd September 2012

Discipleship Training

Philippians 3:12-15a   Ephesians 3:16-21

With the Olympic Games providing the background I want to develop the theme of training, exercise and discipline.  The aim is not to win a medal and stand on the podium with the National Anthem playing, but to be actively involved in the Human Race so that everyone can happily cross the finishing line.

There’s a verse in the Bible, a famous verse, where it says, “God so loved the world that he sent his Son to be its Saviour”  (John 3:16).  Our job as Christians is to interpret scripture, to find out what it means, and make it relevant, make it come alive in our own world today.  So I am interpreting the original text in a slightly different way …. God so loved the Human Race, that he sent his son to be its Trainer, so that we can win the race.

How do we ‘win’ the human race?  By fulfilling our potential!!!  We all have it in us to be the sons and daughters of God, just as Jesus was ‘the son of God’.  But we need some help, someone who knows the way, someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, so that we can learn and follow.

It tells us in Mark’s Gospel (3:14) that Jesus chose twelve disciples “that they might be with him”.  And they were ‘with him’ to learn from his teaching and from his example.  Peter’s letter tells us that “he left you an example, that you should follow in his steps”  (1 Peter 2:21).

So there we have a group of twelve young men, fit and eager and raring to go.  And we could say that Jesus was their Personal Trainer, putting them through their paces, getting them warmed up and ‘tuned in’ to his programme.

Jesus called his programme the Kingdom of God, where everybody would find the fulfilment of their potential.  They would discover their real selves, become the people God wants them to be.  They would have a taste of “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).  In this way the Human Race would be won by everybody in it.  We’re a long way off that yet.  But that is the goal.  We have to keep an eye on it, or as the Bible puts it, “keep looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our Faith”, and who is also our Personal Trainer.

We have to say that those first disciples were a bit ‘thick’, they were slow to learn.  They soon lost their enthusiasm because they weren’t too keen on the discipline needed.  Their Trainer sometimes got quite frustrated with them, and he found himself leaving them miles behind while he himself headed for the finishing line.

Jesus’ disciples needed to develop a completely new outlook.  It’s never easy.  They had to leave a lot of their old ideas behind.  “New wine goes into new bottles”, he told them. Your old ideas about God and religion need rethinking.  So you’ve got to be spiritually alive and alert and flexible, to move with the movement of the Spirit.  So for those first disciples it was a training programme, with their Trainer not just ‘telling’ them what to do, but doing it himself and challenging them to follow.

It seems that Jesus realised he could only take them so far and that he himself would have to do what needed doing.  But Jesus believed that in doing what needed to be done, he would be breaking ‘new ground’.  Something would happen that would inspire those disciples to carry on what he was doing.  It was as if a new Spirit would actually get closer to them than Jesus himself had been able to do.

In John’s Gospel (16:13), Jesus says to the disciples, “you’ve been with me now for a year or more, but there are some things I haven’t been able to tell you.  When I’m gone, something will happen.  Your Spirit will come alive in a new way, and you will see and understand what you have to do and where you have to go …..  your training, your discipleship will carry on but at a deeper level.  There’ll be new things to learn, new truths to get hold of, and you’ll have a new strength and determination to move the whole Human Race closer to the winning post”.

Paul knew about this too because he was also ‘in the race’, just like we are.  In his letters he’s telling future generations that they “will receive power, through God’s Spirit, to be strong in their inner selves.  That Christ will make his home in their hearts through faith.  And in this way, the learning and the training and the spiritual discipline will go on, until the Race is won”.  Paul again in the letter to Philippi (3:13f), “forgetting what lies behind”, he says, “I’m giving it my best shot to reach what lies ahead.  I’m running straight towards the finishing line to win the prize”.

But it’s not just a personal race, we’re not racing against one another.  It’s the Human Race we need to be concerned about.  And God wants everybody to ‘win the prize’, “life in all its fullness”.

Donald Horsfield  5th August 2012

     

An Exciting Adventure

In last month’s Stretton Focus, in the URC Voice, I wrote a piece entitled An Exciting Adventure – some of you will have read it.  I was saying that, when I joined the Church, as a young lad, a teenager, nobody told me that being a Christian can be like setting out on an exciting adventure.  In those days I was young and fit and raring to go, my whole life in front of me, I needed adventure!  And that’s one reason I later joined the London Missionary Society and spent twenty years in Papua New Guinea.

It was while I was out there, at the other end of the world, that I became aware of being on an exciting adventure.  And I’ve been on it ever since.  And it’s brought me here, at last, to Church Stretton.  And I must say it’s just as exciting here as it was anywhere else, and perhaps even more so because I’ve got the wonderful Shropshire Hills as the background to which it’s all happening.

But the adventure itself doesn’t involve flying to the other side of the world or putting your boots on and roaming over the Long Mynd, because it’s a ‘spiritual adventure’.  And even if you’re not as fit as you used to be, even if your movements are somewhat restricted, you can still be on this exciting ‘spiritual’ adventure.

I’ve been here now for over five years, and I may not have told you ‘straight out’, in so many words, what I wanted to hear long ago, that being a Christian can be like being on an exciting adventure.  I hope you may have gathered this from my five years of ministry among you.  But if not I’ll tell you now.  The Christian life can be, and should be, an exciting adventure.  And you can set off at any time, whatever age or condition you are in.  Or if you did set off once, but now have lost the plot, you can become aware, in a new and fresh way that you are still on the adventure.

