Exploring the Nicene Creed

JESUS . . . “on the third day he rose again”

This is the foundation stone of the Christian Faith and Religion. It’s the truth of faith upon which all other Christian beliefs depend and hold together. It’s the fulcrum or heart centre of Christianity. If it was not true there would have been no Christian Church at all. And I would not be writing this article! Jesus was indeed raised to life again after that terribly cruel unjust death; had met his disciples as he had promised giving them determined conviction and assurance to continue the work he had begun. Without that glorious realisation those dispirited followers would have given up entirely, and it would have been the end of the story! But it was not so! See Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 & 12-14; 1 Peter 1:3-4. Hence this Creed firmly asserts: “In accordance with the Scriptures” of the New Testament and also in fulfilment of the Old Testament. See Luke 24:13-27.

The Gospel story is a full honest account of those 1st Century earth shaking events. It tells the story exactly as it happened hiding none of the injured feelings, the wounded expectations or shattered hopes of those men and women who had given their all for Jesus. They had risked their reputations, their very lives and livelihoods too. And though Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised to life after his crucifixion and death, it had not really sunk in. They simply hated the whole idea. See: Matthew 16:21-23. And worse, most of the disciples deserted him at the end; Judas betrayed him; even their leader Peter denied him three times. They did not want to see the Master they had come to love so much, humiliated, tortured and crucified; the one with such wonderful teachings; such generous love and compassionate concern for all others. At the close of that day we now call Good Friday (and the bleak Saturday that followed), those saddened men and women must have felt all they had set their hopes on was total failure, appalling disaster, a dreadful end. They had still to learn that the Sacrifice Jesus was prepared to make was far from being a total let down and tragedy, but a Salvation Victory of the widest impact and importance. See 1 Peter 3:18.

On that first Easter Sunday morning it was the women who had always faithfully cared for Jesus and the disciples (especially Mary Magdalene healed so tenderly by him), that made the first approaches to the tomb. They did not expect to find it empty! Their sheer love for Jesus was to do the only thing they could still do, to anoint his body in accord with gracious custom. The empty tomb was the greatest surprise of all possible surprises. Then next, joy of joys, for a few fleeting minutes later that morning, to actually meet and see Jesus fully alive with a now transformed body; and to hear him speak to them reassuringly. That lifted their hearts and souls to heights of pure joy, renewed faith, hope, and undying love for him. Then soon after many of the men folk also visited the empty tomb, received the great surprise, and awaited Christ’s visit to them. Mark 16; Luke 24; Matthew 28; John 20.

That wonderful experience of Christ’s Resurrection would carry them all into new deeper dimensions of faith, brand new life, wider purpose and goals, and the building of Christian Fellowship and Church that would go on and on century after century until the end of time. We must never lose sight of the fact that it was mostly the women folk, with Mary Christ’s mother, who held firm in that terrible time; and though scarcely believing that their Lord would be resurrected, nevertheless showed love and loyalty to the end. The Eastern Churches have long called Mary Magdalene the Queen of the Apostles, for she (perhaps in reward for her great love) was the first chosen witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:11-18. It has however taken the Church a long long time to give women a real apostleship or episcopal role in Christian Ministry; and even now not all Churches have taken this step. Steadily it is happening and some Churches now accept women in ordained ministry. We cannot confine the Holy Spirit to any past age, culture or theology. All too often he has his own plans that cancel or exceed ours! He is a God of Surprises. He does new things calling us to new ways in every age. That too is what resurrection is all about.

The resurrection was indeed a great surprise! It still is for anyone and everyone who will take that step of faith and trust, accepting the Word of God with its clear testimonies of those first Christians. What they proclaimed was no cooked up fiction. The tomb was empty! No one, no Jewish or Roman authorities, produced a body. The Gospel resurrection accounts (though having small differences of detail) tell a consistent uniform theme. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus proved very costly for many Christians in those early years and later centuries, and still does for many. Most of the first disciples gave their lives in martyrdom for their beliefs; for Jesus, the risen and reigning eternal Son of God. Christians still die for their faith in many parts of our world. Always we should value our freedom to believe, never taking it for granted; showing genuine thanks, by steadfast witness to that faith, by prayerful worship, support for one another, and loving service to all.

