Between Easter and Pentecost there is ‘waiting’. It is a hard word for any of us to hear because what comes is something we long for or perhaps because we dread it. And yet waiting is what the disciples are commanded to do (Luke 24:49).
What are we waiting for? Jesus says in Luke that we are waiting to be clothed in the power from on high. The death and resurrection of Jesus tell us a little of what this power is both like and for. It is not power over others but for them. It is power most clearly expressed in the willingness of Jesus to suffer and die. It is this suffering that the resurrection affirms. To wait for this power is to wait for God’s love to clothe us and fill us. We also know that this power was in the beginning of all things, shaping and creating the world. We wait to be given the gentle power of a loving creator so that we can share in God’s work of healing and mending.
How do we wait? A simply answer would be, ‘impatiently and nervously!’ Such a gift of love for others is both extraordinarily wonderful and wonderfully extraordinary. How we long at times to make the world a better place, and perhaps even for us to be better people! But a more complex answer would be a play on the word, ‘waiting’ – to wait as a Waiter waits. As such we pay close attention to what God wants, ready to help – obedient and patient. We wait as the disciples waited because until God gives us the resources all our efforts are in vain.
There are always such rhythms in life – a time to wait and a time to act! (Ecclesiastes 3). It is often important to simply get on with things – not to wait too long until everything is right, everything ready, and you feel on top. You have to get on with forgiving someone even if you feel terrible, to care about someone even if you feel tired and worn out, to get up in the morning when you simply want a duvet day. However, sometimes, and perhaps now is that time, we need simply to wait for the resources to be available.
People’s experience of the Holy Spirit is as varied as people. There was a huge emphasis a few years ago on what some people found strange. They were experiences that shaped the early church, ‘prophesy’, ‘speaking in tongues’, ‘signs and wonders’. In a way the Church got distracted by them – they stopped being ‘signs’ pointing towards something and became something in themselves. As if all the race enthusiasts set up their picnic hampers at the large traffic signs to Epsom Downs and didn’t actually get to see the races! What makes something wonderful is not that it is strange, or inexplicable – but that it is from God even if, in our view, it is quite ordinary. I wonder if we would be better focusing on the consequences of God’s gifts so we put them into perspective! (Galatians 5:22-23)
The experience people have of receiving God’s Holy Spirit may be difficult to describe – but the consequences are extraordinary and in some ways more wonderfully ordinary. People feel loved, valued and precious. They gain strength to love others, journey through hurts and old wounds and ‘be there’ for people in new ways. Attachments to ‘things’ and ‘ambitions’ and unhelpful longings are diminished as the power that made the universe takes an increasingly important place in their hearts and minds. We are restored, healed and forgiven.
God transforms us by the Holy Spirit. The creative force of the Universe that we know through Jesus continues the work of creation, and God’s loving desire to make us whole and happy. The Spirit of God that is ‘for us’ helps us to become the people who are ‘for others’.
Now there is for me a temptation to either ‘wait until I’m OK’ before I try and do anything new, or ironically, to rush in and get on with it’ and be braver and harder working, and less of a wimp. However, at my wisest – I know that there is a rhythm – a moment to have a go, a moment to wait to be filled.
Let us wait a little for God’s Spirit to blow through our Church and our community, and turn little sparks of light into warm fires of love. Let us be brave to give the creative force of the Universe space in our hearts and minds to help us become the women and the men we were designed to be. Let us be like sprinters in the blocks – waiting – but waiting ready to go and be part of God’s work of creation and healing!
Come Lord Jesus Come!
Reflecting ... , April 2015
First I would like to thank you all for the cards, flowers, chocolate and messages of love that have been sent while I have been off sick. I’m not very sociable when I feel ill, so thank you too, for not hassling me and for allowing me the space I have needed to recover.
It has been said that you cannot experience spring until you first experience winter and I’m certain that many of us are happily soaking up these first sunny days of spring and rejoicing at the sight of the buds on the trees, the sounds of increased activity and song among the birds and the flowers bursting into colourful displays in the gardens and verges. There are many times in our own lives when, no matter what the season, it feels like winter; when we experience bereavement, face a serious illness-either ours or that of someone we love-or maybe when something happens that causes a change in our circumstances, even if it’s an expected one, such as a child starting school or leaving home. These things, and many others can make us feel cold, lonely, bereft, as if winter has come. For some, it doesn’t take much to upset the balance of life so much that it begins to feel like C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia where it is always winter and never even reaches Christmas.
