Steve writes – “Justin Welby and the Duracell Bunny”

I’ve been to (and sometimes managed to avoid) some pretty dire Lent courses in my time. You probably know the kind of thing- when your commitment to ecumenism is tested to the limit by content and questions which are theologically obscure and spiritually dry.

But this year I want to encourage as many of us as possible to come along to the Churches Together in Faringdon Lent Course. Entitled ‘Faith Pictures – a fresh way to talk about things that matter’; it’s a course I was planning to ask us all to do anyway, but it will work equally well for us to do it with friends from the other churches, as long as we all do come along.

Most of us find it hard to know what to say to friends or family about our faith -or at least how to say something in a way that doesn’t seem forced, awkward or preachy. That leads to a constant danger that we can begin to resemble Canadian rivers in winter when it comes to faith-talk (frozen at the mouth). We can also convince ourselves that no-one amongst our friendship circle or family is interested in hearing about Jesus anyway.

But a recent survey entitled ‘Talking Jesus’ tells us otherwise – at least one in five of our friends are very ready to have a conversation with us about Jesus, and it’s often the case that if we pray for opportunities, God provides us with encounters in which friends raise questions about faith. The Lent course has been designed to appeal particularly to people who would normally run a mile from courses on faith-sharing. It has a special focus on helping a wide variety of folk to talk naturally about their faith.

The course starts in the week beginning 27th February and is available in groups meeting on various evenings in the week (as well as an afternoon group). Just ring one of the hosts’ numbers shown on the list in this magazine or available at Church and book your place at their home. If the groups fill up, we’ll make sure extra venues are available.

I was impressed when I attended Church Army’s launch of this course during General Synod, when Justin Welby spoke of his support for it. And his connection with the Duracell bunny? – all will be revealed on the course, so please do come along and enjoy it.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

CTiF Lent House Groups

The Churches Together Lent course this year is “Faith Pictures” developed by the Church Army to help us all be a little more confident about sharing our faith.

There will be six groups (five meeting in the evenings and one in the afternoons) with six weekly sessions of about 1½ hours each, starting the week of 27th February.

Details of the groups are below. Please call the host to book a place on your chosen group.

If you are interested in the afternoon group, note that the 66 bus to Swindon stops at the corner of Coxwell and Fernham Road (both directions).

Lent 2017 House Groups
A fresh way to talk about things that matter
One afternoon and five evening groups
Starting in the week beginning 27th February
AFTERNOONS
TUESDAYS At 13 Fernham Road – 240 848
EVENINGS
TUESDAYS At Westwood, Sudbury Court – 242 239
WEDNESDAYS At 13 Berners Way – 358 605
THURSDAYS At 47 Gloucester Street – 358 394
THURSDAYS At 8 Coach Lane – 243 388
FRIDAYS At 20 Market Place – 240 509
Please phone the group host of your preferred day/time as soon as possible, to book your place!

Home Group Meetings in February

New members are always most welcome at all Home Groups – please contact the people listed below for more details.

Day and Dates Time Place Contact Subject
Monday 6th 7.45pm 28 The Pines 240 532 TBC
Tuesday 7th  & 21st 2.30pm 2 Leamington Gate 615 009 Beatitudes
Wednesday 8th & 22nd 7.45pm 2 Leamington Gate 615 009 2 & 3 John,
Jude/Philemon
Every Thursday 7.30pm 2 Ferndale Street 241 161 John’s Gospel
Thursday 9th & 23rd 8.00pm 10B Coxwell Street 242 753 1 John

