When we welcomed Harthill School into Church for mothers Day assembly, there was standing room only! The children, guided by Mrs Raynor and the staff were brilliant with their songs, poems and art. My favourite was “We’re going on a mum hunt” by the reception class. I included it in our next family service and was prompted by Jack, one of the 4 year olds! There is a wonderful partnership between the school and the church. I take an assembly once a month and with our neighbouring churches we have an ‘open the Book’ team which goes into local schools to dramatise bible stories.
When children visit church, the first thing I ask them is why it is important for the church to be unlocked. They always respond, “so people can get in to pray to God”. I then point to the beautiful East window and ask which figure is Jesus? Who is Jesus? Mostly they reply “He is God’s son”.
On the cross Jesus’ arms are outstretched in love for the world. Three days later He rose from the grave. All Hallows exists because of the resurrection. It’s a centuries old symbol of God’s love for his children and for all who live in the parish. A love that will never die. As you pass the church tower remember you are always safe in the shadow of God’s love.
Following on from the recent popular Prayer Course we will now gather to “Listen to Jesus” speak through his parables. We meet at Wales Vicarage beginning with a cuppa and slice of homemade cake before sharing faith, fellowship and fun.
The “Listen to Jesus” course is open to anyone and everyone. All are welcome. Each session is an hour and fifteen minutes long. The meetings will be on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 2pm and 7:30pm commencing 17 August.
The parables of Jesus are extremely important and contain much of His teaching. When we hear them it is as if Jesus himself is by our side. In each parable we hear His voice speaking directly to us. These simple, humble memorable stories contain great themes which teach a moral or a spiritual lesson.
The story is not important. It is the lesson of a parable that counts. Jesus was the master of teaching in parables. His parables often have an unexpected twist of surprise ending that catches the listeners attention. They are also cleverly designed to draw listeners into new ways of thinking, new attitudes and new ways of being.
For this months blog, I thought you might like to read some extracts of a sermon recently delivered by Nora Brook, Lay Reader at Wales Parish Church on Matthew 25/6:
The message Jesus gives to his disciples here must have been quite difficult for them to understand, but Jesus was aware of the dangers the disciples would face and wanted to warn his followers that life would not be easy. He tells them not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Later on he tells them not to think that he has come to bring peace on earth, he has come to bring a sword. All very confusing! The tough nature of their job as his followers was spelt out in honest detail, and he warned them that they were not to expect any better treatment by the world than he himself, as their master, would receive.
I think if Jesus were alive today, he would be advised to repackage his message to make it more attractive. A PR expert would say “less heavy on the potential suffering angle, Jesus, more emphasis on the eternal reward”. Disciples these days might be asked to carry out Risk Assessment appraisals, fill in insurance forms. If anything confronted them which was difficult, or caused them pain, they might be advised to seek counselling or debriefing. Mentors would advise them not to burn themselves out, or tell them how to set boundaries to protect them from the people they were commanded to serve.
As a society we are facing an epidemic of lack of commitment. Those who run organisations, whether it is Brownies, cricket teams or football teams, all complain how difficult it is to find people who will take on roles of responsibility, become Treasurers, Secretaries etc. Certainly, people want to come and take part, they don’t mind being consumers, but they will not commit to regular attendance or take on responsibility. Joining things has become too much of a commitment. Trade Unions, most political parties, Working Men’s Clubs are all reporting a dropping off in membership. There are all kinds of sociological reasons that you might cite to explain this. Longer working hours, less extended family to help with child-care etc. But this doesn’t cover the childless, the retired or the unemployed. No-one wants to take on responsibility or sign up to anything on a regular basis. They would rather keep their freedom, and retain their choice to stay home and watch the telly, or chat on the internet. I must admit, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. People are now thinking less about wanting to be part of a cause, or a community of believers (in anything) and more in terms of individual pleasures and activities.
To sum up, we live in a less committed society. If you want to persuade people to do things you have to downplay the commitment involved. What would Jesus say to his disciples now? “Just do what you can, as and when you can, no worries if you don’t feel like it”. Is that what he is saying to us? “Come and follow me, in your own time, no pressure?” No!! He didn’t say that to his disciples and he doesn’t say it to us! He throws out the challenge to his followers. He told that bunch of scared men that their new way of life was going to be tough. And they rose to the challenge, rose magnificently to the challenge. They were the heroes and heroines, those early Christians: brave, self-sacrificing, and unswerving in their commitment to Jesus and to the church.
I think that, to a large extent, we become the people that we are expected to be. If you tell a child to be afraid of walking through a stream, then she is. If you tell someone that they can’t or need not do something, then they won’t do it. If you continually warn people not to overextend themselves, to be careful because they are frail, then they become frail and fearful. I remember when our two children were small, they decided to have a competition to see who could climb the highest up a tree. I was panic-stricken and rushed out to stop them. My husband said “No, don’t stop them. I was never allowed to do anything like that as a child and as a result have always been scared of taking a risk. I don’t want that fear putting on them”. Of course they both climbed up the trees and I’m happy to say, didn’t fall off.
We must train ourselves to be brave Christians, giving generously of ourselves. We need to be willing to take a risk with ourselves, with our money, with our privacy, with our time and even with our energy. Jesus told his disciples that they need not be afraid, that they would be guided and protected, that they were precious in the eyes of God. He reassured them that, although their feelings and their bodies might be hurt, no harm could come to their souls.
God’s love and the assurance of his promises surround every Christian, and so we are insulated from the worst that life can throw at us. Yes, we might suffer, indeed, as typical human beings we will suffer, but we are dear to God and held in the palm of his hand. Our souls are safe in his care. We can and will endure. In a society that eggs us on to be lazy, self indulgent and sit on the sidelines, it is difficult to imagine people behaving with the courage and commitment of those first Christians.
Whilst we are blessed with volunteers here, we mustn’t be complacent. As the outside world is, so every person may become, so even this church could become. We must be on our guard that the prevailing philosophy of the “sacred self” doesn’t drain us of commitment to others and to God. We must be careful that the desire to guard our leisure time doesn’t that we simply can’t bear to turn off the telly and go and mix with the people and organisations that surround us. It is so easy and attractive to disguise lack of commitment as “making time for me” as one magazine advised us women to do recently. Our present society advises us to avoid stress, to concentrate on ourselves and it is hard to resist the urge to be lazy and not get involved. Jesus’ message in this great chapter in Matthew’s Gospel is that as Jesus’ followers we are all involved with each other, with God’s will for the world, with his command to spread the word, to bring in the Kingdom, and we must not let the siren call of self-interest and lack of commitment thwart that purpose. If we play for safety, we will never venture very far. If we do not risk, we may never gain. But those who go out in the name of Jesus will gain life eternal.