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

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Be opened

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.
On Friday I read in the Manchester Evening News that there had been some hateful graffiti written on the East wall of Manchester Cathedral. The words written were offensive enough to warrant the incident to be called a hate crime by the police. 

I visited the cathedral yesterday and saw the place where the graffiti was written, as I walked past I felt sad that people would feel the need to deface a building that is not just a holy place but a place that holds the community in prayer, a place where people gather to celebrate achievements and also remember those who have given their lives for their country. Manchester cathedral is a place that is open to all regardless of faith and during the Arena attack supported and comforted all who sought the building for comfort in the wake of the attack.

I spent some time at the high altar thinking about all the negative news that is circulating about our Christian church. Statistics were released recently that aim to show that we, the church, are no longer relevant in the modern world. 
As I thought about the seemingly uncertain future of the church my gaze was held by the frontal on the altar. On it was a row of trees. The trees had branches that were waving in the wind with a few leaves coming off. The trunk of the trees sat on a thin piece of ground and under the ground was water. The roots of the trees poked through the ground into the water below. 

I wondered what this picture was telling me and as I sat in the silence I felt like these words came to me:
The wind and the rough weather will shake the branches, some branches will be broken and leaves will fall off, but to be able to continue to stay upright and weather the storm the roots must grow deeper.

In the Gospel today we see deeper roots of faith being made. A Gentile woman is begging for Jesus’s help to heal her daughter from an unclean spirit. Her request and approach to Jesus is crossing social and religious boundaries, Jesus is aware of these boundaries which moves Him to challenge her request with a question.

The woman’s strong response to Jesus’s challenge points to the coming of the Holy spirit to rest on the gentiles after His death and resurrection. But most importantly, her deep roots of belief and faith in Jesus withstands any questioning of her ability to be able receive His blessings. 

This woman’s actions of approaching Jesus because she had solid belief in Him, could be a fresh teaching for us in the church, a way we can make these deeper roots to withstand the storm.  

When the woman approaches Jesus with her request for healing, Jesus doesn’t wait for approval from the PCC or General Synod to be able to administer the healing of the gentile woman’s daughter. She doesn’t have to disclose her sexuality, her marital status, her length of time that she’s heard about Jesus, or her financial position, Jesus sees and hears her deep faith and belief in Him and that is enough. 

The newspapers tell us that over half of the country claim not to follow any religion, however the Gospel tells us that these people still can and do cry out and encounter and receive God’s blessings. 

The pattern of God’s people crying out to Him and He hearing them and blessing them stretches back to the Exodus in the Old Testament. God hears the crying out of the Israelites in Egypt, God heard their groaning and remembered His promise to them and drew them out of slavery. 

If we apply these Old and New Testament Biblical truths of anyone being able to cry out and encounter and receive the saving hands of God, that all can approach Jesus and receive His healing touch and blessings, it can help us to realise that the future of the church actually sounds much more positive than the papers would report. All we need to do is be open, to be opened to God’s mission that is going on around us, to show everyone that we are here for everyone who seeks further understanding of God. 

Jesus commands “be opened” to loosen the mouth and free the ears of the second person who receives healing in the Gospel today.  

Where is Jesus commanding us to be opened today? 

Are there things in our hearts, situations on our minds that are jammed shut?

Are these things preventing us from growing those deeper roots that we need to withstand the storms of life?

Our deep roots are able to grow if we accept Jesus’s command to be opened. By loving our neighbour by praying daily Thy kingdom come thy will be done we open up and deepen our perspectives and understanding of God. In turn anchoring ourselves into the earth with firm foundations of faith.

We may loose some branches as storms blow through the church, our leaves will fall and be scattered, but with deep well fed roots we will remain and sustain all God’s people. 

