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In June / July we are having a SERMON SERIES on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

Date Book Title
Sunday 3rd June 2018 Ephesians 1: 1 - 14 Our Spiritual Treasures

Sunday 10th June 2018

Ephesians 1: 15 - 23
The best prayer ever!
Sunday 24th June 2018
Ephesians 2: 1 - 10 Coming alive
Sunday 1st July 2018 Ephesians 2: 11 - 22 No more divisions
Sunday 8th July 2018 Ephesians 3: 1 - 13 A mystery solved
Sunday 15th July 2018 Ephesians 3: 14 - 21 Strengthened in power, rooted in love


July 8th 2018 - Ephesians 3: 1 - 13 - A mystery solved

Last week when we were on holiday Chris and I visited 4 national trust properties – one of these was Greenway – the summer home of Agatha Christie. It was an amazing place to visit. We went down to the boathouse where the murder of Marlene in Dead Man’s Folly took place. I must admit I have never read any Agatha Christie murder mysteries but I have read a few P.D James. Though I intend to read at least one Agatha Christie over the summer. Do you like a good murder mystery – Poirot or Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes? Well today’s sermon is called a mystery solved – but it’s not a murder mystery but something not fictional or made up but something real and based on historical fact.

Here we have Paul a prisoner in Rome chained to a Roman soldier day and night. He was a prisoner of the Roman government but Paul never thought of himself as that – instead he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. His whole perception of the situation that he was in, was determined by his faith – not poor old me, how awful this is – but no, in this situation I am doing something for Jesus. It is amazing that he is able to write this inspiring and uplifting letter. Paul is an example of focusing on Jesus and others when we are in dire straits. When we suffer because of our faith we are not victims but champions of Christ. In this letter Paul is talking about the great revelation that came to him of the great secret of God. As we know it was a dramatic revelation when Paul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and in an instant Paul the murderer of Christians became a follower of Christ himself. It must have been a totally amazing experience for Paul and it turned his life upside down and inside out. To me it shows that nobody is beyond the grace of God. In fact in verse 2 he uses the words grace ‘the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you.’ The word for grace is charis and it means gift – something amazing being given to you that you haven’t earned or that you deserve at all. Paul knew his past and his attitude to Jesus and he was aware of the great kindness and mercy of God towards him. He knew that he was a follower of Jesus not because of anything good in him or a choice he had made – no – it was purely and simply because God had intervened in his life and had given him this truly wonderful gift of new life and becoming a new person. It is a challenge to us when we think that it is us who has chosen Jesus and that it is us who made the first move and that somehow we are good enough to be Christians. But no it is never about us – it was God in Jesus who made the first move, who chose us and who enabled us to choose Jesus. All that we are and have and are becoming now and in eternity is all a free gift. In John 15: 16 Jesus says ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit -fruit that will last -and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’

So Paul knew that he has been given an amazing gift. But that gift he says was given to me for you. When you are given a gift you usually keep it to yourself. But here Paul knew that the gift must be shared. And that gift he says is a mystery but it one that has been uncovered. That mystery was that the good news of Jesus was not just for the Jews, for Israel, but is for the Gentiles. And if you are not a Jew then this mystery is all about you and me. Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles. The Lord said to Ananias about Paul ‘This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ In the ancient world nobody thought that God’s gifts and privileges were for all people. This was totally revolutionary and something that we need to remember as Gentile Christians. If it wasn’t for Paul maybe the Gentiles (us) would never have heard the good news. You would think that being given this special mission he would be all proud and full of his own self – importance. Yet he is humble and sees his task not as a burden but as a privilege. He sees himself as a servant of the gospel given to him and says in verse 8 ‘I am less than the least of all God’s people.’ So we have been given something wonderful that we are not to keep to ourselves – never ever in the Bible is there any mention or indication of a private faith. People sometimes say to me ‘My faith is just between me and God – I don’t like to talk about it.’ They put it on the same level as telling the world about what they spend their money on or how much they have in the bank or their love lives (you woke up then!). But the gospel is different – because if you are a Christian it is not something secret to be hidden away – it is by definition something to be shared with others. William Barclay writes ‘It is one of the great warnings of the Christian life that is we keep them (the things of Christianity) to ourselves we lose them.’ As a sharer of the gospel Paul was humble, he knew he was bringing a gift, he knew he would suffer because of it. So let’s go back to the mystery, the secret that has been revealed.

1. We are heirs with Israel – we are now also God’s people. Jesus came for all people – Jew and Gentile – today we could add all the other faiths too– the message is not for just white middle class people – but everybody without exception.

2. Christians – whatever their background are one body. Heaven will be a great mixture of people, colours, tongues – wonderful. ‘Members together of one body’ Paul writes. And because of this we need to do all that we can to be together, not in separate groups. We are one body with our sister church in Locking. So when we have united service I want to see (because God expects us to) everyone in both churches come together as one body – one church – to worship him. We are coming together because God wants us to be together – it is nothing about our wishes and wants – we are one body so we must behave as one body. One body worshipping the Lord.

3. All Christians have been given this gift – the word Paul uses for manifold wisdom is polupoililos. Great word meaning many- coloured. The idea being that the grace and wisdom of God will match any situation which life may bring to us. Like a rainbow I suppose. No light or dark, sunshine or shadow can’t be touched by that grace and wisdom. It’s a good thing to remember and also know in our own life. But we should want others to know that. We are going to be doing different things in the autumn to help us all become more confident about sharing our faith with others. Paul writes that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.’ And Paul is not just talking about preachers – the church is everyone. In using this word polupoililos he is also talking about what the church should be – like a rainbow, like a beautiful tapestry. Reflecting something of God’s new society

4. As Christians we all have access to God and can come to him in freedom and confidence. No longer just the Jewish priests can come before God – we all have access to the Father. We have this not because of who we are but because of who God is – the Father who loves us. We come by the Son who died for us to remove that barrier between us and God. That is why the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Jesus died.

So Paul challenges and encourages us with many things. We have now been included in God’s people – we have been given a wonderful gift to share with others and not keep to ourselves – we are one body with all Christians and we must behave so – we are a rainbow people reflecting the wisdom and gifts of God. We need to pray for help to do and become all these things. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

1st July 2018 - Ephesians 2: 11- 22

The introductory notes in my study bible to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians includes the sentence ‘Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and to come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church’. Now, some may think that as these letters were written nearly 2,000 years ago they have no relevance for today. But I think that they are just as relevant and challenging as they were when they were written. In today’s focus on the letters to the Ephesians, 2 11- end, Paul writes about how all people have been brought together through the blood of Christ, how Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’. How much we still need those barriers to come down, those dividing walls of hostility to disappear or in some cases not to be built.

From writing about the salvation of the individual, in this section of his letter, Paul writes about another aspects of God’s salvation, the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, not just to each other but to Him. The Gentiles, the majority of those in Ephesus, had not had God in their lives. They hadn’t known about the God’s covenant. Their gods had been false. They had been excluded from society because they were not Jews. But they had been brought to God through Jesus’ blood. And Christ’s blood had also made the two peoples one, Jews and Gentiles alike. ‘For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ The Jews had been brought to God, not through man-made ceremonies like circumcision nor their man-made rules but through the blood of Christ. This coming together of Jew and Gentile in the one family was achieved through the cross of Jesus the Messiah. It had brought the pagans close in; it had torn down the barriers between the two families; it had abolished the Jewish laws that kept the peoples apart. Hostility had been killed on the cross. In v15-16, Paul writes:
‘His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.’

Paul is making it clear to the Ephesians that those who believe in Jesus Christ should be one: across the centuries that truth still applies. The body of Christ, the church of believers, should be united. That is the on-going challenge for the church today. If the church is divided in any way because of cultural, racial or liturgical lines, how can it claim to be the church that God wants? If Jesus broke down the barriers, how has the church allowed them to rise again? The church of believers should be working for unity with all people: the young; the old; the asylum seeker; the outcast; the awkward: all of God’s people. As the church, that’s what each one of us should be doing.

Paul’s letter continues with a reassurance to the Gentiles. Jesus came and preached peace to those who were far away and those who were near. As a consequence, there are no foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens of God’s household ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.’ This would have been challenging to all new believers. Paul is referring to the Jewish Temple, the religious heart of the nation, the place of pilgrimage of Jews throughout the world, the political, social, musical, cultural heart of Jerusalem, the place where God had promised to dwell, the temple that Jesus said would be destroyed. Paul is now declaring that the living God is building a new temple, not of stones but of people with Christ himself as the cornerstone, a reference to Isaiah 28:16. ‘And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’ Paul makes it clear that for all Christians a church building is not a temple in the strict sense. It is the people themselves who are the place in which God is living. The living God seeks to make his home in the hearts and lives of those people and communities that have declared their loyalty to Jesus and are determined to live by the gospel.

Again, Paul’s challenge echoes down the centuries. If the church is the body of Christ, does it live like the living Christ did? The words of v19 ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,’ must strike a chord with us today with the issues of migrants so to the fore, the issues of Brexit , the issues of parents being separated from their children in the US, the issues around the Windrush generation. Is a society that accepts Food Banks as a norm a society that lives in a way that God would want? Who are our fellow citizens? And what is his church now doing to bring down barriers, to be bring God’s love and justice to all, to see others as fellow citizens who want the same as us, peace, love and hope?

Those big questions can threaten to overwhelm us: they certainly overwhelm me. I read Paul’s letters and I am filled with hope and determination. Then I read the papers and wonder what difference I can make in a fractured world. And then I read or hear something like Mark’s gospel. The woman we heard about this morning is one of my favourite people in the gospels. She believed in the power of Jesus but was uncertain of her worthiness, as she had been an outcast for so many years because of her illness, and she needed physical reassurance. So she did a very small but very brave thing: she touched his cloak. And he knew! And he knew how important it was to her that she was affirmed. She came to him in fear and trembling but told him the whole truth. His words: ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’ was the beginning of her new life. She was healed, she was accepted and she was part of Jesus’ family, his daughter. She could forward into her new life in peace. It proves to me that our actions that are done in faith, no matter how small, are noticed by God so we should have the courage to go out in faith, as we say each Sunday to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. As part of the living church together we should encourage each other, we should encourage those who feel they are unworthy to reach out in faith and we should encourage those who we might think are unworthy to reach out in faith. And if people say: ‘What on earth are you doing?’, we reply: “What God calls us to do.’ In those ways, God’s peace and love will spread among the people he loves so much, his church will grow and divisions will crumble.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a letter to us all: read it again when you get home. For as my bible notes said ‘Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and to come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church’

Jane Barry



Hutton 10.00am 24th June, and Locking 6.00pm 17th June 2018

Ephesians 2: 1 – 10 'Coming Alive'.

When you look around you, what do you see? Do you see hope, beauty, adventure, love, peace and other admirable attributes? Or do you see despair, ugliness, inertia, animosity, discord and other ugly characteristics?

