This article by C. Hawkes was found in the January 1953 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
We have heard in our first talk [see previous article] how, often unwittingly, the way was prepared for the coming of Christ into this world, and I would like to continue from there.
During the days of His childhood His path, like ours, was smoothed by loving parents, but the time soon came when, to fulfil the plan and to do the work for which God has sent Him, He had to take the hard way. He left the smooth path and took the unmade road which led Him to Calvary, and although He Himself took that way, it was ordinary people like you and me, who were responsible for the conditions of His path through life. The friends, His disciples, who worshipped their Master, did everything in their power to make His road happy and comfortable. So many small incidents in the Gospels show of their concern for Him, when He was tired or when they thought the people were worrying Him. Yes, they tried to show their love in a practical form, as did those who opened their homes to him, where He gladly partook of the hospitality offered. Then there were the people who prepared Christ's way into Jerusalem by spreading in His path palm branches and even their own garments. What joy these little acts of devotion must have brought to our Saviour's heart. But, alas, those who were concerned about Him were few compared with those who, to put it into modern, idiom, "Couldn't have cared less" what sort of path He trod. Then, worst of all, there were those who hated Him and deliberately prepared that awful road to Calvary.
Since those days Christianity has spread all over the world, and yet how little His way has changed. There are still the friends, still the indifferent, and still the hostile, and I think each one of us here should search our hearts and ask ourselves the question: "What am I doing to Prepare the Way of the Lord and make His path straight?"
My first job on leaving school was in the drawing office of a big engineering works in Manchester. It was in the days when Crystal Sets were the wonder of the age, and the 2LO station was still in its infancy. There was great excitement everywhere when the news got round that the first provincial broadcasting station was to be in our grounds, and that Royalty was coming for the opening day and would also inspect our works. Perhaps some of you know Trafford Park, Manchester, but for you who do not I will tell you that it consists of miles and miles of factories, bordering the famous Ship Canal, and the road that ran right through the Park (why they called it that I can't imagine, because anything more unlike a park does not exist) was cobbled and in a very bad condition through the continuous heavy traffic, but immediately it was known Royalty was coming, gangs of road repairers appeared and that long road right to the gates of the works, and through them for a further half mile up to the doors of the New Station, was made straight for the coming of a man who was one day to be an earthly king. That was not forced labour. It was done joyfully and all the energy that they possessed was put into it, and yet we give so little thought to the coming of Christ and the way He has to tread.
I wonder into which category, on thinking about it, we have had to put ourselves.
Have you had to admit that you are one of the hostile, again crucifying Christ? One of the saddest things about Christ's death was that it was Judas, who had one time loved Him and lived in daily contact with Him, who first put Him on the direct road to the Cross. There are still many Judas's in this world, who are still willing to sell the Lord they once loved, and all He stands for - for thirty pieces of silver.
But perhaps you are just one of the very large crowd who are indifferent.
The majority of people nowadays wouldn't harm Him, but they don't even notice Him. If you ask them they call themselves Christians, yet they never give Christ a thought. There is no way prepared for Christ to enter their hearts, and because He is not there they cannot prepare the way in the hearts of others. For instance, it is impossible for those who do not know Christ to make His way plain in the hearts of their children. I was horrified to read, the other day, that in an Australian school a class was asked the question, "Does God really exist?" and ninety-six per cent answered "No." I hope this would not be the reply if put to a class in England but the Australians are a people of our race, a Christian - not a heathen land. How sadly the parents and teachers of those particular children have failed in the preparation for Christ's coming.
Perhaps in answer to the question we have asked ourselves, we, here, can all truthfully say "I do love the Lord, and I am trying to prepare His way." But how hard are we working? Trade Union hours and no more? Or are we like those workmen in Manchester, prepared to work long hours, joyfully, so that the work shall be done to time?
Do we go to church on Sunday and then go home feeling that we have done all that is required of us, and pleased that we are not among those dreadful people who never think of going to church? Or perhaps we teach in Sunday School and then say, "Ah, well, I've done my bit until next Sunday." How easy it is to slip into the self-righteous state.
