Tuesday, 30 June 2015

American Lunch

American Lunch for Strethall Church and
Nepal Earthquake Appeal

On Sunday 26 July at Lodge Farm, Elmdon (home of Ned and Anne Tozer), 12.30pm, there will be an American themed barbeque party and lunch.

             Tickets £10 per adult, £5 per child available from Anne 838391 or the church office 837272.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Amazing Knight Riders!

To raise funds for the St Swithun’s Appeal, a small but hardy team are cycling to our St Swithun’s Church in Great Chishill, departing from the other St Swithun’s: Winchester Cathedral on 11th and 12th July.

Bit easy? To up the challenge, we will set off at the end of Evensong service on Saturday evening (hoping) to arrive by the end of Sunday morning service in Great Chishill.

Our dear Church is in urgent need of repair (http://www.greatchishill.org.uk/downloads/ChurchOpenMeetingJune2014.ppt), and the Parish is already doing an excellent job of raising the necessary cash in many different ways. While the building may have seen better days physically, the morale of its people is as strong as ever.

Any donation, however small, will be greatly appreciated in securing the future of this great Church, and the physical, spiritual, and communal sanctuary it offers to so many. You can donate at https://mydonate.bt.com/teams/stswithunscycle or hand your donation in to the church office.

Hubert de Froberville

Monday, 22 June 2015

Chrishall @ Ten on Father's Day

Please be patient, it takes a few moments for the pictures to appear.
Photo Gallery by QuickGallery.com
We thanked God that He is our loving Heavenly Father and we remembered those who are, or who have been, loving father-figures in our own lives.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Something alarming is happening in my garden (14 June 2015)

Mark 4.26-34; Ezekiel 17.22-24
Something alarming is happening in my garden. I was not aware of until quite recently but now I see that there is a weed that is taking over. Whether I’m awake or asleep it just keeps on growing, it’s a pernicious, invasive, ground covering nightmare – you’re guessed it – ground elder. How it grows I don’t know, although I do know that it’s something to do with rhizomes. What I really do know is that it’s very persistent and possibly unstoppable. I’m currently trying black plastic and lashings of glyphosate.

Jesus posed the question: What is the kingdom of God like? And he gave two horticultural answers. He likened it to seed sown in the ground that without our aid, then spouts and grows. And he likened it to the tiny mustard seed that grows into a great plant that birds can shade in. Scholars seem to agree that Jesus was referring to the black mustard plant that spreads over the ground and can grow up to 8’ high. It’s really a weed although it is cultivated too. The Roman Pliny the Elder (78AD) wrote: ‘mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.’

I can imagine Pliny struggling with it in his garden; frustrated with it spreading, among his neat rows of carrots. It sounds a bit like my ground elder; getting into everything and gradually taking over. I imagine him getting cross that it gave shelter for birds who could then attack his raspberries at their leisure.  Jesus reference to the birds in the branches reminded his hearers of something the prophet Ezekiel had said - another horticultural example. The mighty cedar of Lebanon whose timber was used in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. It’s a tall tree that grow to 130’, with a trunk 10’ wide.

Ezekiel proclaims God’s promise to exiled Jews in Babylon that they will one day return home, they will again flourish, but it will be a small beginning. Like taking a tender sprig from the crown of the cedar tree and planting it on the mountain heights of Israel – that is Jerusalem. And that little sprig will grow into a splendid cedar tree. And birds of every kind will nest in it and shelter and shade of its branches. ‘Birds of every kind’ is surely a reference to Jews and Gentiles finding safety and security in God’s future plans.  But Jesus chose not to use the picture of a cedar of Lebanon but a humble mustard plant that might make it to, say, 8’. He chose a common plant that spreads and invades the whole garden.

Parables are given for our personal, imaginative exploration and not for deadening explanation from the pulpit. So I’m authorised to tell you to go and ponder these two parables for yourselves. And yet, and yet, Jesus did give some explanation to his disciples in private – so here are some closing thought.

Jesus likens the kingdom of God to sowing of seeds and in particular the mustard seed. But what is the kingdom of God? It is where God is king; it is the realm of God’s rule; it’s wherever what God wants done is done. Jesus wants us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In these parables Jesus is saying that the range of God’s effective will is spreading. It has come near in Jesus and now it is spreading like a powerful weed - it is getting in everywhere. It’s small beginnings; it may not look impressive right now, but one day it will be a great work. Jesus doesn’t liken it to a mighty cedar tree, nor to that evil ground elder. But rather to the mustard plant that invades everything, indeed may even muck up our carefully laid plan of rows and borders, but is, and will be, the place where the whole world can find shelter, shade and security.

So be encouraged. It’s small beginnings but there is no stopping it. It’s growing quietly, whether we are awake or asleep. There is gradual, persistent growth that we should look out for; be alert to the signs of it here on earth. It’s got a momentum all of its own and there will come a time, when it will be ready to gather in a harvest. It is not dependent on us, although our cooperation is being sought.

