Monthly Archives: May 2016

Jeremiah 29

Jeremiah’s Words to the Exiles in Babylon:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

These are some of the clearest and strongest words in the bible encouraging us to pray for the places that God has placed us in. They are amazing words spoken to a people in exile. In this passage from Jeremiah God challenges his people, who are refugees in a foreign land, to pray for the city and the country in which they now live as foreigners and strangers.

There are passages in the New Testament which encourage us as Christians to see ourselves first as citizens of heaven rather than citizens of an earthly kingdom.0d839402fdc4ce907f2bb234a038917d

Philippians 3:20: But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour.
Hebrews 13:14: For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
Ephesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.

The writers of these passages in the New Testament are encouraging their readers to see the events happening to them in the context of their citizenship of heaven. That is where we, as Christians, belong. Primarily, not here on earth but in heaven.

However, the passage from Jeremiah reminds us that we cannot give up on this world. If we are citizens of heaven, we are also residents of England, of Greater Manchester and of Ashton-under-Lyne. And through Jeremiah’s words, God calls on us to pray for the place we live in. … To pray for the welfare of the city.
So, we are called to pray for our town: local councillors; local schools; local businesses, shops and industry; those who keep our streets clean and safe; medical practices and drop-in centres; dentists, health workers, carers, befrienders; those who provide transport – Metrolink, busdrivers, taxi drivers; for our neighbours; for our foodbanks; for charities based in our town – St. Peter’s Partnerships; Action Together; Citizens’ Advice; Faiths Utd; TARA; Age Concern; Mind, etc. ……

We need to pray for ourselves as we serve out town and as we seek to strengthen God’s rule, God’s kingdom – for the Town Centre Chaplaincy; for growth of our congregations so that we will have the human resources we need to serve others; for us to hear God’s voice and participate in God’s mission.

We need to pray for friends, acquaintances and family, for their faith to grow, for them to come to faith in Jesus. …. We encouraged our congregation members to commit ourselves to praying for friends to come to faith by taking away a leather band, tie it round a wrist with a knot in for each person being prayed for, each time we are aware of the leather bracelet, we pray for each of those friends.

We need to pray for God’s Kingdom to Come and throughout the period from Ascension Day to Pentecost we offered opportunities to pray each day. Over 40 different people prayed together at different times of the week and others chose to pray quietly in their own homes.

SeekTheWelfare-400God said through Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

And finally – here in the passage in Jeremiah is one of the clearest reasons for us to be places of welcome, for our Churches to welcome the stranger, the exile, the refugee, the asylum seeker. Why? … Because we too are strangers and exiles in our own land, we are citizens of another kingdom and we serve first another king. Our first allegiance is not to our government, nor our town but to Christ. We are exiles living in a foreign land, ambassadors for the kingdom of heaven. We must show the loving welcome of our Lord to those who are exiles and strangers, otherwise we betray our kingdom. God’s kingdom. …..

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

This prayer was offered for our use during the week:

God of the displaced, we give thanks that when we are insecure,
you offer us security,
when we are abandoned, you come to find us.
You invite us to embed ourselves in community,
to discover that you, already among us, enable the flourishing of all that is good.
We pray in the name of Jeshua of Bethlehem,
of Egypt, of Nazareth, of Calais, of Syria and Palestine,
of Ashton-under-Lyne,
of the asylum seekers holding centres, the detention centres, the boats in the Mediterranean ………..

Ascension Day 2016

The Ascension begs a question: … What exactly is happening as Jesus goes into heaven?

Is this the triumphant finale, the final victory parade? When at last Jesus goes home to the Father, to be paraded through the streets of heaven in victory – much like the triumphant Leicester City team will drive round the streets of Leicester in an open-top bus in a few days time. Is it the time when Jesus is welcomed back into that indescribable unity which is the Trinity of the Godhead – back home at last?

Or is it a moment of desertion. The disciples have only just received Christ back among them after his death and now cruelly he is taken from them into heaven. A renewed relationship is abruptly ended!! A commission is given and then the bombshell is dropped.

“Listen!” says Jesus, “I have a job for you to do – to be my witnesses throughout the known world.”

