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

 

The View from the Vicarage: Strength in Humility

I am following the Eastertide daily readings in the Acts of the Apostles in my blog at the moment, we have seen the church founded and grow, we have seen additional leaders come forward, one of them,  Stephen has been stoned to death but the church moves on and we were yesterday introduced to Phillip in  The View from the Vicarage: A New Beginning?

Today we stay in Samaria with Phillip as he Peter and John encounter Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25. As far as subtitles in the Bible go, Simon the Sorcerer sounds intriguing, but Simon is no Harry Potter and we learn a lot about the strength of the early church from this encounter.

Simon is referred to in most translations as Simon Magus, or Simon the Magician a man who had a special power. It seems to me that the New international Version describing him as Simon the Sorcerer is trying to take away any positive spin that we might take from the word Magician.

We know that he could do things that amazed others, we know more specifically that “He boasted that he was someone great” this boasting along with his magical acts brought him fame and even fortune, it brought him followers. There is however a change in the life of Simon and the City of Samaria as we heard yesterday, it was the preaching and mission of Phillip. We are told that those who had followed Simon had been converted. Following Phillip’s preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they were baptised and “Simon himself believed and was baptized.”

The news of the conversion of Samaria to followers of Jesus Christ reaches Jerusalem and the disciples Peter and John travel to the city to support Phillip, They are clearly amazed at what has happened and immediately pray for the new believers that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit. In Anglican terms they are being confirmed by the apostles.

Our story changes, the new believer Simon whose magical business is clearly on the rocks as people turn to Jesus  approaches Peter. He offers money for the ability to lay hands on the people and says  “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” I am not sure if this means that he never really believed and just pretended or that he just did not understand but Peter is clear and firm with him:

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

The encounter for me shows the strength of the early church is in its humility, Phillip is a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ as are both Peter and John, as was Stephen – nothing they did was for personal gain, nothing for fame or fortune. Simon however is very different, from the outset we hear of his boasting, his belief in himself. Simon to complete his fame and fortune then offers to pay for the ability to perform wonders, to confirm with the holy spirit – but in whose name, Christs or his own?

As we think together about what it means to be church, what is means to be church in lockdown, what it will mean to be church in the next phase of the nations recovery we need to be careful. If we are not careful we can do this in our own name, for our own fame and fortune. That may be as individuals or as a church, sometimes we do things to build up the church without realising that we have forgotten to do them in the name of Jesus Christ.

The church fails when it seeks to do things in its own name and some of the things I have read recently worriy me, I hear people talking about Church without that reference to who church serves, we need to be clear in our mission and ministry whatever it will look like in a post COVID19 word – it is all about Jesus. Our role over these next few weeks and months is to recover our identity as the people of Jesus Christ.

Where better to start than a hymn written in 1866 by S Stone:

The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word:
from heav’n he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from ev’ry nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with ev’ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

‘Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with the God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Your friend and vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage: A New Beginning?

As we move on in the Acts of the Apostles we need to look back, we have seen the church founded and grow, we have seen many added to its numbers and yet we have also seen Stephen one of its promising leaders stoned to death. However difficult the circumstances and the emotion of the first words of our reading today from Acts 8:1-8 those famous words of Kenneth Wolstenholme from the 1966 World Cup Final “they think its all over .. It is now!” could not be used for the early church.

It seems as though things are coming to an end “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria ….  Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Despite this God provides, Stephen has gone, Phillip is here – another one of the seven comes along to take forward the mission of the church. Phillip is clearly one of the scattered who has found himself in Samaria, despite 1000 years of enmity between Jews and Samaritans we hear ” Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.”

It has been suggested by many scholars that this outreach to the Samaritans is one of the key factors in the growth of the early church as it moves beyond its normal boundaries. This will open up the church to begin to preach the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to the gentiles and to the rest of the world. It is not just words, it is not a hollow message and the people see this “with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

The persecution of the early church was ground breaking for those who had been used to doing things a certain way, this ministry to the Samaritans was beyond their comfort zone and outside their usual practice. Was this a new beginning or was the early church simply discovering more and more of what it meant to be church in a changing world?

Today the church finds itself as locked down as the rest of the country yet Jesus is not locked down, he is risen and he is alive. As a church we must take hope in the new direction that our passage sees the early church moving in, while what is sacred will always be sacred, we must move on and embrace this new direction that has become part of our lives and will become part of the DNA of the church.

In a recent article the New Statesman reflected on how they see the start of a religious revival due to a deep sense of need highlighted by the worries and fears of COVID 19. That coupled with the church reaching out in new ways in its teaching, mission, pastoral care and community support may well be our new direction as we recover what it has always meant to be the people of Jesus.

Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus was what it meant to be church back in the Acts of the Apostles, it was what it meant for Stephen and for Phillip and it still is. In a changing world we must change the ways we share that life giving gospel so it can be heard.

As we reflect on that purpose being the same yesterday, today and tomorrow I take you to a hymn from 1887 by William-John Sparrow Simpson:

All for Jesus–all for Jesus,
this our song shall ever be;
for we have no hope, nor Saviour,
if we have not hope in thee.

All for Jesus–thou wilt give us
strength to serve thee, hour by hour,
none can move us from thy presence,
while we trust thy love and power.

All for Jesus–at thine altar
thou wilt give us sweet content;
there, dear Lord, we shall receive thee
in the solemn sacrament.

All for Jesus–thou hast loved us;
all for Jesus–thou hast died;
all for Jesus–thou art with us;
all for Jesus crucified.

