Letters from the Rector

Please see below the regular letters our Rector, Harry, writes to his congregation and the wider community.  We do hope you enjoy reading them!

Rector’s May 2020 Letter

 

In many ways in our culture we struggle to depend on God.  We are trained to be independent and self-sufficient and we like to be “self-made” to varying degrees… but God wants us to learn to trust Him and entrust ourselves to Him fully.

 

If we are going to grow in that direction we will do so in the school of prayer, not the “God bless…” formula prayer of childhood, but the gut wrenching prayer when all is not well, the prayer when we know we cannot fix things ourselves and cannot get by without God.

 

In Psalm 62 v8 David says: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”   Isn’t that the most marvellous advice “Pour out your heart to God!”

 

David knew to run to God when life was hard not run away from God… he also knew to pour his heart out before God.  But I well remember a young woman on a Christian Youth Camp, who found this verse so challenging.  Her response was “I can’t.” 

 

Perhaps many of us are like that; we want to keep what is going on in our hearts out of sight.  Because in that secret place we keep  our most precious hopes and dreams, our deepest fears, our heaviest burdens and disappointments, the things we are ashamed of, our darkest secrets, our angers and lusts.

 

But why would we not trust Him?  He gave His own Son for us; he loves us and thinks we are worth it!  And who do we think we are going to be shocking?  Not God! If we are frightened of pouring or hearts out perhaps that is because we are in some way afraid of God, or doubtful of His love? Or it could be simply our pride getting in the way?

 

We are completely known by God and yet loved dearly by Him.  To grow in that relationship, to go forward in your experience of Him take the route of pouring out your heart in prayer, to the One who knows you, loves you and is waiting to hear from you!

 

There are going to be some great opportunities for prayer within St Andrew’s – so please do take those opportunities up especially from Ascension Day (May 10th) to Pentecost (May 20th) as we join in the “Thy Kingdom Come” initiatives.

 

Very best wishes and blessings, Harry

 

Rector’s March 2020 Letter

 

I have two images for you we look ahead to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter day all rolled into one.

 

The 1st image is a painting.  There is a painting in Manchester City Art Gallery by the Victorian artist William Holman Hunt calledThe Shadow of Death.” His most famous work is called “The Light of the world” and depicts an adult Jesus knocking on the door of someone’s life to see if they will open up to Him. 

 

But I like “The Shadow of Death” even more.  It was painted between 1870-73, in oil on canvas, and shows a 13 year old Jesus stretching at the end of a day in the Carpenter’s shop. He is tired and looking forward to a rest and the setting sun makes his stretching shadow fall on the wall behind him and the shelf on the wall suggests the crossbar of the cross on which he would be nailed 20 years later.  His mother Mary looks up and is transfixed by the shadow.

 

The Blurb from the Gallery says: “Hunt combines everyday detail with religious symbolism to create a painting rich in suggestion and meaning.  An imaginary moment in the life of Christ contains symbolically His life and suffering.  The shadow of Christ's outstretched arms foretells his crucifixion.  The kneeling Virgin Mary opens a casket containing gifts from the Magi, recalling Christ's birth. To make the Biblical scenery as accurate as possible, Hunt travelled repeatedly to Jerusalem and took great pains to recreate exactly what he saw.  Some critics deplored the depiction of Christ as a working man, but the painting was immensely popular, and over 4,000 engravings of it were printed.”

 

So we remember that Jesus was born (in a sense) to die.  The focal point of the Mission (which he chose to accept) was his death on the Cross.

 

The 2nd image comes from a market, with people buying and selling, perhaps a transaction is taking place for something very valuable and as payment is received this word rings out – “Tetelestai.”  The word comes from the Greek verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, or to accomplish.” It’s a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. It’s the word you would use when you climb to the summit of Mt. Everest; it’s the word you use when you cross the finish line of your first marathon.

 

The word means more than just “I survived.” It means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”  But there’s more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.”

When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present and it will remain finished in the future.”

