Tag Archives: Paul

Ambitious for God

Big Ambitions

When your ambition is big then your efforts should be even bigger – Anon

Evening reflection based on Romans 15:14-29

When you were younger, what were your ambitions, your hopes and dreams? I know I spent hours riding my imaginary horse around our garden, over gymkhana fences of upturned buckets and bamboo canes, dreaming that I was appearing on the Horse of the Year show (the one programme in the year I was allowed to stay up late for) as a famous show jumper.

We recently ran a series of School Prayer Spaces at St James’ school and one of the spaces, Tardis Prayers, was a chance to wonder what we might be doing in 10, 20 or even 40 years’ time. The concept of such a huge time scale was daunting for some, but all of the children gave a bit of thought to what they hoped for.

I was expecting a lot of desires for becoming famous celebrities, and we did get our share of that – the famous footballers, dancers, singers, rappers and You Tubers (you’ll have to look that up if you’re not sure what it involves) and of course there were plenty of the more traditional careers of becoming a teacher, policeman, lawyers, engineers or vets. Then there were the more unusual and unlikely roles – to be the President of America or the Queen, and my particular favourite, to be a parrot trainer and to own a parrot.

However, there were others that thought more about the type of people they wanted to be – a person who helps homeless people, to help end world hunger and all wars, to be caring and loving – summed up in one request, ‘To God. I love the world. Please help us to be kind and in peace and together.’ We even had one potential Missionary named Chloe. She said, ‘When I am older I would like to travel around the world to poor countries like Haiti. I would like to go and help them and do church sessions. I would really like to see Daphne, my sponsored child’.

What all of this did show was that even our youngest members of society have ambitions and I think it’s true that most people regardless of their age, want to know what their purpose is in life and how they are going to achieve it. In his letter to the people of Rome, Paul is explaining that he has found just that and he lays out a path for others to discover theirs.

Paul had huge ambitions for mission. He knew very clearly that his mission was to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish sections of society, and the wider groups of people out of that small area in the Middle East. A mission that stretched across the Mediterranean region as far as we know to Spain. The edges of the known world to some extent

To personally take the gospel where people had never heard it, where Christ had never been named and it was not the same one given to everyone. Paul was called to stay in Jerusalem, Apollos was a build on other’s foundations kind of disciple, a bit like one of our Tardis prayers which was to take Bill Gates place to own Microsoft. In addition this was a new development for Paul, to go to these new uninformed people and places because at the beginning he had spent a lot of time in Jewish synagogues, teaching church leader, but now, at this point in his life he had narrowed his ambition down to a specific ministry focus, like a funnel that had started broad.

How though, do you know specifically what God’s purpose is for us? Well we should notice that Paul grounds his purpose in what God has declared as his own purpose through the Scriptures,

Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, but as it is written,

‘Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.

Many people though whilst trying to figure out the will of God for their own lives, haven’t stopped to ask what God’s purpose is in the world. We could be the best teacher, the best lawyer, the best volunteer in the world, all great ambitions, but are their agendas the same as God’s agenda? We can be very sensitive to the needs of the world, wanting to make a difference, to relieve suffering, and that is a good ambition, but the greatest need in the world is for people to hear about Jesus, because eternal suffering would be an even greater form of suffering.

What Paul was being called to do may not be what we are called to do, but we can try to identify what it is by sensing the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us, and whatever the gifts are that we have to interpret them in the light of the bigger picture of God’s purposes stated in his word – to get the gospel to the ends of the earth!

So let’s do all we can to be ready to say, ‘Yes, Here I am Lord, let my ambitions be your ambitions, your purpose be my purpose. Reveal to me the specific calling you have for me to further your kingdom and whatever I’m good at, whatever gifts I’ve been given, and help me to use them well for your glory’.

Amen

God’s Attitude Should Be Ours

 

Rainbow Through the Trees

Our attitudes to God and each other should be the same as his attitude to us. A sermon for Evensong based on Jeremiah 7:1-16 and Romans 9:14-26

May I speak and may you hear though the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want us to reflect this evening on our attitude to God and our attitude to each other as Christians. How our differences can be a stumbling block not only to our relationship with God but also to those who see us a stumbling block to any sort of belief in God or the Christian Faith. By ‘us’ I am not necessarily referring to individual Christians here at St James’ church, but a more general broader identity, but it does us no harm to consider what our own attitudes might be in some of these situations.

