Thursday, 17 April 2014

A new commandment

Today is Maundy Thursday a day in which Christians remember Jesus sharing the Last Supper with his friends on the night before he died on the cross on Good Friday. The word “Maundy” is derived from the first words of a traditional Latin anthem “Mandatum novum do vobis” or in English “A new commandment I give to you”. These words come from John’s Gospel where Jesus is recorded as saying at the Last Supper:

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
John 13: 34 – 35

John records Jesus saying these words after Jesus has knelt at the feet of the disciples and washed their feet. This is an act they clearly are embarrassed about. A servant would kneel before someone and wash their feet. But now the disciples find their Rabbi, their Master, carrying out this menial task.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
John 13: 12 – 16

The command by Jesus that his followers should love one another and the requirement that his followers should have a heart for servant ministry, are very challenging. And if we are being honest most Christians would acknowledge that we fall short of obeying the command all the time and certainly fall short of having a heart for being a servant.

Over the last week or so David Cameron has talked on a couple of occasions about his Christian faith. Alistair Campbell, the arch spin doctor for Tony Blair’s government once said that “We don’t do God” when the press asked if they could talk to Tony Blair about his faith. For the first 3 years or so of his time as Prime Minister David Cameron also chose not to do God either. However, this seems to have changed.

I feel it is refreshing that such a public figure is wiling to talk about their faith in public. And clearly from the various reports in the press David Cameron drew comfort from the church before and after the death of his young son.

In an article in the Church Times of 17th April David Cameron explores what he means by being a Christian and how he feels this country is a Christian country.

I have to say that my reading of the article is more about why David Cameron is a member of the Church of England than why he is a Christian. And the two don’t necessarily go together. Just as being a Methodist doesn’t mean you are necessarily a Christian.
In the Church Times article David Cameron says that the key Christian values are:

“responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love”

I find this definition interesting. I certainly recognise the last four as being marks of being a follower of Jesus. And I suppose “responsibility” is part of this. After all if we are to conider who our neighbours are. Again as Jesus commanded, then we need to have responsibility to them. But the “hard work” has more to do with church doctrine (“the Protestant work ethic”) than Christ’s teachings.

That said, a Tory of an earlier age, who was also a member of the Church of England did once say that as Christians we should:

“Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can” John Wesley.

I suspect Mr. Cameron (like Margaret Thatcher before him) would relate to that. But the quote is taken from John Wesley’s sermon “The right use of money”. And in the sermon Wesley clearly makes the point that money must be earned legitimately and not exploitatively. And that money should be used for the good of all. It’s not as simple as earning wedge of cash and doing what you like with it.

“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

― John Wesley

That self same Church of England priest also once said:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

I am genuinely pleased that Mr. Cameron wishes to talk about his faith. And I am pleased that he is talking about faith during Holy Week.

But please Mr. Cameron, can I urge you to get a complete copy of the Bible. I’ll happily send you one if you like. The Authorised Tory version seems to miss out crucial parts relating to the rich and the poor.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The following is an abridged version of a sermon preached on Palm Sunday 2014. It draws on Borg & Crossan's book "The last week"

One spring day in the year 30 – or there abouts – two processions entered the city of Jerusalem. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week in the Jewish year.

One procession was made up of peasants and the other was a Roman imperial procession. From the east the procession was led by a Galilean called Jesus who rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives. He was cheered on by his followers who waved palm branches and laid their cloaks on the road way.

From the west, on the opposite side of the city, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the territory that included Idumea, Judea and Samaria, enetered at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.

So begins the opening chapter of an excellent book of the American theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan called “The Last Week” .

The book is a commentary on the Bible passages covering Holy Week but it is also gives a lot of the history and culture of the time to put the Bible passages into context.

Now you may think the bit about the Imperial processions entering Jerusalem is made up. Well it is made up in the sense that we have no way of knowing whether Jesus’ procession and Pilate’s procession arrived in the city at the same time. That is a bit of dramatic licence by the writers. However, historically they are accurate in saying that the Romans would have enetered Jerusalem in this way.

