Collections of thoughts for a future blog post

In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought it perhaps involved a magician. – G.K. Chesterton


The horizontal and the vertical

As I was writing this sermon this week (Nov 2019), my husband and I began our traditional and seasonal debate about the atmosphere:- not extinction rebellion heat but a little verbal heat generated over the lack of heat. My husband, Henryk, is always warm and I am always cold, so as I sat writing this in thermals with the fire on and a woolly jumper, he sat over the other side of the room with a rosy glow saying ‘it’s so hot in here.’

“But I am cold.” “But I am hot” and so the traditional, seasonal (because not summer) debate about the atmosphere begins in my house, and will continue til about March. But I had been reading Romans 12 so I switched off the fire at his request – he looked surprised that I had given way so quickly… he didn’t realise I’d been reading Romans 12...

So let us pray, holding a moment of silence, before I read God’s word to us, that we would be so captured by Paul’s words about sacrifice and unity, that Christ, through us and in us, might change the atmosphere of our worship, as we offer ourselves to Him in praise and he offers himself to us through his Word. Pause.

A reading from the New testament and Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 12: verses 3-8.

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

And of course, I would say, following on from how I began today, something about a function to keep warm, lacking in me (“more grace, Lord – more of your distribution”!) given in abundance to the person I am married to... and I began today sharing with you a little about the sacrifice I made in switching the heating off for him.

In Luke’s Gospel (9.23), Jesus talks about how we are to take up our cross and deny ourselves. ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. And then Paul, our writer today, echoes that command in verse one, just before our reading, saying present yourselves to God as living sacrifices (12.1) … this is your spiritual worship.

I wonder what you imagine when you think about self-denial and sacrifice. Perhaps you don’t think about worship. Perhaps you don’t think about switching the heating off. On Monday we commemorated all those who make the ultimate sacrifice – at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Today, those who sacrifice everything for Christ, are our modern day martyrs for the faith and we hear about them through organisations such as Open Doors.

But ours will more often be a ‘living sacrifice’ - Verse one of chapter 12 of Romans asks that we present ourselves as living sacrifices because this is our spiritual worship.

My children, who are 17 and 15, were deeply moved a couple of years ago at the New Wine summer gathering, hearing from Hea Woo who spoke to them about how whilst she was in a North Korean prison, worshipped God in the toilet block, in a place so foul the guards would never come. The pleasing aroma of spiritual worship, when the place utterly stinks. How good is God that something so beautiful rose up to him? He can see our hearts.

And perhaps we imagine her on her own, in the few moments she is not observed by prison staff, grabbing five minutes on the loo to connect with God; to sing his praises, to cry out to Him in prayer but no – she invited as many people as she could into that toilet block and planted a church there.

You see a problem we have is that when we imagine ourselves caught up in the spiritual heights of worship, sometimes we imagine ourselves alone or think preciously about those moments of real God-centredness, guarding them from being interrupted by other people.

There have been people in Christian history who decided that self-denying, sacrificial worship looked like isolation – looked like not inviting other people into the loo block.

In the 5th century, after Christ, there were individuals like Symeon of Antioch who lived high up on a small platform on a pole in the sky which he would make taller year on year as he further removed himself away from ordinary people, and particularly women, whom he’d shout at from his great height. Ironically, in his attempt to get away, he attracted bigger and bigger crowds and often won after him other pillar saints who thought this the best way they could worship Christ. (5 mins)

Then there is Anthony who took himself off into the desert, washing only at Easter. You see whilst Hea Woo had smelly conditions, the people she welcomed into that small space were a pleasing aroma before God – a living sacrifice but Anthony (well, some write well of him) but in keeping others far away, did not really live out what Paul describes here In Romans 12 as sacrificial, spiritual worship.

You see what Paul tries to teach us is that worship is as much about the horizontal axis (the one another) of the cross, as it is the vertical (and God). We need to restore our understanding of the word spiritual because the culture these days also tells us that being spiritual also looks like removing yourself from the ordinary things and ordinary people of your life. I would even put it to you that mindfulness, very popular, is less about Paul’s renewal of the mind and overly focussed on what’s on our minds – not as ‘other focussed’ as it might be in terms of Paul’s teaching here about our focus on God and our focus on others.

