What season are you?

A truly blessed day in Athlone & Tullamore, met lovely folk, visited relatives and spent quality time with my husband. In the service we explored the life of Thomas, a man who showed courage & passion, humility & faith and once had a season of doubt.

I promised to record the service but due to some extremely klutzy behaviour on my part I ended up without a phone and therefore no recording device. However today opened up a window of opportunity and I was able to record it, although there was no congregation I imagined Charlene sitting on her deckchair by the empty pool listening in that intense way she does.

The transcript is below but neither service heard the exact words as written, it was a good guide though:

The Seasons of Thomas

Thomas was one of the twelve named disciples and we first hear dialogue with him in John 11. The friend of Jesus Lazarus lies ill and his sisters have sent word to Jesus. But when Jesus says to his disciples  “Let us go back to Judea,” in verse 7. The disciples are not happy and tried to persuade him not to go. But it was Thomas who stood apart and said “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Verse 16.

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

These are courageous words. These are words of martyrdom, of standing up for Jesus. I wonder if we didn’t live in comfortable Ireland, if we lived in say North Korea or Eritrea or Indonesia or Syria would we be coming together so readily on a Sunday morning to worship the Lord. What would we be willing to do for the Lord? How far would we go?

I managed to get hold of the first volume of Crookshanks History of Methodism in Ireland recently and it makes fascinating reading. These people who put their lives on the line to share the gospel message to the towns and villages around Ireland.

Here is a short passage, from this neck of the woods:

“Then a party of seven started for Athlone. Some persons overtook them on the road running in great haste, and one horseman riding at full speed; but they suspected nothing, and rode on singing till within half a mile of the town. As they ascended a little hill three or four men appeared and bade them go back; but they did not mind them, thinking they were in jest. Then they were attacked by a mob, who saluted them with a shower of stones; but by spurring on their horses, they escaped without serious injury, except J. Healy, who was knocked down and severely hurt…”

It goes on

“The man who wounded Mr Healy was about to finish his desperate deed with a knife, swearing that he would cut him up, when a poor woman came to the assistance of the wounded preacher, and swore as stoutly that he should not be touched. The ruffian half killed her with a blow, from the effects of which she afterwards died, yet she restrained him until help came.”

The woman has no name in the book but she stood up and the gospel was proclaimed many times in this area bringing many souls to Christ. If Christianity was outlawed in Ireland would we still gather?

Could we be courage in our faith like Thomas?

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

The next time we meet Thomas is in John 14. And we meet another facet of his personality, he is not afraid to ask questions of Jesus. Jesus has just explained to them that he is going to be leaving them and finishes by saying “You know the way to the place I am going”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

If Thomas had not asked the question, we would not know the answer, one of the bible verses we all know

Jesus answers “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Have you ever been in a bible study and wanted to ask a question but thought it would sound daft or that people would laugh? Two years ago I was asked to take over a bible study in a neighbouring county for a while and they were mid study of the letter to the Ephesians. I think it was about chapter 4. So I turned up and before we had started the study, a shy lady nudged me and asked if she could ask a question. I was new to leading studies so I was thinking of all the desperately hard questions it might be. And she said “What’s a gentile?” Ephesians is littered with the word and I also knew the person who had been leading the study and they would have given a very thorough explanation of what a gentile was. But sometimes we miss one sentence and then it doesn’t compute for us and we ask the question. Or do we? Are we like Thomas asking for further clarification or do we just leave it because we don’t want to lose face? Thomas showed humility in asking the question.

Could we be more humble like Thomas?

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

So Thomas before the Crucifixion was humble and courageous. What was he like after? Thomas will tell you in his own words:

Hi, I wish I could stand here and tell you my nickname is Captain Courageous or Wonder Tom but you have all read about me and you know I am known as Doubting Thomas.

Which is really unfair because I wasn’t the only one doubting – all the disciples did, Mary did. But I was the last of those to doubt so the name stuck. And it’s okay I am over it. But it is unfair. I’m just saying.

Let me tell you what happened. I had heard about Mary and the gardener who she said was Jesus, Cleophas and his mate had told us about meeting this guy on the road to Emmaus who they said was Jesus. And I had gone off on my own trying to think these things through.

And then I get back to the meeting place and there is uproar. Everyone is laughing and singing, you’d think someone was getting married instead of the awful truth, our teacher Jesus had died and someone had stolen the body.

Our lives had been changed by this man, he had taught us about the kingdom of God, he healed people, he drove demons out and when he showed his power over the elements. I mean he was awesome. He was special, the greatest prophet ever. He talked in riddles to us, and sometimes we didn’t understand and sometimes we asked him to explain again.

