Steve writes: Jesus is alive today . . .

. . . I laughed as I said those words about 45 years ago, down the road from here in a student’s room at Jesus College. The reason I’d said them was in answer to the question “were there any Christians at your school?” – “yes”, I’d said “just some crazy fifth form girls who went around telling people that . . . Jesus is alive today”.

But as I was the only one laughing in that group, the penny dropped rather loudly that the supposedly intelligent undergraduates I was drinking coffee amongst all believed it to be true. I guess that ensured that I did make the effort to find out for myself the truth of the astonishing claim those girls at my school were sharing.

If Easter didn’t really happen and Jesus isn’t alive today in 2018, then there’s no Christian faith, but then there’d be no New Testament either- because it’s difficult to write a gospel when there’s no good news. The Sabbath-changing event which shifted worship for Christians from Saturday to Sunday is so revolutionary that it changes everything else as well. If no resurrection, then no All Saints’ Faringdon or any church at all for that matter ancient or modern, here or anywhere.

As a former Bishop of mine Tom Wright has said, ‘the only possible explanation for the rise of Christianity and for its taking the shape it did was that Jesus of Nazareth, three days after being very thoroughly dead (Roman executioners were professional killers) was found by his followers to be very thoroughly and very bodily alive again. His tomb was empty… and his followers really did see, touch and share food with Jesus as a real, bodily presence. Had they not, they would have concluded that an empty tomb meant that the grave had been robbed. The combination of empty tomb and definite, solid appearances is far and away the best explanation for everything that happened subsequently.

John Updike insists on this realness of Jesus’ resurrection in his Seven Stanzas at Easter – here are four of them:.

Make no mistake
if he rose at all
it was as his body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the
molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slowgrinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

Just as Jesus’ resurrection is real, so is our cause for joy and celebration (however we’re actually feeling inside just now). The Easter season prompts us to let it run for all 365 days of any year.

So let’s not soft pedal the reality which urges us to fulfil our church’s aim to ‘connect people with (the living, risen and present with us) Jesus, sharing his love in our everyday lives’.

Wishing you joy for the Easter season, which never ends,

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes. . . The Divine Mend

We’re privileged this month to have a visit from Revd David Day and his wife Rosemary. They’ll be here from Durham as David preaches for us on the morning of Sunday 18th March  and the day before leads a morning in the Barber Rooms to encourage preachers (see notice elsewhere). David was a colleague of mine at my previous church, and Wendy and I have known David and Rosemary since we were in their Bible Study group as a young married couple in Nottingham!

Though David has written books on preaching and has spoken to many groups across this country and internationally about communicating God’s word, I want to refer to some comments he makes in his book ‘Pearl of great price – the attractive Jesus’ which was a previous Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book.

Looking at the remarkable ‘hymn’ about Christ in Colossians 1:15-20, David says “Jesus is God in visible form. He is the God you can see and handle, a God handing himself over to be prodded and pushed about. Jesus is God in human flesh, expressed in a human life, in a particular place at a particular time…. So God inserts himself into the creation that he has made, like a life-giving serum injected into the bloodstream of a dying man. Only by coming into the world and working from the inside can he mend what is broken”.

The Colossians passage goes on to say that, through Jesus, God reconciles all things to himself, by making peace through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross. David comments that ‘Christ has absorbed all the hatred of sinful human beings and so made peace ‘through the blood of his cross’. He is the head of a new community, a new race of human beings who will be like his body on earth, living in harmony and love’.

As we continue our journey through Lent into Holy Week and on to the glory and joy of Easter, the living Lord Jesus calls us again to receive what he has done for us – to be reconciled to God and to one another and to be his ambassadors bringing this message of reconciliation to those amongst whom we live.

Here’s a prayer from David’s book that we might like to use this Lent:

O Christ, you stretched out your arms on the cross to reconcile one to another and bring peace in place of strife. Make us men and women of peace. Give us your courage that we may answer the call to be reconcilers. Give us your love that we may be swift to hear and slow to judge. Give us your wisdom that we may know when to speak and when to be silent. Give us your patience to persist until the task is done. Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes … Mind the Gap

At a morning service recently you may remember that I showed the graph of the ages of Faringdon’s residents. It shows a fairly even distribution of people in each of five different age groups, each of which span a fourteen-year period. This means the number of people in Faringdon aged between 0 and 14 yrs, then 15 to 29, 30 to 44, 45 to 59, 60 to 74 are surprisingly similar, with the age group 30 to 44 being more highly represented than any of others. There are not so many Faringdonians in the age bracket 75 to 89 and a smaller number still who are over 90 years of age.

