Rob's message for October

A few things recently have got me thinking again about what it means to see Jesus.

One of them was a story of Jesus healing a blind man. People bring him out to Jesus, pleading with him to touch him. Remarkably, Jesus leads him out of the village, perhaps further than he has gone before, and then rubs saliva on his eyes. He’s also not immediately healed; instead, he says he can see people, but they look like trees walking about. Only then, a second time, is he healed as Jesus prays for him.

Then there’s another story, which I wasn’t sure was true, of a pulpit in the church where the preacher got up to speak, and saw written on a little sign on the inside of it, which only he could read, “We would like to see Jesus.” I say I wasn’t sure it was true: on the internet there are a whole load of brass plaques just like this, stuck to the inside of pulpits all over the place, so it’s certainly caught on in any case.

Both of these stories show us something of what it means to see Jesus. Often in the bible it is something which seems miraculous or dramatic, like a blind person being healed, or a vision of Jesus in heaven in all of his glory. And it is dramatic, and it is miraculous, but it is also something which is happening all over the world all of the time, as people begin to see Jesus for themselves. Often it happens because there are people like the blind man’s friends, who bring someone to find out more. Or maybe there is someone like Philip, who is on hand when someone comes and makes an amazing request: ‘We want to see Jesus.” Those people, by the way, were Greeks, and not the obvious customers for this wandering Jewish preacher, but they found the disciple with the Greek name, who spoke Greek, and made contact through him.

Seeing has also been on my mind because we have been doing some thinking in some of our churches about vision. We have done a little exercise where we try to picture – see – what our churches might be like in a couple of years if the vision God has given us begins to bear fruit. It has been so exciting to reflect what that might be like, and to think what the next steps might be to helping us get from where we are now to this new place which we have seen.

And one of the things this always involves, is more folks from our communities finding faith in Jesus. We want to see more people see Jesus. It might happen suddenly and out of nowhere, like sometimes in the bible. But it’s more likely to happen because you let us know that you want to see Jesus, or someone takes you along to him, so he can help you to see. Would you let me know if I can do that for you?


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Rob's message for September

What did you want to be when you grew up? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some people turn out to be exactly what they wanted to be when they are little. Apparently Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy, always wanted to be a computer programmer. But other famous people wanted to be sports stars, like lots of us; John Grisham and George Clooney had hopes as baseball players before they became writers and actors, and George Lucas would rather have been a racing driver than create the most famous film franchise of all time.

We had an amazing treat the other week when we went to watch Matilda at the Theatre Royal. Some of you will have been along as well, or maybe to London to see it there. Perhaps the most famous song in the play – and they are all amazing – is called When I grow up. It starts with the smallest children in the cast singing (and swinging) about what it will be like when they all grow up. Next come some bigger children. Their hopes are slightly different, but not much. They’re all swinging, too: so far, so entertaining.

But then it gets really clever, because Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, joins in, and it turns out she hasn’t finished growing up either, and she echoes one of the children: “I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up.”

While it doesn’t usually feel to me that the scary stuff is underneath my bed, waiting to jump out and get me, to be honest I know the feeling. Because I think we can all feel that one day, we won’t be afraid of the things we are afraid of. One day, that stuff won’t bother us any more. One day, we will all be grown-ups.

I wonder if the reason that things don’t always work out as the children hope is because, like them, we become convinced that it is something we have to do: I will be brave enough. But what if we aren’t?

For a long time I have found a lot of comfort in words like these from the bible: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Plenty of other people do, too. When I started to type that sentence into Google the verse came up really quickly. It turns out lots of people like to remind themselves that they do not need to fight all their own battles (and presumably most of them are adults). Maybe it’s less a question of who, or what we will be when we are grown up. Maybe it’s more to do with knowing that the God who will fight for us is bigger than anything that might hide under our beds, however still we might lie on them.


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Rob's message for August

Sometimes things happen that you will probably never forget, and will become moments in the future where you will always be able to remember where you were at the time. One of those, for me, came on 14th July when, at the fourth time of asking, and after six fairly disappointing tournaments in a row, England at last won the most exciting cricket World Cup final ever. I know there are many of you who aren’t anything like as interested in cricket as I am, and lots of people all around the world who have never even heard of cricket, but our win came very near the 50th anniversary of something almost everyone has heard of, even if we can’t all quite remember – the first successful moon landing in July 1969. I bet a lot of you could tell me exactly where you were when you heard about it.

I have been reading about it again over the last week or so, and I was reminded of something that I had seen before but had forgotten since, which was that Buzz Aldrin, who was an elder in his local church near Houston, took communion on the moon. The bread was carried in a food packet like everything else they took with them to eat, but his church had given him a silver cup that was small enough to carry with him. Did you know there is just about enough gravity on the moon to pour wine?

Aldrin celebrated the moment quietly and personally so as to avoid controversy: Neil Armstrong watched on to one side. He read from a scrap of paper Jesus’s words in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.”

Then, in Aldrin’s own words, “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.  It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.” After taking the elements, Aldrin says he “sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the church everywhere.”

