Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Space as sacrament

Because of The Thesis, I’m was interested by this example of the use of the language of sacrament which I find while casually browsingthe information super highway.

In Re-pitching theTent, Kevin Giles apparently calls (liturgical / church-building) space a sacrament of the people.

Spirituality Workshop

It's not too late to plan to join us for our Spirituality Workshop.

Spirituality Workshop
Sat 1st June

Osborne House, Rushlake Green (opposite the shop)

Coffee from 9:30am for 10am – 12:30pm followed by a light buffet lunch

This workshop is based on the Christian tradition but is intended to be suitable for those of any faith or none who are open to exploring a biblical spirituality. The morning involves an introduction to time-honoured Christian practices with the option of trying out one or two approaches to spirituality if you wish.

The morning will be led by The Revd Marian Raikes, Chaplain & tutor at Oak Hill Theological College, London. Marian has considerable experience of Christian ministry. Before coming a full-time theological educator, she was a parish minister for 14 years and before that a University chaplain. She is the author of a number of works and edited Stirrings of the Soul. Marian is a member of a “large and interesting family”, and her interests include pondlife conservation, all small wet creatures, eating and the theatre.

Suggested minimum donation of £5 per person

If you plan to come, it would be helpful (but not essential) to let us know for catering purposes. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The keys to church growth

Of course you preach the gospel prayerfully in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to him.

But you do a whole load of other stuff too. What really matters?

Humanly speaking, what are the few keys to church growth?

Maybe they include:

(1) Church services and events generally have a good positive feel. People are glad they came and would like to come again. It is the kind of thing they feel they could invite others too.

(2) The qualities of love and friendship are impressive and outward looking. There is a really warm welcome and people are invited in to quality relationships.

What else would you include?

I guess its more than really good flyers and posters - though of course we want those too. I seem to remember our Diocisan Mission and Renewal Advisor saying that he normally finds a touching faith in the power of publicity in parishes. We put up a notice, but the church did not grow. Why?

Mission & Missional and all that: STOP IT!

There is much talk of Mission Shaped Church and Mission Action Plans and even being "Missional", whatever that is supposed to mean. If you speak like this next you will be "doing ministry." But that is another story.

But how much difference does it all make in real ministry?

Research by CPAS suggests that 60-70% of church vision statements make no real difference.

So much of the the pastor's work is probably concerned with keeping the show on the road and the church will tend to try to do what it has always done whether it works or not.

The thing is to hold before oneself the mission of Christ and his church: the call to make disciples.

And then we need to ask, "Does this contribute to disciple-making?" If not we need to consider STOPPING IT. We even need to ask "Is this the most effective way to contribute to disciple-making?".

No doubt the 8am Communion for the 6 customers is a good thing that could contribute to disciple-making, but is it the best use of everyone's time and energy? Would you start it for the sake of mission if it didn't exist? Have you ever considered STOPPING IT.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to lead a service

Be well prepared but able to be flexible.

The feel and atmosphere of the service matters a lot and you can affect that by what you do and say, how you dress and your whole bearing. Be friendly and in control, relaxed but deliberate. We neither want to be pompous and terrified of making a mistake nor a sloppy shambles.

You should cast yourself as a minster of the Gospel, not as a quiz show host, entertainer, lecturer or bully. It is not about putting on a show but (a) worshiping God with reverecne and awe (b) helping people, ministering to them for their edification. Always keep in mind the newcomer, vistor and unbeliever, even if you think there may not be any! But focus on God's people if this is the Lord's Day service of covenant renewal.

Think of yourself as a father presiding at a family feast. That is what this is. It is solemn and jolly.

The mood should be serious and purposeful but not miserable or oppresive. The service can have more lighthearted moments. You may even venture a joke in the notices.

Sometimes you might address the children.

Start on time even if half the congregation is not there. If you wait for latecomers the service will start later and later and punctuality will be disincentiveised. Keeping to time is a matter of keeping your word. Likewise, what end-time are you aiming for and how worried are you about sticking to it? Most people will expect the service to be about an hour. I do not think you should exceed 1 hr 15 mins except in the most exceptional circumstances in most C of E churches. What could you drop if people are drooping and the service is into its second hour?

Do you know who else is taking part in the service? Do they know what to do and when?

Make sure your microphone is on and off at appropriate times. Do you operate that or does the sound person? Will they actually manage to turn you off for hymns and will they always miss the first line of anything you say?

How are you going to come in? A formal procession? Walk decisively to the place from which you are going to lead the service. A stall or seat or lectern or the middle somewhere? People might automatically stand up when you come in. Do you start straight away or pause to pray or fiddle with your papers and watch or whatever?

