Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

A sermon for Christ Church Healey focusing on their MAP process

What was your favourite job before Jesus brought you here? My favourite job was seeking out and finding all the dandelions that had invaded my grandads garden. That was my job when I came to stay with them. I had my own gardening gloves, a trowel, and bucket to collect them in. I receive thorough training from my grandad and he was always happy when I produced a good crop of them especially the big ones!

Today after hearing the calling of five of Jesus disciples we are thinking about what skills and gifts did Jesus know we had before we even realised it? And how does being good at plucking up dandelions or having any other job paid or unpaid relate to the kingdom of God?

What I love about the readings today, is that when Jesus calls Matthew, Simon, Andrew, James, and John they were all working in normal everyday jobs. Simon, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, to be a fisherman you had to be strong, patient, tactful, be able to interpret the weather and the waters, they also had to be committed, confident, be able to work as part of a team, and loyal. When we look at the skills that it takes to be a fisherman we can see why Jesus thought that these men would be excellent for the work that He was calling them to do, to be fishers of men.

What fascinates me about the call of James and John is that when Jesus calls they drop the nets that they have patiently been mending. Now I’m no an expert at mending nets, or even knowing what it takes to carry out this activity but I know that it certainly wouldn’t be easy and it was one of those jobs that was part of the daily routine that had to be done. No effective nets equalled no catch of fish. So the act of them just dropping their nets and leaving their Father was a big event.

It made me think about the nets that we might be patiently mending, some of things that we have tried to fix over and over again that have given us sore fingers and a sense of mundanity. I wonder what things we are trying to hold onto that Jesus is calmly asking us to put down and folllow His plans.

You see putting down the nets is a sign of something new. The fishermen had learnt their skills probably from their Father, skills that were important and Jesus in their calling acknowledges these but also says it’s time to move on and try things His way.

I can’t imagine the look on James and John’s Fathers face as they left their unfinished work and left Him in the boat. Was this a foreshadowing to the reality of their work as disciples that the work will never be finished, also leaving their Father in the boat that the idea of family was now much more fluid that just those who were related by blood, that their future family were those who were living in the Spirit, in Christ answering to their spiritual Father.

As we know in the church there is always work to be done, but what are our nets can we put down to follow Jesus’s call, what relationships/friendships are we holding onto that maybe need more fluidity where we start to live the reality of us all being brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is encouraging from the stories of the callings today is that Jesus is saying that all our past experiences in work are useful to His mission. So that Saturday job in a cafe when you were a teen, Jesus sees this and knows this is useful, that part time job in the supermarket is useful to serving the kingdom of God, the years that were spent caring for a relative or a close family member, Jesus knows you are pastorally gifted.

None of our life experiences are wasted. Myself I have twelve years of working at Sainsbury’s under my belt that have certainly come into use during my training.

Also what is encouraging is none of these jobs of the disciples that are mentioned today were high flying prestige jobs, they were everyday jobs and that is good news for us, that where we work or even if we don’t work anymore Jesus recognises the worth of the person inside, worth is not calculated from the amount of hours that are worked, how much someone earns, or even if they have a job, in Jesus eyes He has the job for us and that is being part of His mission for the world.

Jesus tackles this notion of having to hang around with people who seem to be decent or have the right credentials. He succinctly reminds the Pharisees that He has come to save sinners and that is where He will be, not rubbing noses with the elite or those who deem themselves to be better than others. Jesus reminds us that church is a place for sinners, a place where we follow His call to come and follow Him, to be shaped, renewed, healed, and nurtured by the Holy Spirit to do the Fathers will.

As you continue your journey is thinking about the MAP process and what the vision of both churches may look like, remember that perfection is not what Jesus is looking for, He is looking at what you all have to offer and then blessing those gifts and transforming them into something amazing. Just like the little boy who offered his bread and fishes to Jesus to feed the five thousand, this small offering was transformed into a an outpouring of food that left all satisfied. And don’t forget afterwards the crumbs were collected and nothing was wasted. Every crumb that you can offer is and can be transformed by Jesus into feeding thousands.

