Christianity

Psalm 103


The beautiful words of Psalm 103 have helped me today. They reminded me that yes, there are things wrong in my life and there are things I want to fix, heal, mend and restore, but I can’t do it on my own.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 

Praise him indeed, for it’s only in God’s hands that life becomes life.

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Christianity

My Song Is Love Unknown


We sang “My Song Is Love Unknown” tonight at Bible study, and I was struck by a couple of lines.

Here is a link to the hymn as sung by the King’s College, Cambridge Choir and below is a photograph of the bit that stood out for me.

I love this hymn for many reasons, and depending on when we sing it and at what festival or occasions, different things speak to me at different times. Tonight I was struck by verse 5:

Especially the lines that describe how the Prince of Life (Jesus) went cheerfully to his suffering (I’m paraphrasing slightly). When we sang it, it made me think of two things: first, that Jesus would do that for us, to die for us, and second, that no matter what our lot in life, no matter how difficult our circumstances or tasks ahead, we can take heart from the fact that when Jesus went to the cross for us, he did so “cheerfully”. If he can do that for us, what can we do for others in that same attitude?

The burdens we are given to bear are nothing like the burden Jesus carried for us, and yet we struggle, grumble, complain and fight against them. The lesson here in this hymn is that if he can do that for us, we owe it to him to bear our own burdens just as cheerfully and willingly.

 

Christianity

Recognising Jesus


I was privileged to lead, preach and pray in my church this morning, and I thought to share with you on here too. The readings were Hebrews 2: 14 – 18, and Luke 2: 22-40, and the children were present throughout our worship this morning – they usually go for their own teaching during worship to Sunday School, but they stayed in the main service today.

Sermon Text

It doesn’t seem like it, but Christmas was only a month ago. I don’t know about you, but for me, the month since Christmas has felt nothing like the month of Advent before it.

I was at St Mary’s for their Advent Sunday service, and I preached about waiting. The kinds of things that we wait for, what it feels like to wait, waiting for something which you know is going to be special, but without knowing exactly what. I’m sure you remember the feeling of waiting and preparation for Christmas during Advent, but there is more to the type of Advent waiting that was going on when people were waiting for the Messiah in the first place.

Let me show you a clip of a video which shows us another type of waiting.

You see how excited Jessie is to meet Woody? See how she leaps around…”it’s you! it’s you!”. She can’t keep herself still with the excitement of finally meeting Woody, someone she has been wanting to meet for such a long time.

Contrast her reaction with the old Prospector. He was more sedate, awestruck even. He talked about how he has waited “such a long time” to meet – as he calls it – the Prodigal Son. He says “we have waited countless years for this”.

Did you notice too, that Woody was surprised that the Prospector used his name? Jessie tells him “everyone knows your name, Woody”.

So we have someone who everybody knows is coming, who people have been waiting a long time for, and for whom everybody is thrilled and awestruck at finally meeting. If we watch the next bit of the film, we learn that Woody has got a purpose, of bringing the Round Up gang back together, of restoring them to the glory days if you like.

Sounds a bit like waiting for Jesus doesn’t it?

But there’s more to it than that, and this is where our Gospel reading today comes in.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that we can substitute Jesus and Woody, but we can draw a comparison to the expectations and excitement that both Jesus and Woody drew from people around them.

In our Gospel reading, we heard how Anna and Simeon both recognised Jesus, and who both gave thanks for his arrival and then prophesied about his future.

Jesus was in the temple that day because Mary and Joseph were required to present him soon after birth, according to the law. He was to be brought to the temple, and as the first born son, he was to be dedicated to the Lord. We know now, 2000 years later, that he was the Lord, but back then at only a month old, nobody else – except Simeon and Anna – did.

