Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Woman At The Well

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble, at St Martin's on Sunday 23rd March 2014

Today's scripture from John's Gospel is wonderful in its use of imagery. Just picture the well, and the tired Jesus who watches the woman walk to the well he is sitting by. Imagine the well surrounded by trees, probably olive trees, and smell the dust that still floats in the air from the passing of the travellers. Feel the heat of the midday sun, and picture the woman walking through the heat shimmer on the road as she carries her water jugs to the well.

I guess most of you are familiar with the story of the woman at the well, but let's re-examine some of the highlights.

Jesus is travelling with his disciples because he's avoiding the Pharisees in Judean territory. Tired, thirsty and hungry, he stops by a well to rest while his companions go ahead to search for food for their midday meal. A woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. They end up talking and Jesus awakens something in the woman who runs to the village to tell everything else.

I'm sure many of us have heard this story several times before, and you could probably tell why this woman is so special and why it was so radical that a Jewish man, a Rabbi, was talking to a woman, a Samaritan woman.

Putting it another way, here were Jewish men, travelling in a territory that all other Jewish people avoided like the plague - yet they were willing to eat their food and even drink their water. It would seem scandalous! But in the heat of the day, maybe things look a little different to hot, tired and dusty people.

I'd like to continue by talking about what this story meant to the community that was hearing it for the first time.

What did this journey mean in first century terms? Just suppose that you were making a long journey, and between you and your destination lay a district filled with criminals, sexual predators and mentally unstable people.

You could go the long way round but it would add another 5 hours to your journey. And remember that the people living there are social outcasts.

If you were to speak to them or even get the dirt from their ground on you, you would become unacceptable in polite society forever, and you wouldn't even think of eating, drinking or speaking to the residents.

That was the choice that Jesus and his disciples had to make.

It was radical for Jesus and his companions to even be in Samaritan territory, let alone speak to someone or eat and drink their food.

I feel that this story has a great deal to do with the embracing of "the other" even when that "other" was as despised as Samaritans were. It's not just about a woman who was the first apostle to a hated people, rather this is about one group of people trying to welcome another group they once found repugnant.

The writer of this passage is struggling with the presence of a people who 20 or 30 years before would have been banned from their places of worship but now are part of their community - people who were thought of as charity cases in the best of moments, people they could help so they would feel good about helping, and people less fortunate than they were.
 What John tries to tell us is this - there is no difference in the eyes of God between any of us.
The passage is trying to tell the two communities, which were most probably at odds with one another, that Jesus would have found both sides to be worthy of God's love, and if God finds each side acceptable, then why couldn't everyone in the community?

Nowadays we face very similar problems as communities,  with the addition of people from other cultures who bring some new and dare I say it, maybe even strange ways of worshipping into our midst.

I'm not referring to any particular church, but the wider church, and how we as Christians sometimes struggle with welcoming new ethnic churches into our fellowship of compassion, justice and mercy.

It's often difficult to see God in different ways from ours, even when it's enlightening and transforming, and maybe, even a little scary.

So let's look at how the Jewish Christians visualised God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.
Jewish Christians in the first century were primarily Jewish in nature. They saw their world through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures, as taught by the temple and synagogue - that meant that by becoming Christians they had already made a huge transition to a new way of thinking, and many felt Christianity should remain as Jewish as possible because that is what they were comfortable with.

The Samaritans, on the other hand, were no longer purely Jewish, and as a result they were not able to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, the Samaritans set up their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim and developed their own worship customs, mostly in defiance of temple authorities.

So now you have two groups that hated each other being converted to Christianity and entering into community together, each with different ideas about worship and God.

Each felt threatened, yet there is a conflict here because they're Christians and that means they are brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is a familiar scenario. We've all been to places where we felt threatened by someone else's way of worship, yet we can still find something wonderful in those moments.

The unfamiliar becomes a doorway into a new understanding, and we just have to get beyond our own belief that we are the right ones. Most new churches are ethnic, and that means that we will meet or encounter new ways of worship and praising God that is different from our own.

However, as a faith community we are not called to assimilate the other into our way of worship, nor are the others called to assimilate us into theirs, rather, each community is called to celebrate the life and faith of all and recognise the presence of God in the diverse ways we all reach out to Him.

So how can we as Christians accept people who may not believe the things that we do? I would say in that every way you are fed by God and the Holy Spirit, it's right for you and we must honour that. I am a Christian and proud of it.

