A word from the vicar

The deep joy, peace, and hope of knowing Jesus (April 2020)Bradley St Thomas' Church

So here we are: schools all-but-closed, supermarket shelves empty, many of us self-isolating, and Church worship services suspended indefinitely. I don’t think that even a month ago, with China in the situation it was then, we could have possibly imagined this scenario in our own country.

In many ways it is very difficult for us as a Church to focus on anything beyond caring for those people whose heath and finances may be affected by this crisis, and ensuring that somehow, we are able to facilitate our congregation’s (and perhaps our wider community’s) need to engage with God through these uncertain months.  I am encouraged to know that these things will happen with or without my leadership because there is a strong emphasis on praying and caring for one another in our Churches and I thank God for you all.
God is undoubtedly calling us to love and care and share and pray during this crisis, but I believe he wants us to be more than just a spiritual emergency service, giving our time and our resources to those in need. I believe he also wants us to demonstrate the deep joy, peace, and hope that comes from knowing Him: a joy, peace, and hope that no disaster can take away. God calls us to be His distinctive people so that others will be drawn to Him. Jesus instructs us to “let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5.16). Doing good deeds, yes, but also letting our light shine; the light that reveals in us the deep joy, peace and hope that comes only from walking with Jesus.

Perhaps you don’t feel particularly joyful, peaceful, or hopeful at the moment. If that’s true of you there are two possibilities for why this might be:

Firstly, it may be that you are confusing ‘joy, peace, and hope’, with ‘happiness, fearlessness, and optimism.’ These are two very different sets of feelings. I don’t think any of us are happy, unfearful or optimistic about the next few months. We are bound to saddened by the impact of this disease on our nation and the world. It would be strange if we weren’t anxious about the future and naïve to be thinking that it will all blow over quickly. There’s nothing wrong in feeling these sorts of emotions in times of trouble. Jesus himself experienced sadness, fear and foreboding at various times.   But the joy, peace and hope that we have in Christ runs deeper than these very human surface feelings. Ultimately, as Christians, we know the joy of being loved by God, the peace that all things are in His hands, and the sure and certain hope that He will make all things new at His appointed time and that we will spend eternity in paradise with Him. 

The second reason that you may not be feeling very joyful, peaceful, or hopeful at the moment is that your relationship with Jesus needs some work. These deep spiritual emotions don’t come from habitual church attendance alone. They come through regular talking and listening to God in prayer, through studying his life-giving Word, through being filled with His Holy Spirit. They come as we more intimately know and love our God: Father, Son and Spirit.  There’s no shame in saying you’re not there yet. In truth, all of us need to strengthen our relationship with God. But there can be no doubt that the closer we are to Him, the deeper our joy, peace, and hope will be.

I spoke on the third Sunday in Lent (at Fixby and Cowcliffe) about the potential this virus has for creating a new search for God amongst those who don’t yet know Him. People who have for years put their trust in themselves, their jobs, and their bank-balances, may begin to look for something or someone more secure. The Church must be there to meet this need and to guide people towards Jesus. No-one will be expecting us to be deliriously happy, stoically fearless, or wildly optimistic; but people will be searching for hope, for peace, and for a deep joy.  Let’s deepen our own relationships with God so that they be able to find Him, and these things, through us. Ian

Barnum

Lent with the Greatest Showman (March 2020)

As I'm sure most of you are aware by now, our Lent course this year is based on the film musical the Greatest Showman which is based very loosely on the life of PT Barnum. In the film Barnum is portrayed as a dreamer, an entertainer, and a philanthropist. The pursuit of his dreams causes him to briefly lose sight of what is important, but essentially Barnum is presented as a good man in an otherwise morally dubious world.

In reality, Barnum (1810-1891), was very much part of this morally dubious world. His critics accused him of doing everything possible to line his own pockets and he is widely acredited with coining the phrase "there's a sucker born every minute to describe his customers. His circus, Barnham and Bailey, did include the exhibiting of "human curiousities” such as the diminutive Tom Thumb but the extent to which he sought to present them as 'a celebration of humanity' is certainly open to debate. That said, Barnum also served as a politician and campaigned against slavery in the United States. Credit must be given to him for this, at least.

As we approach Easter again it is worth remembering that Christ's arrest and execution was also the case of a man misrepresented. Only this man's life was defamed rather than sugar-coated. Those who accused Jesus said He was guilty of blasphemy and sedition, and that He fraudulently claimed to be the king of the Jews, the Messiah, and even God's Son. His words were twisted to make Him appear deluded: "we heard him say this temple would be destroyed and that He would rebuild it in three days" (Mark 4.28). He was also accused with outright lies: "he forbade us to the pay the Temple Tax to Caesar" (Luke 23.2).

