Thursday, 29 April 2010

What will be will be.

I've just spent the last hour or so re-reading much of my journal (aka this blog). Looking over it, I see how much I've grown with God and in his calling since the beginning of this process.

Now, I'm a wee bit nervous about the next couple of days, but not as bad as I could be. I know God is with me and will prepare the way for me. I just need to trust him and be myself. What is meant to be is meant to be.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Selection conference - one week to go

One week today I will be in day two of my selection conference. I'm not saying I'm totally relaxed about it, but I'm not as worked up about it as I feel I should be. I will look at that in a positive light as I firmly feel God is with me and will go ahead to prepare the way for me.

Over the rest of the week I need to re-read my journal, make notes for the discussion topic, fill in the medical form (must remember, must remember) and pray - a lot.

Your prayers and thoughts for next weekend will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Third Sunday Lent Year C

Yesterday's services, even if I do say so myself, went really well. Everything came together well, I felt my presentation was good, even when I had to deal with the technical hitch of the mic failing (I need it for the T-loop and the recording of the service, I don't have a quiet voice!); and the congregations engaged well with me and the worship.

Comments included:

"I really enjoyed the service."

"I really like the way you put things."

"Thank you for being so good with my grandchild. She really enjoyed being involved." (There was only 1 child at the second service - the rest are probably still trying to get home!).

"I really enjoyed your sermon. I know that [Acts] reading really well and had never thought if it like that. Thank you"

"Every time you're involved in worship you are getting better and better. Well done."

"All you said really spoke to me. I could tell it came from the heart. Wonderful."

And the best one...

"You looked really smart in that jacket." (Just to make sure my head won't get to big! It's amazing the difference a suit jacket makes. I was wearing my normal jeans and a long sleeve tee shirt with it.)

So, if think it went down well. With that in mind, I thought I'd post my sermon. The readings were Isaiah 61:1-3 and Acts 9:1-20.

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

Was it moving to a new town, where you knew no one?

Was it quitting your job to travel the world?

Was it setting up your own business?

Whatever it was, those who knew you probably thought you were totally off your head. What are they doing that for?

A while ago at work, one of my colleagues took a career break to pursue her music career. She thought if she didn't do it, she never would. It was a risk. There would be no steady income, bills still to pay and she might really enjoy doing it in her spare time, but all the time – that's quite a different matter.

Many people she worked with just didn't get why she'd take that risk, pretty much for those reasons. They just couldn't understand why someone would give up all security to pursue something they loved.

But that was the point – to pursue something she loved.

Ananias, along with all the people of the way – followers of Jesus weren't yet called Christians - , was not having a good time. The priests, the Pharisees, their friends and neighbours, the Romans – everyone seemed against them. They were, so the Jewish leaders felt, contradicting all Jewish teaching, worshipping other Gods and blaspheming Jehovah. The Romans didn't appreciate them either as they had a king other than Caesar. Not a great way to make friends and influence others in the middle east 2000 years ago.

No doubt, the Christians in Damascus had heard of the stoning of Stephen. Earlier in Acts, we are told how Stephen was called before the high priests to argue his case. He used his knowledge of Jewish scripture, our old testament, to attempt to show the Jewish authorities what he, and the people of the way, were following on from the Jewish tradition and the scriptures had foretold all that would happen to the Messiah.

And the priests and other people questioning him didn't like what they heard. Especially when he had a vision of heaven just as they dragged him outside to stone him to death. Blasphemy!

And who was there at the stoning? Paul, who was still know by his Hebrew handle of Saul. “The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul” Acts 7:58 tells us.

Paul was in the thick of the persecution of the first Christians. As we heard in our reading from Acts, Paul was intent on bringing the people of the way from Damascus back to Jerusalem for trial which, no doubt, would have found them guilty of blasphemy, resulting in death by stoning. Word had it the Christians had fled to Damascus, in modern Syria, to move into another jurisdiction, which many have been more welcoming of them.

At this point, it's pretty safe to say Paul was quite a nasty piece of work in relation to the Christians. Nothing and no one was going to get in the way of the true Jewish law. Anyone who followed the way, who proclaimed Jesus as Messiah and Son of God was guilty of blasphemy and scripture deemed they should be stoned to death for this crime against God

Paul was prepared to travel long distances in his pursuit of the people of the way. Jerusalem to Damascus is about 140 mile and Paul may well have travelled on foot. Whatever his mode of transport, it would have taken him at least a week.

7 days to ponder his mission.

7 days to think and consider the problem of the people of the way

7 days towards transformation.

Imagine what Paul was doing and thinking about during his journey. Then we might understand better what happened to Paul.

