Katherine Baxter Local Preacher Girl.

Master Let me see again.

SERMON PREACHED AT WESLEY'S CHAPEL 17th JULY 20016

“MASTER, LET ME SEE AGAIN”

 

“Please take us in, your country is our only hope , our last chance. If you say no, you will be signing our death warrant, don’t turn us away, don’t send us back we beg you”

 

This was a telegram sent by the passengers of a boat packed full with 1000 refugees desperate to flee their country-the boat was packed beyond its capacity by men, women and children who had been stripped of all they had except an entry visa to ……Cuba…..this was JUNE 1939, the refugees were Jews, trying to flee the Nazi persecution in Germany. The boat was called SS ST LOUIS, a down at heel old ocean liner that had seen better days.

By the time they reached Cuba, political situations had changed and Cuba forbade them entry…….for the next month they sailed up and down the Coast of America and Canada, the US sent out ships to prevent the boat coming close to Land. Every Country in that area said NO.

 

 

This isn’t the first time I’ve used this illustration in a sermon in the last year or so and it’s not going to be the last.  Because it highlights so tragically how history so often repeats itself, how human nature and fear can make all of us, nations included… to turn a blind eye to desperate people in need seeking refuge from the darkness of evil.

When we turn away from what is right, from what is true, from the good news of Jesus Christ; we are living in a dark world just like Bartimaeus- the man in our gospel reading today.

As tragic and frightening as physical blindness is, the greater tragedy is when we do not even see that we are blind. We fumble our way through life believing that this is as good as it gets. We are content to sit by the roadside and beg under our cloak of darkness.

How and what we see, shapes the world we live in. Bartimaeus knew this. He was a blind beggar. He was going nowhere, he bumped and stumbled his way around. Every day was the same for Bartimaeus. He sat by the roadside, holding out his cloak and begged. He was in darkness. There was no illumination within him or around him. The darkness covered him like his cloak.

At some point or another all of us sit by the roadside, beggars, cloaked in darkness, unable to see.

There’s a way in which we can be blind too.

 

Back to the story of SS St LOUIS and its voyage along the American coast.

Every country said no. The last chance was Canada. The passengers sent desperate telegrams to the Prime Minister of Canada ….one read.

Gentlemen,

In great distress and desperate need, a refugee family addresses itself to you for help and rescue. Our distress, particularly our children, a 4 year old and 7 year old, who are starving. There is nothing left for us but suicide. In desperation we appeal to you for a permit to enter your country. Surely there are people who will have pity on us. My wife will refuse no work, we will farm, we will do anything in order to enter your country. Please heed our cry, before it’s too late.

It was signed Dr Jacob and Cecilia Stein.

 

The boat with all the refugees had no alternative but to sail back to Europe after Canada refused entry. Europe was also halting the influx of Jews at the start of the War. The passengers sailed back to Germany to meet their fate in the camps and gas chambers.

 

This story is a challenge to all of us. When Bartimaeus got up from the roadside and asked Jesus “My teacher, let me see again”

It was as if he was saying “Stop me stumbling in the dark, help me to see what’s happening around me, help me to understand people who are talking to me, and who are so intolerant of me.”

Jesus responded positively. Everything we know about Jesus would lead us to expect this response. BUT what if he’d said NO?

Isn’t that exactly how the passengers on that boat were treated? And isn’t that too often the way we respond to the needs around us? We see and we hear, but the challenge is whether we really see and hear.

Do we really want to see the needs of our neighbours, the poor, or the marginalized? Do we really want to follow JESUS CHRIST?

True seeing is more than simply observing with our physical eyes. It implies a deeper knowing and understanding. Bartimaeus showed an ability to see before he gained his sight. He recognised Jesus’ compassion, his humanity and grace. He understood his need for mercy and so did Jesus. This was clear sightedness indeed.  By a blind man! Only then did the critical exchange which led to the recovery of the blind man’s sight take place, this was a case of SEEING WITH THE EYES OF FAITH.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the people who received those telegrams from the desperate people on board that ship had seen and understood the need that they were faced with. Instead of which, out of their profound darkness, blindly dismissing the request and committing those poor people to their fate.

This seeing, however, is not without risk. If we really want to see then we must be willing to change and be changed. We must be willing to fight for what is right, to stand up against injustice, we must fight not with the tools of violence but with the tools of love and reconciliation.  Sometimes that risk is too much. Sometimes is far easier and safer to turn a blind eye and choose not to see. To put your cloak over your head and hope it will go away.

We are all perfectly aware of the referendum which took place three weeks ago. Some of us may have voted on one side, others on the other. Opinions will differ on that matter but what is certain is that post –Brexit Britain is divided, no doubt a consequence of that vote. The fabric of British society, enriched by the diversity of its population, is in danger of being unravelled and torn to shreds.

The Police are already reporting a massive rise in race hate crimes. All this because we seemed unable (even unwilling) to see what was there before our very eyes.

Jo Cox seems to have seen these things, here she was, a young woman and mother in her prime, gunned down by a maniac whose feelings had clearly been stirred up by some of the rhetoric being employed in the campaign. Listen to what her husband said just after her death.

Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now – ONE that our precious children are bathed in love and TWO, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. He ended saying….Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”

I’m sure we can all see that, really see that, not only by making sense of what we see and read, but also, and more profoundly with the eye of conscience in our deepest selves.

One)To bathe people in love and to fight against hatred.

 Isn’t that our calling?

Two) To reach out to the marginalized of our society.

Isn’t that our calling too?

3)To hear the voices of those in need and not turn away

That’s definitely our calling.

4)TO STAND UP FOR JUSTICE AND TOLERANCE

Can we imagine a higher calling than that?

Robert Mackenzie was the Prime Minister of Canada who rejected the plea of those refugees. In later years he came to regret that decision but, it was too late by then. We must never find ourselves in that position.

When Jesus asked Bartimaeus “ What do you want me to do for you?

He was putting that question not only to the blind man sitting by the roadside but to everyone of us today, and every one who has ever lived in darkness. It’s an urgent question, a question that Jesus puts to us over and over, again and again. Bartimaues was clear. He pleaded “Master, let me see”.

And that must be our answer too…. If we believe in compassion, if we believe in kindness, if we believe in the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, that will be OUR PLEA.

 

Bob Dylan sang his signature song Blowin in the wind over half century ago. Written against a background of racial prejudice and hatred ….He recognized the tendency we all have, to turn away from the person in need.

That well known line in that song “How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see”

His words are as challenging today as they were then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/audio/2016/Sermon%20160131.MP3

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

 PREACHED AT WESLEY's CHAPEL CITY ROAD LONDON on 31st January 2016

Look at the world. People divided. Extremist ideology and radicalisation driving deep chasms in our communities. Mistrust and fear widen those chasms, until joining their sides seems impossible. We need bridges!

 

The New Testament image for such bridges is “reconciliation.” Two sides divided are reconciled; the separated joined, enemies become friends. The Bible tells us that God has built a bridge between us and himself through Christ. As Christ’s followers, those who have been brought across that bridge, we must become bridge-builders too, to bring people back together again.

 

I’m an illustrator. Nothing pleases me more than a commission to draw a map or city that has a river because, where there’s a river there will be bridges. And, as you saw earlier, I love drawing bridges!!

 

London, of course, is my favourite city to draw and I know most of those bridges off by heart, but there are many other bridges around the world that still give me a thrill to draw, Brooklyn Bridge in New York and the majestic Golden Gate in San Francisco for example.

Today, let me talk about a bridge I drew at the beginning of my professional life as part of an illustrated map of Alabama for a US magazine. I stumbled upon the original dust-covered watercolour recently; it shows a small bridge carrying Route 80 across the Alabama River. The place is Selma.

When I first drew it I didn’t really know its significance. I do now. This 1940 built, steel arch bridge was named after US senator and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, Edmund Pettus. There on March 7th 1965 armed State Troopers attacked black civil rights demonstrators with barbed wire clubs and tear gas. The demonstrators were attempting to march across the Bridge and onward to the State capital, Montgomery, peacefully protesting against unjust voting rights for black people.

 

That march across Selma Bridge was a turning point in American history. Television presented American and international audiences with horrifying images of a brutal attack on defenceless unarmed black marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the civil rights movement. President Lyndon B Johnson, forced to listen, eventually assured civil rights leader Martin Luther King that the National Guard would protect demonstrators on their March 21st 54 mile march to Montgomery. This is what Dr King said when the marchers reached their destination:

 

 ‘The end we seek is a society reconciled with itself, at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’

 

The bridge was not only something that crossed the river. It was an experience that crossed from one way of looking at the world to another.

Just three months ago, I crossed the bridge myself, part of my stay in the States, was a road trip I took with Tammy and Mitch Geiselman, both United Methodist ministers, and friends of Wesley’s chapel, through Alabama.

It was a hot and humid afternoon when we reached Selma. I shall never forget crossing that bridge. With each step I felt something happening to me. Many things made sense for the first time. I understood why King and his fight against injustice has been the inspiration behind my personal journey of faith, and why I stand in this pulpit today. In every step I took I felt his struggle for justice and peace.

 

At the foot of the bridge a small building houses the National Voting Rights Museum. We opened its doors to be greeted by an elderly black lady and her grand-daughter both with very thick Alabaman accents. The older lady knew we had all been moved by walking across that bridge. Before we uttered a word she opened her arms, embraced us, and said, “I was there with Martin on that day.”

 

Crossing the bridge was not only a reminder of something that happened in the past but also a recognition of what is happening now. There are many bridges still to cross before that journey ends. Martin Luther King’s journey to peace and reconciliation gave him a time honoured place in American history. But it was his Christian faith that strengthened his resolve, that empowered his dream of that “beloved community,” a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one's fellow human beings.

 

All that takes us back to where I began. In his letter to the Ephesians, we see Paul wrestling with division in his world 2000 years ago. He writes about two groups of people, some near, others far away. He describes how Christ tore down the wall that divided them, making two hostile groups into one single humanity. He described a world no longer of strangers or aliens, but where all enjoy full citizenship and equality. And, in the passage from Corinthians, we see just how Martin Luther King’s emphasis on reconciliation echoes Paul’s dream of a reconciled community functioning as one new creation in Christ, regardless of whether one was Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female.

 

 “All this is from God,” he writes, “who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ..... God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ.

 

Paul’s revolutionary message is not only a call for our own spiritual relationship with God. It’s A CALL FOR ACTION .

God built a bridge between him and US in the embodiment of Christ. Christ came into this World to show us that God wanted to bring us back together with him, through his life of grace and unconditional love, Christ was the bridge of reconciliation with humanity. This is the call for action , if God through Christ can build such a bridge ,then as followers, you and I, must become bridge builders ourselves.

 

One of our deepest callings as Christians is to foster reconciliation wherever we can. We must not leave this responsibility to the Ghandis, Mandelas or Kings of this world, but do what we can, where we can.

 

This bridge building across chasms of race or religion or conflict is no easy task. It requires us to re-order our way of thinking, being and behaving.

 

When conflict arises in our lives, we must resist that initial reaction to put up a barrier. We put up emotional walls in hope to not get hurt again. We also put up walls in order to keep others out. The irony is, of course, that the very walls we build to protect ourselves end up becoming the prison cell within which we find ourselves trapped. It’s bridges we need to build, not walls.

 

We seem to live in a fear filled world, fear that inhibits bridge building, fed by terror attacks on TV screens and images of biblical numbers of people fleeing war ravaged countries.

Where is hope and reconciliation in all of this, how can it occur in so much darkness.

 

Well, be inspired. There are people out there doing amazing things in the name of reconciliation. Until recently Canon Andrew White, known as the “vicar of Baghdad” worked tirelessly to support his Baghdad parishioners. His Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation doesn’t differentiate between Christian and Muslim. His co-worker a Muslim born dentist Sarah Ahmed, says. “We have our own budget so we can provide for people who have no place to stay – we pay the rent, we distribute food, we visit poor families and give them love and support.” White and Ahmed believe focusing on local-based work can provide critical space to regroup and heal.

 

“Let’s love the actual neighbours; let’s love the people that are actually persecuted and internally displaced; let’s take care of them — and then we will see what will happen to ISIS,” they say.

 

Canon White continues to forge reconciliation with some of Iraq’s most influential religious and political leaders. Acting as a vital BRIDGE between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Canon White has worked to reconciling their differences and to build relationships and connections where none previously existed. Bridges can be built, even in seemingly impossible situations.

 

If ‘reconciliation” can happen such dark situations, it can happen too in our communities. You and I can welcome the stranger, can hold out a hand to an outsider, can bridge those social and religious divides.

We can go from this place as ambassadors of reconciliation. We can bring peace not division. We canbuild bridges over troubled waters.

God has made of one blood all the peoples of the earth. In all we are and do, let us show that to be true.

