Monday, December 10, 2012


Things are a bit barren here at the moment.

That's because during Advent I blog over at the Five Minutes' Space blog.

Why not come and take a look for 5 minutes' seasonal inspiration during the season of Advent...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Word as a Wordle for Advent 2

The Word as a Wordle is back. After a few techy, Java based problems, finally I can get this trusty 'work horse' working again!

Here is the Old Testament reading from Baruch 5:1-9, which you can read here, as a Wordle.

In the majest of the text, I am struck afresh at how all that is prophesied, is fulfilled by God alone and for His glory.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Hope - like light in the darkness

The clicking the picture will take you to Simon's Advent blog - 5 Minutes' Space - with access to sermons, thoughts, prayers and resources for the first week of Advent...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ is King

Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally
Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present.

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me through faith in him. The liberation beginning to be experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you.

Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Prayer for Direction

An Excerpt from Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes about some practices of the spiritual life in this classic volume. Here is a prayer in which he embraces uncertainty through the practice of trust, an essential element of faith.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does, in fact, please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, I will trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seeing the Sights

I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.

Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.

Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iran then certainly in North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraqi or Afghani 'peacekeeping' missions to end or the war in Syria to cease or even for David Cameron to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Love is a verb

Norma Jean Mortenson spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, 'Here, Honey. Take this and don't ever tell anyone what I did to you.' When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened she was beaten badly for saying bad things.

Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person too--not just a body--or a pretty face--but a person. She went to Hollywood and took a new name-- Marilyn Monroe and the publicity people told her, 'We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.' And this was her reaction, 'A symbol? Aren't symbols things people hit together?' They said, 'Honey, it doesn't matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.'  She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, 'Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?' Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles.

Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn't know was that she was in her dressing room being sick because she was so terrified. She kept saying, 'Will someone please notice I am a person. Please.' They didn't notice. They wouldn't take her seriously.
"She went through three marriages--always pleading, 'Take me seriously as a person.' Everyone kept saying, 'But you are a sex symbol. You can't be other than that.'

"Marilyn kept saying 'I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.'
"And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 when all beautiful women are supposed to be on the arm of a handsome escort, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. She killed herself.  When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her. Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. He answered with the words 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!' That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone--left it dangling.

'What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?' She died because she never got through to anyone who understood or cared.

In his encounter with the scribe in this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us also of the all transforming importance of love, but that love is not just an emotion, but a verb. 
In replying to the question about what the most important of the 613 commands and 365 prohobitions of the Old Testament Jesus quotes from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That call to love God with all that you are is a declaration of faith in the God who loved us first. It is still said by faithful Jews each day. God’s love for us is unconditional, unmerited and undeserved. He just loves, not because of what we have done or who we are, but because of who He is. It is the underpinning of everything.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

The order in which Jesus quotes these it seems is crucial. It is not possible to love God and not love our neighbour and a good litmus test of us knowing that we are loved by God and loving Him in return is practically displaying that in loving others. If we leave church and do not display love to others in action, we have failed as his disciples. For love is not about how we feel but about how others feel because they are loved by God through us and a sharing of what ourselves have received through the outpouring of God’s love for us all through Christ on the cross. The second command is the fulfillment of the first and we are called to follow that love...

[Here I encouraged the church to respond to the need for help that we need as we seek to set up the Food Bank]

Love is a verb - love is a person in Jesus Christ in and through you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


November is a month that forces us to remember - foiled treason plots, the tragedy of war and the holy men and women of God.

Perhaps this November, more than some others, will force us to remember better times,  especially against the backdrop of high unemployment, of continuing recession, of yet another month where there is more month than money... 

The reason we remember and make memories at all is because they are central to to what it means to be human. Being human involves being in relationship with others - with those whom we love, with those whom we work, with those whom we live with whether locally, nationally or internationally and forging a future together as families, communities, as nations, as a world.

Yet our relationships can be strained because of all sorts of factors - pressure of work, time and distance but not least of all the austere place we find ourselves in as a nation at the moment.

 Did you know that 1 in 5 parents skip meals to feed their children or that some 13 million people in the UK live below the poverty line?

To play our part seeing our communities transformed by the love of Christ in responding to that need locally, we are working with other churches to see a foodbank open to serve the people of Mill End and Maple Cross. We are working in partnership with the Trussell Trust ( who are the UK’s leading providor of support to setting up foodbanks to support local people who are, in many cases, one paycheque away from a crisis.

We would like you to play a part in realising this vision. In time this will include helping to collect food from local supermarkets as people come to do their weekly shop, helping sort the food in date order in the storage space we have identified, and welcoming those who need an emergency food parcel at the bank in both communities and so on.
This November, as we begin to focus our attention towards the season of Advent, and long for the coming of God in love and justice to transform His world, I hope and pray that you will join me in being the embodiment of that hope, that love, that justice through the opening of the Food Bank in the coming weeks.

As it’s doors open, I also hope and pray that the memories that are shared this Advent season when it comes, are hope filled ones, where it’s seen and felt that God’s church made a difference, and showed the love and care of God Himself to those in very real need.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Reaching the end of your tether...

I loved the Para Olympics, as I am sure you did.  Many things stood out for me, one of which was Jody Cundy's bid to secure 1km time trial gold. His attempt to secure gold ended in controversy and anger as officials denied the GB rider a restart.

Jody Cundy, is the C4 world record holder and world champion, had appealed for a second attempt as his rear wheel slipped leaving the starting gate. His reponse was fury - he turned the air blue! He reached the end of his tether - the limit of his patience.

After he had calmed down he said - "I came here to show the world what I can do and respond to the crowd that has just been amazing, especially when you are wearing a GB vest... I would like to apologise for my language, even over the noise I think you might have been able to hear it...” There’s a line which athletes like that should not cross, in terms of how we should respond when things don’t go our way, and he crossed it...