I will always be a Christian, but just as Jesus went into Samaritan territory and recognised God's presence, we too must recognise God's presence in the people we meet, whether they are Muslims who follow Mohammed or Buddhists who look for enlightenment through the teachings of the Buddha. All are made in God's image.

In Romans 5: 1-2 translated in The Message it states: "By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us - set us right with him, make us fit for him - we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: we throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand - out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory,  standing tall and shouting our praise."

Indeed, we as Christians find our way through the Master Jesus but God has thrown open the doors and as we stand there we discover new spaces were God's glory is magnified.
So it's not what we have been used to and maybe it will challenge us to work to discover wonderful spaces when we embrace the other.

Fortunately in this country we are blessed with freedom to worship how we choose without fear or prejudice. It can, however, become overfamiliar and perhaps we don't have to think or work at it.

And if we don't have to think or work at something it then can become taken for granted, and we can fail to recognise it's worth or value.

So back to the woman at the well. How do you think she felt? Jesus knew everything about her history. He knew her soul, and  most of all he had mercy.

She had engaged him in a theological discussion - Jesus couldn't just say things about her past and get away with it!

As 21st century Christians, would like to think we'd invite the loners, and the poor and hungry to our tables, but I don't know if we empower them to witness to God's divine mercy.

We might give money to refugees or even walk to fight AIDS and pray for children, but how often do we sit down with immigrants and invite them to church? Have you hugged someone with Aids, or someone who is homeless recently?

If children want to lead in church do we encourage them to do so?

Jesus shared himself with the Samaritan woman at the well. She left the well with a tale to tell.
May all who have ears to hear, listen and respond to her call.

Prayer for Monday 31st March 2014

Today from our church family we pray for Elizabeth Butler.

Yesterday we came to church an hour earlier as British Summer Time began. After a very wet and stormy winter we look forward to the signs of spring, but we continue to hold in our prayers all those whose homes and livelihoods have been severely damaged by storms and flooding. We pray that, as the water slowly recedes and the media begin to lose interest in their plight, they will continue to receive the help they need from local and national government, insurance companies and charities to repair their damaged properties. We give thanks for the work of all those who rescued people from their homes, those who worked on flood defences and for those who reconnected power supplies in difficult circumstances during the last two months. And we pray that those who are planning flood defences for the future, will be given sufficient resources to make these effective against extreme weather conditions.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Prayer for Sunday 30th March

Today from our church family we pray for Les Budding.

Collect for Mothering Sunday 
“God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself: strengthen us in our daily living, that in joy and sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”    

As many of us spend time with our families today and think about happy times spent with our mothers, we thank you Lord for the hard work and sacrifice made by most parents as they strive to bring up their children. We pray for families; for those in our world surrounded by fighting and war, for those who are hungry or trying to survive in dire conditions, for children who have been orphaned due to mankind’s violence or national disasters.  We pray for families in our own nation trying to cope with unemployment and financial difficulties and for mothers who have to bring up their children alone and finally for support and vigilance for the children whose parents do not care properly for them. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Mothering Sunday All Age Talk

A little girl asked her mother, "How did the human race appear?"

The mother answered, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and so was all mankind made ..."

Two days later the girl asked her father the same question.

The father answered, "Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved."

The confused girl returned to her mother and said, "Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they developed from monkeys?"

The mother answered, "Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his!"

  •  Ask congregation for qualities that make a good mother. Record responses on flipchart.
  •  Ask mothers in the congregation how they feel they measure up to these qualities?
  • How would they describe themselves as mothers?

Show Video

The notion of what leads to success and happiness in our world seems to have a lot to do with looks, wealth and having a successful career.  But these are not the qualities that God looks for in us.  God is far more concerned about the qualities that are mentioned here on the board, the qualities that make a good mother. 

I’m sure most mothers would admit being a mother isn’t easy.  Long hours, little time to themselves, responding to the various demands of the family, it’s hard.  Nor is it the most glamorous job in the world, but it is without doubt one of the most important jobs anyone can do, because mothers provide love, attention and care to their family. 

Mums quite rightly deserve our full respect and support, and just as in our Gospel reading today in which we read about Jesus’ mother Mary, we can learn from them about sacrificial love. Mothers are our modern day saints, who maybe more than anyone else, help shape our future world by the influence they have on their children.

In the video we’ve just seen, the perspective that the mothers had of themselves was very different to the way their children perceived them.

I think this often happens with the way we view God, our perspective gets distorted.  We are so used to using male language and imagery to describe God, but forget that the Bible often describes God as being like a loving, caring mother who nurtures and protects her children.  If we look at all those qualities we wrote down about what makes a good mother, these are also the qualities that describe what God is like.