As I’ve already said, Passover week was hugely significant for Jewish people. And consequently Jerusalem – their Holy City – became packed. It is estimated that at the time of Jesus Jerusalem probably had a population of around 40,000. During Passover perhaps another 200,000 pilgrims would come to the city. With this many people the Romans would take no chances of rebellion springing up. Therefore, the Roman garrison in Jerusalem – Fort Antonia overlooking the temple complex - would be reinforced for the duration of Passover. Hence the procession.

The procession on the eastern side of the city was very different of course. Headed as it was by someone riding a donkey and without any troops.

The king riding the donkey will be a king of peace.

Pilate’s procession embodied the power, the glory and the violence of the Roman Empire. Jesus’ procession embodied and alternative vision – the kingdom of God. This contrast between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar is central to the story of the Jesus and early Christianity. And, as we’ll see later, is central today as well.

It is worth remembering that Jerusalem wasn’t just any city. It symbolised so much.

At its heart was the temple. Originally founded by King David and his son Solomon. The temple was regarded as God’s dwelling place on earth. And whilst Jews believed God was everywhere, God was especially present in the temple. To be in the temple was to be in God’s presence.

But if the temple represented God and also his forgiveness – for people went there to be forgiven by God – it also had come to represent, by the time of Jesus, something else. The temple represented what could be called “the domination system”. For the political classes in Jewish society were associated with the temple and what it represented

Political oppression – a powerful and wealthy elite ruled the land and were closely linked to the temple

Economic exploitation – a high percentage of the society’s wealth coming mainly from taxes and tithes of peasant farmers – went to the temple and those associated with it

And this was all under pinned by the religious leaders and laws they had made. In other words it represented Religious Oppression.

In entering Jerusalem Jesus is on a collision course with the authorities – the Roman authorities, the Jewish authorities.

Matthew tells us

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ Matthew 21:10

Some translations render this as “the whole city was in turmoil” but Matthew used the Greek word “Seio” literally “to shake to and fro”. It’s the root of our word “Seismic”. And that’s how we need to think of this. Jesus’ procession was shaking things up. What Jesus was talking about was threatening to shake up the authorities. What Jesus was doing was seismic.

It is seismic because Jesus is proclaiming God’s kingdom. A kingdom of justice and joy and peace. God’s Kingdom now and hereafter.

Jesus knows of course that by the end of the week he will be arrested and will be crucified. His followers will see this as a failure. We, with 2,000 years of hindsight know that it was anything but for Jesus in dying conquered death for us and gave us salvation from our sins. Those are hallmarks of the Kingdom of God.

But we have still failed to grasp what the Kingdom of God can be like in the here and now - a place of justice. A place of peace and a place of joy.

Jesus’ challenge to his followers was then and is now is to bring in that Kingdom. But what do we see? We still see the domination systems that applied in Jerusalem applying today.

All around the world the domination systems that promote Political Oppression and Economic Exploitation and Religious Oppression hold sway. And sadly at times God’s people have colluded with that. For many hundreds of years parts of the body of Christ, the Church, have operated domination systems through church taxes, through inequality and so on. But this is not the way of Christ.
Lest we be too critical of the powers in Jerusalem, ask yourself this question: What city even today would not be shaken by Jesus' entry into it?

Imagine Jesus entering London or Moscow or Washington or Beijing. I'm sure we'd welcome him with our hosannas - at first, anyway. We'd line the streets and strike up the band and have a grand parade right down Main Street. But I'm equally sure that, by the end of the week, we'd have him nailed to a cross, too. Why? Because the Kingdom Jesus came to establish still threatens the kingdoms of this world - your kingdom and mine - the kingdoms where greed, power, and lust rule instead of grace, mercy, and peace.

