Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2018

Deuteronomy 18.15-20; Revelation 12. 1-5a; Mark 1.21-28

Brian Reader

As well as it being the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, it is the Sunday before Candlemas, and the end of the Christmas Season; the time when we lose the Crib and the last of the Christmas trimmings. Today is also listed as Leprosy Day & Homelessness Sunday, but I could find nothing about homelessness or Leprosy in the readings. However, the story of Jesus curing a Leper can be found in verse 40 if you continue to read chapter 1 of St Mark’s Gospel.

So what message can we learn from our readings for this morning. On first a reading they seemed strange. I found them difficult to understand and seemingly lacking any link which would give a single theme.

The first was a passage from Deuteronomy. In it the writer, traditionally thought to be Moses, says ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.’ And in the New Testament, in John, this passage is seen to be a reference to the prophet ‘par excellence’ – that is Jesus himself.

For our next reading we had a bit from The Revelation. When I was in Sunday school, I was warned off reading Revelation as it was considered too difficult, but here it is, as our reading so we better try and understand what it is saying to us. Revelation is unique in the New Testament. Its message is of the final victory of Jesus Christ over all the forces that oppose God, and this is conveyed in a series of visions. John was writing for a persecuted Church, and these chapters are full of encouragement to enable the persecuted Christians to take heart.

The woman stands for God’s chosen people, from whom the Messiah Jesus, and through him the Church, was born. The red dragon does not represent Wales but Satan himself, who is hell bent on destruction of all that is good. If the reading had continued, the main message would have become clearer. Although Satan is strong and powerful and his attack fierce – his time is short. He has already been overpowered by Christ: so he can be overcome by Christians. Satan is destined for destruction, and the Church is destined for eventual triumph. God’s people are at all times, and everywhere, under His sovereign protection.

Our Gospel reading tells us of Jesus and how he taught and healed with great authority, the authority of God himself. So we see that all three reading do have a link – it is Jesus himself – our Lord and Saviour.

Let us try and imagine what it would have been like on that Saturday, the Sabbath in the small town of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. Here in the synagogue is a man, not one of the recognized teachers, who begins on his own authority to tell people what God’s will is. Although Mark gives no record, you can imagine what he said. It was certainly not what they expected. He announced the coming of the Kingdom, spoke of God’s mercy and forgiveness, of help and hope and liberty, and joy in believing.

It was like a breath of fresh air. The manner of his teaching was more astounding than the content. If he caught your eye, it was arresting; each one felt that he was talking just to them. And he spoke with such authority. The usual teachers – the priests and scribes, the literate ones, the self-appointed scrupulous guardians of Jewish ancestral traditions – they didn’t teach like that. They always said, ‘as Moses said’, or ‘as Rabbi so-and-so said’: but Jesus presented no argument, just a simple statement of fact. Jesus spoke with a quiet but compelling authority all of his own. And with the same authority he spoke words of healing, like a message straight from God. They had never heard anything like this before.

One man was especially affected. Most of the time he was fine, or he would have been excluded from society and the synagogue. Today, the electric atmosphere and excited buzz around him, aroused his nervous tension and provoked the outburst. You may not believe in demons and ascribe his symptoms to hysteria or epilepsy or some other disease that we would recognise today. But demon-belief was common in the ancient world, and would have been in this congregation and the man himself. The wonder in this synagogue was not only that the man was cured; but the manner of it was more surprising than the fact. There was no incanted list of spirit-names to find a stronger or higher spirit, as was standard practice for the many exorcists; Jesus simply commanded and it was done.

Sometimes people for whom life had become a total nightmare – whose personalities seemed taken over by alien powers confronted Jesus; indeed, they seem to have had a kind of inside track on recognizing him, knowing who he was and what he’d come to do. He’d come to stop the nightmare, to rescue people, both nations and individuals, from the destructive forces that enslaved them.

So whether it was shrieking demons, or simply whatever diseases people happened to suffer from, Jesus dealt with them, all with the same gentle but deeply effective authority. This is how Mark begins to tell us both about how Jesus became so popular so quickly and of how the course of his public career, pointed unavoidably to its dramatic conclusion.

