Sunday, 20 December 2015

Father of the Son

John 5:19

The wonder of Christmas is that Jesus is the son of God; God made families to reflect himself.  Genesis I tells us that we were made male and female in his image.  Then Jesus became human, being born into a human family.  Christmas is a family time, and very rightly.

Of course, families are not just a wonderful means of relationship; children produce more children. We become children of God through Christ, the son of God (1 Jn 3:2). We are God's family, so seeing what it means for Jesus to be Son of God helps us to reflect that.

Son derives from the Father. We derive our being from our parents.  Thus Jesus is fully God as son of His Father and fully human as son of Mary.  It is only because He has this dual nature that He is able to be our sacrifice.

In the same way, our new spiritual life derives from God. Just as the Spirit came on Mary to enable the incarnation, so we receive new birth by the Spirit.
But there is one big difference from a human birth, which reflects the divine nature of Jesus; He receives in an eternal giving.  So once we have received Christ we must then constantly be filled!

Son is like the Father. We are naturally like our fathers, and Jesus shows what God is like.  The word "son" in the Bible often denotes likeness eg Acts 4:36

When we become Christian, we are naturally like our heavenly Father.  However we can also choose to deliberately imitate him, becoming more like him.  That is good, as it is easier to live with somebody you are like.  Remember that we will be with him forever, so get like him now!

Son is in harmony with the Father. Because of the interaction between Father and Son in the Trinity, they are equal, and always in agreement.  Jesus says, "I always do the will of my Father" (Jn 8:29).

Likewise, as God's children we should be in harmony with God (1 Jn 3:3).  It should be our aim to both will and do what He wants.  In the Trinity, the harmonious relation is facilitated by the Spirit, who also then works to conform us to God.

God sent His Son at Christmas to serve him and to build His Church, and as children of God, he sends us likewise.

Sermon by Prof David T Williams

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Services December to March 2016

December 2015 (sidesmen Carol Neith/Tonya Burton)
Sunday 6th, 10am                United                    Neil Cooper
Sunday 13th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie
Sunday 20th, 10am              Baptist                    Prof David Williams/Rev Graham Langley
Wednesday 23rd 7pm          Street Carols         Rev Margaret Fourie (Arminel to VIC)
Thursday 24th, 5:30pm        Carols                     Ann Webster/Dr Norma Fivaz
Thursday 24th, 11pm           Midnight                Rev Margaret Fourie
Friday 25th, 8am                   Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie; 10am Arboretum Rev Graham Langley   
Sunday 27th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Dr Liz Thomas

January 2016 (sidesmen Chris/Keri Evertson)
Sunday 3rd, 10am                English                    Neil Cooper
Sunday 10th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie
Sunday 17th, 10am               Baptist                    Prof David Williiams
Sunday 24th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie

February 2016 (sidesmen Stuart/Lindi Dewing)
Sunday 7th, 10am                Afrikaans               Dr Ds Leon van Niekerk
Sunday 14th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie
Sunday 21st, 10am              Baptist                    Prof David Williams (Council meeting 18th)
Sunday 28th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie

March 2016 (sidesmen Harold/Irene Nicholls/Jenny Kluckow)
Sunday 6th, 10am                United                    Neil Cooper
Sunday 13th, 10am              Anglican                 Rev Margaret Fourie
Sunday 20th, 10am              Baptist                    Prof David Williams
Friday 25th, 12 noon            Good Friday          Rev Margaret Fourie; Thursday Passover Supper

Sunday 27th, 8am                Anglican                 Rev Dr Liz Thomas; 10am Arboretum Rev M Fourie

Christmas Services 2015

Wednesday 23rd December: 7 pm:

 Lights and Carols Walk from the Arminel to Swallow Tail Caravan Park, bring torches and sing while you walk.

Thursday 24th December 5:30 PM
Carol and Crib Service in St Patrick’s Chapel.Please come early to get a seat for this family carol service on Christmas Eve.

Thursday 24th December:11 pm
Midnight Mass in St Patrick’s Chapel

Friday 25th December
  • 8 am: Christmas Communion Service in St Patrick’s Chapel led by Rev Margaret Fourie
  • 10am Christmas Family Service in Arboretum led by Rev Graham Langley, Bring a cushion, come early. In case of inclement weather the service will be in St Patrick’s Chapel.

All Sunday Church Services are held at 10am




Monday, 9 November 2015

Project Amazing Grace- Hogsback

Along with Christians from all over the world we united to sing Amazing Grace On Sunday the 8th of November at 17h00.For more information see www.projectamazinggrace.org


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares...
I have already come.
Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.
When we've been there ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

New beginnings

Today was a day of new beginnings at St Patricks. Not only did Reverend Liz  Thomas gave her first service at the Chapel, we also welcomed little Carter to our St Patrick's Community!




Tea was, as always, a joyous occasion with even a butterfly joining in!





