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Lord, open our eyes to see you and believe. Amen.
Rev Maureen Hinkley
If we could have a five pound note for every time we have said “I doubt it” I imagine most of us would be quite rich by now.
This first Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday – A Sunday when it is perhaps very easy for all of us to feel low – particularly after the celebrations of last week: at many churches, including Hollington Church in the Wood, there were Sunrise services, the shared Easter breakfast, the Celebration of Holy Communion, the hymns of joy proclaiming the resurrection of our Lord, the beautiful floral arrangements, that feeling of elation after the six long weeks of Lent leading up to Good Friday, yet today – here we are again thinking about not just about the joy and elation of the disciples who had seen Jesus alive again, but sharing in the despondency of poor old Thomas – familiarly known to us as doubting Thomas.
Even before Jesus died, Thomas had been bewildered – earlier in John’s gospel (chapter 14) Jesus had said to him and the other disciples – Where I go you know, and the way you know. He was trying to help them to understand what lay ahead, what he had to go through and what lay beyond the cross.
Yet Thomas blurts out – Lord we don’t know where you go, so how can we know the way?
Jesus replies – I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is saying to Thomas – I know you don’t understand, no one fully understands, but whatever happens you have got me. In other words, you don’t need to know and understand through argument – but you need to know my presence with you.
After the crucifixion, Thomas knew the facts – Jesus had died on the cross, he had been buried. Perhaps he remembered what Jesus had said – I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – you have got me – but the living reality for Thomas was “I no longer have Jesus with me. I am totally alone”. Perhaps that was why he wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared to them. He wanted to be alone – on his own, alone. That’s the situation for us sometimes isn’t it – when we feel alone – we also feel we want to be on our own, alone.
Thomas couldn’t accept the fact that Jesus was alive. He couldn’t be – because he had seen him die!
Let’s pick up the story at this point, when Thomas had managed to pluck up the courage to be with the other disciples again – eight days after the first Easter Day when Jesus had appeared to the disciples the first time despite the doors being locked.
Let’s backtrack for a moment – On the Friday he saw Jesus crucified, Saturday he is in absolute shock. On Sunday well, he is in such a state that he doesn’t join his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, feeling let down by Jesus, he is hurting inside, he is bitter. On Monday morning, the disciples go and look for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence.
“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We locked the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appeared. ‘Peace, Shalom,’ he said. Then he showed us his hands. There were jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulled back his tunic and showed us where the spear had pierced his chest. But he wasn’t weak or sick or dying. He was alive, raised from the dead!”
You can imagine what Thomas said to that – “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. He’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better.
Peter tries to reassure him. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”
But Thomas is not having any of it, and with a voice that cut like ice, he says “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
Perhaps as the week goes on, he longs to be as sure as the other disciples are – that Jesus has risen from the dead, that he is alive – but there are still grave doubts in his mind.
So back to eight days later – By the next Sunday evening he has managed to pluck up courage and meet for a meal with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks — “Shalom, peace be with you.”
At that point I imagine that Thomas’s mouth must have dropped open – his mind thinking – I am really seeing Jesus, hearing him speak – are my eyes deceiving me – or is this real, is this true – after all my doubts of the last week, when I swore black was blue that Jesus was dead – and that I would never believe unless I saw him with my own eyes!
Bur Jesus had seen right inside Thomas – Thomas didn’t need to say to Jesus what he said he would say – Please Jesus I need to put my hand in your side where the sword cut into your flesh, I need to put my finger in the holes where the nails were banged in – No – Jesus knew – and so he said to Thomas – Come on – do what you wanted to do – but Thomas didn’t need to do it – he had all the proof he needed. ‘My Lord and my God’ he says.
Two facts – first, Jesus doesn’t blame anyone for wanting proof – he doesn’t blame Thomas for his unbelief. Jesus knew Thomas needed to work his way through his doubts – he had to go through the darkness of doubt – the aloneness of not feeling at one with the other disciples in their joy and elation – Thomas had to suffer – to be sure, but when he was sure – then there was no holding him back.
Jesus doesn’t say to us – you can’t have doubts – he says, be sure what you believe and if it takes time – no matter – but you have to work it out for yourself – you cannot live on another’s belief – people may tell you – but you still need to accept it for yourself. Thomas didn’t come to belief in the risen Lord through theological argument, through reading, through researching facts – when it came to the point, he believed because he experienced the presence of Jesus. Thomas no longer knew about Jesus and his resurrection – he knew Jesus Christ himself personally – he experienced his presence.
