Category Archives: Ashton-under-Lyne Blog

New Year – New Beginnings

NEW YEAR – NEW BEGINNINGS?

As the New Year arrives I often find myself looking back – pondering what has happened over the last 12 months – and looking forward, wondering what is ahead.

The past year has included for me, most recently, the death of my mother. In the past 18 months I have lost both of my parents. They both had good long lives and strong faith and they were both looking forward to being at home with their Lord in heaven. Some of Dad’s last words to Mum were, “I go to a better, better place.” We reflected on the truth of that hope as part of Dad’s funeral. More recently at Mums’ funeral, we again reminded ourselves of the depth of love with which we are surrounded as followers of Jesus. We can let go of our loved ones confident that ‘they rest in him, our shield and our defender’, that they are surrounded and held in the loving arms of our Father God.

Jo, my wife, has been appointed Chair of the House of Clergy for Diocesan Synod and as result is now, for three years, one of the senior women priests in our Diocese. She holds this new role in tandem with her other roles in Parish life and as Ecumenical Officer for Manchester Diocese. Jo thrives in these roles and we look forward for God’s guidance for her for the future.

This has been a year when I have become more aware of both my gifts/strengths and of my weaknesses. It was hard to let go of the role of Area Dean for the Deanery of Ashton and a delight to be asked to be Borough Dean of Tameside, a role to which I was licenced in February 2018. This role recognises the work that I have been doing over many years to create space in the public sphere in Tameside for faith communities and some of the roles that I have played in more recent years in the wider charitable sector in Tameside.

Our personal circumstances are not the only things to reflect on. The war in Yemen, the ongoing saga of Brexit, the continuing sense that we have of being ‘at risk’ in a world where terrorism is a serious threat, all crowd in on our thinking. The uncertainty in national politics and the reducing value of the pound suggest that change in coming months is not going to be easy, whatever political negotiations bring about. Many things can leave us leave us with a real sense of worry and concern.

What was 2018 like for you? What were the ‘highlights’ and the ‘lowlights’? What seemed to leave you in the dark? What seemed to leave you basking in the light, in the sunshine of God’s love? What things excite you or worry you about the year ahead?

Things of the past as well as our present experiences and our anticipation of what the future holds, make us into the people that we are today. Each of our experiences over the past year are like ‘holy ground’, they are places where God was present, even if we couldn’t feel him there. They may have been places where faith was tested, sometimes to the limit, or even beyond. They may have been places of illumination where God’s grace and love for us became almost tangible. They may have felt mundane and ordinary. There may well be things which it is impossible to make sense of at the moment, storms which will not die down, emotions and fears which overwhelm us. All of these are ‘holy ground’.

In a beautiful passage in Isaiah, God speaks to his people:

“Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through rivers they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” (Isaiah 43:1-3. NRSV)

A New Year brings opportunities for new beginnings, a chance to start over. It can be a time when we take a significant step forward in faith, or in our life circumstances. It can be a time when we hear again God’s promises to us, when hope is renewed, when we determine again to commit ourselves to serve others. A New Year can be a time when we break with the past, when we leave behind the old and move on to the new. A time to ‘wipe the slate clean’. And rightly so!

However, let me encourage you to remember that we are not just people who look forward to the future with hope. We are people who live in the present, and whose identities are shaped by the past. We are who we are because we have our own story to tell. We belong to a particular community and share in its joys and sorrows; we have a specific family background which has shaped who we are; we went to a particular school or schools; we have lived alone or with a partner; we have had children, or we have not had children, either by choice or because of force of circumstance. We have each faced the reality of loss in our own way. We have been able to delight in good news, and have shared in the joys of others. And we can all be encouraged by the words of St. Paul in Romans:

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV)

God does want to break into our lives, if we let him, to bring healing and hope, just as he burst into the world on that first Christmas morning. Healing and hope for our past, for our present and for our future.

This New Year, like every New Year, brings the promise of new hope, new chances, new life. God also wants to build on the foundations of the past, helping us to become the people we long to be. People who are confident of God’s love through all the experiences of our lives. People whose faith is built on strong foundations, people who have found security in his love, even in the most difficult of times. People whose relationship with God is real. People whose lives, past, present and future, can be, and are being, redeemed by God’s love.