At our church meeting recently we had a discussion on the methods a Christian should use to win people for Christ, and many seemed to think that living a good life before men was sufficient, but I felt that this was not enough. There are so many people who never give a thought to God whose lives compare very favourably with the lives of many Christians. There are thousands of these people who spend there lives in service for others, and so a Christian living a life of love and service is just classed with the others as a "good sort".
How then are we to Prepare the Way? By our everyday lives, certainly, but we must endeavour to teach as well as live our religion. Can I give you an illustration of what I mean? Perhaps you have read it already in your daily paper. Some months ago, in North London, quads were born, one of whom died soon after birth, but the other three thrived. It soon became apparent, however, that they were all blind, and the parents were persuaded that the kindest thing to do was to let them go to a home for blind children where they would be cared for, and they knew that if they agreed it would mean that their children would one day be able to make a living for themselves, but can you imagine having to make that decision, and the desolation in the home afterwards? How fortunate for them that their doctor was a Christian. Up till now she had shown to that family all the kindness and service that a Christian should, but she went further. She brought them a Bible and asked them to read it every night, and then pray for their babies' sight, even though the specialists had said that it was hopeless. She also taught a little prayer to the seven-year-old boy. The sequel - a few weeks ago one baby was noticed reaching out for a spoon. An examination was made it was found that the baby could see. It was restored to its parents, and the doctor came round and led the prayers of gratitude to God. She could have been a sincere Christian and yet left behind in that home nothing more than the reputation of being a kind doctor, but she not only lived her Christianity, she taught it, and in that home joy and hope were born, and the Way was prepared for the coming of Christ.
Such grand opportunities do not often present themselves, but if they did, would we avail ourselves of them? It takes courage and endurance, this road-making, but shall we each pray for these qualities so that when He comes our bit of road shall be well done and His Way straight?
This article by R. Harvey was found in the January 1953 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Who was it that first expected the Saviour of the world to come? It has been suggested that to answer that question we must turn back practically to the beginning of things to that other story which is, I suppose, just as well known as the Christmas story itself. I am, of course, referring to the story of Adam and Eve. They had committed the great sin of disobeying God. They had done their own will instead of God's will, and when they did that, they brought misery upon themselves and upon all who were to come after them. Adam and Eve had listened to the voice of Satan instead of to the voice of God, and they thought that they would be in Satan's power for ever. It was then that God made them His wonderful promise that gave them hope. They would not always be in the power of Satan. The Son of God would come into the world to set everyone free who wanted to be free.
Well, so much for just one idea of where the promise of a Messiah originated. But we do know that for some two thousand or more years before that very first Christmas, the work of preparation for the coming of the Messiah had been going on, and as we look back now we can see how the actions of the Israelites had a part in that preparation even although at the time, perhaps, it might not have been quite so obvious. Some of them were chosen by God to play an important part in the work of preparation and, having been chosen, they played their part without hesitation.
What a wrench it must have been for Abraham, the "father" of the Chosen Race, to leave his own home and country-folk at Ur of the Chaldees in Southern Babylonia, in the centre of what was at that time quite an advanced civilisation, and journey first northwards to Haran and then southwards to the land that was "to be shown to him", a country about which he must have known but very little. What faith he must have had to even attempt the journey, but no doubt his faith was strengthened by those great promises God made to him: "I will make of thee a great nation and make thy name great. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." And so the "father" of the family into which ultimately the Saviour was to be born made his way to the country which was to be our Lord's home during His short stay on earth. A great deal of preparation, however, was still needed before the land or the people were to be ready to receive their Messiah. About another two thousand years were to pass before all was ready, and during this time the people were to suffer set-backs which doubtless sorely tried their patience. How far off the coming exile in Babylon, yet Isaiah was there adding his part to the preparation by his words of comfort: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain ... Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand ... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young."
Even Cyrus, King of Persia, had his part in the preparation, for by his capture of Babylon in the year 538 B.C. he opened the way for the return of the Jews from exile and gave permission for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, a task which took considerably longer that it need have done, but which was completed eventually about eighteen years later. Another seventy-five years passed before the city of Jerusalem had its walls rebuilt by the people under the guidance of Nehemiah.