I pray for all of you today that the Holy Spirit May come afresh and show you all the skills that you have gathered through your lives, and maybe that if something is illuminated by the spirit, offer that at your meeting.

Jesus called His disciples to be hands on, fishers of people, collectors of sinners, what nets could be left as you all move into this new phase of your life and mission at Healey.

Jesus says come follow me.

Let us drop our nets and walk into this new journey together.

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And the word became flesh and lived among us

As Christians we are story tellers, shaped by the stories of Jesus and the stories He shared. Today we tell the greatest story ever told, the moment where the Son of God was born from a Virgin in an old stable surrounded by shepherds, animals, and angels. We know the story well. We see children sing and perform it every year. St Francis of Assisi is attributed with the first ever play of the nativity when he celebrated Christmas at Greccio in 1223. Acting out and telling the story of Jesus’ birth is our testimony of God’s amazing and beautiful love for us.

When we tell stories of Jesus. We are messengers of the divine dance between God and His people, we deliver the message all around dancing on beautiful feet as described by Isaiah in our first reading. We bring a message of peace, of hope, of good news, of salvation. We sing for joy. We lift up our voices because the Lord has comforted His people, for God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

You see, Jesus, the incarnation, always was the plan. In the Gospel reading today we see and feel a similar structure to the beginning of creation in Genesis 1. They both begin with the phrase “in the beginning”. Jesus, God’s grace is not an add-on, but the very shape of the universe from the start. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory as of a Father’s Son, full of grace and truth.

A theologian called John Duns Scotus says that Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. You see God already knew that He loved His children dearly, for God so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.

Jesus came to lead us back into a participation in that love. To show us the way to walk in our lives that would reconcile, that would bring us back into a relationship with Him, a relationship that we walked away from in the beginning in the garden of Eden, where our own ego became our Lord.

The incarnation, where God lived among us, is a divine participation between God and His creation. Jesus is not a bit human and a bit of God, He is fully God and fully human. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born from Mary. A wholeness of holiness. This story of divine participation is not a solo journey, one cannot by Holy by oneself, we have to be whole, a whole community, like the gathering of people in the stable.

The shepherds were told to participate in this Holy moment by the angels, the wise men were also asked to join. The animals in the stable themselves witnesses of God’s creation being in witness to God’s presence in the hay that He made himself, that He felt on His fragile newborn skin.

On this Christmas Day we remember that we are here to participate in the nativity story, we are gathered here to be the community crammed and squashed into that stable where love came down to meet us face to face.

In the season where we rush around buying gifts to show each other our love, we need to remember that we do not need to, or even think that we have to buy our way into being able to see Jesus. All we need to do is what is happening to all of us today, to participate in the glorious story of the nativity. There are no tickets for the best seats, because in God’s eyes we are all in the best seats to witness His glory and to experience His love.

His love for each and every one of us is not dependent on VIP access, all it is dependent on is us being able to dare to believe that this love, this Holy and relentless love is here right now. We are not sat outside the gates of paradise, we are not excluded by guards of our own making. All we have to do is to accept and believe that God loves us and He yearns for us to walk up to the side of the crib and breathe in the newness of life that is provided by Him. He beckons us to smile into His wide open eyes, to swoon over His tiny hands and feet, to realise that that feeling deep inside us, that feeling of deep peace and explicable joy is Him in us and us in Him.

This is why the nativity story is so important and so relevant today. It is the moment where we as humans become entwined in the history of God’s story. It is where the cosmic being of God who causes the mountains to melt and the waters to part, weeps when He is sad, mourns when His friend dies, suffers in the hands of humans, shouts out when He is in pain, cries as a babe in the arms of His mother. He came down to participate in our lives. And in this very story, on this Christmas Day we do the same. We participate and then like John go out and testify, to share our story of our encounter with Jesus.

