Sunday Worship at Starbeck Chapel on February 5th

On Sunday February 5th I led worship at Starbeck Chapel.  Worship began as we sang, ‘Christ is the world’s light, Christ and none other’ before I led the opening prayers.  I gave a children’s address about shining as lights for Jesus, reminding the congregation of the chorus, Jesus bids me shine with a pure, clear light.  As Christians we love Jesus, so his light should shine through our lives.  We sang, ‘Longing for light, we wait in darkness’, before the Bible readings.  The young people took part in the dramatised reading based on Isaiah 58.1-9 and Matthew 5.13-20 was also read. The young people then went to their groups.  It was lovely to have young people taking part in worship.  We sang, ‘God’s spirit is in my heart,’ before I preached.

The people fail to see the justice of God’s dealings with them in the passage from Isaiah They complained that though they had fasted God had not apparently taken any notice.  However the outward ritual of fasting made no difference to the way they conducted their business and how they oppressed their workers.  Do they not realise that fasting in that way does not make the Lord listen?  However they fast, even if they make sure everyone knows how they are suffering, it will not make the Lord listen if they are not obedient to God in the way they lead their lives.  If they were to make God listen, they had feed the hungry, welcome the homeless and clothe those in need. Only then would God respond to their prayers.  Psalm 112 also reminded them to show compassion and act justly.

Jesus told the disciples that they were the salt of the earth; they had to have exemplary moral standards.  They had to have a good influence on those they met as they shared Jesus’ love with others.  Salt is essential to life and Jesus brings life in all its abundance for us to share with those around us; Jesus is just as essential to our lives as salt is. The houses in Palestine were very dark and a light was expected to be seen to bring light to the houses.  The lamp was a sauce-boat filled with oil with the wick floating in it. It was not easy to re-light, so they would put the lamp under an earthen bushel measure, when they went out, so that it might burn without risk until they came back.  Then the lamp would be placed on the lamp stand so that it lit the house again.  A Christian’s faith should be visible to others in their daily life not just in church.  We are to be a shining light for Jesus in the way we interact with those we meet in our daily lives.  We are to shine for Jesus as we stand up for justice and against exploitation and oppression of the poor and vulnerable. We are not to show our good deeds to say how wonderful we are, but instead our good deeds should glorify our heavenly Father.

Jesus had come to fulfil the Law, even though he was seen as a lawbreaker by the Scribes and the Pharisees.  He followed the true law as seen in the 10 Commandments, the first five books of the Bible known as the Pentateuch; the Law and the Prophets referred to the whole Bible.  What Jesus objected to was, the many added rules and regulations added by the Scribes to further define the Law, put too much of a burden on the ordinary people.  Jesus came to show people what reverence for God and respect for other people was like.  Let us be salt and light in our communities as we share the love of Jesus with those we meet.

We sang, ‘Beauty for brokenness’ before I led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘I, the Lord of sea and sky.’

 

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It is good to see family and friends

On Monday January 30th my beloved and I went over to Leeds to have lunch with my friend Pamela and her husband David Cundall, who is a retired Paediatrician.  It was lovely to have homemade soup, cheese and biscuits and bread and fruit.  It was lovely to see them and catch up on their ever expanding family.  All but the youngest daughter are in relationships and or married. They have 3 granddaughters in one family, a grandson and granddaughter in the other family.  The youngest is getting married this year.  David is very involved in the Nigerian healthcare system.  He and his team self finance to go out and advise midwives and nurses on how to deal with newborns to give them the best chance of living.  He goes out for about 3 weeks at a time to train and advise healthcare people.  His father was a missionary doctor and he loved being out in Africa.  Pamela and David’s third child Anna was born in Kenya, where David had worked for a few years in a medical facility.  Before Pamela retired she worked part time as a pharmacist.  David was a community Paediatrician in Leeds Hospitals for a number of years.

It was lovely to hear all their news and Piper seemed to settle in well with us there.  He loves being home best but he is fine as long as he is with us.  If we have to leave him he always goes over the top in his greeting of us, as if we have left him for hours or even days!!  Life is full when I walk him each morning and together with my beloved in the early evening.  It gets increasingly difficult to remember the time before we had him.  He seems to be really settling in and gradually building up confidence in himself, as he feels more secure.

