Maundy Thursday

Thursday in Holy Week…

John 13:1-10

“He had always loved them…and he loved them to the very end”

All of us run the risk of imagining God fitting neatly into a framework all of our own making. Liking the things we like, hating the things we hate and even forgiving only the things that we are prepared to forgive.  We are good at putting things into boxes, things are safe in boxes!  God is not so keen on boxes.

Jesus, to this point, is the leader of the pack.  In word and deed, he has proved to us that He is King.  But now the hour is near.  No more clever responses to the religious leaders’ questions.  No longer would he leave one place and head for another – well, not of his own accord.  Today the pace and the tone changes.

Jesus is about to give everything.  In humility and weakness but out of a love like no other.  What does it do to your ‘boxed off’ image of God to see him on his knees? Should it really be a surprise? The God who threw off all the glory of heaven to dwell amongst us, time and time again seems to choose to need.

He wants to draw close to us as a friend and even serve.  Such friendship changes us – all friendships change us.  We pick up the phrases, habits, hopes and desires of even our very ordinary friends and that is what Jesus does this evening as he takes off his outer garment and takes up the stance of a servant.  We catch a glimpse of what tomorrow will bring along with a radically new way to be and to do.

Come and join us this evening at 7pm Thursday 18 April 2019

And another thing….!

 

“And another thing…… !”

Something to think about from Philip James, Reader Emeritus at St Andrew’s

Swerve or serve?

“Ask me any time, I’m around”, you may have heard perhaps from staff in a hotel, or from a shop assistant, or from anyone who has left you for a while with a task. Maybe it was said by somebody you trust, that you would want to call on in a situation where you felt poorly or alone or just worried. It suggests some sort of a relationship, at least for a period of time. That itself does imply there is a trust, a willingness to work together as we need to. No doubt the words are sincerely meant.

May I remind you that sometimes in the Gospels people said words without engaging brain and thinking what it meant. Just look at Peter before Jesus’ arrest:  I will never leave you, even though all the rest do; or, I am ready to go to prison with you and to die with you. Then there was the person that promised to follow wherever Jesus went. Without a doubt things were said daily by the disciples that they couldn’t keep to in the long run. Nobody’s saying their hearts weren’t in the right place when they spoke, just that it didn’t quite work out. It happens today, Jesus knows that. He lays down a challenge to us, but totally gets it that he is dealing with human weaknesses, with “Those of little faith” as he called his followers sometimes.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that one of the most striking examples the Bible gives us of someone who took service on and didn’t ‘give it the swerve’, so to speak, was a young girl given a challenge in the Galilean countryside to become Jesus’ mother.

You may have been told in the past about the hard place Mary found herself in, that it was life- threatening as well as embarrassing, even disgusting to some. In many minds she deserved to die. But you will also have noticed how once she was selected for the task, her attitude was not, “Oh dear, how to get out of this one?”, or to think about the problems, or just to run away, give it the swerve, so to speak. And she didn’t quietly forget or shut her mind to what was put to her. Instead her approach was, “Bring it on!” Mary said, I am the Lord’s servant…May it happen to me as you have said. You might like to read about it at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel (Chapter1 from verse 26.)

You could also have a look at Joseph, whom Matthew talks about; he could have found any reason to give this whole business a miss, could have imagined a little more than nine months’ problems ahead; but he went on into the unknown, prepared to be led by the Spirit.

And there you have it. They were ready to serve, up for the task. And yes, they were special people, more so than us. But to God we are all worth it, worth the  love it took him to win us and to keep us.

How could we do something about this as Christmas approaches- or any week, really? Really, the least we could do is to turn up and worship him, just because he’s there. So why do some of us dodge some of those precious occasions, pass on the chance to do business with the Boss of all life? Why do we think some services matter less than others? It’s the same Good News shared at all of them, the same God who turns up. How come the Church of England defines regular attendance as only coming to church at least once a month and special festivals?

