We’ve reached the final week of There is Room – and our theme as we conclude this journey is ‘There is Room for Revelation’.
The Christmas story is full of it – so much of it in fact – that I wonder if we to easily gloss over the breadth and height and depth of revelation we encounter in our journey through the Christmas story.
Go right back to the beginning of the gospel story. God revels through an angel to Mary she will bear a son. God reveals to Zechariah that Elizabeth will be with child in her young age. God reveals to Joseph through a dream that Mary was pregnant, despite him know the baby wouldn’t be his.
Then to shepherds on a hillside God reveals the wonder through choirs of angels, and to Magi who saw a star, and through diligent study find prophecy revealed.
And journeying on God reveals to the Magi through a dream not to go back to Herod, and to Joseph through a dream to flee to Egypt.
And all circling a baby in a manger. God revealed as man to dwell – Jesus our Immanuel.
There is so much of God’s revealing threaded through the Christmas story. Moments where the divide between heaven and earth runs thin. Where something more of God, God’s nature, God’s will, God’s plan, God’s faithfulness, God’s presence is revealed.
One of my most personal, most tangible moments of God revealing to me was in a field at Soul Survivor. 10,000 young people gathered in a massive big top. We’d been worshipping for some time, and then ther band struck up an acoustic version of Amazing Grace. Perse by verse the band began to drop out and leave the stage, until we came to sing the last verse:
When we’ve been there ten thousands years Bright Shining as the Sun We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’ve first begin.
As we song that last verse, 10,000 voices, I could have heard a pin drop. In that moment I got a glimpse of what heaven might be like – I felt the divide between heaven and earth run thin and felt a certainty in the depths of my soul of God’s presence and love for me.
While that experience was a particualrly powerful one, I believe God is always speaking to us, revealing to us, moving among us – but we don’t always notice.
Speaking through dreams, angels, Through putting a thought in our minds, Through a conversation with someone else, As we reflect on life’s events. Moments when a mundane activity or an ordinary place becomes moments of divine encounter.
As we journey into a new year – let us make room to be ready to see God among us, to and experience God’s revealing. For God is with us. Alleluia. Amen.
O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
Last weekend a friend sent me a link to a song, saying God had placed it on his heart to send to me. It’s a song I knew, but in that moment the song was just the thing I needed, and I’m so grateful I received it.
We’ve just begin lent, which we often begin by reminding ourselves of Jesus’ period of solitude in the wilderness. We may imagine a deserted, desert like place – where there is little sign of life and furitfulness – where Jesus is temped and tormented after his Baptism.
For me, my wilderness right now feels less of a desert and more like an unchartered ocean, as we continued to navagate the unchartered waters of pandemic, it’s longevity, it’s impact on community, church life, on relationships and human connection.
In some ways, now that we’re almost a year on from the first lockdown here in the UK, it feels like I may be cracking an old nut going on abour the unchartered waters of pandemic. Surely we’ve got beyond some of the new-ness and unexpectedness of the pandemic, we’ve learnt to use new technology, and while we’d still prefer to sit across from one another with a fresh coffee, we’ve got used to spending more time on the phone.
But despite how long we’ve been navigating these unchartered waters, the storm is continuing, and while there are signs of hope, past signs of hope have already been knocked back by new, larger waves crashing onto the deck.
Despite being about a year into the pandemic, life and ministry still feels to me like a journey in the unknown. While each week holds within it joys and blessings, there is still a common feeling of muddling through and making do. Trying to be satisfied when I feel that I’m not serving grieving families with the ’best’ I can offer, despite knowing I’m doing all that I can within these restrictions. Knowing how much people long to be able to gather face to face and share fellowship, yet having to live with burden of reality that the fellowship we really want, where we can sing and talk with one another is just not possible at the moment. That’s all without even beginning to think about all the uncertainties about how to lead and shape future ministry as we emerge from this pandemic sometime in the future.
That’s why the song I received last weekend was so helpful for me. The whole song is filled with a reminder that life can feel like a stormy voyage on the ocean, but whether water is still or raging God is faithful – always. God is guiding us – always. God is with us – always.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters Your sovereign hand Will be my guide Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
I encourage you to take a few moments today to listen, and draw close to God who is faithful to you and says to you ‘you are mine’.