Have a clear formal start. Smile. Welcome people. Be deliberate in your first words: "Good Morning and welcome to St Swithin without the Wardrobe Parish Church." Be loud enough, don't shout. Be nice.

If there are a significant number of guests or visitiors you might introduce yourself: "My name's Marc and I'm the Vicar here"

 Notices might be best got out of the way at this point. You may say something about creche and children etc.

Don't be in too much of a rush but get on with it.

Does the congregation need to be pointed to page 7 of the service books or the service sheet or the screen or is all that obvious? Do they know that they join in with the words in bold type?

If the service always starts on p7 and everyone has been here for 50 years then "The Lord is here" is a perfectly good beginning.

Make your links breif and to the point. "We join together in singing hymn number 235" is perfectly acceptable from time to time. Sometimes you might read out the title or first line or first verse.

 If something in a hymn really needs explaining (e.g. "here I raise my Ebeneezer") please do. But, again, don't define every vaguely tricky word in every hymn all the time.

People do not generally want 10 sermons in the service. Let the preacher preach.

 People need to know when you want them to stand or sit etc. Over time I would suggest you train the congregation to always stand as soon as the first note plays and remain staning unless told to do otherwise. When you tell them to kneel many will disobediently sit! If you want them to remain standing you might say "we remain standing for to affirm our faith / for the Gospel reading." It is worth making "As we stand..." the first thing you say if half of them are inclined to automatically sit.

If you want to ask them to stand it is best to say "Please stand" and wait for them to do so. If you say "We stand to sing hymn no 235 When I survey the wondrous cross, look especially at v8...." some people will stand at the start of your sentence and some people will stand half way through the first verse.

Think about how you will introduce responses. What do the congregation expect? Will you say, "We join together in saying the prayer in the middle of page 88, saying..."? Or will you just lead into the words with bold type: "As our Saviour taught us, so we pray: Our Father...". Or will you just launch into stuff and expect them to join in? Do they know what you say and what they say and what you say together?

Stage directions can be included in an order of service.

The sermon is jolly important but it is not the only thing or the be all and end all.

The service should ideally have a logic and coherence. It has an order and a goal. It is not just one thing after another or a random assortment. You don't have to give a running commentary but sometimes you might bring that out. For example, you might say after the absolution, "So conscious of God's forgiveness, we sing his praises with hymn number 235."

Themes from the readings or sermon or day might influence the choice of hymns.

At some point in the service you might link one of the hymns to the readings. Your opening Scripture sentences, invitation to confession, confession and absolution, creed and blessing can all be chosen to reflect themes of the service, day, readings or sermon.

Obviously you will want to observe your ordination vows and use only those forms of service which are authorised or allowed by canon. In practice on a Sunday this will normally mean a minimum of authorised confession and absolution, creed, the Lord's Prayer and a blessing.

End. Walk out.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Expository Jottings on Revelation 22:12-end

Audio sermon available here

In the lectionary reading for today we come to the triumphant finale of the book of the Revelation and of the Bible.
Like a great composer, John or God, depending on how you think about it, revisits some of the great themes of his symphony and gives them one last blast and brings the whole thing to a wonderful conclusion.
A conclusion that demands a response from us: yes, a standing ovation and cries of “Encore!” and “Bravo!” (feel free after the sermon!) but much more than that:
A response of our whole heart, soul, mind and strength:
Our intellects, emotions, wills, thoughts, plans, dreams, actions, words – all are affected by this great anthem.
We too are to echo its themes.
I hope God’s tune will get stuck in your head and you’ll be able to hum it to yourself this week, and perhaps even to improvise on it.

This sermon is a running commentary on the text.
It makes no pretense to any structure or headings other than the Bible’s own.
So it might seem a bit less like an incoherent jumble if you follow it in the Bible.
Here are the notes John has laid down for us.
I hope to play them all and some of them I’ll hold for longer than others and some I’ll give a jolly good bang.

V12 – The Lord Jesus Christ himself speaking:
John has been speaking earlier in v8 but if its not obvious from the content, look at v16 and you can confirm that this is Jesus speaking.
“Behold, I am coming soon!”

