Rector’s Letter – May 2018

Dear friends

Two years ago the Archbishops of Canterbury and York launched a prayer initiative for the Church of England, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. The website (thykingdomcome.global) says:

‘Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.’

The focus from the start was on Christians growing in confidence in sharing their faith, and on asking God to bring more people to know him through Jesus Christ. Below is a moving short piece by Archbishop Justin about his own conversion and the people who prayed for him and helped him come to know Christ.

This year the dates are 10th to 20th May. The resources encourage us all to write down the names of five people we know, whom we want to pray for. People who are not yet churchgoers, not yet Christians, not yet followers of Jesus. Could you pray for five people for ten days? Surely we all can. Here’s the sort of prayer you could pray:

‘Lord Jesus, thank you for your love for me, and for all the people who have helped me to know that love. Please help V,W,X,Y and Z to know your love too. Make yourself known to them, and help them to turn to you and trust you for now and always. And if you want me to talk to them about you, or if you want me to invite them to church, please help me to do that. Amen.’

On Sunday 20th May (Pentecost) our services and sermons will be particularly intended for guests and newcomers – so perhaps you could bring one or two of those friends or family members along – or bring anyone, including yourself!

When he first became a Christian, Archbishop Justin was given a bible with this verse written in the front: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you’ (John 15:16). What a great encouragement to us, as we pray for others to be chosen, appointed, and fruitful for Jesus.

With my best wishes – James.

Rectors Letter, April 2018

Dear friends

Easter 2018 falls on April 1st. It’s April Fools’ Day. The same happened in 1923, 1934, 1945, and 1956. But it now won’t happen again till 2029.

Many sceptics believe that our Easter faith makes Christians the stupidest fools of the world. Of course dead people do not rise. Once dead, always dead, full stop. And I have to admit that sometimes I find it hard to believe that I really do believe it. Until I remember …

  • He really was dead and buried on Friday.
  • The tomb was empty on Sunday.
  • The risen Jesus was seen; they touched with him, talked with him, ate with him.
  • And many of those who witnessed it and spread the news later suffered and even died because they really believed it so strongly: they knew it to be true.
  • And I too have seen Jesus at work in my own life. I talk with him, I know him, I know his love, and I love him. Can’t you say that too?

Sceptics can call us fools if they want to, but the Bible calls them fools. Psalm 14:1: ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’’

The New Testament is fully aware that the message of the cross looks like foolishness (what sort of God bleeds and dies a criminal’s death?). And that if the resurrection did not happen, our faith is foolish and futile (Jesus was not God, and he is dead and finished).

And yet the evidence is solid. Jesus died and rose. And so we believe, we still believe, even on April Fools’ Day, that Jesus is God, that he died in our place, for our forgiveness, that we may be friends with God. And that he rose to bring new life to us, and to open the door of the new creation, so that we might see the light that streams in from beyond the present world with the certainty of a glorious future for God’s people when our turn comes for resurrection too.

The word April comes from Latin: aperire, to open. Maybe the Romans coined this name for the fourth month because the flowers opened at this time of year. But yes, for Christians, Jesus opens the door of the new creation. Christ is made alive as the firstfruits; so shall it be in due course for those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:23). It is not the Christians who are April fools! Close your eyes and praise God for the vistas of glory that the Easter gospel opens before us.

With my best wishes – James

Letter from Helen – Life is Puzzling

There’s no Rector’s letter this month as James was ill! So this is from Helen Peace, or fabulous Pastoral Care Coordinator

Life is Puzzling ….picking up the pieces  

Following on from Christmas, I have been doing a few jigsaw puzzles.  It takes me ages to sort out 1000 pieces into edge pieces and middle pieces – all the right way up on the table ready to be assembled.  Isn’t the human eye amazing?  It can distinguish between so many different shades, tones and hues which helps me decide whether that blue piece is part of the sky or part of the sea – and which part!

The current Australia puzzle on my dining room table is 90% finished.  The edges are done, the middle is complete (Sydney Harbour Bridge, koalas, Ayers Rock and the Aussie flag) but the orangey bits at the four corners are a nightmare.  They are all the same shade of orange.  My latest strategy with these last 80 pieces or so, is to line them up in shape order and try each one in each place – it is taking ages and causing frustration and hardly the relaxing activity it was intended to be.