The people whose names I have mentioned are but a few of those who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Each one, so to speak, had his own particular task to do, a task for which he had been chosen by God. Some of those chosen may perhaps have seemed a little unsuited for their job, yet however unsuitable they may have been, God had work for them to do. To quote just one example, there is the story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob. On the one hand, Esau, the hunter, a frank, open, impulsive, generous man with the much more attractive character of the two, and on the other hand, Jacob, who was crafty, deceptive, selfishly scheming and ever ready to gain a personal advantage. Yet it was Jacob, whose name was changed by God to "Israel", who was chosen by God to be one of the corner stones of the Hebrew family, to lead that family one step nearer to the time when all would be ready for the coming of the Messiah.
So the work of preparation went on. Some of it was done by those who led the nation with whom Christ eventually was to come and live; some of it was done by those who organised the building or rebuilding of the places which were to become so familiar to Him during his journeying and teaching, and some of it was done by people like John the Baptist, who made the final preparation, by speaking words of encouragement when needed, or by preaching and exhortation: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
This article was found in the November 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles, as its name implies, is chiefly concerned with the work of the early Christian leaders - men called and chosen by God and endowed with special insight into the meaning of the Gospel. Without them there could have been no Christian Church. They are as essential to it as the prophets were to Israel.
But Christianity did not spread rapidly across the world only through the preaching of the Apostles. There must have been thousands of laymen too, their names now lost, who carried the message everywhere. The success of the Gospel in its encounter with pagan society was as much due to this hidden and unrecorded work as to anything.
The message which the anonymous lay Christians took with them was probably a very simple one, lacking in theological subtlety. Perhaps it could be summed up in the three words, "Jesus is Lord". And yet it was this message which had the power to turn the world upside down.
For the Jew, oppressed with a legalism he could not fulfil, hedged about with regulations and dominated by an ecclesiastical authority, the message brought a sense of joyous freedom. In the name of One who had declared Himself Lord even of the Sabbath the converted Jew dropped a religion which had become a burden for him to carry and in exchange found a faith which carried him.
Men who lived in terror of evil spirits found in the message One who was stronger than they. Millions who had been taught that the stars in their courses determined life, and who therefore felt themselves to be helpless victims of fate, learned that Jesus is Lord of the heavens no less than of the earth. The cold state of religion of the Roman Empire, which could satisfy no human heart, was undermined, because Jesus had claimed lordship over every earthly power, and taught that a man's conscience did not belong to Caesar. And the sad dignity of the Stoic was transformed into the courage of the martyr, willing to give his life not as a lonely illustration of virtue in the face of adversity, but as a triumphant vindication of the truth that Jesus is indeed the Lord.
Our situation to-day is very different from that in which the early Church found itself. Behind us are centuries of Christianity, and this constitutes both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many feel that Christianity has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and this makes our task doubly hard. But there are points of similarity between our world and that ancient world into which Christianity came. Like the men of those times we are conscious of an increasing pessimism. Like them we are conscious, too, of a prevailing moral and spiritual decay. And like them we feel as though something massive and inhuman were weighing upon us - in their case the Roman Empire, in ours the growing power of modern industrial states which it seems no man can direct or control.
Our world knows no Imperial cult, but it knows nationalist self idolatry. It does not know physical slavery, at least in the West, but it knows desperate poverty and economic slavery. The Roman arena has gone, but much of modern life is equally vicious and unhappy.
The need today is for the same message - "Jesus is Lord". And the method for releasing the transforming power which that message contains must be the same too. It is not enough to leave the propagation of the faith to parsons and professional religious teachers. For one thing there are not enough of them. For another their work only touches a tiny fringe of life. What is needed is for every Christian to shoulder part of the responsibility for evangelism which is laid upon the whole Church. Not all are called to preach sermons. But all may do something to influence others with the truth that Jesus is Lord.
This should be felt with special force by Congregationalists at the present time. For we have now been called to enter the next phase of the Forward Movement, and this means that every Congregational Church is invited to undertake an evangelistic Mission during the coming year.
Such a task should not be entered upon lightly. It involves much more than a series of meetings conducted by special speakers. What is required is that the Church as a Church should earnestly seek to win others for the Christian faith, and every member should ask himself how best he can take a share in this.