He never tired of telling us over and over again. He loved us and we loved him. But the guys, that day, they were telling me he had appeared in the middle of them, inside the locked door. They said it was really him, in the flesh.

Now a ghost I could understand, but they were saying it was really him, and that he showed the his hands and side where the nails had been driven home and where the spear had pierced him. Well I just couldn’t help it I told them I don’t believe it.

I actually said ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

And then began the worst week of my life. All around me it was party, party but I was in a desperate place. I loved Jesus and I missed him, not like missing him a little bit, but my heart groaned with the ache of not having him near. Of all the people in the world I would turn to at a time like this, it would have been him and he wasn’t here, he was dead and I was distraught.

A week later we were meeting again in the locked room. You have got to understand we were scared that the Jewish authorities would come and have us arrested. So we were in the locked room, and a guy appeared in the middle of room and said “peace be with you” and I knew who he was.

He said “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

I didn’t need to I knew and I suddenly knew a whole lot more. It was like my mind and my heart suddenly started working together and I was so happy, so joyful and well gobsmacked really

Because I got it. This was God, Jesus who I had followed for three years was who he had been telling us. He is God. I don’t know how I got the words out but somehow I said, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Forever I will be known as Doubting Thomas and that’s okay, because I met Jesus and followed him, I watched him die, I saw the empty tomb and I met the risen Christ, Jesus. We were changed by him, are you?

Thomas doubted and then he believed when he saw Jesus with his own eyes. Just like when we explored belief and doubt in the all age message earlier. It is a lot easier to believe something if we can see it. And more so if we touch it, feel it, hear it, smell it. When all our senses are working together.

Thomas we think went onto share the good news of Jesus as far as India, he was a man of passion, humility, courage and the occasional doubt.

So finally in our scripture passage we come to that inspiring verse:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

And in 1st Peter:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1Pe 1:8-9

That’s us. That is all of us here this morning. We believe. We have passion and courage. We have faith. Praise God

And we also have occasions when we doubt.

Thomas knew who to turn to in doubt. Do we?

Are we willing to face the doubts that we have about God?

Are we willing to talk to Him about it?

Are we willing to listen to the answer, even if the answer is “not telling”

He will meet with us and, he will hear us and he will in a very real and personal way answer those questions and doubts.

Why will He? Why will he meet us in our doubts and questions?

God loves us

And God is able to handle our doubts,

He is bigger than our doubts.

He able to handle our anger as you cry out “Why Me? I’m a good person. Why me? Lord, Why did it have to happen to me?”

So we should embrace our doubts, love them, explore them, encourage others with doubts, be honest, open ourselves up to one another.

The great thing about doing church is we get to meet people. The wonderful life changing thing about being church is we can be like Thomas…

Passionate

Courageous

Humble

And when we have doubt… we can be there for one another.

We need to let go, surrender, trust.

So let’s take God out our boxes, let’s stop trying to contain him with our doubts. And live in fullness and joy.

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:21

We need to have faith like Thomas we need to bring our doubts to God, we need to release them so that we with Thomas can say, “My Lord and my God”

Amen

I am returning to the Sermons and daily discipline

A year last November I told someone my next project was to voice record Wesley’s sermons in the language it was written in. They didn’t see the point, but then they had not voice recorded the reworded Sermons on Several Occasions. Possibly when they had studied them it came easily, the language, the nuance, imagining a group of miners just out of the pit listening to this preacher guy on or off horseback, imagining the smells & sights, the noise – was there any?

On Wednesday night a preached to a completely silent room, the children were dozing and the adults without exception had their eyes raised looking at me as I delivered God’s message to His people. I wonder when Wesley preached in the fancy Anglican churches was there silence or was the moving of frock coats and skirts as people became more and more uncomfortable as Spirit’s sword pierced their hearts through the words of John Wesley.

I reckoned back then and still do, that I need to know what it was like to hear those words come from a mouth and so I begin a new challenge. One sermon. One voice recording. One small piece of interpretative text or reaction to the words. One day.

Now just like Frank Jenner I am not going to beat myself up if I miss a day but I am intending to complete the challenge in 141 days, minus the travelling days and one day off a week bring me to mid- August.

john wesley

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
    your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
    give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
    your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
    don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
    a father’s delight is behind all this.

Sermon Twelve the ways of obtaining God’s blessing

john                        audio clip

 

We have a God of abundance, he is not skimpy in giving blessings to us. He is generous and abundant.

Now for me blessings are the tools given by God in order that I can be steadfast in the storm with his help and guidance. Wesley goes at it from a different angle.