There is no doubt that Jesus quickly attracted huge crowds, and that his authoritative healings were the main reason. That in itself would have been threatening to the authorities; but, there was more. Jesus had joined in a struggle against the forces of evil and destruction,
forces that still exist in the world today. Jesus came to be the human bridge or ladder across which people could climb to safety. And in the process, he himself paid with his own life – the price of this saving authority, Christ on the Cross, a human bridge with outstretched arms carrying people from death to life; that was simply part of the integrity of his healing action which now stretches to eternity. The demons had their final shriek at him as he hung on the cross, challenging and mocking for the last time the validity of his authority. On the cross he completed the healing work he began that day in the synagogue.

When the church learns again how to speak and act with the same authority, we will find both the saving power of God unleashed once more and with it a similar opposition from the forces of darkness. Similar, but not the same. The demons recognised Jesus, and knew he had come to defeat them once and for all. They can still shriek, but since Calvary they no longer have authority. To believe this is the key to Christian testimony, and saving action in the world, that despite its frequent panic and despair, the world has already been claimed by the loving authority of God in Jesus.

So to return to Leprosy Day & Homelessness Sunday… Well we know that Jesus heals and since my childhood great steps have already been made to bring a cure for the crippling disease of Leprosy, although it is far from being eliminated. Homelessness on the other hand is different. We know that it sometimes results from mental health issues, including the breakdown of relationships, and addictions to alcohol, drugs and/or gambling. These can all lead to homelessness. Also we know that the greed of individuals, and poor decisions on house building, land usage, and social injustice can all be factors. Jesus has the necessary power in his own strength and person to heal individuals. We should continue to pray for God’s guidance, and give what we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Remember, God has supplied the world with everything sufficient for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.

And so today our theme has been Jesus. There was never anyone like Jesus. He speaks the truth about God. He can meet your need; He can set you free. And if you allow him to work through you, you can help change the world.

AMEN

Epiphany party 2018

Each year we hold a party in church for Praise & Play Children and all our younger church members including the families of children recently baptised.

There was food and drink, various games, and a surprise visit from Three Wise Men who came bearing gifts for the children.

A good time was had by all!

 

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Concert for Tearfund – Sat. 3 February

At 7.00pm – URC Park Green Macclesfield

One of the young people in the URC, Julia, has been selected to travel to South Africa in June, and work for three months on Tearfund Projects. She has to raise £800 towards the projects (not her travel or subsistence, that is coming from other funds) where she will be making a difference. Julia has worked very hard to pull this fundraising concert together. Please support her. Download a poster here

Confirmed Line Up:
The Lyndsay Woodrow Trio – A fantastic acoustic trio featuring a singer, acoustic guitar and bass.
Catherine Stoker – A singer and piano player who promises to impress.
Stephan Andrusyschyn – A phenomenal accordion player to add a welcome twist to the night.
Sian Jones – A musical theatre vocalist who is a very deserving headlining act.

Tuesday evenings in Lent 2018

Please sign up at the back of Church – maximum of 10 people per session.

First come – first served!

We’ll meet at 7.30pm to share in a simple celebration of holy Communion in a variety of venues, enjoy the hospitality kindly offered by members of our congregation, and take time to chat over a cup of tea or coffee afterwards, about anything that has interested you from our Lent Book. (Please share transport if possible!)

St Philip

John 1.43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Anne Coomes

Have you ever wondered how many Christians there are in the world today? According to recent statistics, the number is 2.3 billion. That is nearly one third of the world’s entire population. That is an awful lot of people who are willing to be called a follower of Jesus, even if it is in name only. It is amazing to think that every follower of Jesus can be traced back to the very first 12 followers of Jesus, who founded the early Church. To start with 12 and end up with 2.3 billion. That is an impressive growth rate!

