A Christmas and New Year Message

God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

I just love this time of the year as we journey into advent and head towards the Christmas season. For Christians, it is packed full of hope and expectancy. I am sensible enough to realise that some of this is a cultural thing as my hope for the future is conditioned by the excitement of the Christmases that I experienced in the past and particularly in my childhood. However, even those experiences were wrapped up in the promises of this journey through the scriptures that we make every year in expectation of what God has and will do.

Perhaps my favourite promise is found in Isaiah 7:14 when in the middle of quite an odd passage there is this amazing verse “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” At Christmas, this verse is recapitulated in Matthew 1:23 after the angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The narrator says “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” quoting the Immanuel passage from the prophet Isaiah. In the space of two verses we are given two names for this tiny baby that God is sending: Jesus and Immanuel. These two names hold the solution to every problem experienced by humanity.

A full sweep of the bible shows that humanity faces two inter-related difficulties. Firstly, we have this deep desire to be close to God. However, we also have a deep desire for our own free will that obscures our way to God. The bible describes this as sin – it is actually a term for an arrow missing its mark. Mixing metaphors, if the mark we are aiming for is God, then we will always miss him because of our human choices. God cannot abide sin. Yet, Immanuel is God-with-us. God’s plan to save humankind demanded he came to us himself, sending his only Son. Jesus dealt with our sin on the cross and became Immanuel, God-with-us, to bring us close to himself and reconcile our relationship with God.

But you may say, all that happened two thousand years ago how is it relevant to me right now? Christian belief is grounded in faith and we are called to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. If we are asked to have hope in something without any proof whatsoever other than words that are several thousand years old, then we are right to ask why. The Lord does not leave us without proof. This last week at the funeral for Revd Chris Whitehead we heard how Janet and I had just the smallest of opportunities to pray with Chris and anoint him with oil before he died. We both recognised that palpable sense of God’s presence in his room. At his thanksgiving service I was reminded of that verse from the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind that says

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

I am absolutely sure that Jesus was kneeling in that room to lead Chris home to the “silence of eternity:” God-with-us. This is a proof of our faith. I wonder what experiences you can recall when you felt the loving presence of God so close that it was like a warm blanket keeping you safe?

The amazing thing is that Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us came to over-turn all the times we have felt forsaken, isolated and alone in our life. He did this on the cross as he experienced the pain of our loneliness in those haunting words “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that moment he exchanged places with us in order that we can have a deep and intimate relationship with God.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Our motto verse for 2020 is at the top of this article. When we are brought into a relationship with God through Jesus, then it is for a purpose. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation too, because Jesus shares not only his salvation and forgiveness, but his ministry as well. This is the third theme in our four-year series on the purpose of the church. We have already thought about worship and fellowship and this year we turn to ministry and in particular the ministry of reconciliation. Think how powerful this ministry could become with our nation being so divided at this present time.

As you journey through advent this year, you may wish to pray for our nation, or the broken relationships that you see down your street or in your own families. Perhaps, you could even ask the Lord if he would equip you with opportunities that might lead to the reconciliation of these people. When you see this happen, why not tell people what God has done. Giving testimony is how our faith becomes real, in knowing that those Advent promises that are so full of hope come true now as much as in the future.

Have a happy and blessed Christmas and a peaceful new year, from Richard

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Come to me

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28-29)

It’s an interesting exercise to look around you and observe the images that clubs, organisations and businesses use to represent themselves. Perhaps the most obvious image to us as a nation is the Union Flag. Ask any British Citizen about the meaning behind the colours and symbols and you will probably receive a good answer. Members of an organisation will identify with its emblem or logo, its image or brand. They are used as an easy means of identification. It is the same with the Christian faith. The cross is our most significant image. The Chi-Rho symbol, the bread and chalice, the Celtic Trinitarian knot and even Alpha/Omega are also Christian logos. The obvious example is the fish. Ichthus is the Greek word for fish and has five letters (Ι-Jesus, Χ-Christ, Θ-God’s, Υ-Son, Σ-Saviour). Early Christians used it as a mnemonic and a ‘secret’ identification of Christian allegiance during times of Roman persecution.

St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles’ doesn’t have an emblem. The line drawing of St. Mary’s church used on our stationery has done well over the years. Our historic building is only half the story of who we are church. It was one of my initial intentions to find an emblem that we could use to identify with as a church. The logo competition generated some good ideas, which suggested that our emblem should speak of our faith in God as Trinity, while grounded in the place we live. The rising sun over the Scarborough seascape became our starting point as we discussed what was important to us. This image is the result. Thank you to all those who contributed and especially to Barbara Foster for many painted iterations as we developed the theme. So, what does it tell us?