By going deep in any one place, we will meet all places. When we go deep into the nativity story, we meet the very essence of God, we’re invited into the heart of God, this is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe is revealed in the beautiful form of a baby. We meet Him with no boundaries, no splendour. Just you, me, and Jesus, asleep in the hay.

This is Good news. Very Good news.

On this Christmas Day I pray that we continue in the divine dance of participation, that we may walk a little lighter in this Christmas season knowing how much all of us are so deeply loved. And if that feels challenging, or something that you have not considered before, take those first steps towards the crib today and gaze at the glory of relentless love.

To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God.

Amen.

The refiner’s fire

My Nan always had a large stock of fine jewellery. When I was a little girl I would sneak into her room, quietly and slowly open up her jewellery draw, and gaze upon the glistening items inside. It was like looking at a draw of glass sweets, different colours catching the light, set in different precious metals. She used to catch me every time wandering around the room with three necklaces on, five rings on each hand, and big dangly earrings, sometimes I’d even have on a pair of her shoes. I didn’t really like dressing up, I just like pretending to be her. She had a long relationship with jewellery. Her mother had a huge stash and when she died I remember sitting in the upstairs room of a jewellers as she sold the lot. For my Nan jewellery wasn’t just something to wear, it was something to fall back on in times of need.

Sometimes life feels like it couldn’t get much harder. That every turn produces another problem, another issue. We often think can we withstand anymore? What more could happen? As Christians we here about other Christians being persecuted around the world, we see churches being closed and different management schemes put in place to keep us going. But surely we have a breaking point! Does God hear us when we call out?

On the second Sunday of Advent we think about the prophets. The voices in the bible from people who’s calling from God is to exclaim the passion of God. Their voice cry out vocalising the pain and the strain of God’s people, but also speak what is in the heart of God.

In the advent story we hear the heart of God through the words of John the Baptist crying out for God’s people to prepare the way for the Lord. This process to prepare for the Lord’s coming is shaped by God and described by the prophet Malachi as like a refiner’s fire.

Now growing up around a women who loved precious metals I took an interest in how they were made. The process of refining silver so it is of the correct standard to make jewellery is called cupellation. Basically the silver is placed in a cuple (a flat, porous dish, probably made from clay in biblical times) then heated to a high temperature that enables the impurities like lead, copper, and tin to be vaporised, or absorbed into the cuple, and skimmed off the surface of the molten silver.

God’s preparation for the coming of His son is described by Malachi as the refiner’s fire, that He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. This means that being a Christian and walking along the journey with God refining us as we go is tough! We are heated to become more malleable, and things of us evaporate, yet every time we come through challenging times stronger and shinier.

Because silver is shiny and it reflects the beautiful light that catches it. And that is our role as prophets in the modern word. We shine like the purified silver, allowing the words of God, the working of Him in our lives to shine His light around the world.

Being a prophet means speaking up and speaking out, speaking truth to power, challenging situations where you see things are wrong, speaking up for those who have no voice who God calls us to protect and build up. We speak this truth of God as we proclaim the story of Jesus’ birth against a Black Friday narrative where shopping and gifts and greed try to frame the Christmas we know and love.

We shine like purified silver in the light of our Lord, but our refining process is not over, God is always transforming and working us into something beautiful. And that is what He did in bringing His Son to us, when love came down in astonishing beauty – foretold and proclaimed by the prophets – and we carry on this tradition today, proclaiming the coming of the Lord, preparing that way, and reflecting His love in everything we do.

We are my Nan’s jewellery draw, we shine out and draw in others to see what it is like to be us, to be Christians, to radiate the light of God’s love.

May this advent be a time where our love for our Lord may overflow more and more, that in times of trouble and stress we stand in confidence that in the refiner’s fire shapes and moulds our hearts into something beautiful, aflame with love for the Christ child, making us stronger and shinier in the face of the world.