 

"PLEASE LET US IN"

Please Iet us in we beg you

This was a telegram sent by the passengers of a boat packed full with 1000 refugees desperate to flee their country-the boat was packed beyond it’s capacity by men, women and children who had been stripped of all they had except an entry visa to Cuba…..this was JUNE 1939, the refugees were Jews, trying to flee the Nazi’s persecution in Germany. The boat was called SS ST LOUIS, a down at heel old ocean liner that had seen better days.

By the time they reached Cuba, political situations had changed and Cuba forbade them entry…….for the next month they sailed up and down the Coast of America and Canada, the Us sent out ships to prevent the boat coming close to Land. Every Country in that area said NO, Their last chance was Canada. The passengers sent desperate telegrams to the Prime Minister of Canada Scott Mackensie….one read….

Gentlemen,

In great distress and desperate need, a refugee family addresses itself to you for help and rescue. Our distress , particularly our children, a 4 year old and 7 year old, who are starving. There is nothing left for us but suicide In desperation we appeal to you for a permit to enter your country. Surely there are people who will have pity on us. My wife will refuse no work, we will farm, we will do anything in order to enter your country. Please heed our cry, before it’s too late.

 

It was signed Dr Jacob and Cecilia Stein.

 

The boat with all the refugees sailed back to Europe after Canada refused entry. Europe was also halting the influx of jews at the start of the War. Although Britain did allow 198 people from the boat entry to the UK. A few managed settlement, but only temporary in the Netherlands and France. The rest of the passengers sailed back to Germany to their fate.

 

I think you know why I told you that story, how history so often repeats itself, how human nature and fear can make all of us, Nations included… to turn away people seeking refuge.

 Those awful sights we’ve been witnessing in the Mediterranean has brought to the surface prejudice on one hand and compassion on the other.

The problem we have is that as soon as you label people Migrants or refugees you strip away their identity, they become some nameless, shapeless mass.

Of course we have to remember these people have names, like me and like you, they have families , they have a life…..but have had to make that desperate decision to give up their homes , their status because of conditions that we have no understanding. Persecution, severe poverty and civil wars.

 

Something happens to people’s psyche when they hear the word ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’….Is it fear? Is it denial?

On Facebook last week, following this outburst….a man called Dr Paul Farmer posted a picture of the people in the Mediterranean on it carried the quote…..

“ THE IDEA THAT SOME LIVES MATTER LESS IS THE ROOT OF ALL THAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD”

 We can RIGHT THAT WRONG !

Jesus reminds us in that passage we have just heard the intense practicality of being a follower of Jesus Christ, The Message Bible puts it well in its telling of that story of how people are to be judged; not by their adherence to doctrine, not by their regularity of churchgoing, but by their attention to the poor, the vulnerable, the needy, the powerless, and by their recognition that in them is the one we say we serve.

 Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was meyou did it to me.

To label these poor people as mere migrants, and thus unworthy of everyday compassion, men, women and children so desperate as these are to risk their lives IS to overlook and ignore their humanity; to do this, for the Christian, is to overlook and ignore Jesus.

 When compassion enters these dark and desperate times of people who are in need, we see the glimpse of the light of Christ, when in effect “Heaven touches Earth. Compassion of people like the unassuming London stockbroker who travelled to Prague in 1938 ans set about saving nearly 700 jewish chidren from the fate of the holocaust, and then we see that rescue picture of an Italian coast guard cradling a little baby in her arms.

As we go through our life and see so much suffering, whether man-made or due to nature let us never forget that Jesus’s humanity and light is always there in the hearts of all of us when we reach out and rescue and help those in need…that is my friends…

WHEN HEAVEN TOUCHES EARTH

 

LOVE CASTS OUT FEARS

 

FACING OUR FEARS

1 JOHN:4 7-21

 

Your heart starts to race,

Your palms start to sweat

Your stomach starts knotting up

You start feeling sick

Your throat starts to close and

You can’t breathe.

You feel trapped

You think you’re going to DIE

 

Have any of you ever felt this? 

I have many times.

This is a panic attack.

 

A paralysing sense of fear that something dreadful is going to happen.

This is a severe form of anxiety, and it affects many thousands of people in this country. Many of them suffer in silence, managing the best they can with this almost debilitating condition.

 

You may not have experienced fear or anxiety at that level, but most of us experience feelings of anxiety and unease at certain times of our lives. It’s a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations. Fear is one of our most basic and essential survival mechanisms, but sometimes it can overwhelm us even when a real threat doesn't exist, this is when anxiety and panic can set in.

 

We can be afraid of failure, fear of losing control fear of spiders, flying, heights, swimming, crowds, the dentist, germs…(I could be here for hours listing them all)

 For many these fears/ phobias are because of a past trauma or unpleasant experience when we were young, but for some it’s the result of medical conditions.

That’s why I know a lot about anxiety; it was something I had to deal with when I was very ill with chronic Fatigue syndrome ME in my twenties and thirties.

I could do a doctorate in fear, my husband says with laugh, and for those who know me they probably laugh with him.

But I’m going to tell you tonight, it’s because of my anxieties and fears that I am standing in front of you preaching about the transforming power of God’s love.

 

Why? You may ask.

 

Well I found a way through my fears; I found that light at the end of that very dark tunnel.

But first and foremost I had to face those fears; I had to face the anxieties that were holding me back from living again.

It took a while to see a way through. I tried to ignore those fears, lock them away. They were an embarrassment, they were a sense of failure, of not coping with life. But they was one thing I kept reading, a little quote written on a piece of paper I kept by my bedside, it was a quote from Nelson Mandela and it goes….

 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear

 

It still chokes me up reading it now, because it takes me back to the time of my despair…..As many of you know…..Chronic long term illness can take away your self-esteem and your self-confidence making the fears and anxieties seem even greater. With the love and support of others, and through a self-examination that may be difficult or painful, we can find the strength, courage and love that comes from a source more powerful than life itself, a well deeper than an ocean, from God. Trusting in this love is the antidote for fear, but we may encounter that love in ways we don’t at first recognize.

 

When I discovered this truth I wanted to tell others. I had no experience of public speaking, but I wanted to face the challenge, and felt compelled to preach of a faith that had brought me back my life. The first few years of preaching were an ordeal. I was on the edge of panic attacks every time I got up into the pulpit, but one event changed everything for me:

 

I agreed to do a eulogy for someone I had met by chance in Brentford where I live. Bob was a lovely man. Generous, kind and he became a good friend, retirement didn’t suit him, and he liked a tipple rather too often. And Sadly Bob passed away in 2008. I was asked by a friend of his to do one of the eulogies at his funeral. The eulogies were going to be part of a celebration of Bob’s life , so we were all invited to a theatre in west London

When I got to the auditorium where people had gathered I realized this was a massive event. Hundreds had come to say their goodbyes to Bob!

 I freaked out and told the compere, I would prefer not to do it. She said, “Don’t worry. She said, I will bring the mic up to you in your seat, you can do it up there”. Relieved, I sat back and listened to countless well known people recounting stories about Bob. I felt my little story of Bob rescuing my cat was going to be a little irrelevant….but the time came for my eulogy, the compere introduced me, then asked me to go to the front!

This wasn’t what we planned…

Fear shot through me like a bullet, but I had no time to panic! I shut my eyes a said a little prayer for strength and before I knew it I was up there doing my eulogy in front of 400 people. At the end I was applauded and felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders…I had conquered my fear….from then on I never felt the paralyzing panic of nerves again.

 

I told you that story to highlight why the film The King’s Speech strikes such a chord with me. A viewing of the King’s speech started our Lent series off last week, and throughout Lent we are using it as inspiration for our meditations and Bible studies.

 

The film tells the story of King George VI who was suddenly forced into the spotlight at a time when live radio was the new mode of communication. He had debilitating doubt that manifested as a nasty stammer. He could barely utter a full sentence in front of a crowd and the stakes were high. As war loomed and the people needed his leadership, we see a story of a man’s despair transforming into hope. But it also shows how he digs deep inside his being to find strength and courage he didn’t know he had. He was able to face the traumas and the demons of a childhood plagued with disappointment and anxiety of not being good enough. The person who made him engage with his deepest fears was an Australian speech therapist called Lionel Logue.

Lionel eventually managed to connect with the King on a level no-one else had, giving him the self-belief that he could achieve things he never thought possible. This personal change wasn’t easy for the King. At times aggressive and obstinate, he was scared to take the leap and trust someone, a stranger. Most of all he was scared to trust himself.

The issue of trust and love are woven throughout the story. Trust between Lionel and the King, love between the King and his wife and Love and trust between the King and his people. At its core the film showed us the strength of love and trust that transformed the king and banished his fear.

 

It’s those qualities we see in abundance in that passage from John’s first epistle, where we find the word ‘love’ 27 times in total. There is absolutely no doubt about the focus of John’s thinking in this passage. But I’d like to focus on that line that comes near the end ‘There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.’

As we see in the film, love leaves no room for fear.  John’s letter tells us that the love of Jesus in our lives and hearts, filling us with faith and banishing our fears, can make a difference to each and every step of our lives, and those we support and love on our way.

 

Yes, there are times when we feel it’s not possible, we feel isolated and alone with our despair. Faith in ourselves, and most of all Faith in God seems out of our reach. But there will be a moment, a right moment, when we feel our hearts burst open with a love we cannot explain. When we feel that love has conquered the fear that was holding us back.

 

This is not your romantic kind of love; this is not the cheap love we see splashed all over the pink and red cards on Valentine’s Day.  The kind of love we’re talking about tonight is of a different order altogether.  This is the redemptive, pure unconditional love Jesus lived, a love that is vulnerable yet powerful and strong. 

 

To love like this, we have to be Christ-like, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable as love often requires of us. When we live the Gospel, when we live love, we do become vulnerable and we put ourselves out there for others, especially those most in need. When we love we offer ourselves not knowing or even caring whether that gesture will be reciprocated or even appreciated. Sure there is a chance that we might be rejected or even hated, but these things shouldn’t surprise us since Jesus told us that this would happen.

 

The powerful lesson that we learn in our vulnerability is that when we step outside of our comfort zone, unprotected, unsure of what will happen, then and only then are we relying or better yet depending on a force that we cannot create for ourselves.

 

This was exactly what King George VI demonstrated on September 3rd 1939. This was the moment when he, with the help of Lionel Logue his speech therapist, cast out his fears, when he found his courage and his voice. In the climax of the film , as he nervously prepares to give the defining speech of his life, The King finally acknowledges his mentor:

 

“Lionel,” he says, “no matter how this turns out, I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done.”                                                      

 

To which the therapist replies,

“Forget everything else just say it to me. Say it as a friend.”

It was by relying on his mentor that the King made the wonderful speech by which he has been remembered ever since. And it’s by relying on our God, the source and giver of life that we can overcome the forces set against us.

He becomes our only source of comfort, nourishment, and protection. This is when we can say with St. Paul: in 2 Corinthians

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

This is love: that knows no bounds; that allowed Jesus to forgive his executioners as they nailed him to the cross; that casts out all fear; that enables us to reach out to our enemies and love them. This is love: for us, you and me, to know and to live.

I want you all to remember this evening: it is possible to drive out those feelings of fear, of panic and anxiety in our hearts.

What are you frightened of?

What do you fear?

My friends Just let Christ’s LOVE find you, hold you fast and share that Love

 

Let Jesus Christ be in your actions and your heart

So whatever Jesus is, we are too.

He is strong,

and in Him, we are strong.

He is courageous;

In Him, we are courageous.

He is a conqueror,

so we can be too.

He has peace and joy,

so we have peace and joy.

He's capable and fearless.

In Christ, we can cast out ALL OUR FEARS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIVING PRAYER Alison Krauss
In your love I find release A haven from my unbelief Take my life and let me be A living prayer my God to thee
Where have all the Flowers Gone

IMAGINE THE IMPOSSIBLE

Last Sunday Leslie preached about the conversion of Paul, and he highlighted how awful this man was before his encounter with God on the road to Damascus. As Leslie put it he was a ”very nasty piece of work indeed.”  Here was a persecutor , torturer and in-effect murderer of anyone who purported to follow Jesus Christ. The story we’ve just heard from the Acts of the Apostles emphasises how powerful and how transforming God’s love is. Here we have a story of the most unlikely convert there is, especially to early Christians living in the First Century. This was an impossible situation that was turned around by the life-changing force of love.

What this teaches us about God’s power is mind-blowing.

God’s power cannot be confined
 to what you think is possible;
 when it comes to changing lives—
where God is concerned; we really must imagine the impossible.

