Tag Archives: Jesus

Not what he’d hoped for: The Vulnerable man

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10b

There was once a young man who sneaked into church hoping nobody would notice him. The only reason he’d come was because he was keen on a girl who sang in the choir, and he hoped that if he was in the service he’d be able to see her at the end of the service and ask her out. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, but he saw people going in and sitting down, so he did the same. Just as the service was beginning, an usher came up to him.

‘Excuse me.’ he said. ‘The person who’s supposed to do the reading hasn’t turned up. Could you possibly do it?’

The young man was horrified for a moment, but then thought quickly. The girl he had his eye on was there, in the choir. She would be most impressed if she heard him reading in the service.

‘All right,’ he said. He took the Bible and looked through the reading the usher had showed him.

It came to the moment. He want up, opened the Bible, and began to read. It was from John’s gospel and he vaguely recognised it.

‘Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheepfold by the gate,’ he heard his own voice say, ‘but climbs in by another way, is a thief and a bandit.’

He was thunderstruck. This was what he’d done! He was standing here, pretending to be a regular bible-reader, when in fact he’d only come in to meet a girl. He forced himself to go on, aware of his heart beating loudly. If he was a bandit, coming in under false pretences, what was the alternative?

‘I am the gate for the sheep,’ said Jesus. ‘The bandit only comes to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they might have life, and have it full to overflowing.’

Suddenly, something happened inside the young man. He stopped thinking about himself. He stopped thinking about the girl, the congregation, about the fact that he’d just done a ridiculous and hypocritical thing. He thought about Jesus. Unaware of the chock he was causing, he swung round to the clergyman leading the service.

‘Is it true?’ he asked. ‘Did he really come so that we could have real life, full life like that?’

‘Of course it is,’ he replied, quite unfazed by this non-liturgical outburst. ‘That’s why we’re all here. Come and join in this next song and see what happens if you really mean it.

And the young man found himself swept off his feet by the presence and the love of Jesus, filling him, changing him, calling him to follow. He got more, much more than he had hoped for.


For those of us reading Acts (find out more), today we read Acts 3 and meet a man who also gets more than he hoped for. The Bible I usually use calls him a crippled beggar, but I wonder if we’d give him more dignity, and ourselves greater understanding, if we called him a vulnerable person?

Ignored and forgotten by the state;
marginalised by society; discriminated against;
someone who has not fit the criteria for support through the social care system?

Carried into the temple by some people who chose to help (or wanted to make themselves look good? – who knows!), this vulnerable man comes hoping someone will take pity on him, and give him a few coins, enough to keep him going another day.

He sees Peter and John. And they don’t give him what he’s hoping for, they give him something better. An encounter with Jesus the healer, the transformer, the Saviour.
More than he expected or hoped for.

What are we expecting or hoping for today?


As we continue to look towards the easing of lockdown, what are you hoping this time will teach you, us, society?


How can you use your voice today to stand up for the marginalised and vulnerable?

I leave you with a short video a family member sent me, which I found help me think more carefully about the world we might hope 2020 will help us and all the world create.

‘The Great Realisation’, From Probably Tomfoolery.

Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you, and I know others would too!


Downloadable Version


Acknowledgements

Story of the young man © Tom Wright from Acts for Everyone, (SPCK, 2008), p48-8.
Video from Probably Tomfoolery.

Testimony Thursday: Good Days, Bad Days

#A week or ago, I was included in an email sent to quite a number of people with the subject heading ‘a reminder to worship’ and this verse:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2:6-7, NRSV

As I read those words I was struck by how different life looks now to how it did only a few weeks ago – and how at times it really doesn’t feel like I’m continuing anything.

I don’t know about you, but for me, almost everything that was in my diary over the last 6 weeks has been cancelled or postponed, and almost everything I’m doing now, whether it be work or family life, is very much different to how it normally is or was planned to be. How can I continue anything?

