Valuing those that come last – Matthew 20:1-17 and Philippians 1:21-end

With the licensing of our new Priest-in-charge things were a bit busy last week and I didn’t quite get to post the sermon. It was a challenge to the parish, that we responded to this week in our Baptism service. (I think I need some more interesting illustrations too… text only I’m afraid.)

What is it that we value most in life?

Is it our health, our wealth, or our family? Perhaps it’s our sight, our hearing, our home or the countryside? The freedom to travel? Our ability to continue a much loved hobby?

What about Jesus? What value do we place on our relationship with him?…

What value has he placed on his relationship with us?…

In today’s Gospel reading, our collective alter ego as disciple, Peter, has got in a grumpy mood. Peter has listened to Jesus encouraging a rich young man to give up everything he owns to follow him, only to watch the same man walk dejectedly away. In doing so, Peter has realised that he and his fellow disciples have done just what was asked of the rich young man, given up everything to follow Jesus. So, he asks Jesus what value has been placed on their obedience, their service, their sacrifice? Effectively he’s asking, what’s in it for them?

The first part of the answer is that in eternity, the disciples will get to sit incredibly close to God’s presence, places of significance. The second part of the answer is that so will everyone else – including those who in human terms are the last to hear, receive and respond to God’s call on their lives. The Gospel this morning is that second part of the answer: the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

When the third group of labourers are brought in from the market place in the last hour of the day, there is no mention of money. For some reason no-one had wanted them. But the importance and urgency of this landlord’s work is such that they are needed, and valued, for what they can offer. Self-esteem is so important to those who feel their skills are un-appreciated, and the anticipated bonus of a small proportion of the day-rate of pay which may just have paid for a meal, would have been an added encouragement to their hour’s hard labour on an empty stomach. To unexpectedly receive the full day-rate for that single hour’s labour, gives them the additional dignity of early payment, and a wage equal to that of those who had sweated through larger parts of the day.

Jesus was teaching the disciples not to be concerned about what human society said about them giving up their material security to place at the centre of their lives someone who operated at odd’s with their traditional faith leaders. Through God’s grace they would receive an appropriate reward, but it would require them to be equally generous in their view of those others who would start to follow Jesus much later in time than they. The value they must place on their relationship with Jesus must be such that it really doesn’t matter who joins their fellowship, or when. What matters is that those others are valued identically by God, because of the economy of his amazing grace. The divine economy of love and grace which doesn’t relate well to our human economies!

Paul is talking about this divine economy in the passage this morning from Philippians. For Paul it is the fruitfulness of his labour, and the fact that it is for Christ, that keeps him from preferring an early journey through death to God’s eternal presence, to his present state, harassed and imprisoned by the Roman authorities. Being valued by Christ so much that he continues to have a role in working for the extension of the Kingdom of Heaven, is in part what keeps Paul alive. Paul, the persecutor of the earliest Christians, now apostle to the Gentiles, was after all he who met Jesus much later than the other disciples; well after the Resurrection of Christ on the road to Damascus! In the economy of God’s grace Paul has already received the remuneration, not for his labour, but unasked for, a revelation of love and forgiveness.

God values each of us so highly that we are all offered the same wage; God’s love and grace paid for in full by Christ through his death and resurrection. His is really the labour, not ours. If in faith and repentance, we in turn value that so highly as to make it of first importance in our lives, then we will respond to that loving relationship with God by reflecting in our lives the values that Jesus set in his Gospel; we will put the last first, and the first last.

As with many things with our faith, it is the putting it into practice that comes hardest, and the point where we are most likely to identify with those who have slaved through the heat of the day, and forget that we ourselves are among those who have come late to work the vineyard. Like me, you may have grown up in the Christian faith, or you may be someone for who has loved Jesus for decades because of your own Damascus road experience. If so, it can be easy to forget that those who are yet to understand themselves in receipt of the grace we’ve encountered, are now God’s priority, and therefore should be ours as well.

