Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Gospel Challenges - Being a Neighbour

Matthew 25 reports something important about how we respond to others. We know it well; but do we live by it? I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me sonething to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. ..... truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me!

Is it not an indictment on the church and society that we still can, all too easily, identify those who might be dubbed the outcast or the marginalised? We need to learn to take seriously Christ's instruction that we are to be seen as his hands, feet, voice - that we have the job of offering his love. We need to see Christ in our needy neighbour.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Gospel Challenges - Loving Enemies

Another big Gospel challenge comes on the question of enemies. Even the best of us really want to keep them at a distance. That is the best we manage. Some of us want to actively find ways of disadvantaging, if not actually attacking, them, but the words of Jesus turn us round from such an attitude: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For Jesus love is the response to everything and everyone. So, I wonder what other Gospel standards it might be worth our while to measure ourselves against? Perhaps one would be our tendency to judge others, and the gospel instruction to refrain from doing so - do not judge others.

That instruction can be aligned to the poignant picture of the chap who goes round with a huge great log stuck in his eye trying to persuade others that they ought to scoop out the tiny specks that are there in their eyes. Is there not a lot here for us? Do we not repeatedly spend our time worrying about what we regard as the misdemeanours of others when we would do well to expend that energy sorting out ourselves?

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Gospel Challenges - Forgiveness

Some of the most challenging aspects of the Gospel come in the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, there's the thing about revenge which links into Jesus' discussion with Peter about forgiveness. Peter bravely suggests that he would be prepared to offer seven loads of forgiveness and expects to be commended for his generosity. Instead, he is challenged to multiply his offer by seventy. and that is so ridiculous in terms of counting it up, that it clearly means forgiveness without limit. I wonder where we stand when we measure ourselves up against the Gospel's comments on forgiveness. I rather suspect that, like Peter, we tend to think that seven is a pretty good offer. We like to be forgiven; but there are limits to what we can seriously be expected to do. Jesus doesn't only say that we should be prepared to let someone take advantage of us, as we would see it. He says that we should willingly increase what they ask of us. The damage, as it were, should be doubled. How seriously do we take the challenge of these words - but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Virus as a Summons to Faith

I have just read Walter Brueggemann’s Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty”. It is an interesting reflection on what faith says to a time of pandemic.

Brueggemann explores how the Bible, especially the Old Testament, addresses such moments. Citing Jeremiah, he points out the futility of suggesting that God somehow magically sorts out the things that go drastically wrong – “More than any other witness in the Old Testament, Jeremiah leans most deeply and most honestly into the disaster of his people. He takes the failure of social assemblies as a sign of the death of the city. When the city cannot assemble for rites of passage it is sure evidence that social life has failed. Indeed among us, it is only the foolish who insist on assembling, among them pastors who insist that Jesus will protect us from the virus.”

However, he also makes clear that the note of hope is still to be sounded –The prophet anticipates that in this place of waste, disaster, and devastation the sounds of festival celebration will again be heard. Life will resume in its rich social thickness. Amid the sounds of social gladness there will be songs of thank offering sung to the God who restores and revivifies.”

The point is that we need to be ready to move on, and actively looking to do so, tempting thought it may be to do otherwise. “In our moment of fear and insecurity, we may be tempted to hold on to what was once safe and secure. Prophetic tradition knows, to the contrary, that the future does not reside in old treasured realities. It belongs, rather, to bold faithful thought that evokes bold faithful action. This has always been the prophetic task, and it is now, in this freighted moment, our prophetic task. The new thing God is making possible is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.” The essential message is that God is with us, come what may, but, alongside that, is a reminder that change is part of the given patterns of life, and if there are things that are challenging us to a greater change than usual – “We can embrace a new normal that is God’s gift to us!”

Adjusting will be challenging – “newness is never cozy; it arrives through a struggle that turns out to be birth, though along the way the struggle might have been mistaken for death pangs. Newness is not easy for the God who will create a homecoming for exiles, according to this poet. Newness is not easy in creation that is too long in the grip of deathliness.”

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Hearing God's Voice

God speaks in many different ways.