The stunning nave arch-way at St. Mary’s contains this verse from Matthew 11:28. This text has been a deep well for generations who have drawn comfort from reading it in our church. When Jesus says “come” he isn’t speaking to individuals. The original language doesn’t have a personal pronoun (you) it just says, “come to me, everyone…” This verse is a great precept for our whole fellowship to follow. It promises comfort to us as an entirety, and as a kinship. We are not the only church with this text. You can find it over the same archway in Albemarle Baptist Church. So, our emblem needs some other things too.

The sea forms a border with half of our Parish. There is no surprise that the ministry of our church has been focussed towards the sea-faring community. We are chaplains to the RNLI, the Sea Cadets and the Merchant Navy. So, the sea-farers remain our focus. Even if employment in the bottom-end concentrates around tourism and retail, their activity still derives from being so close to the sea. A cobble is emblematic of the seafaring legacy of this coast. As an image it connects us with our parish. The cobble is the great-grandchild of the raiding ships that carried the Vikings who burnt down the wooden Saxon St. Mary’s church in 1066. Clearly the image of the cobble may need a little redemption! We don’t believe in the Norse gods. God is not an angry, fickle warmonger. Notice how our cobble shines from the inside and supports the cross-shaped mast and a bright-white sail. The cobble, the mast and the sail represent the Trinity. This one boat has three different facets. These facets are tied together in an interdependent unity and yet each part adds something to the whole.

Like a cobble, the love of God the father bears us on our journey through life. He shows us his love by sending Jesus his only Son into our human existence. Jesus died on the cross for our sinfulness, bringing us forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The cross is a mast that carries the sail of God’s Spirit enabling us to follow Jesus. The Spirit of God draws us into the comfort that Jesus offers for our heavy-laden souls.

This great hope of our salvation is so much more than forgiven, clean spirits. It is the promise of resurrection after death. Jesus has finished that great resurrection for us, and it is why the sail and mast of this cobble are set into the sunrise. Scarborough can seem like it is forgotten to rest the country, yet it is our great privilege that we are first to see the sunrise each day. We can hold an attitude of “backs to the sea,” because it is full of turmoil and fear. Our Christian faith, however, reminds us that the resurrection is the ultimate sign of our hope and challenges us to turn towards the rising sun coming up beyond the horizon of the sea. The resurrection conquers every fear. It is this hope we share with the people of our parish who face such difficulties.

Let me commend our new emblem to you. From here onwards we will use it to communicate who we are at St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles’ here in Scarborough. With blessings from Richard

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News from Richard, our vicar, August 2018

How we give is how we worship
I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from  Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. (Phil 4:18)

You may recall from the last Vicar’s article that a small mission team from St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles was heading to Kenya. Children from St. Martin’s and Hackness Church of England Schools had raised a significant amount of money so that the Anglican Church of Kenya could afford a larger plot of land for the school  of St Stephen’s, Mikiyuni (see map). We went to oversee the land purchase so that those primary school children would have the space to learn, play and take part in sports and thereby fulfil the requirements of the Kenyan national curriculum. I am pleased to report that a 2-acre plot of land has now been purchased; that two schools received a full year of curriculum materials; and that our links with the Diocese of Bungoma were greatly strengthened creating opportunities to work together into the future. What stays with me from this mission was the generosity of Kenyan Christians so evident during our visit. When we were invited to a household we were always greeted by a great spread of food: ground nuts, kale stew, Ugali (a maize mash), the ubiquitous chicken, mandazi (a kind  dough-nut) and bowls of rice and chapattis. The Kenyans took real joy in giving us so much despite their poverty. In fact, at the farewell service during the worship, our Kenyan Sisters accompanied by great song and dancing proceeded to dress us in traditional handmade garments made especially for each one of us. The theme of giving characterised our whole mission from beginning to end and that this attitude of giving was intrinsically linked with the worship that we all shared together. This link between giving and worship is confirmed by the verse above. St. Paul has received a gift from the Philippian Church, which Paul recognises was an example of them sharing in his distress (Phil 4:14). What is noteworthy is that Paul connects this gift with the Old Testament language of offering, sacrifice and worship. Giving is a form of worship!  This introduces the next aspect in our series on worship.