Prepare the way of the lord, he is coming soon!

Amen

Do whatever He tells you

Like the sharpness of the cold on a winter’s breeze, pain and disappointment pierces through all goodness. How can a place that holds the invitation to the Holy mysteries of God, be part of His own crucifixion?

The cross that is paraded and worn, becomes a justifiable place where people are nailed to it as they follow Christ. Yes we all have our cross to bear but are we meant to be crucified by those who welcomed us in His name?

Jesus himself faced the same journey. The same people cheered and praised Him who screamed and cried out crucify Him crucify Him. Maybe this is part of the Christian journey we all take…part yes, but all experiences? Maybe no.

Where is the justice for those who are facing the dual crowd? Both sides of a disagreement can ask this question, does God choose who to listen to? Perhaps the answer in this is to take the sides down, to silence the loud seeking for justice. When these barriers are down now there is silence where God can act – is this justice? A human ideal of justice is where retribution can be seen and paraded. A clear sense of this was wrong so this happened.

I’m not so sure that God’s kingdom works this way. God’s kingdom seeks to draw all together and anything that begins to separate it is sin. Justice can be seen by a different perspective – God’s justice seeks to bring all together through His son, the Spirit herding the sheep, but what of the goats? Is justice realising that there are predetermined sheep and predetermined goats – or is it realising that they are just different because they look different, yet in closer inspection are able to be drawn together because they all have a beating heart?

But what of that pain caused by His Holy Church that ignores, belittles, casts out, and pierces the heart of its members by members of the same body? Mary knows of this pain that pierced her heart also. She saw her Son’s friends leave Him on His journey to the cross, she saw them deny Him, she saw the red raw anger from the people who welcomed Him. And what did she do? She bore it all trusting in His justice, His promise. After all, it was Mary that told the servants at the wedding in Cana to “do whatever He tells you” – so this is where we begin.

Mary saw that the wine was gone and much shame and hurt would be coming towards to Bride and Groom from the same crowd that had celebrated their marriage. Mary saw and acted. She saw and told her Son and He listened and overcame their shame for them – justice delivered in quiet and unspeakable Grace. That is the hope that breathes into the piercing sharpness of hurt and division in the church, where members with the same mouths extol praise and spit anger and admonishment.

So we begin with Mary who saw the change in the crowd coming, who identified it to her Son, who with silent unspeakable Grace transformed the situation to one of blessing.

Mary says ” do whatever He tells you” – she was and is right.

What large stones and what large buildings!

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord

When I made my first journey to Liverpool to go to an open day for my theological college, I had no idea what Liverpool cathedral looked like. I got off at Liverpool lime street and started to walk the route towards the cathedral. On the way I saw a church with a tallish tower and I though that I had reached the cathedral.. It was a similar size to Manchester cathedral but as I got closer I realised it had no roof, it was the bombed out church, damaged in during the May Blitz in 1941 during the Second World War.

I tutted and continued to walk wondering if I would recognise the cathedral. I turned a corner and suddenly I saw the huge burnt orange stone tower that is the majestic Liverpool cathedral. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I felt like the disciples in the Gospel today as they said to Jesus, what large stones and what large buildings! As I got to know the cathedral building more and more I began to realise that there were much more precious stones inside, the living stones of the faithful who came to worship there.

In his letters Peter describes us, the faithful as living stones, precious and chosen, that if this very building, or even something as huge as Liverpool cathedral were to collapse all would be well because the true building blocks of the church would be still be visible. The living stones, you and I.

We are the living stones that build up the church, built on the foundations of Apostolic leadership, Jesus describes Peter as the rock on which he would build his church, Jesus himself the cornerstone the one on whom we depend on in the living, breathing Christian church.