 

I’m sure we have come across people and places that we think the situation will never change, there’s no way, no chance that things can be transformed. There’s no possibility that the hatred we see can be turned into love and forgiveness. The word ‘NEVER’ comes to mind. But when it comes to God’s work in the most hopeless and unwinnable circumstances life presents, we should NEVER say “NEVER.

 

Since last Sunday I have thought about this transforming power of love and forgiveness of God, and how we can incorporate it into our lives. But also how situations in the history of the World have shown us time and time again that the only way forward is reconciliation. How letting go of hatred and resentment can open us up to that life-changing power that Paul encountered in Damascus all those Centuries ago.

 

Reconcilliation is at the heart of a wonderful new film in cinema’s at the moment starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman; called the Railway Man. A TRUE story about Eric Lomax, a young signals officer,  who was tortured by Japanese soldiers while building the “Death Railway” from Thailand to Burma….Emotionally ruined by the experience, he suffered in silence for years. Decades later, after his wife encouraged her husband to seek help from a foundation that helped victims of torture, through this healing process Eric meets his Japanese torturer and interrogator, Takashi Nagasei.

The Railway Man is a powerful tale of survival and of the human capacity to understand even those who have done us unthinkable harm.

‘ Bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”

These are the words of the late Nelson Mandela, but could easily be uttered by men like Eric Lomax and countless others who have been tortured, persecuted and brutalized at the hands of the dark forces of evil. It’s only when we let go of that darkness in our souls and shake off the dark shadows that haunt us, we can see the great light and transforming power of God’s love within our hearts. Remember where God is concerned, we must never say NEVER.

 

With this story we see that War leaves trauma and suffering that’s beyond most of our imaginations, suffering that can only be healed by the power of love and forgiveness… but as we look back at a lot of the past wars, we see so much of it being seemingly futile and pointless.

 

This year we will be seeing a lot of coverage about the First World War, it’s now hundred years ago that the Great War began in 1914, and recently I came across an article on the BBC news website about the ‘Lost generation’…The young men and women killed in their prime. This article looked at some of the individuals, high achievers who seemed destined to make their mark even more strongly., if they had LIVED. Most of all it shows us how futile war actually is…..

 

The war took Edith Cavell from relative obscurity to immortal fame. It took Harold Chapin and Will Gladstone, both quite well-known, now almost forgotten. It took Frank Ledwidge, just coming into his own as a poet and campaigner, and Franz Marc, already one of his country's leading expressionist painters. It was the story of this artist that moved me most…a brilliant painter, if he had lived his fame most certainly would have rivalled Kandinsky. He was a German Lieutenant sent to the front, he was killed by shrapnel in Verdun in 1916, on the very day the German authorities agreed that Marc and other leading artists could be more useful away from the front.

He wrote to his wife that the thought of coming home was too lovely to describe. He was killed the same afternoon.

The first World War veterans have all died, and now most of the Second World war veterans are in their nineties, soon no-one will be alive to tell the next generation first-hand experiences. But thankfully the horrors and the suffering of men caught up in battle features strongly in the national curriculum, including visits to war graves and battlegrounds of Northern France.

 

In 2009, for our honeymoon Peter and I decided to drive down to the South of France. We decided to take our time, and do it in a few days, although my husband hates long prolonged journeys (with subtle persuasion, well maybe not so subtle, I convinced him a road trip was the way to go)…It was road trip I will never forget …. it wasn’t the beautiful scenery, there’s plenty of that, and it wasn’t the warm mediterranean sea, and there’s was a lot of that…it was two places that we visited on our drive down to St Tropez, and on our drive back to Calais.

It was some of the battlegrounds of the First and Second World War, the beaches of Normandy and the trenches of the Somme.

 

This was the first time both of us had been there, we have watched documentaries, read about it and watched hollywood films about it; but nothing is as sobering as being there, and as moving. Standing on the land where young men full of fear were killed.

 

I stood near the dune on Omaha beach where the lucky few had run to for cover from the German guns higher up on the ridge above the beach, and I looked up at the grassy ridge and gun emplacements and wondered how it must have been for those men. As I looked down the beach to the tideline I saw how far they would have had to run trying to avoid the gunfire.

 

It was truly sobering and very poignant, as was seeing the trenches at Beaumont Hamel in the Somme. Although the trenches and No Man’s land were covered with grass , you could still see the No Man’s land pock marked with shell holes, and what was truly horrifying was the width of no man’s land it was no-more that 500 metres, terrifying to think that these men had no-where to hide from the german machine guns knocking them down one by one as they went over the top.

As we look back at the absolute horror and futility of war, of the dark forces of hate, how the darkness can over-shadow everything in it’s path. We see a hopeless impossible situation that looks like it can never be changed. But remember where God is concerned, we must never say NEVER.

 

One incident that happened on that trip made me feel this so strongly:  Something the ‘Lost generation’ of the Great war, and the young men killed on the beaches of Normandy would have never ever been able to imagine could happen.

 

At Omaha beach while I stood looking across the sweep of golden sand on that sun-lit morning, I turned round to see four men dressed as second world war American soldiers, it was really eerie, and almost scary to see them, what were they doing there?

I got talking to them, to peter’s embarrassment, and I found out that they were there for the 6th June anniversary, which was happening in a few days, and countless other men were going to be coming in full kit with jeeps etc….

But these men were from Germany,  Hamburg and Dusseldorf to be precise, and I just thought what a paradox it was. Sixty six years ago on this beach, terror and death reigned, and these men were the enemy, and now people are wind surfing, flying kites, and swimming in the sea… all those years ago no-one would or could imagine that.

 

When Saul of Tarsus began to attack the followers of Jesus, no one could have imagined that he would ever become a disciple of Christ. “Never. Not a chance.”

 

Yet Acts 9:1-9 records the story of Saul’s blinding encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Within a few days of that life-changing event, Saul was preaching in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus was the Son of God, to the astonishment of all who heard him (vv.20-21).

 

When it comes to God’s work in the most difficult people we know, and in the most difficult and almost impossible no-win situations  we should never say “never.”

 

I want to end with a quote from Desmond Tutu , a man who knows more than most about reconciliation . In his book…God has a dream: A vision of Hope in Our Time

he says….

 

 we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now--in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. ... Indeed, God is transforming the world now--through us--because God loves us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON'T BE AFRAID,ONLY BELIEVE

 

 

A six-year-old Scottish girl named Lulu wrote a letter to God: “Dear God, How did you get invented?” Lulu's father, who is not a believer, sent her letter to various church leaders in Scotland:

The Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply),

The Presbyterians (no reply)

The Scottish Catholics (who sent a very complicated reply).

He also sent it to Rowan Williams the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent the following letter in reply:

 

Dear Lulu,

 

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

 

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected. Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

 

And then he’d send you lots of love, so much love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

 

Archbishop Rowan

 

When I read this, I thought of all the critics of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying he was too high brow and too complex. Well I think this letter answers those critics… in a way isn't this exactly why we need theological specialists: not to make belief more complicated and obscure, but to help us grasp how simple it really is?

What does it mean to believe?  What do we mean when we say we believe in God? 

When you ask people what the word “believe” means you typically hear things like:


“There are some things you can know, and other things you can only believe.”

“I use the word when I’m not sure.  If you ask me a question and I am not sure of the answer I might begin my answer with ‘I believe….’”

Believing can mean what you turn to when knowledge runs out. It can mean uncertainty and anxiety.  Believing can mean holding to a particular opinion, to have faith in something , a doctrine or an idea. 

But what does it mean as a church word… as a faith word? 

How do we, as people of faith, understand what it means to believe?

Jesus told Jairus in the Bible reading we have just heard “Don’t be afraid, only believe”

 

The story begins with Jairus falling at the feet of Jesus.

"My daughter is sick and is about to die, Please come and place your hands on her; heal her so she can live."

 

What did Jesus do? Did he say, "Give the girl two aspirin and if she isn't better by morning, give me a call?" Of course not! Jesus immediately began walking with Jairus toward his house so that he could heal the girl.

 

As they walked through the streets of town, some men came up to Jairus and said to him, "Your daughter is dead. Jairus was heart broken, but Jesus paid no attention to what the people said. He turned to Jairus and said those poignant and profound words "Don't be afraid, only believe,"

 

 

Here we have Jesus speaking to Jairus on a much deeper level than the desperation of wanting his daughter to be saved, speaking right down to the inner depths of his heart.

Jairus a man of high status, a man who begged Jesus to help him, believing in what he could do? A man who still had that glimmer of hope and trust within him to ask.

Jesus could see this, and connected with Jairus’ heart.

 

We can take a lesson from this, what this demonstrates is that Jesus is willing to connect with our inner depths of our being, our hearts, whether they are strong or weak . He knows our level of maturity and understanding , and he gently leads us into deeper levels of trust.

Believing doesn't mean that we don't experience doubt... far from it, but it does mean that we choose to put our trust in Him instead of in our doubts.

 

“Hang on a minute” I hear you say “but what really is the definition of belief?” we can wrap it up with heavy theological reasons, complex words and pious statements, but in the end it’s all about accepting and trusting the power of love, the power of God. And letting God into our hearts

 

“The World’s second best book on God” claims the publisher Penguin about Paul Arden’s book

GOD EXPLAINED IN A TAXI RIDE

 

As we began this sermon with Rowan Williams simple concept of God for a six year old, this book explains that concept simply for adults, a book that’s short enough on words that can be completed on an average London taxi ride, the text maybe short but immensely profound, with help of quick cartoon illustrations it really is a gem of simple theology.

 

At the beginning of the book you have a page that reads

IF YOUR’E IN A BIG HURRY, SKIP TO PAGE 96.

IF YOU’VE TIME SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE RIDE.

 

Well not to give too much away I will read pages 96-100 don’t worry… it’s not too long , there is only a few sentences per page!!!

WALKING WITH AN OLD FRIEND AND MENTOR,

I ASKED HIM IF HE COULD EXPLAIN GOD TO ME

LOOK, HE SAID, POINTING AT THE SUNSET. WHAT DO YOU THINK MADE THAT?

DO YOU THINK IT’S AN ACCIDENT?

DO YOU THINK IT’S A TRICK OF THE LIGHT?

DO YOU THINK IT’S A FLUKE?

IF YOU DO THEN SAY

I BELIEVE IN FLUKES

EVOLUTION, FATE, CREATION, FLUKE. YOU CAN CALL IT WHATEVER YOU LIKE

THEY ARE ALL WORDS WE USE

TO DESCRIBE THE SAME THING…..

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

GOD IS OUR NAME FOR THE POWER BEHIND CREATION

THAT’S WHAT I BELIEVE

I BELIEVE IN GOD.

 

You see, God is not complicated, man makes him complicated.

To believe in God does not mean believing that a set of statements about God are true, what it means is to love God, and let ourselves be loved by him.  To believe in Jesus does not mean to believe that a set of statements about him are true, what it means is to love Jesus Christ with all our heart and soul. Believing that a set of statements are true has littletransforming power, but when we open our hearts and love God as known in Jesus, it is this, that has the greatest transforming power of our lives.

When believing becomes LOVING it has nothing to do with a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s not about doctrine, or ideology, it’s about everything to do with living life with compassion, integrity and grace.

We live in difficult times.  We live in a time when we find our world deeply divided by what we believe and how we believe. In our world we make decisions and assumptions based on our religion, our regional loyalties, our allies and our enemies. 

The seriousness of these divisions is tragically evident in the last few weeks. The Taliban suicide bombers killing Christians in Pakistan, the Syrian crisis and of course the terrible atrocity by Somalian Al Shabaab terrorists in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

This is when belief is sabotaged by mindless doctrine, and can easily divide people of different faiths. We must not let doctrine divide us.  All Muslims are not terrorists just as all Christians are not bigots. 

To believe is to LOVE in the world, to LOVE our brothers and sisters regardless of the color of their skin, their individual beliefs, the way they worship, the way they pray. We must give our hearts to the God who loves us all and not let our personal and cultural faith convictions keep us separated any longer

In 1943, Soldiers found a text scrawled on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during the Nazi Holocaust, no-one will ever know who wrote it, it could have been a man, a woman, and some suggest a child, but what we know it was written in a place absent of light and opposed to hope, this person endured darkness, and fear like few of us have, or will ever encounter. But, even in the face of evil, this person held on to something that was greater than the darkness. Whether deliverance was to come or not, their decision was made: they would never let go of their belief in God.

“I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, even when I can’t feel it.

And, I believe in God, even when He is silent.”

Most of us will face times when we feel God is silent, when we feel that he’s ignoring us, when we feel our love is weak. God is on the fringes and in the middle, God is amidst the messiness of our lives.  It isn’t God that is silent, it is us. God is calling us, we only need to listen. He is there with his arms outstretched, he is there in the darkest places , there is no place on Earth that God will not go for us.