The English word “Worship” has its origins, not in the Greek or Hebrew languages of the scriptures, but comes to us from an Anglo-Saxon word: weorpscipe, which the dictionary tells me means ‘worthiness, or acknowledgement of worth. ’ When we worship God, we give back to him his worth. Indeed, Revelations chapter 5, records the worship in heaven with phrases like “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” Worship as “giving God his worth” may feel a rather static response to the character of God, however, St. Paul suggests we can recognise God’s worth through giving “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Physical giving then is an aspect of giving worth to God and saying he is worthy of our generosity to others, not to earn his favour, but to give because we have first received.

St. Paul’s language draws on the imagery of the Old Testament sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving instituted in the Levitical laws:
 “… you shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil … as a gift to the Lord.” (Lev 7:12,14).
This leads me to my choice of title for this article, because there is an implication from this that How we give is how we worship. Over the years, St Mary’s with Holy Apostles has been renowned for its generosity in giving. Members have had the vision, commitment and drive to set up what is now the Rainbow Centre. Many have selflessly supported our partners on foreign mission fields. Others have committed their time and effort to maintain our historic church, ensuring our worshipping space is fit for future generations. We have led the way in supporting the Diocese in its vision as Generous Churches, making and nurturing disciples. These things are wonderful, but they are not laurels upon which we should rest. If worshipping in this way remains static, it stagnates to a duty rather than a gift. Our journey of faith always demands new steps.

We have an opportunity to make a new step very soon. Over the last 18 months our income has fallen dramatically.   This is because a large segment of our church income comes from a small number of people. Sadly, we have lost some of these people  recently and as a consequence our income has been dramatically reduced. Naturally, as a leadership team we have tried to cut our costs, but the age and nature of our buildings limits the scope of this. Saying that we have located and repaired a historic water leak in the path at St. Marys and engaged cost-effective energy suppliers across both sites. However, we are still forecasting a huge overspend at the end of 2018. This is not sustainable and what little reserves we have will be exhausted in 2019. As a result, the leadership team, with the blessing of the PCC, has decided to call a day of prayer and pledge on Sunday 23 September. We will write to the whole church in more detail before this, but we have calculated that if each of our 150 church members increased their weekly giving by £3, this would go a long way to solving the deficit. We fully appreciate that for some members an extra £3 will be too much, but others may be in a position to give more.  Even a one-off gift would be very welcome! Over the next few weeks would you please pray about your giving to St Mary’s with Holy Apostles and consider increasing this to whatever is possible for you and see it as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” Why not move to giving by Standing Order, which helps the church budget more accurately and gives your bank the responsibility of making the transaction. Either way, your generosity now is an act of giving that will ensure the worship of future generations of Christians in this place.

Our visit to Kenya reminded me that giving is intrinsic to worship. The team was treated with astounding generosity and humility. The Kenyans gave to us because they thought the Lord Jesus Christ was worthy of the gift. Can we affirm that attitude with our giving? Look out for our Kenyan evening when we hope to bring our story for the whole church to hear and in the meanwhile I hope that this story helps to renew our giving to God.

With blessings from Richard.

 

 

 

 

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News from Richard, our Vicar, April 2018

What does it mean to worship: part 1
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Roman 12:1

In my last article, I introduced four priorities as a vision for our church. These were Worship, Fellowship, Ministry and Belonging and together they mark the identity of the church. In this article I would like to develop what it means to worship following on from this year’s motto verse (taken from Colossians 1:15).

As I write this article, the sacrifice of Colonel Arnaud Beltrame is fresh in my mind. It was astounding to hear how the French Gendarme had offered himself up to an extremist gunman in exchange for a hostage during a deadly supermarket siege in southwestern France. Arnaud Beltrame made the ultimate sacrifice by offering his body that someone might be released in his stead. There is an ancient and long history linking the language of sacrifice and worship. We see these words closely associated in the verse above from Romans 12:1. Sacrifice is a word that is often linked to duty, especially when we think about the discourses supporting enlistment for World War 1. This complicates the way we might understand our worship. Clearly, the word sacrifice can hold a negative connotation ranging from worship as a (dry) duty, to something that kills our joy and takes over our life.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul crafts a tightly argued case to demonstrate that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of humanity has been brought into the potential of a relationship with God. “The gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16).” No longer is this relationship exclusively negotiated through the Jewish faith with its laws and customs, its temple sacrifices and regulations towards circumcision, ritual washing and kosher foods. We learn in Romans 2:11 that “God shows no partiality.”  In fact anyone who turns toward Jesus with faith in him is made right (justified) with God and can be cleansed from all the wrong steps they have made. He is careful to make it clear that justification has nothing to do with us or the sacrifices we make; we cannot claim that there is anything in our behaviour or lifestyle that makes this possible. That would take us back to following the Jewish law, which not even the most perfect person could keep. Have you ever noticed how a sign like “keep off the grass” is almost an invitation for us to step on the grass. In the same way, outward rules exist to be broken and trying to keep the rules will only end up in failure – no one is perfect! In fact, in a through-away sentence, St. Paul says “Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly … it is a matter of the heart- it is spiritual and not literal (Rom 2:29).”

