Category Archives: SCMing

Thoughts from life and travels while working for SCM.

Oops to the lack of blogging

As the regular(!) reader will notice, there isn’t so much to read on my blog these days. I so rarely log in, let alone think of anything to write about but as I log in today I discover something in my ‘draft posts’ folder from March. Being so efficient, and with that as such recent news I’ll have a go at finishing that post before starting the one I’ve actually logged in to write.

So… Local Preacher Training (originally dated 9 March 2010!)

I’ve been chronicling my journey throughout my Local Preacher Training and it wouldn’t seem appropriate to let Sunday go unmarked. It was my service of recognition so I’ve officially finished (even if I do have to present my project still)! (Come September, strangely it has now been completed and was accepted – I’ll stick a note on about that too).

A group of friends gathered to share in the special evening – someone from university who has journeyed with me throughout; friends from SCM who have challenged, critiqued, encouraged and supported; local friends as well as a good collection of people from the local church, and the circuit. It was a really special occasion. The sermon was something to be beheld, by virtue of the length and the enthusiasm and exuberance of the preacher.

It was a really lovely way to celebrate the end of, at times, a gruelling course. It felt like a fair end to the journey through my time in Birmingham – I started the course within 6 months of starting my permanent job in Brum and was accredited during my period of notice as I prepared to move out of the area.

After the service, we gathered back at the Community Flat (and finished the feast we started before heading to church). A few celebratory drinks were shared before people headed homewards – all except one good friend and the Mrs. It led to the most fun conversations, and entirely unrelated to local preaching. This friend wins the award for most laid back bride to be: “Well, it took a while for me to work out why there aren’t more 11am wedding ceremonies. The other brides faff on with things like hair and make up… well, I *might* brush my hair!”

(Well, come September it’s hard to keep much more of a focus on the event than has now been reflected on. Eh, well…)

Since the service of recognition in March, a couple of noteworthy things have happened. My presentation on my project went well, even though I was 45 minutes late (horray for buses). I reflected on the things we, as preachers, can learn from artists who use words to make and form their art. Whether poets, creative writers, sculptors or painters, artists use words to form things beyond what is immediately expected. My sister’s artwork inspired me to consider this, and her work can be seen on her website. I reflected that, as wordsmiths, we should be encouraged to practise, to seek new and unexpected inspiration, to seek to improve skills and undertake training. I can’t remember what else I reflected upon, but I got some good feedback and provoked some interesting responses. The Local Preachers Meeting formed the final of my preaching duties in Brum and it seemed a nice exit. My final services were led jointly with a good friend and colleague, at work. Again, it was a nice place to share the goodbyes.

As my job changed (in July/August) I started exploring getting my local preaching fully recognised within my new home denomination. That led to a fascinating series of reading and essays but I now (still, in September) am awaiting a(nother) assessed service. Hopefully once that is done, all the assessed services will be done for the time being. So preaching is very much a ticked box for now and it’s nice to have all the written work out of the way.

So now those studies are done, what shall I do next?

Notes on my Spiritual Journey 5 – SCM

After a break from most church-related activities for all of four months, I found myself making a surprisingly big commitment given I’d just moved to Manchester to start a career in community cohesion and work in the crime and disorder field. I walked away from all that to return to SCM, but this time as a member of staff rather than student or trustee. As previously mentioned, the organisation has symbolised for me the space to find, well, anything and everything. To come into this organisation as a member of staff presented me with a daunting yet inspiring task as I was in awe of my predecessor.

In this baptism of fire, I quickly found myself meeting and greeting chaplains as equal and discussing complex theological issues more often than I could imagine. I was regularly writing, and commissioning resources to encourage students to engage more deeply and passionately about their faith. As the demographic to whom we were appealing were academic, highly intelligent adults, the level to which the resources had to be aimed was sufficiently high. As such, I had to ensure that my understanding of any given subject was good enough to do justice to the topic. This has equipped me to expect and relish highly discursive, well researched and presented theological discussions and services where appropriate.