It might not feel like it, but we are still serving our one hour’s hard labour in vineyard at the end of the day. We can’t therefore act like those who feel cheated of an extra wage, and demand more. God’s love and grace can’t be more than what he gave on the cross. Instead, we must look at where God’s priorities now lay, and welcome in those being valued by him at this moment. And just as those who come to faith in the last weeks and hours of their life are loved and cherished by God as much as us, so too are those who are younger, those just born, their families and friends, those whom we are asked by God to welcome into the field of fellowship with him.

I’m going to give this as a specific example, because this situation is going to happen next Sunday when we have a baptism service. Those children and their families who come for baptism, may be like those who had stood hungry and unvalued in the market-place of this morning’s parable. Our role, our labour for this hour, is to value them as much as Jesus does, because otherwise they won’t be able to hear his voice calling them to join the workforce, to understand their own value to him, and understand that he has already died and risen for them.

As with all our children and young people whom Jesus told us not to hinder when they turn to him, we need to put these families first. For example, let us make sure that as many of us as possible are here to give them a really warm welcome. Let us give them the best seats in the house, and not hide them behind a pillar as I understand may have happened sometimes before. We can encourage them to give the service their full attention by doing likewise, remembering the significance of being the community of faith that lives and gathers around them. Likewise, let us make sure that we give them our attention first after the service, and not prioritise the new vicar – he could be around for years to come; they may not be if we don’t show them what God’s lived-out grace looks like.

As we go forward to receive the bread and wine at Holy Communion this morning, we can do so remembering what it is like to be the ones brought forward to receive an unexpected payment. In the body and blood of Christ, we receive afresh the un-dreamt-of riches of his Kingdom, and once again know ourselves to be forgiven, loved and valued by God, just as we are. God is utterly and endlessly generous, it is what defines him, and we give thanks for that in our worship of him. So we shouldn’t be too surprised if he is equally generous to the people that come along behind us, and that he expects us to be likewise.


Pressing the pause button – intermissio

There are all sorts of reasons why people need to pause, take time out to think and re-assess (the past, present or future – usually the connection between all three). For Christian’s that process involves holding ourselves before God, and often working with a guide or spiritual director of some sort so that we look at what we’re considering through the clearest lens possible.

I am now meeting monthly with a spiritual director or guide, who is both challenging and encouraging of my journey in ministry. This has been immensely valuable especially a ministry helping to support my church through a period of vacancy. I am fortunate to also count her a friend – this week when we met, I appeared to receive spiritual direction in a ‘swap’ for a little light furniture moving and horticultural encouragement 🙂

Churches need these sorts of times too. I’m not suggesting they need to get outside help for their furniture and horticultural decisions; I believe that is what a Diocesan Advisory Committee is for?! What I am saying is that it is very valuable to take time to review and re-evaluate the focus of our church activities and how they are carried out.

In St. Peter’s we started this process in early 2010 working with Laurence Gamlen focusing on our “values”, which because of his work with us I remember as being the things that drive our behaviours, the way we do whatever it is we do as a church. I blogged rather a lot about it last year, and you can track back through our experiences here.

My own view is that the work is only partially complete, and needs to be re-visited once our new vicar has their ‘feet under the table’ so that our values are even more clearly defined, and much more firmly part of natural behaviour as individuals and as a church, but that isn’t for me to decide, and I guess God’s got a plan!

The ‘values’ work with Laurence was helped by the mission agency he worked for, but it seems that in these times of austerity, even mission agencies are cutting back, and whilst remaining a part-time parish priest, Laurence is now ‘going it alone’ as a ministry coach and consultant from his new website – intermissio.

If you’re in ministry and think you, or your church, could do with pressing the pause button, I would thoroughly recommend Laurence to work with. He is one of life’s encourager’s, insightful, firm and gentle (yes, all at the same time!) With great good humour and open to the Holy Spirit at work, Laurence will help you to dig deep within yourself/your church to find what it is that God is really seeking to do within and through you, so that you come to a place that is re-invigourated and re-inspired to carry out God’s work… perhaps you may even find a whole new ministry lying in wait.

