Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Photos

Yes I'm still alive! There's new photos on my flickr account - check out the link on the right hand side of this page.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sermon Script

Here's the script from Sunday for those of you who are interested.

Sermon 21 Jan 2007
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”
“Happiness is…a shoulder to cry on”


Today, we’ll be looking at the second beatitude “Happy are they who mourn for they will be comforted”. The ‘subtitle’ for today’s talk is ‘Happiness is…a shoulder to cry on’.

We might be tempted to think that happiness is dependent on our circumstances, ‘stuff’ we own, people’s cooperation (friends/relatives/etc) and no conflict. But that would mean that it's a transient thing. But life isn’t like that! So can we only grasp at bits of happiness every now and then, when the circumstances conspire to our advantage? Is happiness only the next holiday, the next perfect moment? If we live like that, we concentrate so much on ‘the next thing’ that we miss the daily blessings and pleasures that God sends our way.

Steve helped us to see last Sunday that "If you are poor in spirit God is near you; and when you leave here, if you want to join in with God's work, get alongside those who are poor in spirit." We saw that, actually, recognising that we are all poor in spirit, can make a big difference in how we approach life and faith.

Personal Mourning – our sin!
Today, what I hope we’ll discover together is that seeing that we are poor in spirit is the first step. The next one is acknowledging that fact, and mourning it. The Street Bible, a paraphrase, portrays this bit of the Bible as follows:

I’ll tell you who’ll still be laughing: The people who know about grief, who don’t shove the mess behind the sofa, but face it – God himself is going to put his arm round them.

The problem is exactly what the Street Bible says: often, we shove the mess behind the sofa, and don’t face it. And God can’t put his arm round us and comfort us.
We’ve been brought up to be self-sufficient, and ‘stiff upper lip’. We don’t easily let others see the mess we sometimes feel we are in. And in the process, we fool ourselves. If we tell ourselves often enough that we’re ok, we might believe it at some point. This is simply untrue. We were made by God to be dependant upon him. If we deny that, or ignore it, we end up trying to fill that hole that’s left behind with lots of other stuff. We convince ourselves that we are self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-confident and all the other selfs we can come up with, when in reality we frantically try to find some way of shoring up the sense of loneliness and insecurity inside ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m a fearful person. I’m frightened I’ll upset you by what I’m saying. I’m frightened you might think I’m talking twaddle. I’m frightened that, unwittingly, I’ll preach some kind of heresy. I’m extremely frightened at the prospect of having to watch this talk on video sometime over the next few weeks for my preaching assessment. If you had told me 6 years ago that I would be standing here in front of you all and preaching, I would have just laughed at you. I’m frightened of microphones. But, when I became a Christian, God put his arm around me and promised never to leave me. And although I’m still frightened at times, I can face life, because I know that He’s with me.

An important part of becoming a Christian is admitting that we do wrong on a regular basis and need Jesus’ help to live a life that is right and pleasing to him. That’s why being able to mourn is a blessing, even though it doesn’t seem like it at first glance. That’s why I’m glad that, every now and then, I get to a place, by the grace of God, where I’m faced with my shortcomings and sins and mourn. Because I know that he made me and accepts me warts and all, and he’s not going to leave me just because I mess up. Mourning or being sad about our failings and shortcomings is opening the door for God to come in, change us and make us more like Jesus.

