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Sunday’s sermon four days early December 8, 2010

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Hymns of Spurgeon October 25, 2009

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At our service tonight focussing on the life of Charles Spurgeon I closed by sharing the words of his hymn ‘Sweetly the holy hymn’ (see below), which I discovered in a 1933 Methodist Hymnal this week. I hadn’t realised that Spurgeon, most noted for his preaching, also wrote some hymns. In fact Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle produced ‘Our Own Hymnbook’ in 1866.

Sweetly the holy hymn
Breaks on the morning air;
Before the world with smoke is dim
We meet to offer prayer.

While flowers are wet with dews,
Dew of our souls, descend:
Ere yet the sun the day renews,
O Lord, Thy Spirit send.

Upon the battlefield,
Before the fight begins,
We seek, O Lord, Thy sheltering shield,
To guard us from our sins.

Ere yet our vessel sails
Upon the stream of day
We plead, O Lord, for heavenly gales
To speed us on our way!

On the lone mountain side,
Before the morning’s light,
The Man of sorrows wept and cried,
And rose refreshed with might.

Oh, hear us then, for we
Are very weak and frail,
We make the Savior’s Name our plea,
And surely must prevail.

I had also forgotten Spurgeon’s Communion hymn.

Amidst us our Belov’d stands,

And bids us view His pierc’d hands;

Points to His wounded feet and side,

Blest emblems of the Crucified.

What food luxurious loads the board,

When at His table sits the Lord!

The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,

When Jesus deigns the guests to meet!

If now with eyes defiled and dim,

We see the signs but see not Him,

Oh, may His love the scales displace,

And bid us see Him face to face!

Our former transports we recount,

When with Him in the holy mount,

These cause our souls to thirst anew,

His marr’d but lovely face to view.  

Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,

Thy present smile a heaven imparts:

Oh lift the veil, if veil there be,

Let every saint Thy beauties see!

You have the words of eternal life July 26, 2009

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I’ve been pressing on with my preaching theme of notable saints from the past: Isaac Watts (the great hymn writer), Corrie Ten Boom (the Nazi holocaust survivor), John Calvin (the Reformation theologian) and most recently George Whitefield (eighteenth century preacher and revivalist). It is said of Whitefield that in his final sermon in September 1770, in New Hampshire, in his conclusion he commented:

‘Works! works! A man gets to heaven by works! I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand.’

Dream dreams, pursue visions May 30, 2009

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Here’s my Pentecost Sunday closing benediction for tomorrow. Cannot remember where I found it, but I quite like it:

Go out into the world, and labour to bring forth new life. Dream dreams, pursue visions and speak of God’s goodness in the words of those who would hear. And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight. May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming, and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter, set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The Waldensians February 6, 2009

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luxlucetI’ve been doing some research into the Waldensians this week. They were originally a 12th century evangelical movement that began in the context of Catholicism, but was rejected by successive popes and suffered severe persecution from church and state, before and after the Reformation.

It was Waldo of Lyons (1140-1217) who believed in the value of the evangelical poverty of the early church and he was deeply impacted by Christ’s words in Matthew 19:21: ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’.

Waldo gathered like-minded people and they became known as the ‘Poor Men of Lyons’. Following expulsion from Lyons, the message and ministry of these Waldensians grew.

They suffered a severe massacre in 1655, having become the targets of numerous extermination campaigns. This massacre attempt was known as the ‘Piedmont Easter’ and 1,712 souls breathed their last.

Cromwell’s England took action, Puritan pulpits rang out with fiery sermons condemning the acts, and the celebrated English poet John Milton was provoked to write the following poem:

Avenge O Lord thy slaughtered Saints, whose bones

Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,

Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old

When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones

 

Forget not: in thy book record their groans

Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold

Slayn by the bloody Piedmontese that roll’d

Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans

 

The vales redoubl’d to the hills, and they

To heav’n. Their martyred blood and ashes sow

O’re all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple tyrant: that from these may grow

A hundred-fold, who having learnt thy way

Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

The official symbol of the Waldensian Church, which continues to exist in Italy (mainly in the Alpine region west of Turin) and North America, is ‘Lux Lucet in Tenebris’ (A light shining in the darkness’).

Francis of Assisi and stigmata January 16, 2009

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francisofassisiFrancis of Assisi’s medieaval life of simplicity, prayerfulness, evangelism and love of nature was the embodiment of the new life he had encountered in Christ. He allegedly received the stigmata in 1224, two years prior to his death. He apparently tried to hide the marks but his friars could not help but notice his bleeding as they nursed him when he fell ill. How did he get them? Was it a physical reaction to an intense, ecstatic, psychological experience? Or did he inflict them upon himself not to deceive others but as a dramatic demonstration of imitating Christ? Ultimately, perhaps it is beyond the ability of science or history to determine but it does remind me of Paul’s words in Galatians 6:17 where the apostle says ‘I carry the stigmata of Jesus branded on my body’ (I’ll have to do some exegetical research to tease out the correct interpretation!)

In his meditative book on Francis, the late Brother Ramon includes the following prayer based on the story of the receiving of the stigmata:

Jesus of Calvary, I cannot begin to understand the mystery that lies at the heart of the cross, or the complete surrender of Brother Francis to your suffering love; but grant me to know in part what it means, and to take one simple step  nearer the cross today, so that your passion and glory may be manifested in my small life. Amen.

Oh that I had wings like a dove! January 8, 2009

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Desert living

The new preaching series got underway on Sunday as we start to consider some of the past lives of Christians who have shaped our faith and give us the incentive to pursue living for God in our own times. These past saints cheer us on from their heavenly grandstand, according to the imagery of Hebrews 12:1-3.

