I Am the Gate for the Sheep

If the links don’t work for you, here is Nick’s video presentation I Am the Gate, Hosanna Rock, You’ll Never Walk Alone and the Craft template Sheep craft

Todays reading is John 10:1-10Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

A few years ago as a family we went to the Kew Gardens Christmas light display. We drove there in the dark and as we were going straight on to my parents in law for Christmas we had all our bags for a whole week packed and in the boot.

We had a lovely evening walking through Kew and the various light displays and when we returned with our children at about 8pm we discovered our car had been broken into and Sean and my overnight bag, Sean’s rucksack with iPad in and his washbag with electric toothbrush, electric razer etc had all been stolen and my irreplaceable collection of novelty Christmas earrings all gone! The back window of our car was smashed but the worst thing that happened that night was the security we felt as people was taken. It affected us and meant that it was hard to feel safe any longer as this thief had killed our sense of security in the world when he broke into our car.

This passage ends with the famous verses John 10:10Open Link in New Window about the thief coming to steal, kill and destroy and we experienced a little of this in our car break in.

In this passage, Jesus talks about how he is the gate. He is the one who keeps us safe and protects us from the thief.

We have a large Guinea Pig called David. I can’t tell you his full name for reasons of privacy but he is the most equivalent thing we have to represent this story that Jesus tells.

David has a run and when he is in his run he is very safe from the cat. Our cat is called Shadow and she doesn’t know what to make of Dave. He is too big to be a rodent she can eat but she still wants to chase him. So she sits outside his run and eyes him up, perhaps wondering what sauce is best served with Guinea Pig.

Dave is oblivious. He just eats dandelions and wanders around. We control his safety by checking that the gate is bolted to the run so that Shadow may not get in. If she does mange to get in it would have to be over the top but as our passage tells us anyone that climbs in some other way is a thief or a robber. The one who enters the pen by the gate is the shepherd or in this case person who owns the Pig.

We are compared to the silly creatures that live in the pen. Jesus keeps us safe because he is the door and we know his voice.
I wonder if we always do know his voice?

Do we sometimes listen to other voices and mistake them for Jesus?
Do we let the thief speak to us, the devil and warp our minds with his half truths and blatant lies that we don’t always see as clearly as others see, perhaps wrong things we believe about ourselves.

I often hear ladies who are educated and highly competent running themselves down and saying how they can’t do this or that, you have a piece of their delicious cake and they confidently tell you they aren’t good at baking…or perhaps they are in a role where a promotion is ahead and they are scared to apply because they have imposter syndrome, they think they’re only good enough for what they’re doing and their boss is confused why such a competent person should doubt why they can do the job they’re already doing so well with responsibility they already take….might as well be paid for what they’re doing…

Or perhaps you’re the man who believes you always need to do better, that you can’t serve God unless you do better or more. These are just two but there are a whole host of other lies that the enemy tells all with the same effect to steal, kill or destroy.

What lies is it the devil, the thief is telling you and you’re believing?

In our passage Jesus calls his sheep by name. Jesus knows each one of us by name and he knows all the things you are capable of. He is the only one who can shut the door because he is the door. He said in Isaiah 22:22Open Link in New Window and Revelation 3:7Open Link in New Window that he will open doors no man can shut. If Jesus is opening a door for you why not walk forward into it because he will help you. I often feel inadequate as a parent but I have 5 children and God has given them to me so he must have given me the resources to parent them well. If I can’t handle it I need to ask him for help. If things are particularly exciting in our home I will often say to God “Please help me to handle and love those children you gave me!”

Jesus says I am the gate. We will be saved when we pass through him. Dave is safe when he goes through the gate because we keep out the cat…but the cat still sits outside the cage planning her menu. Does it sometimes feel like the enemy, the devil does that with you? No matter how scary it is Jesus can keep us safe from this thief. The next verse is one that I have never noticed before vs 9 “They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” This is what I want for you today. I want you to be safe to come in and go out and find pasture. I want you to be happy, to feel safe and to go and find good things to help you to prosper and flourish. Dave likes dandelions and by putting him out in his run he is able to find and eat loads of dandelions safe away from the thief.

What would this look like for you? What is it the thief is trying to steal from you? Kill of yours and completely destroy?

