The View from the Vicarage: A New Future

Its been a few days since I last posted a blog, and time has also passed in the Acts of the Apostles as we stride on from the calling of Paul and Barnabas in The View from the Vicarage: Called by God to another significant encounter that might help us understand the early church and it’s relevance to us today. Today we meet Lydia in Acts 16:11-15 and we hear her remarkable story.

We come across Lydia on the sabbath where she attends prayers by the river with a group of other women. We can assume that Lydia was a practicing Jew and that this may have been a lifelong commitment as there was a significant colony of Jews in her home of  Thyatira. The reason for the riverside prayer group was probably a lack of enough Jewish men in Philippi to establish a synagogue.

We know that Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, at the time Thyatira was famous for its manufacture of purple die, as purple cloth denoted authority and royalty it is likely that Lydia had moved to the Roman colony as an independent business woman.

As Paul sits down and speaks we hear “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” she is then baptised and invites them back to her house. Lydia is the first recorded European convert to Christianity but that is not her only significant role, if we turn to a later verse, verse 40 we hear “After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. ”  Lydia is the founder member of the first Christian Community in this place, one that provided an opportunity to worship, one that provided hospitality and care.

Why is this all significant, because it goes against the perceived rules, Lydia openly speaks to Paul, Lydia as a successful woman, Lydia invites the men into her house, Lydia helps found the Christian movement in Philippi.

As well as the clear message this preaches about the role of women in the church and all aspects of society it speak to me today about our need to move on from what we see as a perceived normality. In our society we are quickly getting used to the fact that a new future awaits each of us individually and corporately, that it will not be the same again. Politicians talk of the ‘new normal’ where as I would rather speak of a ‘new tomorrow.’

In the church this could be a pivotal moment in our existence as we move away from some of those perceived norms and look towards the possibility of a new tomorrow. Lydia’s conversion was a pivotal moment in the early church, lets pray for Gods’ wisdom and guidance as we seek to find a new tomorrow.

Our hymn today was written in 1894 by Arthur Campbell Ainger and is based on Habakkuk 2:14; “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.” and for us is a prayer of thanksgiving that God is always at work to realise his will for the church, the world and for humanity.

God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west,
wherever foot hath trod,
by the mouth of many messengers
goes forth the voice of God;
give ear to me, ye continents,
ye isles, give ear to me,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God’s work,
to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind–
the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time–
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world:
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
to set their captives free,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

All we can do is nothing worth
unless God blessed the deed;
vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
till God gives life to the seed;
yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea

Your friend and vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage: Called by God

I have been looking at the work of  the Early Church in the Acts of the Apostles in previous weekday blogs.  It has given us the opportunity to reflect on and spend time with key people in the live of that fledgling church, to learn from their calling and apply it to our own right here and now. Today we will look at Acts Chapter 13 and very particularly the sending out of Paul and Barnabas.

It may seem a little odd to talk about sending out when we are staying in but even in our times, and even in lockdown God is still working in his church and the Holy Sprit still calling people to do his work even if that sending out may be metaphorical right now.

The start of the first missionary journey of the church is set out in our chapter today and it involves Paul and Barnabas, but as my title suggests I would like to focus on the choosing and sending of these two missionaries rather than their journey in this blog.

The selection of Paul and Barnabas is the clear work of the Holy Spirit within the church as well as within them individually. The church are worshipping and fasting and the prophets or perhaps even the whole church are instructed that they are to send these men to do “the work for which I have called them”

The spread of the Gospel globally begins here, this where the church begins to become a worldwide church, and it is because God called Paul and Barnabas, because the church through the Holy Sprit heard that call and then because the church commissioned the two and sent them off.

