Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church faith//hope//love

  • The light from the stable

    We’ve had a pretty terrible few months, losing 4 friends, all too soon, some tragically.

    Here’s the sermon on it….

    What a time we’ve had. We have lost four members of the family over the last few months, all of them unexpected and tragic. What are we to make of it all?

    We can blame God, as if God would play with us in this way.

    We can concluded God is not in it, or even not there.

    We can keep on and try to not let the hurt and the questions reach us, keep busy, don’t think about it.

    None of those are right in the long term. They may be our initial response, they may help us deal with the maelstrom of feelings we are experiencing. But in the end they leave us empty.

    What are to make of it all?

    Unusually I looked at one of the letter in the New Testament. I love stories, I love the message they carry, I love the normalness of them. But this time I ended up with a complicated passage, and I’m no expository preacher, so here we go…

    1 John 5: 1 – 12

    5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah is a child of God; and whoever loves a father loves his child also. 2 This is how we know that we love God’s children: it is by loving God and obeying his commands.

    Love is what it is all about. You wouldn’t always know it to look at how the church behaves, and by the church I mean us Christians. But to believe in Jesus makes us children of God, and children reflect their parents. I know there are cases where the last thing someone might want is to reflect a parent, but generally we are a result of those who bring us up, it’s in our DNA and it’s in our very soul. As God’s children we are called to love, and to love one another, in our often failing and inept human way.

    The trouble is, this is the sort of passage that can get taken the wrong way because it talks about obeying God’s commands. But what are God’s commands? You can rifle through the OT and find all kinds of laws and commands that seem to point us in the wrong direction (mildew, genocide, capital punishment, recipes, etc), but we know in our hearts what God’s commands are. Jesus summed it all up,

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.

    That’s it, everything else, as they say, is just rock and roll.

    3 For our love for God means that we obey his commands. And his commands are not too hard for us, 4 because every child of God is able to defeat the world. And we win the victory over the world by means of our faith. 5 Who can defeat the world? Only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

    And this is what it boils down to. Love is the hardest command and yet the simplest. We are all at different stages on that learning curve, some of us find it easy to love, others of us struggle, some of us find it easy to accept love, others of us resist love. But it is crucial if we want to truly live. Because with love we can face anything, with love we have a place, with love we can stand.

    People say sometimes that religion is a crutch, it’s for people who are weak and who need something to lean on. I’d say they’re right. Because we do, none of us can stand on our own and truly live, we need others, and they need us, and faith (or religion if you like), gives us that place to dwell, that strength that holds us when we can’t hold ourselves. Call it a weakness if you like, I call it being human.

    Here the writer uses a language that, again, can be used to put in a false dichotomy, a lie, that ‘the world’ is bad and ‘religiousness’ is good. It’s not saying that, the writer is saying that everything the world throws at us, and we’ve had some things thrown at us over the last couple of months, will not win because we have the victory. We follow something, someone bigger than all that. We hold onto a hope that is stronger than despair, a light that shines despite the darkness, a love that overcomes hate, a life that is stronger than death.

    Who can defeat this evil that seems so all powerful, so overwhelming?

    We can, I can, you can.

    Never forget that.

    Even when the darkest night engulfs you, when the darkness tells you there is nothing left and you are defeated, say no, and hold onto the light.

    And this is why…

    6 Jesus Christ is the one who came with the water of his baptism and the blood of his death. He came not only with the water, but with both the water and the blood. And the Spirit himself testifies that this is true, because the Spirit is truth. 7 There are three witnesses: 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and all three give the same testimony.

    9 We believe human testimony; but God’s testimony is much stronger, and he has given this testimony about his Son. 10 So those who believe in the Son of God have this testimony in their own heart; … 11 The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life, and this life has its source in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has this life;

    Jesus was born and lived among us.

    The writer talks of water and of blood, symbols of life and death. We have people in our church family who can speak of the truth of this, how they found life in the midst of death, how they survived the loss of loved ones, how they discovered life was precious and to be lived. We have stories here of the light shining in the darkness, sometimes a flickering faint light, but the darkness has not put it out.

    But the greatest testimony is Jesus himself. Born of Mary, baptised by John, who lived and loved, bringing light and life, who died on the cross and burst from the grave. However you know and understand the story, this testimony speaks the truth of life to the lie of death.