In a similar way it has also been said, that you cannot truly experience Easter and the joy of Resurrection Sunday, until you first experience Lent. In the last few weeks each one of us has been on a Lenten journey, each in different ways; some will have done extra things, some will have given up things, but each of us will have journeyed with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross.
Many of us will have used this journey as an opportunity to take stock of who we are, maybe even looking through the shadowy places within ourselves and facing some of those things that we try and hide- things that hinder our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with those around us. Hopefully every one of us will have allowed God, through our prayers and studies, to take away those things that trouble us most, our doubts, sorrow, helplessness, anger, pride, extravagance and fear. And I am certain, deep within me that this year, maybe more than in previous years, many of us are truly anticipating the return of the light, warmth, colour and joy that comes with the end of Lent and the celebration of Easter resurrection.
What I have learned during my own Lent reflections this year is that it is much easier to talk about loss and desolation when one’s experience of that is confined to a story, in the Bible, which took place 2000 years ago. It is quite another matter to talk or write about these things when you are in the grip of sadness or desolation yourself. The disciples’ experience becomes more real and earthed in the present when personal grief or pain is still raw and occupying so much of one’s daily thoughts.
It has never occurred to me as deeply before, that the move from the desolation of loss on Good Friday to the joy of Resurrection on Easter Sunday is an almost impossible one to make. After all, how can any human make that jump in three days?
When this year I looked more carefully at the account of the Resurrection in Luke’s gospel, I found that, indeed, none of Jesus' followers could make that jump easily either. When they encountered evidence of the Resurrection complete with empty tomb and angels, they were frightened, perplexed, confused and even amazed at what they saw.
What I didn’t find, is immediate belief and faith. This it appears takes time to develop and come to terms with. In order to say that ‘yes’ to Resurrection faith, they first had to say ‘no’ to the grip of desolation and death, that held them fast. It all takes time, and different amounts of time from one person to another, because then, just as now, no two human reactions to a situation are quite the same. The gospel stories tend to speed up this process, but if you read them carefully you find, reassuringly in my opinion, plenty of hesitation and doubt in evidence amongst the followers of Jesus.
Of course we have an advantage over those first witnesses of Resurrection. We now know the end of the story. We understand that we serve a risen Saviour in Jesus Christ. We know where to look for hope in the middle of our desolation, our grief. We know where to turn, to feel the warmth of the sun again, in the midst of our winter experiences.
It was the experience of the disciples and it is our experience too, that eventually in Christ, grief and despair always give way as Resurrection breaks in. Winter will end and spring will always return- this is the wonder of our faith, this is our hope.
The overwhelming message of resurrection hope during this, and every other Easter, is that Christ died so that we might live, but no longer live for ourselves. He died that we might live for something bigger, that we might have life in all its fullness. The power of the Resurrection enables each one of us to transform a bleak today into a brighter tomorrow.
We should use that God given resurrection hope, which has been entrusted to us, just as those first disciples, to transform the world around us. When those around us grow weary and can only see winter, when they think it is finished, we can say with renewed vigour, No! NO! He is alive! We can show them the warmth of God’s love surrounding them, even in their darkest moments and remind them that spring will come again.
May we, this Easter, have renewed confidence in that hope. May we claim it for ourselves, may we claim it for those we know and love and may the power of Easter morning enable us all in renewed faith and great deeds.
Happy Easter and God Bless
He is Risen
On Easter Day we will say, ‘Christ is risen’ and hear the bold response, ‘He is risen indeed’. We will be part of a Christian community that has shared such a response for over two thousand years. Our Faith Community rests on the validity of this claim, an historical fact and a present reality (I Corinthians 5:17). Christ is not only a teacher from long ago but he is the way we encounter God as a personal and loving God in the present. We used to sing when I was a child, ‘He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today, he walks with me, he talks with me, along life’s narrow way.….. you ask me how I know he lives, ‘he lives within my heart’.