Paul comes to tell us today that our sacrifice of praise; our spiritual worship is all about other people and far less about any solitary, though well-meaning spiritual pursuit. Sacrificial worship, truly spiritual worship is about the local church and coming together with the smelly and the lovely; the ordinary and the glamorous; the pained and the painful and worshipping together. And that calls for self-denial and sacrifice.

And that is what we find so hard; I find hard.

This (points up) is not so hard, after all. He accepts me completely, loves me so much he sent his Son to die for me, like the father in the parable, runs after me, hitching up his robes to come and get me when I am prodigal, even before I say sorry. He leaves the 99 to find me – but you – will you do that for me? And will I do that for you? Will I give up my preferences, my taste in worship music, my means of encounter. And will you give up that for me?

Because, brothers and sisters, this is what the Lord asks us to do and it is not easy. This is worship.

The first 11 chapters of Romans teach you your doctrine, but you know, you can learn that from books and podcasts and study; you can learn a lot of that on your own but when Paul talks to us about worship – how we please God; how we worship God - it’s all about how we relate to Him and to others in relationship. And relationship with others in the local church at worship.

And yet how many times, do we go home muttering: “The band – I wasn’t sure this morning – and the sermon – too long, too short, too serious, not serious enough... the biscuits - soggy, the coffee luke-warm and there were crumbs on the seat I was sitting…”

But the biscuit meant a lot to the mum of a toddler. It was an act of mercy. The coffee less hot because a significant conversation took place before it got to the counter; a much needed word of encouragement. And the preacher’s message at that meh moment for you, spoke in ways to another, the weight of which the preacher could never have seen coming; in fact was prophetic in a way only God and that person knew.

Paul wants us to understand, as he writes to the Corinthians too (with a simple sentence that has spoken hugely to me over the years (1 Cor 11:33) :- “Brothers and sisters, when you come together….wait for one another” because we know we need each other really, deep, deep down, we know it and so Paul writes to teach us how to worship with one another, alongside one another, giving thanks for one another as the local church at worship and waiting, being patient with one another; waiting because we wait to encounter God in one another; waiting because we have grace for one another; waiting because we have learnt not to think more highly of ourselves – waiting because it’s God altogether we are worshipping and God knows our hearts.

Paul has spoken to us before this passage today about the renewal of our minds; the renewal of our thinking and, as we know, we have to welcome the Holy Spirit for our thinking to get changed – the Holy Spirit even the medics will confess, with their studies of the brain in prayer, God can literally change the synapses– not just your heart and your character but your mind. This is the true mindfulness we are to cultivate (10 mins) that’s what helps us to welcome one another.

Paul’s words to us rewire us if we let the Holy Spirit teach us. Everything begins at the level of your thought-life and that is what makes the Gospel such very good news – God can change our very hardware and make us new. And so Paul begins at verse 3 talking about our thinking. How we are to think of ourselves and really he says with much repetition of the word “think”, as if to underline the point – think of yourself not more highly than you ought to think but think of yourself with sober thinking.

Think, think, thinking because Paul prays our thinking is renewed – our minds our renewed – and to what is our thinking to be aligned – one another! As well as God. Paul reminds us that we belong to the body of Christ but shocking, I think, because I don’t think it had dawned on me til now -in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

In our liturgy after breaking bread at the table we say: We break this bread to share in the body of Christ and the congregation reply. Though we are many, we are one body but I think we are all imagining, still, that body that is Christ’s and being one with him rather than being one with each other. And this again, is difficult, Christ’s perfect body, sacrificed for you and for me, brought to radiant life in resurrection on the third day but your body and my body and perhaps you, like Anthony, or I, only have an annual bath and being part of that one body with you and you with me and caring for the health of that body, that means for me and for you a little self-denial and sacrifice, right? It means my acknowledging your gifting and you acknowledging mine, your measure of grace and my measure of grace and thanking God for it even when it doesn’t suit my preferences and taste.

Paul’s words also help me take my place in this body to which I am joined as a member – this body that is the local church that is also the body of Christ – it calls me to acknowledge that God knows exactly what he has done with us all – he has given us all gifts, every single one of us - and the gifts are neither something to boast about, as if they came up from within us somehow independently of Him, nor are they something to hide in a kind of mock humility because each of these attitudes takes glory away from the giver.

