Saturday, 26 July 2014

In Summer...

Thought I'd post my lead article for the August/September edition of the Parish magazine - feel free to let me know what you think!


The Curate Writes...

Finally the summer's here – the air is warm, the kids are off school (and running around, yelling!), the sky is blue, and in a few days time will be full of aircraft as the Sunderland Air Show gets off the ground. This is all great, a cause for rejoicing. Yet as I sit to write this, my Twitter feed keeps distracting me. The BBC News website keeps grabbing my attention:
This mark stands for Nazarene. In last few days ISIS
in Mosul put this mark on the homes of the
Christians to mark them out for death.
* The conflict in Gaza, where the air is warm, the kids are off school (and running around, yelling), the sky is blue and also contains aircraft, rockets and bullets. More than 640 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in the past 15 days of fighting.

* Mosul, Iraq, where tens of thousands of our brothers & sisters in Christ have fled after being offered an unattractive choice by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): convert, pay an unaffordable religious tax, or be put to the sword.

* Flight MH17, allegedly shot down by pro-Russian rebels, killing 283 passengers of which 80 were children.

* The ongoing situations in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, North Korea.

* The latest statistics showing that worldwide a child is trafficked every 30 seconds: that's about 1.2 million children or the population of Birmingham.

The list could go on, does go on, and it's overwhelming. Amongst all the stuff going on in our own individual lives, our own daily battles, stresses and concerns it all seems too much to take in. It leaves us, as Christians, with really hard questions. What can I do about this? Where is God in all of it?

Well, you'd expect me to say we should pray – and we should. But with such huge overpowering issues our own personal prayers can seem so little, & God can seem so far removed that we don't know where to start. So I find myself turning to St. Paul's letter to the Romans, and the second half of chapter 8, beginning at verse 18. For all of us, life can be unimaginably hard. For many in our list above, hell on earth. But through the life, death & resurrection of Jesus there is hope. We cannot see it, but we long for it. We cannot find the words to ask for it, but the Spirit intercedes for us. The darkness that enfolds us seems impenetrable, the gulf between us & God far too wide, yet there is nothing in, of, above or below this world that can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A wise man, when asked how to eat an elephant, replied “one bite at a time.” So we need to start small: praying the Spirit will help us to pray, meditating on the passage from Romans (and others that the Lord places on our hearts), giving what we can to charities who directly help those caught up in these situations, like Christian Aid working in Gaza, or Tearfund's “No Child Taken” campaign. And those questions that keep running around our heads? Maybe consider joining the Alpha course that will start in October, where we'll explore together our Christian faith & get to know the Lord, and each other, that bit better.

Keep praying. Keep hoping. Give thanks for what we have, and rejoice in the Lord always!
For more on the situation in Iraq, including things we can be doing to help, visit the dedicated #WeAreN page on the Parish website - 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Constant Gardener

This is the sermon I delivered at the 8:00am & 9:30am Eucharist at St. Andrew's this morning. The readings were Genesis 28:10-19a, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.


Brothers and sisters, I feel I should begin with a confession – I am a very poor gardener!

This mainly comes from not being a big fan of weeding.

The house we were in at college had a steep bank that led up to the road – too steep for the kids to play on, hard work to climb, and not really much use for any kind of garden without major re-sculpting work. When we moved in it was completely covered in weeds, which we attempted to hack back. This became an ongoing battle – one we couldn’t win, as we could never give it the time it required. Eventually, as the weeds got higher, the landlords brought in a gardener. This ‘kind gentleman’ turned up, cast his ‘expert’ eye over the scene…then got out a strimmer, chopped the weeds back to ground level & departed. Now, anyone with any knowledge of weeds will immediately spot the problem – about 3 months later the weeds were back, bigger & stronger thanks to the weather over the summer. Eventually, we organised a gardener of our own to come out. This one dug the weeds out by their roots, turned over the soil & planted good plants to help keep them at bay – in the words of our neighbour, this one “knew what he was doing!”

In our Gospel reading today we find Jesus taking part in the earliest recorded episode of Gardener’s Question Time. Just before this, as Junior Church explained so brilliantly last week, he’s spoken of a farmer scattering seed with varying degrees of success, and here Jesus talks about weeds entangled in an important crop of wheat. He explains the weeds are the children of the evil one, and it appears they have been sent to stunt the growth, hold back, and endanger the children of the kingdom.

This got me thinking about how much time I spend tending the garden of my life. When I look at the soil of my heart, I hope I’m doing the right things to make it good and fertile. I try to give it the right nutrients – time spent in church listening to teaching, and engaging in fellowship. I try to plant good seed in it – the word of God through the scriptures. But, as those in the gospel reading discovered, sometimes weeds begin to grow unbidden and, apparently, unaided. The slaves of the householder appear truly shocked that this has happened – they expected only good crops to grow.

All the right precautions had been taken - the ground ploughed up and prepared, only the best seed sown; and yet here come the weeds, tightly bound to the crop.

Possibly fearing blame, they look to quickly rectify the problem, but the householder is good & wise – he knows the only way to remove the weeds completely is to pull them out at the root, and at this point that would damage the crop as well. He casts his expert eye over the situation and urges patience, knowing that when the time is right the weeds can be destroyed and the crop gathered in.

Now, some might say it’s easy to avoid weeds – just don’t plant them in the first place! We all probably feel we have a good grasp of right and wrong, and try to avoid ‘sinning.’ I doubt any of us go ‘looking’ for trouble; we avoid the usual suspects of sin – murder, theft, adultery. We may try even harder, attempting to live out the things Jesus highlighted in the sermon on the mount – seeking reconciliation instead of anger, avoiding lust, turning the other cheek. But it isn’t just about the big things. What else holds us back from our relationship with Jesus?

Weeds come in all shapes & sizes. Some are deep rooted and tough to shift. Some even flower, and externally don’t look too out of place or wrong. But these are habitual weeds, the things we do often and without thinking, that stifle the growth of the seed God plants in us by using up the goodness it needs to flourish.

