Welcome

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives
May you never give up praying.
When you pray, may you keep alert and be thankful.
Pray that together we may make the message of the mystery of Christ as clear as possible.
Amen
(Based on Colossians 3 and 4)

Readings for Sunday: Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Reflections for the week: Lyfe Devotionals

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Sunday Reflection for 7th January 2018

Ephesians 3:6

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

…the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The creation story teaches that we are all like God, made in his image, not divided, all one equal before God. It shows how good is the free will choice to walk in God’s good and perfect will. Evil is a choice that binds us to a cycle of self-love and self-will; it ensnares us and makes us slaves to it. To choose good is to choose life. We know that God’s heart is to be with us, there in every moment, in every choice, working with us for good.

Scripture leads us to understand that we are to be redeemed, brought back to this good and perfect state. Sin leads to death and God calls us to walk in new life. God’s desire is that we exercise true free will and choose good.

The creation story also shows us that part of our creation is that we are free as God is free to choose. We have choice and dominion in the world. With creation itself, we are cocreators with God.

Free will is the freedom to choose good, not so as to gain anything, but because this is our created nature, our true humanity. We are not free if we make choices out of fear, or because we feel we ought to, or because we think we might gain if we do. Free will is the ability to live in grace and be perfectly holy and merciful as God is.

Religion would have us believe otherwise and enslave us to a system, a tick list, so that in the end grace appears meaningless and is cheapened to a transaction. You do this and this is what you gain.

True grace saves us from this lie. Faith in Jesus frees us to be who we are created and called to be, Children of God. We cannot earn our salvation.

How does this work if salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ? Isn’t having faith a work? Paul proclaims salvation as a promise in Christ extended to the Gentiles just as for the people of Israel. It was true by their birth and John says,

John 1:12-13 (NRSV)
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

But still, Jesus says we are not forgiven if we do not forgive. It appears it is also taught that if we do not receive Christ we do not gain salvation. Salvation and forgiveness are by grace but appear conditional on our forgiving and receiving which is not grace, by definition. This can really weigh us down and rob us of assurance and make us very religious, just in case. I have to confess, I often leave Christian meetings, or finish reading Christian books, not knowing if I am good enough. Believe more, pray more, do more, follow this scheme… I just wish they would say less.

I think the answer is in being born of the will of God. That is the only way grace can operate, if you have, because you are, enabling you to be. So, I am forgiven for free because it’s God’s will and his grace is to empower me to become.

If I were in a game playing in a team, when the whistle went, I would have, with my team, lost, won or drawn. The moment the whistle was blown it was decided and settled though in some circumstances it may have been obvious quite early in the match. Once the whistle goes, every part of the game from then on can be seen to have led to the conclusion. Every victory and failing is part of the result which was predestined.

Paul teaches that faith in Christ gains eternal life. Those in Christ are predestined to salvation. Jesus is the final result which means that our every victory and failing leads to salvation. God makes it all good. Paul teaches that those in Christ have been predestined from the beginning and known to God as those who are saved.

Our faith in Christ reveals the outcome and we are fee to live and act and have our being in this knowledge. Perfect love, mercy and forgiveness lives in us. We are freed through faith in Christ to live in grace, as our salvation is God’s will not our own making. If we believe, we become saved. Religion finds this too radical, a licence to sin, but the good news is that in confessing Jesus is Lord we reveal ourselves to be those becoming the Children of God. We are empowered to do good by grace, not to receive a reward.

We no longer act out of fear; if we care we’re there! The journey has a predestined end.

It is a grave error to say this is settled and some are created to be damned, as in doing so, we are binding God to our understanding and will and creating God in our own image. This is truly a teaching of Satan.

For a time, we will need to be lead into the truth of grace. Through our whole lives we will need to be taught. This involves a transference of some of our freedom into the hands of those who lead. This is discipleship. But to think we are able remain in this relationship is a fantasy; every baby needs to be weaned off milk to grow strong.

Our parents, friends, teachers, systems and priests cannot stand in that place of responsibility forever otherwise they become idols taking the place of Christ. We need to be weaned from these controlling influences or the fantasy becomes religion, which grows into a demon called the bearded magistrate in the sky.