The graph is one made available to us as a parish by Oxford diocese and the question that is posed to us under the graph by the diocese is ‘Does the age profile of your parish match that of your congregation?’. Well, the age profile of the parish shows that 75% of those who live in Faringdon are aged under 60. But the age profile of our congregations is almost opposite- about 75% of us are over 60.

It’s great to be together as God’s people at All Saints’ whatever age we are. There is so much Christian experience and wisdom from our older saints from which we benefit hugely. But these figures present us with a huge challenge if we are to work towards our congregational age-profile being more similar to that of the town we aim to reach with the good news of Jesus.

So it’s not that there’s any problem at all in having folk over 60 in church (far from it, I’m one of them!) – they’re absolutely essential and vital to the health of All Saints’. But what it does mean is that we’d love to see, in addition to our present congregation, a good many more folk from the age groups which are not currently well represented in church but are certainly here living in Faringdon.

The priority that the PCC unanimously supports is that we aim to be a church that is ‘connecting people with Jesus, sharing his love in our everyday lives’. In order to fulfil this for our town as a whole, we may have to start doing some things and stop doing others. We’ll be looking at using the opportunities we have to connect people right across the age groups with Jesus and that’s, as I said earlier, a huge challenge, so please pray for All Saints’ as we endeavour to fulfil this commission that God has given us.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes … Be an inviter to God’s party

As we head towards Christmas, it’s great to celebrate and there’s no way Christians should be party-poopers. Yet we also want to point beyond the crackers and presents and food. We want to highlight the real reason to party especially when 5% of our fellow Britons (rising to 10% in the 25 to 35 age group) believe that Father Christmas makes an appearance in the biblical story of the nativity and over a third of the population thinks the Bible says that December 25th is Jesus’ birthday.

In an act of stupendous grace, generosity and love God acted to bring back men, women and children to know him and follow him. God launched the greatest rescue mission in the world in Jesus, his son. As Jesus came to live a human life amongst us, we see what living as God intended looks like, we also see the lengths God goes to in order to save us from the effects of our selfishness and pride as Jesus died on the cross. Forgiveness and new life are now freely offered to us.

Becoming and being a Christian, knowing life in all its fullness here and hereafter is the best thing anyone could have or receive this Christmas.

So let’s not be slow to offer the invitation to the real Christmas party which doesn’t end when the food and drink runs out. There are lots of occasions to invite folk to including the Town Nativity in the Market Place with three real camels at 6.00pm on Friday December 8th ( best to get there by 5.45pm for a good place), Carols by Candlelight December 17th at 6.30pm, Messy Nativity on Thursday 21st at 4.00 to 6.00pm, where families with younger children can come and do Christmas crafts, then an impromptu Nativity before enjoying a family tea together, and a 45-minute All Age Celebration on Christmas Morning at 10.30am. (see the full list of services elsewhere and look out for the Christmas leaflets to give to others).

Then in the New Year we’ll all do the Alpha Course together to get ourselves in shape for sharing the love of Jesus in word and deed in 2018.

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas filled with the peace and joy of Jesus

Steve

Steve writes . . . Homo religeousus

Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, and now presenter of the Radio 4 series ‘Living with the gods’, says that we homo sapiens are also ‘homo religiousus’. He also notes that Britain now has an unique and very unusual society… the first ever to function without religious belief at its core. MacGregor contends that religion provides the overarching story that explains our place in the world and it also creates a sense of community, which has rapidly disappeared from the UK.

Nick Spencer of theology think-tank Theos concurs with Macgregor . ‘There’s not been a society known to history – or pre-history – that hasn’t had some form of religious belief and practice at its heart’.

I was also interested to see the comments of agnostic comedian David Mitchell on MacGregor’s views. Mitchell says ‘The vast majority of humans throughout history have grown up in contexts where questions like “Is there a God?” and “What happens when people die?” were answered with the same confidence with which a teacher today would explain gravity, and those answers were reassuring’.

Mitchell suggests that ‘to change so quickly from being a society where most people took comfort from the establishment telling them, loud and clear, that death is not the end, to one where many proclaim that it is, will have had an incalculable impact on our state of mind’. He concludes that this lack of a common understanding that death is not the end ‘is a more persuasive explanation than smartphones or commuting of why we feel so stressed’. Similarly, Nick Spencer notes that our society thinks that a highly individualized and materialist shape for human existence is enough to secure our wellbeing, but it isn’t. (my italics).

We are made in the image of God and we are made to know and worship God. The rescuing God has, in Jesus, come to bring us forgiveness and love. And he also came so we could know that, when we trust in him as saviour and Lord, we do indeed receive the gift of eternal life – life that doesn’t end when it finishes. If we are robbing whole generations of this security and hope, no wonder there’s more stress and less wellbeing around.

How vital then that we live as people of Christian hope who help to reverse the unfortunate and harmful ‘uniqueness’ in British society that MacGregor has pointed out.