It has made me think that life is a bit of a puzzle.  Some bits fit together so easily and smoothly, with minimum effort and concentration.  Others, like the orange pieces, take time and practice, determination and perseverance.  We know, as Christians, that life can be a lot like a puzzle.  There are things we don’t understand and circumstances that cause us to feel that all is going wrong.  I know many people for whom life is a real struggle, with illness, depression, grief, traumas of the past, anxiety about the future, family breakdown, aging and other difficulties. It could be easy to resort to despair and disbelieve that God is sovereign and working for our good.

I’m not making light of these problems – far from it – they are real, and at times life can be seriously rubbish. I want to encourage you if you are struggling, that God holds all the pieces of the puzzle together and will work for good and bring restoration and hope, and ultimately, completion – as that is what He has promised to do.

I think back to the first sermon of the new year, where James spoke of God’s promises, which I wrote down on a card as a reminder, and am looking at now:

  1. God will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9)
  2. God gives us eternal life (John 10:27-28)
  3. God will help us in temptation (Hebrews 4:15-16)
  4. God will protect us (Romans 8:35-39)
  5. God will hear our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11)
  6. God will be with us always (Matthew 28:20)

We are all called to love and care for one another.  We have a Pastoral Team here at St John’s and St Andrew’s to support and encourage this work which is already taking place in our churches.  We have a prayer chain for those who need instant prayer in a crisis or ongoing situation that needs others to pray.  Do contact me if any of this would be helpful to you – we are a team who would love to meet and pray with you for all your concerns, whether large or small.

Helen Peace, Pastoral Care Co-ordinator

Rector’s Letter, February 2018

Dear friends

We have passed from 2017 to 2018 and we pray that this year will see the growth of God’s kingdom. The year has begun with a number of funerals, and we pray for those missing loved ones, and we honour the faith of our fellow-believers who have died, giving thanks for all they have meant to us. They have passed, by the grace of God, not from one year to the next, but from life in a fallen world which crucified God’s Messiah, into a world where that Messiah, now risen and glorified, reigns forever, and they reign with him in his loving presence.

Time moves on, another year comes, and our mortality presses on us. Make sure that you know where you are going after you die. Jesus speaks in his own teaching about heaven (he came from it and was returning to it), and about hell (e.g. it is better to cut off what causes you to sin, than to be thrown into hell, Matthew 5:29). He himself died, and then rose, so that all who believe in him should know that they are safe forever. At the grave of his friend Lazarus, he said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die’ (John 10:25-26). Amazing words. But he then follows them immediately with a four-word question. Why don’t you look it up in a Bible and see what Jesus’s question is!? It might change your eternal destiny.

And if you know that your eternal destiny is safe, that does not mean you can sit back and do nothing. The New Testament commands us to persevere in faith and love and hope, and to grow in the knowledge of God. How will 2018 present you with opportunities to do that? And will you take those opportunities? Eternal life is not given to those who used to go to church and pray and serve and love God. Hebrews 10:36 tell us: ‘You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised.’ Persevere, keep going, hold on to the Lord, trust him and serve him this year, for he is one who loves us, and gives peace, purpose and joy.

With my best wishes – James.

Rector’s Letter – December 2017

Dear friends

Christmas is about what God has given to us. We give gifts to each other as a reminder of the greatest gift ever given. That gift was pink and wriggling, gift-wrapped in cloth and delivered in a grubby wooden box. Jesus Christ is God’s indescribable gift to a sinful, wayward, hurting and desperate world. And Jesus is also his greatest gift to you personally.

The carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’, recognising this great gift of love from God to humankind, asks the question: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am?’ And that is a good thought. Knowing how much God has done for you, what will you do for him this Christmas?

On Eeyore’s birthday, Winnie-the-Pooh decides to give him a jar of honey, and Piglet decides to give him a big red balloon. But on the way to Eeyore’s field, Pooh eats all the honey and has to give just an empty jar. And Piglet falls over, bursts the balloon, and has to hand over to Eeyore just the sad limp soggy remains.

If Pooh had not been so greedy and if Piglet had not been so clumsy, their gifts would have been better. But the story is saved by Eeyore, who delights in his gifts, a useful pot, and something to put in it; and we picture him putting the burst balloon into the empty pot and taking it out again, over and over, with great joy, for the rest of the day.

God knows our sins and failings and misfortunes. He forgives us and loves us, and he will not despise our gifts when they are given in response to his love. Give him your obedience, give him your time, your talents, your money, your prayers, your service, your heart. Invite friends to a carol service. Go the extra mile with the Christmas chores at home. And do these things not to earn his love, but as a way of saying thank you for the immense love he has already lavished on you, by coming in the person of our Lord Jesus, to save you, forgive you, protect you and be with you forever.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

And may I therefore wish you all a happy, happy Christmas. From James.

