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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Saturday, 4 April 2009

O Comforter draw near ...

I'm just back from the ECHT day at Chelmsford Cathedral. It was great to meet Sam there, and share a bit of real time face to face, among the 200 odd people who poured into the Cathedral.
But the day was more than networking - there was an excellent address from Gareth Tuckwell, the Chief Executive of Burrswood, which (in embryonic form) I copy below with his permission. He did ad lib a bit with illustrations. Gareth also led a themed group.
There were four other themed groups run by Anthony Rose, Hugh Balfour & Team, Roger Matthews and Paul Harcourt & Team. Some of these were recorded but I as yet don't know where they'll end up.
It was one of those days when, because I'm organising stuff, and taking part in the worship, I couldn't really engage until it was well underway, but the fact that the worship was led partly by people from our church here in Stebbing gave me a real lift. I really rather like the fact that ECHT is the German word for Genuine!

Anyway, here's Gareth's address ...

PS Sam I hope that looks better

READING : Acts Ch 3 vv1-10 Ch 4 vv 5-14
This morning we come together:
To celebrate, to give thanks, to experience a fresh encounter with Jesus as He reaches out to meet us at the point of our need. We look to His healing touch on our lives.
We come to share and learn together and maybe to reflect at this important landmark in time as we seek to live out God’s call to heal, at such a time as this.
I sense we are here too, to rededicate ourselves to a sense of mission and to a vision of the local church as a healing community that is so relevant as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.
We live in times of emptiness, dislocation, fragmentation and inner pain when communities are crying out for healing and restoration, both to our individual personhood, to humanity, and to society as a whole. If we can grasp that vision for our local communities then new doors of ministry will open up for each one of us as we go about our daily lives.
Thanks to the passion, commitment, vision and dedication of certain people here today, the Essex Christian Healing Trust has become a focus for teaching and Christian ministry that is trusted, sort after and centred on the Gospel truths that we hold to.

We are, I think, at an important point in the history of the Trust and the development of ministry. We look back to the many amazing initiatives and people used of God as the twentieth Century unfolded. From the Guild of St Raphael, the Guild of Health, the Divine Healing Mission, the Order of St Luke and the founding of Crowhurst and Burrswood, to the ministry of people such as James Moore Hickson, Dorothy Kerin, Brother Bill and George Bennett. Then came the remarkable report of the Archbishop’s Commission just over 50 years ago that focused on the roles of the Church and of the medical profession in healing sick people. We then move on to the exciting days of the 1970’s, the Fountain Trust and the fresh move of the Holy Spirit amongst us, to the founding of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation and latterly, to the birth of the New Wine Ministries across the country. The ministry of Bishop Morris and Anne Maddocks inspired us all and their translation to Heaven has left us bereft, yes, but also the more determined to build on their example and teaching. As we move forward we give thanks for all we can draw on and all that has gone before. To be radical means to draw from our roots, so radical we will surely be.

You have doubtless come with expectation and a belief that Jesus heals today. You are the ones who can take this belief out into your churches, into your communities. You are the ones who are called to be radical and to reach out in new ways. As we reach out in ministry to one another, to those around us, so we will receive healing and transformation in our own lives.

Let’s look at a vision of the local church as a healing community.
The task of earthing this vision in the reality of our local congregations is not an easy one. There will be problems, disappointments and frustrations. Slowly, we come to appreciate that all of us are wounded; we are all in need of healing and forgiveness.

Individually and corporately we will continue with the reality of brokenness and healing, and the discipline and love required to sustain us on our healing journey. This journey is both an inward one, into our own life with God and others, and an outward one that draws us into mission in response to human pain.

Let’s look at the New Testament reading from Acts Chapter 3 and 4 and follow Peter and John on their busy afternoon.
They gave time in the rush of the day
They are obedient to The Holy Spirit, expectant that The Kingdom of God will break through
They brought the presence of Jesus
Time, Obedience, Presence…. A T O P list for ministry!