It’s a spiritual adventure, an adventure of discovery, discovering that you are a ‘child of God’.  But we don’t want to be ‘children’ at our age do we, so let’s say, discovering that you are ‘related to God’.  It’s a relationship that goes right down to the very roots of who you are.  In religious language, it’s ‘Christ in you’.  But it doesn’t have to be ‘religious’, it’s rather wider than that.  It’s the fulfilment of you as a person, knowing yourself to be ‘one with the God’ in whom we live and move and have our being.

This is a great mystery beyond our understanding, but not beyond our ‘awareness’.  We can’t explain it but we can feel it and know it in the depth of our being.  And that’s what makes it so exciting.  There’s always more to discover about who we are and our relationship to God.  It’s an adventure of Faith, Hope and Love, into whatever lies ahead, trusting that all will be well.

 Friendship with God

John 15:11-16a, 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

In the life of the church there’s a lot of religion.  Which is not surprising really, is it?  There’s a lot of ‘religious language’, with words that many people don’t understand because we don’t use these words outside the church in everyday life; words like salvation, repentance, sin, atonement and the word GOD itself.  The church has its creeds and doctrines but who understands them when, for instance, they talk about Jesus being ‘begotten, not created, and incarnate of the Virgin Mary’.  Is it any wonder there’s been a growing gap between the Church and the World?  But we mustn’t just wonder about it, we should be doing something about it.

At the heart of our faith is the belief that ‘God loves the world and everybody in it’.  That’s the basic message we want to communicate, and if that involves changing the way we talk about God and religion, so be it.  We must learn how to do it.  We need to keep it simple but not superficial.  It can be simple and deep at the same time.  And we have it here in the Bible where it says, ‘God is Spirit’, and ‘God is Love’, or even more simply, ‘God is the Spirit of Love’.  That’s all you need to know.  Work it out in the way you live your life.

We celebrate this every Whitsunday which is the beginning of the season of Pentecost, when people, inspired by the Spirit, heard the Good News of God’s love, “in a language they could understand”.  And that’s the key.  If you can’t understand what’s being said, nothing will happen.  In the church calendar, the season of Pentecost stretches from June to December. That’s more than half the year, giving us the time we need to learn how to do it.

The teacher is already here, waiting for us to listen.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “I can’t teach you everything; but when I’m gone, my Spirit will still be here, to teach you how to carry on with the job that I’ve started”. (14:16)

 One of the words that Jesus DID give them, but which needed to be expanded and developed, is not included in official doctrines and creeds.  In fact it is not a ‘religious’ word at all.  And it’s a word that is widely used and easily understood by everybody, by people who never come to church, and so it’s a word that can be used to bridge that gap between the Church and the World.  And the word I’m talking about is FRIENDSHIP.  It’s not a religious word, is it?  No!  But it’s a deeply spiritual word which can ‘reach the hidden depths of many a heart’ (as we sing in one of our hymns).

Jesus must have told his disciples lots of things.  But I bet the one thing that meant more to them than anything else was when he said, “You are my friends; I’m calling you my friends: I want you to know and enjoy my friendship” (15:11-15)

The Quakers got hold of this idea and they changed their name to The Society of Friends.  And that’s a good name for any group of people who have been influenced by the teaching of Jesus, who have felt the presence of his Spirit (his friendship) in their lives.

In that passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus is talking about friendship he said, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you to be my friends”.  And here in church we didn’t choose one another either!  We have been chosen, as friends of Jesus, to be together and exercise that friendship with one another and to expand it as far as we can.  Whether we are Quakers or not, we are here in the church by ‘Divine appointment’, the Society of Friends, with a particular ministry to spread that friendship.

Let’s look a bit closer into FRIENDSHIP.  There are of course different levels of friendship.  We don’t have many very close, personal friends that we would be ‘willing to die for’.  As you probably know Jesus said, “Greater love has no-one that this; that someone should lay down his or her life for their friends”.  That’s not a situation that anybody would want to be in, and you don’t know beforehand how you would react if you were in such a situation.

But in any case it is love that lies at the heart of all friendship.  And it’s the love we have for one another that identifies us as belonging to God’s Society of Friends.  You could say, love is our trademark, the sign of our authenticity.  Jesus told the parable of the Vine and the Branches.  “I am the vine”, he said, “You are the branches”.  And our friendship with him is that close.  The very sap from the vine flows into the branches and, as a result, the fruit appears, there to be seen.

And so the love of God flows into us through our friendship with Jesus.  The very essence of the life and teaching of Jesus flows into us, so that we become like him, one with God.  We can try to follow his example.  As the Bible says “walk in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21), but not slavishly following some Divine footprint.  We’re not slaves, we’re friends: and we have the freedom of friendship to be ourselves, respond in our own way, in our own situation.

The other reading we heard, from Corinthians, tells us that “God, through the life and teaching of Jesus, is making friends with all people; not keeping a record of everybody’s sins, so that they can be punished”!  (what kind of a friendship would that be?) but offering a love and a friendship that can transform their lives”.  Now here we are, at this Communion Service, a service which traditionally focuses heavily on SIN; where people are expected to say, according to the General Confession, “there is no health in us”, and we’re all doomed to be fuel for the fires of Hell.

Well … we need to start speaking a different language, the language of friendship and love.  And we have a teacher waiting to show us the way, the Spirit of God whose real name is Love.

One of the most influential books I ever read in my youth was called ‘The Transforming Friendship’ by Leslie Weatherhead.  We all need that transforming friendship and through the life and teaching of Jesus, God is calling us into it.  To become the Society of God’s Friends and spread that friendship as wide as we can.  It’s the body of Jesus teaching, his faith and hope, to which he was totally committed, and for which he gave himself.

