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People from across The Church of England in Lancashire have been participating in our first ever online conference #HomeGrown: Hearts on fire with love for you.

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Our Blackburn Diocese conference has featured a number of live YouTube sessions over two days (October 13 and 14); as well as Zoom-based seminars and live online prayer.

In the second main YouTube session, Bishop Jill gave a talk on the topic ‘Jesus and Fire’.

You can watch the full talk here via this link directly to the YouTube recording (watch from 56m 07s).

And you can click this link to go to the general YouTube site and catch up on, or watch again, all the other recordings of the live sessions from across the two days of #HomeGrown.

Below you will also find the full text and here is a downloadable pdf version of the talk as well.

Matthew chapter 3

Lord would your torch of Fire pass on this morning and set many hearts on fire with your love

Last night, Bishop Julian spoke of Elijah. How Elijah had great faith to call down fire from heaven at Mount Carmel. How that fire turned people’s hearts back to God.  I loved the winning strapline: “We’re not about survival, but revival”.

This morning, the torch of fire passes on …

To a new Elijah. John the Baptist.

Matthew chapter 3. 1-8:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance

Have you noticed the similarities between John and Elijah?

His clothes, his food, his message – turn back.

This is made even clearer in Luke’s Gospel. The angel appears to John’s father Zechariah in the temple; Luke 1.17: “He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous”

Quick note: Did you spot the sign of the coming of God’s kingdom?

The hearts of parents are turned to their children: this is one of the things that warms my heart most about Lancashire.

Not just in our amazing church schools, but there’s rarely a church I go to where there’s not a deep longing for children and teenagers to be part of the family. Yes, some of us have made more progress than others. Not all of us have a Youth Band like St Tees or Youth Choir like the Cathedral.

But whatever you do, don’t lose that longing to reach across generations. To pass his torch of fire across the generations. Ask him and he’ll show you how 

But what’s’ the gateway to the coming of God’s kingdom? This word: REPENT.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”

It’s not a word in fashion today. It gives you the impression of a man on a street corner with placard – repent the end is nigh!

And he’s not asking us to start by shouting at other people with a placard on the streets

He’s asking US a as church to repent: “judgement begins with the household of God” (1 Pet 4). John reserved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders of his day – “you brood of vipers!”. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

I can just imagine Bishop Philip using that one in General Synod!

Repent of what? Well, ask him and I am sure he will show you. But it’s funny how through history this word ‘repent’ keeps slipping out of fashion. And yet it was the very word both John and then Jesus used as the gateway to His kingdom: (Mark 1)

I am asking the Spirit to give us His translation for today, so people can hear Jesus in their own language.

Maybe a better word for us is: RESET? Have you noticed even in our media we’re talking of a global reset?

Where might we like to do a reset as God’s people in Lancashire?

Martin Luther said this: “Whatever you trust and rely upon – that is properly your God.”

What are the idols we are trusting and relying upon – three quick thoughts:

No 1 idol = Money. Jesus only named one other god – the god of Mammon. Jesus is blunt: “You cannot serve God and Mammon”.This god is wonderfully deceptive… need to look at our financial resilience at the expense of the poor

Worship? Can this become an idol?

Where might we become all talk and no action in our communities. I love that over the last months churches really stepped up in social action, accelerated relationship with councils – see the examples in our Road Trip videos

Third idol pride: Joke – what’s the difference between Englishman and American? An American will tell you how good he is, the English man expects you to know. The Spirit of pride is well and truly at home in our national church. Last week IICSA produced a damning report on child sex abuse in The Church of England. We need to take seriously and repent for our hidden sin and the sin of our ancestors. It may be that you yourself have been affected; bound up by this sin or the sin of others. Don’t let it fester in the darkness; please, please do bring it out into the light.

Matthew 3.11:  “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, who sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”

Baptise was just a normal everyday word in John’s time. You would use it about dyeing cloth. You would baptise it in the dye, so that every fibre of the cloth was soaked in the new colour. John was offering a baptism of water – soaking of every fibre to wash away the dirt

Jesus would bring a baptism of His Spirit and fire – a soaking of every fibre with His Spirit; a soaking of every fibre with His fire

Being soaked in fire sounds a rather scary thing… I confess that when I first came across this sort of verse and heard about the Holy Spirit and fire, it evoked an incredible sense of fear in my heart. Fear that I couldn’t shake; until I came across this in Romans 8.15 …

“I did not give you a spirit that makes you a slave to fear but a spirit of sonship – by whom we cry Abba, Father – Daddy”

Martin Luther said: you can’t stop the birds flying over your head but you can stop them nesting in your hair. Fears are natural – they stop us getting run over by a bus. But take care they don’t start to nest.

