Sunday, 22 April 2012

24/7 Discipleship

During the course of the year we are thinking about what it means to be a fully committed disciple or follower of Jesus, and so today the title of our talk is 24/7 discipleship.

We talk a lot now about living in a 24/7 culture, for example many shops are now open 24 hours a day, and even if the shops are closed, there is always the internet, which is always open for business.  Opening soon in Walsall there is going to be a 24 hour gym, so if you fancy going for a work out after shopping in Asda or Tesco’s at 3 o’clock in the morning, that will be no problem at all!  The development of modern technology, particularly the internet, and living in an increasingly globalised economy, has driven the development of this 24/7 culture. I will leave it to you to decide whether living in a 24/7 culture is a good thing or not.

The 24/7 society may be a relatively recent thing, but Jesus has been calling people to be 24/7 disciples for over 2000 years. Because being a Christian, is not just about being baptised, or coming to church on a Sunday, or something to be treated as a hobby, it is something that shape and influence our lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

But how many of us truly do this?  I came across this quote the other day, it said: ‘With most of us Christianity is just a hobby. It merely occupies the fringe area of our spare time. We will not let our Christianity interfere with our life!  We practice Christianity on Sunday morning but make it marginal the rest of the week. We use church like a religious country club. It is fun to be there once in awhile.’

When you get married, you don’t say, “I am only a husband when I’m with my wife, but as soon as I go out to work, or to the shop or pub, and I’m not with my wife, then I cease to be married, and can therefore behave as if I was a single person.”  No, you remain married whether you are with your wife or not.  Or if you become a parent, you don’t cease to be a parent when you drop you children off at school, and then become a parent again when you pick them up in the afternoon, no you are a parent 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Likewise when you become a Christian, you are not just a Christian when you walk through the doors of a church building, and then cease to be a Christian when you leave the building, no you are called to be a Christian 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Therefore being a follower of Jesus should influence every single aspect of our lives.  It should affect our values, attitudes & morals, how we use our time and money, how we relate to others, how we conduct our business, what we do in public and in private.  It should influence also how we view the work we do, we should see it as part of our Christian ministry.  For example, there was a man standing on the platform waiting for the train that would take him to work, when someone came up to him and starting asking him “what do you do for a living.”  To which he replied “I am a Christian, thinly disguised as an accountant.”  He realised that what he does as an accountant matters just as much to God, as to what he does whilst in church. 

A few weeks ago we talked about discipleship as lifestyle, and saw how Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world.  The point about salt and light is that you should taste and see the difference it makes.  Light helps us to see, and salt adds flavour, and that is what we as followers of Jesus are called to be like.  

To be a 24/7 Christian, means to live out our faith day by day in a truly authentic manner.  A number of years ago, bracelets with the letters WWJD – What Would Jesus Do, were extremely popular. It helps us to think about how we live out our Christian lives.  So when I’m late for a meeting, and stuck behind someone crawling along the road at 30mph in a 60mph zone, do I start flashing my lights, beeping my horn, and swearing at them to move out of the way, or do I try to be patient and calm.  Or when you are at work, and someone starts spreading malicious gossip about someone you know, do you join in with that gossip, or do you say, “I don’t want anything to do with this.” 

24/7 discipleship is about learning to follow Jesus, and through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, becoming more and more like Christ.  It is about learning to live in the power and presence of God in our daily lives. 

It also means having a willingness to trust God completely in all aspects of life.  It means learning to live life God’s way, putting Him first, and doing that means that true discipleship is going to be costly, true commitment will cost you something. It is not going to be easy. You cannot just say you love the Lord. You must show it through your words and actions.
Discipleship is costly because Jesus must have priority over our will, ideas and plans. Discipleship is also dynamic, not static. Being a Christian is not just about sitting in a pew or saying a prayer. It is about a life committed, a life changed, a heart and will surrendered, and a new direction as we follow God.  Discipleship is not a one-time act. It is a change of heart, a change of direction for a lifetime. When we are committed to living this sort of discipleship, then it has the power to change the world around us.  Just imagine what the impact could be, if we take up seriously the commitment to follow Jesus 24/7. 

