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Rev Robert Barthram's Monthly Letter

Welcome to the Rev. Robert Barthram's monthly letter

 

Here Robert will expore what is happening in the world and his life and how it affects his belief and his ministory.

By Rev Robert Barthram, May 12 2016 12:22PM

Dear Friends,


In my letter for the March Grange News I began by quoting someone who had said in a conversation, ‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ I went onto say briefly why it is, ‘the most important thing.’ I’m sure a very natural and expected subject to read about in a church newsletter in a month that included both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


Going back a few months to Christmas I recall how we often read the opening of John’s Gospel at our carol services. Yesterday I happened to be reading about those opening words where Jesus is described as the Word. In what I read it said of Jesus, ‘He alone is God come to us. No other can stand alongside him or take his place. The revelation in Jesus Christ is the final revelation.’ Again surely what one would expect to read in a church newsletter.


These are things I believe and have preached now quite a few years but increasingly I now find they set me apart from many in the society in which I live. Several times recently the thought has occurred to me, ‘I don’t fit in with today’s Britain, I am not comfortable here.’ A thought I know some of you have had as well, which you have expressed in conversations with me.


Recently there was a glaring example of why I feel a stranger in the country of my birth. It was reported on the national news how a Christian NHS worker had lost her appeal against suspension. From the Christian broadcaster Premier Radio I found out more details.


They reported how Victoria Wasteney was found guilty by her NHS employer in 2014 of ‘harassing and bullying’ a work friend by giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity, praying with her and asking her to church. She was suspended for nine months and given a written warning, even though the woman had been happy to discuss faith with her and never gave evidence about her allegations to the NHS. Ms Wasteney, a senior occupational therapist, challenged the decision by East London NHS Foundation Trust at an employment tribunal last year, but it ruled that her employer had not discriminated against her. Now she has lost an appeal against that decision after a judge dismissed the suggestion the original ruling had not applied the European Convention on Human Rights’ strong protection of freedom of religion and expression.


Following the decision, Ms Wasteney, from Epping, Essex, said: “What the court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an employment tribunal.”


Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Ms Wasteney, said:

“Week by week Christians are marginalised, threatened, sidelined, sacked and disciplined simply for holding normal conversations about their faith which is held dear to them.

The United Kingdom has a strong foundation rooted in Christianity which has brought us freedom and flourishing. The NHS and our Education System were started by Christians - motivated by their faith. Our legal system was founded on Christian values and yet we now see that it is one of the most liberal and anti-Christian legal systems in the Western world.

This is ironic given that it is Christianity that has given our society freedom, tolerance and hospitality.”


We shouldn’t be surprised that what is natural and expected in a church newsletter may be alien in today’s world as it was in the first century and can even meet hostility. For did not the apostle Peter in his letter describe us as, ‘strangers and refugees in the world’ (1 Peter 2:11). Yet he also reminds us we have, ‘a living hope’ (1:3) because of the resurrection and how we should whatever the circumstances give an:

“account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (3:15).


With best wishes,

R


By Rev Robert Barthram, Mar 11 2016 07:59AM

Dear Friends,


‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ Words spoken a few days ago in a small group that I was part of: words spoken to help an individual and to say the essentials without too many words. Words that neatly sum up so much and appropriate for this letter with both Good Friday and Easter Sunday falling in March but as all of April is in the season of Easter that can be written about next time. So what should I say first?


To answer that question my thoughts go to news I heard also a few days ago about the death of a URC minister, Professor Alan Sell, a man I was privileged to know one of the greatest intellects in our denomination, which was matched only by his humility and good humour.


At the beginning of this new millennium he wrote about an early 20th century theologian, P.T. Forsyth and I am reminded of some of the things he wrote.


Professor Sell quotes the words of Forsyth for those who reduce Jesus’ death to just an example of God’s love:

“Christ came not to say something but to do something. His revelation was action more than instruction. He revealed by redeeming. The thing He did was not simply to make us aware of God’s disposition in an impressive way. It was not to declare forgiveness. It was certainly no to explain forgiveness. And it was not even to bestow forgiveness. It was to effect forgiveness, and to set up the revelation of forgiveness both in God and man.”


He then writes following that quote of how he believes, ‘that the Cross is more than a visual aid concerning God’s character and demeanour. It is the place where atonement is made and the once-for-all victory is wrought.’


You may wonder how this can be. Is our sin not really that bad or can God just be overlooking it? How can we be forgiven and there be such a complete victory?


The answer is neither that ‘we are actually not that bad’ nor that ‘God just forgives and forgets.’ In God there is both love and holiness and our sin affronts God’s holy love but he takes the initiative and it is God in Christ who renders satisfaction and makes reconciliation to himself possible, ‘the atoning sacrifice is made possible by God and received by him.’

He quotes from P.T. Forsyth’s well named book, The Cruciality of the Cross:

“The one thing God could not do was simply to wipe the slate and write off the loss. He must either inflict punishment or assume it.”


As two modern hymns say:


“for every sin on Him was laid;

here in the death of Christ I live.”


“This the power of the cross:

Son of God slain for us.

What a love! What a cost!

We stand forgiven at the cross.”



In His Name,


Robert


By Rev Robert Barthram, Dec 5 2015 04:43PM

Dear Friends,


A month ago I wrote about our changing world and said, ‘if there is one constant it is change: that change is constant.’ I went on to say how there is one other constant other than change that we may rely on for we have faith in a God who is unchanging and may be trusted.


Now Christmas is approaching a time when much is familiar and seems unchanging but it is certainly not always the same. As I look back to last Christmas I remember a very different occasion. Our grandson was born 12 days before Christmas and then spent over a month in neo-natal units.