Rowan Williams letter to six year old Lulu ends with:

And then he’d send you lots of love. (so much love)

God loves us, he loves us with unfathomable love, he calls us now….on this day…in this moment…to give our hearts, holding onto what is dear, to listen , to feel and to share that wonderful love he has to offer.

I cannot imagine a better way to believe, can you?

 

 

 

DARKNESS OF THE SOUL

THE DARKNESS OF THE SOUL….Sermon 23rd June. Emmanuel Church Reading

 

Today we are seeing the depths of human depravity in pictures from Syria. Towns devastated. Mass graves. 93,000 dead. And many of them children. Children!

 We ask the question……

“What cause can be great enough to justify the taking of the lives of children? Those tiny shrouds, those terrible wounds, those broken hearts. It’s so hard to try and comprehend what evil, what hatred can bring about such pain and darkness.

 

The whole world is looking on, seeming powerless and impotent in trying to solve this dire situation. And while Heads of State, Diplomats and UN officials discuss and debate, thousands more children are dying every day.

What darkness the Syrian people are living through right now… A darkness caused by man’s in-humanity to man.

When man can commit such unspeakable cruelty on the vulnerable, and the defenceless.

 

But darkness of despair is not only something that is played out in the arena of war and conflict, or suffering due to other’s actions.

It can also be played out in our lives too.

We can be plunged into the gulf of dark despair at times throughout our lives. Grief, depression, loss, despair, regret and pain, they all take us on that journey through the dark edges of existence, when we feel that all is lost and nothingness is all we have.

 

The Bible has shown and explored this kind of darkness – the dark night of the soul. We just have to look at the Psalms, take the 13th psalm, we have just heard….the Psalmist David with a troubled heart , cries out to the Lord...........

 

“HOW LONG wonders, MUST I WRESTLE WITH MY THOUGHTS AND EVERYDAY HAVE SORROW IN MY HEART?”

 

He cries out to God…His complaint is that God has failed to act on his behalf and seems he thinks unwilling even to listen to his appeal for help. As a result he knows great pain in his mind and great sorrow in his heart, this is David’s moment of darkness and despair. And Jesus himself, in entering the valley of the dark shadow of death, knew that self-same darkness, suffering the agonizing death upon the cross, crying out in despair.

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

 

It was indeed fitting that a darkness fell upon the entire land. Everything was emptied of meaning. Nothing made sense any more. Love had been snuffed out, goodness stifled, integrity denied, hope eliminated. How much darker can you get than that?

 

 

Perhaps that’s why Jesus, during his ministry, seems to have had a special empathy with people whom he perceived as being trapped, imprisoned in their own darkness, as F.Scott Fitzgerald so aptly put’s it ... “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day”

 

And surely no one fits this bill more obviously than the man at the heart of this morning’s story, the man named Legion.

 

Mental illness has never been properly understood. People have always been fearful and lacking real empathy with those who suffer in their minds. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. This man was mentally ill in a world where they would have explained that by suggesting that he was filled with demons. We still have that idea in our popular culture – we talk about our own “demons.” This man was so deranged, in chaos, damaged, that he acquired the nickname “Legion” to illustrate just what a cohort of evil spirits inhabited his mind. There was nowhere for him to live. Even lepers could create colonies as long as they kept well away from “ordinary people.” But this man had nowhere. Except this graveyard. Among the dead. This detail just adds to the picture of a man totally cast out. There were no restraining drugs available then. The hurricane force of the energies within him, a man at war with himself, roared to the surface. They chained him hand and foot but he broke his fetters and manacles; whatever clothing he wore were soon torn to shreds. This is a man on the very abyss of human endurance, at the very edge of what it means to be human, incarcerated within the darkness of a storm that seems to have no purpose other than to destroy him.

 

I’ve pictured darkness for you this morning so vividly because I wanted to point out how utterly amazing, how radical, the intensity of light that Jesus brought to his encounter with this man. Someone surrounded by total blackness, impenetrable darkness, hopeless despair, in the presence of Jesus, knows, senses, see’s a light; all that has constrained and imprisoned him for so long, is banished, he’s FREED.

 

This encounter emphasizes so dramatically the power of Jesus to cast out fear and to open windows of hope even into the darkest places of human despair. And indeed it is a power almost beyond comprehension…I really must do all I can this morning to highlight the power of Jesus to cast out fear and to open windows of hope even into the darkest places of human despair. We really do have to apply our minds to understanding the darkness in order to marvel at the light.

 

 

Being an artist. I have always been obsessed with light, the shadows that light casts. Darkness and light can create a depth and a dimension that speaks volumes. It’s when one starts putting light into a picture that something magical happens. Rembrandt the Dutch master would start from a canvass painted in the darkest shade of grey, and it was from this canvass that he would add lighter colours and eventually white to create those incredible and vibrant paintings.

Mark Rothko, famous for his huge black canvasses, was also a man who knew about light. People wrongly think that all he painted was a black picture, sit in-front of one of these paintings, you will see an intensity of light, layer upon layer of different colours creating a dimension that has no end.

The famous British painter Francis Bacon sums up the artists’ quest for light as this…. “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present”

 

So as we see in our story today, Jesus brings a light that shines so brightly amidst the terrifying darkness that surrounds the life of the man named Legion. But this darkness is so deep, so multiplied, it’s not one demon, but many many demons that possess this man, that there has to be a place to transfer that darkness, those demons who have previously filled his being. And the pigs provide just the right environment.

Being an animal lover and I’ve always been challenged by this story, I’ve always asked the question what about the poor pigs? But I know now why the pigs had to be in the story. Let me explain; Jesus had healed demon possessed people before, but there had been no mention of transference in other creatures. So this detail would have highlighted to the listeners the severity, the darkness of this man’s demons.

It took a herd of pigs, a whole herd, to accommodate them. In biblical times, pigs were considered unclean, which was considered as the lowest of the low in those times. They were dirty, foul smelling and uneatable….Roast Pork, and rashers of bacon weren’t on the Jewish menu like for us today!! So the use of the pigs in this way emphasizes beyond words just how bad things had been for this poor man.

 

Of course, those who came back just after this change had occurred, couldn’t begin to get their minds around what had happened…….

There was this man, who just a few hours earlier had been flaying around naked like a wild animal, sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet clothed and in his right mind. What the hell had occurred? They thought.

Who is this man Jesus? what supernatural powers has he got to quell this totally insane man like this?

Whoa, this is scary, this is too much for us to take in, we think this best thing here is to ask this man to go away, take his magical powers with him…and we can pretend it just didn’t happen and get on with our lives.

Fear is a disabling energy at times, especially when we are forced to make a decision on something that is far from our comfort zones, beyond the normal status quo. But fear also stops us from following the path of love, the path of Jesus Christ.

As I said earlier, I can’t highlight enough the power of Jesus to cast out fear and to open windows of hope even into the darkest places of human despair.

 

The other day I came across a woman while I was walking my dog Pip. I have spoken to her before, but this conversation was a little different.

We began talking about something I had seen on my recent trip to Kefalonia in Greece, and as a dog lover broke my heart. The brutality and cruelty to dogs over there is horrific and I have decided to raise funds for a dog shelter over there, she said she could help…but as we spoke about how important are little dogs are to us, she opened up and told me a story.

 

She had been walking back from where she worked one evening when she was attacked. The attacker beat her furiously, fracturing her skull and two arms. After the attack he put her in a car boot and fled the scene. She was eventually found and endured weeks in hospital. She went home, and was so traumatized that she couldn’t leave the house. She didn’t leave the house for months, permanently anxious and fearful…there seemed no answer. Her family desperate, decided to get her a little puppy to care for. That decision changed her life. She had something vulnerable needing her care, needing to be taken out, needing to be loved. Through walking the dog, she met a couple who were active members of a local, and were also grief counsellors…through them she started going to services at the Church, she now works for a charity for abused women.

This is an example of how the power of Jesus’ love, that incredible light which can shine through the most desperate and impenetrable situations of life. Situations where hope and love seem all but gone.

This darkness, this pit of no-return can be broken, this is put so well by Leonard Cohen in his song ‘Anthem’. ‘’There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GET’S IN”

Yes my friend’s there is indeed a crack of light , that intense white light of Jesus Christ that can banish the darkness of despair, that can shine rays of love, of compassion, of goodness and hope into our lives, can raise is up, free us from the prison of our demons and darkness…and it is there with us, in whatever places we find ourselves in, however deep and dark, the crack of light is in everything and is everywhere.

 

I want to end where we began in Syria. As I searched the internet for reference I came across a you-tube link that I must admit I was a little nervous about opening, it said it contained graphic images, but I clicked it and watched, and I’m glad I did.

It was a shaky 2 minute mobile phone video, you can hear a man desperately shouting out in Arabic, in the distance is a yellow car. You can hear and see the car is being shot at .The doors are open, but you can’t see anyone in it. Suddenly you see a man running to the car dodging the bullets, the man’s shouts get louder, and then the man gets shot but he is still grabbing something in the car. Then you realize it’s a tiny child and as the video comes closer you see that the child is alive and the man has been shot in the leg. As they go for cover the car explodes.

This is everyday in Syria, we can’t even comprehend how and what this experience is like…but this rescue of a child, a life is saved….I ask you this question…..is this not Christ’s light and love breaking through the darkness?

 

We must pray for courage , and that perfect love that casts out all fears, and for faith to know that wherever we go, wherever life takes us, however dark and desperate that place is…Our Lord Jesus has got there ahead of us.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

WESLEY'S CHAPEL LENT SERMON 20th March 2013

WORLD TRADE CENTER CROSS

THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE CROSS

1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-28

 

Fools

Superstitious idiots,

Hopelessly Misguided,

Naïve,

Out of touch with reality.

Off with the fairies.

 

If you were to buy into atheist propaganda on the Internet you would have no choice but to conclude that Christians are some of the most ignorant, irrational, dishonest, deluded fools on the planet. In short if you are a Christian, then you are stupid……You’ve heard it all before. You get the point.

To unbelievers the Christian idea of decorating our buildings, and decorating ourselves with the cross is absurd, to some atheists the cross is offensive. A recent example of this is when an American group called American Atheists sued over the inclusion of cross-shaped beams, dubbed the WORLD TRADE CENTER CROSS, in the exhibit at the September 11th Memorial .

 

The “World Trade Center Cross is a cross-shaped steel beam found amid the wreckage in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and was a symbol of hope for many working on rescue and recovery there, so much so that the construction worker who discovered it believes he stumbled on to a miracle.

The man who found the cross, Frank Silecchia, said he came across it on the morning of Sept. 13, 2001, after digging three bodies out from the rubble of the collapsed Twin Towers.

A few days after he found it, he spoke to a Franciscan priest who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

“father, if you want to see God’s House, look over there”

The priest peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.”

“Oh my God I see it.”

 

As the priest stared, other rescue workers gathered around him. There was a long moment of silence as he tried to take in what he saw. Against seeming insuperable odds, a 17-foot-long crossbeam, weighing at least two tons, was thrust at a vertical angle in the hellish wasteland. Like a cross.

 

Frank Silecchia believes that the World Trade Center cross is not just a symbol of faith, but also a symbol of Love and deliverance. he said “I saw Calvary in the midst of all the wreckage, the disaster,' it was a sign... that God didn't desert us.'

 

Well the American atheists group have a different view of these foolish Christian beliefs…. one of their members said about the cross it was nothing more than an ugly ‘piece of wreckage’ that “does not represent anything…but horror and death”, and another one said

“I don’t fear it. It merely offends me. Why do Jews fear the swastika? It is the same thing.”

 

Of course calling Christian’s fools is nothing new. It started with Jesus himself. Do you remember in Mark 3:21 when Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brother’s come to where he’s preaching and try to stop him, they think Jesus is “beside himself”, not well. Not thinking straight , then we have the followers of Christ being labeled fools. Paul, the apostle, the missionary, the writer of 13 books of the New Testament was told he was ‘out of his mind’ when he was on trial..

 

But here we are sitting in a church on a cold Wednesday evening in Lent, so the World calls us fools, but at least we’re in this thing together, If you’re going to be a fool, at least you’re not alone.

We’re all considered fools for taking our faith seriously.

Yet, what unites us is that we don’t consider Jesus to be a foolish belief.

What unites us is that we believe that Jesus is the power of God for salvation AND THE MIGHTY POWER OF LOVE.

 

That’s what Paul’s saying in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians we’ve just heard.

When Paul says that the world thinks believing in Jesus is foolishness, when Paul says THAT, he means to unite the Corinthian church.

 

 

In that first verse , verse 18, Paul sets the theme of this letter, a message so powerful and so direct•

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God

• We are united by this one faith in Jesus.

 

• We are united by this one love of Christ.

 

• We are united by Jesus and the cross.