First up: the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Communities of monks and nuns living in the Egyptian desert in the 4th & 5th centuries AD. Escaping the city life and the associated corruption and inadequacies of the church, they fled to the desert to seek greater lives of prayer, meditation, contemplation and stoic self-discipline.

Their lives were stripped almost as bare as the desert into which they moved. The soundless places only ever associated with death and burial for them became places of solitude where they grew in their love of God and neighbour.

Anthony of Egypt, born in Alexandria in c.AD250 isattributed as being the founding father of monasticism. He was compelled to enter into this form of living based on Matt 19:21 where Jesus says that perfection involves the selling of possessions and giving to the poor.

John Sargent and collaborative prayer November 27, 2008

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Greater love hath no one than he lay down his dancing career for his friends! The nation seems divided over whether he should still be in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing – but I think he’s a great example for us when we think of what it means to pray:

However much we may have laughed at his ponderous shuffles or think he’s made a mockery of  foxtrot and the fact that he fails to do the samba properly because he’s a bit rotund – He was still integral to the performance. His partner, the sequin-gowned Russian Kristina Rihanoff would have looked very strange dancing with an invisible dance partner. As they danced together there was a real sense of interdependence and exchange and sharing. They retained a sense of individuality and yet they are so committed to working together. She needed him; he most definitely needed her!They had to move in time together and if a wrong step was made the beauty was lost. They were dependent upon each other; they exist in and through each other. And that’s a great image of prayer.

 

We – in all our weakness and imperfection still do our best – often wrestling with God in prayer – and he takes us by the hand, guides and leads and steers us – and makes something beautiful, living and powerful and dynamic. Somehow – through our prayers – we are drawn into the life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a reciprocal relationship. We don’t become a fourth member of the Trinity, but somehow through our prayers we become part of God’s life and purpose for the world. We become partners with Him. We interactively dwell with God, we are active agents, even though God takes the lead. Our prayers are a collaborative involvement in God’s kingdom. Our prayers somehow augment or amplify the urgings of God’s Spirit.

The cheek of it… October 17, 2008

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Continuing some of the hard sayings of Jesus, this week we focus on Jesus’ exhortation ‘if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’.

Turning the other cheek is neither natural nor easy. It is important to remember that to turn the other cheek is not: to become a doormat for others to walk all over; to ask for another hit; a sign of low self-confidence.

When Jesus says that following a strike to the right cheek you should turn your left also, he is suggesting that if anyone not only assaults you physically but also insults and humiliates you, you should not retaliate. This is because the back-hand slap that strikes the right cheek is a symbolic blow: it was given by masters to slaves, husbands to wives, parents to children in Middle Eastern culture. Retaliation does taste sweet but it only disguises the poison. To continue the retaliation is already to have been overcome with evil and can never achieve reconciliation.

The other interesting aspect is that to turn the left cheek after being hit on the right actually means that your master or enemy can no longer back hand you – because your nose is in the way! You cannot backhand someone twice – it is like telling a joke a second time. If it doesn’t work the first time, you have failed. By turning the left cheek you are defiantly saying that you refuse to be humiliated.

Victor Shepherd has the last word:

What makes non-retaliation hard is that it is going to make you look weak in the eyes of the world. We are going to be laughed at as “losers.”  We must be prepared for this.  But of course we can be prepared for this just because we know that “losing” has always been the way God wins.  It’s when God himself appears to be the biggest loser of all (a Jew, the person the world relishes hating, executed by the state, rejected by his followers, dangling from a scaffold at the edge of the city garbage dump;) it’s when God appears most to be a “loser” that he achieves his greatest work of reconciliation.  It’s precisely when he appears most helpless that he’s most effective.  It’s precisely when it appears he can’t do anything that he achieves the purpose for which God sent his Son.

The divisive gospel October 10, 2008

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A local CofE school in our area has been the victim of a verbal attack in the letters page of our local paper. The school’s signpost says that it is a place where children can experience the love of Christ. The un-named letter speculated how on earth the teachers could sleep at night ‘knowing they are peddling such an untruth’. Thankfully there was an avalanche of counter-comments the following week! 

But it raises the issue of the divisive nature of the gospel. There are some parts of the gospels where the words from Jesus are anything but easy or comforting and we need to have a theology that includes them even if they are not as pleasant on the ear as other parts. The first sermon in this new series was based on some of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10.

The tone of Jesus’ instructions in this chapter shows that he knew that the mission would be divisive – it would be seen as an attack on the religious authorities. ‘I have come to bring a sword, not peace’, he said. TheKJV has it: ‘Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.

The word ‘division’ – used in KJV – could also read ‘conflict’. Therefore it refers to the division or conflict that will come when commitment to Christ conflicts with commitment to family, friends, work etc. Following Jesus in his original Jewish society did not always bring peace to a family, but had the potential to divide it up, the precise function of a metaphorical sword.  

In its truest sense, the sword Jesus referred to is actually the gospel itself. The sword he has brought, the sword that is an alternative to the peace of the world, is the sword of the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to side with the Nazi party and spoke against it as evil and dangerous even before war began. He said this:

‘the cross is God’s sword on this earth. It creates division… and all that for the sake of God’s kingdom and its peace – that is the work of Christ on earth! No wonder the world accuses him… God’s love for the people and human love for their kind are utterly different. God’s love for the people brings the cross and discipleship, but these, in turn, mean life and resurrection’.