Just as a weed blocks light and consumes nutrients, these habits block our vision of the light of Christ and steal the precious time we need to nurture that which God has given us. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have hobbies, pastimes, fun! But when these things detract from our relationship with the risen Lord they become a problem. All around us are things that can help us pass the time, but can become overwhelming. If I claim I haven’t got time to read the Bible every day, but spend a couple of hours doing the crossword or looking at Facebook, I may need to do some pruning. If I don’t have time to pray, but know the latest plot twist in Eastenders, I may need to find my trowel and gloves. Lets take a few moments now and ask ourselves - When did I last take a good look around my garden and ask, “what weeds have I left to grow recently?”

Some weeds are smaller - so less of a problem, right? But think of the dandelion – one strong gust of wind and it’s seeds scatter far and wide, and in no time more dandelions spring up all over the place. When we look at our own lives, what are the little things we do that affect other people’s growth in God?

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, was quite keen on our actions not damaging the relationship others had with the Lord. There are things we probably don’t see any harm in. Things we do that we can happily hold alongside our Christian walk. But just because we don’t think they harm us, that doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to others. Lets think again for a moment. What seeds blow from my garden into others? Will these seeds bear fruit…or choke the life from those around me?

My biggest problem in the garden is I find it hard to tell the weeds from the plants. The slaves in the story appear to have had a similar concern. But help is at hand.

Unlike the bloke who strimmed my slopes, we have access to the expert in tending our particular garden – one who can advise us on what is best because he managed to tend his own garden perfectly, and wants ours to thrive and produce an abundant crop. When did we last ask the expert gardener, the one witnesses believe “knew what he was doing,” the Lord, the giver of life to help us to remove those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with those who we love, and with him?

We’ll pause again for a few moments. Let’s take some time to wander around the garden of our lives, our hearts, and ask Jesus to help us check for weeds.


One thing about a good garden – people stop and look at it. People ask how it got to be like that; what we did differently to make it so attractive; why is it so abundant, so full of life? Friends, neighbours, complete strangers see something special and want to know how to get it for themselves.

We all know the best way for any gardener to find new work is word of mouth – the recommendation of a friend, who has experienced their work, means more than any fancy advert or promotion! Are we ready to tell those who ask how our garden got to look so good!?

As we come to the communion table, to remember Jesus life and death for our salvation, we use the produce of good human gardening; maybe we should take the opportunity to ask him to clear out the weeds, dig over the soil, and fertilize our hearts with his body and his blood. Are we prepared to work with him, tend the good seed he has planted in us, and let the Holy Spirit blow the seed of that crop far and wide? Are we ready to let him loose with his trowel?


Friday, 18 July 2014

♪♫Listen... do you want to know a secret? ♪ ♫

This sermon was preached at the 10am midweek Eucharist on 16th July at St. Andrew's. The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:25-27.
Listen... do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?
Woah wo wo,
Closer, let me whisper in your ear.
Say the words you long to he-e-ear,
I'm in love with you.
Woo oo oo oo oo...♪
Who can name the song?
That's right, “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by The Beatles. It's a simple little song, lasts less than 2 minutes, and was a track on their first album. A Lennon & McCartney original, it was written for George Harrison to sing, crafted to be deliberately undemanding as he had a limited vocal range.
But like many things in life there is a beauty in it's almost naïve outlook on life – reading between the lines I see the shyness of the approach to the girl, the fear of others finding out the depth of his feelings lest they see him as soppy or uncool, yet the need to tell her as it just is too big a thing to keep inside.
Jesus, in his prayer recorded in Matthew's Gospel, also has a secret. He knows the Father. He really knows the Father. And nobody can know the Father unless they know Him, because only He can reveal the Father. The people who think they know it all, those who think they are wise, learned, who think they know God through their rules and traditions are missing the point. It is through the childlike naïvety of love that the Father is truly known.

The Beatles nearly didn't make it – on New Years Day 1962 they had an audition with DECCA, at the time one of the biggest record labels, who rejected them declaring “guitar bands are on the way out!” The want on to sign for EMI & be hailed as the greatest & most influential band of all time. Rumour has it that the DECCA executives used to get the tapes of the audition out every year & torture themselves, trying to work out how they let them get away.

You see, these self-styled wise and intelligent men were so certain they knew everything they missed what was right in front of them. They had spent so long giving instruction, claiming to know best that when something truly unique and world-changing appeared, they wrote it off & missed the boat.

How often do we miss the simple things? How often do we get so caught up in our knowledge, our understanding, our tradition, that we fail to see the person standing in front of us. Jesus, through prayer & through the scriptures, is constantly seeking to whisper in our ears “I'm in love with you.”

Let those words sit with you for a moment.

I deliberately didn't say “Jesus loves you,” because that almost doesn't do the depth of his feelings for each one of us justice. He is in love with us. With me. With you. Being in love alludes to the exciting, scary, fireworks and passion part of a relationship – and that is what a relationship with Jesus can be like, if we let it. Because if we allow ourselves to be a bit naïve, a bit childlike in our approach - if we allow Him to whisper in our ear – we find His Spirit can fire us in incredible ways. And like the song we may want to nervously whisper about this relationship as it's scary and precious and almost a bit silly but, if we let that love, His incredible, sacrificial love, grow inside us, suddenly it's hard to keep inside. It spills out into our relationships, our actions, the way we live. And we find ourselves introducing people to Jesus – not big black Bible on the street corner evangelism, but in the way you introduce a friend or loved one to people. And because they know you & trust your judgement their more likely to give somebody you know a chance, and before you know it this love for each one of us becomes the worst kept secret in the world.
Maybe that sounds all too simple. Naïve. Not the kind of thing for us rational grown-ups, more what you may say to an infant...

Listen. Do you want to know a secret...?



Monday, 23 June 2014

Prayer for World Cup host cities

The latest in my series on the other side of the World Cup is another post from Mark & Suzana Greenwood. This time it's a series Prayer Points related to the World Cup host cities - please pray during the World Cup for the following cities and issues:

São Paulo – Rede Evangleica Nacional de Ação Social (RENAS) – – is a network of Christians who care about people´s social social situation. Their headquarters is in São Paulo. RENAS is promoting the “Bola na Rede Campaign” – “Ball in the net – a Christian movement that campaigns against sexual exploitation and violence against children and teenagers during the World Cup. “Ball in the netwill develop different actions in all the 12 World Cup hosting cities.