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, had seen ugly characteristics in the people who are now believers in Christ. This is how he opens chapter 2. Paul is the sort of person to call a spade a spade and doesn’t hold back on his description of the Ephesian Christians and how they once behaved. He starts by describing them as dead. They might have been physically alive, but inside they were dead, spiritually dead, stuck in a stagnant life of transgressions and sins. Paul uses the Greek word paraptoma (par-ap'-to-mah), for the word transgressions, or trespasses (as used in the old version of the Lord’s Prayer) which is a word that literally means a slip or a fall. It is used for a person who loses their way and strays from the right road, or someone who fails to grasp and slips away from the truth. Paul also links the word transgressions with the word sin, and uses the Greek word hamartia. This is a hunting word and literally means a miss, when one fails to hit the target. Now, this could be a near miss, just missing the target by a hairs breadth, or it could be a miss by miles, but a miss is still a miss. Sin is still sin, no matter how small or large it is. Sin is a failure to hit the target of life; sin is a failure of what we ought to be and what we could be. Sin is a failure to be the person God designed us to be. This is where we once were, away from God and following the ways of this world, in the world’s kingdom and being lead and influenced by the world’s cravings and desires, missing the mark and slipping from the truth, not being the person we ought to be or could be. Everyone has been like this at some time in their lives because Paul writes in verse 1 “As for you” in other words the Saints in Ephesus – who were gentiles, then in verse 3 he writes “All of us .... gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following it’s desires and thoughts” in other words the Jews, as Paul is a Jew, so everyone has been dead in their transgressions and sins.

What does a living dead person look like? It is somebody who has lost their innocence. No-one is the same after they have sinned. It takes the shine off one’s life, it loses the sparkle in someone’s eyes. Looking back, life has become tarnished and damaged. Sin kills ideals, which is a principle or value to be aimed at. For example, one might regard doing a wrong thing with horror, but then is tempted into doing it, but knows that it is wrong, then one does it again and again without a qualm, until, even though it is wrong, it becomes normalised in one’s life. This is the power of sin, in that each sin makes the next one easier and then imperceptibly and gradually sin kills the ideals which make life worthwhile. Sin also kills the will, making one powerless to stop doing the wrong thing. One might engage in a forbidden pleasure because it gives a thrill, but this can soon become an addiction and one cannot help doing it. It is a habit and soon becomes a necessity, and when the secret or forbidden practice has become a necessity, it can soon master and enslave one, so the will is powerless to resist and is dead.
All this is what Paul means about being dead in sin and transgressions – missing the target, slipping and falling away from the truth. There is no hope, nothing on the horizon can change things from a human point of view.

Or is there?.... Is there nothing that can change things?.....

Verse 4 is the turning point. There is a ray of light in an otherwise hopeless situation. Two words bring hope, and what are they? The two words are “But God”.... “But God”..... God takes the initiative. He sees that we are helpless and stuck in sin. This ray of light now turns into a brilliant new dawn. Paul writes “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” God loves us not just a tiny bit, not just a bit bigger bit, not just a larger bit, but God’s love for us is a huge great immeasurable massive enormous gigantic all enveloping love. God is abounding in love and rich in mercy and this is seen by Jesus’ actions on the cross, where all the wrong that man has ever done and will do has been undone. Where sin’s power is broken, the effects of sin, being alienation with God and our fellow humans is cancelled and the spiritually dead brought back to life. Just as God the Father raised Jesus to life on the first Easter day, which happened through the working of the power of God the Holy Spirit. God also forgives our sins and raises us to life, and this grace, this underserved love and mercy of God, saves us from the killing effects of our sins, our missing the target, our slipping and falling away from the truth. We are brought back to life, through the same power of the working of God the Holy Spirit, in us. This reverses the effect of the lost innocence – guilt is removed, sparkle is restored and the tarnish becomes a shine. Ideals in life are restored and power, coming from the Holy Spirit, is given to the person who has turned to Jesus, to stop doing the wrong thing. So the target in life is aimed at and hit, ones direction in life is re-established and all because of God’s great love for us in Christ, his saving grace, saving us from the effects of sin and death. Not only this, being saved from the effects of sin and death, God raises us up with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms. So no more living in the gutter of life and sinking deeper into the effects of sin and death, no, we are gloriously raised up and seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms, we now see the world through Jesus’ eyes and begin to experience and understand the incomparable riches of God’s grace and what he has in store for us. All this is a free gift from God, it can’t be earnt or deserved, it can’t be worked for, there is no competition in God’s kingdom, so there is no boasting, no “I’m better than you” or “You don’t deserve to be here” or “God won’t love you”. There is none of this in God’s kingdom because it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith in God. This abounding love of God changes us. We don’t want to sin any more, our will has returned, and our will is now pointing us towards God and asking “Because of your great love for me, what can I do to say thank you?” This new love compels one towards goodness and self control, it changes one from “what can I get from you?” to “how can I serve you?”, from wanting vengeance, to giving forgiveness, from living for one’s self, to living for God. Paul finishes this section with the encouraging words in verse 10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God made us, brought us alive again in Christ, lavished on us great love as a free gift, and this causes in us a response, which is to do “Good works for God” and do you know what? These “Good works” have been prepared by God, in advance, for us to do. These Good Works will build his kingdom, will show his love to others, but also will help us, his children, to find fulfilment in our lives.

So to sum up; Paul starts off this passage by saying that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, that we followed the ways of this world, living to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature by following its desires and thoughts. But God made us alive in Christ, saving us from our sins and raising us up to be with him in the heavenly realms and this as a free gift from him, which can’t be earnt or deserved, so that no one can boast, as all this saving work is totally from God and accepted by us through faith, then as a response to God’s immeasurable love for us, we come to Him and ask “What are we going to do today?” being ready to do the “Good Works” which God has prepared in advance for us to do.
But maybe you are wondering “What are the Good Works that God wants me to do?” maybe you have a feeling inside you that is trying to burst forth into some new kind of action or good works and you are not sure what it is.....

So as I finish, it would be good to spend a few moments in quiet now, and ask that God would show each one of us, what those “Good Works” are, which he would like us to do, in response to his great love for us.
Let us pray: Father, we come to you now and ask that you would show us what good works you would have us do, to bring you praise and glory and extend your Kingdom. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
Come Holy Spirit.... Amen.

Chris Wilkins


 

Locking 17th June 10.00am - Ephesians 2: 1 - 10 'Coming Alive '

You can't get a much greater contrast than the difference between life and death. Would you agree ??? There are loads of other contrasts in life sickness/ health .. rich/poor .... male/female ..... war/peace .... old/young. But the issue of whether we are alive or dead seems fairly critical. This is the subject matter we have this morning as we delve into this letter of Paul to the Christians at Ephesus,
and we continue a sermon series until the end of July.

So what is Paul saying at the beginning of this 2nd chapter? He is explaining to these fairly new Christians that in terms of the greatest contrast of all, i.e. life and death, they used to be dead, but are now alive. Of course, his point of reference is Spiritual life not physical life, but spiritual life has by far the greater value because it is eternal, whereas physical life has a distinct ending, of which we are all well aware. So we have v.1 Paul telling them that 'As for you, you were dead in your sins' leading to v.4 'But God in his love and mercy makes us alive with Christ' which is a reference to the Easter resurrection of Jesus after defeating physical death.

I'll explain more about this shortly but I got to wondering what other 'belief’ systemsmake of this strong understanding of the fact of a spiritual life . The one that seemed to me to be quite the opposite is Humanism, which has no concept of the need for a spiritual existence or a spiritual influence like God. They are unable to make any attempt at explaining why we should have moral codes, simply suggesting that our moral values are founded on human nature and experience with each one of us creating our own set of ethics. So do your best and enjoy life! A simple philosophy which some find attractive as it removes any further debate. However it leaves as a big question mark over all the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and why we are here. For the Christian there is no question mark. Spirituality has been and still is an issue which pervades all generations and cultures. So Paul was no humanist and he is at pains to bring hope both to these new churches, and to us as well.

Paul's big picture to these folk goes something like this:-
This is how you were
This is how you are now
This is what you will be in the future.
And it all makes so much good sense. It explains life, which comes from God the creator. It explains our world full of violence and greed. It satisfies our spiritual appetite. It gives a guarantee of a future beyond the grave. So what has made the difference? Only God's love in thecoming of Jesus and the offer of forgiveness.

Now hope is such and important word. When Paul told these folk that they used to be dead in their sins he was saying that they had no hope - no hope of a future beyond physical death - no relationship with God, but when he assures them they are now alive he is promising quite the opposite, that their relationship with God will continue for eternity. So the contrast between being spiritually dead or alive as far as God is concerned, is the difference between being a humanist or any other creed that refuses to acknowledge God and Jesus on the one hand, and having surrendered to God's forgiveness as a Christian on the other. The latter means being alive and living in the joy of knowing God and trusting his promises. So Paul is describing people who have moved from one state to another. In v.3 he says that all of us are initially in the same state of being dead spiritually, that is existing purely to satisfy ourselves and subject to strong temptations. Paul uses an interesting and powerful turn of phrase in saying that we start out as 'objects of wrath' which in simple terms means that God cannot look on evil of any kind, and until we ask for forgiveness we are not under protection and are ‘objects of his wrath'.

However, transformation is possible and is offered by God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is that transformation that Paul is saying has happened to the folk receiving his letter. It is a transformation which has led them from death to life an as a result living with the joy of forgiveness and hope.

For us here and now, whoever we are, we live within the tension of our sinful natures pulling us away from following and believing in God. To be spiritually dead is to avoid the challenge of accepting that we need God's forgiveness and also bypassing
the truth behind the message of Jesus’s life and death. Every single person physically alive has the potential to respond to God's offer of forgiveness, and even Paul struggles to adequately describe what God has in store for those who do. Listen again to his words here in vs 6 and 7 speaking of those who are spiritually alive he says:- "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages (eternity) He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness in Jesus."

What does that mean? ‘Incomparable riches of His grace’ Well nothing less than ‘out of this world’, beyond our understanding and wildest dreams, all of which will be a completion of the transformation for us as individuals in our relationship with God. So a tantalizing glimpse of what Heaven will be like. A glimpse that gives all Christians a real sense of Joy at the prospect, and when it comes to funerals a celebration for the one who has dies and moved from physical death to perfection.

Forgive me for pointing to a rather earthy illustration when I mention the film Beauty and the Beast. Just to remind you that it was the love of beauty which changed the beast into a handsome Prince. God's love for us, even though we are sinful by nature caused Him to send Jesus to die for us so that we might become spiritually alive.