And if truth be told who among us really wants to surrender our lives to that Kingdom and that King?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Dennis Skinner made the quip in the House of Commons the other day (referring to Maria Miller) “How do we solve a problem like Maria?” Today she solved it herself (in part anyway) by resigning from the cabinet.

I’m not going over the background to the story here. There has been enough coverage about it for the last week. I just wish to make some observations.

Who guards the guards?

I was the first boy in my school to fail “O” level Latin. (Not quite as dramatic as it seems. We were the first year to sit it and there were only two boys in the class.) So my grasp of Latin is limited. But I do remember the quotation Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Which is usually translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?" Also sometimes rendered as "Who watches the watchmen?"

In modern usage, it is frequently associated with the problem of political corruption. And the Maria Miller case is a case in point. The independent Parliamentary Commissioner for standards found that she had over claimed her expenses by £45,000 and ordered her to repay it all. However, a committee of MPs rejected the independent findings and instead ordered her to repay a much smaller amount and issue and apology. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It’s no good MPs claiming that they are ultimately held to account every five years by the electorate. They need a body to see oversee standards all the time. MPs claim to be professionals but unlike lawyers, doctors and nurses (for example) they do not have an independent professional body to discipline them.

The press can claim some credit for holding MPs to account. So there is some risk that any changes to press freedom could stop the press' ability to challenge. That said, the press cannot criticise MPs policing themselves when that is what the press wants to do to itself.


I don’t know of any other job that allows employees to claim expenses like MPs. Yes apparently things have tightened up since the days of Duck Houses and moat cleaning. But to be allowed to claim mortgage payments on a home beggars belief. Other people have to pay their mortgages out of their own pocket. Their employers don’t pay the mortgage for them!

Yes, MPs are in the odd position of needing to have a base in London and a base in (or near) their constituencies. But it would be easy enough to solve the London problem. Each MP would be offered a standard flat to stay in during the time they are in London. And they then buy – from their own pocket - a house in the constituency.

It’s not difficult.


In the job I had immediately before becoming a Methodist minister, I managed a benefit fraud investigation team. A frequent defence of those caught wrongly claiming benefit was “it was a mistake. I’ll pay it back and I won’t do it again”. This didn’t wash with us. We always prosecuted or, for smaller amounts (usually less than £750) they’d either be formally cautioned by the police or made to pay the money back under what was termed an Administrative Penalty. In other words all the money had to be repaid with interest.

Clearly, MPs were satisfied with the “It was a mistake and I’ll pay it back” defence of Maria Miller. None of us know whether there are enough grounds to prosecute Maria Miller. But if there is evidence then it should be tested in the courts. Why should an MP be held to a different standard to a benefit fraudster?


Like so many of the MPs expenses stories over the last few years, it appears to me that this episode boils down purely to greed. And it is greed and the love of money that is making our society become rotten to the core. Some may question my qualification “become”. I do not think all of society is rotten. But greed – whether the person fiddling their benefit claim, or their taxes or their expenses – seems to cause so much unrest.

We are just about to enter Holy Week. A time of year when Christians recall the last week of Jesus’ earthly life prior to the crucifixion.

I’ve just finished reading an excellent book by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan “The last week – what the Gospels really teach about Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem”. And one of the points they make is that Jesus enetered Jerusalem on a collision course with the Roman and Jewish Temple authorities. His whole ministry was based upon challenging injustice and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. (During the last week Jesus made an attack on the corrupt practices operating in the Temple via the money changers for example.)

The authorities did not like Jesus’ message and had Jesus executed. That is the theme of the book. (I would argue there is more to it than that. But nevertheless that is part of it.)

2,000 years on it is right that the message of justice is still preached and that those of us with a conscience (whether formed by Christian belief or other beliefs) should challenge injustice. From the top to the bottom of society.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Flog it!

Those of you of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now, for "this blog contains matters of a sexual nature that some readers may find disturbing" as the TV continuity announcers say.

The Independent newspaper carried a story today about a young woman called Elizabeth Raine (apparently not her real name) who is going to auction her virginity.

