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Archive for the ‘Methodism’ Category

This year I had some counselling to talk about a variety of things that were troubling me. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and in the end it got me transferred to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and diagnosed with OCD. One of the things that featured and still features quite regularly in the therapeutic dialogue is my time in the conservative evangelical culture. My time  there was very difficult and very damaging; one day, my counsellor asked me if I thought anything good had come out of being in that environment and I said no, nothing. I couldn’t see anything good.

Lately (and having read this: http://www.elizabethesther.com/2012/12/gifts-of-fundamentalis.html), I’ve been thinking, crippling though much of that culture was, maybe God  has bought some great gifts out of that period in my life.

1. A love and knowledge of Scripture: I can quote chapter and verse and I developed the habit of always going to the Bible first if I’m struggling. Now I have an understanding of interpretation and read the Bible safe in God’s love, rather than as an instruction manual, but the early work that the evangelical conservative church did in emphasising the importance of immersing oneself in God’s Word is a real blessing. In fact, turning to Scripture helped me leave my old church.

2. A belief that young people can play a meaningful role: Our youth group motto was “Let no one look down on you because you are young”, I served in prayer ministry with adults, sang in a worship band, gave talks to other young people, ran my college CU and helped with Sunday School. The church believed I had gifts right now and they wanted to use them; no one ever said I was too young to do something – I was encouraged. I want my new found communities to know this, and to value young people the same way, and too empower them.

3.  A belief that church wasn’t just for Sundays: I was there every day of the week. I found this horribly unhealthy because I had nothing outside it, and when I left I felt un-anchored and lonely. BUT, I learnt to be really involved and committed, to not just be a Sunday Christian, to look for opportunities to serve others throughout the week.

4. Generosity: Generosity was restricted – to palatable causes, to approved ideas – but where it existed, it flourished. People not only gave freely to the collection-plate, but regularly opened their homes to other members of the congregation who were suffering, someone paid for me to go on Christian camp, I think the church even provided free counselling.

5. I love to talk about Jesus and my relationship with Him. The progressive church can be abashed about talking about the Son of God, His love for them and their love for Him. I’m not! Conservative evangelicalism taught me to be open and honest, to say when asked that I love God, I believe in Jesus, I believe He is my saviour, redeemer and Lord of the world. I want my church to speak like this to one another, to share stories of God’s love and how He’s changed our lives, not to join together for worship and then make Jesus the unreferenced elephant in the room the rest of the time.

God is at work everywhere, even in places and situations that are not His will, that make Him weep and mourn. It took me a little while to see what He’d given me and don’t mistake me, I don’t think for a nano second that God wanted me to suffer so that I could learn something. I was in a place where bad things happened not because He wished it. But, He managed to find the good in that experience; the light, the blessings and the holy.

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Call to worship

Come brothers and sisters to celebrate new life in Christ.

All are welcome to lay their burdens down at the feet of God’s throne.

All are invited to share in his mercies.

All are beloved of Him and all are offered His Grace.

Come.

Amen

 

Psalm 34

 

Prayers of praise

Gracious God,

As we look around we see the many blessings of your world

The love of others, your face reflected in the kindness of those we meet.

The sorrows of others, broken hearted like you for the griefs of the world.

The tears of those who have allowed themselves to be moved as you are

and the joys of those who have discovered your love.

Amen

 

Prayers of absolution

Lord, you have loved us.

Lord, you have known us.

Lord, you have forgiven us.

In the world where Christ walked there is no longer shame or sorrow, there is no room for the victory of sin.

God’s attitude to us is already one of forgiveness, hope and grace.

We confess our sins before God.

Silence

Amen.

 

Lamentations 3: 19-26

 

Prayers of Intercession

As we wander in the darkness

Lord preserve us

As we struggle to seek you

Lord preserve us

As the world strives for peace, not violence and compassion, not greed

Lord preserve us

As our neighbours confront sickness, distress and death

Lord preserve us

As many go to sleep afraid, unsure and alone

Lord preserve us

Amen

 

The blessing of the meal

Because of you infinite goodness

We have food to eat

and water to drink.