In the unknown, in the wilderness of this Lenten season and as we continued our voyage on these unchartered waters, may you find God’s unfailing grace strengthening you, encouraging you and upholding you.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
This week I talk about God’s love for us and how Jesus came because God wants to be close to us.
Last week was exciting in our houshold because I became an Uncle for a second time – and had a wonderful video call with my second niece, who at the time was just one and a half hours old.
Even through a video call, we just wanted to reach out and have a cuddle, but of coruse we can’t. We’re in lockdown, and our niece is in Ireland, sadly it’s going to be some weeks before we are even able to begin conteplating the idea of a visit.
We heard the news of the pregancy on a video call, we saw the scan pictures by messenger, now we’ve seen her on video calls, but we’re stuck at a distance and can’t reach out our arms and hold her. We can’t feel her heartbeat, or feel hands wrap around our fingers. Yet.
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible is John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Because of God’s love for the whole world, God was not satisfied with our feeling that he was at a distance from us – and so sent Jesus, to be close to us, and not just close to us, but to live as one of us, to experince human emotion and feeling and relationship.
Through Jesus coming to live with us on earth, God makes crystal clear that his heart is first and foremost for the world, and for us. God is interested in us. God wants us to believe in him, to experirence the fullness of life we can experience with him – now, and in eternity. God loves us, with depth and care.
The following verse in John 3 is perhaps a little less well known:
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
There’s sometimes a belief that God sits up at a distance from us, on a throne somewhere in the clouds, pointing his finger at us – but that’s just not the truth I find in the bible, and in my relationship with God.
God sent Jesus not to bring condemnation, not to point a finger, but to save the world – because God loves the world, and God’s heart is to love us too.
If you want to know more about God’s love for you, or have questions about God, church or faith, please get in touch on any of our media channels – we can’t promise to have all the answers, but we’ll listen, and we’ll try.
God with us, To the grieving, bring comfort. To those weary with lockdown, bring hope. To tired medics and carers, bring strength. To the frustrating, bring calm. To the unjustly suffering, bring justice. To us all, be God with us.
However you’re spending Christmas this year, I pray you have a safe, hope-filled and blessed one.
A wife posted her Christmas wish list on the fridge for her husband to see. Rather than a list of items of desire, she simply wrote, ‘something that will make me look beautiful’. When Christmas rolled around she expected to open a package with some fancy jewellery of clothing. Instead, she unexpectedly received an exercise bike.
Christmas this year is not what we would have expected back in January. Christmas has been interrupted. There’s things we can’t do. Places we won’t go. People we won’t see. We may feel frustrated, disappointed, hopes have been dashed, people are hurting.
2020 has been a year of change, restrictions and interruptions. And if you’re anything like me, I’m not a great fan of interruptions to my plans and routines.
We’re all marking Christmas differently this year in one way or another…
As we do, I wonder if living through an interrupted Christmas might help us see the Christmas story differently – and afresh for us.
Because the Christmas story itself is filled with interruptions. Christmas is an interruption.
Mary’s day in interrupted when an angel appears before her and says she will have a child. How does Mary respond? Does she head out stockpiling loo rolls and pasta? No, she said ‘I am the Lord’s servant, let it be’.
The whole land was interrupted with a census called by a foreign dictator that sent everyone back to their hometowns – their own lockdown – so to speak…what do mary and Joseph do? Do they head to Barnards castle for an eye test? No, they comply and head to Bethlehem.
When they get there there’s nowhere to go. Everywhere has already filled up, social distancing and the rule of 6 mean there’s no space for Joseph and a pregnant Mary…they find some shelter…
And then, the biggest interruption of them all, A baby is born. Immanuel, God with us.
A baby that is God, and is human, and turns everything upside down. Who enters the mess of the world and be with us in our pain. A gift that challenges injustice. A gift that is full of forgiveness. A gift that shows the world true love. Because God became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14)
Shepherds on the hillside watch their sheep – their night interrupted with light and the songs of angels…
Townsfolk’s sleep interrupted as shepherds run through the town praising God…
Magi’s studies are interrupted by the appearance of an unusual light…
Herod’s confidence interrupted by unexpected news a new king had been born….
All because God interrupted the world and interrupted the status quo, through a vulnerable babe in a manger.
This Christmas, may the worldly interruptions we face be insignificant to the kingdom interruption that Christmas is all about. A holy interruption.
Love is with us, Hope is with us. God is with us. Immanuel.
