Easter 2022 – it’s not just about eggs (poached or chocolate)!

As we approach Easter Weekend (Maundy Thursday – Easter Sunday, 14th-17th April), we are reminded again that Christianity hangs or falls on the credibility of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. C.S Lewis wrote this oft quoted statement:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about (Jesus Christ): I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection are the hinge of history. C.S. Lewis again “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

More recently, one of the best, careful, and accessible writers about the credibility of Christianity, is Lee Strobel. He is a law-trained journalist at the Chicago Tribune, and has written several books examining the evidence for Christianity (e.g. The Case for Christ, The Case for Easter, The Case for Miracles). He starts with the biggest claim made by the followers of Jesus, that he truly died, and was then raised to life again.

“I also knew something else: dead bodies stay dead. I had seen lots of corpses during my career as a reporter, and none of them ever regained life, especially after three days.”

Was Jesus really dead after his ordeal on the cross? Was his tomb actually empty on that first Easter Morning? And did credible people subsequently encounter him?

Strobel gives 4 critical pieces of evidence:

  • Sources Outside of the Bible confirm that Jesus was executed
  • The news spread quickly, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
  • Jesus’ burial tomb was empty
  • There are eye-witness accounts of resurrected Jesus

I find it stunning today that so many people doubt Jesus’ very existence: but no credible historian shares these doubts.

Some might say they are “agnostic”; but of course, this is the Greek word for “ignorant”. I don’t mean that rudely, but simply that there is a new generation of people who just do not know the facts of the matter: Jesus lived, and Jesus influenced countless numbers of people in the Ancient Near East just over 2,000 years ago, and was executed on a Roman cross. Moreover, it is widely attested that Jesus rose again from the dead.

This evidence is at least worth a look! John Lennox wrote along similar lines:

“God is not a prisoner of the laws of nature…God who set the regularities there, can himself feed a new event into the system from outside. Science cannot stop Him from doing that.”

Hopefully you have been able to join us for some of the Passion for Life events (see, www.cc-vw.org/life)? In addition to Easter Weekend, we particularly commend the visit of John Lennox: Saturday 23rd April, premiering the film “Against the Tide” about Science and Faith, then he will be interviewed on Sunday, 10:30am.

In these challenging and troubling days, as world events continue to shock and disturb, we pray that this Easter you may know afresh the Peace of Christ, and his risen presence.

“What’s wrong with the world?”

What’s wrong with the world – thoughts given to our Good News Café, 31st March 2022

GK Chesterton to the London Times – “What Is Wrong with the World?”  In answer to their question he simply wrote: “Dear sir, i am”

Simplistic? Maybe he subsequently thought so because afterwards wrote more in a book entitled “What is wrong with the world?” .

He began by answering the question “what’s right with the world?”. Our common humanity, our enjoyment of the goodness of God, and our potential for great good as well as evil, are all important factors. But ultimately he goes on to affirm that the affirmation is true

We divide the world into Good People and Bad People…. But…every human is capable of great good and great evil.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – 1918-2008

A Russian novelist and outspoken critic of communism. He campaigned against political repression in the Soviet Union.

Solzhenitsyn argued that the Soviet State “suppressed” traditional Russian and Ukrainian culture. He called for the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and who was a fierce opponent of Ukrainian independence. He was against Ukrainian independence (that is a discussion for another day).

He was critical of the Allies for failing to open a new front against Nazi Germany in the west early on in World War II. 

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.

…. We need to learn from our history. Elsewhere he wrote Men have forgotten God this is why all this had happened”.

This is all seems particularly pertinent in the current climate.

Whilst we agree that there should be strenuous opposition to Putin’s current plans, we should also appreciate that the gap between “me & Putin” is far smaller than the gap between “me & God”. His holiness is a serious affront to all sinfulness.

Politics is terribly complicated, of course. But we can start with a Bible view of humanity. This will help us begin to understand “what is wrong with the world”.

Scripture is consistently clear about one thing, and this literally lies at the heart of the problem:

Jeremiah 17:9f – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.

Ez 11.19I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Prov 4.23Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Matt 15.17f “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

John 7:37f… Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

I loved singing this chorus in our youth group

Purify My Heart,
Let Me be as Gold and precious Silver.
Purify My Heart,
Let Me be as Gold, pure Gold.

Refiner’s Fire,
My Heart’s one desire
Is to be… Holy;
Set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be… Holy;
Set apart for You, My Master,
Ready to do Your will.