Let’s look first at giving time:
Peter and John were hurrying to afternoon prayers – it was almost 3pm and they were probably running late as many of us do. They were just about to enter the temple courts when they were stopped and asked for money. I think I might easily have walked on, thinking to myself that I don’t give money to beggars. I would probably have avoided looking the man in the eye so as not to engage him when I was running late. Surely it is more important for me to be seen to be at prayers on time! Giving money is sometimes the quickest, easiest and perhaps least costly thing to do. I would be telling myself that he would be there tomorrow.

We hurry along in our instant, emailed, fast fixed, electronic age, setting our own priorities as we go. We are too busy to think about finding stillness at the centre of our being and pausing to listen to our Heavenly Father. How had Peter and John learnt about the ministry of interruptions? I guess they watched Jesus day by day and saw how He set His heavenly Father’s priorities by the moment.

Just think back to Luke 8 and how Jesus had that little matter with the pigs and then when he returned he found a crowd around him. Then Jairus came and fell at his feet pleading saying, “My only daughter of 12 is dying, please come and heal her”. Being a doctor I would probably have thought I could sort this one in my own strength and I would have hurried over to Jairus’ daughter pushing my way through the crowds, paying no attention to those who might wish to interrupt my mission. Yet you read that right then Jesus was touched by a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years. Jesus listened to her. He gave her time. He healed her. It’s so easy to miss out on the opportunity our Heavenly Father has prepared for us.

So first they gave time. Secondly, they are obedient.
We read that they are ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and clearly stepping out in faith. They obeyed the nudge of the Spirit in stopping and engaging the crippled man. How often do we miss opportunities because we don’t recognise our Father’s voice? We fail to obey the voice of the one who loves us most. We put our own priorities first.

One time I allowed myself to be obedient to the nudging of the Spirit, that inner voice, was when I was sitting with Dorothy. She had prayed and prayed in her weakness and distress as her cancer advanced. She felt that God had not listened. She had watched her husband die before her of cancer. Her son was having business difficulties and was keeping at a distance only because he loved her. As I sat beside her she was lying in bed with her hand on an enlarging liver. “Tell God how you feel”, I said. She cried, “Why have you abandoned me?” I replied, “Now you are with Jesus on the cross.” “Thank you,” she said, “I’ll stay with Him – that helps so much.”

We go forward in obedience; we live out the gospel alongside the one who is sick and wounded. We aim to dwell in God’s house and yet to be at home in the houses of those we visit.

Lastly, they brought the presence of Jesus. Time, obedience and the presence of Jesus…a TOP prescription for our ministry!

We read that when the Sanhedrin ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and they realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.’

Remember Moses carrying the tablets down Mount Sinai. We read that “His face shone for he had been with the Lord”. We truly want to enter into God’s presence for the one we love. In the Old Testament, remember, the priest could not enter into God’s presence for the people without sacrifice. There is no separation between sacrifice and worship. Offering sacrifice was their worship. The first time the word ‘worship’ is mentioned is in Genesis 22. God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love, and offer him as a sacrifice for me”. Abraham turned to his servant saying, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship”. Worship is what we do with our lives as well as what we do with our lips. The route to worship is in sacrifice, offering our lives again to God. “I am available Lord”. Worship sensitises us to the word of God and tunes us into the Holy Spirit’s wave length. It increases our love for Jesus and we become more sensitive to the one we love. (illustration)

What we need is not a new form of ministry but an ever more intimate relationship with Jesus himself. In many ways, health, which in the Greek, shares the same word as salvation, is a spiritual issue. Those in loving harmony with God and neighbour not only survive tragedy best, whatever their economic situation, but grow stronger in the process.

When the late Henri Nouwen awoke from an operation following an accident he had sustained, and realised that he was not yet in heaven but still alive in the world, he had an immediate awareness of being sent: sent to make the all-embracing love of the Father known to people who hunger and thirst for love, but often look for it in wrong relationships and places where it cannot be found.

He then understood how ‘making known’ is not primarily a question of words, arguments, language and methods.
What is at stake is a way of being in the truth that tries less to persuade than to demonstrate. It is a way of witness, of bringing the presence of Jesus. We belong to God but give ourselves to people.