 

But what was finished?  What was he doing on the Cross?

 

To go back to the image of the market place Tetelestai was used in the first and second centuries in the sense of “fulfilling” or “paying” a debt and often appeared in receipts. “It is finished” or Tetelestai can be interpreted as saying “Paid in full.”

In that sense Jesus was making clear that his death had been accepted as a payment for all our rebellion and wrongdoing.  He said of himself that he had come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” So as someone has said: “Jesus died to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.”  As the old hymn puts it: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”

 

Hold on to those 2 images look at the most famous Bible verse in the English speaking world from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

 

The gift that Jesus died to purchase for us, the gift of forgiveness, freedom, and relationship with God now and for eternity – this gift - is something we have to receive, to take hold of by faith.

 

Even a little faith will make a great difference.  For example the tentative faith of the condemned criminal, hours from death, but aware that Jesus’ death was very different to his own in Luke’s Gospel (ch23: 39-43): “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  He only asks to be remembered, but Jesus says to him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

As we approach Easter, let me challenge you to receive with faith (however great or small) the reality of Jesus dying on the Cross for you.  Join us for our Palm Sunday Procession to St Andrew’s.  Join us in St Andrew’s on Easter Day.  Come on Wednesdays for Healing Prayer or just coffee and cake.

 

He who once died for us is now risen, ascended and glorified, more alive than ever, and holding out friendship to us.

 

Very best wishes and blessings, Harry

 

Rector’s December 2019 Letter

 

I wonder if you are a fan of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and of the transformation of the man who had become the miserable Ebenezer Scrooge?

 

I love these extracts:

 

“The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed Scrooge to a dismal, wretched, ruinous churchyard.  The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One.  Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and, following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, -- EBENEZER SCROOGE.”

 

“Am I that man who lay upon the bed? No, Spirit! O no, no! Spirit! hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this… Why show me this, if I am past all hope? Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life.”

 

“He was early at the office next morning. O, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.  And he did it. The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. Bob was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come in.”

 

"Hallo!" growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. "What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?"  "Now, I'll tell you what, I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore," Scrooge continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back -- "and therefore I am about to raise your salary!"

 

"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year!”

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him; but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”

I love that phrase “his own heart laughed” and it captures so well the experience we can have of knowing God’s love and living His way in the world.

 

Scrooge – who had become a byword for meanness and humbug and money grabbing – got a chance to re-evaluate his life and himself and he took it… he grabbed it with both hands and with his heart.

 

Well part of the good news of Christmas is that we can have a fresh start!  God sent His Son Jesus into this world to enable us to change, to give us second chances.  We only have one life here on earth, but in Jesus we see that God is the God of second chances whatever stage of life we find ourselves in.

I hope to see you over the Christmas Season and also welcome you at St Andrews in 2020.

 

Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year,

 

Harry

 

Rector’s April 2019 Letter

 

What comes to mind when you hear the words Easter?

 

Maybe lambs, chickens, rabbits, chocolate eggs, or hot cross buns… maybe flowers, and especially lilies?

 

To me, Easter is all about new life, forgiveness, love and hope.

And all these things are held out to us because of Jesus.

 

My challenge to you is ‘have you seen what he is holding out?’  We sometimes need help to see – I certainly did – but God is happy to help us.

 

I love the word “Reveal” its root is in the Latin and it means remove the veil or draw back the curtain.  Christianity rejoices in the fact that God reveals Himself to us because he wants human beings (his creatures) to know him and relate to him, so he reveals himself.

 

He reveals himself firstly by what is called “General Revelation” that is to say by the created world, the things we love to watch on nature programs; be it whales, polar bears and penguins, or lions and zebras and hippos, or golden eagles, puffins and humming birds; be it mountains or beaches, waterfalls or deserts, or trees or flowers of all kinds.

 

It is a natural human response on seeing such things to experience awe and wonder and to see as it were God’s fingerprints all over this world.  The same is true looking at human beings when we see love and tenderness, compassion and kindness, the desire for justice and self-giving and self-sacrifice.