The Bible talks about various different comings of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
e.g. his birth – his first coming
came to Jerusalem in his earthly ministry
predicted that he would come again to Jerusalem in judgement
AD 70
Much of the book of Revleation, I suspect, is actually about that
But Jesus also spoke of his Second Coming
End of the world
“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”

2000 years is not soon in my diary
I might adopt that approach when someone asks me to do something
“I’ll do it soon” – 2 millenia
AD 70 was soon – within a generation of Jesus, maybe within a few years of John’s writing

2000 years not long in God’s terms
That’s the blink of an eye to him
Older people’s perspective on time
To them my 35 years are but a moment
The Vicar is still a lad!
Policemen are looking young
(Wedding couples)
To a 90 year old the 2nd world war might feel like only yesterday even though it was 70 years ago

God eternal, timeless, unchangeable
God never early or late, always right on time
All time is present to him
God is never in a hurry
He always (literally) has all the time in the world
A thousand years like a day
2nd coming “soon”
No one knows the date or the hour
Could be any minute
God showing mercy to a thousand generations
A generation 30, 40, 50, 60 years?
30 000 years
We’re planning for a lot more generations of faithful Lloyds!
The Second coming might be today but I guess
We’ve only just started
The church is barely out of nappies
It’s not surprising she keeps squabbling and falling out and mucking things up
She’s a toddler
We’ve all got a lot more growing up to do
Growing pains, teething troubles
Perhaps the Reformation was the adolescence of the church
May God bring us to greater maturity and unity

Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone
A free gift
We never earn or deserve our salvation
Judgement according to works
Above all we will be judged by what we have done with Jesus
Have we followed him?
Obviously not perfectly, but really?
What has Jesus done in and through you?
In the portacabin where I had Sunday School there was a poster:
Cartoon judge
“If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
A searching question, isn’t it?
It obviously stuck in my mind.
What real difference has Jesus made in your life this last week?
What difference will he make next week?
Not just secretly in your heart, but the kind of thing we could point a stick at in a court of law – public observable evidence
And don’t just say you came to church for an hour on Sunday!
That’s a great start!
Did you read your Bible or pray in between?
Did you speak to anyone about Jesus?
Did your commitment to Jesus change the way you treated your spouse, or parents, or kids, or neighbours, or even the mother in law?
How did it affect the way you do business?
Where you a Christian builder / judge / teacher / car park person / carer / housewife / nurse / accountant / … / this week?
(Have you even started to think about what that would mean? – Good Book Club!)
Or how you treat the gardener or cleaner?
Or your boss?
Jesus really does expect our commitment to him to be visible in what we DO and SAY.
We should see our Christianity from our diary and our bank statement but we should also see it running through everything.
For example, on the great final day, you might be able to say for a decade I photocopied the church notice sheet for you, Jesus.
No one really knew I did it.
I didn’t enjoy doing it.
It wasn’t my gift.
But I knew it needed doing, so I did it happily with a smile on my face.
I was converted, wasn’t I, Jesus?
No one in their right mind would have done that, except for love for you.

Works the evidence of a changed heart
Justification by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone
e.g. even the thief on the cross – his words
Not faith + good works = salvation
But salvation = faith + good works

Jesus the A & the Z
Jesus is the beginning and the end.
The originator and the completer.
The creator and the redeemer.
The start and the goal.
The promise and the fulfilment.
All things were created by him and for him that in all things he might have the supremacy.
Jesus is the whole story.
He’s the underlying principle, the organising genius, the theme, the motif.
He is the author, the playwright, the producer, director, choreographer.
He gives the universe its coherence and reason, purpose.
He is all in all.

“Blessed” = “Happy” – truly happy, real fulfilment, joy, security, the good life
Not… small holding in the countryside or a secure retirement

Forgiveness – a wash
J b f a again!
Our righteousness as filthy rags
Scarlet stains as white as wool, as snow

There’s an asymmetry:
All those who are shut out deserve it
None of those who are let in deserve it
Yet they are really Jesus’ people, really changed by him
They are sinners saved by grace – and the work of grace in them is apparent

Do you remember what John Newton, the former slave-trader who wrote Amazing Grace said:
“I am not what I ought to be,
 I am not what I want to be,
I am not what I hope to be in another world;
but still I am not what I once used to be,
and by the grace of God I am what I am”

Always simultaneously righteous and a sinner having the alien righteousness of Christ (Luther)

A right

To the tree of life

And to go through the gates of the city

A tree and a city, both
The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a garden city

Tree of life – Eden
Eternal life
What was forbidden to the 1st man because of his sin is now permitted to mankind because of the saviour.
The first Adam could not eat of that tree but the Last Adam has given the sons of Adam the right to eat.
Paradise restored.
Only better!
Eden 2.0
Eden upgraded, mature, complete, full

City – community, people
If you get Jesus you get his friends thrown in!
Sorry about that!
This lot are part of the package!

A city also implies a civilization, a way of life, a culture
The way we do things around here
Kingdom manners and habits and style
Mature, complete, developed
One degree of glory to another
Christ’s Kingdom come here on earth as in heaven
The New Creation won’t be like the Amish
There’ll be IPads or the latest equivalent!