Saturday, 7 November 2015

Cato retreat: A gentle journey into the heart of Jesus

Walking with Jesus. That is what we did over a 2 day period at the most amazing Cato lodge perched high up on the Amatola mountains overlooking a few villages and  Cato dam, close to Keiskammahoek. This heavenly abode formed the perfect backdrop to an inspiring retreat into gentleness, quietness and recharging of the soul.

We were a small group who set out in convoy from Hogsback along the back roads to Keiskammahoek. This in itself was a treat for me, passing through forests with little waterfalls and spectacular views over the valleys below.  My heart was full of expectancy to get to know my fellow villagers a bit better, to slow down after a frenetic year, to reconnect with God and to contemplate the personal crossroads that I am facing.

On arrival at our destination, we were greeted by little ones, both four legged and two legged, inviting us to wander back in time when we also had that childlike joyful wonder, devoid of cynicism, criticism and  world weariness.  This formed the pre-amble to thinking back to our eight-year old selves and asking the question of what this innocent version of ourselves would be telling us now. 
The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. Wonder is the opening to awe, and awe is the beginning of wisdom.  (Abraham Heshel)

And this is where we stopped to ponder that no matter how much we think we know, we never graduate from the school of spirituality and that we need to keep the element of childlike wonder and dependence on God. It was comforting to become quiet in order to explore the humanity  of Jesus and how He had to endure the pain of being human. This in turn means that he can identify with our pain and broken humanity. Just like us, He also did not know all the answers and was deeply dependent on God. We contemplated the brokenness of humanity by quietly exploring the questions....

  • Why are we the way we are?
  • Why do we hurt others and why do they hurt us?

Our struggles are vital if we are to love people unconditionally and become who we are meant to be. After contemplating Luke 5: 1-11 we realised that change is important to grow and reach our destiny and that we should not fear it.
All we need to do is to cleanse the doors of perception and we shall see things as they are: infinite (William Blake)
Before we can face change we need to come face to face with God, just like Jesus had to endure temptations and submit Himself to the will of his father. Difficult questions like "Am I a fraud?" and "Can I hear God?", teach us dependence on God. When we pray from a place of weakness, God hears us and always responds in kindness and mercy.

So, I cannot begin to express my gratitude to having had such a gentle experience in walking with Jesus alongside my fellow villagers. Vic Graham did not lead the retreat, he lived it with us, guiding us gently.  I loved the informal laidbackness of the few days we shared together with delightful food and company.

I also have to mention the walks and the quiet times which I have decided to embrace more regularly and make part of my time with God. Our one leisurely stroll into the forest ended up to be an extended hike and bush-scramble as we lost our way. The guys assured me that we were not lost despite the rest of the group sending a search party to look for us. But it ended up being a metaphor for my life space at this moment in time. I thought I was on an established mountain pathway with some beautiful streams, trees an shrubs, until a boomslang slithered past my feet and up the tree which made me stop and wait for my companions. We soon encountered a split in the pathway and somehow we made the wrong choices which lead us to scramble through thick vegetation in search for a way out of the forest. At no time did I feel scared. I felt God all around us. I saw Him in the beautiful old trees that have stood the test of time. I knew that my companions were there for with me and that we will eventually get through the thick of things. Which we did. And we had hope. And yes, they did leave lunch for us!

Thank you Norma for organising the retreat, Vic for leading it, my fellow villagers for letting me getting to know you better and God for blessing our time together. I am already booking my place for next year!

Here is the quotes from all our sessions: https://goo.gl/gN6UyF

And some photos:

Sunday, 18 October 2015

I am the resurrection and the life

John 11:25

As the year goes on, we look towards each new highlight, but eventually it will end.  What are you ULTIMATELY planning for? There are four "last things" that will occur, death, judgement, heaven and hell.  Other religions, such as Islam, speak of them, but as Christians, we add the parousia (second coming) and the resurrection.

The modern tragedy is of secularism, the belief that this life is all that there is. If this were so, "let us eat and drink…", and there must be increasing despair, as weakness encroaches and death gets closer.  In fact there have always been secularists; at the time of Jesus, there were the Pharisees and Sadducees, the latter not believing in an afterlife (see Mk 12:18f).

In this situation, Christ gives HOPE! Suffering is swallowed up in the anticipation of new life.  Jesus expected a resurrection (Jn 5:28-9)!!

Why is there modern disbelief in an afterlife and resurrection?  People claim a lack of evidence, despite the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection.  The point is that they do not WANT to believe, or would have to acknowledge God (see Lk 16:31).

It is this that gives part of the background to the story of Jesus and Lazarus. Incidentally, Jesus did not stop the death.  Suffering can well have a good purpose.  Indeed, Jesus waited four days, to show death was definite, and resurrection was real.  But even in the face of the evidence, the Jews still rejected the resurrection!