(P.S. I want to say a big thank you to Elaine Mitchell, the editor of FOCUS, for another year of service to us. And to all who have written for the magazine, including Kate and Charley for the Reformation series. And to those who printed, folded, and stapled.)

Christmas Light’s On Event!

On Saturday 18th November, Yeovil Town Centre will be bustling with people for the switching on of the Christmas lights, and there is good news there, one of our members of St John’s will be switching on the lights having won a competition to design a Christmas light. This design is being made at the moment and will be unveiled on the evening as part of Yeovil’s Christmas light display – we look forward to seeing your amazing art work Rosie!

As in previous years, St John’s will be open for this community event, and no doubt packed with people who are cold and need a hot drink, who are interested in the bells and the church building, who have children who need entertaining with craft and puppets and who are families who would like a family nativity photo booth picture once more! What a great opportunity to have our doors open and the church bustling with people, and for those conversations inviting people along to our carol services and church events over the festive season.
We hope to have up and running in St John’s:

  • A nativity photo booth
  • Music
  • Puppets
  • Children’s craft
  • Bells and tower experience
  • Hot chocolate mountains, tea, coffee and cake
  • Church tours

Keep the date free and do come along, and bring your family and friends, church open 5pm to 8pm on Saturday 18th November!

Rector’s Letter – November 2017

Dear friends

Some things in life are simple matters of right and wrong. Other questions are much harder to work out, and the right thing to do may depend on circumstances, conscience, or the good of others.

I have been reading 1 Corinthians recently, and chapters 5 and 6 give examples of plain right and wrong. A Christian in the church is having an affair with his step-mother. This is plain wrong, and the man is to be expelled from church life, at least until he puts his life right. Chapter 6 talks about church people who have sex with prostitutes; it’s plain wrong.

But chapter 7 asks the question: Should an unmarried Christian get married? and Paul has much to say, but he does not give a simple yes or no answer, because the right thing to do depends on many factors. Should a slave gain his or her freedom? Again, it depends. Is it better to be circumcised or uncircumcised? It doesn’t matter: ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.’ (1 Corinthians 7:19).

God gives us permission and freedom to order our lives in many areas. It’s a bit like the Garden of Eden: ‘You may eat of any tree in the garden’. But he also gives laws, which we have to obey straightforwardly: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil …’ (Genesis 2:17).

I think that some people prefer simple rules and like to be told, ‘Do this and not that.’ Others prefer freedom and like to be told, ‘Do as you please.’ But life is not so simple. There are laws from God which must be obeyed. But there are also many areas where God has decided to let us work it out and make decisions, prayerfully, wisely, sensibly, in such a way as to honour him and each other. 1 Corinthians 8 is about recognizing that Christians will differ in their views on some things (like eating or not eating meat that has been sacrificed at a pagan temple); and we shall often need to think about how other Christians will be affected by our actions. In many areas of life, God has given us freedom, but he asks us to use that freedom for his glory and the good of others.

Do you value God’s laws? And do you value also your own brain, conscience, decision-making ability? All is God-given. When making decisions, we always need to ask: Is it right? Is it wise? Is it loving? Will it enable me to honour God? Or is it an absolute matter of freedom? (Today I am wearing black socks).

With best wishes – James.

Rector’s Letter, October 2017

Dear friends

When I was young my parents had to chivvy me to write ‘Thank you letters’. Now I find myself pestering my own children to do the same! There is something really important in saying thank you and something seriously missing when you don’t. The French word ‘merci’ comes from a Latin word that means a fee or price: it is what you owe someone when they have done something for you.

Nurturing a thankful heart is a Christian duty. ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It is God’s will that we give thanks to him for his gifts, whatever our circumstances. Billy Graham said: ‘A spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord. Thank God in the midst of trials and even persecution.’

How is that possible? I know that the trials and struggles and heartaches of today can loom so large in our minds that they can rob us of joy and it can be hard to see any blessings to count. But it is a command from God … so we must learn, we must school ourselves, to do the hard work of seeing where we can still find blessings in our trials and give thanks for them. Maybe twice a day you could just look around you, or look at your diary, or a photograph, or remember a happy time, or savour the taste of an apple or the scent of a flower or the colour of a ladybird, and give thanks. Even – especially – when your life feels really tough.