Jesus said little in his defence except to acknowledge that His accusers where not at all mistaken in saying that He was a king, the Messiah, and the Son of God. What good would it have done him to try and explain what he meant by rebuilding the Temple? What good would it have done him to reprise his teaching of "give to Caesar what is Caesar's"? His accuses has already decided to have him put to death (Mark 3.6).

Instead, Jesus went silently - "like a lamb to slaughter" - to the cross. It was the greatest injustice in history and yet it was God's will that He did so. In dying on the cross as a completely innocent man, Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil and took upon himself the mistakes and wrongdoings of you, me and all humandkind. His resurrection pointed towards our salvation and the redemption of the Earth itself.

Our redemption is the theme of the final week of our lent course. Before that we'll look at our hope, our calling, our identity and our temptation. These themes are all raised in The Greatest Showman though we'll discover that words like hope, identity and redemption have very different meanings in a Christian context.

We'll be looking Barnum and the other characters in the film as they are portrayed on screen rather than what they were really like. But we'll be firmly holdiing on to the true identity of Jesus: the Son of God, the saviour of the World, our Lord and our redeemer.              lan

Light Shine"Let your light so shine before others..." (February 2020)

This month's reflection has been written by Marc, our student from the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, who was on placement with us in January. Marc is also a lay brother at the Community of the Resurrection. It has been a real blessing to have him with us. Enjoy!

On February 2nd, the Church mark's the principal feast' of Candlemas: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This is a wonderful festival in which the Church has traditionally blessed lighted candles as a symbol of Jesus, who shows us God himself; the true light of humanity and of the whole creation. The blessed candles are then often kept throughout the whole year as a reminder that Christ, our light, is always with us. As Archbishop Sentamu says, “We are an Easter people and 'alleluia' is our song!"

The feast of Candlemas has a definite biblical precedent. It is celebrated in commemoration of Mary's purification in the temple at Jerusalem, which, as a Jewish mother, she would have undergone thirty-three days following the circumcision of her son. This was a mitzvah or commandment of the Jewish law as recorded in the book Leviticus in the Hebrew scriptural portion of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. (Lev. 12.) These five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus; Numbers and Deuteronomy are texts we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters; they remind us as Christians of our ancient roots in the Jewish faith.

Significantly, Candlemas serves as a mini Passover, when we recall from the book Exodus how the Spirit of the Lord 'passed-over the houses whose door-posts were covered in the blood of a sacrificed year-old male lamb, so that their first-born sons would not be killed by Pharaoh's army. (Exodus 12.)

Easter is the Christian version of this commemoration festival, because it is the gathering-up of our whole new identity in the person of Jesus - himself the 'showing of God - from our Jewish ancestors' crossing of the Red Sea, through forty years in the wilderness to the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and the first Covenant made with God under Moses. Jesus Christ it is the light of God - whose blood is the seal of the New Covenant (Testament) and the true Easter (Passover) sacrifice. Candlemas is a prefiguring of the Easter which is to come following the forty wilderness days of Lent which we will keep in a few weeks' time. It is a Mini-Easter - Pascha - Passover, because it reminds us of the fulfilment of God's promises which are both coming to us in Jesus, and yet are already here in his Incarnation and Epiphany: God's revelation of Godself to the world for the salvation - the saving of the world.

"Christ, be our light/Shine in our hearts/Shine through the darkness.../Shine in your Church, gathered today." St John reminds us, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn. 1:5.) How will you let your Christ-light so shine before others in this feast-time of Candlemas, that all may see it, rejoice in what love can do and give glory to your Father in heaven?

Your brother in Christ, Marc. (COR Mirfield.)

fireworks

Happy New Year? (January 2020)

As fireworks around the globe welcomed in a new decade, I couldn't help but reflect that many people in the world are entering the 2020s with some trepidation. There is a growing recognition that not only is climate change a reality, but also that its effects are already upon us. Wildfires are raging in Australia and elsewhere in the world, not only threatening lives and habitats, but also greatly reducing our precious forests and adding to the world's carbon output. Sea levels rising, more extreme weather, food shortages, and mass migration are just some of the likely consequences of increased global warming.

in our own country we wait anxiously for the seemingly certain arrival of Brexit and wonder how it might impact our economy and our society. Things we have relied upon for decades such as the National Health Service and anti-biotics are no longer certainties for our future. And I know that within our own Churches, many are facing significant challenges; especially with regard to their health or the health of a loved one.