In contrast came Mary and Martha's confession of hope in resurrection.  But then Jesus states the cause of resurrection.  Jesus said I AM, the name of GOD! - it is Jesus who raises the dead (Jn 5:21).  He gives ETERNAL life, so it continues.

BUT, this depends on belief (Jn 6:40).  Without this, there is NO HOPE!!

Jesus confronts us with the fact of the two ways:
        With no faith, death leads to becoming a "shade" and to the judgement, and finally the completion of death
        For believers, death is like a putting off of the body like clothing, then "reclothing" and eternal joy (2 Cor 5:1f)

What will YOU find after death?

Sermon by Prof David T Williams

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Strength, wisdom, perfection and love

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke

Reading
Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

Pray
  1. that you may be strengthened in your inner being.
    Sanctifcation
  2. that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
    Faith 
  3. that you be rooted and established in love.
    Maturity
  4. and grasp the fullness of Christ’s love.
    The Saving love of Jesus
  5. filled with a measure of the fullness of God’s love.
    Perfection
But notice that prayer doesn't change God, it changes us:
vs 14 I bow on my knees,
vs 16, to be strengthened,
vs 17 and grounded in love,
vs 18 able to begin comprehending his love,
vs 19 knowing the love of Christ, (Christian Assurance)
vs 20 His power at work in us!

"Prayer does not change God, it changes us!"

Harry Emerson Fosdick told this story:

His father said to his mother as he left the house one Saturday morning: “Tell Harry that he can mow the lawn today if he feels like it.” Halfway down the path he turned and added: “Tell Harry that he had better feel like it.”

We’re taught that we don’t know God if we know Him only as an authority figure, that we don’t know God if we only know Him as One who cares and loves. He is a God of Justice and Love.

The Bible teaches that we don’t know God if we know Him only as an authority figure and don’t know God if we only know Him as One who cares and loves. (Grace).

We don’t know God unless His authority and His love has captivated us.

Until knowing God and living under His love and authority becomes a way of life and not an obligation imposed on us by the Church or by fear of death, God does not become a reality.

Until we truly know God, His love and authority at work in us, and our way of life is not an obligation imposed on us by the Church or by fear of death, He cannot become a reality.

The wonderful thing about God is that nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8: 38 – 39.

So, we truly know God when His authority, power and love has captivated us and we begin to obey him.

Notice too how Paul, quite unconsciously mentions the the Trinity in this prayer:

v14: “Father”!

v16: “Spirit”!

v17: “Christ”!

v19: “God”!

To truly understand the Trinity Carlo Carretto says, “we need loving communication, the presence of the Spirit….only God can speak about himself and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us….The Holy Spirit is the fullness and joy of God.”

Ultimately God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are continually at work in us to complete the work God began in us at our conversion!

Conclusion
How would the Church and the world look if we were all rooted and grounded in the love that is beyond our understanding?

A veterinarian’s 3 year old daughter loved going to the zoo and when her father stretched out his arms one day and said, "I love you this much" she said, "Daddy, I love you all the way to the zoo!" It is a two hour drive to the zoo and that was as far as her mind could take her.

A doxology ends the prayer. From it we get a remarkable idea of what God can and wants to do in and through us.

Strengthened in our inner being; rooted and grounded in love; trying to grasp the love of Christ which is beyond our understanding; filled with all the fullness of the creator of the universe!

Jesus, whose "power is at work within us is able to accomplish immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine"......which is illustrated by the feeding of the crowd in John's gospel.

What does it mean to belong to a God who is able to increase our resources?

My prayer for myself is that God's power would work in me to such an extent that I would be able to do the unimaginable - that he would give me the grace to have faith when all my outward crutches have been removed.

For me, the unimaginable is:
  • To know the love of Christ in such a way that it sustains me in love for others even when they hate me, abandon or are absolutely unlovable. 
  • To be held in the love of Christ even when all material and physical comforts have fled. 
  • To stand firm in faith even when I'm being encouraged to curse God and die. 
Prayer:
Father, through your Spirit, give us that strength in our inner being. Christ, dwell in us and cause our roots to search out the Living Water and to discover that our foundation is in you alone. 

 Amen.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Be filled with the Spirit

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke

Reading: 
Ephesians 5: 15 - 20

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."

Paul teaches believers to live wisely and productively, investing in eternity and remaining in relationship with God, knowing his will. Rom 12: 2. A work of the Spirit.

What does it mean to live wisely?

Wisdom is not intellectual knowledge but a way of life that begins with knowledge about God and leads to avoiding all that displeases him.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

A juggler was driving to his next performance when he was stopped by a traffic cop. "What are these matches and lighter fluid doing in your car?" asked the cop. "I'm a juggler," the driver answered, "and I juggle flaming torches in my act."

"OK!" said the doubtful cop. "Let's see you do it."