Nobody needs me to go on a rant at this point; instead I’ll get us to look to the writer of Hebrews when he says, Do not neglect to meet together. For God to keep doing his work with us, he could do with being able to move among us when we’re together and listening to him. This can be as a larger group in church or in our smaller gatherings, perhaps in Messy Church and other things that are put on.  But it does involve being there in the first place! More than special times like Christmas. It’s worth trying to rediscover the way that the parents of the Saviour put themselves out there, and make ourselves available as often as possible; not leave it till next week, or put a date in our diary to think about turning up. After all, he means it when he says he’s always around.

Philip

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come – “Lord, teach us to pray…a prodigal child”

 

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A father wraps a faltering hand around the head of a beloved son and draws him into his chest.  The son savours each moment – either because he never thought he’d get the chance to be here again or because he knows that one day it will all be taken away and never return.

It is a deeply personal story that some of us will know or it is the story of The Prodigal Son.

It is a reminder of the God who waits at the window – desperate for his tearaway child to return home or it is the story of Israel who finds herself in exile.

Either way, a father’s longing heart breaks as the child drifts a bit and soon he seems to forget who he is and what he is for.  The image of the Father has faded until you can barely see it.

The Lord’s Prayer… Our Father in Heaven.

The father is faithful. As the son asks for the inheritance he, effectively, wishes his father dead and breaks the family ties (or the covenant if you’re reading the story of Israel between the lines) but the father remains faithful, patient, determined.  Desperate for the chance to gallop up the path should the child come to his senses and into view.

To all who desire it, he offers the right to be children again (cf John 1)

The Lord’s Prayer… Hallowed be your name

When the homecoming BBQ is over and it is time to hang up the robe, the child is surely faced with a dilemma that the story doesn’t cover. How to respond.

The hand around the back of the head and the underserved embrace changed everything – grace does that. Honouring the Father’s name is what is required now.  The child (this child, every child) may have forgotten who he is and what he is for but the Father never did.  Because real Fathers never do.

The gospels go on to speak of another embrace (God’s arms outstretched like never before or since) which has restored the status and the resemblance and there is no turning back. The Father grants the right to be a child again.

And this is how the new creation breaks into the old.  This is how light fights back the darkness.

The Lord’s Prayer…#ThyKigdomCome

 

Thy Kingdom Come – “Praying With Bread”

33 Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”  (Matthew 13:33)

bread

 

Ever since I was a child I have loved making bread.  There has been something very special about combining very simple ingredients, making a sticky gooey mess, and using your hands to knead it an work it into a smooth elastic dough.  Leave it in a warm place for ½ hour and it doubles in size.  And then you shape it and pop it in the oven.  And then there is the wonderful aroma that apparently sells houses.  I was talking to a fellow breadmaking enthusiast today and she said, “every time I make bread, a miracle happens!”

There is one active ingredient:  yeast.  Just 1 teaspoon, when combined fully into the flour, has the power to transform the dough into something wonderful.

Recently I have started to use the bread making process to pray.  I am not an expert prayer, nor am I an expert bread-maker.  But last night a group of us went on a journey together to make bread, and pray at the same time.  We thought of a person or situation that we wanted to pray for.  And we combined flour, salt, water and yeast together.  There was a point when it was chaos as each of us had a sticky gooey mess.  But gradually as we all wrestled with and punched the dough, it became a prayer.  A hardworking tough prayer, but a prayer nonetheless.

We put our bread in bowls and waited for them to rise, and to everyone’s delight, they rose!  We shaped them into symbols which represented our prayers and our faith.  And then baked them.

Yesterday I made a loaf and it was only when nearly all the water was added, I remembered I hadn’t put the yeast in!  I put it in with the rest of the water and hoped for the best.  The results were a bit of a disaster.  It struck me that yeast, is very powerful, even though the amount you use is tiny.  But if it’s not fully integrated throughout the dough, the loaf ends up bulgy and lumpy.

Let’s imagine for a minute that we are the yeast.  Do we decide to stay in the tin/sachet?  Or do we mix ourselves with flour (amid the world’s injustice) and allow that transformation to happen?  Bishop Laurie Green says,

“They say faith is personal – not to be let out of the bottle. But with Jesus, though small in number, working alongside the troubled & heavy-laden, we see his transforming Kingdom come ‘on earth as in Heaven!’”

