Vicar School Update // June 2014

The latest of my college updates… Those of you on email will have had this already, I’m a bit behind on the blog front!

Jules’ College Update // June 2014

So here
we are in June and I am 3 weeks away from finishing the first year of my course
at Vicar School, which is rather exciting I can tell you (doesn’t take much
these days). So, yes, applause and cheers are required. Thank you. Although
that’s perhaps slightly premature as I still have an essay to finish and one
more study weekend, but then the champers will be very definitely opened, I
tell you.
So what on earth has been going on in the last few months? Well, I’ve studied Ethics – which effectively means you come out of each class knowing less than when you went in; and now Biblical studies, which makes me realise how little I know. Ah well, it’s all about the learning….
So, I began writing this update at Aylesford Priory (yet another study weekend) which you may remember I spent my very first SEITE weekend at, back in September. We arrived then in the pouring rain, I was feeling grim, I didn’t know anyone and by Friday evening I was ready to jack it all in. So it was funny to come back to Aylesford in a totally different frame of mind: I know my fellow students much better, I have made friends, I have done 4 essays and passed them all (even done rather well in a couple, goodness knows how – must be all that prayer!), I have undertaken a mission placement and I am now organising my pastoral placement for next year. I have also signed myself up to be deputy student rep (don’t even ask me why, but basically it was that or making the tea).
The beautiful Aylesford Priory, without goose…

Aylesford was still as bizarre as it was the first time although my room was a bit better and the sun was shining which helped! Highlights of the weekend included: encountering a rather cross goose that sounded exactly like a trumpet (exactly like it – uncanny I tell you), I had beans for lunch again (I won’t miss those), and managed to escape a worship session thanks to a friend with a rather violent allergy to incense (you know who you are!). This weekend was particularly strange as there was a pilgrimage going on at the same time, which meant there were 1000 Catholics milling around and gathering occasionally to sing and worship. Rather strange to be mid pastoral theology class when just outside 1000 people suddenly burst into ‘Tell out my soul’. On top of that we had an exercise to do involving drawing a bus which made me burst into tears (it really was as simple as drawing a bus). It’s that place I tell you, something funny going on there…

Canterbury Cathedral
At Easter we spent a whole week away studying together in Canterbury. People keep asking me about this and whether I enjoyed it, the honest answer is I don’t know. It was much better than I expected but it was still a week away from the family, it was exhausting with so much to take in, and by the end of the week I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t take any more of the rather traditional worship. In a bible study a friend played a song by Matt Redman (a well known Christian musician) at which both myself and my equally charismatic friend burst into tears, realising how desperate we were to be free and worship in the way we feel happiest. And yes it occurs to me, there do seem to be tears at most of these things. Either it’s the pressure or God is really doing something!

Along with a team of students one thing I had to do during the week was lead an act of worship in the style of ‘Taize’. If you don’t know what Taize is, it basically involves a lot of singing and chanting. Only one thing, no music allowed in the cathedral during morning worship. We used a lot of silence instead… And then got in trouble with the cathedral police for using candles on the ancient marble (oops).

Some good bits…

So, some highlights (apart from the goose obvs)…
·        well I have to say I am really loving my course. I love the academic stuff (well, mostly) and really using my brain – which does creak at times I do admit, especially in ethics classes…
·        Leading worship in Canterbury cathedral, despite the challenges, was pretty cool. It was only in the crypt but there was something rather special about that place. Arriving just after the sun was up each day, heading into the dark crypt, in some places just lit by candlelight, in a place where people have worshipped for centuries and pilgrims have travelled across the world to come there. It’s pretty special…
·        And lastly, getting to the end of my first year! Whilst I have loved it, it has been very hard work at times and a definite sacrifice, especially in terms of my time with the family. It feels like a real achievement to have got to this point. I am now 1/3 of the way through the whole thing!
 Thank You!
So I
wanted to finish by saying a big thank you to you all. If you have read my
ramblings, or prayed for me, or offered a supporting word, or a shoulder to cry
on, or generally encouraged me, then a massive thank you. Please do carry on!
It’s amazing the number of times I have had a kind word spoken to me at exactly
the right moment, or a hug when I really needed it. I really feel covered in
prayer too, so please carry on praying for me and for Phil & the kids, we
really appreciate it. And if we can pray for you, do let us know, we’d love to
return the favour!
With love
and blessings,
jules xx

Luke 1:1-26 // Preach from Sun 8th June 2014

The notes from last Sunday’s talk, starting Luke’s Gospel and focussing on Jesus as the answer… Also available to listen to here


As always these are my notes and not a transcript so apologies for errors, typos etc