If you are in sympathy with these aims, will you make a point of attending Church meetings during the next few months, especially if you are one who seldom comes? We need some sign that the Church has been touched in its heart by the need for evangelism. A sudden and substantial increase in attendance at Church meetings would be one way of giving a silent witness that this is so, and would be an encouragement to us all.
Nothing can be done now, however, without personal preparation and dedication, and each member is soon to be asked to subscribe to the following covenant, which will be published with our new Constitution. Let us use it as a starting point for a missionary enterprise.
"The members of Romford Congregational Church desire to live in absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and own in Him their only Lord, Saviour, and Mediator. Praying for strength to stand by the covenant into which Almighty God has graciously entered with the whole Church of Christ, they solemnly bind themselves to strive to love and serve Him with all their hearts, and to walk in unbroken Christian fellowship with one another."
“Today’s reading presents several different ways to think about the kingdom of heaven. The images would have been familiar to the original audience, many of them being drawn from everyday life. Together they build understanding of God’s kingdom. What would be equivalent images for today? How might we use images from our contemporary everyday life to explain what God’s kingdom is like to our friends and neighbours?
There is a dual message about the kingdom of heaven. First, it is something that seems very small to begin with but will grow. Like the yeast and the tiny mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven will grow and permeate far and wide. The other images speak to us about the worth or value of the kingdom. For both the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value, someone gives everything to acquire them; the kingdom is worth more than anything else. Which of these images resonates with your understanding of the kingdom of heaven? Which do you find the most challenging?
Describing the kingdom as treasure buried in a field suggests that the kingdom needs seeking out. What does this image of hiddenness mean in practice? Even after you have bought the field, how will you find the treasure? Can you see signs of the kingdom where you are? What are they? How do we uncover the kingdom of heaven?
Two of the images refer to giving everything up for the kingdom. What might this look like in your life today? How do we give sacrificially for the kingdom? Should we? Do we? How do we respond to this ancient image about the kingdom of heaven in modern-day Britain? Can you think of a modern parallel?”
Have a good long look at the Bible Reading from Matthew, and see if you can find something that you can connect to, we had the image of the diamond in the stone, the mustard seed, and the loaf of bread. Surely we in the year 2020 can find some comparable objects or items, how we come to understand and adapt to his words, at the beginning we touched on Forest Church, the Church doesn’t have to be in a forest – but how nice would that be, it can be anywhere we like, our Church first met in a house not far from where our Church stands, as we to some extent come out of lockdown we will all be tested, with new ways of doing things – for some of us things will not go back to how they were – but we have to continue to be inclusive to remember all as we move forward, so that no seed is dropped on stony ground. We are not asked to sacrifice our life for our God but many across the world are. We must continue to pray for all people who are oppressed and remind ourselves of how lucky we are.
Lord, it’s not up to us to sort the bad from the good,
the wheat from the weeds.
Rather, send us out to love everyone equally,
and to do everything we can to promote your kingdom.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.
Reproduced with permission
The readings for today are listed below, I will be concentrating on the reading from Mathew.
1 Kings 3.5-12
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
“Here we have six parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. The proverbial smallness of the mustard seed (about 1mm), sometimes contrasted to a sizeable mustard bush (typically 2–3m tall), and is referred to in other ancient writings (cf. Matthew 17.20). This comparison stresses that although the kingdom may currently appear insignificantly small, it will grow dramatically. Trees are used as pictures of kings and their kingdoms elsewhere (cf. Ezekiel 31; Daniel 4), and it is thought that birds sometimes signified non-Jews. Jesus’ use of the mustard seed as an image of the kingdom – rather than a more ‘majestic’ species – also draws attention to the unlikely beginnings of the kingdom: in Jesus’ ministry of service rather than the work of a warrior king.”
Have we found any nuggets during lockdown, I have found it very interesting to see how local communities have worked together, how my end of the road I live in are there for each other, the kindness of strangers, as some of you may know I am a member of the Huguenot Society, we were called “ strangers” when we first came to England, it was not plain sailing at all, we were despised by some, our ways seemed alien to a lot, we worshiped in French, we had our own Churches we worked all hours and were seen as a threat to workers in our field ( in our case Silk Weaving) but if you think of us as a mustard seed then I think you can say we have grown into a large bush, no more silk weaving, no more only speaking in French but our Society is involved in a lot of charitable work.
