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The Light of Valentine

The Bible reading from 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 speaks about the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. The light of the glory of Christ is also the main theme of the preaching of Paul. As he wrote in :5: For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. And what Paul preaches mirrors the Word of God that says: ‘Let Light shine out of darkness’. Because, as it says in the next verse; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, meaning that God’s Light and Glory transpires through Jesus Christ.

To understand some of the key elements of Light, it begins with darkness. In the Bible it is the light that stands against the darkness. It is at the beginning of creation when in Genesis 1 it says; darkness was upon the face of the earth. Then follows the first Word God spoke, recorded in the Bible: Let there be light.

Darkness in the language of the OT denotes everything what is harmful or evil. Darkness is a threat to life and to moral. In the original Hebrew language there is not only a connection between darkness and sorrow, but also a connection between darkness and death. Whereas light refers to happiness and life, so does darkness denotes disaster and death. 

However, we should not forget that in the OT concept of God, He is not excluded from darkness. God is Souvereign over both light and darkness. He creates both (Is. 45:7), He sends both (Psalm 105:28), darkness can't hide for Him (Job 34:22, Is. 29:15) and darkness is not dark with Him (Psalm 139:11).

In the OT the darkness and chaos are not mentioned as an independent force, but it emphasises that darkness vanishes by God's Word. The darkness doesn't put up any resistance against God's Mighty Word.

Looking to the gospel of John and in his first letter, a duality between light and darkness is paramount. But, John doesn’t begin his gospel with darkness, as does Genesis begins, but with the Light. Because the Light has overcome the darkness. And it is therefore that Jesus says: who believes in Me will never walk in darkness.

As it is Valentines day today, we could look to some of the stories associated with various Valentines. 

Ancient sources reveal that there appear to have been several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd C.

For those who have an interest in studying saints and their stories, you can get lost in the 68 volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” from Rosweyde and Bollandus in the 17th C. and later studies.

Following Acta Sanctorum, Father Valentinus was one of the saints who preached Jesus Christ and went on leading pagans, as it says, out of the shadow of darkness and into the light of truth and salvation. 

One man called Asterius is said to have asked: If the Christian God could cure his foster-daughter of blindness, he would convert. So Valentinus went with Asterius and put his hands over the girl’s eyes and said:

“Lord Jesus Christ, en-lighten your handmaid, because you are God, the True Light.” After he prayed the girl could see and Asterius and his whole family were baptized.

In this story about Valentine, light is more important than love. Love is not even mentioned. But, even if love is not mentioned, love is the basis for what happened. It begins with the love of God that send His beloved Son into the world. Then, because of love Jesus gave Himself for us to fulfil His ministry. And it is out of love for Christ that this Valentine preached Jesus as the true Light of the world.

In this day and age Valentines Day is associated with only love. And in the church associated with the love of God as well. But, it had a different emphasis in the preaching of Valentine as in the Acta Sanctorum. Here the emphasis is on the Light of Christ given to us through the love of God. Valentine mirrored what Paul preaches; Jesus Christ is Lord and He is the True Light.

It is the Light of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, which is at the centre, because it is the final revelation of God’s love for us. God’s love revealed to us in the salvation ministry of Jesus Christ.

Hope

Although we’re still in the middle of the effects of a partial lockdown of our society, we should not forget that there is always hope.

Over the last year, hope is something which seems noticeable absence from the mouths of our scientists and politicians. They can be forgiven for that, because it is not their first calling to give hope, but to govern and steer. 

For the Church it is however another matter. The Church should be characterised by hope, because it is on hope the whole Church and its mission are based.

Hope in the Bible contains a somewhat different interpretation between Biblical times and our contemporary society. In our mind, hope contains a level of uncertainty as someone might hope for something to happen, but can’t be sure about the truth of it. In the Bible, however, hope is closely connected to trust. Trust in the God Whose words are true, forms the basis for a hope that is certain and trustworthy.

Truth as in the Bible refers to a Hebrew word for reliability and what is constant. The truth is something that can be trusted and because it can be trusted, we can build our hope on it.

In the pilot’s mess of Transavia many years ago a sign hung: ‘In God we trust, others pay cash’. Some might take this as offensive, but it’s true that where people or circumstances might jeopardize our trust, trusting God is relying on the certainty that He will keep His word and promises. Hope in God and trusting Him are closely linked together. God will not leave or disappoint us when we build our hope and trust on Him. 