(Eugene Greco)

“Purify my heart, Lord.” – 3 implications

  1. Change my heart – Cleanse me from within
  • Change Putin’s heart – Not the whole story  (God will judge) … but start here.
  • Have a heart –

– Compassion love and care…

– Com-passion “weep with those who weep”

We call Luke 15 the parable of the Prodigal Son

But of course – both sons were lost

  • One was rebelliously lost – in degradation and sin
  • The other was religiously lost – in moralism and anger

In his love, God went out to both

The line separating good and evil passes through every human heart.

Baptism; Admission to the Lord’s Table; Confirmation – belonging in God’s family

Christian Initiation, Christ Church Virginia Water

Simon Vibert – February 2022

The personal affirmation of faith, the public nature of our faith, and the maturing ownership of personal faith, are covered in 4 main ways at Christ Church.

  1. Infant Baptism (aka “Christening”)

Our Children and Family Pastor, Jeremy Brown, in consultation with the Vicar, oversees this process.

In brief, after appropriate preparation (conversations with the clergy, teaching of the significance of Baptism, and encouragement to attend CCVW) we are happy to baptise the children of any believer.

Parents and Godparents make promises on behalf of the child. He or she is assumed to be a member of the Church unless, or until, they chose to opt out, or come to a mature affirmation of faith for themselves, aka Confirmation (see below).

  • Admission to Communion

Baptised children of believing parents are assumed to be “in the covenant” and thus, should be able to receive the signs and symbols of belonging: the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Clearly, they need to be mature enough to understand what is going on and be able to articulate a confession of their sins as part of the preparation. Clergy will be guided by parents, as well as prepare the children for a formal process of “Admission to Communion Prior to Confirmation”.

CCVW has offered this in the past. However, there is a more formal process to this now, which the PCC is required to approve, and in accordance with Canon B15A.1(c) approved by General Synod in 2006 (see Additional Information).

We will be shortly offering preparation for Admission to Holy Communion for 8 years and older, and having a service of Admission to Communion after Easter.

  • Confirmation

Confirmation is the second part of Infant Baptism. i.e., those who were baptised as infants now make a mature, personal statement of their own acceptance of the promises previously made on their behalf by parents and godparents.

There used to be some pressure to be Confirmed at an early age so that believing children might receive Holy Communion. But the problem with urging this personal affirmation when they are too young is most youth need to go through a stage of ensuring that they personally own Christian beliefs without parental pressure. Separating out Admission to Communion and Confirmation is a sensible way of helping faith to mature, and not looking for an act of personal Confirmation when they are yet immature.

Bishop Andrew will be with us on Sunday 26th June, 6.30pm to conduct a Confirmation Service.

  • Adult Baptism

It is increasingly the case – and marvellous too! – that adults come to faith without any prior association with the Church, or for whatever reason, have not been baptised as a child.

Baptism is sometimes described as “an outward sign of an inward reality”. In other words, the inner sign – of repentance and faith – is publicly demonstrated in baptism by water: a visible sign. Sometimes this is by full immersion (a parishioner’s swimming pool, for example). Sometimes it is with a smaller amount of water in Church.

Actually, each of these is equally valid:

  • Baptism by “immersion” powerfully illustrates the “death to sin” and “rising to new life in Christ”;
  • Baptism by “sprinkling” reminds us of the sprinkling of the blood of the covenant, which was one way the Old Testament Priest showed that the sacrifice for sin had been applied to an individual;
  • Baptism by “pouring” demonstrates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, and subsequently in the life of each believer who has professed Christ.

I hope that this short paper will give you a sense as to how we can help people in their Christian growth and do all we can to welcome and mature new believers into the life of the Church. Please chat further with me, Jeremy, or Vincent if we can assist with this next process for you.

Additional Information

1. Simon has written on this topic and electronic version of “New Initiatives in Christian Initiation” isavailable here orthos_17_new_initiatives_in_christian_initiation.pdf

2. Church of England Canon B15A Of the admission to Holy Communion

1. There shall be admitted to the Holy Communion:

 (a)  members of the Church of England who have been confirmed in accordance with the rites of that Church or are ready and desirous to be so confirmed or who have been otherwise episcopally confirmed with unction or with the laying on of hands except as provided by the next following Canon;

(b)  baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church;

(c)  any other baptized persons authorized to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod; and

(d)  any baptized person in immediate danger of death.