And we all have limits. And yet, here's the thing:  Jesus says God is different.  There appear to be no limits to the love of God & this is ultimately the message of today’s Gospel.

Jesus' disciples ask him about divorce.  They remind Jesus that Moses allowed for divorce.  Hebrew law permitted a man to divorce his wife for all sorts of reasons. And Jesus simply says, "From the beginning it wasn't so."  This was not the way God intended things to be.  And then Jesus harshly condemns divorce. Oh...

And right then the action moves to the scene with Jesus receiving little children.  Little children, whom the disciples perceive as a nuisance, are to be sent away.  But Jesus refuses.  Instead, He received them, he hugs them, and he blesses them.  Furthermore, Jesus says that in all of this, the kingdom of God is made present.

Well, what is God like?  God brings people together.  God desires that people who, having been once brought together, ought to stay together.  God is the one who refuses to send these "little ones" away, rather He is the one who receives and embraces such as these.

We read this passage as applying to us: that is, we ought not to divorce; we ought to welcome little children.  But maybe we are seeing here the great difference between God and ourselves.  Maybe this is a passage not about us but about God.

We have our limits.  We make promises, and with all good intentions we plan to stay together forever.  But people get sick, people disappoint, people become trapped, addicted, distant, and estranged.  Nobody I know wants divorce.  But we have our limits.  Sometimes we find it impossible to keep our promises.  Sometimes promises are broken for all sorts of "good" reasons.
And we love our children.  But children are demanding.  To bring children into the world is to severely limit our adult freedom.  Children are utterly dependent on others to do things for them they can't do for themselves.  So many elect not to receive children.

Jesus makes clear that God is not like that.  God is the one who, from the very beginning, makes union, fosters communion and togetherness.  God is the one who brings individuals together into community.  Eg - the church

We are of course "only human."  There can be limits upon our love--limits upon our ability to stay with other people, particularly people in great need, and to keep our lives bound to theirs.  But this truth must be sent alongside a counter truth--the love of God does not have such limits.  We can attempt to separate ourselves from God, but Jesus implies here God does not separate from us.  We can come to the limits of our ability to love and to persevere in love with others.  But God does not come to the same limits.

In Marks’s gospel, we are on our way to seeing just how far God in Christ will go for us--all the way to death on a cross.  And on his way to death of a cross, Jesus takes a moment to teach us.  Once again, Jesus has set the bar rather high.  The disciples of Jesus are to marry and not to divorce.  The disciples of Jesus are to have love, compassion, and mercy for the needs of the "little ones" whether they be children or the poor or the severely mentally disabled or the sick and infirm.  And in so many ways we will fail to live up to the Kingdom's demands.

But spread like a banner over all that is an affirmation that God loves us limited human beings in a limitless divine way.  Oh, we fail in love; after all, we are "only human."  But we have a God who forgives our failures, who loves us in spite of our limits to love in return.

Today, Jesus is not severe, but reminds us that in spite our inabilities, our limits and failures, God is limitlessly loving and always faithful.  Let us cling to that in our limits to love and in our broken promises.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pah! Kids!

On 14 August, the Church remembered Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest killed in Auschwitz, after ten prisoners were chosen randomly to die in revenge for what was wrongly thought to be an escape. One man cried: "My wife, my children! I will never see them again," and immediately Kolbe stepped forward to take his place, saying: "I am a priest; he has a wife and children."  Two weeks later, when his companions had died, and the cell was needed for more condemned prisoners, he was given a lethal injection.

The prisoner whom he had saved returned home at the end of the war, and was reunited with his wife, but, tragically, his sons had been killed. Every 14 August for five decades, he returned to Auschwitz to honour Kolbe. He said that he felt remorse for effectively signing Kolbe's death warrant, but came to realise that a man like him could not have done otherwise, and, as a priest, he wanted to help the men condemned to starve to death to maintain hope.

Kolbe's instinctive reaction to value that prisoner's unknown wife and children was the fruit of a lifetime of perceiving and knowing what he ought to do. By embodying Jesus's teaching, he publicly reversed the "values" of the Nazis.

"...The children are not the future. The living truth is the future. Time and people do not make the future… Fifty million children growing up purposeless, with no purpose save the attainment of their own individual desires, these are not the future, they are only a disintegration of the past. The future is in living, growing truth.” D. H. Lawrence

In and of themselves, our children aren’t a cause for hope.  They are just people, like the rest of us. Just because children might have more time ahead of them than we do doesn’t mean that they are going to make things better for humanity as a whole. Cuteness doesn’t bring about sufficient change or the world would be far lovelier by now. But that isn’t pessimism. It’s just rejecting sentimentality.  I don’t think that Jesus pulled the child towards him to gain the ‘ahh factor’ or to make a sweet point about innocence.

Hope comes from a greater truth than mere youth. Hope comes from the capital T – Truth that lives with us and within us and works before, between, and behind us all - God.  Mark shows us Jesus as Truth, capital T, declaring that things change if we welcome the children rather than childishly bicker about rank.  We see our world’s priorities tipped topsy turvey on their head, which is so often God’s way.  Worrying about status turns our gaze inwards on our own perception of self which will only get us tangled up in lonely ego.

Welcome is vital for Christian community. I’ve said it before - the most important person in a successful company is not the CEO but the receptionist. The quality of the welcome you get as you come in through the door colours and dictates the nature of your ongoing relationship (or lack of it) with that company.  It’s true for us as church - it’s being open to others, being aware of their comfort – or discomfort – with a situation and setting aside our own priorities to offer them love and comfort.  Like Maxamillian Kolbe, it is about us embodying Jesus’ teaching, and living out the welcoming love of God in Christ who, the Scriptures remind us, left the glory of heaven to come to search people like us out.