God gave you your gifts – and you are not to hide them or you hide him - you are to use them for the benefit of the whole body - prophesying in relation to your faith; ministry in all sorts of ways; teaching and preaching and encouraging and counselling and guiding and giving and helping, each in your own unique way. Everyone here has a grace given; faith given to serve the church. God has assigned you your gifts – measuring them out as he sees fit.

Tim spoke a while back about how everything you have been given belongs to the Lord and took you to the image of the field and how a margin was to be kept around it because produce grown there belonged to God to give away. Out of your farmland, your income, your abundance (for we all have something) God, through each of us, gets to give away – ‘blessed to be a blessing’ your strapline – is about this giving of yourself away.

With our worship, the stakes get even higher – it’s not just a margin – it’s the whole of you offered to Christ and offered to your neighbour too – both axes of the cross.

And this can happen as we welcome the renewal of the mind and think right – think about the body to which we belong and give up some of our preferences for the sake of our neighbour and remember that our worship is as much about the horizontal axis and one another as it is about the vertical and God.

It is about coming together and honouring our neighbour and speaking well of one another and our leaders and those who serve because each person does so with the sincerity of their function being gift, grace, a measure of faith given them by God. When we dishonour them, we dishonour God.

CS Lewis, in his essay The Weight of Glory’ writes about how ‘The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it...’

In the church where I worship, as in yours, are we carrying that burden of our neighbour’s glory, in our worship of God? Are we able to lay down our own preferences so that our neighbour might meet with God? (15 mins).

C S Lewis goes on to say, ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.’ And so, it is striking because it has to be, that Paul should underline for us, that we are members one of another. You might not worry too much about sharing the body that is Christ’s but are you making room, am I making room, for every member to play its part in the body that lives when we come together – are we comfortable being a body?

Are we waiting; are we prepared to wait for grace to continually change us and change our neighbour, are we at peace that it is God who should so measure out his grace that some serve in one way and some serve in another and not everything is always to our taste?

B B Warfield, an American theologian and academic helps me to communicate this paradox at the heart of Romans 12:3-8 – yes, we are to make room for our neighbour but this is not at the detriment of ourself and our gifts. I often speak of the image of a candle lit, which when lighting another, doesn’t cause the first candle to be put out – both can burn together.

Warfield writes to correct any strange notion we might have attached to our offering a living sacrifice: ‘it is not to mere self-denial that Christ calls us… not to unselfing ourselves (you get to be you, don’t hide), but to unselfishing ourselves. (Let me read that again: it is not to mere self-denial that Christ calls us… not to unselfing ourselves, but to unselfishing ourselves.) Warfield goes on to say, “Self-denial for its own sake… narrows and contracts… may make monks and stoics (like my Symeon of Antioch on his precarious pole and Anthony in the desert) - it cannot make Christians’ Warfield says.

I think then this American theologian of the last century helps. The body of Christ when offering spiritual worship offers worship attentive to God and attentive to neighbour and so reflects the greatest commandment of all to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbour as ourself.

May we be those so carefully attentive to the atmosphere of worship, renewed in our thinking, so we might not think too highly of ourselves; may we give thanks to God for the gift and gifts of one another and trust that God is pleased by this, our spiritual worship. Amen.


Counter-counter cultural Mothering Sunday

Proverbs 3:1-12, 21-24 1My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. 2 If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. 3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. 4 Then you will find favour with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones. 9 Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. 11 My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. 12 For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. 21 My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, 22 for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace. 23 They keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble. 24 You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission: 16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Happy Mothering Sunday. (All Together worship 11.03.2118)
How inclusive is the church? How radical? How counter-cultural? 

The world marks Mother’s Day and perhaps rightly so, mothering over the centuries has failed to receive the attention it deserves; it’s a tough vocation but today the church enlarges our view of family; is boldly radical where a Mother’s Day is not. 

