A word from the vicar (2020-2021)


The season of Advent (December 2021)

Advent is a season that is very easy to misunderstand. Because it precedes a certain major festival, and because of the popularity of Advent calendars; it is commonly assumed to be simply a countdown to Christmas. Or, to give it a religious spin, a season of anticipation as we prepare to again celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even our Advent wreaths in Church might create this same impression (we light the final candle on Christmas Day). Many of the words we use in this season can also affirm this same incomplete view of Advent; waiting, watching, hoping, expecting, preparing... they could all be applied to Christmas-lovers at this time of year.

But as most of you reading this will know, Advent is primarily a season of waiting, watching and preparing for the return of Jesus – not this time as a baby, but as the victorious king, the righteous judge, and the redeemer of creation. This 'second coming' is not one we can accurately countdown to because "about that day or hour nobody knows... but the Father" (Matt. 24.36). But what the real meaning of Advent loses in terms of the certainty of its arrival, it more than makes up for in its significance.

This half-term I've been talking to the children at school about two very different kinds of hope. The first kind of hope is the hope that has the potential to disappoint. I might hope for a Liverpool season ticket this Christmas, but the likelihood is that I'll have to continue watching the Terriers (apologies Town fans!) Less trivially, the recent COP26 summit might have left us with a hope that a climate catastrophe can be avoided, but can any of us be certain that the promises made there will be kept or the targets that were set, achieved? Hope such as this is not bad; we might describe it as 'positive thinking' which is a far healthier state of mind than its opposite. But the point is that this first kind of hope is not something we can be completely confident in. Bing Crosby might have got the White Christmas that he dreamt of, but we might be disappointed if we hope for the same.

But the second kind of hope - the Advent hope - is something in which we can be certain. Jesus will return; the earth will be renewed; there really will be an end to suffering, mourning, and death. How can we be so sure? Because God's promises never fail. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming of God's Messiah; with the benefit of hindsight, we can find clear references to Christ's birthplace, his miraculous conception, his ministry, his betrayal, his death, his resurrection and his ascension. If God was right about all this, why should we doubt his promises about Christ's return?

Of course, knowing that Jesus will return - but not knowing when - presents us with a challenge. We need to ensure that we are watching and waiting, primed and prepared - like the bridesmaids with enough oil to fuel their lamps until the bridegroom arrives. So Advent is also a time of introspection, of examining our life and our faith. Are we ready for the bridegroom? And have we shared the hope that he is coming with those who aren't yet aware? Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is the best gift that any of us could give this or any year. Ian

Are You a Sower? (July 2020)

Are you a sower, that is a sower of seeds not a sewer with needle and thread. 

Today’s reading in Matthew is all to do with sowing and reaping. The past few months for me have been spent in the garden, sowing seeds, bulbs, baby plants. I’ve sown sweet corn, cauliflowers, squash and courgette’s, and salad leaves. Now I’m going to state the obvious if I hadn’t planted I sure wouldn’t get to harvest at harvest time, you see you have to sow to reap. 

When I went into the garden last weekend, following a week of rain and warm weather the weeds had begun to spring up and I knew that I needed to deal with them quickly. I remember when we lived in Birkby we had some wonderful raspberry canes that produced lovely sweet berries. Down amongst the raspberry canes, a lovely little yellow flower appeared really pretty we thought let’s leave it be. A few weeks later we went to inspect how the raspberries were doing but they weren’t, they had all died, the pretty little yellow plant now known in our house as the insidious weed had wrapped itself around the roots of our raspberries and rung the life out of them. 

So back to my question are you a sower? As Christians the answer to that should be a resounding yes, but what are you sowing I ask, well I’m hoping that your answer is the gospel, if I ask you what is the gospel you are sowing what is your answer? Maybe it’s telling people they should come to church, we enjoy a good sing song, or come to church you are sure to get a hug if you need one, or come to church you will get a cuppa and a biscuit at the end of the service, for some of you that might be the good news you share to get people to come along to church. But I have bad news, those things aren’t going to be on offer when we go back to church following lockdown. Church is going to be very different. However I ask again what is the gospel we are planting, it should be something that can’t be taken away from us because of coronavirus or any other virus that might come along, we should be planting the good news that Jesus came to earth as a man, to stand with us, to die for us on a cross to enable us to be able to come back into a relationship with his father, to forgive us for the things we have ever done or got wrong. 

When you throw out the seeds of the Gospel, it won’t always be received and embraced like in the parable Jesus shared when he talked about the different types of soil. There are those who just don’t want to know, those who take it on board superficially and when something they think is better comes along they drift away. There are the ones who take it on board but then they get criticised poked fun at and the going just gets too tough for them and they give up. But there are those who will receive the Gospel of God’s love for them and they will go on to sow seeds themselves and bring many to know Christ as Lord and Saviour. 

You might be thinking it’s okay you saying we have to sow the Gospel, but what if people don’t want to know. What about when that wee small voice starts whispering in your ear, you failed there didn’t you, they just didn’t want to know. Well it’s our job to plant to water to nurture those tender plants but it is God who makes things grow you are not a failure you have done your job.  And when the time comes for the harvest to be picked more will be harvested that you sowed. 