Here is a picture of the bread made by our “star baker” last night.  Just one of many examples of how a sticky mess was transformed into something beautiful yesterday evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lets ask God how we might be transformed by his divine yeast today, as we place ourselves and our world into the hands of the Divine Breadmaker.  And let’s also think about how we can, with His help, be the yeast in our society today.

 

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come – “Childhood”

childhood

The disciples came to Jesus and asked: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a child over, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  (Matthew 18:1-5).

 I wonder what Jesus meant when he challenged his disciples to “become like little children”?  I remember chatting about this with a group of friends once.  What is it about children that Jesus values and asks us to imitate?

We came up with a long list:  Children look at the world with awe and wonder.  They are innocent and uninhibited.  They have so much potential.  They have a real sense of justice, and what is right and wrong.  They express their emotions easily.  They live in the moment and have a real sense of fun. The list goes on.

I expect many of us have childhood memories that could relate to some, if not all of those aspects of childhood.

And then stuff happens. Along the way our confidence or self-esteem can get knocked, we can be disappointed, or hurt, or face rejection or bereavement, and we can become a bit jaded maybe.  Cynical even.

Jesus’ words challenge us in two ways:  Firstly they encourage us to look at those childlike qualities and to imitate them.  Secondly he affirms that children have deep worth, and inspires us to welcome them, to care for them, to nurture them.

Today a group of us met to pray for our schools.  It is a privilege for us in Blackley to have regular involvement with 5 schools, whether that is for assemblies, supporting governing bodies, or inviting the schools to church at Christmas, Easter and Harvest.

We acknowledged that our schools can sometimes be difficult places, and the hard- working and dedicated staff, as well as the children, face many pressures, with limited resources.

And so we prayed for our schools.  That they would be places of peace, nurture and safety.  That staff and students alike would flourish and grow.  We prayed for resilience: that as they grow up, the young people would maintain that deep sense of worth placed upon them by Jesus.  And we prayed that our schools would raise up citizens who would fight for justice and peace.

And as we prayed for our schools, for the staff and the children alike, we also wondered how, we, the church in Blackley, might seek to be part of the answer to our prayers:  how we might help support our schools further.  If you have any suggestions, please let us know!

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come – Praying for the Nation

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When we set aside the time in #ThyKingdomCome for praying for our nation we could not have imagined the situation we would find ourselves in.  On Monday evening we sat with newspapers from the week and searched the headlines for good and bad stories through the eyes of faith.  Some people  would have you believe that faith and politics should not mix

Some people would have you believe that faith and politics should not mix – others might argue that they are one and the same!  The definition of the word ‘politics’ points to the ordering of society and effective governance.  If you take a look at the derivative of the word religion  (or re-ligion – reconnection/think of ligaments in a limb) you might agree that we are on similar ground.

Across Palestine and Jerusalem and much of the known world in the 1st century, you would have heard shouts of Caesar is Lord wherever people gathered.  When a group of people who’d followed the Nazarene around for a little while started to shout “Jesus is Lord” what were they doing if not politics?  They believed, at great risk, that God had just become King and if God was King then there was no room for any other.

So, it is important that we ‘do’ politics – even if the politicians are nervous about ‘doing God’.  Yesterday evening, one headline stood out for us.  “There is a light that never goes out” is the title of a song by The Smiths.  It has been used by some of the newspapers to describe the spirit evident in the people of Manchester this past week.  For us, it was a reminder of the intentions and purposes of God who came amongst us in order that darkness would never prevail.

Let us pray and then work for peace in our world, that the forces of hatred, violence and fear may be pushed back and a new bright day of peace dawn upon the world. History is not predetermined. Love WILL prevail in the end.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word (Martin Luther King).

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King)

Thy Kingdom Come – “Prayer without words”

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This morning we met together to continue our prayers on the theme of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.

In the light of what has happened recently, the focus of our thoughts today were led to those words from our Lord’s Prayer:

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…..for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory…”

This theme of forgiveness is especially poignant at the moment for our nation.