That doesn’t mean though that our worship is just spiritual and we can get away with doing anything we want with our bodies. For instance, we shouldn’t think that we can come to worship God and straight afterward speak unkindly to people. The letter from James (Jas 3:10) reprimands that kind of thing: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” Rather as Paul says our worship is about presenting “your bodies as a living sacrifice.” The kind of spiritual worship that he means does not divorce how we live from our acts of worshipping God, like some sort of Victorian period drama. In fact, the term Spiritual Worship can also be rendered, reasonable worship and as such refers to the kind of worship that is determined by the joyful out-living of our faith in Jesus Christ each day. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices means that our whole lives are offered as a sacrifice to God. Thankfully, it is a living sacrifice and not one that requires the death of an animal as in the Old Testament, but our worship demands integrity with our whole bodily existence. No wonder then, that if our worship should incorporate the whole of life, those lives must also be holy and acceptable to God.

This is where we get into trouble. How can I live a life holy and acceptable to God? Does it demand that I do things in a certain way? Well, yes and no! No, because doing things implies I am trying to make myself holy and acceptable and we have already heard how that cannot come through my efforts of trying to follow rules or systems to appease God. Yes, because there is a way that I become acceptable to God in the way that I live. It is also the way I become a living sacrifice too. In Romans 8:11, Paul tells us that to live for God; in the faith of Jesus Christ we need his Spirit within us: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that lives in you.” It’s no coincidence that we call the Spirit – the Holy Spirit. If we spend time quietly asking God to fill us with his Holy Spirit, we will be transformed into his likeness. We will be made more holy. As result our worship will become increasingly acceptable to God. His Spirit gives us life and enables us to live out in our bodies this living sacrifice that St. Paul speaks about.

Simply put, we need God within us to worship the God beyond us. Worship isn’t simply something that we need more understanding about. To know what worship is, we must put it into practice. This year as we learn more about how to worship, let us be transformed by an experience of the Spirit and present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, this is our spiritual worship.

With blessings from Richard

 

 

 

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News from Richard, our Vicar, February 2018

Our 2018 Motto Verse:

The Image of the Invisible God and the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15)

Over the last few months we have spent time as a PCC and in our three congregations discerning God’s vision for St Mary’s with Holy Apostles. This process started with the PCC vision statement given to me as a new Incumbent for the church:

We are called to look up to the Lord  and reach out into his world, to build up and send out his people.

In fact, this statement is more of an aspiration, because vision describes the steps you need to take you from where you are, to the place you aspire to be. In our congregational meetings we took an honest look at where we were as a church. We compared this to each of the 4 marks of the church: Worship, Fellowship, Ministry and Belonging. In so many ways our church is a healthy place, but it is no surprise to find that there are things in each of these marks that require attention. One way of attending to our spiritual growth is by using our yearly motto verse to concentrate on one mark of the church’s spiritual life. My idea is to devote the next 4 year’s motto verses to attend to each of these areas (God willing), which means that 2018 is about worship and how we might look up to the Lord.

Our highest calling is to worship God and we will introduce our motto verse during our services on the 4th of February as our preachers look at Colossians 1:15-20 with a sermon title: “In Jesus Christ, our God is Worshipped.” This amazing passage is actually an ancient hymn that was borrowed by St Paul from the Christian community and inserted into his text. As a worship song then, it is not so much about Jesus Christ, as addressing him in worship and adoration, which makes it a great choice for our motto verse helping us to focus on what it means to Worship God. In the original language verse 15 translates  “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” which is an odd way to start a new verse.  This means that it  requires the subject of the previous verse to be complete. Verse 14 says that in Jesus “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” When you couple the two together we see how God holds the tension of redemption and creation in and through Jesus. In other words, Jesus holds both the old creation and the new creation together and this helps us value the creation around as a thing of amazing beauty, while we recognise that it is mired by evil and in desperate need of redemption. God in Jesus, attends to both of those truths and when you consider our hymns, they so often ascribe worship to God in the same way: for his beautiful creation and his staggering redemption.