I was meant to just act as ‘secretary’ to our little church group that worked with Laurence… what I hope he knows is that experience has fed some significant changes in the way I view ministry, and what I think God is calling me to do! I can’t recommend him enough and wish him God’s blessing in his own new adventure in ministry.

Shine like lights in the world – Philippians 2:12-18

I preached this morning at our 8am Morning Prayer from part of Philippians – through which we are currently working as a sermon series. It is a message that makes particular reference to our circumstances as a parish in vacancy as well as in Lent, looking forward to fresh interviews for a new vicar at the end of the month. But I hope that it has something to say to anyone who reads it.

A few weeks ago I was preaching about our “outward value”, and asking people to think about what it would look like if we took off the body armour of our pre- and misconceptions about people, and reached into our community with the same love that Jesus had.

The 'Daymark' at Gribbin Head, Cornwall - not a lighthouse but designed to help ships avoid mistaking Fowey for Falmouth, and point them in the correct direction!

Someone in the 10am congregation came up to me afterwards and talked about the image of a lighthouse. She was suggesting I seem to remember, that if we did make ourselves more open and available to people in our community, then we would be becoming like a lighthouse in the community, a beacon of hope.

Being part of a church that is a lighthouse in the community is a lovely image, and it’s one that immediately sprang to mind earlier this week, when I read this passage from Phillippians. Here St. Paul is asking us to “shine like lights in the world, clinging on to the word of life” as Tom Wright puts it.

When we write things, or say things, we know what we’re trying to say, but often don’t know all the consequences that our words will have. I suspect that as Paul wrote to the Phillippians, a letter where the “you’s” and “I’s” measure a partnership that Paul had started with the founding of the church there, he would never have expected us to be still reading his words, in a different language, 2000ish years later.

But God has been at work in St. Paul’s words through countless generations, because their message is timeless; they never stop being useful and relevant to those that read them. In that sense Paul’s are ‘words of life’ to which we can cling.

But of course St Paul was not referring to his own words, nor expecting anyone to cling to them. He was asking the Phillippians to cling to Jesus, as the living Word, the one who had brought salvation to the world, who had brought about the fulfilment of God’s promises for his people. As he strived to preach the gospel from his place of house arrest, Paul was simply asking his friends to share in that work in their own place, and to build on those things that provided a rock solid guarantee that what they did, would be pleasing to God.

One of those things was obedience, not just to him as the person who had told them about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; but more importantly, obedience to God. Nor were they to be obedient to God in a way that suggested they were scared of God. That was not the “fear and trembling” that Paul was suggesting. Rather, he was asking for a total seriousness of purpose, a clear focus on the task in hand, and an understanding that since Paul was no longer with them, they were now responsible for their own spiritual welfare.

Without a vicar, we (a bit like the Phillippians) have had to be responsible for our own spiritual welfare. Even though we’ve had some folk who’ve kept a weather eye on us, our ability to get ourselves out the messes of the past, has been down to our own corporate commitment to our relationship with God. It has been our prayerfulness, our willingness to work at our relationships so that they reflect better Jesus’ example, our combined efforts to make changes in our life as a church, that are the visible testimony to our own recent experience of God’s love and direction in our lives. This is what has started to bring us into a better place with God, and with each other.

But, even though we’ve made great progress, the work is not complete. When St. Paul received a gift from the Phillippians he was reminded not just of their love for him, but of their ongoing work for the Lord in partnership with him. He had no idea whether he would return to them again, but whatever happened he didn’t want them to think that their work was done – he wanted it to continue better than ever.

Just because we’re interviewing again for a vicar this month, doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels, being assured that we’ve done well to get this far through the vacancy. Neither will our need to work out how we share the gospel, and develop practical ways of reaching into our community, come to an end when, sooner or later, a new vicar is appointed and arrives. It will simply mean we have a strong, new partner in our work, with whom we will share the responsibility for doing things.