“Yeast in dough (leaven) had to be cleaned out of Jewish houses before
Passover (Exodus 12). It is sometimes used to picture the spread of negative things from a small start (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5.6-8). However, here it is used to demonstrate again the way the kingdom starts small but has a mighty and wide-ranging effect.”
I first went to Church at the Vine in Ilford, it was a very large Gothic Church building with a very large congregation, during my time in Ilford the Church moved to a slightly smaller premises but the congregation remained large, I then moved to Hornchurch with a large congregation and Sunday School, we are now a much smaller church with a much smaller congregation but our task is more important today than it ever was, our message is the same – we can still have that wide-ranging affect.
The next two parables (vv.44-46) both convey something of the huge value of the kingdom in comparison with anything else life might offer. They also both echo, from the mustard seed and yeast, the idea of the kingdom not being easily noticed at first glance. Pearls were more valuable than gold at that time.
The parable of the dragnet that indiscriminately catches fish, both good and bad, comes with an explanation. It is similar to the parable of the wheat and weeds (last week: Matthew 13.24-30) in speaking of the separation of good from evil that will happen at the end of the age, and of the persistence of evil agency until then. It is not clear if the net signifies the whole world (in which case the separation is between those who accepted the message of Christ and those who did not), or if it refers to the kingdom (in which case it might suggest a judgement of those who consider themselves members of the kingdom).
Finally, Jesus tells a parable about teachers within the kingdom. Scribes were those who interpreted God’s instructions in the Scriptures in order that the people would know how to live God’s way. This parable may indicate that, in the kingdom, those who have been trained in kingdom ways (as the disciples have) will draw on their Jewish heritage of knowing God’s ways but also on the new things that Jesus is showing them”
Are we living in the way Jesus has asked us to live, we can take all the parables and dissect them minutely we can discuss debate and cross reference but at the end of the day we have to look at ourselves to establish what we can do in Christs name, I mentioned last time about carrying out random acts of kindness, that surely is a trait we can all follow; if we are the seeds it’s up to us to grow our Church – if we are the yeast it’s up to us to bake the loaf, we have gems hidden from site, some will rise to the surface, some have to be teased out some will remain hidden.
The call to worship prayer implies that the setting is within our Church or does it?
“Forest Church doesn't literally have to be in a forest... it could be in a churchyard or garden, in a local park, on derelict land earmarked for development - anywhere outside.'”
I have only completed two blogs in July, this is the last one for this Month, It’s an interesting time to say the least, we are all getting used to new ways of communicating, I had never used Zoom before but now it has become a regular form of communicating, it has its drawbacks the speed of the internet connection being the main one ( a narrower band width means you can lose connection, going Mute is another) but in reality this is a bit like a normal conversation even a one to one if we are surrounded by noise then sometimes we fail to hear or we hear incorrectly, the words we use are open to interpretation and how they are delivered can cause issues. At the start of this script is a reference to Forest Church, a Roots project for August 2020 looking at different ways of worshipping, in my last Blog I touched on the new ways we using to keep us all connected, and as the rules change nearly daily we have to also keep to the forefront of our mind what Jesus would want us to do. To help enrich the lives of all those that we meet day to day, but have we ever attempted to hold a conversation in a noisy restaurant or a crowded train, it’s not easy – it may be no easier in a forest glade, where we could be competing with bird noise and the sound of the wind through the trees.
This article was found in the October 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
I want to discuss with you three ways in which people sometimes react to troubles. Let us call them the way of the Stoic, the way of the Jew, and the way of the Christian.
Although Jeremiah certainly had no spiritual affinity with Stoicism there is a text in the book bearing his name which expresses very well what I mean by the way of the Stoic. It reads like this. "Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it." (Jeremiah 10:19)
Thousands of people with no religious faith show admirable courage in the face of suffering and loss by adopting this attitude. They bear their troubles manfully and in silence. Sometimes they even grin and bear them. They scorn to whine or complain or look for pity, feeling that the dignity of a human being forbids it, and in this matter many pagans put some Christians to shame. Theirs is part of the routine heroism of the world. It happens every day, is not confined to religious people and does not depend on a divine revelation. But nevertheless this is a threadbare cloak to draw about oneself when the wind is bitter.