 

This “General Revelation” may well lead someone to believe in a Creator God and to dismiss the suggestion that our universe is somehow a random unplanned affair. But it takes “Special Revelation” to come to know the Creator personally and to experience becoming his child, his son or daughter.

 

If you have ever climbed a mountain and had your breath taken away by the view, then you have experienced “General Revelation.”  When I lived in Aberystwyth I frequently climbed up Cadair Idris and stopped at various points, not just to catch my breath, but to take in the view in awe and wonder.

 

But all the Beauty in the world could not enable me to call God “Abba” Father, Daddy or Dad.  Without Jesus that would be impossible.

 

Jesus was born in the Bethlehem manger for me and for you.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth for me and for you.  Jesus lived a life that shows us what God is like.  His miracles and his teaching challenge our preconceptions and misconceptions.

 

Above all his death on the cross for us (in our place) and his resurrection for us, not only purchases our forgiveness but opens up the way for us to become God’s children.

 

We would love you to join us for our second Palm Sunday procession on April 14th at 3pm, meeting at The Tree.  You are also very welcome at our Last Supper Meal on Thursday April 18th in St Andrew’s (but do let Jan know if you are attending).  Above all it would be super to see you for our Celebration on the 21st April, Easter Day itself, at 9.30am in St Andrew’s.

 

Our desire at St Andrew’s is to be a Church where Christians from many different denominations and backgrounds can find a home, where Jesus is celebrated and known and loved, and where we grow in our faith.  We also want to be a place where anyone from the community of Box Hill can investigate faith for themselves and get to know Jesus for themselves.

  

Wishing you a very happy and blessed Easter!

Harry

 

Rector’s March 2019 Letter

 

Just after his baptism, and just before his public ministry began, fasted forty days and forty nights and battled his enemy the devil in the wilderness.  It is why we mark the period of Lent.

 

In his ministry Jesus cast out evil spirits whenever people asked him to help by doing so, and he always succeeded.  He said (John 10:10) of the devil: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (human beings like you and I) may have life, and have it to the full.”

 

The 1st temptation Luke records is that to turn stones into bread, but more importantly about where we look to be sustained in life.

 

But Jesus resisted food for 40 days and told the devil that “Man shall not live on bread alone – but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3 and it makes the point that the true source of life is not food but God.  We can be well fed, and in our part of the world many are, but spiritually dead or barely alive.

 

The 2nd temptation is to be bought by the devil… to give ourselves away in return for power and riches and influence.  It is I think well seen as where the devil reveals his hand or gives away his real desire, because he longs above all to be worshipped, to be like God and to have the Son of God kneel before him.

 

You may wonder how that applies to us?  Well I think it does anytime we let ourselves be bought or when we put ourselves in God’s place, when we enthrone ourselves and act as if only we matter, as if we are the arbiters of truth.

 

The 3rd temptation is to throw himself from the temple roof and let God save him.  There are many different views about this – was the devil simply seeking to kill Jesus, or to disqualify his mission by making him sin?  It seems to me that he is offering Jesus a shortcut – to allow him to say “I‘m a celebrity get me out of here!”  But he did not take it.

 

Sometimes we want a shortcut, an easy option, an avoidance of what we are called to do – but there are no easy options. 

 

What is at the heart of all these temptations is the attempt to undermine Jesus’ self-knowledge, to cast doubt on his link with the Father and the fact, the reality, that Jesus was (and is) indeed the Son of God.

 

The devil hates our being made in God’s image and hates even more the fact that we can become God’s children by adoption and grace – but we can.  As you read this I wonder do you know that reality for yourself? And if so do you hold on to it through thick and thin as your most precious possession?

 

If you would like a fresh start then a prayer many have found helpful goes like this:

 

“Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life.  (Take a few moments to ask His forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience.) Please forgive me, I now turn from everything which I know to be wrong.