The second fact – Thomas was with the other disciples when he came to accept Jesus as the risen Lord.
When he had felt so alone – he had actually magnified his aloneness – he had excluded himself from the other disciples of Jesus – he had been totally alone – cut off from Jesus, and cut off from his believing friends – yet when he eventually reached the point of being able to come back into the fellowship – despite his still very real doubts – only then did he come to meet Jesus again.
That’s not to say that only in the presence of God’s family can we meet Jesus – it is not saying that we can’t find Jesus in the solitude and aloneness – even in the depths of despair, but if only we can manage to step back into the fellowship of other believers – then we shall most likely meet him there.
We always think of Thomas as the one who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead – always associate him with believing when he saw Jesus, when he saw Jesus’ hands and side – but what about the other disciples and followers of Jesus?
Did Mary believe – until she had seen him in the garden on that first Easter morning?
Did Peter and John believe – until they had seen him?
Did the two disciples on the way to Emmaus believe – until they had seen him and spent time talking with him?
Thomas wasn’t so very different from the others was he? It just took him a bit longer.
Have we always believed? Was there not a time both before and since that belief when the reality of Jesus and of his resurrection seemed impossible to believe? Maybe we have been lucky and never gone through the depths of despair – not just doubting the resurrection, but doubting the existence of God at all – that’s when we experience Thomas’s aloneness – we feel cut off from God – and probably cut off from those who do believe, who belong to our fellowship – I can only speak from experience but there have been many times when I may have been here with you all physically – but spiritually I have felt alone – full of doubts – unable to share in the joy and faith of those around me who are sure. In all of our lives I would suspect that there have been times when we might just have easily been called a ‘doubting Andrew’, ‘doubting Mary’, ‘doubting whatever our name is’.
But Jesus doesn’t blame us – he says it’s OK – if that is how we need to work through it – it’s alright – because if we want to say – I believe in the risen Lord Jesus – we have to know it’s true – we have to believe it with all our heart – not a fact that someone else has told us, but a fact that is real when we have met the power and the presence of Jesus – we have been invited to put out our hand to touch the wounds in his hands, to feel the sword gash in his side – not a ‘words only’ belief and faith – but a sure and certain realisation that this Jesus who was so cruelly crucified , died and was buried – has risen from the dead – is alive – and is the power and presence in which we live – here in this life and after death.
We may not have physical eyes to see this risen Lord – as Thomas and the other disciples had – but we do have spiritual eyes – and Jesus still appears to these eyes of ours and says –
Reach out your hand
Don’t worry it’s OK to doubt
Take your time and when you have worked through that doubt – then believe in me – Your risen Lord – and then take that belief and share it with others.
If Thomas could be around today and he could read his story in John’s Gospel – he might perhaps feel – why did they have to pick on that particular time when I was at my lowest ebb, when my faith seemed to have deserted me – why does the whole world have to know about it?
Well Thomas – because of you we know it’s OK to doubt, we know Jesus understands – and if eventually we believe and come to faith, then like you, it’s real, it’s powerful. So thank you Thomas for your encouragement.
Prayer – Whether we are still outside that upper room – or inside arguing the toss – you are with us – and when the time is right Jesus, you will appear to our spiritual eyes and say to us – reach out your hand and touch the wounds in my hands and my side – Like Thomas, Lord Jesus, we shan’t need to touch you – the power of your presence will be enough for us to believe and say – My Lord and my God. Amen.
23rd April 2017
Readings – Acts 2: 14a, 22-32 & John 20: 19-31
John 20 v.28 Thomas said to him “My Lord and My God”
Today was easy, riding through the crowd
Waving to the people as they came
To spread their branches and their coats, to claim
Him as the Son of David, shouting out loud
As if the world was going to change and you
Were going to make it happen there and then –
Chuck out the Romans and all Herod’s men –
Restore Israel for all, not just the few.
But of course you see the crosses lined
Along the wall as you come down the hill
And know the cheering never, ever, will
Cause it to happen while this world is blind
To the need to love and go on loving
Even as you die to save the living.
Today was hard, the flogging and the nails
Before the hours exposed upon the cross
Longing for death’s darkness as he rails
Against his God’s abandonment and loss.
Where now the crowds who hailed you as their king
Or praised you as you healed them and brought cheer?
Only your mother and her sister bring
Comfort in their tears, while soldiers sneer.
And then the stillness of the tomb entwines
Your broken body as it sinks in death,
Until, un-sensed, the coming of a breath
Transforms dead roots once more to living vines
Which will persist and give their fruit to all
Who hear your word and answer to your call.