This false god wants to stand in the place of God to make us do thus and so and accept false grace and salvation by the works he demands. Evil makes us slaves to religion and power as we freely embrace the fantasy of our authority to judge others and control them. When the end comes it is revealed that we have not believed that Jesus is Lord, but that we are lord, and denied our humanity.

Good frees us to be truly free, and free others, and this is the fruit that reveals us to be becoming children of God. Let us be priests together, make disciples together and baptise and welcome all to the priesthood of all believers. Let us be revealed together to be those becoming children of God.

Sources: Becoming an Ethical Subject: In Defense of Predestination 

For further reflection: Montessori lessons in Grace and Courtesy

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Reflection for Sunday 31st December 2017

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Jesus teaches that those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus teaches that we are to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Moreover, he teaches us that our neighbour includes our enemy (Luke 6:35, 10:25).

Jesus was teaching the remnant of the people of Israel, sons and daughters of Abraham. His disciples were Jews; a covenant people, redeemed from slavery out of Egypt and brought to a promised land. Their confidence was in the Law and the system of worship and sacrifice ordained by God. They lived knowing God’s love for them and in the light of his promises to them.

As a nation Israel had been faithless and experienced deportation and subjugation but lived in the expectation of being restored through a Saviour to their former glory. In the time of Jesus, they lived in the expectation of deliverance from their cruel oppressors, the Romans. Their confidence was in their identity as children of God and God would deliver them.

Each morning the faithful Jew would pray, standing, honouring God, recalling his faithfulness to Israel and asking for what was needed to live. The oppression was severe and their needs were great. The religious system failed them and marginalised them. They were over taxed and traumatised by a harsh invader. This was the mess Jesus taught into. He teaches that the lost are not judged, they are precious and all their needs will be met through prayer. He learned tis from the prayers of Israel.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, given to his disciples, is forgiveness. In Mark 11:20-25 he says, as he does elsewhere,

“… whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive your trespasses”

In Luke 6:37 Jesus says, “…forgive and you will be forgiven, …”. In Luke 6:27 Jesus says, “…forgive your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

And so, Jesus teaches that prayer is built on forgiveness. Indeed, to know God’s forgiveness we need to first forgive. To not forgive is sin and separates from life, separates from walking in the forgiveness of the Father. Forgiveness is given through grace to God’s people and is effective when others are forgiven.

For us as Gentiles, Jesus makes the way for us to become people of God and the good news of Jesus, the message of Jesus, is that all through belief in him are forgiven. Those who believe in Jesus are forgiven (Acts 10:34-43). Our foundation as followers of Jesus is Jesus, not a religious system and, as those forgiven by the Lord, we are called to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness is a free gift. Grafted into Israel, we are called to forgive just as they were by Jesus.

Forgiveness can be seen as our teacher. The grace available to the people of Israel is extended to us, available to all in Christ Jesus (Romans 5-6). Sin has no power over us in Christ. Forgiveness teaches us how to live under grace. Forgiveness is the foundation of our prayer just as it was for Israel. To not forgive is sin. Sin is its own punishment and without forgiveness faith withers and is a curse. Jesus call us to forgive and in knowing our lack he fills us up with his love. The way of peace and life is forgiveness.

The tension is that to be fully forgiving is impossible and is a daily struggle. We are no longer bound by sin but each day we are faced up with our own failings and the failings of others to us and those around us. It’s a constant call to forgive. The moment we make forgiveness into a system, a tick list or a form of words we lose the power of our calling. We need to wrestle with the tension.

Jesus’ words disrupted the Jews and today they disrupt us; they are uncomfortable. Forgiveness needs to be lived, it cannot be formalised. As we receive the truth through the Good News that we are unconditionally loved and forgiven, Jesus inserts a condition, to be forgiven we must forgive. Both are true! We are forgiven by grace and we are forgiven in forgiving others. Forgiving others in God’s eyes secures the fact of our forgiveness. Our forgiving shows we are forgiven.

When we pray, forgive us our sins as we forgive others we could also pray Psalm 23. In Psalm 23 we read that God has prepared a banquet in the midst of our enemies. In Jewish thought, you can only eat with those you are at one with. The call has always been to love our enemies. Jesus shows us how, forgiving those who crucified him. We are called to an active faith in him which is beyond a meaningless form of words. In the prayer that Jesus teaches us, we learn that faith without forgiveness leaves us unchanged and creates an earnest desire in us. It is those who persevere who are saved: those who love much who have been forgiven much.