 

That may seem like foolishness according to the world’s standards, but for us, for us it’s the power of God working in our world to save us, to forgive our sins, to give us new life, to rescue us from eternal death.

 

Unity in faith was really what Paul was trying to say in this letter to the Church at Corinth. Paul writes these words to a group of people who came from differing levels of the social and economic background, diverse in their gender, life experiences and Jew and Gentile mixed together.  The Corinthians are remembered for their conflicts with one another, they argued about which leader to follow Paul or Apollos or Peter or just simply Christ. They were arguing which way was wiser, they were arguing who was right. Their unity was being torn apart. Paul reminds them of who they are….

He was encouraging the Corinthians,—and us—to have one faith, one love, one focus.

 

Through the centuries this letter comes to us, comes to address issues we might face , comes to encourage us to remain focused on the cross, to remain focused on the uniting power of God, and ultimately focused on the power of God’s love.

 

As the Church in Corinth was divided all those Centuries ago, we too can be divided against each-other,

It’s not so much that the world’s going to call us foolish—that’s not the first danger.

The first danger is that we’ll call one another fools.

Have you ever watched as Church people pulled away from one another, took positions of being right, and calling everyone else wrong?

Have you ever run away or been tempted to run away from the church because you couldn’t stand how people were treating each other?

Church can be seen as a hot bed of in-fighting and hypocracy, and it hasn’t given the outside world much evidence to go against that view.

 

The Christian church is holding on a cliff edge as we speak, not only rocked by countless stories of sexual abuse, and dirty dealings, but also terribly divided about homosexuality and the rights of Women.

So many factions, and so many conflicts… not too far from the Church of Corinth are we?

 

So Paul’s message is look to the Cross of Christ to heal the wounds, to unite the factions, no matter what , we’re in this thing together . We’re in this thing together because the cross of Jesus brings us together. We’re in this together because we’ve been forgiven by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We’re in this together because we realize we’re not any better than anyone else—we need Christ for salvation.

Together we see the cross is the central sign of God’s LOVE for us…..it stands as a beacon of light inviting us to love God and give our hearts to him.  No matter how far we have fallen short of his will, no matter how foolish we are, the cross invites us back into the Father’s loving arms.  We are called to put our faith and trust in the suffering love of Jesus and in the power of God’s salvation.

 

The message will never make sense to the world,  a world that looks at Christians rallying around a symbol of death, a world who see’s us stating our belief in a Jewish labourer from Galilee who was killed on the outskirts of Jerusalem among the lowest criminals.

 

Well, it’s no wonder, this world thinks we’re fools.

They see human achievement and knowledge far surpass belief in God.

 

 But God transcends all of this, he is in it for the long haul. Power, wealth, fame and other human endeavours are empty when you look at it from God’s perspective. God’s salvation is open to all, there’s no favourites, no special deals for those with money or power. Those things that matter so much to us simply don’t matter to God. This is a shocking affront to the way the world does business, but it is also the way of the cross. After 2,000 years the cross still sparks controversy and opposition because it points to a truth that many people do not want to hear.

 

WE know through faith that the cross is the power of God.

Through faith, we know that the cross is empty, the tomb is empty, Jesus lives and reigns and rules over all things with grace and love and forgiveness.

 

Through faith, we don’t see the cross as a symbol of death. It’s a symbol of Love AND life.

 

that love that binds us together, that love that’s within each and everyone of us, and it’s that love that matters above everything else in life AND BEYOND.

 

I want to finish where I began September 11 2001…… When the planes crashed, 2,000 people faced imminent death, stuck in the World Trade center offices, knowing there was no escape. Also the people in those planes knowing there was no way out. As they lifted their phones and called their loved ones…. Life was reduced to its essentials. Time was short. People said what counted, what really mattered. It has been noted that there is no record of anyone calling to say, "I never liked you," or, "You hurt my feelings”

No one said anything unneeded, extraneous or small. Crisis is a great editor. When you read the transcripts that have been released over the years it's all so clear.

 

Flight 93 flight attendant Ceecee Lyles, 33 years old, in an answering-machine message to her husband: "Please tell my children that I love them very much. I'm sorry, I wish I could see your face again."

 

Thirty-one-year-old Melissa Harrington, a California-based trade consultant at a meeting in the towers, just after the plane hit called her father to say she loved him. Minutes later she left a message on the answering machine as her new husband slept in their San Francisco home. "Sean, it's me," she said. "I just wanted to let you know I love you. And I know we will see each-other again"

 

When you distill life down to its most basic element -- when you get down to what is truly important in life -- it isn't money or wealth -- it isn't possessions -- it isn't occupations or human endeavours -- no, when it comes down to it, the most important things in your life are the relationships you have and the love that binds those relationships together: Can that be foolishness?

Love is the one defining characteristic of faith-- the love of God and love of our neighbors –

love is what matters most in our lives --

"Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life"

            

 

 

 

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On the Jericho Road Wesley's Chapel
Listen and watch or read script below.

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For the Kid's Address I drew a cartoon of The Road to Jericho

SERMON PREACHED AT WESLEY'S CHAPEL JANUARY 13TH 2013 'ON THE JERICHO ROAD'

 

I’ve driven down quite a few terrifying roads in my life, Spanish mountain roads with no crash barriers, an awful one in Majorca, some scary one’s in Sciliy, but nothing comes up to ALLIGATOR ALLEY, a road that crosses through the Everglades from the East Coast to the West coast of Florida, I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about!!

It’s called Alligator because on either side a big fence (about 12ft high) has been put up to keep out the Alligators, scary or what? (When they constructed it they had an army of men with rifles to shoot wayward alligators) Anyway…I drove down this road on my own to meet my brother and his family in Sannibel, near Fort Myers on the West coast a number of years ago…. My husband Peter and I had been staying in Miami, and Peter went off to Washington DC to do a job. Meanwhile I drove across Florida in an open-top Chrysler, sound exciting doesn’t it? But the night before I suddenly became petrified, the thought of driving 200 miles on my own so far away from home was too much to bear. Somehow through my high state of anxiety , and with the help of The Eagles and Bob Dylan soundtracks I managed to do it. Alligator Alley is a 100 miles of completely straight road, with one service station halfway, not very good for people with toilet needs, especially if they’re in a high state of anxiety! Why I’m telling you this story is the one thing that has stayed in my mind ever since was the complete vastness of that location, as far as your eye could see was swamp, flat swamp, like something out of prehistoric times, and a straight unyielding horizon.

This vastness is something we can’t envisage even when we look at photographs, you have to be there and feel it. And this is what some people have told me Jericho Road is like, a vast mountainous wilderness. Today Jericho lies on the West Bank and is part of the Palestinian Territories. It is surrounded by Israeli occupied territory and there are many displaced people living there. It’s a place without boundaries, without adequate food and medicine, It’s a very risky place to travel to, let alone stay. The Jericho Road hasn’t really changed very much since Jesus’ time. Even then, the Samaritans and the Jews had been at each other’s throats for generations. The location for this story would have begged all kinds of questions in the minds of those who heard Jesus tell it.

The story begins with Jesus heading towards Jerusalem. In a village along the way, he got involved in a rather difficult testing conversation with a local lawyer. (As we have quite a few of those in the congregation today, I will choose my words wisely!!!!) The lawyer was pressing Jesus, trying to make him look foolish, attempting to expose a weakness in his teaching. He was in-effect cross-examining Jesus on the witness stand: "In your view," the lawyer asked Jesus, "just what do I need to do to inherit eternal life?" "You're the lawyer," said Jesus. "What does it say in the law?" Well, the lawyer knew the law, of course, the law of Moses, and he quoted it. "The law says, 'Love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and also love your neighbour as you love yourself.'" "Well said" Jesus replies. But the lawyer, as with most lawyers with a bit between their teeth was not going to let this drop so easily “but wait just a second," he objected. " Be precise here. Who exactly is my neighbour?"

Cleverly Jesus offers this Parable in way of an answer to that Lawyer’s cross-examining . A Jewish man is going along the Jericho road, and is set upon by bandits, who beat him severely, strip his clothes, and rob him. They leave him for dead. Later, a priest walks by. He sees this wounded man, a fellow Jew, moves to the other side of the road, and walks by without helping. Later, a Levite goes by, he see’s the man too, and gives him a wide berth, going on without helping. So when a Samaritan considered as the ‘lowest of the low’ in Jewish eyes, comes by, sees the injured man ,he immediately helps him, taking him to a nearby inn, caring for him, and paying the innkeeper to look after him, this would have raised many eyebrows amongst Jesus’s listeners considering their opinion of Samaritans, Jews and Samaritans had been deeply divided and hostile towards each-other for Centuries since the Assyrian conquest of the Holy Land in the 8th Century BC.

The Jews believed that the Samaritans had sold –out, compromised their faith, somehow collaborated with the Assyrians, a charge the Samaritans strongly rejected, so they weren’t exactly friends, they were sworn enemies. At the end of the parable Jesus turns to the lawyer and asks “Which of these is the neighbour of the Jew who is beaten by robbers?” the lawyer finds it impossible to utter the word Samaritan, so he replies with “The merciful one,” Jesus then says “Go and do likewise.” The first lesson we draw from this parable is one that challenges us as religious believers. The two men that pass by on the other side were not only religious, they were religious leaders. There are up-teen references in the Jewish scriptures about helping a neighbour, but somehow none of that cut any ice with these two pillars of religious life. Their faith hadn’t opened their eyes, putting their faith into action wasn’t on their agenda that day!! The neighbour was someone who needed them, then and there. Not someone living next door in their nice suburban house, not someone like them from their own background. It was a supreme irony that no-one listening to Jesus would have missed, that it took a Samaritan, a despised hated heretic, to show exactly what it meant to Love your Neighbour! .

 

Would we, devout Christians help a Moslem or Hindu in need? .Would a fierce Protestant in Northern Ireland be stopped in his tracks by a cry for help from a suffering Catholic? .Would a Zionist Jew hold out his hand to help a Palestinian?

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a name we hear a lot from this pulpit, was someone who is considered as one of the greatest theologians and martyrs of the last century. When the Second World war broke out Bonhoeffer was in America, his friends begged him to stay there in safety, coming back would mean his life would be in danger , because he openly opposed the anti –semitic policies of Adolf Hitler. But Bonhoeffer decided he would come back and stand alongside his fellow countrymen in their hour of greatest need. (They, after all had fallen among thieves!!). It was Bonhoeffer who famously defined the neighbour as “The person who needs me now, and needs me most”

The parable of Jesus poses a very radical challenge to religious believers, it takes’s real courage to be a Christian. Many out there in our world today call kindness a weakness, and kindness to someone you despise as totally weird, because of their inability to understand and empathize with someone who puts others first. They are so used to putting themselves first. But this morning I want to say from this pulpit that when we have kindness, goodness mercy and love in our hearts, that is when we know God is working within each and everyone of us, that is more than a strength , that is the power of love. It take’s courage to be the face and hands of the force of love. It takes courage to say something. It take’s courage to confront a need. It take’s courage to be involved . It take’s courage to be a Christian. The second lesson that we learn from this parable is that it is an attack on non-involvement towards people in need. The two that pass by are saying we don’t want to get involved, we’re in a rush, we have a schedule, we can’t be late, I’m needed elsewhere. I can’t stop, I will let people down, please understand!!

But when the Samaritan stopped and tended to that man, and took him to the inn-keeper, we have no idea what that cost him. Maybe he came back and the inn-keeper gave him a huge bill, maybe the time he took looking after that man meant he lost a job, missed an important meeting. But the Samaritan reached out with true compassion and true mercy, that fellow feeling, that comes from the deepest place inside every human being, a gut response to someone in need.

 

Let’s be honest! We totally understand the feelings of the Priest and the Levite on that Jericho Road. Stopping and helping a stranger, someone in need, could be dangerous, it is a costly engagement, it means you abandon all your other needs of that day. Sometimes we feel better with our conscious if we give a tramp some money or donate on a children in need phoneline, this is not seeing it through, Jesus wants us to see it through…….Helping someone in need does have a cost, and sometimes a very high cost indeed.

