All posts by David Brain

Sunday 24 October

Mark 10: 35-52

Wanting the best for ourselves and for our loved ones is a natural aspiration. Of course we want the best for our children and for ourselves. Where it’s misguided is when personal ambition becomes over competitive and inhibits the advancement of others. Then personal ambition is  accompanied by self interest and self service to the exclusion of anyone else. One of the most damaging and mistaken illusions of our times is that self sufficiency, independence and being free of all ties to, and responsibility for, others can be detrimental to our own progress. The notion of ‘service’ is too often preceded with ‘self’ – ‘self service’ – with ‘me first’  becoming an acceptable aim of life. Even in everyday language these days it is common to put ourselves first and so we speak of ‘me and my brother / sister’, rather than the customary correct ‘my brother/sister and I’. An ambitious hankering for power, prestige, status and wealth is repugnant when nothing or nobody is permitted to get in the way.

The  concept of service –  that we always serve something or someone whether we are aware of it or not –  is at the very heart of much of Mark’s Gospel.

The healing of the blind man by Jesus at Bethsaida (Mk.8: 22-26) is significant in that the man’s sight is at first only partially restored. It takes some time before the man regains his full sight. Eventually he does ‘ see everything clearly (Mk.8:25). This is immediately followed by the incident at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples about his own identity. This in turn is followed by the announcement of his suffering and death (Mk. 8:31), but Peter doesn’t get it and so rebukes Jesus who in turn rebukes him. Again in chapter 9 Jesus repeats the announcement of his impending death and the disciples are so bewildered that they are stunned  into silence. Instead they argue together about which of them is the greatest; again they just don’t get it. So Jesus takes a little child and says in effect that leadership and greatness are about welcoming the vulnerable.

In chapter 10, Jesus says once more that he is going to Jerusalem to die. And, again, the disciples do not get it. First, James and John ask for special places of honour and then the rest of the disciples resent their self-interested ambition . Jesus’ words still haven’t sunk in so he says as plainly and clearly as possible that to be great is to serve others and that to be first is to be last. Then comes another healing of a blind man, Bartimaeus whose blindness is instantly cured and we read that immediately he ‘ followed him …’ (Mk.10:52)

It’s interesting to note that these healings of blind people accompany his announcements of his suffering and death,  the disciples’ failure to understand, and Jesus teaching about what constitutes greatness seem to be linked. Is it Mark’s intention to emphasise that the life of Jesus stands in such complete contrast to our tendency to see greatness and leadership in terms of status, wealth, power and self service? The warning of Jesus is quite clearly that there is no escaping service. Either we willingly serve others or we become slaves to our illusions that we can act merely out of self-interest and be free and secure and thus achieve a happiness through self-service, possessions, wealth and status.

The disciples found it so hard to break free of their preconceived notions and accept that the way to freedom and true fulfilment lay in serving others. It is significant that the restoration of the sight of the blind man at Bethsaida, recorded in Mark 8:22-25, was in stages, his sight was restored gradually.  So too with the disciples, and with disciples of every age, the truth often dawns gradually – that serving others, although costly, is the way we are intended to live and the way through which we enter a life that is real and eternal.

Prayer

Loving God you never cease ministering to the needs of your people
In Jesus Christ you showed us the way we should serve one another.
Open our eyes to see the needs of all who are vulnerable and in need,
our hearts to care with true compassion,
our hands to bring generous comfort, support and relief,
that we may be as Christ to them.
In his name, we pray. Amen.

Revd Michael Diffey

Sunday 17th October

In his letter to the Philippians – a favourite Scripture of mine – Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting trial. This was surely terrible news for the church. How would they cope in the face of opposition and persecution?

Paul saw things differently.

Even though he was a prisoner, Paul was able to write to the believers in Philippi and share how it had been an opportunity ‘to advance the gospel’. In fact, the whole palace guard had come to hear God’s word through Paul’s imprisonment Philippians 1.13.

And, Paul was confident that God would continue to meet the Philippians needs ‘according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4.19).

This passage reminds me of my work at Bible Society when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit last year.

It was tough for us in the UK. Like many of us I missed meeting my friends and work colleagues, felt isolated at home and I especially missed my beloved grandchildren.

Then I received messages like this one from a dear Bible Society colleague in Africa:

Bible ministry here has always been tough, because of poverty and the threat from Islamist extremists. But now we are dealing with the coronavirus too. Hundreds have died already – and with poor infrastructure and limited healthcare, Covid-19 could be devastating.