According to the story Ms Raine, a medical student in America, is doing this for “money, the adventure, the eroticism, the scandal, the absurdity”. But apparently she plans to donate 35% of the winning bid to a charity bringing education to women in developing countries.

Now I suppose it is entirely up to Miss Raine to do with her body whatever she wants. But I cannot help but reflect on the irony of how, in effect, she is prostituting herself in order to educate women in developing countries. These would be the women who in many developing countries are often treated as chattels themselves or at least as second class citizens. Miss Raines seems to be saying "Don't do as I do, do as I tell you"

(By the way, apparently the auction is due to start on 1st April and I wonder whether there is some connection?)

This coming Sunday (23rd March) the Gospel reading from the Lectionary is John 4: 5 - 42. It tells of Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well.

Jews, notes John, do not associate with Samaritans. And later in the story it is suggested that this was also a woman of questionable morals.

And yet Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

As they talk something real begins to happen in this woman’s life. As they talk a transformation starts.

As I said a moment ago there is a suggestion that the woman has a somewhat chequered history. Jesus says to her to go and tell her husband what they have been talking about and she replies

‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.

And usually this is interpreatted as meaning she has slept with five men and is now living in sin as it were with a sixth.
However, I should point out that this can be interpreted in a different way. The fact that the woman has had five husbands and is now with a sixth man may suggest a scarlet woman. But it is very possible that the woman was subject to what is termed Levirate marriage – which was a tradition in some parts of Judaism.

Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband's brother. A levirate marriage is mandated by Deuteronomy 25:5-6 of the Hebrew Bible and obliges a brother to marry the widow of his childless deceased brother, with the firstborn child being treated as that of the deceased brother.

The passage suggests that the woman realises her need for forgiveness – no matter what the sin is.

The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

And later

She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?’
The woman wants forgiveness for whatever reason and she is clearly given forgiveness by Jesus. Jesus’ grace forgives her no matter what she may – or may not – have done. This really is an example of “Hear then the words of grace ‘your sins are forgiven’”

Forgiveness through grace comes about following repentance.

In the newspaper article Miss Raine says that:

“I have never been very religious. This probably explains in part why I am able to do this without moral objection”
“I am not devoid of a moral code though, as some might like you to believe. I have just formed my own code - one I like to believe is founded on a world education and human emotion.”

As I said a moment ago I accept that it is up to Miss Raine what she does. I am not judging her - just as Jesus did not judge the woman at the well. But there may come a time in the future when Miss Raine regrets what she has done and may well feel guilty about it. If so, I hope that she will then find the moral code of Jesus that provides forgiveness and healing.

Friday, 14 March 2014

There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens

On 6th January this year I conducted the marriage of Hayley and Will Tsang. The wedding had come about through the generosity of the people of Swindon and because Hayley wanted the marriage to take quickly to enable her father, Gary Savory, to be there to walk her down the aisle. Gary was suffering from terminal cancer.

Sadly, on 1st March, Gary died at home and I was hugely honoured when the family asked me to conduct the funeral.

The local press had been following the story since the wedding and they were at the funeral - with the family's permission - yesterday. You can see the report here.

Inevitably the newspaper report doesn't really capture what I said at the funeral so I'm sharing an abridged version, in the hope that people will be able to take comfort from my words:

Outside the window of my office are some bushes. What kind of bushes they are I can’t tell you, as we’ve only been in the house about 3 weeks. But in that three weeks I’ve noticed a change come about. In the middle of February they had a dead look of winter but now – following the sunshine of last weekend - they are starting to come in to leaf. It is almost as if the bushes need to be greeted by warm sunshine to enable them to grow.

Love is to a child what sunshine is to a flower. The experience of being loved as a child gives us something that no amount of money can buy. Love gives us a warm feeling about life. The love of parents and the love within a family enables us to feel good about ourselves and for us to grow – physically and emotionally.

God is love and God entrusted the important task of passing on love through our parents. It is from them that we got our first and most important experience of love. Parents don’t have to be clever, or talented or rich. All they need is a warm heart.

