Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I wanted to say

I have just come across a poem by a British poet, Gordon Bailey, titled: I wanted to say.

When you talk to me, you don't hear me!
When you talk at me, I don't hear you!
So we do not communicate.

I wanted to say
"Please help me."

I wanted to say
"I need you."

I wanted to say
"I'm sorry."

I wanted to say
"Forgive me."

You were suffering from never-open ears,
A condition resulting from
An ever-open mouth.

It was a considerable shock to realize at its conclusion that this poem is aimed at preachers.  The first lines relate to all human relationships, but he directs his specific challenge about 'never-open ears and ever-open mouth' at one particular target.   I didn't expect this - it really makes me wonder about the poet's back story.   But, I know its purpose is to humble all of us preachers. Because it is so easy to close our ears and open our mouths.  We need to be challenged.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Do you love me?'

Last Sunday's covenant service proved a challenging time.  Indeed, Leslie Newton the Methodist minister said that some members do not attend this annual service just because the covenant prayer is so demanding and they believe it is hypocritical to say it.  He commented: 'You know I almost prefer people who withdraw because they are at least honest in facing the covenant's high demands, to those who just turn up and thoughtlessly and casually repeat them!'

In sermon preparation I thoroughly immersed in John 21: 15-19.  Throughout my ministry I have often been drawn to this story because Simon Peter seems to have wrecked his relationship with Jesus because of his three denials (preceded by his arrogant denial that he would never deny).   It is a terrible thing to fail pathetically.  To do something wrong and be unable to correct it, or to fail to do the right thing and have to live with the consequences.   I have deep empathy with Simon Peter because I know the wretchedness of failure.  I think many of us have been/ are there.

Yet, the dramatic nature of his failure makes this conversation all the more mind-blowing as Jesus initiates a new beginning with Simon,  addressing him directly and focusing on his love-relationship.  Whatever Simon Peter has done, what matters now is his heart response to Jesus Christ.  He may not have as much love as he should, but Jesus is asking him to be real about his feelings towards Christ.  This is a vivid illustration of 1 John 4:10 that love is not that we love God but that he first loved us.   Only Jesus could speak to Simon about love and open up afresh the relationship that perhaps Simon thought was ruined for ever.   The Lord of second, third, fourth...nth chances who will not give up with me.

That encouraged me to enter the covenant relationship that out of answering love could say those words in the extraordinary relationship that our Lord wants us to deepen with Him through 2013.  I shall not forget sharing worship with my Methodist friends.  Actually, next month I have to give the annual Beeson Preaching Lectures at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, which is a Methodist seminary.  I guess I may refer to my covenant experience!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

No longer my own

My Christmas greeting anticipated (fervently hoped) that the feverish cold/flu bug would have departed by January 1st! But, in company with many others, illness has continued to dog us accompanied by interminable rain (until the last couple of mercifully dry days).  What a beginning to 2013.  However, we know in God's good time (and it is good) these things will come to pass.

Lying ahead of us this week is a trip up to Cheshire to celebrate a dear friend's 80th. birthday and to preach at Bramhall Methodist Church (Jan 13th).  The pastor has invited me to preach in the church's Covenant Service which many Methodist churches practice near the beginning of each New Year.

Based upon a prayer by John Wesley this covenant expresses powerfully words of Christian recommitment:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it. And the covenant now made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

I have used the words of this covenant before, but in preparation I been struck again by the high degree of submission in this covenant relationship, that expects us to be totally (yes, totally) open to God's will. 'Put me to what you will..' is equally open to the best and the worst possibilities.  It is both extraordinarily realistic about options, yet gloriously positive about outcomes.

I have been sent a full copy of the Methodist liturgy that accompanies the covenant.  Among the prayers just beforehand the congregation says these words with a vital line:
'Lord God, holy Father, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious covenant...for love of you, (we) engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.'   We can only say these words because of two-way love - God's love for us and our answering love.  It will be a privilege to preach and I invite you to prepare to say these words with me.