Ultimately, we all know the brokenness and the nurture of wonderful and also very imperfect earthly parents (I am a an imperfect mum to my two) but God fathers us with a perfect love and the church will nurture us, like a mother, into His love, if we let her, if we, as church, pray for the discernment and common sense of the book of Proverbs; as we show loyalty to our church here and are kind to one another. I love the lines about wearing loyalty and kindness around our necks like a necklace in Proverbs; about how common sense and discernment are jewels we can add there. This is why as I speak today there is an activity for the children who are invited to thread the beads you have been given so they might become reminders of today's message; that we are to build family here sure that God's love is perfect but the church, full of human beings, will often be a very imperfect kind of parent. We are the church. We are not perfect. May those beads also remind all of us that we are to simply apply here - loyalty to our church (we speak well of her and one another), kindness (which we can show to one another) and that as we grow and seek to fulfil God's mission through us, we are not being asked to do anything more, really, than use our discernment and common sense; that when the vicar seems to have a good idea, it's right to challenge that idea, that we adapt, take risks and listen to one another as we venture into the new. 

Mothering Sunday comes to re-tune our ideas about family. Jesus came to challenge our conventional views about family – kept blood family waiting outside when they made demands of him and exploited their kinship bonds. "These, who do the will of my Father, are my mother, brothers and sisters," he said and he continued to sit with the crowds. 

In that most famous of scripture for Mothering Sunday he hands John to his mother Mary and Mary to his beloved disciple John and creates a new kind of family. 

Jesus challenges convention so that our definition of family here as church might know no bounds.

The book of Proverbs educates us as children. If you haven’t read it, it is full of wise guidance in pithy sayings which can be applied to your daily life, better than any parental help book as God nurtures us, his children. 

Today, then, we are invited to think about the mothering of the church and the fathering of God. How here together as family, loved by the Father and trained by the mother church we can all grow in kindness and loyalty, in common sense and discernment. These seem like quite ordinary gifts but in many ways they are the making of a community: loyalty to our church here, kindness to one another, common sense as we journey forwards and discernment as we work out who God is calling us to become.

We are invited after Jesus to yearn to grow family, in whatever configuration we find it, by calling it home to mother church and into the love of the father and the disciples shared this yearning with us. In the New Testament Paul describes his discipling of others in terms of becoming a parent to them (1 Cor 4) – I became your parent in Christ Jesus. In Galatians 4 he speaks of being in labour awaiting our development as Christians; addresses those growing in God as my little children. In the first letter to the Thessalonians he describes how he will bring the gospel to these Christians gently as a mother might nurse her children; at other times, perhaps with a little human impatience he describes how some still need the message as formula, first foods or breast milk when really by now they should be on solids. I think if we are going to join with God in his mission to make more disciples for himself there are various strategies required, different approaches depending on the people we hope to win for him.

We continue to think through as church how we grow people new and old in God here and want to always hear your ideas. As we hear from our gospel today the first thing we do is baptise. Verses 19 and 20. This I where we understand that rather than ‘blood being thicker than water ,’ which is often what we say to sure up our familial connections with one another, instead, and to the contrary, ‘water’ might be said to be ‘thicker than blood’ – or in other words family is formed in the church by our shared 'dying to the old self and rising to the new' under the water (sprinkled over us in our denomination at baptism and usually when we are infants). Family is formed in the church through our connection, our being flooded; our sharing in the waters of life; the waters which are the life giving waters of the Holy Spirit. We all swim in the same stuff, drink from the same life-giving streams and so are connected.

The prophet Isaiah pictures Zion as a mother and Paul describes the church as a mother in Gal 4. If the church is our mother and disciples us this lifts the pressure off our each going and discipling in our own sometimes erratic and ebbing strength and it encourages us to seek out the church; this mother and help her in her purpose. We let All Saints be our discipler, our source of life – there are still places on our discipleship course The Creed course and the Alpha course – you might think of signing up.

A Christian Mothering Sunday, unlike a secular Mother’s Day, celebrates that the church is our source of nourishment; a place intent on our flourishing. 

Is church a central part of your life; your mother? 

Is this a very distinct kind of family for you, not first and foremost because of your relationships with others here, which are important but because you come here to seek nourishment and then participate in your own discipling and are nurtured into the perfect parenting of God? Can you think again today, after Jesus, about what family means in God? We are going to be helped to think this through in our prayers today too. 