May your life be interrupted by Christmas – God with us.
Where do we pin our hope in an age of fear? Fear can be both rational and irrational, it can make our world smaller and less hopeful. Fear can be a place where it is harder to dream big for the future, and can be harder to know where God is in the middle of it all.
And in the midst of global pandemic, fear is undoubtedly a part of human living for many of us at the moment. But what do we do with it? How do we fit the fear we feel within our Christian faith that speaks of freedom, healing, and transformation?
This is a book for anyone living with the realisation that the life is a little broken. For anyone wanting to resist the temptation to retreat into our armchairs and ignore the world.
This is a book that resists the culture of fear that can be seen to be growing in society, and growing among Christian communities.
This is a book that encourages us to discover and rediscover the mystery of hope, which will bring us face to face with the nature of God, character of Jesus and playfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Using the biblical story of the exile, Cox-Darling brings a prophetic voice for Christians to hear. During the exile, the absence of a place of worship was destabilising to sense of community. Yet the story of the exile can was a catalyst to God’s people discovering the true identity of God.
Through rich threads of biblical exploration. Joanne Cox-Darling is convinced hope can be a present reality for us, not just a distant future. That we can find hope in the Christian story, that the church is a window to a community of hope-filled rebels striving to seek first the kingdom of God.
Within these pages, be encouraged to look again at the Christian story as a place to discover a hope-filled resistance, reminded that at the heart of the gospel is the truth that death and despair are never the end.
Discover hope as a catalyst that believes the world can be different, that our living life can be different. That hope thrives in a community of broken people willing to live in brokenness.
Find a call to faithfully and hopefully respond to God who knows our struggle, can meet us in unknown places and offers us stability and constancy, and the hope that things can be better and brighter. God who is the source of all hope, who begins to restore the brokenness, makes a difference to our living, and help us glimpse the light of the kingdom of God.
Sunday Reflections from Rev Dan: Sunday 5th July 2020.
Over the last fortnight…the same verse of the Bible has kept coming up all over the place for me.
Now when this happens for me, I always know God is saying something. The Bible is so huge – 66 books, 1189 chapters, over 31,000 verses. So, for the same little bit to keep popping up in the space of a fortnight…
That’s no coincidence – it’s a God-incidence.
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
I think there is something attractive and comforting about this verse because it can easily be seen to speak into our current living. The former ‘old normal’ that we remember cannot simply resume or return, and so we prepare for a new thing as we begin to embrace a ‘new normal’.
But that may be being slightly too simplistic. The journey from old normal to new normal is not a simple transaction. It is not a straight swap. It is not the same as my journey one day this week to change from one pair of shorts to another because the button popped off…
Embracing whatever this new normal will become is a journey in itself. And I think we are merely at the very beginning of new normal’s formation. It is going to take time to explore and experience. Some of us may be excited and desperate to step out, others may be taking very tentative steps, and others, not wanting to take a step at all.
When we look at the story behind those two verses in Isaiah 43, we see a similar journey. After being exiled and in Babylon for some time, the prospect of ‘returning’ to Israel was a scary and uncertain prospect. Many of those who were fit and young now would have been born in exile, so Babylon may well have felt like home, even though not their true home of course. To leave Babylon would break something of the limited security and familiarity they had.
For some of us, there may also be a sense of uncertainty about breaking security. As hard as it has been, living in lockdown and not leaving our homes except when essential, 100+ days on there is also a sense of coming to terms with it. Life has adjusted as we live in our own Babylon, and the idea of leaving the safety and security of home and entering what we may perceive as a dangerous wilderness where much is not as we remember it, may not feel as attractive to us as we wish it did.
For others of us, we may be really excited. We may see now as a time when there is potential for real change, where we can embrace new ideas and new ways of being, and really contribute towards the shape of our communities and their direction of travel. That through lockdown we will have been forced to learn new ways of being church, community and nation and we see real potential for this experience to transform the future.
Ok, so I’ve created an unfair contrast there. You may find it helpful, but I imagine at least some of us will identify with aspects of both of those characterisations but wouldn’t’ put ourselves in either. It may be more helpful to see these as points on a spectrum, a spectrum within which we swing our pendulum, feeling different about it all day by day.