First though, we have to go back to the pre-Christian ‘church’ where Jeremiah’s radical and hard hitting words proclaim God’s judgement on a nation that believed they were unassailable in their right to God’s protection and salvation. Their interpretation of the scriptures, the laws that protected their faith and their judgement of others was predestined and incontestable. However, they were in for a shock – there was no way that God was going to let them treat the temple in a mindless, shallow way by assuming that forgiveness was automatic simply by walking through the doors.

As Jeremiah stresses quite forcibly – ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’ – a triple, Trinitarian reminder, that even though Christ was yet to live on earth, that here was Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Here was the simple statement that if you want to be true believers then you have to stop abusing foreigners and the weakest members of society, the easy targets. Neither could you disregard the most basic of commandments nor cherry pick those that have more in common with your way of thinking or lifestyle. If you mistreat your holy places, turning them in to a ‘den of robbers’ – a sentiment echoed by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel – then you should know that God will not protect them, they will be abandoned and eventually destroyed – there was and is no automatic security of God being with you… A self-righteous attitude will not save you.

The people’s disobedience of God’s commandments, brings what would appear be a harsh response and directive to Jeremiah, ‘do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.’

For the people in Rome, whom Paul was addressing, they were struggling with their identity, attempting to understand what the term ‘Israel’ meant in regard to being chosen people. Paul explains that God hasn’t broken his covenant to original people of Israel, as this was never intended to just apply to the race who shared Abraham’s blood group, but, as he states earlier in his letter as well, those who shared in his faith. Moreover, here was a God who would not be contained by people’s views and attitudes, here was a God who sprung surprises even on the most faithful, choosing Jacob over Esau, demonstrating his sovereign right to do so. Hardening Pharaoh’s heart to highlight his greater power

God does what he wants, as evidenced in the metaphor of the potter’s right to create from the same lump of clay whatever objects he chooses. He has a purpose for of his creations, and the fact that some are chosen and some are not is not the same as pre-destination, this is amazing grace.

God's Amazing Grace

The belief in the omnipotence of the one true God may lead to the conviction that God exerts control over every human action, but God is not only powerful but just.  It is not an injustice to be merciful, to apparently treat some people better than they deserve. To be chosen by God is a gracious gift, not an achievable reward. He can be trusted because he had done what he promised, calling people regardless of their faith; their gender, their sexuality.

We may question why, as Paul says, ‘Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’’. That conversation though is between God and us as individuals, others have no right to ask the same of a person.

There is an arrogant complacency within the Church of England that breaks my heart for it as an institution. An arrogance among Christians today who feed their own theologies into the media, which then labels divisive and exclusive views as representative of all Christians. It is not our job to decide who is unworthy and it certainly isn’t for us to link unworthiness to those who disagree with our theology based on limited fragments of scripture.

John Barton in his commentary, describes God as ‘an untamed deity, a wild thing not reducible to theological formulae.’

As Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.’

As Christians, representative of the one, true God we do well to make this our own attitude. Amen

 

Treasure in Clay Jars

 

Jars of clay

What is it that makes us special? Thoughts from this morning’s sermon focussing on the reading 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I am nobody special. I will never become a worldwide known church leader. I will probably never become a diocesan-wide known church leader, but that’s okay. I will never be troubled by celebrity and stardom. I may appear from time to time in some charming local newspaper article about fetes or fundraising, but the paparazzi will not be camped outside of my door; that’s not a problem. My name will never be immortalized with a monument set up by the local community, although perhaps for a generation there will be some who will speak fondly of me, it won’t matter.

A remnant of my thoughts may continue to exist somewhere in the ether of the world-wide web, but it will probably be something that people accidentally come across whilst searching for something else, an amusing diversion, but quickly clicked away from – and that will be absolutely fine.

This isn’t an attempt at false modesty or to deny that any gifts or talents that I may have aren’t being put to good use. It isn’t to say that my existence is worthless or that I haven’t loved and been loved. It’s just that I am not special in my own right. But then very few people are. In the bible, those whom God chose to make known his message, were very often the most ordinary of people, they did not seek to proclaim themselves, in fact they were often reluctant to do so. But they trusted that God would give them the words to say, the actions to do and the courage to keep on trusting even when things looked like it would come to nothing.