A disciple is willing to grow in Christ; are you!? Are you willing to GO? Are you willing to become a fully committed follower of Jesus?  Are you prepared to carry God’s love from this place, to your homes, you families, your work places, our schools, and shops, and places of leisure?  Are you prepared to go and serve the broken and lost, are you prepared to stand on the side of the marginalised?  Are you prepared to follow where Christ leads you?  Are you also prepared for the cost of being a disciple of Jesus?  Because if we are serious about following Jesus, there will be a cost involved, it is not always easy – BUT the cost is of no comparison to what we gain. Because, if we are serious about following Jesus, putting him at the centre of our lives, then we are entering on a life of adventure, a life with purpose and meaning, a life which will be centred and rooted on the God of love, and there can be nothing greater, or more wonderful that that. 


The Established Church?

St Martin's Newsletter 22 April 2012

Not so long ago, it was often said, jokingly, that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. No more! For whatever reason surely not altogether the influence of the LibDems in the coalition, there seems to be a concerted effort by the government to dismantle Christianity as an organised religion in this country. This government actually confuses me – on the one hand we have David Cameron extolling the virtues of Christianity as a stabilising influence in the country, providing many of the values and behavioural ethics which are desirable in a civilised society, while at the same time, his government ministers, Conservatives not Libdems, are arguing passionately before the European Court of Human Rights that Christians are not entitled to show their faith by wearing a cross in their place of work – apparently, if a Christian doesn’t like that, they can get another job. Really? The last time I looked (about 10 minutes ago) there were over 2.5 million unemployed in the United Kingdom – not easy to just “get another job”
Then we have George Osborne’s two pronged attack on the church in his recent budget. His primary target may not have been the Anglican church, but we will suffer, along with every organised religion from the imposition of VAT on repairs to listed buildings, while the curtailment of tax relief on large charitable donations will be potentially detrimental to all charities, including religious organisations.

But enough of my rants and disgruntlement – on a happier note yesterday was the 86th birthday of our Queen, Elizabeth II. Her life may be sheltered, pampered and protected, but she has given 60 years of devoted and selfless service to our country. Born in 1926 to the then Duke and Duchess of York, she was not then in direct line of succession to the throne, but became the heir when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother who became George VI. Who, in 1926 would have foreseen that Elizabeth’s reign would even exist, let alone emulate that of her great, great, great-grandmother and reach a diamond anniversary?

Keith Brown

Friday, 20 April 2012

Discipleship: Commitment

Sermon preached by the Revd Phill Ball on Easter Sunday 2012
Todays topic in the discipleship series is, Commitment.  So Happy Easter, to each and everyone of you! Today is special in so many ways!

Its one of those rare good news, even better news, and fantastic news days, there’s no bad news in sight.

The Good news:
The Easter Eggs, The chocolate, Our Families, our friends, in loving and being loved, in just being together, in family meals, in time together, in the flowers all around us, and in the new life budding outside the church;

So lets Commit  to thanking all those including God, that provide all that for us all.
And now my Easter gift to you, this sermon is going to be relatively short, so lets Commit to listening and reflecting on it !

The even better news:
Is the good news of Easter, that is the good news of the risen Jesus, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen- he is alive Forever.

The Easter story is that God due to his love for us all, Committed to save us from ourselves,  and came to dwell with us here on earth as Jesus.  Through Love Jesus Committed , to teach us how to live, and to share the building of the Kingdom of God, both here on earth, and in heaven.

Through Love , even though he was innocent, he was tried, found guilty, and then Committed to suffer and be crucified on Good Friday, and Committed to face death.