We don’t just have hope for the future. God is at work in all of us, none of us is the finished article. God is redeeming each of us, our past, our present and our future.

Peace Babies

Jelly Babies and Peace in the World!

In August 2014, I wrote a post about the history of Jelly Babies and their first being produced at the end of the 1st World War in 1918. This is the link. …

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2014/08/03/jelly-babies-and-the-peace-of-the-world

Recently, Maynard Bassett’s have produced a special edition pack of Jelly Babies which have them renamed as “Peace Babies.”

This gives another really good excuse to buy and eat Jelly Babies which while high in sugar content are fat-free!

“In celebration of the end of the First World War in 1918, George Bassett & Co. produced Peace Babies – what would later become the confectionery classic we all know as Jelly Babies.

Now, to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One, Maynards Bassetts has designed a special limited-edition pack of Peace Babies available at Tesco. Aiming to raise over £25,000 for Help for Heroes*, the money raised will help us support those who put their lives on the line for us to have a second chance at life for them and their families.

Archivists at Mondelez trawled through records and found a rare surviving copy of an export list mentioning the sweet treat. Thought to be from the 1920s or 30s, this shows a ‘hundred-weight’ (100lb or 45kg) of Peace Babies listed for sale in ‘4lb wood boxes’, for the grand total of 68 shillings. This would be the equivalent of £139.60 in today’s money!

It is thought that these were on sale until a shortage of raw materials put a stop to production during World War Two. In 1953, they were relaunched as Jelly Babies – the rest, as they say, is history!

(Available at selected Tesco stores and http://www.tesco.com while stocks last ….. A A5p donation from the sale of each product sold in Tesco and http://www.tesco.com between 05/09/2018 and 06/11/2018 will go to Help for Heroes Trading Ltd, which gifts all its taxable profits to Help for Heroes (a charity registered in England and Wales , number 1120920 , and in Scotland SCO44984).”

It seems as though the jelly baby first appeared by mistake! Legend has it that it was an Australian immigrant in 1864 that made the first Jelly Baby, although he chose to call them “unclaimed babies.” He was meant to create a mould for jelly bears, however, (for reasons which may be forever lost in time) it seems the jelly baby was born instead – pun wholly intended. [2]

And thus, jelly babies became a firm favourite in the UK.

After a short hiatus, classic sweet manufacturer Basset’s took up the style of the rather darker original name ‘unclaimed babies’ and rebranded them ‘Peace Babies’ to mark the end of World War I. These new sweets had a more realistic baby look , closer to the sweets we know today.[2]

References

1. https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/news/2018/september/peace-babies

2. https://www.sweetsinthecity.co.uk/news/post/jelly-babies-facts

 

 

 

Christ the King – Sunday 25th November 2018

This is the Sunday before the start of the Church Year. Advent Sunday and a period of waiting for the coming of the King precede the celebration of Christmas. Christians wait in the dark, for the coming of the light. ……

The Church has set three readings for the principle service on the Festival of Christ the King:

Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37

The world can be a very dark place.

It is difficult to avoid the darkness without pretending it does not exist. Some people close the curtains and put on the fire, others make their escape to warmer climes – Jo and I are just back from a week in the South of France. Increasingly people spend the summer in the UK and the winter in Spain. The shops throw themselves wholeheartedly into Christmas no more than weeks after the summer holidays are over. We don’t cope well with waiting, we don’t cope well with the darkness.

How do you cope – do you try to hide, try to escape, rush through the darkness looking for light and hope? How do you cope with the world as it is?

So many of us look for ways to avoid the bleakness of our world. And it is almost as though the readings for the festival of ‘Christ the King’ collude with our desire to escape the realities of our world, the darkness which sometimes seems as though it will overwhelm us. …….