This coming Saturday the youth from Edward and Ana Greenwood´s church will campaign on a square near where they live, giving out leaflets and “vaccinating against violence”. This vaccine consists of talking to people on the streets and ask them if they want to be vaccinated against violence. If they say yes, they are given a sweet. The idea is to bring awareness and bring the subject out into to the open, with the intention of discouraging people who might have come to World Cup with the wrong intention (i.e. sex tourism, which involves a lot of adolescents and children).

Salvador – Large numbers of people in Salvador follow African Traditional Religions, such as Candomblé, or Spiritist beliefs, like Umbanda.  Salvador also has got a strong Baptist Convention, with evangelistic and social work amongst drug addicts, and one of the oldest church based community projects in Brazil – at Grace Baptist Church.

Rio de Janeiro – Rio de Janeiro is where the Headquarters of the Brazilian Baptist Convention (CBB) are. Also there are the Headquarters of the Baptist National Mission Board (JMN) and the Baptist World Mission Board (JMM), all three in walking distance of Maracanã Stadium, where the World Cup final will be held. The National Mission Board will be organizing evangelism during the World Cup in all the hosting cities, in and around the stadia. CBB is also ceding two of its office areas to Christian radio guys from UK and USA, who will be broadcasting commentaries and documentaries, from a Christian perspective, through thousands of relay stations throughout the world.

Recife – Known as the most violent city in Brazil, Recife is a beautiful place, with a traditional Baptist Seminary and a large number of churches involved in Social Action. Another Baptist seminary there, originally a women’s college, the Christian Education Seminary (SEC), has trained hundreds of missionaries and Christian social workers over the years, who now serve God throughout the world.

Porto Alegre – Porto Alegre is capital to the least evangelised state in Brazil, and also has many followers of Candomblé and Umbanda. One of the Baptist Conventions that works in Porto Alegre, the Pioneer Baptist Convention, has as one of its aims that every church be involved in at least one Social Project. The other Convention (Rio Grande do Sul Convention) has a very active women’s ministry.

Manaus – In the headquarters of the Amazonas Baptist Convention, in Manaus, Executive Secretary Pr Teodoro holds a prayer meeting with his staff every day. His work covers a huge geographical area. The nearest major city to Manuas, Tabatinga, on the border with Peru, is 2 hours’ flight away.  The Baptist Convention of Amazonas runs a children´s home for orphans and children who cannot be with their parents. Churches in Curitiba and São Paulo also have children´s homes. This type work has become very challenging recently, due to significant changes in the law. Pray for wisdom for the leaders at this very difficult time.

Natal – Natal is capital to one of the poorest states in Brazil, Rio Grande do Norte, but also has one of the most beautiful coastlines. The Baptist Seminary there, recently set up by BMS missionaries, now enables locals to train for the ministry without moving to other states. Margaret Swires worked there for many years in the Baptist Convention, setting up the Social Action Department.

Fortaleza - Like most Brazilian cities, Fortaleza is a place of extreme inequalities. The international airport, opened just over a decade ago, while helping to boost the economy, is also an open door for sex tourism, similar to what has been happening in Recife for even longer. Local government and churches are fighting against this, however it is a situation with no simple solution. Please pray for Jailma who is heading up the “Ball in the Net” campaign there.

Curitiba – Capital of Paraná, and now one of the better-organized and most developed cities in Brazil, Curitiba was home for BMS missionaries for decades. These missionaries planted many of the churches in and around Curitiba and also developed many Social Projects, as well as working in the Bible College, training ministers. The Paraná Baptist Convention has as one of their aims to plant a church in every prison.

Cuiabá – Cuiabá is the geographical centre of South America, and the heart of the Brazilian soya industry boom. Many people of indigenous origin live in and around the city, and there is a evangelical training college, called AMI, for pastors from a number of different tribes. Folk come from all over Brazil for this specialized training, which understands the tribal cultures like no other college does.

Brasília – Brasilia is Brazil’s capital, where the country’s politicians work. Fighting corruption has been a slogan for the present government, for the opposition and for protesters from the population in general. Brazil has progressed on the road against corruption, however, much still needs to be done. Please pray for wisdom and fairness among politicians, and for the presidential election, to be held in October.

There are plenty of people unhappy with the fact that much public money has been spent on building stadiums.  U$642 million was spent to rebuild the stadium in Brasilia, almost double than what had been planned. One of the points protesters make is that there is not a strong football team in Brasilia, and the odds of filling the stadium for any games after the World Cup are very small.

Belo Horizonte – The Social Department in the state Baptist Convention is the most well developed in the Brazilian Baptist Convention. Simone, who leads it, is very involved in Child Protection work and is, herself, a foster mother. She is also running the “Ball in the Net” campaign there. There are many churches with social projects around the city, and some of the biggest churches in Brazil.

Four of the hosting cities, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Fortaleza, have churches which run the Space-to-Fly programme for children aged 7 to 11.

During the World Cup, these children are enjoying all sorts of activities which enable them to learn more about their country, looking at the maps where the different cities are. Brazil is a huge country, from Porto Alegre, in the South, to Manaus, in the North, it takes at least 6 hours by plane, non-stop. It is not possible to go by road.

At Pepes (pre-school projects designed to help children, especially those in extreme poverty, be prepared to go to school) and Space-to-Fly, children also are involved discussions that help them to see that, even though the World Cup is fun, there is much more to life than football, and Jesus is certainly more important than football.
You can see the article in it's original form here.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Brazilian Reality

The latest offering in my series about the other side of the World Cup is an article from "The Brazilian Canary" himself, Lucas Jorge. A journalism student and blogger based in Rio, Lucas takes us through some of his country's history to help us understand why a football-crazy nation would protest about staging the greatest tournament in the world.
Well, I'm a young Brazilian, my name is Lucas Jorge and I'm only 19. But, I've seen interesting things happen in my country and have also studied a lot about his past. And it is from the past that I'll start to explain the current situation of Brazil and its people.

