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Take the Sword…

I was in my mentors vicarage in Bath, Simon who was mentoring me through the arrow course (a course for younger church leaders) and turned to me and said, “I have a (prophetic) picture for you Andy” and he went on to tell me this moment in the third of the Lord of the Rings films, where Aragon has to take the sword and be, or become the King, it is a choice, it is one of the key turning points in the movie. He then said this: “God is telling you to take the sword and to be willing to lead”.

As I had long hair and a beard at that time I looked a little like Aragon, or at least an ‘unkempt Jesus’(!) Yet, I tried to heed the advice I had been given and grasp hold of that which I felt called to do, to say “Yes, and Amen”, pledging myself to “being all in” as my response to Christ’s call (even if my stomach knots and my heart beats a little faster).

 

After our mentoring session I thought sometimes we need someone else to encourage us to fulfil our God given destiny, to spur us on and “take our sword” someone to stand with us in our acceptance of that which God is wanting to give us.

 

As you read this I wonder what “taking your sword” means for you, what is God calling you to be and to do, what do you need to grasp hold of, what do you need to say “Yes” to.

 

As I got home the first thing I did was to find that clip which I have re-watched several times, in my search for that moment I also discovered another scene that also spoke to me, where a King is being controlled by an evil lizard type man, and Gandolf breaks the control and sets the King free. As we follow Christ as we seek to lead others where he is calling we are called to take ground –or take ground back- from the enemy who does not relinquish his control willingly, and we are engaged in a spiritual battle to see Jesus take his rightful throne. I remember a verse that a group of us who were young and keen followers of Jesus were given at a training day at a local Bible college and it was this: “Anyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. Saying “Yes” to Christ is a call to join the frontline in the heat of battle.

 

Taking the sword echoes with something of my Anglican identity and calling, when we are ordained (and licenced) we are given a Bible –which Paul calls the sword of the Spirit. I was reminded of all those youth talks I had sat through that reminded us that unlike the rest of the armour of God (Eph.6) the sword is an offensive weapon, we have a call to move forward and fight rather than retreat and defend.

 

Our sword –the Bible- reminds us of who we are and our identity in Christ, we are created in God’s image, called and commissioned to “go and bare fruit that will last” as we “remain in him”. We go with the authority of Christ, we are his ambassadors, he makes his appeal through us, we are his witness –salt and light for him. As we do what Christ says he “no longer calls us servants but friends” and he, ‘Christ in us the hope of glory”, our treasure within our jars of clay, he in us is greater than he within the world and the same holy spirit in us is the same that raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus says of us “That we will do even greater things than him” and Paul tells us that God can do “immeasurable more than we can ask or imagine” by God’s mighty power working through us.

 

I can be a bit too apologetic sometimes, I even apologise when someone steps on my toe in the supermarket; I think that as Christians we can be timid –despite scripture reminding us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but … and a sound mind”- whilst often those with different ideas to us often can (appear) confident and vocal, and disagreeing with them and pointing to a different way can sometimes feel like a Goliath shaped challenge, but as David found that with God all things are possible!

 

As a Christian, a child of God, you have duty to speak and a right to be heard (even if they choose not to listen).

Yet, we cannot let a sense of false humility, our own awareness of our faults, flaws and failures and keeps us from stepping up and doing who God has called us to be, and what God has called us to do. Are we placing our faith in God’s mighty power, or are we putting our confidence in our own abilities to screw things up? The devil wants to undermine our confidence in calling us to take up the authority we have –both in him, and also at that time with the commission I had from the Bishop to seek to share the love of Jesus with those outside the Church community.

 

I thought about that picture a lot “taking up the sword” means being prepared to fight, -to contend for the vocation and vision God has entrusted you with. Sadly if we do not grasp what we have been called to do there there are plenty of voices, leaders and people of influence who will willingly point people in a different direction. When we lead where God has called us we are consciously choosing to place Christ back upon his throne, which means displacing anything that is there already that will not bow the knee to Christ.

 

Whatever you feel God might be calling you to be and do, grasp that which God has for you, step into the person and the vocation God has assigned for you to do, and take the sword.

 

And maybe there are those around you who need to take their swords too, as you pick your sword, you will in turn inspire others to grasp theirs.

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Thieves who didn’t steal anything, and a smiling Jesus!

I want to tell you a story. It is about a robber who didn’t steal anything!

Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but this robber broke into an auction room n London and simply swapped the price tags around so no one knew how much anything was worth! And you could buy a million pound painting for a tenner!!

Something people often talk to me about when I talk about Church is about worship; which they normally think means going to a Church service, or an assembly, and singing some songs… but that isn’t actually what worship is all about!

The word “worship” comes from an AngloSaxon word “Worth-ship” –showing how much you think something is worth.

The idea Christians have about worship is telling and showing God how much we think he’s worth, how important he is to us, saying thank you.

Imagine for a second it is your best friends birthday; you forgot to get them a card, or a present, and forgot to go to their birthday, or even mention it and say “happy birthday” they might not feel like they are worth very much to you, but if you had made them something really nice and made a real effort to give them a great day, they’d probably not only feel very special, they’d know that they are worth a lot to you.

I want to show you some of the most precious things I own, pictures and paintings from my daughter–if I sold them they might not make any money, but they are really valuable to me, she drew them for me, she took time and effort to do something for me, and because of that I love them!

And that is why it is so important to me!