It was also in this setting that I became more experienced and competent in producing alternative worship and liturgical resources. I was commissioning and writing prayers for all sorts of situations including a World Aids Day resource, a book introducing different methods for biblical study, and on themes such as being prophetic, life in all its fullness and global links. It was within the context of alternative worship stations that I felt I had particularly found my niche. It gave me the opportunity to consider what could be drawn from the passages in different ways. There was always something to make/create, something to listen to, something physical, something to hold, something to see, something passive/reflective. There was also always a challenging and confessional act, an intercessory act, an act of commission, an act of sharing, a meditative and responsive act and an act of thanksgiving and/or adoration. These activities were then drawn back into the worship later on.

As I became increasingly able to see the options for responding to the biblical passages in such a way, there were increasingly times where I felt I had something to say, as well as do, in response. SCM wasn’t the best setting for doing that but it also felt that I was in the time of stability that my chaplain had suggested and as such I spoke to my superintendent minister about a call to preach.

As these two strands came together I found SCM benefitted from my local preacher training, and my training most certainly benefitted from SCM. The approaches I’d gained and the commitment to look deeply into any given topic empowered me to engage considerately with the text, and take on board the nature of the worshiping congregation when preparing services for them.

The job was something I very much felt called to go to, and felt an awareness that it was time to move on. For me, the opportunity to engage in leading worship, encouraging others in their faith, offering pastoral support, growing communities and empowering volunteers to action was the appropriate ministry for me at that time.

SCM continues to be an organisation I feel privileged to have served, and I am frequently reminded what a great tool-kit for life I have gained from it. A familiar phrase to many SCMers is to have a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. That commitment to engaging with faith and society is essential to my own theology, and how I aim to live out my faith.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 3 – Student Christian Stuff

The Student Christian Society was discovered at a similar time to the chaplaincy. A group of about 10 – 20 of us met weekly to drink tea and natter. Sometimes we’d do some theological discussion, and other times we’d go bowling. Once a term we’d do the evening service at the chaplaincy, and we’d go on an annual retreat. The group was made up of a quirky group of people but all of us found fellowship with one another. We had no expectations about each other’s beliefs, chosen worship styles, passions or university (for there were 4 to choose from). The group was a tight knit bunch but deeply committed to living out faith fully, and exploring together.

In my second year, things moved up a notch as I also discovered the Student Christian Movement, and in that a thriving group across the country doing what we were doing. I attended their annual conference and found myself encouraged to write prayers and interactive activities (alt worship) for the corporate worship one evening. In co-ordinating the worship from SCS I had benefited from a lot of advice from a good friend training as local preacher. On conclusion of the worship session, I felt greatly honoured and encouraged that several people from the conference asked for the resources to use within their own communities.

It was in this setting that I had found myself increasingly involved in preparing and leading worship for the student group, and within the chaplaincy. As the time came for SCS to lead their termly evening service, the group met to prepare it. As all of us had concerns and fears about ‘preaching’ or doing the ‘talky bit’ we opted for preparing a slide show enabling people to reflect personally on the word of God. As the Sunday of the service approached, I became increasingly unsettled that we had no exploration of the readings and, by about midnight the night before a feeling had boiled up inside me where I felt I had to respond to the readings by preparing and delivering a ‘talky bit’. The same friend who had assisted me with the prayers earlier, encouraged me and made time to guide me through some basics to consider as I prepared the reflection. The reflection was duly written and presented, giving more structure and definition to the service. I was encouraged to consider exploring preaching further, but on that initial occasion said I’d done more than enough of it.

I was encouraged to lead a similar section of the service on one subsequent occasion and found it rewarding.

On leaving university I continued by links with SCM nationally by getting involved in their board of trustees. This gave me unique opportunities to work alongside chaplains and to commit to this organisation which was increasingly meaning more to me. The space, at a national level through events and publications, informed me about ideas and influential thinkers I’d not had the opportunity to experience until then. In this environment I was not only challenged but equipped to respond to the questions which were emerging. It was the opportunity for me to grow faster, confidently and competently within the theological setting while being allowed to critique as many ideas as I embraced.

My time at SCS, and SCM, led to me seeking to ensure that such provision as I had benefited remained available for other students, and many of the people I met through the organisations remain good friends.

Breaking with Tradition

Last weekend was a momentous occasion… it was the SCM conference.  That’s not the momentous bit… I didn’t go!  For the first time in a very long time (7 years) I didn’t go and it was great.