The work of salvation which we have accepted as of paramount importance in our lives, but which others still need to learn about, has never been more important. Our purpose as Christians has never been to earn salvation but to share it with others, that they too may receive Jesus in their lives. To do that, we have to hold that tension between being part of the community around us, and being recognisable as a source of light that is different from that community.

That’s why St Paul is asking the Phillipians to shine like stars in a sky that is otherwise darkened by the difficulties of the world – both the daily practical distresses, and the terrifying images we’ve seen this weekend of natural forces.

And that’s why I like the image of a lighthouse. For starters, they’re usually built in tough and rocky places; exposed to all the natural elements in the world around them, and built to be tough enough to withstand them. Christians have been building their lives exposed to the world for centuries now, and they’ve been tough enough to withstand many batterings. It’s our turn now.

The important thing about the lighthouse is that its light doesn’t seek to attract people to itself, but to safety in something else, like a harbour, somewhere where some protection is offered from the harsh things of the world. All our hard work at re-building our partnership as a church in sharing the gospel, will be in vain if we don’t shine the light we create away from ourselves and towards Jesus.

Crucifix on the Screen at All Saints Basingstoke

And that, I believe, is what this Lent we will be doing on the 10th April as we ‘Lift High the Cross’ on the village green. By placing the crucifixion story at the centre of the community in a very visible way and alongside other Christians in the area, we will be shining a light that points not to ourselves but to Jesus, and to the sacrifice he made so that everyone can come into the harbour that is faith in God.

That after all is what salvation is about – it was the total pouring out of the person of Christ, through death, to a point where he not only was raised to life through the power of his Father God, but by doing so brought new life to all who accept and believe in who he was and what he did. The most powerful way to do let people experience that, is for them to see it for themselves.

But just one event isn’t enough. If people are going to take the cross really seriously this Lent, and afterwards, they need to see and hear the difference it makes in our lives – we each need to shine in our own little bits of the world, our street, our school,the hops we use, our workplace, our family. It might take a kind word, a little extra time, a card through a door, and invitation to watch the crucifixion story, or our own personal story of what Jesus did for us. That is what it means to act in order to fulfill God’s purpose; to show that he works in us.

As we start this Lent, whether we’ve given something up, or started something new, let us also allow God work in each of us so that we shine just a little bit brighter to point people towards Jesus.

The power of wonder

We need not "wonder" much longer - spring is on the way!

There have been several things over the last few weeks that have got me wondering… about wondering. I’m not sure this post will make a whole lot of sense, it’s more a conversation of ideas, that may have considerable significance for me, or for the church I minister in, in the future. However, if you can bear to follow through and respond, perhaps with ideas or examples of how God has used the ‘power of wonder’, I’d really appreciate it:

It started with a conversation with Laurence Gamlen of CPAS in preparation for my recent sermon on our “outward value”. He suggested that to engage people in how the value might be relevant to the way they behave and how we seek to “be” St. Peter’s, the preachers should pose questions like, “What would it look like if…” or, “What would we need to change if…”

Although it was a technique that was suggested in Reader Training, it wasn’t one that I had used till now. From some of the verbal responses that I’ve received, the sermon provided a stimulus to thinking ‘outside the box’ and in doing so, presented people with some significant personal challenges. As yet, I’ve not progressed those conversations to discover more of what those challenges might be.

Then I read a book with a chapter by Revd Dr Samuel Wells which was sort of about the use of imagination in ‘preaching’ in an UPA (using Godly Play techniques). This passage (among many) particularly struck me:

Wondering does not test knowledge. A sentence that begins ‘I wonder’ does not have a question mark at the end. Wondering stretches the imagination, challenges compassion, provokes empathy, trains perception. The newcomer may bring as much or more to this exercise of listening and discerning as the most established regular…”

It got me thinking about how we miss out on exploring the gospel with adults who can not read and write (something I’ve become more aware of since taking a Romany funeral recently), and who may feel the constant use of the written word in worship, liturgy and preaching is patronising and ‘alien’ to their culture.