For St. Paul, worshipping God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ is the foundation for his epistle to the church at Colossae. God is revealed in Jesus as a bridge between the unknowable invisible God to our world and all who live in it.  Elsewhere (Acts 17:22-27) he argues, no longer do we have to grope around trying to find God like he is somehow hidden in the dark. No longer is God unknown to us that we have to guess who it is we should worship. No longer do we have to make images for what God might look like and risk adoring someone in our worship who is not like God. Instead Paul makes it plain Jesus “… is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation!” Jesus is the exact image of God who is otherwise invisible. In Colossians 1, Paul is showing us how Jesus is the Wisdom of God spoken of in the Old Testament because this passage closely parallels Proverbs 8:22: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” In the same way, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:17 speaks of Jesus “Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.” It was God’s wisdom that the eternal Son of God should take up our frail flesh and demonstrate the life of God in our earthly tent.

In this way, God bridges the gulf between himself and our world and at the same time provides us with an image of himself. This image (the Greek is the word icon) makes a connection with the original purpose that God had for humanity that we should be “created in his image, in the image of God he created them (Genesis 1.26).”  The fall of Adam broke that image, but God in his amazing grace and mercy is saying that a man, the Son of God will once again perfectly remodel that image of God in human likeness. When we read about the life and teaching, the example and the character, the self-sacrificial crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the gospels, then we are reading about the man who is the image of God. As this text is expanded, I wonder if you are led to worship, not just because God has done this, but the kind of being that he is: to conceive this redemption of creation in and through a man, a man that was the God-man.

This small verse ends with he is “the firstborn of all creation” and in many ways, this mirrors what I have just said, but these are a tricky few words. This Colossian hymn that Paul quotes uses five Hebrew ideas for Jesus as the head of all things. So, we have firstborn, supreme, head, beginning and firstborn to end (why not read through verse 15 to 22 and find these words!). The language of firstborn does not imply that Jesus is somehow less than God, or came after God because he was born, rather Jesus is head. He is central and supreme to our faith. It is as we give Jesus that supreme place of worship and make him central to our lives instead of trying to sort them out ourselves, then our faith will grow more and more. If it’s true that “for in him were created all things” then we as the created things can be sure he will re-create and redeem our circumstances. Friends, this is the importance of our motto verse for 2018 and I commend it to you that we all may grow together in worshipping Jesus Christ and let him reveal all the more how he is the image of the invisible God.

Blessings from Richard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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News from Richard, our Vicar, December 2017

Journeying Together:  “God with Us”

Since July we have gathered as a church around the sermon theme of Journeying Together. Spending some time using this phrase and exploring the Exodus community behind it, has been a helpful way of describing a vision for our church at a time of transition. I hope in some small way that this has refocussed our expression of Christian life here in Scar-borough and in this article, I will conclude this bringing the series to its ultimate horizon. Quite naturally Journeying To-gether has concentrated on how we as a community might walk before God with integrity and with the eyes of faith. While we might expect that the Lord will both direct us and provide for our needs on the way, this approach starts with us, which is not nearly sufficient and certainly not the whole story. For instance, there are times when “life” throws too much at us and we can’t cope. Our work of supporting the Rainbow Centre is a testimony to the complexity of hardship for those foundering at the edges of our society. The depth of sadness felt recently in the town through untimely bereavements, or just the increasing significance of the Remembrance services each year are notable examples of the difficulty of life. At times like this we need help from beyond us and the confines of our Journeying Together.

The Christmas season introduces a really important phrase into the Christian vocabulary: “God with us.” Immanuel is the Hebrew counterpart and is first introduced in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This verse recurs enigmatically as part of a prophecy that the New Testament writers clearly identified with the birth of Jesus as it had been explained to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:23). They were making the bold statement that the birth of Jesus was a sign, or more than that, it was the embodiment of God-with-us. Our series on Journeying Together through Exodus has already taught us that God periodically intervened to save his people. The deliverance from Egypt at the shores of the Re(e)d Sea; the provision of manna in the wilderness, or water from the Rock, even the Word of God pronounced and recorded on the tablets of stone are all examples of this divine intervention. These are momentary. Instead, God-with-us describes a horizon of intervention that is wholly different and significantly greater than what we read in the Exodus narrative.