I understand the conference was great but so was my weekend.  I took the opportunity to get a change of scenery and trekked up to West Yorkshire to catch up with a uni friend, on half term.

My friend and I embraced our shared passions for different forms of crafting and headed off to a rather wonderful centre of inspiration, which either of us only ever go to when together.  On this occasion her husband was left at home so he didn’t have to have the joys of paper, glitter, fabric and yarn inflicted on him again.  We both had a really lovely time and if you’re ever in the Skipton area (and into crafting) it’s well worth a visit.

The two of us had great fun.  She’s all set for making her wedding scrapbook and I’m on a card making mission.  After this we headed back home and made the most of celebrating her baking skills.  Half term had allowed her, and a former colleague, to reunite for a baking day.  My friend, a rather excellent cook, had managed to create a pile of Mocha Cake, Cherry Bakewell Cake and Rocky Road.  So much for my diet, but it was worth it.

On the Sunday morning I set off bright and early (for half term… 11ish) to head back in time to meet the SCMers as they returned through my local station.

They returned looking inspired yet tired from a good weekend.  From all accounts it was a great event but not one I felt I missed, save for the company.  I was a nice change of form to do something completely different during conference weekend, a time in the calendar which was so much a part of my life for a long time.

My biggest challenge arising from it is to now make the time and effort to catch up and visit all the friends I would have spent time with at the conference but didn’t… Diaries to the ready…

Continuing developments…

Zimbabwean SCMers cleared amidst escalating attacks on civil society

14 June 2008

WSCF is pleased to report that all five Zimbabwean SCMers detained following the armed police raid and subsequent arrests on SCM Zimbabwe headquarters last Monday, have been released and cleared of charges.

At the same time, WSCF notes with increasing concern that the SCMers have returned to their homes in the context of escalating attacks on civil society, which through the past week that have seen numerous acts of violence, intimidation, destruction of property and illegal arrests directed towards civil society organisations across the country.

SCM Zimbabwe Vice Chairperson, Langelihle Manyani has told WSCF she and her colleagues are now living in fear as state agents in unmarked vehicles continue to follow and intimidate student leaders. Early this week SCMZ’s Gender Secretary Matsiliso Moyo and her baby were the first to be released from detention (on the evening of the raid) along with Gladys Mabuto, a senior staff member of the Christian Alliance.

SCM’s Zimbabwe’s General Secretary Prosper Munatsi was released from the police cells at Harare Central Prison on the night of Tuesday June 11, along with SCM leaders Langelihle Manyani, Precious Chinanda and intern Sandra Dzvete and the three other detainees from the Christian Alliance and Ecumenical Support Services. Seven of the arrested Harare Ecumenical Centre staff had charges made against them under the Criminal Law Reform and Codification Act, claiming they had published falsehoods and distributed subversive information.

According to defence lawyer and SCM member Jeremiah Bamu, the charges against the SCMers and other ecumenical workers have now been cleared after the Attorney General refused to prosecute. The Zimbabwean police have however refused to return property confisticated from SCM offices including, a minibus, two laptops, computer, 300 t-shirts and pamphlets. An urgent motion to have the property returned has been filed at the High Court in Harare.

WSCF continues to be concerned at the increasing threat to democracy-supporting civil society in Zimbabwe, as it receives reports of widespread incidents of armed police raids, destruction of property, attacks and illegal arrests of leaders and members of civil society.

According to the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), students and other stakeholders in civil society are being accused by the Mugabe regime of supporting the opposition. This accusation has led to the suspension of operating licenses of all Non-Governmental Organisations.

The Federation has received reports of increased intimidation and violence against more than ten different national and local Zimbabwean civil society organisations situated in Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Bindura and Masvingo. The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), the National Association of Non Government Associations (NANGO) and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) have all released statements this week identifying members, leaders or officials who have come under attack from government forces and have been threatened, beaten, had property seized or destroyed or have been illegally detained by police.

WSCF continues to work closely with the international ecumenical movement and at UN events in Geneva to develop new ways of providing tangible support to ecumenical and civil society groups and the people of Zimbabwe. This Wednesday at the WSCF-YWCA organised Zimbabwe weekly focus meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, human rights defenders from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights are expected to make presentations on Zimbabwean issues to resource the ecumenical movement on further appropriate actions to take in support of Zimbabweans in the current crisis.