Yours in Christ,
Steve

Steve writes . . . It’s not Fair-trade, Sainsbury’s

The Fairtrade Foundation was formed in 1992 and its members include Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, Global Justice Now and Traidcraft (the latter was an idea of students from my previous church in Durham).

The Foundation has been working tirelessly for years to educate us about the unfairness of trade which rewards multi-national companies but refuses to give farmers and other producers from the developing world a fair deal for the goods they produce for us. It’s been a highly successful campaign which has led to towns like Faringdon embracing Fairtrade status, to shops like our own Mustard Seed championing Fairtrade and to nearly 80% of British consumers being able to recognise the Fairtrade logo. The Fairtrade mark is the gold standard of ethical trading and the world’s most trusted and best-known food certification scheme.

Now, however Sainsbury’s are changing a system which has worked well for 25 years for both poor farmers and large supermarkets. They are no longer labelling their own brand teas as ‘Fairtrade’ but will call them ‘fairly traded’. Sainsbury’s are setting up their own in-house certification scheme and its own ethical standards. They are also changing the ‘social premium’ which is money that Fairtrade provides to farmers on top of the guaranteed minimum price they get for their produce. This money normally goes direct to the farmers who agree to spend it on social schemes such as pensions, sick pay or education which they themselves choose and control. Now Sainsbury’s is to decide how this money is used. Producers feel betrayed and that their rights are being taken away. It feels like colonialism and that Sainsbury’s want to control them. The danger is that Sainsbury’s may remove the Fairtrade mark from other products like their bananas and coffee and this could lead to wholesale withdrawal of goods marked Fairtrade in other supermarkets too.

The consequence of Sainsbury’s action is likely to be lower social and labour standards, more hardship in developing countries and real confusion among consumers. The Bible is very clear that we should deal fairly with others, especially the poor – for example see Amos 8:4-7 and Isaiah 3:14-15.

You might like to sign a petition objecting to Sainsbury’s rejection of the Fairtrade mark at fairtrade.org.uk or change.org or you might ask a local Sainsbury’s manager why they are making changes which will make things harder for poor producers when Fairtrade has worked so well for a quarter of a century.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes … Moving forward

As we officially enter meteorological autumn there’s lots going on within the life of All Saints’ and St Mary’s. Not only does our children’s work start again in earnest, we have a special evening in the Barber Rooms on Friday 22nd September for parents who have children linked with All Saints groups. This includes a meal and quiz and the chance to let us know how we can best help both parents and children to grow in their faith. Let Helen Wilson or Kate Crebbin know if you have children at All Saints’ but don’t get an invitation.

A good way to grow spiritually is to be part of a small group which learns more about Christian discipleship, and these get going again this month. If you’d like to join a group please let me or one of the wardens know.

If you’d like to play a part in the Town Nativity, we’re invited to come along to the casting session on Tuesday 5th September in the Jubilee Room at the Pump House at 7.30pm.

I especially want to invite you all to come to the Barber Rooms on Wednesday 4th October at 7.30pm as we begin a monthly Church Prayer Meeting on the first Wednesday evening of each month. It would be great if a good number will come to pray for the life and mission of God’s church here. This is a great opportunity to thank God for all his provision for us and to immerse all our activities and events in prayer – you don’t have to pray out loud but your being there will be a great encouragement in our work for Christ!

St Mary’s Little Coxwell will be celebrating Harvest towards the end of the month with a Harvest Supper in the Village Hall on Saturday 23rd September followed by the Harvest Festival Service the next morning at 9.00am.

Hopefully we will know very soon if we have a new administrator. Work is proceeding on making the store room in the Barber Rooms into an office with the addition of a window and wifi for the Church building and Barber Rooms. We’ve been given permission to look for a curate, who would be ordained in June 2018. We are also seeking a Director of Music to encourage us in our music in worship. Please be praying for the right people to help us move forward in these important areas of ministry.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes . . . It’s not rocket science, or is it?

I’m delighted to say that All Saints’ bid for a grant from ‘Scientists in Congregations’ has been successful! ‘Scientists in Congregations’ is a project funded by the John Templeton Trust to support local congregations in running schemes which show that Christians have nothing to fear from the results of modern science.

There are so many misunderstandings of the Christian view of science which have led people to dismiss our faith out of hand, assuming that you can’t be a Christian and a top-class scientist. Yet there are faithful, Bible-believing Christians at the highest level of academic and practical science in this country. For example, amongst the professors of astrophysics and theoretical physics at Oxford University are Katherine Blundell and Ard Louis, who both find no difficulty between their scientific work and discoveries and holding a robust Christian faith.