Through love, God suffered and died for you and for me, and through love and Commitment that can never be overcome or defeated in the end, Jesus rose again on Easter Sunday…. Today!

Jesus’ Commitment  returned him to the father in the ascension, and then God and Jesus, kept their further commitment to us all, to send the Holy Spirit, who is Committed to be our comforter and guide, around and within us, always.

And all three Commit to be with us, and for us, and never leave us for all eternity through love.
We have had the Good News, and the even better news, and now the Fantastic News!

To be a part of this fantastic offer where God through love Commits  to you, each and every one of you…. All you have to do is to Commit to follow Jesus, in your hearts, in your lives, and with all those around you.

If like me it’s a bit more like staggering after the example of Christ, as long as its committed staggering, God will provide the rest. Its this sharing with and inside you, with Commitment
 When  we celebrate all this in our prayer, and at communion.


That’s why we celebrate Easter, and that’s why we Commit to follow Christ!

Living Discipleship

Sermon preached by the Revd Phill Ball, Sunday 15th April 2012
Our topic this week in the Discipleship series is SHARING. Or rather in Discipleship the issue of loving and sharing!
With all that Jesus did for us, and shared with us all, over his ministry, in his teaching and emphasised over this Easter season; let us all consider sharing in our risen discipleship lives.
Now to pinch a phrase from Michelle of the French Resistance in Allo Allo, Listen very carefully I shall say this only once!

If we need an example of loving and sharing, once again we only have to look to God, and to the example of Jesus his son.

God shared his whole creation with us, and shared what it was to be truly human, by coming to live as one of us, in Jesus his son.

He shared and knows what laughter, joy, excitement, responsibility, love , families, and  of course shared and knows what oppression, pain sorrow, loss, rejection, and injustice and a painful death are all personally like, he shared them all as Jesus, and he shares it all with us now, if we let him in our hearts.

God shared in Jesus’ death,  in his glorious resurrection on Easter day, and shares with all who will ask him the new life of God through Jesus, for God has already shared our suffering and our deaths.

Lets look at an example from the Bible, lets look at one of the disciples asked to follow and share with him:

Matthew as we know him or Levi the sinful and hated tax collector as the people at the time knew him!

For the Gospel writer Matthew was one of the Friendless-  Matthew the tax-collector had no friends among any respectable folk. Hardly surprising, when he cheated most of them with his exces­sive tax demands, they often demanded far more than was necessary to line their own pockets, and collected money to pay the brutal roman army of occupation.

Matthew had hung around on the edge of the crowd when Jesus was speaking, and he liked what he'd heard, as Jesus shared.

Wistfully Matthew thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could live as Jesus is describ­ing, a life of kindness and sharing with others and acceptance by God?

But there was no chance of a sinner and tax-collector being accepted into that sort of society.

So he was caught off guard when Jesus turned to him and said, 'Follow me!' Like a young woman who has received an unexpected proposal of marriage, he was lost for words. 'What can I say?' he stammered. Jesus smiled. 'One word will do,'; 'Yes,' answered Matthew. 'Oh yes,  I will follow you wherever you want me to!' Then, what should he do next? he wondered.

What he really wanted to do was throw a party.

But Jesus would surely never come to a party where the only guests were the outcasts and despised like Matthew

So Mat­thew went off into a daydream, preparing for Jesus a shared banquet in his heart. Jesus startled him again, asking,

'What are you thinking about, friend?' 'W-w-well, I dreamt I was giving you a banquet. Oh, not a real banquet, you understand - it was a banquet in my heart.'