2. If any person by virtue of sub-paragraph (b) above regularly receive the Holy Communion over a long period which appears likely to continue indefinitely, the minister shall set before him the normal requirements of the Church of England for communicant status in that Church.

3. Where any minister is in doubt as to the application of this Canon, he shall refer the matter to the bishop of the diocese or other Ordinary and follow his guidance thereon.

into the New Year

Into the New Year

I was sad to learn of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu this past week. What a great ambassador for Truth and Reconciliation. He was passionate in working for the non-violent abolition of Apartheid, in desiring Christian love to permeate all our interrelationships, and in being an engaging and loving ambassador for Christ.

For sure, I didn’t agree with all of his views, which became increasingly inclusivist and universalist as time went on. But his unwavering ambition to undo racism in any form has had an abiding impact, between and within nations, and in the lives of countless individuals with whom he had personal contact.

When he was once asked how he managed to keep going with such a huge agenda, played out on a tense national and international stage, he replied: “I could myself not have survived had I not been buttressed by my spiritual disciplines of prayer, quiet, and regular attendance at the Eucharist.” 

Few of us will ever be called to such an influential platform. But I have been reminded recently of Paul’s deep challenge to all people to “be reconciled to God” and to “be reconcilers.” The world and the Church depend upon this stance.

Here is one way which Paul articulates it:

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21)

A biblical view of reconciliation is essential to personal and Church health

As we approach 2022:

  • How are things with you and God?
    • Have you known the privilege of sins forgiven and reconciliation – through Christ – with the Father? If you’re not sure, why not join Hope Explored, 3 Saturday mornings starting 16th January.
  • How are things with you and others?
    • It grieves me when relationships are fractured within the Church. Often it is over relatively small things, which have never been properly reconciled. Let’s sit down, talk it through, confess our sins to one another, and be family to each other.
  • How are things with you and the Church?
    • No Church if perfect; but neither is ANY family. Many people have got into bad habits over the last 18 months. But the Church needs you and you need the Church. Reconcile yourself to regularly meeting with brothers and sisters in Christ – and please let me know if I can help with this process for you!

Resolutions

Have you made any New Year Resolutions – how about these ones?

  • I resolve to meet regularly with God’s people – in person whenever possible. Remember what Hebrews 10 says – 24 ”And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
  • I resolve to work for peace and harmony in our world and in the Church. Is there someone in particular who you need to reconcile with?
  • I resolve to set aside time each day to read the Bible and to pray 
    • Do join us to pray on Mondays at 7pm, The Upper Room
  • I revolve to befriend those who are not yet Christian, pray for them, serve them, and take every opportunity to invite them to events
    • look out for overview of the Passion for Life timetable available in Church this week.

I have incorporated these into my hopes for 2022. Whatever you have resolved, I urge you, along with Paul – to be reconciled to God, and to be a reconciler in our Church and world. What a difference we could make!

Thanks for all your prayerful support and serving this past year!

God’s rescue mission of love


Love Came Down at Christmas

Coffee in hand I settled down to the laptop at about 0830 this morning to finish off my talk to the 80+ people coming for Christmas lunch at Church today

I had already decided to speak on John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son the whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”

And had taken the title “Love came down at Christmas”, by Christina Rossetti, as the theme.

I was disturbed by an ear piercing shrieking – clearly an animal in terror. I checked for Eddie – and for the scary Rottweiler next door – all ok.

Eventually I saw a glint of a distressed animal at the corner of the garden… so I opened both the gates in the hope that it would free itself.

However, when that didn’t work, on closer inspection, I discovered that a young deer had pushed its head through the fencing. Because it had started to grow its antlers it couldn’t pull its head back.
It was petrified – and the more it yanked on its head, the more it got stuck.

Armed with a thick gardening glove, wire cutters, and a hacksaw, I worked away at the fence. The animal was distressed and clearly it assumed that I was there to harm it and not to help.

Eventually the deer calmed down a bit and let me proceed – one antler first, then, carefully, the other.

The instant both were released it shot off, apparently grateful.

It was a bit traumatic (for me!). But the end result was worth it.

Christmas can be hard. Did love really come down at Christmas? Why yes, He will be called Jesus, which means “Saviour”. That’s why Easter was harder. Like the Deer, we too are trapped in sin and guilt, and all efforts to free ourselves make the situation worse. And, at first sight, our rescuer doesn’t seem to be coming in love… Why so gory? Why so painful?

