Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Wesley Day 24 May 2016: Extraordinary Calls for Extraordinary Times

Oh what a journey!  It felt like a Camp Meeting - for four hours we sang, prayed, read from the Bible, John Wesley’s Journal and Son to Susanna, preached and even danced!

From St Paul’s Cathedral we processed, via John Wesley’s statue at the North Steps of St Paul’s, to the Flame Monument at the Museum of London, Susanna Wesley’s grave in Bunhill Fields, and finally Wesley’s Chapel itself.
There were so many highlights!  Laying flowers at Susanna Wesley’s grave, the gate specially open for the occasion.
The great gathering of Methodists from Korea, China, Ghana, Canada, America and even Britain! 
And for me – best of all – standing on John Wesley’s tomb to preach in the open air!
I enjoyed reminding people that John Wesley was the first Primitive Methodist!  (After all, in my day job, I am the Director of the Chapel and Museum of Primitive Methodism at Englesea Brook!)

John Wesley turned the church of his day upside down.

An astonishing man!  After his conversion on 24 May 1738, Wesley had a heart so open to God, that he was open to change everything that he had been culturally conditioned to believe, as an 18th century man, a Tory, and an Anglican clergyman!
First of all God called him to preach outside a church building – in a field - unthinkable!  As Wesley wrote in his Journal, ‘today I have done a thing most vile’.
Then God called Wesley to accept lay people as leaders and preachers. What - only ordained people can do that!  With a little prodding from Susanna, Thomas Maxfield became the first local preacher.
Worst of all, John Wesley found that God was calling women!  He took a little longer to get his head round that, but he got there!  Women became evangelists, spiritual leaders, directors of social care projects.

Extraordinary calls for extraordinary times.  For John Wesley, if a person bears fruit, they must be called by God.
Are we as open to the movement of the Holy Spirit now as John Wesley was over 200 years ago? This is the challenge for us.
  • Which people/places/ministries are bearing fruit today?
  • What deep-seated attitudes might we need to change?
  • What ‘vile things’ might God be calling us to today?
The Covenant Prayer, one of John Wesley’s greatest gifts to the church, blows us out of our comfort zone!

Extraordinary calls for extraordinary times. 
When John Wesley was asked Why has God raised up the Methodists?'  His answer was: ‘As God’s messengers, to reform the church and spread scriptural holiness through the land.’

God has not finished with us yet! 

Monday, 25 April 2016

The risen radical Lord

On my [the Revd Steve Wild's] recent visit to the Liverpool District the Chair Revd Sheryl Anderson took me to our church in Toxteth, Princess Avenue. Outside this church is a thought provoking image of the risen Jesus. I remember driving past it years ago and thinking 'what ever is that?'

Seeing it this time I have perhaps more appreciation of modern sculpture than back then. The sculpture is titled is 'The Resurrection of Christ' and was made by Liverpool born sculptor Arthur Dooley who died in 1994. It is arresting on the plain brick wall of the church; an emaciated Jesus with a loin cloth and torn grave clothes is leaping out of the church in a cruciform shape but crossless. One could say it looks like a V for victory shape, very apt for resurrection.

As I stood and looked at this sculpture the face of Jesus looked to have a smile. I sing lustily 'Lo Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb.' In my mind I picture him smiling but not looking like this...but why not?

Sadly there are thousands in the world who look like this sculpture and Jesus relates to them too. It is known locally by Liverpudlians as the 'Black Christ'. Well Jesus was certainly not white and the framed print I grew up with in my Rochdale bedroom showed a white Jesus with children from around the world at his feet - I suppose it was slightly better than the one in my scout hut of the white Jesus with one hand outstretched and the other on the shoulder of a Boy Scout with half a globe in front of them and the words BRITISH EMPIRE on it!

Yikes, a black emaciated Jesus is more healthy than some of the patronising white images in the past.
But what is very powerful and moving to me as an evangelist is Jesus breaking out of the church and being in the community. Don't get me wrong I met the circuit team in Toxteth and what an impressive group they are, a number of excellent projects and as I walked in the building there were lots of young people of the community buzzing round.

This image is not of a tame domesticated Jesus - this is a victorious Lord who has overcome death and has good news for everyone, is ready to serve the Toxteth residents, to celebrate and weep with them.

Life within our churches is good and this year I've witnessed some of Methodism fit for purpose with amazing mission activities on our premises, but let's catch up with the risen Lord alive and at work outside the church.

One lady I met was an Air Traffic controller at Manchester International Airport, a responsible job, she said 'I couldn't do it without Christ with me.' In Truro last week I met a homeless chap who often sits on the back row of the Methodist Church, on greeting him I said I hadn't seen him for a while. His reply was 'well I didn't do it but I've been in prison - I wasn't alone He was with me' and he pointed to the sky.

Thank God there are loads of situations were We as the body of Christ break out and run with the risen Jesus and tune in to the work of the Holy Spirit - let's have more of it!