This time, Jesus laughed out loud. 'I've never been to one of those,' he chuckled.  But 'I'll accept your invitation. But you'll have to be a big-hearted person if there's going to be room for me and all your tax-collector friends!'
And when Jesus sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples'. So the location and sharing, had moved from Matthew's heart to Matthew's house, but people were astonished at the company Jesus kept, and who he shared his life with.
It took them a long time to understand that the Saviour of the world loves the outcast and those with a shady reputation, just as much as he loves the celebrities and the VIPs, and the respectable.
He enjoys parties, and he's happy to go to a party with anyone who invites him, in their home or in their heart. Jesus is the friend of sinners and the ordinary, to him their all special.
Have you ever invited Jesus to share a banquet in your heart?
Or others to share what Jesus offers all who will answer yes?
No, really, it's a very serious question.
Where does Jesus come in your life?
Do you leave him behind in church when you go home? Do you only think about him when you're being po-faced and respectable?
 That isn't enough. This isn’t a sharing discipleship…
Jesus wants to be with you and share in the whole of your life.
He wants you to open your heart, and share all your hopes and fears with him, Share your anger and your joy, your triumphs and disasters.
So why not give Jesus a party? A shared banquet in your heart is quite good enough for starters.
Jesus wants to be your close friend, your bosom pal. He wants you to consult him over all your decisions, and thank him for all your successes, and share all your disappointments as well.
That's a cause for celebration, surely isn't it?
But like Matthew we all have to decide to follow and to have that party in our hearts, and to share Jesus with others.
To paraphrase an old Saying,
Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay , love isn’t love till its shared and  given away!
Finally, lets consider another example- these lovely eggs…. Given to me.
Should I keep them all, count them, eat them, feel smug, and be respectable, or as we should do share, as Disciples of Christ called to follow and share?
I’ve made my decision, how about you?
I’m sharing…Amen. Share eggs out- pew by pew.2 bags per pew- open and share sisters and brothers.

Discipleship: Trust

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble, 25th March 2012

‘Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation’ -  D Elton Truegood
Today, as part of our series on discipleship, I’d like us to look at the subject of trust.
From the time we are born we have a dependency to trust in somebody. Just as a baby or a child needs to trust its parents to love him and provide for his every need, we as children of a gentle loving heavenly Father, need to put our trust in Him. He is the one on whom we can totally depend.

When Saskia my granddaughter was learning to walk she needed the security of someone to hold her hand or reins to support her. She didn't always realise it, but an adult was always there. And once she was confident in walking she went on to run and jump – but she also still sometimes wobbles or falls over, too much like us as Christians !!!!  That just how we are - and we all need the security of God’s love and care.

How often have we had the experience of trusting another person – whether that person is a friend, a lover, a politician, a minister or someone in authority? We’ve all put our faith in different ideas – we do it every day – simply turning on the light puts our trust in modern technology. We flick a switch and don’t give a second thought about how the power is generated, how it gets to our home, what the consequences are of our use of so much power are or how we’d cope if the power went or was limited. We trust people and ideas every day.

We know that trust and faith are closely linked – they come together. It’s often said that faith is spelt RISK. It’s easy, therefore, to become cynical. It’s tempting to stop trusting, to keep our hearts closed to the possibility of letting someone, or something, in so as to avoid the possibility of being hurt.

We know that trust and faith are closely linked – they come together. It’s often said that faith is spelt RISK. It’s easy, therefore, to become cynical. It’s tempting to stop trusting, to keep our hearts closed to the possibility of letting someone, or something, in so as to avoid the possibility of being hurt.
  • Water to Wine?
  • Lazarus to life?
  • Bread and fish to a banquet?
  • Healings?
  • Works that bring healing, delight, abundance, life itself?
But we do experience Jesus. We do have him at our sides. Not just in some spiritual way, but personally, in the face of each other, in the presence of the stranger, in the arms of a lover. Where there is love and charity there also is God. We believe that God is at work in our lives and in our church. When we do the things that Jesus told us to do we walk by his side. When we help the poor we do Jesus’ work. When we challenge injustice we do so in the name and power of Jesus. When we bring relief to those who are down we do the work of Jesus.
The passage ends with Jesus’ startling words that his followers will do greater things than he did. What?? Greater than the miracles? Greater than those healings? It’s mind blowing. But then think of what we have achieved as a church:

