Worship at Home 6th September

Welcome to our worship this morning.

As we enter September some of our churches are looking at reaping for worship in a limited way. Social Distancing means that we will not always be able to accommodate all of our congregation at one time and we are aware that many of them will be able to return or will not feel that now is the right time for them to return. We therefore intend to continue online worship alongside the in church services. From this morning a new line appears on our Circuit Plan allocating one of our Ministers or Local Preachers to be responsible for providing this online worship service. The service will be available on the Circuit YouTube Channel and also on the Circuit Web site where there will also be a link to the downloadable service sheet. This will enable us to worship together across the circuit and enjoy a wider range of worship leaders and resources and free us to offer different ways of engaging in fellowship together locally.

I will, however, continue to link to the weekly service here so you can find it in the same place as usual.

Today’s service is led by Rev Phil Summers and you will find the links further down the page.

Worship at Home 6th September

Yr A Ordinary 23. Ezekiel 33: 7-11; Psalm 119: 33-40; Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

The Way to Life

It has been said that it wasn’t the apple that caused the trouble in the Garden of Eden, it was the pair on the ground!

Which serves to show that whenever two or three are gathered together – there is the potential for a difference of opinion – and therefore potential for dispute. So today’s readings take a look at how we deal with conflict and wrong doing amongst members of our community and also about our responsibility for one another’s welfare and behaviour.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus confirms that we have responsibility to challenge others when they go wrong – to take the matter up with them and attempt to persuade them of the error of their ways, if necessary involving others as witnesses. The sanction for those who fail to change their ways or come to an agreement is that they will be treated the same way as tax collectors and pagans – in other words they should face exclusion from the community.  

God desires that his people live according to his will and states  that there are consequences for those who fail to do so. Ezekiel describes that consequence as “death” and Jesus in Matthew describes it in terms of exclusion  which sounds less severe but perhaps amounts to the same thing.

We don’t tend to experience people being struck down dead in the street by God so what does Ezekiel mean by “death” in this context?

Well, perhaps its like this: if all life comes from and is given by God the creator, then God’s way is the way of “life”.  The beginning of John’s gospel links God and Christ as “the Word” and as agents of creation:

 “In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God’s presence, and what God was, the Word was. He was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being. In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind”. John 1: 1-3

So God is the one through whom all things are created and given life, and that life is vested in the Word which was and is God. And life is vested in the intimate connection between God and his creation, his people. John’s gospel goes on to tell us about how the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ.  So those who accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour accept the way that leads to life, in fact they accept the way of eternal life.

But if your choice is not to accept the way that leads to “life” then the alternative must be the way that does not lead to life. The only alternative to life is ‘not life’ which is the state of what we call death. So death may be seen as the state of not being with Christ, the state of remaining separated from from him. So what choice will you make – the choice that leads to life? or the choice that does not lea to life?

When Jesus begins his ministry, he announces the coming of the kingdom – and the way of the kingdom is what forms the basis of his teaching: the way of the kingdom, he says is the way that leads to fullness of life . 

Jesus announces that the kingdom is amongst us now (Luke 17:21)  yet  it will only be fulfilled with the promise of eternal life thought resurrection in the age to come. Through Jesus, the kingdom is accessible by all who put their faith in Him and who follow him faithfully. Jesus says that this is the way to life in all its fullness (Matt 25:46).

Maybe we can see evidence of this truth in everyday life today where evidence has shown that religious faith has benefits for physical and mental health, stress levels and general well being. On the other hand a life style which ignores God and his teaching seems often to lead people into  a desperate search for something in their lives that they feel to be missing.

This leads people to put their energies into filling that hole by exploring all kinds of things, some of which become very destructive to our lives and our planet.. Our focus on acquiring ‘things’ is an example. We talk about our economy being in recession – what we mean is we making and selling fewer things this month than we did last month and we re-double our efforts to make and sell more stuff. The trouble we don’t really need all the stuff we make. Most of it ends up in landfill – wasting the time, energy and materials needed to create it in the first place. We need to find a better way to measure our success, to distribute what people need to live and to protect God’s creation.

But God allows us the choice to do all this. 

We are not forced to follow his will, or to have him in our lives. God allows us to go our own way. He doesn’t want us to love him because we have no other choice – because that is not really love at all. He wants us to come to him of our own free will – but in the full knowledge of the consequences of the choices we make. 