Take for example Mary, the mother of Jesus, a young girl chosen not for her status, for we hear in the Magnificat, her song of praise to God when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, that ‘God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant’. Nor for her connections, betrothed as she was to a humble carpenter; but someone who was a woman of great humility and whose strength came from her knowing that she had achieved nothing except what God had enabled her to do, ‘for the Mighty One has done great things for me’.

Or perhaps we can think of Peter, a simple fisherman, whose enthusiasm often overtook his reasoning, whose bluntness many times led him to say exactly what he thought rather than reflect on what he was being taught. Tender hearted and inconsolable when he realised that he had thought only of himself when challenged about his relationship with Jesus, but who, when filled with the Holy Spirit was bold and fearless in proclaiming the gospel, ‘But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them’.

And of course there are many more from inarticulate Moses; through ‘I know best’ Jonah; to womanizing David, all unlikely choices to participate in God’s mission, all fragile human beings in their own right, but they were given the power to be something special… Like humble clay pots they contained a treasure.

Now if you’re going to place a valuable thing in some sort of vessel would you choose a clay jar? Yet, it really is the most appropriate material.

I wonder how many of you saw the series, The Great British Pottery Throw Down, a bit like the Great British Bake Off, but baking of another sort, in which contestants were given various types of clay and challenged to make things from simple drinking pots to whole toilet systems. Workhorse utilities to elaborate designs and functions yet fashioned from that most basic commodity, a lump of earth.

Middleport-Pottery-in-the-Summer-The-Great-Exhibition-Pottery-Throwdown-25

Pottery Toilet from the Great British Pottery Throw Down

When Paul is referring to jars of clay, he is referring to humankind itself – that we are the clay jars, a metaphor that takes us back to the description in Genesis, of God forming humans from the dust of the earth. However, we are called to hold within us the shining treasure, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. But the fact remains that vessels made of clay are not very sturdy. If you tip over or drop a piece of pottery it is easily broken, but Paul says there is a reason for God trusting us to hold within us this treasure. We are reminded that on our own we have no power, no special strengths or talents, we are as fragile as a jar of clay, but God’s all-surpassing power ensures that this clay can sustain all sorts of pressures so that his divine treasure is taken care of.

Paul reminds us that even as fragile, human beings, easily broken it is not only Christ’s life, but also his death that has made a change in us. He goes on to describe it in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”(Galatians 2:20); Reminding us again that as jars of clay, we can’t depend on our own power and strength.

And the overriding purpose for this is ‘so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies’. As Christians we are called to act as guiding lights and at other times flash warning signs; we need to seek out those in darkness and draw people into the light. We are called to live our lives as beacons of hope to those around us. Each of us will do this in different ways, some of us will become blazing flares that light up the whole sky around us, whilst others will be the constant inextinguishable glow of embers providing warmth and comfort.

Like an ordinary lump of clay, God forms each and every one of us into something that is useful and beautiful; like a potter he fires us in the kiln of life to give us extra strength, and he places within us the light of Christ so that we can shine out of the darkness.

As I said at the beginning, I nor anybody else is special if we live in our own right, but when we become the bearers of Christ’s light then that makes us special beyond measure.

Amen

The Potter's Hands

Come and See…

 

come-and-see

Come and see – John 1:29-42

 

How do we share good news? Do we rejoice that we have heard something wonderful but forget that others too might like to hear it? Do we ever think to invite them to come and hear it for themselves?

Questions that we all need to ask ourselves from time to time, and the Gospel on the second Sunday of Epiphany helps us to consider the importance of issuing that invitation.

Based on the readings: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42

Last week I was asked give a talk to a Mothers’ Union group under the title ‘My Journey… So Far. it was actually a very useful exercise which enabled me to reflect on what had been turning points in my life; who had been part of those and what it was that brought me to where I am today.

I also liked the idea of ‘so far’, because it helped me to see that in spite of my advancing years there are times when I seem no closer to becoming a mature Christian than I was at the beginning. Also where was that beginning? At my birth? At my baptism? At my Confirmation, Ordination or Priesting? What I do know is that somewhere along that timeline I was invited to ‘come and see’. I wonder if you know the circumstance or people who said the same to you and what was it that we were being invited to see?