But after my instinctive reaction, I soon realised that this summons to the disciples of Colossae was not about the practicalities of church life and family living, but about continuing living in Jesus. Continuing to be rooted and built up in Christ. Continuing to sustain and deepen the faith they have already been pursuing, the faith they have already been taught and grounded in. Always giving thanks.

In the last few weeks,
I’ve had good days and bad days.
Happy days and sad days.
Days where I’ve felt I’ve made a difference.
Days when I’ve wondered if I should even have got out of bed!

Yet all the while, no matter how I’ve felt about the ‘stuff’ of my day, I’ve been certain of the fact that Jesus is there beside me.

I found this stone on the beach last week, round with a hole in it and, to me, it was like the empty tomb. It now sits on my desk next to my little stone cross as a reminder that no matter how I feel at any moment of any day, Jesus is alive and with me every step of the way.

As you continue to live in Jesus, I pray you know for yourself that he lives and is with you every step of the way.

May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.

Rev Dan


Join the conversation

How has God been speaking to you this week? Please share in the comments below as we encourage each other to continue in faith.

Sunday Reflections: Breaking Bread

This week, in a slightly longer than ‘normal (!) vlog, I look at Luke 24 (the Road to Emmaus) and reflect on how our plate and cup are empty, waiting to be filled because as Methodist in Britain we are not practicing communion while we are physically distancing and unable to gather as worshipping community.

The text below the video is roughly the same as what’s in the video, but at the bottom of the blog post there’s an extra video, a downloadable version of the blog post for printing, and of course, opportunity for you to join your thoughts to the conversation!

In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus resurrection, we find the story of Cleopas and his travelling companion on the Emmaus road. I shared a reflection on the passage in last week’s Sunday reflections.

Cleopas and his companion are filled with grief and uncertainty after Jesus’ death and then a stranger joins them on their journey. And they hadn’t any clue who this stranger was.

“As they came near the village to which they were going, [the stranger] walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

Luke 24:28-31

What I have found striking reading this over the last week is that it is in the breaking and sharing of bread that the true identity of Jesus is realised. As they sit together, in fellowship with one another, learning and discerning and questioning, eating and drinking, the bread is broken and Jesus is seen for who he is.

Breaking of bread is one of the many titles in Christian tradition we use for communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s supper. This week the Emmaus story has set me thinking about communion.

This is my home communion set. It was given to me by my placement church while I was training, a multi-cultural congregation in a deprived and diverse suburb of Birmingham. This reminds me of where I’ve come from, and how I’m part of the national and global church.

I use this set to take communion to people who are housebound. So it reminds me both of the local churches which I serve, but also of the homes to which I have visited and shared communion.

This set reminds me that the presence of God is everywhere; global, national, local and in our homes.

Communion is something may be important to our spirituality as individuals and as worshipping communities.[1] It is a meal we share, through which we remember Jesus sharing a meal with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. We take bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of Christ, we bless them, break them and share them as we remember Christ and experience him present with us now.[2] Where we are embraced by the unconditional love and unending grace of God, offered through Christ, made present by God’s Spirit.

But for the moment, the plate and cup are empty. We’re not sharing communion together. We are distanced from one another, unable to physically gather and share as a worshipping community.

At the moment, some churches have been practicing communion online, but as British Methodists, we are not. In 2018 our Methodist Conference considered virtual communion, albeit considered under very different circumstances to that which we find ourselves in today. Conference voted against the practice, and while given current circumstances I suspect the conversation and decision might go differently, for now we follow those decisions, leaving plate and cup empty, waiting for the day they can be filled again.

For me, I want to be honest with you, I’ve come to a point where I’m ok with that. It’s painful, not being able to share communion with those I know dearly wish to receive it.  It’s painful not the able to gather at the table to share as a worshipping community.

Some of you may share my feeling ok, but I expect that for some of you, not receiving communion has been, or is continuing to be difficult right now. I want you to know I understand something of that struggle. But I also want to share with you a little bit about why, for me, I’ve come to  a place where I feel ok for the moment, that the glasses and plate are empty and waiting, as I patiently wait for the time they can be filled again.

And in sharing, I hope that it may help you too.

