Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A Beautiful Message - Sunday 14th January 2018

We all know something beautiful when we come across it. Although each of us has a unique taste for beauty, there is a surprising consensus across the whole human race when it comes to identifying something as beautiful.
In English speaking Christianity, we are familiar with the word ‘Gospel’, but it is a word that has no independent meaning in our language outside its New Testament context, so it makes little impact on us. The word that St Paul used (on 60 different occasions) was a word that had immediate meaning to his readers - it meant ‘beautiful message’.
During Paul’s 30 year mission, the growth in Jesus’ followers across the Roman empire was enormous. One of the key factors to that exponential growth was the fact that Paul’s message was a beautiful one. Paul had a message that delighted people’s hearts, that eased their guilt, that guided their lives. Almost everywhere Paul travelled, there was an instant response to the simple beauty of Jesus’ message.
In the centuries that have followed, Christianity’s message has not always been beautiful. The church has repeatedly condemned and accused, threatening people with punishment rather than showing them divine love. Christian leaders have been quick to forbid, but slow to forgive.
The message of Jesus was beautiful, and immediately recognisable as being so. We human beings love to be encouraged, affirmed, loved and forgiven; we dislike being criticised, judged, threatened or condemned. Today, we are the messengers of the ‘Gospel’; we are the ambassadors of Jesus. If our message as a church or as individual Christians is not recognisably beautiful, then it is not ‘Gospel’.
Say something beautiful to someone this week.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Good for the Universe - Sunday 7th January 2018

God exists in the universe with good purpose, and that good purpose extends to planet Earth and to the human race. The life and teaching of Jesus was, and remains, an eloquent expression of God’s good purpose. If you want to know how God engages with his universe and with humanity in particular, then the life of Jesus is an expression of that in terms of reference that we minuscule humans can grasp.
The life and teaching of Jesus is just as pertinent today where we live, as it was in Galilee two thousand years ago, though the immediate example of Jesus himself is no longer there. But we needn’t panic; God has a plan for that. God has a plan for there to be a living example of his good purposes, this very week right where you are. That plan is you.
We would all be wise, at this point, to remind ourselves that there is no way that any one of us can be the living continuation of Jesus. We can’t. But we can be the living continuation of one small but significant part of what Jesus did and represented. And then, if we link together with other people who represent other aspects of Jesus’ life, God’s good plan is still in business.
St Paul understood the effectiveness of godly people as being akin to a human body. Each one of us is like a particular limb or organ. Each one of us has a significant part to play. And each one of us needs the others around us to play their different, significant parts for the whole organism to operate effectively.
God exists in the universe with good purpose, and that good purpose involves you. When each of us does what we can of Jesus’ work, in active partnership with one another, God’s universe is a better place.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Ready for the Future - Sunday 31st December 2017

Each of us has hopes and expectations for the year ahead. We hope - of course - that our lives will be fruitful and comfortable, but we don’t actually know what awaits us on our journey through 2018.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of the Bible's story knows that God doesn't promise an easy path for his people. Jesus said on the matter, “The gate that leads to life is narrow, and the road is hard.” So please forgive me for pointing out this obvious truth: there will be challenges and difficulties in the coming year.
When Jesus was a small tot, his mother, Mary, had been through a tough year. In addition to the usual discomforts and indignities of pregnancy, she had seen her proposed marriage teeter on the verge of divorce; she had been forced to relocate to an unfamiliar town, 100 miles from home; and she had ended up laying her newborn son in an animals’ food trough because there was no space anywhere else. She must have been hoping that the coming year would be a bit easier. Little did Mary know that the paranoid ruler of Judea, Herod the Great, was about to order the execution of every baby boy in Bethlehem.
God doesn’t promise an easy path for his people. Not even for his own son.
However, God doesn’t simply abandon us to disaster. He may not protect us from difficulty, but he does provide for us when it comes. The day before Mary was forced to flee, a group of wealthy priest/magicians turned up at their home. These unlikely visitors affirmed Mary in the importance of her little child. They also provided her with valuable trading goods (frankincense & myrrh, along with gold). Little did Mary know, as she received those unexpected gifts, how useful they would be in the very near future.
God was not going to spare his loved ones from life’s difficulties, but he did ensure that they were suitably provided for as they fled to Egypt in the middle of the night.
We have no idea what lies ahead of us in this new year; it won’t all be easy, for sure. God won’t insulate us from difficulties, that’s not his way, but he will ensure that we have what we need to get through them.