On the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
John 17 Jesus said I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.
Almost from the day after the ascension the church seems to have started arguing among itself and in reality there really never was a golden age of church unity for us to look back on. We read in the epistles about factions and squabbles across almost all of the church communities. I’m for Peter! I’m for Paul! I’m for Apollus! I’m for Jesus! Then there was Peter arguing his case for opening up the church to the Gentiles – a work carried on by Paul but not without considerable opposition. Within the first two centuries there was endless argument about who Jesus actually was – I find it fascinating but of course it didn’t stop there. Augustine and Pelagius fought tooth and nail over the doctrine of Original Sin – and if you think the American election was rough you need to read some of the accounts of the meetings of bishops in the early church! In the 6th-7th century in this country there was a long standing clash between the Celtic church and the Roman church – something which in many ways continues to this day. Then there was the split between the Roman and Orthodox churches – literally splitting the Christian world in two over the filioque clause.
And this year – during this week of prayer for Christian unity we are asked to pray for and consider the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – not just Martin Luther of course but Henry VIII and the establishment of the Church of England. And apologies to anybody in education as they groan at the thought of yet more Tudor history! I have heard that over the last week there are calls for an apology for the Reformation. I wonder how many of us here feel personally responsible for the Reformation? I know I don’t. There are lots of things in my life which I would rather not have done and many which I have had to apologise for – but the Reformation is not one of them!
Now if all of this sounds pretty bleak – and a lot of it is – then we come back to my opening reading J said . . .
And I ask you directly – in the light of the constant arguments within the church – do we really believe what Jesus said? Do we really want a united church? Oh I realise that unity does not need to mean uniformity – of course not – but at the same time I ask seriously if we really are prepared for and concerned to promote Christian Unity. Over the last 2000 years we have gone out of our way to call everyone who does not agree with us a heretic. It is an interesting word – the Greek means simply somebody who disagrees with you. No problem there surely; most of us disagree about a large number of things. If we had to repaint this building I’m sure there would be large disagreements about colour but we wouldn’t call each other heretics just because we disagree. But of course heresy brings up the whole issue of power and control – and I’m not going down that path this morning!
And J said . . .
We can choose which way we worship and within the CoE there are almost as many forms of worship as there are groups running them. The first thing we need to do surely is to accept the validity of what others sincerely believe. But we don’t. Let’s look at that the other way round.
At this point I considered asking Stephen to break into Let it Go from Frozen. No this is not a joke – I really mean that what I think we need to consider is how much we would be prepared to let go of in order to promote Christian unity, to bring it to a reality. After all letting go is something we all have to learn to do. Like when somebody gives you a hug. There is, I understand, an optimum time for a hug. Too short and it looks as though you don’t care; too long and it looks as though you are desperately clingy. You have to let go – no matter how much you care for someone.
So I ask you – how far would you go?
Let’s take some simple examples
If either of our two churches became financially unviable or the congregations dropped to the point where we could no longer function, would you be happy to worship together regularly?
How about a situation where we needed to sell off most of the churches in Hastings and had just one large meeting for worship in the White Rock every Sunday?
And what about a compromise across the churches? How much might we be prepared to give up, to meet together each week with all the Christians in Hastings?
Yes we have occasional times of communal worship and the odd procession of witness but realistically the majority of Hastings only really knows we still exist when they need to get their children into a local school.
So if J says . . . how much would you give up, how far would you go to bring about Christian unity?
If you find the idea scary – and I think it is – maybe we need a clearer definition of what it means to be Christian. After all there are 12k in our parish who don’t worship with us and I suspect have very little understanding of what makes us different from the Methodists or the Roman Catholics. And that’s before we come to consider the place of Mormon’s, JWs or Unitarians.
A couple of weeks ago Bernard mentioned Bishop Tom Wright. I really like TW’s writing, as it is frequently blunt and to the point. He says it is no good saying ‘Jesus is telling you to do this’ to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent arguments, of the wider world then gaining their interest might be possible.
I’m not sure how Luke got on last Thursday in his plan to do a pub visit – but I’m pretty sure he didn’t go round the pub saying have you been saved – are you washed in the blood of the Lamb. It cuts very little ice these days. People think they know it all already – even when in the majority of cases they don’t. A member of our family – no names, no pack drill – told me recently that they didn’t believe in God or all that stuff. They had done it all at school and didn’t think it added up to anything and, having learnt all about it, knew it wasn’t for them.
Where does this leave us on this Sunday of Prayer for Christian Unity?