Simeon was first to proclaim he recognised who Jesus was, and like the Prospector in our video, said he had always known this day would come, and that he had waited a long time for it. He prayed to God, with that familiar passage that we know now as the Nunc Dimittis, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”

Simeon prophesies about Jesus and his purpose here on earth. He says he will be “a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”. Simeon recognised, with guidance from the Holy Spirit (verse 26), that Jesus’ purpose was twofold: to bring light to the Gentiles, and to the glory of Israel. In other words, to all people.

If you remember, the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah to come to restore them, but Simeon says that he was to bring light to the Gentiles also. Not just healing and redemption of one people, but of all people.

Although we don’t hear Anna’s words in this reading, Luke does record that she also spoke of Jesus’ redemptive purposes.

We hear more about why and how Jesus came to earth in our other reading today, from Hebrews. In it, we are told that God came in human form as Jesus, a fully formed human being. Flesh and blood, with fears, loves, temptations and emotions. Jesus was long awaited, and fully human. He was at one with his people here on Earth, and as both Anna and Simeon said when he was a tiny baby presented at the temple a month after his birth, with a job to do.

And so, where does that leave us? Today, here in Blackley [and in our communities wherever we are]?

We are reminded at the end of our Gospel reading that Mary and Joseph were on their way back to Nazareth soon after they had presented Jesus in the temple, in other words, going back to normal life after their precious son was born. And so it is for us. Christmas is over, and it’s time to get on with normal life again.

But for us, like it was for Mary and Joseph, having Jesus in our lives means that there is a new meaning to the word “normal”. What is normal life when we have Jesus at its heart? I suppose that is a topic for a different sermon, but it is definitely something to think about as we approach our Lenten sermon and prayer series.

We are going to dismantle our Crib Scene shortly which was put together by the children at the Crib Service on Christmas Eve. We will pray as we do so, for our community, for our church and for our world. The waiting for Simeon was over, for he had seen the Lord, but for us, the wait for Christ’s coming again goes on. And as we wait, we pray that just as Jesus, the Messiah, the healer and bringer of redemption, was recognised by Anna and Simeon in the temple that day, that we too recognise Jesus in the faces and in the lives of those around us today.

Amen.

 

Prayers of Intercession
(during which the children removed the various figures, leaving Jesus in his crib)

The Wise Men 

Lord, may these figures of the Wise Men remind us of those who travel across continents to find what they are looking for. We remember especially those who flee from war torn countries, who seek to escape violence and hate filled regimes. We ask that you comfort those who are frightened, those who are hurting and those who seek peace. We pray especially for leaders of our nations and our communities, that they receive your wisdom to be act in the good of all people. We remember those too who give of everything they have in the name of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Shepherds 

Lord, may these figures of the Shepherds remind us of those who society does its best to ignore. Those who are trapped in poverty, those on the fringes and don’t know how to join in, those who feel they are not good enough. As Jesus took human form, remind us that he is present in everybody we meet. Give us words of love and acceptance to speak to those who don’t feel they deserve it. Equip us to help those on the edges by bringing them in. Remind us that the good news of Jesus’ birth was shared with such as these.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

The Angels 

Lord, may the figures of these angels remind us of the connection we feel with heaven through these very prayers, and the prayers we offer each day to you. Remind us as we pray that we are not alone, and just as the angels carried messages of Jesus’ birth, give us the words to say to people we meet to share his good news with them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Mary and Joseph 

Lord, your precious gift of Jesus was born to Mary, and he was raised by Joseph until he reached the time of his ministry. As we remove these figures from the crib, we are reminded that for them, like us, with Jesus in our midst there is a new normal to be found. We ask ourselves how can we ever be the same again after meeting Jesus, and we ask you now to refresh us and renew us daily, putting him at the centre of all.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

And as we close our prayers, and before we say the Lord’s prayer together, let us just pause for a moment to consider Jesus who is left behind in the crib as a reminder that he lives amongst us, and is present in all our actions and interactions with other people. Lord, we ask that you open our eyes to recognise him, just as Simeon and Anna did in the temple that day.

And so we say together the words that Jesus taught us:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.