The passage ends with Jesus’ startling words that his followers will do greater things than he did. What?? Greater than the miracles? Greater than those healings? It’s mind blowing. But then think of what we have achieved as a church:
  • Simply being church in our world which distrusts religion is an accomplishment
  • Simply having faith (when so many Christians would deny that we could be so – and when we’ve battled feelings of guilt and unworthiness) – is miraculous.
And we have more still to do. God hasn’t called us this far to leave us or forsake us but continues to use our gifts, our skills, our time and our treasure. We still have work to do, we still have lives to save, we still have miracles to perform in Jesus name. We do these together, not so that we may be exalted, not that we may make a name for ourselves, but so that the poor and lowly will have their lives changed and transformed by the power of God working through us so that the Kingdom comes a little closer.

And we have more still to do. God hasn’t called us this far to leave us or forsake us but continues to use our gifts, our skills, our time and our treasure. We still have work to do, we still have lives to save, we still have miracles to perform in Jesus name. We do these together, not so that we may be exalted, not that we may make a name for ourselves, but so that the poor and lowly will have their lives changed and transformed by the power of God working through us so that the Kingdom comes a little closer.

We have also had the experience of that trust being betrayed. A friend laughs at us, a lover turns to another, a politician is found not to live up to the ideals and standards we rightfully expect, clergy bully and abuse destroying trust and, often, faith. Modern technology doesn’t answer all our questions and still can’t eradicate disease, poverty or injustice, the political ideas we once held firmly no longer seem to be the answer to our problems.

Our relationships must be built on trust to succeed, and this week I was teaching one of my pupils a song from the musical Wicked called For Good. As we were thinking about the words and how best to interpret them I thought about how appropriate they were for the matter of trust. I quote: “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return”. It then continues, “ So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart. Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun, like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood, like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea, like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood. Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?  Because I knew you, I have been changed for good”.

And that’s how it is in a good marriage – and today we celebrate with Keith and Sylvie 40 years of marriage. – we change and grow closer as we learn to trust one another. We are changed and transformed, just as in the same way that we learn to trust God for every detail of our lives and come into relationship with Him, we become more like Him. Because when we know and trust Jesus, we are changed for good and life will never be the same again.
Immediately before the passage we’ve read today, Jesus had predicted that Peter would betray him. He spoke to the deep concerns of the disciples. They were confused and he encouraged them to trust. They needed to anchor that trust in him. Jesus indicated that he and his Father would prepare a place for them when he was gone.

He tried to prepare the disciples for the time when he wouldn’t be with them anymore. He said that he would be going away and that his disciples cannot go with him. He has washed their feet, Judas has gone to betray him and Peter is told that he will deny Jesus. The disciples must have felt that their world was turning again. It had turned when they were called to follow Jesus and now their security was uncertain. They are worried, their ideas are being challenged but they are told to trust – in God and in Jesus.

Then Jesus follows up this command with reasons to trust in him. Thomas and Philip are worried, they don’t know how to trust Jesus – he won’t be there. They don’t know how to trust God when they don’t know where to find God in their world where everything is changing. This anxiety about being left alone is clouding their vision, their perception, and their hearts.

Jesus moves away from talk about going away and returning (as this was just increasing their anxiety), to again asking them to trust (or believe) that he and the Father are one. Jesus is showing that to see Him is to see God the Father. And they have seen Jesus' face, heard his voice, and even more importantly, have seen what he did, his works. It should be enough. To know Jesus is to know the Father.

We can imagine Thomas and Philip and the others with them thinking back over the works Jesus has accomplished. What do they say about Jesus, and about the Father?
These would be the works of God, Father and Son. But Jesus isn’t with us in the same way. It was easier, perhaps, for Thomas and Philip to trust as they had known Jesus in person.
We know him by faith. We don’t experience him as they did.
Forging a church out of so many different people with so many different perspectives is almost unique.

