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.
Wishing you a blessed Easter. Nick
Lent - March 2012
This year Lent commences early in February. The forty days of Lent that lead to Easter is the most sacred and spiritually powerful event in the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday sends us a signal to 'remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,' to the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, to the joyful Easter song of 'Christ the Lord Is Risen Today'.
Lent is a time when Christians are invited to examine their faith and deepen their commitment to live the Christian life. It is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on our Lord Jesus Christ; to relive the story of his suffering, his sacrifice, his life, his death, the burial and resurrection. Having said that, I observe that not all Christian churches observe Lent, in particular the Chinese churches. Lent is mostly observed by the main denominations such as Methodist, United Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholics. When we refer to the Bible, it does not mention the custom of Lent. However, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in both Old and New Testament. For your bed-time reading see 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.
Since we are part of the Methodist Church, we have learned to respect this pilgrim journey and hope to grow and discover the walk with Christ alongside each others. We are pleased that Dr George Chew, one of our Local Preachers will lead the devotion during Holy Week on three themes: The Servant, The Cross and Betrayal. We pray for good responses in remembrance of Jesus’ life on earth. He is with us and among us.
It is easy to focus on what we are doing for Lent. In fact, Lent is about God’s love for us. God, the Father draws His people to Him, He manifests His love to us through His Son. These forty days of reflection and meditation are meant to draw us into a deeper knowledge of that love. My personal thought is to bear personal witness. Lent is an unique time for us to mend our brokenness, rekindle our relationship with God and with one another in Christ. Though I am passionate in preaching and teaching, am I living up to my professed faith? Perhaps, the words of preaching remain true but the practices make it hard for others to believe what I preach. Actions speak louder than words, I believe I need to practise what I preach.
On the other hand, Ash Wednesday allows Christians to be physically "marked" with the sign of our faith, but it is easy for us to go through life as spectators to our faith as opposed to being active participants practising what we preach, not only in word but in our actions as well. I love to listen to others during my pastoral visits. Quite often people will say, “I don’t do much, not as many things as you do”. I disagree with them because the word “witness” is someone who is able to testify to what he or she has seen and experienced personally. Last week, a young man gave a powerful testimony at the baptismal service. Since he opened his heart for Christ, his life has changed. His brokenness is no longer there, he sees bright light ahead of him. He described how things had been; he graduated with a good civil engineering job, got married, self-proud, no need for God, all things were achieved by himself until his marriage did not work out and ended in divorce. Now he has found Christ, and he has been a different person, a happy all round person, he is now one of the active leaders of young people.
Jesus gave his disciples this promise: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Since the disciples had seen Jesus in action personally and heard his teachings with their own ears, they were credible "witnesses" to their world and beyond. The Holy Spirit is your internal guide in witnessing. God can "speak" to you through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will put a very strong impression on your mind that you should speak to a certain person. Go ahead. Follow through with this. Many times you'll find that the Holy Spirit has been preparing them and that they're ready to hear your testimony of what Jesus has done for you. Who are the people whom God has put around you to love, to pray for, and perhaps to be a witness.
Let us pray together that Lent 2012 will make a difference at EMC so that we can live up to words and deeds.
Pray and let God worry - February 2012
The Christmas celebrations are all over for another year. We have had our presents. We enjoyed the get together with friends and loved ones. The New Year arrived with a bang, or maybe this year just a whimper. The decorations are packed away for another year. Many of us will have made resolutions and some of us will, by now, have already broken them. But are we still filled with the peace that the angels promised so recently?
Many of you will know by now that I have insomniac tendencies and may even have received emails from me that say they were written at odd hours of the night. But of all the things that keep me awake it is rarely because I am worried. In fact unlike many people my natural tendency is to shut down and sleep when I am really worried about something.
Many of you though may be more familiar with worry being one of those things that keeps you awake; you may know those times when it is 3am, the house is quiet, your family is asleep, it is warm but it is dark, and you should be asleep too. However, your mind is racing, your heart is pounding and worries are overwhelming.
It might be thinking about the unexpected things of tomorrow that will find you unprepared, or it may be an area of concern —financial (the presents have to be paid for now), relational (should never have argued with Uncle Bert about the turkey), or employment.
You may even find yourself temporarily in a place where you are out of hope and out of peace. There is something about this part of the night that seems to magnify all of these problems, even for someone like me for whom the middle of the night is a part of regular life, things seem different at 3am and I am not sure exactly why that is. Maybe that is why the psalmist said "He guards us from the flaming arrows at night." I am convinced that we need God's help, not only when we are alert and awake, but even when we are sleeping. As you get ready to go to sleep, I think that it is a great thing to end the day in prayer. It has been said that God works the nightshift and it is so true.