And just as God is both father and mother to us all, we too, regardless of whether we are male or female, married or single, have children or not, are called to be like God, like a loving mother or father, being there for people, caring for them, and giving of ourselves without asking for anything in return.

And just as a good parent never stops loving their children, so God never stops loving us.  That is why Paul prayed may you "understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love really is." (Ephesians 3:18)  Or as the children’s song goes, God’s love is very wonderful, so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, oh wonderful love!

So whether you are a mother, or not, forget the world’s misleading notion of success and happiness, and instead think about the values that matter to God.  

Prayer for Saturday 29th March

Today from our church family we pray for Margaret Budding.

In our prayers for our town of Walsall today, we bring before you Lord all involved in transport, the media and essential services to our homes. We pray for those who are responsible for organising and delivering bus and rail services, for those who drive lorries and delivery vehicles throughout the borough, those who supply and manage gas, electricity and water and deal with waste from our homes and for everyone whose work takes them on our roads especially in cold and icy weather conditions and for their safety. Finally we pray for those who write our local newspapers, and for regional radio and television broadcasters. Help them to highlight injustice and to give a clear unbiased view of what is happening in our communities without exaggeration as well as highlighting positive aspects of life in our town.

Tonight at 8.30 pm is Earth Hour when the WWF hope a billon people worldwide will turn off their lights for one hour to show that they care about the implications of climate change.  Loving Lord, who made this wonderful world for us, help and guide us to use its resources in a way that will prevent irreparable harm to its climate and resources.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Prayer for Friday 28th March 2014

Today from our church family we pray for Vickie Brown.

We pray for the work of the Glebe Centre and Hi’s N Low’s among the homeless and those struggling with alcohol and drug abuse in Walsall. Compassionate Lord, we pray for all those using these services: that the support they receive and opportunities offered for skills and training will help them to maintain their dignity and lead them towards trying to rebuild their lives. We pray that these charitable organisations will continue to receive adequate support from the council, businesses, local churches and individuals in order to maintain and develop this work. We also pray for national organisations that help the homeless, such as the Salvation Army, Shelter and Crisis. Open the eyes of all those with responsibility for social care in national and local government to the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Prayer for Thursday 27th March

Today from our church family we pray for Helen Brown.

We pray for the work of the Samaritans (our charity this month) as they support those in distress and despair and for their outreach and work with schools, colleges and universities, workplaces, health and welfare services, homeless shelters, prisons and other charities. We give thanks for those who volunteer to listen and support and pray that those who turn to them will be encouraged by the care they receive to find a way forward from their problems. Finally we pray that the donation that they receive from St Martin’s will help them in their work locally.

This evening members of our PCC meet for the last time before our Annual Church Meeting next month. We pray for them to be guided by you Lord as they make decisions for St Martin’s and give thanks for the level of commitment and support they have given.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Prayer for Wednesday 26th March

Today from our church family we pray for Sylvie Brown.

We pray for the children at St Martin’s and our churches ministry to them. We pray for the children who attend our Sunday groups and Messy church activities. Lord Jesus, guide us in the way forward in involving children in the life of our church. We give thanks for the time and effort of those who lead and help with activities and pray that you will inspire us all to support them. 

“Lord God, who through the small offerings of one boy was able to feed 5,000, we ask that we may also love and develop the children in our congregations.
Lord we thank you for the children in our churches.
Lord you love them for who they are
Thank you for their gifts, their personalities and for their sense of fun
May they have the opportunity to grow into the people you created them to be.” 
(Caitlin Burbridge for the Children’s Society)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Suffer little children to come unto me..... Matt 19:14 (KJV)

retrak header

I've always had a problem with this verse in the King James Version, as the words 'suffer' and 'little children' should never appear in the same sentence. We all know, of course, that suffer in the King James version is the Middle English form meaning allow and not the understanding of suffer as we use it today. Nevertheless today  we frequently read of children suffering: such as abuse cases very close at hand, and those suffering physically, emotionally  and educationally as they are unable to attend school as a result of the wars raging at present around the world,  and so it continues. We pray that these situations will cease and innocent children can live free lives again.

April's charity giving from St. Martin's is for RETRAK, a British based charity, working with street children in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi giving them hope and new life.  Across the world there are hundreds of thousands of children living on the streets suffering hunger, poverty, abuse and violence.  Having been to Uganda and seen the work of RETRAK, we've witnessed the suffering and know of the many causes that bring these children onto the streets. 

