Rob's message for July

Rob's message for July

Like all parents of teenagers, I am a consistent source of weary amusement in our house, but recently I have been particularly laughable because of my attempts to make some sourdough bread. Before I get into this too much, I’d like to offer in my defence that I’m fairly sure Cathryn was the one who suggested first that we give this a try.

The main thing you are confronted with is that it takes ages. If you make the starter (which is what you use instead of yeast to make it rise) it takes days at least, but I was anxiously tending to mine for weeks before it seemed to grow in any significant way. Once there is enough yeast from the air in the jar to get it going, you have to remove some of the mixture and feed the rest regularly with more flour and water to keep it active. If you aren’t using the stuff you discard to make bread, you could give it to your friend as a present (this is genuinely Jamie Oliver’s suggestion), or I have found it makes nice pancakes.

Only after this can you start to make bread. This takes about 18 hours, from the point that you mix a load of your starter with more bread and water, to when you add the rest of the flour, leave it overnight in the fridge to prove, and then bake it in the morning. I have got to the stage where my family will happily eat it, but I do recognise that there are people in the village and in our church community who bake it for a living, and need to be clear that the stuff I have made definitely isn’t anywhere near as nice as the ones in the shops.

Am I just writing a baking column this month, you ask? Well, possibly. But the many hours I have spent not so much fiddling with this bread, as worrying about whether it will turn out ok, have given me some space to think about the process. I have got thinking about what Jesus says about how the kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman kneads into about sixty pounds (!) of dough. Now apart from what that says about her impressive kneading muscles, for the first time I have thought about how she wouldn’t have had superfast supermarket yeast, but something perhaps a bit more like sourdough, which needed time to work slowly and grow through the whole of the bread. It says to me that being transformed by God, so that you become more and more like Jesus, and can do more and more of the things Jesus does, will take time.

This is an important lesson if you are like me, and you feel that you would prefer to do something you see the impact of tomorrow, or not bother. And when I look around our churches, I see things happening now which look like the result of a very long process of kneading with (in my case) very feeble muscles over a long period of time. So if you are just at the point of making a first decision to follow Jesus, please celebrate if you feel you are growing really quickly, but equally please persevere if it feels like working a little yeast through a very big batch of dough. The growth and the change will happen, and the results will be amazing.


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Rob's message for June

Rob's message for June

Did you hear the one about the supermarket that tried to put a tick on some hot cross buns?

Just before Easter this year, word got out that Iceland were going to do just that.

It could almost have been designed to cause outrage. People piled on to complain, all of them convinced it was another sign we were abandoning our Christian roots. It was bad enough when the National Trust did whatever they did with the Easter eggs, but this was a step too far.

The thing is, though, that it was designed to cause outrage. A survey suggested a few people would prefer “hot tick buns”, so Iceland made a small number, and aggressively marketed them so lots of other people would complain. Not just complain, either: customers bought 134% more of Iceland's traditional buns in the runup to this Easter. The bun people knew what they were doing.

Somewhere there has long been something a bit like a tick, of course, is on your Nike clothing. They might say it's a swoosh, but it looks like a tick to me. Whatever you call it, for over 50 years now the symbol has been appearing on their products, ever since it was originally designed to resemble the wings of the original Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

These thoughts all started to come together for me the other week as I sat and listened to Lyn preach about "overcoming". I started to search through the bible, and realised that many of the times some translations use words like "victory" or "overcome", the original Greek word is the same one that Nike gets her name from.

One of the most famous examples of this is in Paul's amazing victory cry at the end of 1 Corinthians:

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course this is most of all about life rather than death, because the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate victory, but Easter only makes sense when we look across the whole weekend, and see the Sunday as the glorious completion of the victory that began on Good Friday, as Jesus bore the sting of death for all of us. In the end, the whole of Easter is a glorious victory.

And if that's true, then once again it looks like the bun people knew what they were doing after all.


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Rob's message for May

Rob's message for May

Following on from my message a couple of months back, when I talked about Easter coming at just the right time, I am reminded that not everything seems to happen at quite the right time. Writing in the middle of April, I am wondering if it is a bit early for the baby blackbirds, three of which have appeared in our garden in the last few days, soon followed by two tiny dunnocks. They are giving us a lot of pleasure, but perhaps not their hassled parents, responding to the constant calls of “Feed me! Feed me!”