But this is love: the investment paid to free the entrapped. Yes indeed, love came down at Christmas.

I hope that the world will recognise it and be freed by our loving rescuer.….

What would Mary have the shepherd to do when the sheep have gone astray?!

How are you doing? It has been a challenging autumn, hasn’t it? Covid is still very much impacting the Church family. Please be aware that we are praying for you all – both those who are now gathering for meetings and those who are still accessing things remotely.

Like many Churches there is a large amount of “churn” going on. As I have regularly joked with the leadership: you call me your pastor, but during this past 18 months I am not entirely sure I know where my sheep are! Even this past week there were several families impacted by positive coronavirus tests.

Since September we have restarted most of our activities: Sunday meetings have been gathering momentum – particularly in the morning. The congregation is broadly in three categories:

  • Those who have enthusiastically regathered to everything physically;
  • Those who are more cautious: either through understandable health concerns, or, they have got out of the habit of meeting together regularly and that gap has been filled with something else;
  • Those who, having not been physically present at Church for a while, have dropped in on other churches – virtually or physically – and/or begun to think about a new Church home.

Every Pastor I know is finding the challenge of being a good (under) shepherd to the flock. I remain very pleased that the Good Shepherd ultimately knows every one of His sheep by name, and He is at work in the individual life of every Christian. I am also reminded that the Pastors and Clergy in the Church have a role of feeding the sheep, caring for the sheep, leading the sheep, and restoring the stragglers. This is how Peter puts it:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5)

We are here to help
So, with respects to the three categories above, let me say:

  • As you regather, do remember that we are trying to do our best to care for the vulnerable, whilst retaining as much of normality as possible: So, wearing masks and keeping the building aerated means we can meet and we can sing! It is not normal yet, but it is so good to see each other (albeit nose upwards!) and to gather as his people. Throughout winter months we will keep several windows and doors open so “wear your big coat”! (just like the old days 😊);
  • If you need to stay away, please make the most of our online/streamed services, and stay in touch via zoom Connect groups and prayer meetings as you are able. And please let Vincent or me know how we can help;
  • For those who have drifted or dropped off the radar: do remember that lone sheep are vulnerable sheep – from the attack of wolves, from starvation, from isolation. Wherever you plan to attend, please be committed to a church fellowship and connect well with brothers and sisters in Christ. They need you and you need them!

John Blanchard on Evangelistic Preaching

I have several reasons to be thankful for the life and legacy of John Blanchard.

Although he came from the channel island rival, Guernsey (Jersey is obviously better!), whilst still a teenager i heard he and Derek Cleave speak evangelistically to students in Jersey. His clear apologetics and winsome engagement struck a powerful chord with me.

Many years later we connected again. And the last time i heard him speak was in 1994, at our Fellowship of Word and Spirit Conference. I have replicated my own notes from his talk below, they still speak powerfully of the motivations for evangelism, as set out by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. This is particularly helpful as we prepare for Passion for Life in 2022.

Talk by John Blanchard. Romans 1:16f – evangelistic preaching. 10th January 1994

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The average church member has little heart for evangelism.

Effective evangelism needs evangelistically minded congregations.

Can’t hold a biblical view of election and then just trust that better technique will bring results.

Notice Paul’s heart as an evangelist

  • Commitment (Paul is not ashamed)

Paul’s deep focussed involvement with the Gospel.

a. the message (2:16; 5:14) MY Gospel; passion, like a fire cf Jeremiah)

Paul believers preaching is the release of a divine word which has gripped the heart of the preacher.

The Gospel posses HIM.

Are we gripped by the Gospel? The congregation won’t be stirred by an unstirred preacher.

b. The mandate. Jeremiah was sent  by God (see Jer 1:4,6 & Ch 23)

  • Confidence (God’s power for salvation)

“lift the saviour high; lay the sinner low”

a. the plight of man

Today, there is no objection to preaching against “sins”

But to preach man’s depravity is offensive,. Man has no ability to obey/believe.

Our Gospel preaching is usually existential.

