Rob

Rob's message for May

Rob's message for May

Like many of you, I stopped for a while on 17th April and watched the footage from Windsor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. I know, like me, lots of you are still praying for the Queen and all her family. Like all these national occasions there was a huge amount of ceremony, and many people involved, but in the end, as for so many families through the pandemic, it was just 30 people spread through the space. Most striking of all, for me at least, was the walk through the castle grounds, with Prince Philip’s coffin followed by his children and grandsons, walking mostly in pairs. Two, by two, by two they came, brought there by the death of someone they loved.

After Easter we often read the famous story of the Emmaus Road. It’s a story of grief experienced as a pair, but with an extraordinary ending. Two of Jesus’s disciples are walking; one called Cleopas, and another who goes unnamed. Like lots of us who gather with a friend, in a time of bereavement, as they walk, they talk. As they meet Jesus, not recognising who he is, their faces are downcast. And they say something amazing to him: we had hoped. Jesus has died, and we had hoped…

A year ago, when I last really thought about this story, maybe it was with the idea that we’d be locked down for a month or two and then it would all blow over. Maybe that’s what we were hoping. We had hoped. And now a year on, I know lots of people feel a lot more hopeful with the vaccine rollout, but still there is that question of whether somewhere in our hearts, hope is something that belonged to the past. Like the disciples, we want to say “Look, haven’t you heard what’s been happening? Where have you been? Are you the only person in the world who doesn’t know about Covid, and lockdown? We had hoped.

For the disciples, hopelessness is connected with not seeing the risen Jesus. The women have seen him, but the disciples have gone looking and they haven’t seen him, yet. I don’t know about you, but quite a lot of people I talk to want to see Jesus. That’s all my job is, really: helping them to see Jesus.

And when the two disciples do see him, it changes everything. They had been heading away from Jerusalem, and the sadness they connected with it, but on meeting Jesus they rush back, full of hope and purpose. It’s an extraordinary turnaround, but it’s the sort of thing that happens when people see Jesus. The news that he is alive always brings a turnaround of the most amazing kind.

In our churches this summer we want to find new hope and purpose after a difficult year, and we are going to do that by looking at Jesus – by seeing him. Why don’t you join us, whether online, or in person from Sunday 23rd? We’d love to see you as we see Jesus together.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for April

Rob's message for April

Happy Easter, everyone!

We hope that you are reading this in time for Easter weekend, and all the great things we have planned from Maundy Thursday through to Sunday morning. We hope most of all to create some opportunities to meet together in person for everyone who thinks that’s appropriate for them, as we celebrate Easter together. There is loads of information about everything we've got going on on this site and on our Facebook page.

I’ve spent some time looking over my messages for the last few months, and I noticed that I began 2021 looking forward to the better year that we were all hoping for. I don’t know if we quite feel that we are there yet, but the vaccine numbers are increasing, and the balance is tipping a little.

Holding on to hope is so important. For Christmas I was given a little badge with just that word on it: “hope.” I have been wearing it for some of our online Sunday services, and quite often at funerals too. It’s a little something but it feels good to put it on, and create a little spark of light when things can seem dark.

Other people have noticed that it is an important time to hope as well. We have a lovely children’s book, produced this year, called The Book of Hopes. Over 100 famous children’s authors and illustrators have made contributions; the editor describes them in the introduction as “professional hunters of hope.”

This Easter, none of us in the churches wants to make any claim that we know better than you the answers to a lot of the difficult questions we have all been asking this year. None of us knows better than you how we conjure up hope out of the really tricky and very raw material we have been working with. We don’t look at ourselves, or each other; instead, we’d tell you that we think that Jesus brings hope.

The Bible is a Book of Hope, and among the dazzling reasons for hope it contains, one stands over all of them. Peter, Jesus’s best friend and as close to the events of the first Easter as anyone was, writes that it is by rising from the dead that Jesus has given us living hope.

Hope in Jesus is living hope. It is hope, Peter goes on to say, that can never spoil, perish or fade. I bet there is not one of you reading this who hasn’t seen hope fade this past year. Hasn’t seen it spoil, or even perish. That was just 2020, wasn’t it? But Jesus rose from the dead, and he is unfading, spotless, imperishable, and so hope in him is living hope that can never die.