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. – Isaiah 35:4

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever. -Psalm 125

Amen 

It is the spirit that gives life


Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.
What is it like to have all the answers? 
There are people out there who my Nan would have described as having the gift of the gab. This means that they could talk themselves out of any situation and pretty much have an answer for everything. 
It is a trait of us humans to want to find an explanation for everything that we experience. Science has helped us to do this and as we speak there is a probe hurtling through space that has been sent to help us learn more about the sun. 
Today’s Gospel reading is one that is sent to probe and raise more questions to help us learn more about what it means to follow Jesus. There is no clear or easy answers from a teaching that is described by Jesus’ disciples as being difficult and hard to accept. This teaching causes a bit of a stir, that shakes the foundations of those who follow Jesus so much that by the end of the passage some have turned away from Him and left the group.
To accept this teaching of Jesus’ words to eat His flesh and drink His blood to abide in Him is pretty difficult, especially for us who require to have all the answers. 
How many questions do we have racing around our minds after we hear these instructions of eating and drinking Jesus to obtain eternal life.
But, like us, the disciples are used to Jesus’ teachings through His parables, and this further teaching about Jesus being the bread of life takes the metaphorical description of bread to an even deeper level. It points the disciples forward to the mysterious power of the cross.
To be Christians is to be marked with the sign of the cross, the baptismal mark of incorporation with Christ. As we trace the cross over our foreheads we remember that the cross on which our saviour and God hung, made no logical sense at all. 
Bonhoeffer describes Good Friday as us celebrating the fact that God let’s himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. St Paul says that God has chosen what is foolish in the world to confound the wise (1cor:27) and that anyone who claims to be wise in this age, that person must become a fool in order to become wise (1cor18:25).
There is teaching here to understand that our desire to fulfil all our human and fleshy explanations, to have all the answers to explain everything to rationalise the cross just doesn’t work. 

We have to enable with the spirit to have knowledge.
The cross is the focal point for the knowledge of God, the heart of the mystery of God’s being, the centre of all faith and theology. 
The cross and the difficult journey towards it through Jesus’ teachings can not be marked by offence or tragedy, but only as victory and liberation, of hope and where by believing and following Jesus we choose to live.
Jesus says that the spirit gives life and the flesh is useless, the flesh wants to stop walking with Jesus and walk away because it doesn’t understand, but with the spirit that burns inside our hearts knows the deep love of our God who is the God of life.
In the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy God speaks to the Israelites and asks them to continue to walk forward in the blessings of God by choosing life. We hear the echoes of these teaching in the Joshua reading today. By choosing life they promise to walk in God’s ways, observing His commandments and to love the Lord our God.
This choice of life is given to the disciples in the Gospel today, Jesus say that words he has spoken are spirit and life. A unity of fleshy ways and the knowledge of God that the spirit gives them to keep walking with Jesus.
The spirit gives us life in the difficult teachings, when we are out of our comfort zones we learn, we deepen our belief, we strengthen out trust in Him.

When we hold the bread that is the body of Christ we hold and fulfil our hunger for the one who came to show us how much God loves us. As we drink His blood we quench the thirst for the knowledge of life that is promised to us. Through this Holy Communion, He dwells in our bodies, He abides in us as we abide in Him. 
There must be a connection between our spirituality and our fleshy human life. We cannot put our human behaviours in one box and our church life in another. To keep moving forward with Jesus out faith must overlap in our everyday lives, we are marked by the sign of the cross and that travels with us. 
When we feel like we have all the answers, or that theology is a by product of being a member of God’s church we have to step back and think of Jesus’ hard teachings. When we say that we are Christians that also means we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus. 

Discipleship and human life is meant to work together. God created us this way and He asks us to choose life, not death.

The only one who has all the answers is Jesus, He is the way the truth and the life. 

At the end of the Gospel reading, at the end of His teaching Jesus asks the Disciples, after the others had turned back, “do you also wish to go away?”  

He asks us the same question “do you also wish to go away?”

We answer with Simon Peter, Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. we have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God.
Amen 

Supposing Him to be the gardener


A sermon for St Chad’s church 22/07/18

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

A couple of months ago I decided to tidy up the garden at my house. Near my front door was a patch of random plants, most were large weeds and tufty bits of grass. As I started to remove the overgrown weeds I noticed three little plants underneath. 

They were not green, it seemed like the weeds had smothered the sunlight from them. As I began to clear more and more I realised they were lavender plants. All three of them were rooted into the ground but they had been in very shallow soil. I carefully re-dug a hole around each of them and pushed them deeper and topped them up with some more soil. I gave them a well needed drink of water and began to water then every day. 

