Sunday, April 28, 2019

Gleanings 20) On the spot 3

I started Gleanings because my stack of sermons needs pruning/burning? and before taking drastic measures I looked back to my beginnings in Blackburn in the 70's.  In the building crisis my short series called: BUILDING FOR THE LORD shows me wrestling with Scripture with dangers of manipulation lurking everywhere.

Sermon 2) UNDER ORDERS (2 Samuel 7: 1-18) began with the story of Saddleworth (in Yorkshire) where an ex-sprinter councillor argued for an Olympic-sized running track.  People said 'What a good idea.' The expensive track  was joyfully completed but ever since it has been permanently water-logged and unusable.  King David pleased with his rich palace thinks it a good idea to build God a rich temple too.  Consulting prophet Nathan, he received an immediate green light only for God, later that night, to break in with his rebuke.  David is not to build his temple.  No. Man is wiser after the event; God is wise before.  David and Nathan have to learn to be under God's orders.   I emphasized that a) God only knows and warned how we can all make Nathan's mistake. 'We should saturate every step with prayer as we look to our future. There can be no jumping at the good idea until we are sure it is God's order'.  And b) God only succeeds - we do wonder what God is up to?  It's a strange sort of success as David is told to look to his son.  And we are told to look to God's son and a strange sort of success in the crushing agony of Gethsemane and desolation of Calvary. But under God's orders Jesus completed the task and now as we look to the cross we see it empty, deserted - the failure of man's worst to annihilate God's best. And in his power God would have us stay under his orders today....

Preachers should often ask as they preach Old Testament stories - how is Jesus wanting to tell this today? How does this Old Covenant story belong with the New Covenant?  And are they just using a story to make a personal point?  Good questions.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lady Selena

I am just back from speaking at the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion Annual Conference.  In the heady days of eighteenth century revival with John Wesley and George Whitefield, Lady Selena experienced dramatic Christian conversion which led to her extraordinarily fearless witness to all - peers and servants - as she established preaching centres using every ounce of influence and wealth for the gospel. Facing opposition from the established church, she reluctantly organized her connection of churches of over a hundred chapels as a group of separatists.  She stands out as one of the most significant women in Christian history.

Knowing that I was going to speak, a US professor friend wrote to me: 'The Countess of Huntingdon! Oh, wow! dear Lady Selena.  I had no idea her Connexion still existed. Where do these congregations exist?'    I read this to the conference who ,with laughter, wanted to reassure him that they still exist! I promised to write and let him know.  True, numbers of churches have shrunk to 22 and some of these are small but the connexion's spiritual life with its partner connexion in Sierra Leone was evident from the very first.  Carol and I loved sharing sessions and meeting friends from places ranging from Ely, to Middleton, to Eastbourne to St. Ives, Cornwall. Children and young people had very lively parallel activities. Interestingly, at a Mission Marketplace churches had been asked to bring details of their recent outreach. I went from table to table, picking up leaflets as members enthusiastically described their hospitality projects, schools' work, overseas' commitment, work with special groups etc.  Wonderful.

In my three talks on the Connexion's tag-line: Welcoming, Supporting and Networking" I introduced some of the challenges that come with being a missional church.  Of living in the faith and vision that GOD IS AT WORK EVERYWHERE AS HE GATHERS AND SCATTERS HIS CHURCH AS MISSIONARIES.  I warned them to be ready for OUCH moments when God would ping them with a fresh challenge and maybe rebuke!   People told me they experienced several of these.  Indeed one person said they were sitting near the door to escape too many more!

So, I am grateful I was well enough to undertake this.  The Connexion website had asked prayer for me earlier in the year and when I first arrived I was encouraged by the people who asked me about my health and said they had been praying.  Thank you Lord for opening up to Carol and me another part of your great family.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday

I led prayers in my local church this morning and as I reflected on today, which marks the beginning to Holy Week, I remembered with clarity my pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Holy Week when we were able to follow in the footsteps of Jesus through to Easter Sunday and then onto Galilee in resurrection celebration.  At key points we read Scripture, sang, prayed, were quiet (so important) and sometimes shared communion.