Jesus friendship with God was not broken even though it was severely tested.  For us Christians, Jesus lives on in the Spirit.  It’s the same spirit that has been awakened in us, so that we can all belong to the Society of God’s Friends, and that is what we are remembering and being thankful for round this Communion table.

Donald Horsfield,  1st July 2012

Pentecost 2012     God is Spirit   (i)

 

Psalm 139:1-12

The Christian religion, every religion, is based on the idea of God.  ‘God’ is a strange and mysterious word, because, it’s not like any other word.

We can divide words up into nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs, but where does the word ‘God’ fit in?  It doesn’t.  The ‘word’ God points beyond itself to some great and unfathomable mystery, beyond our understanding.

So what do we do?  Well, we have the word and we have to do something with it!  We have to find out what it means for ourselves.  And we look first of all to our religion, to see what it tells us about God.  But we have to be careful.  Those who created our religion were just like us.  They too, were confronted with the same Mystery.  They were looking into it and found what they could.  But in the past, people believed things that we can no longer believe, because times change, knowledge grows, and so we have to be careful and sensitive, to discover what is still true for us today.

In the Bible there are lots of words.  Somebody’s probably counted them, because that’s what some people do, but I don’t know how many there are.  What I do know is that the heart of the Christian religion, the way into the Mystery of God, can be put into very few words, and I can do it in six!  God is Spirit and God is Love.  You can find them in the Bible if you know where to look, but what they tell us, is there throughout the whole of the book.

Where can I go from your Spirit, asked the psalmist – nowhere, because God is everywhere.  God is Spirit, and God is love, or put it another way, God is the Spirit of Love.  Live with that thought at the forefront of your mind, and deep in your heart, and it will lead you into the Mystery of God.

Today is Pentecost/Whitsunday – the beginning of that season in the Christian calendar when we think about God as eternal Spirit, and ourselves as spiritual beings.  I get quite excited about this, and I’ll be sharing a few more thoughts in a minute or two.

 God is Spirit (ii)

Matthew 3:13-17, Romans 8:14-17

So on this day of Pentecost, we’re looking a bit deeper into the Mystery of God, the Holy Spirit.  And I did do a little bit of counting, and discovered that the word ‘spirit’ occurs more times than any other word in the whole of the New Testament.  It’s the one word which opens for us the door into the mystery of God, for God is Spirit.  Spirit is the way for us to get a deeper understanding of God, and of our relationship with God, for we too, are essentially SPIRIT.

The opening words of the Bible are, In the beginning – God.

Now, that’s a religious statement.  It’s not a statement of fact.  There was nobody there in the beginning to observe, and record, ‘the fact’.  But we have to start somewhere as we explore the mystery of creation, and as we think about our own existence.  So, as religious people say, let God be the beginning.

Scientists are looking into the same mystery, and they say, let the ‘big bang’ be the beginning.  That too is a statement of faith, because there was nobody there to see it happen.  In mathematics, if there is an unknown that needs to be found, they say, let x be the unknown.  And then they start working with what is known and eventually, maybe, find the value of x.

But, for the moment, we’re not scientists, and we’re not mathematicians.  But we are looking for the value of the unknown, in the mystery of our life in this amazing, evolving universe.  We are, let’s say, religious people.  And first of all we work with our Scriptures, starting with the story written in the Book of Genesis, where it says, In the beginning, God.  It IS only a story, it CAN only BE story, but it can lead us into the mystery, to discover what we’re looking for.

It says that, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and that, the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.  ‘The Spirit of God’ is not different from God.  God is Spirit.  And spirit is Life, Movement, Energy, Action.  ‘God’ is a verb, an action word.  God is the energy, the force, the power, moving over, and in, and through all creation, bringing life and sustaining life.  Wherever there is ‘life’, there is spirit, and there is God, because God is Spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth.

As the story of creation unfolds, earth and sky, land and sea, birds and animals all appear.  And then finally, people appear.  Science can tell us how this happened in some detail, over billions of years.  But we’re not doing science, we’re doing religion.  In our story, God created people, men and women, from the dust of the earth, and breathed into them and said, Let them come alive with my very own life in them (2:7).  And the word used in the Bible for the breath of God, is the word SPIRIT.

So in our story, the creative Spirit of God, has given us life.  We now have something to get hold of, something to work on, as we look into the mystery of ‘being alive’.  If only we knew it, we are alive with the life of God.  But how can we know this?  How can we respond to it, and enjoy it as our birth-right?

Well, in different ways.  But we do need to take note of the ‘other story’.  The scientists tell us that everything is part of an evolving universe, including ourselves.  Slowly, very slowly, over billions of years, the whole creation has been changing and evolving.  This means that even in the religious story, we must have a growing and developing insight into the mystery of our relationship with the eternal Spirit, who gave us life and continues to sustain us in life.

Science is looking in one way, and we’re looking in a different way.  Science is looking OUT, into the unimaginable distances of space for their solution to the mystery.  We are looking INWARDS, into the depths of ourselves, to discover the Spirit of Sod, in whose image and likeness we have been made.

Within the Christian religion we can see the development, we can trace the steps, of people with spiritual insight who have made discoveries that move us on, in our own search for who we are, our meaning and purpose in life, our spiritual relationship with God.