By financially supporting the Glebe Centre in Walsall it’s been possible to befriend and journey with asylum seekers and help them secure their right to remain in the UK. We helped feed and clothe the homeless. We’ve saved lives, and we’ve done it together.
I end with a story -
A man fell over a cliff and, as he tumbled down the sheer drop, managed to grab on to a scrubby bush growing from the side of the rock. Terrified, he hung in space, his life flashing before him. In desperation, he shouted toward heaven, 'Is there anyone up there?'
To his astonished delight, a voice floated down: 'I am the Lord God, and I am here.'
'What should I do?' called the man.
The voice replied, 'Let go of the branch and, with my protection, you will float harmlessly down to the beach below.'
The man glanced under his feet to the jagged rocks at the foot of the cliff, hundreds of metres below. He gulped, and looked back toward heaven. 'Well... is there anyone else up there?'
As we pause, I ask this question, do you truly trust God?  He really loves us all so much that he sent his son Jesus as a lifeline. He is all we need! Are you going to reach out to Him ?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Trusting God: Exodus 16:11-end

I know that some people struggle when it comes to reading the Old Testament (OT), but I think the OT is fantastic – of course there are some difficult parts in it, but it is also so full of incredible stories, which has so much to teach us.

One of the greatest stories in the OT is the story of the Exodus, the story of how God led the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the promised land.  Where I think the story of the Exodus is so powerful, is that it reveals a lot about the nature of God, and his love and concern for his people, and also his patience, because time and time again when the Israelite’s turn their back on God, and start grumbling, He remains faithful.

We see this in today’s reading. 

After freeing the Israelite’s from the clutches of their Egyptian masters, the Israelite’s start complaining.  Within an incredibly short time they forget what it was like to be slaves in Egypt and start saying to Moses and Aaron “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (16:3) 

So God hears the complaints of the Israelite’s, just as he heard their cries whilst they were held in slavery in Egypt, and He sent them manna in the morning and quails in the evening, so that they had just enough to eat, not too much and not too little.  ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ (16:18).   

This reminds us that we have a God who does listen to us, and does understand our needs, and knows how to supply exactly what we need, not too much, nor too little. This is not just something that happened in the past, but is also the way God works today.  Many times in the past when we didn’t think we would be able to pay our parish share, God managed to bring in the money we needed.  I have also personally known God's provision just when I needed it the most.  

God doesn't always supply what we want, but He does supply what we need.  The challenge for the Israelite’s, and the challenge for us is to trust in the God who provides all good things. 
Clearly for some of the Israelite’s, they found trusting God to be difficult.  Because when they saw the manna, rather than collecting just enough for that day, they collected more than they needed, only to discover that the food spoiled, and was worthless.  They had to learn an important lesson to trust God, and rely on Him day by day, just as we are called to trust God day by day. 

For me this is the big challenge, because I realise I don’t trust God enough.  But as we discover that we can trust God in the little things, so we can start to trust God with the big things.
So for me the challenge that God gives to me through this passage, is to learn to trust Him more, and to learn to rely on Him on a daily basis for my every need.  Because at the end of the day, we have a God who loves us, and a God who knows our every need.  Who better to trust?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Easter Sermon 2012: Rediscovering Renewed Confidence in Christ


In the early 1920s Communist leader Nikolai Bukharin was sent from Moscow to Kiev to address an anti-God rally. For an hour he abused and ridiculed the Christian faith until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Then questions were invited. An Orthodox church priest rose and asked to speak. He turned, faced the people, and gave the Easter greeting, "He is risen!" Instantly the assembly rose to its feet and the reply came back loud and clear, "He is risen indeed!" 

Today that great acclamation of faith, ‘Christ is risen’, echoes around the world, as Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the greatest event in the history of the world.