Prayer Calendar for February

Please continue to pray for the life and work of our parishes

Wed 1st Mission of the Month – Interserve.
Thurs 2nd Lynn Treneary in South Sudan, for improvement in her health.
Fri 3rd Flower Guild.
Sat 4th Steve, Graham, Helen, Barbara, Dick, John, Max & Paul.
Sun 5th Saints Alive today.
Mon 6th Home Groups and Prayer Groups in our Churches.
Tues 7th Start course at the Vicarage this evening.
Wed 8th The Music Group practice this evening.
Thurs 9th ‘Open the Book’ team today at the Infant and Junior Schools.
Fri 10th Wardens, Vergers and Welcomers, Intercessors and Readers.
Sat 11th Men’s Breakfast this morning.
Sun 12th United Service at Friends’ Meeting House this evening.
Mon 13th All who are ill, recently bereaved or in any other kind of need.
Tues 14th Start course at the Vicarage this evening.
Wed 15th Continue to pray for Charles Draper and family at this time.
Thurs 16th Choir practice this evening.
Fri 17th Magazine preparation this weekend.
Sat 18th  Work of Churches Together and the Family Centre.
Sun 19th Families bringing children to baptism this morning.
Mon 20th Bell ringers practicing this evening.
Tues 21st The work of the Mustard Seed and Seekers Light.
Wed 22nd For all who help run our Churches.
Thurs 23rd ‘Open the Book’ team today at the Infant and Junior Schools.
Fri 24th Allsorts meeting this morning.
Sat 25th “Jonathan’s Teatime Tiddlywinks” for Lynn Treneary (CMS).
Sun 26th Family bringing child for baptism this morning at St Mary’s; Messy Church this afternoon.
Mon 27th Lent Course groups start today.
Tues 28th Community activities in Faringdon and Little Coxwell.

Mission of the Month for February – INTERSERVE

Interserve is a non-denominational Christian missional community bringing the love of God and the good news about Jesus to the peoples of Asia & the Arab world wherever they are through word and action.

Currently we are working with other agencies to support Syrian refugees as they flee the fighting.

Since the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 more than half of Syria’s 22 million people have been forced to leave their homes. More than 7 million have been displaced internally with another four million crossing into neighbouring countries.

Most of the refugees are now in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. More than 507,000 have arrived in Europe — about 12 per cent of those seeking asylum.

These refugees have left everything behind. They live in vulnerable, cramped and insecure circumstances. They feel traumatised and unsafe. Many have faced resentment and encountered extremist views. This has only worsened their plight. They need people who know Jesus Christ as Lord, who speak their language and who can reach out to them with the gospel.

As Christians, we are called to minister to people’s needs not only physical, but also, more importantly, eternal. Let us, together use this horrific situation for good. God has provided us with a window of opportunity for the truth of the gospel to be shared and adopted by many.

Missions’ News

News from The Children’s Society, NSPCC and CMS

Thank you on behalf of The Children’s Society

The Annual Box Opening which took place during November resulted in the sum of £444.50 being collected from Boxholders. A very big Thank You to all Boxholders for your generosity and for the continued support which you give to The Children’s Society. This sum has been forwarded to The Society and will assist them in continuing their work with the many vulnerable children and young people in this country who need help.

If others would like to have a House Collection Box please contact me on 242 355 and I will get one to you.

Hazel Catling

Thank you on behalf of NSPCC

The Faringdon Branch would like to thank everyone for the wonderful toys donated to the NSPCC for distribution in the Swindon area.

Also we would like to thank everyone who attended our Carol Concert which raised the amazing sum of £845. The committee value our link with the Church as our group was originally started in 1956 by the then Vicar of Faringdon, Revd Clive Davey, and we really appreciate the support that we still receive.

Brenda Barber

News from the Church Mission Society

This magazine marks the beginning of a new year, 2017. Can we make a New Year resolution to look at the Barber Rooms notice board and to read the CMS items, perhaps before we rush for a coffee! We try to update them every week to give you new items for your prayers.

After a silence of 3 months, we have at last received an e-mail from Lynn Treneary. Sadly, for the wrong reason, as Lynn had become very ill suffering repeated attacks of malaria and stomach problems and the principal of the college where she works decided she should go to Uganda for better medical treatment. The good news is that the doctor in Kampala diagnosed a blood parasite and was able to get medicine to cure it. However, Lynn had lost a lot of weight and will have to stay in Kampala until she is strong again and her blood is back to the correct levels. Lynn is just longing to get back to her work and friends in Maridi, and many are praying for her.