Yet again we arrive at love. In our weakness, we may find forgiveness a trial, yet knowing we must forgive and acting towards others in a forgiving way invites God in. We are created free to forgive. Unforgiveness is bondage.

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Reflection for Sunday 17th December 2017

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John 1:1-5

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In this season of Advent, in this season of hope, in the darkness of the year, in the darkness of our times, there is a light shining. There is light within each of us and light shining around us. We see the glory of creation and the power of love – compassion, mercy, steadfastness. This is our hope, this is the truth, the God of our hearts; the God of creation. Our faith cries out from the darkness, God is good!

Yet look at me. Look at my life. Look around. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by darkness. Sometimes I wonder, Is there hope? Where is the light?

Yet in the breath I breathe, in the glimmer of the morning horizon- beyond yet near- a gust of wind- a fresh breeze; comes the presence of God. I am lead into the surprise.

In the surprise, I rest. God is good and he calls me to peace, to joy, to love. Joy to the world! Looking within, I find a quiet, dark place- a place of intimacy, a place of enveloping security, a place of birth. God is knitting me together in a place of warm darkness.

It is another darkness that overwhelms. Whatever this darkness, I find security in that comforting darkness. There is a comfort in solitude, in the silence of intimate love that brings birth, new birth, calling you out into the light to know life, to walk in faith, to be kind, to be fully human, to be like Jesus. Jesus my Lord and my God, fully human- the Word made flesh.

Jesus, born of a maid. Jesus Son of God; Messiah, anointed one, prince of peace, very God, very man. The one man our only mediator with God (1 Timothy 2:5).

In the beginning, Eve was formed of Adam. A miracle – the whole of humanity formed from one life. We are all one- all created in God’s image- we share the breath of God with all creatures from the humble bacteria to the majestic ant.

Jesus is the new Adam- born of a woman- taken from her flesh, one flesh. In our age of reason, here is the challenge. God forms God in the dark, secure, warm womb of Mary, carried to Bethlehem in a cruel world. Jesus is formed, fully man from woman.

Is Jesus then like us? None of us were conceived in this way! How then can we say Jesus is fully human? Is it a story?

John 1:9-18 (ESVUK)
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[a] and his own people[b]did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[c] who is at the Father’s side,[d] he has made him known.

Jesus is fully human and fully God and he calls us to be fully human. The mystery of his birth is a challenge and deeply unsettling. Don’t walk away from it. Don’t live a life of bluster and denial. Embrace doubt. Wrestle with it so that it forms you. Don’t try to come up with an easy answer; truth has many layers and Jesus is the truth. Jesus is truth incarnate; truth in the flesh; the Word made flesh. Live with the uncertainty and find the dark place of solitude where the light shines, where you shine. Be fully human. Be God’s hands, feet and mouth- be intimate with God- a child of God- the word become flesh: Our faith.

There is a practice we can share- a practice of daily self-examination. Find a place of quiet and open your arms to the goodness of God and be thankful. Bring your hands inward and sense your need. Open your arms to receive direction from God then rest in the healing promise and wait quietly for strength. God will answer in a whisper; and even if you are only able to do the actions and have no words, he will comfort you. In the hard place you will be formed, in mysterious ways- the ways of life will form you. Even if you feel nothing, you have turned to God and allowed the light to shine in the dark place, the place of fear, the place of entitlement, the places of attachment and rage. Express your lament but do not stay there; walk into the light of life and resolve to bear the light in all circumstances.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (ESVUK)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

You are in that place of humility, of knowing your need of a healer. Jesus rests with the humble. The message of the birth of Christ is that God makes his home in the mess. Jesus is at home amongst the filth. He is at home in the misery, at home in the face of cruelty. Jesus is at home on the cross – a broken humanity. Jesus is at home in you. Rest in him as he rests in you. He will surely do it.

“Faith is not a set of beliefs, not a feeling, but communion with light and truth” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation). We have seen his glory. The one born in Mary is the resurrected Christ. There is new life in the misery of the stable: Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed in Jesus.