So let’s sum up the full impact and meaning of this great truth. First it confirmed and sealed forever the whole purpose of the huge Sacrifice that Christ made for us; his truly real and human life amongst us; his passion and death on that holy Cross; and a “love so amazing so divine” that  filled every moment, thought, and deed of his entire life. It proclaims the Victory of the Cross, not apparent failure or disaster. It confirms the Atonement: reconciliation to our Father Creator God, of a good yet broken damaged humanity and world. It asserts that this world and all creation is essentially good, for God made it so. That his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm that goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it. Genesis 1:10 ff, Acts 14:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17.

The Resurrection is also the pattern or prototype and sure guarantee, of our individual resurrection to glory with God, now and in heaven. And for every single soul without exception, all made in the image of God, and meant to share eternal life with the Father, Son and Spirit. Note John 6:39: that no one at all is excluded from the Father’s purpose, who has given everyone to his Son to redeem, and that he will lose no one! It does indeed spell out our resurrection to life here and now a life daily lived in the presence of the Risen Christ; with his sure graceful guidance, healing and forgiveness, enrichment and joy beyond compare. The Gospel describes it as abundant life – nothing less (John 10:10). A life where all creation, everything around us, all beauty, all art and music, all that is done and made for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness reveals the life and presence and goodness of God. Please make a resurrection prayer yourself and I will add “Amen”.

George Abell

Christianity—a Practical Religion

When we look around at the people we meet in Church, I’m sure we see a good number of practical people. And I’m sure that most of us would like to be thought of as practical people. We don’t hold dreamers or idealists in very high esteem, in fact we probably get rather impatient with some of their notions. OK, we may not see many visions, but we do like to get something done. Castles in the air are too wishy-washy for us. We want something solid that’s wind and weatherproof. Great ideas are all very well, but we have to deal with things as they are. There’s so little that gets done, and there’s so much to be done that we really haven’t got time for dreams.

The world needs workers and the best that we can do with what there is of our lives is to pack them as full as we can with practical usefulness. If you come across a lame dog by a stile, you know it wants something more than a stimulating talk on the art of jumping. Our duty is not to waste time in thinking how splendid it would be if there were no lame dogs and no difficult stiles in the world, but just to help the dog get over the stile.

I remember my Granny saying, “A pennyworth of practical help is worth a pound’s worth of sympathy any day of the week.” She wasn’t underrating the value of sympathy, but simply saying that if a pound’s worth of sympathy can’t be converted into at least a pennyworth of real human service, then that sympathy is a pretty poor thing. To feel pity and to do nothing makes an emotional luxury of something meant to stir us into giving practical help. Life is very short for all of us. If we want to leave our corner of the world a little cleaner, healthier, and brighter than when we found it, we need to cut down the talking and arguing about it and get on with the work required.

Christianity is a very practical religion with the aims of preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and blind, comforting the broken-hearted, freeing the oppressed. Practical programmes. There’s enough work to keep us busy for as long as we live.

Jesus was always at work. He was always doing good to somebody, sometimes preaching or teaching, healing, comforting, rebuking – always at work. And I don’t think we can really understand the Christian faith, unless we too are doing something for others. I may get into trouble for saying this, but some of the intellectual difficulties we have with our faith will never be solved by thinking. The only way in which we can see our way through them is by doing. It is by putting the precepts and principles of Christianity into practice, as much as we can, that we begin to understand them. Christ comes to meet us where  we are. If we are trying honestly to do our Christian duty, we shall find Jesus one day standing alongside us.

It’s amazing how many of life’s puzzles are solved when we set to and help others. We’ll never understand everything in this world. It isn’t as though we were sent into this world to make a sketch map of the universe. We shan’t be judged by what we understand but by what we do and were. God gives us all enough light to work by. It will be time enough to understand when we have finished the work that he has given us to do.

The life of the Christian is all coming and going – coming to Jesus for the strength that he alone can give us, going back into life to use that strength in doing good to those that need us, as and when and while we may. Do not dream your time away in wishing that the kingdom of God would come. Help it to come by doing your bit in your own corner of the world. Try to translate the dream into business. It’s a hard task, I know. I find it hard. So, I expect, do you. We can only do our best. We can only try our hardest. But if we keep on trying our hardest and patiently aiming at our best, God may work in us, and through us, in ways we just can’t imagine.