Amen

 

 

 

Christianity

Christenings and Baptisms


One of the ways I serve my church is to be involved with families who bring their children for baptism. My role is twofold: first there is the administration side of things – have they filled in the application form? Have I booked a priest? Have I got certificates ready? – and so on. But for me, the other bit of my role is the best bit and that’s when we do the baptism preparation session together.

At the session, we bring together several families who are asking for baptisms and we have some activities and discussions around the different bits of faith and what it means to be baptised. Locally, here in North Manchester, it is more common for families to bring children to be Christened, and to be honest, even though I know there is a difference between being Baptised and being Christened, I don’t think I know enough about it to be able to explain it or argue about it!

So to make life easier, when I talk about “baptism” I also mean “Christening” and when I talk about “Christening” I also mean “baptism”. For now, at least. Wait until I’m further into my training and I might be able to split them and explain them better than I can now.

There is going to be a session of baptism preparation tomorrow evening, and we are going to be running out our “new and improved” version, which Hils (our curate) and myself have been working on. We have an icebreaker activity and some discussion activities before we get to the real crux of what we’re there for and that is the discussion and explanation about what the baptism service entails.

Our baptism invitation and instruction leaflet for families who want their children “done”, and a stack of coloured cards for cutting out for an activity at tomorrow night’s preparation session.

For babies and infants, this is the bit that parents do on their behalf, but for older children and adults they do this bit for themselves. And that is where they are asked about rejecting certain things and turning towards Christ, before they are dipped in the water and blessed.

I am always moved by this part of both the preparation and the baptism service itself. At the preparation, there is a moment of hush when parents think about what it is they are turning away from, and to whom they turn and there is a palpable awe in the air which is similar to the moment of baptism itself in church. It is a real sacramental moment, where God makes himself known in our presence and where his glory is revealed. It is fascinating to hear how the different families have arrived at this particular point, but the moment of baptism is always something special, wondrous and touching in so many ways.

I wonder what your experience of baptism is. Do you believe in it, or is it just another thing that we do with children along with the MMR jab to protect them in childhood? Have you been “done” yourself, or is it something you have never considered or thought about? What about the practices where you are in the world? In the Church of England, it is common for the font in churches to be used in baptism, but now and again, full immersion baptisms are done in small pools or even natural waters such as rivers or lakes too. How is it done where you live?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment below.

 

Christianity

Amazing Grace


I went to Bible study at my church tonight and we had a great discussion about the readings for the coming Sunday. We read a passage from Jonah (the bit just after he had been deposited by the “big fish”) and a passage from Mark where Jesus told two of his disciples to “follow me”, and he promised to make them fishers of men.

Tonight, I didn’t feel I had much to say and I was content to sit back and follow the discussion around me, listening to what other people were saying and just enjoying the company of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our discussion went all over the place – as it usually does! – and from the starting point of whether we thought Jonah’s story was allegorical or a historical truth we ended up talking about God’s grace. In particular, how we either don’t recognise it all the time, or how we fail to understand and appreciate that grace is given for everyone, not just to those who we deem to be deserving of it. We talked about drawing lines around our own behaviour whilst judging others for doing the very same thing, and it was interesting to see how we all reacted to the challenge to look at our own views on that. I’m not sure that I’m aware of the times I judge other people, and I came away from the evening feeling refreshed and changed by the discussion and the prayers that were offered.

The best bit for me was singing the two hymns to top and tail the evening. The first was one of my favourites from Matt Redman – “10000 Reasons” , and the one we closed the evening with was the wonderful “Amazing Grace” which summed up everything we had been talking about and has helped me so much this evening.

 

 

 

Blogging, Christianity

New Year, New You?


Happy New Year!!

What does that mean to you? To some people the new year brings the opportunity to start afresh with a clean slate, a chance to chuck out the old and sweep in the new. It might be habits, attitudes, routines, ways of thinking etc where the chance is taken to remake ourselves anew.

