Dear Lord thank you for your Grace and love for us all and that no one is left behind. Please aid us to help others on their journey of discovery. Amen
Today I’ve been reading Psalm 107 and Hosea 11. Both have reduced me to tears as they communicate the gentleness and care of God for us, his people.
I was raised in a tradition that emphasised continually the wrath of God and his fierce anger due to our misdeeds. But no-one ever drew my attention to this passage:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11: 1, 3-4. It continues on is v9: “For I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”
The gentleness and kindness in this passage, God’s fatherly love for his wayward child, his stooping down to feed them, just filled me up with joy. And the rejection of wrath as a way forward in the relationship between God and his continually wayward people, filled me with hope for my own as yet rather haphazard journey with God.
In the Psalm, there is a repeating poetic refrain. First, the disasters that befall the people are described, they reach the end of themselves and “then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.” This repeats through the passage four times, emphasising its’ importance.
The Psalmist describes a series of nightmarish scenarios – people who in a wasteland; who are hungry and thirsty; in darkness and imprisoned; afflicted and at the gates of death; in tempests on the seas; oppressed and sorrowful. Every kind of dire circumstance that could befall anyone is encompassed in this psalm. And every time, just when things could get no worse, the people cried out to the Lord, and every time he heard them and saved them.
The blessings they receive are all the basic building blocks of human life, security and wellbeing. In vs 7, the people are led to a city where they can settle. In v 14, they are lifted out of darkness and deepest gloom and their chains are broken. In v 18 when they are near the gates of death, they are healed by his word and rescued from the grave. In v 24 onwards, those who are in peril at sea and whose courage melts away cry out at their wits’ end -the storm is stilled to a whisper and they come into a safe haven.
Reading it, I was struck by how bad things get before the people call out to God – they really are at their wits’ end before they ask for help. How true to my life this is! I usually try lots of my own solutions first, only hollering to God for help once I am tearing out my hair!
I also noted how practical the needs were and the help that God gave – lifting the needy out of their affliction v41, bringing food and shelter, freeing the captives. This passage echoes some of the passages in Isaiah 61 concerning the coming of the Messiah. Verse 9 has a direct correlation to the Magnificat in Luke: “for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. God knows we are human, at times weak and afraid, and knows our basic needs. He doesn’t disdain our humanity – rather, he comes to inhabit it in Jesus, to confer upon it a blessedness but one that doesn’t take away its’ frailty and need.
I don’t know how life is for you right now, whether your basic needs for security, kindness, food and safety are being met. Whether you are in need of freedom from darkness and gloom, or oppression and chains. If you are suffering, I hope you will find a glimmer of hope in these words and know that you are loved and noticed by God, and that you can cry out at your wits’ end and be heard.
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One of our Interns, Sam (on the left), wrote this poem after reflecting on leadership, for a Leadership training course he is just starting. He wrote if for himself, but also hoped it would be “embraced by the whole of the Upper Room Community”:
“To lead is to organise people.
How do we know we can do it?
Who decides if we are leaders,
or if we can shine?
We do, as we learn,
We know together we can lead.
Who needs leadership?
On Friday evening, some women gathered for an Advent Crafts evening to celebrate the run up to the Christmas season. Aswell as food, drink, Christmas music and decorations to make together, we thought a little about how the season might be for us, a group of predominantly single parents. It can be a tough time, with lots of unrealistic expectations (from us, and onto us!) a time where we can feel inadequate because we want to give our children good things but our budgets are tight, and the added pressures that everyone being at home and meeting up with wider family can bring. We thought about Mary, an unmarried teenage mother, giving birth to her precious child, in a stable, an unprepared and hastily arranged situation, chaotic and not full of beauty and peace like the carols tell it. We reflected what God choosing to be born into such a messy situation might mean for us.
We prayed this prayer:
God, born in a stable, surrounded by chaos and mess,
You came into our world
To journey with us,
To understand our struggles and hear our cries
Mary, young and uncertain,
Pregnant in scandalous circumstances
That no-one else understood;
You did the best you could to raise your child,
As we are doing too.
Pray for us in our struggles, and hear our cries.
Jesus, help us when we are stressed,
Give us patience and help us to cope,
Bless our families
And bathe us all in your peace and love
I was reading I Samuel 17 this morning. It seems to come around to me quite often and its a passage I love, about David and his defeat of the Philistine, Goliath. This morning a number of things I hadn’t really noticed before emerged:
a) David hadn’t prepared. He wasn’t expecting this encounter with the Philistine to happen and so he hadn’t looked ahead, planned, packed what he might need, strategised, read the books etc. He was running an errand: Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”
He had to trust his gut and what he knew about his God and take courage.