(At this point I shared Gary's life story with the congregation.)

I suppose all of us here today must be thinking “It’s not fair that Gary died at 53”. I’d include myself in this. It isn’t fair. And it is a question Christians constantly try to find an answer to. How can God who loves us allow suffering? There is no answer. It is one of life’s mysteries.

Earlier I read a passage of scripture from an ancient part of the Bible called Ecclesiastes. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 - 8) You may know the words if you’re familiar with 1960s pop music, as The Byrds had a hit single called “Turn turn turn” which used these words.

The Bible passage is a poem really and what the poet was trying to get over was the message that although we may not understand it at the time, things happen at the right time and for a purpose. This can be hard for us to accept – especially when we are gathered for the funeral of someone we knew and loved.

And yet Hayley, in the words she asked me to read on behalf of the family, hit upon something

Dad when you came back in our lives, it felt you hadn’t ever been away, it was meant to be, you made us complete. I know you never wanted to leave us again, it doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t seem fair. I’m so grateful for the years we had with you. You’re no longer in pain and now at peace,

The time was right for Gary to come back into the family and for the family to be complete again. It isn’t fair that Gary developed cancer and it isn’t fair that he died at 53 he died before his time we may think. But death came at the right time to free Gary from his pain and suffering.

What Gary has taken with him, from this life into eternal life, is the knowledge of the love that surrounded him. The love of his family, but also the love of all of you here today. But most of all I believe that in death Gary would have known the greatest love of all – the love of Jesus Christ. A love that promised that those who believe have nothing to be afraid of in death for they have the promise of eternal life in heaven.

God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. 1 John 4:16

God bless you Gary. Amen.

Photograph from Swindon Advertiser

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The long goodbye

Someone who reads this blog regularly, recently commented that I'd not posted anything for five weeks. That's true but I have been a bit distracted. In fact I've been a bit distracted for the last 6 months or more.

To recap. Last summer I spent 6 weeks in Mooresville North Carolina as part of an exchange. (If you've been following this blog, you'll know all about that.) It was a very transformative experience. We made some friendships that will be lifelong. I learned so much and we had a wonderful time. And I was tempted to explore being a minister in the USA.

At the time of the exchange I had been in Swindon for six years. I went to Mooresville feeling tired and if I am honest feeling somewhat jaded. The love and care people at Fairview showed me (and my family) was restorative. I came back from the exchange feeling refreshed and reenergised and with a sense of “What does God have for me next?” I was not expecting this and I have felt blessed by the exchange.

But I also went to Mooresville knowing that the Chairman of District was asking me to move from Swindon early (I was due to be there until 2015) to take up a difficult vacant appointment elsewhere in the District.

On returning from the exchange (in late August 2013) I had a meeting with the Chairman of District and a couple of colleagues about the move and I visited Chippenham. It felt right and God was in the move. So I agreed to move.

But this was only the start. Because I had to break the news to friends at my three churches. I was surprised how hard they took the news. I suppose I had no idea how much they cared for me and valued my ministry. There was a lot of anger - though none of it directed towards me but at the system that allowed this to happen.

So we prepared for the move to Chippenham. And the process of saying goodbye began. And also the round of "Lasts" - Last school assembly, last school governors meeting etc etc. Christmas was hard as I entered the round of last Carol services. And all the while I felt I was not being true to the people in Swindon as I started to think about Chippenham.

And then the time to say final goodbyes to the churches arrived. With the big final goodbye being a joint service for all three churches. This turned out to be hugely special. There was a very good representation from each of the three churches (a combined congregation of around 140.) The service included a baptism of an 8 year old boy who has been attending St Andrews with his mum, for some time. And communion.

It was communion that was so special as virtually everyone in the congregation came forward. And as they received, so many memories came back about the connections I'd made with these people.