My apologies for the blunt bits in this article, reading it through I realise that I’m actually addressing myself as much as anybody. Happy Easter! May you, like Mary, find the Master standing beside you.

Max Young

Reading Revelation

3rd Reading

This was quite a different reading from the previous two, begun in response to Graham Scott Brown’s challenge in January. For the record, I used the New American Bible this time. Frankly – and this is not related to the bible version chosen – after praying for guidance and being receptive during the reading, I was at first intimidated by the evil, the horror; I found I had to break off reading from time to time – for relief. I am glad I persisted.

Knowing the book’s shape now, from two careful readings aloud, I expected the opening of the seals and the blowing of trumpets – and all the dire and immediate consequences that follow from them. Jane Austen would no doubt describe these dreadful consequences as ‘unfortunate’ – but they cannot be lightly or politely dismissed: at a deeper level, that imagined ‘unfortunate’ comment rings true, anyway. What happens, happens as a result of humankind, and much of the created order, being corrupted by power, wealth, refusing to acknowledge Jesus and all the other whiles of Satan.

These consequences are direct responses to individual and collective sin: as the reader is invited, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.’ (4:1b). That little word ‘must’ hit me hard: it comes at the start of Chapters 4 and 5 which lay before us an uplifting image of worship in heaven. To be possibly deprived of participation in that worship set me on edge as the fearful consequences are relentlessly rolled out in what follows. Negotiation and mediation, so much part of my teaching in Geneva, have absolutely no functions here.

The opening text of Revelation (1:3) says, ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and blessed are those who heed its prophetic message in it, for the appointed time is near’. John, the author of Revelation who gives us these messages, writes clearly in light of a certainty that the end time is near. It is too easy to dismiss the extraordinary, apocalyptic images and events as being only germane to late-1st century Christian perceptions and forecasts, living under Roman and other persecution.

The messages go deeper. It helped, for example, seeing the now-heavenly martyrs’ vindictive language of revenge against their tormentors (6:9-10, 18:1-19:4) as a startlingly helpful way of imagining apostasy and worse being severely punished by God – it is saying nothing about the martyrs themselves adopting the attitudes of their persecutors.

A book in the New Testament canon is there because of its timeless application. Revelation is the same – but tougher going. This time through, I read it much more like that; paradoxically, it got easier as a result.

That said, I will pick up the NIV to read the book aloud once again – and, once again, with considerable trepidation. Perhaps it is just as T S Eliot wrote: ‘humankind cannot bear too much reality’.

4th Reading

More than with the previous readings, this fourth visitation to the extraordinary world of ‘The Revelation to John’ saw the whole book as a letter – not just the letters to the seven churches with which the book opens, but a letter to all of us, as imperfect followers of Christ. Read like that, it ‘fits’ into the New Testament as the culmination of the 22 letters that begin with Paul writing to the Romans. As a result, after finishing the book, I found myself drawn back to the letters dictated to John for the seven churches in ‘Asia’ and reading them over once more. Part of the reason for this is that our benefice is undergoing changes with Steve, our new incumbent: of the letters Jesus dictates directly to John (chapters 2 and 3), what specific questions arise for us? I did not reach any firm conclusions but the exploration was fascinating.

Each of the letters has three elements: a recognition of good things; mention of serious shortfalls or temptations; and the eternal rewards for the faithful.

  • Among positive aspects of the churches – each being different – are energy and effort in church activities and worship, rejection of false prophets, temptations being avoided, not letting poverty diminish faith, martyrdom, and doing good deeds for the poor.
  • The letters point out the several challenges being faced – a fading of love for God and his creation, toleration of the followers of Balaam or Jezebel within congregations, church activities that hide actual spiritual death, lukewarm faith and complacency (even apostasy).
  • Providing the challenges are met, the variety of rewards are: to eat from the tree of life, to suffer no ‘second death’ after earthly death, enjoy secret nourishment from heaven, rule the nations (and be given the morning star!), to be clothed in white and be retained in the book of life, become citizens of the new Jerusalem, full fellowship with Christ and to sit on his throne.

Strikingly, the greatest gifts are reserved for the two weakest churches (Smyrna: poor but resilient; Philadelphia: small, beset by a rival, Gentile and Judaizing ‘synagogue’ but steadfast). Much of the rest of Revelation concerns what inevitably happens to the people for whom the challenges are either too much or simply rejected – or who have been tempted into sin by Satan. It is an observation on the book that can only be met with deep reflection and prayer for ourselves to be better servants of Jesus.

