Thursday, 22 October 2015

Rosa Parks – Black History Month

Article for the Walsall Advertiser - published 22 October 2015

October marks Black History Month, celebrating the contribution black and minority ethnic individuals and communities have made to society.    

For me one of the most inspiring people from recent American history is Rosa Parks.  Rosa Parks was born into a black family on the 4th February 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Segregation was in force in Alabama and many other southern US states, with separate schools, hotels, bars, hospitals, libraries, cinemas and restaurants, for blacks and whites.  Segregation was also in force on public transport.  The law stated that if all the seats on the bus were taken, then a black person had to give up their seat to a white passenger.

On the 1st December 1955, Rosa Parks challenged this law, by refusing to give up her seat to a white man when ordered to do so.  She was subsequently arrested, and fined $14.  This simple act of non-violent defiance changed American history. 

Inspired by her actions, civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 13 months, and only ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation laws on Alabama’s buses were not legal.

Rosa Parks became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and today is known as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".  The Civil Rights Movement faced many struggles, but ultimately succeeded in overturning the segregation laws, with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. 

Rosa Parks was a devout Christian, and it was her faith that motivated her to take the stand she did.  In her book ‘Quiet Strength’ she writes ‘Since I have always been a strong believer in God, I knew that He was with me, and only He could get me through that next step.’  When she refused to give up her seat, she didn’t realise the impact her actions would have, but as she later said, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”  Rosa Parks dedicated the rest of her life to the civil rights movement, and passed away on the 24th October 2005, aged 92.   

Rosa Parks teaches us that even small actions can make a big difference, and that we must never tire of doing what is right, even if that comes at personal cost.  What are the things that you are willing to take a stand for today?    

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Harvest All Age Talk

Talk Part 1 - Gratitude

We’ve just had a reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) in which Paul talks about giving thanks in all circumstances. Harvest is first of all about giving thanks to God. 

In the time when people relied on the food they grew, a successful harvest meant they weren’t going to starve during the winter.  It also meant they would have seeds to plant new crops in the spring.  So a successful harvest was a time to celebrate, and to give thanks to God.

Today very few of us grow our own food.  If we need food we pop to the supermarket, where there is always plenty on offer.

But it’s important to recognise and be grateful for the things we do have.  To rejoice and give thanks always to God, for the blessings we have in our lives.

Maybe you’d like to jot down things you’re grateful for in a Gratitude diary – like this person…

What things are you grateful for? Share with your neighbour   

Talk Part 2 - Our Response

I’ve talked about harvest and the importance of gratitude.  But harvest is not just about being grateful, it is also about our responsibility to others, as this reading from the OT highlights…

Reading from Deuteronomy 24:19-22 

In this reading God tells his people that when they are gathering in the harvest they shouldn’t take everything for themselves, but leave some of the harvest for the foreigner, fatherless and widow – in other words the poor, the disadvantaged, the stranger, those people in need. 

Harvest is not just about thanking God for the good gifts we enjoy, it is also about remembering our responsibility to those less fortunate than we are.  We know that there are many people in in our local community who need our help, such as the homeless and disadvantaged, and those who because of poverty have to rely on food banks to feed themselves.  God calls us to love them, and care for them, and to share the resources he has given us, with them.

That is why as a church one of the charities we support, both practically and financially is The Glebe Centre, which supports some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Walsall.  Earlier this year The Glebe Centre celebrated it’s 40th anniversary, this short video gives a brief insight into what difference The Glebe Centre is making.

God calls us not only to care for the people close at home, but to care for people around the world, many of whom live in extreme poverty.  Which is also why as a church we also support charities like Christian Aid and Tearfund, that help some of the poorest people in the world.

So this harvest, we remember the importance of showing gratitude for the blessings God has given to us, and we remember our responsibility to share these blessings with those less fortunate than we are.  Whether they be close to home, or far away, and whether they be the orphan, the widow or the stranger, we are to love them and care for them as if they were Jesus himself.   

What is a Christian?

Talk given at the baptism of a child. The Bible text was Mark 10:35-45

  • Special day as Reuben is being brought to baptism.
  • But did you know that baptism itself does not make you a Christian. 
  • What baptism should do is mark you out as a Christian. 
  • For Reuben baptism marks the start of what I hope & pray will be his life long journey of faith with God.  He hasn’t arrived, this is just the start.  As the Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Well today for Reuben, baptism is that first step. 
  • The hope & prayer today, is that as Reuben will grow in his Christian faith. 
  • But what exactly is a Christian?
  • There are a lot of misconceptions about what a Christian is. 
    • Lots of people tell me they try to live a Christian life.  What they mean is they try to be a good person.  GREAT!  That’s really important.  But it doesn’t make you a Christian.  After all there are lots of people who lead good lives, who are kind, thoughtful & caring to other people, but that doesn’t make them Christians.  I know many good and kind Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhist and atheists, they’re obviously not Christians!
    • Some people believe a Christian is someone who goes to church.  GREAT!  That’s really important.  But going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.
  • So what is a Christian?
  • Put simply, a Christian is someone who follows Jesus Christ. 
  • You don’t have to be perfect and to have your whole life sorted out before you start following Jesus.  The truth is, I’m an imperfect person, following a perfect Saviour.   
  • As followers of Jesus Christ, we want to become more like Jesus.  That is what the name Christian means, ‘Little Christ’.  Living life his way.    
  • And what are the signs of becoming more like Jesus?  When people look at Reuben they are able to see something of his family in him, in terms of his physical appearance & but also in the person he is growing into.  The same should be true of people who follow Jesus.  They should be able to see something of Jesus in us.  As we become more like him, we will become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, full of goodness, and self control.  The Bible calls this the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It is the outworking of God Spirit in our lives.
  • Jesus summed up what it means to be one of his followers.  We are to love God with our whole being, and love one another, just as God loves us. 
  • It sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it can be hard.  That’s what Jesus was talking about in our Bible reading when he talked about not coming to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  If we’re serious about following Jesus there will be a cost involved. 
  • But that is why God gifts us the gift of his Holy Spirit, and his family, the church, to support us on our journey.
  • If Reuben stayed as a baby all his life, we’d consider that a tragedy.  We want him to grow and mature.  Likewise as followers of Jesus we need to be growing and  maturing.  If Reuben is going to grow as Christian faith, he will need help and support, that’s why baptism alone is not enough. 
  • The way we grow as Christians is through:
    • Prayer – talking to God
    • Reading the Bible, God’s living word
    • Worshipping God with other Christians
    • Putting God at the centre of our lives.
  • Choosing to follow Jesus isn’t choosing to take the easy path in life, but it’s choosing the path that leads to life.  As Jesus said “I have come that YOU may have LIFE, and have it to the FULL.”  
  • If you’re sitting there & thinking “I’ve never made the decision to follow Jesus, but would like to”, I want to give you that opportunity today.  It’s so simple.  All you need to do is turn to Jesus, and ask him into your life.  I promise you, choosing Jesus is a decision you’ll never regret.