It makes our reading this morning very special – for this takes us all the way back to where it first began – at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when He has just begun choosing his disciples. He has already chosen Andrew and Simon Peter, and now it is Philip and Nathanael’s turn. Philip and Nathanael are among the lesser well-known of the disciples. Philip, like Andrew and Simon Peter, was from the village of Bethsaida, and we are not told where Nathanael came from. But they had this in common – they were devout Jews who truly wanted to honour God.

And so we read that Jesus, before he left for Galilee, found Philip, and said: ‘Follow me.’ If someone said that to us today, we would be puzzled. Follow you where? But the concept of ‘follow me’ would have been familiar to Philip – in Jewish circles many rabbis had young men who wanted to learn from them. They were called learners, or disciples, and so they followed their teacher – literally as well as mentally. What was unusual here was that normally the poor disciple had to try and guess which was the best rabbi to follow. But here Jesus was seeking Philip out – calling him by name.

Jesus was calling those whom the father had given to him. Jesus has since called each one of us by name – for like Philip, we did not find God, he found us. We love him, because He first loved us. And Philip responded with great gladness. He even brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus, as Jesus knew he would. Philip tells Nathanael that he has found ‘the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ But – Nathanael is not impressed. What good can come out of Nazareth? His scorn was not that of disinterest, but disappointment – he knew that the prophecies did not include a messiah from Nazareth. But it was exactly Nathanael’s high regard for the Scriptures which Jesus immediately picked up on. He praised Nathanael for having full integrity as an Israelite. Then Jesus added that Nathanael would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This reference may sound odd to you and me, but it would not have done so to them. It harks back to Genesis, and the night that Jacob dreamed of the ladder between earth and heaven, the thin place where angels came and went. Jesus is telling them that with his arrival, that ladder, that intersection between earth and heaven is truly established – forever – in the person of the Son of Man. And sadly, that is all we learn of Nathanael. But John and Acts have more to tell us about Philip. And the stories of his discipleship hold great encouragement for us.

For although Philip never doubted that Jesus had chosen him, he still really struggled at times, as we often do. He got anxious when faced by big challenges, and also totally confused at other times. For example, in John chapter 6, there is the story of Jesus about to feed the 5,000 before sending them away. As a test of faith, He asks Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ And Philip fails the test completely. His reaction is only that : ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread!’ It never occurred to him that Jesus could easily do it.

The next time we see Philip is on Palm Sunday, in Jerusalem among the joyful crowds. Some strangers from Greece arrive, and ask him to take them to Jesus. But Philip lacks confidence to do this, and asks Andrew for help. Together they show the men the way to Jesus.

We’ve all been like that. When people have asked us to show them Jesus, we can so easily falter. That is why having Christian friends alongside us is so important, we are stronger together in our witness.

The next story of Philip is yet another story of failure. But I find it very comforting, because if you ever fear that you have really let the Lord down, you could not do worse than poor Philip did. It was the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus tells the disciples: ‘if you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ And Philip’s response to this is cringe-making; he says ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus’s reply is so sad: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’

What a sad reproach from Jesus. And on their last-ever evening together! For Jesus is crucified next morning. Imagine how Philip must have felt – it would have broken his heart to think that Jesus had been so disappointed in his discipleship. Don’t you know me, Philip?

And yet – Jesus did not give up on Philip. For Philip was witness to the resurrection, the ascension, Pentecost, and the hectically busy life of the early church. Then persecution struck – and the Christians had to flee Jerusalem or die. And so we come to our final two glimpses of Philip. Acts records that when the Christians scattered, Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. He cast out demons, and healed the sick. So there was great joy in that city.

What has happened to Philip? He has grown strong and confident. The power of God is now very obviously on his life.

Our last story of Philip is most moving. It comes in Acts chapter 8. Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So Philip goes, – and meets the Ethiopian eunuch, an important treasury official, in his chariot. The eunuch is reading Isaiah and asks for help to understand it. And Philip, beginning with that very passage of Scripture, tells him the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian responds with great joy, and asks Philip to baptise him. And then we are told that when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

And with that, Philip passes out of history. But what a lovely final picture of him, this lesser known disciple. He was not timid or confused now, but full of the Holy Spirit and a passion to share Jesus with everyone he met.