In May we will be giving a presentation in Church on the work of RETRAK and how it is helping these children. On June 14th Carole is doing a sponsored skydive to raise funds for the street children. Many have said "Aren't you frightened?" The answer simply is - I've chosen to do this, my fear will only last a few minutes. Street children have no choice, their fear lasts for years. Each day they wake up not knowing if they will be alive at the end of it because of abuse at the hands of adults, lack of food, illness or disease.

At Easter we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, giving us the gift of new life. RETRAK is giving an opportunity of a new life to the street children.

"Suffer little children to come unto me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"

                                Carole & David Gregory

You are the Light of the World

This statement, made by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:14), may seem a daunting prospect. It’s all very well when life is good, when we’re happy and healthy, conscious that our little corner of the world is a brighter place because of our presence and actions.
But what happens when we don’t feel like this? When work is lost and relationships collapse, when illness and depression surround us with an impenetrable fog, when our light is reduced to a dim flicker, and there is barely enough to keep ourselves aglow, never mind anyone else. Have we then failed in our call to be light to the world?

Far from being a shining beacon of light, do you ever feel more like a cold, dark lump of dust, totally barren and lifeless?
The moon is a barren lump of rock that is apparently quite useless, incapable of generating even the tiniest spark of light. And yet a full moon on a cloudless night can bathe a world in a beautiful clear light that, if not as bright as the noonday sun, is still enough to pierce the darkness, lightening the path and making the world safe for travellers.

The moon may be incapable of producing any light of its own but, simply by its presence, it provides the means for the light of the sun to be reflected onto a world that has turned its back, and is unable to receive the sun’s rays directly. For the sun is the true light of the world, the bright star at the centre of all our lives, and that light is God. In asking us to be light to the world in our turn, he does not ask us to makes ourselves gods, the creators of our own light, but simply to be ourselves, reflecting and passing on his light, whatever our circumstances. As long as we remain at our station, as faithful in emptiness and weariness as in fruitfulness and joy, God sends us his energy and light, and we can shine on the whole world. Not with our own light, but with his.

Judith Dunthorne


The Discipline of Prayer

At the beginning of Lent, many of us decide to give up something that we really enjoy, like our favourite treats of sweets, crisps and chocolates.In recent years more and more people are choosing to give up things like watching television, playing games on the computer or trying to live without their iphones for 40 days!  The reason is that these days we are bombarded with massive amounts of information, personal news and irrelevant ephemera via email, Facebook, twitter etc.  Trying to find time for God is crowded out by the demands of modern life.

Lent is the perfect time to reassess our relationship with God and to try to improve the quality of our prayer life. This is not easy, but it is rewarding.  Remember prayer is not a monologue but a dialogue which requires us to develop the habit of spending time with God that is undisturbed, focused and determined.Some of us find this very difficult to achieve.

Joyce Huggett, in her book, “Listening to God”, provides us with some excellent and useful advice.  She suggests these seven steps to help us grow closer to God in prayer: physical relaxation and silence; becoming aware of God’s presence; surrendering to Him in obedience; acceptance of ourselves as He sees us; repenting and receiving forgiveness; spending time in contemplation; receiving grace and expressing gratitude; listening to specific instructions; and moving to action.  If we are able to follow this advice, I’m sure our prayer lives will be greatly enriched.

We are also learningabout the ‘Five Rhythms of Grace’ through our weekly Lent course.  If we practise Joyce Huggets’ suggestions and we embrace the ‘Five Rhythms of Grace’, I am sure that each of us will grow closer to God this Lent.Together may they help us to discern what God is saying to us,individually, and show us what His plans are for us, collectively, as His church here at St. Martin’s.

God bless, Jackie

Prayer for Tuesday 25th March

Today from our church family we pray for Keith Brown.

Collect for The Annunciation of Our Lord 
“We beseech you, O Lord, pour your grace into our hearts, that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. “

This afternoon and evening, at Broadway and St Martin’s, our Lent course continues its exploration of the Community of St Chad’s Five Rhythms of Grace, we focus today on Rhythm Three: “By God’s grace, I will set aside time for prayer, worship and spiritual reading.” 

Loving Lord, help us especially during period of Lent to set aside time each day for prayer, reading and reflection and in doing so to strengthen our spiritual lives. 
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Monday, 24 March 2014

Prayer for Monday 24th March

Today from our church family we pray for Jackie Brown.

Simon is taking assembly at Park Hall Infants School today and next Monday. Loving Father we pray for the children who listen to his words, that they may be able to relate them to their lives and actions. Help us all Lord to support and guide children in our families and in church and community activities.