AS a church we need to seek out the giftedness of each other, I often wonder as a Vicar who the Holy Spirit is prompting, who God is calling – not necessarily for to be a missionary or a Vicar but mostly to continue the work of the church, the spread of the gospel, the care of the community in this place.  What I do know is that we are all called, to “the work for which he has called us” and when times change we see new gifts coming out in people as we have in the last few weeks of lockdown. People caring, encouraging, praying, pastoring one another, assisting with those basic needs of others.

As we worship together albeit virtually who is God calling and what is “the work for which he has called you?”

I leave you with another of Charles Wesley’s hymns written in 1749 that speaks of our vocation to follow Christ in “the work for which he has called us”

Forth in your name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue,
you only, Lord, resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.

The task your wisdom has assigned
here let me cheerfully fulfil;
in all my work your presence find,
and prove your good and perfect will.

You may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes my inmost secrets view,
and labour on at your command
and offer all my work to you.

Help me to bear your easy yoke,
in ev’ry moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look
and hasten to that glorious day.

Then with delight may I employ
all that your bounteous grace has given,
and run my earthly course with joy,
and closely walk with you in heaven.

 

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

 

The View from the Vicarage: Firm Foundations

We have come quite a way as we have seen some of the great moments in the early church and there has been much to get excited about but todays passage Acts 12:1-19 reminds us again that being the people of Jesus is not all plain sailing.

If you have with me followed the journey of the early church so far we have seen phenomenal growth. After the day of Pentecost their was the conversion of Samaria this was followed by some wonderful individual accounts, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Saul of Tarsus and yesterday we reflected on Cornelius the Centurion.

Today the bad guy enters stage left, Herod Agrippa I the grandson of Herod the Great ensures the apostle James brother of John is killed and now he imprisons Peter, the growing church is catching more that just our attention, its catching all the wrong kind of attention.

The heart of this passage is Peter’s imprisonment, or should I say Peter’s miraculous release from Prison. That actually is the crux of what is happening here and the basis of my reflection. Whenever the church grows it sees some kind of persecution but that persecution is then met by Gods grace and no matter how many times we see one against the other the Church proves it cannot be beaten. This is however contingent entirely upon the church being built on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ, in order for the church to withstand this kind of disruption and battering it must have firm foundations.

Peter is the apostle chosen by Jesus Christ, here we have one of the churches great leaders, if we flick back to Matthew 16:18 we here these words of Jesus as he names and commissions Simon Peter “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Peter then in turn (along with the other apostles) ensure the post resurrection church is build on the firm foundations of Jesus Christ.

What wonderful witness as Herod Agrippa I tries to destroy the church by taking Peter from it than his salvation, his release by an Angel of the Lord. Herod has planned to take Peter before the court during the Passover, he should have known better after Pilate had done the same with Jesus only for him to rise again 3 days later.

We have seen our own church disrupted not by persecution but by circumstances, by the terrible tragedy of COVID19 and it is important we continue to do our upmost to protect the vulnerable, and support our NHS by not meeting together in person until it is safe to do so.  We have now not met together since Sunday March 15th in person and yet that firm basis, that rock that is Jesus Christ holds us together as our firm foundation and is helping us grow into something new. Don’t forget Peter though, the road is often fraught and never easy and there will always be trials to come.

As individuals and as a church we must continue to rejoice in Gods saving grace, that he would consider us worthy but also that we would keep our footsteps firm. We must pray for God’s guidance for the future but also his protection and strength. Above all we must never lose sight of our purpose, never lose sight of the Gospel of salvation that is our risen Lord and ensure that the empty cross and the empty tomb remain our firm foundations.

There is only one hymn I could leave you with tonight, one of my favourite hymns, probably the first I ever knew off by heart, written by Charles Wesley in 1783:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

Tis mystery all! Th’Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more. 

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

 

The View from the Vicarage: The Church and the World

Todays stop on our journey through the Acts of the Apostles takes us to Acts 10:1-23 where we meet Cornelius the Centurion and the Apostle Peter both having visions that will transform the early church in its witness and mission.

