Monday, 28 September 2015

Whoever is not against us is for us

In the September of 1999, 16 years ago, when I arrived in the parish of St John tone of the first things we did was have a PCC away day to look at what we thought God was calling us to do and be in West Hendon. It was a day of visions and dreams and yes a little reminiscence much has happened in the intervening years that I believe to have been positive.

One of the challenges was to find a strap line, a simple sentence that would sum up our first Mission Action Plan that came out of that away day all those years ago. In my mind there were two possibilities the first was the quote from Jesus recorded by St Mark that we have just heard this morning in our gospel reading: Whoever is not against us is for us”, but in the end it was the words of John our Patron that we used “I came that you might have life and have it in abundance”  John 10.10

Looking back over the last 16 years of course I think it is fair to say that much of what we have been able to achieve together, at that time a  small group of around 30 regular worshipping Adults, we have not done on our own but by making relationships and alliances with those around us who, like us, wish to join in the endeavour of living life in abundance.

As we faced the prospect of closure all those years ago we have been confident, creative and compassionate, to use the latest language of our Diocese, in embracing the challenges around us, in responding to the needs of those whom God has called us to minster to, to witness to and too whom we strive to carry the light of Christ.

It has maybe at times meant that we have worked with those with whom we might never have conceived of as partners in gospel, Muslim and Hindu neighbours and of course those for whom a faith in God in not just faint memory but non existent.

But this is the same situation that the few who followed Jesus, his disciples, faced 2000 years ago. When faced with that challenge, proclaiming the good news in a multicultural and Multifaith landscape,  the disciples displayed the all to familiar and natural tendency to retreat to the security of the known – we saw someone casting out demons in your name but we tried to stop him because he was not following us. Isn’t it interesting that when the disciples, who have been sent out to spread the gospel, see some sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into the turmoil and chaos of the world their response is to make it all about them…he was not following us!  

At a time when the strongest voices of those in the church seem to be advocating a breaking up of consensus, a demand for ever tighter definitions of who is right and who is wrong; who is in and who is out. At a time when individual choice is put above collective solidarity Jesus’ words stand as a rebuke “Do not stop him for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us”

In his tour of America we are seeing the Pope challenge the Roman Catholic church to turn from the rhetoric of division and judgement and embrace the values of the gospel that is built upon the one who forgives, who seeks out the lost and fallen and raises them up and gives live – live in abundance. This Sunday he is in a Prison in the States not to add to the judgement and condemnation of those men but to offer another narrative one of forgiveness and love.

Many of our most joyous and life filled days have been with our neighbours, The many years of being a partner with the Barnet Multicultural centre next door and organising the Barnet Multicultural days. The endless run of summer fetes, cream teas, coffee mornings, Christmas bazars, harvest festivals and the list goes on have been enriched by those who have come to join us in our live and celebration of life as God’s children attempting to live faithfully under Christ.

When we look at the text of our gospel this morning it is of direct relevance to us that the words of Jesus “whoever is not against us is for us” come as a response to the fear and exclusivity of the disciples. “Teacher we saw someone casting out a demon in your name and we tried to stop him  because he was not following us”

Someone doing good “casting out a demon” provokes a response in the mind and actions of the disciples that seeks to prevent the good from happening “We tried to stop him” . It is interesting that they tried and failed!

But why?

Maybe the clue is in the words of warning that follow the command of Jesus to his disciples not to be afraid of the “other” not to seek to control the agents of God who bring peace and health to this world but who may be from a group outside of our own making?  

Jesus warns his disciples, and he warns us, that if your eye cause to you stumble tear it out.

St Paul warns us of the power of the tongue to both build up the body of Christ and also to inflict division and pain. Jesus is using the metaphor of the eye.

We are being warned of the dangers of the green eyed monster- envy and jealousy
we are being warned of the wandering eye that can lead us down a path of betrayal suffering and the death of relationships.

It is so often our judgments born from envy and jealousy that cause the pain and division that is in the church of out time. We cannot accept that someone who so unlike us, that others who we find it impossible to understand or love are in fact also loved by God.

The divisions within the church are human made not God made. If the inclination of the church is to make a judgement about the lives of others then this is in stark contrast to the person and example of Jesus.

We need to learn that there are more ways than we can understand in which God comes to us and in which we come to God.

We should no stop anyone because they are not doing things in the way that we do things. God is far bigger than our comprehension and works in so many ways beyond our understanding: we must guard against being exclusivity of human nature that tries to turn the Church in to a club of like minded people.

As Followers of Christ we are called to work in this world of his, a world vast and complex, a world of wondering beauty and amazing diversity  with a generosity that we see in the life and death of Jesus Christ who for us while we were still sinners came that we might have life.

It is this generosity of Spirit that is a sign of the Kingdom and one that stands in stark contrast to the envy, jealousy and mean spiritedness of the world around us.

Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.
40Whoever is not against us is for us.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Community fund day at West Hendon

Although the rain fall and the sun hide families came to enjoy the day. 
There was plenty of food

The history book capturing the oral history of West Hendon was on didplay and residents were able to add their stories to those already recorded. A giant version was created on the day

The day gave a chance for everyone to finish off the mosaic panels being created  throughout the summer

The day was gave an opportunity for Barnet homes and the SNT to engage with residents. 

Faith leaders join together 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

Many of us associate the best times in our lives with food, a special meal marks a significant birthday, a moment of joy or loss. Some of us have a favourite meal in the day, is it breakfast or lunch or does the day lead us with anticipation to the joy of an evening meal? All of us use food to define ourselves and our place in this world. Our cultural identity is inextricably bound up with the food we place into our mouths and take into our bodies.