Have you heard these before: “Pie in the sky when you die.” “Your faith is no earthly use, it does not affect the world in which we live, just a safety net when you die.” ….. And on “Christ the King” we listen to readings which are about that future – Christ in glory – and even Jesus in the Gospel reading says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

For me, personally, at this time, having so recently lost my mother, these promises have substance. … Yes, I am sure of Mum’s place at home with her Lord. … And despite the tears, when she asked me earlier in November to pray that she would be able to go home soon to be with her heavenly father, I prayed that prayer with confidence and hope. We were both crying, but we both knew that it was right. She was on her final journey and she was going home. For her, the journey was taking longer than she hoped, but her faith was firm.

The question of how we cope with the realities of our world has exercised the minds of people down through the centuries. Some people have retreated from the world, retreated into closed communities refusing to partake in the life of the world – people like the Hamish, like some very closed monastic orders. Others have given up on their faith altogether, becoming fatalistic – “How can God care,” they say, “when we see all this going on?”

The literature of Daniel and Revelation (and some other books of the bible) was one of the ways that people of Bible times were helped to cope with the realities of their world. They are books which still today mean a great deal to church communities facing persecution for their faith. In their difficult language they grapple with the reality of the world as it was when they were written, pointing to the signs of hope in the world of the day and on into the future to a time when God will put all things right.

Our churches are increasingly welcoming people from other parts of the world who have faced persecution, who are looking to escape the darkness, who long to live in the light of the Gospel. These are people we have come to love, who while their asylum applications are being considered still live in fear of the darkness. We pray with them in hope.

We live in difficult times. Times when the darkness feels like it might overwhelm us. ‘In-between times’ – times between Christ’s first coming and a day when he will return – times when we glimpse God at work in our world but when we also see things which make us wonder where on earth he is. More often than not our media and, in we are honest, we ourselves focus on the negative, we see the darkness rather than the light.

There are good things going on in our world. We could call them “signs of the Kingdom.”  But, in the end, we are still waiting for the fullness of God’s kingdom to come – the time when we will see for real, the whole of history enfolded in the arms of the God who created and sustains our world.

The readings for ‘Christ the King’ encourage us to believe, in the midst of darkness, that God is still Lord of History, that in the words of Baldrick off Black Adder, God still has a cunning plan, a plan which he will bring to fulfilment in due time.

Christ will one-day reign with obvious authority.

But these readings also encourage us to believe that God’s Kingdom is not just something for the future, that it is a reality now, and that it is something that we can work to bring to greater reality in our world.

How? … Through our faithfulness to the promise in the midst of darkness. We are called to faithfulness, to living God’s way, to being the people and the place where hope can be re-born in our towns and communities.

Ultimately, as Christians, we cannot flee the darkness or hide away from it or pretend it doesn’t exist.  We’re intended, by God, to be the one’s who are able, with the eye of faith, to see Christ, the Crucified King, in all his Kingly Glory and who can help those around us to sense the light and warmth of God in their lives. People who see things from God’s perspective and help others to do the same. Not people who escape the world, but people who enter the world with hope, bringing light into darkness and despair.

The Joys of Sunday 4th November 2018

What a wonderful day!!!!😇😇

Sunday 4th November has been a wonderful “full-on” day for this clergyperson!😇😇

Work started soon after 8am with time spent on final preparations for the day. Three sermons, written late in the week, needed reading through. I suppose you could call it a working breakfast!

The first two services of the day were in two of the five churches that I have responsibility for. ……… St. James Church was full for Lilly Isabelle Anne Smith’s baptism at 9.30am, (early doors!)Because our clergy have a good number of things to do on Sunday and, perhaps more importantly, because Baptism is about becoming a member of Jesus’ family the church, we have our baptisms as part of our usual church services.

At St. James the baptism took place in a service of Holy Communion. The reading from Isaiah (25: 6-9) led me to think and talk about how the sharing together of food is one of the most important ways in which we acknowledge the importance of our relationships.

At St. Peter’s Church at 11.00am we baptised Elizabeth Leavy. I baptised her older brother a few years back. We welcome all the newly baptised into our church families.St. Peter’s is increasingly seeing visitors from other countries many of whom are seeking asylum in the UK. Some stay with us over many months either until they are moved elsewhere by our government, or their cases are decided. We seek where we can to support people through the asylum process and we are about to set up a drop-in centre in partnership with the Red Cross.