Jesus prays for unity
But we build walls – as we have today – which cut us off from others
We build walls that divide us not just from the world but from other Christians
We build walls that hurt others
We build walls that separate us from the very people we should be closest to
And all of this before we get to refugees, the homeless and the poor.
J says . . . now I’m not very good at theory – I’m getting into trouble on the MA I’m doing at Chichester at the moment because I keep questioning how specific theological ideas – all very fascinating in theory – can actually help you and me to spread the gospel and build the Kingdom. Theory is a waste of time if there is not a practical outcome. Leonardo da Vinci designed wonderful machines – but it was 400 years before anybody could turn the ideas into actual machines that flew!
So how do we start, here in St John’s?
How do we work towards Unity?
Be prepared to Let Go – when you give somebody a hug you have to let go.
Be much more prepared to accept even where we don’t agree.
Be prepared always to look OUT not IN – the kingdom of God is here, now, and it is out there, not just in this building on a Sunday morning. Do we see the Kingdom in action day by day, when we are in town, on the bus, waiting for the train? In this year of focus on the Bible I am sure that we need more and more to come back to the Kingdom and how we see our place in it – now – here – today.
J says . . . and he took action; he healed, he taught, he loved – and his actions took him to the cross and through that to resurrection – and we must never forget that resurrection can only come through the cross – we have to die first to rise again with Christ. And Paul says this has already happened for us who believe.
We have to die to our selfishness, out self-interest, our comfort.
We have to take down the walls we have built and reach out to the world which needs desperately, today, the message of hope which only Jesus can bring and which we are empowered to bring in his name. Amen
Brian Hick – sermon at St John’s – 22 January 2017
The Bishop of Chichester Christmas Sermon 2016
Those who work with me will tell you that I’ve got quite a strong aversion to tinsel – in fact, to Christmas decorations generally. But, there’s one bit of the decorative aspect of Christmas that I look forward to every year and that’s the Christmas cards. Among the many interesting aspects of the range of cards that one receives is the question of why that particular card was chosen. The card can imply something about the recipient or, perhaps more commonly, it can be making a statement about the sender. This is certainly true of political leaders, whose Christmas card selection often receives a degree of media attention. This year Nicola Sturgeon has gone for a well-known Scottish cartoon figure, while the Prime Minister has selected the best from a children’s competition, with three different decorative schemes around the famous Number 10 front door. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has opted to photograph his two little dogs outside the firmly closed door to Number 11; a brave choice, but perhaps risking an accusation of neglect from the Battersea Dogs Home. The media coverage of these details indicates that the Christmas card has iconic status. It invites us to view the card as a window that illuminates the life and interests of the sender. This year’s cards from political leaders tell us about a person who is saying, “I have a sense of humour”, or “I attach importance to children”, or “I have a domestic life like anyone else”. These are important messages that turn our attention away from the conflicts and pressures of constitutional structures, and towards the mystery of human life and relationship that is common to us all.
In this respect, the politicians’ cards are making an oblique reference to the Christian message of Christmas in which God breaks into human history and invites us to explore a richer experience of life in all aspects of its relationships and potential. And more than this, we also recognise that using the Christmas card as a window of illumination is itself a device lifted from the Christian tradition. This is what a holy icon is and does; it is a window into a vision of truth, a lens through which we view time and space in this world from the perspective of heaven. For that reason, a holy icon can concertina time, allowing saints of one era to be present at an event outside their own lifespan. So, for example, the 13th century Dominican saint, Peter the Martyr, is depicted by Fra Angelico as kneeling in adoration before the new-born Christ child, with Mary and Joseph, the ox and ass in the stable behind them. This might seem fanciful but it is making a vitally important point. What we are celebrating today in the birth of Jesus is the decisive way in which God touches time, so that every moment of our history will always bear the imprint of God’s touch. That imprint is the flesh of Jesus Christ. By becoming the point of intersection between time and eternity, Jesus becomes the universal and consistent strand of DNA in human history. That experience cannot be eradicated from the divine life of God the Holy Trinity, any more than we can be separated from that same God who is our creator. These were the iconic and theological considerations that led us to choose this year’s diocesan Christmas card. It is a close up of the features of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, on the flight to Egypt. The image is a particularly intimate cameo in stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, in which a beautiful, pensive, auburn-haired Mary clasps the sleeping child to herself, while Joseph sternly looks to the road ahead as he leads the donkey on which they have fled from Bethlehem.