Yes I am inspired by this piece of sculpture; my photo of it has become the screen saver on my computer to remind me to look for the risen radical Lord I serve in unexpected places sharing love, comfort and peace.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

“I will bless you … and you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2 NIV)

A blessing has an important part to play in the journey of  the people of faith. The Old Testament has great stories over different people being blessed or not blessed in the right order. Jesus talks about blessings. The image of Jesus blessing little Children is very tender and a favourite of Victorian Stained Glass window artists although somehow the joy of the moment can be lost in some very solemn depictions.

In the New Testament, there are two primary Greek words translated as “blessing.” Makarios which carries the meaning of happiness. The happy state of those who find their purpose and fulfillment in God is shown in the Beatitudes of Matthew ch 5 and Luke ch 6 as in other parts of the Bible it means the best life is available for those who love and fear God and order their lives according to His Word.
In  the book of Romans there is a lovely little blessing  “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” (ch 4 v 6 - 8)

The other word Eulogeo focuses more on good words or the good report that others give of someone this also describes - giving thanks, the blessing that we say over our food. The word   “eulogy,” stems from this, used about speaking well of someone who has passed away. There is a great blessing in Ephesians 'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (ch 1 v 3)and in 1 Peter  "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (ch 3 v9)

On my trip to the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District I visited the Revd G. Mark Stobert who is the lead chaplain in Dudley at Russells Hospital NHS Trust. I have met Mark before but never been round the wards with him, what was astonishing was the way he blessed the doctors, nurses, cleaners in fact anyone who works there. When I accompanied him into the Accident and Emergency Ward he wandered in the midst of the busyness blessing the staff. I noticed how they leaned forward for his light touch. It was very moving one of the nurses said to me 'I've got to have my blessing, it gets me through!'

In experiencing the Revd Mark doing this I was deeply moved. This touch of blessing is used by the Holy Spirit in a most wonderful way and Rev Mark is quite laid back about it he has the great gift of allowing the Lord to use him and relaxing in it, a true vessel.

How can we bless people more effectively?

What about the very practical blessings when we support 'All we can' or 'Action for Children'. This is only a little exploration I've done in my quiet time but prompted by Mark I hope that I can increase my blessings to people I encounter.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Anti-Methodist Hell Fire Club

On the front of the former Bell Hotel (now Santander) is a blue plaque, declaring it to be the meeting place of the ‘Anti-Methodist Hell Fire Club, which victimised John and Charles Wesley in 1754’!

I stumbled across it while walking through Norwich with Julian Pursehouse, and others from the East Anglia District, who had never noticed it before.

Wow – if only Methodists today created such a strong reaction!  Maybe our preaching is not controversial enough?!

I was intrigued to know more.  Fortunately, during my visit I was given a copy of The Spreading Flame: the coming of Methodism to Norfolk, by Cyril Jolly.  The first Methodist to preach in Norwich was James Wheatley. 

There is a wonderful contemporary account in a letter dated 28 September 1751:
‘For a few weeks past, there has been a Methodist preacher in this city: he preached four or five times every day; but constantly morning and evening on the hill upon which the Castle stands, when he is greatly crowded, especially on the Lord’s days; it was computed that the last Lord’s day he was attended by 8 or 10,000. The mob is thoroughly in his interest, as appeared when some young gentlemen very imprudently fired some crackers among them; when in the bustle the preacher was thrown from his table and received a slight wound in the leg. Some of the gentlemen lost their hats and wigs, and had their coats tore to pieces, being likewise much bruised; and probably a few lives were saved by rolling down the hill, the descent of which is nearly perpendicular… No worse consequences have attended this affair than the breaking of a few windows in the house where the preacher lodges. Upon this disturbance the preacher changed his discourse to the stoning of Stephen.’

The ‘Hell Fire Club’, consisting of ‘indolent, rich young men with principles inimical to government, and a determination to crush Methodism’, began to organise opposition from their headquarters at the Bell, bribing ‘toughs’ with money and strong beer to break up Wheatley’s meetings.
On one occasion a gang of seven butchers and five weavers, with blackened faces, carrying cleavers and marrow bones, banging a drum and blowing cow horns, and fuelled by alcohol, attacked the Methodists. Mob violence continued for months, resulting in damage to property and bruised and broken limbs.  Some Methodists were very badly wounded, and two preachers nearly murdered.  It is not surprising that action against the rioters was ineffective, as member of the Hell Fire Club included four aldermen and magistrates.

John and Charles Wesley arrived in Norwich on 10 July 1754, and Charles preached at 7.00am on Orford Hill to a crowd of 2,000 people. In the afternoon, he preached again to a crowd of 10,000 (John was too ill to take part).  Charles then rented a large brewhouse, on the site of an old bell foundry, and fitted it up as a chapel called the ‘Foundery’.

This must have been red rag to a bull, as it was almost under the noses of the Hell Fire Club.  Charles reported, ‘My strength increased with the opposition. A gentleman on horseback with others, was ready to gnash on me with his teeth; but my voice prevailed, and they retreated to their stronghold, the alehouse.’