He begins with the rituals of the church, specifically the sacrament of Holy Communion. He begins at the beginning of Christianity, when believers lived together with a common purse. He often comes back to this model of living and I concur with him that it is the ideal. When streetpastors go out on a Saturday night there is a core group praying for them and praying for the people they meet. When a remnant, or core group gets together in fellowship, great things can be done for his glory. The people in the New Testament, the early church were blessed and they blessed others and because they blessed other they were blessed more and the more they reached out to other.

But people like hierarchy, they like power, human power and the church became a monstrous edifice mirroring the world, it was not set aside and blessed. It was grunt work, a struggle, weighed down by the centuries of ritual. The reformation blew new life into old Christians. It shook up the world first in Europe and then spread. It threw away the pomp and ceremony and became simple again, referring back to the early church. Different factions grew up into different denominations of which Methodism is one.

There are things done in a Methodist church that are not done elsewhere and likewise there are things of other churches not done in the Methodist church. BUT…

God’s Blessings for us Has Always Come Through Faith in Christ

It is not about bricks and mortar church, it is about the body of Christ church. People. So denominations don’t mean squat.

The church now and in the past has mistaken the means for the end. Mistaking outward performance of ritual rather than seeking the truth in the renewal of our lives in the image of Christ.

It is all about Jesus.                      Not you.                       Not me.

Whatever rituals we go through from ceremonial footwashing, to raising our hands when we sing. They don’t mean anything if it is a habit alone, or ritual, or because everyone else is doing it, we have to be free in the Spirit to learn the way God wants us to worship him, it may be the same way as the person next to us but it might be different. My balance is impaired, I cannot clap in time to music, watching me dance is painful, a mere shuffle at the edge of a dance floor and then in my kitchen as I scrub my floor my toes are tapping in time to imagined music in my head, I stop to clap, I stand to jump up and down, I fall on my knees and cry out to the Lord, thanking him for immeasurable blessings in my life, I count some but there are too many to mention.

Reading the bible and understanding how those ancient words can apply to our lives – that is a gift of God’s grace

Praying, communicating with the Living God – that is a gift of the grace of God

Baptism by the Holy Spirit – that is a gift of God’s grace

Holy Communion – that is a gift of the grace of God

If we are ritualistic or habit forming in our worship then we are not free to change, to move as the Spirit wills us.

We place our trust in the Lord not in the ceremonies. We take part in the ceremonies to remember what Christ has done for us, that it is his blood that was shed to free us from the slavery of sin.

In Christian circles Methodists are seen as people who do. We seem to be seeking salvation through good works, but the outside does not see what motivates us. We do not do good works to outweigh our sin on the eternal scales of justice.

We do good works as a response to the change that has taken place in our lives, we give, we feed, we visit, we live simple lives as a response to the immeasurable love of God.

A person who has been convicted by the Holy Spirit so they become an unwilling sinner sitting under the law, suddenly needs to find a church, suddenly needs to begin studying the bible, suddenly begins to hear more and seek more and read more and pray more until they come to the realisation, possibly through the taking part in the Lord’s supper, they are using all the means of grace, until they fall on the ground before the Lord and give their lives to the Lord, they are then living in a state of grace.

Let our song forever be of the lovingkindness of the Lord

Betty and Freddie

Backroom Betty and Front of House Freddie were the perfect couple. Two halves of the one coin, a bit like Mr and Mrs Spratt in the nursery rhyme. They complimented each other beautifully until they retired from the public house they had run all their married life.

Forty years of married bliss was gone in seconds after the explosion of retirement. Freddie could not get used to being at home all the time and Betty discovered she didn’t like him loitering around. She baked too much, used to feeding the marauding mob in the pub. Freddie couldn’t understand while she wasn’t in rapt awe at his stand up routines like the regulars in the bar.

They were fighters though and fought tooth and nail to save their marriage, they took up golf. Freddie spent more time pontificating about the game than actually playing and Betty was far too shy to join the ladies in their own bar. Walking is good exercise they told themselves and equipping themselves in windcheaters and boots they began to walk the routes, couples had told them of when partaking of a swift half after many climbs. Freddie was not able for the steep paths after a life time serving on his feet, he was racked with a spaghetti junction of varicose veins. Betty did not like listening to Freddie and his endless tales of this one and that one always ending in a hearty laugh that she thought would one day choke him

Out of the blue, one spring day in March, Terence arrived. Forty years before he had been Freddie’s best man and secretly enamoured with Betty. He left shortly after on the penny to Australia scheme, enjoying the balmy weather and local fare. He too had started with a bar but had multiplied it many times over through all the major cities down-under. Freddie often remarked through the years that the “lad done well.” He never married, keeping his barely lit torch for Betty alight and deflecting any attention from the many ladies onto his erstwhile managers, who all married well and had many offspring.

