Looking at Acts

Over the next few weeks the lectionary readings take us through various stories of the early Church as told in the Book of Acts.

The story of Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43) highlighted the importance of disciples (those who follow and learn from Jesus) who engage in good works and acts of charity – they experience and bring life from death.

The story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11) highlights the way in which the Holy Spirit challenges our pre-conceptions about who belongs and who does not belong and then provides the means to put our new theory into practice. What a shock it must have been for Peter to be confronted with a dream in which he learns that all of God’s creation is “clean” and then be invited to stay in the home of Gentile worshippers – a few days before he just couldn’t have done it for he would have regarded them as “unclean”. God prepares us for a new idea and then helps us to work through such new ideas in our lives.

The story of Lydia (Acts 16:9-15) – the first European convert is a woman, a gentile, a wealthy businesswoman and highlights God’s disregard for human boundaries. Perhaps her story will challenge those who still the doubt the place of women in church leadership, for Lydia was the first church leader in Europe. Perhaps it will challenge those who believe their wealth is for themselves rather than for the benefit of a wider community.

The story of a slave girl released from a demonic spirit and the jailer liberated from his own fear (Acts 16:16-34) shows the way in which God brings good out of difficult circumstances and entrusts us to speak out so that people hear about the gift of freedom.

And then we go back to first Pentecost (Acts 2) and see the powerful creative spirit sweep through that first church, changing their horizons, expectations and outlook. setting them on a path that would take the gospel message to the ends of the earth and through time and culture.

There is so much to learn, so much that we can relate to our own lives and our own church situation. Inevitably we will only touch on a fraction of it each Sunday so please take time to read the bible passages for yourself and to read around the subjects for yourselves. But you might also want to look at joining in the various bible studies that meet around the Pastorate. It’s my ambition to have one running every week, reflecting on the previous Sunday and looking ahead to the following week. As a preacher it helps me to see what questions need to be explored, but experience says that those who have looked ahead get more from the sermon as they have already had the opportunity to explore some of the ideas.

During this month we will celebrate Pentecost, so happy birthday to the whole church, may we continue to know the excitement of God’s blessings and find new ways to learn and to worship.

Be Blessed


Entertaining Angels

I’ve just finished a book called “Winter in Madrid” It is based in Madrid during 1941 and deals with the repercussions of the Spanish Civil War, it’s brutality and ruthless cruelty hidden by slow communications, diplomatic niceties and the passage of time. Today images from Iran are twittering and you-tubing around the world – in particular the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, shot by a rooftop sniper as she watched/participated in peaceful protests against the Government. (Her involvement differs depending upon the news source as does the allegation that she was shot by government backed militia). Last week at Minister Summer School we spend one session looking at the story in Judges where Jael kills Sisera with a tent peg through his head. 


It is a cruel hard world that we live in, yet we are fortunate enough to live in a relatively, stable, peaceful, law-abiding part of it;  free to worship as we want; to engage in whatever political activity we want to engage in; to have the back up of a benefit system when we fall on economic hardship and a legal and political system that whilst by no means perfect is not as corrupt as some would make out. We also live in a country that throughout history has had a reputation of accepting the refugee into our community and using their skills to enhance our own society – it is a part of our heritage of which many of us are immensely proud. It is also part of the biblical heritage – whether in Deuteronomy reminding the people that God “loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing (Deut 10:19); or Jesus telling a good news story about a hated Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37); or Paul’s reminder that “there is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28); or Hebrews prompting, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2)


Coventry is blessed with people from many nations, many have come away from places where they are not free to worship, to engage in politics or to do more than scrape a living. No doubt some come to take advantage of our good nature, but most come to make a better life for themselves and their families and are prepared to work hard to do so – I hope our instinct is to welcome, you never know we may be entertaining angels.


And talking of angels, Neda Agha-Soltan, has become known as the Angel of Freedom, her name means Voice and in her death the cry for freedom for all peoples has reverberated around the world – we must listen for the voice of angels.


Be Blessed



A Generous Or+hodoxy

Occasionally I will use this opportunity to review some of my recent reading and give pointers to some of the writing that is informing my thinking at any particular time, how my book grant is being spent and to give hints about the sort of books you might like to explore so as to inform your own faith.

Brian McLaren’s, A Generous Or+hodoxy; Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetical+ biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist /anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian has been on my to read list since I read his  New Kind of Christian trilogy last summer and heard him speak at Greenbelt. This book does not disappoint.

In all his writing and speaking McLaren tries to make a sense of what it is to be a Christian in the 21st Century when the idea of Absolute Truth is so alien to the way so many of us think. As the title suggests he want’s to present an orthodox faith that is generous to the many traditions that follow the way of Jesus, he concentrates on the good that he has been able to draw from each traditions whilst occasionally being critical of the more extreme (or less generous) attributes of those same traditions. In early chapters he explores the different ways that Jesus is understood by our different traditions, the way in which he understands God through Jesus and what it means to give more emphasis to Jesus as a saviour for this world rather than the one who keeps us out of hell.

There will be much that you may find uncomfortable in this book for it will encourage you to explore what is fundamental in your own faith and how generous you can be to people from a different faith tradition (whether Christian or not). However,  if you are someone who hesitates about signing up to one particular doctrinal statement of faith, then you will see that you are not alone for McLaren wants us to be aware of the always unfinished nature of any faith journey as we stumble towards a generous orthodoxy.

Reflection for 17 May

Love one another
not as servants and masters
superior and inferior
them and us
but as friends

Love one another
not as strangers passing
occasional acquaintances
nodding heads
but as friends
who share all that life will bring
love one another

know one another
by name and by manner
by all that brings joy
by all that causes pain
by touch and by sign
by all that fulfiils
by all that disappoints
love one another

For this is God’s community
the friends of Jesus and one another
the tellers of good news
the bearers of fruitful gifts
the sharers of abiding love
the outpourers of love in action
so love one another
 – there is much to love.

For this is God’s community
the spirit-filled and the astounded
the mystic and the preacher
the sure and the unsure
the homebird and the stranger
the seeker and the sought
the dancer and the wallflower
the entertainer and the bore
the same and the different
so love one another
 – there is much to love.

 For this is God’s community
the child-like faithful
the carefully obedient
the over burdened
the carefree-soul
the weary voice
the venture catalyst
the constant critic
the social includer
the sorrowful debtor
the quietly confident
so love one another
 – there is much to love

and if we have no love,
then what have we?
and if we have no love
how Dare we,
talk of God
expect grace
hope for justice
inspire liberation
sing praise
offer prayers
name ourselves Christ’s,

– how dare we.

For God is love
and all our words
and all our acts
and all that we would be
are but inadequate
responses to such love.

Kingdom people

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and it’s justice; 

Church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. 

Church people think about how to get people into the church; 

Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world.

Church people worry that the world might change the church; 

Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

(Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church, Inter-Varsity Press, 1983)



So, are we church people or kingdom people?


And if we are one but not the other – how does that change the emphasis of what we do and how we do it?


How much of what we read in this magazine relates to church work and how much to the Kingdom?


To what extent do our agenda’s balance church issues with kingdom issues?


How do/might our churches get into the world?


How do Kingdom issues impact upon the life of our churches?


Luke tells us that on Ascension Day “two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem …” In Jerusalem they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” and lo and behold the world began to change as the Kingdom of God began to emerge and so the story of the church began ….. how is it to continue for us within the City of Coventry?


Be Blessed