Since the end of the dictatorship and the beginning of democratic elections Brazil lives a drama. We managed a feat - the end of the military dictatorship - but could not, until now, find candidates to command respect from every state or other governments. Primarily we want a respectable candidate to be president of Brazil.

Tancredo was to have been the first president elected by democratic vote. He would be the first president of Brazil. It would have been... What actually happened was that Tancredo died two days before assuming the presidency of Brazil after the period of military dictatorship, I will not get into conspiracy theories that revolve around this fact, but for an unfortunate irony, Jose Sarney - at the time, party representative who defended the military dictatorship - took over from Tancredo. This was the first drama; the second was with the election of Fernando Collor. With media manipulation, especially TV Globo, Collor won. But impeached. He literally stole the country. After him came Itamar Franco, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula and Dilma currently.

You might be asking ... "But Lucas, what does this have to do with the current protests in Brazil and the World Cup?"

Simple! - I say - we Brazilians, since the democratic elections, never had respectable candidates to elect. Be it in elections for state or in elections for President of Brazil. The Brazilian people are tired of being cheated. Living in a country where you can not trust a politician is terrible! Unfortunately, there are a huge list of corrupt politicians here, you have honest account of his fingers on the hand!

Being honest, the Brazilian people are always festive, always lived and enjoyed life with what they have and without complaint, but with the internet - Thank my good God! - the news spread, it has increasingly come to all and with that comes the Brazilian people taking consciousness that it is our country and we, the people, deserve respectable politicians who know how to address the problems that our country has.

Lula, when he was in government, did not. Dilma and Lula were unable to say no to the World Cup and say: "Sorry, our country has other priorities; our country has a horrible education, bad hospitals and a precarious security so can not now invest in stadiums. We have to invest in life, our people! "  Not to mention that Brazil is a big country; there are regions where there is no (yes, you read this right) sanitation. There is no treatment for drinking water, no sewage system ...

So, these are some of the reasons for the revolt of the Brazilian. Football has no fault. Football, it's a sport (and we love this sport so much; I'm Flamengo and Norwich fan!), and the football has not come here and said: "The World Cup will be in Brazil and over!" I and many other Brazilians, we are lovers of this sport. And the sport is not to blame if the Brazilian government, FIFA and other characters "important" were unable to differentiate the priorities of the country that is today hosting the World Cup.

Of course, in any protest there are radicals. People who try to "vandalize" during the protest. And politics too, there are always people talking nonsense. An example is Ronaldo "Fenomeno". He said a lot of nonsense, said police should beat the protesters, said that Brazil does not need public hospitals and stadiums. Yes's true, Ronaldo was a genius on the field, but off the field he has been a big idiot unfortunately, because he remains a very influential person in Brazil.

Speaking of influences, here, one reason for the political drama in Brazil, are political ideologies. Here, in my opinion, we have a problem with political campaigns. In Brazil, there are no "political right and  left" campaigns and yes, there are populist campaigns. Instead of showing the what the candidate will  invest or can do for the country ... candidates try to invest in charisma. Showing the people who are criticizing opponents ... a recent example was Aécio Neves, rival candidate Rousseff, who took photos with Ronaldo Fenomeno (remember what I told you above?).

Well, the truth is that the World Cup is already happening and sure enough, it was not made for everyone, after all, considered to be poor no citizen should have bought a ticket for any game of the Cup. And it's true that everything done in the World Cup in Brazil was done with superfaturamente and corruption. Not to mention that Brazil currently has a huge inflation in the economy of the current government.

It is always worth protesting for their rights, but for the Brazilian, honestly, the best and biggest protest that can be done will be elections, when voting. The Brazilian people have increasingly become aware of the problems of the country and as Brazilians we know, as does anyone who lives here, that the country is good. And that indeed Brazil needs change. Stop being such parents who are "emerging" about 10 years ago and finally emerge and live. Every Brazilian politician says that Brazil will be: "A first world country". I hope so too, and just like in the stadiums, I hope to have hospitals, safety, sanitation and education of "first world" - built to "FIFA standard"! 

It is not a question of whether or not the World Cup, having or not having protests. It is a matter of having a government that respects and cares for the people who elected them.
You can follow Lucas on Twitter (in both Portuguese & English) @NorwichCityFCBR
To read more from Lucas, & hear his podcasts, visit

Monday, 16 June 2014

Hospitals or Stadia? - Take your pick

As part of my series on the other side of the 2014 World Cup, here is a piece written almost a year ago by Mark and Suzana Greenwood.  The couple, who have been involved with mission work in Brazil since 1993, originally published them on their blog on the BMS World Mission website. Used with their permission, they explain about the protests last year and, in the postscript, Suzana reflects on the disparity between what was being done & what some would say was truly important. 

The seventh largest economy in the world, yet the world’s 17th most unequal country – the people of Brazil have a reason to unite and demand change. Whilst a small proportion of Brazilians are exceedingly rich, a huge number are exceedingly poor, and it is this inequality which has caused great discontent and made people flock to the streets in their thousands.
“Imagine the M1, the M2, the M3, the M40, the M4 and the M25 all being blocked at the same time,” says Mark Greenwood, BMS Regional Team Leader for Latin America. “That’s what it was like in Sao Paulo on Friday evening. It was just filled with hundreds of thousands people.”

Excessive spending on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Brazil, has acted as a catalyst to encourage all those dissatisfied with the inequality and poor public services in much of Brazil to protest. When billions are being spent on the football stadiums that are springing up across the country, the closure of hospitals and the many living in extreme poverty are harder to ignore. 

BMS’ Mark and Suzana Greenwood and their children Edward and Ana have all taken part in the weekend’s marches, which have been mostly very peaceful. “This doesn’t happen often in Brazil,” says Mark. “It’s refreshing and exciting to see so many people coming together to raise the issues that need to be addressed, and to call for social justice.”

Their united voices seem to be being heard, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced a series of reforms on Saturday.