Sad to say, I am not one of life’s optimists. But actually, I don’t need to be, because Jesus’s hope is real and alive. It’s not so much a badge I pin on, as the thing that I live in, and that lives in me. It does not spoil, or perish, or fade, and I don’t need to go hunting for it. It has come to me, and to all of us, in Jesus, our living hope, who has risen from the dead.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for March

Rob's message for March

I don’t know what you’re up to at the moment – pretty much the same as yesterday, probably – but in our churches we are thinking about going deeper in our faith. I like ‘deeper’ for a few reasons, but one of them is because with God, we can always go deeper. It’s a bit like being at the seaside; we might be sitting on the beach just looking and wondering; standing on the shoreline dipping our toes in; or swimming around half a mile out; but all of us can go deeper.

We started off thinking about going deeper into the Bible. I might ask if you have ever read it, but you might equally wonder why you should. I’ve been looking at Psalm 19, which talks all about the Scriptures, and I think it depends on what you want.

We might think that what drives us most as humans is what we believe, or how we think or feel, but what if it is something different? What if it is what we love, what we long for… what we want? I wonder now, locked down again, a year almost since the first one, what you really long for?

Here’s a few possibilities. We might want not to be worn out. We might want to have an idea of what to do. We might want to be happy; to see clearly; we might want something that lasts: something we can trust.

Well the fascinating thing is that those are exactly what Psalm 19 promises us that we will find in the Bible. I want not to be worn out. “God’s law refreshes the soul.” I want to know what to do. “God’s law makes wise the simple.” I want to be happy. “God’s precepts give joy.” I want to be able to see clearly. “God’s commands give light to the eyes.” I want something that lasts. “The fear of the Lord endures for ever.” I want something I can trust. “The decrees of the Lord are all righteous.”

Do you want some of those? Do you know someone who wants one of those? Or put the other way round, do you know anyone who doesn’t want one of those? You are promised that you will find all of them in the Bible.

In our house we have two letters from the Queen. Written a generation apart, one says that the Queen commanded that it be written; the other, a bit more 2020 than 1989, says that she wished that it be so. We have the bible (as a favourite song lyric of mine goes) because “the King has given words to us to tell us what he’s like.” It was God’s command and his wish that it be written.

And what’s he like? Well it sounds to me that he wants us to be refreshed; to have wisdom; to be happy; to see clearly; to have something lasting and trustworthy. That’s what he’s like; that’s what he wants. And it’s in the Bible that he promises it will be found. Time to go deeper, don’t you think?

 

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Rob

Rob's message for February

Rob's message for February

Hello everyone!

Writing to you now it seems like we’ve had a month of water in our villages and our churches.

It started with the amazing floods on 23rd/24th December; lots of you will have seen the river flooding all the way down through Stoke, Dunston and Caistor. We were sorry to see the damage it caused especially in the Mill car park, but at the same time it created an amazing temporary landscape, with otters swimming in plain view in the middle of the village on Christmas Day, and even running across the Norwich Road – look at the Stoke village Facebook page for both videos.

With the Vicarage so close to the river we look at it a bit nervously, but the slope is so steep it never quite gets up this high. But we didn’t escape: when we got to the church building for our Christmas Eve event the water was six inches deep in our boiler house and the power had cut out.

Closer to home, the other day water started to come up through our floor, and even as I write the plumbers are digging up the concrete to try and see where it is coming from.

The Bible talks about water over and over, and the images are similar, but different. One of the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel, pictures a great flood of water, flowing from the temple, as the glory and presence of God fill it. The further that Ezekiel wades into it, the deeper it gets, until it’s so wide he couldn’t even swim across it. (I am encouraged by the way he first spots it in one of the doorways, which is just about where it was coming from in our house.)

But this water isn’t a destructive force; it brings life. The Dead Sea is made new, and filled with fish; fruit trees grow on its banks and bear fruit constantly because of the water that is flowing by them.

It seems to me that when Jesus and his friends visited the temple for Tabernacles, one of the Jewish festivals, he must have had this image of living water flowing from the temple in mind. But he said something amazing and different; he told his audience that the thirsty should come to him and drink, so that living water would flow not from the temple, nor a leaky Vicarage, but from within each of them.

Your recent experience and mine reminds us of how disruptive water can be in the wrong places, but Jesus wants to satisfy our thirst. Jesus wants us to experience water that brings life: the living water of his Holy Spirit. Jesus’s water can be disruptive, actually: it can upset our way of thinking and living, and change things forever, but it always brings life. And look how it flows out, as well. The water you drink when you are thirsty is good for you, but Jesus’s living water in you is good for everyone you meet, and it is meant to flow out of you.