“Come up here”, Jesus says to John, “and I will show you what must happen in the future!”. For all that that sentence implies, I am most grateful to Graham Scott Brown for suggesting this four-fold reading aloud of Revelation. I know just a little of the book now – but a lot more than of other books that I thought I knew much better. Above all, to my surprise, it reads like a letter to me – which will richly repay yet more study.

Peter Foot

April

This poem was written before the Second World War by Glenys King who was brought up in Little Coxwell with Betty Humphries, another member of St Mary’s congregation. Apparently there was quite an ‘exodus’ of villagers to pick flowers for Easter. Fernham Copse was on the Uffington Road out of Fernham and was cut down for the war effort.

Good Friday saw an exodus
We went on foot – there was no bus.
And it was a long way to walk,
But we would skip and laugh and talk,
And the time would soon elapse,
And we’d arrive at Fernham Copse.
There, amidst it’s leafy bowers
We’d pick all the leaves and flowers
That we possibly could.
It was a lovely primrose wood.
Then, home again we’d wend our way,
Very contented with our day,
But Ringdale Hill seemed very steep
As we climbed it with tired feet.
Journeys end was then in sight
And, tired, we’d have an early night.
Next morning, bright and alert,
We’d take our primroses to church,
For them to be arranged in little vases,
And arrayed at the Easter Sunday service.
The church looked lovely on Easter Day,
And we had helped in our small way.
We looked around with great satisfaction,
Then turned our thoughts to the chocolate confection,
Awaiting us when we got home.
Oh! Didn’t the sermon make us groan,
And time really did seem to drag,
Because all we wanted was our Easter Egg . . .
Glenys King

Reading Revelation: 1st & 2nd Readings

In January 2017, both St Mary’s and All Saints’ were challenged to read the Book of Revelation four times before Easter. Graham Scott-Brown preached ‘the whole book’ to both churches and I have taken up the challenge and will, thanks to our editor’s kindness, provide outlines of how each reading goes – what stands out, what I missed before, what is reinforced, and how it leads to discovery.

We were advised to do two things in our readings: (1) read slowly and aloud, and (2) avoid getting bogged down in all the numbers that are strewn through the text and can easily distract. Hard though it will be, I will use no commentators on the book throughout my readings. I do all this not to parade my thin theology, or to enable others to avoid the challenge of four readings of the final book in the canon, but as an individual’s exploration to be shared and as a general encouragement in Bible reading – and to keep me true to the commitment undertaken.

First Reading, 31st  January 2017

As I have not read the book in its entirety before, much was a complete surprise. Prior to this, I was sort-of familiar with the first three chapters – the vision of Jesus and the letters to the seven churches – and the opening to chapter 21, beginning with “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. As I found out: that is not much to be going on with.

My current research focus is Eusebius, the influential author of the first history of the church, from its beginnings to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. He is quite vague on Revelation – ‘add the Book to the canon’, he says, ‘if appropriate’. My first go-through was against that background and immediately found such vagueness incomprehensible. The Book of Revelation seems much more of a “Marmite” question, rather than this shillyshallying. As Graham’s sermon indicated it might be, the reading produces an amazing impression of colour and movement, strangeness and terror, ending in the well-known images of the New Jerusalem.

The reading released my own imagination while at the same time showing how limited it is. Curiously, I was constantly reminded of the battle scenes in the books and films, Tolkien’s Ring trilogy and the Harry Potter series. Visually, both sets of films depend on the imagery that is created in Revelation: vast forces of good and evil in terrible, defining combat. For Frodo and Harry, the ‘good’ outcome is a desperate, last-throw moment against the evil that almost prevails: evil clearly loses but is left in such a condition as to be able to return at some future point and challenge for ultimate triumph. Perhaps that is inevitable in writing or filming a series.

Revelation was different for me in two ways. First, in the book, the outcome of God’s forces triumphing is utterly certain. Satan does not have the options of Sauron and Voldemort after defeat: he, his beasts and minions are hurled into everlasting torture. At that point, the rewards of heaven are showered on the martyrs and the Christians who have been true to Jesus. That inevitability is clearly and only because of Jesus and the victory he won for us all on the cross.