It was good to see Brian for our time of prayer.  We both find it uplifting and strengthening in our faith to share our prayer needs and pray together.

On Saturday February 4th I went over to Chapel Allerton Methodist Church for a Progressive Christian meeting at the invitation of Pamela and David.  I found it very interesting and enjoyed the discussion and talk.  Some friends from my chapel were there.

On my return to Harrogate I met Fran at St Mark’s Church, where we had a lunch together and enjoyed a good chat.  It was a lovely afternoon so we had a walk together round the stray, before she left to see her friend Pat.  It was a good week with family and friends.

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Sunday January 29th Worship at Wesley Chapel

On Sunday January 29th our minister Rev Christine Gillespie led Café Church at Wesley Chapel.  The menu was ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’  There were bread rolls and pastries and grapes provided for our breakfast with apple and or orange juice.  The theme was ‘Being connected – Being in Connexion’ because in recent years social isolation and increasing loneliness have become important issues in many contemporary societies.  Recognising that ‘we love because God first loved us’ Christians are called to develop new forms of community life.  In these we share our means of livelihood with others and nurture support between generations. The Gospel call to live not for ourselves but for Christ is also a call to reach out to others and to break down barriers of isolation.

We sang ‘God with us Creator God’ before Christine led the prayers. We read a hymn as the prayer of confession;

‘Because you came and sat beside us,

Because you came and heard us speak,

And we ignored you and we refused you,

We ask forgiveness, Lord Jesus Christ.’

Each verse she says; we ask forgiveness; and we love status and steady money; and we love power, and winning battles; and we are wounded because we wound you; and in the Spirit, we are forgiven.  We read 1 John 4: 19-21 – We love because he first loved us; we cannot love God and hate our brother. Matthew 16: 24-26 reminded us that we should pick up the cross and follow Jesus.  We were encouraged to discuss three questions initially; How does our culture tempt us to live only for ourselves?  In what ways can we work for others in our daily lives?  What can we do together as Christians that we would be unable to achieve on our own? We sang ‘Let love be real in giving and receiving.’  We read Micah 6:8 about acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before our God.  There was a poster outside a local church with the words, ‘Act justly; love mercy; walk humbly’ but there was no mention of God.  We need God in our lives to help us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in our lives.  We sang, ‘One human family God has made,’ before we talked together about practical things we could do.

Christine led the prayer of intercessions and the Lord’s Prayer.  Our time of worship and discussion ended when we sang, ‘Called by Christ to be disciples.’  It was good to share our thoughts with each other. It was also a good time of worship.

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Time together is good

On Tuesday 24th January I went to the New Wine meeting and we had a lovely time of worship and prayer and prayed for each other.  I felt uplifted by the time of sharing and rest.

I had an enjoyable week of starting the day walking the dog and then taking him out in the evening with my beloved.  It is good as the evenings begin gradually to get lighter.  Piper loves his walks and sometimes is very sociable with other dogs but at others he barks at them.  He loves following scents of rabbits predominantly and squirrels if he spots them.  The trouble is that the ground tends to be muddy that we have to dry and clean Piper’s paws to stop muddy paw marks.  Usually Piper is clean as he avoids mud if possible.  He often washes himself, as he is naturally clean.  My beloved and I enjoyed relaxing together and watching DVDs or films on  television and listening to music.  I am so fortunate .

It was good to see Beth on Saturdays walking Chase and Piper.  We spent time together before Beth took both dogs for a long walk, which gave my beloved and me time to do bits of shopping without Piper.

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Sunday January 29th Worship at Hampsthwaite Chapel

On Sunday January 22nd I led worship at Hampsthwaite Chapel. We sang  ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ before I led the opening prayers.  I gave a children’s talk about light; I read the poem by Robert Louis Stevenson about the Lamplighter and told them how John Ruskin had watched a lamplighter lighting lamps across the valley.  He could only see the lights spreading along the street not the lamplighter.  In the same way people may not know us but as we live our lives we should be reflecting the light of Christ wherever we are and have been.  We sang ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’ before we had the Bible readings; Isaiah 9.14 and the dramatised reading based on Matthew 4.12-23.  We sang ‘The kingdom of God is justice and joy’ before I preached.

