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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

Magazine October Letter

Harvest church services are on the church calendar for this month but celebrating it this year will be unique to say the least. Anyway, at Maids Moreton we will continue with the Scarecrow weekend on the 3rd of October finished with a special service in church on Sunday the 4th as usual. Our other Parish churches are keeping their Festival services on either the 11th or the 18th of October to celebrate the Harvest.

In celebrating the Harvest and calling it a Festival service it offers us a glimpse of normality in uncertain times. The signal we want to radiant to our communities is that whatever is happening, the message of the Church will continue and not be stopped by circumstances. Hampered somewhat may be, but even with restrictions set before us, we will be here for our communities to let the Light of Christ show in the midst of us.

This type of attitude is a characteristic of so many people mentioned in the Bible who were called to fulfil a certain task. Even when the odds were stacked against them, they did not abandon their calling. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah to name a few in the Old Testament and the disciples of Jesus together with Paul in the New Testament. Also, Jesus Christ fulfilled the task laid before Him and did not stop continuing His ministry what God had called Him to.

Even today we have many examples of people who made a choice to serve others in the Name of Christ who did not abandon their mission, even in the face of ridicule, persecution and death. When we consider the example of such a person, it puts our own problems we might be facing with Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainties in another light.

One of those persons is the pastor Ramil Mateo, working in the slums of Manila in the Philippines. As a young entrepreneur and business man, he left his career to become a pastor in one of the poorest areas in our world.

His church operates a little different from our churches as the building is constantly in use. As well as being used for Christian activities it is a school for children during the day, a shelter for homeless during the night and church for Sunday services. But, even in his thriving ministry, he is facing opposition and ridicule from some in his own neighbourhood and his own family sometimes finds it difficult to be living in this disreputable situation. Despite the problems he faces it doesn’t prevent him letting the church be a place of the Light of Christ in difficult circumstances.

Seeing the persistence of people like pastor Ramil, and how his church stands strong in the face of challenge and uncertainty, it should make us all the more thankful for the places of sanctity and peace we can find in and around our own churches.

As the time of Harvest is traditionally a time of thanksgiving in the church, let us also give thanks for the abundance we have in this part of the world and the welfare and peace we experience around us. May we not forget the words of Psalm 148 in the words of praise to God: Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests…..Let them praise the name of God, it’s the only Name worth praising.

 Hans

To live or or to die; Philippians 1:21-23

Years ago I was at an evening service in a church in Haarlem and the preacher that evening preached about sin.

I don’t remember a word of what he said, but what I remember was his enthusiasm and happiness with which he was delivering his sermon. A little odd I thought, because his whole attitude did not correspond with the subject of his sermon.

Of course we cannot expect from a preacher to mimic his personalty with the subject of his sermon, but a little bit of similarity between the two is normal. Imagine if I would be using the same Bible reading for a sermon one day for a funeral and the next day for a wedding (as it happened), it would at least require some difference in attitude of delivery.

But, in this case the sermon about sin was delivered in a hurray fashion. Later that evening during coffee after the service I learned that the preacher’s first child was born just that afternoon. Now I understood why he was delivering his sermon with such a happy mind-set, because he was more taken by his personal circumstances than by the subject of his sermon.

When I read these words from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, saying; ‘to die is gain’ and ‘having the desire to depart, and to be with Christ, for it is far better’, I’m under the impression that Paul’s words are somewhat influenced by the position he was in during the writing of this letter. Imprisoned and perhaps disillusioned by the restrictions of being in prison for having done nothing wrong. In such circumstances it is not a surprise that Paul would rather be with the Lord and free from suffering and imprisonment. 

But Paul would not be the first in the Bible who would utter similar words in difficult circumstances. 

Moses in Number 11:14-15 says; ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

And about Elijah, after the miracle of the burning of the sacrifices on the altar when God sent fire to consume the offering, it says in 1 Kings 19:4; ‘He sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Not to forget Jeremiah who is also complaining about the bitter and difficult circumstances he finds himself in and says in Jeremiah 15:10; ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.’ 

In the light of all what Paul has experienced and all the difficult circumstances he went through and all the sufferings he met, his words wanting to be with the Lord are understandable.

Presumably we all have gone through difficult circumstances in our lives at a certain point and perhaps even lost hope in what this life could still bring us. But, then we can learn from Paul and from Moses, and from Elaiah and Jeremiah and from Jesus Christ. Because in all the difficult and challenging circumstances they were in, they kept their eyes on God and did not abandon their ministry. 

When we look to the letter of Paul to the Philippains as a whole, it is still accounted for being one of the most encouraging letters of Paul. The letter to the Philippians is often called a happy letter, because it is full of praise although interspersed with admonition, but overall it is a letter of joy to the Philippians.