What else has religion to offer?
The Jew strove to adjust himself to all kinds by accepting it as from the hands of a just and holy God. This point of view is well expressed in the book of Job, where Job says, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?" In this attitude great strength and consolation is sometimes found. Submission to the will of an all wise Creator whose decrees must never be questioned gives to many the courage they need to get through life.
A glance at the hymn book, and conversation with many Christians, will show that this essentially Old Testament idea is sometimes not much enlarged by an experience of the Christian Gospel. In fact some Christians deal with misfortune as a Jew might. They know nothing better than to attempt submission to the will of a God who "knows best". Hymn Thy Way, not Mine is full of the atmosphere of a patient submission. Thus verse four reads,
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.
Some Christian buttress this thought by reflecting that our true joys are in heaven, not in this vale of sorrows, and that it is wrong to expect much happiness on earth. Hymn I'm But a Stranger Here begins in this not very inspiring strain: -
I'm but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
The question is whether Jesus thought the earth was a desert drear, and whether the highest Christian ideal in face of sorrow is truly expressed in the prayer for a "heart resigned, submissive, meek."
I do not wish to imply that there is no truth or health in this sentiment. A Christian no less than a Jew desires to accept the will of God and knows that "now we fight the battle, but then shall wear the crown." Nevertheless an emphasis upon acceptance of sorrow is not, as I hope to show, a fully Christian one, and may imply a sub-Christian conception of God.
Now let us turn our thought to the words of Jesus, uttered, according to the Fourth Evangelist, on the occasion of His arrest. "The cup which my Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" This was said to Peter, who wished to resist with violence, and it seems at first sight to imply the Cross ought to be accepted as from God.
But God did not nail Jesus to the Cross. His enemies did that. We cannot identify the will of God with the will of Caiaphas. That His Heavenly Father required of Jesus an obedience which would involve the Cross, and that the Cross was made to serve the highest Divine purpose, is true. But that is very different from supposing that in the hour of His Passion our Lord accepted suffering as an act of God.
No sorrow is like unto His sorrow, but here at the Cross we may reverently learn something of the Christian approach to all suffering.
In the first place many things are permitted by God which are not willed by Him. In our darkest hour let us at least remember that. We are to trust Him as a Heavenly Father in all circumstances. But we are not to suppose that all circumstances come from His hand, although all circumstances are in His hand.
Most of our troubles can be traced back to human ignorance, or sin or foolishness (our own or another's, or that which belongs corporately to the race); or else to laws of nature which operate, I incline to believe, in a certain measure independently of God. We are often dishonest with ourselves when we forger this. Sometimes what people finally resign themselves to as the will of God is something they have been doing everything in their power to avoid. In fact we often attribute to the will of God those things which we cannot control, and for no better reason. At the present time thousands of human beings die every year of cancer, and Christian people contribute money to cancer research in the hope that a cure may be found. And yet in how many homes is a loved one who died of this disease spoken of as "taken" by God? People who say they cannot understand why such as good man should have suffered so much imply that their sorrow is due to a Divine decree. In that case every penny contributed towards cancer research is an attempt to frustrate the will of God. And if we shrink from such a blasphemous absurdity let us also shrink from the belief that God "sends" all our troubles to us.
The struggle of a protesting, suffering heart to accept some tragic happening as in some hidden way "good" for it can be very distressing and is quite unnecessary. Christian piety is not blind obedience to an inscrutable authority, but trust is a heavenly Father. And when it is desperately hard to maintain such a faith try to remember these three simple things. (1) Whatever happens to us God has permitted to happen, though He may not have willed it. (2) God can use what has happened, even when it is not His will, so that in the end it will be seen to have served His purposes. (3) Ultimately God's will must prevail, and even now, since evil and suffering only exist by permission and not in their own strength, God is in complete control.
This, however, is only one side of the Christian response to suffering, and it is the negative side. Jesus accepted the Cross, indeed He took it up, as the inevitable result of obedience to God. But He did more than receive it. He also offered it, as at the Last Supper when He gave the cup to His disciples and bade them share it amongst themselves, telling them that His death was to be something accomplished on their behalf.