All this got topped off by reading a recent blog post by Bishop Nick Baines all about Imagination where he talks about how God creatively imagined this world into being, and how Jesus challenged us to radically re-imagine the world into a place that better reflects God’s character.

I have frequently struggled with a poor recall of Bible passages, ideas and ‘theology’ – it contributes to a sense of inferiority that I sometimes grapple with when placed into a conversation where people want to argue a theological point. What I can talk about is what God has done in my life, and how he speaks to me through the processes of creating an act of worship, or a sermon. God speaks to me through my imagination, and enables me as a result to (sometimes) ‘bless’ people with God’s peace, encouragement, or challenge. I think there is something here about the future shape of my ministry, but in the pressures of our vacancy, I’ve not completely sorted out what that might be yet.

On a less personal, and more parochial note, if we are called to take Jesus into people’s homes as I suggested in my recent sermon, however hidden those people may be from the representation of our local social demography that sits in our church week by week, then perhaps the transformation we should be seeking from the Holy Spirit (our ‘upward’ value) is to imagine and wonder more. If we pray to be given the power of wonder, where might God lead us?

Taking our ‘armour’ off so people see Jesus – Luke 19:1-10

I have today completed a pattern of preaching where I preached the same sermon in all five of our Sunday congregations over 3 weeks. The idea was to unpack and give a Biblical background to each of the three values that we worked on last year. An introduction to the work we did to get to them is here.

The process of preaching the same sermon 5 times has itself been an interesting learning process, but I’ll blog about that another time. For now, here’s my sermon, based on the story of Zacchaeus, and our “outward” facing value which says we want to seek God by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus.

I’m pretty sure that Zacchaeus took his shoes off to climb the sycamore fig tree, because to be honest climbing in sandals is pretty difficult! I guess feet that live in sandals like Zac’s probably did, are tougher than many of ours, and bare feet have a natural degree of grip that is a big improvement on a well worn strip of leather. Even so, as Zac climbed up to see Jesus he made himself vulnerable to cutting his feet on the nobbly stalks which the sycamore fig produces as it flowers and fruits along it’s stems. But being able to see Jesus was more important to Zac than a few minor scratches.

Actually the sermon suggested we take more than our shoes off, and was rather longer than that 🙂 – probably the longest I’ve ever preached it rolled in at about 25 minutes long! From the feedback it seems to have had a significant impact on those that have heard it, and neither they, nor I, really noticed the time. There whole text is here: Sermon Luke 19v1-10 (outward value – final version)

I feel like this sermon was very significant, for me, and for those who heard it. Now the question is, can we go and live it?

Values for St. Peter’s Yateley – more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’

Altar Frontal - Winchester Cathedral

I have been involved in a small group at St. Peter’s Yateley that earlier this year gathered regular to tease out and discern what VALUES God would have at the centre of all that St. Peter’s does. There is much more about that process here.

Now that we are settled into a period without a vicar (vacancy), and have accomplished the paperwork involved with seeking a new one, it is time for us to share more clearly with the wider church community what these Values might be, and engage them in considering if we can live them out as a fellowship.

It fell to me at our monthly Wednesday Worship this week to start this process off. Below is the heart of what I shared:

If we think about the life of St. Peter’s we probably recognise that what we do is based on the acronym WORDS:

Worship – our services on Sunday’s and at other times
Outreach – like, Wayfinders, Messy Church our Christmas events like the open-air and Christmas Eve nativities
Relationships – we hope build with the community through all of those activities of worship and outreach
Discipleship – our commitment to learn more of God, to put Jesus teachings into practice in our lives, to trust the Holy Spirit
Service – simply meeting people’s needs, in the ordinary and extra-ordinary circumstances of their lives.

These areas of ‘doing’ give us our purpose as a church – and we think that if we didn’t do those things, the community we serve would be poorer.

One thing that has struck me powerfully as I’ve started to work with local families at some of the most difficult times of their lives – when a loved one has died – is that it is not so much what you do for them, or even the words you say to them or for them, but it is the way that you do it that makes the most difference to their lives.