I
start by asking you today – what’s the answer? And I’m starting with a little story, which you may have heard of before or at
least similar. There
is a sweet story I read about a Sunday school teacher who asked her Sunday
school class about an animal, wanting to illustrate serving…
She
started the lesson by saying, “I’m going to describe something, and I want
you to raise your hand when you know what it is.”  
“I’m
thinking of something that lives in trees (pause). “It can be grey or brown…  it has a long bushy tail” 
Finally
one little boy put up his hand. Yes, said the teacher, what do you think it is?
 “is it
Jesus?’ says the boy…!
It’s
an old ‘in church’ joke that any question asked in Sunday school or in church,
if you are not sure, the answer is always Jesus, which allows for some great comedy
moments as we have seen. But the thing is, there is only ever really one answer
So
what’s the answer? Yes, JESUS
and
there’s only ever really one sermon –
that Jesus is the answer!
—————-
Today we
are starting our new series from Luke’s gospel and it’s all about people
meeting with Jesus. In fact we’ve called the series ‘Encounters with Jesus’. So
we will see throughout Luke’s gospel, people encountering Jesus in diff ways.
We’ll be looking at Jesus, his miracles, and parables. And we are going to see
people having their lives transformed by him.
 —————-
You
know the entire bible points us to Jesus. From the OT paving the way for the coming
of a messiah, to the NT where we see his birth, life, ministry and death and
resurrection. And subsequently his word being spread through his followers. But
the only parts of the bible that talk directly of Jesus life and ministry are
the four gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, and we are focussing on Luke.
So
let’s do a quick overview of Luke so we know what we are getting in to. Here’s a few things to get us started:
: Luke
is the longest book in the NT (in length not chapters).
: Thought
to be written around 70AD. Why is this important? Only actually 30-40 years
after Jesus death, so we know that whilst Luke himself was not an eye witness,
there would have been people around who were, or who had direct memories of the
events he is writing about.
: Whilst
the gospels share some stories, Luke contains some of the most well known stories
of Jesus life and teaching that don’t appear elsewhere, for example, as we see
here, Zechariah and Elizabeth story, also, the Angel’s announcement to Mary, Conversion
of Zaccheus, Walk to Emmaus, the story of Prodigal Son and more.
 —————-
What
about Luke himself – who was he?
Well
he think he was actually called Luke for a start – which might sound like a
silly thing to say but that isn’t always the case with biblical books. And who
was he? Well there is some discussion over this but generally academics agree
that Luke was a doctor, and was the same Luke who is mentioned in some of
Paul’s letters as someone who travelled with him. He is referred to in
Colossians 4:11-14 as ‘our dear friend Luke, the Doctor’. On the same basis of
mentions in Paul’s letters it is believed he was a gentile (so someone who
wasn’t a Jew).
It
is believed that Luke also wrote the Book of Acts and that these were possibly
2 halves of the same book, or 2 volumes.
Whoever
he was it is clear from the writing that he had a deep knowledge of the Jewish
scriptures and was a well educated man. People also think he had an interest in
history and he is sometimes referred to as a historian because of his style of
writing as we see in the first few para’s how we has done his research. Whilst
nowadays we wouldn’t think of the bible as a historical document necessarily,
we should remember that those writing were to some extent recording the facts
and event of the day, accurate accounts of Jesus life.
In
these 2 lines at the beginning he lays out his integrity, his devotion to the truth
and how he has come about this information.
 —————-
Who
is he writing to?
Well,
he says he is writing to Theophilus, who was probably a Roman official, a new
Christian who Luke is discipling. However Theophilus also means ‘beloved of God’ and there is some thought that he could be using this term to refer to
followers of Jesus, those who want to know more about him. And it’s important to
note that writings of this time would have been copied and distributed so he
may be saying he is writing to one person but he would know and probably
intended for this to be read and used to teach new Christians.
Luke
is clever in that he writes in a way that encompasses Jewish belief but also
the customs of the day that all would be familiar with. So that all can
understand and be taught, he was writing
for a culturally diverse audience, so poss tries to present Jesus in ways that
might appeal to people with a wide variety of backgrounds
 —————-
So, to our passage, as I said, Jesus is the
answer
. This book is all about Jesus, so then if that’s the case, why doesn’t
he start with Jesus right? it’s interesting that right at the beginning we actually
get this wonderful story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, which doesn’t appear
anywhere else in the bible and in fact Jesus isn’t mentioned until v 31!
Well, what he is doing is putting Jesus into
the context of the day. Before he gets into the real stuff, he is cleverly
laying the ground, preparing the heart of the reader for what is to come.  He doesn’t launch right into to, but he points
us towards Jesus through this story.
  —————-
So
Zechariah was a priest. Not in the sense that we would know now, anyone
descended form the line of Aaron was a priest and they served their temple in
groups or divisions.  Most of them would
live outside the city then come into the city when it was their turn to serve
their duties in the temple. The rest of the time would be spent teaching or
serving in their own communities.
As
there were so many priests on each occasion lots would be drawn to go into the
sanctuary and perform the duties including burning of incense. Now this might