May we be sustained for your purpose and your love.

Ever remembering you as the source of all life.

And rejoicing always in your love.

Amen

 

John 11:17-44

 

We each wash the feet of the person to the right whilst singing or holding silence

 

Blessing

The name of the Lord is a mighty fortress

His love is unending and offered to all.

Eternal and gracious God

Bless and keep us.

Amen. 

 

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For a work event, I’ve been asked to summarise what Christianity is in 5 minutes for an audience of people with a huge variety of faith backgrounds and no faith background at all. I invite you to try this with your respective faith tradition. Its hard. Like REALLY hard.

This is what I’ve got so far, I hope it speaks about the hope I find in Christianity and the grace God speaks into the world… but seriously, 5 minutes????

As Christians we believe in the Trinity, one God expressed in three persons; the Father, the Son (who is Jesus Christ) and the Spirit. This God is neither man nor woman, although we might use male pronouns to talk about Him, and the Bible, our holy book, says simply that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Love is at the centre of Christianity; first God’s love for us and our subsequent love for Him and for each other. We believe God creates each of us individually and loves us as children, willingly taking responsibility for us. 

We make bad choices, we call these choices sin, and they cause our understanding of love and compassion to become clouded and we turn away from God and life towards death and despair although God never walks away from us. To reunite us with the Father, Christ walked amongst us, showed us how to love radically, as he does, and died to defeat evil and death, to proclaim the victory of God’s love for us over our pain, despair and grief. The triumph of love over the consequences of our bad decisions. 

When we come to a knowledge of God;s love for us as individuals and embrace he freedom He offers us we call this salvation. We believe that everyone needs this salvation and that everyone may receive it, there is no one outside God’s love nor is there anyone who can walk so far from god that they cannot turn back. We call this unconditional love ‘Grace’. 

Our holy book is the Bible, which we hold to be the divinely inspired word of God as received by men. It contains history, poetry, narrative, myth, story, data and prophecy recording man’s ongoing journey to knowing God. It also records the time God spent on earth, in the person of Christ. When we want to make decisions in our lives and examine our actions we may turn to the Bible to seek guidance. We may also rely on our experience of God’s love, use our rational faculties to understand a problem or lean on our community of believers, the Church and its traditions. 

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Covenant

This is the sermon I preached last Sunday…

Covenant is first and foremost an adventure. In our reading from Romans we heard God’s promise to renew and transform us; covenant is not sedentary and passive, we are not just called to sacrifice but to be living sacrifices, to be active and consciously seeking God’s will so that, like the Israelites, we can say “all the words the LORD has spoken we will do”. Covenant does not mean a call to comfort, or a surrender to perpetual reflection, navel gazing and internal meanderings of the mind. It means a call to do God’s work, to pursue exciting, challenging and enriching opportunities to walk with the broken, to love, to bring hope, to bring joy, to hear the words of Micah 6:8 “He has shown you O mortal, what is good/ And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.

We should be excited and energised by the invitation to enter into covenant with God. This is, after all, a God who promises that He has come so that we may have life in all its fullness. He is a God of fulfilment and His covenant, is likewise, a covenant of fulfilment.

Covenant adventure is one marked by obedience. It requires a submission, of both our will and need. Our readings this morning speak of becoming a living sacrifice and the mandate to keep God’s commandments. We need to abide within the Lord because without Him, the reading says, we are nothing.

Obedience, submission and sacrifice are not words we use lightly, if at all. They are dangerous and subversive in a world that suggests we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. But God promises that obedience leads us further on our journey to abiding in His love and to the flourishing of our covenant adventure. That, as in Jeremiah, when the law of god is written on our hearts we shall indeed know God.

Obedience is difficult because it is not convenient. Our covenant speaks of total abandon to God’s will when there is trouble and when there is peace, when we have everything and when we have nothing. But although we may struggle to obey in times of trial, we are offered the greatest of consolations, that God, our Father, also enters in to covenant with us, vowing to be with us always, even to the end of days.