Freddie greeted his friend like the prodigal son, insisting he stayed in their house. Betty enjoyed having Terence around, he helped in the kitchen, which Freddie never did, and he did it quietly. Sometimes there was an air of comfortable silence, that she sank into gratefully. Freddie began going out on his own, for walks in the park he said, but he came back with ruddy cheeks and the waft of barley from his mouth.

As time went on Betty couldn’t help but notice the clumsy loudness of Freddie in comparison to the graceful quietness of Terence. She reminisced in her mind, going back to the beginning when Polly, Freddie, Terence and herself would go to the dances in the local halls and walk in the park on Sunday after church. Polly, she hadn’t thought of her in years, it was a dreadful accident. The four of them were supposed to meet at the cinema to watch “The Sting.” Both her and Polly loved to watch Robert Redford and Paul Newman, especially when they performed together. Freddie and Terence arrived, but there was no sign of Polly. She lived on the other side of town, they had met through working in the typing pool at Monclief Solicitors so she travelled in by bus. Betty cycled, she loved feeling the wind against her cheeks as she pedalled along the cobbled streets. Freddie had a scooter and Terence was his passenger. They weren’t couples or anything like that, back then, just four friends who enjoyed spending time together. Romance was yet to come. An ambulance bell told them an accident had occurred and as Polly was so late they left the queue and followed the ambulance. Freddie and Terence got there first but Betty wasn’t far behind, years of cycling had developed sleek muscular legs that her tall frame suited. Polly had been on the bus, but got off a stop early. Betty thought she might be struggling to pay the rent as she was cutting back on lunch in the canteen, bringing her own sandwiches and even a flask a tea. Blood trickled in between the cobbles and Betty caught a glimpse of Polly’s famous red hair before the blanket covered her.

She supposed that’s when things changed. A threesome in mourning is a sombre picture, but a young man comforting a young lady in grief is quite breathtaking. Freddie took over. Suddenly they were a couple, going on romantic jaunts to country inns on a Saturday after half day closing. Terence stopped going out as much and when Betty enquired, was told he was busy with new friends. The truth of it Betty never knew. After six months of courtship Freddie arrived at her parents’ house to request her hand in marriage, the banns were posted and they tied the knot in the local registry office.

Shortly after that, they bought the pub, The Red Lion, down on Princess Margaret Avenue, Terence appeared to say goodbye and life settled into its routine. Betty in the backroom and Freddie in the front. Back then, she thought about Polly a lot but time went on and she slowly faded from her memory though because of her Betty always served big portions to anyone coming in for half a sandwich, throwing in a packet of crisps and a slice of apple pie on the side. Anytime she saw someone in the shop struggling to pay she upended her purse and helped them out. She took waifs and strays off the streets and fed them in the backroom of the pub, sometimes even putting them up. She did this all in Polly’s memory.

She met Polly’s mother once after the funeral, she didn’t have much to say, a damp handkerchief of woe in her hands. Betty had few words herself so they drank tea in the tearooms of the Walter Hotel and ate the dainty sandwiches. She never saw her father. Now as she thought back she didn’t see him at the funeral either and she wondered what that was about and whether he regretted it before he died. Most people regret rash decisions made in the spur of the moment. Did she regret her marriage? Now she finally had another man to compare Freddie with, it did cross her mind.

Later that day Betty began a journey she had no idea she was starting. She walked along Camilla Grove and onto the busy main street. So much has changed, she thought, remembering when Mr Ogden the chemist bought the first car on their road. As she stopped at the zebra crossing two teenagers on bicycles passed her, laughing and joking, in their own little world. She stopped outside the bike shop and pushed the door half way.

“Are you coming or going, Missus?” a man’s burly voice from within made her jump.

“I think I might like a bicycle”

“Well you’re in the right place,” the voice took the form of a young man, as broad as he was tall, squatting by a broken bike.

Half an hour later she was cycling down Princess Margaret Avenue, beaming, feeling the wind against her face, alive. She heard singing from the chapel opposite their old pub and was drawn in by the cheerful sound. Oh, she thought, as she sat at the back listening to the group of singers practice, I feel young again. She prayed for Terence and Freddie, she prayed for Polly’s family and all the people she had met over the years, without names now and then she prayed for herself, for the whole situation and for wisdom.

Betty went along to the services from that time on, very gradually she made friends in the congregation and slowly she brought Freddie and Terence into the small group of believers. The fleeting thoughts that had distracted her regarding Terence disappeared. After going to church for a year or so, Betty and Freddie renewed their wedding vows, Freddie had joined AA, Terence was stepping out with one of the ladies from church. Like a spring clean, Terence had come in like a breath of fresh air and as the dust settled, peace reigned.