The protestors are raising four main issues: health spending, education spending, transport costs and political corruption. It is these issues that Mark tries to deal with in his day job, as he heads up the Social Action Department of the Brazilian Baptist Convention; so it’s encouraging for him and his team to see the masses taking these injustices to the streets and being heard by the country’s leaders.

“It feels like the government realise that something has got to be done,” Mark says. “The streets are buzzing with a mixture of hope and unsure expectations. We’re not sure whether things are really going to change or not, but there’s a sense that everybody is happy to get out and make their voices heard.”
Yesterday, as I was on the bus, there was a traffic jam caused by health care students protesting against the closure of their University Hospital. On one of the posters I read: Just call me “World Cup” and you’ll invest in me!
Walking down the road to take Ana to school this morning, we felt a deep sadness to see an elderly man drinking water from the gutter, just a few streets from the new Maracanã stadium.
With billion dollar investments in Brazil for flashy new stadiums for sporting events, it is difficult to understand why a University hospital has to close, and people need to drink from gutters.
Injustice abounds, not only in Brazil. We pray that the fear of the Lord will be in the heart of government authorities, that they will lead with wisdom and have the right priorities.
We pray that as Christians we will know God's heart and follow his priorities.
Both these articles are available in their original form on the BMS World Mission website:
Please continue to pray for the people of Brazil - maybe the words found in Micah 6:8 will help...
"He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?"

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup 2014 - A beach in Brazil

In 2001 I flew to Brazil as part of a BMS Action Team, a voluntary missionary scheme. I lived & worked for six months in the North East of the country, staying in Fortaleza & Natal. For the next month the eyes of the world will be on Brazil, and at times on the two cities I knew best.
I wrote the following as a two-minute reflection for Morning Prayer at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. Although not based on a single day, I witnessed all the events described first-hand. It is a reality still for those living in poverty, many in the shadow of amazing affluence. So while you enjoy the unique Brazilian atmosphere, spare a thought for those who will be just as passionate about every match, but would have loved the tournament to make a positive impact on their situation instead of lining the pockets of those who already have so much.
 Picture yourself on a beach in Brazil.

The warmth of the sun caresses your skin as you take in your surroundings. The inviting clear-blue sea to your left, the golden sand stretching out in front of you. All around you are people. Beautiful people. Laughing, drinking, playing. The smell of a barbecue fills your nostrils. You feel relaxed, at peace, on holiday.

A movement catches your eye. A small boy, in scruffy red shorts and bare feet runs past and heads off towards the road to your right. You feel the urge to follow him so you walk quickly, the luxury hotels along the beachfront looking huge in contrast to the running lad. He dashes across the road & darts down a path between two hotels. You’re jogging now to try to keep up – you don’t know where you’re going, but following the boy seems important.

He runs across another road, then down an alley. As you slip in behind him and the noise of the traffic fades, a sense of unease creeps up on you.
The alley opens up and you find yourself at the bottom of some large concrete steps. Suddenly the smell of raw sewage catches in your throat. You head up the steps, unsure why. Either side of you are small dwellings – glancing through the open windows you see single rooms strewn with numerous hammocks.
Away from the sea, the heat is becoming uncomfortable. You see a woman feeding a small skinny baby from a dirty bowl of what looks like rice. A blob drops onto the dusty ground – she scoops it up with a finger and thrusts it into the child’s mouth. A small group of toddlers are playing with an empty can. There are barely dressed, with tight skin and swollen, distended bellies.

Then you see the running boy. He has stopped just ahead of you, and turns round. His large, dark eyes meet yours, and for a second his vacant stare bores into you. He takes a small packet out of his pocket and walks into the open doorway on his right. Hesitantly you peer into the gloomy room, where a man is lying on the floor with a small camping stove burning, silver foil resting above it, the contents of the packet now melting on top. The boy turns to go, and the man throws a bottle at him to hurry him along.

You’re heart is breaking, and you feel like asking God why He allows poverty, hunger & suffering; why so many live with so little while the few have so much.

But you don’t, because you realise he may ask you the same question…

Want to know more about Brazil's 'stolen' World Cup? Visit the Christian Aid website.


Friday, 9 May 2014

The Bread Of Life

My sermon for the midweek Eucharist at St. Andrew's last Wednesday (7th May) - the Gospel reading was John 6:35-40.

I am the bread of life

Me. Nobody else. When they come to you and say “This will make you happy” or “What you really need” or even “The Bible definitely says...” - talk to me first.
Don't let them draw you away, fool you with their clever slogans, snappy titles and enticing images.
Look to me, to my cross, to my body broken for you.

I am the bread of life

Not “I was,” or “I will be,” but I am.
Yesterday, today & tomorrow.
Before Abraham was, “I am.”
When the world began, when the world ends, wherever you are, however you are feeling, when you laugh or smile or hurt or cry or don't have the strength to do any of them... when you breathed your first breath & when you breathe your last... I am.

I am the bread of life

The real deal – not some cut price, wafer thin, bleached white, no taste Smartprice loaf but a big, tasty, thickly cut tea, jam & butter by a roaring fire occasion.
The only thing you need to sustain you, the ultimate comfort food. Enjoy me, come back for more – there is always more.


I am the bread of life

Not “of existence.”
Not “of survival.”
In all it's fullness, the perfect embodiment of living life as it should be lived; loving, sharing, welcoming not rejecting, seeking mercy, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God. Being who I was called to be.
Helping others do the same.

I am broken for you – continually broken for you –
because I love you.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

There & Back Again

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew's on 4th May 2014, as part of our series leading up to the formation of a Mission & Ministry Development Group.
The readings are Acts 2:14a,36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35.
You hear the word 'journey' a lot these days, don't you? And if I'm honest, I think it's getting a bit over-worked. You only have to switch on one of the many, many, “reality celebrity strictly come x-factoring on ice” type programmes to be told, usually in very serious tones, about the journey each contestant has been on, overcoming major adversities, hail, wind, fire and broken nails to reach the next all important round.

But it isn't just Simon Cowell who's obsessed with it. As I moved from my previous job in the bank, through the discernment process for this role & eventually into college, I had to discuss my 'journey' at great lengths – that was fine, expected even, but the word itself was somewhat undermined by my particular bank changing their slogan just as I was going to “For The Journey” - the kind of nonsensical stuff that comes out of advertising offices these days!