Isaiah lived in a time when Israel was under the yoke of military and political oppression from Babylon and in the time of Jesus Israel was under the yoke of Rome.  It was in the darkness of the times that Isaiah looked forward to the light of the Lord who would bring new hope in the darkness.  Matthew saw Jesus as the bringer of light to the dark times under the oppression of the Romans in fulfilment of the prophecy.

When Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he knew it was time to begin his ministry.  He chose to leave Nazareth and to go to Capernaum, a small place by Lake Galilee.  He chose to go to Galilee as it had a large population for its size and they were a people who were most open to new ideas.  Matthew was keen to show how Jesus fulfilled that prophecy in Isaiah about light in the districts of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, beyond Jordan in Capernaum.  Jesus spoke with certainty and authority from God the Father.  The message of Jesus was that the people had to repent as the kingdom was near.  They had to turn their eyes from earth to heaven and stop walking away from God, but instead walk towards God.  Jesus knew that his message was urgent as the reign of God was about to begin.  Now was the time to repent and follow him.

At the time of Jesus the Sea of Galilee would have been full of fishing boats.  Peter and Andrew, James and John were busy with their nets when Jesus saw them and called them as his first disciples.  It was not the first time Jesus had seen them; some of them were already disciples of John the Baptist.  They had most likely already listened to Jesus and talked with him but it was only at that time that Jesus had challenged them to follow him and become his disciples, leaving their usual livelihood behind.

The disciples were simple working fishermen with no great influence or wealth; it was ordinary men Jesus chose.  They only had themselves to give in his service and Jesus knew he could use people like that who wholeheartedly serve him.  Jesus knew they had the right qualities to become fishers of men. A Jewish student was trained to follow his master in a physical sense as the first disciples did and his life was to be shaped under the yoke of the master.

Jesus taught in the synagogues which were the teaching institutions of the Jewish people and there was one in each place where there was a small colony of Jews.  There was always an opportunity for a visitor to give the address.  Jesus would have been welcomed as a distinguished scholar.  Jesus also went about proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom and healing the sick.

We too are called to follow Jesus and with Jesus’ help we can make a difference in our communities.  Do we long to make a difference but feel powerless to make a difference?  Do we wonder what the point of life is at times?  We can all make a difference and we have been created to worship God and thank him for who he is and all he has given us.  Let us respond to his call and be the hands and feet of Jesus to serve and love others and share Jesus’ unconditional love with the needy world in which we live.  We are called to bring the light of Christ and hope to those who despair in the darkness they feel surrounded by.

We sang ‘For the healing of the nations Lord we pray with one accord.’ Pauline Robson, the worship leader led the prayers of intercessions.  Worship concluded when we sang ‘Go forth and tell! O Church of God awake!’.

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Theology Talk on Paul by Professor John Barclay

On Saturday January 21st Professor John Barclay, who is Professor of Divinity at Durham University gave a Theology lecture about Paul on grace.  The session began with praise and the collect for the following Sunday.  We then sang my favourite hymn, ‘And can it be’ by Charles Wesley.  Prayers of holiness were then said.   John’s topic was ‘The Doctrine of Grace in the life of St Paul; Paul and the Gift.’  John teaches undergraduate students theology and religion.

He talked about gifts.  Paul’s theology of Grace – ‘Charis’=gift in Greek. Gifts are different in different cultures.  Our understanding of gifts in the West is different from Paul’s cultural understanding.  The notion of reciprocity means do we need to give something in return for a gift received?  What makes a gift a gift? Gifts can be taking a child to school or shopping for an elderly person.  A gift is life enhancing bring benefit to those who receive it. A gift is given of our free will.  For a gift to be good the person giving it needs to have personal knowledge of the recipient, so that it adds something of value to that person. If a bank makes a loan and the loan is not repaid then that leads to a court case.  However a gift to a son or daughter is not expected to be returned; giving something back is a modern western notion.  In most cultures gifts are given to cement a relationship.  An open ended gift can be given to begin a reciprocal relationship, but that does expect a return gift in the hope of a two way relationship.  A bribe puts a person under obligation and the briber has power over the recipient of the bribe.  Should gifts have strings attached?  We often say that there is no such thing as a free lunch in our culture!  If a gift is binding us into a relationship then there would be the hope that something is given in return.  In most cultures those people giving gifts do expect returns.