 

Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free.  Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit. I now receive that gift.

 

Please come into my life by Your Spirit to be with me forever.

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Amen.”

 

The devil, the father of lies, comes only to steal, kill and destroy… Jesus comes to give us life, life to the full, abundant life. We would love to see you over Easter at St Andrew’s or St Mary’s.

 

Very best wishes and every blessing,

Harry

 

Rector’s February 2019 Letter

 

On February 10th we celebrated that St Andrew’s Church is 50 years young!

 

This is the heart of my message as we looked back at the good things that have happened and celebrated them, as well as recognising the less good things and apologised for them.  But above all I wanted to look forward and to do so with hope.

 

So, I wanted to think about the Prophet Isaiah & the Apostle Peter.

 

Isaiah in the Temple has a vision that is both really exciting and really terrifying.  He gets to see God… and there is this amazing singing that shakes the building… and there is all this smoke… but what is his reaction??  He is terrified.  In the presence of a holy God he knows that all is not well with him.  He does not fit in.  He is in danger.

 

Isaiah is terrified – but God meets his need – he wants to be made clean and so he is.  He thought he might have reached the last day of his life, but in fact it becomes the first day of the rest of his life.  God asks for a volunteer – and Isaiah says “Here I am. Send me!”  His life would never be the same again – in a good way!

 

Peter has been fishing all night… a good time to fish usually, especially with a light in the boat.  A bit like sardine fishermen.  But they had no luck, no fish and they are washing their nets before going home to bed when Jesus asks if he can borrow a boat.  He uses the boat as a floating pulpit and when he has finished says to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

 

Now this was not a good plan, now it was the wrong time of day, and now Peter was exhausted… you can hear it in his voice: “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught a thing. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  It was then that they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  They needed their partners in the other boat to come and help them, but even then both boats began to sink. 

 

And look at Simon Peter… he’s a bit like Isaiah.  He falls at Jesus’ knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 

 

We may find such terminology off-putting.  But words like selfish and uncaring, damaging and destructive, turned away from God and telling him where to go give some idea of what sin means.

 

It often makes me uncomfortable to look inside myself and consider my fallen-ness and brokenness.  It is not something we want to hear from others… but God can show us in a persuasive and gentle way.

 

Peter had already been impressed by Jesus healing his mother-in-law, but now he is shaken.  He is shaken to the core – he knows he is dealing with the divine, with the miracle maker… and in the presence of God he feels unworthy.  Peter says to Jesus “Go away from me” as he glimpses the divinity of Jesus because at the same time he realised his own sinfulness… but Jesus did not go away, instead he calls Peter to share life with him.  And that is what he calls us to do as well.

 

We are usually hungrier for God than we realise, but at some level we think he won’t want to know.  We of course know the worst things about ourselves and he does too so we assume we are not welcome.  If that describes you or if you are somehow holding Jesus at arms-length and only engaging with him in a limited way at a heart level, would you like a change?

 

You may need to glimpse more of the glory of Jesus, you may need to come to terms with your own brokenness.  But as Dallas Willard says: our “core (will, spirit and heart) is reshaped, only by engagement.”

 

We may fear that if we see more of the glory of Jesus we will be banished from his presence because of our sinfulness, but that was not Peter’s experience.  We may fear that if we honestly confront the darkness in us we will be disqualified, but that was not Peter’s experience.  Peter’s experience was to be fully known and yet fully loved. 

 

It is an experience no human being can perfectly give us, but it is one that Jesus holds out for real.  It did not mean Peter would not be rebuked and corrected, it did not mean an instant change of life, but Jesus’ love was never withdrawn. 

 

As Peter goes forward with Jesus and is formed into a disciple of Jesus we see him walk on water and see him declaring Jesus’ true identity – yet we also see him refusing a foot wash and denying that he knows Jesus at all.

 

I am a fan of Peter, because he gives me hope, and encouragement.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, he has a go and he is slowly changed.  In his first letter, written many years later, he compares the believer’s faith with gold, saying that it needs refining (like gold) often through trials, but also that it is more valuable than gold.