As we start looking at this passage we must be clear that here we have the Apostle Peter a Jew who now follows ‘The Way’ the new Christian movement and is one of its leaders as ordained by Christ himself alongside a Roman Officer who is a gentile (or a non-jew).

The history behind this is clouded and tricky but I will try and sum it up briefly, the Jews (Israel) are Gods’ chosen people, they are the elect – they were however chosen to bring the word of God to the whole world and this wasn’t quite how it panned out. Israel got being God’s chosen people mixed up with being his favourites and then began to despise others, they used to refer to Gentiles as ‘dogs’ and saw them as less than human. St Peter is part of that heritage and Cornelius is subject to that heritage.

So we have two visions, the first is that of Cornelius a God-fearing praying man, a Centurion, a gentile, who sees and Angel of the Lord who asks him to call Simon Peter an Apostle of Jesus Christ to come to him so he can hear what Peter has to say.

The second vision sees Peter confronted by a large sheet coming from heaven, on the sheet are animals and reptiles all foods forbidden by Jewish law. Peter is told to kill and eat, he is told this three times as he must not call unclean anything that God has made clean.

There s a clear link between the two visions as then Peter comes to the gate to find the servants of Cornelius the God fearing, praying gentile calling for him to come to him. If he cannot call the animals unclean because God has made them clean he must go to Cornelius as an angel appeared to him, surely a person cannot be unclean if God has made them clean.

This is the next pivotal moment in the history of the early church, here we see the gentile mission, a church that leaves behind part of its Jewish heritage as it begins to realise it is not of God. As it begins to realise that being Gods elect does not mean being his favourites.

The church today can be guilty of the very same thing, in lockdown we have opened our services online and many are participating who were unable to join us in our very regimented style of worship at a certain place at a certain time. The services are viewed by many as they go out live and then by many more later. The church is reaching out beyond is traditional attendees and so it must, we are all Gods children – we are all his favourites and that wonderful Easter morning was for us all.

We as a church at St Matthew & St Wilfrid Sunderland are looking to plan our next steps over the next few months, our own roadmap in line with the Governments. We need to ensure that as we do we are reaching all Gods favourites, all for who Christ died and rose again as we do this.

These COVID19 days are horrible but they are passing, these days will and must never be forgotten, we must learn from them and become better people, better followers of Jesus and a better church because of it.

Todays hymn is sometimes called the “National Anthem of Christendom”. It was written by English Anglican-turned-Methodist and later Dissenting preacher Edward Perronet (1726-1792) while he was serving as a missionary in India, and English Baptist minister John Rippon (1751–1836).

All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,

and crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

Crown him, you martyrs of our God,
Who from his altar call;
Praise him whose way of pain you trod

and crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

O prophets faithful to his word
in matters great and small
who made his voice of justice heard

now crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

All sinners, now redeemed by grace
who heard your saviours call
now robed in light before his face

O crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

Let every tribe and every race
who heard the freedom call,
in liberation, see Christs face

and crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

Let every people, every tongue
to him their heart enthral:
Lift high the universal song

and crown him, crown him, crown him, crown him Lord of all.

 

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

 

 

The View from the Vicarage : A Reflection on Noah during COVID19

Our Old Testament reading from Genesis 8:1-19 is part of a strange long story, four whole chapters of Genesis taken up by the story of a man with a big boat full of animals. We know the story well, we had it read to us as a child, we can remember the pictures in the book, we know the song, we live it and think of dear old Noah each time we see a rainbow! And oh so many rainbows at the moment as they decorate our windows and houses as we pray for God’s care on those who care for us.

It does not start well though as a story, it starts a terrible flood, a flood that is to wipe out all of mankind because they have upset God because he is angry with them. He has had enough! How can a loving creator God, this God who would create the universe with strokes of his hand, with words from his mouth then destroy it?