Jesus said he came that we could have life in all it’s fullness. Take a long hard look at your life. Is THIS life in all it’s fullness? If not why not? What is it that the thief is stealing from you and how can get back through the gate where you are safe?

Jesus is the gate and when we walk through the gate, commit our lives to him he will protect us from the thief. But we often listen to the wrong voice and mistake the thief for Jesus. Jesus would never tell you that you were incompetent or ugly or stupid or not good enough. Jesus would tell you how to find the pasture and how much he loves you. Jesus came for us to have life in all it’s fullness and it is the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy.

Perhaps this week you can think about your life. What areas are you being stolen from? Where is the thief killing things in your life and where is there destruction?

Jesus came to bring life in all it’s fullness and it’s about time we the church started enjoying this a bit more and showing what it looks like to have life in all it’s fullness! If we don’t know then it’s time to learn. Jesus wants you to have it so he will show you the way.

Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus,
We thank you so much that you came to give us life in all it’s fullness. We repent now of the times when we let the enemy steal this from us. We give ourselves to you once again and I pray we can walk through the gate that you opened for us. Please protect us from the enemy and help us to recognise his lies, protect our hearts from where he tries to steal, kill and destroy in our lives and help us to be able to come in and go out, and find pasture.

Holy Spirit please came now and give us life in all it’s fullness once more.

Amen.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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I am the Light of the World

If the links don’t work for you, here is John’s video presentation Light of the World, Our Lighthouse and Glow.

Todays reading is John 8:12-20Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Good morning, it is good to be with you. Today we are continuing with our sermon series on the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus. Last week Ian spoke about Jesus words from John 6Open Link in New Window, ‘I am the bread of life’ and if you want to revisit that talk do go to our You Tube channel.

There is a very famous painting in St Paul’s cathedral entitled ‘the Light of the World’, painted by William Holman Hunt around 1904 which many of you will know and have seen. The picture depicts Jesus with a lantern knocking at a door which has not been open for a long time—it is overgrown with weeds and has rusty hinges. The lantern represents a person’s conscience, the door which opens from the inside is a person’s soul and Jesus’ halo represents Salvation. The words at the foot of the painting on the frame are from Revelation 3:20Open Link in New Window: ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’ This picture went on tour in the early part of the 20th Century and became the most travelled painting ever in the history of art. William Holman Hunt was a Christian and he said that felt that God had commanded him to paint it. It is described as a ‘sermon in a frame’ and has been seen by millions of people.

It might not be to everyone’s taste but I find it deeply evocative of the love and compassion of Jesus and I feel quite emotional when I look at it. Jesus’ face is open and inviting and it makes me want to join him.

Which leads us nicely to this week’s sermon title, Jesus words from John 8.12-20Open Link in New Window: ‘I am the light of the world’. In a sense William Holman Hunt’s picture says it all, but you may feel a bit cheated if I finish here!

To put today’s passage in context Jesus was teaching in the temple courts during the feast of Tabernacles. As part of this festival there was a great ceremony called the “Illumination of the Temple,” This involved the ritual lighting of four golden oil-fed lamps in the Court of Women. These lamps were about seventy-five feet high and lit the Temple at night to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had guided Israel in their wilderness journey. All night long the light shone and the holiest of men would dance until dawn beneath the light. It was said, the lights illuminated the entire city of Jerusalem. Commentators say it is likely that this was the backdrop to Jesus words ‘ I am the light of the world’.

He was in effect saying that you see all this light and brilliance well…it will be gone in the morning. However, I am a light that will never fade and whoever follows me will have that life of light forever. Last week when Ian talked about Jesus being the bread of life, he said Jesus was revealing his divinity. Likewise in this passage today, Jesus is revealing that he is God—it is only God who can give us eternal life.

Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 9:2Open Link in New Window and quoted in Matthew 4Open Link in New Window about a future saviour, the Messiah:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Jesus is the Messiah and he offers an invitation to anyone who will listen: Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. This is an open invitation—if you follow me I promise you eternal life.

But there is a choice, we can choose to accept the light of Christ or reject it.