More information on the situation in Zimbabwe

Ecclesia has published a more detailed story about the situation with the ecumenical and church bodies in Zimbabwe and their report can be seen here.

The whole story struck me a lot the first time it broke. I spent 6 years heavily involved in SCM – 3 on the staff, 1 on the trustees and 2 as a student before that, and they helped shape who I am today. I was aware the whole time I worked for them that I was in a very honoured and privileged position as they have so many amazing things throughout their history. They have had a very interesting and inspiring collection of people pass through the membership both here and in other countries.

SCM made the world seem all the smaller and closer as it has links throughout the world. One year a new colleague arrived from the other side of the world and he, and his family, had moved because SCM meant a lot to them and they wanted to stick with it – even on the other side of the world. When the war started between Israel and Lebanon recently, that was challenging because the regional office is is Beirut and we knew the staff (including one my colleagues had met and got to know) were very directly affected. The first time I heard of the SCM being targeted in Zimbabwe I was shocked and struggled to think what it would mean…

One day, someone comes into the office where me and my friends work, and destroys or takes everything I’ve worked hard for. Takes the history and links we have, and arrests and threatens us for standing up for what matters to us. Not even for anything particularly radical – democracy.

The bond SCM creates is a special one for me – there is now a family united across the world and the news of what happened in Zimbabwe was like someone attacking my family. I do not know the staff personally but they are just people like me doing what we do because we hope we can play our little part.

My thoughts and prayers go to all in Zimbabwe, for all those with friends and families there. My thanks go to SCM for making this information known to me and giving me the opportunity to try and understand in some small way how difficult things are there, and how we’re all linked with what goes on.

Zimbabwe news release from SCMZ – see entry for information. There’s nothing more I can add.

As part of the ongoing onslaught on civic society organisations in Zimbabwe, the Ecumenical Centre, a conglomeration of faith based democracy organisations which house the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe (SCMZ), the Ecumenical Support Services (ESS), the Christian Alliance (CA) and Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference (ZNPC) and PADARE Men’s Forum on Gender has been raided at around 1300hrs, Monday 09 June 2008 by heavily armed members of the police, central intelligence and military personnel.

The Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe a chapter of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) based in Geneva Switzerland which stands for promoting justice and peace in Zimbabwe has received with great shock the subsequent raid, arrest and detention of some of its employees and executive members. In the process police ransacked the SCMZ offices and confisticated, computers, laptops, digital cameras, and a mini bus. The movement sees this as a move to incapacitate the movement since it has been fully geared towards sensitising Christian students and youth on their rights and responsibilities in the face of a break or make Presidential runoff pencilled for the 27 of June 2008. Those arrested are, Prosper Munatsi (SCMZ General Secretary), Sandra Dzvete (office intern), Langelihle Manyani (Vice Chairperson), Matsiliso Moyo (Gender Secretary), and Precious (Finance and Administration Officer).

SCMZ condemns such acts of intimidation directed to civic society players by the state security agents. SCMZ views the arrests and detentions as part of the broader campaign of intimidation orchestrated against defenceless citizens. The ZANU PF government is clearly displaying its degrees in violence. This is the time for the whole world to see and judge for itself the true characteristic of a government which has on many times tried to convince the world that it is not only legitimate but democratic. The government has abdicated its duties by declaring war on its own people and creating an atmosphere of general insecurity among the populace. It is our sacred duty as civic society and opposition forces to continue fighting for the opening up of democratic space and justice in Zimbabwe. To members of the ecumenical family the time has come for us not only to speak but also to act against injustice, oppression and corruption according to the standard of the word of God.

Psalms 72:1-4 “May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor!

Shock Horror – She Blogs!

Wow, after only, erm… 9 months I prove I’m still alive!

Life continues, as it ever does, but I thought I should mention something that’s been bubbling under for a while now. I’m leaving my job… if you want it you can find out more information here. As such I am looking for a new job, so if you want a soon-to-be ex-links worker or know of any jobs, please let me know. The decision is related to a lack of accommodation from November, so location isn’t important.

As you can see, life’s looking a little uncertain at the moment so I hope you will bear with me as I write as much as I ever do!