Yet he also said, ‘We don’t forget that God is in control.’

Like Paul, they faced the toughest of situations but continued to put their faith and trust in God in a way that was inspirational and deeply moving.

And, as we are ‘partners in the gospel’ (Philippians 1.6), I was led to raise funds in support of my dear brothers and sisters so that their Bible ministries and projects would survive and prosper even in the worst days of the pandemic.

18 months later, things are still really hard across the world but praise God, he’s answered our prayers and my colleagues have been able to continue to make the Bible available to communities longing for the faith and hope that comes from God’s word.

Thank you for the support that you have given to the ministries of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa.

Blessings

Alan Kember

Sunday 10th October

Reading: Job 23:1-9; 16 – 17 When things go wrong…

Job is sometimes difficult to understand. It looks as though God rewards Job’s faithfulness with the worst things that could happen to anyone. By the end of the first chapter he has lost everything that made life good. But Job then turned the whole story on its head by refusing to blame God for what happened to him. The story of Job is the story of a man who walks through the darkest of days with God at his side and refuses to blame God for his ill fortune. Job clings to his faith and continues to believe that God gives nothing but good to his people. The story of Job shows the darkest of times can shed light all around.

Maggie Keswick Jencks was diagnosed with cancer. She survived, but five years later it had returned. Sitting with her husband in a dark and windowless corridor to process the news that  it was terminal, Maggie felt that there should be something better than that. With the help of friends they created a blueprint for a centre beside the hospital cancer department that was warm and welcoming. When Maggie died the blueprints were on her bed. That was twenty -five years ago. Now there are many Maggie’s Centres, and at the heart of them is Maggie’s own belief that nobody should “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying”

With all that has happened in the world in the last eighteen months, alongside fears of climate change, wars and natural disasters it is easy to focus on all that is wrong, and dark and difficult, in human life. Yet, within God’s world there is always hope. At the top of Bradham Road someone put a sheet early in the first lockdown, painted with a bright rainbow and the words “Hope is not closed”  God is hope. John wrote “The light shone out in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it..” On the wall of a African Christian Aid office was a poster that said “A Candle is a protest at midnight; it is a non-conformist. It says to the darkness “I beg to differ” In the darkness God is here, offering hope in a world of things that we cannot control.

Reading: Mark 10:17-31   For God possibilities are endless…

The young man in our Gospel story went away downcast. What Jesus asked of him was too much – he was rich, and his life was focussed on his possessions and his status. He wanted to follow Jesus – but with strings attached. Then the disciples also seemed to be a bit obsessed with their own status. Neither realised that there is no wealth or status before God. Everyone is equal.

Often there are things that happen in life that we have to learn to live with, accept and move on. Covid was unexpected, unwanted and changed our lives so much. My regret has been that when churches were closed it did more harm than good. At a time when people were anxious and lonely we needed it. We did it to help each other, prevent the spread and save the NHS. But it left a gap – and for some alternative worship was sometimes a poor substitute.

The disciples were curious about the words of Jesus and the rich. If a rich man cannot enter the Kingdom then there was no hope for anyone they thought. They had given up everything him. But Jesus said that those at the bottom would be raised and  I find that comforting. It makes me feel that my best may be good enough for God. I cling to the saying “God does not ask us to do the impossible. We are not God, and the impossible is God’s business. God only asks us to do what we can, when we can, as well as we can.”  In response to Covid we have found ways to be the Church where we are, to be and do whatever we were able to do in this moment in time, right now. The hope of God is that we can do something, because doing something small is always better than doing nothing at all. Small things done by many could have a big impact. Nothing is hopeless!

For God nothing is impossible. God’s work is the impossible. Ours is to take care of the small things so that hope in the faithfulness of God may take care of the impossible.

Revd Barbara Bennett

Sunday 3rd October

REFLECTION on Mark 6:1-13 – ALL CHANGE

We live in times of great change, and change worries us. We fear change. And although change is happening all around us, all the time, we still struggle to manage it, to adjust and adapt to it. And yet, one of the secrets to a happy life and a strong faith is how we manage change – how we deal with the demons and the unclean spirits that reveal themselves when faced with change.

Mark tells us another story about change: Jesus returns home, at the beginning of his ministry, and his friends and neighbours, rather than welcome him, reject him – and the reason is? “Well, HE’S changed.” “Who does he think he is?!”

