Rob

Rob's Message for August 2021

Rob's Message for August 2021

It’s Freedom Day! I write this on Monday 19th July, as the sun streams in through my window, and my phone buzzes to let me know that Covid-19 restrictions are lifting all across the country. I scroll through my diary for August, September and October, and I spot a few things. A family holiday here, a bit of quiet and retreat time there, and otherwise… not very much. Three inviting months of extended leave. 90 freedom days in a row!

I am not writing any of this to make anyone cross, although sometimes you succeed by accident. I am doing it because like you, I know that freedom isn’t quite as clear as that. I don’t know what things are like 2 weeks from here as you read this, but on Freedom Day there is a lot of concern about growing virus numbers, and whether we should all give up wearing masks, social distancing, and all the other things which have become part of life through the last year.

It’s similar with my sabbatical. Amongst the various other things that the Church of England doesn’t allow me three months’ leave from are doing jobs around the house, being the Dad Taxi, or (and somehow this is worst of all) making packed lunches. 

Hopefully when we grow into an adult, you see, we discover that freedom is about more than just doing what I want. I have the choice to limit my freedom for the sake of someone else; I might hate wearing a mask, but if my friend is really worried about meeting me without one on, hopefully I will put him first. There might be something a bit annoying about making sandwiches in the evening, but I love my children enough not to want them to go hungry. 

I suppose when you think about Christianity you might imagine it as a big long list of things you can’t do. A whole load of ways that your freedom is reduced, lots of them a lot more annoying than packed lunches. 

But in the end, I don’t follow a list. I follow a person, Jesus. 

I have a relationship with Jesus, and just like I would wear a mask if my friend asked to put them first, I am going to do what he asks and put him first. I have a relationship with Jesus, and just like I am not going to give up doing things for my children because I don’t want to let them down, I am not going to give up on doing things for him, because I don’t want to let him down. I have freedom to choose to do those things for him, and those things are what I choose to do. And first of all I remember everything that he has done for me.

I won’t be doing church jobs for a few months, but I’ll still be following Jesus, and I’ll still be looking forward to seeing you at school, and in the street. Maybe we’ll end up talking about what it might mean for you to follow him as well.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for July 2021

Rob's message for July 2021

If I asked you to list a few ways you could tell that someone you were talking to was really interested in you, I wonder what you would say? It might be to do with how good they seemed to be at listening: are they looking you in the eye? Do they seem distracted – worst of all, are they fiddling with their phone?

But one way might be something that I have already done in this article: they ask questions. The other week I was talking to someone in the village and I was really struck by the thoughtful questions they asked about my family, my plans for my sabbatical next month, and so on. One of the things you might notice about Jesus, if you read through the gospels, is that he is constantly asking questions. One reason he does that is that it is a good way of responding to someone who is trying to catch him out, but just as often it is because he is really interested in the person he is talking to. I’ve just been reading the amazing passage where Jesus asked someone, “What do you want me to do for you?” Now there is a question!

Over the last couple of days I have been reflecting on some slightly different questions. They are the sort of questions that you might ask one another as the pandemic eases, we begin to meet up a little more, and we have the chance to reflect on what has happened over the last year and more. I offer them as a chance to reflect for yourself, but most of all to take interest in someone else.

  1. What has your experience been of the pandemic? (What are you grateful for? What have you struggled with?) At an online session I took part in yesterday they took a poll of everyone there (over 100 of us) and most people thought there had been a mixture of ups and downs. Some people have liked working from home. Others have been really cooped up with their family, or been very lonely.

  2. What have you learnt through this experience? Have you done without some things that you have found you don’t really need? Or just got much better at doing things online than you’d imagine?

  3. What has been your source of strength or hope through this time? Some people have built particular things into their routine, or connected with close friends or family in important ways. Someone I know has been reading through the Psalms every day and often shares with us how it has encouraged her.

  4. How do you want things to be different post pandemic? Of course there are things we want to be different from how they are now - masks, distancing, sanitiser and all – but a more interesting question is how they might be different from before. One of my friends wonders if we’ll ever be able to blow out a birthday cake again, but you can probably think of a more meaningful example!

  5. Have you found yourself praying during this time? if you have, then that is not surprising, because apart from people who prayed sometimes already, about 5% of people had started to pray by last May when they didn’t before. It isn’t just us in our churches who are praying more: everyone is.

So there are 5 questions for you to take and ask each other as you reflect on the pandemic, to help you to take interest in. I’ll be praying that as you do it, you hear the voice of Jesus asking what he can do for you as well.

 

 

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Rob

Rob's message for June 2021

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

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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