    11 The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life, and this life has its source in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has this life;

    God bless you all this Christmas time, the darkness surrounds the stable, but the light of life shines now and into eternity.

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  • No.26 in a random series of sermons

    Occasionally I get a sermon that I quite like. Usually it’s the shorter ones. I take no credit for it (but accept that I wrote it down). This was from a Sunday when we collected toys, blessed a fostered baby about to leave for his new permanent family, shared an advent gift, gave out Sunday School prizes and lit the first advent candle.

    Jesus is Lord. We say it, we sing it. What does it mean? Lords are a bit of a thing of the past, although they are still live and kicking (if you’re watching I’m a Celebrity you will be well aware). vive la revolution I say.

    But Jesus as Lord?

    It’s about Jesus being at the centre, the reason, the goal setter, the example, the one we follow and the reason we do it. With Jesus as Lord we aren’t trapped in our own world, we aren’t self-seeking, or self-obsessed. With Jesus as Lord we find the freedom to live for others, we find we are set free to love and also to be loved, because our sense of love or value is based outside of our parameters, it isn’t limited by our own experience. If Jesus is Lord, then the previous Lords, who may have told us we were useless, or rubbish, the previous lords who may have treated us like rubbish or demanded everything from us, or sought our destruction, these lords are no longer in charge. This is why if Jesus is Lord, I am set free.

    And it’s not as hard as we think, because Jesus has been Lord here today. Giving these toys away, shows that we can let go, that materialism, the stuff we accumulate, needn’t rule or control us. And better, we are giving it to others, possessing isn’t Lord either. The blessing has shown us that Jesus is Lord because there is another narrative, a narrative that says, this child is special and loved. We don’t know his story, why he ended up being adopted, but what we know now is that he will be welcomed into a loving family, that will nurture and protect him. What his foster family here have done, what we all do with our families, is show that selfishness is not lord, that what I want isn’t lord, but Jesus is, and his Lordship brings love and security, it brings home. We have celebrated our Sunday School, this has shown that Jesus is Lord, because it is through these children that we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom. Not through the experts and the rulers of this world. Age or power isn’t lord, Jesus is, and these children show us, and we also show them a new narrative, where they can live and play safely, where they have an extended family that loves them and looks out for them. The insular, nuclear family isn’t Lord, God’s inclusive family is the one we are part of, because Jesus is Lord.

    And we have lit a candle to remember hope. In this season of advent we look to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God is with us. Because Jesus is not a theoretical lord, he is real, he is here, he walks among us.

    Jesus isn’t just Lord in my head and heart, he is Lord in the world. We can choose to live that, or not, but we are a people of a story, where God came down to earth dwelt mong us, and brought a new story, a new narrative, where the oppressive and destructive forces around us (and indeed within us), need not have the final say. To say Jesus is Lord, puts them in their place, hatred, fear, selfishness, envy, bitterness, anger, self-loathing. They are there, they will try and win their throne back.

    But remember.

    Jesus is Lord.

    God is with us.

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  • Autumness

    If you follow this blog, I'm surprised! Anyway, thanks for your patience, you may have noticed I rarely blog, I'd rather you dropped round and we could have a chat. I just thought I'd drop a few seasonal lines. I was sorting out the dates and we've got a quite a few things going on over the next month or so. Some of it is run by us (Bingo, Michaelmas Fair, harvest stuff) and some by others, (concerts, quiz night, and the like). It seems nice to be doing this at this time of the year. You can smell autumn in the air, bonfires, leaves dropping, school term has begun, people start looking a bit fed up as the chill starts to creep in.

    But we hope to provide an antidote to that, whilst it may start to get colder outside, it gets warmer inside. We hope to provide a glow of friendship and welcome at Three Trees and the church, so don't get the autumnal blues, drop by and warm your heart and soul!

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  • for what it's worth, here's my view...

    Because of my role I avoid being party political. If you ask me face to face I’m happy to discuss my personal politics and who I support, but party politics doesn’t seem quite comfortable in my job. I also avoid it because I know there are people of honour of every political colour and it is tempting to demonise those of different views. I also don’t think any particular party has it completely right, although in my view, some have it wronger than others! It’s not because I think faith and politics don’t mix. I believe they do, in fact I believe they must. Jesus was political, if you look at his life most of his teaching and actions were political and he got both support and opposition from all the different political camps of his time.