Ironically Viv and I awoke Christmas morning in a stranger’s home. Our host’s cultural background meant for them Christmas Eve was the big day so for them Christmas had already happened while ours was yet to come. We drove to our daughter’s before leaving for the hospital (a journey usually only done on public transport but this day by car through deserted streets and with no parking restrictions in central London) not worship as is our normal habit on Christmas Day.


When our daughter and son-in-law arrived at the hospital they found a Christmas card waiting for them, prepared by Friends of the hospital with a photo in it of their son and written to mum and dad, a card they treasure. The atmosphere in the unit was its usual efficiency and care but with something special that day. Lunchtime arrived and it was down to the canteen with a fine choice of sandwiches to choose from. There was however the traditional Christmas lunch with all the trimmings but that was for the staff and for which there was a long queue. I was glad they were being treated well and so grateful they were there and sacrificing time with family and loved ones.


Eventually we left and returned to our daughter’s and there were some of the trappings of a traditional Christmas Day but they all seemed a bit strange and subdued.


For most of us it was the first time we had not been at worship on Christmas Day. We commented on how strange it was to not be singing our praises and thanks that day for the birth at Bethlehem. It was still Christmas, we had been in a place full of very unwell babies and the day was marked even there. We were given a stark reminder that birth is precarious even today with all our modern hospitals so how much more would it have been so in ancient times and how much more is it in some places and situations in our world today without sanitation and medical assistance!


The amazing truth of Christmas, the creator of all became a human being with the risks of childbirth and the vulnerabilities of a baby. Our nativity plays can make it appear very cute and cuddly but this was a birth away from home without normal family support with accommodation in an area of a house normally used by animals, an animal feeding trough is certainly not ideal as a cradle. It is as we sing in one of our carols:

“Lo, within a manger lies

He who built the starry skies”

Let us never cease to be amazed at the risks our Saviour God took for us.


Wishing you joy and peace at Christmas,


Robert



By Rev Robert Barthram, Jul 21 2015 08:38AM

Dear Friends,


In my letter last month I welcomed you on board a journey through the month of May. When you read this hopefully you will have arrived safely at the end of your journey but I write this with several of the stops on the journey to come. One of them is the festival of Pentecost, the third great festival of the Christian Year.


There is no real acknowledgement of this festival in the wider world and so there is the danger that for us too it can be seen as, ‘just another Sunday’ but it is certainly not. At Pentecost we celebrate the gift of God the Spirit just as at Christmas we celebrate the gift of God the Son. With the work of the Son complete there is the promise of, ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), the promise is kept and that power came and remains with his followers. The Church and its mission began and because of that we are part of a worldwide Church all these years later. Truly a cause for celebration.


On the St. Andrew’s building you can still see the banner that was put up when we welcomed the Olympic Torch to Reading. It still has relevance as a welcoming statement. It reminds me of some words from a book written by Bernard Thorogood a former General Secretary of the United Reformed Church and I share them with you as you journey through the Pentecost season.

Wind and Fire

“The fire of the Spirit was not a general flame,

not bushfire, contagious, engulfing all.

But a flame on each one.

So we never claim to carry the flame

from place to place,

as though the Spirit is our private box of matches

or little incense pot.


But the fire is there, already, now.

It shines in the eyes of the eager,

joyful, trusting children of God.

It is there in the hands of the healers

and servers and bearers of heavy loads.

It is local. A flame on each one.


There is also the wind, and the wind travels;

across oceans and mountains, always in movement.

May God let us be the breezes of the Spirit,

which fan the flames and fill the house

and let the smoking flax burst into a glory of fire.

Wind and fire, life of the Spirit,

universal and local, be our energy;

wind and fire, elements of Pentecost,

power for the kingdom, be power for our city.”


With best wishes,

Robert


By Rev Robert Barthram, Apr 2 2015 07:44PM

Dear Friends,


Recently on a Sunday evening the BBC began a new drama series Poldark based on late 18th century Cornwall. There were various publicity efforts for the new TV series including some still photos, everything appeared to be right in the photo for the period then someone spotted a burglar alarm box on a house wall. A bit similar to a publicity photo for Downton Abbey last year when on the mantelpiece was a plastic water bottle. Despite the probable hours spent on production the mistakes had been made and missed.


The photos illustrate how mistakes can be made and often very soon spotted and pointed out for everyone to see. I read some words recently that made me think of how easy it is to miss glaring mistakes.


I read, ‘Wherever you are, whatever you are like, whatever you believe, you are going to find a welcome,’ words referring to one persons view of heaven. They struck me as a bit odd, for is not the bible full of calls to repent and believe? Is not the Christian message summed up in John’s Gospel saying, ‘whosoever believes?’ Did not Jesus tell only one robber he was today to be with him in Paradise?


It was a strange thing to read in a Christian book. It did not take long to find the reason for such an idea for on the next page it said, ‘when Christ became man, God brought all men in as his children, not just the ones who made a profession of faith.’ One mistake leads to another. The bible states, ‘all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’ God becoming human, the incarnation means we can enter into a new relationship with God, not that we have automatically done so; we are still free to reject God. He does not force us into His family.


The error made is actually a common one. Christmas is seen as more important than Easter, the incarnation and not the death of Christ is mistakenly seen as the crucial thing. As Christians we must always remember the cross and not the cradle is the heart of our faith. The death of Christ is the very heart of Christianity. Jesus died because there is something wrong with us all, keeping us from God. His death was for us. By faith it can be our death to the old life. Christ risen tells us He won a victory and if you believe in Him you share that victory. This is good news rather than the wishful thinking and the easy words of earlier.

It is good to spot mistakes, which is false teaching. We must refute that which undermines our faith. For in this sick and sorry world the honest if uncomfortable truth is better for all and means we do not vaguely hope we will go to Heaven but know that in Christ we do.

Wishing you a joyous Easter,


Robert


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