Rob's message for February

Recently I found myself thinking again about the Olympics, and reflecting on what an amazing gathering it is, with people coming together from all across the world with a shared purpose, a shared spirit. Like me, you’ve probably watched the opening ceremony and seen teams large and small from countries which you know well, have visited yourself, or perhaps needed to be reminded of.

As I thought some more I remembered how many different nations and peoples are mentioned in the bible. If you ask Google a question like this, rather than spending all week trawling through 66 books full of names, you’ll find that the answers vary, but there are certainly dozens of different ones, from Spain to India, and Italy to Ethiopia. Not just mentions, either; the story of the bible takes us to lots of different places.

I’ve not travelled to many different countries, unlike some of you: I know that one thing that lots of people were itching to do as lockdowns lifted globally was to get in the car, or on a train or plane again. The bible story reminds us that people have always travelled, and until recently perhaps more than ever.

That got me wondering not so much where you might have travelled to, but where you might have travelled from. I’ve had the most fascinating conversations with people in the villages who have ended up here from all over the world, and enjoyed hearing their stories, but I reckon there are lots more. If you’ve got time to chat about the place you came from, and how you moved here, I’d love you to get in touch so I can come and say hello. Maybe we can start making our own list of the different places people have come from. It might even be as long as the bible’s.

The bible’s story of the nations ends not with where people come from, but where they are heading. The book of Revelation, right at the end of the bible, paints a picture of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It reminds us that the reason that all these nations are mentioned in the bible is because of God’s desire that, one day, they will be united in him. A gathering from across the world with a shared purpose, a shared spirit.

It's an amazing picture to look forward to, but in the meantime I’d love to gather some more stories of people who have come from different places to make their homes here. Please get in touch and I’ll pop by and say hello.

 

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Rob's message for January

I have recently spent a lot of time listening on loop to a song called Assembly Bangers, which might very well have made it to Christmas number 1 by the time you read this. It is the top-selling song on iTunes at the moment, because everyone my age remembers singing them when they were at school. You can find it on YouTube, but please buy it as well because all the proceeds are going to Foodbank charities. It has caused some controversy, if only because you can only fit a certain number of songs into 3 minutes, so lots of people’s favourites missed out.

One which I particularly remember began “When God made the garden of Creation.” You may well be humming it now. It went on to describe how God made the world, in words which are both too numerous for the tune and enormously repetitive. It’s quite something.

With the remainder of my word limit this month, hopefully I can say a little bit more about God and Creation than that particular 90s assembly classic managed.

In some ways the Bible is a book about gardens. It begins in Eden: the garden of Creation. It was here that Adam and Eve lived in God’s presence, and he saw that it was good. It was here, too, that they turned away from God, and were sent away from that place.

At Easter it was in a garden that Jesus wrestled with God, coming to understand that in order for us to come back into the relationship that we enjoyed with God in the beginning, he would have to die in our place.

Moving forward now to the last few pages of the Bible, the book of Revelation describes a vision of Eden restored, with the tree of life which Adam and Eve reached for now bearing fruit for the healing of the nations, and the curse that was on them removed.

So these three great moments in the whole story of Creation play out in a garden. And this is one of many reasons for us to stop and think about how we relate to the world that God has given us, through Adam, to steward and care for. The song reminds us (repeatedly) the God created the world out of love, and that part of our worship is to love it as he does.

This January on Sunday morning we’ll be asking some big questions about what it means to care for God’s creation, and we’d love you to join us. Flick through the magazine to find out more.

 

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Rob's message for December

Last week I was with some minister friends I meet up with a few times a year. We catch up and pray for each other, and end up talking about all sorts of different things. This time one of us wondered out loud whether it did anyone any good to be constantly checking the news to see what else might have gone wrong since last time we looked. As a group we’re all roughly the same age, and we remembered back to when we were children, when it was pretty tricky to find a news bulletin between breakfast and lunch, or dinner and bedtime.

There are lots of reasons why reading too much news might be a problem, but one of them is probably the news itself! It’s difficult to know which came first: did we decide we wanted to hear serious (so mostly bad) news, and so the newspapers printed that sort of thing, or did they decide the bad stuff was good for us, and so that was what they published?