This delicate work by Burne-Jones in St Michael’s, Brighton might owe something to the influence of G F Watts, an artist whose towering reputation in Victorian England is largely forgotten today. In around 1848 Watts became aware of the plight of Ireland during the potato famine that was raging at that time and would claim the lives of around a million people. As a response of outrage and despair, Watts pained The Irish Famine, which is now in the Watts Gallery at Compton, near Guildford. It shows a pale young mother clutching her ragged baby in one arm, her other hand clinging to her husband, who looks stonily into the distance behind the viewer. An allusion to the Holy Family is not difficult to see in this painting. Indeed, at the time that Watts was working on this controversial composition he was also in close conversation with the poet, Aubrey de Vere, whose interest in Roman Catholicism with its devotion to the Holy Family was soon to prompt his reception into that Church. In the heart of the London establishment it was a bold move to identify the Holy Family with the misery in the late 1840s of the agricultural labourers of Ireland, who were evicted from their homes as the blight swept the land, ruined harvests, and dented the income of many English landlords. But the compelling truth of Christian revelation demands from artist, and from us, the capacity for just such an identification. de Vere sought to capture in his poetry what it means to be the “poor, and mean and lowly”: In horror of a new despair His bloodshot eyes the peasant strains With hands clenched fast, and lifted hair, Along the daily darkening plains.
These words, perhaps too carefully manicured for today’s taste, do nonetheless evoke something of the horror of despair in the bloodshot eyes of those whose control over their life choices has been taken from them. And we witness this in the 21st century’s torments that similarly tear families from their homeland and leave mothers and children in a state of precarious desperation. As the icons on many of our Christmas cards narrate the story we know so well from scripture and our carols, we should not allow the beauty of art, music and familiar narratives to sanitise the impact of brutality. It is there in Imperial Rome’s ruthless invasion and occupation, Herod’s mindless slaughter of children, and a callous grasping after power that will lead to crucifixion when this tiny Christ child has grown to adulthood. These gruesome details stretch out across human history to enfold those who meet new brutality and degradations in every generation, including our own in Syria, Gaza, Egypt and Berlin. And against such a toxic outpouring of fear, hatred and greed, the eternal wisdom of God’s heart of love stands constant and undiminished as the source of our hope and liberation.
Urged on by this love, and in contrast to the woes of sin and strife, we seek to raise a new strain of discourse which is the love-song of dignity, respect and concord that can capture and transform hearts made weary by the clamour of hate and accusation. This is the angel song, with lyrics set to a thousand tunes, each seeking to evoke insistently the reality of hope for peace on earth and the outbreak of goodwill within the human race. When, 250 years before Watts and Burne-Jones, Caravaggio painted the Holy Family on the flight to Egypt, he gave them music. Joseph holds up the score and an angel plays the tune. But the song of the angels is not an incidental or sentimental consolation for the wayfarer on earth. It is the text that subverts corruption and resists subjection. Its tempo is relentless and it fuels an ever-growing awareness of the purposes and goal of God’s love in the perfection of your life, not in self-centred privacy, but in the glorious riches of all that you are, know, do, love, have and share with others. These are God’s gifts to you, and though as yet they might be incomplete, they are destined for eternal perfection and bliss – When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling, And the whole world send back the song which now the Angels sing. May that song of peace take root in your heart and mind and shape the way you live in the year that lies ahead. Happy Christmas.
CAROLINE AND DICK SEED
LETTER NO.52 | DECEMBER 2016
People often ask us what Christmas celebrations are like in Kenya. In a way, it is a difficult question to answer because for many ordinary Kenyans, there is not much extraordinary about Christmas. There is little of the consumer frenzy that characterises Christmas in the West. Wealthier people in Nairobi may adopt some of the Christmas traditions, such as putting up a Christmas tree and buying presents, but for most of the Christian population Christmas is a worship service to celebrate the birth of Christ. I asked some of my students if they cook special food to eat after the Christmas service and they said “not really”, although there are some who like to slaughter a goat. The most important thing at Christmas is family as the holidays provide an opportunity for travel home to the rural areas to spend time with parents and extended family. This year Dick and I will not be able to travel to visit our family in the UK so we will join local Anglicans for the Christmas service and then spend the New Year with Christian workers from all over East Africa for the Renew Conference at Brackenhurst, not too far from our home in Kikuyu. 2016 has been a different year for us so we want to take time to look back and give thanks but also to commit the future to the Lord as we look forward to 2017. Looking back… Our work Dick started the year teaching a Christian Education class and supervising two PhD students through their initial doctoral studies at St Paul’s University.