In explaining why and how this happens Paul uses that wonderful word 'Grace'. He says that it is by God's grace that you have been saved.
In V.8 it is by Grace you have been saved through faith. And just to make the point clear in case we want to somehow take the credit in V8 &9 he says 'It is a gift from God, not by works so that no one can boast' This is a fantastic truth, something we don't deserve, in fact quite the opposite. What we can become i.e. spiritually alive, is only possible because of the grace, love and mercy of God. Who we are, what we have done, how we have lived is of no consequence to God either for good or ill. When we accept God's offer of forgiveness we begin again, the past is gone. God has created us with the ability to make choices, we have genuine free will and that is at the heart of our faith. There is a lot on offer amongst the different belief systems throughout the world but nothing compares to the truth we see in the scriptures. Nothing else offers the peace and promises that are found in this book.

For Paul, death is the wonderful and exciting gateway to the 'incomparable riches of God's grace'. As physical people we may understandably at times be a little apprehensive about the process of getting there, but Jesus says ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’ and death should hold no fear for us. As Paul points forward to our eventual future, so he also paints a picture of how we can live now once we are spiritually alive. V10 'For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.'

It seems quite clear that our good works and the way we live out our faith should follow on naturally after we have been saved by grace. So our Christian witness today, tomorrow, next month and for the rest of our lives can be a response to two powerful features of God's activity :-

1. In coming (as Jesus) as beauty to kiss the beast (that's us) with love and forgiveness.
2. In giving a cast iron promise of what awaits us in Heaven.

When you think about, that should be more than enough to motivate every committed Christian to good works. Other faiths have no such motivation, especially the humanists I mentioned earlier. In the words of Aristotle they are 'to pursue happiness and the good life of pleasure,nfriendship, absence of pain and peace of mind.' bThankfully, the Christian Gospel is devoid of such shallow selfishness and instead seeks to be the bearer of the Good News to all who will listen and receive it for themselves.

How we do that is a challenge but certainly should not include us declaring from the rooftops using Paul's words that 'you are objects of wrath'.No, but what we must do is to find way of sharing God's love in our lives, and there lies the challenge for us all.
Hopefully you are all still alive ?? And hopefully too that is both physically and spiritually.

Rev Geoff Hobden


 

Locking 10th June - Ephesians 1: 15 – 23 The best prayer ever!

Can you remember the last time that somebody prayed for you or you prayed for somebody else? It might have been here after the service or at homegroup or maybe with a friend or someone in your family. I wonder what you prayed for – or what you normally pray when you pray for another person or what you ask for prayer for yourself. I guess that most of us would say that we pray for healing or guidance or in response to a difficult time in somebody’s life – like ill – health or worry about a family member. We usually pray for another person in response or ask for prayer for us in response to a problem of some sort. I wonder if instead of this you have prayed for somebody’ spiritual life – which is not a great phrase as us being a follower of Jesus should touch and affect every part of our life. But has somebody ever prayed for you to grow in faith for example or for you to grow in deeper knowledge and love of Jesus. Or have you ever prayed that for somebody. I have called today’s sermon ‘the best prayer ever’. Because Paul here is in prison and writing to the church in Ephesus and he tells them that he is praying for them. He’s not sitting there feeling sorry for himself but he is directing his thoughts and prayers to them. And he’s not praying in response to some big problem – some church fallout or disagreement or some great sin – no he is praying for their growth and deepening of their relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In verses 3 – 14 Paul blesses God for blessing us in Christ. Because he knows the huge extend of the blessings of God he is able to turn his thoughts and prayers to others. That is why he begins ‘for this reason’. In other words because of the amazing blessings of God – I want them to pray that they also know and experience these things.

So let’s see what Paul prays for them. Well firstly we learn something about the church in Ephesus – they are people of faith and love. ‘Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.’ These are the same attributes of the church in Colossae too in 1: 4. Faith and love are inseparable. If we have faith but no love then we are fooling ourselves and grieving God. If we have love without faith – then we are good people but not saved as Christians. 1 John 3:15 ‘Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.’ The church’s love and faith was so evident that Paul had heard about it. It was evident and obvious. Faith and love are the marks of a healthy church. So despite all this good stuff what is Paul praying for them about.

1. He prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation. The word for wisdom if Sophia – it is about the deep things of God. He wants them to understand more and more about Jesus. ‘So that you might know him better’ he says. Here he is talking about knowledge – as in facts and learning – which we do through reading the Bible and Christian books and in our homegroups – but that is not enough – that is just about head knowledge – like me reading about a famous person but never meeting them. Knowledge is also about getting to know somebody. We should always be learning about Jesus in our heads and in our hearts. The longer we are a Christian the more we should learn about Jesus and the deeper our relationship with him. My question to you is – how well do you know Jesus – is he just a name in a book or is he your friend and Saviour?

2. Paul prays for them to know hope. My goodness we need to know hope today in this world. There is so much hopelessness and people are despondent and depressed – things will never change, they feel helpless and trapped. I found some modern quotes about hopelessness ‘Hopelessness is a really toxic and dangerous state’ ‘People don’t believe or understand that a community can lose hope. You can have a whole community where hopelessness is the norm, where folks don’t have faith that things will get better because history and circumstances have proven over 30,40 or 50 years that things don’t get better.’ Into this Paul writes ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.’ We might think that hope is a feeling or a state of mind in us but here it seems that hope is outside of us, it is a gift and that we have been called to it. This is not a human thing but a spiritual thing – it is about God showing us the hope that is ours. It may not be hope for today and this life – but it is about future hope, hope because Jesus died and rose again and will return and there will be a new heaven and earth. This hope will affect our day to day and will conquer any feelings of hopelessness we may have.

3. He prays that they will know the riches of his inheritance that is linked to hope. If we know that there is something glorious to look forward to then we will have the strength to keep going. I also believe that some of these riches are available to us now – the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit and the help and guidance that we get through our relationship with Jesus.

4. Paul also prays that they will know ‘his incomparable great power for us who believe.’ So he has called us (past) to a hope (future) now we have the bit in between – the now, the present. Who feels that they need God’s power in their lives? I do – big time. Paul writes in 1 Cor 4: 20 ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.’ I think that we underestimate the power of God, we ignore it. But it is a gift – because it comes from the Holy Spirit. But we treat it like a gift that is given to us, we take it and then put it in the cupboard and forget about it. Maybe we feel that we don’t need God’s power – or we are frightened of it – that we will unleash something that we can’t control or is scary. Maybe we think of the day of Pentecost and think – I don’t want that. But the fact is that we cannot live as Christians – and effective Christians – if we do not have the power of Jesus – the Holy Spirit in us. Paul says that this power is the mighty strength of the Father. We have a powerful Father – which for many will be an unsettling image if your father has been controlling and abusive. Your heavenly Father is 100% loving, always wanting the best for you – and wanting to give you His power and strength. We are weak and need that power in us. This power is strong and gentle – it raised Jesus from the dead – can you just picture how that might have happened - it brings things back to life, it transforms and renews and brings energy. We need it as much as we need oxygen. Paul goes on and talks about Jesus his reign and rule – sitting at God’s right hand over and above all things – both material things and earthly people and powers and also over heavenly beings and powers . Paul wants them and us to know how great Jesus is. Finally he refers to Jesus as the head and the church as His body. Paul in writing this letter is addressing all the disunity in the world and he sees that Jesus died to bring all things together and bring reconciliation between humans and between us and God.

It is the job of the church to take out the message to enable the bring unity and reconciliation. So here as well as this amazing prayer we have the marks of a growing Christian and a healthy church. We should be people of faith and love – we should be growing in the knowledge of Jesus, we should be people of hope, who know the riches of what God has given to us and will give, we should be open to the power of God. As Christians we should not be static in our relationship with God. We need to be more honest with each other as to where we are in our Christian lives and to be ready to ask for prayer and to pray for each other. So let’s do that now…..

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

Hutton, Sunday 3rd June - Ephesians 1: 1 – 14 'Our Spiritual Treasures'

Today we are starting the first in a teaching series on the letter to the Ephesians. It has been called the Queen of the Epistles. It is full of the most wonderful teaching, theology and also practical teaching. So before we jump in the deep end let’s get some background to the letter.

Ephesus was a port and was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. A lot of business took place there as it was on the trade route from Rome to the east. There was a huge temple to Diana, which was seen as one of the seven wonders of the world. It was an important place which Paul visited twice, the first was a short visit in Acts 18 and then a much longer visit for 3 years. It was during that time that he packed in the baptism of John the Baptist’s followers, did unusual miracles curing people with hankies he had touched, he performed exorcisms and sorcerers became Christians and he gave a long address to the church leaders before leaving. Paul also caused a riot as because of his preaching people were no longer buying silver models of Diana’s temple. Paul had got to know the city of Ephesus and the church at Ephesus very well. It was a challenging place to live as a Christian as there was idolatry, there was temple prostitution – it was an immoral and sinful place. Ephesians was written to the church to encourage them to build a new society in the middle of all this. The letter contains practical and spiritual advice as to how to do this. The letter will cover the areas of unity, of purity and love in the way we behave, of our relationships in the home and at work, in our fight against the powers of evil. The letter was written between 60 and 62 AD – but it is still relevant for us today as we live in an equally sinful and idolatrous society. We too are called to be different and build a new society in the middle of all the mess and confusion. This letter was also written when Paul was imprisoned – so he had much time to think and reflect on the message. So what is that message?

The letter begins with a greeting in verses 1 and 2. ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus, by the will of God.’ Here Paul is saying some very important things - as an apostle he belonged to Jesus – his life was not his own – he must always live as Jesus wanted him to live. He was sent out by Jesus to serve him in this world. Any power he had was not from within himself but was from Jesus Christ. All this was by God’s will – here we have Paul being amazed at what had happened to him and how God was using him. All that he did and was had nothing to do with him at all. There was no room at all for pride. Then we get to know about the recipients- to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Jesus Christ. Paul’s friends are members of 2 kingdoms – they live in Ephesus and in Christ. So too us – we live in Hutton or Locking and in Christ. Paul greets them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace means gift and peace means that inner peace from God. He is a prisoner while writing this so he knows what real peace is. Verses 3 – 14 make up the next part of the letter. In fact when they were written there would have been no verses or even sentences – as it was one long sentence with no breaks – phew.

There is so much packed into these verses – it is full of jewels – but a bit like a jewellery box where you take out one necklace and out come all the rest knotted together. It’s been called a gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an overture, a flight of an eagle. See what you would call it! I’ve tried to untangle it all and I have 3 points.

1. God chooses us. We read in verse 4 ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world….. in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.’ Then verse 11 ‘In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.’ The fact is that as Christians we think that we have chosen Jesus (partly true as we have to decide to give our lives to him). But first and foremost we have been chosen. Not because we are clever or handsome, rich or skilled, British or white, respectable or famous. No – he has chosen us because he loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. In love he chose us….because he wanted to, because he wanted us and it pleased him. Jesus says in John 15 ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’ God the Father chose you before the creation of the world. To all who feel little, rubbish maybe, that life and all its opportunities has passed them by, those who feel they are not important, not special and even not loved – then God says – listen – I chose you. To those who feel it’s all about them – I’m important, look at me…. He says – listen – it was me who chose you. You are loved and special because of who you belong to. You are part of his plan. So what has he chosen us to be – his adopted sons and daughters. When adoption happened in Roman law the person had all the rights of a blood child and he was regarded as a new person. Adoption wipes out the past and makes us new.