The news stops being good for us when it makes us afraid. Do you look back now, like I do, and wonder how much the constant drip of statistics and reports about Covid made you even more afraid than you needed to be, horrible as the virus is and was?

Some of us in the churches have been thinking and praying about the Christmas story, and noticing the angel’s words to the shepherds “not to be afraid, because there is good news.” In an age when things have apparently got so bad that the Collins dictionary word of the year is “permacrisis”, there is good news, so you don’t have to be afraid.

The shepherds were simple people scratching out a living as best they could, but there was good news. Mary and Joseph were a young unmarried couple surrounded by rumour about her pregnancy, but there was good news. The wise men were foreigners receiving an uncertain welcome from the authorities, but there was good news. The whole nation lived under Roman occupation, which might have seemed as permanent as our crisis today, but there was good news.

I love the Emeli Sandé song Read all about it. I listen to it often, because it reminds me that as Christians we have good news to sing and to shout about, but often we are biting our tongue and the nation-changing words don’t find their way out. We should be like the angel, daring the papers to print that good news, not being afraid.

This Christmas we want to help you not to be afraid, and to believe in spite of everything that there is good news. We’re going to do that by not being afraid to sing and shout about the good news that we have. We’re going to find our voices, and give you the chance to hear again about Jesus who has come into the world to bring good news that God is with us, and he loves us. Good news, the angel said, for everyone; good news for you.

 

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Rob's message for November

Over the years I have written a lot about remembering in November. It seems the season for it, with All Saints’ Day on 1st November reminding us of all the followers of Jesus who have gone before us, followed by Remember remember the 5th of November, and then Remembrance Day after that. Some churches also use 2nd November to help people think of relatives who have died in recent years as well. Put together, that is a lot of remembering.

But I wanted to remember back a lot less far, to something I did last November. For the second time ever, I think, I went to a Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll know this mainly as an American celebration, and an opportunity to get the turkey in early a full month ahead of Christmas, which I suppose they might as well call “Turkey 2: The Sequel.” The one we attended last year had a whole load of the traditional accompaniments, like pumpkin pie to follow, and with the turkey the very odd side dish of sweet potato with marshmallows on top.

In our family we use food to celebrate special occasions that we are thankful for, but these tend to be the normal ones like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and so on. I don’t know if we are so good at being thankful more widely. The bible is different: it’s full of people bringing food offerings to God, and celebrating with food themselves, as a sign of all the things that they are grateful for.

One of the most famous feasts in the New Testament comes at the end of the story of the Prodigal Son, where his delighted father calls for the fatted calf to be brought and prepared as the centrepiece of a great banquet to celebrate his coming home.

It’s in the spirit of these great thanksgiving feasts of the bible, and especially with the Old Testament festival of Passover in mind, that Jesus’s followers began one of their own. Amongst the various words that the church has used for communion is the Greek word Eucharist, which in the end only means “thank you”. So when we gather and use bread and wine to remember Jesus, we are thanking God for what he has done for us.

But I’ve never been convinced that a communion service is the only place to do that. Every time I sit down and eat, I want to celebrate what Jesus has done for me. On Sunday afternoons at the Church Hall there hasn’t been much wine so far, but we have been eating together, partly as a reminder of what Jesus has done for us. We’re doing it remembering his encouragement that all of us can come and sit and eat with him: that we’re all invited.

So please take up God’s invitation, and come down on a Sunday afternoon and sit and eat with us, but wherever you sit, and whenever you eat, remember to find things to thank God for.

 

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Rob's message for October

We all knew the day would come when the Queen wouldn’t be there, but somehow we didn’t quite expect it, did we? Part of that was that it seemed to come quickly, with her meeting prime ministers old and new on Tuesday, and dying on Thursday. But more of it must be that most of us can’t remember a time when she wasn’t there.

There were so many striking images and moments in the period from the Queen’s death, up to and including her funeral. The crowds lining the streets through Scotland as the coffin drove from Balmoral to Edinburgh; a host of state occasions as King Charles visited all four nations in about as many days; and of course the queue.