In what way is this true for us today?
You can only really answer this for yourself, but here is part of my answer.
I have to begin with this and simply say that Jesus Christ is a reality in my own life. He is, ‘within my heart’. When I was a young person I simply asked Jesus to, ‘come into my life’. I had the image of Holman Hunt’s Light of the World Holman Hunt picture in St Paul’s standing outside the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20). I understood the significance of the door that could only be opened from inside. I can’t claim this was the simple beginning of my journey of faith – but it is significant to me even now. I wasn’t just a Christian because my parents were, ‘God has no grandchildren’, I wanted to be a Christian in my own right. Jesus honoured that invitation and has been present in my life as a source of insight, courage, affection, encouragement, reprimand and, unless it’s just my imagination, also as a kind friend with the ability to gently laugh and make fun of me in my more pompous or self destructive moments.
Where two or three are gathered.
The promise of Jesus that he is with us when we gather, ‘in his name’, is a substantial promise that I know for myself (Matthew 18:20). The love, wisdom, challenge and hope of people who gather are the substance of my knowing Christ in so many ways. ‘In the Name’ is of course not a magical formulation – it is a statement of relationship, one of trust and obedience, and where I have been with others who are doing their best to follow him, then his presence has been the heart of the meeting itself. As I have grown older in faith I have increasingly wanted to add, ‘and especially where we break bread and share wine’. The communion of the Methodist Church may be rather straightforward and simple, but the reality of what Charles Wesley calls, ‘the real presence’ puts our meeting in his name onto a substantially new level.
When God’s Word is studied.
I’m fond of challenging very literal and dogmatic claims of Scripture with the reminder that in John’s Gospel we are told that the Word of God isn’t a book, however holy, but a person – the ‘Logos’ that was in
the beginning with God and was God (John 1:1). But the Bible, recording as it does, humanity’s search for God, and God’s search for humanity points to and reveals the real person of Jesus (Psalm 119:105).
Without the Bible my experience, ‘within my heart’ would be unrecognizable, no more perhaps than a flight of fancy. With Scripture my encounter with Jesus, ‘within my heart’ and ‘where two or three are gathered’ is given authenticity and substance.
When I struggle to follow.
The angels tell the disciples, ‘he is not here, he is risen and gone before you into Galilee’ (Mark 6:7). The Jesus who breaks out of the tomb is not confined by the Church, or limited to profound personal experience. Jesus is risen – he is out there getting on with the things that Jesus gets on with. He is alongside the poor, the sad, the rejected and the angry. You meet him as you follow. Indeed my early response to ‘accept in my heart’ isn’t half as biblical as John Vincent’s ‘follow him with your feet’.
If you want to know Jesus – go where he goes, do what he does, get cross about things he gets cross about, and love the world he has come to heal.
I am looking forward to the drama of Easter – walking through it with our various services and activities. I look forward to Easter Day and for the first time saying to you as a congregation, ‘Christ is risen!’ I look forward to you replying with confidence and happiness, ‘He is risen indeed’. My prayer is that we will get to know him better, love him more, and follow him more eagerly as this ancient claim keeps on proving its truth through our experience together.
We have started off 2015 with a new Stewards team and Senior Steward. The team is made up of some old faces and some new ones! With Mark’s help and advice we are planning some changes to our roles and tasks. One of the changes you will all hopefully see very soon is to do with the services on a Sunday. Our aim is to have a representative from the team at each service to help the service run smoothly and to make sure that we have the time to listen and talk to the congregation. We are in the process of finding a supplier for name badges. Other changes will be announced in due course.
To help us in planning for now and the future, the whole team is meeting this month for an “Away Day”. This promises to be a lively and entertaining day – a report on the day will be published after the event. We met formally for the first time a couple of weeks ago and intend to meet on a regular basis twice a month. Each meeting will start with short worship and a minister’s slot to focus on what we are trying to achieve.
Over the next few editions of the 'Focus' magazine, the team will be writing profiles so that you know who we all are. I also hope to have a “Senior Steward” slot to keep everyone informed of what is going on within EMC. It is a real privilege to serve as Senior Steward again. We have a really excellent team and I am sure that EMC has some really exciting times ahead. If anyone has any problems/issues please let me know, I will be only too happy to discuss them with you.
