Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Stones Themselves Will Shout

On the first Palm Sunday the Pharisees didn’t appreciate the songs of the disciples and tried to silence them – but the joy of the moment simply had to be expressed.  The city which had, for so long, waited for the Messiah, the ancient city of bricks and mortar, could not hold back from acclaiming his arrival when, at last, it came.  Jesus told them: I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting.  I am glad that there are so many ways in which God’s people cannot help but reflect his glory.  I am glad of all those times when I see God’s light and love shining through and, though that’s always good, it is especially notable when it happens in situations of some adversity.
I am glad of the songs that I find myself singing to God, whether they are literal songs, just as together we might sing a hymn or a song, or whether they are the songs that show themselves through what I do.  Are we making enough noise to keep the stones silent – or are the stones of our time and place straining to offer their praise because we don’t seem to be.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are ready to keep the stones quiet – because we are the ones doing the praising.  God is great.  God is to be praised.  Let us recognise that in our context, and in the ways that work for us.  And let’s be sure that we are not so fickle that we abandon our praising when the going gets a bit tough!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


We live in an instant society, where we want everything yesterday, and it is often available at the touch of a button.  One of the common Biblical messages is of the need to wait.  Sometimes we just need to stop.  We are so good at rushing around, but risk missing out because we rush past things.  What does God want you to wait for?  Are you going to be patient?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Prayer as Protest

It is Monday of Holy Week and a good time to reflect on how we engage with God.  We usually name that as prayer.  Prayer is the means by which we express our relationship with God and engage in communication.  A good relationship will have a variety of communication, and so it should be in our prayers.  We are not always going to be feeling good, but there will be those times when we feel ‘on top of the world’. 

I am reading Gordon Mursell’s book “Out of the Deep” (DLT, 1989).  In it he explores the range of prayer and, in particular, what he calls ‘prayer as protest’ – the need we sometimes have to articulate the struggles we are experiencing.  He comments at the beginning (p. 5/6): “Prayer will not just be an occasional expression of delight or respect.  It will be hard work, requiring perseverance and effort and unrelenting honesty.  Secondly the agenda for prayer will embrace the whole of our lives, not only (or even primarily) the religious parts.  If our prayer is no more than the spiritual equivalent of talking about the weather it is perhaps not surprising that it fails to satisfy, let alone to attract.  But if, as with any intimate human relationship, nothing is too important or too trivial to be excluded, then our feelings, our questions, our cries for help – in short our protests – will have a place within it.”

God wants our honesty and can cope with our protests.  God doesn’t offer a magic wand to solve all our problems, but promises to be with us, come what may.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Value Yourself

One of the things with mission is that there is always more that can be done.  There is a danger that we spend so much time planning, running committees, organising workshops etc that we lose sight of the mission task.  That needs not to be so.  However, neither should we run ourselves into the ground.  God doesn't ask of us more than is possible for us - and God values our contributions.  Adrian Chatfield (in "Pioneers 4 Life" ed David Male, BRF, 2011, p. 86) comments: "Don't allow the church to load burdens on you that God never intended.  Not least, treat yourself as God treats you, with forgiveness, generosity and an awareness of the value that he sees in you.  God has time for you, so have time for yourself."

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Gone Fishing

One of the Biblical models for mission is that of the fisherman.  Four of the first disciples fished for their living, most prominently, of course, Peter.  The idea is of going to catch, or engage with, folk.  Fishing can seem like a fairly passive thing to do - just waiting to see what gets caught.  But the good fisherman is actively engaged, trying to achieve results not just waiting to see what they might be.  

As George Lings points out: "I have never met a desultory fly fisherman.  They can be puzzled, discouraged or frustrated, but they don't go fishing to sit around or do a bit of bird watching.  Fly fishermen watch the water to see where the trout are rising, they compare notes about what flies the fish are taking, and they cast accordingly.  Spotting opportunity and taking action is one way of describing this process" (in "Pioneers 4 Life" ed David Male, BRF, 2011, p. 38).

Are we sitting around waiting for mission to happen or are we spotting opportunities and taking action?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Planks and Specks

I love that joke that Jesus tells in Luke 6, verses 41 and 42 – “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, with never a thought for the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,” when you are blind to the plank in your own?”  It is such a ridiculous picture.  It makes us laugh, or it should.  Yet it is often there in real life, and that is why the idea is a good basis for a parable as with the little story that we can read in Luke 18, the one we usually call the 'Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector'.  They are both praying.  The Pharisee doesn't mind who sees him.  Indeed, we get the impression that he wants to be seen.  He lives the good life that he should, and he wants to be recognised as a good role model.  The Tax Collector takes a very different stance.  Making himself as unobtrusive as possible, his prayer is a begging of God's forgiveness.  It is a story of contrasts.  This is almost a competition set up by the Pharisee.  As with most of the parables, we know the story so well that we know it is not going to end in a good place.  But put yourself in the place of Jesus’ original listeners.  The tax-collectors were a despised  bunch.  They worked for the Roman occupiers.  They cheated.  They extorted.  They got rich at the expense of their fellow countryfolk.  Those who were listening to Jesus would not expect him to say anything good about such a person.  A Pharisee offers a stark contrast to such a person.  We don’t like the Pharisees because they always seemed to be clashing with Jesus.  But they were the folk who got it right, and the people of Jesus’ time knew it.  They provided the models to which anyone ought to aspire.  But Jesus turns the conventional thinking of his day on its head. 
Those who were listening to Jesus needed to learn that God does not always use the sources we might expect.  They needed to learn that they needed to look for what God is doing, recognising that it might not be what they expected.