And, of course, it’s bigger even than our children as important as it is welcoming them.  And we should welcome them, not because they are the potential church of tomorrow or even because if we get them we get their parents - like church is some sort of recruitment drive.

Jesus expanded the concept of “neighbour” to include everyone who needs us, and I think that the word “children” on Jesus’ lips this morning means everyone. Everyone who is smaller and weaker or needy and hungry, and maybe less courageous, or lonely, or struggling, or tired, or sad. We all need to feel at home and welcomed into the presence of God by Jesus.

The Reverend William Ball of Westminster Presbyterian Church Ottawa,  recently posted this fantastic  welcome on facebook. It comes from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community and William found it here.  It’s a long one, but it’s worth wall-space in any church lobby.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or if you can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes one such in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I will follow...

George W Bush once visited a home for those suffering from dementia. He enjoyed a brief exchange with one of the residents, who seemed to be fairly lucid….so he risked asking “Do you know who I am.”  “No…” replied his conversation partner “but if you ask that nice nurse over there I’m sure she’ll be able to tell you”.

Of course, even on a bad day, George W wasn’t really in need of information…any more than Jesus is, in our gospel reading.  But that doesn’t mean that the question is unimportant. Quite the reverse.

As Jesus makes His way with His disciples to Caesarea Philippi He asks them  who people think that He is? Are people interpreting the miracles, the healings and the teaching correctly? In that people see Jesus in the same line as the ‘great ones of God’ like Elijah and John the Baptist means that people are identifying Jesus’ actions and words with the actions of God. Good. But what of those closest to Him? Do they get it?

‘Who do you say that I am?’ We will never know whether Peter’s response has been brewing for ages or not, but out it comes - Jesus you are the Messiah. No words of recognition from Jesus to Peter. No, well done you’ve got it right. Instead stern words not to tell a soul. Odd...

But has Peter really got it? Have any of those closest to Him really a clue? Are they any further down the line than the crowd?

So to make sure, Jesus quite openly begins some intensive but clear teaching with the disciples. The one that Jesus calls ‘the Son of Man’ will suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders, and after 3 days rise again. Is Jesus referring to himself? Surely not...

It’s no wonder that Peter wants to check things out with Jesus: ‘You are the Messiah right? The one bring to in God’s reign? The one who will liberate us and free us from Roman rule and into a new relationship with God? You cannot get the wrong side of our leaders and be killed by them and fail...’ And Jesus turns on him...: ‘Get behind me Satan!’ Is Jesus being overly harsh here? Well yes and no. It’s clear that at least one disciple hasn’t got a clear answer yet to Jesus’ question.

Who do you say I am? Peter get’s the title right, but the meaning wrong, Jesus is the Christ in one way, but in another, He is the AntiChrist. I am not trying to be controversial here but is Peter making Jesus to be Christ or Messiah in his own image, using the expectations of his day? Is he making assumptions of what Jesus is called to do by God and how He will accomplish it?

And so Jesus recasts who "the Christ" is and what he will do. He won't wield power over others; instead, powerful and cynical people will have their way with him.

Whispered conversations as to who Jesus really is lead to an open invitation to follow and discover for yourself. You can speculate all you like. The invitation though is open to anyone - not just the religious elite or those who expect liberation from Roman rule - He’s not that sort of Messiah, He’s the anti Christ - so the broken, sinners, the Gentiles, the unclean, the poor are all welcome as are gays, straights, drug addicts, alcoholics, the debt ravaged as well as the more respectable members of first and twenty first century society whether Jew or Gentile. There are only 2 conditions to following: self-denial and taking up of the cross.

Being a disciple of the anti Christ is about self-denial.  It’s about redefining what defines us. A person in Jesus' day was defined by those to whom they belonged -- usually family. Jesus calls people to embrace new understandings of identity. Those who follow Him are invited to join a community defined by association with Jesus; they enter a new family comprising all of Jesus' followers.

Self-denial also does not mean embracing suffering for its own sake.  Jesus has spent much time alleviating needless suffering or oppression whenever he encounters it.  The kind of suffering Jesus acknowledges as a reality is a particular kind: persecution resulting from following him. Self-denial comes with risks.

Being a disciple of the anti Christ is about cross-bearing - Jesus is being blunt. Discipleship is about failure of reputations and death. Those who bore crosses in Jesus day were criminals who deserved punishment, those who lived contrary to the law and who the State had denied a right to life. In being called to bear the cross, judgement is being passed by the way a Christian life is lived on the standards set by our culture. It is not a call to separatism , but it is about losing our lives, and having them redefined by Christ’s own death and resurrection.

Who do you say I am? If Jesus is Peter’s Messiah, the Christ, then we are still waiting for the political landscape of the world to be changed, for the mighty to be unseated, for people of faith to be liberated and for God’s kingdom to come in with triumph.

But there’s no military might here only seemingly the prospect of a reputation in tatters and an embracing of death. But if you want to discover who Jesus really is, then your only option is to follow, to find out for yourself, for looking at Him from the outside can only misjudge Him as even Peter discovered.

It’s no wonder that this Jesus still has trouble attracting followers. It’s not an welcoming prospect.  His logic, that seems so opposite all we have encountered in life, invites us to discover our lives by receiving our identity as beloved children rather than trying to earn it through our accomplishments. It invites us to find our purpose in serving others rather than in accumulating goods. It invites us to imagine that our life – and the lives of those around us – have infinite worth simply because God chooses to love us apart from anything we've done or not done.