The juggler got out and masterfully juggled the blazing torches.

A couple driving by slowed down to watch. "Wow," said the driver to his wife. "I'm glad I stopped drinking. Look at the test they're doing now!"

There is a difference between being drunk on alcohol and being filled with the Spirit. The question is, who or what is the controlling influence in our lives?

Drunkenness affects one’s behaviour and character. Moderation is what we need.

An Evangelist once said, "All Word and no Spirit and you dry up. All Spirit and no Word and you blow up. Equal parts of Word and Spirit and you grow up!"

Speak to one another with psalms hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship has everything to do with an encounter with God. That means worshipping a God who is in the present and who responds by helping us to think and act differently to the world!

Catechism: What is the primary purpose of a Christian?

It is to worship God and enjoy him forever.

Worship helps us to express our emotions towards a loving God who enjoys our praises.

We are also drawn to one another. It engenders true fellowship and a desire to live for God in the world.

We must remind ourselves that if we feast on Sunday and fast for the rest of the week, we become weak by Wednesday and starved by Saturday. If we feast on Sunday and eat junk food (foolish behaviour) for the rest of the week, we will be spiritually sick by Wednesday and violently ill by Saturday.

Worship is the heart, mind, soul and spirit of our connection to the holy. Jesus told u to worship God in this way: “Love the Lord your God….Worship should be full of wonder (mystery), joy and certainly shouldn’t be boring. It should lead to loving action!

Being filled with the Spirit and singing? How often I wonder if we could only get people to celebrate in church as they do at parties. Apparently being foolish is more attractive and more fun.

CONCLUSION

Jesus said, "Those who eat of my flesh and drink of my blood abide in me and I in them." Perhaps the most NB thing the Spirit does is to draw us to Jesus (Prevenient grace) and enable us to abide in Him to be grafted into the Vine.

Jesus lives in us, takes up residence in our spirits and promises not to leave us. Paul says “…those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. The Spirit himself

testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Rom 8: 14, 16.

There is a story about minister walking along the beach with his small son. The boy questioned his father

about Sunday's sermon. He said, "Dad, I cannot understand how Christ can live in us and we live in him at the same time." A little way down the beach, the father noticed an empty bottle with a cork in it. Taking the bottle, he half filled it with water, re-corked it and flung it out into the ocean.

They watched the bottle bob up and down, he said, “The bottle has some sea water in it but it is also in the water. That’s how Jesus lives in us and we in him!”
See John 14: 16, 17.

To be filled with the Spirit is easy, all we have to do is ask. Of course the experience that precedes this is to be connected to Jesus, i.e. to be converted and committed to His way, his truth and his life. Luke tells us in 11: 9 – 13

Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

Let us ask him to fill us now!

Amen

Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord?

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke 

Reading:
John 6: 35, 41 - 51

C.S. Lewis, in his book "Mere Christianity," said this about Jesus: "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 a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."


The seven I am sayings of Jesus:
  • To the crowds in Galilee after the Feeding of the 5000
    6: 35 – Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."
  • To "the Jews" in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles:
    8: 12 – Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 
  • To "the Jews" just after Jesus gives sight to the Man Born Blind 10: 9 – "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." V11 “I know my own and my own know me,"
    10: 11 –"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
  • To Martha of Bethany, just before Jesus raises her brother Lazarus back to life:
    11: 25 – Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,"
  • To his disciples at their last meal together (the "Last Supper Discourse"):
    14: 6 – Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." 
  • To the disciples in the upper room.
    15: 1 – "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser."
    15: 5 – "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
  • Jesus says of himself "I Am" (Gk eimi) 45 times in John's Gospel. 24 of these are emphatic, explicitly including the pronoun "I" (Gk ego eimi – bold), ego is not necessary in Greek grammar. Therefore, Literally Jesus is saying, “I, I am!” 
Up to v.34 although they ask for a sign, the “Jews” are enthusiastic and want “this bread”, but from that point onwards it was an upward struggle for Jesus to convince them that he was the Messiah.

What Jesus was saying was scandalous to them and seems to have been interpreted as cannibalism. These were veiled statements with regard to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and they simply misinterpreted his words. The statements were not about the Eucharist - formalised a long time after.

This is really the crux of the matter, either He is who he says he is or he’s a liar, etc!

In a film based on Ernest Hemmingway's story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" there’s a scene in which two men discuss the difficulty of finding meaningful goals in life. Both are hunters, both of them know what it is to pursue something, yet neither has found what will really satisfies.

One man tells of an incident, which provides the theme of the story. One day while he was high above the snow line of Mt. Kilimanjaro he found the remains of a leopard, frozen to death in that most unlikely place. The two speculate about what the leopard was doing at that high altitude and conclude that whatever it was, the leopard was seeking the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and it destroyed him.

The implication is that this is the way it is for humans as well: we aspire to something, pursue it and if it is the wrong thing, or if it is sought in the wrong way, it leads to destruction.