As I read over the Easter story again in recent weeks I enjoyed the story of Peter’s recommissioning by Jesus. There’s lots of amazing parts to it, but what struck me this time was the way that Jesus tells Peter to feed his followers. He uses a different animal image from my birds – he calls them sheep and lambs – but I was reminded of the way sheep and lambs also get very excited at the sight of food: it’s as if they are bleating “Feed me! Feed me!”

It got me wondering how hungry I am, or perhaps rather what I am hungry for. It’s not just food: it’s other things as well. Some of them we all need, and they are good for us in moderation, but we can go looking for them in the wrong places. Other things are more obviously harmful.

I’m intrigued, and honestly a bit alarmed, that the stuff that appears on my social media is called a “feed”. It makes it sound like something that ends up sustaining us , and which we need to go back to again and again. This year I’ve read an equally alarming book about Ultra-processed foods, and the sort of physical food that we are filling ourselves with. Is that what Jesus meant?

Well, whether we’re talking about Twitter or turkey twizzlers, the answer is no. That’s not what he meant. And while Jesus certainly wanted Peter to look after his followers when he went back to the Father, he probably didn’t really mean physical food of any kind. Jesus knew that our hearts and minds and souls needed feeding even more than our bodies, and that’s what he really wanted Peter to do.

And he did.

In the months and years that followed, Peter consistently told people about the good news of salvation through Jesus. Together with some equally faithful friends, he gathered the constantly growing church into smaller groups that could feed on the Scriptures and the apostles’ teaching, could break bread to remember Jesus, could pray and pray and pray. Peter fed the sheep.

God’s call on the church hasn’t changed: he still asks us to feed people, recognising that we all need to be fed, and that we will all fill ourselves with something. There’s a lot out there that is artificial and Ultra-processed and all kinds of bad for us, and I’m aware I eat plenty of it too. But Jesus wants to meet our urgent calls for food with the stuff that we really need, and that will help us grow and thrive like the birds in my garden. Jesus wants us all to be well-fed.


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Rob's message for April

Rob's message for April

Hello everyone!

Our wonderful deliverers are often very prompt in getting round, so it is quite likely that you are reading this not long after Easter, hopefully with that weekend still very much in mind.

Back in March we were talking about the Easter story in our school assembly, and I was very encouraged to hear that even in this age of endless streaming services and online games and everything else our young people enjoy, there is still room for the Mr Men and Little Misses. For some reason I got thinking about what the Easter story would sound like if I filled it with names of Mr Men and Little Misses. The first time I miscounted, but in the end I got 27 in there, I think. How many can you find?

The night Jesus died, he had dinner with his friends. The greedy ones were probably very happy. Jesus’s friends were in a bit of a muddle. He seemed to be saying that he was going to die, and not be with them any more, which sounded like nonsense. Of course that wasn’t going to happen.

But as Jesus spoke more about it, everything got more and more quiet. People tried to be brave, and strong, and they said they would not be forgetful about who Jesus was, and what he had done for them, but even Jesus’s best friend was quite quick to say he didn’t know who he was.

The next day, God’s perfect son Jesus died on the cross. He did it to sort out everything that had gone wrong. All the things in life that are messy, all the mischief we get into, all the things that are naughty or mean, all the times we are stubborn and try to do our own thing. Everything that makes us worry about what God might think about us.

Two days later, in the garden where they had buried Jesus, there was sunshine. Some of Jesus’s helpful friends went to the place where they had buried him, to make sure everything was neat and tidy. But something funny had happened: the stone had rolled away and Jesus’s body wasn’t there. Were they too late? Was it some sort of magic trick?

But then the impossible happened. They saw an angel, who told them that Jesus was alive!  They were so cheerful.

“Hurry” they said. “Let’s rush and tell the others.”