With God’s Love Harvey Morris
True Followship with God in our lives - July 2012
I enjoy many fellowship meetings, but the one which I really enjoy is Mid-week Communion with Bible Study. We are now on 1 John. The Gospel starts with the “Word of Life”, the theme is on the joy of true fellowship with God and with one another.
I believe the greatest joy in life comes from loving relationships and we all want such relationships. Mid-week Communion gathers people around the Lord’s table. Jesus said, “Take and eat, do this in remembrance of me” and also, “Drink all of it, do this in remembrance of me”. This act of worship is so sacred, it gathers the brokenness of the world. His sacrificial love is for each one of us. We sinners can have fellowship and share together before the holy God and partake in the bread and wine. This act of worship really overwhelms us!
“Fellowship” means sharing in common or sharing together. The fellowship with one another is based on the fellowship with God. Those non-believers who come in among us should be able to sense this love. They cannot know true fellowship with other believers until they personally come to faith in Jesus Christ and begin to walk with Him on a daily basis. Knowing Christ personally and growing in that relationship is the first step for any true fellowship with others that know Christ. It is Christ Himself that we share in common.
True Christian fellowship is when we share the riches of Christ and the treasures of His Word together. Sometimes we chat with one another about the weather, sport or the news. There is nothing wrong with talking about such matters but, is it true fellowship? True fellowship is our communion in Christ.
Methodists believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. We grow to know Jesus Christ better through the study and teaching of the Word. When you know Christ, you experience genuine unity and fellowship with other Christians, even though there may be significant differences in background, personality, social status, or race. To love one another in the church and in our community makes no distinction between who you are and where you come from. It is Christ in all.
True Christian unity at the basic level consists in mutually knowing Christ through the Gospel. We have started ‘Disciple’ in April this year. Those who attend these sessions can tell you that they have grown to know Him better through His Word as they spend time to study daily and gather weekly to expound His Word in a two and half hours discussion.
If fellowship is not based on the revealed truth about Jesus Christ it is not true fellowship. True fellowship bases on the truth of the apostolic testimony about Jesus Christ. If we depart from that, we have left the biblical foundation for unity.
Fellowship with God exists only through the blood of His Son. Faithful Christians need to be in line with the whole Bible. The only way a sinner can draw near to the holy God is if his sin is atoned for and the only thing that can atone for our sin is the blood of God’s perfect Son, Jesus Christ.
If someone claims to know God, but denies the need for the blood of Jesus Christ to atone for sin, in John’s language, he is a liar and deceiver. He does not know God and there is no basis for true fellowship. Therefore, fellowship based on the truth about Jesus Christ is a matter of shared life in our weekly gathering.
To be in fellowship with God, you have got to work at it, make time for it, and turn away from things that would create distance between you and God. Of course, sin hinders fellowship, but so do other things. The enemy will try to get you to anything except spend time alone with God. It may be TV, the newspaper, work, hobbies, or time with your friends. If you allow these things to crowd out consistent time in God’s Word and in prayer, you will not grow close to God in genuine fellowship.
Fellowship with God and with one another are really just the two Great Commandments, to love God with all your being, and to love your neighbour as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). The aim of the entire Bible is to help us glorify God as we experience the deep joy of a close relationship with Him and close relationships with one another. As we grow in obedience to these two Great Commandments, we will grow in great joy, not only in this life, but also for all eternity! I encourage everyone to work on the relationship with God. Please do not settle for occasional, distant fellowship. Make time daily to spend with Him in His Word and in prayer. Read books that help you to know Him better. Cut out of your life anything that hinders fellowship with Him.
Also, work on your relationships with other believers. In this sinful world such relationships will never be perfect, but they can be good but they will not become good without effort! The payoff is that true fellowship with one another and true fellowship with God will bring you true joy.
With love and every blessing, Hazel
Year of Jubilee - June 2012
Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations are nearly upon us. On Saturday, June 2 she will attend the Epsom Derby, on Sunday June 3, there will be the Big Jubilee Lunch and the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.