2. Secondly God chose to bless us with things that only He can give. When we talk about being blessed we make the mistake of talking about money or family or friends or health. But here Paul is talking about spiritual blessings – the treasures of heaven given to us. So what are they? Verse 7 – redemption through his blood – the word means to release somebody from a situation that he could never get out of himself or from a penalty that he could never pay. The fact is that we can’t sort our lives out. Today there are so many self – help books – you have the power in you to change your life – try this, try that – but it never works because we are unable ourselves to sort out the biggest problem – which is sin. Deep down we know that something is wrong – and deep down we know what we can’t sort it. Jesus came to free us and redeem us – he bought our freedom on the cross. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven. We have no need to fear ‘No condemnation now I dread we sing.’ Again it is not about us – but about what Jesus has done for us. That is why Paul begins ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. When we know this for ourselves then we will want to worship. Paul talks about the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with wisdom and understanding. Wisdom – Sophia is about the big questions about life and death, eternity, God and humans etc. Understanding is more about common sense. In and through Jesus we are gifted with wisdom about eternal things and help and guidance with the day to day. We are also told that we have been let in on a mystery – that all things will be brought together. We see disharmony all around us – between people, between the nations, classes, ideologies, between Jew and Gentile, we see civil wars, between humans and God and also in the heavenly realms there is a war. Paul looks to a future where all are brought together – this is God’s purpose for the world – one family in Christ. Until Jesus returns our task is to model this unity and enable harmony.

3. Thirdly Paul tells us the purpose of his choosing us. Verse 4 tells us this ‘To be holy and blameless in his sight.’ Holy means to be different, set apart. This was so important for the Christians in Ephesus and is still important for us today. It should be possible to identify the Christian in the workplace or the hobby group, in the neighbourhood. If enough Christians became really different then society would be transformed. The church should be a model of what society could become. That’s a challenge! We are called to be blameless – the word was used for an animal offered for sacrifice – without any blemishes. It is about us being an acceptable offering to God. So we are all very very rich, you are loved and cherished and have been chosen. God has given you all that you need spiritually. We are chosen to be holy and different, we are to be in the world to transform it – and for us that begins in Hutton and Locking.
Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

Locking, Sunday 3rd June - Ephesians 1: 1 - 14 'Our Spiritual Treasures'

Today we start here in Locking and also in Hutton a new sermon series, so for the next few weeks we shall be looking and studying one of Paul’s great and wonderful letters. In all Paul wrote 13 letters to various churches. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus known to us as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the letter we shall study for the next few Sundays. Some theologians would have it that Paul was not the author, but myself I have no doubt as its typical of his hand. But as someone said to me recently does it really matter for regardless of who penned it? There is little doubt that it was inspired by God. A thought worth pondering on is that Paul was a wonderful author and inspired by God as I am sure most if not all the writers of the Bible were.

So then let’s turn to this inspired letter, to the opening verses sent to a people whom Paul had great love and concern for. Yes this is indeed an inspired letter - a piece of scripture that I am sure I shall in no way do justice too. It was probably written from his prison cell in Rome during Paul's first imprisonment a chapter in his life that we shall study later in the series, and written soon after his arrival there in the year AD62 which was quite a few years after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. So let’s just stop for a moment and consider what is to me another confirming piece of evidence that it was God inspired written some 30 years after Christ ascension.

I don’t know about you but I have difficulty remembering what I did yesterday let alone 30 years ago. Let’s turn to the reason Paul wrote to the people Ephesus and what was the purpose of this epistle, this letter from Paul. Well it seems to me that Paul wanted to make his readers fully aware of the fact and perhaps one of the greatest of all biblical facts that it is “By grace and by grace alone that we have been saved". Grace is God's wonderful and precious gift to each and every one of us. And this saving grace has got nothing to do with what we have done for ourselves, nothing of our own doing; it is a gift from God, and as Paul says because it is a gift from God no one can boast that it is of their own doing. But we must ask ourselves why we would ever boast about our salvation for we did nothing to deserve it. There were many in those days who believed that one gained access to heaven only by good deeds, and may be some today who still believe that is the way to God. No, God’s grace is given freely to all, to each and every one of us who believe and trust and confess our sins to the Lord Jesus.

Ephesians 1 verses 5 says that God had already decided from the beginning of time to make us his sons and daughters, and that’s what you could call long term planning. Yes, God was the initiator of our calling. He was the means of our salvation through his son Jesus and not we ourselves. It is he who has provided the way to a place with him at the end of our earthly lives. That way was through Christ and the cross, the cross of salvation. It is this fact and this fact alone that it is the death of Christ on the cross that should keep us humble and grateful and obedient to his word. Let us never forget that Christ was rejected by many but was sacrificed for all. As Christians should we not say “There would go we except for the grace of God; his wonderful sacrifice for our sins upon the cross.”

There was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew that he would soon have to choose his successor. Having no children of his own he called all the young men of his kingdom to a meeting in the palace. To each one he gave a flower pot filled with soil and a paper bag. Go plant the seed from then bag and return in a year with what has grown. Ling a quiet lad was worried as nothing grew from his pot not even a single green shoot. All the other lads he met boasted about their plants and flowers but not Ling. His mother persuaded his to take his empty pot to the palace on the anniversary of the planting. Ling hid behind all the other young men afraid the King would mock him with his empty flower pot, all the other lads had wonderful plants and flowers for the King. The King mounted the steps to his throne and beckoned for Ling to come forward. This was it the moment when Ling would be ridiculed. But the King sat him on the throne much to the amazement of all the other young men, and announced this is your new king. You see said the King I gave you all a glass marble not a seed so it would never grow, this young man has been honest in bringing an empty pot.

So what does this story say to us here today? Well it says quite simply that God did not choose us because of the things we have grown or done through our own strength and efforts. He loves us completely for who we are, empty pot and all. God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he adopted us as his sons and daughters through Christ, and more than anything else wants us to share a place with him in heaven Ephesians 1:4-5. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of his love, so that we could be made whole and holy by his love for us. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. Can you sense Paul’s urgency to tell the people of Ephesus of this great fact and all from a prison cell. What a great man he was and all from a disastrous beginning. Yes God turned him around on the Damascus road to become one of his greatest apostles. As we delve further into Pauls writings we shall learn more of this man and his love of Jesus.

So then let’s remind ourselves of the opening verses of this wonderful letter. Chapter 1 Verses 1-4 Paul tells us that we are “Chosen by God", to be holy and without blame before Him. The Gospel does not simply begin with God, it begins with a God who chooses, yes he chose us.
This is the beginning of the letter. Paul writes to this growing thriving church dominated by gentiles and for whom the idea of the one living God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ would have been someting entirely new and unexpected

I want us to stop and think about that statement for a minute. People want to know the purpose of their lives. People want to know what we are supposed to be doing. Why are we here? God had a purpose for us and every human being before we were ever created. That purpose is to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to enter the family of God so that we might become children of God. God created us to belong to the family in Christ.

So with all that knowledge and God promises we know that we have been "Accepted by God", that is, to be highly favoured by Him. What a wonderful thought and realisation accepted by the God of creation; God has redeemed us; God has saved us. Verse 7a reminds us that "God has saved us "through the precious blood of His Son".

Bill Dredge - Reader, St Augustine's church, Locking


Series On Exodus

Date Book Title
Sunday 27th Aug 2017 Exodus 1 : 8 – 2 : 10 Out of the water to serve

Sunday 10th Sept 2017
(Locking only)

Exodus 12: 1 - 1 Fear and protection
Sunday 17th Sept 2017 Exodus 14: 19 - end Overcoming the obstacles
Sunday 24th Sept 2017 Exodus 16: 2 - 15 Feeding the hunger
Sunday 1st Oct 2017 Exodus 17: 1 - 7 Grumbling and thirsty

Sunday 8th Oct 2017
(Hutton only)

Exodus 20: 1 - 4, 7 - 9, 12 - 20 A map for the way
Sunday 22nd Oct 2017 Exodus 32: 1 - 14 When we get lost
Sunday 29th Oct 2017 Exodus 33: 12 - end Seeing the glory

Hutton 10am Sunday 17th September

Exodus 14: 19 – end – Overcoming the obstacles

Do you ever feel that some people just breeze through life – they do well in their exams with little effort, they get a wonderful job which they love, they meet Mr or Miss Right, they have beautiful children, have a lovely home. That’s a bit idealised but you know what I mean. Other people I know seem to go from one crisis to the next. Their life is not an easy journey but more like an obstacle course – with things preventing them going forward on their journey of life. Their life has involved a lot of suffering and struggle – this may be you.

The Israelites, God’s people, had been going through a hard time- it was probably about 400 years. They were in Egypt, Joseph had prospered there and God’s people had grown there in number. A new king came along and knew nothing of Israel’s story and of Joseph and was threatened by their numbers. So he oppressed them and they became slaves. God raised up Moses as part of his plan to release them and move them to a better place. This is a story of suffering and redemption. Their time of suffering was to cease and they were to be freed to leave that place and start a new life. So here they are ready to move on buy with this huge obstacle in the way. Here they are wanting to go ahead with this great sea in front of them.

When you face obstacles in life I wonder how you deal with them? Like the Israelites we can focus on the obstacle and not on God saying – I’ll never change, I prefer the old life – this is too difficult if not impossible. Despite all the hardship and suffering the Israelites would have rather gone back to Egypt and be slaves. ‘It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert. Verse 12. Sometimes when it is time to love on from the time or place of suffering we can get cold feet, our suffering becomes out identity, our security blanket. Being a salve to pain, fear of hardship is preferable to freedom and new life. We say I can’t change the way I think and feel. I can’t forget the suffering and what happened to me, this is too scary, I might drown. When God chooses to deliver us from pain and suffering it will take trust and faith to move in to new life. When facing obstacles you can also do other things. Turn round and go back – they wanted that. Stay there and look at it – that’s when people get stuck or we ask God to remove the obstacle an d allow it to teach us to trust Him and form us . The Christian faith is about this new life – moving into freedom and not slavery, moving from fear into hope. The thing is that the Israelites had no need to fear as they were not alone. Verse 19 The angel of God had been travelling in front of them . This was actually God’s presence with them. He had been leading them to a place of deliverance. Now God’s presence goes behind them. Also the pillar of cloud goes from the front to the back. God sometimes goes behind us to protect us from harm. They knew where they should go – they now needed protection as they faced difficulty and danger. I remember Christmas 2014 just before being diagnosed feeling that there was somebody behind me, they were almost tangible. I believe that this was the presence of Jesus to protect me because of what I would soon face – though I knew nothing of that at the time. God often puts things in place before we actually need them.