It is how you comfort someone that has the biggest impact on what people will remember. It is the being Christ that is vital not just the doing of God stuff for them.
So when we think of our activities as a church, our WORDS, it is not simply what we do that is important, it is HOW WE DO them that will enable people to see Christ.

That is what a small group of us in St. Peter’s spent the first half of this year trying to teaze out with God:

How do we think God wants us to be Christ as St. Peter’s Church?
What is important to our being as a church?
What is it that we value that will inspire the way that we do stuff?

There are three values we’ve identified.
One that we believe will drive the way we relate to each other.
One that we pray will form our behaviour towards people who don’t currently attend St. Peter’s.

But we’re starting with the most foundational; the value that should be at the core of how we live our relationship with God:
We believe that God is calling St Peter’s to seek a relationship with God that
surrenders us to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about doing, it’s not even about a form of words that you see or here, it’s about whether we can live it, whether we are seen to have been transformed, whether we really have surrendered to God’s Holy Spirit.

If we think God wants us to live as a church where people can see Christ in us, we want to turn that from being an aspiration of what we can be, into something that we are. We have to start with what’s inside each of us – the passion and energy with which we are willing to surrender ourselves to God, and our openness to being transformed by his Holy Spirit. If we can’t do that as individuals we really can’t expect our church to do it as a community.

It has been a real privilege and very humbling to part of the process that has tried to discern what God wants us to do as a church – and I am very aware that it has been part of a transformation that God is doing in me.

I can’t and won’t go into the personal details, but it is a bit like being set on fire inside. Every time I’m called upon to write down, type up or speak about these values, and sometimes when I’m simply preaching or doing something else, I feel the Holy Spirit setting something alight inside me that I want others, you, all of us to see and experience.

I know that through the power of the Holy Spirit I’m being given the energy and transformed into someone who can better be Christ for others, in a way that I would never have believed possible, even a few months ago. These values, and this one in particular, are part of that process of surrender to God.

I firmly believe that God wants St Peter’s to be a flame of God’s Holy Spirit here in Yateley. I also believe that the values that God is calling us to live out and be, are ones that we can all commit ourselves to, once we have understood what they are and why they are important. They will equip us with the energy and passion to make tough decisions about how we approach our doing of Worship Outreach Relationships Discipleship and Service.

Please consider prayerfully whether you believe we’ve understood correctly what God is asking St Peter’s to seek BE in the way that we do business with him for others. Then, please share your thoughts with me, or with other leaders in St Peter’s.

A prayer with values for a vacancy

Today CPAS have featured my posts about St. Peter’s search for a set of foundational values in their August e-bulletin.

My husband's panorama of Church End, Yateley, created to illustrate our Parish Profile

It is therefore appropriate that yesterday as St. Peter’s shared its first draft Parish Profile among all its congregations for comments, with it was a prayer for our period of vacancy (life without a vicar) that I had been involved in writing, and which focuses on the values we hope will become foundational to our future.

It deliberately acknowledges our recent experiences, focuses on the values we want to share, and asks God to call both ourselves and our ‘as yet unknown to us’ leader, to focus on our service to God with enthusiasm and integrity.

Living God,
We give thanks for your presence in the life of St. Peter’s,
and ask you to forgive us
where we have not honoured you in our words and actions.
Through your grace and love,
bind us together as a community willing to surrender
to the transforming power of your Holy Spirit.
Help us to celebrate the new life you brought
through the gift of your Son Jesus,
and, with Him, to meet the people of Yateley.
Inspire within us,
and in the heart of those who you are calling to lead us,
the will to serve you with integrity,
and the enthusiasm to experience the fullness of your Kingdom;
To the glory of your name,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our hope is that each congregation, homegroup and other event will share this prayer when they meet, and that individual members will pray it as part of their personal prayer lives, for the duration of our vacancy.

What should our values inspire us to?

St. James, Bramley near Basingstoke, Hampshire

So, at St. Peter’s we’ve got some values that we want to start teaching, praying and living… probably a good cue for a summer of writing Bible studies!