By 12.15pm it was time to dash to St. Michael’s Church, the civic church in Ashton. A number of community organisations and schools have worked with the Ashton Branch of the British Legion to create a poppy wall in church for the period from 3rd November to 12th November. Standards were processed, the poppy wall was dedicated and we had time to remember and give thanks, as part of the Legion’s ‘Thank You’ Campaign, for all who have worked for the betterment of society during and after the first world war. I have the privilege of being Padre for the local branch of the Royal British legion and so am honoured to take services such as these. By now, the day was just getting going! ….

A close colleague has just moved on from our Parish – the Parish of the Good Shepherd, Ashton-under-Lyne. … Jules Mambu has served as a curate in the parish since he chose to move from the Roman Catholic Church to the Anglican Church. I have know Jules for 15 years. He was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, having served there as a Catholic priest and having discovered that being a faithful priest put him at odds with the government of the day.

Jules left the Congo after serving time in prison after challenging the policies of the government of the country.

Part of Jules’ ministry, over the past 15 years or so, has been to lead Tameside African Refugee Association (TARA) based in Ashton-under-Lyne. Discernment of God’s plan for his life has led him into the Anglican church and to move on from TARA.

Jules now is licensed as Priest-in-Charge of St. Lawrence, Denton and will soon take on responsibility for St. Ann, Haughton as well. Both in Denton, both in Ashton Deanery, and both in Manchester Diocese. The licensing service at St. Lawrence’s was led by Bishop Mark Davies and Archdeacon Cherry Vann.Jules’ move to Denton leaves us (The Parish of the Good Shepherd) one member of clergy down. We wish Jules every blessing in his ongoing ministry in this new place and we pray for ourselves that we will revive additional resources for ministry in the centreof Ashton-under- Lyne. The church buildings which will fall within Jules’miniustry role ar e both really interesting structures!

Jules’ installation and licensing were followed by a Confirmation Service at which the Parish of the Good Shepherd presented two candidates for Confirmation. It was a real joy over the past few weeks to be able to do Confirmation preparation with Emma and Evie.

Check out @BishMiddleton’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/BishMiddleton/status/1059522440605429761?s=09

A day in the llfe of a Manchester Diocese Clergy person!

Choices: John 6: 56-69; Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6: 10-20

The right to choose. …. That phrase has been used in a whole series of contexts over recent years. It has become one to the defining characteristics of our society. We are told time and again just how important it is that we have the freedom to make choices. And rightly so, because the ability to make choices to make value judgements is one of the distinctive marks of being a human being.

I am sure you can think of examples – but here are a few …

A Woman’s Right to Choose – I am not going to enter the very complex debate about abortion. It is enough to acknowledge that a woman’s right of choice is an important issue in the ethical debate that surrounds abortion. This is the context that we most often talk of a right to choose.

The Right to Choose – is the title of a government advice booklet to agencies dealing with involved with handling cases of forced marriage. Each individual has a right to choose who they marry and an inalienable right not to be forced into a marriage for whatever reason.

The Right to Choose has recently been extended in the health service to mental health patients as well as those suffering physical symptoms. We can increasingly choose where we are treated and when we are treated. The Heath system is changing slowly to focus more on the patient than the clinician.

The withdrawal of the right to choose is also significant: Right wing totalitarian regimes deny freedom of choice to their subjects. Difference is frowned upon. Left wing/communist regimes value the proletariat above the individual, subjugating individual freedom to the needs of the masses.

In a very significant way, when we lose the ability to choose, we become less than human. Freedom and choice are really as fundamental to our lives as the right to shelter, food and water.

Successive governments have been right to emphasise freedom to choice.

Some of us might want to question whether we really do have freedom to choose. … So often, the right to choose a school for our children is limited, or perhaps negated, by the catchment area of the school. … Patients’ choice in the health service is often limited by our ability to travel to a hospital. … It is often almost impossible for a woman in abusive relationship to make the choice to leave, she feels completely trapped by her circumstances.