On the road down from the Mount of Olives we read Luke 19: 28-44 when the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices: 'Blessed in the king who comes in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven and glory in the highest'.  And a little later as Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city he wept over it and said, 'If you,even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace...'  Peace with God and in relationships with others through the harmony of his love and forgiveness.

Standing there with the city of Jerusalem uncaring, even hostile to the momentous event ahead, I recall both the sense of grief that this city would miss the opportunity, tears for the lost, but also the sheer courage as Jesus went ahead in spite of such massive rejection.  He is often so alone this week, especially in the garden and on the cross, with a city that is closed to God's gift of peace.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a focus on those for whom Easter needs courage in the face of so many around them who are unconcerned and uncaring about the peace that Jesus brings.  For Christians all over the world in all kinds of situations we pray for bold witness this week.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Gleanings 19) On the spot 2

At the Church Meeting which approved re- building a specific proposal was made.  Again, the bulletin spelled it out:
'ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-THREE PEOPLE met last Tuesday and were unanimous that:
the Minister be available on the Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday morning, October 4th, 5th, and 6th, for the church to give gifts or promises for the building fund.'
With the prayer meeting nearby, I sat in my vestry to receive confidential gifts. This "Sit-In" stirred much interest with the local paper following events which must have seemed bizarrely risky. To go public when so much was at stake. Readers of my earlier postings on the St. A's story 'A Cambridge God event' will recognize a pattern developing because I was to repeat this exercise in Cambridge!
Leaflets gave fuller details and sermons kept emphasizing the theme of climbing the mountain of faith and the need for sacrificial giving.  And what kind of texts and themes would be suitable?  Well a series was called BUILDING FOR THE LORD.

Sermon 1) AT COST (1 Chron. 21:16 -22:1)  I began with a comment someone had made: "Wouldn't it be great if a millionaire donated £100.000 for the building work"?  The story of David refusing the free gift for the land on which to build an altar (from Araunah the Jebusite) comes close to this millionaire wish.  But David rejects the offer completely. "No, I insist on praying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours or offer a whole-offering that costs me nothing."  This is a basic principle - gifts to God must cost.  No party-tickets where one person can pay for the rest.   The story in 1 Chron. reveals that the cost involves REPENTANCE as David acknowledged his pride as well as REAL GIVING when he put theory into practice.  There were other sermons too......

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Gleanings 18) On the spot 1.

I was beginning to realize at this point in my short preaching career how vital it was to ensure that what was happening in church life was made explicit in every bit of literature as well as in the sermons.  First in the literature - I see evidence in the service bulletins.
   - we should book the date, Tuesday September 4th to take the decision about rebuilding on the church site. 
   -we should respond in preparation by praying with faith and vision and in our financial giving - our offering should be at least doubled every week and our covenanting should greatly increase.
  - we are called to think, work, pray in these next weeks as never before. 

Controversially, the following Sunday a new item was included in our church bulletin:  WEEKLY OFFERING - we thank you for your gifts for the Lord's work last Sunday, which amounted to £71.92.  I say controversially because it put finances in black and white figures for all to see.  It put us on the spot. Some felt it rather undignified like putting washing out on the line! Perhaps dirty washing. And others resented the public spotlight.

I guess publishing church weekly offerings rarely happens today because people have standing orders and those who can covenant their gifts too.  So it is very difficult to know exactly what is being given.  After the September 4th meeting that confirmed the decision about rebuilding on the church site an official Building Fund was set up, so it's details were included too.  Every week.

It is fascinating to revisit the impact of making our giving explicit. Three months later giving on October  21st. was General Fund £ 93. 07p and Building Fund £39. 20p. Definitely, the challenge was on but I also recognize how much more was to happen....seriously.