Of course, a new year brings hope as well as anxiety. Many of us will be looking forward to weddings, births, holidays, or other exciting events. I'm even hopeful that 2020 will see Liverpool win a first league title for thirty years! But the overwhelming sense I have is that this decade will present the world and us, its occupants, with a range of difficult challenges.

Should we fear? As Christians we should not. Whatever problems we and the world may face this year and this decade; we hold on to the truth that God is sovereign, He is working his purposes out, and we - His people -are under His protection. But whilst we should not fear, we are right to be concerned. How can we not be as we see the world in the state it is, and as injustice, violence and immorality abounds? We are called to pray, make Jesus known, and play our own small part in standing up for creation and against all forms of wickedness.

And I can't help but feel that there is ever more urgency in this calling. Whilst the Bible is clear that no one knows the hour of Christ's return, we are told to watch out for the signs of his coming. In Revelation chapter 8 we read that Jesus return will be preceded by a third of all the trees being burnt up (8.7), a third of all the living creatures of the sea dying (8.9), and a third of the fresh water in the world becoming undrinkable (8.11). Nobody knows whether these events will be brought on by global warming or indeed whether they are meant to be taken literally. But they might very well be consequences of climate change and perhaps the process has already begun.

But far from being downbeat, now is the Churches' chance to shine most brightly. In a time of uncertainty and fear we have a message of truth and salvation. And we know that however bad things get in the world Jesus will return and will make all things new. Let us not shirk from the task. Let's talk about the gospel with renewed a passion and urgency. Let's pray for the world through tears and with hope. And let's pray fervently for the day of Christ's coming - Come Lord Jesus!       lan

Candles

Jesus Christ is coming to town (December 2019)

Advent is probably my favourite season in the Church year and it's not just because I'm excited to discover what Santa will bring me on Christmas morning! The word advent is derived from the Latin adventus and means "to come." It's the season in which we not only reflect on the coming of God to dwell amongst us in the person of Jesus; but also when we think on the promise of Christ's return at the end of this present age. Advent should be a season of hope, anticipation, expectance, and excitement; but also one of introspection, repentance, and preparation, as we ask ourselves whether we are truly ready to meet our Lord.

Those dual meanings of Advent could both be summarised with the words: "Jesus is coming!" But whilst the idea of God's Son being born in Bethlehem remains part of popular tradition, if not necessarily belief; the notion of Christ's return as judge is one that even many churchgoers are uncomfortable with. Perhaps some don't even believe it. I wonder why that might be.

Whatever the reason, we Christians ought to be convinced by the statement: “Jesus will return!" The New Testament Greek word that is the equivalent of advent is Parousia and it occurs seventeen times in our Bibles. In Matthew 24:3 the disciples ask Jesus what the signs of his Parousia will be. Jesus gives them a detailed answer using the same word three times (24.27, 24.37.24.39). Paul writes about the resurrection of believers at the Parousia in his first letter to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:23). And in his two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul mentions the Parousia a further seven times (1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thess. 2:1, 8, 9). James instructs his readers to be patient for the Parousia but also adds that it's near (Jas. 5:7,8) and Peter predicts that many will scoff at believers asking "so when is this Jesus of yours going to show up?" (2 Peter 3.4). Finally John urges us to abide in Christ so that we will not be put to shame at his Parousia (1 John 2.28). There are, of course, many other references to the return of Jesus that do not use this same Greek word.

Not only is the return of Jesus more regularly asserted in scripture than the virgin birth, I would say that it is also a more important doctrine. The fact that "no one knows the day or the hour" of Christ's return should both spiritually keep us on toes and be a driving force in our evangelism. We hear daily warnings about a coming climate catastrophe (and quite rightly so) but there could be nothing more catastrophic than being unready for the Lord's return. What an important message we often keep secret!

But "fear not" - to quote somebody we'll be hearing from a lot this month - if Jesus is the Lord of our lives then we have nothing to worry about when He returns. True followers of Jesus will be judged as righteous because He has already paid for our sins on the Cross. In fact this is why Advent is so exciting for me. I eagerly anticipate the return of Jesus, the restoration of the world, and His eternal reign of peace. Never mind "Santa Claus is coming to town", Come, Lord Jesus, Come! lan

Poppy

Remember, Remember  (November 2019)

November is the month most often associated with remembrance and it’s not only because it makes a pretty good rhyming partner! All Saints day is the date in the Church calendar when we think upon those who have walked with Christ before us, and at our Not Forgotten service we’ll be remembering those we love but see no longer. Later in the month we have Remembrance Sunday when we think about all those who have given their lives in conflicts to defend the liberty of others. And then, in between, the more dubious remembrance of the foiled plot by Guy Fawkes and his gang!

