Wednesday, 30 May 2018

One Way


June 2018

A few of my words from  the funeral of my mother-in-law, Daphne Murnane, who died on 29th April having lived for the last 4½ years in Holme and then Burton.

“What happens when I die?”  Google street-view can tell you what it would be like to walk down a street on the other side of the world but who can tell you what it will be like to travel the very short distance from life to death?

Try answering this question first:  “What happened when Jesus died?”  On that night, after a last meal with his disciples, Jesus told them not to be troubled; he was going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them.  Do we imagine Jesus like a ghostly hotel-keeper cleaning the rooms and making the beds in his heavenly Father’s house?  That’s not what Jesus means.  He does not get a place ready by what he does after death but by the way that he dies.

God’s Son will die in the place of others, taking on himself the punishment that they deserve for their hard-hearted stubbornness towards him and his Father and all the foolishness and wickedness that flows from that.  Going first to the cross, he will open the way to his Father for others.  Jesus doesn’t show them the way or tell them about the way.  The way to the Father is not a map or a set of directions, but a person.  Jesus says, “I am the way … no-one comes to the Father except through me.”

To move the Space Shuttle between different NASA sites they strapped it to the top of a 747.  If you want to go to the place where Jesus has gone then you need to be strapped to him: depending on his cross for your rescue, living with him as your boss. 

On the morning of Daphne’s operation she was reading Psalm 31 where David cries out, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD.”  Years later Jesus spoke those same words from the cross.  And they were in Daphne’s mind in the last week of her life because without arrogance she could say with confidence, “Where Jesus has gone, I – by his grace and kindness – will surely follow.”

Sincerely

Graham Burrows



Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The deep song of the universe


May 2018

In the last few weeks I’ve heard some great live singing: from a huge youth choir singing 8 parts a cappella, to the power of Les Misérables, to the singing of choir and congregation at our own Good Friday service.  Why is it that singing can be so enjoyable and powerful?

Singing is a glorification of speech, like the icing on the cake or the elegant clothes of the bride and groom.  We can just say words, or we can lift our voices and sing!

Singing speaks to us of the awe-inspiring creative power of the God who made the universe.  We enjoy good singing because our minds are built to appreciate his mind. 

Singing is an expression of our solidarity with others.  It’s no accident that the word ‘harmony’ describes a close relationship with other people and a pleasing relationship between notes.  It can’t be a good sign that, despite all the renewed interest in choirs, we generally don’t sing together in our culture.  It was recently suggested that song sheets could be handed out at Manchester United matches because today’s fans don’t sing!

Singing is also given to us so that we can speak to God.  As the Christian faith took root in our nation we began to build glorious church buildings and to fill them with wonderful music in praise of God.  Christians have always been known for their singing.  Do people from other religions sing?  Do atheists sing together?  (Genuine questions – do let me know the answer!)  Are you getting good at singing?  Are you learning to praise God with your voice? 

The Bible tells us that the destiny of the human race is to be a people who sing.  A vast crowd, people from every nation, supplemented by a great myriad of heaven’s creatures, all singing together the deep song of the universe, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!" (Revelation 5:13).  You do want to be part of that, don’t you?

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Thursday, 29 March 2018

A new theory of everything


April 2018

Imagine a world where it is possible to win the battle against weeds in the lawn and brambles in the hedge.

Imagine a world where buildings and bridges can go up that will never collapse, where planes don’t fall out of the sky, where plans succeed and crops are healthy; where work is never futile.

Imagine a world where governments always serve, where power is not abused, where the things that “must never happen again” never happen again.

Imagine a world where wrong-doing is never ignored, where those who destroy families or raid bank accounts or selfishly crush other people have nowhere to hide.

Imagine a world where my guilt for the things I have done can be brought into the open, faced, atoned for; where the mess I have made of my life can be untangled and re-worked like new.

Imagine a world where people never hear devastating news from doctors, where life does not become harder and harder as the years advance, where death is not an invincible enemy.

Of course it’s a fantasy world, isn’t it?  This is so far removed from life as we experience it now that we can hardly imagine such a world existing without a major overhaul; a complete strip-down of the universe with all the parts assembled differently, a world with a new theory of everything.

But what if there had been a time when just such a rearrangement of the universe had been seen?  What if there had been a man whose whole life work never once had the shadow of futility and despair fall across it?

Imagine if we lived in a world where, even just once, a dead man had lived again, with a new kind of body that would never weaken, age or die. 

Imagine the glimmer of solid hope that might be to us!

Happy Easter!

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Thursday, 1 March 2018

On the Map


March 2018

Denesh Divyanathan is from Singapore.  His mother was from a Chinese Taoist family.  His father was from an Indian Hindu family.  One day he asked his father about the stirring tales of gods and kings and heroes in the Hindu scriptures, “These are just myths aren’t they, these things didn’t actually happen?”  His father said that they were myths but that they would teach him how he must live.  In time, Denesh decided that he did not need myths in order to be able to work out how to live and he began to call himself an atheist.