The significance of God-with-us is that in Jesus, God joined the journey that we are on. We are given further clues to this journey of God in the prologue to John’s Gospel. John says “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world, (John 1:9)” and “the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14)” to show us that God has made a journey to us. They tell of how God dared to clothe his glory and infinitude with our frail flesh and tread our dusty journey of life. What a risk that represents! In Jesus, God entered into the deeply unfriendly territory of the difficulties, hardships and sadness of our lives. To every exclamation that “God doesn’t understand what I’m going through” there is the gentle reply: “God-with-us.” It is no surprise then that the writer of John’s gospel compares Jesus with Moses (John 1:17), because the journey that God made into our flesh fulfils the mandates of the ten commandments written on tablets of stone. God no longer commands us what to do or not to do. Instead, Jesus completed our journey for us and calls from our flesh to follow him “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).”

How does this help us? Traditionally, the Christmas message is about exchanging presents. This is rooted in the gift of God’s son Jesus Christ, in whom we recognise God-with-us This exchange has two sides, so “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God …” As we look to Jesus and receive the gift of God-with-us; it’s like God takes on our flesh anew. A famous Christmas carol points to this: “O holy child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today.” God-with-us is the promise that our circumstances can change, because God can change us from the inside out. It is the eternal promise that despite the darkest times of life when we simply can’t cope, we can draw on the strength of both God-with-us and in us. This is about allowing God to take the Initiative because he has already made the journey before us and for us and now in us. This is the ultimate horizon of Journeying Together and I pray that this Christmastide we all may find the faith to perceive its importance, receive his presence and be strengthened by the reality that is God-with-us.

With blessings from Richard

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News from Richard, our Vicar, October 2017

“The Way”

Recently, we watched a film called “The Way.” In it a father, Martin Sheen, ends up walking the pilgrimage road of “El camino de Santiago:” the way of St. James, in the footsteps of his son, who has died on The Way. The father is a self-made American dentist and a reluctant pilgrim. In his grief and bewilderment, he fights shy of the inevitable relationships made possible by journeying on this very long walk from the Pyrenees through to the Spanish Atlantic coast. However, there is something inev    itable about these relationships as they gather around him rather like snow to a rolling snowball. Each person is handling a difficult issue. Not all of these are resolved and yet in the sharing of food, accommodation, stories and a common footpath, each of the four central characters finds some sense of peace.

There is a famous story in Mark’s gospel (Mk 10:46-52) when a blind man named Bartimaeus has his sight restored by Jesus. After this stunning miracle, Mark makes a throw-away line: ‘Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.’ The Way is the ancient name for following Jesus, before the name “Christian” was given to believers in Acts 11:26. The notion of being on The Way connects with our sermon series of Journeying Together that I mentioned in the last Vicar’s letter. Much like the film that I described, gathering together in the same place, sharing common food, and the same footpath are all things that would describe our Christian lives on The Way. But before all of that there is an invitation to start the journey. It was clear for Bartimaeus. After begging on the roadside for years, he was now able to see again. For Martin Sheen the grief and unresolved relationship with his son prompted him to set out. It’s different for each one of us, but common to us all is the whisper that pull on our souls inviting us to take the first step on The Way. Perhaps this is a moment you could recall that whisper on your heart and regain your sense of what keeps you on The Way?

It is the Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to follow him on The Way. We may think it is too hard to get up and start walking, but our sermon series from Exodus has shown that God makes every provision for us both to get going and keep on our feet. Remember the Passover when Ancient Hebrews were about to be delivered from slavery in Egypt. As they ate the sacrificial lamb and trusted in the provision that God made they were protected by its blood on the doors of their houses. God set them free for their journey. We know this too. It is re-written on the cross of Jesus Christ. As we trust in the enormity and sufficiency of his death and resurrection, as the Lamb of God, so too we are set free to make our first footsteps. Of course, keeping going feels like an entirely different thing. The wonderful thing is that God does not leave us on our own, because others will want to join in too, as God calls them to their feet. We’ve seen this over the last few weeks at Morning Prayer it has been wonderful to share times of prayer and bible reading with as many as eleven people. The Lord gives us pilgrims to walk with and there is room for more at 8:30am on Monday to Thursday in the Chapel at Holy Apostles.