It is not surprising the Jesus chose to use food and special meals to talk about the Kingdom of God, the new community he was creating by his words and works in Galilee. Indeed it often with Jesus at a meal that we learn of the forgiveness offered to sinners and we see the intimacy of those first friendships in the life of his followers that should mark the communion we have as his body the church today.

 Nothing becomes more closely united with us than the food we eat. Jesus loves being united as closely as possible with us, and so it should be of no surprise that he uses the language of bread and wine to define the relationship he offers to us.

In every Eucharist we celebrate the wonder of our redemption and the joy of our salvation. In this sacrament we discover the glory of being a member of Christ’s Church. The Sacrament points to the cross of Christ as our enduring and unsurpassed source of salvation and as our storehouse of grace. Here our Saviour brings his cross to our altar so that we can receive its benefits in a tangible, visible way.

It is of course a wonderful thing that the mystery of our faith is revealed, or is it hidden in the most common and everyday realities, bread and wine.

The Eucharist is so central in the life of the Church because Christ is its centre: Christ is the unseen host: Christ who longs to be an essential part of the life of every Church member calls us to gather round and receive his life in the form of bread and wine.  

Jesus talks as he does in this morning’s Gospel because he not only wants to talk to us, but also to touch us. He not only wants to make an impression on our minds, but he also wants to touch our bodies and confirm his real presence with us in the bread and wine we receive, by impacting on our senses of hearing, seeing, touching and tasting.

As sure as we eat the consecrated bread and drink the sacred wine when we come to his table, so sure we can be that we receive our Saviour, the Friend of sinners. Jesus wants to make our receiving of him in our celebration of the Eucharist as earthly and as physical as his coming to us at Christmas.

Here we’re given the love revealed on the cross, to fire up our love for Christ that sweeps through his church and in to the world. Jesus does more than say “I love you forever”. In the Eucharist, he gives himself to each of us in this marvellous feast of love.

The life that Jesus promised to us - life abundant, life in all its fullness and richness - he gives to us in the Eucharist, so that he might be our true source of satisfaction and contentment. The Eucharist means Jesus is no distant leader or director, but our ever-present help in times of trouble. 

This life is ours if we are prepared to come and take bread and drink wine. It is ours through the greatest miracle of Jesus who changes the bread we eat into his body and the wine we taste into his blood.

 John 6:53, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Monday, 10 August 2015

Be imitators of God

Be imitators of God , the author of the letter to the Ephesians exhorts the early church.
It is a bold statement
It is a statement that would have caused some confusion and even contention, these words are startling and upsetting and seem to be an impossible ideal – how can we seriously be expected to be imitators of God?

So what does this challenge we find in scripture mean for you and me?
How is it possible for a sinner like me to be imitate God?

Sometimes it is easier to understand something when we look at what it is not?

The writer is not saying we should try and put ourselves in the place of God. This is something that all of us who believe in God struggle with, the temptation or the desire to be God like.

What do I mean by God like ?– never being wrong, knowing everything, being in control of one’s destiny. We are not called to try and imitate God’s sovereignty. He alone is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc. These are attributes that God cannot or will not share with us, but they are the very things that often come between ourselves and God and lead us away from a life of obedience to God.

So the author is not saying strive to us be like God in that way.

So we return to the question what does it mean to be imitators of God?

For Christians the answer lies in the person of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God, not just a prophet or a holy man, but God. We state this every time we recite the creed at the Eucharist
God from God
light from light
true God from true God
of one being with the Father

so to be imitators of God we have to look at the person of Jesus in whom we see the fullness of God, not a partial reflection of God but the fullness of God.

It is because of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that we are able to draw near to God, to know God – through him.

To be imitators of God therefore we need to imitate Jesus, not just admire him or follow him but be him in this world. This is something that we can do without running the risk associated with trying to take on the sovereignty of God.

As imitators of Jesus Christ we too reach out and welcome the stranger the sick and disposed, we too walk along side the poor and the destitute.

This may sound easy but look at how hard just in the last few weeks it has been to do that when we hear the language used to speak about refugees in Calais or fleeing north Africa to find refuge in Europe? And how different our society seems to be from 75 years ago when we did open our doors to those who were fleeing the evils of Nazism, how in this part of London we welcomed the children of Israel who left their parents to be exterminated in the death camps and began new lives here in this part of London.

How different is our language from 40 years ago when we welcomed hundred and thousands of East African Indians many of whom came to these parishes to begin a new life free from the tyranny and evil of Edi Armin.

Be imitators of God challenges the author of the letter to the Ephesians. If we are to take up this challenge then we will not be able to close our lives, our doors, our boarders to those around us and their needs.

We imitate Jesus in the way in which he loves the way in which he was obedient to God the father even to the point of giving up his own life that we might have life and life in abundance. We see in Jesus the only begotten Son of God and are called to imitate this Son of God and in so doing become one with him as the Son of God

We imitate God by being his children, as surely as Jesus was the Son of God, so you and I are the children of God and through Jesus are offered a new relationship that is defined and transformed by Love.

As children of God we are to live within this relationship of love that begins and ends with the Cross, Where Jesus gave his life to the Father and received it back at the resurrection. So too when we imitate Jesus we give our life to God and he returns it to us for eternity through the promise of the resurrection.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5.1-2

How does Jesus love us in whom we see the fullness of God, by the way he loves us, forgives us, treat us with compassion and kindness. Thank God we have not been treated as we deserve, in deed how we would be had not Jesus taken up his cross and given himself us for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.