Did you find them all? There are lots of places online you can find a list of all the Mr Men and Little Misses if you would like to check your answers. But maybe a more important question than these is the one which I asked the children at the end. When you hear the Easter story, which Mr Man or Little Miss are you? Are you Nonsense or Wrong – it just doesn’t make sense to you? Or do you go Quiet or start to Worry as you think about what it all means? Or maybe you are just Happy or Cheerful because you realise what Jesus has done for you? I’d love to hear from you about how you respond to the Easter story.


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Rob's message for March

Rob's message for March

Easter’s coming early

It can’t just be the vicars who have noticed that Easter is coming early this year. A quick online search shows that between 2015 and 2030, Easter Sunday is only falling in March on three occasions. So the diary definitely agrees: early it is.

But is Easter really that early?

The Bible has two ways of looking at it. First of all, it would seem the opposite is true. There are centuries of longing through the Old Testament that the Messiah will come. Over and over comes the haunting question, “How long?” Here’s one of them: “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.”

Perhaps you have known times of great longing, or are in one now. You might long for something, or someone. No sign of it happening, no-one seems any the wiser, you don’t know how long it might be. But I wonder if you are aware of longing for God, and for Easter?

Lots of those people in the Old Testament didn’t have a very clear idea that their longing would end up at Easter, but we get some hints. Isaiah writes about the Lamb who was slain, bearing the sin of many, and about the idea of death being swallowed up forever. The two great promises of Easter, Jesus’s death and resurrection, were glimpsed even then. One day, longing would be fulfilled.

Of course, there’s another way of looking at it. Looking back at Easter, instead of forward, Paul has a different perspective: “at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” So we have the same idea, in some ways – longing feels like powerlessness, doesn’t it? – but at the same time something different and extraordinary. The time has come. The object of the deepest of human longing has arrived, and arrived for the powerless, and the ungodly. Jesus does not look for our strength, or our goodness: only our longing. 

Except not only our longing. When you look at the times in the bible that someone asks, “How long”, you notice something unexpected. Time and again, it’s God’s voice, not ours. His longing for a wandering and wayward people to come back to a Father who loves them beyond understanding. A God who has searched for us since way before we searched for him; who looks at us and asks, “How long?”

For God too, it was time. Time for his longing and the longing of all his people to meet at the first Easter, when Jesus died and rose again for all of us at just the right time.

Next year, Easter will be three weeks later. But that won’t mean we will have even more time to long for its coming than this year. It will already have come, already be done; for us, by Jesus, at just the right time.

Happy Easter everyone 


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Rob's message for February

Rob's message for February

I’ve found myself chatting to a few people recently about how it is pretty much exactly 12 years since we arrived in the villages and the Vicarage here. Inevitably when you do that you end up talking about how different things are, whether it’s the number of people we’ve seen move into the new houses in Stoke, or the way we arrived with two small children and seem to have ended up with three quite large ones, or (if you ask those same children) the increasingly hilarious state of my hairline.

What it all means is that it is a very long time since I have gone through the process of getting used to a new job, unlike John the Baptist, who we spent some time thinking about at our All Invited congregation in January.

In some ways John’s job was brand new: it says that he appeared in the wilderness, telling people about Jesus. There wasn’t any fanfare or announcement: he wasn’t there one day, and he was the next. But in other ways it wasn’t. John and Jesus were related through their mothers, and there is a lot of excitement in the Christmas story about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He was born just before his relative, so there is a sense even from pregnancy and birth of him going ahead of Jesus.

John’s job is to carry a message. In this world of instant communication, and constant updates about every little detail of our lives, the idea that someone has to bring a message and that people have to hear it personally sounds very old-fashioned. But that’s how John brought his message. It was in person, and it was about a person. It wasn’t another update about the clever things John had been doing, but pointed away from him to someone else: to Jesus, who was coming after him.

The message comes with the same excitement as everything surrounding John and Jesus’s birth. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus! God is coming to you: get ready for him!

You might not be getting ready for a new house, or a new job, or a new baby, but as you look ahead into the rest of the year, you might be conscious of getting ready for something. But what if that something is something you didn’t expect? You might not feel like John, with your destiny planned for you even from before you were born, but perhaps God wants to do something unexpected with you this year. Perhaps this is the year he is asking you to be ready for him, and the new things he might have in store for you.


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