A concert is being held at Buckingham Palace on Monday June 4 – afterwards, a network of beacons will be lit across the UK and the Commonwealth, just as they were in 1977 and 2002. Then finally on Tuesday June 5, Her Majesty will head to St Paul’s Cathedral to once again thank God for her reign over us before taking part in a carriage procession through the streets of London.
Although many in the UK and throughout the world will now think of the Jubilee as an exclusively Royal celebration, it has a biblical heritage. The Jubilee year came at the end of seven cycles of sabbatical (seven) years in Israel. The instructions can be found in Leviticus 25:10:
“Consecrate the 50th year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family and to your own clan”
It primarily deals with property and land and it was with this in mind that the Jubilee 2000 coalition movement launched its campaign back in the late 1990s.
The campaign was intended to see poor countries’ debts wiped out in the year 2000 and is perhaps the easiest way for us to understand the concept of a Jubilee.
The Jubilee 2000 project was something that Christians should have been involved in. It was about the lifting of debts to give countries a chance to break the cycle. Like the year of jubilee of old it was not a guarantee of success, but merely the offer of a second chance. It is a Christian principle to give second chances. Maybe this year is a good year to think about who we can give jubilee second chances to in our lives. Who has let us down, is indebted to us or has wronged us? Who can you offer a second chance to make things right in the spirit of jubilee? To be Christians is to seek opportunities to offer the jubilee second chance. Philip Yancey, says
“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.”
So the year of jubilee should be for us all a time to lift our voices in thanksgiving and praise, in thanks that God is a God of forgiveness, that Jesus came to bring forgiveness. Both forgiveness for the wrong we have done, and also a time to bring forgiveness and healing to the things done to us. Forgiving others will set us free and restore us.
Looking towards Pentecost - May 2012
Sometimes we get past Easter and think that the big celebrations of the Church are over until next Christmas. The truth is that is not the case, for the Church also has another great celebration called Pentecost, which this year will be on Sunday 27th May.
As Christians we often make reference to God the Father and our Christmas Celebration reflects the Father’s concern for us, his children, that he offered a way back to humanity who had lost contact with him. The plan involved coming to earth as a baby and living as God on earth and we know him as Jesus. Jesus, our second view of God, died on a cross and was raised to life that the living relationship with God could be restablished. Pentecost concludes the story because Jesus promised he would not leave us alone and gave us the Holy Spirit to help us as we live our lives. The Holy Spirit is the third view of God.
So if Pentecost concludes the plan, why do we so often downplay this event in the life of the church? Many people are not sure of the Holy Spirit, because they are unsure about some of the gifts the Holy Spirit offers to the church. We are usually comfortable with the fact that God is with us and if we perceive the Holy Spirit in that way it’s Ok, so we look to the fruits of the Spirit as set out in the letter of Paul to the Galatians,
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5 v22)
Most people (not just Christians) would agree that these are good things to aspire to and the Bible tells us if we follow God that we should see all of these fruits developing in our lives. It is not a once and for all change but a development over time as we are slowly and gently encouraged to develop by a loving God who cares deeply for us. Of course, that means we are not fully there yet and so, as human beings, we are indeed capable of behaving in ways that are the opposite of the fruit God longs to see in our lives.
We need to be honest and recognise that possibility in ourselves and in those we worship with within the community of the Church. In recognising that fact we need to focus on encouraging those who fail and this starts by us all having an attitude of forgiveness to one another. In so doing we recognise that we have a significant part to play in God’s redemption of the world. In the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that God forgives us as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The fruit of the Spirit is both an increase in the gifts Paul lists in Galatians and an increase in our ability to forgive others. May we spend our time actively looking for the development of the fruit in our lives and in those we know and as we see God developing us, let’s give thanks and celebrate together.
The fruits are but one part of the generosity of God to us through the Holy Spirit. Not only does God offer us the chance to develop our personal character, he also wants us to be fully engaged in the work of the Kingdom. Paul records a number of gifts and skills given to the people of God for the benefit of the church, gifts which include preaching and teaching, evangelism, administration and hospitality amongst many others.