For me, despite a non-church background, it was the fact that when I wanted to arrange the baptism of my youngest daughter Ruth, the vicar who was preparing us – without a hint of contempt or disapproval – simply pointed out that neither parents nor godparents had been confirmed. It was a subtle nudge as if to say, you want to join this club, but you have no idea about its constitution, its purpose or its demands. Without using the exact words it was like he was saying why not ‘come and see’, perhaps then you’ll know what the attraction is.

So I did just that, I took myself off to church one Sunday, which was pretty scary when you’re on your own. I got to know the people there, both as fellow worshipper and through social events. They were friendly, helpful and I found their attitude to life, which reflected their faith, very attractive. I joined Lent groups; study groups; I read and discussed important life questions; I listened and learned. Not just from those up front, but talking to all different sorts of people, and not just those in the church but with friends who were not Christians. But then it wasn’t just about me.

He said to them, ‘Come and see.’
They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day
John 1:39

One of the hardest points in my life was making a decision to talk openly about my faith with my work colleagues at the school I was working in. I can remember having to make a real conscious decision to do this. Not by telling them, ‘Jesus loves you and you need to believe in him to be saved’ – although technically that is true. Instead, I’d chat about what I’d been doing in church over the weekend, the church social events I’d attended and saying to them they’d have to come along next time as I’m sure they’d enjoy it. Amazingly, it was as if the floodgates had been opened and other Christians began to appear out of the woodwork so to speak, to join in the conversations. It became natural and easy-going, again an unspoken ‘come and see’; and John’s gospel reflects this process very clearly.

John’s gospel doesn’t give us Jesus’ baptism in real time, but a retrospective recount of this epiphany moment and an affirmation by John the Baptist that Jesus lives and moves in the power of God. No shrinking violet, John, he further witnesses to this fact by his exclamation to two of his disciples that this is the one they have been waiting for – the Messiah. He has whet their appetites and they are interested in finding out more. So they follow Jesus, who asks them what are they looking for. He doesn’t assume anything, he wants them to discover for themselves, so he invites them to come and spend some time with him, and we can only imagine the conversations and questions they must have had. What we also see is that Jesus is beginning to call a group of people together, to build a community that will be able to hold that knowledge for the world and share it. All through that simple response ‘come and see’.

Now, those two men could have just gone home and talked about an amazing afternoon they’d just spend, but at least one of them, Andrew, realised that what he had heard was ‘good news’, something to be shared and so he brought his brother, Simon, so that he could see for himself. I wonder when was the last time we invited one of our friends or neighbours to come and join us at church; when we invited them to come and see? We have to remember though, that come and see isn’t about saying come to church, sit through a service where everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing – standing up, sitting down, singing responses (and believe me that was exactly what it was like for me on my first visit to church). Where we’ll sign you up for a rota, get you on to a committee. It should be more about simply come… and see if the people are welcoming, see if what’s being talked about is being lived out, spend some time with us.

 

welcome_to_church

Extending a welcome to church

 

The trouble is, like me previously, we know that we have seen and heard something good, but for some reason we feel reluctant to share it. It’s great talking with your friends from church about your faith, but it takes a lot of courage to speak to other people. Maybe nowadays, when we are surrounded by so much that is secular and politically correct, we think people will somehow see us as strange, misguided fanatics; and we want to fit into our neighbourhoods.

Or maybe we pre-judge who we think might be interested; ‘they won’t want to come’, ‘I’ve never heard them talk about anything religious’. We need to realise that we are not looking for ‘perfect fit’ people, we are not the ones who decide whether or not a person is willing to hear or understand the message. After all when Andrew invites his brother Simon to come and see Jesus we could be forgiven, bearing in mind all we will come to discover about the latter’s character, that he might not be the sort of person that Jesus wants to be part of his community. Yet when Jesus looks at the volatile, unstable Simon he immediately renames him Cephas – which means Peter or ‘rock’, the very foundation of Christ’s followers – because Jesus sees the potential of the most unlikely people.

Christians are called to witness together, to learn from each other as well as from God. As Paul says in his letter to Corinthians, we are called to be saints – not some mystic holy supermen or women, not necessarily sophisticated or intellectual, but ordinary, just like everyone who calls on Jesus is equal. We just cant afford not to share our faith, not in these times of secular, self-determination. We can’t afford to keep quiet and hope that somehow our faith will be shared by some sort of telepathic osmosis. After all what Paul tell us in his letter to the Romans? ‘How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?’

