Sunday, 24 June 2018

Happy Birthday John! Transcript of sermon St James' Newchapel 24/06/18

Sermon – St James’ Newchapel 24th June 2018

How many threads can you plait? Most people can manage three easily enough. Some can manage five, possibly more. I did learn at one time how to plait together five threads in a horse’s tail and mane.

Today I am holding four threads that I hope to weave together across the Diocesan direction of travel where we have been asked to deepen our discipleship, discover our vocation and engage in evangelism.

There is of course a fifth thread this afternoon!
If I put on my Panama Hat that might give you a clue!

(World Cup 2018 - England v Panama)

My first thread is the 30th birthday of our youngest son Joe. Now that may not seem to a big deal, but it is sobering to reflect that from today we have no children under the age of 30. 

Joe also reminds me of another thread, my second thread.  Joe’s full name is Joseph Edward John Banks.

Edward is in honour of his deceased maternal grandfather and John – because he was born on the same day as John the Baptist.

(However did they work that date out?)

We heard the account of John’s birth in our Gospel reading and we heard it said…

 ‘What then will this child become?’ 

Two other very important threads today are that I am celebrating 32 years since I was Admitted to the Office of Evangelist and Commissioned as a Church Army Officer.

It is also Janet’s 30th anniversary.  Back in the 1980’s we both trained at Church Army’s residential college in Blackheath, London. The Course was for three years’. So you can quickly work out that as I was leaving Janet was in her first year.

I would like to weave these threads together using the Diocesan Direction of Travel.

In May 2017 Bishop Michael at a Cathedral Celebration invited us to follow Christ in the footsteps of St Chad, to deepen our discipleship, discover our vocation and engage in evangelism.

Discipleship, Vocation and Evangelism are now the Diocesan direction of travel and inform all that we do.

On speaking about vocation + Michael emphasised that this did not necessarily mean along one of the recognised pathways or Reader training, or Ordination. But rather that each and every one of us has a distinct and unique vocation to fulfil.

Michael Quoist in his book ‘The Christian Response’ wrote…

You are a unique and irreplaceable actor in the drama of human history, and Jesus Christ has need of you to make known his salvific work in this particular place and at this particular moment in history.’

God has constrained himself to work primarily through the human medium in the redemption of the cosmos.

Partnering with God in the redemption of the cosmos is our high calling and the fulfilment of our human destiny – our one true vocation.

‘What then will this child become?’ 

We know that John lived out his vocation – as the one who prepared the way, the one who pointed to Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’ the one who was willing to decrease that Jesus might increase and the one who was not afraid to speak out the truth even if that was to cost him his life. 

When I was in college I had a tutor, Captain Roy Demery. On one occasion when we met for a tutorial Roy said that I was a dreamer and that I struggled to grasp reality.

I worked with that and pondered over it and concluded that I was a dreamer and I was happy about this and that this was a gift from God.

Across the pond they have an expression in the business world of creating a Bhag – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

What’s your Bhag for St James’?

And is that a shared goal?

Are you at St James’ like the English football squad who are showing remarkable team work? Part of that apparently is because Gareth Southgate sent them off to an Army boot camp to learn how to operate as a team.

Switching metaphors, indulge me if you will on a dream of my own – a universal dream of a cosmos being redeemed.

Imagine this time a Jam Jazz session with God on the lead piano playing in the Kingdom of God.

We might want to say we are playing in a realized Lord’s Prayer.

To do this we need to listen careful to God’s lead and we need to listen carefully to one another.

Together, partnering with God, a redeeming creative dynamic emerges that opens up the everlasting doors and ushers in the Kingdom of heaven come upon earth.

Just sit and imagine what that would be like for a moment.

No wars, no starving children, no homeless, no police, no knife crime, no locked doors, no fear for our children.

Now that I believe is God’s Bhag that was there in the beginning of creation until we messed up.

But in His grace, love and mercy he came and showed us a different way, the true way in Jesus, to restore His Bhag.

And Jesus took all the filth and the pain, all the hurt and the mess that we had made trying to sing our own song, Jesus took all of that into himself and from the cross sang a beautiful new song of redemption.

And now he says to you and he says to me, do you want to learn that song?

God says to you and to me will you sing out the song of redemption wherever you go, in each and every place, day and night twenty-four seven?

The Psalmist declares -  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40.3 

And to do that we need to become devoted disciples.

Last time I preached here Janet was impressed that I remembered a quote from a sermon by our College Principle, Charles Hutchins.

Discipleship is daily dogged determinism.

In the early days of Church Army all Officers were required to play a musical instrument.