Secondly, neither J R R Tolkien nor J K Rowling suggest any confusion between the two ‘sides’: evil is transparently so and always does evil; good has its troubles and doubts but remains clearly on the side of the angels. But in Revelation, events happen at Heaven’s command that are themselves terrifying: here, angels are told, “Go, and empty the seven bowls of God’s anger over the earth” (16:2) is just one example.

I found this ‘Old Testament’ and troubling – and to be explored more deeply before the next reading in a couple of weeks. Maybe – just maybe – such events and images also disturbed my friend, Eusebius, 1700 years ago, so as to make him pause before recommending the Book as part of the canon. Let’s just hope he came to like Marmite.

Second Reading, 14th  February 2017

The Good News Bible was my text for reading aloud this time. Now I am all in favour of the Bible being as accessible to as many people as possible – what’s the point of Protestantism if not that? – but the use of more ordinary language does generally flatten the ‘extraordinary’ that is at the heart of Revelation.

For two reasons, I felt very close to my late father in this read-through. First, he was very strict in retiring after breakfast for his time of meditation. As one of five rowdy, naughty kids, this was the one time when not a one of us ever did anything to disturb him. His particular brand of Christianity was acutely conscious of the parallel world of the divine; archangels and heavenly beings were a subject of study for him. He continued that interest to the end of his days, dying at 92 in 2009.

Secondly, my two Rudolf Steiner Schools were both named after St Michael. At the bottom of the main stairs of one of them there was what we all assumed, being British, was a modern bas relief of St George slaying the dragon. In fact, every day at Dad’s choice of school, I passed the scene, largely unaware, of St Michael defeating Satan.

Even the Good News Bible cannot diminish all sense of the immensity of heaven as pictured, coloured, populated and moved with divine beings doing the will of Jesus, the Lamb and of God. Perhaps only an extraordinary imagination like William Blake’s – one of his painting of St Michael is pictured – can risk making permanent the images that swirl through the mind on reading Revelation.

But all of us are shifted, put off balance, set wondering, relieved that – at last, after terrible plagues and strange, sudden exterminations of a third of the earth, seas and sky and all of their living creatures – ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ are finally put in place. We are all invited: ‘Come, whoever is thirsty: accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it’ (22:17).

That invitation I missed on reading the first time and, by echoing the words of Jesus at the well (see John 4:13,14), answered my problem with the preceding ‘Old Testament’ retributive text. And there is hope that mankind will learn: the first woe (the Good News Bible, interestingly, has ‘horror’) visited upon us at the end of time leaves us unmoved, continuing worshipping idols and unrepentant (9:20-21).

By the second horror, we are shown to be terrified and praising the greatness of God (11:13). Compared to the vastness of forces at work across the book, this is a small movement but it warmed my heart.

John Milton has God say of mankind, as St Michael battles Satan in Paradise Lost, ‘I suspend their doom’. Of Revelation’s many messages, this time it was (again, in Milton’s words): ‘Remember, and fear to transgress’.

Peter Foot

Do You Feel ‘Up Against It’?

I was feeling pretty low at one point in January due to a variety of things – perhaps I had a slight case of Seasonally Affective Disorder, affected by the fog as it and life seemed to close around me. Anyway, I met a number of people who were also finding life a bit of a struggle for reasons that were far worse than mine, and knowing that seemed to jog me out of a rather introverted spell.

Thinking and praying for these people brought to mind one of those phrases to describe them as being people who were ‘up against it’. Like the foggy weather at the time the phrase lacks clarity. What is the ‘it’ that some people are up against? I don’t think that it’s life, because we have to deal with that every day. It can’t be God, or anything to do with the will of God, because if that was the case what could possibly save us from a final and irretrievable despair?

‘It’ must be a circumstance or a combination of circumstances that are on our minds that seems to haunt us, like an unseen enemy that’s trying to hurt us, physically, mentally or spiritually. We’re probably all aware, to some degree, of what that feels like but it’s not always easy to put into words.

Of course, we’re all individually very different and so we react to the challenge of being ‘up against it’ in very different ways. Some people seem to almost thrive on being ‘up against it’. They think about their situation as a challenge, a test of the stuff they’re made of. They refuse to be beaten, or if they are beaten they’ll jolly well go down fighting. This is the stuff that heroes and heroines are made of, those who throughout history faced pain, peril and hardship and stubbornly refused to give in, and in Harry Lauder’s words kept ‘right on to the end of the road.’