Covenant is not a relationship of fear and guilt, knowing the law of God is not strict adherence to an unyielding and inflexible list of rules and sub-categories it is knowing the laws of love. Jeremiah tells us that from the least of us to the greatest, will be forgiven our iniquities and even more, that God will remember our sin no more. We will not be called to an adventure defined by our own attempts at propitiation. Our obedience is not punishment, we are not called to a covenant built on our sinfulness and our attempts to put it right.

Repentance is important, undoubtedly so, but what fundamentally marks covenant is love. It is not a ransom or a hostage agreement. It is not a concession. We do not take on our adventure to earn God’s love, we take it on to respond to and glorify God’s love which we have ALREADY received because we strive to live in relationship with Him. Our obedience is not founded in retribution but in Christ’s restoration of us.

Covenant is an adventure of love, that calls us to love and that’s founded in love. And love, a little like obedience, is dangerous. Like adventure, it is exciting, and like relationship, it is essential to truly understanding God. It is a radical call to live in obedience to the love of God and to seek out others to love them; in times of trial and brokenness and in times of safety, happiness and comfort. When we’re tired, energised, exhausted or ready to face anything. Covenant is a call to embrace the adventure to love wastefully, radically and unceasingly. It is a call that God answers in His love for us and He subsequently invites us to answer in our response to Him and in our love for others.

Lord God,

Give us the strength to love you as you love us.

Give us the patience, the generosity and the compassion to love others as you love them, generously, overwhelmingly and without respite.

Amen.

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I see being a Methodist as answering a call. I don’t necessarily think its a universal call, I’m inclined to think that whilst some are called to join the Methodist Church we are certainly not the only authentic witness to Christ around. I do think however, its the best and most genuine expression of MY Christian faith and the way I’m called to live out my witness and relationship with Christ.

Methodism has a “blueprint” for life and its decisions called the ‘Quadrilateral’. It comprises four key elements that the believer should consider when faced with a decision or turmoil; Scripture, Reason, Experience and Tradition. I love that we aren’t a Church that pushes Scripture alone, for me that’s a route that can end only in confusion and concern over a single verse, agonising over whether I am living in obedience to it. The Quadrilateral talks of the realities of life lived with God, his ability and willingness to speak not just through the Word and I desperately need that, I need my experience; of love and of rejection to inform my spiritual growth.

I’m also a Methodist because it challenges me to act. Methodism has a rich history that shames me when I realise how little I face up to injustice and pursue social action. The Wesleys fought slavery and allowed women to preach, they started poor schools and battled endlessly and at great personal cost against the wrongs of the establishment. The vows you take upon entering the Church as a member require you to “accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life”,  I’m excited that I made that promise although living up to it might be terrifying.

Methodism speaks of holiness and values me as someone who is able to be holy. We take sin seriously, but we also take virtue seriously. I am able to become more like Christ, I am encouraged to repent and strive not repent and mourn.

But there’s one overwhelming reason why I became a Methodist. It’s a movement of loving wastefully and including radically. John Wesley speaks of the “four alls”; All may be saved, All must be saved, All may know themselves saved, All can be saved to the uttermost. Methodism preaches the good news and it preaches it to everyone, man and woman, gay and straight, old and young, divorced,married and single, sinner and saint. I knew that I was called to  preach that message and to witness to its truth.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently as, when I began working for the Methodist Church, I had to commend myself to the discipline of the Church. I worried that I hadn’t thought it through. I was pleasantly surprised; the Church has its foibles, its problems, bits that need ironing out, but committing to obedience in this way has, rather than making me cynical and resentful, made me more in love with the movement than ever. My calling has been cemented a hundredfold.

In practice, what does this mean for me, my life and my direction?  It means playing a role in the community of our Church and it means choosing to serve in the name of Christ. Sometimes it means being obedient and sometimes it means challenging the status quo. It also means learning about Grace. It means resolving, every day, to share the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit in everything I do, seeking holiness, love, justice and inclusion consciously and without ceasing.

Will you commit yourself to the Christian life of worship and service, and be open to the renewing power of God?

Will you seek the strength of God’s Spirit as you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life?

Will you witness, by word and deed, to the good news of God in Christ, and so bring glory to God?

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