And of course Jesus is a key figure in our religious story.  His own ministry began with a spiritual experience at his baptism in the river Jordan (Mark 1:9-13).  He had a vision, and saw into his own spiritual closeness to God.  It was his baptism in the Spirit.  And what did he take as the text for his first sermon, but the words of another deeply spiritual man, Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and has given me the agenda for my ministry.  That agenda was very practical and down to earth.  It was good news for the poor, liberty for captives, sight for the spiritually blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

The Spirit of God is not an airy-fairy concept.  It’s concerned with the quality of our lives here on earth.  If indeed, the Spirit of God has given us life, then the way we live our lives should reflect that truth.  As Jesus said, “by their fruits you will know them.”  This was what Jesus was concerned about.  Not saving souls, but saving people from spiritual blindness and misunderstanding, and from all the harm and danger that comes from such blindness and misunderstanding.

Jesus called his programme, his teaching ministry, The coming of the Kingdom of God, and he told people, first of all, the kingdom of God is ‘within you’.  That’s where you have to look.  Get in touch with the Spirit of God within you.  That will transform your lives.  It will give you a new outlook, energy and drive.  You will see what needs doing and you will want to get on with it.

Our religious story is still unfolding.  It’s the story of people who have felt the Spirit of God coming alive in their own lives.  And so they have joined the Church, in order to feed that spirit, give it some nourishment and get some guidance, so that the fruit of the Spirit will continue to grow in them.  And then, together as a Church, we can play our part in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of Jesus.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as in heaven.

Donald Horsfield,  27th May 2012

Thoughts on Easter

The word Easter is a very ancient word.  Its meaning goes way back to the time when people were just learning to talk.  Languages were being created and people were looking around and giving names to everything they could see.  Let’s call that a tree; that’s a river; that’s a bird; and we are people.

One of the things they could see was the sun crossing the heavens everyday, and the moon passing by night.  Well … they thought, the sun was going past.  It wasn’t really, but they didn’t know that until a few thousand years later when telescopes were invented and they discovered that the earth was actually moving around the sun.

They also noticed the ‘passing seasons’… Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.  They were dependent on the seasons for their food.  To stay alive they had to work along with the seasons, hunting and fishing at the right time, planting crops and reaping the harvest and making sure there was enough for the Winter when it was cold and everything seemed to go dead and return to the ground ….. but only to rise again in Spring, when the sun got warmer and life returned; crops were planted again and people’s hopes were raised that all would be well.

Life revolved around the cycle of Nature and the changing seasons – there was a time for everything.  And EASTER was their word, spelt differently but still the same word, their word for the power of Nature that brought Spring out of Winter, with life rising again when it seemed to be dead.  For them EASTER was the God or the mysterious power that did it!

But then they thought, what about people?  People are also part of Nature: they die and return to the ground – will they also rise again, like everything else seemed to do.

That was the question they began to ponder.  And around the world different ways were found to answer that question.  Different religions came into being with their own stories, because that’s the only way we can respond to this mystery of life and death – with stories – because we just don’t know.  In due time, the Christian religion emerged with its own stories, many of them borrowed from the Jewish religion.

But all people are basically the same.  Within the heart and soul of every human being there is a love of life.  ‘Life’ is who we are, ‘living beings’.  Without life we wouldn’t ‘be’.  So who are we?  That’s the question!  And SPIRIT is the word we found to understand who we are at a deeper level.

And we have our stories about an Eternal Spirit called God, breathing himself into us and giving us life.  And that’s really who we are.  It’s God’s Spirit in us that gives us ‘real’ life.  And within the Christian religion we regard Jesus as the one who lives this ‘real life’ perfectly.  And so Jesus is our ‘salvation’.  He is the one who teaches us and shows us ‘how to do it’, how to live at one with the Spirit while we are still here on earth living in our physical bodies.

Standing on the foundation of the life and teaching of Jesus we become aware of the truth of who we really are and to whom we belong.  We belong to God.  Jesus has woken us up, enlightened us to see, to realise, that our Spirit can be one with God’s Spirit.  We too can rise up in newness of life, to be one with God, in the Spirit, as Jesus was.  That’s the message of EASTER for us today.

 ……………………

Easter Day 2012

 Mark 16:1-8;  Ephesians 5:14; Colossians 1:27f, 2:6f

In what I said a little earlier, I used the phrase, ‘Jesus has woken us up’.  And he’s done that simply by being himself and doing what he did, which surprised a lot of people, especially the religious leaders of his day.  Jesus was saying things that they hadn’t heard before, giving them a new insight into their religion, a new understanding of their relationship with God.  As he said himself, it was new wine needing to be put into new wine skins.

Listening to Jesus was like wakening up to a new truth, having their eyes opened to ‘see’, and understand, what they hadn’t seen before.  It was a life changing experience, a chance to redirect their lives, with a new source of energy and power and inspiration to lead them on … into … well … they didn’t know, they had to find out.

Jesus was going around proclaiming the Kingdom of God, but in effect he was telling people to WAKEN UP, to realise that God wanted them to move into this Kingdom, and live it, and explore it, and let people see what a difference it could make.

This is not often pointed out, but the very word RESURRECTION actually means to ‘waken up’, to get out of bed, or wherever else you’ve fallen asleep, stand on your feet, and get on with living the life of the Kingdom.

‘Sleep’ of course is a synonym for death.  We are, even now, as it were, dead – and need resurrecting.  We’re asleep and need to wake up because while we’ve been asleep, we’ve been missing out on what we need to know, and what we should be doing.  And today, in the kind of world we live in, the Church and Christian folk need to waken up and realise that this is indeed what ‘resurrection’ means.

Resurrection is not something you just say you believe in.  It’s knowing the power of it in your own life, enabling you to ‘rise above’ the purely physical, and live in the spiritual, because that’s your true nature.  Believing in the resurrection is not about trying to prove that something happened to the body of Jesus a long time ago.  It’s about an eternal truth that happens all the time and can happen to anybody, anytime.  It’s a ‘waking up’ and a rising up, to live ‘in the Spirit’, even while you’re still here on earth coping with the limitations of your physical body.