 

With this in mind, I want to tell you a story that happened to me a few years ago. Annalora Hubbard was an eighty year old German lady who lived a few doors along the corridor from me, she was very blunt and plain speaking woman, she really did call a “spade a spade” and I got to know her because she loved looking after my ginger cat ‘Little chap’. I would sit with her once a week and talk about the war and her life. Then one summer afternoon my phone rang, thankfully I was in my studio drawing, the voice on the other end was Anna’s. “Come quick Kathy I have burnt myself a little” I picked up my first aid kit and ran down the corridor. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened the front door. There she was with the phone in one hand and a broom in the other. Her hair and her right side were on fire, the smell was terrible, I was so shocked I felt I wanted to run away, but something made me go into the bathroom and wet a towel which I threw over her and put out the flames. I sat her down and realized it was her dressing gown that had caught fire, it had stuck to her causing horrific burns. She had tried to fill a gas cigarette lighter with fluid, she flicked the lighter and apparently everything went up in flames. She was conscious and kept begging me not to ring the ambulance, she didn’t want to go to hospital, I kept her calm and had to rang 999, and got a brilliant and immediate response. Help arrived within ten minutes. This confirmed what I have always believed about our ambulance and emergency services, this truly was God in action, and I saw it that day. Anna had 3rd degree 50% burns and as they took her out to the ambulance, one of the men asked me who was her next of kin. Anna had no children, her only relative was a sister in a nursing home in Germany. They asked if they could put me as next of kin, I quickly said yes, and that was a very costly yes!

That ‘yes’ meant I was in effect responsible for Anna’s welfare. I had to make decisions about her hospital care and social services care, and ultimately her Residential home care. Financially Anna was able to pay for that care, but the organizing and managing of it all was very stressful indeed.

Anna died at Christmas time a year ago, I took her funeral at Mortlake Cementery in West London in-front of ten people and I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t picked up that phone that day. What if I hadn’t have got involved. What if Anna had died that day alone in her flat? Maybe she would have escaped all those weeks and months in hospital and care homes. But ultimately the question is, would I do it again? And the answer of course, as many of you would also say I’m sure…. is ‘Yes”

 

In a way the Jericho Road runs through our daily lives, through our homes ,our schools and our workplaces. We’re on the Jericho Road whenever we choose to act, and we’re there too if we stand by and do nothing, if we speak out or keep silent. If we choose not to get involved and to turn a blind eye. In all these situations we are challenged by Jesus’ parable to recognize that people we have never met, people who are totally unlike ourselves, people we might not like, are also our neighbours in the Kingdom of God. After all one day we could find ourselves on the Jericho road, it might be anywhere, at any time, in any situation when we are faced with a decision that calls upon us to show God’s compassion to our fellow human beings.

As we look at this selfish world around us today and we can see stories that illustrate this so clearly. We see people that stood by and kept silent when Jimmy Savile was abusing countless vulnerable children. We see families standing by and saying nothing when abuse is happening right under their noses. We hear and read how a young female medical student was attacked on a bus and raped by a gang of men in Delhi and how passers by left her lying naked and bleeding in a street for almost an hour, she died of her injuries two weeks later, the companion who was with her and was also beaten with a metal bar, says he wished people had come to his friend’s aid when she needed it, he said “You have to help people on the road when they need help”

Her death has sparked weeks of protests, calling for the end of rape, violence, abuse, inequality, and inadequate healthcare, that Indian women have faced in silence for years. It take’s courage to speak out, but look what speaking out can do, you can change humanity!!

As Christians we are constantly aware of the journey of Christ. Our journey will take us on Jericho Road, a road that may well be vast, scary, bumpy, difficult and testing. But we gain courage from his journey, the journey of the Cross, a journey of danger and of risk, and ultimately the final cost, his death at Calvary. So in effect the Samaritan in the parable is playing the role of Jesus. Jesus WAS the Samaritan! He was an outcast who was willing to seek and save people who were desperate, and even people who were despised. He was there to give them strength and hope. And it’s in Christ, in the power of Christ that we find that strength to act.

 

What our World needs today. ARE people who will stop and ask the question What will happen to this person if I don’t help? NOT What will happen to me? What’s in it for me ? We need people to take a risk for humanity’s sake. JESUS TELLS THE LAWYER AND HE TELLS US, you and me. GO AND DO LIKEWISE.

Wesley's Chapel

Wesley's Chapel from above. Illustration by Katherine Baxter

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Jerusalem in Christ's time. Illustration by Katherine Baxter

Healing Bartimaeus Caversham Heights Methodist Church Reading October 2012

 

A week or so ago I decided to take my dog Pip for a walk in Hyde Park, that Saturday my husband and I had just had a nice lunch in town and decided to grab the last sunshine of the afternoon. We parked the car just off Park Lane, I decided to put my wellingtons on and went to the boot of my car,  suddenly as I bent down to put them on, my handbag was snatched from my grasp…..as I looked up the shadowy figure had run round the corner with my orange handbag in tow, and both my husband, the dog and I were rooted to the spot with our mouths opened in shock!

As I recalled what actually was in my handbag, which as all women here know, was the “world and his dog” I realized the most important item in that bag had gone, no not my driving licence, not my purse, not my keys, not my make-up…. BUT my glasses. I had just bought some new ones and had not purchased another spare, silly old me !!!! with them gone I couldn’t see or read anything close–up, I couldn’t read my iphone or do any work  DISASTER!

Thank god for once my hubby was there! otherwise it would have been more of a nightmare than it was.

The next day I went to the Cenotaph service in Whitehall, and as I saw the moving scene of the 2,000 veterans marching proudly by, especially the blind veterans with their helpers and dogs, I thought here were men who had seen so much in their fighting lives, and many of them had experienced so much trauma, losing one’s glasses and handbag seemed pathetically trivial in relation to all of this. Total physical blindness is a terrifying prospect to lots of us, and that’s where we must start this morning.

Our gospel reading today is all about physical blindness. But it’s more than that. Much more. A careful reading of this story, which at first sight shows Jesus giving back the blind beggar Bartimaeus his physical sight, shows that there’s something much deeper happening. We ought to look at that first.

Before Bartimaeus received his sight, he displays an ability to see something very important with 20/20 clarity. He showed how he could see in a more fundamental way. He saw just who Jesus was, he saw his humanity and his compassion.

Let’s take a closer look at this familiar story, one of the best known of all the stories about Jesus.

 

It begins as Jesus arrives in Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, we know, it’s going to be a one way trip from here, because we know the story of Christ, there will be a donkey, there will be a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, there will be a last Passover supper, there will be a kiss, an arrest and then Jesus will be condemned to die.

 

So he’s made it as far as Jericho, there are crowds and crowds of people with him, he’s a celebrity, there’s masses surrounding him. The blind beggar begins to make a nuisance of himself, crying out for help and attention from Jesus. Now blindness in Biblical times was considered a result of personal sin, or the sins of parents. That was the teaching of the Jews in those times, so when this man cried out, the crowd told him to shut up, told him to go away, he was an embarrassment, no-one wanted to be associated with him; not only did he suffer with his disability, but also suffered society’s prejudice, but Jesus hears his voice above all the noise…

 Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

 

His first cry wasn’t for his sight but it was for Jesus’ mercy. He knew Jesus wouldn’t judge him like the others, he knew Jesus would see him as a person, as a fellow human being and rescue him out of this pit of his despair.

 

It is this that makes the story so compelling. This is the deeper meaning. Bartimaeus showed an ability to see before he gained his sight. He recognised Jesus’ compassion, his humanity and grace. He understood his need for mercy and so did Jesus. This was clear sightedness indeed. Only then did the critical exchange which led to the recovery of the blind man’s sight take place:

 

Jesus says:

  Come here. What do you want me to do for you?

Bartimaeus says:

Rabbi, Let me see again

Jesus says:

Go, your faith has made you well

 

Being able to see beyond the obvious is a virtue we must all pursue, the Bible touches on this many times. O ne well known ‘Wedding day’ reading describes this perfectly

 

In 1 Corinthians 13:12 it says:

 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

 

Bartimaeus saw and knew in part, then with the help of Jesus’ humanity and grace, he saw and knew fully.

 

How often do we remain blind to things and the people we don’t want to see? How often is that mirror so so dim? How often do we find ourselves either ignoring the reality and the needs of others which are inconvenient and painful or ignoring people’s anguish and suffering because we don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to see it?

 

Like Nelson of old we put our telescope to a blind eye, and then, raking the horizon for a sign of distress from the needy of the world, we say “I see no ships”.

 

We hold the remote control in the palm of our hand and decide what images to allow into our lives and our living rooms. And when the TV news stories stop covering it, we don’t want to know; we prefer to pretend that the problem’s gone away.

 

 

Over the last  we’ve had a stomach full of one story that must have nauseated us all. It’s the story of Jimmy Savile and the dreadful way he treated children and young people. It’s a sad story of how blindness can

be on our doorstep as well as on our TV screens. The start of this media frenzy was a documentary about child abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, one of the most popular and eccentric television presenters whose career spanned three decades.

 

All over the media we have been seeing these stories of child abuse. Celebrities have been arrested. It’s all very shocking.

Many people must have known it was going on, blocked ears, averted eyes, what-can-you-do shrugs seem to have been the norm throughout his thirty years in the business. No-one had the courage to face him or accuse him.

 

Esther Rantzen, a celebrity, herself and who worked with Savile many times recognized her own failings. ‘We [all] colluded in this’. She was suggesting that she and her colleagues, in some way, had allowed this suggestion to perpetuate and created lies and justifications to keep their tiny world spinning around with little regard for their brothers and sisters.

 

The Jimmy Savile story has set off a domino effect of abuse stories and allegations that I’m sure will continue in the coming months, but the sadness of all of this are the victims, lives scarred and permanently damaged by people’s silence.

 

No one has put it better than Bob Dylan. Do you realize that it’s fifty years, half a century, since he wrote and sang his most famous song Blowin in the Wind? His words are spot on for today’s world. He asks the question that none of us can escape from. Just listen:

 

How many times must a man look up

before he sees the sky

 

Yes and how many ears must one man have

before he can hear people cry.

Yes and how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn't see

 

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

 

 

These words, haunting words, remind us that it’s not only the much publicized wrong-doers or those who colluded with them who must now think hard about what they’ve done. All of us are in this boat. All of us have eyes to see but somehow end up not seeing, ears to hear but somehow manage not to hear. It takes courage to face injustice, wrong-doings and sin with open eyes.  We can’t we do this alone, we can’t grope in the darkness forever, trying to find our way. We need the light of Jesus Christ, we need to see through the darkness. We need him to open our eyes.

 

We are approaching the season of Advent, a season dominated by the theme of darkness. Was there ever such a time as this when the light of Christ is so desperately needed?

 

Jesus says in John 8:12

 "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

 

This advent, as we wait for news of the coming of Christ, who came as a tiny baby, who brought light into a dark world and who ushered in the kingdom of God, we must pray that in today’s world he might banish the darkness, strengthen our hope, and let the song ring out today just as it did then to celebrate his birth: Peace on earth, goodwill to all people.

 

Bartimaeus was given his physical sight. But he also showed a capacity to see and sense how Jesus could change his world. We must pray that we too can see as he saw and give God the glory.

 

Amen.

 

 

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Pentecost Fire

Wesley's Chapel map Illustration by Katherine Baxter

SERMON FOR PENTECOST Wesley's Church Reading May 2012

We have just heard the wonderful reading from Acts 2, the events that marked a new and awesome outpouring of the spirit of God, effectively the birthday of the Christian church which we celebrate today. It’s a major event in the Christian Calendar, along with Easter and Christmas.

 

But Pentecost is not really an event people in this day and age know much about. If you went out of this church this morning and asked the passers-by what day it was they would look very bemused and probably think you were a bit mad. For many Pentecost is a little confusing and still a bit bewildering.

 

What we do know, and what has been visualised today, Pentecost was an incredible experience for all who were present. They struggled to put it into words, it was so utterly transforming and mind-blowing. Can you imagine one minute there they were milling around together in that upper room, then wham bam, an almighty energy filled the room and filled them, it’s amazing they didn’t all run away screaming in terror….. but of course this energy was such an all consuming positive force they absorbed it within their whole being. Suddenly their lives were changed, they could communicate and connect with everyone around them. Just like their Lord and master Jesus Christ they could reach out and touch the souls of all who came.

 

Abstract analogies of wind and fire have been used to express this gift of God’s spirit ever since. How can you express the inexpressible? something so life-changing. It’s a bit like trying to describe the feelings of real and deep love for someone, it’s beyond words, beyond our vocabulary. This is when abstract imagery plays it’s part, artist’s spend their lifetime trying to describe and express emotions that are beyond verbal language.

 

So it’s FIRE and WIND we are looking at today. Wind together with fire make a potent force and Pentecost is all about such driving energy…..

But fire has been a metaphor of many an account of religious conversion.

Thursday was the 24th May, this was a very special day in the Methodist Calendar.

 

Does anyone know why?

 

YES it’s the day Methodists from all around the world remember the conversion experience, the ALDERSGATE EXPERIENCE as we call it, which saw an Anglican Priest called John Wesley, who described himself as ‘almost Christian’ give himself wholeheartedly to his Lord.