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus foretelling the destruction of the stones that have been built up without His kingship, without His authority. As we draw ever closer to Advent we start to think about Jesus as King, and how we welcome Jesus to be king over us, and not just over us as people but of the things that we do and say. It is a challenging thought to wonder if we can actually let Jesus be king over everything, such as our relationships, our shopping habits, our homes. Can we start to think about how Jesus as king can shape us to be living stones to once again build up His church?

It’s not an easy thing to say yes to Jesus as King, as we know in Easter story people lined up down the streets of Jerusalem to welcome Jesus, waving palms and shouting out His mission His calling, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest! Yet in no time at all the same crowd stood and screamed and shouted crucify Him crucify Him.

Yet through this Jesus says if the faithful were silent, even the stones would cry out, this wonderful description of the stones being alive, the living stones who continue to cry out and proclaim that Jesus is King, that is Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the way the truth and the life.

But what next? We get a glimpse in the readings today of the second coming of Christ, in Daniel we hear of a great prince arising and delivering us from all anguish, in the Gospel we hear Jesus warning of the trials of the faithful, the cosmic struggle to see God’s kingdom here on Earth. Jesus describes this struggle as birth pangs, of pain during labour, a productive pain that has a glorious outcome, a new life bursting into the world through water and blood, as Jesus gave His life outpouring through His blood and water.

Every week we affirm that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. We do not know when, but we must keep awake and be the living stones, building each other up in love and hope, encouraging each other as Paul writes in the Hebrews reading, holding fast to the assurance of faith with clean hearts washed through by the blood of Christ.

News around us telling us about declining numbers in the church should not worry us and silence us, because in the silence the living stones cry out, there is no stopping the mission of God or His relentless love and His desire for us to be reconciled to Him for ever.

No stone will be left upon another that is built up without acknowledging that Jesus is king, without Jesus as the cornerstone, without us knowing that we cannot do church without Him, or in fact anything without Him.

We are the living stones here in Rochdale, let us keep building, let us do everything in Jesus name.

Amen.

Silence

Today we are privileged to be surrounded by words and voices of those who experienced and were touched by the events of World War One. We can listen and reflect on the huge sacrifice that men and women gave as part of the war effort. However, as we think about the aftermath of the ending of World War One, the realty was much different, words were few and far between and it was silence that covered the country.

A sentence that epitomises the atmosphere felt by many after the war had ended was “he was in the war, but he never spoke of it”

The heavy silence that clung to families and individuals who had witnessed and been part of the first world war was much more than a coping mechanism, it was a culture. The ability to put into words the suffering and pain, the horror and the shock was muted.

The majority of personal accounts from the First World War only began to surface ten years after the war. The heavy silence held firm the inexpressible experiences, that all who suffered from the aftermath of the war suffered together, brothers, sisters of the war united and bonded together by silence.

In this silence and emptiness we find ourselves in the shadow of the cenotaph. The cenotaph – which is Greek for the empty tomb, provides a tangible place of mourning for those who lost their lives and have no grave. In this empty tomb this solidarity of silence is eternally held, the memories of those who never came home, the blood that was shed shines around the foot of the cenotaph in the delicate rows of red poppies, the poppies that grew from the earth that entombs those who fought on those frightful fields.

At the empty tomb we are faced with sadness, silence, and shock, yet we see a glimpse of hope, the hope that we glimpse like the disciples did in the discovery of the empty tomb of Jesus, He is not here he is risen, the hope of a resurrected life, the hope of peace, the looking and pointing to a new way of life.

Those who we remember today dared to hope for peace and gave their lives for its cause. and as the sun goes down and the warm glow of heavy setting light brushes down the empty tomb, the petals of the poppies glow with their deepest red, and in the silence as we are untied and bonded together, we also dare to hope for peace in the world.