not seem that big a deal but it was huge. Many priests never got the chance to
do this and if they did it would be once, so a real once in a life time
opportunity to enter the sacred place in the temple, the holiest part of the
temple. So Zechariah would never have done this before, as a Priest it would
have been a truly special moment and then of course this fantastic encounter
happens, where he meets with an angel, who gives him amazing news that he will
have a son, who will be holy and set apart.
Reading
this I couldn’t help but be reminded of a few weeks ago when some of us went up
to celebrate Richard Jackson’s consecration as the Bishop of Lewes. Particularly
special for me, as I got to serve communion in Westminster abbey. Probably a
once in a life time experience. Just amazing, the ceremony, the sense of the
Holy Spirit, the feeling of being part of one big family. And to prepare for communion
we went forward to the main altar, a holy place. And afterwards we went back
behind the altar. I’d love to say an angel appeared, but it didn’t. the ABC was
there though..! But the point is there is something truly special and holy about
these moments.
So
what’s all this got to do with Jesus being the answer, well the thing about
that service was that it wasn’t just about Richard, at it’s centre was
Jesus. Everything in that service pointed to him.
And
we see in our passage, it points people to Jesus.  that this son to be born to Z&E will
‘bring people back to the Lord’ and ‘will go on before the Lord, in the spirit
and power of Elijah (who was a great prophet) … to make ready a people prepared
for the Lord’. We know and will read in later verses, that this son was to be
John the Baptist, a man who devoted his life to being holy, to share the news
of the coming of the Messiah and later in v76-79 we see Z saying of him: ‘you
my child will be called a prophet of the most high; for you will go on before
the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of
salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of
our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those
living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path
of peace’
This
man is born to tell people that Jesus is the answer. To point the way to him.
And actually what Zechariah says of John, we could say of ourselves to some
extent. We should go before the Lord – we should prepare the way for people to
come to him, we should be giving people the knowledge of salvation through
forgiveness of sins, shine on those living in darkness, guide people to the
path of peace. Isn’t it? Isn’t that what our call is? To point people to Jesus
in our words and actions?
Are
we signposting the way to Jesus – to the answer?
  —————-
And
of course within our own context?
Luke
is actually being clever including this story at the beginning, because he is
pointing to Jesus but within the context of the day.
Right
at the centre of community, of Jewish culture particularly was the importance
of longevity, of generational lines, of family, so that’s where he starts. He
notes the time – in the time of Herod, he names the line from which Zechariah
and Elizabeth are descended, he is placing them and this story, and this gospel
within the context of what his readers would have known. And after all JTB, was
sent to point the way to Jesus, to go before, and Luke is echoing that theme
here.
So
when we think of pointing the way to Jesus, can we also do so within our own
context? Our own surroundings? In the context of the service at the Abbey it
was liturgical, it was in the hymns in the words spoken, in the act of the
eucharist. Luke does it by putting Jesus into the pattern of the day. How do we
share Jesus in our day? In our context?
So,
here’s a question for all of us: where is Jesus in your context today? How are
you pointing to him? How is he your answer?
So
here we have Zechariah and Elizabeth, upright people, Godly people, but actually
just normal people who are used by God. You see we are the bringers of Gods
kingdom. Normal people.
But that they had a deep pain in their lives that Elizabeth was
barren, she couldn’t have children.  Now
I know that in our society for those who cannot conceive it is utterly heart
breaking, some of us here know that pain personally. I have stood alongside people dealing with this. It is
deeply deeply painful, a pain that can last a lifetime. And I have no doubt
that it was the same for Z & E and yet in addition in their culture those
who could not concieve were mocked and scorned. Almost seen as a disability.
And often it was seen as having a link to divine intervention, as we see when
others such as Leah in genesis where it says that God opened her womb as he saw
she was unloved. For Z & E they would have lived with this scorn their
whole lives. And yet God had a plan for them they could never have forseen.
 —————-
You
know we are all responsible for the bringing in of Gods kingdom
. God uses
ordinary people like us to bring about his kingdom and we are going to see that
through this book of Luke. Our God – the God of lavish, self giving love –
doesn’t forget our human pains… I love how so often God takes something so
tragic and painful and turns it into something so wonderful. As with Z&E
here. Something so deeply deeply painful…
That
is often the message in Luke that God, in taking care of the grand scheme of
things – his truly grand scheme, he also takes care of the smaller human
concerns too. God
has a plan for each of us, just as he did for Z&E. God, through Jesus,
through the HS is bringing in his kingdom through ordinary people. People with
pains, people who are suffering, people with doubts, people who are not
perfect. Isn’t it just awesome that God has this amazing plan and he doesn’t
just roll it out, perfection all over the world, boom! No he uses us, his
precious children broken as we are, imperfect as we are. His grand plan is
played out through us.
How
are you part of his grand plan? So what is he asking of you today?
 