V15 – Some will be shut out
Not automatic entry
Gates open wide, but you have to show your invite
You have to observe the dress code
Could you do that?
Have you accepted Jesus’ invite?
Have you put on clean robes washed in the blood of the lamb?

Not literally dogs – dogs will be in! – a term of abuse!
Biblical abuse!
Interesting, isn’t it: the Bible calls people horrible names!
Dogs – not as in our culture – splendid Caleb the dog! – scavengers on rubbish tips, pariahs, unclean
Magicians – phew!
Sexually immoral? You? Fantasies? If you knew you wouldn’t be found out?
Murder in your heart?
Idolaters – mental as well as metal idols
Those who love and practice falsehood – say whatever’s easiest

Jesus the root and offspring of David
A very odd expression
Both root and offspring:
Root and shoot
The seed and the bud
Ancestor and descendent
Great king David’s greater son
The Eternal Son of God is also the Son of Man, the Son of David

Jesus the bright Morning Star
The Morning Star is a bright planet esp. Venus that appears in the East just before sunrise
He heralds the dawn of eternity
This world-order was merely the prelude, the first movement
First Fruits
1st bluebell in the wood – it’ll soon be full of them!

The bride – the church
The Bible the greatest love story ever told
A romance, a love affair
God woos his bride
Gives her everything
Wayward, tart, harlot, unfaithful
God should have divorced her
Jesus lays down his life for his bride
The greatest fairy story ever - They turn out to be true!
Jesus is the knight who kills the dragon and gets the girl
For her it’s a rags to riches story
For him it’s a riches to rags to riches story
She gets a royal name
She gets great wealth
He gets death!
Yet through death he wins the greatest victory of all
He washes and beautifies her
Both a wounded and bloodied, but only Jesus’ wounds remain, the glorious tokens of his victory
She is made whole by his brokenness

The Spirit and the bride agree
The Spirit teaches us to pray like this
God and the church are at one

V17 – response say “Come!”
Do you want the future this book describes?
Are you willing to entrust yourself to Jesus?
Do you want Jesus?

If I were an American preacher I would say “Can I get an AMEN?”
That’s the response God is looking for.
Not necessarily vocal but volitional, a yes from our souls!

Free drink of the water of life.
Really free.
There is some small print!
But it is really free.
What could be easier?
Come, take, drink!
We can all manage that, can’t we?

Jesus is water in a dry land.
Water when all the other cisterns are cracked and dry.
All the other drinks turn out to be poison.
Much that is apparently good water is salty and only increases our thirst.
We are insatiably thirsty.

V18-19 – a warning

V20 – Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Will you echo those words?

The note on which to end this sermon is perhaps the same note on which John ends the book of the Revelation:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

A prayer before preaching on Revelation 22

O Lord, God of the Spirits of the prophets, we thank you for the trustworthy and true words of testimony the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which you sent your angel to show your servant for the churches what must soon take place.
May we know the blessings of keeping the words of this book, we pray, neither adding to them nor taking away from them, but living faithfully in the light of them all, for Jesus’ name’s sake, Amen.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

John Owen on the Ascension

Slightly overstated, perhaps, but good stuff:

The assumption of our Lord Jesus Christ into glory, or his glorious reception in heaven, with his state and condition therein, is a principle article of the faith of the church - the great foundation of its hope and consolation in this world... The darkness of our faith herein is the cause of all our disconsolations, and most of our weaknesses in obedience.

On the Person and Work of Christ, works, vol 1, pp. 235 and 252 quoted in Chester & Woodrow, Ascension, p10

The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God

Mr Timothy Chester and Mr Jonny Woodrow have written a little book of said title, which naturally I shall be reading today ahead of tonight's Ascension Day service and sermon, the Lord being my helper.

The chapter headings / sermon (!) are:

(1) Ascended Priest

(2) Ascended King

(3) Ascended Man

Conclusion: Who May Ascend?

And there's a newly written Ascension Hymn by Mr Chester which makes those chapter's singable to lots of well known tunes.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ascension Sermon Notes

St Augustine of Hippo once said:
Ascension Day... is "that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven, his nativity would have come to nothing ... and his passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy resurrection would have been useless."
The ascension completes the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection and ascension prove that the cross worked.
When Jesus ascends to heaven he sits down.
His work is done.

The ascension is Jesus’ enthronement.

Now Jesus, the God-man, sits enthroned in heaven at the Right Hand of the Majesty of the Glory of God.

The ascension guarantees the return of the Lord Jesus as judge (Acts 1v11).

 May God grant that we might know Jesus as our King who is also our friend and our brother.
That we might bow the knee to him in all things, that we would serve him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
And that he might use us to bring others under the sway of the King of love, that they might know the blessings of his perfect peace.