We can all receive this water from Jesus today, but we have to see the need. We don’t come to Jesus saying we are fine, or managing, or ok in the circumstances, because after all it’s hard for everyone. We come saying, I am thirsty. I have learnt, and mostly remember, to come saying that I am thirsty. And so can you.

This article appears in our monthly magazine, which we deliver to every household in the villages we serve, but you can find recent copies in the Resources section of this website too.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for January

Rob's message for January

Happy New Year to all of you! After a year which seems to have been full of darkness, with you I am hoping and praying that 2021 will be full of colour and light.

You might have read last month as I wrote about how hard it is to see colour in the dark – about the difference between painting when it is light and when it isn’t. It got me thinking about the difficulty that some of us have with colours even when we can see them.

While we talk about “colour blindness”, it’s not usual that someone can’t tell the difference between any colours at all. Normally it is shades of red, yellow and green that are the problem. (Presumably the traffic light joke goes without saying.) I knew that it was more common in men than women, but apparently as many as 1 in 12 men have this trouble. I expect most of them realise before too long.

This New Year, starting on 14th January as you can see from our website here, or the big banner at the Church Hall, we will be running our first online Alpha course. We’ve done lots before in the churches, but always in person. By doing it online we know we will be safe from Covid-19 complications like changing tier restrictions, quite apart from any risk of infection. But it also means that if you might normally struggle to get out in the evening for any reason, as long as you have the internet you can still join in with us. Perhaps watching something on a screen and chatting about it online afterwards is an easier way to explore faith than with a physical group of people you haven’t met before?

So while doing Alpha online is safer for us in a mixture of ways, there is still a risk that you will end up seeing things very differently. You can take my word for this, because about 20 years ago now I did the Alpha course. Through Alpha I came to realise that until then I had believed in Jesus, but I hadn’t really thought it was very important. I found out that he had given everything for me, and from then on he meant everything to me as well. It made me want to live for him. This year hasn’t been easy for any of us, including all of us who follow Jesus, and being a Christian for me has never been about finding an easy way, but following Jesus brings life and joy and peace: eternal life and joy and peace.

When I discovered all of that, it was like suddenly looking at things in a different way. It was as though I was seeing the world in colours I had never noticed before – had almost been blind to. Everything shone. I could see things in a whole new way.

That’s my story of coming to see who Jesus is, but you could have one this year too. Maybe our Alpha course could be the start of you discovering something wonderful in 2021, and it might really be that better year that we have all been hoping for.

 

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Rob

Prayer meetings in December

Prayer meetings in December

Hello everyone

We thought you'd like to hear about our plans for our morning prayer meetings from 1st December - we are going to have some readings and reflections based on Michael and Rosemary Green's Advent book In Touch with God, focusing on wonderful prayers from the Bible. Do get yourself a copy - it's available in lots of places online, including very cheaply for Kindle via Amazon. And come and join us, every weekday morning at 9am, and Saturdays at 10am. You can join all our meetings here https://us02web.zoom.us/j/385426921 except for Wednesday 2nd December, when we will be sharing a communion service on our Youtube channel "Venta group of churches." (We hope lockdown isn't extended, but if it is we will do one or two more of these as well.)

(After Christmas, we will be holding morning prayer meetings at 10am on 27th, 29th, 31st December, and 2nd Jan, before the usual pattern resumes on 4th January.)

 

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Rob

Rob's message for November

Rob's message for November

This week I have given a surprising amount of thought to a Youtube video I saw of a Japanese game show called Slippery Stairs. As far as I can make out (and I don’t know any Japanese) it is a pretty simple idea, but an outrageously difficult challenge. Six or seven contestants in different coloured bodysuits have to climb to the top of a set of stairs made of ice, down which water is being poured constantly from two enormous taps. It looks almost impossible.

But hard as it is, they still take it on. Again and again they come, our plucky band of hapless Power Rangers, climbing and slipping and sliding and climbing and slipping and sliding. The video I watched was a 9-minute rollercoaster of emotion as time after time you thought one of them was about to get to the top, only for them to slip on the last step, or one of the others to grab them and pull them back to the bottom. And throughout an audience cheers them on, places bets, and laughs at their misfortunes. It is very, very odd.