Over the past year, many were disappointed about the progress made to return to normality in our society and kept on hoping things would change for the better soon. 

This type of hope is a kind of optimism, but it is different from the hope as mentioned in the Bible. The hope mentioned in the Bible is not based on optimism, or on believing that a glass is half full instead on half empty. It is based on trusting in the truth of God’s words and promises.

The hope the Church should proclaim is a hope that will not fade or disappoint, because it is based on trust in God. It is for this reason that the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans in chapter 5: We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us.

May this be our support and encouragement for the year to come, and the guide of how we face the future. 

Hans

 

A thought for the day

John 16 verse 32 says “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.  

Many people  are feeling lonely and isolated at this time and if not personally then we will certainly know someone in that situation.    Well perhaps there are friends who you sent a Christmas card but who you have not communicated with directly for a long time. Why not make contact?  Write them a letter or give them a call. Just the act of enquiring how they are  will make you and maybe them feel a bit better about being under lockdown.   Any time  we are lonely we could ask Jesus to come into our lives We need never fear that he will not come . As the old hymn tells us - Oh what peace we often forfeit, or what needless pain we bear , all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.   Either or ideally both  will only take a few moments of our week but could make such a difference.   

Comfort, we ask you most gracious God, all who are cast down and faint of heart amidst the sorrows and difficulties of the world; and grant that by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may be lifted up to you with hope and courage, and enabled to go upon their way, rejoicing in your love; through Christ Our Lord, amen.

'The wonder of love and the power of grace'

Vagabonds

Did any of you catch last Sunday’s (24th Jan) ‘Songs of Praise’ on BBC1? If you did you will have heard the very uplifting clip of Stuart Townend and his band performing their song ‘Vagabonds’. And if you didn’t hear it – do take a few minutes to click on this link and listen to it! https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p021rbf6.

As the pandemic continues to dominate all our lives, I was struck by the following lines of the song: 

“Come all you questioners

Looking for answers,

And searching for reasons

And sense in it all …

Come to the feast,

There is room at the table:

Come let us meet in this place.

With the King of all kindness

Who welcomes us in,

With the wonder of love,

And the power of grace.”

Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, David Zimmer, Stuart Townend, Ed Cash. Copyright © 2016 Getty Music Publishing (BMI) , Alletrop Music (BMI) and Townend Songs (PRS) (admin by Song Solutions www.songsolutions.org) 

The song was written some years ago and the situation that we are in now was not its theme, but at a time when we are all seeking an answer to the question “why is this happening?” these verses resonated with me. Sadly the question, “Why, Lord?” is one to which there is no satisfactory answer, because at its core is the more profound question of why any suffering exists.

Yet despite everything, the invitation is there to all of us, including those “who feel at the end of the road”, to experience the welcome offered by “King of all kindness”: in other words, the Jesus who, in his humanity, understands our suffering.

Just before I heard Stuart Townend's song for the first time, I was reading the thoughts of an American priest, Fr. James Martin – in his essay ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus’. In it, he reminds us that:

“... during his public ministry, Jesus spent a great deal of time with those who were sick. And before modern medicine, almost any infection could kill you. Thus, lifespans were short: only 30 or 40 years. In other words, Jesus knew the world of illness. Jesus, then, understands all the fears and worries that you have. Jesus understands you, not only because he is divine and understands all things but because he is human and experienced all things. Go to him in prayer. And trust that he hears you and is with you. We will move through this together, with God’s help.”

It struck me that for all of us who question the current situation and seek answers, this is the best advice that we can act upon. So, as the vaccine is rolled out and the future begins to look just a little bit brighter, let us reaffirm our trust in the King of all kindness - and above all, let us trust that in the wonder of His love and in the power of His grace, we can build a better world when we come through to the other side.

Amen.

Baptism of Christ Sunday - Acts 19:1-7

Baptism, laying on of hands and receiving of the Holy Spirit: 3 things happen here in only a few verses that keeps church and theology going round and round in circles.

The reason I say this, is because there is no systematic and uniform theology about this at all in the Bible, certainly not in the Old Testament. 

Hence, when we take a look to the origins of baptism there is not much to go on. Only the gospels of Matthew and Mark have the commission to believe and to be baptised. But, further in the New Testament there is no theology of baptism. Even more so, nowhere in the NT is the same and constant use of baptism either. Only from our reading this morning we learn that Paul re-baptised some who were baptised by John. 