With Christians like that down the centuries, no wonder the Church continued to grow. Jesus stills calls each one of us by name today, and gives his grace to us as freely as He gave it to those first disciples.

Amen.

Vicar’s Letter – January 2018

As we begin another New Year, we look forward to the exciting prospect of seeking faculty permission from the Chancellor of the Diocese for the continuance of our plans to enhance the hospitality of St Oswald’s Church building, which outline plans have now been given the blessing of the PCC. With the expert guidance of our volunteer project manager, Richard Raymond (known to many of you as our Deanery Lay Chair and joint organiser of the award-winning East Cheshire Hospice Christmas Tree Collection) we are looking to create an improved kitchen facility within the porch of the former main entrance to St Oswald’s, adding a new part-glazed fire escape door into what is currently the window immediately adjacent to the old porch (for which we have already been granted planning permission by Cheshire East), and building some new wall-hugging storage cupboards at the west end of the nave in place of the now outgrown servery kitchen and former loo space.

Approximately one third of the cost of this mission project will be met by the funds we can claim back from the net proceeds which the Diocese obtained following the sale of the old vicarage on Shrigley Road and the subsequent purchase of a new house on Waterwheel Way (which will become the home of future Vicars of Bollington after I retire!). At our last PCC meeting in November, there was broad agreement that this project is much needed since our present facilities for hospitality are now inadequate for our evolving ministry and mission, but some anxieties were properly expressed about where to find the remainder of the money for these necessary works. We will be able to apply for grant funding from a whole variety of charities aimed at supporting community development, but we will also need to tap into the goodwill of the wider Bollington community through imaginative fundraising efforts and events, in order to achieve our goal. As we heard at this same PCC meeting, in the late 1990’s when it seemed that St Oswald’s dream then of installing a loo and an ancillary tea/coffee making facility was running into difficulty due to lack of funds, the Assistant Curate challenged the Committee to nevertheless take “a leap of faith” and continue on with their proposed plans, which they did – and amazingly the full amount of money needed to complete those works did indeed materialise! The resulting construction has served the church well until more recent years. However, progressively since 2003 and 2009, St Oswald’s has taken on the responsibility of having become the sole focus of worship, witness and service for Anglicans here in Bollington. This has required us find a new way to maximise our floor space once again, to find more efficient and effective ways to offer hospitality, and to increase our ability to meet the needs of the many established groups and future missionary activities that we now aspire to support as part of our church life within the local and wider community.

So please do look out for the imminent launch of our new Kitchen Development Fund! Coincidentally, during the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday 14 February, we will be taking time to reflect together, not just on what is the nature and quality of the hospitality we can offer to others, but also on what it really means for God to welcome us all to feast at his table. We will be using a little book by Kenneth Stevenson (a former Bishop of Portsmouth) called “Take, Eat – Reflections on the Eucharist” and I hope you will be able to find time to join us in exploring the implications of daring to accept God’s invitation to grow, to adapt and to change not just the external features of the buildings of which we are jointly stewards, but also the internal attitudes of the everyday lives we have likewise been entrusted to attend to.

The cover of the book says: “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them!” This intended insult to Jesus recorded in the Gospels captures the wildly extravagant idea at the very heart of the Christian faith: God, in Christ, invites us – deserving and undeserving alike – to be his friends, to sit at his table and to share the feast of eternal life. Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the Eucharist. Of all the ways in which Jesus might have asked his followers to remember him, it is in the sharing of bread and wine that we are drawn together as a community and made one with Christ. Such a simple and powerful ritual, yet it is easy for our appreciation of it to become dulled by formality or by repetition. ‘Take, Eat’ is a biblical and practical guide to the central act of Christian worship. It opens our understanding to see how it feeds and nurtures us, and sends us back into the world with the life-giving message: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’

May we take up this renewed challenge to our church community during 2018 to literally enhance our capacity for hospitality and service towards others and to spiritually enrich our understanding about how God desires to wait on us and nourish us as his beloved children around his table, here and now on earth as it is for eternity in heaven.

Every blessing for this new project and this New Year!

Veronica