So what was it that attracted my attention – apart from the jumpsuits? Well actually it was the strange and brilliant way the video illustrated everything that the Christian faith isn’t. Let me explain.

There’s an idea about following Jesus that it is about climbing to the top of such a slippery set of steps. The odds are stacked against us from the beginning, and we will fall down over and over, with only the slightest chance of getting to the top. We will exhaust ourselves thinking that if we could only just outdo the people around us, only somehow get there first, we will win the prize. But chances are, we’ll just fall down to the bottom again. And there will be people there to laugh themselves silly at our every mistake. God will be watching on, from the top, impassive, even absent.

As much, and as often as it might seem that way, it is not like that at all. Faith in Jesus isn’t about getting everything right, and slipping back to the bottom if we get it wrong. It isn’t about scrabbling to the top to get close to the prize. It isn’t about competing with someone else, because maybe there isn’t enough grace to go around. Instead, it’s recognising someone who is not absent, but who comes to meet us in our sin and mess and brokenness; someone who will pick us up every time we fall, whose love and generosity are more than enough for anyone who ever asks for them. God is not impassive because the word itself is connected with not feeling suffering. But we know that God knows what suffering is like, because Jesus stumbled and fell for us, Jesus endured people’s scorn and shame for us. Without Jesus, faith would ultimately be as difficult as this strangest of games, but we can hold on to the promise that with him, God makes all of this possible for people like you and me.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for October

Rob's message for October

A couple of weeks ago I unexpectedly found myself posting on Facebook about the way that lots of people like me, who are involved in church life, and especially leadership, would be beginning this week to feel our way back into things after some kind of summer break. Most years August is a different time for us, but perhaps less so this year where so little has been the same as before.

It struck me that we were not really feeling our way 'back'. Instead, we were looking forward and conscious of facing enormous uncertainty about what the church will look like in the months and years to come. It feels like a huge moment of opportunity and possibility, as we ask questions about what it means to be church in this culture and generation that we should have addressed a long time ago. But often there is an equal and opposite amount of fear and anxiety, because so many things that seemed certain in February feel so far away now.

There are lots of ways we could react to this, but one that I choose quite often is to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task instead of hearing what God is saying to me. I should hear him cheering me on, but often the voice in my head sounds more like "Rob, this depends on you," and, "You're not up to this." You'll notice they are not a brilliant combination.

They are not true because first of all, all sorts of great people around me do all sorts of great things every day. Some of you will have had time off work over the summer, and surprise, surprise, your school or business or office or whatever was still there when you got back. People managed. It doesn't really depend on you.

I am also learning to embrace the not-being-up-to-this. You're almost certainly better at your job, or looking after your family, than I am, but you can’t do everything. The amazing thing for me in following Jesus is that I know he is one person who is up to it - the all-sufficient one - and he is with us. And if we follow Jesus, then we can hang on to his amazing promises, like “In this world we will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Having said all that, what might very well happen is that I forget it tomorrow, or later on this evening. Do stop me if you see me about, and ask me if I’m trying to do everything myself, or not feeling up to it, or both at once. It might help me. But there is a chance I’ll ask you as well.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for September

Rob's message for September

Recently I have been wondering how much we doubt whether God truly accepts us. We certainly doubt whether people accept us, don’t we – and sometimes with good reason. Think about the Black Lives Matter movement, which is very much to do with someone being equally accepted and valued no matter what they look like. Think about how so much on social media is to do with being accepted: I write or post things that I think will please a certain group of people out there, and I will be accepted by them. I do the right thing, I say the right thing? Notice that the first one of those is about simply being accepted for who I am, and that the second one is about doing something in order to be accepted.

But what about God? Does God accept me? Can I know that? And does he simply accept me for who I am, or is it about me doing something in order to be accepted? In the book of Acts, Peter and Paul, two of the earliest and most influential followers of Jesus, are trying to work out what it means to be accepted by God.

We are sure that these Jews on the one hand, Jesus’s own people group, are accepted by God, but on the other hand are what the bible calls the Gentiles. That is everyone else, that is me, and probably you. It was always God’s intention that the Jews should be his way of blessing the whole of humanity, but now the plan expands and says that the gospel is for everyone, and the gospel is going to work through everyone.