Another thing is a battered old can of bass beer. I was having a bad day when I was working in Bristol and I was chatting to a homeless lady Jo, and she asked how I was, and I made a silly joke about “nothing a beer and a holiday in Barbados wouldn’t fix” –and ten minutes later she came having bought me a can of beer from the shop. She had absolutely no money, but she got me a present. For me, it was too precious to drink, and I keep it to help me remember to be generous and kind –even when I don’t feel like it!

There is a story a bit like this in the Bible, where King David was fighting and he longed for a drink of water from his hometown, and three of best soldiers went and risked their lives to get it for him, having to fight there way through lots of enemy soldiers. They thought their King was worth risking their life for. King David, who was so amazed and thankful for their generosity and kindness, that he said “this water is too precious to drink” –and poured it on the altar for God.

There is another story in the Bible, where Jesus stuck up for this lady Mary who was getting told off by her sister Martha, and then later when their brother Lazarus died Jesus came and brought him back to life. One day Jesus was eating at their house, and Mary came with a bottle of perfume worth about a years wages (and she probably wasn’t rich) and poured it all over Jesus’ feet to show him just how much she thought he was worth. In fact this same Mary was probably there when Jesus was crucified and everyone else had run off, and was the first person who saw Jesus when he had been raised from the dead.

And another great story about worship, that Jesus sold, is a guy who saw this pearl that was so amazing, that he sold absolutely everything he had to get that pearl… Christians say that pearl is Jesus!

I’m not saying that going to Church and singing songs is not worship, it can be, but worship is really what is in our hearts.

A guy called Paul who wrote lots of the Bible, talks about “offering our souls and bodies as living sacrifices to God” –which mean that in everything we do, we are living a life that shows God that we think he is important to us, and that means doing the things we know he likes, and not doing the things we know he doesn’t. Someone once said: “Living in a way that would make Jesus smile” –those things we know he likes us to do.

So, a challenge to think about worship not just as “things we do”, “places we have to go” or “things we have to sing” but rather living our lives that shows God how much we think he’s worth, how important he is for us!

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Mary and Martha, like it was never taught in Sunday School…

I don’t know if any of you have heard the phrase recently “black lives matter”, a reminder that sadly not everyone in our world gets treated the same, which is both sad and wrong. I wonder what you think about that?

I thought about what the Bible says about that too? And I thought about the creation story, where God creates human beings, Adam and Eve, and I realise that this story is reminding us that we are all brothers and sisters, part of one family, children of God…. As I thought about it some more, I thought too that everyone of us, no matter what colour our skin is, how old we are, whether we are a girl or a boy, whether we are rich or poor –we are all loved by God, and as a Christian I believe that Jesus died for each of us.

I want to tell you about a brilliant and really brave lady, they told her story recently on Dr. Who, her name was Rosa Parks, she was a Christian and she was black. In those days –the 1960’s- in America black people were not allowed to sit in the best seats on the bus, and if there were more white people than black people who wanted to sit down they would expect the black people to give up their seat, in fact that was the law! Well, on the 1st December 196 the bus filled up, and the driver ordered the black people to stand so the white people could sit down, and Rosa Parks said: “No!” –she get arrested and taken to court and she lost her job- but she started something huge, where black people stopped using the buses and walked until the bus company changed the rules. Rosa Parks staying sitting down on her seat on the bus led to many protests which changed the law and made it illegal for people to be treated differently because of the colour of their skin, if she had not stayed sat down on the bus we would not have had a black president of the united states. She was brave and she changed history; many, many years later in 1996 she received the medal of freedom from President Clinton –the highest award you can get!

I want to tell you a story that is in the Bible, and it is a story that many people have missed what I think is the most important bit of the story! Jesus was at the home of his friend Lazarus, Jesus is teaching people about God. At that time the only people who would be allowed to sit and listen to a Rabbi –a religious teacher would have been men (and normally only the brightest and most important ones). Yet Mary stayed sat at Jesus’ feet listening to what Jesus was saying. Everyone would have noticed and thought “she shouldn’t be here listening and learning, she should be helping in the kitchen”.

That was 2000 years ago, but some people still think like that today, and in some countries girls are still not allowed to go to school, there was a story that shocked the world when a really brave girl called Malala Yousafzai risked her life by going to school in Pakistan and someone tried to kill her, because they did not believe girls should go to school, girls should not learn or be educated.

Imagine this being how people thought at the time of Jesus.

Mary’s sister Martha was busy preparing food and sorting things out… Martha is getting very cross about it, having to do all this work on her own, and Mary was sat there listening to Jesus –eventually Martha looses her temper and says to Jesus:
“I’m busy doing all this work, and look at her she’s just sat around listening to you, tell her to come and help me” and Jesus said something revolutionary –something that must have shocked everyone who was there and said “No. Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but Mary has chosen the better thing”. Can you imagine how shocked everyone was?

Mary was brave and Jesus stuck up for her, I don’t believe Mary forgot this… Later we read in John’s Gospel that Jesus visited their home again and Mary anointed Jesus feet pouring expensive perfume on them –this act of love and generosity got her into trouble!

Yet, when everyone else had run away and left Jesus alone, Mary was there at the cross when Jesus died, and many Christians believe it was this Mary that was the first person to see Jesus alive. If you were going to pick someone to be a witness to the greatest event ever to occur in humanities history, then you’re going to chose someone who was there when it matters and you knew was brave.

Maybe, Jesus chose Mary to let her know that he was alive because she was the bravest and most courageous person he knew?

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