As Jesus soaks us in His spirit, he wants to set us free from fear; fear that is nesting, free to know deep in our hearts that we are sons and daughters of the king

As Jesus soaks us in the fire of His love, it’s as if His fire soaks into our wounded places and cauterizes our wounds.

Let’s unpack that a bit more as we read on: 

We get this wonderful baton handing over of from John to Jesus that I’d never noticed before preparing this last night.

Matthew 3.13-17:  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him saying, “I need to be baptised by you and are you coming to me?”

Jesus replied: “Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”.

I am praying for an open heaven over our #HomeGrown conference. That we might hear the voice of God into our hearts. That He might send the fire of His love from heaven into our hearts,

What might that look like?

One of the perks of being a bishop is I get to meet lots of new people. Sometimes they tell you the most surprising things.  

I was on my way out of one of our churches in Blackpool and an old gent came over. With a twinkle in his eye, he whispered: “Can I just say. You - are - the - most - beautiful - bishop I have ever seen!”. I burst into laughter…. He had caught me off guard. No stranger has ever called me beautiful before.

The compliment began to seep into my heart… which started to swell… for a few microseconds. Then he finished his sentence: “but I guess there isn’t much competition!”

How to dash a girl’s hopes in one swift sentence!

Beautiful. It’s not a word I use about myself. It would not be a word many middle-aged women would use about themselves. 

In fact, I think most of us – men and women - are used to giving ourselves a low rating on the good looks score.

It’s starts early. I remember in the school playground, the teachers telling us it doesn’t matter what other kids say about you. Just tell them: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Ha! That’s a complete lie. Broken bones mend without trace. Words spoken over us can stay with us for a very long time.

Kenny Blue was five when he was first put on a horse in his grandfather’s paddock. His grandfather whispered in his ear: “Kenny you’re a natural”. Ever after that, every time he got on a horse, he heard his grandfather’s voice in his ear. “Kenny you’re a natural”.

Kenny Blue went on to win the Olympic Gold medal for horse-riding for the United States.

Here’s the most beautiful thing. The Bible tells us we can be sons and daughters of the king of the universe. That he rejoices over us with songs of love. That his banner over us is love. That he whispers in our ear: “You are my own dear son – my own dear daughter – with you I am well pleased”. I am listening out for that whisper today.

As we come to a close, I hope you’ve caught a glimpse of this handing over of the baton of fire: Elijah to John, John to Jesus, this evening (in Acts) Jesus to church.

Finally, what might taking up that baton of fire look like across our County today?

In our nation, we have an incredible spiritual inheritance. We are literally standing on the shoulders of giants, giants of faith.

Bishop Julian teases me that I have lots of heroes. One of my all-time heroes in the North is St Aidan.

Oh, and by coincidence, St Aidan is always depicted with torch of fire in his hand, lighting beacons across the North.

Earlier in our session tonight I asked Steve to read his beautiful poem I discovered he had written about Aidan. There was wonderful fluency about Aidan’s gentleness, love on fire, and how he led the way in an incredible flourishing of mission across the North in the 7th century.

Aidan was famed for his gentleness. He went round asking questions. Just like Jesus. Try it!

Wherever he went he would simply ask people if they knew Jesus: if they did he’d encourage them to go on in their faith; if they didn’t he would introduce them.

If Aidan was given money, he would use it to random slaves. In today’s language, he would invest in them 1:1; he’d take them with him, teaching them the Scriptures, disciple them on the road, on mission, and then he would ordain them.

I am confident that there is an underground army in our nation: the poor, the broken-hearted, the prisoners the captives; home grown treasure, trapped underground that God has provided for the renewing of his church and his nation.

I am praying that He will send fire. Rivers of fiery magma to reshape the landscape of our nation with the fire of His love. That the unlikeliest people will realise that they are sons and daughters of the king of the universe. He lifts them from the ash heap and seats them with princes. And with that fire of His love in their bellies, they will light torches and beacons across our land. 

Maybe he is lighting that fire in you today. Maybe he is calling you out of the underground. Maybe He is wanting to cauterize your wounds with His fire. Maybe he is wanting to soak, to baptise you in the fire of His love.





Ronnie Semley, October 2020