Why follow? Because, even when confronted by self-denial and death on a cross, it’s all about life. Not the pseudo-life we've been persuaded by advertisers or politicians it's the best we can expect, but real, honest-to-goodness life.  All we have to do is trade what we've been led to believe is life for the real thing. It's incredibly hard because so much money and energy has gone into convincing us that the best we can expect is a quid-pro-quo world where you get what you deserve. But if we can let it go, even for a few moments, we'll discover that God still loves to create out of nothing, raise the dead to life, and give each and all of us so much more than we either deserve or can imagine. Amen.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


So I have been back at work for 2 days, following thje most amazing holiday. I feel a little lost and unsure of what I am doing. This feels odd as I am now what the diocese call, 'an experienced priest.'

Part of it I suspect is that all of this is still new. I have been in my current post for just over a year. Much of the routines, people and places are ones that I am just getting to know.

Part of it though is something to do with holiday. Holidays are not just about time off, but from a Christian point of view, they are about rest, renewal and recreation - literally being made new. All this echoes the actions of God in His acts of creation as told in the book of Genesis. There is something in there about a theology of Sabbath too.

I am relaxed and renewed. I am not back in a place where I am ready to take on the stresses (however joyful they are much of the time) of parish ministry. I feel anxious but this morning I started to think differently.

This feeling comes from a sense of being overwhelmed at the task ahead of me. This is ok, because I have been reminded that I can do none of it on my own. My call to serve here is God's call, it's His church, and my work is about a pertnership with both.

This feeling of unprepared inabilityof anxiety that I feel, I have decided is good, because it arises from real rest and relaxation. The time off with my family was fully restoring and I don't want to lose that feeling! I had the time, I made the time, we had time... and that time and space was very good indeed... I need to make, to have, to take time in the midst of all that lies ahead of me. Part of that is about time with God, part of that is about time with and for my family and friends. Part of that though, is creating time, making diary space, to move more slowly, which is rather anachronistic in this instant world.

As a spaceship re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, heat and light are generated, as in the picture above. It's something about the interaction and reaction of ship, atmosphere and the forces applied one on the other at speed. (Sorry if I have got the science of that wrong.) The light and heat though are a concequence, an outcome and there is a very real risk is that the ship might burn up. Get the materials of the ship, the angle of re-entry and a miriad of other factors right and all is well.

I want to make sure that I get the interaction and reaction of work and rest right on me as I re-enter parish life so that the 'light' and 'heat' that are generated are not me burning up, but evidence of the purposes of God.

I need to get the angle right (How much am I doing? Am I giving myself and others the time they need?), I need to make sure that I am built of the right stuff (which includes what I make my life with - reading, prayer, worship, music, cycling, family, cooking. walking, sleeping etc).

A friend of mine, many years ago, told me that as people we are made to be human beings not human doings... I think I am going to try, this week at least, to live that way...

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Word as a Wordle is back!

I have not done this for a while, but as I prepare to preach next I thought I would produce a Wordle of the Gospel reading for the day which is Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 which you can read here.

The Wordle strkes me. It highlights words of greater frequency in a text and here it has highlighted the words 'Pharisees', 'come', 'hands', 'defile', 'tradition', 'human' and 'eat'.

It got me thinking...

Tradition, ritual if you will, is part of the human experience. We sometimes use the word 'routine', but it's essentially one and the same. We find routine safe and reassuring. It gives us a boundary in which to play out our lives.

Our hands are key to our daily living. We use them constantly to express ourselves, to cook, to eat, to defend ourselves and others and so on. They become an outward expression of our inner world. We clench our fist in frustration, we caress someone we love.

Our hands can also express aspects of our lives that are very broken. It is no wonder, aside from simple hygine reasons, that washing our hands expresses so much more when used in ritual and tradition.

We can wash our hands of someone. A way of letting them go. Leaving them or a bad experience behind.

All this is part of what it means to be human.

Into the midst of our human experience comes God in Jesus, into the routine and traditions of our lives and those of whom we love. We call this incarnation. But as is so often the case Jesus comes snooping around, asking why, upending our lives and turning over our expectations and experience.

And in the midst of it all, almost unnoticed is God, who in Jesus, asks us to reassess what it means to be human, not by our standards or the standards of others, but by the standard he sets for us in his Son Jesus. He does not wash His hands of us, no matter how dirty and defiled ours are. He does not wash His hands of us, no matter how cluttered our lives with little space for Him.

He simply reminds us that our hands, our traditions, our lives express to the outside world, our inner thoughts and drives. If we are serious about being clean, about not needing to symbolically wash, but see our lives in a new place, with a fresh start, with an eternal perspective, we simply need to take up His offer to come to Him.

Sunday Podcast

The Perfect Storm

We heard this week that we are in the fifth year of recession and that is beginning to really bite for many of us. Against that backdrop, Oxfam released a report called ‘The Perfect Storm’ which shockingly demonstrates that there are now 3.6 million households in the “squeezed middle” on the cliff edge of very real poverty but they’re not in inner city Birmingham or in the high rise blocks of the Gorballs or Peckham.  These are people who live in our streets, they are many of our next door neighbours, they might be in the pew next to you today.  How did we, in Britain, end up here?

If you combine rising unemployment with declining incomes, with increased living costs and cuts in public services and benefits reform we end up in a perfect storm of the very real risk increased poverty in a developed nation such as ours with people living metaphorically and literally on the bread line.

In the current economic climate many of are forced to really focus on what matters - on what goes into our shopping trollies, in how we spend our spare time, on where (if at all) we holiday, where our charitable giving goes (it at all) and so on - what is essential in our lives, what sustains us day by day.

The bottom line is, we all need to eat. WIthout food we die. We need food every day ideally to sustain us, to make us live. But if I eat today, chances are I’ll be hungry again tomorrow.
Jesus describes himself as the bread of life. There is something wonderfully evocative about Jesus’ use of that expression. Bread is one of the staples. It’s cheap, filling, sustaining and generally readily available. Yet Jesus says that if you eat this bread, your hunger will be permanently satisfied. But this is not a quick fix for hungry recession gripped households.