The thing is that the Israelites felt totally powerless – yet they couldn’t do anything. Moses is God’s mouthpiece to them ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ Verses 13,14. We have to be still and know that He is God – that He is all powerful. We need to stop and allow God to remove the obstacle in His time. Then and only then can we walk forwards into a new beginning and new life. The Israelites had to walk through the obstacle – God didn’t send them on a great re-tour round the Red Sea – they had to go right through it. Like the Children’s Story – we’re going in a bear hunt – in the story they come across different obstacles – each time saying – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go round it – have to go through it. And the Israelites had to go through the waters. It would have been quite a scary experience with walls of water on both sides and the Egyptian army behind you waiting to attack. Going through the water to a new life and start takes faith and trust. In fact it grew their faith and trust in God and in Moses their leader. Redemption comes in many guises – when we become a Christian and make a commitment to follow Jesus then we are redeemed and delivered. We are rescued from the old life and from all that makes us a slave there – a slave to sin, ways of thinking, acting and feeling. We are led out from Egypt to a land of freedom and plenty. This is what Jesus achieved for us on the cross – he broke the power of sin and death, he enabled us to stop being slaves and instead we become sons and daughters of God. There has to be a price to pay to set a slave free – Jesus did that on the cross. The cross was a rescue mission. But like the Israelites we have to choose to leave the old life and step into new life – step into the unknown with the Lord behind us. When we are baptised this is shown through the water – we go through the waters – this image works better when people are fully immersed in water. They go through the waters and come out a new person. That redemption and deliverance go on as we face obstacles and struggles in life. God is able to bring us through these times – the Lord can take situation and bring redemption through it. We need the courage to leave the suffering and past behind – the choose to stop being a slave to the old ways and instead enter into the new life that God wants to give to us. Obstacles in life can change us, help us to trust God more and allow God to come really close to us.

Let us pray:
Lord sometimes it is hard to want to move forward in my life – to follow your leading and your ways. Lord obstacles gets in the way which make me afraid. Lord help me to know and feel that you me and are behind me. Help me to stop being a slave to the past and to stop being defined by it. Help me to see that you can and will deliver me – help me to trust you and move forward into a new life and and a new beginning. In the name of Jesus, the redeemer. Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


Locking 10am Sunday 17th September

This morning we continue with our theme – as you can see from the pew sheet – of EXODUS…….THE JOURNEY TO(WARDS) MATURITY. Moses and the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to Canaan has to be THE most well known part of the Old Testament to peopleinside and outside churches in the UK, thanks to the films, documentaries etc that have portrayed it over the years. The latest Hollywood blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings was released only 3 years ago and some folks here may have seen it.

Over the past few weeks we’ve heard read the early parts of the Exodus story, the assembling of the cast if you will, but today we reach the pivotal point – the point at which the people of Israel , who were a population of migrant slaves, started out on their journey as the Children of the Living God.

Some 340 years ago, a middle-aged Christian believer was languishing in the Bedfordshire county prison, when he wrote what I’ve always thought of as the adult equivalent of The Tales of Narnia. Except that instead of 4 childrens journey from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Last Battle, this journey was from The City of Destruction to The Celestial City. The writer of course was John Bunyan and the book The Pilgrims Progress.

One of the spin offs from that book was the hymn with which we start our service, a hymn that I personally have not sung for a long time but to me sums up the Christians Exodus as well as any….
“He who would valiant be”….

EX. CH14: VSES 10 – END AND CH15: VSES 22-25. OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES….LEARNING TO WALK
The first chapter of Exodus contains a simple statement at v6 “Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died.” And 400 years passed. The supernatural acts of a God who regarded the Children of Israel as special were like a handed down story, told by parents to small children on their knees. For the average Israelite living in Egypt at the time of Moses return to them, their preoccupations were with jobs, feeding the family, being regarded as dangerous migrants…….actually not dissimilar from the issues in the UK and Western Europe today. And we are told that the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out to God……to a God who I sense as I read the Scriptures had become little more than a tribal rallying point in times of trouble. Much like in the UK and Western Europe today……If all else fails, try prayer – its just possible there’s someone or thing out there. I believe its why, when Moses addresses the Israelite Elders after his burning bush experience, he speaks in this way “The Lord, the God of your Fathers-The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – has watched over you….” Not your God,but the God of your Fathers. They had no more than a second-hand experience of God……just like every single one of us in this church had only a second-hand experience of God at one point in our lives – one we’d heard of at Sunday School, perhaps, or at school, or from our parents or grandparents. For the Israelites, to be told by this pretty much stranger that “God was concerned about them and had seen their misery”….in English history think John Wesley preaching to the Bristol and Cornish miners…….no wonder they bowed down and worshipped. Perhaps prayer did work after all. They were on their way towards a first-hand faith.

Then we have the plagues, the first Passover which we heard read last week,then Pharaoh tells the Israelites to get out of his country…..then realises they’ll be a few million of the labour force short..and then – in todays reading - tries, and fails disastrously, to get them back. We know the story so well. So I just want to offer a few thoughts from another angle…the angle of the Pilgrims Progress. So much of the early chapters of Exodus foreshadow the mission of Jesus – the commissioning of a humble man out in the desert to be a kind of Saviour to the people, the abrupt start to his mission telling people of Gods love for them and a call to follow him, the performing of miracles, the requirement on the first Passover for the blood of an “innocent lamb” to be sprinkled on the doorposts as a sacrifice for the lives of those within etc etc. But from the moment in chapter 13 that the Children of Israel set out from being Egyptian slaves, the story turns equally into being our journey – collectively and individually – from a second-hand belief in a folklore God to a pilgrims progress for the rest of their (and our) lives towards a mature faith.
And as with Israel when Jesus came, as with us when we first realised there was something in this God-thing, so with the Israelites leaving Egypt - God takes the initiative and reveals himself to them personally. Out of the blue, so to speak, there appears – at the very time they are camped on the edge of the desert, ready to set out – the visual expression of the divine with them, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

THE PILLAR OF CLOUD – GODS PRESENCE IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE. I can remember once, when we were in Sorrento, we decided to go on a walkabout tour. We had no idea where we were going, we just assembled in the main square….and our tour guide held aloft a small sign board and we followed her. Where she went, we went. When she stopped, we stopped. When she walked on, so did we. When she spoke, we listened. Much like it was for the children of Israel. They were starting to learn that they had a God who knew where they were going and would personally show them the way. But also, when danger presented itself, God’s presence in the Pillar of Cloud would swap position to the back of them – to position himself as a protection between them and their enemies. But to rely on God and not themselves was a whole new ball game for the Israelites – remember these were fragile people who had been abused by their Egyptian overlords for a long time. As soon as they see the Egyptians coming after them they panic…but it is just at that point when they cry out to God that he visibly acts and the pillar stands between them and the Egyptians. Before the Egyptians can get to the Israelites, they have to get past God first. But the Red Sea opens, and they walk through. Their journey of faith with God has begun. And it really was ONLY a beginning. Only 3 days on from their escape – and still led by the Pillar of Cloud - they cant find adequate water, and they start grumbling. God sorts it out via Moses and the water turns from bitter to sweet. The ironic thing is that the very next verse tells us that the very next place they came to was Elim, a place of 12 springs and 70 palm trees. God had been leading them in the best direction all along, but they had grown impatient and started to wobble in their faith. But still, even when they doubted God’s provision, He in his love turned the bitter water sweet; that is a picture of Gods unswerving love to his children even when we don’t deserve it. The NT has a word for that – its called grace. And friends, if we are honest, isn’t that our story as well? To put our trust in God to guide our lives,instead of trusting our own ingenuity, is not an easy or natural thing to do. It can only come step by step, as we learn to walk the path of the disciple. But of course, we have an advantage that even Moses, let alone the ordinary Israelites, didn’t have. Jesus’ death and resurrection brought with it a huge promise – the promise of Gods own Spirit not just walking ahead of us, but actually indwelling each one of us, and wanting to do the same thing as in the desert – guiding us, protecting us, teaching us step by step, day by day, how to hear his voice and follow him.

But of course, there are 24 hours in a day, and at this time of year in England, only about 12 hours of that are daylight.
THE PILLAR OF FIRE – GODS LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS. Thankfully the Children of Israel – and us – have a 24 hour God. Gods presence in the form of a Pillar of Cloud wouldn’t have been much good in the desert at night; the people would have likely got lost, confused, wandered off. So God adapts his presence to exactly the form needed to walk through the night. The pillar becomes one of fire, giving light, exactly what you need. Please note God did not say just walk during the daylight hours and have your needed sleep when night fall comes. Please also note that God did not – as he could easily have done as creator of the universe – give them 24 hours of daylight for their journey. The night, the darkness, was still there; they walked through it. God instead was teaching them a visual lesson fundamental to life – His all-sustaining presence would be with them whatever the time of day or the weather conditions. At the time I gave my life to Christ, there were sincere people around who unconsciously portrayed by their words the Christian life as “Come to Jesus and all your problems will disappear”. Well, it didn’t take long for me – and no doubt everyone here – to realise that isn’t what happens. The darkness, the problems of living as a human being, are still there……but now there is light as we face our obstacles, as we walk through the dark places and dark times, and little by little we learn that whatever we – like the children of Israel – face, there is Father God with us, and his Spirit within us, each step we take. Why do you think people sing “You’ll never walk alone” with such gusto? It’s the desperate cry of the human heart, to believe that whatever comes your way, there is someone watching over you. And as followers of Jesus, our story is one we need to share, because you only need to turn on your TV to see that for most folks in Britain today, that confidence does not exist.

THE BATTLE BELONGS TO THE LORD. If these first few chapters of the Israelites journey from captivity to the Promised Land teach them, its that the overcoming of the obstacles is to be Gods way, Gods timing, and using the resources God gives. Sometimes its purely supernatural – like the manna, the “bread of heaven”, that we’ll be thinking about next Sunday. Sometimes its the use of the resources to hand, like Moses throwing the stick into the pool of bitter water and it turning sweet. But always, behind it all, is Gods leading and acting. In one of his NT letters (GAL 5:25) Paul has this challenge…. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” I’m sure that sometimes, when the Pillar of Cloud and Fire started to move onwards, a lot of the Israelites would have preferred to stay put. But moving on in faith, for them and us, inevitably means that change becomes an expected part of life. When Jesus taught the words of what has become known as TheLords Prayer such as “Deliver us from evil and lead us not into temptation”, they weren’t to be just nice words to give us a fuzzy warm feeling; they speak it’s the core needs of a life following God day by day, night by night. One step at a time.

So there we have it. The journey of the Children of Israel is a pretty good picture of the journey of the Christian from second-hand belief, through the ups and downs of learning to walk guided by God, learning to trust him more and more along the way. What does maturity of faith look like? Well, as one pilgrim to others, I think that its something like this. Its the way of life described in literally the last verses of Exodus…CH40 Vses 36 -38…..In reading these simple descriptive statements 2 words for me echo; they are the words CONFIDENCE and OBEDIENCE. Life lived day by day with CONFIDENCE in a God who knows where and how to walk lifes journey with us, and OBEDIENCE to follow where He leads, knowing he will never leave us bereft. May that be our goal, both individually and as a church fellowship.