Moses saw a bush on fire, but not burning up. He went to investigate and found himself having an encounter with the living God - the God who, then and there, called him to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery to the new promised land, flowing with milk and honey. It's all there in Exodus 3 and 4 and, though he really did not want to go, he eventually did respond positively to the call of God.

Paul was stopped in his tracks by a blinding (literally) light on the way to Damascus - and he found himself going to join those whom he had originally been  planning to persecute - that's in Acts 9.

Isaiah also saw a vision - though he was in church at the time or, as we should really say, the temple. In Isaiah 6 we read about the amazing vision seen by Isaiah, and his fearful response to the call of God - woe is me, I am lost - for I am a man of unclean lips! But God gives him the cleansing touch that he needs so that he is able to change his response and say - here am I, send me!

Jacob had one of the most remarkable encounters with God. He wrestled with God - Genesis 32. This is one of the most interesting stories of the Old Testament, and we can be sure that after this Jacob was marked both physically and mentally.

Elijah was one of those who heard the soft whisper of a voice - 1 Kings 19. He expected something much more spectacular, but it was not to be. God just quietly and calmly told Elijah what he wanted him to know.

Samuel was sleeping when he thought he heard someone calling - 1 Samuel 3.

David had the prophet come by and anoint him with oil - 1 Samuel 16.

Jeremiah felt an inner compulsion - Jeremiah 1, but also Jeremiah 20:9.

For the Ethiopian official in Acts 8 it was an encounter with a Christian that led him to meet the one who would become his Lord. Philip, specially placed there by God, took the opportunity that opened up before him and this man, in his turn, responded to the opportunity.

For Lydia - in Acts 16 - it was the preaching of Paul that was the spur that moved her into a brand new experience that surely revolutionised her life. She responded to the proclamation of the Gospel.

And for John  Wesley it was a remarkable inner feeling that God had just touched him in a very special way - "In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

A Calling

One of the things that Jesus did time and time again is that he called people. It started with the four fishermen. It carried on with the rest of the disciples. But that was not the end. The challenge was frequently repeated. Come with me! Follow me! This is integral to Jesus' ministry and message. He calls us to join in his healing work, healing the wounds of society at every level. He calls us to work with him for a society of love and equality. We should be passing on this call of Jesus to those around us. The invitation we constantly should be offering is: come and join us! Someone has said that we should be like magnets. If we want to attract people, as a magnet attracts iron filings, we will have to live attractive lives because, if we don't, people will be repelled, rather than attracted.

Sunday, 31 May 2020


Yesterday I listened to one of the sessions at this year's, necessarily online, Hay-on-Wye Book Festival. The speaker was Rhidian Brook, promoting his recent book, Godbothering: Thoughts, 2000-2020 - As heard on 'Thought for the Day' on BBC Radio 4. It was a fascinating conversation and, having begun to read the book, it is full of useful thoughts and insights.

Thought for the Day is limited to less than three minutes, ideally two minutes forty five seconds, so, in around five hundred words, something useful, topical and faith-linked is to be said. I have to admit that I don't often hear Thought for the Day, and certainly don't ever remembering hearing Rhidian Brook, but I am enjoying the read and the insights. I also find it interesting that though these thoughts were invariably topical for the moment, there are a lot of enduring thoughts in there. I don't feel that I am simply reading reflections on events of up to two decades ago.

Just a couple of comments that have particularly struck me in the early 'thoughts' -

"Jesus encouraged us to be real in our communication with God, to share what’s on our hearts and minds, rather than get all pious about what we should be praying for. What’s the point in praying for world peace if we’re not able to pray for peace in our own lives, the debts we have, our failing relationships, our sick neighbour? Our prayers don’t have to be long and complex. ‘Oh God, Please help!’ is as real a prayer as any."

"The problem with the word saint is that it has lost something of its true meaning. These days a saint is either an archaic, aloof fanatic or an impossibly good person doing things people like you and me can never do. A saint is a member of an elite club that we are barred from entering, yet to be a saint is to be the very opposite of superior or elite. Nor is a saint someone who is impossibly good. A saint is really an ordinary person made exceptional by the transforming power of God."