The trouble with Noah and the Ark is that too many people have spent a little bit too long trying to find the place in history where the big flood actually happened. The flood account is so much more than history, and so much more than a story, it is an account of the creation all over again, it is a piece of literary genius that reveals to us a little more of who we are, a little more of who God is and much more of the faithfulness of God all wrapped up in that pivotal verse: But God remembered Noah

Noah and the Ark is a story not of destruction but a story of salvation. A story of the chaos of the water, a story of the rise and fall of the tide, a story where Noah finds the Ark floating on top born up by God and then in a place of safety as the waters recede.

As we experience the current chaos of the waters of COVID19, the rise and fall of the tides of death and disease, as we are swept by the waters of isolation and lockdown we like Noah can find ourselves floating on top of them, born up by God. He who brings order out of Chaos, he who stills the storm.

This is a story of salvation, it may look like chaos and disaster, but it moves to being held up, it moves to being delivered, it moves to salvation.

In the light of our Christian Faith and understanding of this extraordinary Hebrew scripture we see the Cross of Jesus writ large in the story of Noah, the chaos of the waves, the chaos of crucifixion, and yet the cross like the waves bears us up, the cross like the waves delivers us the cross gives way to the empty tomb like the waters gave way to dry land.

At the beginning of our reading we were met with the words “but God remembered Noah” The word remember makes you wonder of God had forgotten Noah, but it is an unfortunate translation the Hebrew word zakar which is better translated as “was mindful of” Noah had never been forgotten, God was always mindful of him. He may have felt forgotten, but was always born up, he was after all in the boat not being consumed by the waves!

When you see a rainbow either in the sky or painted in your neighbours window remember this that God remembered Noah. He loves us and is there to hold us all up in this terrible storm – the peak has passed and if we like Noah listen and wait for the right time and the right moment he the waters will become dry land.

It is God’s mindfulness of Noah that we must remember in these difficult days.

The story of the flood stands at the very beginning of the bible to remind us that through everything God is faithful, though every thing God is trustworthy, through every thing we are his and he is ours.

I leave you with a hymn that reminds us of that faithfulness:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: In His Name

In this blog I have tried to explore the Acts of the Apostles and reflect on the encounters, the people and the places that we find in the early church. The early church are in a new situation as are we, and as we continue to explore what church looks like, how it points to Jesus Christ and how this might look post COVID19.  We find ourselves today with the Apostle Peter in Acts 9:32-43.

In this miraculous encounter we see Peter healing Aeneas and raising Tabitha from the dead. For me the encounter is particularly amazing as it has the early churches passion for Jesus at the centre of it.

Firstly we see the Apostle Peter following the example of the risen Lord Jesus in both cases. When he heals the lame Aeneaus he uses the words “Get up and roll up your mat” we are taken to Mark 2:11 where Jesus uses similar words healing the lame man in Capernaum “Get up take your mat and go home”. In the case of Tabitha (or Dorcas) being raised from the dead we here Peter say “Tabitha koum” so similar to the words of Jesus when he raised Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:41 “Talitha koum” which means little girl get up.

Secondly we see the Apostle Peter using the power of the risen Lord Jesus in both cases.  With Aeneaus he says “Jesus Christ heals you” and in the case of Tabitha we hear before the miracle “he got down on his knees and prayed”. 

Thirdly we see the Apostle Peter working for the glory of the risen Lord Jesus in both cases. With Aeneaus we read “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” and in the case of Tabitha “This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord”

This incredible threefold understanding of the early church’s ministry is a great window into our calling as a church. If we were not in COVID19 Lockdown we would still need to be asking questions of how this is reflected in our mission as a church, but now it is even more important in a world hurting more than ever that we reach out using the example of the risen Lord Jesus, in the power of the risen Lord Jesus and always for the glory of the risen Lord Jesus.

I leave you with an old Charles Wesley hymn written in 1749:

1 Jesus, Lord, we look to thee,
let us in thy name agree:
show thyself the Prince of peace;
bid all strife for ever cease.