In our communities we will encounter those whose body, mind or spirit are broken by social injustice, the misuse of power, unhealthy relationship and lifestyle, individualism, materialism and false spirituality. Many people needlessly suffer. Yet at times it seems that some people are born without any choice but to suffer; remember the man ‘crippled from birth’. But an encounter with Jesus Christ, our healer, reminds us and them that the meaning and purpose of life are found in Him alone–he brings the gift of life to all who choose to receive it.

As we accept that healing comes through seeing The Kingdom of God breaking through into our world, we are faced with a challenge in our congregations. We have to ask:

1. Do we give time and rejoice in a ministry of interruptions? Is my congregation a fellowship of love, learning obedience to God in their every day walk with him? Is it one where people have time to bring the presence and love of Jesus that opens the door to healing? Have I a role in ministering that love?
2. Is it a fellowship of worship, emphasising the reality of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, which through the ministry of word and sacrament will bring people into a healing and living encounter with Jesus? Am I able to help support the worship in a deeper way?
3. Is my congregation a fellowship of reconciliation, eliminating needless social and psychological tensions that so often harm relationships and prevent healing? Are there relationships I need to put right?
4. Is it a fellowship of prayer that enables the Holy Spirit to move in power? Is my prayer life a priority?
5. Is the healing ministry seen as part of the normal life of the Church, proclaiming the truth that Jesus heals today? If not, am I ready for when I am asked to help take it forward?
Now perhaps, we see the areas of local involvement that we are called to.
Health is not an individual achievement but a Community responsibility. Maybe only those who share in the brokenness of others can really discover the meaning behind being whole. We discover that healing is a responsibility of the whole congregation. Healing is about being restored in body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships, to live as God intends for us. Healing will happen amidst suffering, amidst death and dying, for they are but part of the journey of life.
Each member of our congregation is vital to the healing mission of the church as we learn to give time, to be obedient and to be in touch with the presence of Jesus within each one of us.

One man with AIDS wrote, “I regard myself as on a journey with trials and tribulations, with darkest despair and also with hope, with laughter and happiness. My hope is that those around me can sit with me, be alongside me as I struggle and grow”.

The challenge of the healing community is to stay alongside and enable growth even
if death approaches, whilst continuing to offer praise and thanksgiving for those who receive, perhaps a more visible but no more important healing touch from Jesus who meets us at the point of our need.

Scripture says that faith is the presence of things hoped for but not always seen. Building healing communities is an act of faith. We cannot always see where our efforts will lead us. It is costly to give ourselves without reservation but that is what is required to transform the life of ordinary church congregations into healing communities. Human effort is not enough. We need God’s Spirit blowing His breath of life into our midst.

Maybe that is what we ask of God as we are sent out to find our place in the making-whole movement of God. As he shows each one of us how to participate in creating a healing community within our own churches, so we will discover along the way that Jesus is there alongside, as we make time for him.
Jesus enters into the pain of those we are alongside; He enables us to stay with the suffering and yet to be expectant of healing as we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

It is right, I believe, to be challenged by the words spoken by Jesus in the synagogue, after he was baptised by John and had emerged from his time of temptation in the desert. He quoted from the prophet Isaiah. Let me personalise this passage as we seek to know our mission under God.
“God has chosen me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce release to captives and freedom to those in prison. God has sent me to proclaim that the time has come when He will save his people”.

Jesus read those words, not only to outline his mission and ministry on earth, but also to give direction to the outworking of the Christian gospel down the centuries. God would use each one of us, in our humanity, in our vulnerability, in our inadequacies, to be part of enabling healing communities to be born. Healing communities point to the coming of his Kingdom. They are what we go out from here to work towards.

Let us hold before us a vision for this Diocese in which healing communities are the way of life for the Christian church, as we practice the ministry of interruptions, give time to those God sends across our path, are obedient to those nudges of The Holy Spirit that we pretend not to recognise, and grow in our love relationship with Jesus as others see that we are in tune with His heart beat, walking closely with Him. Let us look to the Living Lord Jesus and know that His heart is to bring healing as we minister in His Name.

Let us pray:
Father God, as each one of us receives from you today; we ask that you would do with us as you wish. Work with us, in us and through us to bring glory to your name and healing across this land. In His name we pray. Amen

1 comment:

  1. It does! And ditto - good to have fleshly time.


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