Cliff Dumbell, Reader St Augustine's Locking


Hutton 10am, Locking 6pm 27th August 2017

Exodus 1 : 8 – 2 : 10 “Out of the water to serve”.

This morning / evening we are going to be starting a short sermon series on the OT book of Exodus. In this sermon series, one of the things that will be seen is the faithfulness of God and how this faithfulness is seen as a golden thread running through history, starting from Abraham and God’s covenant promise to him in Gen 12, all the way through to Jesus and to us today here in Hutton and Locking thousands of years later.

Before we look at the story of the birth of Moses, I want to set the scene. God’s faithfulness and promise started with Abraham, then his son Isaac, to Jacob and then to Jacob’s children – who are the descendents of the 12 tribes of Israel, of which Joseph and Benjamin are born to Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife.

Joseph, which we heard in the Bible reading a few weeks ago, was the one who had the richly ornamented cloak and whose brothers were jealous of him. Joseph was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt, where he became Pharaoh’s right hand man, saving many, especially his brothers and their father, from starvation when a famine struck.

Time passed and Gen 50 : 26 – the last verse in Genesis states that Joseph died at the age of 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt – but not before he made the sons of Israel swear an oath saying ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’ So there is the expectancy sometime in the future of the Israelites coming up out of Egypt and when they do, Joseph’s bones are going to go with them. But God, being God, never says when anything is going to happen – no date is fixed.

Time passes. The Israelites have become exceedingly fruitful, multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them and in this passage of time, the history of the Israelite people has become lost from the story of the Pharaohs.

Telling the story of God’s love and faithfulness is important, otherwise over time, it becomes watered down and eventually lost. This is why stories, altars, pillars and markers are put up by the Israelites when significant things happened, to serve as memorials (Joel 1 : 3). A nation’s memory is so important; it must include all facets of history, even the bad bits, as it shapes their identity and can also serve as a reminder not to go down certain routes again.

This new king of Egypt, which we heard about in Exodus 1 : 8, is afraid – fear is a great motivator here, but the outcome of the fear is not good. It’s infanticide, it’s killing, it’s oppression. This new king didn’t know about Joseph – the history had been lost. All the good that Joseph had done had been forgotten. The Israelites’ story, background and history were lost in Pharaoh’s court. They had not been telling their story of how God had provided for them and those around them in the past. The Israelites had also changed from being shepherds to being used as forced labour under Egyptian slave masters to build store cities. So not only was their story lost, but also their original identity as shepherds, and this happened within about three generations. So not long.

But as we are going to see, God is faithful and will eventually provide a way out for them, the foundations of which are now being laid.

So there is oppression, hard labour, bitterness, ruthless slave masters and a race of people, the Israelites, which were dreaded by the indigenous population. But even in this situation, God caused the Israelites, his chosen people, to multiply and spread, so much so, that the king of Egypt begins to take drastic measures. He informs the Hebrew midwives to kill all the newborn boys, this way, the Israelites will have forced birth control and eventually die out. The men also went to war, so with less men, should the Israelites side with an enemy of Egypt, they would be less of a military threat.
But the Hebrew midwives have other ideas. They feared God, but not in the same way that the slave masters engendered fear, no, this is a healthy fear – it is an honour, respect, reverence, awe and wonder. This is a good fear, so the Hebrew midwives let the Hebrew babies live. In so doing, they risked their own lives. Pharaoh could have had them killed for disobeying him. He was also probably not impressed with them when they insinuated that Egyptian women were weak!

The result was initially positive, the Israelite population increased and because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own (Exodus 1: 21). Pharaoh now ups the stakes, as the midwives were not carrying out his orders, he widens the order to all his people – drown the baby boys.

The story now moves from the midwives, to a couple from the Israelite clan of Levi. There is fear in this story too, the fear of being found with a baby boy and having him taken from his parents and drowned. This fear had been lived with for three months, and to hide a new born child for three months must have been quite some doing. We can see in the story the care and tenderness of his mother, his father probably out working being oppressed by the slave masters. She gets a basket and makes it waterproof, places Moses in it and puts it in the reeds along the bank of the river Nile. Maybe she knew Pharaoh’s daughter would come and bathe here, because Moses was put in the reeds so he wouldn’t float away downstream and be lost forever. It was also possibly a calm and secluded area of the river Nile, as Pharaoh’s daughter was going to bathe there (I did wonder if she enjoyed skinny dipping, but as it’s not a recorded fact, I can’t include it in the sermon!). A lookout was posted and then waiting ensued. It was not known how this would end. Moses’ life hung in the balance – would he be found and would the outcome be good or bad? Life or death? A future or oblivion?

Pharaoh’s daughter saves the day – she is inquisitive and compassionate (and also possibly disobedient, as I expect she knew the edict that Pharaoh had issued about drowning all the baby boys) and sends her slave girl to investigate. On opening the basket, Moses cries – one of hunger probably, or of seeing full daylight again – but who can resist the cry of a baby? Pharaoh’s daughter might have been at a loss what to do, so when Moses’ sister Miriam arrives on the scene – all innocent like ‘Oh I just happened to be passing’ and suggests getting one of the Hebrew women to nurse Moses for her, she leaps at the suggestion. So Moses is reunited with his mother, and I love this bit, she is paid for the privilege of bringing up her son. I think that this is important, as her husband is probably being oppressed by the Egyptian slave drivers, so an extra income would come in very useful. I also suspect that because Pharaoh’s daughter is involved, this would offer a good degree of protection to Moses and his family.

In time, Moses mum took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son.

In this story, God’s hand can be seen as being at work – the situation, on the surface, seemed dire – but there is still hope, God hasn’t (and will not) abandon his people. When God speaks and makes a covenant, here I am thinking about the one with Abram in Genesis 12 which says:

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

God cannot break his covenant, he is always totally faithful and trustworthy, even when things look their blackest. Moses’ parents gave Moses up in the hope that something good would happen, but if it didn’t, at least they tried. I suspect they also prayed to God about this, as the Levites became the tribe of Israel who assisted the temple priests in their role, as instigated by King David years later in 1 Chronicles 23 : 28, so maybe they had a closer walk with God and trusted him in this dire situation. Pharaoh’s daughter was not able to nurse Moses, and as a woman, her compassion was evident as she didn’t put him back in the basket, or, which were the orders of her father, drown him. So when Moses’ sister Miriam appears, Pharaoh’s daughter leaps at the opportunity and to reinforce her commitment, pays her as well!

These are critical months for Moses, as a child’s upbringing is important to forming his identity and who he is. Moses is a Hebrew and this Hebrew culture and upbringing is gently instilled in Moses in his formative years, because soon he is going to live with an Egyptian family, Pharaoh’s daughter no less. Looking ahead to Exodus 7, this experience, and nothing is wasted in God’s economy, would be put to good use, as Moses is to approach Pharaoh to ask ‘Let my people go!’ (Exodus 7 : 16).

So God is at work putting his people in situations and places where in time they will play a crucial role in being part of God’s purposes, so Moses was taken out of the water to serve, but his time for service and freeing the Israelites from Egypt was to come when he was 80years old (Ex 7: 7) . There were 80 years of preparation, 80 more years of oppression and slavery of the Israelites, 80 more years of crying out to God for freedom. It didn’t happen overnight.

So to sum up, there are two main themes that I would like to offer this morning / evening:

1) The importance of telling your story of how God has worked in your life, so that unlike Pharaoh, the story of God and his faithfulness and provision won’t be forgotten, and
2) Even when things are bleak, God is at work by putting people in places where he wants them to be, to further the advancement of his kingdom.

So we can apply these lessons to our lives and to do that, I want to finish by asking you:

1) Do we tell our story about God’s love and faithfulness so it won’t be forgotten in our nation? And
2) Are we where God wants us to be? So that we can: model godly character, make good work, minister grace and love, mould culture, be a mouthpiece for truth and justice and be a messenger of the gospel.
(Repeat)

Amen.

Chris Wilkins 26th August 2017


In February 2017, we did a SERMON SERIES on James - see below -

‘Gems from James’ sermon series

Date Book Title
Sunday 5th February James 3: 1 - 12 Hold your tongue
Sunday 12th February James 4: 1 - 12 The battle within & without
Sunday 19th February James 5: 7 - 20 Why me?
Sunday 26th February James 2: 14 - 26 Is faith enough?


Sermon at St Mary's Hutton: SUNDAY 5TH FEBRUARY 2017 James Chapter 3 Verses 1 – 12 - HOLD YOUR TONGUE!

Today we are beginning a 4 week sermon series on parts of the book of James. To get the most out of this I would encourage you to read the reading beforehand and let God speak to you before I or whoever else does. We are calling this series ‘Gems from James’.

So off we go….. In our modern day society we use words in so many ways don’t we – we speak directly to people face to face, we talk to them on the phone, we text people, put posts on Facebook, Twitter or whatever, we e-mail people and sometimes we write letters. I received a lovely letter from an old friend before Christmas – hand written and several pages long. It was quite a rarity and this friend is younger than me. Words are used in so many different ways aren’t they? Words themselves are neutral – squiggles on paper or sounds that come from our mouths. But in reality words are one of the most powerful things in the world. Think of the key times in your life and the things that have made you the person you are today for the good or bad. I bet each time you remember the things that were said – what an idiot, you silly boy, you’ll never achieve anything, I’m so proud of you, you’re my best girl, well done, I hate you, will you marry me, we’d like to offer you this post, it’s a boy, you’re fired, it’s not looking good, you can do it…… I’m sure we can all think of such phrases that have stuck in our minds and make us who we are today.

The title for this week is hold your tongue. In the book of James we hear what makes a mature Christian. So far James has mentioned in chapter 1 that they are patient. In chapter 2 they practice the truth. Now in chapter 3 they have power over their tongue. With any of the letters in the Bible I always have a sense of frustration as you only get one side of the correspondence and you have to guess what the writer is responding to. James is clearly writing to Christians because they are having problems controlling their tongue. In 1: 19 he writes ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ And in 1: 26 he writes ‘If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.’

Our speech and how we use it is an indicator of where we are in our Christian life – it’s like a gauge or a measure of how much God has changed us. Firstly James speaks to teachers of the word – preachers, home group leaders, anyone with that role and warns us that we will be strictly judged. Our lives must match the things that we preach. There should be no great chasm between what I tell you and teach you and about how I live my life at home. No point me telling you to love your neighbour if I then go home and scream at the kids – I don’t. No point today teaching about the use of speech and then this afternoon telling someone how much I dislike someone in the church. I and all preachers and teachers must be wissywig – what you see is what you get. If you want to know what I’m like then ask my kids. They know me warts and all. Preachers and teachers use words as their instrument – so I/ we need to be careful of how we use our speech. Which leads James to talk to all Christians – you as well as me. James uses 6 images or pictures to make his point. They are the bit, the rudder, the fire, a wild animal, a fountain and a fig tree. We can pair them up – so firstly the bit and the rudder. Verses 3 and 4.