And yet...and yet...when used correctly, it conveys a real sense of what it is to be a disciple of Christ – to be a Christian. The story of the Emmaus road is a great case in point. Two blokes on a journey, chewing the fat over the events of the last few days, bump into a stranger who just happens to be the very man they are discussing. I wonder, did Jesus slow down so they caught up, or overtake them as they walked? What did he think, how did he feel, as they told him their version of the events that had just unfolded - his capture & crucifixion, the confusing words of the women, the mystery of the empty tomb.

Then, as they press on along the dusty path, the heat of the day fading, Jesus takes them on another journey – this time through the history of the Jewish people, showing how their scriptures pointed to the necessity of the death he subjected himself to for their, and our, sake. Then they come to Emmaus, and Jesus says his goodbyes, appearing to be moving on; allowing them the chance to offer him hospitality, to welcome the stranger. He accepts their invitation – as Jesus always accepts an invitation to be with us – and as they sit around the table he reaches forward and picks up the bread, his hands running along the crusted outside as he holds it out to them. Then he breaks it, and as the crumbs tumble all is revealed and they see him standing before them, the risen Lord, the king of kings present in the room. And then he is gone from their sight, but they realise he has set their hearts on fire – so much so, that the first thing they want to do is run off to find people to tell!

So, I find myself asking where I am on the journey, this long & winding road of Christian discipleship? Because, believe me, just because I've got this around my neck I'm still very much a traveller on the road.

It's a good question, isn't it?

Some of us are just setting out, taking the first tentative steps to who-knows-where. This can be an exciting, scary place. We hope we are going somewhere, but we're couldn't tell you where it is. We probably know a bit about Jesus, or at least want to, but have more questions than answers – if we're lucky we have a companion or two alongside us, but we could really do with somebody to walk with us & explain things a bit more.

Some of us are further down the road – we've had some explanation, spent some time investigating this man and who knows, maybe actually experiencing his presence. And now it's time to make a decision – do I welcome the stranger in, or let him continue walking. Do I commit fully to this life of discipleship, or do I pretend it isn't important & go in another direction. Do I dare make myself vulnerable to the way of the cross and break bread with the risen Christ?

And for others, we regularly share in the broken bread, the body of Christ given for us & for our salvation – now we have to choose whether to stay seated at the table or run out into the world & tell people what we have experienced, to let Christ set our hearts on fire with love for him & go and help others meet him, experience him, be set ablaze as well.

You see, at no point in this journey are we encouraged to sit still. Yes, there is a point of rest, and the provision of the bread of life to sustain us, but then we race back to find others to tell about our experience. Achieving a place at the table is not the end goal – Christ meets us there, but then wants us to go back & share him with others, and bring them along with us.

We are focusing over the next few weeks on the Mission and Ministry development groups for the three churches in our parish. This isn't just an exercise to find a few volunteers to put on safari suits and pith helmets and hack through jungles to find unruly natives to convert – though the way some people describe 21st century Britain, and especially our region, you'd think a machete & something to protect your head would be standard issue for those braving this dangerous task. Its about shaping our approach to being the body of Christ in this place, and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us how he wants us to deal with each other, and with the community we are called to live in and serve, using the gifts and talents the Father has given us. As we move towards May 25th, when we nominate those people who will join together to help all of us best carry out this valuable, essential work for the kingdom of God, honestly reflecting on our place on the journey is of huge importance.

This doesn't mean saying “I'm no good at x, y, z so I can't do it,” searching for excuses like Moses did when God appeared to him in the burning bush. It means time spent with those who know us best, in prayer and conversation, to try and truly discern how best we can help such a group.

The challenge, what I'm really asking, is if we can be honest with ourselves, with others, and with God, about where we are on the road - and be prepared to listen to what God is saying about it. We are all travelling this road together, and Christ challenges us in this passage of scripture to walk this road with him.

And, as we help each other on the journey, I have to ask – am I looking, really looking for Christ as Dick breaks the bread. When was the last time I felt my heart blazing with his holy fire as I walked back to my seat, the taste of his blood still in my mouth? Are such things even possible?

They are, they can be, even for us here today.

“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” said Peter, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

The promise is for all who are far away. The promise is for you. Amen

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dial 'F' for Fear

This was my sermon for St. Andrew's evening service last Sunday (27th April). The readings were Daniel 6:1-23  & Mark 15:42-16:8.
Right, your starter for ten... who said “the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself”?
(That's right) Franklin D. Roosevelt, at his inauguration as the 32nd President of the United States, on Saturday March 4, 1933. FDR took swore his oath with his hand on his family Bible, which was opened to 1 Corinthians 13. Interestingly it remains the oldest Bible ever used in an inaugural ceremony, published in 1686, and was written in Dutch. Roosevelt came to power while the USA was in the grip of the Great Depression, which he himself blamed on bankers and financiers, the quest for profit, and the self-interest basis of capitalism (sound familiar?) He brought about a major realignment of American politics, as well as instituting unprecedented programs for relief, recovery and reform.