If you come to my house now, you will see three bright green, purple flowering lavender plants that have been resurrected from their smothered beginnings. Their fragrance is beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking about about how these plants had had a new lease of life because their environment had been transformed.

Thinking about transformation made me think about one of my favourite Saints, Mary Magdalene who we celebrate and remember today. Mary’s life was transformed when she encountered Jesus, He healed her from seven demons that were inside her, we can only imagine what illness and distress she may had been suffering before she felt the healing touch of Jesus. Like the lavender in my garden, the weeds and things that were hindering and smothering Mary’s life were removed, her environment was transformed and she began to blossom and grow.

Mary’s liberation freed her to follow and serve Jesus she travelled around with a group of women who had also felt the liberating healing of Jesus. They travelled with the disciples, however we do not get to hear much about her journey during Jesus’s day to day ministry. 

Her close connection with her Lord was one that led her into the shadow of the cross, into the agony and despair of the crucifixion. Mary did not scatter like the disciples, or deny knowing Jesus, she handled His wounded body and mourned at the tomb. She portrayed a visible tangible ministry of her own, a bringer of resurrection joy. 

Her story of her encounter with Jesus, His healing and resurrection inside her heart, is powerful, so powerful that she was the one to witness His actual resurrection first. 

As she stood weeping outside the tomb, her heart that once was filled with joy and hope is muted. She bends down to peer inside the tomb, as if to hope that the missing body of her Lord was just a figment of her imagination, that when she looks inside again that she would glance His precious body once again.

It’s her hope in the resurrection she had felt herself that leads her to the actual revelation of the Jesus’ resurrection. She sees the angels and they ask her why she is weeping, Mary continues her loyalty to her Lord and wishes to know where His body is.
She turns around and saw Jesus standing there but mistakes Him as the gardener. 

I love how Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener, it’s so symbolic that the man who had nurtured her, who had removed all the weeds that were suffocating her life, the man who had resurrected her heart and re-planted her was now stood in front her being described as a gardener.

Like the lavender in my garden, Mary explodes, blossoms once again in overwhelming joy, calling Jesus teacher. Now Mary’s Lord, her teacher gives her final instruction, Jesus says,
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

When Mary reaches out for Jesus she knows she would love to stay in this moment with Him forever, however her joy that is being felt is meant to be shared. Jesus tells Mary to go and share this resurrection joy with His brothers, this is her job to do. She bears the good news to the ones who were seen as the good news bearers.

So how does Mary’s story interact with us here in Rochdale?

Well for many different reasons each of us are here at church this morning. At some point in our lives Jesus has met with us and we have felt that resurrection joy, we have seen Him when we thought He was someone else, maybe in the face of someone who helped us in need, maybe in the silence of crippling grief, maybe in a helping hand to escape from a situation that was causing us harm.

We hold these stories of the resurrection of our heart, and like Mary we hear the voice of Jesus telling us to go, to go and tell our brothers and sisters about Him. We would like to hold on to Him and make Him ours and ours alone but this is a joy that we have to share. There are people around us that are lost and awash in sadness and have no feelings of hope. Jesus tells us to not to cling on to our personal joy but let go and tell everyone the same announcement that Mary said to the disciples.

I have seen the Lord.

And typically they did not believe her at first and she waits to see the resurrection joy transform their hearts.
Resurrection joy comes in many forms, but when we see it we say,

I have seen the Lord.

When I look at the beauty of my lavender plants that greet me every time I leave my house and when I return I look at them and remember that, 

I have seen the Lord.

That our faithful gardener continues to re-plant us and make our roots stronger, He clears away the things that are smothering our lives so we can be in a deeper relationship with Him, so we can feel the sun on our faces, the blessings that He pours over us. 
And all of this resurrection joy, this resurrection message of the heart is given to us from Mary Magdalene, the one who followed Jesus through the joys and the pains. The woman who stood at the foot of the cross and cradled His lifeless body who became the first to share the resurrection promise. 