More than that, Jesus gives us himself. Why do we walk The Way. We walk to find God, to experience him at new and deeper depths in our lives. We walk that he might transform our hearts and lives in the rhythm of each step. Part of that rhythm is being still and allowing God to speak in our worship, in our prayer life and as we read the scriptures together. That’s not all! We have learned how the ancient Israelites were given manna from heaven in the desert part of their journey so they might survive by a daily miracle of God’s provision. As Christians, the Lord Jesus Christ gave us Holy Communion: bread and wine for the journey. Broken bread and shared wine that binds us to his sacrifice on the cross. In the words of one Eucharistic Prayer “as we eat and drink these holy gifts in the presence of your divine majesty, renew us by your Spirit,  inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” As a community that is journeying together alongside our commitment to meet daily in prayer, we will consider how Holy Communion might better support us on this journey too. Here we are promised that we will encounter God in the renewing grace of his Holy Spirit. This draws us closer together in the life of our Christian Community of St Mary’s with Holy Apostles as we journey on The Way.

With Blessings from Richard.

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News from Richard, our Vicar

Journeying Together 

Tracing my family tree has been a fascinating if not distracting pastime. The earliest reference that I can find is to a John Major (no comment!) my 9-times great-grandfather from Flamborough born in 1635. I feel a sense of connection and identity by discovering the story of my family. The connection is to this coast through my forebears who were local fishermen and lifeboat men on the Humber. These ancestors came from Scandinavian stock, which is no surprise given most of my family have blond hair and blues eyes: all they are missing is pointy helmets with scary horns! Stories such as these make us human and help form our identity. It is unsurprising that scripture is largely a collection of stories, not a list of rules. People find different meanings in the same stories and perhaps that is why interpreting the bible is not straightforward. God doesn’t simply tell us what to do: that is far too unimaginative for the creator of the cosmos, rather he asks us to join in with his story. Diligent study is needed to learn how the stories in scripture convey meaning to our faith in God and our identity in Christ, because there is such a huge distance between the time of writing and our time here in Scarborough. But study on its own can end up like tracing our family trees: distracted by the endless detail. For scripture to yield its real meaning we need the Holy Spirit to help us apply those stories and bring life to our journey together with God. 

As I take up the post of the new Vicar here, I would like our church congregations to stand back and ask who we are and where God is leading us together in this new season. How do we do this? One way is to use our sermon readings from the Exodus journey of the ancient Israelites. I’ve called this sermon series “Journeying Together.” These readings pick up the story of the Patriarchs, Jacob and Joseph as they headed down into the land of Egypt and then much later, how God delivered the large Hebrew family into the Promised Land of Canaan. This wasn’t an easy journey and they made big mistakes. Through this journey God showed the Hebrews his loving-kindness and as they learned from God even wrestling with him, they were shaped into a people with a calling and a purpose. Why not take a look at the titles and readings that are printed further on in this magazine. These will help us form a vision for our church prompted by the way that God called and gave identity to his ancient people through their wilderness journey to the Promised Land.  

Sermons, however, are a conversation not a transfer of information. Both preacher and hearer bring more to this conversation on a Sunday morning than mere words. You can check this out by noting what goes through your mind when you hear a sermon. You may agree with most things and yet question others. This is how it should be, because God gives his gracious Spirit as a gift to the whole body of Christ not just the preacher. The Lord speaks to each of us through that same Spirit that we may hear his will and purpose for our church. We are all called to the task of discerning and wrestling with God till he yields the blessing of our identity in him (Gen 32:24-30). As you approach each Sunday reading, why not ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the way forward as a church. Share what God says to you with your friends, with the preacher and with me, because that is how we grow together in our faith. In turn, the PCC and leadership will commit to listening and acting upon what the Lord is saying to the church, the story of how he is calling and purposing our lives before him.  

It is in the incarnation, the life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ that we see both the humanity of God and the divinity of Jesus our Messiah. This is God’s story and it isn’t finished, because he calls us to join in that story with him. If reading scripture is like tracing our family tree, then hearing God speak about our identity through what we read is like finding meaningful connections with our family tree for generations to come. My priority then is that we make space to hear God speak as the first step to making plans for his church in this wonderful place he has set us. Friends, this marks out our journey together as we lay down new stories of faith to pass onto the next generation.  With Blessings from Richard

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News from Tina, our Curate, June 2017

Dear friends,

As I write, we are still in shock over the recent terrorist attack on the concert-goers in Manchester. We are left to ponder what can drive someone born and bred in this country to visit such horrors on young people and their families. Be assured that this is not of God, not of any god but especially not the God who loves us so much he sent his Son to restore our relationship with Him.

This Son is Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven: on 4th June we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost- sometimes called the birthday of the Church.