2 Make us of one heart and mind,
courteous, pitiful, and kind,
lowly, meek in thought and word,
altogether like our Lord.

3 Let us for each other care,
each the other’s burden bear;
to thy church the pattern give,
show how true believers live.

4 Free from anger and from pride,
let us thus in God abide;
all the depths of love express,
all the heights of holiness.

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: Redemption Part 2 (Saul of Tarsus)

Working through the Acts of the Apostles we have found ourselves in Chapter 9 at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. In the first part of this blog published earlier The View from the Vicarage: Redemption Part 1 (Ananias) I reflected on Ananias, now I would like to spend some time with Saul of Tarsus himself.

Our scripture reading is Acts 9:1-22 and our subject is the message ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed’

In Saul of Tarsus we have a man who has got it wrong. In the letter he would later write to the Galatians he puts it like this “ For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14-15)

The way he had understood the world, the way he had understood Judaism the way he had persecuted the church, the pride at his advancement in the ritual and religions of his fathers – he had things upside down, Judaism is religion of a loving God constantly intervening with love and a people waiting for the messiah. Saul is a man of violence particularly against those who would follow Christ Jesus, although at the time we know this for him would be for blasphemy as the truth had not been revealed to him.

We find the truth in the story of Saul of Tarsus is that ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed‘ the beauty in Paul was always there, he was created in the image of God and set aside for the work God called him to. If we read on in Galatians Paul says “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him” (Galatians 1:16)

The very persecutor of Jesus is prostrate in front of him, the one who would use is name as a curse in one of his murderous threats now uses it as the highest word of praise and worship.

God created Saul of Tarsus, he created everything around us, he created you and me and what is even more special is that we are made in his image. In the world in which we live we must continue to pray for that redemption –  for that goodness and beauty is there at the heart of everyone and everything. Just as St Paul writes that God set him apart in his mothers womb, so he as ordained all things in his name for beauty and for glory. Sadly just like Paul we got it wrong, usually over and over again, often several times a day (and that’s just me.)

We are now looking in the COVID19 world to a brighter future with the peak passed. We all need to play our part in the recovery of what we have lost, not just in the last few weeks but the things we lost in the busyness of the world that we have found again in the last few weeks. We need to recover our identity as those who follow Jesus Christ just as Saul did when he became Paul, we need to remember ‘that there is nothing that cannot be redeemed.’

I leave you with another favourite hymn of mine, written by William Rees in the Welsh Revival it beautifully sums up the love and grace that is there to renew us and redeem us if only we let it.

1 Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving-kindness as the flood,
when the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten
throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

2 On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
poured incessant from above,
and heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.

3 In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting
as I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and pow’r on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.

Your friend and vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: Redemption Part 1 (Ananias)

Chapter 9 is one of the key chapters in the Acts of the Aostles for many. It contains that incredible conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road into the St Paul we all know and love. Todays reading is Acts 9:1-22

We start off with the man who was holding the coats while the men stoned Stephen, we start with a man uttering murderous threats to all who would follow Jesus. We start with a man who had obtained letters to imprison those same followers of Jesus using force if necessary.  We end up with a man who preaches and teaches and then writes letters so significant they make up much of our New Testament.

I have been reflecting on the events and people within the early church as I have explored the Acts of the Apostles and have constantly been asking that question, what does this mean to us today. Today I feel strongly that our message is ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed”

I want to look at two characters in the account of the conversion. In this blog I will look at Ananias in part 2 we will take a look at Saul of Tarsus.

Ananias has been told to go and lay hands upon Saul to restore his sight, quite understandably  he objects “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” Yet Jesus wants us to know, you and me and Ananias that there is nothing or no-one that cannot be redeemed and re-assures him “this man is my chosen instrument”

Perhaps it is no coincidence the name Ananias is the Greek from of the old Hebrew name hananeyah which means ‘God is merciful’ because it is the hands of Ananias that God uses as his instrument of mercy.