Personal Mourning in times of trouble
We just focused on the aspect of our own mess, and sin in our lives. Of course, another important aspect of mourning is the very real situation of facing personal tragedy. There can’t be many here today who haven’t experienced loss, betrayal, illness, disappointments, discouragement, rejection, separation, or loneliness. We simply don’t go through this world without being hurt or damaged in some way. Our hearts get broken by circumstances outside our control. Our health fails us. For me, God came close when I was down. In fact, I became a Christian in a time of deep personal darkness. I had finished university, was planning my wedding, and moved house when my relationship with my fiancé broke up. I was profoundly alone and disoriented. In that time of loneliness, God drew near and I experienced Jesus in a very real way. I became a Christian and my life changed totally. I had come to a place where I could not fool myself anymore. I couldn’t find significance in being someone’s ‘significant other’. I couldn’t find purpose in the job I was doing, because already four weeks into the position, it became clear that it had been a mistake to take on that job. I couldn’t even go out and do retail therapy, as I just about had enough to live on. Sometimes, once everything that we use as support has been taken away from us, we start to recognise God in our lives. In a way, I feel a little bit ashamed of this. I had to get to rock-bottom (poor in spirit!) before I turned to God. It was like he was the last resort. But I don’t feel too bad about it, as the Bible acknowledges that this seems to be the dynamic with which God works.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Message Translation)

I think that way of translating the second beatitude points to our inclination to look to things other than God for comfort. It often seems easier to throw ourselves into our work, family or other things, than it is to face our problems and pains and resolve to grieve through them with God’s help.

Mourning over the state of the world
Of course, we don’t live in isolation. And no matter what we might think at times, it’s not ‘all about me’. As Christians, we are called to live in the world. To live in community with one another and with the world. So we need to be able to read this verse with a wider context in mind. God has given us this world to look after, to be stewards of until his return. We are to look after his creation and not take it for granted. Our actions, particularly since the industrial revolution, have seriously damaged the planet. If we are to change that, we have to start with a conviction that the actions of humankind in terms of environmental conservation are wrong, or at least insufficient. And, more importantly, we have to develop a personal concern for this issue. That means a deep conviction that what is going on at the moment is wrong, a mourning over the state of our world.

All this is as a consequence of people living far away from God. In our society today, characterised by a conviction that everything is explicable and down to a cause and effect relationship, talk of God sits uneasily. Combine that with the entrenched positions of religious extremists of any flavour, and the attitude that God and faith is a private matter, a ‘whatever floats your boat’ alternative to other lifestyles. We often forget that the world was made for God, not God for the world. We might want to ask ourselves ‘how can I do my bit to live a Christ like life today, and like that make him known to those who don’t yet know him?’. How does our conviction that a world with God is a better world work itself out in our day-to-day lives?

A Soft Heart
Someone once said “The saddest thing in all God’s world is not a soul that sorrows: it is a heart so dull that it is incapable of feeling grief at all; a heart so selfish that nothing but what touches its comfort and its ease could move it to a twinge of feeling. For to sorrow means to love. Mourning is indeed but another and a deeper side of loving”

Mourning and loving are just two sides of the same coin. To love means to open ourselves up for sorrow. If we never allowed others close, we would not feel the pain of disappointment, of loss or of betrayal. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. A lot of people who are lot cleverer than me have written a lot of stuff about why Jesus wept, when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. I think, very simply, Jesus loved Lazarus, and Jesus loved Mary and Martha. Seeing their pain, and feeling the loss of Lazarus, meant that he wept – he mourned with his friends the loss of a friend.
Paul, in 2 Cor 1:3 says ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.’

We receive comfort from God, so we can go out and comfort others. In order to receive comfort, we have to be in a place where we need it. If you’re not thirsty, you won’t drink. If you don’t mourn, you won’t accept comfort. We cannot emphasize with others and comfort them, if we don’t know what it is to mourn.

To mourn might be an unpopular thing in the eyes of the world. We brush mourning under the carpet. We are much more comfortable with the friendly, smiling face of a friend which says the world is ok, than we are with the blotchy and tearstained countenance of someone who has just faced tragedy. Like that, we don’t come face to face with our own fear, nor do we have to face the fact that we can’t fix it. Yes, we can be there, yes, we can listen. But we’re out of control, we can’t fix it. Only God can, and he might not. For some of us, that’s what we really fear. That God will let us down, when we need him most. That he won’t comfort us, that he won’t wipe away our tears.