How can they hear, unless someone tells them?
Romans 10:14

I don’t believe that I, personally, have ever brought anyone to Christ. That’s a job for God through the Holy Spirit to accomplish, but I have talked to people and invited people and encouraged people to come and discover for themselves why they might want to say yes to Jesus’ call, as I am sure we all have in different ways. As I said at the beginning, it’s worth reflecting on how Jesus reached out to us. It is isn’t always through a direct communication. Sometimes Jesus reaches out through other people, especially his followers. Sometimes it will be through us, his disciples in the world today, that others are able to learn about Jesus. Maybe it will be you who tells someone, ‘I have found the Messiah! Come with me and see for yourself!’

That then surely is our challenge, in the weeks, months, years ahead, that in order to offer the invitation to come and see we have to go and tell. To share our faith with others – what we’ve learned, what we know to be true, what we’ve experienced in our own life. To witness to him, not only with words, but in deeds of loving service; and as Paul reminded the Corinthians, we are enriched and strengthened  by God to be able to do this.

We have heard the good news, we have received the good news and if it’s good news for us then it’s good news for everyone – so let’s all extend that invitation to ‘Come and See!’

 

 

To kvetch or not to kvetch?

Piles of work!

Piles of work!

Maybe it’s just me, but I still get really excited when I come across new words. When I was reading Betsy Kirk’s blog* a few days ago I noticed that she had used the word kvetching. At first I thought it was a typo, but curiosity got the better of me and a quick google came up with a definition and it turns out to be Hebrew slang.

kvetch
1. verb (used without object) – to complain, especially chronically
2. noun – Also, kvetcher, a person who kvetches

The next challenge was to find out if it appeared in any passages in the bible. Again a trawl of bible translations came up with a verse in The Complete Jewish Bible

Do everything without kvetching or arguing– Philippians 2:14

Can’t you just imagine Paul pacing up and down as he dictated his response to the church at Philippi’s moans and groans, pausing to search for that exact work he wanted to use and coming up with kvetching! Trouble is it turns out it has its origins in 1960’s America from the Yiddish word kvteshn.

So biblical Jews did not kvetch – yet their ancestors, the Hebrews, certainly did lots of complaining and chronically so! The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are littered with their gripes – ‘Why have you brought us here to starve when back home we had cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic… I don’t think much of this flaky bread and there’s no meat in our diets…. (21 days later) What quail again!… I’m thirsty…. let’s go back… we’re all going to die…. etc… etc.’ No wonder Moses retired to his tent a lot – probably with his head under his pillow, mumbling something to Aaron to go and sort them out because he’d had enough!

The fact is it’s really easy to complain about things, it doesn’t take much effort and you get to blame everyone else for what is wrong. Maybe instead of kvetching then we should become kvetchants; there is a difference. Actually I think I just made that word up – try complainants instead. The latter means that some action is taken to rectify the problem.

I can sit and moan about being too hot or I could move into the shade; I can carp on about the fact that there’s nothing good to watch any of the TV channels or I could turn it off and read a book, I can whinge about young people hanging about on the streets or I could volunteer to help out at a youth centre.

Complainants can also act on behalf of other people, to complain about their situations; the lack of facilities for youth in our area, I could get in touch with the local council; the devastating effects of benefit cuts on older people, I could write to my Member of Parliament; the appalling lack of opportunities for every child to have an education,  I could sign a petition to our world leaders.

Returning then to Paul’s reason’s as to why the Philippians shouldn’t be kvetchers:

Do everything without kvetching or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. 

As Christian’s we are called to shine as lights in the world – to uncover the dark places and flood them with sunshine and we can’t do that if we sometimes remain sitting in a darkened room waiting for someone to come and open the door and show us the way out, because someone else has obviously forgotten to feed the meter!

No doubt over the next few months there may be many times when I will be tempted to indulge in a bit of kvetching – ‘I’ll never get this essay finished in time…. how am I going to find 500 words to cut out of this presentation…. is theology meant to be this difficult to understand? In which case you have my express permission to gently, but firmly remind me to quit whinging, get on with it and trust that whatever happens, God will be right there in it with me…

*Betsy Kirk’s blog can be found at http://partofthemain.wordpress.com/