The situation in South Sudan is better in parts. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission launched a peace and healing conference in Juba, including religious leaders, traditional leaders, and government officials. In Yei state the Governor has also assembled a team of religious and community leaders to negotiate with the armed groups and has pulled together a force of police, fire brigade and the wildlife unit to patrol the streets. These efforts resulted in a fairly quiet Christmas and New Year. Maridi has remained peaceful throughout ,but the latest news reports fighting in Yei and Yambio.

The problem of hunger and starvation remains. The fighting has meant that crops were not planted and imported food is much more expensive and sometimes difficult to get. As a result of this, salaries are low and many government salaries have not been paid for months. It is estimated that 3.6 million are ‘severely food insecure’, (i.e. starving) Rebel fighters are preventing food aid from getting in to the country. Pray for the people, especially for those unable to feed their children.

Elsewhere in this magazine you will see that we are having a fun event for all the family to raise some money which will be sent to Lynn for her to use to help friends in Maridi who are suffering. Some of her other Link churches have already done this and she was able to provide meals for the small school children. Do please support this event generously. There will be a stall selling crafts from CMS that are at rock bottom prices as CMS are closing their shop at the Oxford offices.

Pray for peace to come to South Sudan and for the people to be reconciled together. Pray too for Lynn to be restored to full health so that she can return to Maridi.

Joan Plumptre

Celebrating 40 Years

The Vicar and Wardens presented Joy Blake with a card and a shrub rose “Benjamin Britten” in gratitude for her 40 years of devoted service to All Saints’ as organist, not only playing almost every Sunday but also for numerous weddings, funerals and other events.

Joy told the congregation that when Jack Whittaker was appointed vicar in January 1977, the previous organist had recently left. Joy and Colin Bezant were both members of the choir and Colin suggested that they should jointly apply. Joy was a little unsure as neither were trained organists but Colin said “If we offer to do it unpaid, they might accept” – and indeed they did!

Some years later, Colin moved to Yorkshire and Joy has continued ever since.

JESUS . . . “and was made MAN” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we look at the other side of the amazing truth that Jesus is both divine and human. Already, thinking about Christ’s divinity, we saw that unless Jesus was truly and wholly God, he could not bridge the gap between fallen humanity and world and God our heavenly Father. That only God in our humanity and flesh could undo the consequences of human greed, lust, hatred and other terrible wrongdoing. Only he could totally transform lives and usher in a new and better Kingdom of gracious Love; indeed an earthly Kingdom that he had always planned and longed to establish for the rest of time. A Kingdom that truly reflects the life of Heaven itself. Note the Lord’s own prayer: “Our Father…”. Just pray it now if you will, or at the end.

Now we must look at another vitally important truth, that unless Jesus was also fully and wholly human, he could not truly represent and speak for us; actually show the kind of life he longed for us to have, and take whatever steps were necessary to rectify the brokenness and hurt in our humanity and world. Even as we shall see, giving his very life for us in loving Sacrifice. That in every respect he was just like each one of us, with a real flesh and blood body, mind soul and spirit; and knowing all the pain, limitations and privations that we experience. And our hopes and longings too, yet without the sin and flaws that make up our humanity (See Hebrews 4:14-16). He is truly Friend and Brother in our flesh and nature; a sure Companion and Guide for life’s journey of faith; also in its discovery and learning, and its sicknesses, trials and challenges too. So he may indeed be called Redeemer & Saviour and lovingly accepted. With secure promises he will never fail us or let us down.

It means thinking about the Church’s belief in the Virgin Birth; that Mary the human mother of the incarnate Jesus, conceived her Son not by a human agency – her espoused husband-to-be Joseph – but by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s an article of faith attested by the Gospel writers who had been close to Mary herself, had heard her life story and knew that what she claimed rang wholly true to her life of utter devotion to her Son, which had its real pain and sorrow too. She had nothing to gain by making up some kind of strange fiction; in fact only the doubts and scorn of neighbours. Even Joseph found it hard to accept until his trusting prayer was answered by God. (See Matthew 1:18-21).