Sermons part 2

This is my most recent sermon. I’d like to thank an unnamed wiblogger for her help in getting this proofed and picking up the typos.

Readings – Hebrews 10:11-14,19-25, Mark 13:1-8

Sermon

When I was at university, rather like a good number of the students I now work with, I had a bit of a crisis. The crisis was of identity and where I fitted into this strange thing called life. I’d left all that I’d known, my family, my church, my friends, all the different communities I was part of. I didn’t know where I was without them nor did I know where to turn for support when all that I was familiar with had crumbled down. In view of the world I saw and experienced at university I was changed, and more so than I could imagine or predict. It wasn’t always easy but I couldn’t go back from it either. I was alone in a strange city with nobody I’d known for more than a couple of day or weeks and hundreds of miles from home. Where could I go?

Well, I knew that I wasn’t entirely alone no matter how much I felt I was. I had God with me. I had the security that I was not being left to cope alone and I also knew that I could go in search of other Christians too. With them I might, just might, have something in common and could find the community I was looking for. I found the support and love I needed in the student group and church I joined and in the new friends and spiritual family I found there. The church I went to at uni was about as different from the one I’d left as you could imagine but it wasn’t the familiarity of the liturgy or the style of worship that were of supreme importance. More important to me was whether I felt I was part of an active Christian community remaining faithful to God and living out their faith honestly and sincerely. They were there for me in the difficult times and offered me the hope I needed to hold onto and a way of looking forward. They also offered me complete and unconditional love and encouragement. It was such a lovely place and through it I, and my faith, grew and developed. I was an active member of the church too, contributing back into the community that meant so much to me in the hope it would be there for others too. Building was a bit of a shocker though. Good thing I wasn’t looking for a pretty church or awe inspiring building. Despite leaving university over three years ago now, I’m still in touch with many people from there and they are as close to me as the family I grew up with. It was the community of people of God that were faithful to God, aware of the needs of its members and loving to all who came into it.

The experience of losing all that you’re familiar with is similar to what the disciples were being told about in Mark’s Gospel. All that they were used to with was going to change. The temple symbolised the centre of religious and cultural life in Jerusalem, and was quite an awe inspiring structure – it was huge! It dominated the skyline of Jerusalem! It wasn’t just the building that was huge – the influence it held over all aspects of life was equally as large. When Jesus predicted its destruction, the damage to the building was not entirely what he was referring to. He is speaking more broadly of the political, cultural and religious influence it had, and how that would end. How often do we hear people say ‘something came crumbling down’ and expect them to mean a physical thing? I’ve already used the phrase this morning and I certainly wasn’t referring to physical destruction. Jesus is talking about the changes that come with the new order he is introducing. He has changed things, and will continue to do so through his death and resurrection and ongoing legacy – but that hadn’t happened when the Disciples were discussing the future of the temple. Jesus was bringing peoples attention back to God, and in the process is removing the need to follow the old traditions of the Jewish laws. Like so many times in the Old Testament we read that the people were still undertaking religious duties but were neglecting God. We also hear this criticism repeatedly in the New Testament too. In the reading we heard this morning, Jesus was reminding the disciples not to get distracted by false teachers. The people were too distracted by the traditions and ceremonies to remember that God was behind them. God was lost in the face of religion and culture.

We still have those temptations now and are in danger of losing God again – through consumerism, the cult of celebrity, work, hobbies, family or even church, we can lose sight of God in our lives. We have our own rituals and routines. But how many of us allow time for God, let alone him being the focus of our lives. The false teachers we need to avoid are those things which distract us from remaining true to our faith and to God. Only we know what our own distractions are but we do need to overcome them. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that even when Jesus was saying that, his disciples were getting distracted by concerns about how long they’d have to do that for. They are asking for a key to the signs so they will know when the end will come – when they won’t have to worry about the distractions any more. Jesus doesn’t answer this at all or maybe in typical Jesus style, answers the question that they didn’t ask!. He warns them instead that it’s going to be a real challenge to follow him but that it will be worth it and we have to remain true to God. Being a Christian, he tells us, will involve wars, torment, earthquakes, destruction and more. Like the temple coming crumbling down earlier, it’s worth considering these as symbols for the problems to be faced rather than actual literal predictions. When Mark’s gospel was written, the early church was already being persecuted and it is with that view that we can approach the list of tragedies. Some of them would have been personal and some broader, but all the community would have been aware of the problems they were facing. In fact, by the time Mark’s gospel was written the temple had been destroyed and I’d imagine that this fact would make Jesus’ warning all the more relevant. It gave them something to hold onto when they were feeling oppressed – Jesus was there with them. He was going through it with them and they could hold true to their faith in him.

