Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Importance of Supporting International Aid

Today Chancellor George Osborne in his spending review announced that there is going to be an INCREASE in spending on international aid of £11.5bn. 

In a time of great austerity, when the Government is having to make some very tough choices (that I don't all agree with), I think that the news that Britain is going to increase spending on international aid is wonderful! 

However what has disturbed me is the way that one newspaper in particular (the Daily Mail) has reported this news.  Rather than welcoming it, it has attacked this decision to increase spending on aid.

I posted the following message on the Daily Mail message board: 

I think it is very important that Britain continues to meet its obligations in providing aid for developing nations, and welcome the increase in the amount Britain will be giving away in international aid.

Whilst times are difficult in the UK, we must remember that compared to many people in the world we are incredibly well off. I acknowledge times are going to be tough in this country over the next decade, but what we are going through is nothing when compared to the 1.7 billion people around the world who live in absolute poverty - those people who have no access to clean water, or the 25 thousand people who die every day because of hunger. There are 3 billion people in the world who live on less than $2.50 a day.

We live in one of the most affluent countries in the world, we need to recognise how lucky we are, and use our wealth to help the neediest in our world.

I have been surprised to discover that my comment has been rated as one of the worst by the Daily Mail readers.  Why?  Because I defend the importance of Britain taking a lead and spending money on international aid.

In contrast to my comment, the most popular comment is posted by Linda from South Yorkshire.
For God's sake an increase in overseas aid is totally inappropriate. What about us? If we carry on like this we'll be the recipients of overseas aid from current 3rd world countries. CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME.
As a Christian I find this attitude incredibly sad.  The Bible makes it clear that we have a duty to care for the most vulnerable and needy not only in our own society, but across the world.  We cannot ignore the suffering of others around the world, we have a duty of care for the poor and destitute where ever they may be.

Whilst we in Britain face some hard times ahead of us, we have to recognise that we do live in one of the most affluent nations in the world, and our current economic woes are not going to change this fact. 

At the harvest service at St Martin's in September, I got children in church to cut out of magazines pictures of things we might buy, and to decide which column to put the images in - either things we need or things we would like.  It was an interesting exercise, because hair driers and flat screen TVs went into the column of 'things we need'.  The truth is that we don't need these things, they are nice to have, but they are not essentials of life.  In fact we only need a few essential items, food, water and shelter, everything else you could argue is essentially a luxury. 

As a nation I think we forget how fortunate and blessed we are, and it we need to remember that even in these difficult financial times, we have a duty to care for the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

Whilst I am not a huge fan of George Osborne, I applaud both him and our Government for making the brave decision to increase spending on aid. 

What does a modern day miracle look like?

I thought I would share this with you, it is taken from a sermon preached last Sunday by the Revd Mark Kinder, Vicar of St Paul's and St Luke's Churches in Walsall.

As the Chilean miners were pulled out of the ground they were in no doubt that it had been a miracle. They thanked their rescuers and the President, they hugged their loved ones and they wore dirty t shirts over their smart green overalls. The t shirts said ‘Gracias Senor’ in English ‘Thank you Lord’. On the rear the text was from Psalm 95; ‘In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him’ (English translation). On the sleeve in bold letters the single word JESUS.

They were experienced miners, they knew the odds of rescue were tiny: 700,000 tons of rock had shifted. There were no up to date plans of the mine. They were half a mile down. They had no means of communication to the surface. Within days of the disaster they were assumed dead. The bore hole that found them was the 4th, and was only sent down because some of the families had a conviction that they were alive. The odds of finding them with a single borehole was 1 in 50. The chances of all of them surviving physically, emotionally and spiritually were remote. And yet they did!

How? By human action and spiritual strength inspired by God. Hope was kept alive through prayer; both for the searchers and for the miners in the twice daily prayer times. They talked of the battle between God (hope) and the Devil (despair) and God brought them through.

Our lives are seldom as dramatic and perilous as the fate of those men but we too face the battle between hope and despair. For many of us the long awaited spending review this coming week may feel like an impending disaster, and for some no doubt there will real worry and pain. Without being simplistic and trite, I would suggest we look to God to sustain us with his hope.

Friday, 15 October 2010

St Martin’s Golden Jubilee

St Martin's Church was consecrated on the 22nd October 1960 by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend Arthur Stretton Reeve.  Today fifty years on, we are delighted to welcome to St Martin's the present Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill, who is leading us in our Golden Jubilee celebrations. 
Although today we mark St Martin's Golden Jubilee, the reality is that the history of St Martin's goes back more than fifty years.  Plans to build a church on the site of St Martin's go back to the 1940s, and for two years before the church was consecrated services used to be held in the Red House pub (now the Longhorn).  
In the Bible the only church that is mentioned is one that is made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5).  This is a reminder that St Martin's Church isn't a building, but people, and today we thank God for the faithful witness and service of all who have been part of St Martin's during the course of its history. 
The Bible also describes the church as being like a family (John 1:12), a place where people can experience a real sense of love, fellowship and support in good times and bad.  It fills me with great hope and joy when I see the church family coming together to support one another and the wider community. As a church I believe we have so much to be grateful for, and so much to look forward to. 
Our mission statement is In Christ: Seeking, Growing, Sharing and Spreading the Kingdom.  Archbishop William Temple said "Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its
non-members."  Our mission statement reminds us of this fact, and that Christ calls us to work in partnership with him in growing God's kingdom.  Our society has changed a lot since St Martin's opened its doors in 1960, but our mission and calling remains the same, to make Jesus know, to share God's love and to make new disciples.  Our Golden Jubilee is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to the task of bearing witness to the love of God, as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. 