In fact, Jesus hadn’t changed at all – sure, he’d grown up, matured and accepted God’s call on his life, but he hadn’t CHANGED. If anything, he was more himself than he had ever been. What had changed, was their preconceptions of Jesus – he’d gone, in their minds, from the thoughtful, diligent local kid to the outspoken preacher, healer and potential troublemaker, challenging the hypocrites and those abusing their power and privilege… He wasn’t who they THOUGHT he was, he wasn’t who they WANTED him to be, he had burst out of the box in which they thought they had him contained. Just by being true to himself and true to God he had shattered their preconceived ideas…and they felt threatened.

Little did they know what was to come! Those who chose to follow him and put their faith into action soon discovered that fighting for change can be very dangerous indeed. One of the hardest things, today, is to be honest and open, and brave enough to preach the Kingdom, because to preach the Kingdom is to preach CHANGE. To pray “Thy Kingdom Come” is to pray “God, CHANGE Everything!” A vital part of our ministry together is about embracing change and not being afraid of it …

Facing their rejection, their insults, and their prejudice, what did Jesus do? He blessed them with the gift of perspective. He opened their eyes to a bigger picture – a bigger God, with these wonderful words: “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown”. Or to put it another way – “Prophets are respected and accepted everywhere else but right here!” Jesus made it clear that he is NOT just a local boy trying his hand at preaching, he is placing himself in a long line of radical thinkers, movers and shakers. Prophets – who see the world as it really is, grasp God’s vision of how it could be, and then dare to show how one can become the other… heaven on earth …the Kingdom come. How? Through change. Drastic, dramatic change. Transformation.

So, Jesus graciously embraced their criticism and seemed to be saying “say what you like about by family, my origins, even my legitimacy, reject me if you must, but you’re missing the point. You’re so caught up in your own prejudices that you’re overlooking what God has in store for you!”

There is another, deeper teaching here too: If people are rejecting you for speaking the truth, for having integrity and standing up for justice, compassion, truth and love… you must be doing something right!

Revd. Martin John Nicholls
Chaplain of Point in View Chapel, Exmouth 07801 055995

Lunchtime Concerts – October

After a gap of 18 months due to Covid our Lunchtime Concerts will begin again on Wednesday 6th October at 12.30 in the church for about three-quarters of an hour.   There are flyers in the church, so you can help yourself and see who’s taking part up to December.

6th October:  The first concert will be a piano recital by Joyce Clarke who has played for us in previous seasons.   Joyce is also the pianist for the Beacon Piano Trio.

13th October: Jane Anderson-Brown (soprano) Melanie Mehta (mezzo-soprano) and Daphne Murphy (piano)   Melanie has sung for us before but the other two are new to Glenorchy.

20th October: The Beacon Piano Trio – Anna Cockroft (violin) Ruth Lass (cello) and Joyce Clarke (piano)   The Trio have played for us in previous seasons.

27thOctober: Jackie Palmer (mezzo-soprano) and Wensleigh Palmer (piano and Organ).   They have both performed for us in previous seasons.   Wensleigh is the organist at Sidwell Street Methodist Church, Exeter.

3rd November: Nina Leonard-Savicevic (piano)   Nina has also played for us before.

At the time of writing I am not sure if there will be teas/coffees before the concerts.  Anyway if you like live music of a more classical nature then do come along and tell your friends about it as you won’t find live music of that sort anywhere else in Exmouth! As in previous seasons the concerts will be free with a retiring collection for an as yet un-named church project.

David Lee

Harvest Sunday 26th September

As Christians we took on the Jewish belief in God as Creator. ‘The heavens are yours and the earth also, the world and all that is in it.’ (Psalm 89 v11)  Every religious faith has a similar – though not of course identical – belief. Harvest time is one opportunity to pause and give thanks to the Creator. One fundamental cause of any religious faith at all is the sense that the universe is not an accident and that meaning and purpose are somehow built in. Recent advances in understanding the ‘how’ of evolution have not dispelled the mystery of ‘why’ anything is.

Believers do not know ‘how’ any more than unbelievers, but we do remain persuaded that the question ‘why’ is meaningful, that there is a context, a ground of being (to use the words of the theologian Paul Tillich), a built-in meaning which somehow gives us the right to call the universe a creation – though without the rather silly details which so-called creationists often add.