Filled

At the beginning of this year, many Methodists prayed the covenant prayer, as a sign and renewing of our continuing commitment to living in relationship with God, knowing that God continues to be unconditionally committed to us by his love and grace.

Within the covenant prayer we say the words: ‘let me be full, let me be empty,’[3]

I’ve found reflecting on those words in light of not receiving communion during this time helpful. The covenant prayer contrasts various ways of living, employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, being full or being empty.

But whether employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, full or empty, are all included as part of our living in relationship with God. There is never an absence of God.

For me, these words remind me that whether I have received communion or not, all of life is saturated in God, God is still present and part of my life and being. So I’ve felt God helping Me to this time, not as a case of communion being taken away from me, but a time where I consciously abstain, as part of my being emptied for God.

Yet, at the same time, I also see the empty plate and cup being just as presence filled by God’s Spirit as when they are filled with bread and wine.

Inclusion and exclusion

For me, another reason that I feel ok that we leave plate and cup empty is that, if did communion online, what about those who are offline? Who do not have internet access?

before lockdown, when communion was celebrated in our buildings there was inclusive intent within our liturgy and practice, and those that were housebound had the options of home or extended communion.

But today, those who would be excluded from online communion have no other way of receiving.

As part of communion we often share the peace, sometimes preluded by the words:

‘In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body.
Let us therefore keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.’[4]

For me, if I was able to share communion with some of you, I wonder if I would then risk breaking that unity of Spirit and bond of peace, through depriving and excluding some, from what I was offering to others.  

To bring us back to Emmaus, in that resurrection story, as Cleopas and his companion offered hospitality to a stranger, it was in the distribution, the breaking and sharing, Jesus was made known.[5]

This Emmaus encounter is not communion as we may have come to practice it. Here is a simple meal and a household who share hospitality with a stranger. In that act of sharing what they had, their guest shares with them everything he is.

We can only gather as households right now, but I can assure you that even though plate and cup are empty, Jesus is present with us, not a stranger but a friend, longing to be a guest at our tables.

It may not be how we’re used to it through communion, we still patiently wait for a time that we can once again physically gather together to worship and break bread together, but even while cup and plate are empty, if we allow our eyes to be opened to it;

God’s Spirit, the very presence of God, continues to bind us together; though distanced, we are united – one in Spirit.

God’s unconditional love and unending grace
are overflowing for us as much now as they always have.

And whether we feel full or empty,
Christ in his fullness is forever with us.

May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.

Rev Dan

Peace be with you

A video montage of over 100 people signing Peace be with you, put together by some friends based in Manchester. Look carefully and you may find 1 or 2 familiar little faces!


References

[1] See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p6
[2] See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p4
[3] Part of the Covenant Prayer, Methodist Worship Book, p290
[4] Example of the Introduction to the peace, Methodist Worship Book, p189.
[5] I must give some credit to a friend who sowed this seed in their blog post earlier this week – https://dbobstoner.com/jesus-on-a-boriswalk/


Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.


Downloadable Version

Sunday Reflections: Emmaus

Emmaus.

I’ve got such exciting news to tell you. I feel like I’m about to explode I’m so excited. We were so confused but now things finally make sense.

Let me start at the beginning. You must have all heard about what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. He was arrested, put on trial and they crucified him. We’d been following him, we and the apostles, and Mary and the other women.

We all thought he was the Messiah, the promised prophet. But now he was dead. We all felt lost, heartbroken. Our hopes and dreams for what Jesus was going to do we’re shattered. We we’re worried what the authorities would do next. Would they come after us?

So Cleopas and I we’re heading back to Emmaus. It’s a long walk and we were talking about what had happened. A man we didn’t recognise came along beside us and we began talking to him. What we couldn’t understand is that he didn’t know what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem.

So we began to tell him what had happened to Jesus. How he’d been arrested, beaten, humiliated and crucified, and how our friends had gone to the tomb this morning and his body was gone. They said they’d seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive. We didn’t know what to think.