Queen Adelaide Hill - Windermere

When I lived in Windermere, we held a sun rise service on Easter Sunday, on one of the local hills overlooking the lake.  As the sun rose over the horizon we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  It was a powerful reminder that the message of Easter is one of incredible hope.  It is about light overcoming darkness, the defeat of death and the breaking of the power of sin, all because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and his resurrection.   

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter is devoted to telling jokes, because they are imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. But then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the last words.

On Good Friday I was out in Walsall town centre with the Street Pastors.  Very often as we chat to people, they start asking us questions about our faith.  There are some who have clearly already made up their minds about God and the Church, and can be quite hostile towards our beliefs.  But there are others who are much more open, and want to know why we believe in God.  When I am asked that question, the answer for me is very simple - it is because He is alive, and I have experienced first-hand the power and reality of his love. 

An African man who was a Muslim became a Christian, and was asked by his friends 'Why have you become a Christian?' He answered, 'Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?'" That for me is why I am a Christian.
Bruce Larson said, "The events of Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or philosophy. We are not asked to believe the doctrine of the resurrection. We are asked to meet this person raised from the dead. In faith, we move from belief in a doctrine to the knowledge of a person. Ultimate truth is a person. We met him. He is alive." 

Dawkins & Hitchens 
But whilst we celebrate Easter, Christianity is facing a threat of becoming increasingly marginalised in our society.  We have seen the rise of a much more militant secularist agenda, driven in part by the ‘New Atheists’, led by their commander in chief Professor Richard Dawkins.  In an interview in the New Statesman between Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins revealed his true attitude to Christianity when he said 'Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?' 
You may say Dawkins is just one man, and we shouldn’t be too worried about what he thinks, but the trouble is that many people do listen to him, his book ‘The God Delusion’ has sold well over 2 million books. 
Councillor Clive Bone said Christian prayers at Bideford council breached his human right to freedom of belief
But there are other signs of the increasing marginalisation of Christianity in our nation.  In February a case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor won a legal ruling against Bideford town council in Devon from having religious prayers as part of the meetings agenda.  Fortunately following a big outcry this ruling was quickly over turned by the Government, but it is just one of many cases to try and remove Christianity from the heart of our national life.
Dr Drew - sacked for sending a prayer by email to his colleagues at Walsall Manor Hospital
Here in Walsall a Doctor at Manor Hospital was sacked after he emailed a prayer of St Ignatius Loyola to his colleagues.  And the Government has been criticised for upholding employers’ rights to sack any employee for wearing a visible cross or crucifix. And then there is the Government’s plans to redefine marriage, and legalise same sex marriage – a plan which has been strongly criticised by both the Archbishop of York and Canterbury.
What is clear is that there are attempts to relegate Christianity to the border of irrelevance.  Christian beliefs, instead of promoting the values underlying our society, are now simply regarded as a private life-style choice which should have no significant place in determining any aspect of social policy.  Canon Alan Nugent, sub dean at Lincoln Cathedral said that there are many who seek to exclude Christian belief from social debate because for them belief is synonymous with irrationality, prejudice and extremism. 
So there is a challenge facing us as Christians.  But just as the Orthodox priest did in Russia, when he stood up to Bukharin, so we as Christians need to have a renewed confidence in our faith.  We need to be prepared to stand up and make our voices heard.  We need to show to people that Christianity, far from being a spent force, is alive and well in our society, and that faith rather than being a bad thing, is something that should be nurtured and valued.
When the disciples discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead, they discovered a renewed hope and confidence, and went out to change the world.  As God’s people we need to do the same.  Paul in his letter to the Romans said ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’ (Romans 1:16)  As the church we need to rediscover a confidence that is based in the risen Jesus.  The world needs Jesus, and we as God’s people are the ones who need to take that message out into the world, through a bold proclamation of the gospel, and through loving service, following the example of our risen Lord and Saviour. 
We need to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews who called us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’  (Hebrews 12:1-2)  So let us declare, with renewed hope and confidence, that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Alleluia!