Nonetheless I feel so much better when I’m treated as an individual and given a say in the things that affect me. When I am given the freedom to choose.

Freedom of choice is so important. … Yet putting the two words “freedom” and “choice” in the same phrase is perhaps misleading. … For the very exercise of our freedom to choose restricts our freedom. When we choose to join a club, we are choosing to be bound by its rules, if not we very soon find that we are no longer welcome. When we choose to marry, we commit ourselves to one person, we are not free to play the field.

Choice, by its very nature restricts freedom.

Our readings set for 26th August 2018 seem to focus on that ability to choose.

Joshua actually uses the word. … “Choose this day whom you will serve,” he says. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Paul in Ephesians encourages us to make the choice to stand firm under attack, to stand against evil, and he promises us that God’s armour, God’s resources are available to us as we stand firm.

Jesus presents his disciples with a choice. “If my words are too hard for you,” he says, “you don’t have to stay!” And we heard Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

All three passages leave us with a challenge: “What choice are we going to make?”

Are we going to do our own thing, follow our own instincts, in life? Or are we going to commit ourselves to God’s agenda? Are we going to stick with God even when the going gets tough?

God gives us the freedom to choose. He does not force us to accept him. Jesus doesn’t demand our allegiance. He offers himself to us as friend and as Lord, with every possibility of our turning our back on him.

Vulnerable love, love which was willing to die for us, love which does not impose itself on us but waits patiently for our decision. Love which is prepared to release us if we choose to turn away from him.

We are free to choose.  …. Yet as we exercise our freedom to choose, we make commitments which on the face of it restrict our freedom. We cannot make Christ ‘Lord’ and still give other things a more important place in our lives. Christ being ‘Lord’, means just that, Lord of our lives, our families, our work, our lifestyle. The free choice we have made, the one we continue to make as we commit ourselves to Christ each week in worship, seemingly limits our freedom.

And yet, here is perhaps the greatest paradox of all, when we commit ourselves to Christ as Lord we don’t feel trapped by our choices – we feel set free, set free to be who we really are. Here in the Christian family, when it is functioning as Jesus intended, we find our true freedom, our true dignity, our true equality as we worship the one who is worthy of all the praise that we can offer.

Contemporary society talks of human rights and ‘the freedom to choose’. In Christian worship, we confess that we cannot speak of ‘our rights’, for we have been given everything and forgiven everything and promised everything, not as of right, but of the loving grace of God who, as we freely give ourselves to him, as we chose his sovereignty, freely gives us all things.

When we come to Communion, we exercise our right, our freedom to choose, and as we take bread and wine into ourselves, we commit ourselves again to a choice to be God’s children and family. The end of August heralds a new cycle, a new academic year, it is a time for re-commitment re-commitment to God’s sovereignty in our lives. And as we make that renewed commitment we experience once again the release that comes from being who we truly are! … Those who are loved, accepted and redeemed, chosen ourselves by the grace of God.

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway – 3

The Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne and Manchester Railway[1] was opened in stages between 1841 and 1845 between Sheffield and Manchester via Ashton-Under-Lyne.

The company was formed in 1835 and it appointed Charles Vignoles as its engineer.[2] A route was proposed which required a 2 mile long tunnel and passed through Woodhead and Penistone. Vignoles and Joseph Locke[3] were asked to make independent surveys and in October met to reconcile any differences. Their meeting resulted in the decision to build a longer tunnel so as to lessen the gradients needed on the line.

The line obtained its Act of Incorporation in Parliament in 1837 and work on the tunnel started. Vignoles arranged for the boring of a series of vertical shafts followed by a horizontal driftway along the line of the first bore. Enough land was purchased for two tunnels but it was only intended to build one at first.

A ceremony was held on 1st October 1838 at the west end of the tunnel at which ground was disturbed for the first time. In 1839 work was progressing well with Thomas Brassey as contractor. However Vignoles was not relating well to the company’s board and he resigned. Joseph Locke agreed to act in a consultative capacity if the Board would appoint resident engineers for the day to day supervision of the work.