It is Gods mercy that says ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed’ – and hands are very interesting here, Saul of Tarsus is the man who has laid hands on the followers of Jesus –  these were hands of anger, hands of brutality, murderous hands and yet Ananias uses his hands as the instrument of God’s mercy, his are holy hands, hands of prayer, hands of healing and hands of mercy.

The emotions of Ananias cannot be ignored either, what must it have felt like to be given the “Go and Pray for Saul of Tarsus” job. He is worried, he is in fear, he is in fear for his very life, he has been asked to pray for a known tyrant, a religious terrorist. Yet Jesus wants him to know that ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed’ and that fear is transformed to dutiful service and as the scales fall from Saul’s eyes to joy, the joy of healing and the joy of being part of Gods amazing story.

I believe that the same is true today ‘there is nothing that cannot be redeemed’ even in the midst of death and heart-breaking loss, or perhaps especially in the midst of death and heart-breaking loss. We have a God whole loves us, who sent his son to die for us, who rose again for us – why, to redeem us.

We need to listen for Gods voice in the situation we find ourselves in, listen to what God is laying on our hearts as a church and as individuals. As the nation and world moves towards recovery from these terrible times we need to pray for that redemption, for ourselves, our nation, our world and our church.

The hymn I leave you with for now is one I have shared before, but one you know well, and one that sings loudly of Gods redemption for us all.

Do watch out for The View from the Vicarage: Redemption Part 2 (Saul of Tarsus) later today.

Amazing grace How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: Listening to the Spirit

Todays blog continues from last week The View from the Vicarage: Strength in Humility as we follow the Acts of the Apostles and particularly Phillip a little further trying to reflect on what it might be saying to us today.

Today we encounter not just Phillip but a high ranking Ethiopian and the Holy Spirit at work in Acts 8:26-40.

Phillip directed by an Angel of the Lord is to travel out to Gaza where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who is the Ethiopian queen’s chancellor of the exchequer on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In what may have seemed a strange request the Holy Spirit wants Phillip near the chariot, he needs him to hear that the Ethiopian is reading the scroll of Isaiah.

You need to picture this, Phillip is running alongside a chariot in motion, close enough to not only hear the words being spoken from the carriage but to respond. In a moment of vulnerability the Ethiopian admits he needs Phillips help, asked what he is reading. he admits he does not know “unless someone explains it to me” and invites Philip to accompany him.

This amazing encounter begins with an earnest reading of the scriptures, is followed by the life changing gospel of Jesus and the baptism of the Ethiopian and it is full of the Holy Spirit.

Why is this important, well I want to take our focus away from the Ethiopian and to reflect today on Phillip. He was happily going about his business and then sent in a new direction of travel, even though he did not know why. Further to that we see him running alongside a chariot like a scene from a cartoon having a chat with the passenger and then of course the reason becomes clear as he introduces the Ethiopian to the life changing Gospel of Jesus.

We need to be like Phillip, especially right now. These times are difficult for us all and we have all had to change how we live, work and interact. The early church knew what it was like to listen to the bidding of the Holy Spirit and so must we. As we pray for our world, our nation and our communities we must too pray for that same Holy Spirit who sent Phillip running down the lane to speak to us as a church.

The Guardian reported yesterday that 24% of the nation had returned to prayer using online services (Article Here) It is clear that we must respond, we must listen to Gods Holy Spirit and continue to speak the worlds of life that Phillip spoke to the Ethiopian, we have so much to learn.

The hymn I leave you with by James Seddon is a clarion call to go and take the good news to the world just as the early church did:

1 Go forth and tell! O church of God, awake!
God’s saving news to all the nations take;
proclaim Christ Jesus, saviour, Lord, and king,
that all the world his worthy praise may sing.