Baptism might have transferred from the Old Testament, with the proselyte baptism, into a practice exercised in the NT, but that was only the baptism by John the Baptist. Baptism in the Name of Christ is of course only to be found in the NT. And although people were baptised in the Name of Christ, there is no theological teaching on this practice and even less so with receiving the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, baptism, followed by laying on of hands and receiving the Holy Spirit cannot be proven from the Bible as a ritual that has to be performed. 

It’s only Christian tradition, combined with creeds from councils and Church teaching that forms the basis for theological teaching for baptism, followed by laying on of hands and receiving of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism as an expression of faith coincides in the NT on several occasions with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. But others were baptised who did not receive the Holy Spirit at their baptism while others received the Holy Spirit before they were baptised, adding even more confusion to the real meaning of baptism.

Baptism as a sacrament only developed much later and was not practised as such by Jesus' first disciples. At best baptism in the NT was a symbol, marking a new beginning, an new commitment, and sometimes happened to the whole household.

Even if baptism is only a symbol and not a theological mandate, it still is a powerful testimony and expression of faith in Jesus Christ. 

When I lived and worked for a while in Hong Kong with YWAM at the Yuen Long Gospel centre in the New Territories, in the beginning of the 1980ies, I met several Chinese people whose baptism was a real brake with their past. Their baptism was an openly breach with the Confussius/Buddhist tradition they had been living under and most of time it caused a break with their whole family. With their baptism they started a complete new beginning with a new family, their church family. 

Although we’re now 40 years later there are still enough places in this world where baptism is a life threatening commitment and the mark of a really new beginning.

Years ago, when I was evangelising one or two afternoons per week in the Red Light district in Amsterdam with YWAM, Trudi and I went to the baptism of someone who was a thief, thug or whatever with a history of prison sentences. Trudi, who worked for a gap-year in a Christian Youth hostel, the Shelter, on the edge of the Red Light district knew him well. While he stayed in the Shelter he his gave his life to Christ, so he wanted to be baptised. At the baptism service we listened to his moving and  wonderful testimony about his former life, repentance and turning to faith. He called his baptism a new beginning of his life, leaving behind all what he done wrong and publically asking for forgiveness of all his mistakes. Many then witnessed how the water of his baptism marked the new beginning of his new life. That was on Sunday evening. The next Tuesday he left the Shelter taking with him thousands stolen from the safe and from some other places.

This shows how it is up to you and me and everyone else who is baptised, to give it real meaning and value. 

The real meaning and value of baptism is in how we live our lives as those who put their faith in Christ. If Jesus Christ and His salvific ministry is not at the heart of baptism it will always become a hollow shell. The shell often used to pour the water of baptism at the child at the font, will remain an empty symbol if not followed by growth in faith. And the water of the baptistry that emerges the one who is baptised bears no symbol of cleansing or the mark of a new beginning if it is not followed by commitment to live with Jesus Christ. 

We symbolically shared in the death of Christ when we were baptised, but will we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ if He is not alive in our own hearts and visible alive in us for others?  

Baptism is the mark of a life with Jesus Christ at the centre. To be loyal to Him Who is the source of life, in good and in less good times. Baptism on its own doesn't mean much if it isn't followed by walking together with our living Lord in a way of righteousness and loyalty to God our Father.

Happy New Year and many blessings for 2021

2020 is behind us and 2021 is the future. It is like a new beginning with the past not having gone yet. It will be a new year full of challenges and opportunities being still amid a pandemic, but with Brexit finally done.

Both the challenges and opportunities of this pandemic and Brexit might bring fear and uncertainty, but at the same it opens the way for a new era and moving forward through changing times and for new initiatives for prosperity and peace for all.

Now 2021 has dawned upon us the question arises of how we could approach the year ahead of us in this peculiar but unique moment in our history. As a guidance we might look to a particular hymn that was most popular to Winston Churchill which is the well-known: ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…..Glory, Glory Hallelujah.’

The first line in the third verse of the hymn, which was also sung at Churchill’s funeral, represents not only Churchill’s character, but also that of the character of the English nation as a whole: ‘He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.’

Going backward is not the way into the future and as this nation has shown through the ages, it will be able to face the future with courage.

I hope we take heart not only because of the words of a hymn, but even more so because they refer to a living Lord, Who has been victorious over sin and death and Who will be our guide, our strength and support to move forward into 2021 without retreat in serving Him and one another.