Our words have power – great power. Think of the effect that the words of the new US President have had on the world. He is trying to change the direction of the country by his words first and foremost. They are so powerful. Both a bit on a horse and a rudder on a boat are quite small things – but they have the ability to turn a ship round or make a horse change direction. So James says in verse 5 that the tongue is a small part of the body but has the ability to change a person or a situation. It makes great boasts says James. It exaggerates, twists the truth, tells lies. James says that we all stumble in many ways and the thing we all stumble with the most is with our speech. If we can keep what we say in check then the rest will follow – because it is difficult. This is set in a negative context – but you could also say it in a positive way.

Our words can also accomplish great things. A right and godly word can change your day, change the course of your life….. it can bring comfort and encouragement, it can bring someone to Jesus… we can invite… we can tell our story. In a negative and a positive way words are so important because they lead to deeds. In the second world war there was a caption ‘Loose lips sink ships’ about being careful what you said. But loose lips also sink lives too. The bit and the rudder have to overcome other forces – the wind and waves and the wild strength of the horse. So we struggle to say the right thing. Or sometimes we say the right thing in the wrong way. E-mails or texts are a great way to communicate – the downside though is you can misread them as you don’t know the tone of what is being said. Sometimes it is the way you say things that can hurt. Outside forces might be the people you are with – when someone gossips are we are pressured to join in. Or inside forces – we are angry and we can’t contain our angry words. What is important is the controlling hand of the bit and rudder – is it Jesus or is it us. Proverbs 18 says ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ King David said ‘Set a watch O lord before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.’ (Ps 141) Jesus in Matthew 12 says ‘out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ What does our speech say about the state or our hearts? Secondly the images of fire and wild animals in verses 5 – 8. All fires start with a spark.

Our words can start a fire – can destroy and harm. To be honest some of the worst fires happen in churches. The people who have caused the most harm and hurt have been the ones who have a problem with their tongue. Again David said ‘My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated the fire burned, then I spoke with my tongue.’ Psalm 39. David had a temper and it came out in his speech. Maybe that is us also. Fire spoils and makes dirty – you get smoke damage even where there is no fire. Our words can spoil and taint as well as bring hurt. Jesus himself was wrongly accused of being a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. They said he was in league with Satan. On the cross they hurled cruel words at him. Fire and poison spread – so do wrong words. They need taming and each of us needs to stop things from spreading. A tame animal can be used for work and a fire for power. So words can be used for good. Think of Anna last week – who gossiped about Jesus. Lastly the water spring and the fig tree. ‘The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life’ Prov 10 Water – and words – can be life giving. Words such as God loves you, you look nice, I will help you…. Can change a person in an instant. Water like words can also cleanse – I forgive you, I am sorry. Salt water on the other hand can kill.

As Christians our words should bring life to others. The image of the tree shows us that our words should bear good fruit. Trees bring shelter and can feed us. Trees need good roots – so we need to be rooted in God’s word each day. There are 12 words if used daily they can transform your life – they are please, thank you, I’m sorry, I love you – (even to those we don’t like), I’m praying for you. So let us ask ourselves – do I have a problem with my tongue – as I believe while we all struggle some do have a bigger problem than others. If we do then we need to acknowledge it and do something about it. Give God your heart and your speech each and allow him to use you to be a blessing to others.

Amen.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


 

Sermon at St Augustine's Locking: SUNDAY 5TH FEBRUARY 2017 James Chapter 3 Verses 1 – 12 - HOLD YOUR TONGUE!

Hands up, how many teachers or ex-teachers – either in the church or other places we’ve got here today……. Lets hear the reading……but don’t let anyone else think they’re excluded from these words from James. We’ll think about why in a few minutes!

We start today a short series of talks from the letter of James………Its so practical and down to earth, that its perfect as we come towards Lent and the period of time up to when we reflect on our Lords sacrificial death and celebrate his glorious resurrection. Let me briefly give you the context of the letter. Firstly,it was one of the earliest letters in the New Testament written – scholars reckon just before AD50, less than 20 years after Jesus death. Next, it wasn’t – as I once thought – written by James, the brother of John, who were 2 of the inner circle of Jesus disciples, along with Peter; it was written by another James, who was actually more important in the development of the early church. This James was the half- brother of Jesus himself, and he was a senior leader in the church at Jerusalem – the central mega-church whose founding at Pentecost and subsequent rapid growth is described in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Thirdly, the reason it was written was that – as again recorded in Acts – the rapid growth of the Jerusalem church brought it to the attention of the establishment religious and political authorities…..who saw it as a threat, just as they’d seen Jesus as a threat. The result, unsurprisingly, was persecution, which led many believers to quit Jerusalem for elsewhere in the Roman Empire. As an aside, does that sound somewhat similar to the situation currently facing Christians in Syria and Iraq? Anyway, back to the first century of the church. These dispersed groups of Christians were without the support of their central church so James, the senior pastor, sent them this letter to encourage them how to live out the practicalities of their faith in challenging times. For me, the key verse is ch2 v18 “I will show you my faith by what I do.”

And for todays talk….I will show you my faith by what I do – with my tongue.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE! What does the phrase mean. In everyday language, its quite simple – its Shut Up. But actually, we can visualise it in another way; its this. As we “hold” our tongue, in fact what we’re doing is pausing before we utter any words. And when you consider the things that have been said over the last 12 months by people of prominence in the UK and USA – let alone the rest of the world – “think before you speak” has to be some of the wisest advice that anyone can give.

1.VIEW FROM THE WORLD…..DITCH THE CLICHÉ! Out there, the world is full of clichés about words and the power of words – clichés that are massively destructive. Some are old, some are new; all need to be challenged. Heres one that’s been around for a while….”Do as I say, not as I do”. Wrong – that’s called hypocrisy. Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for hypocrites Matt23.v13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You shut the kingdom of heaven in mens faces.” And we’ve got 2 new clichés, thanks to the events of the last 12 months.

We have “post-truth”. Wrong. Truth is an absolute. There is nothing that comes after truth – except lies and distortions. Then we have “alternative facts”. Wrong. Facts are facts. Anything that is not fact is either fiction or a personal opinion. The Oxford Dictionaries, after much debate, named Post-truth as the word of the year for 2016. Listen to its definition…….. As to alternative facts, lets go to the online dictionary Wikipedia…..Jesus, in the great passages in Johns Gospel where he is describing his key characteristics made these statements “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and “I am the Living Word”. And his life backed up those statements. Who do you believe to steer your life? Politicians or Jesus?

For me, though, the most destructive cliché about words and their misuse has been around for a long time. Its this:- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ask anyone in the world of mental health. I was recently listening to a lady preaching about rejection; and she said that if you ask any congregation to raise their hands if they’ve never experienced rejection, it is rare to find many, if any, hands go up. And a goodly amount of that rejection is caused by the words we speak or the words that we don’t speak.

And in this hurting and confused world, many still look to the church, to us, for an anchor in the storm. So why do far too many testify to the church only increasing their disillusionment?

2 .VIEW FROM THE CHURCH…”DONT DIS ME BRO”…..or in the Queens English “Please don’t show me any disrespect, my brother!”
Do you know, we sometimes forget Jesus words “It is not the well who need a doctor but the sick”, and that many turn to Christ because they realise that all is not right in their lives. Many join church fellowships, bringing the baggage of hurting with them. And Christians who are young in the faith or damaged look not only to those of us who speak from the front, but to all the fellowship, to act as their teachers by example in word and deed. There are quite a few “dis’s” that people face – disrespect, disdain,being disengaged, feeling disenfranchised; they were some of the strongest emotions that drove peoples votes here and in the USA. What do folks look to see in the church? – the opposite! Respect for them, for each other and for those who have different opinions. Appreciation of them as individuals, irrespective of their level of talent, wealth, education etc. Acceptance of them as they are. Knowing that their views and perspectives will be valued, and that they will be included in the community’s life unconditionally. And when that spirit pervades a church, what do we see? We see healing of deep wounds start to happen, we see people gradually opening up to fully be thepeople God designed them to be, we see them reaching out to their unchurched friends and saying “Come and see what we’ve found”. Its not rocket-science. The early church – to which James belonged – didn’t have any study books on ‘How to grow your church’ or ‘The 12 steps to spiritual maturity’; but what they did have was a burning desire to live out life the Jesus way. It’s a familiar passage, but listen afresh to Acts ch2. Vses 42 -47…. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want this fellowship to always be. So……

3.THE WAY AHEAD……BLESS YOU! Our passage in James is bluntly graphic about the dark side of the tongue. There is no way I could or would want to expand on what those verses say. But what do we do about it? We cant spend our whole lives in total silence in case we say something wrong. Well, I think V9 gives us a hint. “With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in Gods likeness.” Why don’t we decide to take this verse and actually erase the word “curse”? You could actually do it literally – write the verse on a piece of paper, pin it on a board and scrub out or cut out the word “curse”. What word would we want to put in its place? Well, the obvious one is love, of course…..but can I make another suggestion – it’s the word bless. And by that, I don’t mean the automatic catch phrase response to someone sneezing! If you look in the Oxford dictionary, one of the stripped-back meanings of the word bless is this – to give honour to someone as being divine ie as being a child of God. Its an active word, not the mushy touchy - feely word that love can often deteriorate into. How do we bless each other, our parents, our partners, our children, our neighbours? In a thousand different ways – in sending a card, in asking about their health, in making a phone call, in praying for them, in offering to help, in popping in….and just listening. As Ronan Keating famously sang on the soundtrack of the film Notting Hill “You say it best, when you say nothing at all”. But in most ways of blessing, the written or the spoken word is involved.

Let me give you a few quick true examples of words/people/churches and 1 example of blessing people… from TV….. Danny Taylor from Without a Trace. How do we look to live consistently- when we know, if we’re honest, our tongue is not too different from that described by James? Firstly, by determining to change and keep watch over our mindset and our tongue, and to look for ways to bless people day by day, inside the church and outside it. And by recognising that, like the recovering addict, we’re always just one step away from going backwards, and therefore looking day by day to the Holy Spirit to change us inside and finding other believers to support us on our journey.