In the “Sound of Music” Maria Von Trapp sings “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start” I found that when ending the day with prayer, the best place to start is back at the beginning of each new day. Start your day in prayer, committing your decisions, your challenges and whatever you are going to face that day to the Lord. Then, as I suggested, end your day with prayer as well. In each instance, our prayer could be as simple as, "Lord, here it is. I commit it to You."
I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther, "Pray and let God worry" I like that. Not that God worries, but the idea is that we should pray about it, rather than worry about it. Is there something troubling you? Is there something eating away at you? Bothering you? Irritating you? Causing you to be afraid? Pray about it, right now. Simply say, "Lord, I can't handle it, please take away the worry."
Philippians 4:6 says, "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. The peace of God that passes all human understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."
So try and worry less and pray more, you will sleep, and live much better.
Good News - December 2011
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Thus Luke announces the words of an Angel in his Gospel telling the good news that God is sending help to the world through a baby boy. A baby who was, we know, born in the modest surrounding of an inn. Today it might be a hotel room. Born in the inn because the parents had nowhere else to go, all they could do was to plead for help from an innkeeper.
We come to the end of another year and we are mindful that life is tough for many, the aftermath of the riots remind us of the sense of injustice felt by many. Global unrest and fears over the economy have seen unemployment continue to rise and for the first, time over 1 million young people are unemployed. What hope is there in the future for them? How tight will this Christmas be with increasing fuel bills and frozen salaries? As a church we have strived to play our part, be it collecting clothing and goods for people whose homes were burnt down in Croydon or raising the awareness of people trafficking within the Epsom community. We are committed to continuing to work with our community and trust in God to direct our actions.
Yet, despite the gloom we feel around us the overriding message of Luke remains true. This is a time to celebrate because God cared enough to send His Son to earth to offer us a new hope if only we will accept it. It is incredibly comforting to know that God loves you and that He cares for you. As the people of God the church is called to share that love in our community and as ever, we seek ways to offer hope and encouragement to those who need it most. As a church we seek to care for all, from the youngest to the oldest but at a time when we remember Jesus entering the world as a baby, it seems right to think about the work being done with young people. God mobilises us to be the modern day innkeeper offering shelter and encouragement to those in need. To reach out and encourage those in difficulty and to share the joy of all who feel good. We have seen God celebrating the life of young people in many ways over the last year. Our children’s groups report increased numbers and we thank God for all the leaders who work with our young people week by week. In April Little Monkeys was going to close but two people offered to lead the group which is now thriving and we are delighted that Genesis is also doing well. Add to that the wonderful Ofstead report we received for our Nursery and it seems clear that young people and their parents are thriving due to the offerings we provide. Recently we have seen Coffee Cup opening early on a Tuesday to allow the Nursery mums a chance to talk and share over coffee and we see this as key in building relationships with those who use our services but as yet do not worship with us on Sundays. Sundays have also recently seen the launch of a children’s choir at the same time as the Chinese Service (once a month) for those up to eleven years old and we have seen over twenty children attending along with their parents.
Over the last few months we have been thinking about how to develop further our links to families and children and the church is now being consulted about appointing a Family and Children’s worker. Such a project naturally needs funding but more importantly it would need a team to work with the person appointed - are you able to help in some way? We believe this work will build on the work already being done in the church for young people.
Of course Christmas is not just a time to remember the young and we are mindful of the need to make provision for everyone of all ages. The new Youth Hall will undoubtedly improve our provision for the older young people and we hope that the additional space created will also allow us to build our work with the adult community whom we serve. It was wonderful to see over 170 people at our service for those whose loved ones died in the past year and to see the church full at the Remembrance Day Service. We thank God that we can support those going through tough times and we ask that we will always be a people of hope.
As we enter 2012 we will recommit ourselves to the work of God at our special Covenant Service on 15th January. May we encourage one another by the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ so that we can be hope to those around us?
May you know God’s blessing and God’s peace?
Two Months in - November 2011
After just a few weeks my diary is beginning to fill up rapidly and like many others I am already finding that if I let it, being a Minister could take up every hour of every day. There is never a clear end and there is always something else that could be done. The difficult task is to contain the amount there is to do into a manageable place and remember the words of a very wise friend “most important, keep what’s most important, most important.”
Modern people tend to live full lives. We fill our houses and garages with important stuff, fill our credit cards with important purchases, fill our calendars with important commitments, fill our thoughts with important problems, and fill in the gaps with important leisure. Then we too often find we have too little space for God, too little time for others, and too little energy to care.
We fill our Church lives with commitment after commitment and leave ourselves in a place where we often don’t have the time to be really committed to any of the things we do. Wouldn’t it be better for each of us to live deeply, to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the things that God truly calls us to, and then to have the energy to do those things really well?