As far as he was concerned, he was travelling for the glory of God and the righteousness of the Jewish people. God's glory which was being tainted by these followers of Jesus. No doubt, on the long journey he prayed and meditated.

And I wonder what God thought when he heard those prayers. Prayers persecuting his son and followers of his son. Perhaps he was angry. Angry that someone who knew scripture as thoroughly as Paul did not see, could not comprehend, that Stephen and all the followers of the way were right. Jesus was the messiah; Jesus had risen and is the son of God.

But the amazing thing is, what God chose to do. He chose to appear to Paul on the road, through the risen Jesus in a heavenly light. In spite of Paul's religious fervour for his mission, he was terrified. As Luke tells us in Acts:

“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said.”

Whom you persecute. Jesus is telling Paul all those times he's stood and watched the people of the way being stoned, maybe even gathered evidence against them and now pursuing them to Damascus he isn't just persecuting those people as individuals. No, he has directly persecuted Jesus.

When Jesus' followers are persecuted, Jesus – God incarnate – is targeted.

Instantly, Paul is converted. He couldn't physically see, but he had seen God and was a changed man.

The men he was travelling with had to help him finish his journey. Those men would have only been there for his protection. As a Pharisee. Paul would not have associated with those men. Now, he was fully reliant on them.

Already life was changing in totally unexpected ways for Paul.

And them we get back to Ananias.

Firstly, God calls Ananias by name - calls him by name - and Ananias answers “Here I am Lord”. No fear, no avoidance. Just straightforward answering God when he called.

God tells him of Paul. Where to find him and that Paul has had a vision of Ananias healing him and allowing him to see again.

At this point, Ananias was a bit reluctant to go and lists off all the reasons why he shouldn't be going anywhere near Paul:

The terrible things Paul has done to God's people and Paul's mission to arrest all people of the way in Damascus. Given the stoning of Steven, among others, I can't say I blame Ananias for, how can I put this? Bringing his concerns to God!

Despite Ananias', for want of another phrase, pleading with God not to go, he went.

Paul was cured of his blindness, received the holy spirit and was baptised.

Paul then began his mission from God. A mission to serve God – not the priests or other Pharisees – and spread God's way of love and grace and forgiveness “among the gentiles and Kings and people of Israel”.

This mission was one only Paul could fulfil. His conversion was a total transformation from all which he'd stood for before. But, more importantly, his knowledge and understanding of scripture was amazing. He was the one person who could do God's work in this way.

He was the only one able to do this, and help to fulfil Isaiah's words:

“The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit.

He has chosen me and sent me

To bring good news to the poor,

He has sent me to proclaim

That the time has come

When the Lord will save his people “

But, he was only able to do this because Ananias had gone when God called. Although it may have meant death, Ananias trusted all God told him and went where God sent him.

If he hadn't done so, would we be here? Much of the early Christian message was spread by Paul. And it wasn't just kept for the Jewish people. It was taken, by Paul, to everyone - Jews and gentiles alike. Eventually all the way to Rome.

All because Ananias did as God asked.

He didn't doubt God's word. He didn't doubt all God had told him.

He trusted God, he went where God sent him and Paul was cured of his physical blindness, received the holy spirit and the rest, as they say, is history.

So how about us?

Would we have done the same thing Ananias did?

Would we trust God and go to into a potentially dangerously situation with the love and grace of Ananias? Ananias even went as far as to call Paul brother. Paul, who has been persecuting Christians throughout Jerusalem and is supposed to be doing the same in Damascus. Brother. One of the family. One of us.

Would we have had the courage?

Today, here, Ananias' actions are as important as they were 2000 years ago. And we can learn from them.

When God calls it can seem a crazy idea, dangerous thing he wants us to do. He wants us to spread his good news, of grace and love and forgiveness, to all. Yes, that can be difficult, especially when the task God has for us is dangerous and either us our family or friends will be mocked or shunned or persecuted because of our beliefs.

But we don't, do we?

We shirk away from going when God calls. We come up with arguments why we aren't the right person, why it's someone else's job.

But God is never wrong when he calls. He calls us all for a reason.

It might be a big call, like Paul, to take the good news to those who haven't heard it.

It might be the small call of showing God's grace and love in our day to day lives.

Whatever God calls us to do, we need to trust in him and follow.

No matter how dangerous, how weird, how preposterous his call may seem.

He knows it is difficult. He knows the path will not be easy and there will be many obstacles to overcome along the way, but he is in control and will prepare the way ahead for us.