We are not supposed to be detached from our mother or grow up and away from this mother? We don’t leave home; the learning is ongoing because knowing about and knowing God is a lifetime process. The church will never stop being our mother until we come to the full measure and stature of the fullness of God as Paul tells us in Ephesians (4) and that will only happen in glory and so this is life-long. This family and this relationship, though it changes because its people change and you change, is one of constant nurturing. 

St Cyprian of the third century said “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother....” 

If that’s how Christ configures the church then we become family to one another here.

And remember you are church; you are this imperfect parent. You are ministers in God's church - this is not left to those of us robed this morning - you are also each an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher - some of you have many of those gifts and why because we are each called to equip the saints for the work of ministry - we are to school and be schooled; to shape and be shaped; to nurture and be nurtured and to disciple and be discipled. We are each to play a part to build the rest of the church up as Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Today the church thanks you for the part you’re playing in this family to befriend and to nurture. There is nothing like the church on earth, this mother that she is, this church of Jesus Christ growing God’s family. Today we give thanks for the church, our mother, and we thank her for one another: for her unique family here in God and we pray that we grow in love for her so that she might change us and shape us for the continuing adventure here at All Saints. Amen.


New Wine Leadership Conference 2018 "Be apostolic" by Kris Valloton

At the New Wine Leadershop Conference Harrogate 2018 Kris Valloton (here with wife Kathy, also Associate leader), is our keynote speaker. 

He is a Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California and co-founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM). 

He begins by unpacking our call to be apostolic. He explains how Jesus didn't call his followers priests, prophets or fathers but apostles and this word has its origins in the Greek which is why we do not hear of apostles in the OT.

An apostle is one who is 'sent' and the word has its locus in the Romans wanting to take over the world by conquering cities to culturise them; sending their military generals to do this. Accompanying the military were philosophers and teachers and artists and various others so that the Roman system was replicated where ever the Romans went. Jesus takes this title for the generals and he transfers it to his disciples. We are sent to replicate Kingdom culture where ever we are sent.

Later Kris will expand on this point by challenging us to see that we are hiding our light under a bushel when the church grows but the light is kept within the church; the light is little use if kept within the church because it was supposed to enlighten and transform the world. True light transforms the culture around us. I am reminded of my own prayers over the years for the transformation of the cultures of the churches I serve; for God to mould us so that as we are sent we are ‘apostolic’ and witness well and bring Good News. As I reflect I realise too that our Friday group in the church I currently serve is beginning to attract a good number and that there are the beginnings of some testimonies there as regards the values we are transmitting. People are encouraged and gaining confidence in who they are. Kris helps us to see that if from within our churches we simply lament the darkness of the world but are not agents of its restoration, we are not fulfilling our purpose. Kris is quite adamant that building a church does not necessarily build up the community around that church unless that church is apostolic. Pastors gather. Apostles, on the other hand, train, equip and deploy. Pastors measure success by how many come to church but apostles by how many people become the church. 

Kris uses the idea of the pool of Bethesda in John 5 to flesh out his idea of a pastorate: where people need healing and deliverance and salvation they come to church but Ezekiel’s river, in contrast, is an image for the apostolic church where the water gets deeper the further out you are from the sanctuary and where everything which meets the water is healed. You come to the pool to be healed in Bethesda but the further you get from the church and turn outward, the more change you see when you are sent by the church confidently into the world, discipled and having an impact. We need churches made up of saints who are equipped to heal their communities. These kinds of churches create a culture where everyone has a ministry and are not communities made up of those who minister and those to whom ministry happens because this is a misnomer. All Christians are in ministry. We are sacred and our ministry goes with us where ever we go because we can do nothing without Jesus and Jesus goes with us and so where we go, we take the Kingdom. In business, in the service sector, where ever we work, people encountering us there, encounter the Kingdom if it lives in us and we apply its values. I feel encouraged that people where I do church are committing to their own discipling; attending gatherings in increasing number to learn together about what it means to be a Kingdom people; a people who take Christ with us.