Will we be part of it? Will we let God’s values and God’s ways hold sway in our own lives? Will we seek first the kingdom of God? And wherever we see it emerging in others or in our society, point it out to those who can’t see? And will you do as Jesus says and pray for its coming, in its fullness, every day?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Trying to throw some light on a difficult passage (7 June 2015)

Mark 3.20-35
‘Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ [Mark 3.29] One of the joys and challenges of using the church lectionary is that sometimes you can’t dodge the most difficult biblical texts.

We hear a lot about blasphemy these days especially in the context of Islam e.g. the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo affair. But it’s nearer home too. As has been highlighted in a recent Village Web article there are many in this country today, who can rarely get through a conversation without breaking the third commandment and misusing God’s name. But what about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What is it exactly and why is it unforgiveable? Let’s take a look at the context in which Jesus makes the statement.

We’ve been away from Mark’s gospel for a while but we are back now chapter 3. It’s early on in the ministry of Jesus but there are already much controversy. The ordinary people have flocked to him; they’ve recognised the goodness, the God-given character that lies behind the wonderful things that Jesus is doing. They have come in great crowds to see him and receive ‘healing grace’ from him. Mark tells us that the very first thing that Jesus does, after calling his disciples, is to perform an exorcism – he heals a man by driving out an evil spirit from him. That sort of thing draws a crowd; no one doubted that Jesus was a miracle worker; the question was: where did the power come from? 
The ordinary people received him with joy but what about his own family and what about the religious leaders?

This family had come to take charge of him, to take him away. ‘He is out of his mind’ they said. In the first century that meant he was demon possessed. So they weren’t just thinking ‘Oh, he’s just lost it’, no, he was under the influence of demons. Even Mary his mother, who Luke tells us had received angelic messengers and treasured so much up in her heart, clearly doesn’t at this stage understand her son. Anxious for him she wants to take him home.

And what about Israel’s leader? Well, the big guns from Jerusalem have come too. These are the top lawyers, the teachers of the law. They don’t doubt that Jesus expels demons, but their verdict is: ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ In spite of seeing or hearing of the wonderful things that Jesus is doing, their verdict is ‘He’s satanic!’ How can they come to that conclusion? Are they blind?

Well, Jesus deals easily with their absurd statement. Doesn’t Satan try to induce madness and disease and falsehood not remove them? If he is fighting against himself then its civil war and his kingdom is doomed. But in fact the exorcisms and healings show that the devil’s kingdom is now being plundered. Now, you can’t rob a strong man unless you first overpower him and tie him up. Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is defeating Satan robbing him of his possessions. That’s Jesus’ mission statement in Luke’s gospel: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  [Luke 4]

The teachers of the law appear to be blind to who Jesus is. The question is: are they being wilfully blind; are they knowingly misrepresenting him? If they are, then they are putting themselves beyond the reach of God’s salvation. If you get to the point of saying that when Jesus acts in the power of the Spirit it is actually satanic, then you are truly lost and you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. Getting to the stage of saying that evil is good, means you have reached the place of extreme opposition to God.

Whether that was true of these teachers of the law I’m not fit to judge, but Jesus just warns them of a terrible possibility. The sadness is that many people today may read this passage and fear, because of their past, that they have committed an unforgiveable sin.  David Instone-Brewer, a scholar of Tyndale House in Cambridge, is very helpful on this point: ‘The very fact that someone wants to repent and be reconciled with God is proof that they have not irrevocably decided to reject him. God is always ready to receive a sinner, and Jesus died for every sin. …for those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice, there is no other source of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean that the rejection itself is an unforgivable sin, but it emphasizes that Jesus is the only source of forgiveness. If you reject Jesus’ sacrifice there is nothing left. But if you have the longing to repent, this demonstrates that you have not ultimately decided to reject Jesus – and God’s arms, like the arms of the Prodigal’s father, always remain open to welcome you.’

When Mary and his brothers come to take charge of him Jesus says: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ That sounds rather callous but Jesus is making a fundamental point. Intimacy with him is not automatic and an outward thing – like being a blood relative. It’s a spiritual thing; we are brothers or sisters of Christ when we do the will of God. That goes beyond the acquisition of knowledge and just intellectual ascent – these are of themselves inadequate. It means listening to his word and putting it into practice. In other words, it means being a disciple, a learner of Jesus.

Our job therefore is not to judge others but to stay close to Jesus. Yes we will often fail but we must get up and carry on. The shadow of the cross has already fallen over Mark’s narrative here in chapter 3.6  And we know that things are only going to get worse. Everyone will eventually fall away – but that won’t be the end. The disciples and Mary and his brothers (James and Jude) will come to trust him, they will come to recognise more clearly who he is - that he is, of all people, not out of his mind but he is the one who has the words of eternal life.