Aug 01

revjohnThe Town of Northampton and the County of Northamptonshire is steeped in the traditions of Rugby Union. It cannot have escaped your notice that the Rugby World Cup is almost upon us, less than one hundred days, by the time you read this it will be under fifty.

The small but beautifully formed William Webb Ellis trophy is about to be played for once again, this time in the Northern Hemisphere in our own back yard. It is great and we will welcome teams and their supporters from all over the world.

I first learnt about the William Webb Ellis Cup in a quiz. Name the Rugby World Cup? Sorry, I hadn’t a clue. I could honestly say it was a point of learning so it served a good purpose. I would say that is often how things start and develop. Rugby at it’s most basic level is about picking the ball up and running down the other end of the pitch and putting it down. Simple isn’t it? By its simplicity it helps other people and a wider sphere of people engage with a great game. I was reminded of this in trying to explain cricket to a person who had no contact or understanding at all of cricket. It was a hard task and I struggled and didn’t make a very good job of it.

Rugby brings people together, sport having a purpose, not only winning in the right spirit but sharing in something which brings people together where a deeper unexplainable enrichment takes place within the human race. There is only one human race and therefore common ground of experience.

All of the nations and teams coming here have their own objectives and fulfilment, but they are also bringing their own unique character and culture together at the tournament. Tournament rugby has its own dynamics and characteristics that need to be exercised at a different level to normal in and out Aviva Premiership rugby for example.

We as hosts will also have expectations, not only in the welcome, fellowship and sharing with so many other people but in our words and deeds and organisation that goes into making a memorable event.

Of course if your team wins or achieves beyond its own expectations then it will be memorable because it is part of wider life journey achieved through a sporting environment.

If your team wins the cup then often we will remember it even more in the wider context of the whole of life. When, for example, England beat Australia to win the cup in 2003 the whole nation erupted. I could feel it in my bones, a memorable morning for those left here in the United Kingdom and particularly in England.

So what do I really want to say to you all in this letter? All this is possible because of the act of giving something away. Giving the game of rugby to the world has created something, and continually develops something which is of lasting value to all.

By giving the game away it gave something that had lasting value, and enduring value to the world in which we all live. Physique, power, athleticism, intellect, pride, passion, joy, love, tactics, strength, courage, goals, targets and achievements. The list goes on.

This is all because the game has been given away to the world. Would it be as it is today if it had been kept by a few people? No, it is better to be given. Scripturally and spiritually it is better to give than receive, for in giving it is that a blessing is received, not that one is expected back.

God works and practices in the “giving way” from day one when God decided to start and sustain all of creation in a new way, and he gave something that runs through creation; that is his love, the love of giving.

Jesus Christ did a lot of giving. The Holy Spirit did a lot of giving. Are we glad? Yes we are! All of this giving says that we have received the great and good things in abundance and from this giving, deep and lasting relationship and relationships are formed.

The spirit of giving does have to be developed and I would like you to think of the things that have come about by giving, both for yourselves and for others. These far out-weigh any other method.

So we as Christians, as people of faith in a faithful God, are knowledgeable and experienced in the nature of a giving God. The gospel for all people is about giving the “Good News” of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, in word and in deed, and I know that all of you will rise up to that challenge.

Giving away the Good News says we have a confident faith, a living faith, and vibrant faith. A faith that says we have a very distinctive character with an edge to it. Enjoy living this way, giving in ministry and giving in mission.

I have proved that giving, if you are resourced and able to give in God’s way, it’s the right, it’s the way the truth and the life. God bless you all.

The Churches in Northampton are actively becoming involved in the Rugby World Cup as part of mission and Rev Romeo Pedro who specialises in all aspects of mission, and we as a ministry team will inform, help and support you in living the Christian faith, so that others will come to faith.

Rev John Marriott

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church

Jul 01

Deacon Richard Beckett“God delights in diversity”

Jonathan Sacks, in his book “The Great Partnership” writes the line above and goes on to explain that there are, for example, forty thousand different varieties of beetle.

The writer of the Psalms rejoices in the variety that God creates too as we can read in Psalm 104:24-25

“Lord, you have made so many things! How wisely you made them all! The earth is filled with your creatures. There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike…”

But coming back to Jonathan Sacks book again, his opening line is actually taken from a chapter which is about Darwin and the whole book is about the way in which Sacks sees the need for science and religion to work together rather than what seems to be the usual approach which brings these two into opposition in the ‘Science verses religion’ debate.

This approach tends to compartmentalise science and religion and treat them as separate worlds and ignores the view that science and religion speak about different ways of looking at and exploring the world which says that ‘Science is about the world that is and religion is about the world that ought to be’

I get really excited though at the point where Jonathan Sacks book stops and that is where I begin to explore God’s delight in diversity from a Christian viewpoint. For one of the criticisms I have heard levelled at Christians (or perhaps more accurately levelled at the church) is that the aim is to make a people who are uniform, where all Christians have the same belief structure, bound by the same rules and think the same thing.

In reality though, if we explore the Bible we find that Jesus’ approach was very different. Rather than encouraging those things which bind, oppress and restrict, he set out to free people from them.

Take for example the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) bed-ridden by an infirmity for thirty eight years, waiting for someone to lower him into the healing waters. A word from Jesus and the man was made well. Or what of Blind Bartimaeus, (defined by his blindness) and Jesus healing words “Go your faith has made you well” which sets Bartimaeus free to be the individual God wants him to be.

The much discussed verse in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:27) seems to have something to say about diversity too:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Amongst other things I believe that verse teaches that all people are created with the Godly characteristics which the Holy Spirit reveals such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and so on.

If God ‘delights in diversity’, that image which he creates us in is not a restricting image but one which frees us to live and rejoice in the difference and individuality which God longs for in you and in me.

Deacon Richard Beckett – July 2015

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church