It must be obvious as we consider the seven “I am” sayings of Jesus that in him we will find what we need.

Consider: He is the doorway to life, he offers bread, light, the way, the truth and the life. He is the good shepherd! He is the vine and we are the branches and at the end of life there is the resurrection.

Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick was a tourist in the Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised people from many countries and sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change their religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"

This was a call to consider one of the great issues of religion, of belief, of life, and ultimately of Christian character. Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say." Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." By this he meant that those who appropriated his spirit, i.e., fed upon him as the bread of life, would find, thereby, a fulfilment and satisfaction no other means could give.

We find our life and satisfaction in Jesus the Christ!

Amen

Sunday, 12 July 2015

SAFE IN THE STORMS

Today is Sea Sunday when we think especially of all those who sail our oceans, in merchant fleets, fishing fleets and in the national navies of our world.  We pray especially for those known to us – Diane and James, for example - and we give thank for those who risk their lives to provide us with both safety on our shores, and with the rich harvest of the sea.  We also remember the National Sea Rescue Institute and their brave and dedicated volunteers.

The real, physical storms that batter the ships and boats are part of the everyday life of seamen, and part of the risk they voluntarily take when they go to sea.  Let’s consider some of the noteworthy storms in the history of our faith:  the storm of Jonah; the storm on Galilee; the storms in the Mediterran-ean when Paul was on his way to Rome, the storm that led to the conversion of John Newton; the storm on the Irish Sea that changed John Wesley’s idea of grace, to name but a few.

Notice that all of these were life-threatening, but God was not absent.  He took each of them, and without making them any less violent, used them as the raw material for something quite marvellous.

Storms are always dangerous.  They have in them the possibility of disaster, and it is a real and immediate possibility,  We do well to be afraid.  But they have another possibility as well.   They may be exhilarating, energising and the beginning of something valuable, as the storms on the Highveld are.

It depends on who you are and where you are and whether or not you are sheltered and safe.

It is Bastille Day on Tuesday, which, if you are not French, you may well have overlooked!   This is an example of quite another sort of storm – no less dangerous, but not a wind and rain storm.  Jesus and his disciples experienced that sort of storm when Herodias’s nasty little daughter requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  The senseless killing of good and holy people causes an storm in our hearts and in our faith. 

Today we are going to look at what our faith means and how it holds up in terms of the storms that we encounter in life.

A vast and life-shattering storm broke on France on Bastille Day in 1789.  Nothing would ever be the same again.  For some it was the end; for others it was the beginning.  For some it was a judgement; for others it was justice at last.  It was, as Dickens said, “the best of times, the worst of times”.  It was a storm of vast proportions that engulfed an entire nation, and, in time, the whole of Europe.

We have been through stormy times in our land, too, though not like the storms that have hit Burundi, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria and the Muslim world.  Our storm is not over, however, and the wind may at any time change. 

For some of us the storm comes even closer, and there are few in our congregation this morning who have not experienced the evil face of violent crime in their own lives or in those of their families. 

The storm may come even closer than that, and be inside us.  Perhaps you have just heard a diagnosis of an illness that you didn’t know you had, and that threatens to alter the shape of your life, or even bring you to the end of it here.  Perhaps you are in the midst of a family turmoil that threatens to destroy the very fabric of your life and home.  Perhaps you are being knocked this way and that as you wrestle with a difficult decision, or a situation that has got out of hand, and you can see no way out.  Perhaps you have been pulled down into depression and you have lost all hope, and you are adrift on the ocean without sail or rudder.

I think that maybe that is the picture we need to see.  Imagine the sea in a storm.  The waves get higher and higher and the wind whips up the foam, driving all before it.  All on the surface is tossed about and maybe even be broken up.  At the same time, however, a little deeper down, the fish go about their business as usual, probably unaware of the violence on the surface.  At the bottom of the ocean, where the bedrock is, there is complete calm.  The only movement is gentle, along with the voluntary movement of the sea creatures.  That bedrock is absolutely unaffected by any storm.  If a vessel is securely anchored to the bedrock, it too will be safe from being driven ashore, or of losing its way.  The surface is part of the ocean, but it is not the whole of the ocean.  It is enormously important, the source of light and air in the water, but it needs the balance of the depths as well. 

The things I mentioned above - the storms of this life, are the events that happen at the top of the ocean of our existence.  They happen in terms of our temporary lives, as it were.  At the base of our existence is the bedrock of our God.  Is this what Jesus was saying when he talked about the man who built his house upon the rock? 

There is a promise for all of God’s children who are at the moment in the middle of a dangerous storm.  We will find it in the first verses of Isaiah chapter 43.  Listen to it.