And he goes to great lengths to make sure that we are aware of the consequences and that his message is heard – even to the extent of coming himself in the flesh and taking the ultimate consequence of death upon himself to demonstrate just how much he loves and cares for us. He instituted the church to make sure that message continued to be heard generation by generation.

This then is why we have a responsibility to care for each other but also to challenge each other about our behaviour.

Ezekiel is given this responsibility for the nation of Israel but Jesus certainly brings it to the personal level as he says: “If your brother does wrong, go and take the matter up with him”.  Initially this is to be strictly between you and the person concerned. But if agreement is not reached then the next step is to take along a few witnesses to provide evidence. As a last resort the matter is to be brought before the whole congregation where the sanction of exclusion from the Christian community may be implemented.

This raises all sorts of issues for us today. We are often reluctant to challenge people about their behaviour because it can result in conflict or even aggression against ourselves. There is also the issue in today’s society of a lack of concrete agreement about what is acceptable and what is not. Judgement done badly can be very destructive to life but there are some areas where we are called to judge responsibly.

It is true that in some areas it is unclear exactly what is acceptable and what is not. But there are also times when the actions of someone are very clearly unjust, very clearly causing hurt to others and, times when those actions are clearly wrong. Ezekiel was clearly told that if he failed to act in such circumstances then God’s judgement would fall on him as well as on the perpetrator – and so we can see that we also have a responsibility to act in such circumstances.

It is important to note that the next part of the gospel goes on to talk about forgiveness – which should be unlimited to those who repent and return to the community. Just as God has demonstrated his great love for us by enabling us to be forgiven for our many wrong doings and by going to the cross so that we could be reconciled to him through faith in Christ, so we must demonstrate such love to those who have wronged us and fallen out with us and treat them with equal compassion, in Jesus’ name. But that’s a message for another day! Amen.

Andrew Biggs 1st September 2020

Here is the link to today’s service provided by Rev Phil Summers:

There is no downloadable service sheet today but in future weeks it will be found at the Circuit web site here:

Worship at Home Sunday 30th August

This weekend we would usually be in a field near Kettering. Actually the grounds of a stately home – Boughton House, the current home of the Greenbelt Festival. This year the festival could not take place outdoors for the first time in 46 years. Instead an online festival was held with the theme ‘Wild at Home’ and today we will share in the Great Big Festival Picnic at 12.30.

Today the theme of our service is ‘Through the Looking Glass’ as we hear about the disciples seemingly having to enter a different world from that which they are used to – something we have all had to do in recent months. The picture is from a light sculpture at Greenbelt a few years ago and looks like it could be a gateway into a different world!

If you would like to join the Great Big Picnic – you can do so on YouTube or Facebook at 12.30:

Worship at Home Sunday 30th August

Year A Ordinary 22  Matthew 16: 2-28

Through the Looking Glass

The other day I was trying to undo the chain that I was wearing around my neck. It has one of those fiddly little spring hooks on it. It was tricky, because every movement I made was reversed in the mirror and my brain couldn’t quite work out which way I had to move to undo the clasp. The problem with mirrors: – everything works the opposite way to the way your brain expects it to work!

I think that Peter might have felt a similar kind of frustration in the conversation he has with Jesus in this reading from Matthew’s  gospel.

From last time you may remember that Peter had declared Jesus to be the ‘Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus had blessed him and told him that he was: ‘Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’.  But Jesus had then made it clear that the disciples should keep this information  to themselves.

Now, Jesus begins to tell the disciples what this really means: He will have to go to Jerusalem and there he will undergo great suffering at the hands of the authorities. He will  be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  To Peter, this seems to be the opposite of what needs to happen to a Messiah. If Jesus is truly the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – doesn’t this mean he has all this power? Shouldn’t they now be sitting down to work out tactics and strategy? Make a plan to overthrow the current rulers and install Jesus as the new King of all?

But Jesus, who has just rewarded Peter for recognising him as Messiah, now rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. Peter who, moments before had been ‘The rock’ on which Jesus would build his church has now become a rock on the path  to stumble over.

Jesus tells him that this is because Peter is thinking in the wrong way. He is focussing his mind on human things instead of divine things – he is thinking as the world thinks – not as God thinks. The world sees power as wielded through might, strength and force, but Jesus sees it wielded through humility, gentleness, truth and kindness.