This was largely to lead the singing at outdoor rallies and meetings.  Wilson Carlile, Church Army Founder helped with the music at the Moody and Sankey London Rallies and was himself a proficient musician.

I have tried several times to learn to play the guitar but to no avail.  It takes a daily dogged determinism to persist and to get beyond a few chords. And it takes the same daily dogged determinism to keep singing God’s song of redemption to those around us. 

‘What then will this child become?’ 

When we look at the unfolding story of John’s ministry we see what a common was practise for discipleship at that time and in that culture.

You can read the story in John’s Gospel chapter 1 verses 35 – 40.

John the Baptist has pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God and two disciples (which I assume means two of John’s disciples) ask Jesus where he was staying. 

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

To be a disciple was to seek to emulate the teacher in every respect and so you followed them everywhere to see how they reacted and whether what they taught was lived out in their lives.

We need to ensure that we are emerged in Jesus, front, centre, back and front, up and down 24/7.

May the mind of Christ, my Saviour,
live in me from day to day,
by His love and pow'r controlling
all I do and say.

And from this place, with the rest of the team playing together, we will become an evangelized and a naturally evangelizing Faith Community.

We will naturally invite people into amongst us so that they can taste and see that the Lord is good.

We can invite others to pick up their instruments and play along with God in that great Jam Jazz session playing in together the glorious Kingdom of God.

And we will be those People of God who carry that song in our hearts and that is shown in our lives when we are dispersed and out and about in our daily lives. 

Next Saturday we meet as St James’ Faith Community for a Parish Away Day when we hope to dream some dreams.

And having dreamed dreams we will then begin to think about how we can turn those dreams into a reality under God and to lay down some plans and strategies.

I hope many of you will come and join us and play your part – remember this is God’s Church and it is God’s mission we seek to fulfil and be faithful to.

Let me close with a prayer attributed to Francis Drake.  (And offered to Church Army by Paula Gooder at a Church Army Gathering some years back)

 Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.  

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Captain's Blog June 2018

The area of Staffordshire is vast and includes some very rugged and beautiful moorland. I paid a visit to a newly appointed Priest, Fr John Baines in Longnor way up on the border of Derbyshire.  Pray that we might develop a good working relationship as I walk alongside him in helping the parishes in his care to embrace mission and evangelism.

Keeping with rural, we had a meeting of the Diocesan Rural Mission Group making plans for two Conversation & Consultation Meetings in early June exploring ‘Structures.’  I am really pleased how rural is on the diocesan agenda with people wishing to engage and giving due recognition of its peculiar challenges and opportunities. Check out our dedicated FB page

I co-led the Family Worship at my home Church (St John’s) using the Godparents Theme and some of the resources available.  It went okay but really needed a lot more preparation and invitations to those who have had their children baptized.

On the Sunday afternoon Jane and I dashed off to Cornwall for a few days as we have had an offer on our house.  We took the opportunity to tidy up and mow the lawn – our previous tenant had left the place in a bit of a mess.  It was quite sad to say goodbye after 13 years of house ownership and our little bit of Cornwall.

We had to get back because I had a place booked for the Germinate Lecture given by Bishop Rachel Treweek.  She invited us to consider going back to basics and not get caught up trying to fix all the various presenting problems.  That ‘basic’ is about building the Kingdom of God upon earth.

The full Germinate Lecture video is now available to view on the Germinate Lecture page of our website; you’ll probably need to scroll down a little to find it! We have also produced a short promotional video for Germinate Leadership and the Germinate Lecture which you can find on our YouTube channel (along with a variety of other interesting material!). Please feel free to send these links on to anyone you think may be interested! 
It has been a very rural focussed month because we also had our ‘Chewing the Cud’ this time held at Amerton Craft Farm with some new people joining us.
I took a FCN display to the YFC Annual Rally. Sadly I somehow managed to mislay the two FCN pop-up banners!  (Hope they turn up eventually as they are new ones with our changed logo) 

Then my usual monthly trip up to St Anne’s, Brown Edge to Preach and Lead a Service of the Word.

A trip to London for a Rural Mission Solutions Trustee’s meeting and it was good to have Joy Howell join us. Joy is picking up some of the RMS children’s work and ministry for us.  Do check the web site for upcoming webinars that have become a key feature of RMS –

It was good on the way back to have a chance to catch up with our son-in-law’s dad, Philip and have a drink together at Euston station.

More rural and this time with a small group pulled together by the Midland Rural Officers Group and looking at Rural Housing Development.  We recognised some of the key issues and plan to develop a response and maybe further consultations exploring rural housing developments. These raise all sorts of issues for the church,  justice, welcome, opportunity for evangelism to name but a few.

