Rob's message for January
Posted: Thu, 16 Jan, 2020 (2 weeks ago) by Rob
It’s a funny thing, when you think about it, that one of the things that definitely isn't new about the New Year, is doing new things. Doing new things has become a bit of a tradition, hasn’t it?
With that in mind, I thought you might not mind if I spent a while talking about something new which we have been doing in our churches over the last few months.
Everyone knows about foodbanks now. These centres, many of them run by the Trussell Trust, are working to end hunger and poverty across the UK. In this country more than 14 million people are living in poverty, including 4.5 million children, and there are 1200 foodbank centres providing emergency food to people referred in crisis. The Norwich foodbank is working hard to do this too – the other week they supplied 3 days’ worth of food to 84 people in just one afternoon. You might have donated to them at our local Tesco’s or through school, or even at one of our carol services.
We have been collecting food with the hope of being able to support the Norwich foodbank, and as I write a little before Christmas the boxes are filling up ahead of going over there soon. But that isn't really the main reason we are doing it. Part of our vision as churches is to transform community for good, and we would really like to provide for everyone who is in need in our local area, as well as resourcing a vital project in Norwich and beyond.
And the good news is that it is going really well. Loads of people are being really generous, and putting items of food in our boxes at the churches, the Church Hall, and in the school. It has been a brilliant and encouraging thing to see. But we are only halfway there.
It is a hope of mine that our churches would play a part in eliminating need in the villages. Of course this takes many forms, but one kind of need is hunger. People in our villages are hungry. We know the statistics, so we know they must be, but we don’t hear about it. We can provide for people, and meet their need, but we are not sure who they are.
So maybe you can help us. If you are hungry, and in need, we would like to provide with some support to help you get back on track. Can you get in touch with me and let me know who you are? Or maybe you have a friend or neighbour who could do with help, and you could nudge them in our direction. It would be great for us if you did, because we would feel that our new thing was really bearing the fruit that we had hoped for. You can find my contact details at the bottom of this page. Please get in touch.
Happy New Year!
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Rob's message for Christmas
Posted: Fri, 6 Dec, 2019 (2 months ago) by Rob
As I write this, I am sitting in the house of a nice youth worker, pretending not to overhear the sound of my son and his friends trying to make a film about the true meaning of Christmas. At some point in the next hour, apparently he is going to throw a turkey against the wall. I don’t even know if it is close enough to Christmas for someone to have found an actual turkey anywhere.
Turkey is not actually my favourite thing about Christmas. Perhaps there is one of the Christmas traditions that you would happily swap for something else. Christmas pudding? Cake? Mince pies? Let’s not even mention Brussels Sprouts, shall we?
Christmas carols are like this too. Perhaps you have a favourite, but perhaps there is another which can’t you stand! I probably shouldn’t be drawn on the one I like the least, but I think my favourite is probably O Little Town of Bethlehem. Part of that is the tune, I think. I used to like Hark the Herald Angels Sing best, but it is so high at the end I am not sure I can sing it any more.
It is the words I like best. First of all there is the image of the light of Christ shining in the night of Bethlehem, catching the words of John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot get hold of it.” Then there is the sense that this is what everyone has been waiting for, whether they think it is good news or not: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
It gets better and better, as Brooks picks up on the image of light in the darkness and reworks it, talking about how Jesus is being born into a world of sin, but ready to enter into anyone who will receive him. It’s John’s gospel again: “to everyone who believes in his name he gives the right to become children of God.” He knows he’s hit on a really powerful image here, and he repeats it a couple of times in his prayer in the last verse, which is as close to perfect as anything in any hymn book anywhere:
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin, and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
I suppose I love it so much because it reflects a lot of how the Christmas story became my story. It was realising that God was not far away, as I had always feared, but was closer than I dared hope. It was knowing, no matter what I’d done, that God’s light could drive out the darkness in me. It was the promise of a new birth, a new start, with Jesus dwelling at the heart of me.
“Why do you think we celebrate Christmas?” I can hear my son asking his fictional mum. I know why I do. It’s because Jesus has come close to me, has forgiven me, has given me new life, has come to live in me. What about you? Hopefully, at the very least, it’s about more than just the turkey.
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Rob's message for November
Posted: Fri, 6 Dec, 2019 (2 months ago) by Rob
Do you know any good lightbulb jokes? They go something like “How many Donald Trumps does it take to change a lightbulb?” “One – he just has to hold it still while everything else revolves around him.” They are all the same, really. They all have the same structure, and most of them are not really that funny.
I have to admit to having a problem with lightbulbs. I don’t mean I eat them or anything, but you know, they blow up, and then I have to go to a shop and buy some more, except there isn’t a shop, and I will probably be going to Tesco tomorrow but I will forget them then, so really when I do remember I should buy loads at once, except that since they made them all snazzy they got really expensive and I don’t want to spend £15 on lightbulbs, so anyway now I have one missing in my living room, because I had one missing on the landing already and then the other one went so I had to swap one of them over. We are about 3 lightbulbs away from total darkness at the moment. I can’t change lightbulbs. I can’t change the way I manage lightbulbs. Maybe I should try and change someone else. Maybe I should put my wife in charge of lightbulbs, and make her understand that it is her responsibility to change our circumstances. Maybe there is a way my children are switching the switches on and off that is making the bulbs go.
Why was I talking about lightbulbs? Oh, yes. Change. I have been reading a lot of bible passages recently about how God changes people, and getting really excited by them. One of them is about a meeting between Peter and Cornelius. Peter is a man who has spent years being changed by Jesus, from the first time Jesus called him and his brother and their friends from their fishing boats to be the first disciples. But Jesus never stops changing him. The fact that Peter preached in such a powerful way on the day of Pentecost that 3000 people decided to follow Jesus doesn’t mean he is the finished article. Because now, Jesus wants Peter to understand that the good news of Jesus is not just for Jewish people like him, but anyone, and so he shows Peter an amazing vision to help him understand that he is not to call anything (or anyone) unclean any more.
At the same time, Cornelius, a Roman solider, a man who knows about God, and gives to the poor, and prays, and does lots of good things, is going to be changed. God appears to him as well, and gets him to send for Peter. Peter, now convinced he can enter anyone’s house, and meet with anyone, and eat with anyone, does as God asks, and goes with Cornelius’s servant back to his home. The two of them tell their stories of how God appeared to them, and Peter shares the good news of Jesus, and immediately the Holy Spirit is poured out on Cornelius’s household. They are all changed in a moment as they believe in Jesus, and Peter and his Jewish friends are changed as they realise, for the first time, that the good news truly is for anyone.
Peter is changed yet again, and Cornelius and his household perhaps for the first time. But that’s what Jesus is like. It makes no difference to him if we have followed him, and allowed him to change us, for years, or we are just starting out now, just coming to believe in the good news of eternal life that he offers us. And we can start today. A little prayer, asking for God’s help and forgiveness, is all it takes. But it makes all the difference. I know something that small can make all the difference, from my own experience of following Jesus, and because the other day, I finally bought some lightbulbs.
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Rob's message for October
Posted: Mon, 7 Oct, 2019 (4 months ago) by Rob
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
Posted: Tue, 17 Sep, 2019 (4 months ago) by Rob
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
Posted: Fri, 16 Aug, 2019 (5 months ago) by Rob
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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