This is Peter’s ‘Looking Glass moment”. In his commentary, Tom Wright likens it to the Looking Glass world of Lewis Carroll. In the story of “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, Alice discovers that if you want to go somewhere in that looking glass world, its no good trying to walk towards it – when you look up you will find yourself further away from your destination than ever. In order to get there you must walk in what seems to be the opposite direction. I think Peter may feel that he has entered just such a world as Jesus explains that to wield power as Messiah, to enter the reign of the Kingdom of God, he must in fact allow the elders and chief priests and scribes to arrest him and have him put to death, This is very the opposite of what Peter thinks should happen. 

However, although Jesus’ enemies may appear to have won when Jesus dies on the cross that is not the case at all. All this has to happen to enable his resurrection on the third day. Jesus will then be raised from the dead, will be glorified as king and will dispense justice to the world. For the moment though, how this can be remains a mystery to the disciples.

I wonder though how often we are like Peter in this moment?  We become stumbling blocks to the progress of the kingdom plan because our thinking remains focussed on human things instead of divine things – thinking in one direction when we should be looking in the glass to see things in the opposite way? God thinks very differently to the way that we do and if we want to take our place in his great plan we have to learn to think as he does – not as the world thinks For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Cor 3:19).

As we think about our situation now in the CoVid crisis and consider how we might return to worshipping in our church buildings: – what are the things we are focussing on; and what are the divine things we should be addressing instead?

Perhaps as we think about these things we should be thinking about questions like: – what are the things that really help us to further god’s kingdom here, where we are? And which are those things that  we could really leave behind? What are those things that have made us tired and weary and lacking in the energy we need to further the kingdom in other ways? Perhaps they are burdens we should put down at the feet of Christ.

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”.  If we want to follow Jesus we have to take up our cross and follow him. 

In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was a common sentence and the condemned were made to carry their crosses through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of crucifixion just as Jesus did. Jesus is saying that this is the level of sacrifice and self denial we should be prepared for if we want to follow him.   We need to devote everything – there are no half measures when it comes to following Jesus. I like the metaphor that Tom wright draws with learning to swim: “If you keep your foot on the bottom of the pool you’ll never work out how to do it. You have to lose your life to find it. Whats the use of keeping your feet on the bottom when the water gets too deep? You have the choice: swim or drown” . We have to give up that apparent safety if we want o make progress.

When Jesus says “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (vs 25), I wonder how it would be if we replaced word ‘life’ for ‘church’? For many of us it is almost the same thing – our lives are so embedded in the life of the church. It’s that looking glass kind of thinking again. If we want to save our life / church we need to be prepared to give it up. The more we try to hang on to what we have, the more we will lose of it. But If we are prepared to give up the life / church we have then God will lead us to something new and more wonderful. 

Again we need to ask ourselves how we should be applying this thinking to our situation right now. Many of us may be keen to get back to the church life we had before Covid struck. The ways of worshiping, the activities that we spent our time on. But it may not be possible, if at all for all of them to return as they were before. Perhaps God is actually saying that we need to let some of them go. In return we  may find new and more effective ways to communicate the gospel message, we will truly find the way to the kingdom for as Jesus says: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (vs 26). 

Sometimes churches seems to be busy, active, successful places – but over time their thinking has become so focussed on human things instead of divine things that they have ceased to be the powerhouses for the kingdom that they are meant to be. Is this true in your case?

Finally, Jesus tells the disciples what will happen after he is put to death: “The Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”. For the disciples, this was in the future, but for us, we already have Jesus in all his glory. But are we ready to take our place in the kingdom? Are we ready to look at things in a different way? To ignore what the world thinks in favour of the wisdom of God? To give up your life in order to find it?

Andrew Biggs 25th August 2020.

Worship at Home Sunday 23rd August

Welcome to today’s worship post.

Worship at Home 23rd August

Year A 21st in Ordinary Time.

Matthew 16:13-20

Who do you say that I am?

Near the beginning of Matthew’s gospel Jesus begins his ministry after his baptism by John in the Jordan: he begins by calling Disciples to follow him and then begins to travel through Galilee proclaiming the that the kingdom is now here, healing the sick and the suffering and teaching about the Kingdom. There is a lot of teaching centred on the Beatitudes – the Sermon on the Mount, followed by a number of miracles: he touches and heals a man with leprosy – breaking a long held taboo; then he breaks another taboo by healing the servant of a Centurion, a non Jew.