 

On May 24th 1738 Wesley described the moment “I felt my heart strangely warmed” he said. Fire had entered his soul, and he was never to lose his inner drive for the next 57 years of his ministry, an astonishing quarter of a million miles on horseback, thousand upon thousands of sermons, thousand upon thousands of people touched by his words and his ministry.

 

This was one hell of a guy, a complete maverick of his time, he went against his established church, to bring the word to ordinary people.

Now personally I can’t escape the heritage of John Wesley, I am part of the worship team at Wesley’s Chapel in London, but of course neither can you, here I am standing in a church called Wesley!!

 

Wesley’s Chapel was the Chapel that John Wesley built on City Road near Moorgate in London. Every 24th May we celebrate Wesley day, with a service at St Paul’s Cathedral, where Wesley attended before his conversion, and then we walk to Aldersgate Street to the memorial flame that marks the spot of his conversion, finally ending at Susanna Wesley’s tomb (mother of John and Charles) in Bunhill fields opposite the Chapel.

Before I came to Wesley’s chapel I knew almost nothing about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that didn’t last long! I was commissioned to illustrate a map of his travels throughout Britain, and through my research I realised this was someone quite amazing. This wasn’t a boring musty old story from the 18th Century, this was a story of a man who changed a society, who showed God’s love in so many ways. A maverick before his time who was fundamentally responsible for the spread of Methodism throughout the globe….and his legacy continues today.

This man was termed a “Gentleman” in his society, well educated and well born, but with the fire of his conversion burning in his heart he was able to reach out and touch the souls of the illiterate, the nobodies, the workers of the 18th Century, the mere fact that he was able to connect with them was astonishing in the first place, and connect he did.

 

As tongues of fire touched John Wesley in the 18th Century, the tongues of fire touched the friends of Jesus that first Pentecost. Those friends who had seen him crucified and met him risen, those friends who had seen his wounded hands and side, those friends whose expectations and certainties crushed and remade in the Easter event. Out of all of that here was an awesome mind-bending experience that left each one of their hearts warmed, and made them able to stand up on the morning of Pentecost connecting and making sense to strangers.

Nobody could have predicted what would happen in the next few years after that explosion of fire in Jerusalem, if they had, they would have been classified insane. As it was, Peter and the other disciples seemed completely out of their minds , even pissed to some bystanders that day. But what was clear they touched and warmed the hearts of many that morning with the good news of Jesus Christ, spoken in a language that everyone understood. The spirit of God would surge and spread into communities far and wide throughout the world in the years and Centuries following like wildfire.

 

God’s fire can still set us aflame today, in the here and now, the wind of his spirit can still blow open closed hearts and minds. Sometimes it comes as a hurricane, beyond our control sweeping up the trash of our lives, but sometimes it comes as a gentle breeze in times of loss and despair, when our worlds are shattered and broken, we see the Holy spirit through the cracks, giving us hope to carry on.

 

As believers we must communicate the fire of God’s spirit in our hearts, connect with the sad, and the lonely, the people who have no voice, the nobodies of our world, just as John Wesley did all those centuries ago.

I want to end with a wonderful John Wesley story about connection, about breaking down barriers of class and culture.

 

Here you have John Wesley, an educated gentleman standing on the edge of an open cast pit in Bristol, with his bible clasped in his left hand, looking across at the blackened faces of the miners. Open air preaching was still a new thing for John Wesley, his oxford friend and evangelist George Whitfield was used to it, but John Wesley wasn’t. He was anxious how he would be welcomed , but he got on with it and started preaching.

One by one the miners put down their tools, and stood motionless listening to what he was saying. As he continued to preach about the redeeming love of God he connected deep within the men’s souls, and they began to weep, the tracks of their tears etched on their blackened faces. Wesley had bridged the divide of a society so torn apart by class and inequality,  the flame of the Holy Spirit speaking and communicating the language of God’s love, a language everyone understands.

 

That flame continues to burn in our souls, like the ever-ending Olympic torch, lighting our paths, whether rough or smooth. During this season of Pentecost let us be ready to spread and share that burning flame of God’s Spirit and love to all we meet in our communities and beyond.

Maybe it’s the time of year.
Joni Mitchell singing 'woodstock' in 1969 Big Sur

TESTIMONY

TESTIMONY WESLEY'S CHAPEL APRIL 2012

 

Maybe its the time of year. Yes, and maybe its the time of man.

And I dont know who I am. But life is for learning.

We are stardust

We are Golden

And weve got get ourselves back to the garden.

 

Words from the song' Woodstock' written in1970 by Joni Mitchell, these words have always meant a lot to me. They have been a description of what my life has been so far.

 

I was brought up in a family steeped in Cornish Methodism, my Great Grandfather, two of my great Uncles all being Methodist ministers.

As a child I went to Oxford Road Methodist Church in Reading, in the early seventies when I was 8 and 9 a certain individual with a shock of black hair, as I recall, cycled from Caversham Heights to Oxford Road on his bike to do the evening service, his name was Leslie Griffiths!!!

At school there were two things I really excelled at and loved, Art and Sport , I had dreams of being an England Cricketer and opening with Geoffrey Boycott!! but really the only dream was being an artist, and I never wavered from that, drawing was my passion, I was never without a pencil, and it meant I could disappear into a creative world of my own.

 At the age of 18, off to college I went. Bath Academy of Art, in the village of Corsham just outside Bath, an idyllic little oasis of peace and love and patchouli oil.

 

What a transformation it was, here was a good Methodist girl, who had never been to a pub, never smoked a cigarette, and never listened to heavy rock music thrown into an arena of free thinking, free loving, free-spirited individuals. I loved it. I felt I belonged for the first time in my life, and I relished exploring creative and spiritual ways of thinking, I became absorbed by the music and energy of the place the likes of Bob Dylan, the doors, Joni Mitchell, the Who, Led Zeppelin and soul music entered my life. I met tutors and students who had ideologies and philosophies that were far different to me, and I soaked it all up.

 

As I lived this life I felt further away from the constraints of the religion I was brought up with, a religion that seemed to me, so disapproving of anything that was fun and modern, so wrapped up with a by-gone age.

I had become a free spirit.

 

But as we all know, drugs play a major part in that culture, not that I partook heavily, but they were around and unfortunately love and peace get a little warped under the cloud of cannabis.

In 1986 I came to London with an illustration degree and started freelancing, I shared a house with a group of people who were into clubbing and enjoying their twenties,  it was the time of All Night Raves, and I did my share of that.

 

But then.  At the age of 25,  my life stopped, I got flu and got sicker and sicker; it was 1989, yuppie flu was being banded around in the media, and I was one of the people unfortunately to get it. The NHS didn’t know how to treat it. The exhaustion rendered me useless, both mentally and physically. I went home to my parents, desperately ill, and no-one to help us. Mum Dad and Peter were wonderful, other people around, even other family members dismissed me as a fraud. It was the most desperate and darkest time of my life, I felt completely isolated, completely alone. But deep in my heart I knew one day I would get better, I had a flicker of hope that burned there, a small pinhole of light, that was keeping me from giving up.

I realized this was the light of Jesus, I discovered the faith that was hided for so long inside me, had become real, and I had to open my eyes to that light and walk towards it, ME took away my youth,  but what it did teach me was the value of life and hope.

 

With that hope in my heart I began to get better. I started up my illustration career again in London, and got into drawing maps for my living. But I must admit to you now that I decided to go back to my old life, I tried to make up for lost time, and there were several relapses back into illness through indulgence... but then came Wesley’s Chapel , with the love and support I gradually stopped turning my back on the light of God .I started to think about sharing with people my journey to faith, and eventually I took that call seriously, prompted by Deacon Maggie Blake and the wonderful people of Emmanuel Church in Reading, as well as Leslie and Jennifer, I began training. My faith has become more and more of a reality to me, and here I am, standing with you today with that light and that hope of the Holy spirit burning in my heart.

 

This morning if I can leave anything with you. Let me urge you never to turn your back on that light of God’s love in your heart, from experience I can say, don’t ever think you are alone. There will be darkness, and despair but if you walk to that light you will fear nothing, I can testify to that.

 

To me life has been for learning, and as Joni Mitchell says I have taken a long time to get back to the garden. My life has been about moving towards the light, sometimes I didn’t see it, sometimes I didn’t want to see it, sometimes I doubted it was even there, but eventually I realized it’s the only thing that’s keeping me alive in this life and beyond. The light of God, the love of Jesus Christ .

 

 

LOVING YOUR ENEMIES

LOVING YOUR ENEMIES Gosbrok Road Methodist Church Reading 2011

 

In february 2007 I preached my first ever sermon.... Four years have gone by, I have a few more grey hairs and a few more wrinkles, but most importantly, I am further down the road of faith, this journey will continue till my dying day I’m sure, but I know one thing the man who inspired me to listen to my calling is still very large in my life, and in my first sermon he was the man I talked of........ Rev Dr Martin Luther-King. This man was not afraid to stand up and be counted, this man was not afraid of fighting for peace, and for justice. This man was not afraid to love his enemies...He preached about the redemptive love of God, the only creative transforming power in the Universe.

 

This morning I am going to preach on a subject that has been debated and fleshed out for generations, there is still no easy answers, there are still many interpretations, Christians now, as well as in the past, have divided opinions about this subject.

It’s the hardest commandment of them all, the hardest for all of us to understand and live out.

 

In our reading today....Matthew 5: 38-48 Jesus’ commandment to “love our enemies” has been in my mind more than ever in the last few months... I have, as many have, observed evil being played out in my guises, but most recently of course, the horrendous evil act of a Norwegian man Anders Breivik, the bomb in Oslo, and the massacre of 70 teenagers on the Island of Utoeya....this man is still alive, he’s in custody and feels justified in what he has done, he said he wanted to send a clear message that multiculturalism is wrong....I wonder what you felt when you heard the news, would we have felt sorrow if we heard that this killer had been shot dead....could we love this ‘enemy’?.........he was armed with automatic weapons , he shot people one by one cold heartedly.....this man was evil....would it be wrong to wish him dead?

Rewind three months ago, another evil man, another who felt justified with his actions, but this time, this man was killed, but he was was unarmed....I observed both my own and others’ reactions to the killing of Osama Bin laden on May 2nd 2011. With this news crowds in the US cheered and the tabloids screamed out their headlines “We’ve got the bastard!”

But with the news of the Norwegian massacre, reaction of course, is a little different. This man is still alive, we haven’t been able to get revenge for this one, we haven’t been able to get closure.

 Let’s get down to it...Bin laden and Anders Breivik were dangerous evildoers. They were enemies of peace...and walked the line of extreme intolerance.

As followers of Jesus Christ we feel torn between obvious human nature, and the tendency for revenge, and knowing that we are suppose to follow the hardest commandment of them all....the one that Jesus constantly preached,  and as he hung on the cross.... no one will ever experience any greater depth of evil than that exhibited at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we remember his words he painfully uttered,

Luke 23 V:34

 

 

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

This morning’s reading is taken from Matthew ‘s version of the SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Jesus preached it to the Jews, who had seen more oppression than the modern World can even begin to imagine. Thirty years prior, King Herod had commanded the execution of everyone’s first born son...and as Jesus spoke they were under violent oppression from the Roman Empire.....this was a very difficult thing to hear then, as it is now.

 

 What is Jesus really saying in this passage?

 

Well Jesus’ teaching is very clear, concise and to the point, we must “Love our enemies’,

He did not tell us to love them only when they say they’re sorry for any wrong they may have done us...he told us to love them, and keep loving them, but first and foremost

is to forgive them....this doesn’t mean we forget the evil act, or ignore the wrongdoing.

Our willingness to forgive must never be taken to mean a willingness to allow oppressors to go on oppressing us or others.

Matthew 5, also isn’t calling us to be passive if our neighbours or loved ones are being harmed. The Bible is clear , if you see your neighbour being harmed or abused, the Bible calls you to intervene Good Samaritan-style to protect that person.

 

No, your forgiveness names the evil as evil. But eliminates the need to return evil for evil. It cancels the debt, so to speak, to get even.

Only forgiveness can break the cycle of violence making redemption and reconciliation possible.

Ultimately, we love our enemies, not in order to change them or convert them, but because God loves God’s enemies. We love our enemies because we are God’s children, because we share the heart of God...of course we pray and hope that our enemies will discover God’s love for themselves and have a changed heart, but whether they do or do not, we love them because God loves them.

 

Our hearts should be set on giving, on love, on forgiveness, and NOT set on vengeance, pay-backs, or grudges....we shouldn’t adhere to the “eye for a eye” ideology, if we continue doing this, what will happen when the world becomes blind?

Our hearts need to be tuned to the frequency of gospel love and we need to apply that love to all those around us, including even those who are our enemies.

By applying that love and that forgiveness we rid ourselves of the burden of hate. That destructive force, that can destroy our lives and embitters our souls.