There’s a scripture passage in a letter of Peter (1 Peter 1:3) which talks about being “being born anew, to a living hope, through the resurrection”, and Paul talks about “knowing the power of the resurrection”, (Philippians 3:10).   It’s an experience, a new way and we need to wake up to it.  You can believe or disbelieve what you want about the resurrection, but if it doesn’t happen to you in some way, you’re missing the point.  You haven’t woken up yet!

We heard these words in the reading, “Wake up sleeper, and rise from the dead, rise from your sleep, and Christ will shine upon you.”  (Ephesians 5:14)

Now who is Christ?  It’s not Jesus surname, they didn’t have surnames!  It’s a title!  Jesus of Nazareth has become ‘the Christ’, or the Messiah.  That is, the anointed one who can do the job that needs doing.  And the job that needs doing, is the wakening up of all humanity, all people, everywhere, to BE THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

“The Christ” is one who is so ‘alive in the Spirit’, that not even death can defeat him.  He is alive forever, ‘at one’ with the Eternal Spirit, and can waken that same Spirit in the lives of anybody who will listen, and respond, and wake up.

“The Christ” is the Divine Nature in all people, waiting to spring to life, needing to waken up, to rise from the dead, as it were, and live a new life.  As Paul explains, it’s “Christ in you, that’s where Christ is to be found, the hope of a glory yet to come” (Colossians 1:27)

George Bernard Shaw was once asked, “If you could live your life over again and be somebody else, who would you be?”  And he said, “I would choose to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was”.

The Good News of Easter is that we can all wake up and begin the process of becoming the person we CAN be, the person God wants us to be, living, as Jesus did, to fulfil God’s purposes here on earth.

Revd Donald Horsfield, 8th April 2012

Jesus’ First Sermon

 Luke 4:14-30

 Today is the second Sunday in Lent.  During these six weeks up to Easter, we focus on the life and teaching of Jesus, beginning with his call to ministry.  And we mustn’t forget that he was thirty years of age when this happened.  Before that he’d probably been working as a carpenter, and while he was sawing and chiselling and hammering, he would have been thinking about life.  It’s something we all do, whatever our job happens to be.

It’s while we’re quietly thinking our own thoughts that we’re likely to hear God speaking to us.  It was the same for Jesus and this led first of all to his baptism by John, after which he went away by himself to do some more thinking – sorting out his priorities, preparing his agenda and making a few mental notes for his first sermon.  And it’s that first sermon we’re going to look at for a few minutes.  I remember preaching my first sermon, long before I was thirty and I don’t suppose anybody is likely to remember it!  I’ve even forgotten it myself.  But the first sermon Jesus preached would not have been easily forgotten!  It happened in Nazareth, in the local synagogue, where Jesus went regularly as was his custom.

The synagogue was not only a place for worship, but also for socialising, for discussion and interaction, just like our church.  It was Jesus’ custom to be there, and it’s our custom to be here, and it’s a good custom … meeting others, sharing, listening to one another and discovering that the Spirit of God is as much present in the hall over a chat and a hot drink, as in what we are doing in church.  Those who were listening to Jesus didn’t realise that within fifty years, the Temple, the priests, the sacrifices, would all be gone.  Jerusalem itself destroyed and the synagogue would be the only place left for worship, and still is to the present time.

There were two main parts in the synagogue service.  The reading of the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – all believed to have been written by Moses.  It was read through in sequence, and it took three years to do it, then it started all over again.  They also read from another scroll known as The Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah and others.  All important voices from the past, who were regarded as God’s messengers.  This reading was optional.  Whoever was invited to do it could choose the passage themselves, and then say a bit about it and maybe start a discussion.

That morning Jesus was invited to do it.  And he chose the book of Isaiah, which he unrolled and found the place he wanted.  This must have been a favourite passage for Jesus, one that he’d meditated on and given a lot of thought to.  It is the passage we’ve just heard, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”.

This was a teaching of all the prophets.  They believed that God’s Spirit can flow through a person’s life, giving them a ‘vision’ and the inspiration and courage to pursue that vision.  Jesus was a man with a vision.  He called it The Kingdom of God, and he was going to pursue it with everything he had.  He wanted to see it, here and now, present and active in the lives of ordinary people, but also in the Institutions and Nations that ruled people’s lives.  The Kingdom of God present, but still to come, because it had to be made real in people’s lives.  Isaiah had the same vision.  But it was Jesus who felt personally called to make it happen.  And this is what it would involve – Good News to the poor; Liberty for captives; Sight for the blind; and Freedom for the oppressed.

What it amounts to, Jesus said, is the coming of ‘Salvation’ that will meet everybody’s deepest needs. And by ‘Salvation’ he didn’t mean escaping from earth to go to heaven.  For Jesus it meant heaven coming down to earth; God’s will being done on earth.  And having pointed this out Jesus finished his sermon with these words, ‘It’s already happening, even as you listen to what I’m saying’.  NOW IS THE TIME, because NOW is always God’s time.  It’s already here, you just have to see it, feel it, want it, and get involved with it.