Of course it is futile to compare the sufferings of Christ with ordinary human experience. But in the fact that His cup was both received and offered we may learn something which has a practical application to ourselves. The most Christian response to suffering is surely to ask oneself, not "How can I put up with this?", but "How can I offer this to God? In what way can it be found that a trouble can be turned into an offering, and in so doing we transform it into a creative source of life for other people instead of a drag upon ourselves. I think, for instance, of a woman lying in a hospital ward for many months, her twisted body offering vert little hope of future happiness for herself. And yet it was quite from her cheerful and trusting spirit that she was determined to do something with her situation which would be of service to other people. I think she was a source of courage and reassurance for everyone else in that place. I believe her life was a daily offering to God.
A pagan can bear his troubles manfully. A Jew can submit to them obediently. But only a Christian can offer them lovingly.
"If I stoop
Into a dark, tremendous sea of cloud
It is but for a time; I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day."
“In contemporary farming, seeds are sown in neat lines with a carefully calculated distance between them, designed to maximise growth and minimise waste. The sower in the parable takes a very different approach.” Today’s farming methods are so different, technology has improved farming skills – for example the use of drones to identify where growing patterns are different – so that area of planting can be helped. “He ‘broadcasts’ his seeds, casting them far and wide. Not precise, and lacking in the finesse of a modern farmer, but this approach means that the seeds travel a significant distance. How might we broadcast our message of salvation far and wide? How might modern communication help us to broadcast?” I think in some ways the answer has become a little clearer in Lockdown – we must use every tool at our disposal, use our Church to re-charge our batteries & then spread the word with every means at our disposal.
“Although this parable is ‘explained’ by Jesus, there is a tension between hearing a parable and fully understanding it. The parables (in general) seem designed to carry ambiguity or mystery. They invite us to keep thinking about what they might mean – both for Jesus’ audience and for us in the 2020s. It is not all completely explained. We need to think about what the thorns are in our contemporary world, and what forms of persecution might draw someone away from God. We may want everything explained, but that is not how the parables work. How might this have an impact on the way we communicate God to others and convey some of the mystery of his kingdom?”
Hidden out if site is the recurring story of Christians being persecuted worldwide, we must continue to pray for all those suffering persecution – but also remember that persecution comes in many forms – I am proud to be a Christian, even if over my life it has caused issues for me issues of trust & confidence – we hopefully continue to learn & to understand – these current times have I think caused those with faith and those without to review where they stand, but put very simply we just have to remember to stand tall, just as the seed will grow strong and tall if we nurture it. On a lighter note I have been growing Rudbekia from seed for the last few years, this spring I grew a dwarf version, but I have found that although a lot have grown straight and true some have not they have needed support, just as we need support. I refer back to my opening words.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”
“The final part of the parable describes three different yields resulting from seed planted in good soil – one hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold. What would it look like in your church to experience this level of growth? What would have to change? How would we have to adapt? Are we actually hungry for growth such as this, or have we become comfortable with the yields we currently experience?”
This is so relevant to now, what will our future look like, I am reminded of a story told to me in Northern Ireland. It’s much too long to tell now, but the bottom line was a church of 7 became a Church of 250 via Music, some of you will remember that story, it inspired me – so don’t let us just be comfortable – lets ensure our virtual seeds are scattered wide, if we all perform an act of kindness & I know for a fact that a lot of us have, then we are spreading Gods word at the same time.
In God’s eye, today and every day.
In Christ’s footsteps, today and every day.
Blessed by the Spirit, now and for ever.
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communicating aspects of the kingdom of God. Parables consist of short narratives to illustrate a point. Sometimes the elements in the narrative are explicitly identified as pictures of, or metaphors for, something that helps us understand the meaning. Sometimes the meanings are explained, while at other times they are not spelt out. For example, several of these parables concern seeds, but the picture language, or metaphor, of a seed is used in varying ways in the different parables. For this reason, it is important to take each parable as a whole to determine its meaning, rather than focusing on single words or taking the metaphors too far.”