At the same time, like with all bereavements, it was the little things that struck you. I saw a photo on Facebook of an order of service for someone who was made a vicar, somewhere, the same evening the Queen died. They found out 10 minutes before they were supposed to start, and after a few phone calls they went ahead. The photo showed the text where the vicar promises allegiance to the monarch. “Queen Elizabeth II” had hurriedly been crossed out, and “King Charles” written in blue biro. Then someone must have realised that wasn’t enough, and had added “III”, this time in red.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that I have had a lot more conversations about life and death in the last couple of weeks than I normally do. Times like this confront us with our own mortality, and they’re meant to, I think. They’re meant to make us look at our lives and ask ourselves what we want to be remembered for. There’s no point wishing we could all be the Queen, and hope to do great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Actually, the best stories about the Queen haven’t at all been grand gestures; people have been remembering her little interactions with them, and how much her care and attention meant.

But more than what it means to live this life as well as we can, the Queen has pointed us beyond it. Christmas after Christmas she reminded us that God had come into the world; that Jesus was in our midst, and that eternal hope was within reach for all of us. In her wonderful Easter message in the early pandemic, she reminded us all that “As dark as death can be  particularly for those suffering with grief  light and life are greater. May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.”

The Queen’s extraordinary funeral service, which may have reached over 4 billion people across the world, spoke beautifully of the eternal hope that we have because of Jesus. The Archbishop of Canterbury drew on that same Easter message as he followed the Queen in quoting Vera Lynn, reminding us that when we believe in Jesus we can be sure that we’ll meet again. It means that there is a time when we will be with the Queen again, but more than that, a time when we will be with Jesus; and like the Queen, will cast our crowns before the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.

 

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Rob's message for September

Hello everyone

The demands of printing mean that I am writing this in August, and so I am looking out at my back garden, which is now less like (an excuse for) a lawn, and more the aftermath of a wheat field at harvest time. The ground is just so thirsty.

At the same time, the news is full of the increasing cost of living. I am getting worried emails from my energy supplier, checking I am keeping an eye on my Direct Debit. I am wondering what will happen if my bills are twice as high in January as they are now. It is so expensive.

And I’m listening to two people aiming to be our next Prime Minister both trying to establish that we can rely on them to lead us through a time of enormous uncertainty. What kind of commitments might they make which will help us to be convinced of this?

For the last week or two I have found myself coming back again and again to a very well-worn chapter in my bible. Isaiah 55 says something, I think, to each of these 3 questions.

First of all, it invites the thirsty. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” At the moment we don’t need to imagine what physical drought feels like, but these words address spiritual thirst. Deep down, are you thirsty? Do you long not just for the normal kind of drink, which we need to top up again and again, but what Jesus describes as “rivers of living water”? Isaiah says, “Come.”

Second, he invites those who can’t afford it. “You who have no money, come and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without cost.” The price of milk went up about 20% in a lot of shops through June and July, having been pretty steady for the first half of the year. Like us, you will have started to work out what you might not be able to afford soon. Isaiah promises us something which is without cost. So come.

Incidentally, if you and your family are struggling with food costs, please get in touch. We can provide some help through our little foodbank, or point you elsewhere. At our All Invited sessions on Sunday afternoons in the autumn we are expanding the food we offer to be more of a proper meal than just drinks and cake, because we know it might help some of you. Please come.

Finally, as we worry and wonder about how politicians might help us, Isaiah offers us help that lasts much longer than any one Prime Minister can: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

The invitations and promises that God makes through Isaiah, over 2500 years ago, end up being fulfilled through Jesus. Some other time maybe we can go into the rest of this amazing chapter, but the thing that strikes me most today is how it doesn’t depend on what someone might do if they become Prime Minister, but what Jesus has done – in living, and dying, and rising again for us. That’s what this everlasting covenant is built on.

I need to stop now, because I’ve written too much already, so I’ll just remind you of the invitation again. To the thirsty; to those who can’t afford it; an invitation depending not on what we or anyone else might do, but what Jesus has done: “Come.”

 

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