But this isn't a lecture in American politics. Yet fear is a motif in both our Old and New Testament passages this evening. The last line of Mark's gospel – as any of the text after 16:8 is most likely written by a different author looking to tie up the loose ends of Mark's account – tells us “terror and amazement” seized the two Marys and Salome; so much so that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Mark's knack of portraying the very human failings of the ordinary men & women who were the first followers of Jesus thus continues right to the end of his Gospel. If we look through the book as a whole the lack of faith, the propensity to misunderstand, the fear and confusion of the disciples is laid out for all to see, and given it is believed by some that the source for Mark's information was Peter himself, it's almost comforting to see this is what the disciples interaction with Jesus was like. To think that Mark doesn't hide the fact that these followers, who had been with Jesus for such a long time, had remained to the point of his death and beyond, disobeyed a direct instruction from what appeared to be an angel maybe makes some of our failings seem less terrible.
Then again, they would have had good reason to be afraid. The body was missing – the authorities would not be happy, especially if they started telling people Jesus wasn't really dead! And now the religious leaders had shown they weren't beyond killing off the odd troublemaker, on false charges, for deviating from their view of God, it would be their lives on the line. Does that possibly put some of our fears over talking about our faith into perspective?
Our Old Testament passage gives a different take on this. Daniel knows that praying to anybody or anything except the king is a death sentence. Yet he openly continues to pray, three times a day, knowing full well he will be seen & condemned. He sees his commitment to God as more valuable than his own life, and refuses to hide his faith, even to the point of death. Obviously in this case it works out for the best – Daniel survives, his persecutors are punished and King Darius makes a decree that all his subjects should “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.”
Fortunately for us we are not in the same danger as Daniel or the three women at the tomb. In Britain, however uncomfortable it can feel to identify ourselves as a Christian we do not live in fear of our lives for proclaiming Christ as Lord & saviour. This week we have seen this in action. The Prime Minister makes a public statement on his view of the faith of this country, and his own personal beliefs. Some others disagree with him – so they write a letter saying they think he's wrong, and the press debate it for a week.
In contrast, in the Central African Republic this week alone two priests were killed, four others briefly detained and a number of villages were attacked by ex-Seleka fighters. In Syria, a Christian school was bombed.
Hanna, a Christian living in Damascus, explains:
“There is a Christian school, a private one. We know a lot of people in that school, some children from our area also go to school there. Yesterday, when those kids went to school, gathered at the square like they always do, a mortar fell in their midst. Some friends passed by the school and saw how parents and teachers were carrying their wounded children out of the school, dripping with blood. How they were running to the hospitals in panic. For me, as a mother and a teacher, I can hardly bear to imagine what these people must be going through right now. Twelve people lost their lives in that school yesterday, most of them children from the elementary school. Many more of them have lost arms and legs or have other injuries.”
How do we respond to stories like this – and we must, as these are our brothers and sister. Our friend FDR explained the 'fear' he was talking about – the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes...” Do we feel, like the women at Jesus tomb, paralyzed by the enormity of the task? Are we scared that we cannot do anything to help those being persecuted, or that we won't be able to explain how we can believe a Jewish man who died a criminal's death almost 2000 years ago can make a difference to our lives today!
Yet the women did pass on the message, eventually – the other gospels point to this, and without the news of Jesus resurrection we would not be sitting here today. The task is enormous, but Daniel shows us the way to approach any impossible task – prayer. Constant, unceasing prayer. Prayers of thanks for the comparative safety of our lives, prayers for the world leaders who have the ability to make a difference in these situations, prayers for the individuals suffering daily. To help with this, I've got a copy of the charity Open Doors World Watch List for you to take away. (See below) Read it, use it in your prayer time, and come back and talk to me if you want to know more.
Sometimes prayer is hard – sometimes all we can do is turn up & say “Lord, help me to want to pray!” And prayer can be scary, as it's a conversation, and you never know what God's going to say. But I know prayer makes a difference – you only have to look at the last few months of my life to see that. Daniel knew prayer made a difference, and was unashamed of it. So let us pray for those who are persecuted for their faith, and for those leaders who have the power to make the difference in these situations. Let us pray that David Cameron will put his recently declared faith into practice in his party's policies, so that Archbishop Justin's remarks that "even as the economy improves, there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt" – that crippling fear again - will become a footnote in the history of our country.
1 John 4:18 tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” We are privileged to have access to the source of that love – so my prayer is that we all can find the courage to live like Daniel, glorify the Father like Daniel, and show the whole world that great Easter gift of perfect love – in the name of Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again for the whole world, including me & you, and through the power of the Holy Spirit who moves in us & through us. Amen.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

That sinking feeling...

This is the sermon I preached at last night's Tuesday of Holy Week Eucharist. The readings were Isaiah 49:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and John 12:20-36.
There is an oft-told story of a clergyman who decided to go on a sailing trip. After a few days on the high seas he ran into trouble – a massive storm swirled about him, and before he knew it his ship was struck by a huge wave, and he lost consciousness. He awoke to find he was floating on a small piece of wreckage, adrift in the ocean, utterly alone & helpless. 
    “Lord, I have dedicated my life to your service,” he prayed.  
    “Please save me!”
Just then, a sailing boat, about the same size as his had been, came into view.
    “Climb up!” cried the lady on board.
    “No, it's ok,” said the clergyman, “the Lord will save me!”
An hour later, a large ship appeared alongside him.
    “I'll throw you a rope and pull you up” called the captain.
    “No thanks,” came the reply, “the Lord will save me!”
Two hours later, now suffering from severe exhaustion, the sound of rotors caught the clergyman's attention. A helicopter hovered overhead, and the pilot hailed him.
    “Don't worry, I'll send down the winch.”
    “No, it's fine, the Lord will save me!”
Finally, the clergyman could hold on no longer, slipped beneath the waves and was drowned. Standing at the pearly gates, he was furious.
    “I gave you all I had in that life, why didn't you save me!” he fumed.
    “What do you mean?” replied God, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want!!”

Ok, so it's a bad joke. But sometimes, if we're honest, we can feel a bit like our hapless clergyman. If God wanted to be heard, why can't he just speak to me directly – really get my attention, instead of making me guess at the ordinary being symbolic. However, in our gospel reading, God does just that – and we see a similar and equally human response to that of the clergyman - they turn the exceptional into the mundane.

Jesus has just made his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem; the crowd who saw him raise Lazarus from the dead are following Him, and the Pharisees even remark “the whole world has gone after Him!” – confirmed when Greeks turn up to see Him. Then He begins to talk about how He is to die – hard to grasp things that don’t fit in with the people’s ideas of the coming messiah, or even a great rebel leader.

Finally He gives glory to His Father and, suddenly, the voice of God rings out, affirming Jesus and His mission. Imagine this for a moment – a voice from heaven, declaring the words of this man to be true. They all turned up to see a miracle, and now one has occurred…
BUT it isn’t the miracle they wanted, a spectacular feat they can gasp at – so they pretend it didn’t happen. “Its just thunder!”