If we accept Jesus offer and follow Him what does this mean? The Greek word for follow means a number of things, but is perhaps expressed well as a Master/Servant relationship, where the master goes, the servant goes. In the words of one commentator ‘To follow Christ is to give oneself, body, soul and spirit into the obedience of the Master’. This is not an onerous thing, it is a joy and through it our lives become transformed.

I am a Manchester United supporter and although I have not waivered since childhood, in reality, I am an armchair follower. I have a friend who is a Bristol Rovers supporter, they are not glamorous, lolloping around in the lower divisions, but come whatever he is at their football matches at home and where possible, away. He is a proper fan, he is dedicated and his reward is a sense of belonging to the Rovers tribe. As followers of Jesus we need to be like this—home or away in sunshine and rain we follow His every move.

And what are we leaving behind?—Jesus promises us that we are leaving the darkness behind. The darkness of death has been overcome by the Light of Jesus, what a great image that is. There is a lovely passage in Revelation where John describes the vision of a new city, a new Jerusalem that one day we will be part of:

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.

The city does not need the light of the sun, Jesus and God the Father are the light—the light of a new heaven and earth. It is an outstanding image.

But the darkness of this world, is also overcome by the light of Jesus. We only have to look at a newspaper or switch on a TV to see how dark the world can be. The news is invariably bad, because bad news sells airtime or newsprint. As Christians, however, even in these challenging and uncertain Covid ridden times we can have hope, that our lives are in Jesus hands. I find this gives me comfort and I hope it does you too.

It does not stop at Jesus being the light of the world, He says that we too are the light of the world.

In Matthew 5:14-16Open Link in New Window Jesus says this

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We can bring the light of Jesus and hope to others. When I read this passage I often imagine a disco ball. The light shines on the ball and the hundreds of tiny mirrors reflect all around. We become reflections of the love of Jesus and can bring light and life to others.

My prayer for each of us today is that we become dedicated followers of the Light of the World.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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I am the Bread of Life

If the links don’t work for you, here is the Rimmer family’s video presentation I am the Bread of Life, Awesome God and an upbeat song.

Todays reading is John 6:25-40Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Today we’re beginning a series of sermons on ‘Who is Jesus?’ and the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. We start with the first one, ‘I AM the bread of life.’

These statements show us that Jesus is somehow making God present. Jesus is speaking as God.

In the Old Testament God identifies himself as, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14Open Link in New Window). In these sayings Jesus is therefore also saying, “I also am the God who is ‘I AM WHO I AM’.

So we are saying at the start, in answer to that question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ that Jesus reveals his divinity in these statements in no uncertain terms. He leaves us no space for equivocation. His listeners at the time would have heard the connection with OT scriptures they knew so well, and would have to have thought about this amazing statement. So do we.

The verses today follow on from the miracle of Jesus’ compassionate feeding of five thousand hungry people with bread and fish. This is at the beginning of chapter 6 (John 6Open Link in New Window). So food is in the narrative.

I encourage you to read it all.

In the conversation we focus on today, Jesus reflects back the crowd’s questions with answers designed to help them think about the deeper issue at stake here. This is not about how he can gratify their immediate desires, for example providing another great meal, or impressing them with another dramatic miracle. It is about so much more. It goes much deeper.

What do the best teachers do? They help you to think and work it out yourself, so you can then own and understand things—yourself—not just because someone told you.

My son Nat has just gone through the interesting journey of ‘A’ level results. It took me back to thinking about my own, many years ago. I was particularly encouraged by one result—my history A Level. I have always loved history, and I used to learn the details of the periods I was studying really well. But right up to my mock exams, I consistently received poor marks for my essays. I filled them with facts and detail. But back they came, marked usually with a D grade or lower. Time and time again, my history teachers fed back to me the same thing—lots of good facts, but you’re not answering the question that’s being asked? You’re not seeing the point.

I was chucking back what I thought people wanted to hear to get an instant result. But I wasn’t stopping to think about the real question—and therefore the real answer. Information is there to lead our hearts and minds somewhere—not just to be re-processed in a mechanical fashion without thinking. This is how we learn and grow in wisdom and understanding. This is how we can then own for ourselves, meaning and purpose in life. This is when, ‘the penny drops’.

Thankfully there was a good ending to my history ‘A’ level. The penny dropped for me just in time.