This is where we get to the second of our readings. Again, the community – this time not in Jerusalem, were being told to hold true to their faith and being reminded that Jesus had overthrown the old way of living. They are also encouraged to remain true to their faith and that Jesus will remain true to them. We, too, can hold onto this promise. If we remain faithful to Jesus he will remain so to us.

The second point we can take from the readings this morning is again something I found in my church at university. We can and do need to be part of a community. When I left for university the minister from my home church sent a letter to the chaplain letting him know I was coming and asked him to get in touch with me. During my first week I got a letter welcoming me to the university and letting me know there was a friendly chaplain I could go to should I want to. I did, and it was his church I got involved with. When I went to see him, he remembered he’d written to me and it was really lovely to think that there was someone looking out for me. This is just one aspect of the Christian community that we can see and appreciate from Hebrews. While the style and content was very different from the one I received from my chaplain, the idea of someone looking out for the interests of another remains the same. The letter writer is offering hope to a distanced community and emphasises the importance of consideration, love and encouragement for its members. He wants the readers to consider the needs and requirements of the wider community. He focuses on the relationship we have with Christ and God through Jesus’ sacrifice but sets that reassurance within the context of a community. Like the Christians when Mark was writing, the Hebrews Christians were being persecuted for their faith. It was all the more important to remind them that they were not alone – the letter itself was one way of doing that, but also reminding the readers of their special relationship with God through Jesus, but we’ll come back to that.

The letter to the Hebrews encourages them to focus on considering how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. This was particularly relevant for a community under oppression because you’d never know what was going to happen next and who would be affected in what way. Meeting each other would have been important to check that everyone was okay or coming to terms with what it meant when someone wasn’t. Encouraging with other, provoking good deeds and showing love would be particularly important as it must have been hard to deal with living in such conditions. Encouraging people to hold true to their faith must have been very difficult when that faith could very easily get them killed. While we are not in danger of being arrested and killed by the UK government or Birmingham City Council for our faith, the values the Hebrews were advised to consider would be well suited to the church here and in the wider circuit. I’m sure we do many of them anyway, but it is a good aim to hold to – to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.

As I found when I went to university those things are invaluable. It’s also all the more relevant when people are having difficult times and that brings us back to the challenges suggested by Mark. When the world comes crumbling down, to know that you can find love and encouragement is all the more important. Each of us will need it at some time or another, and some more often than others. Each of us will also need to offer it too and if we all look out for one another we’ll get a long way. Sometimes we need to do both at the same time and that’s not always easy but through the community we can, and do, do it. When I first arrived at university it was certainly the case that I needed that support and when I got to the second year I was able to offer it to the freshers on their arrival. When I had bad days people were there for me and when they had bad days I was there for them. It was a real honour and privilege to do so – and also to know that there were people doing it for me. It really did, and continues to, show the love and hope of Christ lived out.
Hope is the final of the points we can hold onto from our readings today. It goes back to the special relationship with Christ we touched upon earlier. Jesus, over thrower of the old laws, source of our hope and love and foundation of our communities, also brings us to a unique relationship with God. Through his sacrifice we are made perfect and can enter into God’s Kingdom. Hebrews talks of us no longer being separated from God – God is with us and each of us is with him. We are welcomed into his home and cleansed and purified. This is quite some hope. When we are feeling down and under pressure this is a hope we can hold onto. No matter how bad we are feeling in ourselves, how guilty we are feeling for the things we have and haven’t done, for the hurt we experience and seeing those we love suffer, we can remember that each of us is perfected through Christ.