Kris has already reminded us about what it means to bring heaven to earth based on the Lord’s prayer petition ‘Your Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven'. He unpacks this further in his book “Heavy Rain” which is a reworking of “How Heaven Invades Earth: Transform the World Around You.” See Ian Paul's analysis of Vallotton's message from that text in his reflections on Kris's presentation at New Wine. Kris Vallotton reminds us that we are seated in the heavenly places with Christ and so we are not apostolic unless we are all about bringing heaven to earth and transforming culture. Kris explains that we are not to concentrate on getting people to heaven but instead we are to spend time getting heaven into people.

Much of the secularised, inherited Christianity; the Christianity which warps and wefts with the culture, presents us with a version of Christianity which is all about individualised salvation plans for transference to heaven and away from earth at the point of death and this is the kind of thinking, which, as an Anglican minister I have frequently encountered. There is always the opportunity in funeral ministry, particularly, to carefully and gently hint to the far more transformative reality of living in the earth God is transforming now. People where I am might have even heard me use that terrible aphorism, but not without its truths: 'It is not pie in the sky when you die, but steak on the plate while you wait.' This 'waiting' is now ringing with a clunky sound.

Kris unpacks how in Rev, Chapter 2 the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and this new creation, where God takes away every tear and there is no pain, is the new earth and we have to be a part of making that happen. God co-works with us to achieve this. The Lord’s Prayer is not about getting people into the Kingdom but about getting the Kingdom into people. I am reminded of one of the highlights of my own ministry, when using a film clip from the Bible Project about ‘God space’ and ‘Our space’ and after a 6 week summer break, my young people in church were able to remember my central point of teaching in the sessions we had had pre-vacation – that their task was to bring heaven to earth in their families and in their classrooms. It was so encouraging to hear them explain to me ways that they were doing this very consciously and with self-awareness.

Kris really wants us to understand the mandate we have been given and expands, explaining that God planted two trees in the garden and one was of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the other was the tree of Life. It was the tree of Life people were intended to eat from so that they could live forever on earth, not in heaven. He challenges us to grapple with the idea that God is not in Heaven, in actual fact, heaven is in God. The heights of heaven cannot contain God, Psalmist David reminds us. All of this he shares to reframe how we think of heaven and earth and our purpose. 

There is also more to understand about heaven – that there are three heavens. There are no principalities and powers in God’s Heaven but there principalities and powers are in the heavenly realms where battles happen but this is not where we sit as Christians. We sit where Paul explains he dwelt, in the third heaven and this is the territory into which we are born, with Christ, above the heavenly places and this is not where we are going but where we currently are.

He then encourages us on a specific trajectory and that if we can only configure a move from earth to heaven we will live a reactionary life but if, on the other hand, we can live from heaven and towards earth, then, we gain a heavenly perspective from this eternal seat where our prayers become prophecies and our prophecies become worlds and so we, with the mind of Christ, foretell and forth-tell the future.

Kris seems to want us to understand the gravitas of the spoken word and to use words for life and not death and not to complain about our communities but transform them. Repeating a hopeless commentary on your community is not prophetic but pathetic, he tells us. This appeals to the Barnabas spirit living in me, which people have always identified, that I live to call people into their potential. We must see ourselves. to use a much used phrase, as 'becomers.' I think David Runcorn first introduced me to this idea of becoming.

We must call things that ‘are not’ into what ‘they are’. There is some encouragement from Kris to name the becomers and the becoming as already manifest in the present. This is very winsome – it is that propensity in us to see tomorrow with God’s eyes and to see ourselves perfected by Christ; to see the potential which lies in everything. Kris shares a story of a heroin addict over whom he prophesied ‘You are a Holy man’ and in that moment his addiction to heroin was broken and he began to live towards that new reality. I have had a dream the night before Kris speaks in which my uncle, who is in a difficult place, has broken free from everything holding him back: his face is clean, his spirit is gentle, his voice is warm and he stands in my dream holding out his hands and speaking over and over again the same sentence of warmth and welcome until he is happy with how he is configuring and expressing it – he ‘becomes’ right in front of my eyes. I dream this dream twice over those few days. I return home and dream dreams to which I have become accustomed – houses with expanses of water, houses near the sea, houses with expanses of sand and sea in the near distance and the water is good, very good. At church on Sunday we seem to be more obviously pushing into the new. I listen to someone else preach and a testimony is shared. I sit at the back to think about how our church feels, we are interrupted by a heckler and minister to him, offering him welcome but are rejected, for now - ministry has more of a holy disorder about it like God is shaking us up and indeed the next day work begins to modify the interior of our church so that we can become more fit for the purposes I have heard about last week. Now, is a good and expanding kind of season. People are exploring their futures and discipling courses are filling up.