This seems a recurring theme with God, and is certainly a feature of discipleship in the New Testament. Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 without preparation, except the preparation of having known and followed him – their training for what was to come had happened in their apprenticeship to him, but they probably didn’t know it at the time. The Myers Briggs planning types among them must’ve been beside themselves!
However I think this can speak to us as the church – we didn’t expect to be where we are now. We never knew when the certainties of modernism would end, but we find them ending now and all the systems that went with them have entered the shock of decline. House of Fraser all but disappeared this week, because patterns that have lasted for many years are now changing. We are all at sea and feeling unprepared. We need to draw on what we know of our God, trust our gut and take courage. Drawing up the drawbridge and wishing change would go away is not really an option. Nor is trying to carry on regardless. We need to squarely face up to what is happening.
b) David could not use the tools that had previously been successful for others. Saul layered the armour of a warrior on him and he tried to get used to it:
“Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.”
It was assumed that only a warrior could have a solution to this problem. A highly trained, experienced military expert, wearing the latest equipment. They tried to make David fit the previous mould, expected his solution to be the same, as if there was only one right way of doing this. But he had a different paradigm. His thinking was different, as were his experience, perspective and methods. It was ridiculous really to think that he, a young man from the fields, would approach this mission in the same way as an experienced soldier. And why should he – they, with all their military experience, had not been able to solve the problem after all! David needed freedom of movement. He could not be constrained by the armour, or by the weight of others’ choices and preferred ways of doing things. If he was taking the risks, he needed to be confident and free to do it his way, to respond to the spirit and move freely.
d) David improvised, using what he found around him in the local landscape – seeing a brook, a familiar part of his shepherding environment, he looked around and saw what resources were available: Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the stream.
He chose what was indigenous, what was near to hand. Wherever we are, there will local resources and gifts all around us. We don’t need to ‘import’ genius or expertise from elsewhere. [Let the church planter understand.] God has blessed every place with strengths and good things, not just the place where *we* come from.
e) People opposed him and ridiculed him: When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?”
Sadly pioneers know that this will happen. The fact that he wasn’t doing this in a way that others understood must have seemed a threat to some. The fact that he stuck his head above the parapet and offered to do it at all rattled others, who didn’t have the courage or the solution. He didn’t seem to fit, he didn’t seem a likely candidate, he didn’t inspire confidence. He did it anyway!
f) Saul saw the truth, eventually – that God had brought him here to resolve the situation and was going to work through him. Saul was courageous enough to see past all the possible weaknesses to the courage and passion of the boy. These piqued his interest, they marked him as someone with a prophetic character. It takes some chuzpah to turn up to a battle as a shepherd boy carrying some food and offer to defeat a maniacal giant. He allowed him to take the risk. How many leaders would do this in dark times, when it seems certainty is what is required? Perhaps Saul felt able to let him do it because David’s testimony was full of the Lord and his works, and not David’s: “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” This is where our ability to take risk comes from. Saul blesses him and sends him out: Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
In the world of pioneering there are many unlikely people, taking ridiculous risks for the coming Kingdom. Reading the new Zine today produced by Proost, http://www.proost.co.uk/future-present, it is full of stories of wisdom and people daring to challenge the darkness, people using local gifts and resources to build together with others, people who were likely unprepared for what God had in store for them but who responded with equal amounts of terror and courage. People who the authorities don’t always see or acknowledge; people who academics write books and papers about, ridiculing the new things that are growing and shaping the church, helping it over the hill and into its new future. These are hard to bear and we need to acknowledge the hardships, but we also have work to do! God is leading his church, and none of us know exactly what that will look like in the future, but it is God’s church and so we don’t need to fear. “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
Last week we had the joy of seeing Bishop Rachel baptising 7 and confirming 4 people into God’s church during the summer playscheme.
Here is the short liturgy we put together for the occasion. It was designed to be fit for purpose in a large setting where many people were unfamiliar; to communicate the welcome of God to those seeking him; to be clear what was happening at each stage; to use uncomplicated language as much as possible; to be clear about the big themes and actions within the service; to follow the original structure in the Common Worship baptism service and to carry an Anglican family resemblance. It took just half an hour and worked very well. We are a Bishops Mission Order and allowed to write liturgy for missional contexts.
(The booklet contains small icons/pictures at each stage but the website can’t show them or the layout)
Service of Baptism & Confirmation
With Bishop Rachel, Rev Kim Brown and The Upper Room Community
At St Lawrence Church, Chesterton
Thursday 2 August 2018
Bishop Rachel welcomes everyone and prays a prayer
We bring our messy lives and fragile hearts before God, asking for forgiveness & mercy
Bishop: We’re sorry for the wrong we’ve done
All: God, make us new
Bishop: We’re sorry for the mess we’ve made
All: God, make us new
Bishop: We’re sorry for the hurts we’ve caused
All: God, make us new
God sees our hearts and our lives. He forgives us + and offers us a new start through Jesus. Amen.