“Great, Lord, when do we get down to business, when do we work out the strategy, when to do you provide the corporate plan of action, when do we do our Mission Action Planning?”

“Not us. … Not me!” says Jesus, “You! …… I’m going away and you’ll never see me again this side of heaven!”

Or is this, actually, rather than desertion, the point at which followers become leaders, children become adults. Is this primarily the point where Jesus followers can no longer hide behind a leader and have to begin to make important choices themselves.

For all the participants in this story, this must have been a confusing moment. A time which carried so much emotion – parting from friends, losing a friend and leader, going home …

All sorts of mixed emotions.

In the end all of these scenarios have more than a grain of truth to them.

Christ is going home in victory. A job well done.

Christ is leaving behind a ragged group of followers who must have felt deserted. Yes, he did promise the Holy Spirit as helper and guide. But what’s a Spirit when you’ve had real flesh & blood to relate to?

And perhaps most crucially for us, Jesus is asking this ragged group to stand up for themselves. To be what he knows that they can be with the Spirit’s strength – a missionary band that will turn the world upside down within a century.

St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer sums it up well …..

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

stteresaavilaquoAs we mark the Ascension today, of course we celebrate a job well done, the earthly part of Christ’s mission over. But, most critcally, the Ascension reminds us that we are the ones that count – between now and eternity God has left his concerns, his mission in our hands. And on Ascension Day, it behoves us to commit ourselves again to serving to God – to discovering his way and walking in it, to being his hands, eyes and feet here in the places that God has put us.

Easter 6 – 1st May 2016

bethzathaI wonder whether you can imagine what it was like to be the man at the pool in John 5:1-18. The story goes that the first person into the water when the water bubbled up would be healed. What might it have felt like to have been lying by the pool of Bethzatha for 38 years? Waiting for that chance to get to the water first, but always being too slow to get to the water before someone else.

What might it have felt like, in that hot climate, to occasionally put your toe, in the clear cool water of that sheltered pool?

What might it have felt like, after talking with Jesus to be able to walk again?

Just imagine what it was like for that man to have his life changed by Jesus, so much so, that after many years of being disabled he could walk again?

It is good to use our imagination, …. whether it is to feel the coolness of the water, or to imagine the long years of hopeful but frustrating waiting of the man by the pool. Or to imagine the way life can be utterly changed by just one encounter with a special person.

It is possible that each one of us has something in our lives like one of these different experiences … joyful experiences, waiting experiences, frustrating experiences, surprising experiences, positive experiences

Our churches in Ashton usually have baptism service on the first Sunday of the month. 5 children were baptised in our services today.  Everyone present at those services  was participating in the service, not just those who led intercessions or lessons, not just the priest, the parents and the godparents, everyone was a participant not a spectator.

The young ones being baptised are very unlikely to remember the experience, but everyone else present will remember the services they participated in and in remembering this service, they will have the opportunity to imagine what it was like when they, themselves, were baptised.

If we were baptised as infants, a service of baptism is an opportunity to imagine … to imagine just what happened to us at our own baptism.  Wonderful promises were once made over us, just as they were over the young ones today. God promised us that he would be there for us, God surrounded us with his love and with the love of our families, friends and the worshipping congregation of the church in which we were baptised.

Wherever we are in our lives right now, we can continue to be like the man at the pool who was always waiting for something good to happen to him, or we can turn to the one who can change our lives for ever – the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus changed that man’s life for ever, so can he change ours. Baptism is the promise of that, the deposit, the security.

Each of us who have been baptised only need to turn to God for support and help and he will be there for us. God does not make us a promise that everything in our lives will be brilliant, not even just OK. But God does promise that he will be there for us, alongside us in all the experiences of life bringing encouragement and strength.

As the children we bring for baptism hear God’s words of love, telling them that they are special cropped-mom-hands2and secure in that love, we have the chance to remind ourselves that we too heard just those same promises made over us and to realise that God continues to reach out in love to each one of us.

What might it be like to have a friend, who is always there for us, through thick and thin, through whatever life throws at us. A friend who will never let us go?

This is just what Christians believe about Jesus, this is what God promises in baptism. Today we can choose to take him up on the promises we received at our own baptism.

Just think, just imagine what that could be like!