Deep Christian theology is that Jesus emptied himself of all but love; an ideal example for us.  Does God giving to us expect a return? Yes, God gives himself away to create a relationship with us.  Paul says we have an obligation to give thanks to God in response to his gift of Jesus.  It is selfish in a relationship if one partner does all the giving and the other all the receiving.  If a recipient can’t give anything back, the relationship can be humiliating for the recipient.  A person who was supported by the church for 3 years felt humiliated as he or she could give nothing back.  Then we are told to love our enemies and our later reward will be great.  We are told to give and it will be given to you.  However in Matthew 5 we are told to give alms secretly, not publically as our Father in heaven will reward us.    God will reward them in the future.

In Jewish Theology in the Old Testament we meet the problem of the poor who can give nothing back and therefore people might not see the point of giving to them.  The prodigal son was so poor, having wasted his inheritance, that no one gave him anything.   However God can return it to you, if the poor people cannot.  In Proverbs it stated that giving to the poor would bring returns in life to come.  We as Protestants feel uncomfortable with what sounds like a deal with God.

Paul recognised that human relationships were reciprocal. Love does not seek its own way but puts the interests of the other before its own way.  Paul expected his relationship in church to be of mutual benefit.  Corinth had a problem with giving money as they felt the gospel is not a gift.  Philippians gave thanks for the gift of the gospel from Paul and gave money in return to support those in need in Jerusalem. Paul expected a reciprocal relationship in that as he contributed to the church they should contribute to his fundraising for Jerusalem.  The surplus of each would meet the lack of the other.

We should have relationships in the church where everyone badly needs each other.  No one is autonomous or truly self sufficient.  When a gift is given and not reciprocated there is an element of self sufficiency and a desire for independence rather than recognising our interdependence.  Paul’s biggest project was to make a collection to send to Jerusalem.  That desire caused enormous difficulties especially for the Corinthian Church.  They lost interest in giving to the collection for Jerusalem and did not see the need to do so.  Paul found that response discouraging as the church at Corinth excelled in resources, Charis, gifts and grace.  They could easily have given from their wealth to poor Jerusalem.  God had given to Corinth, so they could give to meet the needs in Jerusalem. Gifts can create hierarchies of power; we can feel obliged to give something back.  If we give something, which is God’s we owe something to God. God is the source of the gift not those who give it.  Paul wanted a relationship for giver and receiver.  Giving is participating in the generosity of God.  Jesus gave away his riches and became poor for our sakes.  What wealth does God want us to have? Christian giving is not just following the example of Jesus but entering into the flow of divine generosity.  We can receive the generosity of God through our neighbour.  Christians are often good at giving gifts but not at receiving gifts.

What happens when we cannot be the giver?   It is not selfish if we at times need to receive rather than give.  Modern individualism wants to be self-sufficient and does not like to be dependent, but we are created to be interdependent.  People might not want their neighbours to cut their hedge or they would have to do something in exchange.  One way to reciprocate is to help in a crisis, such as the refugee situation; Aids or in food banks.  Imagine relationships of mutual benefit.  We could set the tone by the way we conduct our lives, such as letting people into traffic or giving blood.  We can give time on a voluntary basis in general reciprocity to improve the community.  Russians did not accept the charitable gift of an ambulance, as they felt it was a patronising and humiliating gift.  Aid in Africa disempowered the communities when the people had not been properly trained to use equipment; they would have to wait for Westerners to fix it, before it can be used!  Relationships which build up people’s skills enable projects to keep going.  The poor survive when they support each other; friends and family help each other.  Let us learn to be a truly supportive part of our communities and our church fellowships and learn to follow Jesus in accepting, loving and serving those in need around us.

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Bible Study and Prayer with friends enriches our lives

On Monday January 16th we met for our Bible Study group and we decided that we would start on the latest York Course in February or in March, as we had started to study the booklet compiled by our President and the Vice President on Holiness and Justice.  We discussed ‘Making a difference’ and ‘Wonder and amazement’ and it started so many conversations that we did not get any further with the booklet.  It was very stimulating.  We learn from each other as we share our thoughts.  The two hours always passes quickly.

On Wednesday our gardener Martyn came to prune the apple trees; he was very efficient.  It was good to see him and we look forward to his more regular sessions in the garden from March.   At the moment after all the rain, the ponds are full and the ground is still rather like a quagmire!

It was good to have a time of prayer with Brian, especially as we could not meet in December.  We both find our prayer partnership very important.

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