You may know the story of the dairy farmer’s son who grew up during the great depression in North Carolina, as a teenager he grudgingly attended church with his parents. At an all-day prayer meeting in 1934 someone prayed that God would raise up someone from Charlotte North Carolina who would preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

Dr Mordecai Ham a travelling evangelist was invited to preach in Charlotte, thousands flocked to hear him. The farmer’s son got invited to hear Dr Ham, and his main reason for going was that his friend said you can drive the pickup truck if you like, the young man drove the truck to the meeting and ended up committing his life to Christ, and that young man was Billy Graham he went on to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

So back to where I started are you a sower, the answer should be yes I am, this week are you going sow seed plant those seeds,  God needs sowers, waterers and nurturers. It is up to you and me to sow the seeds that God will one day harvest. 

Pentecost Sunday (May 2020)

Happy Pentecost everybody! I hope you are doing ok on this day that is sometimes described as “the birthday of the Church”, the day on which we remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the believers in Jerusalem and then upon 3000 others of many nationalities who were gathered in the Holy City for the Jewish spiritual and agricultural festival known in English as the feast of weeks. Let’s not think the Holy Spirit wasn’t around before then though, we encounter him throughout the Bible – but only from Pentecost did the Spirit fill all believers at all times. If you believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified and resurrected, you are a Spirit-filled believer!

This week Margaret Redfearn presented our message, a really powerful one as you’ll discover. I trust you will be encouraged and challenged by it in equal measure! Over to Margaret:

Readings: John 7.37-39 and Acts 2.1-21

Last weekend it was a bit windy wasn’t it, well I sleep most of the year with my bedroom window open, I like to have the room cool and I like the fresh air. Well last Saturday morning I was about to get up and suddenly the curtains blew horizontal into the room and one or two things were blown off the window sill. It was quite dramatic but not as dramatic as the wind we read about in Acts 2.

We join the disciples 10 days after Jesus has ascended into heaven. He had told them he was leaving but not to be sad because he was leaving a comforter someone who would be with them forever and ever.

People had travelled to Jerusalem from different parts of the known world to celebrate what is known as the festival of weeks a celebration of the first of the wheat harvest. 

We are told that the disciples were together in one place, when a wind began to blow, not a breeze, or a draft because someone had left the door or window ajar, no this was a violent wind it perhaps blowing things around in the house I would guess causing quite a racket. But not only that but from heaven appeared what are described as tongues of fire which separated and settled on the heads of each of the disciples. 

The promised gift Jesus had spoken about had now arrived they were each filled with the Holy Spirit. The disciples began to speak in languages of other countries and that was be a real attention grabber, people started looking at each other probably scratching their heads and saying what’s going on?  how come they can speak in my language. What does this mean. Some said oh they’ve been at the drink partying they’re drunk. But Peter, Peter who had only a couple of months before denied knowing Jesus or being one of his followers stood and spoke. It’s 9 oclock in the morning they aren’t drunk, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about when he said ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, you old men will dream dreams. Even on your servants, both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 

Following Peters words to the crowd we read that at least 3000 became believers, the church of Christ was born, the disciples went out and preached the gospel. The church didn’t start or grow because of the enthusiasm of these 12 men it grew because these men were empowered by the Holy Spirit which enabled them to show Gods love to all around them. The disciples received gifts of speaking in strange tongues, of healing of discernment and more. 

Are these things relevant for us today, some people say not, they say it was just for the time of the disciples, but I don’t believe that is right, why would God want to give something so powerful 2000 years ago and not want us to have that now.  The Holy Spirit is the connection between us and God, when we are at a loss about how to pray can ask the Holy Spirit to pray on our behalf he knows what our needs and the needs of the world are. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit might show up in powerful ways to get our attention, or he may show up in a more gentle way and whisper in our ear. Are we open to the prompting of Gods Spirit, do we listen when he says, make that phone call, or knock on a neighbours door just to see it they are okay, at this time of lockdown and social distancing we need to be alert to the prompting of Gods Holy Spirit. 

I shall never forget a story I heard many years ago of a young woman let call her Mary, who was praying one evening and she felt God telling her she had to get up and go to Manchester airport. Mary struggled with this it seemed a crazy thing to do, but it just wouldn’t go away, she knew God was saying I want you to go to the airport. So she got up and went not understanding why, she parked her car and went into the airport and said ok God I’m here what now. As she looked around she saw a young woman sat alone and she felt God was saying I want you to and talk to her. She went and sat by the woman and she told her God had wanted her to speak with her,  and as they talked the young woman told her how she had lost her faith in God, they talked for a long time and it was nearly time for the young woman to go for her flight and she asked Mary to pray with her which she did and led her back to Christ. They parted and Mary went home, as she walked into the house her mother was there and said have you heard the news, there has been a terrible crash at the airport a plane had crashed on take-off and all the passengers had died. Of course the young woman Mary had prayed with was on that flight. 

God loved that young woman enough to send his Holy Spirit to prompt Mary to go to the airport to speak with her to lead her back to him. Can we like Mary be open enough to Gods Spirit to hear both the big calls and the small ones?

Coronavirus has shaken our country and the whole world, apparently people have been searching the internet for details about prayer, people are seeking they need hope. Our hope comes in Jesus, are we willing to go out and share that good news with people, it can be scary but we need to remember that we aren’t doing it by our own efforts, we are doing it with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. 

 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


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.)


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