They cried out to you and were delivered

Today our reading from Job and Psalm 22 move us into an atmosphere of lament. The word lament means a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. The Psalms allow us to access this state of lament by transmitting to us ways of speaking that are appropriate to the extremities of human experience. In other words they give us the language to communicate our feelings when we are pushed to the very edges , the raw limits of our life. Our experiences and expressions of these times are firmly rooted in Old Testament language and stories, it is here where we can find biblical characters that have walked with God through suffering and confusion.

By entering into lament, an environment is created which allows the transactions of God’s grace into the situations that His people and communities cry out from. The function of lament, in my opinion, is to create a thin space that enables heaven and earth to converse, where the tangibility of God’s grace can touch the brokenness of His people.

If we see our life journey with God as one of Orientation (where everything seems great) – Disorientation (where things have changed and we feel in a state of crisis)- to Reorientation (where we are able to walk forward again in a new sense of direction) we are following the Old Testament blueprint of God’s redemptive grace. The blueprint I speak of is the crying out of the Israelites in their slavery, God hearing them and remembering His covenant, and delivering them out of slavery.

Embracing lament Psalms like Psalm 22 that we have heard this morning, teach us to stand boldly in front of God to invoke His answer and action in our lives. When we stand in a place of disorientation not knowing what we are to do, or we are suffering from unspeakable grief or hurt and looking down into the pit not knowing where to turn, our voices join those who have suffered and also cried out to God. In the space where we might have no words to speak to God through anger and doubt the lament psalms sing through our hurt to Him.

Job who cries out trying to find out where God is, Job says “if I go forward he is not there, or backward I cannot perceive him, Job cries out and by doing so sits faithfully in his disorientated existence waiting to see the signposts of God’s reorientation, to wait to feel and see God’s saving hand.

By the end of the book, God does indeed restore all that was taken from Job and restores it to him even more that he had before. Jobs story echos Jesus story who Himself cries out in the words of the Lament Psalm to His Father on the cross, the words of Psalm 22 “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” The Father raises Him and restores Him and even more as Jesus sits at His right hand side. If Jesus follows the Exodus blueprint of God’s saving nature, crying out in disorientation and then reorientated then we should also.

When things are difficult when live seems overwhelming it is in those times where crying out is absolutely necessary. There is no room for pride in journeying with God, we can open up our hearts and break down the barriers that are built up by human ego where we believe that not showing weakness is strength when in fact our saviour died in perfect weakness showing perfect strength.

Living a life with God is a daily resurrection experience where we find ourselves raised to obedience, hope, and power after being constrained by the darkness of the pit and the power of death.

Watching the news we see lots of terrible things going on, locally we hear of tragic stories. We also feel the pain of watching our churches close around us and seemingly not see a positive future moving forward.

The lament is an activity that we can do as a community, when we feel our movement from settled orientation into disorientation, our plea our crying out to God for His reorientation is needed, necessary, and part of our life living with God.

Seasons of sickness such as loneliness and abandonment, threat of enemies, shame and humiliation, call us to cry out, not because we have little faith but because we have faith in our God, our God with whom we have a deep relationship with, our God who brings us from brokenness to restoration.

What may that restoration look like? In truth we do not know because His ways are not our ways but restoration opens up the possibility of God doing something new, a radical newness as He breathes into our lives afresh.

In the bible, Israel were confident to speak their addresses of disorientation to God because they knew that He must respond due to the Exodus blueprint of deliverance. This boldness of faith, what we see in Job, what we saw as Jesus faced the cross, is ours also to follow.

The lament Psalms show us that we are not alone in our feelings, we are with the communion of saints who have called and cried out long before us.

I would like to invite you all to enter the space of the lament during our prayers shortly, urging you to cry out to God into the situations when you feel like you need His reorientation. Be confident in your prayers and concerns, God can take it, Jesus carried the weight of our sins on His shoulders, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in the ancient words of the psalmist,

Yet you are the Holy one, enthroned upon the praises of Israel, our forebears trusted in you they trusted and you delivered them, they cried out to you and were delivered they put their trust in you and were not confounded.

Amen