“Fear not, Jacob (put your own name in here), for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

Note that the waters and the rivers will not dry up or go away, and the fire will not go out.  The promise is two-fold.  God is with you, even if you cannot discern him; you will not be destroyed.  In fact you will not be damaged.  You may by hurt, but it will not be damaging.   Make this your own.

And, even better, the ‘river’ you are crossing is not an ocean.  It has another bank within sight, and the further you go into it, the closer you are to the other side.  Claim the promise of safety while you swim desperately for the other shore!

When my elder daughter Elizabeth was 13 months old, she had pyelo-nephritis, compounded by one or two other conditions and it looked pretty bad for a while.  While I was nursing her, day and night, my father sent me this verse and it was for me the turning point.  I was, after that, able to pray to God himself, rather than just to mouth prayers.  And I was able to accept that he not only knew about what was happening, but was also able to deal with it.  I am happy to say that she has just turned 46 and is as healthy as the day is long.  There is another bank to the river of trouble, and you will reach it, along with the Heavenly Father who holds your hand as you go.


He has not promised to keep you safe from the storms of life, but he has assured us that we will be safe IN the storms.  

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Problem of Suffering



Readings for this Sunday

2 Sam 1:1,17-27
2 Cor 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Sermon notes from Rev Margaret Fourie.

Our readings are all about suffering today, and our collect underlines this. How often haven’t we been able to call out with the Psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord..!”

Here in Hogsback, as I look around the congregation today, I am aware of the huge amount of suffering of various kinds represented here.

Some have experienced physical illness and ongoing pain. We have had how many diagnoses of cancer, followed by surgery, chemo, radiation and pain and illness. Some of the congregation have died of it. Others are living with the pain, and the daily limitations and weakness. And again and again, there is the question, “Why?” “Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” We prayed for Rose and she got steadily worse until she died. We prayed for Ansie’s young friend and she is not getting any better. How long have we been praying for Rudi and Ollie?

Then there’s Parkinson’s. We prayed for our Dominee and he got worse and worse till he died; we have been praying for John Bowker, and his Parkinson’s has only got worse. We pray for Peter all the time, too, and see no real improvements.

Where is God when we need him and call out to him?

Some of us have arthritis, or bone problems and manage daily with various ways of coping with the pain. Some of us suffer from migraines and nothing seems to help, to say nothing of the ulcers, digestive problems and reflux. Some have to carry TNT for the angina attacks.

But it’s not all physical. What about loss? Betrayal? Bereavement? Alienation? Family distress? Mental anguish?

Some of us suffer from the kind of depression that needs life-long medication and is always just one wobble away from paralysing us again, from sending us into suicidal hopelessness.

Some of us suffer agonies of uncertainty and doubt in our faith journey, or are deep into the Dark night of the Soul.

Oh dear!

So let’s look at the bible. Our gospel reading today told the stories of the suffering of the woman who had tried everything she could find, but her illness went on, making her a social pariah, and even preventing her from attending worship services; and Jairus’s family, with his little daughter dying. We hate it when children die – it seems such an offence to life, Mind you, these two stories have happy endings.

What was their secret? Well, they turned to Jesus, didn’t they? And there it was. Their faith solved the problem. So may be I can say, Go and do likewise.

But I won’t.

It’s too easy and facile to say that we should look at these stories and learn from them how to have all our problems of suffering go away. It is simply not true. We know that our Lord does not always heal, and sometimes suffering just goes on and on, and in the lives of people who are not obviously deserving of it at all.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Back to the bible. Let’s look at Job. He was an extremely good man, and the most dreadful things happened to him. He was angry with God, and with his friends who kept defending God. He could make no sense of his suffering, and this is exactly where so many of us are. It just doesn’t make sense. We do everything we are told to do – anoint with oil, pray with faith, lay hands on people...and nothing happens.

It seems as if either God is all-loving and is weak, or God is all-powerful and does not care.

And so Job goes on demanding an explanation of God. But read chapter 38 and God’s answer – Where were you when I formed the earth? Can you call up the wind or the snow, or even stop a storm on a lake, like Jesus? In other words, “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU COULD POSSIBLY UNDER-STAND MY ANSWER? SUFFERING IS A MYSTERY!

That makes sense to me. There are things which we can never understand – great mysteries. God himself is the greatest Mystery – three in one, having no beginning and no end, all the things we know of him – our minds can never comprehend God.

Evil, for another example. We truly do not understand evil and why it is in the world. We can apply our logic to it and come up with some great suggestions, but we will find flaws in that logic, and will never arrive at a good, satisfactory answer. We can observe it, study it, describe it, but not understand it. It will still catch us out.

Falling in love is a mystery. Scientists suggest chemistry; Plato suggests a soul-mate type of other half; esoteric theorists may speak of cosmic connections. Whatever it is, we know when we experience it, and it happens without our permission, usually.

Mysteries don’t have solutions Problems can be solved, though. So where evil is a Mystery, resisting it is merely a problem that can be solved.