So let’s quickly look at each of these items on the agenda.  First of all, Good News to the poor.  Who are the poor?  We’re not talking about money and possessions here.  Where do you draw the line with money anyway?  I’m rich by some people’s standards, but poor compared to other people.  The Good News is not that you’ve won the lottery.  The Good News is that God is concerned for all people in their deepest need, which is, the need to be loved, the need to be free, the need to know that you are a child of God.  That’s the Good News everybody needs to know, you are rich indeed if you know of God’s love.  And you are poor indeed until you’ve heard about it, and responded to it.  And that’s what Jesus was going to be telling people.  Good News to the poor … and …

Liberty for the captives – there are all kinds of captivity. People can be trapped in poverty, and even in wealth; trapped in ignorance or debt; trapped in an exclusive religion where “you” are right and everybody else is wrong.  Trapped in your own ego, where you selfishly take everything and give nothing; trapped in addiction to drugs or alcohol, gambling, pornography.  We live in a world that is trapped in violence as a means of solving problems.  Even now the arms industry will be busy making bombs and missiles to sell to countries that don’t care how they use them.  There are so many ways in which people can be held captive, and ‘liberty for the captives’ is high on the agenda of those who proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Sight for the blind, and this is much more than physical blindness.  We can have good eyesight and still be blind to the things we could see and should see, if the eyes of our understanding were opened.  And that’s the blindness Jesus wants to cure.

There’s a story of Jesus healing a blind man (Mark 8:22-26).  Jesus laid hands on him and said, “Now can you see?”  The man said, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.”  So Jesus laid hands on again.  “Can you see now?”  “Yes”, the man said, “Now I can see people as people.”  And that’s exactly what God wants!  If you see other people as things to be used, you’re not seeing right, not until you see people as people, like yourself made in the image of God, with every right to live in freedom, to think their own thoughts, and to be themselves in pursuit of life, health and happiness.  Until that happens, we are all blind and need to have our eyes opened, so that we can see the world and other people as God sees them.

As Jesus was preaching this sermon, something was happening.  There was a change taking place in his listeners.  At first it was OK.  He’s good preacher!  Local boy making good!  But slowly they realised how radical this was!  This was different from what they expected to hear.  It had far reaching implications.  They were being challenged to look at life in a new way.  And by and large people don’t like being challenged like that!  So they changed their tune.  Who does he think he is!  Is he not Jesus the carpenter!  And their final reaction was very negative.  Get rid of him, we don’t want to hear this stuff.

And in this way, Jesus began his ministry, speaking God’s truth, challenging everyone to think again, and let his message lead them into a new way of living.  They were being challenged to let go of their old ideas, to be set free, to have their eyes opened to new truth, so that they could see themselves and other people, and life as a whole, in a new way.  But instead they put up their defences, denouncing the preacher as an enemy of God.  And so right at the beginning the scene is set for a short ministry which ended on the cross.  Or was that not an ending at all, but rather a new beginning.  A kind of fulfilment and continuation of what Jesus had begun in that first sermon – and still a challenge to anybody who hears it today.

Revd Donald Horsfield,  4th March 2012

A THREE-FOLD CORD        Ecclesiastes 4 : 12

In the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 4 verse 12 it says, “A three-fold cord is not easily broken”.  You have to imagine three separate strands woven together to make something stronger.  “A three-fold cord is not easily broken”.

Is number three anybody’s favourite number?  You could say it is God’s favourite number – the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Paul might go for three – he said there are three things that last forever – Faith, hope and love.  And deep within each one of us, there are three aspects of who we are.  There’s YOU, your SELF (your inner self), and GOD.  And those three need weaving together to become ONE – the real YOU ….  And a three-fold cord is not easily broken.

Within the history of the Church as it has developed over the years, there has been much friction, and in-fighting, and shameful behaviour.  We only need to think about what was going on during the Reformation; the cruelty of the Inquisition; the horrors of the Crusades; and hundreds of years of religious wars.  Even today there are still folk in the Church who think that eternal punishment is appropriate for those who don’t say they believe the right things.  God help us!

In the life of the Church I have detected three strands which have tended to grow apart, and almost become separate churches on their own.  Now I don’t want to be talking about Church politics – I leave that to Synods and General Council.  Let the Moderators and Bishops sort it out!

But I am concerned with our own church life here; our life together as a worshipping community.  I want it to be as rich and rewarding as possible.  And if we can weave together these three separate strands we’ll be all the better for it, because, a three-fold cord is not easily broken.

So what are these three strands?  They are the EVANGELICAL, the SACRAMENTAL and the PENTECOSTAL.  So let’s have a look at them, one at a time.

The EVANGELICAL wing of the Church focuses on the ‘evangel’, which is the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love revealed in the life-story of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and in Paul’s letters.  It’s the written word, the Bible that is central to the Evangelical understanding of God.  They have raised-up powerful preachers of that word down the ages, Paul himself, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Billy Graham, and lots of others even today.

We ourselves have been influenced by this kind of preaching.  There was a time in my life when I was deeply stirred by it, and I committed many of those words of Scripture to memory, and they are still there to my great benefit…

            Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

            The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper that any two-edged sword.

Hymns have been inspired by the evangelical outlook…..

            Thy words to me are life and health, give strength unto my soul;

            Enable, guide and teach my heart to reach its perfect goal.

But in any group of people, there are always leaders who are hungry for power and who go too far.  They become fanatics, extremists, who think that what ‘they’ say about the Bible and God is ‘the last word’, and everybody needs to be converted to it or they are doomed.  What happens then is that the word, instead of giving life to people, becomes hardened and tyrannical.  John’s Gospel tells us that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’: NOT that the Word became more words written in a book.  Jesus didn’t even write anything.  Only if the words of the Bible lead us to the ‘Word of God which became flesh’ is it of any value.  And that is why we need the second strand to be woven in, and that is the SACRAMENTAL.