All for Jesus–all for Jesus–
this the Church’s song must be;
till, at last, her sons are gathered
one in love and one in thee.

Your friend and vicar

David

*(c) The Reverend Edward J Burns

 

 

The View from the Vicarage: The Church of Christ

Today we focus once again on the life and witness of Stephen in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and see what it might mean for us as individuals and as a church.

In our previous posts about Stephen we touched on his calling and commissioning The View from the Vicarage: The Serving Church and his arrest The View from the Vicarage: Equipped by God 

Today we will look at his trial and ultimately his death as we continue to explore what his vocation meant to him and the early church and what we can learn from it. His trial, more specifically his own speech to the Sanhedrin can be found in Acts 7:1-53 here we find an eloquent and incredible speech detailing the acts of God through Abraham, Moses, David and of course Jesus himself.

I would like however to focus on the last few verse of the chapter Acts 7:54-60 where we see the stoning and death of Stephen. Here we see in this moment of faith in God, Stephen look up to the heavens:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God

When his final moments come we hear these words “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  and then “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” These echo the worlds of Jesus upon the cross, but there is more than that to Stephen, his whole life and mission seems to echo that of Christ. He is the essence of what it means to be like Jesus.

wwjd-braceletWhen I was a teenager there was a movement which used the phrase WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do” we wore wrist bands that had those letters on and we were to ask ourselves at each important decision what Jesus would have done in our place. It had its flaws but when I look at Stephen I see someone who truly lived his life like Jesus in order to tell others of his saving power and grace.

As we look out at the hurting world around us we too have a vocation to bring that news of Christ’s saving power and grace. In words of kindness, in phone calls to the house bound in acts of community support in prayer for one another. Also as we come out of this lockdown very gradually we will need to be the people of hope to those around us. I can’t think of a better example than Stephen.

If of course Stephen is a bit of a tough act to follow and you feel a struggle to live up to his example there is someone else in the passage that you will have heard of, we read “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In Chapter 8 we read a bit more about him in verse 3 it says: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

This of course is Saul of Tarsus who become St Paul after a vision on the Damascus Road, the author of much of the New Testament. St Paul proves God can use us all so wherever you are between Stephen and Saul do not worry, God has something for you, and for us together as a church.

And so I sign off with Kate Barclay Wilkinson’s Victorian hymn which prays the prayer that we each may be more like Jesus:

May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His pow’r.

May the peace of Christ my Savior
Rule my life in every thing,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: Equipped by God

In our reading this evening from Acts 6:8-15 we see Stephen seized and brought before the Sanhedrin, only yesterday we saw his calling to ministry The View from the Vicarage: The Serving Church

He is accused of speaking “blasphemous words against Moses and against God” false witnesses declare that he “never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law” and that he said “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

Those who speak against him and those who give witness are of course as confused by Stephen’s words as those who first heard Jesus say them. Stephen is merely teaching of Jesus as the Messiah who came to fulfil the law of Moses as well as telling of Jesus who at the temple spoke of ‘destroying this temple and raising it again in three days’ we know then that Jesus was talking of his own death and resurrection and this is surely the message of Stephen.

There are however three moments in the passage which capture me as I reflect on the arrest of Stephen the first is that he is “a man full of God’s grace and power” the second is the “wisdom the Spirit gave him” and the third is that face that was ” like the face of an angel.”

Those have captivated me today as I think of the tough ministry given to Stephen, the difficult world in which he lives and the opposition he must face, an opposition we will see tomorrow takes him to his death. Amid the difficulty we are told he is full of Grace and power, the account goes on to talk of the great wonders and miraculous signs he performed and we are told of his great wisdom which no-one could argue against. The concluding remark that he had the face of an angel links back to Exodus 34 when Moses came down from Mt Sinai with a face glowing like an angel, and with that same law that Stephen preaches as being fulfilled.

Stephen’s task is difficult but God not only calls him for his task he also equips him. We live in a world where church has had to take on a new personality, have a new outreach to the world around it and grow in ways it never thought it could – all to serve Jesus Christ in the world. When we locked the doors and set about the intrepid path of a new way of living, breathing and sharing the gospel we were daunted by it all. I can honestly say that when God calls he equips – he taught that to the early church, he showed it through Stephen and he has shown it time and time again over the last few weeks.

What is God calling you to do? What plans does he have on your life? Don’t be daunted, don’t worry – if he is calling you he will give you all you need.

Tonight’s hymn is by Dan Schutte and asks that very question

I, The Lord Of Sea And Sky,
I Have Heard My People Cry.
All Who Dwell In Dark And Sin,
My Hand Will Save.
I Who Made The Stars Of Night,
I Will Make Their Darkness Bright.
Who Will Bear My Light To Them?
Whom Shall I Send?

I, The Lord Of Snow And Rain,
I Have Borne My People’s Pain.
I Have Wept For Love Of Them, They Turn Away.
I Will Break Their Hearts Of Stone,
Give Them Hearts For Love Alone.
I Will Speak My Word To Them
Whom Shall I Send?

I, The Lord Of Wind And Flame
I Will Tend The Poor And Lame.
I Will Set A Feast For Them,
My Hand Will Save
Finest Bread I Will Provide,
Till Their Hearts Be Satisfied.
I Will Give My Life To Them,
Whom Shall I Send?

Here I Am Lord, Is It I, Lord?
I Have Heard You Calling In The Night.
I Will Go Lord, If You Lead Me.
I Will Hold Your People In My Heart.*

Your friend and Vicar

David

*(c) 1981 Daniel Schutte and New Dawn Music