As a group this morning, we reflected on the account in 1 Samuel 24 and the story of how David resisted killing King Saul (who had been pursuing David to take his life) even though Saul was in a vulnerable position – alone – and unknowingly (because they were in a dark cave) – in the direct presence of David and his soldiers. Instead, David chose to merely cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak – perhaps to prove to Saul that he did have the opportunity to kill him but however chose not to.

Reflecting on this piece of scripture led us to a sharing of interactive and creative prayer, first using sprigs of rosemary (apparently, potent help in combatting memory loss) and coloured threads of silk to symbolise a person, persons or situation that we find hard to forgive. Then we made small book-mark-sized crosses using a template and brightly coloured wool to create something which we could give to people or use ourselves to focus our minds. I realise that there is a paradox in the act of using rosemary in the sense that we are needing to use it to ask God to help us forgive (forgive and forget…!) past hurts and move forward to the new creation God plans for us but it was helpful in linking remembering God’s grace and mercy we have in Jesus Christ to our own need to forgive past hurts.

Eddie shared with us also that he was reminded of Shaine Claiborne who wrote about the power of ‘Prophetic Prayerful Action’ which the author had experienced whilst living in a Christian community – where they gathered together guns that had been handed in and these were made into practical gardening implements… also reminding us of those words of scripture from Mic 4, v3:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Although the awful reality of the events of Monday evening cannot be diminished or reconciled – yet there is a sense in which the people of Manchester have chosen (like David and his soldiers) not to respond with violence – but to bravely stand in solidarity with their fellow brothers and sisters of every race, faith and culture – “proud Mancs” and not allow this tragic incident to define the future negatively, but to press on towards a higher goal.

On that same Monday at the Christie Hospital – a special commemorative service was held to mark the blessing of a banner made for the Chaplaincy corridor – made by young people and contributed to by different sectors of the local community and finally the finished work blessed by Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith leaders. That work of prayerful creativity now has even more significance and will ever stand for brothers and sisters working together for God’s kingdom to come in that place.

 

 

Puzzling Reflections In A Mirror

In 2012 I took my mum and dad to Lake Como.  I didn’t know it then but it would be the last time I would get to take my dad out of the country.  We’d been fortunate enough to share many amazing holidays over the years but now he could only walk a few yards and his health was failing.  One day we travelled over the other side of the lake and drove through the mountains into Switzerland for lunch.  I recall teasing my dad about the ‘special’ clinics they had over there and if he didn’t behave himself there’d be one less passenger in the car on the way back to Italy.  That sounds cruel now but he laughed – he laughed at all my daft jokes and I always was ready to return the favour.

Five years on, when my dad was finally released from hospital and taken into specialist nursing care, we filled his walls with photographs and one frame was filled with pictures from Lake Como.  By this time his vascular dementia had taken a menacing hold on his life and on mine too.  Sometimes he he would ring me distressed not able to remember much at all and sometimes I would catch glimpses of my dad that I would cherish.  Towards the end, when I was praying that his end would be a peaceful one and not too far away, I would catch a glimpse of the photos from Como and try to remember anything except that ‘stupid’ remark.

This week is Dementia Awareness week.  That story about my dad is uncomfortable for me to tell but most of you will have been affected by dementia in some way already.  Some of you in the Blackley churches have allowed me to share your experience too.  Uncomfortable or not, it is important we talk about it.

If reports are true, it will be the 21st centuries biggest killer.  It is the illness or condition the majority of us fear the most and it is not difficult to understand why.  I have watched what happens to families as dementia takes a hold of someone and now I have experienced it in my own family.  People who were once friends and lovers soon become carers and patients.  As memories fade and confusion take a hold identities change and it becomes incredibly hard to remember what things used to be like – we watch as the person we love seems to disappear before our very eyes.

Recently, I read an article by Professor Peter Keven (Staffordshire University) who had done some research and written from a Christian perspective on the subject.  He had some interesting things to say about dementia and how we might be able to look at things a bit differently through the eyes of faith.  I am really grateful to him fir that short piece.