In 1841 Locke reported that the tunnel would probably cost £207,000, about twice the original estimate, because the amount of water encountered required the purchase of more powerful pumps. By this time a length of the line was open for business from Godley to a temporary Manchester terminus at Travis Street.

In 1842, Manchester Store Street (now Piccadilly) was brought into use and at the eastern end the line had linked to Broadbottom and Glossop.

By 1844, the western end of the Woodhead tunnel had been reached.

In 1845 the eastern section of the line in Yorkshire was opened between Dunford Bridge and Sheffield. The tunnel was finally ready for inspection in December 1845 and after it was approved the formal opening of the line took place on 22nd December that year.

Besides Woodhead, there were short tunnels at Audenshaw Road, Hattersley (two), Thurgoland and Bridgehouses. Among the bridges the two most notable were the Etherow Viaduct and the Dinting Vale Viaduct, the latter with five central and eleven approach arches. The line initially terminated at a temporary station at Bridgehouses until Sheffield Victoria was built in 1851.Dinting Vale Viaduct – at the top, the original viaduct, at the bottom, the later replacement.

While the line was being built, the directors were looking at ways to extend it. They had hoped to connect to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, but their approach to the board of that line was rejected. Eventually they secured a relationship with the London and Birmingham Railway which enabled the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway to be put before Parliament in 1845. That line was not completed for some years.

The Ashton to Stalybridge branch which had been part if the original scheme was completed in 1845. And in the same year a branch was built to Glossop itself, which needed no Act, since it was financed by the Duke of Norfolk and ran over his land, the original Glossop station was renamed Dinting.

In 1844 representatives of the proposed Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway made plans for a line from Sheffield to Gainsborough. Plans were also made for the Barnsley Junction Railway to connect Oxspring with Royston on the North Midland Railway.

The directors of the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway realised that expansion was best achieved by amalgamating with other lines, after the pattern being set by the Midland under George Hudson.

In 1845, they gained shareholders approval for the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway,[4] the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway,[5] and also the proposed Barnsley Junction Railway.[6] They would also lease the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company.[7]

The board also contemplated:

• a line from Dukinfield to New Mills connecting with the Manchester and Birmingham Railway (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_and_Birmingham_Railway)
• an extension of the Barnsley Junction to Pontefract joining the Wakefield, Pontefract and Goole Railway.
• The Huddersfield and Sheffield Junction Railway.

In September 1845 agreement was reached in a meeting in Normanton, agreement was reached to amalgamate with the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway and the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Railway. Further amalgamations included the Grimsby Docks Company Railway and an attempt to take over the East Lincolnshire Railway which was planned between Grimsby and Lincoln, although ultimately that was taken over by the Great Northern.

The merger received royal assent in July 1846 and the combined company was formed at the beginning of 1847. The line became the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway.[8]

 

References

1. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Sheffield,_Ashton-under-Lyne_and_Manchester_Railway, accessed 9th March 2018.

2. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Charles_Vignoles, accessed 10th March 2018.

3. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Joseph_Locke, accessed 10th March 2018.

4. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester,_South_Junction_and_Altrincham_Railway

5. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheffield_and_Lincolnshire_Junction_Railway, accessed 10th March 2018.

6. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1793638, accessed 10th March 2018.

7. https://www.railscot.co.uk/Huddersfield_and_Manchester_Railway_and_Canal_Company/index.php, accessed 10th March 2018.

8. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester,_Sheffield_and_Lincolnshire_Railway, accessed 10th March 2018.

Word and Wisdom – John 1:1-14, Proverbs 8, 1-11, Colossians 1:15-20

The first Christians were Jews. They came from a small back water in the Roman Empire. A seemingly irrelevant outpost in a bustling and cosmopolitan world. They faced a big question. How could they help people throughout the Greek speaking Roman world engage with Christian faith? How could a faith which was initially expressed in the framework of the Jewish culture be understood by people of very different cultures? Throughout the book of Acts we see people like Paul, Peter, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, James and others struggling with these questions – they knew what Christian faith looked like for a Jew living in Palestine, but what should it be like for a Greek intellectual in Athens?