Some Christians however over the years have doubted this belief, saying that if Mary and Joseph had had their son in the ordinary human way Jesus could still have been the world’s Redeemer. That God’s power is such that a Virgin Birth was not necessary! For them this is just beautiful story, myth or legend and not historic fact, though nevertheless containing an important message, that in the human Jesus of Nazareth, God was at work reconciling all to the Father. There have always been those who could not accept the full divinity of Christ, claiming that the human Jesus, a truly great teacher and prophet, was adopted into a special relationship with the Father, but was not divine from all eternity.

The very first Christians however, and certainly the physician-historian St Luke (whose accuracy in Gospel writing is second to none) really did believe the truth of the Virgin Birth. So from the earliest days it was enshrined in the official Creeds of the Church. It was seen as underlining the belief that Mary, though plainly surprised, yet in faith and trust freely gave her body to be home for the Eternal Son of God. She accepted that the Holy Spirit would make the conception possible.

Every ordinary human birth is always wonderful, even miraculous. Yet the birth of Jesus, the very “Son of the Highest”, must surely be the greatest miracle of all. (See Luke 1:30-32). It was a divine not a human wisdom and plan. So we can recite the Nicene Creed with confident faith, just as we can accept the reliability of God’s holy Word of Scripture. God does not mock or deceive us, nor lead us astray! And this belief affirms that God is God, and can display his power in whatever way is necessary to show that perfect Love which is his (for he can do no other); and so work out his good purposes. All his work is for the best good of the whole creation, and for all people whom he loves with infinite care and tenderness, and without exception! (Note 1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Having looked at this miracle of Christ’s actual birth, we have also to think about the other Gospel miracles of which the most outstanding will always be the Resurrection of Jesus. They deny full human understanding of course, for they are beliefs which ring true far more in human experience than in any purely human logic or reasoning. They make powerful meaningful difference to our innermost hearts and feelings, to the depths of the human soul and spirit, and how in consequence we live our lives. And they do require acts of pure faith, a great leap forward, a trust in what has been shown to be true countless times over in the experience of others.

All this the Gospel records show decisively and with certainty, as do the moving stories of the Acts, the Epistles, and Church history century after century. And though they are issues of faith, they are altogether rational, do not oppose good common sense, nor do they conflict with the scientific mind and approach to truth.

The question now is what do we make of the other though minor miracles? Our era is a scientific age and rightly critical. Everything is tested and scrutinised. And there may well be straight forward natural ways now of understanding some of the Gospel miracles described there as supernatural happenings. New Testament scholars do have differing views here.

Modern medicine and psychology certainly see much of what is described as demonic possession and such like as mental illness or other human disorders. But for many of the miracles there can be no other explanation than that of something outside and beyond an everyday natural explanation. There we see the human Jesus at work displaying a strong trust in his Father, showing us that amazing things can be done if we have sufficient trust! And we should never just think of miracles as the work of the divine part of Christ’s nature. Indeed it’s a mistake to see any division in the life of Jesus, a split between his two natures of divinity and humanity. Jesus is One Person, not two!

God has certainly given us wonderful minds to think with, to reason and to question, even to have doubts; all a necessary part of the journey of faith. And we should let the Gospels speak their own distinctive compelling and wonderful message, knowing that we will never get to the bottom of many of the questions we are bound to ask. John Henry Newman made a thoughtful comment once: “Sanctified imagination is the highway to faith”.

“Dethroning Mammon” by Justin Welby

Every day the media and advertisers parade before our eyes and ears ‘must have’ gadgets, expensive fashions and accessories, luxurious holidays, new models of cars, offers of loans and credit . . . Do you feel that modern life is a maelstrom of information and news related to money, finance, economics, giving the impression that this is the most important, perhaps the only, area of life worthy of our attention? Do you ever stop to ask yourself, “How does all this relate to my Christian faith?”