“Lord God, who restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, help us to have eyes and ears to see and listen to what children have to teach us.
Give them food for their bodies and food for their souls.
Lord may they meet people who encourage and inspire them
May they grow to know true joy. (Children’s Society -adapted)

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Prayer for Sunday 23rd March

Today from our church family we pray for Julie Bradshaw.

Collect for 3rd Sunday of Lent
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“Loving Father, your Son called us to become like little children. Help us in this day to hear those words afresh and to allow them to shape our lives.
Grant us a spirit of true humility that enables us to approach you with empty hands.  Forgive us that our hands so often become filled with possessions, roles and selfish expectations.
Grant us a spirit of openness to new ideas.  Forgive us that our thoughts are so easily cluttered by our knowledge and experience of life that we are unable to hear anything that is new.
Grant us a spirit of simple trust.  Forgive us that we find it so easy to complicate life, and to look with cynicism at others.
Grant us a spirit of adventure that is ready to travel with you to new places where you will be able to use us to extend your child-like kingdom of love and peace.
We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Revd. Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, for the Children’s Society)  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Friday, 21 March 2014

Prayer for Saturday 22nd March 2014

Today from our church family we pray for Toby Bhadwaj.

Today is World Water Day. We pray for Water Aid, working to provide water for health and hygiene to some of the world’s poorest people, and for Tear Fund, Christian Aid and other agencies who support this work. May many more people have access to clean water and sanitation during this decade and may we appreciate the luxury of our water supplies and try not to use them wastefully.

Heavenly Father, in our prayers for Walsall today, we pray for its Christian Churches of all denominations and give thanks for their witness to you and for the charitable work they do for the town both together and individually. We pray for those of other faiths and for respect for each other’s beliefs and for dialogue, tolerance and understanding between all faiths. We give thanks for the work of all those who tirelessly raise funds and give their time for the charities in our town that support the sick, the lonely, the homeless and the vulnerable. We also pray for the work of the street pastors tonight in the town centre and that the support they give to those they meet will encourage a safe and supportive environment for everyone in the town.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Prayer for Friday 21st March

Today from our church family we pray for Pamela Bhardwaj.

It is one year since Justin Welby was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury. We give thanks for all that Justin has done in his first year of office. A major focus of his ministry so far has been economic and social justice, from the ethics of banking and financial services, to the problems of personal debt and pay-day loans. As he moves into his second year of office, we pray for his continuing ministry in this and all aspects of his work, and for good working relationships with all who share with him in your service. May your Church be ever more visible as a beacon of light and hope in the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

The 30th March is Mothering Sunday, the day on which we like to spoil our mothers and give them gifts of flowers and chocolates to thank them for all they mean for us.  What many people do not realise is that Mothering Sunday is a Christian tradition that goes back many centuries. 

Mothering Sunday has been celebrated in this country since the 16th century.  It was the day when people were encouraged to return to worship in their mother church, where they had been baptised.  This became an occasion for family reunions, and by the 19th century Mothering Sunday had become the traditional day for children working as domestic servants or apprentices to be given the day off to visit their families, and give gifts of Simmel cake and flowers to their mothers. 
Today Mothering Sunday, like many other special days, has become very commercialised, but is still an occasion to think about all things which concern motherhood. For Christians it is also a day when we remember that God cares for us like a mother.
Often when people talk about God, they picture a man.  One of the reasons is because Jesus taught us to prayer ‘Our Father in heaven…’ But I have met people who struggle with the male imagery of God, especially if their own experience with their fathers was not a positive one.  But the Bible also uses female imagery to describe God, for example God is portrayed as a comforting mother. “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)  God is also compared to a nursing mother “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)  And in the book of Genesis we are reminded that male AND female we are all created in God’s image, so God is both Father and Mother to us all. 
Mothers are very important, and the very least we can do is set aside a day to celebrate them, but it is also a good opportunity to remember that we have a God who like a good mother loves, nurtures and protects us too.  And just as a good mother never stops loving her children, no matter how old they may be, so God never stops loving us.  

Would The World Be Better Without Religion?

Would the world be a better place without religion?  The well-known atheist Sam Harris thinks so; in his book The End of Faith he writes that religion is “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”  But is he correct? 

Whilst it is undeniable that religion has and sadly continues to be used to justify terrible acts, it is wrong to assert that religion has been the primary cause of war and violence. 