Missioners Network Summer Gathering – and this year back in Blackpool and once again the weather was amazing.  We had a good array of speakers and most importantly a chance to network and catch up with each other from various denominations, agencies and organisations. 

Then the Staffordshire County Show where we had a great team of over 30 volunteers covering the two days of the Show. This year we had Mothers’ Union back with us helping to look after our refreshments. For the first time we had volunteers from Rising Brook Baptist Church who also supplied all our refreshments. It was great to have them on board.  I was invited to be the Honorary Show Chaplain again this year which meant, among other things, invitation’s to the Presidents Lunch, the Presidents Dinner and a few other ‘perks.’  After working Church Tents at County Shows for over twenty years I am so going to miss these when I retire.


Some Diary Appointments in June
3rd Sunday
Preaching & Leading at St John’s, Littleworth

4th Monday
Spiritual Companion JM
Lichfield Church Army Cluster Gathering in the evening.

5th Tuesday
Diocesan Rural Consultation & Conversation in the morning. In the evening attending the Diocesan Community of Evangelists with a presentation on Catholic Evangelism.

6th Wednesday
Diocesan Rural Consultation & Conversation in the evening. (Repeat of yesterday in another part of the Diocese)

8th & 9th
Delegate at the Rural Ministries Annual Conference.

10th Sunday (Open Farm Sunday)
Preaching & Leading Worship at St Anne’s, Brown Edge

11th Monday
Personal Quiet Day
12th Tuesday
Stafford Deanery Clergy Chapter (delegate)

14th Thursday
‘Chewing the Cud’ in the morning at Willington – afternoon, meeting to discuss Shrewsbury Flower Show and RDA in the evening.

15th Friday
RDA (Riding for the Disabled) AGM and Volunteer’s Supper.

16th Saturday
Rural Mission Solutions Webinar

Also 15th – 17th National Weekend of Invitation

Monday 18th
Meeting of the Diocesan Rural Mission Group.

21st Thursday
Spiritual Companion DC
Lunch time ‘Chew n Chat’ - Rising Brook Baptist Church.

Sunday 24th
Preaching at St James’, Newchapel

Monday 26th
Spiritual Companion JC in the morning
(To see my tax consultant in the afternoon for annual return)

Saturday 30th
St James’, Newchapel Parish Away Day and seeking to draw up a MAP

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Faith or Family? - Transcript of sermon St Anne's, Brown Edge, Trinity 2 2018

Sermon – St Anne’s Brown Edge Trinity Two

Faith or family?

Our Gospel for today is sandwiched between Jesus having a run in with his family. Things were getting way out of hand and it was affecting the whole family.  

Then he (Jesus) went home and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’

Faith or family?

The family unit in 1st century Judaism was much the same as today – large, very important and a mark of Jewish heritage, being a child of Abraham.

However Jesus was to bring in a new type of family that went beyond genealogy or biology.

One occasion he was to say…

And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham Matthew 3.9

Faith or family?

Many disciples of Jesus throughout the centuries have had to make a choice between faith and family?

Even today as we are gathered some of our Christian brothers and sisters – and I use those terms meaningfully – will be facing such a choice.

Faith or family?

And for some it will bring them to a place of being ostracised by their family – counted as dead by their family – or in some cases, actually being killed by their family for becoming an apostate and bringing shame and dishonour to the family.

Faith or family?

Thankfully not too many of us in this country will face such a trial and such a difficult decision.

Our tests are often much less dramatic.  

It is more likely to be something such as a visit from the family.

They are planning on staying over for the weekend or say that they can only visit on Sunday morning.

What if Sunday morning is the time when we would ordinarily gather with our Christian family, our brothers and sisters in Christ?

What are we to do?

To whom will we show our allegiance?

Will we miss out on one Sunday with God’s family to meet with our biological family?

What kind of witness and what kind of impression is it to our family if we do choose to join God’s family gathering on a Sunday morning over that of our biological family.

They may think that we are out of our minds.

I remember when I became a Christian in January 1975 my wife’s family were very troubled by the energy and passion with which I embraced the Christian faith.

So much so that they encouraged me to go to the doctor who diagnosed stress and gave me a week of work.

I remember my mother-in-law at that time saying, ‘okay, so you have become a Christian, but surely you don’t need to let it take over your life.’

Well, yes, actually you do.

And here in this exchange with his own biological family Jesus says, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

And remember how important the family was with strict laws for the care of the family, especially for older members and in particular for  parents.