In this book, his first full-length one, the Archbishop of Canterbury looks at several incidents as Jesus travels to Jerusalem towards the crucifixion. He argues against a tendency to judge success and worth purely on the basis of what can be measured financially. He feels strongly this has distorted and corrupted society and has led to a fundamentally unchristian view that a healthy bank balance or even a strong economy is “the goal”, an end in itself, rather than to be used as a means to do good. The Archbishop believes that the more interconnected the world becomes, the greater the tendency for power to be held over individuals and nations by economics, by money, by flows of finance; these are forces which he defines collectively as “Mammon” a word, derived from Aramaic, and used in the New Testament to mean the power of wealth or riches.

The book is intended mainly for individual devotional use during Lent and is a challenge to Christians—and non-Christians—about their attitude to and use of wealth. But the Archbishop also makes comments applicable to the UK in the light of Brexit, when he says: “It is essential that the new United Kingdom outside Europe is not built to a design drawn by Mammon . . . materialism is not the answer to the challenges we face. Rather we need a deep sense of the priority of the human person, whoever they are and wherever they come from. We need to remind ourselves that Mammon always deceives his followers. A campaign fought on his agenda will lead to division and despair.”

He finishes the book with a challenge to each of us: “Who is on the throne of your life: Mammon or Christ? What might God be calling you to do next?”

Definitely worth reading—hurry to the Mustard Seed and buy your copy!

Review by Keith Thrower.

Dethroning Mammon; ISBN 978-1-4729-2977-8 (Pub: Bloomsbury Continuum)

A ‘Possible’ Invitation

On 15th January this year Steve preached about Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples and suggested that we might issue an unconditional invitation to people we meet in our everyday lives to come to All Saints or St Mary’s and see what we do. If they do come we have to convince them that the Christian message is still a relevant one.

Two thousand years ago Christianity started when people were attracted to the personality of Jesus. The crowds gathered not to be given a creed but to meet and listen to him. Our movement was started when Jesus invited people to be his disciples with the simple words, “Follow me”. He asked them for their unreserved loyalty, to give up everything, at once, without a word of excuse or protest, and go after him. “Follow me” was the sum of all that he had to say to them.

That invitation still stands. But how can people follow Jesus today? Many people recognise Christian teaching and generally approve of it and say that they’d like to be able to conform to it and to see others, nations as well as individuals, do the same. But there are difficulties.

One of them is in relating Jesus to the concrete situations in which they find themselves today. How does the twenty-first century Briton emulate a first century life? We live in a highly complex, mechanised, industrialised and competitive society, whereas Jesus lived in one that was largely rural and pastoral. And the character of life was different. He wasn’t married, didn’t have to set up a home. He left the carpenter’s shop to become an itinerant preacher. The simplicity of his life and the excellence of his character make an unfailing appeal. But today, with family claims, business interests, and property concerns, people want to know whether it’s possible to transfer any pattern of behaviour from his life to their own.

Is the teaching of Jesus relevant nowadays? Can people get the direction they need to grapple with the moral dilemmas of our complex modern world? There are people who appear disappointed by what seem to them the limitations and inadequacies of Jesus’s teaching in this respect. So many of their problems, they say, aren’t mentioned in the Gospels, especially the problems of public life – the possession of property, the nature of government, and the policies of nations in their dealings with one another.

But they don’t understand what Jesus came to do. They look at Jesus’ teaching and expecting to find a set of rules, a code, an ethical guide-book covering every contingency in life and providing rule-of-thumb directions for all ethical dilemmas, personal and social. There is no such code in the Gospels.

Jesus wasn’t a lawmaker. He didn’t try to provide a complete compendium of moral duties. He described a way of life and by his words and actions showed that it was do-able. The value of his teaching is not in telling us how we ought to behave in every circumstance and in every relationship, but in describing a way of life to be worked out in personal character and social relationships.