Philip and Axelrod’s Encyclopedia of Wars chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged in the course of human history.  Of these wars, the authors categorise only 123 (or 6.98%) as being religious in nature.   
It is non-religious motivations that bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars.  Furthermore religion has not played any motivating role in the major wars that have led to the greatest loss of life.  Lives lost during religious conflict pale in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God, such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, etc. 
If religion can’t be blamed for most wars and violence, then what is the primary cause? The same thing that triggers all crime, cruelty, loss of life, and other such things. Jesus provides the answer very clearly: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:21–23)
In the end, the evidence shows that the #1 cause of wars and violence in the world is not religion, but human pride and sin of which we are all guilty.  
If we are the problem we can also be the solution, as the Bible instructs ‘Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.’ (Psalm 34:14)  John F Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Through small acts of kindness and love, we can be the ones who help transform the world.  

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
where there is injury, pardon; 
where there is doubt, faith; 
where there is despair, hope; 
where there is darkness, light; 
where there is sadness, joy.  

O Divine Master, 
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Prayer for Thursday 20th March

Today from our church family we pray for Clare Box.

As the Bereavement Support Group meets today at St Martin’s, we pray for all those in our community who have lost loved ones. We ask for your comfort and support for all who mourn, whether their grief is recent or long-standing. Bring them your peace, and help them to feel your loving presence with them at all times. Help them to deal with practical matters, and adjust to new circumstances and routines. Give wisdom and patience to all who seek to support the bereaved. Help us all to be aware of friends and neighbours who are lonely, or needing extra love and care. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Prayer for Wednesday 19th March

Today from our church family we pray for Sheila Box.

We pray for our local schools and nurseries, for children, parents, teachers and support staff. May our schools be places where children feel safe and encouraged to explore and to love learning, and where teachers are supported and appreciated for the valuable work that they do. We ask for your blessing on any in our schools, whether children or adults, who struggle with bullying, low self-esteem and loneliness. We pray that there will always be someone there to look out for the vulnerable, share friendship and nurture self-confidence.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Prayer for Tuesday 18th March

Today from our church family we pray for David Boss.

Our Lent course continues today, at Broadway and St Martin’s. Continuing our exploration of the Community of St Chad’s Five Rhythms of Grace, we focus today on Rhythm Two: ‘By God’s grace, I will be open to the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.’ As we move time through this season of Lent, help us to be open to your Spirit working in our lives to draw us ever closer to you, and fitter to do your work. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Prayer for Monday 17th March

Today from our church family we pray for Sylvia Boss.

Collect for St Patrick:
Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people: keep alive in us the fire of the faith he kindled, and strengthen us in our pilgrimage towards the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We celebrate today the feast of St Patrick, the apostle of Ireland. As a boy growing up in the western Britain, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and taken into slavery. During his years of servitude, Patrick began to pray, and gradually came to know and love God. He eventually escaped slavery, and after many hardships made it back to his home. After receiving the basic Bible training needed for the priesthood, he chose to return to the land where he had suffered so much to preach the Gospel. Even at the height of his success as Bishop of Armagh, he never forgot his former status as unlearned exile, slave and fugitive, and emphasized the need for complete reliance on the God who can bring good out of the darkest of situations. Lord, help us to trust in you today, and to know that you are always in control. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


I love the changing seasons here in the U.K. Some countries only have two seasons – wet and dry. Although I must admit our summers here are often less than we hope for, I’m glad our weather is more varied and unpredictable, really I am! 

As I was thinking about this, I wondered if our lives also have seasons. The seasons of childhood (spring), ‘middle age’ (summer), ‘old age’ (autumn), and finally our deaths (winter). I comfort myself with the idea that there is just as much beauty in an autumn leaf as a spring one, they’re just different. In fact an autumn leaf is more colourful!

 I believe there are seasons in our Spiritual lives too. Seasons of growth, when everything seems exciting, the possibilities are endless and God blesses us with new insights into His Love and Grace. There are seasons when we just enjoy the warmth of His Presence and wait for Him to reveal the next step, the next challenge before we journey on with Him. But there are seasons too, when everything appears cold and hard. We are trying to follow in His footsteps but God seems far away. We can’t understand why the world is so dark and our prayers go unanswered, at least that’s how it appears. But just as we see spring growing into summer, summer melting into autumn and autumn fading into winter; then I believe our Spiritual seasons are part of a natural rhythm given to us by our Creator, a Father who is gently calling each one of us to trust Him in our changing Seasons of Life. We can know that He is there for us if we have committed our lives into the Hands of the Master Gardener.

If we examine ourselves and find no cause for this ‘Winter of the Soul’, then we can know that God is working His Purpose out and that our Winter will give way to a new Spring. As we wait for it patiently, He will help us, for nothing can separate us from His Love (Romans 8 v 25, 26, 39).