Because we
have to be open to hearing what his plan is for us – we have to be available to
listen, we have to take the opportunity to hear him, to meet.
So, I want to speculate a bit, this is not in the bible, so just go
with it… … but as I read this passage I just began wondering about Z&E.
They are upright and righteous, they would have been praying people. I think we
can safely assume that they must have prayed and prayed for a child. Did they
give up? Did they get to old age and stop praying? ‘the Angel says – I heard
your prayer’  But I just wonder if when
Zechariah went into the temple that day he took that opportunity to be a little
bit selfish, to as well as his duties, to offer a prayer for himself and his
wife. He could have been waiting for that opportunity for years. Ery time
waiting to see what the lots were…. I wonder if he and elizabeth discussued it
in their younger years – ‘if you get picked to go into the temple this time,
make sure you ask him, make sure you pray – in that holy place. Like some
people going pilgrimages to holy places, or places where healings have taken
place. God can work anywhere we know that, but there is something within us
that recognises the holiness of on action, a miracle or a place. So my
speculations I, did Zechariah, old as he was, remember his past prayers,
remember all the scorn that had been poured on him and his wife, did he
remember a promise to her, to himself to pray for a child in that holy place?
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And the reason I say this is that so
often God gives us opportunities. Opportunities to come closer to him, to know
him more, to hear him and we don’t always take them do we? Whether it is fear,
or doubt or something else stopping us, but I really believe that God gives us
daily opportunities to know him more, to be part of bringing in his kingdom and
it is up to us to recognise them and take them.
Did Zechariah think. This is an opportunity? Did he pray Please Lord give me a child? Did he take
that opportunity when it was presented to him?
Are we taking all the opportunities
God offers to us?
Opportunity – be used for the
kingdom – point people to Jesus – enable the coming in of the kingdom.
It’s all part of the same thing
really. If we are open to the Godly opportunities before us, those chances to
be used for the kingdom, then we will be
pointing people to the answer, to Jesus. and in turn we will enable the coming
in of more of God’s kingdom.
Opportunities breed encounters,
reveals the kingdom
.
So,
today is Pentecost Sunday when we remember how the disciples were filled with
the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire came down from heaven and rested upon them
as we can read in Acts 2.
The
Holy Spirit is the power of God that moves through us. It’s the same Holy Spirit
that came upon Elizabeth and enabled her to conceive in her old age. The same
HS that worked through Jesus to perform amazing miracles. It’s the same HS we
see when after the birth of JTB. Later in this passage, it says, vs. 67: that
fills Z and he worships the lord in joy. It’s says: Zechariah was filled with
the HS and prophesied and he then sings what is called Zechariah’s song, of
praise and prophecy concerning his son.
——-
So
today, thinking about some of the questions I’ve been asking, we’d love to pray
for the HS to work through each of us just as it did through Z & E.
Do
you need to be refilled and refreshed, or even filled for the first time with
the HS –  just as it was at the original
Pentecost when the disciples were filled and 300 came to faith.
Or do you need to
know Jesus as your answer today?
 
Or perhaps you want to be able to see the opportunities of God more clearly?
Ask
yourself, if this is an opportunity to come before God, as Z did, what would be
your prayer? If you could step into a holy place right before God, what would
you ask? Is it simply to be refilled? Refreshed, filled with the HS? Is our
desire for more of God? Or perhaps you have a prayer on your heart, maybe it is
a prayer you have prayed hundreds of times like Z&E, a prayer of pain and
brokenness? Or maybe God is going to put a new prayer in your heart today.
We
can think this is just another Sunday morning, its just another service, what
is special about today. Or we can say: This IS an opportunity. We might be
fearful – Zechariah was, but the angel said do not be afraid. And I want to say
now to you do not be afraid. We are family here, we stand with each other, we
support each other. I don’t know what God wants to do this morning but I do
know he longs for us to be closer to him, to step towards him, to be open to
what he has in store for us. So lets do that now. Lets be open to what he wants
to do and say to us today. Lets be open to Jesus being our answer…
Lead into Prayer time…