Rob's message for June 2021

It will be June by the time you read this, but I am writing it at the point of the next step in the government roadmap. It is a probably a bit of a stretch to imagine that you are reading this sitting in a café, but you never know. Perhaps you have had a couple of friends in the house, or you are going to go to a restaurant for the first time since Christmas. Maybe you will hug a few family or close friends.

For our churches it is an important time, because we decided at that point on the roadmap to begin to meet in person again every week, and so this month is the first following a pattern which we hope will continue for some time. (We are carrying on online as well.)

But even now, with lots of news of the Indian variant in parts of the country, we do wonder, don’t we, if things will progress quite as we hope they might. Most of us by now have had a vaccine or two, but will that be enough to keep to the plan?

The trouble is we are creatures of habit, really. We want lots to be familiar and the same, and it helps our brains not to get tired by working out new things all the time. To some degree, we want to be in control, and when that doesn’t happen it unsettles us a lot.

This weekend coming, as well as celebrating meeting together in person again, we are remembering Pentecost, and the amazing gift of God’s Spirit coming on his church. It was an extraordinary time, as people gathered for the annual routine of a Jewish religious festival were overwhelmed by the presence and reality of God. Expectations about God being interested only in certain people or certain places or certain ways of doing things were blown away by an amazing wind of change. Followers of Jesus came to realise that God wanted to live in each of them as they chose to follow him, and that it was a promise for everyone.

This year we have seen a lot of change, most of it out of control, and none of us has liked it very much (unless you have shares in Zoom, or Amazon, or hand sanitiser, in which case there is a link to our giving platform on our website). So we can easily forget that God made us to change, and grow, and it is the most positive and natural thing to do that. And Pentecost is just a day when we remember an amazing change we can all make any day of the year: choosing not to hold onto what is familiar, or we can control, but recognising how God sent his Holy Spirit for everyone, and Jesus is for everyone. It’s a change you can make that no-one else can unmake or go back on, because God always keeps his promises.

Rob

 

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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'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'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'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'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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