Some of us are not nearly as brave as the ‘bulldog breed’ and when we feel ‘up against it’, we get demoralised almost at once. We become out of sorts with everybody and are bitter and resentful that life isn’t as easy as we want it, so we tend, if we can, to find some way of escaping the challenge. If we know people like this, including ourselves, then we mustn’t be hard on them.

There are people like this who have tried hard and held their own for years. Then there came a breaking point, when, totally worn down, they felt they couldn’t go on. To meet people who are at this point, to see their unhappiness and hopelessness is one of the most tragic things I know.  What they need is not our contempt but our sympathy, not our indifference but our urgent help.

So, how can we help each other in an emergency of this kind? I think that if it’s ourselves we’ve categorized as ‘up against it’, we ought to be really certain that things are as we think they are – I mean, that they’re not something we’re imagining. When life looks dark, the explanation might be that we’ve put on dark glasses. It is quite possible to feel ‘up against it’ when all the time we’re only up against ourselves as I was in January.

But what about our faith? Where and how does that come in? It may well be that life seems too much for us, if we’ve only got our own resources to count on, but we’re devaluing our faith if we forget about our God and his power and his grace. God’s power isn’t a final resource,  that we only call up when everything else has fallen by the wayside. God’s grace represents the normal, everyday need of every one of us. Maybe it’s this that people forget – perhaps because God has been excluded from their daily lives and only when they are ‘in extremis’ do they remember that he is there beside them in the person of Jesus.

Quite possibly it may be the forgetfulness of this fact – with the neglect, for example, of daily prayer – that has brought us to where we are – ‘up against it’. If any of us have kept God out of our lives, can we wonder at our confusion and despair? Prayer is the threshold over which God steps to be in our spiritual home, to stand beside us and share and support all aspects of our lives – to change our attitude from “I’m up against it” to “We’re in this together”. Put out the welcome mat and open the door!

Max Young

JESUS . . . “for our sake He was crucified” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

There was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in
Mrs C F Alexander

These lines from the well known much loved children’s hymn “There is a green hill far away…” tell in the simplest straightforward way the historic truth of Christ’s death in a most cruel, utterly unjust way. It says why only Jesus could fully and truly save us; why it was actually necessary, and what it achieved.

Briefly we call these truths of faith The Atonement i.e. making possible at-oneness and reconciliation, with God. Our purpose now is to explore further the meaning of this event of nearly 2,000 years ago on the day Christians have long called Good Friday.

There are several ways of trying to understand this truth of faith which is both appalling and terrible on the one hand, and yet can be described as Good on the other. The worst thing that ever could happen in the terrible death of Jesus has brought about the best things that ever could, bringing about our full eternal salvation.

Atonement doctrines attempt to express with varying emphases, the way the first Christians and others in later years tried to make sense of Christ’s passion, suffering and final death. At the very heart of the Gospel story and preaching were these major events in the last year of the life of Jesus. They take up many pages in each of the four written Gospels. It was also expounded again and again with earnest conviction by Paul and Peter, by the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, and many others to the very last book, Revelation.

In these articles I have tried to show that it was necessary for God himself to take the amazing initiative of divine reconciling redemptive Love: to bring forgiveness and healing to our fallen world and all humanity; a world sadly wounded and damaged by human greed, lust and selfishness, terrible hatred, war and intolerance. It meant coming into the very heart of the creation itself. As I quoted earlier from Bishop Augustine in the 5th Century: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman might become the sons and daughters of God”.

It was both a rescue operation and a programme of teaching and re-education. Above all to demonstrate in the clearest possible way, that our Creator God is a God of unconditional, unlimited, generous forgiving Love; not that of a vengeful punishing Father. God’s true and best justice would be shown indeed, but in a way that turns upside down the way we humans see judgment and justice. God would take upon himself the consequences of what sin, evil and wrong can bring about. He would bear our sins and the due punishment himself! The incarnation was a risk of the highest order! It meant that God out of his sheer infinite love for his world, and for each and every single one of us without exception, would take the risk that his Love might well be misunderstood, derided, rejected, or even worse just disregarded by apathy or indifference. All this was the exceedingly costly and high ‘price of sin’. And he was prepared to pay it, and did so to the uttermost.