This affirmation inevitably leads us to believe that all the other galaxies (previously known as ‘the heavens’) are also the Lord’s.
However our concern is not with them, even though there is almost certainly what we call life out there somewhere. We need to consider our little earth – sometimes called the ‘lonely planet’. That description goes back to the Apollo programme in the 1960s when for the first time human beings could look ‘down’ on the earth. It certainly looks lonely, surrounded by all that emptiness. From space you get what might be called, almost blasphemously, God’s view. And, crucially, from the moon the earth looks like a single something.

Despite considerable misunderstanding of the opening of the book Genesis, the duality of homo sapiens, spelt out in chapters 1 & 2, remains key and rings true. We are part of nature (‘dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return’) and we have power, almost control, over nature (‘fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion’).

Human beings now have power to determine the destiny of the natural order of which they are part.

If the earth is to be treated as a creation, held on trust by one powerful intelligent species, then logic compels us to some conclusions, among which is the urgent need to look ahead and plan, now that we have the data, the projections and some of the means of avoiding disaster.

There are several people and groups who can argue for the choices and the possibilities but we also need to reflect on the bigger picture, the deeper intellectual and spiritual challenge. This vulnerable planet is our home, our God-given home, and Christians are called to use our minds and our imaginations to honour that trust and accept our responsibility to act.

Revd Peter Brain

Sunday 19th September

SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT
Taking the way of Jesus seriously in a broadly alien culture

 If you enjoy river or sea swimming, you may have sometimes found yourself swimming against the current. The struggle characterizes the personal or group experience of promoting unpopular beliefs, values and conduct.

You don’t have to be a Christian or devotee of any religious faith to feel impelled to swim against the current. The ‘call’ to do so is to all.

Progress in science depends hugely on scientists who question accepted ideas.  The world has been hugely enriched by artists, composers and designers who  defy tradition and introduce fresh thinking. The story of politics is punctuated by women and men who, against the odds, have campaigned for change.

The saga of the Church has been shaped, in good measure, by Christians (like Tyndale, Luther, Constance Coltman and Archbishop Reomero) who have objected, at great personal cost, to the beliefs and practices of their day’.

While Jesus sometimes (gladly or reluctantly) went with the flow, mostly he swam against the current of religious orthodoxy and social attitudes. It was his brave opposition to both secular and religious authority that led to his conviction and execution.

The holy energy of God that enabled Jesus to swim against the current also empowered his followers. Apostle Paul continually swam against the currents of alien beliefs, vested interests and dissolute behaviour – and was regularly mocked, arrested and imprisoned for doing so. No wonder he urged new disciples: ‘You should not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind’ (Romans 12:2a).

What might swimming against popular currents mean today? There are many massive challenges but here are three.

‘Indulgent living’: the incessant pressure to buy more, eat more, drink more, holiday more – and its terrible impact on our health, well-being and environment.

‘Social fragmentation’: hostile attitudes to immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers – the attitude that white born and bred Britons are innately superior with it divisive impacts.

‘Unbridled capitalism’: the personal profit motive that too readily degenerates into all-consuming avarice and ruthless competition with its anti-social consequences.

Jesus constantly calls us to let the holy energy or spirit of God transform us… but this often means swimming against the current!

Revd Edward Hulme

Sunday 12th September

Jesus asks “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27-38)

The question of identity is one of those big questions in life; ‘who am I?’ Am I simply a clone of my parents and grandparents, for example, or am I my own person? How do you perceive yourself, and is that how others perceive you? Or are you trying to live up to the person others see you as?

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks of his disciples.

This question is the turning point in the gospel of Mark as it’s here that Jesus takes stock of the teaching that his disciples have been given. Have they got it yet?

Who do you believe I am?

And Mark, the gospel writer, sandwiches this event between two others: Before this, a blind man partially recovers his sight before being fully healed (Mark 8:22-26) mirroring the disciples partial understanding of Jesus. After this, a blind man called Bartimaeus, is healed fully and at once asks to follow Jesus (Mark 10:46-52) mirroring the disciples new understanding of Jesus.

So, Peter says that others believe Jesus is John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the prophets; in other words, a figure from the past, come to bring back the good old days. But its dawning on the disciples that the person before them is not a throwback to the past, but a new being who represents their future; God’s anointed One.

Who do you think I am?

We’re also at a pivotal point. There are many who yearn for the past, when life was simpler, and safer, when churches were full, when the world was black and white. But in an unsure and uncertain time such as now we need to look to the future, hopefully building on the best of what the past has bought us.