Inspiration

Ian Adams, Running over rocks: spiritual practices to transform tough times, Chapter 21

Mark E Thibodeaux, Reimagining the Ignatian examen: fresh ways to pray from your day

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Reflection for Sunday 10th December 2017

Matthew 6:5-14

IMG_0471 (2)Everyone prays. The prayers we pray are what form our lives. They express our faith as we walk in the world. They express our inner voice. Prayed to God they are the foundation of our hope and breathe our knowledge of God, coming from the heart, coming from our forgiven centre. In them we know God.

I see God as being involved intimately in every moment of creation engaging with all prayer. My understanding of God is that he has placed my future in my hands and we are fully in his hands. I believe this because of the framing of the prayer Jesus teaches. Some say God, by his nature, is unchanging and unmoving. I think he is more than this. God by his very nature is beyond what we can conceive. I believe this from my reading of scripture. I see God as engaging evil in a way that allows us to choose good and defeat it. It is his will that we are one as he is One and that we love one another. He turns the outcomes of our failing into opportunities for good, for us to turn to better ways, for salvation. If we fall he picks us up. Yes we experience loss and pain but God brings good out of it. God suffers on the cross.

I see our universe as a forgiven universe, where the revelation of the cross is the revelation of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I see this as always having been so, though having been shown to us at the right time. God gets his hands dirty from the beginning forming us from the dust of the earth, he is changed and moved by our condition and our asking yet remains God.

The author, Tozer in his book, Knowledge of the Holy, sees the rule of God in the world as like a ship bound for a harbour. The passengers on the ship live their lives on board but the ship carries them to their destination. The lives of those on the ship are free but the course the ship sets is in the hands of its pilot. Prayer opens us up to seeing the course of God’s rule, his guiding and the way things are and our inclusion in God’s rule.

Jesus’ prayer is from its first words inclusive, universal, and welcomes us in to a relationship with God, our Father. This is the reward of seeking intimacy with God. Jesus would have prayed the eighteen blessings, three times a day as a good Jew. This prayer is said standing up and declares the faith of Israel in God’s character as God’s people. Jesus lived that prayer, and reveals its truth to Israel.

Jesus calls us to the universal Father- the Father of all not just the father of Israel. It puts in our hearts and causes us to express the desire that his people, all people, will bring glory to his name in their lives and in their praise, here on earth as it is in Heaven. Heaven is where God dwells, beyond the horizon, in unapproachable light. The prayer is a call for us to stand assured in God’s presence which is as close as a breath on the earth. Here. Now. In God’s presence, we know only love for God and for our neighbour. We love our enemies.

From this high place, we are brought down to earth seamlessly in to the reality of daily existence. As, I believe, our futures are open in the hands of God, so we ask God for our daily bread, what we need now; the food we need. This is not certain. For many it is the focus of their day. God asks us to involve him in our need to eat. Many have little to eat and dirty water to drink through no fault of their own.

We ask, as God loves us to ask. God knows our prayers before we ask, no moment is not known to him. This prayer for food forms our choice throughout the day and opens us up to thanksgiving and trust. Sometimes we will know abundance and sometimes want, but God is with us in our needs, in our asking and in our receiving. Food for our bodies can’t be taken for granted and its availability can make us complacent or doubt God’s goodness. God cares. In sharing our needs with our loving Father we are opened up to the needs of others. We become the way of kindness. We invite God into our longing.

IMG_1200Blessed are you Lord God who is our provider. May the ground yield its fullness and may we share together in its bounty as we steward wisely the earth you have given us.

Next, we ask God to forgive us the debt of wrong choices we have made. We, in speaking the prayer, declare our forgiveness of others who have wronged us. It is the practice of the church to examine our consciences before praying the prayer Jesus teaches.

The prayer prompts us to declare our forgiveness of others and opens us up to receive the forgiveness God gives by grace. Our forgiveness is entirely by grace, not dependent on us or a form of words. Our faith in Jesus is our forgiveness. Faith in Jesus sets us free from sin. We need God to work through our words of forgiveness to deepen our knowledge of the forgiveness we have received even while we were still bound by sin. We become forgiving as he is forgiving; as we understand others and forgive we come to know that God understands us too and forgives us.

An interpretation of Jesus’ words can be, As we forgive others in this moment, having examined our consciences, forgive us our trespasses and debts or, Forgiving God as we forgive others reassure our hearts that we are known by you and forgiven. It is a work of God’s grace to reveal to us the depth of the forgiveness we have received and for us to participate in sharing this gift.

