Tag Archives: church

Next Back to Church Group Meeting

From Ian Wightman
Just a reminder that Meeting 2 of the Back to Church Group will be held in the Sanctuary on Sunday 31 May after the morning service. It will last no more than 30 minutes.
Feedback from our initial meeting has been generally positive.
On Sunday we shall start to turn debate into action.
There is an important additional agenda item suggested by one of our group members which is well worthy of discussion.

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal

 

Romans 5.1-11

 

I recently renewed

by broadband package

and in the process

decided to read

the small print.

 

Of course,

it meant little to me

as it was a mixture of

gobbledygook;

legal-ese

and contract speak.

 

So much so

that the famous Marx brothers

sketch came to mind.

 

You might remember it.

 

It’s when they are discussing

a contract a

and they start off

by read the document –

 

the first clause was

the first part will be known

as the first part

—– and so it went on.

 

Well I have to say

sometimes reading Pau

can feel like reading

a legal document

generated

in the bowels of the EU.

 

Since his pen produces

dense texts

that needs careful reading.

 

In fact,

like most theology,

we need to read it

three times

before sense

starts to appear.

 

Today I won’t foist

two further readings

on you.

 

So if you will allow

I will lead your eye

and ear

to what I,

at least,

think is important.

 

In essence,

let me bring a hope of understanding

even

an understanding of hope.

 

Now hope

is a very interesting word.

 

So much so,

that it features

in many

of our well known sayings.

 

Take the adages –

hope against hope,

living in hope,

hope springs eternal

or there is always hope.

 

Yet each of these clichés

has a negative connotation.

 

In fact, they are used

when hope

is really

not much of an option.

 

When indeed hope

is hardly even a chink of light

in a bad situation.

 

And that is why Pau

l is so very valuable.

 

Because he suggests that,

bleak as

apparently impossible situations are,

they not hopeless.

 

Instead they are the roots

of perseverance and character.

 

These qualities

in turn

germinate into hope.

 

Put bluntly, hope

comes from adversity

rather despite it.

 

Maybe that is the meaning

of a less well known saying –

where flowers bloom

so does hope.

 

Yet despite saying all that,

it still seems

that to blunder

into someone else’s

desperate moment

prattling about hope

is at best offering another cliché.

 

To offer

that tribulations

are a great road to character

is no less than crass.

 

To counsel that awful circumstances

are good for perseverance

can be utterly insensitive.

 

And it is for that reason

we need to read on

in Paul.

 

Since it is then

he adds the essential ingredient.

 

He introduces

the factor X t

hat turns wistful

even forlorn hope

into genuine expectation.

 

In truth, he gives the way

to turning platitudinous waffle

into real comfort.

 

Because he then points out

that the veritable soil

that allows

the painfully won

seeds of character

and perseverance

to blossom into hope

is faith.

 

To him, faith is seeing

in Christ’s selfless sacrifice

the unrestrained love of God;

a love that defies hopelessness.

 

To him, faith that Christ died

and rose

is proof that the impossible

is most likely for God.

 

Moreover, to him faith

is knowing

we can always to tap

into a greater glory.

 

Because it is the phrase

‘hope in the glory of God’

that gives us

not just an aimless hope

but a focus

what we can hope for.

 

Since we cannot hope

to avoid trying times

nor can we hope

to escape tests

that build character and persistence.

 

But we can hope

wholehearted

that through faith

we have a new purpose

and value;

that through faith

we have a refreshing

and everlasting destiny

and that through faith

our life’s meaning

will be eternally fulfilled.

 

Or as David Odunaiya wrote:

“Faith and hope

work hand in hand,

however while hope

focuses on the future,

faith focuses on the now.”

 

All of this is summed up

in a story told

by Linda Ellis.

 

Hope Stout

was a twelve-year old girl

who was offered

a “wish”

in early December 200

by the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation

after being informed

that she had a rare type

of bone cancer.

 

 

However, when she found out

that more than 150 children

in her area

were waiting for their wishes

to be granted,

she unselfishly used her wish

to ask that those children

have their wishes fulfilled.

 

She also asked

that it be done

by January  2004.

 

Unfortunately, however,

the organization informed her

that her noble request

could not be granted

as the funds

were simply unavailable.

 

They calculated that

they would need to rise

more than one million US dollars

in thirty days in order

to grant her wish.

 

Disappointed,

but not discouraged,

she turned her dismay

into an enthusiasm

that inspired caring individual

s to spearhead fundraising

to help grant the wishes

of the other children,

and eventually hers as well.

 

Newspaper columnists

and reporters

for radio and TV stations

shared the story

of this caring young girl

who had touched

the hearts

of so many

and as word spread,

the community was challenged.