Jesus called the Holy Spirit ‘another helper’ and I think this is important as we reflect on our lives in such troubled times. No matter what is happening in the world, we can be sure that God is with us, each and every day. As Jesus lived and taught his disciples all those years ago, today the Holy Spirit does the same for us. This Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16: 13), but we for our part have to be willing to be led and cooperate with him.

At the end of May we enjoyed the floral displays at the Friends’ annual Flower Festival, each one this year on the theme of ‘Sing to the Lord’. It was a wonderful marriage of hymns and flowers that together with human skill created a symphony of praise to our heavenly Father. It was also, I think, a much-needed reminder of the goodness and beauty life offers too.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us through life he’s working much like a florist skilfully taking flowers and arranging them to show them at their very best. Some flowers seem so small and insignificant, yet when in the right place and in combination with other flowers together they are stunningly beautiful. As the Holy Spirit puts us in the all the right places in our church community we too are beautiful in God’s eyes.

But it can be difficult to know where God wants us or what he wants us to do. Remember that we have each been given gifts and talents with which to serve God and one another – so when the Holy Spirit prompts us to try something different we are to trust his judgement and step out in faith.

This summer as we enjoy the warmth of the sun and wait the last few weeks until our new Vicar Richard Walker arrives, pray with me that the Holy Spirit would lead us as individuals and as a church community into this next, new phase in the continuing life of the Parish.

Now it’s been my joy to write these letters to you through the vacancy, and as this will be my last one I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your prayerful and practical support over the last year. Particular thanks must go the Wardens, Church Officers and PCC members for keeping us all on track; and to the readers and clergy who have enabled us to keep our pattern of services unchanged – which has been quite an achievement; but most of all my thanks and praise go to the God who continually guides and sustains us by his Holy Spirit.

Tina

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News from Tina, our Curate. April 2017

Have we lost hope in hope?

At our Lent Course this year we’ve been using the film ‘The King’s Speech’ as the basis of our discussions. We had an interesting time last week thinking about hope.

We hope about all sorts of things – for the sun to shine tomorrow, for our favourite sports team to win, for a healthy life for ourselves and our families.

The trouble is, hope is expected to convey a broad range of meanings, from ‘what I’d like to happen’, to ‘what might happen’ and even to what is nothing more than ‘wishful thinking’.

And none of these meanings has anything to do with the hope of eternal life through trusting in Jesus Christ. This kind of hope is described by the hymn-writer Wendy Churchill as “a hope that is steadfast and certain, gone through the curtain and touching the throne” in the hymn Jesus is King.

If all we ever understand of hope is a vague sense of ‘maybe’, then it’s really hard to see how hope can ever be steadfast or certain.

A hymn writer from an earlier era talks of Christian hope like this:

All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew.

Me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true.

God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own.

(Joachim Neander)

Where does your hope lie?

Is it in a god who might love you if you’re good enough or follow the rules to the letter?

Or a God who become a man, lived a life showing us what it is to be fully human and then died on a cross because he loves us?

The hope of Holy Week

And that’s why Holy Week and Easter are so important. We take time to remember together again the grounds for the Christian hope: the death and resurrection of the man Jesus Christ who chose to die that we might live in loving relationship with God for eternity. These are a matter of both fact and faith.

The Bible tells us of the events of Holy Week

* the expectant joy of the crowd on Palm Sunday

* the strange meal together on Maundy Thursday

* despair in the garden of Gethsemane

* the agony of watching Jesus die so cruelly on Good Friday

* the anguish of the women when Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb on Easter Day

* the pure joy once his friends experienced Jesus among them in the days that followed

We can choose to believe that this is what happened, and down the years many have done so from a place of scepticism, convinced by the evidence of not only the stories themselves but by lives lived differently because of hope in what the Bible records.

Holy Week is intended to be emotionally draining as we travel along with Jesus and his followers into the exuberant arrival into Jerusalem; on to the depths of despair at Golgotha and the burial; on the third day we can be caught up in the pure joy of his friends in the upper room, and then on to the mountain top where Jesus ascends to heaven leaving them perplexed.

We have the opportunity to engage afresh with these events through special services – palm crosses for Palm Sunday, the celebration of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, the Walk of Witness and the Three Hours at the Cross, followed by the joy of celebrating our risen Lord on Easter Sunday.

Do take the time to journey with us at St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles this Holy Week and Easter. Come along to the meditative services to reflect on all Jesus has done for us, join us as we share bread and wine as he commanded us to. Spend time at the foot of the cross remembering the pain he endured for us, and rejoice on Easter Day that death could not hold him, that the victory was won.

May you and all you love have a blessed Holy Week and Easter

Tina

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