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last." (John 15:16)
God bless

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Many Names of Jesus

To the ADVENTURER He is the Way and the Good Shepherd
To the ARTIST He is the One Altogether Lovely
To the ARCHITECT He is the Chief Corner Stone
To the ASTRONOMER He is the Light of the World
To the BAKER He is the Living Bread
To the BANKER He is the Hidden Treasure
To the BIOLOGIST He is the Life
To the BUILDER He is the Sure Foundation
To the CARPENTER He is the Door
To the DOCTOR He is the Great Physician
To the EDUCATOR He is the Great Teacher
To the ENGINEER He is the New and Living Way
To the FLORIST He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley
To the GEOLOGIST He is the Rock of Ages
To the HORTICULTURIST He is the True Vine
To the JUDGE He is the Righteous Judge, Judge of All Men
To the JEWELER He is the Pearl of Great Price
To the LAWYER He is the Counsellor, the Lawgiver, the Advocate
To the NEWSPAPER He is the Good Tidings of Great Joy
To the OUTCAST and the MARGINALISED He is a Friend and Emmanuel, 'God with us'
To the PHILANTROPIST He is the Unspeakable Gift
To the PHILOSOPHER He is the Wisdom of God
To the PREACHER He is the Word of God
To the SCULPTOR He is the Living Stone
To the SERVANT He is the Good Master
To the STATESMAN He is the Desire of All Nations
To the STUDENT He is the Incarnate Truth
To the THEOLOGIAN He is the Author and Finisher of our Faith
To the TOILER He is the Giver of Rest
To the TROUBLED He is the Prince of Peace
To the SINNER He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World
To the CHRISTIAN He is the Son of the Living God, the Saviour, the Redeemer and the Lord

HE is all of this and so much more. What is He to you?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Trust and Gratitude: The Ten Lepers Luke 17:11-19

The Christian faith is a journey, when we make a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ, we begin our journey walking alongside God.

As I reflect upon my Christian journey so far, I can see how at different times in my life God has called me to take certain steps, to go in certain directions, even though I did not always know why. For instance, I remember clearly as a fourteen year old feeling that God wanted me to go to university and study theology. It was only after three years at theological college that God showed me where this was all leading, the next stage of the journey into ordained ministry. And as I reflected upon my Christian journey, I have come to realise that often God calls us to take steps of faith, to go places, or do things which at the time might not always make sense. For example, going to university to study theology was a step of faith for me, because I'd never done anything like it before, and I knew that my academic talents lay in other subjects. And yet, I felt that this was the right thing to do.

In the passage from Luke's Gospel Jesus asked the ten lepers who came to him to take a big step of faith. We are told that Jesus was walking on the border of Galilee and Samaria, when he was approached by ten lepers who cried out to him to have mercy upon them. Jesus looked at these men, and said to them. 'Go show yourselves to the priests'.
The book of Leviticus lays down what should happen if people are cured of leprosy. We were told that they were to go to a priest, so that the priest could declare them ritually clean, because anyone who had a skin disease, but particularly one as serious as leprosy was considered in Jewish religion as unclean.

This is why Luke tells us that these men stood some distance outside the village. They were shunned by society, avoided by everyone. And yet Jesus is telling these men to go and see the priests, before they had been healed. And they obeyed. All ten of them set off to see the priests, and we are told that on the way they were healed. They didn't question Jesus, or say, heal us first, then we'll go. They obeyed Jesus, they placed their faith in him.
The point that I want to make is that often in our Christian lives God calls us to do things which to us may not always make sense at the time. This is because we only see a small part of the picture, and it is only later, when we have been obedient to God that we can see what his purpose was in asking us respond in certain ways. This requires us to develop our listening skills, so that we can hear God's call, listen to what he may be saying to us, and like the ten lepers step out in faith.

These lepers stepped out in faith, they were obedient to Jesus, and as a consequence they were healed of their disease. Yet of the ten men that we healed, only one returned to Jesus to praise him and thank him for what he did. And this person was a Samaritan, despised by the Jews. This illustrates two points. First of all, God's grace extends to all people. Both as a leper and as a Samaritan this man would have been an outcast in Jesus' Jewish society. And yet Jesus' love and mercy extended to him. No one is excluded from the love of God.
The second point is that only one of the lepers showed gratitude for what Jesus had done for him. Ten were healed, but only one returned to praise Jesus. In our Christian life we must guard against ingratitude towards God. As Christians we have so much to thank and praise God for, he has given us so much, and so we must learn to count our blessings. Our we like the nine lepers who ignore Jesus afterwards, or do we thank and praise him.

The story of the ten lepers is a wonderful story of the infinite grace and mercy of our Lord and Saviour, one who gives us good gifts, even if we have ungrateful hearts. It is also a story which challenges us to place our trust in God, to follow his commands, and to see the wonderful rewards this brings us. Amen.