Kris proposes that we do not grow churches but have to plan to grow our communities and that the difference between people who do things and people who do not do things is that people who do things, DO THINGS. There is laughter. He reminds me finally, preacher, teacher and pray-er that I am, that there needs to be far more than the message and the prayers and we are to form a strategic plan. If we only send missionaries to foreign nations, our own communities are not going to change. We are then asked to stand for a commissioning. I have much cause for reflection.

Next up and coming soon: Kris Vallotton part II....


Great expectations Matthew 20:1-16

We have to remember something about Matthew, ex-tax collector as he was, he knew a thing or two about money. His gospel reflects this: hidden treasure, a pearl, and last week we were shocked by a debtor cleared of millions who was just beastly to some one who owed him only five months wages. We learnt something about a God who doesn't want us to live with unforgiveness. He wants us to be as lavish as he has been in setting us debtors free with the life of his very Son. He wants us to live free. Unforgiveness, even psychologists will tell you isn't healthy; isn't good. As Nicky Gumble reminds us in the Alpha course - “It's like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We learnt something last week of the power of the Spirit as experienced by Corrie Ten Boom who had watched Nazis murder her sisters and go on to forgive one who became a Christian as he asked for her to forgive him, how it wouldn't have been something she could have done, unless the power of the Holy Spirit had not in that moment come over her and run like a current through her arm, causing her to reach out her hand to shake hands with him.

This week, then, workers called in shifts – first thing, at nine, at noon, at three, and five but the latest to work (working the shortest of time) given exactly the same salary packet as those labouring first thing. Page 22 in your Bibles (New Revised Standard Anglicised version NRSV), please. “The first is last and the last is first! at chapter 19, verse 30.

What is Matthew trying to tell us, here, about God?
How can it be that those clocking up such little time are paid the same as those who do so much?
Well, you might already have had a good go at working this out.

Let's look at the simplest reading.

To an extent it is about those who came later to a living faith in God? The Gentiles would be as loved and provided for as those Jews who had always known the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then come to Christ in full faith. Applicable today? Yes. The church does not ordain, licence or give responsibility to its members on the basis of the years they have clocked up. You can be in church for decades and only later invest in your own discipling. Yet, the newest converts can turn around their whole lives for Christ.

Let's look at another simple reading - you work harder for God than someone else but receive the same reward as them from the Lord of the vineyard. Is God unfair? No – he's just all grace.

This parable does teach us something about “works” and efforts and how righteousness isn't ours because somehow we have earned it or tried so hard. The Gospel, instead, tells us Jesus earned salvation for us through his work – his work on the cross to clear our debt (wiping our slates clean with his blood) so that God sees you and I perfect before him. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less. So this parable is a reminder that we do not earn God's love. Those first labourers aggrieved and in rumbling complaint would have boasted of their hard work in the scorching sun – wasn't there something more that they deserved and they thought it was, mistakenly, all about them.

So we learn God loves the new people just as much as the old.

We learn I cannot clock up brownie points with a Christian God.

But learning this there are some dangers. If the first will be last and the last will be first, I can delay my discipleship and perhaps instead give my life to God in the last ten minutes of my life, we might be tempted to think.

Or alternatively – if there's nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less and Jesus earned my salvation – well, perhaps then I will just live as I wish.

No. This parable squarely confronts these temptations in our thinking.

Let's look to the context on page 22 (one of the reasons for the bibles in your pews). You see, Peter wonders why giving up everything doesn't earn him salvation – “Who then who can be saved- we've left everything for you?” The parable was always Jesus' way of answering that question. It's never about what I must or mustn't do. Peter is asking entirely the wrong question. And very often it's the question we ask too.