He reflected on our modern desire for independence.  The philosophy of, “I think, therefore I am” pre-dates post modernism by centuries but it links the ability to reason with identity in a way that could prove be unhelpful.  It does, however, seem like an appropriate slogan for our times.  Productivity and purpose are God-given instincts (see instructions to Adam in Genesis 2) but away from God and out of check they leave us in a difficult place when production is impossible and when purpose is apparently lost. The amount we contribute to the world personally and professionally is obviously important but nothing will ever improve how we are viewed as a beloved children of God – something I need to remind myself of when I look at my busy calendar.  I have a strange fascination with newspaper obituaries – is that an age thing?  I have not seen ‘beloved child of God’ listed as as a title in an obituary and yet surely it is the highest status – I want to say ‘one could achieve’ but it is only ours by grace.

The desire to hold on to life and health and independence is understandable but when a person’s whole value is tied up in these things we might just have started to create idols out of our very selves and in doing so distorted our true and lasting identity – one bearing God’s image.

I remember the day the doctors told me they needed to put a ‘deprivation of liberty’ order in place for my dad so that they could put an alarm on his seat.  He could no longer make sensible decisions about his ability to walk and was a danger to himself.  I suppose he’d got to the point where he could no longer reason, he’d produced very little for years and was completely dependent.  Yet, right to the very last moments of his life, he managed to bless me with reminders of his dry sense of humour, a silly grin, a line from a song or a familiar phrase.  The professor of the article who inspired me to write for you on this subject called these things ‘habits of the heart’.

I wish that I could rewind and erase from history that daft joke about the Swiss clinic but what is so much more important is that the smiling old fella dressed in an M&S white vest in the photo taken on the balcony in Como is the same one I laughed and continued to love and admire in the Withington nursing home.  The smile (and the M&S vest actually) were the habits of his heart which I will treasure for as long as I am blessed with the power to remember.

At the end of Paul’s great love passage 1 Cor 13 comes this verse:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely (NLT)
Ultimately, it is not our cognitive power that matters.  However puzzling the reflections may one day become for us, what really matters in that we are all known – and one day we will know again – and next time – completely.
Eddie Roberts

Happy Epiphany

Good Morning

If we have not had a chance to do this before today, may we wish offer you our very best wishes and our prayers prayer for a blessed 2017.

Today though is the Feast of the Epiphany.  The revelation of Jesus to the nations.  There are all kind of traditions you could try observing today if you felt up to it.  You could chalk a blessing above your front door frame, there’s a recipe available for an Epiphany cake but the one I would suggest you definitely swerve is the tradition of a bit of winter swimming in a public place which the Eastern Orthodox Christians are very fond of.  They re-enact the Baptism of Christ which we will be remembering in a more comfortable way on Sunday!

I was thinking last week about how quickly we pack up the decorations and say goodbye to Christmas and yet somehow that is when the real work of Christmas begins – the ‘incarnational’ ministry we all share to be (as) Christ in our homes, workplace and communities.

By lunchtime yesterday we had booked 10 funerals for families who had obviously had a difficult time this Christmas and yesterday we took two funerals for North Manchester General for people who either had no families or the family had relinquished the right to arrange a funeral.  Pam and Nick took the lead on these two unusual and difficult services and they did a brilliant job of it too.

At Epiphany, when we remember the wise men entering the room where Jesus lay, they continued with the thrust and theme of the Christmas story.  The God who honours Mary, Joseph and the shepherds (who have zero status and are on the very edge of society) decides that it is equally important that the rich and powerful come to see what he values.  I can’t imagine what the wise men thought as they deposited their valuable and poignant gifts but I know that they didn’t turn back and claim that it made no sense.  They saw beyond earthly status and onto something more. Pam and Nick did a bit of that yesterday as they celebrated the lives of two people who you might mistakenly judge had little by the way of status.

I pray that our ministry together in 2017 might reveal something of where God places value and, in doing so, might reveal him in a new way to the world.

Happy Epiphany and I hope to see some of you on Sunday.

Rev Eddie Roberts