And now I'm in Chippenham and the next adventure begins. Watch this space

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gone Fishing

When I was about 8, the latest craze amongst me and my friends was fishing. And one day I came home from school to find that my mum had bought me a small 5 foot fishing rod from Woolworths. I can see it now. It was white fibreglass and came with a green reel. The next day I went with my friend Rob to the old canal running through the village to fish. Rob was an expert fisherman - he’d had his rod for about 2 weeks. And he told me what to do.

Unfortunately what he didn’t tell me to do was to check around you to look for obstacles. So I cast my line and it promptly caught in an overhanging tree! It must have taken us about half an hour to get it untangled by which time we had to be home.
Not the best start to a new hobby. And to be honest it didn’t get any better – especially as I didn’t like maggots!

I was put off fishing from an early age. But what I understand now is that fishing is not as easy as it looks. And if trying to fish for some probably non-existent fish in a South Wales canal isn’t easy then it is nothing like the challenge Jesus sets us when he says to us

"Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,"
Matthew 4:19

We can hear those words of Jesus and think “Fishing’s not for me.” We hear those words and can think fishing is for other people. We’re not called to go fishing. But actually we’re all called to go fishing. It mightn’t be our favourite thing to do but Jesus calls us all to tell the Good News. Jesus calls us all to be fishers of people. “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of people”

So why is there a reluctance to go fishing? Perhaps because we tried it once and didn’t like it? Or perhaps because we tried it and weren’t very good at it? Or perhaps because we just don’t know where to start.

Samuel G. Candler, in his book “Follow Me and I Will Make You Go Fishing” writes:

“Fishing takes practice, preparation, discipline. One must learn how to best throw the net, how to make the mouth of the net come open too. I can throw the actual cast net a long way, but I can't always make the net come open so that it will actually form a circle around the fish. One must learn how to cast the line on a rod. Again, some folks can cast a long way, but their accuracy is awful. There may be fish on the right, but they know only how to cast the line to the left. There may be fish on the left, but they keep casting to the right. Casting, like discipleship, is an acquired habit. It rewards practice.”

Going back to my illustration. As a kid I thought all fishing needed was getting a rod and that was it. Well it wasn’t. I didn’t know how to cast. I didn’t know how to put a float on the line. I knew nothing about hooks or bait. Had I been shown, had someone explained to me what to do, had I been prepared, had I kept at it, then the results would have been different.

Remember, Jesus said to the disciples “I will make you fishers of men” And what he meant was that he would “make them into fishers of men”. He would teach them what to do. He would show them what to do. He would turn them into evangelists.

If we are to go fishing for people, if we are to tell people about Jesus Christ, we need some preparation. And the preparation needed depends on the scale of fishing you intend to do. Obviously if you’re going fishing on an industrial scale – for example the successful Messy Church project that’s happening here in Swindon’s Old Town or being a witness of Christ’s love as a Street Pastor – then more preparation is needed.

But if you’re just going to go fishing locally as it were, perhaps by deciding to talk to a friend or neighbour about Jesus, then your preparation is simple. Your preparation is praying for guidance and praying for the right words to say. Praying that Jesus will make you a fisher of men.

So preparation is vital.

Of course another reason for my failure as a fisherman was that at the time I was convinced that fishing in the canal was the wrong environment. If I had a better place to fish then I’d be a better fisherman.

Again Samuel G. Candler, in his book “Follow Me and I Will Make You Go Fishing”

“Fishing, like the gospel, is always practiced in context. It does no good to sit at one lake and wish I was on some other lake. It does no good to stand at the ocean and wish the weather were different. On that day, in that place, I fish in context according to what the conditions are.

So it is with the proclamation and the living out of the Christian gospel. It does little good wishing that we were somewhere else, in a different time or in a different country perhaps. Our context is this time and this place.”

In other words God has placed us where he wants us and we are to fish there. If you are in a work place God has placed you there to fish there. God wants you to fish at the golf club. Or at the Rotary club.

If we are going to be fishers of men, we must go to where the people are. And they are all around us.