But what this verse does remind us is that for those in exile, the memory of Israel was just that, a memory. What was had gone, their ancestors had died, they were the next generation and the former things were just that, former things. If unchecked, they could become an idealized world that overshadowed the reality of the present, and emerging future. A future within which God was doing a new thing that was already beginning to spring forth.
Hope was not just a possibility. It could be perceived, experienced and known.
It is that reality that we must hold on to. We must not let our memories of the old normal become an idealized past which holds us back from the future. A future in which God is already springing forth and making the way in the wilderness, even in the wilderness of risk assessments!
Today some churches will be opening their doors again, though many are not. Some of that is, I think out of fear. And some of that fear may be irrational, but much is totally rational. Coronavirus has not gone away.
Some of the ‘not yet’ is because of the practical fact that we have only had a week since the government guidance finally arrived and there is still time needed to process and implement it.
But some runs deeper. The reality of what is emerging as the ‘new normal’ means we have to carefully think through what the purpose of a church building is now. The church building was a key tool in facilitating gathering as community, worshiping together as one people, being united as the body of Christ. But it is just those things, when physically together to share fellowship, sing at the tops of our lungs and share stories with one another face to face, that coronavirus also seeks to exploit.
So just as the exiled were anxious, required God’s reassurance, and needed time to be ready for the next steps on the journey, so we need that time too. Time to work out who we are and what we are for. To ask God to aid us in working out how we use the resources we have to the best of our ability to continue to proclaim the gospel message of love and salvation. To continue being God’s chosen people in the emerging new normal.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I’ve just popped down the Bognor Methodist to help sort some stuff out for running Foodbank here, and decided to pop into the church to sit and pray for a few moments…
It’s very quiet here…it’s peaceful…but it’s also lonely. It’s a reminder for me of just how much I miss you! I so miss being able to by physically with you all.
Our buildings are usually a wonderful hubbub of conversation and fellowship and worship, but of course with no-one here its quiet because church isn’t here.
That conversation and fellowship and worship is happening where the church is – in homes, spread across the community.
As I’ve been journeying through Holy Week I’ve been really struck in a different way just how lonely Jesus may have been in those final days… knowing the pain and suffering that was coming. As Jesus arrives in Gethsemane he says to his friends,
“I am deeply grieved, even to death, remain here, and stay with awake with me”
We see here Jesus deep desire was to be with others in his moment of struggle, and to know his companions, his friends were with him.
In prayer, Jesus then cries out to his father saying:
“Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want, but what you want”.
Even though Jesus felt alone, he knew Father God was always with him.
He knew he was not truly alone. Sat in Bognor Regis Methodist, I’ve really known the assurance that God is with me, wherever I am.
And not only that, that while the building is empty, the church, scattered in the community, you are with me too. That we are for each other and with one other in Spirit, and with each other as we pray for one another.
For me, this week, God has reminded me in new ways, that no matter where I am, no latter how alone I may feel, God is always with me. I pray you know that assurance in your life this week too.
Share your Story
So that’s one of the ways God has been in my week – what about you?
Where has God been in your week? How are you meeting with God this Holy Week?
Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.
Many in my churches will know that this year is a ‘Year of Testimony’ across the Methodist Connexion and we’ve been sharing stories of God at work among us in recent weeks.
I want to encourage us to continue to see and speak about where God is speaking and working among us now, during this time of distance and isolation, because even though we may be distant from each other, God is not distant from us.
Many in my churches will know that a sermon illustration from my garden is often not far away, and on Sunday afternoon, I took the plunge to dig the veggie patch. It was covered in weeds and very much not ready to do any planting! But I turned it, fork by fork, pulled the weeds out, moved any stones I found, and broken down the chunks of soil so that it is now ready for me to start some planting.
For me – God spoke to me through that process, about how church and ministry might look now.
For me, much that was familiar and growing has sadly gone, almost all the weekly routine I took for granted has been turned on it’s head. Yet I’ve had a really strong feeling that God has been saying there’s now potential for new ground to be tilled, new planting to be done and new growth to be seen.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
This week God has been saying to me, reminding me, that while life and ministry feels like it has been turned on it’s head, while I miss seeing people and already long to be able to communicate without using phone, email or other technology, God has not turned on his head.
God is still as present as ever, and even in the chaos and uncertainty, is able to do new things, and will do new things in me, and I pray, in us as we journey through this together.
God is with us, and will make a way through the wilderness – do you perceive it?
Where has God been in your week? Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.