But other people start to push back. The acceptance of God is too radical. The grace of God is too free, and people start to say, “You have to be circumcised to be saved.” You have to do the right thing, you have to look the right way. I.. errm… hopefully no-one was checking, but you know what I mean. People are keen on measuring acceptance by whether others do the right thing, or look the right way. But God hasn’t opened a door of obedience, or appearance; he has opened a door of faith.

The demand is repeated: “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” For those people, acceptance is not about faith; it is about obedience, and appearance.

But gloriously Peter will not have this. He says that far from looking out the outside, at appearance, “God sees the heart.” It is a consistent message of the Scriptures. God sees the heart.

For Peter and for Paul there is no difference between people: we are all equally in need of the saving grace of Jesus. There is no question of their acceptance being earned, because it is through the grace of Jesus. So you can know that God accepts you. You can know because God looks at the heart that is looking to him, looks for faith rather than only obedience or appearance. You can know because God does not discriminate against anyone, and does not demand anyone more than he does of anyone else.

 

 

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Rob

Rob's message for August

Rob's message for August

This lockdown time has been an interesting one, hasn’t it? As far as I’m aware, there has never been such a long period of restriction on our freedoms, combined with the worry for our own health and for our friends and families.  Now that we’re beginning to come out the other side of it, I’ve been reflecting on how it has affected different people, and what has made it so challenging to so many of us. There have been some positives for most of us, though - getting to know neighbours better, appreciating the quieter roads during daily walks, noticing the wildlife in our gardens that we might have busily rushed past in more normal times... We have worked together to gather up crates and crates of supplies for the food bank, and people in our community have helped each other with shopping, prescriptions and so much more.

But still the overriding experience has been a tricky one, and I wonder if one of the main reasons is that coronavirus has shown us that we can’t always be in control of our lives. It has felt like a problem too serious to manage, an “enemy” too big to stand up against, and that has made a lot of us feel small and powerless.

It has reminded me of the story of David and Goliath in the Bible, which some of you might be familiar with. God’s people, the Israelites, were used to fighting against other armies, as they moved through contested land. But they weren’t used to being faced off by someone so much taller and stronger than any of their own soldiers that they felt doomed to failure! They ended up trapped for days as Goliath stood in their path, not knowing what to do for the best.

You might think that the solution would have been to find the very strongest Israelite soldier to attempt to overpower Goliath. Or to come up with a plan to outwit him, meeting brute force with superior intellect... But it turned out that God’s plan was for the smallest and least impressive of all of them to defeat the giant. The shepherd boy David stepped forward with a slingshot and some pebbles, and that was that.

David knew that he was tiny and vulnerable compared to Goliath, but he chose to trust God. He found the strength to do something terrifying, by realising that God was bigger than anyone or anything, giant-like or otherwise. During this time of uncertainty and worry, we have all struggled with having our choices taken away and feeling afraid in different ways. But we can ask God to help us trust him, even if we never have before.

In our house we have been listening to a new children's song about this story, which includes the line “when all I’ve got is a slingshot, you’re the power in me... when I feel little like little David, you’re the power in me”. If you have felt a bit dwarfed by coronavirus and its effect on our lives, why not ask God to help you trust him and rely on his strength - just like David did.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for July

Rob's message for July

As I write we are in the midst of making plans to open some of the church buildings for people to pray from the beginning of July. There are pages and pages of advice from the Church of England, the government, and all the questions we all have locally about what to do to give people the opportunity to drop in and pray and maybe chat with someone about where God is in all of this. And all the time the news is changing and the advice is changing. It makes everything such a complicated business.

Over the last few months while I have found so much of what is going on really complicated, I have tried to remember three things that I noticed from one of our Easter readings, and which I have been mentioning at most of our online services since. (Do check out elsewhere in this magazine how you can join us on Zoom or Facebook, or give me a ring if you would like to dial in on the phone.)

Uncertain about the reality of the Resurrection (ring any bells for any of you?) Jesus’s friends gather in fear of what might happen to them. The religious authorities had arrested Jesus and crucified him; maybe would they come for his friends as well. Twice it says they locked the doors, presumably both times out of fear, though this is only mentioned clearly once.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the disciples again gather in an upper room, anticipating the fulfilment of Jesus’s promise: the gift of the Holy Spirit. At that point it describes how they are “constantly in prayer.” It has interested me that the disciples seemed to remember to pray here, where before they only resorted to being afraid. In some ways their circumstances hadn’t changed, but their mindset had and this was part of the beginning of the Pentecost story. They remembered to pray.