Christmas magazine letter

This might well become one of the most different Christmas celebrations many of us might have ever had. Even in desperate times people were able to find comfort and encouragement with each other during celebrations usch as Christmas, but this year is really different.

The whole situation seems to have some comparisons with the nativity, portrayed to us in so many different forms each Christmas. The story begins with the traveling of Joseph and Mary who were trying to find family members to stay with after their arrival in Bethlehem. Although, Joseph came originally from Bethlehem, he couldn’t find a place to stay. How many of our family members do we have to leave outside this Christmas as they’re not allowed to be welcomed in.

he story of the birth of Jesus also happened in a time of uncertainty and whereas the Romans were occupying the Israelite country, our country now seems occupied by a virus. At the birth of Jesus many were expecting a final solution to the occupation of the land through the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. At this moment in time, many are seeing the final solution to eliminate the virus occupying our country through the arrival of a long awaited vaccine.

Once Jesus safely arrived, the angels sung and the shepherds and the wise men came in adoration to the child as they knew their time of oppression had come to an end. Even so in this day and age, once the rumours of vaccine have materialised, the stock-markets and business –(insiders) are jumping and praising in exaltation as the end of misery is finally in sight. 

Although, the divine story of God among humanity is not something which resembles with anything in our human history, it still it is has an interface with our human story. It is the expectation of an eridication of misery and the fulfilment of what has been longed for for a long time. As much as we long for a return to normal, so is the the birth of Jesus the return to a relationship with God. A relationship that was broken through disobedience and denial of God's command. Jesus Christ was born to reinstate that relationship by becoming human and restoring our relationship with God for all those who want to accept it.

The birth of Jesus Christ has an everlasting impact on our world, because it is the ultimate event of God reaching out to us. All human stories will once come to an end, but the story of a saving God reaching out to us, is the only one which provides an ultimate and everlasting hope and future.

Remembrance Day 2020

We cannot deny that this year is really different from many years and not only because our church services were outside for our Remembrance Sunday. We are also in a complete different situation as years before, because of this Covid pandemic.

What hasn’t changed however is that nearly all of us here, and many others any where else, are wearing a poppy during the Remembrance Day period and on the day itself. 

Have you ever asked what people do with their poppies after Remembrance Day? 

It is said that every year the British legion sells about 45 million poppies, all over the UK. Over a 10 year period there should be nearly half a billion of poppies. 

But, where are the poppies gone? Have you ever wondered about what has been done to all these poppies; where are they? 

I can only guess they are either thrown away or put in a drawer and forgotten. Otherwise, why could the British Legion sell 45 million poppies every year.

Unfortunately, most of these poppies suffer the same fate as many people’s remembering. How often will the people remember, who are now wearing those poppies, in the next few days, weeks months, after Remembrance day what this day should do to us.

When people remove their poppy from the coat or jumper of what ever, will they remember why they have been wearing it. Or will they with the removing of the puppy at the same time remove the reason for why they have been remembering this time. Have they really understood what the poppy symbolises?

We being here together are remembered that the poppy symbolises hope in despair. It’s a symbol of God bringing hope and a future, not only to the individual, but also to our community and our nation.

By wearing a poppy may we not only remember those who had no future, but also remind ourselves that we have a future. 

Wearing a poppy should be more than setting aside only a days in a year to remember and remind, but should be a symbol of the vision God calls us to take up in our future. That by our living individually, and as a community, and as a nation, we seek for what makes peace with one another and with God, through Christ our Lord.

May we be the prime examples of that, being aware of our calling to let the Light and Peace of Christ shine into this world by who we are and what we do.

Hans

Rector's Letter November Magazine

On my first ever IFR flight, only flying on instruments, during my pilot training I was approaching Schiphol airport and told by the air controller to go a certain altitude before being lined up for the runway.

It all happened now more than 30 years ago so I don’t know how much has changed over the years, but in those days there was a kind of friendly animosity between pilots and air controllers. Once during a visit to Schiphol Tower, I read the sign: ‘Pilots are fools, air controller rules’. Although the pilot controls the airplane, it is the air controller who controls where to go in controlled airspace.

Hence, obediently I brought the airplane to the given altitude by the air controller. Flying above the clouds is being in a very nice sunny environment, but the new altitude we had to go meant we entered the upper layer of these clouds. 