But this man we were talking to started to talk about the scriptures and what the prophets had said about the Messiah. He was talking about the scriptures in a way I’d never heard before. He went right back to Moses and the other prophets and we talk and talk about them.

The rest of the journey went so quick, it was no time at all until we got to Emmaus, so we urged the man to stay with us, it was almost night time anyway.

By talking to him things had started to make sense, though we we’re still struggling to get our heads around it all. So we sat having a meal together, we continued talking and then the stranger took the bread and broke it.

Roy de Maistre – The supper at Emmaus,
from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes

At that moment I don’t know what happened, but suddenly we realised something… this stranger was Jesus. How we didn’t see it before I don’t know! It was as if we had been kept from seeing him until that moment. But now it all makes sense, Jesus is alive! And all that’s happened is what the prophets wrote about. We we’re there with the risen Lord, but before we had chance to say anything to him he disappeared.

We could think of nothing else but telling the others so we raced back to tell our friends in Jerusalem. What a day! We forgot that the authorities could be after us, that fear had gone.

We told them how he’d appeared to us, how he talked to us about the prophets and the scriptures, how he’d broken the bread. That Jesus is alive. The Lord had also appeared to Simon.

And now I can tell you too! Jesus is alive! We’ve met the risen Lord and now we’ve been transformed. What a journey.

We’d lost hope, but now he’s alive and he’s given us hope again!
We were lost, we didn’t know where to turn, but Jesus found us.

We were feeling broken, but now Jesus has made us whole.
We were blind, but Jesus showed us the scriptures and what the prophets said, and now we can see the truth. When he broke the bread, we could see him.

We’d been fearful of what the authorities would do next, but after meeting the risen Lord those fears were gone.

We’ve had such an experience, we’d had a first-hand experience of Jesus. He really is alive, and he’s filled us with hope.


Reflect

  1. As you hear and read this passage what interests you? Surprises you? Why?
  2. The men on the Emmaus road felt lost, confused. Their hopes and dreams had been shattered. Have you ever been in a similar situation? What helped you?
  3. The men welcomed Jesus, who to them was still a stranger, into their home to eat with them. Fellowship and community was always an important part of Jesus ministry. How important do you think it is for us today? Why?
  4. How might what we learn from this passage help us for living as Christians in the 21st Century? What challenges are there?

Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.


Download Version


Jesus Christ is risen! – Is he?

Leader: Jesus Christ is Risen!

Response: Is he?

Leader: He is Risen Indeed!

Response: Is he really?

Leader: Alleluia!

Response: I thought he was dead?


After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Matthew 28:1, NRSV

As Jesus was crucified Matthew tells us that many women who had been following and providing for Jesus looked on from a distance (Matt 27:55). Two days later, under the dim light of dawn some of them head towards the tomb.

These women were grief stricken, devastated, broken-hearted – having watched the one they’d followed and provided for taken from then, beaten, mocked and killed. And not just killed, but killed under the painful cruelty of crucifixion.

I wonder if those women felt lost, no longer having Jesus to follow and learn from. I wonder if they felt as if they’d lost a sense of purpose, their vocation of providing for Jesus so brutally taken from them. I wonder how they felt now that Jesus was no longer alive. The one who had shown acceptance, compassion and love to these women was gone. I wonder how they felt, with the prospect that they may never be accepted and loved by someone else in that way again.

As they approach the tomb, they expect the stone to be there, sealing Jesus’ body in. They perhaps expect the guards to be there. What they don’t expect, is for the earth to tremble and shake and an angel appear before them, in bright light and dazzling white and roll the stone away – and then take a seat (Matthew 28:2-3).

Matthew’s storytelling makes me smile. All that drama – light, earthquake, stone rolled away – and then what does the angel do? They sit down. Just needs a pot of tea and scones for a truly English picnic (with proper social distancing of course!).

But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’

Matthew 28:5-7, NRSV

In that moment, I wonder what those women felt. Joy or terror? Hope or disbelief? Maybe they did accept the angels invitation and look into the tomb and see it was empty. But did they believe the impossible could have happened? Did they believe this dazzling angel – sat on a stone – was telling the truth?