Prayer for Sunday 16th March

Today from our church family we pray for Pauline Bolus.

Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent:
Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we come to worship you today, we ask for your blessing on all who attend services at St Martin’s, for Family Communion this morning and for Messy Church this afternoon. Help us to set aside all the busyness and anxieties of daily life, and to be quiet before you and open to your word. Help us to listen for your voice, and to respond to your goodness in love and praise.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Prayer for Saturday 15th March

Today from our church family we pray for Bill Bolus.

In our Saturday prayers for Walsall, we remember today the police force and all those involved in law enforcement. We ask for your protection on police and community support officers as they face dangerous situations in their work to keep our town safe for all. We ask for your wisdom and discernment for investigating officers, magistrates and court officials as they face the challenges of bringing to justice the perpetrators of crime, and protecting the innocent. We ask for your comfort and healing for all victims of crime, and wisdom and strength for those who support them in their time of trouble. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Prayer for Friday 14th March

Today from our church family we pray for Helen Bodley.

Tomorrow marks three years since the start of the war in Syria. Since the uprising began in 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced, and peace seems further away than ever. We pray for all who have lost homes and loved ones, those in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, those trapped in cities under siege, those who lack food, sanitation and medical care. We pray for the fighters and leaders on all sides, that they may find a genuine desire for peace and reconciliation; and for all those involved in the diplomatic effort. Lord of hope, help us not to despair, but to trust in you, the Prince of Peace. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Our Culture Has Accepted Two Huge Lies

Prayer for Thursday 13th March

Today from our church family we pray for Simon Bickersteth.

We pray for the members of the Finance and Standing Committee as they prepare to meet this evening. Guide their discussions, and help them to make wise decisions about the use of our money and resources to do your work.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Prayer for Wednesday 12th March 2014

Today from our church family we pray for Beata Bickersteth.

Today we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first ordination of women as priests within the Church of England. Since that day in 1994, around four thousand women have been ordained, and in the last three years, they have outnumbered men. We give thanks for the ministry of women in the Church, and for the many diverse gifts they bring to your service. We pray for the ongoing discussions about the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England, and ask that you will bring a spirit of unity and mutual respect and understanding between those of differing positions. May your will be done. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Social Media Policy

The Diocese of Lichfield have just issued the following Social Media Policy, which contains some very good, sensible advice which makes sense for everyone to follow:

What is social media?
Social Media, in this policy, refers to all online communication in a public space, from blogging to Twitter and Facebook. Engagement through a computer or smartphone screen should not change our understanding of confidentiality, responsibility, good manners and Christian witness.

Public Domain
The law views anything shared online as being in the public domain. Sharing thoughts and reflections with friends using social media or email might feel personal and private; but if more than one person can access what we have written, it is highly likely that the law would class it as "published". It is subject to the law touching libel, copyright, freedom of information and data protection. If we wouldn't say something in the local newspapers we shouldn't say it online.

Anything said on the Web can be assumed to be permanent. Even if we delete a comment made on a website, it could still have already been seen by other people, re-published, or had a screenshot picture taken. It is easy to say something in the heat of the moment that we regret later, but it could remain permanently online for all to see.

It is absolutely not safe to assume anything electronic is secure.  Privacy settings on social media tools might mean comments going only to accepted "friends" or "followers" but there is no guarantee that they will not pass (repost) them outside trusted circles.

Social media can pose a risk to confidentiality and be intrusive. Social media does not change our fundamental understanding about confidentiality in the life of the Church. When telling a story about a situation which involves someone else, it is always useful to pose the question "Is this MY story to tell?" 

Furthermore, we should ask if the story is likely to cause distress, inconvenience, upset or embarrassment to others if they discovered it had been shared in this way. If in any doubt at all, it should not be shared online.

If we are clergy, youth leaders or church employees, anything we do or say in the public domain will be interpreted by the public as representative of attitudes and behaviour in the Church. Controversial, hasty or insensitive comments can quickly attract the attention of the media. In the web environment, the person pressing the keys is ultimately responsible for their own online activities, but they can tar a lot of others with their own brush in the eyes of the media. News providers are always on the watch for gritty church-related stories via social media.

Keep a clear separation between personal and corporate accounts. If you tweet as yourself, mark the account clearly as “my own views” so there is no suggestion your opinions represent a wider church or organisation. If you tweet from an account representing a church or organisation, then make sure you avoid expressing personal opinions. Any account which carries the logo, address or website of a church or organisation should be seen as a corporate account and only speak for that organisation.