What Jesus says is deeply shocking and unless we grasp just how shocking we will be missing a vital point.

Jesus was inaugurating a new family of faith not one of ethnicity or biology.

Anyone, from anywhere, at any time could become a member of God’s family.

Ephesians 2.8 ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.’

It is not about where you are born physically but being born again spiritually. (See John 3.1-10)

That was true then, it has been true throughout the ages and it is still true today.

No one is born a Christian – everyone must make that choice for themselves – the choice as to whether to accept the gift of God’s love, grace and mercy and come to be embraced and accepted as a member of God’s family.

Faith or family?

Faith as a child of God or biological family?

Which comes first for you?

Which is the more important?

Which, if it really came down to hard choice, would you chose to reject?

Faith or family?

Pray God will never bring us to such a time of trial or to such a decision.

And if God welcomes everyone into His family how good are we at showing that welcome and embracing other people into God’s family?

This radical welcome and inclusivity was a hallmark of the early Church and astounded onlookers.

On March 7th the Church celebrates St Perpetua and her companion’s one of whom was Felicity.

Perpetua and Felicity were martyred in 203 AD. Vibia Perpetua was a married noblewoman, said to have been 22 years old at the time of her death, and mother of an infant she was nursing. Felicity, a slave imprisoned with her and pregnant at the time, was martyred with her. They were put to death along with others at Carthage in the Roman province of Africa.

This story that has come down to us throughout the centuries gives us a clue as to the extraordinary nature of God’s family.

This was a time when society was deeply stratified and to try and move out of your born social status was not only unthinkable but often punishable and considered a crime. 

Yet here, suffering the same fate is a noblewoman and a slave girl.

How good are we at welcoming others into the Family of Faith regardless of their background, social status or whatever?

Our Gospel passage is preceded by Jesus’ careful selection of twelve apostles from among his followers.

It would not be hard to imagine that on occasions they felt a kind of pride and pleasure that they were the chosen ones.

In fact we know they did because in the very candid way of the Gospel writers, we are told of one particular occasion when some of them are vying for positions at Jesus’ right hand and at his left.

(Noting as an aside who did take those places when Jesus was nailed to the cross)

What must these twelve thought as Jesus began to pick up and engage with all sorts of ragbag's, misfits, outcasts, the general riff raff and low life’s.

The Family of Faith has huge wide open arms willing to embrace everyone and welcome anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.

In particular for those who have no family or whose experience is only a dysfunctional family. They can find hope, love and healing as they are embraced and become members of God’s family.

God sets the lonely in families declares Psalm 68.6

But then begins the transformation work of the Gospel, the power of the changing nature of Jesus’ divine presence, particular ministered through the Eucharist. A time we when are reminded that – ‘we are one body because we all share of one bread.’

The Family of Faith that lives out its life of generous and scandalous love and grace. 

The Family of Faith that demands so much and yet gives so much more.

Where there may be times that because our allegiance to the Family of Faith will cause our biological family to declare that we are out of our minds.

Well – I say so be it, because I want to be out of my mind and get into the mind of Christ my Saviour.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
  All I do and say.

Faith or family?

The world would argue that our biological family should always come first. And we are right to remember our biological families are very important.

We should never use our Faith as an excuse to abnegate our familial responsibilities.

Jesus made a point about that on one occasion. (See Mark 7.1-13) 

However, there will be times when the hard choice has to be made.

The Family of the Faith or the family of the flesh.

Romans 12 2.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.’

A mind renewed and after God’s heart will be able to test and know what is most pleasing to God.

Let me close by quoting Nabeel Qureshi who writes at the close of his book, ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’

In closing, I wish to appeal to those who are considering following Jesus, especially those who will sacrifice much my doing so.

I will honestly say that my first year as a Christian was unimaginably difficult, without doubt the most painful period in my life.

Each and every day was a struggle, and I experienced depths of emotional pain I did not know possible.

But I will honestly say that looking back on it eight years later; it was the most powerful time of my life. It shaped me, moulded me, changed me into a disciple of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was my comforter, His word was my sustenance, and I would not give up that for anything.

The suffering is what transformed me into a true follower of Jesus. My life now, including my walk with God and my relationship with my wife, are truly blissful, far more wondrous than I could ever have imagined when I was a Muslim.

All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing. I pray that I will meet you someday, my dear friend, so we can rejoice and praise God together for our joys and our sufferings.  

Faith or family – hopefully we will never have to make such a stark choice – but imagine for a moment if you did – what would be your choice?

And let us always remember those who face such a choice today.

Jesus said, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’