Leviticus 19:9 says “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.”
The scriptures are full of examples of how God led his people to preserve ‘margins’ in everyday life—keeping the Sabbath, leaving some of the harvest for gleaning, and setting aside routines for annual feasts and “holy-days.” God instituted marginal time and space for his people
Jesus' first invitation to all who would believe in him is to "Come, follow me." Slowing down and creating space for God and for others is perhaps, the first expression of trust in God, of following Jesus, the first step of discipleship, and the starting point of a life of purpose and power.
Jesus’ life and ministry was busy, but he was never too busy to take time alone and to spend time in prayer. Taking time and space with God and praying about the direction he wants us to take will lead to greater rewards than all of us being too busy, doing too many things and doing them half-heartedly. It is in the slowing down and letting go of the things that are less important, that we will be set free. Free to hear what God wants us to do, free to care better for those around us and free to care better for ourselves.
The spiritual disciplines of prayer, quiet, meditation on God’s word, and fasting allow us to reserve margins for God. Each one of us is called to do something to help “God’s Kingdom Come”, on earth as it is in heaven, here in the place that we live. God has a purpose and a calling for each of us, a job that suits our own individual gifts and graces.
Make a bold stand, let go of one ‘less important’ thing or activity this week, or every week this month and instead, take that time and energy to spend time alone with God, praying for his direction both for yourself and for the direction of this church as we face the future together and so will I.
Maybe, in the quiet, we will hear Jesus calling us to follow him, to go to places we would have never thought of going on our own, to do things we have never considered doing before, to take risks for the Kingdom, and to do all the things we do, so well and with such enthusiasm, that everyone one around us will see the love of God shining from this place.
Kindest Regards Rev. Nik Wooller
On Your Mark’s, Get Set, Go - October 2011
Well the summer is behind us and a new Methodist Year is in full swing. For me, this is my second year at Epsom - the first felt like a warm up as I got used to the ways of the church and discovered all the events that happen during the year. It felt a bit like being in the local athletics squad. It’s great to welcome Nik to the squad and to have her on the team with Hazel and Ernest; indeed we could have our own four by one hundred relay team. In fact that’s a good description of ministry, as the people of God are always passing the baton on to the next person in the chain. I wonder if we see our role in that way. After all, the Christian faith is only ever one generation away from extinction and yet for over two thousand years it has survived.
So what does that mean for us? We need to be ready to train and to run the race ahead of us. Are you on your Marks?
Running the race is a good theme as we head towards the 2012 Olympics and it’s a theme that The London District has picked up in it’s theme, Medal 2012 - which is all about delivering Leaders for the Church and in particular Lay Leaders. As a Circuit we have been looking at ways of developing our people to be leaders and there will be news on that shortly, in the meantime talk to Kan Yu and find out about Medal 2012. Kan is a member of our church and was asked to be part of the team putting Medal 2012 together. On the subject of Lay Leaders I am delighted to announce that Sandra Oborski, another member at Epsom, has been appointed as the District Safeguarding Co-ordinator – as a Circuit we are delighted that one of our members has taken on this important role in the life of the church.
Of course it’s very easy to let a few people do the work, to run the race, but God calls all of us to join in. The word “mark” has a number of different meanings. It can mean a mark as in a stain, a blot - something we are ashamed of. This year we are going to be on our mark’s as we study “The Gospel According to St Mark.” At the heart of the gospel message is God’s love for us. Mark explains how much God loves us and that God wants to wash away the marks and the stains of our life of which we are ashamed.
Sometimes we talk of marking time. A sense in which we stay where we are we don’t move forward and we don’t move back. Often we feel the church should be that place of stability.
Mark’s Gospel reminds us that, as a Christian, there is no marking time, you are invited to run the race and press on towards the things that God has in store for you. Perhaps some of us have become comfortable and sat down where we are. The Gospel of Mark will, I hope, encourage us to move on to discover new challenges that God wants to set before us as we travel through Mark’s Gospel this year.
Mark can also be used to mean the mark you get for a piece of work – is the mark good enough, is it a pass or fail?. Often we try to measure our performance in terms of human success. We try to please people by achieving the right grade. God does not grade us – he loves us as we are and we are called to love others as he loves us. In that sense we are called by God, not to mark anybody in terms of ability or capability, but rather to accept everyone. Our Methodist heritage cries out the words “All Are Welcome”. As we explore Mark’s Gospel may we discover what it has to say about the welcome of the people of God and may we learn to live it out in our life as the community of God.
Most importantly, on your marks offers the picture of being in the blocks ready to run the race ahead. I hope that we will all settle into the blocks and be prepared to run the race God calls us to run. It starts as we read the book of Mark together.