Their situation is much like our own. Just like they did, we wonder how we can make what we believe intelligible to people in today’s world who have little or no experience of Church and who see Christian faith as irrelevant, if not ridiculous.

Our readings today relate to struggle the early church faced: How could they convey the Gospel to the Roman and Greek world – the good news which was so bound up with Jesus’ divinity and humanity. … They had experienced Jesus as both divine and human. They could talk of him as the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. How could they explain that a divine being became human? How could they help people understand? As they reflected on this they realised that their scriptures – the Old Testament had at least a couple of ideas that would help them.

We meet the first idea in Genesis – in the story of Creation – God spoke and something happened. God only needed to say a few words and a whole world and universe came into being. Words for God were not just things to say, concepts to express or write down. Words were effective, they achieved something. God’s Word was God at work in the world.

The second idea comes in other parts of the Old Testament. There they found passages about Wisdom. Today’s reading is an example. Wisdom is spoken of as a personality, a person, who existed before the worlds were created. Wisdom at God’s side as he created. Wisdom as the crafts-person moulding creation and delighting in what was made.

As Jewish Christians were asked about Jesus by their Greek neighbours. As the first Christian theologians tried to explain how God was born as a baby in Bethlehem. They saw something in the Greek culture that would help them to explain better to Greek and Roman people, just what they meant by Jesus being the Word and Wisdom of God, both divine and human.

The word for ‘word’ in Greek is ‘logos’. Greek philosophers used that word ‘logos’ in a special way – by the time of Christ – they used it to refer to a kind of ordering principle of the universe. Sometimes they used ‘nature’ and ‘logos’ interchangeably. What they meant was that there was an something behind all of nature – giving it a purpose and meaning. The principle by which life held together – perhaps ‘wisdom’. And as Greek philosophers talked of the ‘logos’ it was as though they almost gave it a personality.

Christians realised that here was a way of explaining to Greek and Roman people just who Jesus was – and the first verses of John’s Gospel were born. John gives the ‘Word’, the ‘Logos’, a central place. He describes the ‘Logos’ as God, the Creative Word, who took on flesh as the man Jesus Christ. … ‘God active in the created world’ = ‘Logos’. … God’s Word expressed as a human being. It might sound strange to us, but those early Christians had successfully managed to translate the concept of the incarnation into a form that Greek and Roman people might understand

The challenge to us is similar. To find ways of expressing what we believe in terms and in ways that people in today’s world will understand. We cannot say, it worked in the past so it will work again. We cannot just do the things we have always done. We cannot continue to use only the words that we understand. We cannot continue to be just the church we have always been. Words and customs move on. Meanings change, hopes and fears change. The world is shrinking and ideas from the four corners of the world now influence the values of every society.

You only need to think of the way that the meanings of words have changed over the centuries. I have mentioned this before: The word,‘Comfort’ – what does that mean now? On the Bayeux Tapestry it means something completely different. Look out for Bishop Odo comforting his troops …….

‘Organic’ – until very recently that was a group of chemicals which contained Carbon – a mixture of different substances both noxious and benign. Now we use it to mean wholesome food, untainted by many of the chemicals which would naturally have fallen into the ‘organic’ grouping.

You’ll know many other words which have changed their meaning over the years. Those changes are like small snapshots on what has been happening in society – a process of change which is accelerating not slowing. And if we don’t change in at least some measure, we will be increasingly misunderstood and become increasingly less and less relevant – having little or nothing intelligible to say to people who need to know the love of God.

As we participate in a process of change we do just what Jesus did ….. The Word, Jesus, became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. God changed, God became human, God learnt new things, expressed himself in different ways, felt tired for the first time, experienced limitations for the first time. God changed so as to bring his love to his creation. The early church changed its rules, expressed itself in new and different ways, so that its mission to the Roman world might be effective. And we are called to do the same to look for new ways to communicate the Gospel to those who live around us but who have none of the history of Church involvement that we have.