As people hear and see stories of what Jesus is doing and saying they begin to raise questions about just who this Jesus is: 

When Jesus brings back to life a little girl who has died: Who has power over life and death in this way? 

When Jesus speaks the sea is calmed and the wind dies down: Who is this that even the winds and the waves obey him? 

When Jesus casts out evil spirits from two men and sends them into a herd of pigs: Who is it that has power over evil spirits in this way?

When Jesus heals on the Sabbath he is challenged as a law breaker – but who has the right to break these laws?  

The Answer? – the one who gave life in the first place can bring life to the dead; the one who made the winds and the waves in the first place has power over them; the one who is the creator of all things and therefore has power over all, and one who is pure love such that no evil can stand.

These actions are not just acts of compassion they are also done, and are reported by, the gospel writer in order to show us who Jesus really is. Now Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them about the people who have heard these stories and seen and heard the things he has done and said – what are they saying about him?

Their answers may at first sound a bit bizarre to us. The disciples tell him: ‘Well some people are saying that you are John the Baptist, but others are saying you are Elijah and others still are saying you must be Jeremiah, or one of the prophets’.  Most of these people were Old Testament  prophets, long gone by Jesus’ time, and John the Baptist has also recently been put to death so how could Jesus be any of these people? 

Well it was a common belief that important figures from the past could be in some way reincarnated. It was widely believed for example that Moses and Elijah would one day return so it seems people were debating which of these characters Jesus might be.

Then Jesus asks the really important question: “Who do you say that I am?” And Simon (as he is still known until this point) responds “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God”. This is a light bulb moment for him. Simon has shown a level of understanding that tells Jesus that all the work he has done until now has been worthwhile – he has got the message, he knows who Jesus is. But it’s not yet time for everyone else to know and so Jesus tells the disciples to keep this information to themselves for now.

But Jesus blesses Simon and calls him now Peter – the rock – for the first time. It’s a name that sticks but what does he mean exactly when he says (vs 17) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter,and on this rockI will build my church”.

There is a lot of debate about precisely what Jesus means here. Simon has been given a new name  ‘Peter’ which means ‘Rock’ and Peter has been been given a special understanding of who Jesus is: an understanding that Jesus says has been given to him especially by God. Its like his eyes have been closed until now and suddenly they have opened so that he can see Jesus properly and recognise who he really is – the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. So Peter has been given a special roll to play in letting people know who Jesus is and in the building of his church, because Jesus also tells him “on this rock I will build my church”.  

Obviously if you are going to build a church it needs to be built on a strong foundation. But, like any of us, Peter is far from perfect, he has his faults and he will be the one will let Jesus down at a crucial time when Jesus is arrested. He will deny knowing him and he will run away and hide out of fear. Perhaps Jesus knows this when he refers to him as  “Simon, Son of Jonah”. You may remember Jonah from the Old Testament story – Jonah who tried to runaway from what God asked him to do, got swallowed up by a whale was miraculously saved and ended up doing what God asked anyway. Perhaps Jesus knows that ultimately, Peter also will end up being a strong advocate for him.

Peter may not be perfect but he does end up being the one who begins to call the church immediately after Pentecost.  In Acts 2 we can read how Peter addressed the crowd after the coming of the Holy Spirit and how thousands of people who heard him were added as disciples of Jesus – these people became the foundation of the church. So Peter becomes the rock that is the foundation of the church.

But it’s important to note as well that although Peter may have been the rock, it is Jesus who does the building.  “On this rock I will build” he says. I’m no Greek scholar but I gather that the Greek word used here means ‘house-build’ but the same word means ‘family’. So it seems that when Jesus says he will build his church, he is also saying that he will build his family ie. the church of Jesus is the family of those who place their faith in him and call him Messiah, those whose eyes are opened to who Jesus really is just as Peter’s were. 

At this time we have learned that the Church really is the family of Jesus, – not the building where we gather or the activities we engage in normally. We are still the church of Jesus Christ even when we cannot be in a particular place or do particular things. We are still the people who recognise Jesus as ‘Messiah, the Son of the Living God’ and that is the most important thing about being church.

As we begin to contemplate how we can begin to meet again and re-engage with activities we must keep this central to our thinking. It doesn’t matter what we cannot do – what matters is what we can do to love Jesus and love one another, and to worship the Son of the Living God. 