Those that have attended church when I have lead a service will be very aware that I find the use of props very useful to me, I have an art background – so I like the idea of using story boards to light up my sermon, words sometimes get lost in the message – but a picture well that’s another matter altogether. Many of our Ministers & visiting lay preachers over the years have brought seeds in, some have allowed us to take them home to see how they germinate.
The first half of this week’s reading presents the picture, familiar to Jesus’ audience, of someone sowing seed, probably throwing it across each side of the ground as they walked along a path of beaten earth through a field. Jesus notes reasons, within the story, why the seed falling in each of four different places might be more or less productive. He then calls on the crowd to listen (v.9).
“The second half of the reading jumps a few verses to where, having answered the disciples’ question about why he uses parables, Jesus calls them to ‘hear’ the parable (it is the same root word as that translated ‘listen’ in v.9) and he proceeds to explain it. This is where our tidy categories of meaning fail us; it is meaningless to argue whether the germinating seed (v.21) or the soil type (v.19) represent the person. The wording is ambiguous but the meaning is clear. The different growing situations are metaphors for different responses to the word of the kingdom. As such, they help explain why Jesus’ message is not received with acclaim by all of Israel. Various factors affected how the same ‘seed’ of God’s word fared in different circumstances in Jesus’ time: distraction by forces against God, by hostility from others, by worries of life and concern for wealth. Beyond that, we may find that the parable helps us understand why people outside the Church today respond in varying ways to the gospel, and it may also reflect how Christians feel that they respond to the ongoing call of God on their lives. This range of potential applicability reflects the power of a good parable. It can speak to various situations in differing ways – but all may be fruitful.”
There can be no better example of how we should act as Christians if we use the example of the seed. But also that image of Jesus having to get into a boat – because so many people were there, like the image above reminds us of the climate affecting how we worship moving forward, we will have some form of social distancing, there will be many changes in the short to medium term but whatever our Church looks like as we move forward we must all remember we are the “seeds” we have to grow our Church, it’s just that we may have to find new ways of doing that.
The links between the readings
We use pictures to communicate ideas all the time. Isaiah and the psalmist both make poetic use of pictures to speak of abstract concepts, such as God’s word, or to express the way in which they saw the whole of creation giving praise to God. Paul uses metaphors of walking and dwelling to speak of the ways in which believers’ lives are bound up with the Spirit of God. Jesus, the master storyteller, conjures up pictures to communicate deep truths about people and about the work of God. We shall see more over the next two weeks.
Part 3 will be posted on Saturday
I am writing this Blog on Wednesday 1st July 2020, I have been putting down my thoughts in this format since the start of lock-down, I mentioned in my last blog the respect I hold for all those able to do this week in week out, always enabled ways of reaching out in words & deeds. As mentioned previously I have decided to reduce to two blogs a month in July and I will see how I feel by August. Our world has changed a lot in many ways, but in some sense it’s exactly the same. I have been involved with a Covid-19 study via UCL it askes very many diverse questions – the analysis of this data drives some of the information that our Government uses, what has struck me are the references to mental health, how do I feel day to day, what support am I getting. So while we are coming out of lockdown – I am still deeply concerned for my wife’s health – but at some stage we will both have to face up to our new world.
I spotted this saying the other day, I should have noted the source but forgot but hear goes anyway “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”
In the current climate we all can recognize what is wrong about this picture ( the dreaded social distancing) We as Christians have found new ways of worshiping over the last 100 days, we are all still Christians, Covid- 19 hasn’t changed that, but it has for the time being changed our relationship with our Church, when we meet again in our Church Sanctuary the rules will have changed – the picture above will change those children will be the correct distance apart, we will have to have a Risk Assessment to confirm how worship can take place, we will have to follow the guidance of both the Government and the URC – and we will have to be guided as individuals as to how we approach “ Church” I have always said when leading worship, that our real work Is away from our building, but now having spent so long not being able to worship in that old familiar way I have to say I am missing our Church community, but in the meantime we have all found new ways to worship.
Sorry about these initial ramblings, I think I should now get down to the matter in hand.
The lectionary readings for today are as follows: Isaiah 55: 10-13, Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13, Romans 8: 1-11, Mathew 13: 1-9, 18-23. I will be using the reading from Mathew for a reference point in this blog.
Part 2 will be posted on Thursday