Aldrin remembered Jesus’s sacrifice for all of us, and in reading those words of Jesus he touched on a very powerful truth. It is amazing to think that Aldrin had reached the pinnacle of human achievement to that moment, but didn’t think he could do anything on his own. It’s a lesson I often need to remember. This is also such an encouragement to those of us who feel we struggle to manage on our own: “Whoever remains in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” Because we aren’t meant to. Jesus wants us to know that he is for us, and he is with us, always.

In the end, Buzz Aldrin was just remembering some words a man spoke to God long ago, that found their fulfilment in Jesus: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there…” So next time you talk to someone about where they were when the first men landed on the moon, you will know where God was, too. He was there. He was there in the simple, beautiful act of a man who had achieved everything he had dreamed of, but couldn’t do anything on his own.


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Rob's message for July

At the moment, if I asked you if you were enjoying the World Cup, you might well answer, “Which one?” As I write, we are making our way through the group stages of the Women’s football World Cup, and the men’s cricket World Cup, and England are looking good in both of them. If you have been watching either, you will have seen some great individual performances, but in the end it so often comes down to teamwork. By the time you read this, the final will be in sight, and the best team will surely have the best chance of winning the trophy.

Recently I have been thinking about teamwork in connection with the fact that God is revealed in the bible as three as well as one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pretty much as soon as we get talking about this idea, we begin to struggle to picture it, because it seems almost impossible for our brains to imagine something being 3 and 1 at the same time. All the examples Christians give run out of steam in the end; we might talk about a thing having three parts, like an egg, or someone being experienced in three different ways, like me as a father, a brother, or a son, and so on, but none of them are ever really three and one at once like God is.

That’s why it is so helpful to concentrate on the effect of these three working together, if we can’t quite picture the reality. One of the ways we can do that is to look at some of the places in the bible where it mentions the work of the Father, Son and Spirit all in the same place. We see that in the teaching of Jesus, who tells his friends that he is going to ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit. That’s Jesus the Son, asking God the Father, to send the Holy Spirit.

I love this one little phrase so much for a few reasons, but most of all because Jesus uses the word ‘will’, which means it is a promise: I will ask the Father, and he will send the Spirit. I hope I don’t often break big promises, but I am conscious of the number of little commitments I make with best intentions and then don’t follow up because I forget, or don’t quite get around to it. Some of you will feel that people have let you down over much bigger things. But this is not my promise, but the promise of Jesus, who is faithful and reliable in every way.

Jesus asks the Father, the Father gives, and the Spirit is the gift. Jesus is consistent in offering the Holy Spirit, and says in another place that the Father will give him if we ask. He will give because he is a good Father, and if we fathers with our failings know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God our Father give us the good gift of the Holy Spirit if we ask him.

My own experience of the Holy Spirit, especially at some of the hardest times in my life, has been that he is deeply, deeply good, and so I have no hesitation in encouraging people to ask God for him. He is truly the gift of God, of the Father and of the Son, and reveals to us how very wonderful the best of teamwork can be.


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Rob's message for June

Last month I wrote about how we were going to put on a prayer space in the school, and we had a great time. Have a look elsewhere in the magazine to read what we got up to. We are grateful to the school for helping us in so many ways, not least in letting us in the front door over and over again as we came and went with our stuff and so on.

One of the things I noticed as we were walking through the playground at lunchtime was the duty staff in their tabards with the words “Can I help you” written on. It struck me that it was such a helpful thing for the children to see first as they approach one of the adults: “Here’s someone who wants to help me.”

It got me thinking about how much the bible talks about God being someone who helps us. In the Psalms King David sings “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” People cry out to God: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains: where does my help come from?” A little earlier in the story the great leader Samuel puts up a stone in the ground, saying “This far God has helped us.” In the New Testament Jesus’s heart goes out to people when he sees that they are “harassed and helpless.” There are so many more examples, all of them pointing together towards the truth that God is someone who wants to help us.

And as God helps us, he calls us to help each other. Since the early part of this century there has been an international movement called “Pay it Forward”, encouraging people to pass on to others the kindness they have received. Jesus never expected his undeserved kindness to us to stop in our hands, but to be paid forward: he challenges the disciples that any kindness they do not show to the hungry, or thirsty, to strangers, to the poor, sick, or prisoners, is a kindness they do not show to him.

And so I have been reflecting how as communities, and especially as churches, we can get to a point where when people in any kind of need think of us, the first thing in their minds is “Here’s someone who wants to help me…”

We hope we are doing a lot to help, from groups for new mums, pre-schoolers and their carers, through our work in the school, and right the way through life to the dementia café and the support we offer people who have been bereaved. But one thing that we have done a little more of in the past than we are doing at the moment is providing for those in our villages who are struggling to make ends meet for whatever reason. One of the first easy things that we can do is to put some boxes out, in the churches and the halls, where anyone can leave some tins and packets of food that we can pass on to anyone in need who approaches us, and that people can even take something from if they want. We are happy to give anything spare to the Norwich Foodbank, but the main aim is to help people in the villages here. So please do get in touch, confidentially, if you would like a bit of support, or if you would like to speak to us on behalf of anyone else in that situation. We’re asking if we can help you, but we need you to let us know if that is the case.


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