Last week a British ticket holder claimed a stake on the latest and largest Euro Millions Jackpot of £148 Million. A staggering amount of money, but stop yourself before you utter the words, ‘that would be the answer to all my problems.’ The internet is littered with stories of lottery millionaires who have won a bank breaking sum thinking that they have somehow made it and then they blow it - fritter it all away, houses repossessed and a rags to riches to rags stories to live out.
 In the news in recent times has been the story of Hans Kristien and Eva Rausing - he was born in to the Tetra-pak dynasty, his own father reputed to be worth an eye watering $10 Billion, and yet even in that context their lives are littered with lies and drug abuse.

The hungry long to be fed and not be hungry again. The wealthy long for love, that money cannot buy. But beneath even those there is a deep, all too often unspoken longing in all of us - to be free from anxiety, to love and be loved by others, for a respect that crosses the boundaries of age, gender, class, religion, sexuality and race... And not just in the now, but to see our lives, our communities our culture our world transformed in the what is yet to come. 

Jesus is not espousing some Martin Luther King Jr utopian dream of liberty and justice for all. This is no political manifesto or UN food program.  Linking the crowd’s knowledge of God giving the Israelites bread-like manna from heaven to feed them in one particular time of hunger and need, so Jesus identifies the ‘bread’ that God offers with himself. He comes down from God and offers the life of God, eternal life, to all people always, through ultimately giving up his own life on the cross and His resurrection.

Whoever eats this bread, takes the life of God Himself into their own lives. This is what Jesus was driving at as He describes Himself as the Bread of Life.  It’s not about us trying to live God’s way for we prove again and again that we just can’t.  Only when God dwells in us, only when the life of God lies at the source of our drives, motives and decisions do we discover that our life is being transformed into a life lived for God according to His priorities, His hopes, His dreams and His eternal love. It’s not about us living His way but about us living life with His life within us. The Greek word that the New Testament uses to describe what’s on offer here is Zöe - with God life, a life with God, a life together, a life lived in a partnership of love.

Unfortunately, this Zöe - this with God life, is not available if we try to live a certain way. It’s not about being good person. It’s not about being kind or gentle. It’s not about being self giving or charitable. This sort of life, that all of us long for deep down, is not something we can strive for and possess. We cannot earn it. We do not deserve it.  It is a gift received through a personal relationship with the giver - with God in Christ.

As we hear Jesus talk about the Bread of Life, our minds are transported to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where bread was broken and wine shared by Jesus and His disciples as a way to remember His presence with us and the eternal life on offer to us all afresh through his death and resurrection. In the Eucharist which we will share in in a few moments, as we share the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, we take into ourselves God’s Zöe, God’s life and presence, His power to convert and transform our motives and drives, and to feed and to satisfy our innermost longings, hopes, desires and dreams.  Because that’s what’s on offer in Jesus Christ the Bread of Life.

Think for a moment about what goes into your life. What really matters? What makes you? What drives you? What do you hope for and dream of for you, your family, your neighbourhood?  In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered the chance to live a better life - but the chance to live God’s life, God’s Zöe, eternal life with Him every day. In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered the chance to be a better person, but to be more like Jesus - imitating Him, living and loving as He did. In Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life we are not just offered rules in life to live by, eternal dos and don’t’s - but an invitation to find deep meaning and purpose, acceptance, respect and real love - real fulfilling relationship with God. If that’s you, then come, because Jesus says to you, ‘I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty...'

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made trailer

I have always loved Marillion. The thing is, you have got it wrong about them. No really...

Below is a video about their upcoming 17th album 'Sounds That Can;t Be Made'. Listen to the passion that drives their creativity and some snippets of what sounds like some of their most musically diverse and emotional music to date.

You listen.

You decide...

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sunday Podcast

Here's the audio from this morning's sermon. Three things:

1. This is the first sermon I have preached off C6 note cards not using a full script
2.  The recurring refrain, sometimes cut by my recorder is '...What do you see? Why are you here?'
3.  My visual aid was this

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Podcast

The Gospel = Food

A large crowd has gathered in recent days to watch the sporting spectacle of spectacles. Some 27 million in the UK but around 1 Billion of us worldwide tuned in to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Over a few weeks some 10,000 athletes, representing 204 nations will compete for sporting greatness. Years of training and self denial will boil down to simple questions such as: who will be the fastest, most agile, the strongest, the most accurate... The olympic spirit is about competing fairly and equally, but it is ultimately about who is the best in each respective event. It is about defining one person or one nation as better than all others.

The remarkable opening ceremony itself was about defining what it means to be British. Moving across the grand sweep of history from agricultural to industrial, to technological. From being white caucasian immigrants to becoming a nation that thrives on a diversity that makes our communities and feeds our culture. Britishness, like the winners of the soon to be awarded gold medals, is constantly defined and redefined through changing circumstances and the roll of the years.

This morning we meet a man from  a nation now more known for it’s political and conservative Islam, who instead of defining His people God’s people, as somehow better, more religiously worthy, just somehow more because they are precious to God, redraws the map, casts the net wide, replants the family tree and welcomes all of us.

I love the story in this morning’s Gospel. People are gathering because Jesus is becoming a spectacle - not meant negatively. His ministry was just that - a visually striking public show of the life and presence of God in the world which was available to all people - not just to those who thought they deserved or earned it. This crowd, like so many others, has seen Jesus heal the sick and other miracles. There is a buzz about the man.  They gather expectantly to see for themselves the spectacle of God in Jesus.

They also come with more pressing practical needs - food. They came hungry, but there’s an obvious problem - how to feed so many, because not even 6 months wages could give each a little morsel?  Yet there’s a poor boy with his rolls and pickled fish...