Being in the upper layer of a blanket of clouds is a fascinating experience, because the surroundings become a milky white environment in which it is impossible to orientate. It was the best practice environment ever for flying IFR because it was impossible to see anything outside, forcing me to focus solely on my instruments. Flying like that was called ‘follow the needle’ in those days, without the electronic screens as in modern airplanes.

Not being able to orientate in this milky environment, it also gave me the impression of going round in circles. Only closely following the instruments, much against any feelings of going in circles, helped me keeping the airplane towards its destination.

Obeying the instructions of the air controller, together with following the needles of the instruments, let us finally brake through the clouds, which had become much darker the more we had to lower our altitude. When we broke through the clouds, the lights of the runway were right in front of us, making a safe landing possible on Schiphol airport.

In the airplane it were both the instruments and the air controller which has kept us safe and brought us finally home.

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, He said He would not leave us but send the Spirit to help and guide us. Together with reading the Word of God and being open for guidance by His Spirit we will also travel safe and arrive well at our destination.

In this moment in time, when so many things are uncertain and can cause confusion, let us remember that God keeps us all safe when we stay close to Him. By doing so He can guide and protect our hearts and minds. God has given us the instruments of His word and of His Spirit to be our guide, even when we do not understand what is happening around us. But, as the pilot and air controller sometimes struggle as to who is in control, so we might have the same struggles with God in our lives when we do not understand what happens around us. However, trusting and following God’s instruments in whatever circumstance will keep us safe and be our support on our life’s journey.

Hans

 

Short Sermon of the Sunday on Luke 10

In Holland I heard the story of a 82 year old widow, called Ludmilla, living in the Czech Republic. After it split from Slovakia, the Czech Republic became one the most atheistic country of Europe and even of the world. About 70% of the people of Slovakia belong to a church, or call themselves Christian, while in the Czech Republic about 75% (3/4) call themselves non-religious or without faith.

The story about Ludmilla reverberates with the reading from Luke 10, where Jesus sent out the 70 to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. And as Jesus said, He sent them as lambs among the wolves.

Ludmilla is an ambassador of Christ and besides her front door she put up a sign which says: Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven’. Ludmilla opened her house and heart for everybody who needs a listening ear. She finds it difficult that so many of her citizens and people of her country have rejected the gospel, but she’s determined to let Christ speak and work through her, in her own neighbour-hood and beyond. Therefore she calls herself an ambassador of Christ and her house is an embassy of His Kingdom.

Whenever someone comes to her house, she not only serves coffee or tea, but even more so, she listens to what the people have to say, or ask for in pastoral support. In her own words; if the Lord sends someone to my house, I gladly receive him or her and want to support the person to let the Lord grow in their lives. 

It’s a very simple message, but in a place of darkness she shines as a Bright Light proclaiming the message of salvation through Christ. The Kingdom of the Heavens has come down into her house, so it can be rightly called an Embassy of the Living God. 

Remarkable of this story is the simplicity of Ludmilla, who has not done any theological training and is not commissioned by any church. She’s no priest or pastor, but she is a great witness and a pastoral support for others. She was asked whether she was never afraid of being on her own and perhaps vulnerable on her mature age? She replied; it says 365 times in the Bible; don’t be afraid. So why should I be afraid. With 365 days in a year, for every day is the word; don’t be afraid.

In Luke 10, Jesus sent out the 70 as lambs amongst the wolves. The 70 were normal plain folk, who don’t belong to the upper-classes of society or have a special commission recognised by the leaders. Sending them out two by two was not for safety, but because in those days the witness of two people was counted to be trustworthy. 

When Jesus said; I send you as lambs to the wolves, it also  means no less than; don’t be afraid. 

Don’t be afraid. It is also said to the shepherds in the field by the angels at the birth of Jesus.

When you look at the original Greek, it is worded in the aorist, so it literally means; don’t keep fearing. It is normal to be afraid it difficult or challenging circumstances, but in Christ there’s no reason to keep on fearing.

If someone like Ludmilla can leave her fear in the Hands of God and doesn’t let it hinder her mission of being an ambassador of Christ, in an environment which is no longer Christian, we might learn much from people like her. 

Jesus is still looking for people like Ludmilla. He still wants to send out His people into the world to be His ambassador, like He sent out Ludmilla. 

Perhaps we could all be encouraged by Ludmilla to be willing to proclaim the gospel of Christ in what we do, in what we say and in who we are. The harvest is plentiful, but where are the labourers? The labourers that are you and I.

Hans

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