Perhaps here we are more reluctant to step forward but the Bible tells us that everyone is given a gift to use in the Church. In this way God demonstrates to us that we are a community, that we need each other, because each of us brings something valuable and important to the work of the local church. After all it is through the local church (the people of God) that God so often reaches out to those who do not yet know him. So we need to ask God what he is asking us to do for him. The joy is that his gifts are so varied there is something to suit everyone.
In Acts Chapter 2 we read of an event where the Holy Spirit descended on a great number of people and those present from many nations heard God speaking to them in their own language. It’s a wonderful picture of God being present with his people and one which resonates with us as Epsom Methodist Church as we have members from a great number of places around the world.
That first Pentecost encouraged the people present and many we are told committed their lives to God on that day. As we look towards this Pentecost may we too gather expectantly to see what God might do in our lives as individuals and as the gathered people of God in Epsom.
New Life - April 2012
Easter is a great time in the calendar it signals the arrival of spring with images of new born lambs, spring chick’s, flowers popping up and opening and sunshine. It is for us a period of the year which seems to offer hope after the harshness of winter. For children there is the added wonder of Easter eggs, something that many adults still love, as they connect us with our childhood which somehow often seem much better than the here and now.
Easter is also of course hugely significant for the people of God. We recall the death and resurrection of Jesus and it offers hope to us because God loved you and me enough to allow his son to come to rescue us from our failings.
The trouble is we tend to use words that complicate matters for example, the word Resurrection. I wonder what it means to you as you read that word again? In some ways a very simple word, it reminds us of the fact that Jesus had died crucified on a cross but was then able to rise from the dead. It says exactly what it means and yet for the Christian Church the word resurrection is immensely important.
Resurrection talks of new life, however our own pictures of new life do not really do the word resurrection justice. We think of animals born into the world but we know that they will at some point die, often to provide us with food. The chocolate egg we receive will soon disappear into our mouth and will be no more. The lovely spring flowers that blossom will all too soon die and fade away.
Each of our human illustrations of new life is tainted with finality. Yet these illustrations are powerful and we feel drawn to them year after year. Each one seems to reach out to us with the offer of hope. New beginnings all seem to speak of hope, often into situations which felt bleak and hopeless until the new possibility is understood. Jesus death was bleak but his resurrection brought new hope to the first disciples and continues to offer hope to all humanity today. The difference is that in Jesus being raised to life, God’s purpose of offering hope to humanity was achieved once and for all. In being raised to life Jesus lives for evermore there is no future death for Him, He has conquered death forever. It’s exciting to realise that the hope that Jesus offers cannot disappear – it does not melt away like the chocolate Easter egg in our mouth. Of course resurrection not only changed Jesus it also sought to change humanity both at the level of the individual (you and me) and at the level of community (our town, our workplace). The bible teaches us that our identity is bound up with Adam who messed everything up and that community suffered as a result. The resurrection offers a new way following Jesus by which community can be restored.
It is in knowing Christ that we can be different; it is in his death and resurrection that we can rise free of our past and create a new corporate identity which involves us seeing the world in the way Jesus sees it. Paul talks about us being transformed so that we become Christ like. It is by changing that we move from our old selves and become something new and different.
One of the ways we can demonstrate our changed lives is in the way we live. What does it mean for us as the church at the centre of Epsom to live for Christ? Our buildings are now complete and hopefully building projects are now finished so how will we use our resurrected buildings to benefit the local community.
Recently Churches Together in Epsom have been engaging in a similar discussion and whilst the answers are not clear we are engaging in dialogue with our local Borough Council. We are privileged to have a voice along with many other groups in looking at the strategic plans of the Council and to bring our concerns to those in local government. One change that is planned, that was shared at the review meeting, is a food bank for those in need in our community. We hope that the thought will become a reality and in its presence will be a tangible change at the heart of the community reminding us that the poor and vulnerable matter. Over the coming year Churches Together are seeking to hear the voice of the community, interestingly the Council are also seeking to do the same thing. It seems to me that resurrection is happening in our community so please pray for those who are engaging in conversation. Pray that we might see the green shoots of resurrection life reflected in our community just as we give thanks for the changes Jesus brings to our lives.