Early in January, he held a TEE training session at the Presbyterian University and the participants started writing modules for the new diploma curriculum. Meetings continued weekly until July and both Dick and I made progress on writing the modules assigned to us. By the middle of July, the first print run of Dick’s three handbooks for lecturers in theological colleges and seminaries was ready. The books sold out immediately, requiring a second printing. In August, Dick took the books with him to a lecturer training workshop in Tanzania and used them as the core texts for the course. The books sold out again and it looks like the third print run may also sell out by the end of the year. At a theological conference in Cameroon in November, Dick found there was much interest in his lecturer training course and curriculum consultancy skills. It has become obvious to him that the need for lecturer training and consultation is huge across theological colleges and Christian universities in Africa. In terms of specific work for the Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), Dick was introduced to the African Brotherhood Church in Machakos in April and consulted with them in September and November regarding their new Christian university. In September, he participated in a theological consultation with the Holy Spirit Church of East Africa in Western Kenya and made contact with the African Christian Church. He then returned in December to consult on their theological training programme. I spent the year teaching biblical exegesis of the Old and New Testaments at the Presbyterian University in Kikuyu. Although it was challenging to prepare the course materials at short notice, the Lord blessed the teaching. Several students were truly born again through reading the Bible in depth for the first time.
Others became enthusiastic about expository preaching and transformed their sermon preparation and delivery. A few of them have understood the need to buy and read Christian books and commentaries and have asked their churches for book grants. All of this has encouraged me through many difficulties in a university in which lecturers have not been paid for a long time. Most of the lecturers in the theology department are now volunteer pastors from local churches as the full-time staff have moved on. Those who remain are holding down other jobs and this has had a negative effect on morale and quality of teaching. Special events We were happy to welcome some of our family to Kikuyu this year: Craig and Miranda came for two days in February on their way to South Africa and Helen and Bryce stopped over for one day on their way to Malawi. Nicole, a missionary friend from Cape Town, spent two weeks with us in July and spoke powerfully at St Paul’s and the Presbyterian universities. In May, I was privileged to attend my doctoral graduation ceremony at the North-West University in South Africa. It was a wonderful occasion and I was filled with great joy because of the Lord’s faithfulness in seeing me through many difficulties to the completion of the degree. We returned to Kenya at the beginning of June, not expecting to fly back to South Africa but on 14 July, while I was working on a TEE module at the OAIC offices, I leaned over to pick up a telephone on the desk behind me and the office chair tipped sideways, throwing me onto the rough concrete floor.
The humeral head of the left shoulder was crushed and the anterior labrum ruptured. As the injury was too severe for treatment in Kenya, I had to fly to South Africa in August and again in October for treatment. This caused all kinds of inconveniences and disruptions to plans in the second half of the year, including cancellation of a research trip and two conferences and delay on the TEE module writing. The fracture has now healed but the shoulder is partially frozen and the labral tear means that there are frequent subluxation (partial dislocations). I won’t know for another six months whether this will stop naturally or whether I need surgery. Looking forwards… Our work Dick has a lecturer training workshop set up for January at a university in Tanzania and another at a theological college in Nairobi. He hopes to concentrate on writing TEE modules in the early part of the year, although he is likely to teach a Christian education module at St Paul’s again. I will be attending a consultation in early January to plan for the writing of a commentary on 1 John for a specific local context. The commentary will be a collaborative effort by a group of women missiologists from South and East Africa. Otherwise, I will continue to teach biblical exegesis classes at the Presbyterian University. During the first half of the year, I hope to join Dick in writing TEE modules. Special events Kenyan elections are due to take place in early 2017. Since the 2008 election violence, people have been nervous about the election process. Please pray for peace. We are due back for home leave in the UK from May-August, meaning that I will be out of the university for a full semester. We are delighted that we can be with Richard and Jess for the birth of their second child in June.
We will be planning our link visits with you soon. If you have any preferred dates, please email us as soon as possible. We join with you and your families this Christmas in worshipping the one who took on human flesh, humbling himself even to death on a cross for our salvation – Jesus Christ our Lord! Caroline and Dick
Witnessing and thankfulness – Derek Hill 9 October 2016
For a few days covering last weekend, Charmaine and I went on a little holiday based in Norwich. If you have never been to Norwich, I recommend that you should visit it. It is a city with more mediaeval buildings and churches than any other city in this country. The long cathedral boasts a spire second only to that of Salisbury and has the 3rd largest organ of any cathedral in the country. Its river is navigable from the sea and if you like shops or interesting eating places then Norwich should satisfy you for many days or even weeks! Our hotel bedroom looked out into the stadium of the Canaries, if you are a fan.