It was no purpose or pleasure of the Father to see his only beloved Son humiliated, tortured and crucified as a criminal; he the utterly innocent one, whose only desire and aim ever, was to bring healing and forgiveness, generous care wherever needed, and the highest good for all people. This was the price that blinded hearts and minds demanded! And what Christ did then, at a point in time and history, brings forever the same blessings of abundant life now; and with eternal salvation; and to all who will turn to him in trustful accepting faith. Please read some or all of the following: Mark 10:45 & 1 Timothy 2:3-6; John 10:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 & Ephesians 2:13-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Hebrews 12:1-3. Truly “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. Praise be to him!

To take all this in is far from easy. But one thing is sure, that once we do grasp something of the meaning of this divine Love for each one of us, we cannot help but change. A work of transforming grace follows in our hearts and lives. Amazingly divine Love flows into our souls and being. A profound difference is made. This is atonement taking place.

So what is asked of us who do respond to this truly amazing divine Love? There was after all nothing that we or anyone else could ever have achieved alone, by any purely human effort or means, however good; and that he will supply the ongoing grace until in his very presence in heaven we shall no longer need it.

Try to think of Christ’s dying for us like this. The gift of salvation through his great Sacrifice on the Cross means that we have now a wonderful home in this world, and eventually a far more wonderful home in heaven. For these we have very secure mortgages which we don’t have to pay. We don’t even have to the pay the interest! Jesus has done all that fully and adequately by his incarnate life amongst us; by his holy life-giving Cross; by his Resurrection and Ascension to glory; and by his constant unfailing intercession for us in heaven. As I have said before, all this is made truly real and wonderfully tangible in the Eucharistic Sacrament of Holy Communion. See: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & Hebrews 7:25.

With thankful hearts, and the desire to love and serve God and each other more and more, I will close quoting a verse from a much loved hymn of Fanny J. Crosby; and two other well known hymn lines. Make it yours too, as I pray will every son and daughter of our Father God.

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine;
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God;
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
Fanny Crosby

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts

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”.

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!

The Longworth Peal

The Hinton ringers are working to restore the bells at Longworth in their benefice that have been derelict since 1922.

They wanted to mark their campaign by ringing a peal on the centenary of the death of W.H. Rivers, the last Longworth Tower Captain, killed on the front line in the First World War but as Hinton church is undergoing major repairs Steve kindly gave them permission to ring it at All Saints’. All the ringers were in some way connected with the Longworth project.

The peal of 5040 Grandsire Triples (composed by J J Parker and conducted by Chris Pickford) took place at All Saints’ Faringdon on Thursday, 22nd December 2016 and took 2hrs 58 mins.

The ringers were:

Treble     Michele Winter                        Appleton

2              Valia Battat                  Hinton Waldrist

3              Steve Smith                Hinton Waldrist

4              Alan Eyles                   Christ Church Swindon

5              Jon Chamberlain        All Saints’ Faringdon

6              Alan Regin                  St Paul’s Cathedral, London

7              Chris Pickford                         Worcester Cathedral

Tenor      Brian Harris                 Christ Church Swindon

The bells were rung half-muffled to commemorate the centenary of the death of Private William Henry Rivers, Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd/4th Btn, killed in action at Albert, France on 22nd December 1916.

Alan Regin brought along the Rolls of Honour books which were displayed in the Barber Rooms during the peal. They are kept at St Paul’s and list the bell ringers who gave their lives for their country in the Great War. Entries of interest were not only William Rivers of Longworth but also F A Richings, P J Richings, T R Lardner and G W Haynes from All Saints’ Faringdon. In the ringing chamber at All Saints’ is a commemorative list of the ringers who died in the First World War. It includes A Walker. Does anyone know his story ?

Tunes are not possible on bells hung for English change ringing but because each bell is tuned to sound a chord the music is pleasing in whatever order they ring. Bell ringers’ tradition is to ring all possible changes to mark a special occasion. This would take about a minute at Buscot (4 bells, 24 changes) or 32 years at Oxford Cathedral (12 bells, 479 million changes) so since the eighteenth century, ringers have settled on the maximum number of seven bells (5040 changes, 3 hours) as a peal whatever the actual number of bells in the tower.

Anyone who is interested in ringing at Faringdon please contact us.