Secondly, there is a need to recognise that Jesus is with us. Twice the disciples lock themselves in a room. Twice Jesus appears to the disciples. To you and me, of course, the idea of someone appearing in a room when they are locked out of it is the stuff of miracles, or at least magic tricks, but for Jesus who was locked in death but broke out of it, locked in a tomb but escaped from it, this is pretty standard stuff! It really does emphasise Jesus’s overwhelming desire to be with his disciples, and that they would recognise that he is with them.

Then comes a twist in the story. It was surely unsettling for the disciples to realise that now that they had Jesus back, he was seeming to talk about going away again. But Jesus has a plan, and instructs them in John’s gospel to “receive the Holy Spirit.” And everything that they do from that point on is empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, who assures the disciples that he is with them always.

So I have been remembering to pray, both myself and in meeting more often with others from our churches, finding a place to bring my anxiety about the future (by which I mean anything that is going to happen from a point about 30 seconds after I stop praying) and to put my trust in God.

I have been recognising that Jesus is with me; if he can rise from the dead, if he can break free from the tomb, if he can get through locked doors, then nothing need be a barrier to him getting to me. Everything that might separate me from him, including the things that I have done, has been put aside at the cross.

And I have been receiving from the Holy Spirit. This morning as we prayed we remembered how at the very end of the bible it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” It’s not any more complicated than telling God you are thirsty.

Three simple principles that bring us to a place of grace, and faith, and rest. I really recommend them to you.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for June

Rob's message for June

Thank you so much to everyone who sent us in pictures of them, their families, and neighbours, all having a splendid socially-distant time on VE Day. It was lovely to see your celebrations, and to hear from those of you whose memories go back that far. Some of you have also shared with me about how hard it was during wartime, and the way that it affected life, and your family, in an ongoing way. Perhaps that was part of other people’s conversations as well.

I can’t remember VE day, but I do go back 25 years to the 50th anniversary in 1995. Back then my grandparents were really well, and it was a privilege to be with them in their village celebrating, with the bunting everywhere and the 1940s music and the questionable pork products. All the same it was hard for me to imagine that they had been through it, and that they had once looked like this instead of being nearly 80.

VE Day was such a significant day, but it was really one in a series of such days. We all know how important D-Day was, the summer before. Once the Allies had landed in France, a big part of the work was done. We also know that the war didn’t end in May 1945: it went on right through the summer until VJ Day on 15th August. But even then, the consequences of years of conflict reached into many lives, and many years into the future.

As I think about the story of Jesus, and compare it with some of these huge events in the history of the modern world, I notice a few things.

First of all I wonder if D-Day is a little bit like Christmas. The Allies landed on the beaches, and they began to take ground decisively, moving across Europe. In one translation of John’s gospel it describes how, in Jesus, God ‘moved into the neighbourhood.’ He had arrived, and as he grew in age and then in influence, God’s kingdom advanced through him.

And then I wonder if VE Day is more like Easter. The end of the war in Europe was a decisive moment. It was a time of great celebration, because freedom had been won. But it was won at a price. There is a lot of disagreement about the number of military and civilian deaths worldwide during the war, but it might be as many as 85 million. You might not find this a helpful comparison, but as I write Johns Hopkins University estimates the total number of worldwide deaths from Covid-19 to be 372,000. That gives us some sense of the enormity of it. There is a tremendous cost in the Easter story too, but here it is different. The weight of suffering for human evil, sin and mortality is borne on the shoulders of Jesus alone. The death toll is 1. It was an awful cost for Jesus, but for us there is freedom and life worth celebrating.

But the war didn’t end in May 1945, the suffering didn’t end there, and even afterwards there were consequences for people in the rest of the world, and for years to come for all those whose lives would never be the same again. Even now we live in a world where I am convinced Jesus has won us an amazing and eternal victory on the cross, but we suffer. In the midst of a global pandemic we don’t need reminding of this. But just as VE Day gave people so much to look forward to, now through Jesus we really can look forward to the time described at the end of the bible, where there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” For the moment, all the pictures of people around the world rejoicing on that day are the stuff of my imagination – and hopefully yours – but I look forward to when they are as real as anything you’ve enjoyed looking at in this month’s magazine.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for May

Rob's message for May

Over Easter weekend I was listening again on and off to the BBC radio commentary of the amazing Headingley test match against Australia. It’s one of several games last year which you might call the Ben Stokes match. We obviously don’t have the rights to show you the final moments of that amazing game, but here is a photo from a dramatic reconstruction we staged in the back garden of the Vicarage. You can see a bit more of it on our Youtube channel which I mention below. It is one of those games where we will always say to each other, where were you? I know where I was as the game reached its climax. I was sitting outside a café in Wales, concentrating on my wife and children whom I was on holiday with, and definitely not being distracted by the game. You can tell from the other picture, can’t you?