Jesus takes something very ordinary and does something extraordinary. Yes he feeds a large crowd with so little food, but as importantly, in his hands, what is freely offered by the poor, the outsider, the excluded is made the vehicle to demonstrate the grace of God to all: rich or poor...

The crowd come expecting a sign from God in Jesus and they get one, but they misunderstand it and see it as conclusive proof that Jesus is who they have been waiting for, the Messiah King of God, who liberate them from Roman rule, and return things to a place where they were once before between them and God.

The disciples are not in a much better place. They leave Jesus to have some time on his own and make their way to Capernaum across the lake. A storm builds far from the shore, and they see Jesus walking on the water towards the boat and they are terrified - of the storm? Of Jesus defying the laws of nature?? The disciples’ pressing practical need is for safety and reassurance. Jesus takes an ordinary situation and does something extraordinary - yes he walks on water, but more remarkably His words, His presence, provide the peace they need. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ actions and want to take him on board for his own safety or to try to contain this encounter with God.

Friends it seems to me that there is a very real risk that we over spiritualize these stories - yes they are demonstrations of the extravagant grace of God in the feeding of so many with so little. Yes they are about reminding us that this Jesus has something of the Living God about Him. Yes there may even be hints at the life sustaining importance of the Eucharist as Jesus takes, gives thanks, breaks and shares the loaves and fish.  But aren’t they a little simpler to understand? There are some very real and practical needs here - for food, for reassurance, but there is more. As the crowd is physically fed, spiritual questions are raised - who is this man? Is He the prophet? Is He the Messiah? As the disciples cry out in fear for their lives, they are reassured by the presence of Jesus Himself.

Over the next few weeks certain people will define and redefine themselves as the fastest, the most agile, the fittest, strongest, most accurate in our world. But we each constantly define and redefine what it means to be British, to be a good parent, to be an Anglican, how to sort our country/society/world out, over against our past and over and against others.

At the heart of this story stands a poor boy, surrounded by a crowd from the largely Gentile communities around Capernaum and all are fed. No one is excluded, no one group is defined by Jesus in this crowd. There’s no ‘you can because you’re poor’ or you can’t because you’ve misunderstood God.’ All are fed by God - physically, but their spiritual appetite is whetted too.

There are some hungry people within our communities, there are lonely people, the depressed, the sick, the sad, the bereaved, the frightened who long to have very practical needs met. Jesus uses what a poor boy has to do that with the crowd. Do you not think that He can use what we as generally speaking, well adjusted, middle class, adults have to do the same? There are people in our communities who need safety, who need reassurance, a kind word, a little simple human compassion and support. Jesus speaks these words of peace that reshape the disciples’ world, and we try to keep him in the boat, in Church...?  If Jesus can use the gift of a poor boy to feed a community and the doubt of His closest companions to build a church - he can use you to meet some very practical needs in our communities with actions that define and redefine what it means to be human, to be cared for, to be respected, to be loved by God - and it is these sorts of broken fragments of lives, of our community that Jesus gathers to himself so none are lost. I don’t have the time? I don’t have the money? Neither did that boy but he gave what he could.  I am frightened what might happen? So were the disciples.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once accused on underspiritualizing the Gospel - reducing the Good News of God to glorified social work. he said: ‘...I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread...’

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Disagreement to Discipleship

Here is my sermon from my visit to Mill End Baptist Church - based on Phil 4:2-9. You can listen to it here

I heard recently a story about Trevor Huddleston. Trevor Huddleston was was an Anglican priest, and later a bishop and later Archbishop, who served a significant amount of his ministry overseas - especially in Africa. Now it’s important for a sec to put Trevor Huddleston in context. He was born in Bedford in 1913 and trained for ordained ministry at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, near Leeds. Mirfield still trains men and now women to serve God’s church as priests and deacons. It was and is a very high church, Anglo-Catholic college and students would be expected to wear their cassocks all day - in the lectures, in their student rooms and especially in chapel. The central drive of the training that people who go to Mirfield get still is a focus on leading people in worship - especially in the daily sharing of communion and working tirelessly to support pastorally the poor and downtrodden.

So you can imagine Trevor Huddleston, later in a parish, kind of a characture of an Anglican cleric of a bygone era, swanning around in his black cassock all day every day, faithfully praying for and pastoring the people in his care.

In 1943, he felt called to serve the church in the heat of South Africa. So this tall, thin, creamy skinned man, donned in this thick black cassock went to live with the poverty stricken, politically oppressed people of Sophiatown. The ministry to which he was called remained unchanged. Each day he would make his way through the community from his home to the church to say his prayers and to lead the daily communion service. As went he would pass people in the street, on their porches and in their gardens. He paid no attention to who it was ok or not ok for him to greet. As he walked by he would raise his wide brimmed hat and wish whoever he walked by a cheery good morning or good afternoon.

Near to the church was a house where a woman called Aletta lived with her family. She was a domestic worker and earned what little she could by taking in washing from other families in the Sophiatown community. All too aware of her humble lot, not too long after Trevor Huddleston had arrived in the town, she found herself in the garden one day as the new priest made his was to church.

As he neared her house, this tall well spoken Englishman, looked over the wall into the meagre yard where she was hanging our someone else’s curtains. He looked her in the eye, doffed his hat, and wished her a hearty good day.

The simple act of him recognising her humanity made a huge impact on her nine year old son who was playing in the yard that day. His name is Desmond... The now retired Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, described that meeting as ‘...the biggest defining moment in my life... I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother...  I didn't know then that it would have affected me so much... it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat.  And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God.  And the passion with which he then later opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought then to emulate...’
Writing to the Christians in Philippi, Paul says at the end of the section we hear today, keep doing what you have seen me doing. Keep emulating the way of life I have set for you in the pattern set for all of us by Jesus Christ, keep faithfully following Him. I guess the encouragement for us us is, you will never ever know what seeds your Christian living will sow for someone else. You have no idea what impact your kind word, your offer of a lift, your simple act of recognising a fellow human being will have on them in God’s timing for the furtherance of His Kingdom.
Now for those of you who don’t know me, I’m married and I have 3 kids. Most of the time our kids are fabulous, but there are days when they are quite frankly a nightmare - there I said it. They become a seething bundle of bickering, infighting, whinging, selfishness which I am sure the good Lord allows them to be to test my patience, and to remind me, in my brokenness how much I need His grace and His patience with me!

Anyway there are days when you can feel the fighting rising in the air like an emotional thunderstorm, just waiting for the first fat raindrop of an insult to begin to kick the storm off. Know what I mean? Welcome to parenthood, but no-one tells you this stuff. They tell you, oh, being a parent is a gift, you’ll treasure those moments, they grow up so quickly. They never told me about these sorts of days where I arrive having to do something like a school assembly and be all lively or a visit grieving relatives having just had to deal with my kids who have been having a doozy of an argument.

Paul, has heard that it’s been a bit like this for the church in Philippi. There has been some heated disagreement, we don’t know what, but he urges Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. We don’t really know who these two women were, but Paul describes them as struggling beside him in the work of the Gospel. They were in leadership.

Bearing in mind that Paul is writing a letter that will be read to the whole community, it seems a bit harsh for paul to name and shame these two women doesn’t it? By naming them he is drawing the attention of the whole community to their disagreement and reminding the women that they set the standard of Godly living as leaders. To be a leader says Paul, is to accept responsability beyond private preference - remember Jesus’ words? Not my will but yours... The way you live should set the standard, especially in leadership.

Paul also expects the church to play a part in healing their relationship. That’s the nature of the partnership to which church leaders are called. Paul refers to this when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:1-6) where he encourages the whole church to play a part in resolving difficulties amongst fellow believers.

But Paul is asking for more than an apology here. He is looking for these women to be of the same mind in Christ.  He asks them to meet, despite their disagreement, where they do stand together - their common bond through faith in Christ.  Paul reminds us that as Christians we are not left to figure out our disagreements by ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran pastor) in his book The Cost of Discipleship put it so well when he reminds us that because Christ is our Saviour and Lord, and because of His radical intervention in our world and in our lives, we now have mediated relationships with each other because of Christ. Christ stands between us and our neighbour us us and God and puts He  puts our case forward so well, in such a way that reconcilliation or agreement is the only outcome. It is not possible for God the Judge not to reach an uncertain verdict in our case - because through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as He puts forward our case, we are reconciled to each other and to God. This should have a huge impact on the way we deal with any disagreements in the church friends.  We are reconciled to God in Christ, so we should reconcile to each other because of Him.

I’m going to skip past the radical nature of the community that is called together in the church here in Philippi because of Christ’s intervention in our world and in our lives. There is a co-equality, a mutuality, in the church, because of the way that Christ sees us, the way He loves us. He doffs his hat to us all - young or old, male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free as Paul would write later. As a result, and to re-emaphsize the new thing that God is doing and to mark them out as a different community to the male-dominated world around them, women are called into positions of senior leadership in the earliest churches - as an Anglican whose General Synod is prayerfully debating whether women should be bishops in the church, should really take note of the earliest of churches...

Paul goes on - he encourages the Christians in Philippi and Mill End to rejoice in the presence of God amongst us. To give thanks for the new thing that He is doing in our lives. Just as the Philippians have seen how Christ has and is continuing to transform the lives of Lydia and then the Jailer who imprisoned Paul and Silas so we should rejoice at the way that He is transforming all of our lives still.  Do make time and space in our daily living to thank God for the people He is making us to be in Christ? Do we have opportunity to share some of that good news with others in our community - to give testimony to the goodness and grace of God?

The gentleness for which the Philippian Christians  are renowned, is not a soppiness but rather an unflapability that comes from a sure hope in the return of Christ. As you know the nearness, the presence of Christ Himself amongst you says Paul, let that overflow into the way you pray - ask and it shall be given you, as Jesus once put it. Paul refs back to Matt 6 - Jesus says, don’t worry, trust God and He will surpass the need you have. Live and love in God this way, says Paul, and God will give you His peace - the sense that all is right with the world and with God, the Shalom, the completeness of all things in God - and it will stand vigilant watch day and night, like a sentry over your lives, drives, thoughts and motives. Sounds good doesn’t it?

But I wonder, do we live like that? We live in an anxious world, in very anxious times - not least of all will Andy Murray do the seemingly miraculous. Many people, maybe even some of you are anxious - will there be more month at the end of the money? Will I still have a job next week? How far will my pension go in real terms and over how many years? Can I continue to afford to live here? Not only that, but being a 21st century person is tough - it requires us to make thousands of day by decisions about how we behave in any number of situations. Those decisions paint a picture of the sort of person I real am, deep down, my character. Now it’s easy, comparatively speaking to sign up to big, world-shaping aspirations like world peace and justice, but all too often we’re like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons who once said “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” The small scale choices we make in the supermarket, on the motorway, in the office, at home and at a thousand other forks in the road express or diminish the big ideals that win our respect.

For this reason, Paul calls the Christians in Philippi and in Mill End for that matter, to actively chose and be responsible for specifically choosing ways of living that honour the big ideals we aspire to - to Godly living might be another way to put it. Rob Bell in his book ‘Velvet Elvis’  describes what Paul’s getting at well when he said:

‘...  As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way. The kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live.
This isn’t irrational or primitive or blind faith. It is merely being honest that we are all trying to live a ‘way’.