The whole conversation in these verses, between Jesus and the people, is to help them move on from the surface way they are responding to him, so they can discover—for themselves, the reality of who he is—and therefore what this means for them. There is a build up to the great I AM words of this passage.

Firstly, when the crowds ask how Jesus got to the other side of the lake, he responds with a statement about their motive for looking for him. Are they still looking for more dramatic signs?

The whole point behind the miracle of the loaves and fishes was that it is meant to point them to the true food of life. So the patient teacher leads them onwards, by saying, ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life’—the true food—‘which the Son of Man will give you.’ Stop looking for signs and wonders. Look beyond this. Look for food which will nourish you for more than just a few hours, food which will fill you for all eternity. Look deeper…

Then they ask him, ‘What must we do to do the works of God?’ Jesus simply responds, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’to believe in the Son of Man (another name for Jesus) who will give you this nourishment.

This is a key moment. Will the penny drop? Will they look deeper into the question, or will they still skate superficially around it, and lose out on the ‘Eureka’ moment of discovery?

It leads to another question from the people. What follows is a little disappointing—but so true to our human nature. They ask Jesus, ‘What miraculous sign can you give—so that we can believe you?’

And they have the nerve to quote OT scriptures back to Jesus, about Moses providing Manna from heaven to feed the people of Israel in the wilderness. Yet again, the reaction is superficial and one way.
What can you do—for me? What sign can you give—to me? What food can you provide—for me? What political benefit can you bring—for me? Then I might…do something in return.

What God requires is this, said Jesus, ‘to believe in (to have faith in) the one he has sent.’

We live so much of our lives, desperately trying to remain in control of everything and everyone. But we can’t. It’s such a struggle—and it’s exhausting!

So the patient, gentle, gracious teacher leads us on again, saying, ‘Don’t fixate on Moses. It’s not him who provided bread from heaven.

The bread of God is all about the one who comes from heaven and gives us LIFE—life free from worry; life free from needing to be in control; life free from seeking fleeting pleasures that leave us empty all over again; life free from endless guilt; life which gives you and me purpose and meaning; life which nourishes us every day; life which infects and affects and could, literally, feed the world if we shared this heavenly gift with those around us.

When the crowd finally get the point, when the penny drops, they ask, ‘From now on, give us this bread.’

And Jesus then fully reveals. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

I have sometimes heard people use the phrase, ‘Let go—and let God.’ Let go of all your stuff, of trying to be in control—and let the God of grace and love into your life. Be nourished by him.

Is that you today? Whether you’ve been a church member for many years, or whether you are still working out the questions of life and faith, can I invite you today, now, to ‘let go, and let Jesus in, Jesus who will love you, nourish you and fill you.

And I end with a call and a challenge to our church of St Matthews Bristol. I am thankful for so much good and loving service which goes on day by day in our communities. But there are still too many men, women and children in the streets of our city who literally go without bread. Let’s open our lives freshly the one God has sent, Jesus Christ. Be moved by His Holy Spirit, to share his love and compassion for the world, and seek new ways which make a practical difference, and help nourish this city with the Jesus, the bread of life.

Rev Ian Tomkins.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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How We Truly Love

If the links don’t work for you, here is Sean’s video presentation Breakfast with Jesus and Deep Cries Out.

Todays reading is 1 Kings 8:54-61Open Link in New Window.

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Our season about fruitfulness on the frontline has now ended and this talk nestles in between Fruitfulness and the “I am” sayings of Jesus. How can this fruitfulness be taken into the rest of our lives and how can we live from here on? What is important?

Picture the scene…a beautiful bride walks down the aisle towards her smiling husband…suddenly in her mind she is assailed by thoughts and premonitions of her life to come. She sees their married life flash before her eyes, the joys and the sorrows and finally their last few years as he contracts a degenerative disease and dies. With this information in her mind she reaches the front of the church. What should she do? Will she continue with the service or will she turn around and walk back down the aisle leaving the poor man alone?

In our reading we see Solomon praying some amazing prayers for the people. The particular verse that struck me was this:

v61 “And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

And that is the prayer I am praying over you today as we begin.