The centre of gravity is the other side of the grave.

b. the power of the Gospel

2 Cor 10:4

The success of the Gospel exasperates our enemies and exhilarates the evangelist

  • Content

“My heart was filled with love, my eyes with tears, and my mouth with arguments” – John Wesley

Martyn Lloyd Jones advocated special preparation for evangelism

The whole will of God

The way to bring sinners to Christ is to preach Christ to sinners

  • Context

Paul understood the culture: the Gospel is contemporary as well as eternal.

a. Iniquitous age

Pumping electronic sewerage into our living rooms (cf Rom 1:32ff)

b. Indifferent age

The age of the shrug.

Expose permissiveness

c. Informed age

People are better informed about everything, We must know our age.

John Stott – double listening

Be men of people not men of books

  • Concern (for salvation)

Salvation is Truth – demanding a verdict (cf 1:5)

Sermons must demand a response and resonance. We must engage them, not just inform them.

Pray the Lord to save your hearers, drive home to them, as if you could save them yourself.

Conclusion

a. Use the 2nd person plural in application “You are the man”£ applications leads to conviction

b. Use questions. Questions demand answers.

e.g. Baxter “call to sinners”

Questions back man’s conscience into the corner; they force him to defend himself.

all of this arises from our concern: John Wesley always had heaven and hell in his eyes 

Finding God in the Ordinary

“Mummy, Mummy, is it true that we all end up as dust?”

“Well, yes, the Bible says ‘you come from dust, and to dust you will return’”

“COME QUICKLY – there is someone either coming or going under my bed!”

The child’s sentiment was almost right! Genesis 3:22 talks about God making humanity “out of nothing” and returning us to dust at the end of our short life here on earth…. Not that I necessarily propose this excuse never to do any dusting!

Over the summer I have been reading an interesting book by Andrew Wilson called “God of all things” (Zondervan 2021). He shows how surprising things in this world point to the greatness of God – Earthquakes, Pigs, Sex, Rainbows, Donkeys, Viruses, Clothes, Rain, and yes, Dust… It is a refreshing to see the very earthy way in which God has chosen to reveal himself.

We are made from dust, and yet, in the image of God

“Then the Lord God formed the man out of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:1).

Dust is everywhere. Dust is largely unnoticed. Well, you might say, you’ve never been to my house!

But we get a glimpse of how much dust there is when the sun streams in through the window highlighting tiny particles in the light.

Calling humanity “dust” creates a few powerful reactions

  • Dust is humbling

It is very much an earthy image. The dust of the earth. We come from the stuff of the earth. But, at the same time, we are nothing without a creator, a former, one who breathes life into our lifeless bodies. Psalm 139 is a celebration of that fact: God knitting us together in the womb.

However much we achieve in this life – it is all a gift. A man was once observing the ornate funeral of a very wealthy man. He turned to his neighbour and said: “How much did he leave?” to which his wise friend replied, “Everything”.

This is how the Bible puts it: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7).

  • Dust shows us just how powerful God is

Some scientists are inclined to mock Christians (although it is remarkable how many present and past scientists DO believe in God). Science can solve all our problems, and evolutionary processes can explain humanity’s ascendancy. Hmm. “The Big Bang”? – what started it? “The Big Leap” – from monkey to human? Where does humanity’s moral compass, creative goodness, and sheer altruism, come from? And why, though capable of great goodness, is there suffering and fallenness in this world?

These are big questions. A starting point is this: God made us, but all too often we just don’t see it, nor live by His ways.

According to the Bible, the making of humanity is the high point of creation. Indeed we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). How precious! And yet, we are made from nothing. How humbling!

Hopefully, next time you see the dust, don’t fret about the cleaning, but marvel at how amazing God has made you!

A few words about September onwards at Christ Church

We are cautiously emerging from lockdown, we are opening up many activities this Autumn.

  • Our Sunday services are continuing (0830 – Liturgical; 1030 – Contemporary; 1830 – Informal and often outside).
  • Children’s, Youth and Student work has returned to mainly physical meeting
  • We are running an Alpha Course, starting Thursday 16th September, 19:30 – come and “Explore the meaning of life”
  • Plus, many other activities are restarting. Please see www.cc-vw.org for more details

“You won’t find God in there..!”

… no one actually said this, but the reaction of some people to spending 27 weeks in our zoom Connect Groups implied it!

This past year, I have encouraged our small groups to study the bible book Exodus with me. I provided a talk of 15-20 minutes and questions for the groups. Then the groups have met together (currently online) and chatted about it. All 27 talks are available on our YouTube channel if you want to check them out http://bit.ly/ccvwonline

But, why would we spend all this time reading and discussing an ancient Bible text? Exodus recounts events that happened more than 1,000 years before Christ. And for many people, it speaks of an outdated and archaic outlook on life, with laws and punishments which are alien to modern culture.