What an incredible story – and how brave our ancestors in faith were in facing opposition.  If I was one of the women thrown into the river, and sexually assaulted in the streets, or the man thrown into a cess pit, just for being a Methodist, would I have the courage?

I am not suggesting we should create a riot (or am I?) – but perhaps we need to be less afraid to speak out – for justice and for Jesus.

A Prayer of Reconciliation

During my visit to the East Anglia District I had the privilege of a wonderful tour of Norwich Cathedral. I was really impressed and moved by the feeling of living faith in the midst of such an ancient and awe-inspiring building and tradition.

In a side chapel was this prayer, found written on a piece of wrapping paper in Ravensbruck, the largest of the concentration camps for women in Nazi Germany.
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we bought, thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.  Amen.
I feel humbled and challenged. 

Faith makes every place a Bethel

On Sunday I was with a church without a building.  The people I met, in the school where we gathered for worship, were full of hope for the future. There was a vision and a heart for mission and outreach, and an energy that was uplifting and encouraging. Yet emotions ran close to the surface, even erupting at times.  For some, the pain of losing ‘their’ building was still raw.

This morning, as I had my cup of tea in bed (spoilt I know!) I was reading Paul Chilcote’s Her Own Story.  A letter from Ann Ray to Elizabeth Hurrell, written in 1769, struck me with the freshness of ‘now’.
‘His presence [is] in you, around you, wherever you are, at every time and place. Believe him in you, near you. He is, you know, “bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh”; yea, nearer than that by far, for “he that is joined to the Lord, is one spirit with him”. Think of his immediate presence as often as you can. Speak to him in the simplest manner possible as frequently as you can. Tell him all you want, all you can do, or cannot do; but, tell it as to a present God, a present Friend who is able and willing to help you. Do not behold him afar off, in heaven only. He is here upon earth, or rather earth and all things are in him … Faith makes every place a Bethel.’

Jacob set up a stone to mark the place where he had experienced the presence of God, and called it ‘Bethel’. In the 19th century people built chapels and called them ‘Bethel’, as a sign of rejoicing and prayer that God would be in that place.
Unlike Jacob, we have the glorious gift of a living relationship with God through the risen Jesus.  We can experience his presence in a new way.  Jesus bursts open the spaces in which we try to enclose him. 

Faith makes every place a Bethel.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A brief encounter

People ask me about my Presidential year what do I enjoy most? Well I love all of it but I enjoy the railway journeys and meeting all types of different people talking about faith and sometimes bringing people to faith and giving them a small wooden cross.

The other Saturday I prayed for similar encounters on my journey but alas the people I met didn't want to talk.

The train pulled into Birmingham New Street Station and the platform was filled with men, they were going to Derby for a football match. The train was soon full of blokes and the table opposite mine had four supporters all using bad language as they put the cans of larger into some semblance of order in the middle of their table.

When one of the guys noticed my clerical collar he shushed the others and said “I’m sorry about our language vicar!”

I assured him that I wasn't embarrassed and one of his mates said: “Hey this is a good luck omen for the game we’ll win now”. This opened a conversation me trying to explain that Christianity isn't a good luck charm.

Now with these men I was a long way out of my comfort zone and as the journey continued they came at me with question after question...

Two of them were UKIP supporters, one had been in prison and one was a Jeremy Corbin Labour supporter. They threw everything at me: the state of the world; politics; refuges; the hypocrisy of the church; child abuse...

This certainly wasn't my easiest forum and I felt my answers were inadequate. The questions were so quick!

I did emphasis that my cornerstone of faith is love I told them that God loved them, which, of course, was quickly dismissed. Despite all this, I stuck with them and shot up loads of arrow prayers and answered their questions as best I could.

As the train pulled into Derby Station I decided to be courageous and ask for a ‘selfie’. To my amazement they were all keen and posed with me! One of them said: “I'm not on the picture can I please have one on my own with you?” - So we did! He then hugged me - to my total amazement – and I blessed him.

But what was even more astonishing was that as the others filed out past me, each one wanted a hug!
The last one was recently bereaved and I plucked up my courage and offered him a small wooden cross saying that I felt it would help him in his bereavement. He answered me: “Thanks but no – with all integers I cannot accept it, but thank you for offering it to me” and he got off the train.

Following this I felt quite down and had mixed feelings... ‘If only he had taken the cross I’d thought’...

Then it dawned on me that it must have taken him more courage to say ‘no’. If he had taken it, I’m sure I would have had a nice evangelistic story to share, but instead he had refused the cross.
But had he taken it, for all I know, he could have tossed it straight into the bin, but he didn't.

He answered me truthfully.

Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ and it’s so good that he was truthful with me at this level.

As an evangelist I've never had such as uprising response as these blokes hugging me, somehow the love of Jesus penetrated through and glory be to God for that.

Even in the opportunities that we think go badly God is there.