Peter is in as lamentable a place as the Rich young man who went quietly away before him (Chapter 19:vs16-26) because he was asked to give up his wealth and realised he had so much.
So - the rich man “What must I do? – I can't give it all away.”
and the poor man Peter: “What must I do – hey, I gave it all up!”
These are the responses from which Jesus comes to shake us free.

Jesus wants you to know that it is all about living with a different set of expectations about the goodness of God! It was never about you!

The first workers in that vineyard needed to have their perspective shifted because unfortunately like Peter and just like the rich young man, they had worked it all out beforehand with God, set the terms, brokered a deal and were 'all control': - “I will give you a full day's work and expect a danarius in return.” 'He made an agreement with them for their usual daily wage,' at verse 2.

We can be like this in our discipleship:

“I put in some hours for you God, I came to church, I listened and paid attention but left without what I had hoped for; it didn't meet me, didn't feed me, you didn't answer my prayers.”

This is what God challenges this morning and it is tough. Vicars are just as guilty. We think there might be something we have done or failed to do to create the right conditions for you to meet with God. We put in certain efforts and expect certain results when instead we must just trust you in your love for God and let God be God.

The later workers in the vineyard simply trusted God would do what was right at verse 4 “I will pay you whatever is right.”. This is the alternative put before us. When we let God be God and trust him and know him, he gives to us in far more abundance than our limited imaginings could have asked for. These later labourers in the vineyard just trusted in the Master's generosity – knew so much better the character of God – trusted the master to do what was right and 'this right' by our lavish God's standards was paying the workers far more than they actually deserved because this is the nature of an audacious God who redeems us with everything he has – even the life of his own Son Jesus Christ.

Those first workers with their smaller expectations are made to stand in line and simply watch... as the last workers are paid the same danarius. We are left with the image of the first workers' grumbling complaint.

Now God in his mercy still loves you even when you complain – 'the hymns aren't like they used to be, I expected to meet with God but that last one was a funny song,' (say gently with a smile, Rach!)

They all received a danarius but how much greater has been the experience of the later workers, not because they had less work to do but because they live as we are to live, as we can not help but live if Jesus lives in us – they live so overblown and so thoroughly surprised by the overwhelming love of an audaciously lavish and generous God.

When God is at work in your life, you don't just expect the ordinary, you expect the extra-ordinary lavish love of God to be at work in your life and the people around you – you see the world in new ways, you come to worship him with a different grace.

Those who expect less of God and less of other people; who only expect something right in their own eyes will receive exactly what they expect.
Those who trust instead in the goodness of God, though receiving just the same, seem to receive so much more. They know how great God is and how small they are, that he will give the Holy Spirit to them if they ask; that it is only through such a baptism in the Holy Spirit's power that we can receive at all (Luke 13:11b).

The rich young man seems to think faith has so much more to do with 'man': “Teacher, what good thing must I do in order that I might have eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you inquire concerning the good thing? Only one is the Good One” (19:16, 17). It is Jesus and his Holy Spirit we are to pursue: God the Good one.

It is an openness to the one who came to baptise you in the Spirit which will open up your life with God and as a result impute to you a genuine love for everyone else. (see Matthew 3:11; Ephesians 5:18; John 3:5; Acts 2:4; Acts 19:2; Acts 1:8, Acts 11:16; Luke 3:16, Luke 24:49; Acts 19:6; Acts 19:1-6, Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; Acts 10:44; John 20:22; Romans 8:26; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 10:44-46; Luke 11:9; Luke 11:13; Acts 11:15-16; John 14:16-17.)

Jesus teaches us through this parable, then, to set our sights so much higher, to bring the whole of ourselves to worship and to sacrifice what pleases us for the sake of one another.

God will meet us as our hearts become full of him, it's not in the music or a warm and floaty feeling, where you understood the sermon or found it more encouraging – it's in your openness to him and to one another; letting God be God. It's in your expectation. 

So in many ways then, yes, it is the very hardest thing of all he asks of us. It's got more to do with our surrender and our letting God be God; not working it all out beforehand and setting limits on our reward. A simple trusting receptivity to the sheer goodness of God is what this parable teaches: –

“I trust you God to do what is right and that I am not to control that ... and as we learn else where from scripture and Ephesians verse 20 of chapter 3: He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions