Friday, 30 May 2014

The Prophetic Church

It has always been the task of God's people to speak out on issues of justice.  We are exhorted to look out for the marginalised and the oppressed.  As Proverbs 31:8-9 has it: Speak out for those who cannot speak. for the rights of all the destitute.  Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

That needs to be worked in to the ordinary life of every church congregation.  I have been reading the Christian Aid Report, "The Prophetic Church" in which Marijke Hoek offers 'a Biblical theology for a campaigning church' - "In the Bible, we see amazing examples of God's people tenaciously standing up for just causes, vigorously defending human dignity, sacrificially fending off threats to the vulnerable, and leading them into a better inheritance."  Hoek goes on to cite Moses and Esther as two particular examples - "Like the prophets, Moses and Esther speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, advocating for the rights of all who are destitute, defending the rights of the poor and needy."

It is a call!  Who is God calling us to speak up for - and what are we doing about it?  There are many needs around in our world.  Some seem to encourage all sorts of people to get involved - and we see the massive response of things like Children in Need and Comic Relief.  That's great - and there is every reason to get involved in those things.  However, it is important to also remember the unpopular causes.  Supporting them can, in some cases, prove a lot more challenging.  But if that is what we are called to do ......

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Broken For Ministry

We live in a world where we seem to be encouraged to aim for perfection.  The advertisements tell us that we can have the best, that we can do the best, that we can be the best.  They provide us with perfect people as our models.  It all looks wonderful.

The trouble is that we all know that not to be how, for the most part, things are.  We live rather in a messy world.  We face struggles.  The Christian message is not that everything can be made perfect, but that God is with us in the mess.

I have been dipping back into Henri Nouwen's Latin American Journal, 'Gracias'.  He says this: "Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope."  He continues: "This is a hard vocation.  It goes against the grain of our need for self-affirmation, self-fulfilment, and self-realization.  It is a call to true humility."

Like the next person, I might prefer an easy life - and sometimes that is how things go.  But I am so glad that God is with me in all those messes I keep stumbling over - and when, like Humpty Dumpty, I get broken so thankful that God is there to put me together again.

Monday, 26 May 2014

From John Wesley's Journal

It is always worth remembering just how reliant we are upon God's grace.  We sometimes want to make claims about our achievements, but then do well to remember how we need God's help to get there.  The apostle Paul was clear on that realisation.  He wrote to the Philippians: "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.    (Philippians 3:4-7)

In a similar way John Wesley reflects in his journal:

Sunday 29 January 1738
"Are they read in philosophy?  So was I.  In ancient or modern tongues?  So was I also.  Are they versed in your science of divinity?  I too have studied it many years.  Can they talk fluently upon spiritual things?  The very same could I do.  Are they plenteous in alms?  Behold, I gave all my goods to feed the poor.  Do they give of their labour as well as of their substance?  I have laboured more abundantly than they all.  Are they willing to suffer for their brethren?  I have thrown up my friends, reputation, ease, country; I have put my life in my hand, wandering into strange lands; I have given my body to be devoured by the deep, parched up with heat, consumed by toil and weariness, or whatever God should please to bring upon me.  But does all this - be it more or less, it matters not - make me acceptable to God?  Does all I ever did or can know, say, give, do, or suffer, justify me in his sight?  Yea, or the constant use of all the means of grace?  ....  Does all this give me a claim to the holy, heavenly, divine character of a Christian?  By no means. "

We should do what we can, but we must not claim that we can do it on our own.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Chasing Shadows

I have just finished reading Hugo Gryn’s book “Chasing Shadows”.  Gryn was for 32 years, until his death in 1996, Rabbi at the West London Synagogue.  But in earlier life he had been a holocaust survivor and an inmate at Auschwitz.  The book tells his life story up to a point just beyond being liberated from the concentration camp. 