I remember heading out from the holiday cottage pretty despondent that England were down to their last batsman, and still 73 from victory. Everything said that it was over, and that Australia were about to win. It was a matter of time. And then came the first stirrings of hope, as Stokes started to hit six, after six, after six. Jack Leach at the other end did his valiant bit, but was reduced to a spectator for long periods. Unbelievably, he did it. Stokes got England over the line, the crowd and the nation erupted, and at one point BBC correspondent Jonathan Agnew cried, “It is an incredible day.”

On Easter Sunday, we remember something that so many of us have heard time and again. And for me, no matter how often I hear that Jesus is alive, I find myself as thrilled as if it is the first time. It is wonderful and new. I think of this story of a man conquering death, and sin, and hell, and I recognise that if it were not true, you just couldn’t invent it. It is so incredible, but so good. What Jesus did for us, what he won for us, is so good.

Because that’s how we feel, isn’t it? We won. Jesus did it, he did it all, but we won. Forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, won for us. On that day, last summer, most of us could only sit and listen. Most of the rest of the England team could only sit and watch. Ben Stokes did it. One man. But we won. That’s a message for this Easter isn’t it? Jesus has won, so we have won. It is not what we did, but what he did for us… what we couldn’t do. Only Jesus could win the battle over darkness and hell and fear and death. And for all of us, as long as we believe and say yes, Jesus did that for me, there is light, and eternity, and hope and life.

It is not for one summer or one Easter, but for eternity. One incredible day after another, forever, through Jesus. Happy Easter everyone.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for April

Rob's message for April

It was wonderful to gather together as church on 22nd March, even though we had to meet online rather than in our buildings. About 45 of us appeared on screen to celebrate Mothering Sunday, and to think together about some things that Paul says to us about God in the bible which can really help us at this difficult time. If you have access to the internet, I have put a video of this on Facebook and Youtube, which you can find by searching for “Venta group of churches.” It was filmed in Stoke church shortly before we were asked to lock the building.

I sent people looking for things in their houses, starting with something with their name on it. For most of us our name says something about the family we belong to. Mothering Sunday is a day to celebrate the human family big or small, but we also thought about what it means to be part of God’s big family, who all have the name of Jesus in common. We are adopted into it, born again into it, through faith in Jesus, and it is bigger than any place or event: it is about what the Holy Spirit has done in our hearts.

In terms of God’s family, we belong together because we share the same Father. In Ephesians 3 Paul connects the idea of having God as our Father with prayer. At this time we have to pray, and we can pray. God is an amazing Father who loves to hear us pray about anything – and he really does hear.

Then we went looking for plants in our house. Most of us could find one of these. Paul talks about us being rooted and established in love. Lots of you know from your own experience or have seen elsewhere what it is like when a family root each other in love. It is a place where we thrive. A plant needs roots that go down deep to draw in all the good stuff that it needs, and keep it firm and secure. That’s what we can do with God. We can put our roots deep down in him, we can draw on all the goodness he has to offer us, we can trust that he will hold us firm in the storm we find ourselves in.

Last, we found a measuring device of some kind – a ruler, a tape, a jug, and so on. We remembered Paul’s encouragement to us that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. We measure and count so many things all the time. You will have heard lots of numbers about coronavirus. Some of them are helpful to us. Others could make us a bit scared. Paul says that there is something we cannot measure – and that is what God can do. No person, however much they might like to, can do the immeasurable amount that God can. I can understand if, at the moment, you feel like God can only do a very little, if at all. The good news for you is that he can do immeasurably more. Some of you, on the other hand, will be thinking, God can do the most amazing things! The good news for you, is he can do even more. He can do more than any of us can imagine!

And with this in mind, we keep on praying. There are resources on our website to help us pray. We are meeting as churches every day to pray, and you can join us online or on the phone, if you have no access to the internet. Just give me a ring on one of the numbers on the front of the magazine. And take care, stay well, and God bless all of you.

 

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