I can’t even begin to imagine how important and liberating that would have been to the earliest Christians who received the letter. When dealing with people, as is the case within communities, we run the risk of hurting and being hurt by each other. Of letting people down and not doing what we should. Sometimes we do what’s spot on, we get it right, we make a difference in a good way. We can and are there for other people and often find ourselves being there and offering hope when we’re not expecting it. Even when we make mistakes and get things wrong, which I certainly did at university and continue to do so now, we are still pure and clean in the eyes of God. We are perfected through Jesus. We have the hope offered by our relationship with God, we have the hope and promise of the love of Jesus. We have the hope and support of the Christian communities we’re in. We can and should share these hopes with the other members of the community. We can look forwards in the knowledge of this hope.

The readings this morning offer us many challenges – how are we to live our lives faithfully? How can we show love to all that come to us? Warts and all! How can we find hope? How can we live these things out in the community of God? Each of these things is possible through Jesus. By putting our faith in him we can receive and share his love and hope. By remaining faithful to him we will find ourselves on the receiving end of those things to and will be strengthened and nourished by them. By sharing together in a community we can see the best of these things at work and be there to support each other when we need it too. We can and will find ourselves living out the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Sermons

I was planning to blog about knitting and sermons for a while. As you will be able to see by the fact that I’ve only blogged once in the last two months (before today), I’m kind of behind in my blogging. Life, it seems, gets rather busy at this time of year. My feet don’t feel like they’ve touched the ground in a while, and it will still be a few months yet before they really do.

Despite feet not touching the ground, Jen and Sarah came to my trial service and this is the sermon from then. I think this is the one but I’m not the most imaginative or sensible when it comes to filenames so who knows…

