Saturday, 24 June 2017

All We Have Is THIS Church

I have been reading "Searching for Sunday" by Rachel Held Evans. I have found it to be a great read - and it is my book for June in my series of reading a book a month during - and just beyond - 2017, so see my partner blog - http://easternsynodyob.blogspot.co.uk/ - for a bit more on that. It says a little about the books that I am reading this month.

However, there were a couple of perceptive comments about the church, towards the end of the book, that I felt just belonged here in this blog.

We are called to be part of the church. It is God's church - but it is us who are in the church, and that sometimes means we get to find ourselves in an awkward church, sometimes that we find ourselves in an exciting church. But this is the church we have. As Evans puts it: "All we have is this church - this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church - which, by God's grace, is enough." It might seem that 'lousy' and 'glorious' do not belong in the same sentence, but they absolutely do. It is entirely right that God's grace keeps us on track.

Evans also says: "We expect a trumpet and a triumphant entry, but as always, God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother's womb, in an empty tomb. Church isn't some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here."

I like that. God is awesome - but God engages with us, as we are, where we are. The ordinary and the spectacular are all mixed up. God's presence makes a difference. How can we help but be excited to be part of God's church?!

Friday, 23 June 2017

Love and Peace

John, in his Gospel, is clear that love and peace are the hallmarks of those who follow Jesus. Are they seen in us when others look to see what we are like, who it is whom we represent? Jesus clearly promises his presence and the presence of the Spirit to those who keep his commandments to love and serve one another. This love isn’t a feeling. It’s a ‘doing’. It is love in action. It’s love that you can look and see. But let’s take Jesus at his word – if we love and serve each other, then he promises to be right here with us. As one commentator puts it: “the peace of God is the confidence that God is God and neither our gains nor our losses are ultimate.” The way in which we describe what it feels like to have this continuing presence of God is in the word ‘peace’.

God gives us peace, not any old peace, but God’s peace. It is the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is about wholeness. It is about that all-embracing peace that sustains us. And that’s there for us, whenever we need it.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Hey Baldy!

My reflection that was part of the closing worship at Eastern Synod's Big Day Out in Trinity Park, Ipswich today.

A reading from 2 Kings 2, verses, 23 to 24  (NIV)
“23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”

It’s been an interesting week, an interesting few weeks.  Terror at a pop concert in Manchester, repeated on a bridge and in restaurants in London.  An election that has left us in a very interesting place.  The idea of feasts and festivals is about celebrating.  And, despite all the struggles, I think we have got an awful lot to celebrate in the church.  And I want to celebrate it.  That’s why I think a day like today is great.  And that’s why I recognise that we have a God who is great.  Our God is awesome.

But somehow it seems that, at this particular point, we also need to say something about the context in which we currently find ourselves.  And that is why I have chosen to read a brief passage, just a couple of verses, that I think I can guarantee that none of you were expecting.  

Elisha is annoyed.  Elisha is the prophet and he has been doing a bit of good.  We didn’t read about it, but if we had read the few verses just before the ones we did read, we would have about the problems with the water supply and how Elisha became God’s instrument for sorting that one out.  And what’s his reward?  He is called names, and not just by anybody, by small boys.  Hey baldy!  Well, Elisha is not only good at blessings.  He can do cursings as well.  And so a couple of bears are invoked and 42 of these lads meet a horrible end.  As Brueggemann says: “The incident put Israel on notice.  This Elisha is dangerous and is not to be trifled with, not by small boys, not by kings, not by anybody.”

Now, to be honest, I am not really sure what you do with this kind of passage.  The name-calling shouldn’t have happened, but the response seems extreme beyond words. 

I chose the passage because I want to say, in a similar way, that I am not really sure what you do with some of the stuff that has been going on of late.  And I am talking more about terrorism than elections.  But there is a lot of stuff there in the mix.  I learned this last week that one of the victims of the Manchester attack, Chloe Rutherford, was part of our United Reformed Church at South Shields.  What can we say to such a situation?  Nothing really.  But we find ourselves in a time of lament, not feasts and festivals.  Except that the two are mixed up together, as is demonstrated by the second Manchester concert, the one in memory, poignantly the day after the London stuff.

I don’t know why, any more than you do.  It is certainly nothing to do with Islam as it is properly followed.  And I don’t know what to say.  But I do know that we remain people of hope.  We remain those who follow a risen Lord.  And we must play our full part in sharing God’s love with those whom we encounter, with discovering how to live out that abundant life that God offers, with recognising the pain, and the hurt, and the struggle, but also seeing the possibilities and the opportunities and responding to the challenges.  And so, as we go into a world that has more armed police on our streets than normal, that is trying to sort out a changed and uncertain political landscape, that is going to bring Brexit, whatever that may mean, let us go with the joy of our feasting and our "festivalling".  