 

Committees were formed

and schools, corporations

and various organizations

assisted in raising money

to help bring Hope’s dream to fruition.

 

Though she lost her battle in 2004,

knowing that her wish

was going to come true,

Hope lives on.

 

Her heartfelt efforts

were not in vain

as they continue to help others,

not only physically,

but spiritually

and emotionally as well.

 

At the initial fundraiser

and gathering

to celebrate her life,

“A Celebration of Hope”

In  2004,

the announcement was made

that they had

indeed

received donations

totaling more

than one million dollars

on behalf of Hope Stout.

 

Her wish had been granted!

 

Well I truly pray

you are not facing

the trails of young Hope Stout.

 

But other tests

seem to be in our paths

individually,

as a congregation

and as a nation.

 

In fact, there is much

to try us

each and every day.

 

Yet with hope

we will grow

in character and persistence.

 

With hope

we will be certain

that we will not just prevail

but achieve God’s purpose

as well.

 

Indeed, with hope,

we will know our new direction

in Christ

is toward eternal glory

and victory.

 

All we need do is

to have faith now.

 

Since as Paul’s great guarantee reminds –

faith is the assurance

of things hoped for

and the conviction

of things not seen.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

You are not what you eat!

We are what we don’t eat!

 Acts 11.1-18

Matthew 5.1-12

I have to say I have never watched it myself. But I am told that the programme – I’m a celebrity get me out of here- usually contains a scene where the contestants have to eat something disgusting. In a way I can sympathies with their reaction having once had to eat octopus tentacles on an official visit to Spain. Actually chopped into slices and deep-fried they are delicious. Yet such experiences raise the whole question what we like to eat and what we don’t, what we think we should eat for our health and not and, indeed, what we should and not eat for religious reasons. For such deliberations brings us to the heart of today’s lessons not just from Acts but Matthew as well.

 

 

So let’s start with Peter. Now he could be a black or white sort of guy. Moreover, he saw details as the foundation of the bigger picture. Even small things could either be seriously right or wrong for him. Thus, pre-Joppa, he knew exactly what he had to eat to be God fearing. He knew what all who obeyed God should eat if they were to be on the inside. In fact, he was trying to do religion then by paying attention to the little rules and hoping the bigger ones would take of themselves.

 

That’s why his vision that day at Joppa came to him as a huge surprise. Certainly, if he hadn’t had this revelation, Christianity would have faded out as a footnote in Jewish history. But that day he was given the keys to the Kingdom; he was made to see what the nub of every religion is all about. He was shown what the sacred must truly be founded on. He was made aware that what really matters to God is often not detail. Rather it is have a go at living the truly good life. It is having a bash at obeying God in a way that serves the big picture. Put directly, it is attempting no matter how unsuccessfully to live out not the minutae of religious observance but the beatitudes of faith.

 

Ah we say – but the beatitudes are not easy. Much easier to be concerned with what we can and cannot eat – what formula of rules we can obey to the letter – what boundary walls we can erect to keep people in or out. Since being poor in spirit and peacemakers and above all merciful are painful. Let’s not even start on being pure in heart! That’s just too hard! In the final analysis we say – the beatitudes are just impossible!

 

 

But, you know, the word ‘impossible’ is a strangely flexible sort of term. Since the famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three “laws” of prediction. These are known worldwide as “Clarke’s Three Laws.” Here they are:

Law 1- when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Law 2 – The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

 

If we say then that the beatitudes are impossible we are very probably wrong.

 

If we say trying to base our life rules on them will test us to the limit then we are right. But so is venturing beyond them. For then we will discover the possibilities of God.

 

If indeed we say the casting aside of our self imposed boundaries is impossible we forget Christ did magic – it’s just we call them – miracles.

 

And where do we need miracles today?

 

Oh there are a hundred and one such places!

 

Let me take the example I heard of only last week. For Cardinal Vincent Nicols has just returned from Iraq. He remarked that until recently that country was an intricate pattern of religions and faiths. Sadly, this relatively harmonious patchwork has been destroyed and the lives of Christians as well as other minorities are now at serious risk.

 

Here then in at least one place is where we need miracles. Miracles brought about not by obeying to the letter some rule or other. Instead miracles ushered in by living, offering and inviting others into the community of the beatitudes. Miracles opened up by casting barriers aside and embracing our common humanity under God. Because that is the only way to value all human beings no matter what they believe or where they come from.

 

Or as Maya Angelou wrote of the human family:

 

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

So, how do we sum up?

 

Well, I think we need to acknowledge we are less what we eat than who we eat with.

 

We are less Christian when we obey rules and ignore God’s vision.

 

We are less human when we stop believing in miracles – the beatitude miracles – the miracle of the vision of Joppa – the miracles we can make happen through Christ. Since that is the food of God and the very taste of heaven!