We started off today by remembering last week’s challenge: “if you want to join in with God's work, get alongside those who are poor in spirit." We can only get alongside them if we know what it is to mourn, and to receive God’s comfort. We spent a while looking at mourning and what it means to mourn, as well as where God is in our mourning and how he uses it to draw us closer to himself, and to work out his purposes through us in the world. But his promise to be close to those who mourn is not the end of it. “Blessed are they who mourn, FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED”. We have a promise – yes, God is with us in our mourning, but his promise is so much greater than this! His promise is that of Revelation 21:

“1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

We can look forward to a time when God himself will be wiping the tears from our eyes! We also saw that promise in our second reading today, from Isaiah 61:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendour.

These are the words with which Jesus begins his ministry in Luke Chapter 4, and this is his promise to us.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Still here...

...and kinda alive.

I'm preaching tomorrow. An assessed 'preach', which will be video'ed. Arrrrgghh. So I spent the last two weeks or so preparing for that, and it finally came together today. What do they say? God is never too late, but never early, either. He's always on time. Not good for my nerves though!!

I'll post the sermon here when I've given it...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

...can't think of a creative title

Well the manic period is over - we had five weeks of four modules instead of two, one and a half days a week in placement, as well as loads of practical teamwork. No wonder I haven't updated this blog!

We have now moved into a new half term - this term's modules are Biblical Studies in Mark and John (Markus und Johannes fuer euch deutsche Leser!) and Philosophy...probably going to prove to be interesting. But thankfully less stressy than last half term.

My baptism visits were interesting as well - I have been doing them over the last three weeks. It's been amazing really to watch their journey. By the last meeting they were talking quite confidently about the fact that reading Acts 2 made them understand repentance and the role of the Holy Spirit a lot better! Of course they still don't really get the whole story of the 'Christian thing' I think - but then who would in 3 times one hour sessions?

Well at the moment I'm ill - the tummy bug that's making the rounds here at college has struck. So I'm lying on my sofa and am feeling sorry for myself. But this cheered me up:

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Half Term!!! (Oops, reading week...)

Well we're at the beginning of half term reading week (apparently it's not a holiday but a chance to catch up on all the required reading). However, for me it'll have to be a holiday. I'm so tired, that I can't think straight anymore and I need a break.

Today, Carolyn is coming up to spend some time with me, which will be lovely. Not sure what we're going to do yet, we'll decide that when she gets here. I also went to the supermarket today and bought a bottle of Winter Pimms...mmmmh!

In other news, Ellie got married yesterday - here's to the new Mrs Clack! It was a lovely wedding and she looked beautiful. Christians have the best weddings. People actually know the songs, sing along and join in with the 'interactive' parts of the service. Probably partly because they all feel comfortable in a church and are at ease with it. So anyway, it was a great occasion, and half of St John's turned out for it - which was really bizarre, but very nice for all of us b/c there were lots of people we knew and could talk to.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Et Voila

My new's very comfortable!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

A pig of a day

Have you ever had a day where more or less everything seems to conspire against you? Well today was that day. I had a lecture where I thought was none, therefore giving me the issue of when to take the car to the garage to be fixed. When I got to the garage, the hire car wasn't there to be picked up. So it took 2 hours instead of twenty minutes to fix that little issue.

Then I got back to college, having missed lunch, to sit in another meeting for an hour, stomach grumbling, finally got back to my flat in order to make a phone call to the sofa dispatch people who were due to deliver my new sofa tomorrow. Sadly the delivery time was the only three hour window I couldn't make, but they didn't want to know that. Apparently, that was the scheduled time, like it or lump it (actually, or wait another two weeks for a new delivery slot). Well I had to lump it as I'm sofa-less at the moment which is seriously impeding my social activities. So my lovely neighbour, Gill, is going to take charge tomorrow evening.

On the upside, I had the hottest curry I ever had tonight - cooked by Dominic, one of our mixed mode students from Bradford. Boy it was hot. But I hardly noticed it after the third glass of wine. Strange that! :-)