With both fear and joy they head towards the disciples to tell them. Joy that the angel could be telling the truth. Fear that the angel could indeed not be an angel, in which case what has really happened to Jesus? Was Jesus risen? Was this resurrection thing true?

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Matthew 28:9-10, NRSV

The women’s doubts dispelled, they can race on. Joy in their hearts – Jesus really is alive. How? Why? When? None of that matters. They have a message to deliver, there is hope in their hearts – Jesus is alive!

But that’s not the only tale that goes on to be told. The guards, they’ve already headed off to the authorities to report, and another story is soon devised to explain the unexpected events – blame the disciples, say they came in the night and took the body (28:11-13).

And for Matthew’s story (which like Mark, has very little resurrection story to tell compared with Luke and John), even when the other disciples do see Jesus and worship him some still doubt. Could this resurrection thing really be true? And what does it really mean for the future?

When we travel through Lent, and then Holy Week, Easter Sunday is often the end point, the climax, the destination. It’s the place we know we’re going to get to at the end of the pain and suffering. And generally, as soon as dawn breaks – where there.

But for the disciples, for 1st Century Palestine, it’s wasn’t so cut and dried. Resurrection wasn’t such a given. There was doubt, uncertainty and fear. There were multiple stories and little resource to tell the difference between them.

It took time for the resurrection story to spread across society.
It took time for the resurrection to be believed.
It took time for Jesus friends to experience the resurrection for themselves.

For Jesus’ first followers, and for 1st Century Palestine, the Resurrection was not a one day event. It didn’t arrive for the whole of society as dawn broke, but took time to be known, experienced and believed – if indeed it was believed at all.

We know the truth of the resurrection. We live the truth. Jesus Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Due to Covid-19, there is an inevitability that for many of us, while knowing the truth, Easter Sunday will feel odd, different & strange. It may be hard to hold onto the truth in the isolated living we currently experience.

I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that rather than a one day even, Easter is a period – a season – which takes us from today all the way to Pentecost (this year 31st May). A season of entering into the new of the resurrection, where the discovery of the hope of new life is allowed time to be fully known, realised and experienced.

Perhaps this year we experience the resurrection more like Jesus’ first followers did, and more like the Easter season invites us, not as the dawning of a one day event, but one that takes time for us to fully realise. One where we embrace the wonderful and life changing truth of the resurrection of Christ, the truth that sets us free, while waiting to discover the full impact of the resurrection to come.

No gathering to worship in church buildings and singing Thine be the glory with organ at full blast. They remain as empty as the tomb. Waiting. For those who are used to it, no Easter Sunday communion – today the plate and cup remain as empty as the tomb. Waiting.

They wait, and we wait, for when our resurrection from lockdown comes.

Waiting to discover afresh resurrection’s impact.

All the while knowing the truth which sets us free.

Jesus Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed – Alleluia!

Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.

Downloadable Version

To leave and remain… Part 1

The sky turned black.
The world watched…. and waited.
Jesus’ time seemed to be up.

He’d gathered with his friends, shared their final meal together.
“I will soon have to leave you” he said.
He’d gone to pray in the garden,
“Father, let this suffering leave me” he prayed.
Then he was betrayed.
handed over, put on trial.
His disciples scattered, leaving Jesus alone.

‘Crucify Him’ the crowd shouted.
So he was. Stripped. Flogged.
Marched up the hill.
And there, there he was killed.  
Hung from a cross and left to die.

Jesus had left.
His followers lost.
What to do now that Jesus no longer remained with them?

First published by Felpham Methodist Church, April 2019

Tackling the tough stuff…

Soon after I arrived in Circuit, one of the churches under my care asked if we could start a bible study/fellowship group, because it was something they longed for but hadn’t had for some time.

I willingly obliged, encouraged by their enthusiasm for study and fellowship and I confess slightly indulgently – because I always enjoy conversation about faith, scripture and God.

Continue reading Tackling the tough stuff…