As I spoke of the bride earlier I was thinking of us and our walk with the Lord. Fortunately this is not something that will ever happen to us nor a choice we have to make. We have to make all sorts of decisions where we have to trust the Lord will take us through these things and that the Lord would help us. So often we would perhaps think twice or pull back if we knew what was coming to us but often after the event you look back and realise it was not as bad as it could have been or that you might have anticipated it to be. And so for this bride. The bride is me I suppose, stepping into the Lord’s plan, not knowing what’s ahead but as we do we pray May our hearts be fully committed to the Lord and the person who is stepping forward into the Lord’s plan needs to have a heart that is fully committed to the Lord.

We get hearts that are fully committed to the Lord by trying to put him first in everything, by trying to spend the first part of our day with him or whenever is most convenient but I always find if I don’t spend time with him at the beginning of the day then the rest of the day is gone before I know it and it’s a day we haven’t prayed for.

It’s the time we grab a notebook and a pen and a bible and we can also just sit quiet and listen to see if the Lord puts anything on our hearts. I think prophecy is sometimes puffed up a bit, if we try we can all hear the Lord, whether it’s just a little nudge to go and kiss your son and then discover it’s 10pm and he’s on his iPad or to text your nephew who may be going through a hard time but that you on discovered that after you texted. That could be the Lord prompting.

I love to spend time with him on retreat. I like to go away for a day or overnight and pray and rest and reset. If you don’t have the luxury of a whole day perhaps you could try a few hours on Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon, even if you put the kids in front of a film so you can try and seek God.

What is God saying to me for my life for those around me? What is God saying to this community and congregation? How can we reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ at this time? That’s the first step for being whole hearted is to put the Lord first and put his will above our own. I could think of 50 excuses not to spend time with him or I could even say that I am always with him but actually nothing beats physically sitting down before him and speaking and listening to him and ask him once again to fill you with his Holy Spirit.

Why should I be wholehearted?

Why would I want to put everything with the Lord?
We don’t know what the future has for us. The future has become very uncertain and more now than before. If we are wholehearted for God we can put down our plans and trust his plans for us. Our plans are in his hands. We can step confidently our of the boat and know that he will lift the water up to support us. If we are wholehearted for the |Lord we can step forward without anxiety. The Bible tells us so many times do not worry about anything but so often we worry about everything. Shall I pick the cauliflower or the broccoli? Oh no I might pick the wrong one…don’t worry about it. Broccoli is clearly the best. It’s Ok we don’t need to worry about it.

Why should we be wholehearted? Because the Lord loves us.

Why should we be wholehearted? He will show us what is best for us. If we follow his plans we will be in the best safest place that we can be. We can experience the joy,love and peace that he offers us.

Why should we be wholehearted? Because he is worthy.

Why should we be wholehearted? Because he is gracious and loving and merciful and just and who wouldn’t want to be wholehearted for someone like that?

How do we live wholehearted lives?

Love

The first thing is love. If you feel like you’re lacking in love at the moment, ask God to give you love for those people around you, to give you love for the planet, to give you love for people you struggle to like. Ask God to give you an overflowing heart of love for other people and out of this can come two other things:

Living

if the way you live your life flows out of an overflowing heart of love then you will be living a wholehearted life for God.

Giving

Giving is really important. What we do with out time, our money, our attention is key. We have only one life to live so it’s really important we use the resources we have for the good of the world, for God. They’re all his resources in the first place so we can use them for his glory.

If you’re thinking “I don’t give where do I start?” I would start by giving to church and trusting us to use your money for good and what we feel God is calling us to do with it.

Pray about how much you can give. I would recommend that you always give just a teeny bit more than you think you can afford because God is going to look after you just as much as he’s going to look after anyone else. So why not be generous?

But not just giving of your money, where your treasure is there will be your heart also the Bible tells us but also giving your time and your attention. How often do we give people time but we hold back our attention? I might be physically sitting with them but am I playing on my phone, answering emails rather than listening to what they have to say?

How do we be present in the room with a person?

These things lead to us being wholehearted but the most important thing is that we pray for God’s spirit to empower us, to give us everything we need so we can give, we can live and we can love God.

Being wholehearted is about God’s heart in us.

Lord Jesus,

Please fill us once again today with your spirit and fill the holes in our hearts so we can love you and others. I pray for us today.

“And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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