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I talked recently in church about how I think that Jesus isn't really asking us to believe in him.  I think it is more that he is asking us to follow him.  When he calls his disciples in the early chapters of the Gospels all he asks is that they follow him.  When he wants people to behave in a certain way he tells a story, sometimes difficult to understand, that illustrates what he means and leaves the listener to make up their own mind.  When he heals people he is hoping that we will be able to follow his example, be there for the person and need and do whatever we can for them.  He asks that we do what he does - love God and love our neighbour.  In the past I don't think it has been helpful to people outside the church to expect them to accept certain aspects of our faith and say that they believe in them before we accept them as one of us.  I wonder what Jesus would have thought of us standing facing east every Sunday and reciting the Creed as if that were a measure of how good a Christian we were.

Jesus asks us to follow him.  His call to follow him applies as much to the church as it does to us on a personal level. So if Jesus is asking us to follow him then where better to look than the Gospels for inspiration.  On a lighter note I have twice recently been reminded of examples from Jesus' ministry in answer to people who have been critical of children's behaviour.  One afternoon when we were offering teas and coffees to hard pressed parents at the end of term an angry grand parent pointed to some children climbing a tree and demanded that I stop them saying that this was disrespectful - I was tempted to tell him the story of Zacchaeus, who as we all remember was short of stature and climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus as he passed by.  And when people get cross when they see children running in church I remind them of the greatest of all the parables - the story of the prodigal son.  When the penitent son returns, the father pulls up his robes and runs towards him.  If God runs towards us when we are in need then how can we mind if children run in church?

So how can the Gospels inspire St. James', on a practical level?

Jesus says, many times in the Gospels, take up your cross and follow me.  We can talk for hours about what exactly he meant, but I think we can all agree that he was suggesting that life can be tough and that following Jesus will not necessarily be easy.  One of the things we offer at St. James' is the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings about what it is to have a Christian faith in a safe and nurturing environment in our Alpha course.  We have been running Alpha at St. James' for three years now and you only have to talk to some of the people who have attended to find out how good it can be to talk openly about our faith and what it means to us as we live our lives and share the joys and sorrows, doubts and fears of following Jesus.  No question is off limits and we still manage to have a lot of fun!  Please think about coming along - if not this year the next time we put it on.

How about this?   The Gospels tell that Jesus fed the five thousand.  Jesus is talking to people on a hillside some way from the nearest habitation and the disciples see that they are hungry - so he feeds them. I have always thought that the message from this parable is Jesus wants to show his disciples - you can do this.  How can this inspire us? We have heard that some of the families whose children come to St. James' depend on free school meals to feed their families during term time.  During the holidays there is a strong chance that these families will struggle to feed their children and some children may go hungry.  So we are going to offer to provide a sandwich lunch to families who ask for this at the beginning of the school holidays.  If you want to help prepare the food or get involved please sign up on the board in church.  And pray for this venture.  Jesus says to Peter in John 21 ‘Feed my lambs'.  What more instruction do we need?

When the disciples, in Matthew 18 ask Jesus who is the most important amongst them, Jesus answers them by putting a child in the middle of the circle and says to them that to be part of the Kingdom of God you must be childlike.  Jesus is telling the disciples and us to put children at the centre of what we do.  And I think we are trying our very best at St. James' to follow Jesus in this, with Kidz Worship, the Scallopinis, the Family Service, Dads and Kids and 3rd Sunday.  I am especially delighted that Andy Hamilton, cub leader, has offered to run a youth group for our slightly older children which will launch in the autumn.  Please pray that children come and enjoy themselves!

John Pares