Readings – Proverbs 9: 1 – 6, John 6: 51 – 58

Sermon
Communion! Bread rolls and grape juice or port and wafers. Communion! That’s what sprung to mind the first, and every, time I read through today’s Gospel reading! It’s something familiar to Christians throughout the world, continues in a legacy started by the first Christians and follows a commandment from Jesus. While different churches have their different approaches and different styles, sharing bread and wine together is what many people, even outside the church, associate with Christianity. Communion is something very special to me and I have been fortunate to share in many different celebrations. From everyone sharing their lunch together at a Christian festival like the one I’m going to next weekend, or joining half a dozen elderly nuns and a priest in a convent to an integral part of a friends wedding or on a normal communion service on a Sunday morning, it is always a special experience. I was intrigued to know what, if any, insight could be gained from the readings. How could Proverbs bring understanding to a practice that hadn’t even started, and why is John’s account so different from his fellow Gospel writers? What challenges can we take from the experience and what reassurance, and how can we share this with others?
Proverbs may not seem the first place to turn but it presents many interesting ideas worth exploring when considering communion. We hear of the host preparing a feast and inviting guests – something that echoes the Gospel reading but we’ll come back to that later. The host, Wisdom is a female representation of the Holy Spirit and the poet tells us that:
“She (Wisdom) prepared her meat and mixed her wine.”
as the New International Version translates the verse. This verse is later followed by the invite to the guests saying:
“Come, eat the food and drink the wine mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”
The Spirit, in the form of Wisdom, has made a feast for all who want to gain in life and knowledge to join. I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all of us, want to live in the ways of understanding and life – and that invite still applies to us! The Spirit invites all of us, from the beginning of time, to share in the feast and that legacy will be passed on to a new generation by us. Through sharing with each other, and with the spirit we will grow and be nourished by it. As we become more familiar with the Spirit we can begin to understand the role it plays in our own understanding and life. It is our ongoing connection to God, and the gift given to us by Jesus to help us.
To come to Wisdom’s table requires us to admit our shortcomings – we will will always be unable to truly comprehend the nature of God. It also requires us to look at what we are being asked to share in – the feast itself. Wisdom has prepared meat and mixed wine. This is where the echo with the Gospel gets a little louder. It is the same flesh and wine we are invited to consume by Jesus. The Holy Spirit is inviting us to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. This is the feast prepared by Wisdom and talked about in Proverbs. By sharing in the feast we are entitled to taste the delights she has to offer. We learn more about ourselves and the nature of God through this relationship. It is through the involvement of the Spirit that the feast becomes more than the sum of its parts – it becomes Communion with God.
It is this communion with God that John is talking about. His account of Jesus’ commandment to us is markedly different from those of the other Gospel writers. When Matthew, Mark and Luke offer the Last Supper as the setting, it is worth noting that John does no such thing. John doesn’t actually mention the last supper at all – not in relation to this or any other story in the whole of his Gospel! He emphasises different aspects of Jesus’ commandment and they can add to our understanding but we need to explore why John writes so differently.
The earliest Christians generally came from the regions where Jesus conducted his ministry and were primarily Jewish by background and culture. As the early Christian movement grew, it spread into new areas and reached people of different backgrounds. John, it is believed, was writing from Ephesus in modern-day Turkey around 70 years after the death of Jesus. The community he was living in was so different from those that Jesus visited. The culture, language, religion and lifestyle were completely different and he needed to find a way of getting his message across. He wasn’t writing for people who were seated in Jewish traditions, he was trying to write for everyone. There is nobody who is excluded by the Good News and John tried to write for as many people as possible. As such he wrote with explanations of Jewish tradition for those unfamiliar with it, but also with ideas and images familiar to people from other backgrounds. It is with that in mind that we return to the reading we heard earlier.
John’s exploration of Jesus’ commandment is firmly set in traditions outside Judaism. Many religions of the time held the belief that you could achieve communion with a God by eating some of a sacrifice offered by a priest. The priest would offer the sacrifice and after everything else had been sorted, the believer would be given back a portion of the meat. It was believed that the sacrificed meat was transformed into the God. By eating the flesh, the believer was bringing the God into themselves and would become one with them. The consumption of any food, including meat, is a very intimate process. The food is taken in, absorbed, and becomes part of us. You are bringing something from the outside into you. If it is good, it will feed and sustain you. It will lead to growth and keep you going. The meat from the sacrifice nourished the person not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally – just as communion can and does for us.
By explaining Jesus’ instructions in the way he did, John is giving people an understanding of the importance of Jesus. He is emphasising the Divinity of Christ. It says to the readers of the time, This man is God. By sharing in the feast, we are sharing with a man, but a man who is equally God and equally human. For us, he is our living sacrifice!
John makes it even clearer when he reports Jesus saying:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living father sent me and I live because of the father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
By eating the bread of life, the flesh of Jesus, he is with and in us and each of us is in him. That’s what communion is for us. A celebration of the eternal link between Jesus and each of us. But how is it that the bread and wine that we share become the spiritual foods spoken about by John, or hold the promise mentioned earlier by the poet in Proverbs? The answer is in the involvement of the Holy Spirit. If we were to carry on reading from where we left off in John’s Gospel we would come to a passage about the importance of the Spirit. Jesus talks about the role of Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, when he says:
“The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life-giving spirit.”
This refers back to the promise spoken about in Proverbs where Wisdom offers the guests a way to life. The Spirit is transformative. There are many accounts in the new testament of the work of the Spirit and the way it brings life. We are invited to receive guidance for our lives from the spirit, and it is the source of the gifts God gives to share life with those around us. When we share in communion the Spirit is with us and there is a transformation here too. The bread and wine are changed through the Holy Spirit to bring the blessings of life and understanding promised by Jesus and to which we were invited by Wisdom. In the moment of joining in communion we are united with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by this union we are transformed. We may not always be aware of it but we will have been nourished. Through this small action on our part, we bring Jesus into our bodies and into our lives. Is is with us in all that we are all that we do. Sometimes that knowledge can be really unsettling but that is a good thing. We can be reassured and know that Jesus is alongside us and we are never alone. This is also where the challenge comes.
Jesus is with us in all that we say and all that we do, which means he is with us every time things go well, but also when things go badly. With that in mind, we should try our hardest to be faithful on all occasions. Through the guidance of the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus we can learn how best to act in each situation. We know that we are growing in life and understanding but how are we dealing with that responsibility? Wisdom tells us to leave foolishness behind as we feast and we need to live that out in our daily lives. Jesus tells us that he is the bread for the life world, but we know of so many parts of the world where life is restricted. With the transformative Spirit, we can take this challenge and embrace it. We can each play a part, however small, in the lives of those around us. Whether it’s making a cup of tea, doing a night of babysitting, volunteering for a project or something entirely different we can share with those our lives touch. Maybe our actions will be as small as the pieces of bread we eat, or as short lived as the taste in our mouths but through the Spirit of God they may be changed into something amazing. When we share in or remember the sacrament of Holy Communion, may we feel encouraged to use our lives to share understanding and life with the people we meet.