This week I pray that we may have a moment where we can think back and say, I have seen the Lord, and let our faithful Gardener begin to nurture and tend to us once again.

Amen. 

He must increase, but I must decrease

My preach from Morning worship at St Mellitus college 25th June

It’s feels amazing that we’ve got to the end of this academic year, we’ve seen friends leave and become ordained, we seen tutors following their call from God, we’ve seen new faces coming to study theology, and we’ve seen each other change and being formed. 

I feel like college is a bit like that scene in Jeremiah were he is watching the potter form and shape his clay, we are watching our fellow peers being transformed and worked into Christ-like shapes, never becoming the finished product though as we remember that the potter continues to dance with us on the wheel outside of college and beyond.

The process of being formed makes me think of my favourite Gospel story, where Elizabeth who is pregnant with John, meets Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. I love the imagery of John leaping in the womb when his mother hears Mary’s greeting. 

John was fulfilling his calling already in the womb, identifying and pointing to Jesus.

I just love the connection of these two women, both meeting together with the promise of God’s plan literally inside them and in their hearts. “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” 
blessed are we who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to us by the Lord” 

The meeting of John and Jesus before they were born, the way that John is the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus, the way that John baptises Jesus, suggests to me that as we strive to live Christ-like lives, we also strive to live John-like lives.

John’s vocation was to bring people back to God, for them to repent of their old ways to become open to the coming of the Lord. John proclaims Jesus the Messiah, the fulfilment of all prophecy. 

John did all this with no want for glory. The message he proclaimed was authentic, different to rhetoric that was being heard around, people came to listen to what he had to say and then were led to be baptised.

Striving for a John-like life means that we have to become less, so Jesus can be more.

It is amazing that we have finished this academic year, but we could not have done this without God’s help. We could not have written those essays, led worship, preached, prayed, listened, cared, and all the other things we do on our own without God’s strength. 

When we stand here feeling pleased with ourselves because of good grades, delivering a successful sermon, leading some exciting worship, connecting with the poor and destitute, we must remember it is the Spirit that guides us, that all glory is to God, the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of god will stand forever.

When I finished my last session on my BAP, at our final worship the homily was about how we had received a lot of attention leading up to BAP, and now it was time for us to become less so He could become more. It was time to let the spirit lead and wash over, time to repent for fleshy things like ego and pride.

I believe that over the summer break this teaching is important.

We must become less so Jesus can become more.

We must be the voice calling out in the wilderness, the prophetic call to point people to God, to direct them back into His loving arms, it is God’s grace that forgives and transforms, we walk with and point the way with encouragement and witness.

We must bear witness to the truth, to stand up and question, to reach out and hold, to weep with those who are suffering and afflicted.

But through all this, we must become less so Jesus can become more, we shine like the focused rays of the sun through a window, radiating the warmth and healing heat of God through ourselves.

John says these beautiful words as he listens to the stories of Jesus carrying out His ministry, he says,
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.”

I pray that our witness and work in the spirit, our living Christ-like and John-like lives, will fulfil us with joy and keep us pointing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone we meet.
Amen.

Speak lord for your servant is listening

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

My childhood was lonely. I always felt like I was standing on my tip toes looking over a fence at everyone else. I couldn’t seem to be able to get over the fence and fit in with everyone else. I often retreated into my bedroom and lay on my bed not knowing what I was meant to do in life, or where I was supposed to be.

In those quiet lonely moments it was where I met the love of God. God was my best friend, he listened when I was upset, comforted me when I felt alone, danced with me when I was happy. At night whilst I watched the light drain away from the sky, when the stars took over from the sun, he would be with me until my eyes closed to sleep.

In those years a seed was sown. A seed that lay dormant through my teens and into my twenties. I didn’t know that I had glimpsed the kingdom of God, that the almighty had kept me company, that he had shown me love that I’d never felt before.

Fast forward to 2013 when I had lost myself, I had become a robot, I was working 24 hours a week, as well as raising my five children, I didn’t really know who I was anymore, I didn’t know what I liked, and I didn’t like who I’d become.

It was then that dormant seed was awoken, I felt that it was time to start praying again, to be able to know the love and comfort from my Heavenly Father, the one who had always been the light in the darkness, the voice in the silence.

