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Such a great cloud of witnesses September 24, 2008

Posted by Andy in Reflections on Ministry.
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In the name of progress we live in an age of constant change.

A new computer is out of date very soon after it has been taken home and removed from its packaging. The latest teenage football sensation is heralded as the answer to a team’s goal-scoring drought only to be replaced by someone else with even greater prospects. Mobile phone companies don’t take no for an answer when you tell them your current handset works sufficiently well and try to win you over to the latest upgrade.

 

The bombardment we continually face from our media is a significant influence in all of this. Have you ever counted how many adverts flash before your eyes in a day? New books revealing the secrets of how to achieve the perfect figure, flashier cars that will take our breath away, fancier hair-styles that will make people stop and stare in wonderment, miracle diets outlining the latest healthy eating programme, new university courses offering qualifications in even more remote studies, new mobile phones guaranteeing wider network coverage…

Change is here to stay! And whilst not everything new is necessarily bad, it can be so easy to get sucked in.

 

As Christians we are by no means immune from this relentless pursuit after ‘the new’. I have been reflecting recently on a verse from the prophet Jeremiah: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Jer 6:16). This single verse caused me to think about the word radical.

 

I used to think that being a radical Christian meant embracing everything new that came along, like singing all the brand-new worship songs, reading the latest best-selling book about discipleship, and wearing a W.W.J.D (‘What would Jesus do?’) bracelet! I’m not suggesting that such things are wrong (I’ve got a F.R.O.G bracelet somewhere: ‘Fully Reliant on God’!) but I’ve come to realise that to be radical actually means to embrace the older elements of our faith alongside the new.

 

The word radical is derived from the Latin word ‘radix’ which means ‘root’. Radical Christianity means remembering our deep, historic roots. Being radical for God involves respecting old Christians who have long since died. By looking back, we begin to find the nourishment to sustain us in today’s fast, frantic and fluid world of change.  

 

Throughout 2009 I have a plan to let our historic voices speak to us again. Our Evening Services will focus on many of the characters that have shaped Christianity – ancient theologians, preachers, visionaries, hymn-writers and so on. We may find that some features of these old lives look really out-dated but are actually surprisingly relevant to our lives today. I’m sure that between us all we can think of numerous examples, both male and female, Baptist and non-Baptist, whose voices still speak today.

 

What characters do you think we should include in our rich Christian heritage? Would you be prepared to participate in some of the services and enlighten us? As we celebrate our church’s 180th anniversary, maybe there are some historical figures that have been connected to Hanbury Hill in the past that could be included?

 

My hope is that this won’t become a dull history lesson, but that these ancient lives will be an inspiration to us as we proclaim the Christ who was, and still is, our firm foundation in a world of such flux.  

 

Finally, a quote about being a saint:

 

‘We are not to imitate the departed saints – they are unlikely to be of our own personality or temperament so it would not be appropriate. We should not ask ‘What can I learn and imitate?’ No, instead we should ask ‘What can I learn about God?’ The life of a saint is not the life of a great man or woman, but of God’s life in an ordinary man or woman… Remembering the saints gives us a bigger idea of the things of God’.

 

 

 

 

Down, down, deeper and down September 8, 2008

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.
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Having recited ‘Go West’ from the Pet Shop Boys last week, this week’s sermon saw me un-intentionally name the title of a Status Quo song, or was it an album? ‘Down, down, deeper and down’.

In Jonah 2, the prophet really does hit the depths. From going down to Joppa, down to the bottom deck of the boat, and now down into the dark experience of solitary confinement in the belly of the fish. Jonah’s sinking feeling leaves him stripped of everything and out of desperation he calls out to God a prayer of thanksgiving, which has links to Psalm 30. Jonah’s prayer begins in distress and ends declaring God’s salvation.

I probably didn’t do it full justice in my sermon, but I tried to link Jonah’s sinking feeling with the sinking feeling of the Jews who suffered Auschwitz. It’s perhaps a tenuous link, but the ‘God on Trial’ BBC2 programme last week ended with some of the prisoners of war praying to God, in a similar fashion to Jonah’s heartfelt cry, despite the horror of their situation.

‘Out of the depths, you heard my cry’.