Perhaps some of the things we did before we cannot do again for some considerable time. We know that church cannot go back to the way it was until we can be sure that we can do so safely without the threat of CoVid 19. But we can still tell God that we love him and we can still share the gospel with those we meet. We may just have to do it in different ways than we are used to, and maybe that is what God intends.

And while Peter was the rock on which Jesus built his church, we remember also that Jesus is the rock, the foundation of our lives. This week we remember especially all those who have had such a hard time with exam results for the exams that didn’t happen. Whatever happens, Jesus can be the rock on which we depend and he will always be there to sustain us and give us strength in difficult times.

God Bless.

Andrew Biggs 17th August 2020.

Worship at Home 16th August

Welcome to our worship together this morning.

BIBLE REFERENCE: Genesis 45: 1-15;  Matt. 15: 21-28

Introduction

Today’s Bible passages are about power, mercy and the restoration of human relationships. Take Joseph for example his story comes to its climax.

It included greed, jealousy, sibling rivalry, sex, political intrigue. It has all the ingredients of a soap opera. 

Joseph has now become the virtual ruler of Egypt.

His brothers who have been so cruel to him are now in desperate need. 

Hearing that the government of Egypt had managed a famine crisis so much better and had food in reserve they had gone there in desperation. 

I can’t explain why they don’t recognise him perhaps just because they don’t expect it to be him but he certainly recognises them.

The tables are turned.

The one who was at the mercy of his brothers and was so cruelly treated by them is now in power over them; he can choose whether or not to help them. 

With one wave his hand he could now take revenge for the terrible wrongs that have been done to him so long ago. 

Joseph though is portrayed as someone who was close to God. His actions reflect the ways of God. He cannot exercise his power with cruelty he is compelled to act with the kind of mercy that comes from the very heart of God.

He keeps on telling them how God has been at work in his life. “God sent me before you to preserve life,” he says. “God sent me before you to preserve you a remnant on earth.” “God has made me Lord of all Egypt.” 

Their families including their children and their grandchildren will all be secure even their flocks and their herds. And most importantly of all Joseph is concerned about his beloved father. 

It’s not always easy to see God at work in some of the most difficult and challenging circumstances of life. And because of that we too often conclude that God is absent from those situations of human suffering and defeat.

Joseph’s story tells us something very different God, the One who rules over the universe never ceases to care 

Joseph reflects the nature of God. 

He had every reason to reject his family but like God he loves them even to the point of sharing in their suffering.

The Canaanite Woman

From Matthew’s gospel we get an even more perplexing story. 

It’s almost impossible for us to understand or even defend the fact that Jesus calls a vulnerable woman a dog. From the point of view of the gospel writer the whole encounter emphasises his understanding that the gospel is first for the Jews before it is passed to the gentiles. 

There are plenty of hints that the good news is universal, but that is to be unleashed after the resurrection.

In line with that perception Matthew recounts Jesus telling her that he has not come for her kind of people; he must go to the House of Israel first. 

She will have nothing of that. She is persistent and she won’t be constrained by narrow views of God’s mercy. 

She is clear eyed in her understanding of her situation. Jesus is the son of David. 

He is the one in the position of power.  He can choose whether or not to help her.

At first it sounds like he is not going to.

But the woman knows something important.  God’s mercy cannot be fenced in or contained.  It cannot be limited to a privileged few.

Because of what she says, Jesus changes his mind. He recognises great faith in her and her daughter is healed. 

There are so many complex strands to this story. 

Jesus is challenged by an outsider. She is on the margins for several reasons partly cause she is a woman and partly because she is not a Jew. 

Jesus has to learn from her something that will shape his ministry and it will be of lasting importance to the whole Christian Church. In a very real sense, she ministered to Jesus and in doing so set him free to minister to her and her family.

All of our churches want. to be welcoming and inclusive

This woman’s encounter with Jesus helps us understand what that might truly mean. Jesus was willing to have his assumptions challenged and the way he went about his ministry changed because of the insights of someone who was from the outside. That’s what it means to exercise real hospitality and welcome. 

Power, mercy and the restoring of human relationships. The overriding theme in both of our stories is one of mercy. 

The mercy of God that we have all experienced in so many ways means that wherever we have any kind of influence we’ve got to exercise it with mercy. That’s the key to building healthy human relationships. 

Rev John Hellyer 16th August 2016