The disciples had grasped what was happening. ‘You are the Messiah’ Peter says. The penny has dropped. But don’t tell anyone, commands Jesus…not yet. They still haven’t got it. For now, Jesus can reveal to his disciples just what his mission really is, and for the first time ‘he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Still too much information for them to take in, and they will have to be reminded of it again soon, but now Jesus knows that the time is right for him to set his sights on Jerusalem, at last, and to the Cross.

Who do you say I am?

For Christians, it’s an acknowledgement that we are all created in the image of God who sees things very differently. From God’s vantage point, everyone is of equal worth, everyone has equal value. We have to make a special effort in order to see the world that way, God’s way, to see someone, for example, who is very different to ourselves, as being of equal worth. After all, it was part of Jesus’ make-up, to engage with those on the fringes of his society.

It is striking that while there are some 7 billion people in the world today, everyone is different. God has deliberately created us to be unique, to glory in divine diversity, yet too often we try to be like others, try to conform to stereotypes. When Jesus asks; “Who do you say I am?” it is an invitation to us all to discover more about the person who we describe as The Christ. And to get to know more about Jesus is to get to find out more about his character, his purpose and his mission, and then to walk in the way of Jesus today.

Revd Jayne Taylor

Sunday 5th September

Readings: Hebrews 13: 1-8, Luke 14: 1, 7-15

This morning as we look at the reading from Luke’s gospel, it challenges us to think of three things in our lives. 1. As Christians we are being tested and watched even if we don’t realise it. 2. We should be humble and put others first. 3. We should think about our giving, both of our time, our gifts, and our money.

It can be difficult to see the relevance of some aspects of Jesus’ teaching at times. Who has lunch where your place at the table indicates your importance? We can easily miss the fact that Jesus is challenging the whole social order of his time in this passage. But that challenge is still very relevant now.

The list that Jesus gives of who to invite to the feast is not an exclusive one – it is simply those who would be considered undesirable to associate with in his time. The lame and blind would have been thought to have been given their afflictions as a punishment for some terrible sin. But in our society we could add others to the list of those that society tends to shun for all sorts of reasons. Illegal immigrants, youths in hoodies, those with mental illness, people who are homeless and ask for change or sell the Big Issue.

In many ways, we live as much now as then in a culture that requires a certain level of wealth or physical ability to participate. And it’s not just about accessibility either which is a buzz word of our times. Jesus makes it clear that he is talking about actively going out of our way to find these people and include them.

Let’s unpack Luke 14: 1-6.

Jesus had been invited to dinner on the Sabbath by a prominent Pharisee and we are told that he was being carefully watched. This was probably to see if he would go ahead and heal someone which of course he did.

But this says something to us because if we are true followers of Jesus and we live out our faith, we can be sure that people will be watching us firstly to catch us out if we step out of line, and secondly to see if we have something that they might want in their own life.

It just so happened that there was a man there who suffered from dropsy. This disease causes the arms and legs to swell because of excessive fluids in various parts of the body and can be symptomatic of more serious problems. It was regarded by some rabbis as resulting from immorality.

Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ But they remained silent so Jesus went ahead and healed the man and then sent him away.

Jesus then watched the invited guests choosing their places at the table and he told them a parable.

Jesus said, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour for person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’

Then humiliated you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend move up to a better place.’  Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts them self will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Today’s passage from Hebrews 13 is about families, friendship, hospitality, morality, marriage and generosity among other things. There are certainly some challenges. Firstly it starts with making sure that we love one another as Christian brothers and sisters. Do we love each other in this church and in all the churches in Exmouth?

Secondly, we are to welcome strangers into our homes because some who did welcomed angels without knowing it. In a pandemic this of course is difficult and it doesn’t mean that we should leave our front doors open. But it does mean that hospitality is very important in the Christian life.

Thirdly, we must remember those is prison as though we were in prison with them. The book called, ‘The Heavenly Man’ is about a house church pastor called Brother Yun from the Henan Province in China, who has suffered prolonged torture and imprisonment for his faith. The book challenges any complacency about the ongoing situation in China, where international economic investment ignores the brutal fact that religious persecution is still a daily reality for millions of people.

Fourthly, marriage is still the way that God intends couples to live. It is a public commitment to one another. The Christian marriage with a devoted couple sharing their lives and their faith in the living God is the framework for a happy family.

Fifthly, keep your lives free from the love of money and be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never leave you: I will never abandon you.’

We can all remember people who have helped and encouraged us. We can think of them as Jesus guiding us along because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.

He has died for us and has risen again and is alive now. We can trust him with our lives and trust his words.

Amen.

Revd Jim Thorneycroft