So long as this is remembered no one is likely to label Jesus’ teaching as antiquated or irrelevant. Too much can be made of the difference between his world and ours. In many ways it was a world strikingly like our own. Then as now there were people organising their grievances in self-righteous pressure groups – insisting on their rights, aggressive, grasping. Then as now the Haves were ranged against the Have-Nots and there was suspicion, animosity and friction. Then as now there wars and rumours of wars, and a background of exploitation, oppression, and unrest. Christ lived in a world which in the basic essentials was extraordinarily like our own.

The truths he taught and the issues he dealt with are timeless. The human heart has not changed with the years – its loves and hates, its hopes and fears, its joys and sorrows, its temptations, passions and failures. He spoke about sin, and how deliverance from it can be found; about the cares and anxieties of daily existence and pointed a way to a simple, un-harassed life. He spoke of the human soul, of its worth, its rights, its possibilities, its responsibilities. He spoke confidently and convincingly of God as the Father of men, answering and satisfying the deepest craving of their spirits.

What is there in this that is irrelevant today, that would justify us chaining Jesus to the first century and denying his validity now? You cannot date Jesus. “Heaven and earth,” he said, “shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” His words are as alive with spiritual appeal today as when they were first spoken. Has there been any age when the Beatitudes, or the parable of the good Samaritan, or the Golden Rule weren’t deeply relevant?

There is, however, another and greater difficulty. Some people, although they know Jesus offers a solution to the problems of our lives, doubt the practicability of the solution. The way of life is beautiful and noble but isn’t it too idealistic, high and hard for ordinary people? They persuade themselves that there must be an easier way, something less demanding or perfectionist, and that the honest thing is to own up to not being a Christian. They may say that there would soon be an end to all our troubles if only people would act in accordance with the teaching of Jesus. It is a big “if”. It would be a wonderful world if everybody lived by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, but with those principles so demanding, with the world and human nature what it is, what prospect is there for such a world?

Yes, Jesus does set us high standards. Let me name some of them. We are: to put God and not self first; not to be anxious about food or clothes or money; to be absolutely honest; to love our enemies; to forgive always ‘those who sin against us’; to be perfect as God is perfect. What claims Jesus makes on human nature! What an optimist he is! Men didn’t always show him their best side but he believed in them and their ability to meet his challenge. He never gives up on humanity. He is always calling on people to be bigger, braver, wiser and more God-like in the living of their lives. He never speaks as though evil is permanently rooted in the order of things. It is because he sees us as children of God that he makes such exacting demands and pitches things so high.

We need a faith like that today. There are too many among us who view the mean and debasing elements in humanity as impossible to correct, who view any talk about the Golden Rule and a warless world as being a waste of breath.

Of all the obstacles standing in the way of a better world this is the most powerful, this cynicism about the possibility of changing human nature. There was no such cynicism in Jesus. He wasn’t blind to the evil in people, but there was something else he never lost sight of – the wonderful latent goodness in ordinary men and women.

He saw hidden possibilities in everybody he met and believed they could be called into life. His standards are high, but he doesn’t expect us to attain them without help. We aren’t left by ourselves. God is always at hand enabling the person who turns to him to do things which are impossible to mere human nature. Jesus repeatedly emphasised that – that if we’d get in touch with God we’d receive the power to rise to finer and better things.

If that way of life is to become a reality for us, we have to learn to live by the help and grace of God. That was Jesus’ secret. He lived by the help and grace of God, and taught that all of us, day by day, hour by hour, may do the same.

To follow Jesus isn’t easy. But if we want to follow him, and will turn to God for strength, a power will take possession of us that will enable us to dare and do the impossible. This is not romancing. It has happened in previous generations and is happening to men and women today.

I know there are some of us who are drawn to the Christian life but are afraid of failing to reach Christ’s standards. We must remember that we are not alone. God is with us and we can draw on his Spiritual resources. Remember what Jesus said when his disciples thought his demands were so hard and high that nobody could rise to them, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Get those invitations out!