IMG_1202Blessed are you Lord God who forgives. Open our eyes Lord, to your forgiveness as we forgive others as Jesus taught us.

God in his goodness knows all things. There is nothing that happens to us that is not held in the knowledge of God. This is beyond our understanding and in this truth our choices are not predetermined. He places, as I believe, the future in our hands but being God, he knows all futures and being God, he has planned goodness in all our choices. God is good all the time. So, we pray in the time of trial we will not fail.

God does not tempt anyone. The word “lead” that we pray in English does not carry the whole meaning. Maybe, “do not let us” completes its meaning. Do not let us fall in the time of trial, carries the meaning better for me. Do not let us fall into temptation in the time of trial is a prayer that acknowledges our weakness and that we might fall. We know our weaknesses, our tendency to pride and arrogance, to self-righteousness. We pray that in all our troubles, in all circumstances, our eyes are open to the goodness God has planned for us. We want to see God’s name lifted high on earth as it is in heaven. In the prayer, our hearts are prepared for the troubles and trials, and in us asking God that these will not cause us to fall, our expectation is formed that our eyes will be opened and we are trusting God to answer our need and for strength to persevere.

IMG_1202Blessed are you Lord God who is our guide. Teach us your ways and show us how in our choices we might worship you.

Finally, the prayer Jesus taught acknowledges that evil is an enemy. There is an evil malignant presence in creation. The powers and principalities act in every manner possible to rob us of our present blessing and separate us from the goodness of God. We ask for God’s deliverance in an uncertain and dangerous world. Today might be our last.

Blessed are you lord God who redeems us from our enemy. Deliver us from oppression physical, mental and spiritual that we may love you and you alone with all we are.

The prayer Jesus teaches leads me to an understanding of my walk in this world. I am in God’s rule, prepared from eternity to enjoy God, secure in his love and to know him in intimacy as Father. The prayer that Jesus taught forms me. It forms the people he knows from the beginning.

My world may feel like a wilderness. The wilderness is a tough environment, an external threat to our wellbeing. The western way is to internalise the wilderness and take it as a metaphor, sometimes making its experience a virtue.

Jesus teaches us to pray that we will not be lead into temptation in times of trial. He warns us that each day will have its troubles. In his prayer, we pray for our daily bread. Nothing is certain but we are told not to worry. This is a call to trust. It is a call to faith in the to and fro of chance and time, in being the victim of biology, history or geography. Our inner land is one of faith. Faith in God, faith that we are loved: to believe in the God who is love, compassion, mercy, steadfastness and justice. This is our task. This is where our prayer begins. It’s the real world.

IMG_1203Our Father in heaven loves us and is worthy to be praised.  We are to know the unity of the Holy Spirit and be as he is, One in loving all.

The dark night of the soul is to find yourself in a prison, deprived of daylight and on meagre rations. Your physical reality is that your horizon is the bars of your cell and you crave darkness to hide the awfulness of your plight. It’s outside circumstances battling with the inner world. The struggle is with the temptation to despair. It’s a questioning and deepening of faith in the reality within. It’s holding on to love despite everything.

In my opinion, all suffering stinks and is never good. Ultimately there is no pain, there are no tears nor is there suffering in the presence of God. Suffering is the work of the evil one and we are to call him and his works evil. Suffering is evil. Suffering may deepen our faith but that does not mean that faith is deepened by suffering. It is the presence of God in each moment of suffering that deepens faith, it’s being humble, accepting where we have done wrong, forgiving the wrongs others do to us and walking in new life. The truth is, in my experience, faith is more often shipwrecked by suffering than strengthened. To be detached and wifty-wafty about suffering is perverse in my estimation and anything that says otherwise sounds like a fairy tail to me. The reality of creation is that the creator, God, is humble and we get to choose life. Death exists but is not inevitable. We have a choice.

I think we need to be sickened and angered by suffering, not complacent and accepting because it really is not nice and pretending it is, and is somehow God’s will, is nuts. Jesus teaches us to pray, in the time of trial, do not abandon us and deliver us from evil. We place ourselves in God’s hands. He does not teach us in the prayer to be thankful for trials or excuse evil. Jesus does not teach a philosophy of suffering but gets his hands dirty and confronts it and strengthens us for the troubles of the day.

 

 

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Church Meeting

There will be a meeting of the Church after the main public meeting on 3rd December 2017

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