Exodus made famous

And yet, it wasn’t just Charlton Heston who made Exodus famous. More recently there is the film starring Ben Kingsley, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, and just before lockdown last year, we went to see “The Prince of Egypt” at the Dominion Theatre.

The book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, commonly attributed to Moses, who first met God at the Burning Bush. It contains Israel’s dramatic escape from captivity in Egypt after God unleashed the plagues of boils, locusts, hail, and so on, culminating in the death of the first born, whilst God “passed over” punishing Israel.

In Exodus we find God’s Top Ten Commandments, and learn of the construction of the tabernacle, which would journey with them for 40 years before they arrive in the land which God promised them.

And all of this, they believed, under the miraculous guiding hand of God, during the day by cloud, and at night, by fire.

So, it would seem, God is everywhere in Exodus!

But, fair point: how can this ancient text speak meaningfully to men and women today?

Let me try, briefly, to answer that question:

  • It’s Story – the events of Exodus are told and retold, because they speak of how God intervened in human experience to bring about a miraculous rescue of His people. From there, the Nation of Israel settled in the land God had promised to provide. In the New Testament, this is taken up as a paradigm of salvation: God redeems his people out of slavery to sin, to new life, and rest in God.
  • It’s History – although there is considerable debate about exactly when it happened. It is popularly thought that the Israelites were slaves under the tyrant Ramesses II, although most scholars dispute this now. But sometime around 1500-1200BC, the Israelite people, living in the lower delta region of Egypt known as Goshen, escaped across the “Sea of Reeds” (probably not the Red Sea, but a small marshy land), and made their way into the land of Canaan. Extreme mass migration which shaped the course of religious and human history!
  • It’s His Story – though this is only one Bible book out of a library of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament), it tells us that God continues to intervene in history, making himself known as YHWH (Yahweh, The LORD), and rescuing His people from captivity, to follow and serve Him. The rest of the Bible is an unpacking of how marvellous and powerful this God is, who ultimately came in the person of Jesus Christ to save his people from Sin.

Well, there you have it!

I do believe that you meet God in Exodus. And, in fact, many people who have just completed this course have said something very similar. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “The unanimous verdict was that despite some initial reservations the study of Exodus was a resounding success, and we were amazed at how relevant it was to us today”
  • “We learned something of the history behind who Jesus is and why He came”
  • “We related to the human experience of wandering and disobedience”
  • “We saw parallels between Exodus from Egypt and our pilgrimage as Christians”
  • “We would definitely recommend to those in doubt!”

Have you ever read Exodus?

Sharing a birthday with the Church!

I had a birthday this week – yes, I know, it comes around every year!
As you get older, birthdays are a bit more routine: gone is the heady excitement of rushing down to open presents, and stuffing your face with cake!
But other things become much more important: celebrations with family and friends, and gratitude for God’s faithfulness for another year.
 
Pentecost is often thought of as the birthday of the Church!
On this day, 40 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out (“pentecost” means “50th” and was originally a Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover celebrations).
For sure, we pray for all the heady excitement of the day of Pentecost: audible and visible signs of God’s presence among his people and 3,000 people becoming Christians in one day. Yes please!
But it is also true that over time we grow in appreciation for the privilege of Christian family.
For some, Church is another leisure or social activity which is fitted into an otherwise overfull calendar. But following the day of Pentecost, as I mentioned in a previous letter, the Church was far more than an hour a week in a building : a loving, sharing, witnessing and serving community which has all things in common because we are in Christ.
In 2017 Pope Francis preached a Pentecost sermon with this line in it:
“A poplar adage says: “as long as there is life, there is hope”; and the opposite is true: as long as there is hope, there is life. Mankind needs hope in order to live and needs the Holy Spirit in order to hope.”

So, this Sunday: as the Church celebrates yet another birthday: Let us be people of hope – full of the life, and dynamism that come from the filling of the Holy Spirit Let us value and celebrate with God’s family – thankful that he has brought us together in Christ Let us be expectant – that God is still in the business of saving all who call upon Christ, and sending them and us out into this world as His witnesses. Happy Birthday Church!  Do join us this Sunday to join the celebrations!