Harvest services may help us. The origin of the American season of Thanksgiving dates from 1621 when the Plymouth colonists held an Autumn feast, and invited 90 Native Americans, because their harvest had been good in their new homeland.

God is the great giver of grace, and grace calls forth gratitude. If you know your sins forgiven, if you know that your life is held in the hands of a loving Saviour who has given himself for you even to death on a cross, then you will be grateful and you will want to be grateful. The French say ‘merci’ – we owe him our thanks. But the Spanish say ‘gracias’ – for his gifts are gifts of grace.

So let’s have our own season of Thanksgiving. Say Thank You, with a big smile, to those who serve you, love you, wait for you, are kind to you. And pray Thank You, with a big heart, to God for his gifts.

And thank you for reading! With best wishes – James

Rector’s Letter – September 2017

Dear friends

In St. John’s we have a book locked in a glass case, which is called ‘The Paraphrase of Erasmus’ and it was purchased for the church in 1561, along with a chain so that nobody could walk off with it. It contains the four gospels in English, along with a commentary by Erasmus of Rotterdam. By order of Edward VI every parish church was supposed to have one.

This Autumn we shall be thinking a bit about the Reformation in our preaching, and FOCUS has been giving you a history of that period all year, thanks to Kate Scorer and Charley Maidment. They have done a history page in each edition this year, and you can find them all in back editions of FOCUS on the church website.

Many people knew that the Medieval Church was corrupt. Priests, monks, and even Popes behaved badly, everything seemed to be about money, power and ostentation. Erasmus of Rotterdam was just as much against moral corruption, injustice, and superstition, as Luther and other Reformers, and longed for change in the Church. But he remained committed to Medieval theology, and remained loyal to the Roman Church’s teaching on how to know God. He wrote to Luther, asking, ‘Why don’t you cry out against bad popes, rather than against all popes?’

But Luther, Calvin, and the English Reformers like Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, could see that the church needed not just to behave better, but to be thoroughly reformed by the Bible’s teaching of what the good news of Christian faith really is.

We cannot get to God by attending mass, doing penance, purchasing indulgences, praying to Mary, making a pilgrimage, or obeying the Pope. But praise God! We can get to him through Jesus Christ, when we put our faith in him, in his death for our sins and the forgiveness and justification we receive through his loving mercy and grace. ‘Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand’ (Romans 5:1-2). That is how we may get to God. And be at peace with him. And stand in his grace.

The Reformation began 500 years ago this Autumn, but the Gospel is unchanged. Like the Medieval Church, we do not just need to behave better, but to grasp this gospel and be radically changed by its message of God’s power and love.

With all best wishes – James.

Rector’s Letter, July 2017

Dear friends

It’s Summertime; I wonder what you will enjoy: Wimbledon, the Yeovil Show, a barbecue, a trip to the sea, an ice cream, a wedding, a children’s Holiday Club … The Gershwins wrote:

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry

Yet in the midst of the many blessings of life, there is still much to cry about. This Summer we have wept and prayed for people affected by too many terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London, and the terrible Kensington fire. Many continue to be anxious about the stability of the Government, about Brexit, and Trump and Syria and North Korea … the list could go on.

What a mixed up world. Goodness and evil, joy and grief, hope and anxiety seem to live alongside each other. It is easy to let the bad news shake our faith in God. Do not get downhearted. Jesus himself celebrated at a wedding, feasted with friends, recognized the tremendous faith of many. But he also encountered evil spirits, hypocrisy, opposition, injustice and cruelty. He warned us to expect wars and disasters until the end, in this beautiful world made by his heavenly Father.

Whatever else you enjoy in the Summer, don’t forget to come to church. Here we can thank God and praise him for all that is good. Here we can acknowledge the tough things, the hard times, the needs of the world, and pray for God’s protection and strength. And here we can renew our faith in Jesus, who came to a suffering world, and bore its suffering in his own body on the cross. He came to a sinful world, and bore its sin in his own body on the cross. He came to a godless and loveless world and revealed God’s love to us on the cross.

And in that faith we have a full and sure conviction that good will ultimately win and evil will be eradicated. Now we must live with patience. But one day God will come afresh to live with his people. ‘They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:3-4).

For now we are called to live in this mixed up world, so enjoy the Summer if you can. But above all, hold on to Jesus Christ through whom all will be made new. He is our hope, our joy, our comfort, our life, our Lord.

With my best wishes – James.

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