Suffering is a mystery, but coping with it is a problem that can be solved.

Job is not a nice book to read, and one could be forgiven for thinking that God is being really quite nasty, if one had no idea at all about God’s nature. We, however, do have a really good idea of what God is like. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and he taught us to know God, not only through his teachings but through his life, death and resurrection.

We know that God is love, and that this love is expressed in every experience we have of him. So we must then read the bible with that knowledge – that is the filter of meaning we apply.

If you got a note that said, “I will be at your house at 3 o’clock”, you may feel excited, or nervous, or curious, depending on who sent it. If it was from someone you were in love with, it would be the best news. If it was from your enemy, it might be serious, If from an acquaintance, interesting. We interpret what is written through the filter of what we know about the person and their relation to us.

So we read God’s reply to Job through the filter of knowing his tremendous love for each of us. His reply is not sarcastic or critical. T is a loving explanation of the difference between Creator and creature. Our minds simply cannot manage all truth, even all knowledge.

Some mysteries we just have to accept in blind faith, and we can, because we know who is in charge, and that his plans for us are for good and not for evil.

What we can solve, then, with his help, is how to cope with the existence of suffering. Asking why won’t help, because we cannot have an answer. Asking HOW is far more sensible, because there he can help us. And we can know that the suffering will not be wasted.

St Paul, who knew personally about bad things happening t good people, wrote, “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.”

I offer you that today. No answers, no trite, comfortable words. Just the uncomfortable truth that, as Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, But do not despair. I have overcome the world.” And, “Look, I will be with you right to the end of time.”

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Heavenly food

The sermon today: John 4:34

Do you like to eat?  I am sure that most will immediately agree!  But what of spiritual food? Do we like to feed our spirits?

Food is enjoyable when we eat it, but do you enjoy spiritual food?  If you do not enjoy eating, perhaps your body is not working well?  And if you do not enjoy the “means of grace”, perhaps you should check up on your spiritual health.

What is important is to eat what is good for you and not what is useless or harmful.  There are many foods that look attractive, but do little good, and even harm.  The same is true of the spirit – are we feeding on what is helpful?  Is what we are exposed to spiritually harmful or beneficial?  What are we watching and reading?  How do we fill our time?

Just as there is a great variety of food available, there are many foods for the spirit, the “means of grace”.  It is not only church, but bible study, the communion, prayer, good books, even material on Youtube.  Perhaps a bigger mystery is with such opportunity, why do many starve themselves?

Of course, eating requires effort!  There is the buying, preparing, even the chewing of food, so we should not be surprised if spiritual feeding requires effort. There is a cost, but for our spiritual life Jesus paid a great price – are we prepared to do our bit?

Why do we eat? Firstly to give energy NOW, secondly to enhance the health of our bodies with vitamins and minerals, and thirdly to provide for the future. We cannot eat all the time!  The same is true of the spirit – to get an immediate boost, for our spiritual health, and to sustain us in our daily lives, and then forever.  Let His Word dwell in you, it will keep on blessing.

It is most important to realise that most food gives benefit slowly.  When we eat, we do not immediately get satisfied, but if we wait, and do not yield to the temptation of continuing to stuff ourselves, we will.  If you want to slim, eat only a little and wait!  The same is true spiritually.  (but I hope that nobody is trying to slim spiritually!)  If we have repented and accepted Christ we may immediately feel joy and peace, but more likely those feelings come later.  Similarly with healing – it is rare that the results are immediate – it normally is slow improvement, so persist in prayer.

Do you eat to live, or live to eat?     In JESUS – BOTH are true!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A MATURING INVESTMENT

ELEVENTH SUNDAY: EUCHARIST

Reverend Margaret Fourie

Readings:
  • 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
  • Psalm 20
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
  • Mark 4: 26-34
Today’s gospel reading immediately follows the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Mark. The agricultural theme is continued, which is not surprising, seeing they are on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee and can quite possibly see various fields and maybe even farmers from where they are.

This second parable on the kingdom of God seems at first sight to be simply that there is a gap between the two things that we as human beings can do, namely planting and harvesting, and that that gap is in the hands of God. The goodness of the seed in interaction with the goodness of the earth will predispose the seed to growth and fruiting, but how and why that should happen is a mystery, and the path of growth is not in our hands at all. It is intrinsic to the very nature of the seed that the growth will happen.

In the same way, from a small beginning, in the hands of God, by the activity of his Spirit, we who have received the seed of life, will be brought to harvest. It is a mystery and it is in God’s hands. We do what we can and leave the rest to him.

But if we look a bit further, there is another slant to this simple thought, told in the following bit.