To others, it is perhaps the opportunity to declare a new challenge to be met or an accomplishment to achieve – make way for the new set of mountaineers and piano players…

To yet others, it is perhaps the chance to evaluate what is important in life and to look for ways to make those things better and stronger.

For me, I can see myself in all three of those groups; I would love to set myself a proper routine of prayer and study each day, I am determined to master corner-to-corner crochet this year, and I would like to make my personal relationships stronger. But I know that I cannot do it alone. Whatever it is that I set my mind to this year, I know that it is an uphill task and can only be done when and if God is with me through it.

Someone a long time ago said it far better than I can:

 

Another way to look at it is “man proposes, God disposes”.

I realise that could be read two ways – that it doesn’t matter what we plan, if God does not will it then it doesn’t matter because it won’t happen, or it could mean that if we put God’s purpose at the centre of all that we do then our plans will take flight and be fulfilled. I can plan all the study I want, but if it isn’t for the good of the Lord then it perhaps might not be what I expect it to be. I can try to master a particular crochet technique, but if it isn’t used for the good of other people then it is not worth it.

There are more resolutions I could make today – including blogging more often! – but I won’t for now. Even though today is the top of the year, the first day in the new calendar, the fresh start we all look for now and again, I am reminded that in God, each and every day is a chance for a new start. We are made new in his eyes every time we meet him in prayer and worship and there is nothing we can plan for ourselves that would ever be a patch on what he has planned for us.

Happy New Year, happy new you.

With every blessing.

 

Christianity, General/Journal

On Placement – Part One


It has been a while since I updated you all about what’s happening with my spiritual journey so I thought today was a good day to share with you where I am up to.

You may know that I am currently in the stage of discerning God’s call and what it means for me and my life, and having gone through several stages of inspection and indeed introspection, I am now moving on to another stage of my journey.

I have been given a date to attend a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP for short) in September, where I will go through a three-day “interview” process where I may – or may not – be recommended to go for further training in the church. As part of the process so far I have seen two vocational advisors and an examining chaplain as well as having several conversations with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) about what God’s call sounds like to me. During that process, it has been highlighted that I have little experience of church outside my own circle, and so I have arranged to do a short placement with a neighbouring parish to see how they do things there.

I started my placement today at St Michael’s in Alkrington, and I am going to be there for the next three Sundays with a view to learning as much as I can from a different priest-in-charge and from the congregation there.

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It has been a long day – my first service was at 8am this morning – but I have met lots of new people and seen three different styles of worship with three different congregations. First was a said Eucharist, which means that we shared holy communion but there were no hymns and all of the prayers and responses were spoken not sung. Next was a service at 9.30am which was a sung Eucharist, which you can probably work out is where we share communion but sing hymns and responses. Both services were very different from that which I am used to, but it helped me focus on the reasons why we “do” worship in church, and how we relate to each other as fellow worshippers.

I had a cup of tea after the service with some of the congregation members and I think I have found a new set of friends in the needlework group who meet on a Monday afternoon! The ladies there promised me a noisy afternoon of knitting and nattering so I’m going to take my crochet hooks with me and head off tomorrow for some fun and chats with them. I also spoke to a gentleman who at the grand age of 93 still plays euphonium in the church brass band, and with whom I have a “date” on Thursday evening at band practice.

Later on, I went to a Family Service which was a totally different service in terms of style for families who are looking to have their children in faith schools. There was over 70 children there and wow, what an experience!

I was introduced to all three congregations and prayers were offered for me and my vocational call. I was touched and humbled by the response of the church today because I don’t remember ever being the focus of attention quite so much before, and to know that there are about 200 people who prayed for me today was an amazing feeling.

I have learned a lot of things today – not least that 93 year old gentlemen can use a smartphone better than some children can! – and I am looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks with this group of lovely people and sharing ministry and mission with them for a short while.

So. My pre-BAP placement has begun and so too has the next stage of my discernment journey. I hope to keep you up to date with how things progress, and I’ll perhaps blog about what is involved with BAP too as things progress there.