Remember is also a very prominent word in our Bibles. We’re often told that God remembers individuals for good; Noah, Abraham, and Rachel in Genesis alone (Gen. 8.1, 19.29 and 30.22). We’re also told that God remembers his promises; the Covenants He made with Noah (Gen. 9.6) and, later, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2.24). In Isaiah we’re given the amazing promise from God that He “blots out our transgressions and remembers our sin no more” (Isa. 43.25). Of course God doesn’t forget, this simply means he no longer holds our sin against us. 

God also urges us, his people, to remember important things; to keep the Sabbath day holy (Ex. 20.8), to recall that He has brought us out of slavery and into the Promised Land (Deut. 24.28).  He also asks us to hold on to the basics of our theology: “Remember… I am God and there is no other, I am God and there is none like me” (Isa. 46.9). The Psalms are full of appeals to remember. Sometimes we are encouraged to remember God and his great deeds (Ps. 105.5). At other times the Psalmists ask God to remember his people (Ps. 106.4), or simply to remember mercy (Ps. 25.6, also Hab. 3.2).  

When we remember God after a time of going astray our lives can be turned around. The imprisoned and blinded Sampson asked God to remember him and strengthen him once more to enable him to defeat the Philistines (Judg. 16.28). From within a big fish, Jonah “remembered [God] when [his] life was ebbing away” (Jon. 2.7) and via the prophet Zechariah, God tells us that although his people are scattered, “they will remember me [and] they and their children will survive and will return” (Zec. 13.2). 

In total there are 235 uses of the word remember, remembered or remembrance in the Bible, and the vast majority are as significant as the examples above. But perhaps the most important of all is Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19) when he broke bread and shared wine at his final Passover meal. He wasn’t, of course, asking his disciples, or us, to remember that Last Supper, but rather to think often on his suffering and death on the cross which has made possible our eternal life.  

God always remembers us. We must always remember Him – and not just in the month of November! Even the criminal on the cross next to Jesus saw the importance of this: His last recorded words were “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” and for this show of faith Jesus replied to him: “today you will be with me in paradise.” Hallelujah! Ian

In God’s Image  (October 2019)Creation of Adam

You might have heard that the irreverant and satirical puppet show, spitting image is making a comeback. It seems that the current crop of world politicians and celebrities are ripe for the same treatment received by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Now I have to confess that as a young teenager I loved those rubber-faced effigies and sneakily watched it whenever my parents weren’t around.

But more recently I have been troubled by cartoons in newspapers or on the internet that have exaggerated things like Theresa May’s nose or Diane Abbott’s lips. The problem is not just that they’re cruel (or, in the case of Ms Abbott, border-line racist) but that they trample over the Biblical truth that we are all made in the image of God; and I’m not too sure that He’d be happy that we are making fun of any of his image-bearers. 

Now let’s be clear, when we’re told in Genesis that God made humans - male and female - in his image, it doesn’t mean that we physically resemble God (Gen. 1.27). Rather, it means that in creating us he shared aspects of his own character such as the ability to create, love, empathise and forgive. Because of this the Bible holds up humanity as the crown of God’s creation and it’s why He speaks so severely against those who mistreat, harm, or kill other human beings. And Jesus strengthens these divine injunctions by commanding us to love our neighbours as ourselves.  It’s not just because loving is the right thing to do; but also because we show our reverence for God, by loving all those who are made, like us, in His image. 

Now you might argue that the Boris Johnson’s or Donald Trump’s of this world are fair game; or even that they deserve everything they have coming to them. But whist it’s entirely right to criticise, oppose, or get angry about the bad behaviour of others, I think it’s entirely wrong to dehumanise them as many cartoons, memes, and puppets do.  When we dehumanise we work against God’s purposes in creation. We do the same when we lie or gossip about people and also when we make unkind or personal comments about people, or when we join in by laughing at those made by others.

If you’re really up on your Bible knowledge you might now be thinking ‘didn’t Elijah mock the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18.27)?’ or ‘didn’t Jesus mock many of the pharisees he met (eg Matt. 23.24)?’ Yes, it’s true that they did, but if you look again it’s the behaviour of these people that are being mocked and certainly not their humanity.   

Given that I sneakily watched Spitting Image as a youngster I can hardly forbid you from doing the same; but I would urge you to think carefully about the things you say about others and especially about the things you might share on social media. Let’s remember than all human beings are made in God’s image so let’s not undo His work by dehumanising anyone. Ian

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