Here Jesus introduces the mustard seed story with, “what parable will we use for it?” - in the Greek it means literally, “in what parable are we to place it?” as if the parable were a kind of wrapper for the truth. Here again we may suppose that the story merely confirms the message ‘from small beginnings may come a great harvest’, but the commentator Campbell Morgan suggests that Jesus may be continuing his imagery of the birds of the air as evil (compare the parable of the sower where they come and eat up the seed) and that the parable may be saying that the kingdom of God may grow to an unmanageable size and provide a nesting place for the very ones who would destroy it.

Certainly history supports this view. It was after the Emperor Constantine made Christianity not only legal but necessary by his patronage, that the church really began to decay.

That action led to the entry into the church of many who wished (and there are many today who still wish) to use the church for their own ends, to be respectable so that they could increase their power base, or to con people into thinking they were good.

Thus we have the shameful history of the Christian church over the ages, and for many people that is the final stumbling block against an already strange faith. In England today where the Church is still the state church, and the monarch titular head of it, with sole power to appoint bishops and priests to their office, the church is in disarray and the strange things we read on the back pages of Sunday papers confirm our worst nightmares for it.

We are in much the same danger here today. Our very respectability and success make us open targets for the powers of evil to attack. That attack will not usually be easily identifiable. It is more likely to come in a very subtle way, but even if we do not notice it, or cannot identify it, this evil will most certainly interrupt and restrict the work of God,

I believe most firmly that we are in the last days now, and the work of the Kingdom is urgent, urgent, urgent. How comfortable are you that many of your friends and family are doing nothing about their souls? Have no real relationship with Jesus?

To go back to the attacks on the church: one way in which we suffer attack is in our certainty that we would recognise Satan in any form that we very easily get lulled into not thinking at all. We become lazy and start to settle into familiar ways

A parable is designed to reveal a truth by contrasting two things; it is also meant to provoke serious thought and perhaps surprise and stir the conscience. We always like to think of ourselves as a great bunch of people, and I am sure that you are lovely. Does that give us the right to be complacent? Or to condone behaviour that is evil, immoral, dishonest, self-seeking? Does that give us the right to fall back on prejudices with impunity?

From time to time, I come across in the church, some deep-rooted prejudice, some closed minds to areas where the church is struggling to gain a clearer understanding of the truth revealed in scripture, and even some lemon-mouthed self-righteousness which allows others to feel judged and excluded. Not much, mind you, but some. And even, sometimes, some downright wickedness, like people who try to stop the work of God because of their own hurt feelings, disobedience or pride.

If I invite a gay couple to join us, will you welcome them? If I invite people living together without marriage to join us, will you welcome them? If I invite Xhosa-speakers and then wish to include some of their language in the service, will you welcome them with love?

As we have been accepted freely and without judgement by our beloved Lord, and as each of us has been accepted with love by our fellow parishioners, so we must accept freely, without judgement and with great love, those who come here at any stage and in any condition. And that means truly without judgement. It is God’s task and God’s alone to judge. Ours is to love and accept.

So as we read in 2 Corinthians, “...we make it our aim to please him...” so that we “...might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and was raised for us..”

Don’t be afraid that the shape of things will change, or that the fabric of the church will disintegrate if we let things change. It won’t. Jesus called the most extraordinary, definitely suspect people to be his disciples and followers. They created the church and spread the kingdom. They were specially chosen by God, who does not look at the outside, nor at the obvious bits that we can see. He knows the inside, and his judgement is often very unexpected. I have so often been brought face to face with a clear direction from God which has shown me that something I had thought quite unacceptable is in fact quite acceptable to God. Again, with Paul, then, we might say, “...From now on therefore we regard no one from a human point of view....”

It is a good investment to learn humility before the wisdom of God, and to open ourselves to being pleasantly surprised when we stop judging and start to allow the Kingdom of God to develop along its own lines, in its own time, in us and in the strange people we find ourselves sharing with right here. It is a maturing investment that will bring great rewards both for us and for those who will come to faith through and with us.

And to live a life free from compromise. The bible is quite clear. People who pretend to be good and hide secret vices will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Pretending seldom fools anyone for long. There are several Christians on this mountain who live lives so full of compromise and sin that others cannot bring themselves to come to church or be in any way identified with them. Then the work of God is halted and the attack of evil has succeeded.


How’s your life?

Where is your priority?

How is your eternity-investment?

Pew leaflet: 14th June 2015

This pew leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format from here: https://goo.gl/sVXZdD. The sermon notes can be found here: http://goo.gl/aNiwNx




Sunday, 7 June 2015

Pew leaflet 7th June 2015: Pentacost 2




 Everybody welcome to join us for our morning service at 10am!  This Pew Leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format from here:https://goo.gl/UeTqOi




Friday, 29 May 2015

Garden work party

The Chapel community again did an amazingly efficient garden work party and we are glad to report that the prayer trail now has  a fresh look. We also were treated to a delicious lunch. It is definitely worthwhile to join in the "winter-cleaning" exercise at the Chapel! (Photo credit: Ansie)