But I’d like to leave us all with another challenge as well. It’s a toughie, but it's this. Our tongues are all too often the source of the fracturing of relationships. We’re going to have a moment of quiet now, and I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit to move among us….and prompt us if there is anyone we need to contact to seek to restore a fractured relationship, be that by letter, by email, by phone, or in person. Also, if there’s someone we could bless in the next week, as a practical step. Friends, it’s the Jesus way, and you and they are worth it. Amen

Cliff Dumbell, Reader, St Augustine's Locking



SUNDAY 12TH FEBRUARY 2017: James Chapter 4 Verses 1 – 12 'THE BATTLE WITHIN AND WITHOUT'

If you Google ‘wars in the 20th Century’ you will get a very long list. At the top of one webpage it gave a terrible statistic that 160 million people died in wars during the 20th century. The last century was the most murderous ever. Today there are 34 ongoing conflicts including the Syrian Civil war, the civil war in South Sudan (why David and Heather had to leave) and the Mexican Drug War. Today there are only 11 countries who are not involved in some conflict. Those who study these things say that since 2007 the world has become a much less peaceful place. They say that it will get worse not better. Wars always start with people – and in people wars start in the mind and in the heart. I have never been in a war situation – my mum was a girl in the Second World War and it was a terrible and frightening thing to live through. I have though listened to countless stories of people at war with each other, war in families, (very sadly often this comes out at a funeral visit when people have not spoken to each other for years and now they have to see each other), sometimes the reconciliation is too late, even wars in churches, I have listened to people battling with things within themselves.

Today’s reading from James is called the battle within and without. We will look at this in 3 sections – firstly the war with each other. James begins this chapter – what causes fights and quarrels among you? He was teaching about this because there was a problem between the Christians. In Ps 133 it says ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It is like precious oil poured on the head… for there the Lord bestows His blessing.’ Unity is God’s way for His people – here they had gone off the path badly. James identifies different wars going on in the church. 2: 1 – 9 class wars between the rich and poor. People are being judged by their clothes and appearance and favouritism shown. Employment wars 5: 1 – 6 rich employers are not paying their workers a fair wage – some things never change. And church fights. I witnessed a real fight in a church that I worked at in Nottingham – but usually battles in church are more subtle and go on for months, years even and are far more destructive. Especially if they become part of the identity and history of that church. I still sometimes hear stories when I visit people in the parish, of events that took place years ago!!

Wars always begin in the heart and then the ammo that people use is their speech – which was last’s week’s sermon. In the church that James was writing to they were warring over positions in the church – wanting to be teachers and leaders. People thought that their ideas were the only right ones and their ways were the only right ways. Usually the root of the problem is the desire for power. This resulted in personal wars between individuals – people spoke ill of others, they judged them. When this sort of thing happens then it is like a bad stink that cannot be contained and which leaks out into the community. People may look on and say ‘behold how they hate each other’ rather than ‘behold how they love each other.’ At a couple of Locking PCC meetings ago we started to write a new plan for the future. After a church day of prayer various themes came out – one of which was unity and love. We then agreed – in this church we will -

• Work towards changing attitudes towards one another
• Reach out with love and kindness
• Respect one another
• Welcome all ages, cultures etc in love and friendship into our church community
• Be committed to always being kind to each other and those in the community – and to kindly stamp out any unkindness they come across

Taken really seriously and lived out – not just by the PCC – but by every church member – can and will totally transform the church.
Jesus prayed – That they all may be one as you Father John 17: 21

This is not just about us all getting on together – which is good – but is also about witness and mission. ‘By this shall all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13: 35 So why are there wars in the church – we belong to the same family, love the same Jesus, all have the holy spirit. James explains why – what causes fights and quarrels – don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? It’s the problem of the heart and the problem is sin and that usually begins with selfishness – wanting what we want – you want something but don’t get it, you kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.’ Verse 2. Wanting what we want leads to wrong actions and also wrong praying – when you ask you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.’ It has been said the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. You can tell when a person is at war within themselves – they are unhappy and never show any joy. Instead of being thankful for what they have, they complain about what they don’t have. They don’t get on with people because they envy others and what they have – either happiness, possessions or their position. Sometimes people are angry at God because their lives aren’t as they want and this anger spills over into anger at the church and people.

Which leads to the last point and which gets to the real root of the problem – people being at war with God. So how does a believer be at war with God? Well being friendly with the world – following the ways of the world, how it thinks and behaves, being no different from people around you who are not Christians. As yourself – in what way am I different from people around me? Have I sold out to what I hear and see, do I speak as the world speaks, do I do as the world does, do I think as the world does?

Which goes back to being selfish again – because me first – is the way of the world – rather than God first. If you were watched every second of the day would anyone watching it notice that there was something different about you? The devil would want us to be proud but it says God opposes the proud. James tells them to submit themselves to God, to resist the devil, to come near to God. If we seek our hearts and look at our lives and know that they are far from what God have them to be then we need to make a conscious decision to return to God. To return like the prodigal with a desire to change. We must be repentant before God can lift us up – as we know to repent is not just saying sorry but being willing to change direction. When this is sorted we will stop being at war with God, which results in war within ourselves, which results in wars and quarrels with others.

It always goes back to our relationship with God and our willingness to be changed and transformed by him. So today in this service there are opportunities to put things right – in Matthew we heard – if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, the come and offer your gift’ That is why we have the peace. Maybe there are people outside the church we need to stop warring with. Maybe we need to get right with God – use receiving Communion to draw close to God again. James says ‘He gives us more grace.’ When we step out in this way – then God will give grace – undeserved love and forgiveness and will give us all we need. Let us pray

Lord we are sorry when we quarrel with others, when we are proud and think we know best – we turn from that. We are sorry when we are at war in ourselves – we are unhappy because we want what others have, we envy and are dissatisfied with our lived rather than be thankful. Lord change our hearts and thinking. And when we are at war with you and follow the ways of the world – when we try to serve 2 masters and so don’t really follow you. Lord may we repent, turn from disobedience and may we come back to you. Amen

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking


SUNDAY 19TH FEBRUARY 2017: James Chapter 6 Verses 7-20 'Why Me?"'

As I was preparing this sermon it struck me that 2 years ago this week on 17th, two days ago, I had surgery for cancer. It was a tough time as you may remember a week after the op, and I thought I was on my way to recovery, I was told they had found and removed another cancer and I needed chemo and more surgery. During that time I don’t think I said or even thought ‘why me’ – though at times I did think – please stop this, please may this all end, I can’t keep going, I can’t do this anymore. I was thinking about the title of this sermon – why me – and I was thinking what underlies that statement – what beliefs and ideas are within it? I came up with the following:- That somehow being a Christian excludes us from suffering in the world – that knowing and following Jesus means that we will always be protected and nothing bad will ever happen to us or our families. It also gives the idea that you are somehow selected for suffering – why me, why have I been chosen? And then we might think – I’m a good person, I’ve never hurt anyone – what have I done to deserve this? We forget that we are living in a fallen, broken world, that it is indiscriminate in who suffers and who doesn’t. It’s not just the world that is broken but we are too. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made – but our bodies fail us – I was born with a faulty repair gene for example which gives me a high risk of cancer. My body is fallen. When we say why me – we might be saying that to God – why have you allowed this? Couldn’t you have prevent it happening – you can do anything can’t you God? It’s that big mystery of suffering again. So my friends – let’s be real about some things – bad things do happen to Christians. The world is fallen and we are part of that – none of us are exempt. Instead of why me – we could say – why not me?

So what does James say about suffering? Firstly be patient – he says it twice along with stand firm. In John 16:33 Jesus says ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ Fact. But we need to be patient. James uses 2 words for patience verse 7 – 8 meaning long tempered and verse 11 the word he uses means endurance – to remain under – to carry something even though you are under great stress. Patience means ‘to stay put and stand fast when you’d like to run away.’ Scholars think that longsuffering refers to being patient with people, while endurance is about conditions and situations. The thing that James tells them to be patient about is the return of Jesus. I’m not sure that we get impatient for that do we? But it makes sense, as it is only when that happens that all suffering, sin, stress and pain will be totally gone from the world. James gives 3 pictures to put over his point. Firstly the image of the farmer – he can’t make the crop grow faster and he has no control over the weather. When we undergo suffering one of the biggest problems is losing control. We are at the mercy of the illness, the treatment, other people. Yet we must be like spiritual farmers – waiting for the precious, valuable crop to appear. It is out of our hands but in God’s hands. The crop might be the end of our suffering, it might be the harvest at the end of the age, it might be in seeing people become Christians. The soil is our hearts and the seed is the word. In our spiritual lives there are seasons.

People say – I’m going through a dry patch. Sometimes a time of hardship and suffering is God’s way of ploughing the hard ground. I have known people who were once quite hard and then something difficult or some suffering came their way and they changed – they became kinder, more patient, more open. Sometimes a time of endurance is actually preparation for a time of fruit – it might be the fruits of the spirit. This is something we don’t have to do alone – that is why we need to belong to church. James tells them to not grumble about each other. Tough times will test our tongues (yes it’s back to that again.) It is easy to moan and groan, to criticise, to seek for scapegoats when we are hurting. Farmers help out and support each other – remember when the Somerset levels were flooded – farmers from all over the country came to help. So we must support each other when troubles come. Like the farmer we should not give up working but keep going. The second image that James uses is the prophets. They were doing God’s will yet they suffered.

Sometimes suffering is as a result of faithfulness to God. Jesus was obedient to His Father but that led Him to the cross. Despite the suffering of the prophets God looked after them. It is said that ‘The will of God will never take you, Where the grace of God cannot keep you’. It may seem unfair – why me again – that the prophets- and indeed God’s people have to suffer. Yet it is true that our actions speak louder than words – that a life of faith lived out through suffering – in patience and even joy – speaks volumes to those around us. The farmer keeps working and the prophet keeps witnessing – despite the pain and trouble. The last image that James uses is Job. In verse 11 James says ‘we consider blessed those who have persevered.’ But you cannot persevere unless there is some hardship. Sometimes the blessing comes when we are going through trials – like the 3 men in the fiery furnace in Daniel – they were joined by who I believe was Jesus. At other times the blessing comes after. Job lost everything – wealth, family and health. Then his friends tell him he must have committed some terrible sin for this to happen to him. Job says he is innocent but not perfect. Everything was against him – it seemed like God was too. Job questioned God’s will but never gave up his faith. ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.’ Through his sufferings Job met God is a new and deeper way.

The second part of the reading is very practical and covers many situations – if you are in trouble then pray – may that be the first thing we do – unless it is an emergency. Then send an arrow prayer help as you dial 999. Trouble should bring us to God for help. To those who are happy – allow them to rejoice. If you are sick then ask for prayer and anointing with oil. If you sin then confess to others and be forgiven. If somebody strays from the faith and from church – then bring them back. All practical. So if and when we are in trouble and it will happen at some point – then keep going, keep working like the farmer – allow the suffering to soften your heart not harden it. Be like the prophets – who suffered because they were faithful but they kept witnessing. Be like Job – who lost the lot but was a changed man and met God in a new way. Let us all be patient and uphold each other when we suffer – carry them in prayer, in kindness and practical deeds, in listening and encouraging, in just being. And let us remember that Jesus will return and there will be no more tears, pain, sin, sickness or suffering.

Amen.

The will of God will never take you, Where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Where the arms of God cannot support you, Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs, Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you, Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you, Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you, Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you, Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears, Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you, Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you, Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

Rev Anne Wilkins, Rector, St Mary's Hutton and St Augustine's Locking