 

Faith is not a one off trusting… We see Peter’s faith growing, through all kinds of trials (and errors) triumphs (and disasters)… but I wonder how is ours doing – yours and mine? 

 

At St Andrew’s we are seeking to be those who are gradually more fully engaging with Jesus, who are being changed, and who day by day live more consciously in connection with the Kingdom of Heaven – the new reality that Peter and the others encountered.  There is much hope in that and you are very welcome to join us.

Very best wishes and blessings, Harry

 

Rector’s Summer 2018 Letter

 

I wonder has anyone prayed for you recently? Or do you ever wonder what to pray for someone else? Well Paul’s Prayer in Ephesians 3 is one of the best – and I have been praying it for you.

 

As I write this, it has nearly been a year since I was collated, inducted, installed… and so I suppose we are coming to the end of the beginning. From the Autumn I will be doing many things for the second time (rather than the first).

 

It has been a slow journey beginning to get to know people in the Benefice and particularly with three churches.  Inevitably at this stage I know some people better than others – and some of you know me better than others. 

 

But this is what I am praying – an awesome prayer from St Paul on behalf of the Christians in Ephesus. 

 

Paul says in v14 For this reason (the inclusion of the Gentiles) I bow my knees before the Father, (the Father who loves us to come to him in prayer and) 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  This is why I am praying says St Paul and I am focusing on the Fatherhood of God.

 

I know that for some that might be difficult – but human Fatherhood is predicated on God as Father. So even the orphan or most badly parented earthly child (who may hate their natural father) still has some conception of what a good father would be like.  And at the other end of the spectrum, at times, maybe not often, the best human fathers can give a tiny glimpse of what God the Father is actually like.

 

So what is Paul’s first request – and mine?

 

It is v16 that according to the riches of (God’s) glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 

 

When I was a student in the mid 1980’s I used a little booklet called “Knowing God Personally” to try and help explain Christianity to people.  We called it the KGP (which always sounded to me like KGB) – but it made a very good point that God does want us all to know Him personally. And that is what the Jesus dwelling in our hearts bit is about.  The Greek literally asks that he may be “at home” in our hearts and lives.

 

But do we make Jesus feel at home in our hearts – in fact, using that analogy, have we ever invited him in through the Person of the Holy Spirit?

Behold I stand at the door and knock says Jesus.

Paul continues to pray that we, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength… or power, to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (of the love of Christ).

 

This is something I also pray and the image here is of a plant coming out of the potting shed or greenhouse (having been rooted and grounded in the soil of love) and growing to full stature in the garden. 

 

Paul is talking here of our growing in understanding, grasping with our minds and growing in our appreciation of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ… and the description of the Cross shape is no accident.  I pray that you will know God loves you.

 

But it is not just an intellectual exercise.  It is also v19 to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (in other words to experience this love of God through the work of the Holy Spirit).

 

God wants us to have more than head knowledge about him; he wants us to have heart knowledge. He wants us to have experiential knowledge, real relationship that changes us, that brings hope and fulfilment.

 

The last part of the prayer is quite extraordinary.  It goes like this that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. That is an extraordinary aim – especially as most of us have had a mixed experience as human beings of feeling known and loved, valued and secure.  But as we dare to trust Jesus with our hearts change does happen and he always has more to give us.

 

Perhaps we think at times, Oh if I were a bit more loving, or kind, or patient, or more faithful… that would be good, but God says our ambitions are too small.  It seems that God wants us to develop towards become as loving as he is, as kind as he is, as patient as he is, as faithful as he is… you get the point.  And he believes in us.

 

Clearly this won’t all happen in a day or a week or a year… it will never be perfected in this life… but imagine what God could do in us… imagine if we were even 30% like Jesus?  I think that Paul was imagining at least that!  He adds that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine.

 

Looking forward to a great Autumn.

Very best wishes,

Harry