Even with the difficulties we might face in the light of the Covid-19 restrictions, God's support and encouragement remains. If we, like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiaha and Paul, find our lives on a hard place and start to moan about our circumstances we can be encouraged that God did not abandon them and gave them the strength to continue.

It is really true; in Christ we are more than conquerors, even in the most challenging circumstances, as Paul is our vivid example and encourager to remain loyal to Christ and walk daily with our God.

Hope , Romans 15 vs 5-7 &13

In his letter to the Romans Paul is writing to the Church in Roman, giving them instructions on how to live their lives Gods way, together in Christian community. Although written nearly 2000 years ago Paul’s instructions still apply to us today:

Paul writes that we must have the same attitude to each other as Jesus had when he was on earth. His example is there for us to read in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus was  loving, forgiving and inclusive. Reading the Bible gives us encouragement as the Old Testament tells us of Gods promises to his people and the New Testament shows His love in action with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We are to have fortitude, which is much more than simply being patient. it is an attitude to ‘triumphantly cope with life’ because of the hope we have in the love of God. And we are to live harmoniously together, which does not mean that we won’t disagree and even argue, but what unites us in our Christian faith is much bigger than any differences that may divide us.

Our hope isn’t just optimism that doesn’t see difficulties and is certainly not only the prerogative of the young. Christian hope throughout the centuries has seen everything and endured but does not despair. Because our hope isn’t founded on human spirit, or human goodness or human achievements (although these can be wonderful), our hope is in the power of God.

We have all heard it said that a situation, or even a person, is hopeless. Why? Because human beings cannot see the solution. But..and this can be an exciting opportunity....it could be when we ask for Gods help. It could be when we turn to someone greater then ourselves. And it is when we ask for Gods help, when we listen to him, when we allow him in, that His blessings come. Noone is hopeless who is loved by God, and no situation is hopeless when the Holy Spirit is with us. This is our hope; that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ our saviour.

Sermon about forgiveness

Forgiveness.

When Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant of the small debt in compare to the large debt, it was a way of speaking people understood very well in those days. It was a very good traditional and natural teaching method. The point in the parables of Jesus is that although they are not historical, at the same time they are true to life. For this reason the exaggeration in this parable might sound absurd, but the underlying truth is very real.  

Besides, when Jesus told this parable it had some reference to the Old Testament. In Genesis 4:24 is says; ‘If Cain is avenged 7-fold, truly Lamech 77-fold’. The number 7 indicates the full number. And whereas Lamech the son of Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, is the symbol of avenge in unmeasurable times, Jesus is the symbol of forgiveness in unmeasurable times. The one who is obsessed with punishment stands here in opposition to the One Who forgives.

A word study into the original Greek for forgiveness will not be of much help as it one of those words that is used very frequently in the ancient Greek language, with even so many different meanings. Essentially the word means 'letting go' and other equivalent meanings. 

Because Jesus lived in a Hebrew-like speaking environment, the original Hebrew word might help us. In the old Testament there are 2 words mainly used for forgiving and forgiveness. One word describes the act of lifting up to describe forgiveness, and the other word in Hebrew means to cover up or cover over, but with expiation in mind.

It is the act of expiation in forgiving, which has been neglected in our contemporary society. When you look up forgiveness on the internet it now says: Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. 

One could argue that this is not the explanation of forgiveness as it meant to be in the context of the Old and New Testament. Forgiveness in the OT resulted in reconciliation again with God. That’s why the Jews made offerings in their Temple, because it forgave their sins and reconciled them to God. 

That concept of forgiveness leading to reconciliation is not changed in the New Testament. Except that the offer to be made for sin is once and for all done through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I regularly went to the Church of the Nazarene in Haarlem. It’s a Christian denomination from the Weslyan or Methodist movement of the 19C in the USA. They put an emphasis on holy living and in line with this principle at a sermon the preacher told the following story.

A couple went to a prison to offer forgiveness to the criminal who had harmed them as what they believed was their Christian duty. Instead of accepting this forgiveness he laughed them in the face and assaulted them with his words. 

It is certain that at this meeting not any form of reconciliation has taken place. Even though the couple might have forgiven the criminal, that forgiveness was rejected and so essentially nothing happened that could lead to an opening of a new relationship between the criminal and the couple. What has happened might be in accordance of how forgiveness is explained in this day and age, but it is not forgiveness in Biblical terms because it not with reconciliation in mind between two parties.

Reconciliation takes place after forgiveness is asked and received. In the same way God is reconciling Himself with us after we have accepted the forgiveness we have received through Jesus Christ. To be reconciled with God is not an act of forgiveness on our side, but from God Himself. Through Christ we have received forgiveness and reconciliation, which as the parable shows is given unmeasurable times.

Whereas Lamech is the symbol of avenge, Jesus Christ is God’s Instrument of forgiveness. Forgiveness in the fullest sense of the word; leading to reconciliation between Gon and each one of us. 

Hans

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