Do we ever find ourselves dismissing events that don’t fit our own agenda? Do we miss the miraculous occurrences, those out-of-the-blue moments as we don’t like what we hear, or are too preoccupied with what we think should be happening? Do we close our eyes to the possibility God is speaking to us?

We can run the risk of doing the same with the story of Jesus' passion – we know the narrative so well we can almost skip through it, let the pain and the blood and the nails pass us by as we anticipate the joy, the celebration, the chocolate of Easter day. The miraculous happens right before our eyes – the Christ is crucified, the dead man rises – yet we miss it in the rush. And as Paul tells the church in Corinth, and continues to tell us today, this truly is the key to the whole story. Paul was an expert Jew; his persecution of the church was motivated by his Pharisaic conviction that, by definition, a Messiah who suffered death must be an impostor; something not just confirmed by his being found guilty by the authorities but, seen through Deuteronomy 21:23, confirmed by God - “anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse.”

But Paul’s conversion experience revolutionised his religious convictions. His descriptions of life in Christ radically reinterprets the tradition of the sacrificial death of Christ by reversing the very conviction we just mentioned, speaking of Jesus' death not as God’s curse but the redemptive centre of God’s judgement and love for a lost world.

The phrase “…but we proclaim Christ crucified…” from 1 Corinthians 1:23 should possibly be translated either “a Christ crucified” or “a crucified Christ,” as to translate simply “Christ crucified” seems to lose some of the force of the point Paul is making. To put his words in their original context, if “wisdom” conjured up ideas of achievement, success, and the path to honour and esteem in the 1st century traditions, the cross of Christ would be seen as it’s polar opposite. To renounce all power of your own and to place your trust in the action of 'an Other' is contrary to all that the “Greeks” or gentiles understood about the path to success, making it foolish indeed. Similarly, if “signs” are understood to mean a reversal of Jewish political fortunes a humiliated Messiah would certainly be a huge stumbling block.

So Paul is addressing both Jews and gentiles on the equal footing of them both being self-styled ‘critics.’ However, to those Jews and Greeks who have been called, he says, the cross of Christ is the thing which conveys God’s strength and wisdom. Paul reminds them that God’s foolish wisdom has been demonstrated in their own experience, as they have embraced the gospel solely on the basis of God’s call, not due to their own intellect, power or status. In fact, Christ has become for them their “wisdom from God” and, underpinned with a quote from Jeremiah 9:22-23, their boast may now only be in the Lord.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are absolutely basic to Paul’s faith. His whole letter to the Corinthians is written as a means of helping them to understand the ‘foolish wisdom’ of the cross. Failure to grasp this absurd gospel, this story of a crucified criminal, appears to lay at the heart of the problems in Corinth, where Paul’s converts had not begun to see that good news based on a cross carried certain implications about their own lifestyle. You see, to keep your social standing in Corinthian society you had to participate fully in the main communication methods of the day, which involved sacrificial meals. Therefore, to be seen as an “atheist” or “impious,” by rejecting meat that may have been sacrificed to idols, could lead to rejection and loss of standing.

One reason the Corinthian church didn't receive the social exclusion experienced by its sister church in Thessalonica was possibly because the leading converts deliberately “played down” the offensiveness of their faith. But their failings gave Paul the opportunity to expand on the tradition he had left with them, and proclaim that those who accept this “shameful” gospel, and who are willing to identify themselves with Christ’s crucifixion and dishonour will receive, not earthly reward, but the promise of “strength that works through weakness and the joy that transforms pain.” Sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ is all part of Paul’s understanding of Jesus solidarity with humanity. Although the members of the Corinthian church continue to share in the weakness of Adam in this life, Paul maintains that, on the last day, they will exchange the likeness of Adam for the likeness of Christ.

But this is not just a historical document – Paul's words, inspired by his knowledge of God's kingdom, speak just as much to us today. How easy is it in our ever-so clever post modern society to keep quiet about our foolish faith, under the onslaught of the 'wisdom' of the age, the continuous stream of self-help, self-reliance, insular me-ness that we are told is the only way to get ahead.

How much safer, simpler, more sensible, to blend into the crowd like a chameleon instead of challenging the norms of our society. And I'm not really talking about those issues the media claim we as Christians are only interested in – fighting about what women & homosexuals can or can't do – but what Christians should be interested in – things like giving a voice to those trapped in poverty, those marginalised by virtue of where they were born, those kept downtrodden to maximise the profits of those who already have more than they could ever need. This is part of the call in the passage from Isaiah, the messianic figure being “a light to the nations, that [God's] salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

And the people who followed Jesus in our Gospel reading were drawn to His light – indeed, he declares Himself to be the light after the voice has spoken, and in John 8:12 He declares He is “the light of the world.” Yet they were put off by His message, even the miraculous affirmation, as it didn’t fit.

You see, when we experience the light, we are also challenged to show that light to others. To show this sacrificial, life-changing, world altering love to all we meet, even to those who we don't know! Yet too often we ‘hide our light under a bushel’ when we need to let God’s presence shine out from us! We can dismiss the everyday miracles instead of seeking God’s word through them. Those small acts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that can add up to a big difference. Of course, if we let the light shine out, we need to be willing to back it up by listening to God’s word for those around us – allowing the prompting of the Spirit to illuminate the lives of others.

And that's the challenge for us tonight, this week, this year – are we willing to put ourselves in the position of the three others in the story of the clergyman – the sailor, the ship's captain & the helicopter pilot – and go where the Holy Spirit leads us to save those adrift in this world. The church isn't a rest home for saints – it's a lifeboat for sinners. Our job is to get people into the lifeboat, and then let the light of Jesus guide us all safely home. Yes, this path is costly - it needs work, and time spent in prayer and reading the scriptures, to have a hope of getting anywhere – but compared to the price Jesus paid to give us the chance, I think we can cope. And that is perhaps the greatest of the everyday miracles – we have the gift, the ability, to spend time with the architect of our faith, God's own Son Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again for each of us in here tonight, and for every single person out there too. We can talk with Him, read with Him, allow Him to help us. Such simple things, so easy to take for granted, yet truly miraculous and life changing. God does want to speak to us – and wants to speak through us. We just have to watch, listen, and follow the light.