    I’ve had interesting party political relations myself here in Chelmsley. I get on very well (I think) with all of the parties generally. We have worked well with the Tory ruling party and had good support from our Tory MP. The Green councillors have been supportive of our work and some labour councillors have been a great encouragement to us. It must be said, I’m not the favourite of a few of the Labour councillors, and have annoyed the Tories occasionally. I’m learning (still) how to work with people who hold different views and values. I’ve learnt that co-operation rather than ideological trench warfare is far more effective. Also important is behaving honestly and openly, even with those you would disagree strongly with.

    But whatever my personal party political views, there are some things that I would look for and fight for, whatever the government’s colour. These are fairly basic, and you could argue too vague, but I think their simplicity is because they are so foundational.

    I would look for kindness, where people were treated as being of intrinsic value, trusted and given the benefit of the doubt. Not treated cynically or as inferior.

    I would look for compassion, where an understanding of others is nurtured, particularly those who are ‘different’, whether that is economically, socially, culturally, ability or anything else.

    I would look to see how the poorest in our country, and the world, are treated. I think this is a true measure of any society. Scapegoating, oppressing and withholding support and opportunity are often used against those with little power.

    I would look to see who gets preferential treatment. Protecting the powerful and wealthy is commonly found amongst those in power. Tax cuts for the wealthiest at the height of the recession, consistent failure to act on major tax evasion to name just two, are things that need addressing. The playing field is not level, we do not all have equal opportunity. In my view the previous government term does not have a good record in these areas.

    The last government took over during a time of a world (not just national) recession, this is given as the reason for the austerity we have been facing. Given a second term, they now have an opportunity to prove the values they speak of and that their ideology genuinely redresses the inequalities we see in society. What happens with welfare, the NHS, employment, the environment, international aid, to name a few areas, will show who they are what they are about. And this would be true if Labour or any combination, had formed the government.

    Whatever the colour of the government, the church and the community sector will continue to work for social justice in its broadest sense. It’s easier to work together, and I hope we can continue to do that locally. Our council has remained pretty static politically and I hope the working relationship we have can continue. What matters at the end of the day is not which party ‘wins’ or who has the power, but that the world is made a better place.

    Naive?

    Yes, but I’d rather that than cynical.

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  • Epiphany

    Christmas is done. We've had our final listen to Wham's 'Last Christmas' and it will be easier to avoid Michael Booblay for the next 11 months. It was our 12th Night party tonight and we had a bit of a church family get together, left over food, crown making, a few stories, songs and reflections. Whilst I enjoy Christmas, it is an extended, full on, party season and does go on a bit. Also, you find the Christians go on about keeping Christ at the centre of it all, but I don't know how they manage to, there's so much going on. And the stuff going on is good stuff too, the kind of stuff Jesus enjoyed; parties, meeting people, reminding people that they are remembered and special. It's all good, but difficult to keep the piety going. Even Jesus wouldn't want someone going on at him about the 'true meaning of Christmas' while he's trying to see if anyone put any good wine on the party table. So enjoy Christmas, enjoy the parties, and don't make everyone sing In the bleak midwinter at parties. The time to get all religious is after Christmas Day, once the season has begun.

    What I love about doing Christmas the right way round is that it does put Christ in the right place. Not as a party pooper, but as the centre, as the founder of the feast, as the light that suddenly sparks up into the darkness. On the twelfth night we have a (relatively) quiet family gathering. The church family get together, a bit partied out perhaps, and we remind ourselves of the story and bring all the previous couple of weeks back into the story. Epiphany rounds it all off and brings it back to the story of Christ. And it's all golden, and rich (leftover) food, and warmth. And the story couldn't be a better one to start off the new year.

    Like the Magi, we have gazed upon the infant Christ and now off we go, journeying into the new year, a new life, knowing that what we have seen and experienced points to a new order and can carry us through whatever the year may hold.

    Happy new year everyone, and blessing to you.

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Neil

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Welcome to the blog

Neil (the minister) occasionally gets round to blogging so welcome to the trivia and ramblings of an erratic stream of consciousness.

Because we try to be properly Baptist, these views aren't necessarily the views of everyone who is part of the church family here.

We're not even sure they're Neil's.

Either way, we try not to fall out over it.

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