Then he came to England to study economics and a friend persuaded him to come to church.  Finding everything in church boring he began to flip through the Bible in the pew and was very surprised.  He was struck not by the size of the Bible or its elegant language or its grand themes, but by the maps included at the back – maps of the ancient world, boundaries of nations and empires, locations of cities, rivers and recognisable coastlines and routes of the journeys made by Israelite ancestors, marching armies, Jesus and his disciples, and by the apostle Paul.  For the first time he realised that the Christian faith claims to be about real historical events taking place in real earthly locations.

That was just the beginning of a long journey from that moment of surprise to Denesh’s present conviction that the Christian faith stands because of the historical truth of the events in the Bible, both the Old Testament preparations for God’s sending of the Christ, and supremely the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Denesh Divyanathan is now the minister of a church back home in Singapore.  Like us here in our village church, he aims to proclaim these world-changing historical events believing that Christian faith stands or falls on this.  If you’re not sure whether the Bible is myth or history then come along.  Our church Bibles also have maps in them!  And we aim to warmly welcome all those who come through the doors of our church and to be ready to answer any question that you may have.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Friday, 2 February 2018

2018 CE

February 2018

Have you been writing 2017 and then correcting it to 2018 for the last few weeks? Eventually our brains accept that the counter has moved on one and we know for sure that we are in 2018.  But what are we counting?   2018 since what?  Well, of course, our calendar was designed to count the years since Jesus was born.  Before that, various systems were in use counting the years of a particular emperor or king until someone suggested that we should count from Christ’s birth.  A mistake of four or so years was made in the original calculation, and the idea took a few centuries to catch on, but now the whole world is able to work to this system (even if there are some local alternatives).  Ancient history is ‘Before Christ’ and more recent things are ‘Anno Domini’ (‘In the Year of the Lord’).

Of late, there has been an increasing reluctance to tie everything to Jesus in this way.  Is his birth the one event in history to measure all other dates against?  Is this insensitive to those who are not Christian believers?  But what other event in history would be acceptable as the world-wide marker of Year 1?  (Perhaps when we leave the EU we should restart our calendar and count years ‘Post Brexit’ but I doubt that the idea will be welcomed everywhere.)

And so, increasingly, the labels BC and AD are replaced with BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) as if we know what event our dates are based on but we don’t want to talk about it publicly.  As others have pointed out it’s ironic that CE could just as easily stand for ‘Christ’s Empire’.  For those with eyes to see, all those BCE and CE labels in museums and text books continue to speak about the world-shattering arrival of God’s Son as the all-conquering and just King over a new Empire.

The reign of this Royal Son “will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations” (Psalm 72).  Perhaps when we reach the year 20018 or 200018 no-one will care what letters we add because it will have become clear that no other ruler’s birth will ever be a candidate for the year from which to count all years.  

Happy 2018!

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Friday, 1 December 2017

Yule Reimagined

December 2017

It is said that Christians took over the old Yuletide festival and made it into Christmas.  Very likely they did, but can we agree that Christmas is better?

When you got to the shortest day of the year then it was worth celebrating that the days would now get longer and the warm summer sun would begin to return.  But when the one who created the sun and light itself - when The Light of the World comes into the world then it is really time to light candles and to string sparkling lights around our houses and streets.

When the stores of winter food began to shrink then it was worth having one good feast to mark the passing of mid-winter and the hope that planting and harvesting would not be too far away.  But when the one who can give the food that sustains people not just through one year but for eternity – when the Bread of Life comes into the world then it is really time to open a bottle or two, to spread a table with the best food that we can afford and to eat with joy.

When the dark days of winter were at their most oppressive then it seemed worthwhile to sacrifice animals as gifts to the gods who might control the seasons and the fertility of the earth.  But when the one who does not demand sacrifice but instead freely offers himself as a sacrifice to buy for us freedom from guilt – when the Gift of God comes into the world then it is really time to fill our houses with the sound of ripping wrapping paper and the cries of thanks for gifts given in love.

Do we think that it was wrong to take a winter festival and fill it with Christ?  Jesus Christ glorifies and transforms everything he touches; the world in the depths of its barren winter death sparkles with light and life as His birth is celebrated.

Happy Christ-mas!

Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Facing Reality

November 2017
“There is … a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build …”
So begins the well-known poem of ‘The Teacher’ in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes.  His words echo our experience of life – it’s certainly not all good but it’s not all bad either and if there were good times in the past then maybe there will be good times again in the future.  It’s all part of the rhythm of life and that’s OK.

But when you read the rest of his book you realise that that cannot be what 'The Teacher' meant.  He was deeply puzzled by the apparent pointlessness of life – it’s all a vapour, a fleeting mist, an enigma.  The ‘rhythm of life’ is not a comfort but something disturbing.  For each good thing that is done there is also an undoing, peace is replaced by war, beautiful buildings are torn down, strong relationships fall apart and life is overtaken by death.  ‘The Teacher’ longed for a better world where good things don’t come to an end.

And so he taught his hearers to hope for a day when the world would be different.  He prepared them to hear about a man whose life was not a fleeting mist because death would be unable to crush him; a man whose words would never be forgotten, whose accomplishments would never dim, whose just and righteous government cannot fail. 

Ecclesiastes is a book for our day.  We hope that all our busyness and fretting is accomplishing something important and yet we are troubled by reality.  What is the point of spending your life working hard if everything you achieve is temporary?  Exactly, says Jesus, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”  (Luke 9:24-25)

Sincerely

Graham Burrows