Loving your enemies is not a sign of weakness, but rather an expression of spiritual strength.

I’m going to tell you a little story that actually happened to me last year, and it’s a story that looks at how enemies can become friends, how time and peace heal the divide of hatred and intolerance.

I drove down to St Tropez last summer, and I wanted to go via the Normandy beaches, I had seen the films, I had seen the documentaries, but I had never been there, it was a sobering experience to walk the beaches where so many young men were killed, Omaha beach was particularly poignant, I suppose watching Saving Private Ryan helped with that, but the memorial and graveyard at the top of the beach is especially moving

So as I stood looking across the sweep of golden sand on that sun-lit morning, I turned round to see four men dressed as second world war American soldiers, it was really eerie, and almost scary to see them, what were they doing there?

I got talking to them, as I do, and I found out that they were there for the 6th June anniversary, which was happening in a few days, and countless other men were going to be coming in full kit with jeeps etc….

But these men were from Germany,  Hamburg and Dusseldorf to be precise, and I just thought what a paradox it was. Sixty-seven years ago on this beach, evil, terror and death reigned, and these men were the enemy, and now we are friends....time has healed, the hope of peace and God’s love has permeated through those years, reminding us of the wonderful power of forgiveness.

 

 

 

That brings me nicely back to Martin Luther King, a man full of spiritual strength, a man who could have easily hated, a man who could have created a violent movement against white oppression, he didn’t, he followed the words of Jesus and turned to non-violence, and preached love.

The redemptive power of love, a power than can transform individuals, he saw that violence and hate rendered nothing in this world apart from more hatred and more suffering...his famous words are timeless.....he says

 

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

 

So what does this all mean when we are faced with events like the killing of Bin Laden?

What does this all mean when we try and make sense of evil acts like the Norway massacre?

Where does this leave us, as Christians, as followers of Christ’s teaching?

Do these events just prove to us that God’s idea of Justice is not the same as that of our worldly culture ? does it seem that the World is deaf to God’s direction for how to treat and think about our enemies?

It’s fair to say that the world is a safer place without evildoers like Bin Laden, and sometimes it’s necessary to commit one evil to prevent a greater evil from happening.

Was this a lesser of two evils?

But what happens when we see real evil being played out before our eyes?

Can any good come out of this? Can any good come out of real evil?

In a way, Evil should cause us to seek God in his goodness rather than to run away from his presence and doubt his existence, the one purpose of evil in the providence of God is to seek him. C.S Lewis said.... “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

 

What I’m sure of is, that one day God will bring real justice to our deaf world, our Creation, the new creation, where power will not rest in the human ability to enforce one’s will over another. To enforce extreme intolerance and prejudice over others. We must pray that we , as Christians, and all humanity work to build a world where these things don’t happen, and are no longer necessary. We must see that mankind cannot go on in this World avenging death with death....we must pray that good will triumph over the disease of evil.

The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

 

We must work for peace and to create God’s kingdom here on earth, in our hearts and in our day to day lives

Loving one another as we are loved by Christ, and forgiving those as God forgives us.

On the cross Jesus pleaded to his Father to forgive those who put him to death, his command to his followers that they must love their enemies, shows his utmost conviction about the capacity of LOVE conquering EVIL, and to deal once and for all with the sins of humanity. A cross where love and mercy meet.  A cross where God and human beings have the chance to connect, through Love.  A cross where the evil that all human beings are capable of doing is confronted with the force of my love.”

 

OUR GOD IS THE GOD OF LIFE, THE GOD OF PEACE AND THE GOD OF LOVE, we must not rest until the World hears the song of peace, as that timeless Christmas Carol  IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR conveys so beautifully

 

Yet with the woes of sin and strife


The world has suffered long;


Beneath the angel strain have rolled


Two thousand years of wrong;


And man, at war with man, hears not


The love-song which they bring;


O hush the noise, ye men of strife


And hear the angels sing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREPARED FOR ALL PEOPLE

St Paul's Cathedral. illustration by Katherine Baxter

PREPARED FOR ALL PEOPLE Emmanuel Church Reading February 2012 

 

I looked at the lectionary for this Sunday a few weeks ago as I was sitting on a train to Amsterdam. When I first saw it ,I must admit my inspiration was as flat as the land and dykes of Holland I looked across;  food laws, evil spirits, another world, what was I going to do with this?

I put it down and continued on my journey to the Venice of the north.

This was my first time in Amsterdam. Like Venice, the city is inter-connected by canals, the architecture is beautiful, and the museums are to die for. Although as a pedestrian your life is in danger every-time you walk down the street, bikes come at you from all angles, I have never seen so many bikes, and most of the riders ride them at break-neck speed, with self-righteous looks on their faces, ready to mow you down…. anyway I had to get that off my chest!

 

On the third day as we were sitting in a café sipping our tea, my husband mentioned that we hadn’t seen many black faces….and it was true. How lucky we felt to be from London, a cosmopolitan diversity of colour and culture where looking out of a café window in Central London you would see a mix of faces and nationalities, something sadly Amsterdam seemed to lack...but in the early 1950’s London would have been the same…I wonder how it would have been for the first black migrants coming to Britain.

 

This thought was still in my mind, when I turned back to the Lectionary I felt so uninspired by earlier that week. Suddenly, as often happens I realised it wasn’t so uninspiring as I thought, and the readings seemed to take on a timeless and contemporary ring about them. I thought about St Mark’s gospel, about the man coming into the synagogue possessed by an evil spirit ( basically in today’s language, this was someone who suffered from mental illness ranging from behavioural problems to schizophrenia) , and how the religious people of the day would have shunned a man like this, especially coming into a place of worship. Remember in Jesus’ time people who were possessed by evil spirits were thought to have sinned, or their parents to have sinned to deserve such a fate. That’s clearly stated in the story of the blind man being brought before Jesus in John’s gospel Chapter 9 verse 1-2; just listen to these lines…..

 

 1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

 

That day in the synagogue Jesus looked at this man as a fellow human being, a brother , he accepted the needs of this man, and cast out what was troubling his mental state. By doing so, Jesus embraced this man with true acceptance and showed this man love, warmth and encouragement.

 

This takes me back to my thought in Amsterdam, I remember listening to a Radio story about the experiences of Carribean,  African and Asian migrants in the 1950’s in post war Britain.

They arrived with great hopes and dreams as big as their suitcases, the demand for labour in Post war Britain was so great, that a lot of workers were recruited in their home countries, in Barbados, London Transport recruited nearly 4,000 workers, but a lot of the newcomers found themselves in most cases being offered jobs that local people did not want: cleaning toilets, sweeping streets, general labouring or night shiftwork.

Prejudice was rife, colour bars were operated to keep blacks out of pubs, clubs and dance-halls, ironically where black inspired music was gaining popularity.

 

A lot of the migrants were people of faith, their Christian backgrounds as Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans fuelled their enthusiasm to continue worshipping, but worst of all, the place they thought would welcome them, often shunned them with coldness. Some Churches welcomed them, but too many Churches did not. In the same way as landlords refused black tenants, some Vicars made excuses to turn black worshippers from their doors. A black man who settled in Birmingham remembers.

 

“On my first Sunday in Birmingham my friends and I put on our best suits and went to the church. We were looking for love, warmth and encouragement… But after the service the vicar told us not to come again. His congregation wouldn’t like it, he said”

 

Do you think that’s what the religious people in this morning’s story wanted to say in the Synagogue, when they looked on in astonishment as Jesus healed a possessed man, someone not like them…someone not welcome amongst them.

Do you think they wanted to have a quiet word with Jesus telling him what they thought?

Hoping it wouldn’t happen again.

 

From this morning’s Gospel , there can be no doubt where Jesus would stand. He saw a troubled man, a man so different from the others in the congregation, and indistinctively gave him his full attention. We are followers of Jesus. Surely, therefore, if we claim to be like him, we should check out just how we deal with a stranger in our midst, someone who doesn’t seem to conform to our way of doing things.

Jesus turned towards the troubled man; we must make sure WE don’t turn our backs on his modern equivalent.

 

When we turn to our second passage, it’s Paul this time, who’s dealing with how to accept people who are different and the subject here is food-what are followers of Jesus allowed to eat? Must they follow Jewish custom? Or not?…

 

Now I’m a nightmare to go out and eat with, that’s what my husband says from time to time. Many times I have him cringing with embarrassment as I negotiate with the waiter or chef whether something has sugar, yeast or cheese in it. A lot of these requirements are due to my allergies and ME, but some are due to the fact I believe I’m a food doctor.

I know everything about everything regarding food and it’s health effects and benefits.

BUT I try not to impose my restrictions on anyone else, well that’s what I TRY TO DO, but I do have my self righteous moments, I’m sure my family and friends can tell you!

 

Now Paul, though he was an observant jew, didn’t believe in imposing his dietary restrictions either. In the epistle reading we have Paul bringing the gospel to people who are not like him. These people were Gentiles, they hadn’t followed the laws laid down by Jewish law, among them the rules and regulations relating to clean and unclean food.

Observant Jews of their day were worried about the spread of the message amongst the Gentiles, because of the cultural differences between them.… Paul was clear about where he stood on this matter. He advocated a relaxation of the laws and got into trouble for it. He believed that the message of Jesus Christ was far more important than food laws, to his mind following Jesus meant putting love first and all other laws afterwards.

Just listen to what he wrote in another of his letters…….

 

and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[c] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

There hasn’t been much acceptance or love shown between protesters outside St Paul’s Cathedral lately. The protest Occupy London has been there since October. A joint protest with many others across the globe, these people wanted to show the unfairness of Corporate greed, widening a gap between rich and poor, the voice of protest needed to be heard…and the protesters have had their supporters, like Canon Giles Fraser to name a few.

But Wesley’s Chapel became a refuge for one lady protester on New Year’s day, she had left the St Paul’s Camp because she felt the original message had been disregarded in relation to the way some of the protesters were dealing with their fellow inhabitants, some of these inhabitants were homeless and destitute, and she felt that her fellow protesters weren’t practicing what they preached in their violent behaviour in order to rid the camp of these people…it had all gone wrong for her, here she saw two sides of the protest, one standing up for the needy and poor of society, and on the other trying to get rid of them on their doorstep. That Sunday, being a methodist she decided to go up the road to church, it was Wesley’s chapel. She arrived too late for the sermon but just in time for the communion.

The prayer after the communion touched her greatly…

 

WE THANK YOU LORD

THAT YOU HAVE FED US IN THIS SACRAMENT

UNITED US WITH CHRIST

AND GIVEN US A FORETASTE OF THE HEAVENLY BANQUENT

PREPARED FOR ALL PEOPLE…

 

For all people

 

As I spoke to her afterwards her eyes were filled with tears. She said that it had been like getting into a warm bath after coming home on a cold winter’s day.

 

For all people.

 

Yes that’s what it’s about……Christ’s love and amazing Grace is free for all, whatever creed, whatever colour, whatever status.

Not just only for the Holy ones, the middle class do-gooders , the zealous protesters, not only the tourist passing by, but for ALL PEOPLE…the homeless smelly tramp, the young crack addict, the teenage prostitute, the care in the community schizoprehnic.

 

Our mission, as followers of Jesus is to be People of the Kingdom he preached. That’s the conclusion I came to after engaging with these readings which at first had seemed so dull. They’re not. Far from it, they are a rallying call to stand up for Jesus in our own day. God help us

Amen

 

 

 

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Map of the Road to Jericho. Cartoon drawn at Wesley's Chapel for the Kid's address

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Rachel | Reply 20.09.2016 09.07

Can I print the wonderful Abraham's journey map for Church work?

Candice | Reply 15.08.2016 10.43

Please let me know where I can purchase the map for Abraham's journey. Thank you

Susie | Reply 12.03.2016 00.42

You are so talented. May I please show this map to my class?

Wyn | Reply 01.04.2015 16.42

First I saw your illustrations that filled me with pleasure and then I read about your religious "illustrations" that have filled me with joy. Thank you.

Katie (living near Bath) | Reply 01.09.2014 15.20

Fantastic Map, I was looking for a map to support my Godly Play story telling of Abram and Sarai, To help me learn really not children!

Andy | Reply 13.06.2014 00.05

May I use your wonderful "faith of abraham" map for a class I'm teaching?

katherine Baxter 13.06.2014 00.22

Of course you can Andy, hope it helps with your lesson x

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20.09 | 09:07

Can I print the wonderful Abraham's journey map for Church work?

...
15.08 | 10:43

Please let me know where I can purchase the map for Abraham's journey. Thank you

...
12.03 | 00:42

You are so talented. May I please show this map to my class?

...
01.04 | 16:42

First I saw your illustrations that filled me with pleasure and then I read about your religious "illustrations" that have filled me with joy. Thank you.

...
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