As part of the Values Working Group, it’s been humbling and inspiring helping to get us even this far on behalf of the whole church community. But the hard work has hardly started; now we need to work out as a church what it means to live these values out.

One the key things that Laurence Gamlen of CPAS kept emphasising to our Values Working Group, was that our values will inform and set our behaviour – if they don’t then they are not values that we are living by. The behaviours will be those which each member of St. Peter’s should be living out in their daily lives, and these will also become the behaviours of the church fellowship; if our values are truly inspired by Christ, then we need to show we’re living them out, like Christ.

Some of those behaviours are intentional – we will need to make concious decisions about what we decide to do based on these things things that we value about God. That will be difficult. It will require us to decide on explicit ways of behaving, and at our PCC Away Day we started to think about what might be the most important of these explicit behaviours to work on first. Eventually these should inform all our natural behaviours; it will rub off on those decisions and actions that are second nature.

These were the intentional behaviours that the PCC Away Day (in the lovely church rooms at St. James, Bramley) thought ‘fell out’ from each value, and should be our initial priorities when thinking about their impact on our lives:

The lovely church rooms in the churchyard (maintained for wildlife) at St. James, Bramley

If, at St. Peter’s we seek God by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus, this should lead to us prioritising the following:

  • we will go to meet people where they are (e.g. like Jesus did with the tax collector)
  • we will make ourselves vulnerable, and take risks (e.g. Jesus with the woman at the well)
  • we will build relationships with those we meet (Jesus did this all the while – especially with the disciples!)

If, at St. Peter’s we are seeking God by living as a community held together by the grace and love of the Father, this should lead to us

  • being supportive of each other, and clear and accountable to each other, things that need to be exhibited by all, but specifically with the leadership of St. Peter’s setting the example – with the Biblical example of how Jesus sent out the disciples
  • be spending time together using as we have already started to do, Acts 2:42-47 and the example of Jesus spending time with disciples in sharing food, teaching, journeying…)
  • show care and respect for each other (using example of Jesus care for Peter after Peter’s denial, Jesus’ washing of feet, and his eating with ‘sinners’ – to name a few examples)

If, at St. Peter’s we are seeking God by surrendering to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, then the intentional behaviours in our teaching and learning, that transform our (individual and corporate) lifestyle of prayer, worship and use of scripture should cause us to live as servants, to God, to our community and to each other. This will require us to

  • create space to be with God,
  • be passionate about our faith in Jesus,
  • and expectantly invite encounter with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It has been noticeable that the values that have been most hard-won have been the bits of our relationships where we know as a church we are hurting most (how we behave towards each other). The initial behaviours which are proving the most difficult to identify as those to prioritise, are those that come from our relationship to God; could that possibly be the work of the devil seeking to stop us in our tracks before we get started?

Bishop Alan wrote today that “Christians [should] reject those things that do not fit with the name we claim and choose those that do” and I guess, that’s just what we need to do with the way we behave, and in the way in which must affirm, train and correct each other as we go. There will be many who will need to help us along our way, our new Area Bishop, and our new vicar when they arrive, to name but two. You are welcome to constructively ‘comment’ (using the comment facility on each blog entry) and inspire us as we work out what Jesus would have us do, and pray for us that God will continue to inspire and strengthen us on our journey.

I hope too that Laurence will keep an eye on us, especially in the vacancy months to come, to help keep us on the fertile ground lest the weeds grow (Mark 4)!

Update: you may find this recent sermon has some relevance to how we live our Christ-like values – our values work was certainly heavily on my mind as I prepared and delivered the sermon, even though we officially couldn’t go public at the time.

Finding values that inspire us to be courageous Tigger’s

Back in April I blogged about participating my St. Peter’s search for some values that will inspire our living, loving and learning of the Christian faith for the years to come.

Since then, we’ve discovered that we’re facing ‘vacancy’ (‘interregnum’ to those of the old language) since the very Bishop I quoted in that item (Bishop Alan) has snaffled our vicar to go and do Fresh Expressions in Marlow! So the process of finalising our values became more urgent, as they will form part of our Parish Profile because they show where we are on our parochial journey with God.