Near the end of the book he describes how he hid on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in 1944 so that he could spend the day saying the prayers that belonged to it.  He talks of how the prayers, unsurprisingly, led him to tears, and yet to a firm faith.  He writes: “I must have sobbed for hours.  Never before or since have I cried with such intensity and then I seemed to be granted a curious inner peace.  ….  I believe God was also crying.  … I would like you to understand that in that builder’s yard on that Day of Atonement, I found God.  ….  People sometimes ask me, ‘Where was God in Auschwitz?’  I believe that God was there Himself – violated and blasphemed.  The real question is ‘Where was man in Auschwitz?’

He goes on to say a few other significant things right near the end of the book:

"People often say that time is a great healer.  I am not sure about that.  What I think time does do for you, is that it gives you a perspective."

"Those who survive a tragedy such as the Holocaust cannot keep silent, but must do everything in their power to testify to the fact that life is the gift of God, and that it is sacred."

"Time is short and the task is urgent.  Evil is real.  So is good.  There is a choice.  And we are not so much chosen as choosers.  Life is holy.  All life.  Mine and yours.  And that of those who came before us and the life of those after us."

I remember - it must have been in the eighties - once hearing Rabbi Gryn speak at a conference.  It was a meeting of the Free Church Federal Council (when such annual meetings took place) in Eastbourne.  Unsurprisingly, I don't remember anything of what he said, but I do remember it being impressive.  That someone could come through all he experienced and remain a person of hope and faith is indeed encouraging.  One of the points in the book is his stressing that such things as happened to him take place when people don't engage and don't understand each other.  Because of that one of his priorities in life was to encourage people to understand and embrace diversity. 

Let's follow that example!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Unlikely Disciples

One of the great things about the Christian faith is that God calls us to be his people even though we are a rather unlikely bunch to be chosen.  I have just been reading the account at the beginning of Luke 22 of Judas agreeing to betray Jesus to the religious leaders.  Why on earth did Jesus choose a disciple who was going to betray him?  Henry Wansborough, in the little BRF commentary on Luke, writes about this incident: "It has been asked how Jesus could have made the mistake of choosing as one of the twelve foundation stones of the new Israel a disciple who would betray him.  Not that he was very successful in choosing stalwart, reliable quick learners who understood his message and persevered in their support for him!"  The first disciples were a pretty unlikely collection.  We might see that as confirmation that nothing really changes.  However, God does change things.  We might describe God as a transforming God.  And the remarkable thing is that God's chosen partners are a bunch of unlikely disciples.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Living Stones

Peter, in his letter, tries to explain something of what it means to be part of God's people.  He uses various ideas including the image of living stones.  It’s in 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 4 and 5 – Come to the Lord, the living stone ….  come as living stones …  Then, verse 6 is the quote, and it is quoting Isaiah 28:16 – This, now, is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I am placing in Zion a foundation that is firm and strong.  In it I am putting a solid cornerstone on which are written the words, ‘Faith that is firm is also patient.’”  The quoting isn’t exact, but that is often the case when the New Testament quotes the Old.  But the point is that the living stones of Isaiah 28 predict the cornerstone that these new Christians identify with Christ.  The builder may well choose a stone that was rejected on another occasion because it didn’t fit, but is just right this time.  And so there are things here about being rejected.  There are things about being chosen.  And there are also, surely, things about building.  And all these fit the story of Christ and his Body, the church.  I really like what William Loader says about this image: “The stone imagery invites us to see ourselves also as stones and then to see ourselves together as not a random pile of rocks or stones strewn across the landscape of interim territory, but as stones belonging to a structure built on Christ. It is a wonderful image of belonging. It invites us to our own imaginings and reflections: stones are old, young, brittle, strong, shiny; fractured, solid, large, small, differently shaped and oriented - there's room for everyone.  The image expands to include not only belonging in a building, but also belonging in creating a space for celebrating the presence of God. …  People together are sacred places and spaces, temples not made with hands. It defines the church not as the building in which we meet but as the building we have become. Our role is to be a space where people engage holiness and sense the presence of God.”