On that night I had a dream that changed my life, I dreamt that I was walking with the blessed Virgin Mary and she had her arm around my shoulder. She led me into a temple and as we went inside I saw that it was completely golden. The brightest gold that I’d ever seen. She pointed to a statue of Jesus that was so tall I couldn’t see any further than his waist. She then pointed to his feet and a cross began to glow, the golden light began to shine brighter and brighter and soon it engulfed me, and I woke up.

The seed that God had sowed in my heart years ago had began to grow, the delicate fresh green shoots had started to break through the cracked dry ground. 

As I began to explore what this dream and call had on my life, I found myself being led to church to have my children baptised. On a wet dark evening I walked through the door of St James church and knew that everything that God was telling me had started to make sense. 

These whispers of His promise to love me and to guide me had started to help me flower. The vicar in my church saw that maybe the spirit was working something out in my life. And through his encouragement and belief in me, I began to spread my wings preaching and leading. I realised that he was calling me to be a Priest and deep in my heart I knew that this was something that He had shown me as a child.

Jesus says that “the kingdom of god is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow he does not know how.”

I do not know how Jesus called such a sinner like me and watered, nurtured, and cared for me. I wake up everyday thanking God that he did not give up on me and that if He can call me then I am an example to all who may think that God would never call them. 

Because guess what? He does call you. 

God called me outside of church, I was not part of a congregation and I had not regularly attended church before. I didn’t go to Sunday school, I found my connection to church through music and through Him.

God calls everyone, because that seed that is beautifully sewn inside of us is waiting for the right environment to grow. 

It’s waiting for the yes.

It’s waiting for the, well yes God I could but I’m not sure but maybe it could be me but no way can you call me.

That acknowledgment is all that the seed needs. 

God is the greatest Gardener, he tends to us like delicate flowers, watering, cultivating, shielding, pruning, sitting and waiting for our first petals to open.

Today the gospel speaks of the kingdom of god being like a mustard seed, something that begins so small yet grows into something so big the branches can support others and give shade and comfort to others. This process of finding out what God is calling us to includes other people, I’m a firm believer that God brings us the people we need on our journey of discovery, we are not not meant to figure this all out on our own.

When I think about callings and vocation, I think of Samuel, who hears a voice in the night but doesn’t realise it is the Lord calling him. Eli says to him to answer the voice with a simple sentence,
“Speak lord for your servant is listening”

I encourage you all to pray these words, whether you feel God is calling you, or if you want to ask God to show you what he is calling you to.

There are so many different roles that God calls us to, it’s not just ordained ministry, it’s members of the PCC, it’s litter pickers, children’s workers, tea makers, biscuit providers, floor sweepers, hand holders, tissue providers.
We are all windows for God’s grace, because through us He can be seen, as I stand here before you this morning I am not here because of my own merit, I am here because Jesus bore my sins, I am here because the Father forgave me, I am here because the spirit guided me. 

We can be confident because we walk by faith, not by sight, we walk on the journey that Jesus calls us to, the journey that resurrects and transforms us in His holy name. 

God calls us all and he loves us more than we could ever imagine, when we feel that there is only darkness, he shows us the glimmer of light to guide us.

In the night as a child I lay in bed alone, the darkness felt thick, like an inky pool that I could not swim in, yet when I called out he came to me, the spirit comforted me and gave me strength to carry on.

Our faith is that seed sown underground in that very darkness, waiting for the refreshment of the life-giving water that Jesus gave us to help our roots to grow, that moistens the ground so our shoots can break through, the warmth from fire of the Holy Spirit that helps us to bloom and the care and love from the father that opens us up to fullness of His glory.

I want my story here today to give you all hope, that God does and will call people to serve. That He does call people outside of church and He does lead them here. We can be the ground that nurtures those seeds of all who are called. We can send out and grow because He is already doing it right here in Rochdale, let us take strength and courage from this knowledge.

I pray for you all here today that we may grow in His care, that we will open in flowers of joy as we serve Him and His people and on the day of the harvest, where we see the full glory of the kingdom of heaven we will sit at the table that Jesus calls us to.
Amen. 