Take care with external links. When you link to material, check out the website you are linking to – is its overall focus one you are happy to publicise and promote?

Real-time Relationships
Interactions in the virtual world need to be transparent. Healthy boundaries and practices must be adhered to just as they should be in the physical world. In the virtual world, “friend” or “follower” can mean anyone with whom you are willing to communicate through that medium. In the physical world, friend can mean much more in terms of intimacy, self-disclosure, mutuality and expectations for relationship. 

Inclusive Church

Forget the issue of Women Bishop's, the big issue affecting the Church of England is the issue surrounding Same Sex Marriage.  Recently there has been a lot of anger expressed over the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, where it has reiterated the churches teaching that 
'The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' (Canon B 30)
  The House of Bishop's Statement also makes clear what is expected of the clergy.
The preface to the Declaration of Assent, which all clergy have to make when ordained and reaffirm when they take up a new appointment, notes that the Church of England 'professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.' This tension between the givennness of the faith and the challenge to proclaim it afresh in each generation, as the Spirit continues to lead the Church into all truth, stands at the heart of current debates about human sexuality and of what constitutes leading a life that is according to the way of Christ.
At ordination clergy make a declaration that they will endeavour to fashion their own life and that of their household 'according to the way of Christ' that they may be 'a pattern and example to Christ's people'. A requirement as to the manner of life of the clergy is also directly imposed on the clergy by Canon C 26, which says that 'at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.'
The implications of this particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church have been explained as follows; 'The Church is also bound to take care that the ideal is not misrepresented or obscured; and to this end the example of its ordained ministers is of crucial significance. This means that certain possibilities are not open to the clergy by comparison with the laity, something that in principle has always been accepted ' (Issues in Human Sexuality, 1991, Section 5.13).
The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.
Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England.  The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.
The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives.
The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Neverthless at ordination clergy undertake to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.' We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.
The whole issue of Same Sex Marriage is a sensitive one, and there are many people who believe that the House of Bishop's statement alienates people who are in same sex relationships, or who support same sex relationships.  There are many groups who are trying to change the Churches stance on this issue, including Inclusive Church and Accepting Evangelicals.  There have been various Ad Clerum responses to this House of Bishop's Pastoral Guidance, which you can read on Peter Ould's excellent website An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy.

Where do I stand in all of this?  At the top of this blog I posted the statement from Inclusive Church.  I believe in an inclusive church, a church that is open to all, a place where people can experience God's unconditional love and acceptance, whether male or female, young or old, able bodied or disabled, married or single, divorced or widowed, hetrosexual or gay.  Jesus welcomed all, and we should welcome all too.  

But Jesus also called people to be transformed, to turn from their life of sin, and turn to God. When a women caught in adultery was brought to Jesus (John 8:1-11), Jesus issued a challenge, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one the people left, realising that they were sinners just as much as this women.  Jesus then turned to the women and said
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” "No one, sir,” she said. Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)
Jesus did not condemn this women, but he also challenged her to leave her life of sin.  The message of God's unconditional love, is such an important one, but what worries me is that we are in danger of saying "God loves you as you are, therefore there is no need to change."  But that is not the message of the Gospel.  Yes God loves us, but he loves us so much, that he wants us to become the people we are truly created to be.  

It troubles me when I here people say that the church is out of step with the values of the world. Since when was it the calling of the church to be in step with the values of the world?  Instead we are to be the agent of transformation and change.  Jesus said:
"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33)
Our concern should not be about pleasing the world, but about pleasing God, and being faithful to Him.  St Paul wrote:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
This should be our focus and our priority.  

The reality is that the message of the Gospel is challenging, and uncomfortable, because it calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.  The call to become more like Christ, will inevitably mean changes will need to take place in our lives, and that is easy.  Jesus will challenge us about our life style, attitudes, our pride and self centredness, he will challenge us on our priorities, how we use our time, relationships and money, and that can be uncomfortable, and difficult, as the rich young man found when he came to Jesus, and Jesus challenged him to give all his money to the poor (Mark 10:17-22). 

My daily challenge is to strive to be faithful to God, to be in step with him, and through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within me to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. That means recognises those areas of my life which need to change, learning to submit to God's will, and being faithful to the teaching of Scripture, even when this is costly.  I know that I can only achieve this through the grace and mercy of God at work within me.   

I long to see a truly inclusive church, where everyone can find love and acceptance, no matter who they are, but also a church which seeks to be faithful to the teaching of scripture, and seeking to please God in all things.