Laurence Gamlen of CPAS has continued to be very helpful, and encouraging throughout. The process has entailed a group of exhausted lay-folk taking time out from other evening commitments to discern through prayer, Bible-study and conversation HOW it is that we wish to behave as individuals and as a church that exists within it’s general and diocesan Anglican identity. (Once again Bishop Alan’s blog feeds my own journey in this, as he’s just posted about existing as a church “that Christ may reign”)

As I understand it, the values that we’ve come up with should work alongside our purpose as a church (Worship, Outreach, Relationships, Discipleship, Service) to inspire our vision and strategy for the future which hopefully a new vicar will help us to work out.

Can God make Tigger's of us all?

Last month many of our PCC met for an Away Day which was solely devoted to the presentation of the Values which we have been working on. We had to condense a 4 month journey into one day. Usefully our current vicar started the day by asking everyone where they were on the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ scale – with many folk admitting they were feeling more Eeyore-like than anything else (rather an effort to be there, and not very hopeful about the usefulness of the day). However, at the end of the day when we’d finished presenting the values, everyone was standing at the Tigger end of the “Eeyore – Tigger” continuum; we were all bouncy and inspired to work on a variety of ways that we can discuss and explore these values together as a church during our ‘vacancy’.

So what are these values that St. Peter’s People could be inspired by God to live by? They focus on our (upward) relationship with God, our (inward) relationships with each other, and our (outward) relationships with those outside of St. Peter’s:

At St. Peter’s Yateley we will seek God

  • by surrendering to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit;
  • by living as a community held together by the grace and love of the Father;

  • by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus.

So, what’s so exciting about them and what questions have people had so far?

The exciting points were that PCC members felt they showed conviction and not judgement, that they encourage us to be interested in each other and not ourselves, that they require an act of will, that they will encourage and allow transformation to occur in an environment where there is respect within our ‘family’ for differing views, and that importantly, they all provide a good check back to our individual and corporate actions and decisions.

The few points of discussion revolved initially around the suggestion that we haven’t yet found God, which some thought could be inferred from the phrase “we will seek God”. However, the Values Working Group had actually specifically gone for this phrase as expressing the idea that we are always seeking God, and haven’t got all the answers! Everyone now seems quite happy with this.

The other point of issue relates to the last bullet point: some PCC members thought that it made the relevance of new life in Jesus more positive rather than optional, and prefer the wording:

  • by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore why new life with Jesus is relevant.

Personally I think both phrases have the same slight problem, and yet we want to make sure we’re not ‘selling Christ short’ by not saying that we believe he makes all the difference to our lives!

My thoughts are that these are really exciting ideas to live by, but that Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t always very adventurous or courageous – if we’re going to be living a Christian life that witnesses to these Christ inspired values, then we’re going to need to be both!

So what do you think? Whether you are from St. Peter’s Yateley or not, do you come over all Tigger-ish at the idea of behaving in ways that show these values?

And what behaviours should they inspire in us as Christians?

More of that in the next post, in the mean-time, please use the comment facility to let me know what you think of our journey so far.

Symbols of identity as we become more like Jesus – Galatians 2:11-21

Baobab Tree - Mapungubwe SA 2006

This week I ended up drawing connections between Dung Beetles and Baobab Trees and the way we should be changing our identity as we become more like Jesus! I’m not sure if it worked, but God did if the ministry time after the service was anything to go by.

A message very much for my church of St. Peter’s, Yateley at this time. The values work that I have been part of in the parish was very much at the back of my mind when writing this sermon, as well as our need to define those behaviours that our Christ-like values should instil. I shall post about this work as soon as it has been agreed by our PCC for public consumption.

You are welcome to download the text of what I said: Sermon Galatians 2v11-21

Update: Posts about our values work are here, here and here (in chronological order).

And yes, there is a vague World Cup link… but not really to the football!