Prayer 

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

On Friday night my eldest child came down stairs to tell me that there was a commotion going on outside on the street opposite our house. I did the nosey neighbour thing, went upstairs, opened the window and tried to see what was going on. 

As I peaked through the trees I could see and hear a young girl rolling around on the pavement screaming at the top of her lungs. Her friends were around trying to calm her down, yet the more they tried to stop her yelling and thrashing the more violent she became. I reached for my mobile and as I did I heard one of them say that she should have learnt from last time that she couldn’t hold her vodka. These children were not much older than 14 maybe 15. I dialled 999 to get her some help and an ambulance turned up very quickly.

I felt a huge sense of sorrow for these young people, especially the girl who was so unwell because of alcohol consumption. My heart broke for all the young people in our town who spend their weekends like this, playing Russian roulette with their lives, whether it is with alcohol, drugs, or racing fast cars. 

On another night, as I was driving home at around 11:30pm I saw a young boy walking along the road on his own. He was not much older than my son who turned 8 yesterday – these babies, alone in the increasingly hostile world that we live in, fending for themselves.  

And it’s not just the children who are at risk, young adults are witnessing harder and harder environments to study in, student loans are increasing leaving most in debt of around 40k and graduates are fighting for a job after study. My friend who has recently been teaching Young adults who have struggled in secondary education, speaks of students who cannot write full sentences, who have been forgotten in the system because they find it difficult to learn in certain ways. 

This week that a young man lost his life just down the road in Falinge, through senseless violence.
I felt and feel helpless when I think of the young girl, the little boy, the forgotten students, and the young man who died this week.  

All I could do was pour out my heart to God and pray.

By praying we start to chip away at the hardness of our hearts, we are hardened every day by the deluge of news that we absorb every day. We are less shocked by terrible things, images on the screen of war zones and queues outside food banks become so regular we can’t see the shock anymore.

Ezekiel perfectly describes the process of prayer, the power of conversing with our Father,

 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

We see from this passage how inviting God into our situation carves and releases our hearts from the numbness of witnessing events that harden and freeze us. Through regular prayer our hearts beat again with the spirit of God, opening our eyes and minds to the plight of His people.

Through His spirit as we cry out Him, He says to us you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus praying for His disciples. I find this amazing. Jesus, the son of God praying for His followers. If Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, prays for us, then we are seeing first hand how important prayer really is.
Jesus prays, I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

This is an important example of how our prayer can shape the world around us, we ask God on a person’s behalf, so the young girl, the little boy, the murdered man, we pray for them on their behalf, we stand in the gap between heaven and earth, and pour out our spirit filled hearts.

Jesus prays that we may know the closeness of the Father that he knows, that we and Him can be one.
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

One community, one kingdom, one love in the Father, through one act – prayer.

We are in the middle of Thy Kingdom Come, An initiative created by our Archbishops to get us all to pray together over the period between ascension day and Pentecost. Through these ten days all who pledge to pray are one, just as Jesus prays for us to be.

If anyone would love to join in, we are encouraging you to pray for five friends, the prayers are on this piece of paper. If you are struggling to choose five people, please pray for Rev Mark and his ministry here with you all, and please pray for the renewing power and joy of the Holy Spirit for us all here in Rochdale.

Jesus prays that the Father’s word is truth and this is what we should keep close to our hearts. 
We keep close to us the promise and witness of the resurrection of Jesus, that in dark times Jesus exploded from the tomb, conquered death, ascended in joyfilled glory and sent the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire.

This weekend we await the coming of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and I encourage us all to speak to our Heavenly Father, whether this might be the first time, or the first time in a while, or a renewal of a lifetime of prayer, take time and sit in God’s presence, and lift up to Him those who we can on their behalf.  

The forgotten young, the lonely, the destitute, the abused, the drug user, the alcoholic, the prostitute, the councillor, the homeless, the traffic wardens – we are one, one in Christ always.

God of mercy,

who in your great love

drew your Son from the depths of the Pit,

bring your people from death to life,

that we may rejoice in your compassion

and praise you now and for ever.
Amen