Nehemiah is another who had quite a tough time, but he reminds us, Nehemiah 8:10 – for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Now there’s a good mission statement: the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Treasuring

Treasuring Rather Than Needing -

I recently read Menna van Praag’s novel The Lost Art of Letter Writing in which she tells the story of Clara who, counter-culturally for today, runs a shop in Cambridge where you can go to write a letter. The shop is stocked with lovely paper and amazing pens and it provides the opportunity to express those things that really matter, and to take the time to do so.

In a world of texts and emails, the novel offers a challenge to where we have reached. For me it is a book about people finding themselves, and we all need the opportunity to do that.

I was struck by a passage in which Clara’s house is contrast with that of her mother. It is an interesting passage because it talks about treasuring as against needing. That is fascinating, because we often talk about needing as against wanting, making the point that what you need, not what you want, is the important thing. That thinking is here moved into a different place as what you need is displaced by what you treasure.

“It’s not about needing, Clara wants to say, it’s about treasuring. But she knows there’s no point. Her mother is so unlike her in this respect (and most others) that they simply aren’t able to understand each other. Sophia’s house is all cream and chrome, plain carpets, unadorned walls, sleek modern appliances, without a sign of past or personality, and everything looking – at least on Clara’s rare visits – as if airbrushed for an imminent magazine shoot. By contrast, Clara’s house (inherited from her grandfather) is a homage to chaos, clutter, colour and old-fashioned living. No two rooms are alike, though they share common themes – vintage clocks, weathered Persian rugs, velvet cushions, potted purple orchids, stacks of books, framed letters written by famous people – and all are unified by the fact that everything appears to be dated c.1900 and it seems that nothing once arrived in the house had ever left again.”

What are the things that you treasure?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Trinity

I have been reading Eamon Duffy's collection of sermons, Walking to Emmaus, and was struck by some of what he said in a sermon about the Trinity. Like many other preachers, I have often (though not always) tried to avoid it as a theme, but I have sometimes been struck by the wonderful modelling of community that the Trinity provides. Duffy comments interestingly and helpfully on this.

“The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God is not some immense cosmic individual, a lonely power before whom we must bow down and adore. The innermost being and reality of God which we are called to share is not isolation, but relationship: God is love.  

And that means that we ourselves are not individuals first and foremost, and only then, and secondarily, members of a community. Mrs Thatcher, notoriously, once said that there was no such thing as society. The Christian proclamation of the Trinity insists that there is nothing else except society.  We become people only in relation to others.”

Community matters - and we do need each other. Duffy also reflects that point.

“We must learn to live alongside each other not by avoiding speaking of our loves, but by listening to each other’s loves. We don’t need less faith in the city, we need more of it: more faith, more hope, more love, more idealism, more forgiveness, more concern for each other, more eagerness to welcome and care for the fragile and the unlovely, more attention to whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.”

How can we model better community?

Friday, 7 April 2017

What Sort of Journey?

It has often been the case that Christians have been called people of the way. The idea of our discipleship as a journey is one that occurs frequently. We are a travelling people. The great commission is to 'go'.

One of the other things, to which we often refer, is the call to take up our cross, and so follow in the way of Jesus. It is an important one - and we must not allow familiarity to diminish the impact of the call. As Jeremy Duff points out in Peter's Preaching - "People who walked carrying a cross were on their way to die, for those who were both of low status (a Roman citizen could not be crucified) and convicted of the worst crimes (in Roman eyes, rebellion and treason) were condemned to die in this most horrific of fashions. It was more than just death; it was public humiliation and shame, displaying the victim's powerlessness to all, as they were forced to cooperate in their own execution by walking through the streets, carrying the cross beam on which they would die."

What a challenging picture! What a journey! What a way!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Disciple

Just started reading Jeremy Duff's book Peter's Preaching, an exploration of the message of Mark's Gospel. Duff suggest that Mark is trying to pass on Peter's message and is not interested in writing a chronologically ordered diary. He takes various themes, starting with the theme of being a disciple.

Duff suggests that Jesus gives the 'Twelve', the core group of disciples, three roles - "to be with him, to proclaim the message and to have authority over demons."

Duff recognises that we might prefer something more 'mainstream' than having authority over demons. However he suggests that "It is perhaps appropriate and helpful to see 'authority over demons' as equivalent to 'authority to release people from whatever binds them.'"

I certainly find that helpful. As we read the pages of the Gospels, we indeed see "Jesus bringing this release to people". What a great mission in which to share!