In a back-street, we stumbled upon the church where the famous 14th century famous Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich had her cell.
We tried to have dinner with different people each night. On the last night, we shared a table with an elderly couple from Yorkshire, who said we would find them a bit dull. When the starter arrived, the woman bent her head over it in silent prayer of thanks and we discovered that they were Methodists, she being a lay-preacher (similar to a Reader in the Church of England.) in a group of villages in the dales. We had a wonderful conversation that evening.
But that act of thankfulness to God for her food, stayed with me. There may have been other Christians in our group, but she was the only one who could be observed giving thanks and I thought what a wonderful act of witness this was in a very simple and undemonstrative way. It struck me that I should try to remember to do this even when in a restaurant or café but do I, or indeed, do we, have the courage to do it – or are we too worried about what others might think or say?
So I have brought with me this [hold up teaspoon]. You might not be able to see it very easily at the back because it is not very big. It is a teaspoon – No, I didn’t steal it from our hotel in Norwich! It is just an ordinary teaspoon, – but the abbreviation for teaspoon is a key to a simple prayer structure. T. S. P. – Thank-you, Sorry, Please. Using this ensures we do not forget to say thank you to God.
When we pray, we mostly ask God for things, reeling off our shopping list of what we would like God to do. But first it would be best to say thank-you, for what he has already done for us and then to say sorry for the things we have done wrong, before we embark on our shopping list. Saying thank-you to God is almost always forgotten by most people, but yet thanking him shows how much we value him and how much we appreciate his support for our lives and for our actions. Our verse of the month says that we can do nothing that bears fruit without God.
Our Psalm this morning is one of thanks by someone in authority, probably a king who has been delivered from an enemy threat involving the whole nation. This is his response, in which he praises God for his answer to prayer and verses 10 to 12 is a response by the community. We may not have been delivered from a major enemy, but we should praise God for what he has done for us. So, as we look back on our lives, we may have been through great difficulties or hardship and, as the psalmist says, God “brought us to a place of abundance” – a place of safety, a situation where those difficulties or hardships have come to an end – and so we too should thank and praise God.
But whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether hard and difficult, maybe in an unfamiliar place, or at home among friends on a joyful occasion, there is always the opportunity to be a witness for Jesus. Chained like a criminal in prison, where it was difficult for his friends to find him, probably near the end of his life, Paul is unbowed. He still spoke of and supported the Gospel. He wrote to Timothy, who he regarded as his successor, and included words of support and urged him to be bold and brave in spreading the Gospel. No suffering is too great if it brings about the salvation of God’s chosen ones who have yet to believe, as far as Paul is concerned. Faithfully bearing up under suffering and trial will result in reward when Christ returns.
So we too should continue to witness publicly to Jesus and the Gospel even in times of hardship, always giving thanks to God for the opportunity and the strength and boldness to do it.
Today, we have got used to not being thanked for little acts of kindness and consideration, so it is always a pleasure, when someone says thank-you. By and large, in Hastings, motorists do thank each other for giving way to others when there are parked cars or other obstructions which permit only one car to pass, or to hold back the traffic at turnings to enable someone to join the main stream of traffic.
As we take pleasure in being thanked, so does God, for we are made in his likeness. So Jesus remarks that of the 10 lepers that he has healed, only one – and a Samaritan at that – should return giving thanks to God. Jesus says in our translation “Your faith has made you well”, but the words could also be translated as “Your faith has saved you”, indicating that this act of thankfulness may have resulted in his salvation in addition to his physical healing.
So, to sum up – we should always give thanks to God no matter what our circumstances might be – think of the teaspoon or have one placed where you normally say your prayers as a reminder, followed by saying sorry, before we embark on our shopping list – our requests to God.
And we should always be mindful that wherever we are or whatever we are doing, we can be a witness for Christ and the Gospel. Witnessing and thankfulness go together like pickle and cheese or a horse and carriage etc. Saying thank you to God for our food, like that woman did in the hotel in Norwich, is also a witness that is simple and unobtrusive.
I would like to end with a simple teaspoon prayer:-
Thank you for life and friends
Sorry for the bad things we have done
Please help us to help people in need and be a witness to you and the Gospel.
Thanks be to God – Thank you for everything
Harvest Sung Evensong – Brian Hick 25 September 2016
Today we are celebrating the Harvest. Even for a town like Hastings which is very close to the countryside I doubt if many of us have had anything physical to do with the harvest. Nobody here is likely to have been out on a combined harvester, or even to have walked the fields to check that the crop was ripe for cutting or digging or picking.
