Monday, November 26, 2018

Christmas mice

Three years ago I posted that a group in the church had painted 150 stones with the baby Jesus which had then been hidden around the villages of Histon and Impington.  On the last day of school the children were told about these hidden stones and over the next days of their holiday they ferreted under hedges, behind benches, and beside trees in public spaces.  Once they found one they brought it to the church and were given a story book about Christmas with an invitation to a Christmas service with their parents.   It was a stunningly imaginative idea which worked really well.

Well, yesterday Carol and I joined a small group who spent lunch-time after church painting on 150 beautiful white flat round stones. Some church members had brought them back legally from their holiday abroad.  This time we had to paint mice.  A couple of carefully painted examples had been prepared. To simplify the process we were told to think of one sausage for the body and two potatoes for the ears.  Then with brown and pink acrylic paint we set to work.  The range of mice shapes was spectacular.  Some covered the front of the stones with tails encircling the back. Others showed exquisite detail with whiskers and noses all in the right place.

Mice and the Christmas story?  You didn't know?  Nor did I. This year children have to come to church to be given a book about the mouse in the stable when Jesus was born. Certainly different! Let's pray it makes connections for the best reason.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Korean blessing (2) A retold story

The Korean culture has immense respect for older people - I was told the language even has a different way of addressing them to show this respect.  And since Carol and I fit in that category you can imagine how well we were treated at their anniversary service on Sunday.  From the moment we arrived through the service and meal afterwards (they said the pork was hardly spicy....well, it's all relative!) the whole church family showed such love and thanks for our part 29 years ago.  They now hold a monthly English service with Korean in the background (though the sermon had interpretation) so on this occasion we were able to participate fully.

In the sermon I mentioned the story of their church member who tracked me down when I visited Seoul for the Baptist World Congress in 1995.  I felt it was a good illustration of the hospitality and generosity of a church that expresses God's love and shares joy with others.  And, of course, it directly focused on one of their former members. People love relevant stories though I confessed that I could not remember his name.

As soon as the service was over, their pastor, Pastor Soon-jo told me about this man who apparently had been in touch with him recently.  He is a professor, now retired, who lives back in S. Korea. On hearing I was back speaking in Cambridge he then told the pastor the same story that I used in the sermon.  Not only did his memory of the details match my own (!) but he sent renewed greetings and told how he had driven many miles into Seoul in hopes of finding me because of one desire - he wanted to thank me for the support and encouragement I had given in starting the church.  More than that, Pastor Soon-jo showed me a recent picture of him, before taking one of me and Carol to send back to him.

I am so glad all this happened to me - back then and now. This is Christian networking!  Such stories are to be retold, aren't they?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Korean blessing

In 1989 a group of Korean believers who had been worshipping in a family home approached me about their vision for a Korean Church in Cambridge.  Could they possibly use our church premises as their base as they reached out to Korean speakers in the city.  I remember those early days of wondering if sharing our premises could work out and, more than that,whether we might develop a meaningful partnership.  I am aware of churches sharing buildings whose only link is bricks and mortar.  Might we belong together?

As the church agreed to give them a spiritual home I met with their pastor and other leaders. We ate together (they brought their own food even though Carol had cooked some!) prayed together and began a journey of friendship.  Every so often I would preach, preparing a full script so that accurate simultaneous translation could occur.  We would join for the occasional feast when odours of their favourites of kimchi and the rest would fill the church premises.  And for special occasions such as the main Christmas service and our TV service they would participate in our worship.

In my blog posts 'A Cambridge God Adventure' I told the story of the Korean church member who having returned to live near Seoul remembered I was attending a Baptist World Alliance Congress in the city.  He remembered the date and traipsed around delegate hotels until he found mine and then patiently waited until I returned there.  I shall never forget his welcome and kindness.

This Sunday I am preaching there again for their 29th anniversary.  It will be easy to lead their rejoicing that God has blessed the vision of 1989 as they continue to flourish, though I am having to provide a full script again...not my 'preaching without notes' norm!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mystery Book

Last Sunday while I was greeting someone before the service began a book arrived on my seat, in a smart paper bag.  As soon as I found it I looked around to see who might have placed it there - with no success.  No one caught my eye!  Opening the bag I found a copy of Andrew White's autobiography: My Journey So Far.  Andrew is known as the Vicar of Baghdad but he gained international renown as a reconciler both between Christian and Jew and between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.  Despite pain (sometimes acute) from multiple sclerosis he had never given up in his desire to show love in the most dangerous situations and he is one of my great contemporary Christian heroes.  He really is.

I love what The Spectator wrote of him: Canon White is instantly, unusually lovable...He is pure of heart in the way few people over five ever are. It makes sense that he's spent two decades as a peace-maker, negotiation with tyrants and psychopaths, because he's utterly disarming.

He really is instantly, unusually lovable.  I met him at breakfast in Wheaton a few years ago.  A mutual friend had invited me and I was quite overawed thinking I would spend some time with this larger than life figure I had heard and seen so much in the media.  But his love and warmth were instantly and genuinely overwhelming.  He told me how he had studied at Ridley Hall in Cambridge while I was minister at St. Andrew's Street and how he heard so much about the church, though his loyalites to the Church of England prevented him from coming.  I couldn't believe it.  And when I read his book I marvel how in his time in Cambridge he connected with several Anglicans who were friends of mine.

My guess is that the mystery donor of this book had no idea how thrilled I am to receive this book.  Actually, Carol wondered if it was left there by mistake, or intended for someone else!  I expect I shall eventually find out who left it and whether it was intentional.  But I rejoice in jogged memories of this wonderful lovable man of God.  Such autobiographies and biographies are exhilarating and encouraging reads, aren't they?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Love (2) Accountability

My second Sunday in 1 John 4:7-21 took us to two places: Love on the Day of Judgement and Love in Histon Baptist Church.  A few people spoke afterwards about both these.  One person said that they had been struggling with a deep sense of fear about things they were guilty of because they were aware that 2 Cor. 5:10 speaks of our accountability not only about belonging to Jesus (for which faith commitment means there is no condemnation) but also the 'things we have done while in the body, whether good or bad'.  Hearing those verses about 'confidence on the day of judgement' (v.17) and 'there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has do with punishment' (v.18) renewed them with hope. 

One of the men present said that he had actually cried towards the end.  'I am glad that you began with judgement and ended with love and it really touched me as I heard the last part,' he said.  At the very end I told the old story of the apostle John's last sermon.  News went round that the ancient apostle, the last of the disciples still alive, would give his last sermon.  People trekked miles to be there.  What a special event it would be.  Old John was carried in the midst.  With a weak voice he said: 'Little children, love one another'.  People strained to hear.  Crowds on the outside asked those nearer what he had said. 'Little children love one another' they were told.  Then John repeated the same sentence. Again people strained to listen. And again he said the same five words, and again...and again.  Some people turned away disappointed and even upset that this old man had been allowed to embarrass himself and obviously showed signs of senility. But others realized that out of his lifetime's experience with Jesus this spiritual giant was summing up the most important truth about living the Christian life that he could ever say, and he kept repeating it just as God in his patience and mercy keeps reminding us today.  Yes, little children love one another.