A ‘sacrament’ is something that points beyond itself and this strand of Christian worship makes us aware that the whole physical world, all creation, can be seen as a ‘sacrament’ pointing beyond itself to the Creator who sustains all the life of the Universe, including ourselves.  This brings a new element of awe and wonder into our worship.  We live in a physical world.  We are part of it through our flesh and blood, our humanity, but if we look deep enough, we can see through it, the physical pointing to the spiritual which underlies everything.

In the physical world we see the beauty of art and painting, we hear music, we touch one another, we feel the awesome majesty of mountains, rivers, seas and skies.  The very word of God is itself a sacrament pointing to a reality beyond words which we can feel and relate to.  And if the evangelical is blended with the sacramental, our worship will be all the richer.

Let me quote from someone’s childhood memories, “Religion was a solemn affair.  God was to be worshipped with a serious face and a hushed voice.  I left my humanity at the door when I went into church.”

The sacramental strand of worship embraces our humanity as God’s gift.  It baptises us into the whole physical world, which then becomes a sacrament pointing to the Spiritual reality which underlies all things, and which we call God.  The sacramental takes us beyond words into the heart of the ‘mystery’ of God, where we are ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.

There is another strand to be woven in to complete the three-fold cord which is not easily broken.  And it is the PENTECOSTAL.

Pentecostal Churches focus almost exclusively on the Spirit, because for hundreds of years this strand was either unknown, or unwanted.  But either way it was forgotten, until in the early 1900s there was a Pentecostal Revival which is still sweeping through some parts of the world.

‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’.  (2 Corinthians 3:17)  That Scripture is there in every Bible, but the leaders of the mainstream Churches were afraid of people having too much freedom, so they were suspicious of the Pentecostal emphasis on Spirit.  But this is everybody’s deep need – to be ‘free in the Spirit’, which basically means to be free in yourself.

In the letter to the Romans (8:16) Paul writes, ‘God’s Spirit joins with our spirit to declare that we are God’s children’.  The Spirit of God sets you free to know yourself, to be yourself, and even to love yourself, and then to live ‘in the Spirit’ as you journey through the rest of your life.

It is the Spirit of God that will enable you to experience the physical world as a ‘sacrament’.  It will guide you to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and make you a true Evangelical.  The three strands are there woven together.  For us Christians, Jesus is THE ideal, the three-strand person, the Spirit-filled man.

Religious boundaries are no obstacle to the Spirit.  God is greater than any religion.  And if, in our worship of God, we weave together that three-fold cord – Evangelical, Sacramental and Pentecostal, we will be strong enough to do the work of being God’s people here on earth.

Revd Donald Horsfield,  19th February 2012

Take: Bless: Break: Give

 Luke 22: 14-20

When Jesus knew that the end was in sight, he must have thought to himself …. “Now how can I best get these disciples of mine to remember me, so that what I stand for will be carried on in them when I’m gone.  They’ve had my teaching, some of it they’ve understood, and some not.  I need something more direct, more obvious than words.  I need to get them to do something, something practical, and if I can connect it with what they do everyday, so much the better to help them remember.  Now what shall I do?  I know!  What could be more everyday and ordinary than a simple meal, a loaf of bread and something to drink.  Yes!  That’s what I’ll do!”

 And all this thinking was worked out in what we now call The Last Supper.

The disciples already had the Passover as part of their religious tradition, reminding them of their history, slavery in Egypt, liberation, a new start.  Jesus was re-interpreting that history, bringing it up-to-date, and making it real in a new way to the lives of those who were listening to him.  Jesus saw himself as a kind of ‘new Moses’.  The old Moses had led the people bodily, physically, out of bondage into freedom.  Jesus was offering to liberate people from a different kind of bondage which was not just for the Israelites, but for all people because it’s a bondage that all people are in.  You could call it the ‘bondage of sin’, and religion does, but there are other ways of expressing it.

You could call it the bondage of ignorance, of not knowing, of darkness.  Of not knowing the truth about who you are, what kind of a life you should be living, and where to get your resources from.  Jesus was, and is, offering a deeper freedom than just a physical journey out of Egypt.  He’s offering to lead us on a spiritual journey, out of ignorance into knowledge, out of darkness into light, into what Christians later called ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’.

Humanity as a whole, all people, need this liberation because what comes from ignorance and darkness is the world’s evil, greed, lust, anger, hatred, revenge leading to violence and war.  And is that not the kind of world we still live in?

The road to freedom, or to what Jesus called ‘The Kingdom of God’, is first of all a personal journey.  But then with wide-reaching effects as you reach out expressing your concern for justice and peace, and love and truth, producing all the gifts of the Spirit to transform the world.  Jesus was devoted to this mission, even to the point of giving his life for it, which is what happened.  So after that last supper, the Passover becomes for Christians a symbol representing not the journey of Moses, but the mission of Jesus.  To show all people that they too are the children of God.  To give them freedom and power to be who they are and so fulfil God’s purposes.

There are four action words or verbs in this last supper and we’ll have a quick look at them.  Jesus TOOK, BLESSED, BROKE and GAVE a loaf of bread.  He says, “Let this bread represent me and my mission and everything I stand for.”

Jesus TOOK hold of a loaf of bread to represent something else.  That’s why we call it a sacrament, there’s more to it than meets the eye.  It looks like a loaf of bread, it is a loaf of bread, and it doesn’t change into something else.  But it is a symbol of something else.  Bread is food, and food is life.  And through the teaching of Jesus, we have come alive in a new way, in the Spirit.  And remembering Jesus is this way will feed and nourish us as spiritual people.  Not the bread itself, but what it stands for, the life and mission of Jesus.

