Feel Free

Written by Anthony Douglas on Wednesday, 17 June 2020.

Ballooning‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,’ sang Janis Joplin, which is a great lyric, but one that’s been sorely tested this year. As we lost the ability to go to work, to school, to cinemas and sporting grounds, to our families – well, it seems like we lost a lot, but it sure didn’t make us feel any more free.

Which we might have understood, but still resented! We treasure our freedoms, and shudder when we think of life in more repressive nations. And rightly so: Jesus teaches that our goal, our purpose, is to be free.

Or to be more precise, he says, to be made free… and that might offend you. Does he really mean to imply that we aren’t free already? Is he really that ignorant of the human condition? For someone who’s meant to be a wise teacher, you’d think he would know something about free will.

Philosophers love to argue about the reality of free will, but the rest of us take it for granted. We can choose what clothes to wear in the morning when we get up, what to eat for breakfast, and when to get on with our day. It’s obvious.

But then again… what about those who are required to wear a particular uniform? Or those who are diabetic? Or those who have to run the kids up to school in time for the start of the day? The truth is, our freedom is limited, sometimes by our own prior choices, and sometimes by the realities of this universe. None of us are free to float a metre above the ground at all times!

So then, perhaps Jesus means us to examine how limited our freedom is. And here, if we’re honest, we might notice that we struggle with our bad habits, or our temper, or … our deaths. True freedom, the Bible tells us, is the ability to be truly ourselves, to be all God has made us to be. Ironically, and unexpectedly, we find Jesus gives us this as we hand over the reins of our lives to him. It costs us nothing, because we aren’t really in control anyway. But he doesn’t lock us down – rather, he frees us up. Something you’re free to think about!

The Big Game?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 30 May 2020.

Tokyo OlympicsAs winter settled in this year, we were meant to be looking forward to a glut of sport on our televisions. How better to stay warm and dry than to cheer the labours of others? Whether you’re a league tragic or a football purist, things aren’t as we’d anticipated. And can we stand waiting a whole extra years for the Summer Olympics?

Of course such questions are a bit foolish in the midst of a pandemic. We have greater concerns at the moment, although it is marvellous to see the light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions begin to be unwound.

It turns out that the big sporting event this year has only two teams competing: a sneaky little virus, and the human race. And the coronavirus not only got to kick off, but it was the only team that got to train together before the match. No wonder it was able to open up an early lead.

And now it’s the second half of the game, and it looks like the momentum may have shifted our way. At least we hope so – the game isn’t over yet, and it certainly feel like extra time is looming.

What has been remarkable is the degree of teamwork that humanity has shown. We have adapted rapidly, all over the planet, to significant changes in the way we live, work, and relate. We are far from perfect in this, but it’s still been amazing to witness international cooperation on this scale.

But will it last? Already we see signs of impatience from individuals and from nations. Party politics appear to be stamping down bipartisanship. We’re relaxing before the final whistle. Even when it’s quite literally a matter of life or death, we can’t quite bring ourselves to commit to one another.

It’s only been done once before, and even then, only by a single person. The Bible tells us how Jesus laid aside his glory, his power, his comfort and his rights in order to die for us. It was a matter of life and death then, too: his death, for our life. And that, it transpired, was the victory for us all.

The Loner-Virus

Written by Anthony Douglas on Monday, 20 April 2020.

IsolationYou may know one famous saying of the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.”

Being a philosopher, he had his own obscure meaning, but I suspect the saying has generated its own meaning in our culture. Certainly, it has popped into my mind when someone’s driving has irritated me, or when stuck on a crowded train on a sweaty summer’s day.

But what does it mean now, in the midst of a COVID-confinement? I’ve noticed two things – perhaps you can add more.

Firstly, for those who live alone, the saying is now absolute nonsense. The virus has massively increased the difficulty of connecting with other people, and it’s a deeply lonely experience being locked up with only yourself for company. Those who are suffering this isolation know that hell, in fact, is the total absence of other people.

On the other hand, for those who live with family or flatmates, the saying might feel more true than ever. Individual quirks that might be endearing normally have become deliberate attacks. Introverts and extraverts would be at each other’s throats, except that the introverts are so desperate for time on their own that they’ve hidden in a closet somewhere. And there’s no sport to talk about, so the men have run out of topics of conversation long ago. Many of us have a touch of the iwannabealonervirus!

What our enforced isolation has taught us, I think, is that we are meant to interact with each other. We aren’t made for only our own company, nor for that of only a small group of other people. We are social beings.

The Bible gets that on the table early, right at the beginning: “It is not good for man to be alone,” God says – and when you consider that at that point, Adam had the God who made the universe for company, that’s saying something. And at the other end of the story, the Bible’s picture of the future is of a city where a feast runs on through eternity. That’s why the words used to describe Jesus’ achievement on the cross that we’ve just marked at Easter are so often relational: ‘at-one-ment’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’.

Perhaps, when we can gather again, you might like to join us at church?

Sundays Online - Midweek

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 22 March 2020.

Welcome to Sundays Online, our resource page while we can't meet together physically.

We're chiefly using software called Zoom to facilitate our gathering together. It works best with the app designed for computers, but can be viewed through a browser or on other devices. When you join your first Zoom 'meeting', your computer should download and install the app for you, but you can do so manually here in advance if you've got time (you want the 'client' software). Zoom is free, and quite well suited to our purposes.

For Next Week:

Bible readings: 2 Kings 8:7-15 and Colossians 2:6-12.



Last Sunday:

The readings were 2 Kings 6:24-33 and Colossians 2:1-5.

Youtube link

Transcript of sermon

Recording of sermon

Sermon outline

 

Our prayer bulletin for July is available here.

If you're looking for the notice regarding our 'Master Trust Ordinance', you can find the relevant documents here and here.

And, of course, you can Zoom each other whenever you like!

See you next Sunday.

The Hangover

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 01 March 2020.

It isn’t normally all that hard to sell beer. Alcohol has a long history of popular usage, and beer has been a stayer through the centuries. But over the last few weeks, one company has found its sales are dropping at an alarming rate.

CoronaIt’s no surprise: Corona beers aren’t flavour of the month. While that worries the shareholders, the rest of us should perhaps be worried about the level of comprehension in the general population that so many people could think that there’s a connection between a drink and a deadly virus.

We’ve long known that drinking can leave you with a hangover in the morning, but what we’re alarmed about right now is the result of a different form of indulgence. The world God made didn’t include diseases - or hangovers, for that matter. Disease, disaster and death were all brought into the world by our disobedience, our confidence that we could choose what was really best for us.

A big part of the marketing for Corona’s product is to associate it with summertime and days at the beach. It’s pitched as the drink that fits with paradise. That makes the analogy even stronger: when we reached for our own paradise, it failed to deliver on its promise and we lost the one God had given us.

Now we find ourselves, again, as ever, in need of rescue. A silent killer stalks the world, and we can’t hope to find a cure in time. Our efforts to keep it at bay are ineffectual. Our only hope is to turn and find a merciful God.

A God, we should acknowledge, who warned us of the first and deadliest plague.  A God who provided the only cure, to his own cost. A God who takes our side even when we try to push him away.

Corona, of course, means ‘crown’. It was Jesus who wore the first crown of suffering, and wore it to death. And that means that now, we can drink deeply of the cup of life that he offers us, or we can stick with the hangover of our clumsy stab at arranging life for ourselves. A king, or a curse - what’s your poison?

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