He will not give any of us too much to do. Too big a task we couldn't manage. Beside, we wouldn't be doing it on our own, the holy spirit would sustain, lead and uplift us.

So, will you go when God calls you by name?

Will you go and bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to show God's love and grace and forgiveness to all. No matter how difficult and dangerous that task may be.

Trusting God will keep his promises to you.

Then, maybe, just maybe, through you he can keep his promises to all his people.

Now, wouldn't that be amazing?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Volcanic ash

I'm leading worship tomorrow in my home church. My ministers are on holiday and I'm cheaper than a locum!

This is probably just as well. My ministers are on holiday and may not get home. I'm not sure if they were flying - they are more inclined to travel to central Europe by train. It would be sods law if just this one time, they chose to fly and can't get home.

Controversially, I have thought, perhaps the grounding of air traffic in UK airspace will make people start thinking twice about taking the plane for short journeys. I just can't get my head round taking a plane from Manchester to London. But, perhaps not. I live in hope.

In saying that, I've a friend who is a BA long haul air host. They left for Buenos Aries last Sunday and I think were due to return yesterday or tomorrow. To make matters worse, her son and daughter-in-law are supposed to be through visiting her and her husband for the weekend. Saying that, I'd, and I'm sure her family, would rather she got home safely.

Reading what happened when a 747 did go through a volcanic ash cloud is scary! Though this, for the captain, is hilarious "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.". No, I'm sure they weren't in too much distress, only concentrating on controlling their sphincter.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Selection conference - discission topic

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I finally sent my discussion topic off to ministries council. It turns out no-one else has replied to 121 yet! And with only 3 weeks to go. I thought I was cutting it fine! It's a relief, though; it means I don't have to come up with another topic. Just as well really, I couldn't think of anything else!

Oh, the topic is "Is the traditional church building out of date?"? I figured this is not too controversial (fatal last word, I know), it's a topic everyone can relate too and it's open to a broad range of views. So, I hope it'll make a good topic.

My initial thoughts are:

Yes because.

They cost a fortune to run and the skills to maintain them are becoming unavailable.
Good stewardship means that we have an obligation to spend our time, talents and money to benefit those less well off than us. More money spent on buildings means less for the poor.
They are often located in inaccessible places, and not at the centre of the community, where the layout can make it inaccessible for disabled people.
Modern buildings can be constructed to include the screens, projectors and audio systems used in modern worship.

No because.

They look like churches – people seeking God can go to the building that is identifiable as a church.
A traditional church building has a presence that a modern building often does not have.
Through grant assistance, we should be using our buildings to revitalise craft industries and to bring employment and training to the unemployed
“I was baptised in that building, married in that building, and I’ll be buried there.” (Fine, but it would be nice if you bothered your bottom visiting in the intervening period - might not bring that one up, though!)

These are rough thoughts and need expanding. And, before Mr Gerbil comments, I have "borrowed" the typing from him.

I'm still swithering which side to be on. Generally, I'm a bit more in favour of keeping traditional buildings, so long as they are used and serve the community. After all, the parish kirk is supposed to serve its parish.

So, what do others think? I'd love to gather thoughts, ideas etc.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Getting closer...

3 weeks tomorrow I'll be heading to selection conference. Should I be worried? At this stage, no. If I worry for 3 weeks, I'll never get through it. Besides, if God is with me, and I sincerely and faithfully believe He is, why should I worry?

I have sent off the various documents ministries council wanted. The 2 photos are particularly amusing - I had to renew my photo driving licence, so they are 2 of the 4 photos from that. I look dour as anything and have no specs on. The DVLA's computer doesn't like specs in the photos. But, hey, those type of photos are never attractive!

I've still not really come up with a topic for my discussion group. I probably should at least get a title of to ministries council...I might just do that tonight, otherwise I'll be getting chased up about it, or will have less time to think of another topic.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

He is risen.

Graveside Sunrise

Every Easter, my home church has a sunrise service on Easter Sunday. Just like the women, we rose early to seek Jesus. Unlike the women, we know he is risen.

As the service was ending, the sun rose through a gap in the clouds. An amazing thing to see. It happened just as the minister was saying "May the Lord make His face to shine upon you". And He did.

The picture I managed to capture sort of summed up this morning, and the first Easter morning, for me. The grave was empty. Jesus had dead and been raised, in order that I may live. Just like this sunrise over the gravestone. Even when things - people, dream, friendships - die, there is still the sunrise which follows. The hope of better things. The promise of life.

We just need to have the faith of the women who believed the angels' words. "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5b-6). And to believe when others tell of of the amazing things they have experienced and been told through God's messengers.

Happy Easter.