We Read The Bible: Mark 10:13-16
Jesus Receives the Children
Some people brought their small children to Jesus so he could bless them. But his followers told the people to stop bringing their children to him. When Jesus saw this, he was displeased. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them. The kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these little children. I tell you the truth. You must accept the kingdom of God as a little child accepts things, or you will never enter it.” Then Jesus took the children in his arms. He put his hands on them and blessed them.
Bishop Rachel gives a Short Talk
Presentation of the Candidates
The candidates, parents & godparents form a semi- circle around the bishop.
The bishop says to the congregation
We thank God for all who have come to be baptised today. Jesus loves them and welcomes them into his Church.
So I ask all of you here today: Will you help these people to become part of God’s family? Will you support them on their journey of faith?
All: With the help of God, we will
The bishop asks the parents, godparents and sponsors of the children being baptised:
Parents and godparents, you speak for the children being baptised today. Will you promise to encourage them, pray for them, and help them to follow Christ?
With the help of God, we will.
In baptism these children begin their journey in faith. Will you care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?
With the help of God, we will.
The bishop asks all the candidates
Are you ready with your own mouth and from your own heart to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ?
The bishop addresses the candidates, sponsors, parents & godparents
We all wander far from God and lose our way: Christ comes to find us and welcomes us home. In baptism, we are responding to his call. Therefore I ask:
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins?
I repent of them
Do you reject evil?
I reject evil.
Signing with the Cross
The bishop makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each candidate for baptism, saying
Christ claims you for His own. Receive the sign of His cross.
When all have been signed, the Bishop says
Be glad in Christ. You are his for ever.
The priest says to the candidates
Stand firmly against evil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.
The Bishop says to them
May Almighty God protect you from the powers of
darkness, restore in you the image of his glory,
and lead you always in the light and obedience of Christ.
Prayer over the Water
The candidates gather at the baptismal font. The bishop says:
We thank you, loving Father, for the gift of your Son,
Who, by the cross, forgives and restores us
from all our sins.
He calls us to share that good news with all,
and to baptize all who turn to him.
And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this water,
that those who are baptized in it
may know themselves loved by you forever
Profession of Faith
We affirm our faith in Jesus Christ together
The bishop addresses the congregation
Do you believe and trust in God the Father, the One who made us and knows us?
All I believe and trust in him.
Do you believe and trust in God the Son, who lived with us our human life, died for us and rose again?
All I believe and trust in him.
Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit, who brings life and newness to the world?
All I believe and trust in him.
This is the faith of the Church
All This is our faith;
We believe and trust in One God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The bishop pours water on each candidate, saying
I baptize you
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
The bishop addresses the newly baptised
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.
All We welcome you into the fellowship of faith.
The bishop marks the the candidates for confirmation with the sign of the cross, saying
Remember your baptism into Christ Jesus.
The Candidates for Confirmation form a semi –circle around the bishop
The bishop addresses each candidate by name and anoints them with holy oil saying
God has called you by name and made you his own.
She lays her hand on the head of each, saying
Confirm, O Lord, your servant … with your Holy Spirit. Amen.
The bishop prays for all those on whom hands have been laid
Pour out your grace on your people, O Lord, and lavish your Holy Spirit upon them, that they may know themselves loved, blessed and found in you until the end of this life, and forevermore.
Please sit down for the prayers
Prayers will be said for all who have been baptised and confirmed. Then we say together
All : Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our tresspasses
as we forgive those who tresspass against us
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory
forever and ever. Amen.
The Giving of The Light
All who have been baptized and confirmed gather to receive a lighted candle with the bishop, who says
God has delivered us all from darkness and given us a place with the saints in light. You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life. Amen.
We say together
We rise up today,
clothed in the strength of Christ.
We go out today, loved,
to love and serve Christ’s world.
We do not go alone.
We will not be afraid.
We shall not be overcome.
We are the beloved of God.
Bishop Rachel will now bless us all, and pray a blessing on our food. After the service, please stay to eat lunch, share cake & celebrate together.
We blow bubbles now as a sign of our celebration and joy before God!