The Jesus BLESSED the bread, which simply means that he gave thanks for it.  God’s provision meets all our needs.  So be thankful.  One of our finest hymns says, “Give to me Lord a thankful heart and a discerning mind”.  Being thankful will make you strong and a discerning mind will show you that God’s provision of bread is so that everybody in the world can have enough to eat.  Being thankful will lead to being concerned and involved in the eradication of poverty, so that all can be fed and in turn they can be thankful and involved.  We must always remember that this too is part of Jesus’ mission.

Jesus TOOK, he BLESSED and he BROKE the bread.  There’s a lot of ‘breaking’ going on in the world today, but it is the wrong kind of breaking, it’s destructive: the breaking of the law, criminality; the breaking of people through intolerance, racism, prejudice; the breaking of bodies and buildings in the horrors of war; and the breaking of hearts through tragedy and suffering.  The breaking of Jesus on the cross was part of this worldly destructive breaking.  And any form of violence causing innocent suffering touches us at a deep level.  We know it is wrong.  We don’t want it to happen.  God doesn’t want it to happen.  And so when it does happen, it happens to God because this is God’s world and God feels it more than we do.

Do we want to be identified with God’s love and God’s concern, as we know it in the life and teaching of Jesus?  If we do, we will receive this sacrament of bread and wine, and the life of Christ will be nourished in us.  Christ will live through us.  We will be, as it were, the body of Christ in the world today, involved in the continuation of Jesus mission, so that God’s will may be done and God’s kingdom come on earth.

Donald Horsfield,  5th February 2012

   

Journeying into the New Year

Ephesians 3:14-21

I want to pick up on the theme of JOURNEYING.

We’re all on a journey – the journey of life.  What have you learned on your journey so far?  We don’t normally stop and ask that question do we?  We just get on with it – and life’s over before you know it!  So let’s just give it a bit of thought, as we set off on the journey into 2012.

The journey of life is a bit of a mystery!  We just find ourselves ‘on it’.  We didn’t ask to be on it – but here we are – and we’ve got to decide what it’s all about.  That’s the responsibility we all carry.

So what we have to do is learn what might be called ‘the first lesson’ on the journey of life.  Which is that, we’re not on our own.  There are relationships we can have, which will give us direction for the journey, energy to travel, and strength to carry whatever we have to.  It’s a case of learning as you go, learning from experience, gathering wisdom wherever you can find it, and building up your resources, so that, you can cope when the journey takes you through difficult times.  We have to make our own Pilgrim’s Progress.

If you don’t learn this lesson about relationships, your journey will be all over the place; you won’t know where you are.  But, it’s not a lesson you learn all at once.  It’s on-going, so you must be ready to learn new truths and make adjustments along the way, in the light of your experiences.

Paul knew this, and he puts it clearly in his letter to Philippi – “I’m learning from the past,” he says, “and open to the future, because I’ve still got some journeying to do….. I’m on the way.”  Paul had finally got his relationships sorted out.  Before that, they were in a right mess.  He was all tangled up inside.  But with a bit of help he managed to untie the knots, and found the freedom he needed, to start moving in the right direction.

One of the difficult relationships we all have is with OURSELVES …. Which might sound a bit odd – but it is true.  You need to have a healthy, happy wholesome relationship with yourself.  Each one of us is very deep.  There are parts of yourself that even you don’t know.  God is your best self – so get that relationship going, as an essential part of your journey.  And once again it’s a case of learning as you go.  We still have much to learn about God who is our best self.

If you find a good religion, whatever name it goes under, it will shine a light into the mystery of who you are, and of the journey that you are on.  We’ve found our light in the Christian religion.  It’s the light of LOVE and in that light you learn to love.  To love others and love yourself: to love life: to love the world: and to love the source of that love whom we call God.

In God’s light we see light.  The light of understanding will now illuminate the path ahead, and we can journey on with some confidence and sense of purpose.

On this journey through life, there will be landmarks that you see.  And seeing them, you will know that you are on the right road.  It may be a book that you read, which confirms the journey you’ve made so far, encouraging you to keep going along that same road.  It may be just something you hear, or a thought that flashes through your mind, a piece of music, a feeling that just picks you up and you feel as if you’re being carried, rather than trudging along the road.  Or better still it may be a person: someone with whom you can trust yourself, and be yourself, relaxed and informal, and above all – honest.

So thank God for any landmarks that you see along the way.  And if you haven’t seen any for a while, do a bit of praying and start expecting one, and it will surely come.

Along the way there will also be turning points.  If you need a change of direction, you will begin to feel a little bit uneasy.  Things that you’ve just taken for granted and never questioned, will begin to loom large and need dealing with.  It’s a turning point.  You’ll feel the need to be a bit more honest with yourself, especially about God and your religion, where things can begin to feel empty or heavy, and you realise that you’re carrying stuff that you don’t need.  If you let it go, you’ll travel with a lighter step, and you’ll be a lot happier within yourself.  So keep a look out for turning points and don’t be afraid to leave behind what you no longer need, and which is getting too heavy to carry.

Now finally, what about a ‘destination’ for this journey of life that we are on?  That too must remain as part of the Mystery.  There is no way that human beings on the journey of life can conceive of a final destination.  At present we are on the earthly stage of the journey, dressed up in bodies, flesh and blood.  But it will pass.  We have already been awakened to our essential spiritual nature, and therein lies our hope, but for the time being we travel in faith, with love in our hearts, trusting that all will be well.

 Donald Horsfield,  1st January 2012