One of the greatest obstacles to fishing for people is what has been referred to as the "Field of Dreams" concept that is lodged in the minds of so many of our church members.

In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella – played by Kevin Costner - hears a voice in his corn field tell him, "If you build it, he will come." He interprets this message as an instruction to build a baseball field on his farm. He does this and upon it appear the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other seven Chicago White Sox players banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series. When the voices continue, Ray seeks out a reclusive author to help him understand the meaning of the messages and the purpose for his field

"If you build it, they will come".

Now that may work for baseball fields in Iowa, but that is not how Jesus told us to grow His Kingdom. While the open invitation to everyone is "Come and see", He specifically tells us his followers to "Go and tell!" The Field of Dreams concept is a big factor in why so many of our churches are dead or dying. We are waiting for people to come, whereas, we are to go fishing. We must take the Gospel to where the people are.

Catholic priest Vincent Donovan wrote an excellent book a few years ago called “Christianity Rediscovered” about his experiences as a missionary in Kenya. He learned that the traditional approach to mission had been to build a church, a school and a hospital on a vacant piece of land and wait for people to come. But he says:

"Evangelization is a process of bringing the gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be… When the gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the gospel is the church in a new place..."

In taking the Gospel to the people, we must understand their mind set. Why do they do what they do? What is important to them? How can we bring the message of abundant life to people who already think they have a pretty good life?

Outdated methods may have to be changed to make the Gospel Message relevant to the various cultures around us. The message never changes, but the methods of sharing that message must be adapted to the type of "fish" we are attempting to catch. So many of us are wrapped up in our familiar comfortable "church culture", that we never realise that the vast majority of our neighbours are foreign to that culture. We must engage them where THEY are.

Most Monday mornings I attend a prayer meeting with some other church leaders from around the Stratton and Moredon area. We pray for Swindon. Recently we invited North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson to come and talk to us which he did.

One of the ministers asked Justin Tomlinson about the Same Sex marriage legislation and the minister made the point that he thought this was another sign of Britain no longer being a Christian country. Justin Tomlinson disagreed with that and then he said “I think it still is a Christian country but the churches need to wake up to better ways of engaging with people around them. Churches can’t continue to rely on the traditional methods”

I think we were all taken aback. How dare this MP tell us our jobs? But I feel he had a very valid point. If we are to go fishing we have to fish for the times we are in using the up to date methods and equipment.

Having prepared, got the right equipment and gone to the place where we’re supposed to fish, there comes a time when we just have to summon up the courage to go fishing.

James L. Collier, in his book “Go Fish!” says:

Have you been fishing lately? Have you caught any people for Jesus?
If you are a typical Presbyterian (or Methodist or Lutheran or mainline Christian of any sort) the answer probably is a shrug of the shoulders and a bewildered look. "He can't be serious, can he?"

He goes on to say

"A few years ago there were some statistics floating around in church circles. If you take a middle aged church member who has attended church regularly most of his/her life, by the age of fifty they would have listened to 1760 sermons, sung 5280 hymns, placed money in the offering plate about 1500 times and never introduced another person to Jesus Christ. True - most of us, if asked, can't remember ever talking to a non-believer about our faith. We just don't do that sort of thing. We haven't done much fishing."

To my mind, one of the oddest programmes on television – and that’s saying something – is a programme called “Extreme fishing” hosted by the actor Robson Green. I’ve never watched it but as I understand it he is filmed fishing in different places around the world. Why would anyone want to watch someone else fish? If you’re into fishing wouldn’t you just want to fish?

Of course the reality is that for many people fishing is a kind of spectator sport. It’s fun to watch a TV celebrity on a boat off the coast of somewhere exotic but when faced with going to fish at Coate Water or wherever it doesn’t seem as interesting. It is far safer and more comfortable to sit back and watch rather than go fishing.

And so it is for many Christians. But Jesus doesn’t want us to watch. Jesus wants us to come and follow him and make us into fishers of people.

19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.