So this evening, as we rightly celebrate, just what is it that we can take from this time of year to enhance our spiritual lives. For after all, we give thanks every time we meet to worship, so is there something special we can take from this day.
The OT lesson was from Nehemiah. I suspect there are few who would pick this as a favourite book, and it is equally likely that a preacher faced with this would move on swiftly to the NT lessons for rather more comfort. Well I happen to like Nehemiah. I’m not going to go over the story again as it is very clear from the text we heard what he did. What I find really interesting about the text is that it is one of those times when parts of the OT suddenly come into focus – they fit into actual moments of ancient history with references to places and rulers who we know a lot about from other sources.
You can see the archaeological remains of Babylon, you can read about Darius and Artaxerxes. So suddenly we have a real person, cupbearer to the King, who manages to persuade the King to let him return to Jerusalem to rebuild it – in the face of seemingly impossible odds and against considerable opposition. Jerusalem is in a dreadful state, and we have only to think of the daily pictures on the TV of war-torn Damascus to get an understanding of what faces Nehemiah. But it didn’t put him off – he knew this was what he had to do and he simply went out and did it.
Now this may seem a long way from a harvest celebration but there is one key element that unites them. While we celebrate this harvest we are immediately looking forward to the next – and every year is different, every year is new. Just because we have this year’s harvest in we can’t relax and think oh good that’s all done we can stop now.
Last year Sally planted out the cloves from a jumbo garlic we had bought at the Garlic Farm on the Isle of White. They came up over the summer and were magnificent. She did the same again this year – but soon after planting it rained heavily day after day. The cloves either rotted in the ground or the squirrels got them – not sure which – but the result was, no garlic this year.
Last year she also planted a number of courgette plants which came to very little. This summer we have a new raised bed and she put in one courgette plant. We are still picking from that one plant which has gone on growing all summer. Now she needs to think about next year.
And that’s the point, isn’t it; no matter what has happened over the last year, next year requires the same amount of effort and involvement as we’ve put in last year. And that is simply if we want to stand still, to make no progress, to simply grow as much as we have done this year. There is no point at which we can relax and think good it’s all over I can stop there.
It would have been quite easy for Nehemiah to think to himself, I’m well off here, I’ve got a steady job, a secure position, life’s not bad as a whole. But then he realises that this is not the whole picture. There are people, his people, suffering. There is a city which has been destroyed and which he can help to rebuild. He feels a responsibility and he takes that responsibility seriously.
It is a challenge to start again, no matter what the circumstances.
And the second reading was a vision of the new Jerusalem – a vision of what I believe can be achieved by the Christian community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We pray Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your people and they shall renew the earth.
Do we mean it? I ask you to pause for a moment and ask yourselves – do you really want to renew the earth? Do you want to work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring about that vision of a New Jerusalem?
We say we do and we take it for granted that this is the end-times picture. I recall somebody once asking his pastor if we were living in the end-times to which said ‘Well you are’. And yes we are – in as much as this is the only time we have to make a difference. It’s now or never – as Elvis sang.
And the challenge is there in the harvest. If we do nothing the fields will lie fallow, the trees and fruit bushes will rapidly go wild again and we will starve, or be reduced to hunter gatherers. Of course this will not happen as we, as a society, won’t let it happen – and I certainly can’t see Sainsbury’s or ASDA suddenly closing down because they think they’ve done enough.
And the same must surely be true of us. As we give thanks for what has been achieved in the past, we must look seriously at what we are building for the future, as what we are being called to build, at what this church, this community, this Hastings might look like next year, or the year after, because we have obeyed the call of the Holy Spirit to renew the earth.
And though we don’t have time to look at the whole story it will be worth considering not just Nehemiah but also Ezra. The books are actually linked with the Hebrew version of the OT. Where Nehemiah is physically rebuilding Jerusalem, Ezra is finding the books of the law; he is going back to seek out what it actually means to follow God as Jew. And he presents this to the people who are overcome by the realisation of what they have missed – of what they need to do spiritually as well as physically.
And I believe the same is true for us. As we plan for next year’s harvest, as we plan for the development of this building, for the new kitchens and rooms, for a better heating system, for all that goes with that essential redevelopment, it will all be worthless if we are not at the same time re-building our spiritual lives, if we are not seeking all the time for a greater understanding of what God wants of us, as his people, here in Hastings.
25 September 2016
Any comments or thoughts very welcome!