2 Go forth and tell! God’s love embraces all;
he will in grace respond to all who call:
how shall they call if they have never heard
the gracious invitation of his word?

3 Go forth and tell where still the darkness lies;
in wealth or want, the sinner surely dies:
give us, O Lord, concern of heart and mind,
a love like yours which cares for all mankind.

4 Go forth and tell! The doors are open wide:
share God’s good gifts let no one be denied;
live out your life as Christ your Lord shall choose,
your ransomed powers for his sole glory use.

5 Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!
go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore
and serve him, Lord and king for evermore*

Your friend and vicar

David

* © The Representatives of the late James Edward Seddon / admin The Jubilate Group

 

The View from the Vicarage: Good Shepherd Sunday

There is a phrase that is being said a lot, I catch myself using it too – it is “the new normal” but let us be careful of what normal is. The humanitarian and activist Sonya Renee Taylor recently wrote these words:

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction …
We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

IMG_0616 (2)Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our readings today are well known to many. In the lady chapel in our parish church the east facing widow is our Good Shepherd window, one pane the picture of Jesus holding a sheep with the words of our Gospel  John 10:1-16 and the other a picture of David playing the harp with the words of our Psalm, Psalm 23

The image that both Jesus and David use of the shepherd and the sheep is one that holds great power for us all, particularly now. As I look at the world around me, as I think about what normal used to be – as I consider the words of Sonya Renee Taylor “we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction …” I look to the Good Shepherd and see how lost we had become.

In the prophet Isaiah we read “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

As we look at ourselves and our world Good Shepherd Sunday may be just what we needed.  Sheep get lost, sheep get caught in thickets and fences, sheep get separated from the flock and yet I am not sure that is what we have done, it seems to me that we particularly in the western world decided we did not need a shepherd at all, we were bigger and better and stronger and tougher than your normal sheep.

We weren’t, we aren’t we won’t be ever. We need to hear our shepherds voice; we need to listen out for the soothing tones that call our name as we follow him. Will listening for that voice make it all better though? will it change the tragedy of the world around us?
The truth is that this terrible deadly virus is a reminder to us all of our frailty and vulnerability. It is a time of suffering in our community, in our nation and in our world. This is the time for Good Shepherd Sunday.

Our psalm is perfect for the moment in which we currently live,  Psalm 23 reminds us of the care of our Lord, our shepherd. Psalm 23 is a promise of a God that will never leave us, a God that cares for us and provides for us. Psalm 23 is gritty and real though, I can’t promise you it will all get better and neither does the psalm, the psalm does promise us that God will be with us “even as we ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. It reminds us that he will lead us and that ultimately we shall ‘dwell in the house of the Lord forever’.

Today we need Good Shepherd Sunday more than ever, we need to admit that we have got lost, that we are scared, that we are frightened. When we admit to ourselves that we need our Good Shepherd we need to listen for his voice, that voice of calm and love, that voice that calls out our name.

We need to follow him, to let him guide us so that however dark it gets, however hard it becomes we know he is there with us, holding us, carting us like that lost sheep Jesus spoke of.

So perhaps there is a new normal to look for, but don’t let it be greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction … let is be us his flock following their Lord and master and trusting in him alone.

I leave you with the words of one of the many wonderful hymns inspired by Psalm 23 written by Anna Letitia Waring in 1850:

1 In heavenly love abiding,
no change my heart shall fear;
and safe is such confiding,
for nothing changes here:
the storm may roar without me,
my heart may low be laid;
but God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?

2 Wherever he may guide me,
no want shall turn me back;
my Shepherd is beside me,
and nothing can I lack:
his wisdom ever waketh,
his sight is never dim,
he knows the way he taketh,
and I will walk with him.

3 Green pastures are before me,
which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will soon be o’er me,
where darkest clouds have been;
my hope I cannot measure,
my path to life is free;
my Saviour has my treasure,
and he will walk with me.

Your friend and vicar

David