Saturday, 23 November 2013

Putting Love Where Love Is Not

St. John of the Cross once said, "Mission is putting love where love is not" - quoted in Michael Moynagh, Church for Every Context (SCM, 2012).

Moynagh makes the comment in the context of the possible means of establishing new context-appropriate expressions of church.  He talks about two particular approaches, the "worship-first" approach and the "serving-first" approach, though is clear that still other approaches are possible.

In reference to the latter he stresses the value of building community as a way in to building church, though recognising that building community has "value in its own right".  As Moynagh comments: "It is what Jesus did as he ate meals with his followers, travelled with them and devoted periods of special time to them." 

We all, whether as a spin off from "regular church", if there is such a thing, or as an initiative in some other way do well to consider how we can build community without, in the first instance, bothering about whether it will become some form of church.  Moynagh suggests: "This might range from a spirituality-at-work group, to hanging out with friends, to a 'Saga group' for the over 50s, to an environmental campaigning group, to a drop-in centre for homeless people, to a regular discussion-over-curry."

I am sure we all know about bits of community building in (and out of) churches around us.  It may be parent and toddler groups, lunch clubs, coffee mornings, messy churches, youth encounters or all sorts of other things.  Let's be ready for the Holy Spirit to move through these things, if that's what God wants to happen - because St. John of the Cross was surely right - "Mission is putting love where love is not."

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Don't Tire of Doing Good

In 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, verse 13 we read – Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.  Here is a great bit of encouragement to us to do all those things which we ought to be doing.  Here is the challenge to engage with others as we should, and it works on every level from the global to the individual.

Of course, this can be big stuff, and there is a risk that we don’t respond because we think it is all beyond us.  Thank God for those who, like Desmond Tutu, have engaged with the evils and challenges of racism.  Thank God for those who, like Mother Teresa, have been ready to care for the desperately poor.  Thank God for those who, like William Wilberforce, were willing to challenge the very fabric of society and contribute towards essential change.  But, though most of us won’t reach such dizzy heights, that doesn’t mean we are not to bother about such things.  All the little bits that we can do build into things that can really make a difference.  There is still a long way to go but movements like Jubilee 2000, Make Poverty History and Fair Trade have done a great deal of good.  And it is not just because someone has had a vision, important though that was.  It is because lots and lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon.  Don’t be afraid of jumping on bandwagons.  Just make sure you are on the right one.

And, of course, there are many other things we can say here.  We know that life is full of unsung heroes and I always rejoice greatly that Christians are invariably in the forefront of those who make a difference.  We are all called to do our little bit.  We are all called to contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom.

In terms of what Jesus said, this is about walking second miles, giving away second coats, offering other cheeks, even loving enemies.  When we talk in such terms, is a timely reminder of what God expects of us.  God’s love for us is beyond words – and he calls us to respond to that by engaging with all sorts of things that make for a better society. 

For us this might be about making that phone call, writing that letter.  It might be about doing something for Christian Aid, whether that’s making a donation or doing something else to raise awareness or money.  It might be offering a helping hand in all sorts of ways. 

Don’t get tired of doing good.  We couldn’t possibly quibble with the sentiment – and yet I think that there are at least two places it may take us.  On the one hand it is good to do good.  It makes me feel good.  I like feeling that I have done something worthwhile.  I like helping people in a whole range of ways.  But, on the other hand, I do get tired of it sometimes.  Don’t you?  I just want to hide away and do my own thing.  I get fed up doing good.  Of course, I know I shouldn’t.  But I want a break.  But God always pushes us that bit further and, in the end, I am grateful for that.

And maybe, just maybe, if we all do a chunk of what we should, we’ll move things just a tiny bit closer to that place reflected in the word picture that Isaiah paints – where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Joy that's Off the Scale

I have just been reading the first ten verses of Luke fifteen - the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  Losing things is always a pain and we all have our different techniques of trying to find them.  I guess the joy of the finding is usually somewhat in proportion to the impact of the losing.  The value of what was lost may also influence how much we celebrate.  These two stories are designed to remind us how important we are to God.  We matter - and what a great thought that is!

I have been reading Henry Wansbrough's little commentary on the passage (BRF, 1998) in which he comments: "But the point of the two stories is precisely to show that the joy in heaven cannot be calculated according to any scale of reason."

The overwhelming reaction of these two finders is a pointer to the abundance and generosity of the love of God.

Monday, 11 November 2013


They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks – Micah 4, verse 5.  Here is a powerful image indeed.  It’s an image of peace – yes, of course it is.  But, far more than that, I believe it is an image of transformation, an image of possibility.

Today, rightly, we are focussed on remembering.  As we do each year, on Remembrance Day (11th Nov.) we reflect on the sacrifice of those who gave everything in trying to maintain the values and freedoms of our society.  The two world wars of the twentieth century are a key focus, but we also think of those who have been killed and injured in many more recent conflicts.

Remembering is both important and valuable.  It is part of what makes us human.  Time and time again in the Bible, the people are encouraged to remember.  They are to remember the role and the contribution of Abraham.  The rainbow serves as a reminder of the covenant between God and the people.  They often look back to the memory of David, the great king.  And, of course, when we come to the New Testament, and to Communion, ‘this do in remembrance of me’.

Remembering does all sorts of things.  It challenges us.  It inspires us.  It encourages us.  It links us to the past.  It gives us signposts as to how to live.  It points us to the example of those who have gone before.  It provokes a great sense of thankfulness for those who have done all the things that make the society in which we live what it is today.  In saying that, I know, of course, that there is a lot that is wrong with society, as it is today – but that doesn’t alter the fact of the great giving of so many to build a better world.

May our remembering inspire us to play our part in bringing about that better world!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

God's Extravagant Love

I have been reading the final chapter of Sister Vandana's Waters of Fire (Amity House, 1988) in which she reflects on John 21 and the story of a bunch of the disciples going out fishing and then being invited to breakfast on the beach by Jesus.  It is one of my favourite Gospel stories - what a breakfast it must have been!

I am not sure who counted, but we are told that the catch was of 153 fish.  Sister Vandana comments (p. 143): "The 153 fish (whatever symbolism one may see in the number, and many suggestions have been offered), depicts again the extravagance and overflowing generosity of God's love.  God does not calculate.  Love means giving to the full and overflowing - like the abundant waves and gushing streams, like the overflowing river and the vast ocean."

We do tend to adopt a calculated approach - like Peter asking if it was enough to forgive 'seventy times seven'.  Would that we could learn, as we should, from the generosity of God!