The planning group at All Saints’ working with me is Helen Wilson, Mark Ritchie and Keith Thrower. Having been awarded the grant, the project we now have to make happen involves bringing four high quality speakers on science and faith issues into the heart of our town. The talks, which will be free of charge, will be presented at the Corn Exchange and everyone in Faringdon and the surrounding area will be welcome.

There’ll be time in each evening to ask questions of the speaker and the idea is to make science and faith issues very accessible so that no special knowledge of science is required by anyone who comes.

Some of the subjects we hope to have talks on include: ‘Has science killed God?’; ‘God and the Big Bang’, ‘Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose?’ and ‘Designer Babies – should we play God?’.

I still recall my great annoyance at my daughter’s class being told by their physics teacher in GCSE year that it was a choice- either God or the Big Bang, but not both. This only reflected the physics teacher’s lack of understanding of the greatness of the living God.

If all truth (including scientific truth) is God’s truth, there’s no need to let Richard Dawkins and other scientists who deny God have the final word. So please get thinking and praying about who you might bring with you amongst your family and friends. Watch this space for further details and help us to achieve the goal of filling the Corn Exchange for these talks between September 2017 and February 2018.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve writes . . . Come and meet the Bishop

Our new ‘Diocesan Bishop’– that means the Bishop of Oxford – the lead Bishop in Oxford Diocese, is Steven Croft. He came to Oxford last Autumn from being Bishop of Sheffield for eight years. He’s currently going round all the deaneries in his (rather huge) diocese to meet church members. And he is inviting us all to come and meet him on Wednesday 7th June at Uffington Village Hall at 7.15pm for 7.30pm start.

In one of his books Jesus’ People: What the church should do next, Bishop Steven reminds us what a church is: “A Christian Church is not a gathering of loosely committed consumers or more or less satisfied customers. It is the living community of those who are offering their whole lives to Jesus Christ and will live in this dynamic rhythm of worship, fellowship and mission: coming together to be with Jesus and being sent out in love and service to God’s world. This, and only this, is what it means to be church: Jesus’ people”. Now there’s a challenge about being a missional church and not a consumer church.

The programme for Bishop Steven’s day in our Vale of White Horse Deanery is packed. It includes meetings with deanery clergy and lay ministers, school visits to Buckland School and Faringdon Community College (I’ll be going along on the latter). He’s having a visit to Pennyhooks Farm to meet the team working with young people on the autistic spectrum. He’ll also meet lay leaders across the deanery. But the event to which we are all warmly invited is the evening meeting at Uffington Village Hall. After an opening time of worship, Bishop Steven will tell us something about himself and his vision for the diocese and then invite any questions we want to ask, so please think about bringing your question along. Avril Coleman will be chairing this Q and A session.

So please make a point of coming along if you possibly can that evening. If transport is likely to be a problem, I’m sure we can find space in a car for you. And please pray regularly for Bishop Steven and our own area Bishop Colin Fletcher as they bear the responsibility of encouraging many churches forward in sharing the life-changing news of Jesus.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Steve Writes . . . Why is it easier to jump off a cliff backwards than to talk to my friends about God?

So begins an article on a brilliant website www.thykingdomcome.global which helps us to take part in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Thy Kingdom Come is a special time of prayer between Ascension Day, 25th May, and Pentecost, 4th June. It’s the initiative of our Archbishop Justin Welby. He’s inviting us and all Christians across churches and countries to pray specifically for people we know to become Christians.

At All Saints’ we’ll be offering special opportunities to pray for friends and family to discover a living faith in Jesus (see the weekly notice sheet in May). There are great resources for individuals, churches and families at the website mentioned above.

We’re not alone in struggling to talk about our faith to our friends – indeed Archbishop Justin recently spoke about his difficulty speaking about his faith when at university. He relates how a mission was being planned at his university and how there was someone he was wanting to ask to come along. He explained, “I was terrified, absolutely terrified, and I prayed for him every day but I couldn’t quite get up the nerve to ask him to one of the talks.” The mission started and he still hadn’t asked him. He described feeling like a complete failure because he hadn’t had the courage to invite his friend to one of the events. But God had been at work and his prayers were answered in the strangest way.

During the week of the mission he was in the library when the friend he had planned to invite came up to him. Welby recalls, “He said, “Oh Hi, Justin… I hear there’s some kind of Christian thing going on this week in the university.” and I said, “Yep, yes there is.” He said, ‘Is there any chance I could be allowed to go to it?’ And I said, ‘Yes… you can come with me if you like!’ He said, ‘Oh, can you spare the time?’ I said, ‘Yes.’

The friend went along and through that mission he found Christ and is still walking with Him today. According to the Archbishop, “The Holy Spirit is the one who opens ears and warms hearts, not us.”

No need to wait until 25th May to start praying for friends or family to come to know Jesus, but watch out for what All Saints’ is doing for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.

Yours in Christ,

Steve