Who did the people in the crowd who ate the loaves and fishes think Jesus was? Did the woman with the 12 years of bleeding know all the doctrine and teaching about Jesus before she sought him out? Did the disciples – the chosen ones – really ever have much clue what the Messiah was all about, after journeying with him every day for three and a half years? And yet did he manage to accept them, and love them, journey with them, heal and feed them, despite their ignorance in the face of all the evidence, and their frequent squabbles and mistakes? It seems that, yes, he did!!
I only ask because sometimes some people object to other people being allowed to draw near, to come and taste and see, to want their children to be welcomed and blessed. As if perhaps there is a hierarchy of deserving people who only may be admitted to a very small and exclusive club.
It could possibly be perceived that the new people may not be schooled in enough theology / tradition / Bible knowledge to be able to answer the questions of faith with as thorough an understanding as those who have been around the church for a long time, perhaps for generations. They may not know what some of the complex words mean, or what the club members may expect of them in terms of behaviour / payment / attendance in future / their relationships / appearance etc etc etc. They may not meet someone else’s standards of what is required to come to Christ. As has been said to us before, as a new form of church: “You are making it too easy for people.”
It makes me wonder – just how hard is it supposed to be…?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. ” Isaiah 55
“On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and called out in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” John 7
“Now people were even bringing their babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them. And when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to Him and said,“Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, if anyone does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, he will never enter it.”… Luke 18
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3
The truth is that God is reconciling all things to himself all of the time. He is constantly inviting, drawing, calling and leading people to his son. And people are responding, all the time. They know Jesus when they find him, and understand that they are being given a free invitation to be welcomed, loved and blessed. A table to sit at and a family to be with. This is not something they have to earn or work for, or something they have to deserve in any way – by the morality of their background, knowledge of theology, family name or contents of their bank account. THANK GOD!! This is the only way I am able to be here – because other people who knew me and saw I was lost, saw I needed this desperately, and showed me the way. And it is now my job, my calling and my life’s joyful work to do the same for others.
Jesus already did the heavy lifting on this one, so we don’t have to. The cost of the invitation has already been paid, on the cross. He tells us that it is the Father who draws everyone who comes to him (john 6). It is a gift, not an extension of privilege, not a gold card to someone whose family clocked up a lot of points, not a reward for reading lots of dull books. A gift, offered to everyone for all time. End of.
I imagine if you were someone nice and tidy and deserving then you might not want some oik like me rocking up at your neat family table, with my baggage, my northern brashness, my strange friends, but that is the actual deal. You can’t accept your invitation unless you accept the right of the host to seat you next to whoever else he chooses – there simply is no VIP seating at this banquet! And if you want it, you really can just come and get it.
I was teaching in a Bible college in another country recently, in a diocese where women are not yet ordained. In the group I travelled with there were 4 ordained women and we all taught male students training for ministry. They were adamant that because Jesus did not explicitly include women in the 12 disciples, that meant women could not lead or be ordained. They were looking for very clear directives in the Bible to show that women had a role to play in the life of the church. I come across lots of white male leaders in the UK who feel the same.
Yet when I read my Bible, it shows me patterns, clues, here a little, there a little, piece by piece making a patchwork that shows something quite different. Some of the most subversive and prophetic words come from women, and the ways this is presented are at times prophetic and subversive too – not always in plain sight, in large letters!
I was struck this morning by the song of Hannah in the book of Samuel, and how similar it is in pattern and style to Mary’s song, the Magnificat. Both are full of praise that reflects knowledge and prophetic insight – both clearly women who were educated in the ways of God, and who were inhabited by the Holy Spirit, dedicating their lives, bodies and precious children to the service of God and his people. This week we have remembered Mary Magdalene, who was with Jesus at the end and again at the new beginning, who was first to proclaim the news of the resurrection, which transformed the church and brings newness to each of us. Mary and Martha – one recognised Jesus as the Christ, as the one who has come, and the other prophetically saw his impending death. So much of our knowledge and wisdom is lost if we discount the gifts brought by women.
Regardless of patriarchy, prejudice and privilege, the Holy Trinity have been working in and through women for the good of humankind, the church and the Kingdom since the beginning – redeeming the blame heaped on Eve! We have been privileged and blessed to be given messages of hope and good news for the poor, to be able to journey with Jesus and see him work in us to bring redemption and enrichment to others. The church would be impaired and impoverished without the love, ministry and service of women. Both Hannah and Mary were directly visited and their own deep faith drawn upon as they offered their whole selves for God’s purposes. The course of history was changed by their sacrificial willingness. So lets keep on being who we are called to be, offering our whole selves and singing out our words of prophecy.
1 Samuel 2 (NIV)
2 Then Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn[a] is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
2 “There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 “Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
4 “The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
6 “The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
9 He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
“It is not by strength that one prevails;
10 those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Mary’s Song Luke 1:46-55
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”