I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live.  I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.  I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live.  I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live.  I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live.  I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.  This way of thinking isn’t weird or strange; it is simply acknowledging that everybody follows somebody, and I’m trying to follow Jesus...’

What about us?  Paul says to us - think about your own life and work out as you shop, drive or spend time at the office, what it means to live lives that are honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and praise-worthy. In other words, God being present with us has to cash up. He needs to be visibly tangibly present in our lives, and we can practice living that way.  Whilst these character traits are straight out the textbook of a Greek life-coach and they’re not specifically Christian, those who live this way, Paul infers, live lives within the boarders of the Kingdom of God. He is encouraging us, as those growing to spiritual maturity, to work out with these character traits like weights at the gym.  He is encouraging us each to begin to be responsible for our own discipleship.  He says, look I have taught and shown you much about what it means to follow Christ, now it’s your turn.  Try to live lives, with Christ at the centre, that by your true and trustworthy dealings with one another, by the way you honour one another in love, by your seeking after justice and pure lifestyles make others go - wow, look at guys - I wonder what drives them to be the sort of people that they are, because whatever it is they have got, I want. 

St. Jerome tells the well-loved story that Saint John continued preaching even when he was in his 90s.  He was so enfeebled with old age that the people had to carry him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher.  And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long sermon, his custom was to lean up on one elbow each time and say simply: “Little children, love one another.”  This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed.  Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out.

Every week, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, with the same message: “Little children, love one another.”  One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?”  And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

Those values that Paul lists, are about living out in our the love the God has for each one of us in Christ.  Living out those virtues needs practice, they should become as much part of our spiritual disciplines as saying our prayers, studying the scriptures and fasting. It’s easy, comparatively speaking to be honest in our daily dealings, but loving - hmmm we find that strangely hard to do - even or perhaps especially with fellow Christians. Instead we stumble into conversations and important moments in odd places and on seemingly insignificant occasions not really sure of how to act or speak. Yet how we are to know how important our good morning or raised hat might be many years down the line coupled with lives lived with Christ at the centre?

Paul sets the Philippian Church and example of Godly leadership and living.  Live out those character traits, try them out and keep doing all that you have seen me do says Paul.  He has such a great love for Christ’s church that he longs to see the grace of God at work in our lives more and more. This is Paul saying, not arrogantly but actually in great humility, even if you can’t work out with these life traits, if you don’t understand everything I have taught you, copy what I do and you’ll get the drift. This is Paul the mentor, Paul the personal trainer, Paul the Discipler prepared to go the extra mile with the church in Philippi and Mill End, the people he intimately calls beloved - much loved - ensuring that we understand the purpose of all of that he teaches, all that he has shown, all that he lives is not just a better way to live, but the way to live Christ’s Way as God’s people together.  Do all of this says Paul and the God who brought all things into being with the words ‘let there be light’, the God who rested on on the Sabbath day, the God who answers the longing of an anxious age, the God of Peace Himself will be with you. Amen.

Sunday Podcast

Adopted - like a locket returned...

Susan Gamble was shopping at an Internet auction when she saw a U.S. Army Air Corps locket. Since her boyfriend collected World War I memorabilia, the locket caught her attention. The locket was from the WWII period, but it was gold and the bid was only three dollars, so she took a chance. She won.

A couple of weeks later, the locket arrived at Susan's Pennsylvania home. When she examined the locket she found an added bonus that wasn't mentioned in the Internet auction. The sixty-year-old locket contained two photographs: one of an attractive young woman and the other of a man in uniform. The photos appeared to be original to the locket.

Excited over her purchase, she showed it to her father who immediately asked her, "When did Grandma give you this?"  She answered, "Grandma didn't give it to me. I bought it off the Internet from an estate sale in Georgia."  As he pointed to the photographs, her father said, "Well, that is your grandmother, but that's not your grandfather!"

Susan's grandmother Elaine lived in Oklahoma. Susan and her father already had a trip planned to visit, so they took the locket with them. Elaine Gamble was shocked to see it. It was hers.

Elaine was nineteen in 1942 when she gave the locket to her fiance, Charles. His parents flew in from Colorado for the Saturday wedding. But Charles didn't attend. He left Elaine standing alone at the altar. A few days later he called. He was obviously drunk and then a woman came on the line to tell Elaine that she had stolen Charles. Elaine said, "I told her she could have him." It was her last contact with him until the arrival of the locket.

Susan graciously returned the locket to her grandmother. She has no idea who the seller was, but she described the whole ordeal by saying, "It's just beyond belief."

According to tradition, the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome, about 62AD. Paul addresses hostility, division, and self-interest more than any other topic in the letter, so perhaps his primary concern was not about what to believe as a Christian, but but how to live as one.

In the section we hear today, Paul goes back to basics. He reminds the Ephesian Christians and us that God, in and through Jesus Christ: has chosen us to be His people, we are adopted, we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven, He makes known His plans for us and all creation, He offers us His inheritance and marks us as holy by the presence of His very self in the Holy Spirit. This all encompassing passage should leave us in no doubt that becoming a Christian is not about assenting to the virgin birth or Christ’s resurrection like it was some sort of political slogan. Becoming a Christian is about acknowledging the lengths that God goes to be in relationship with us are enormous. There were no lengths, no costs that God would not bear, no amount of time used that God would not go to to express His love for us and for us to love Him too.  Being Christian is living and loving in the light of these actions of a loving God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are "destined for adoption." He uses that phrase quite deliberately because it describes the intimate love of God the Father, who aches with love.  He recognizes that His family is not complete.  He already has children but there are others still missing out from experiencing the love and care not just of any family but His family. Adoption is about bringing together a disperate family of ages, genders, races and sexes, all bound together, all encompassed by His love. Story: Martina and Richard...

Adoption here is a belief that we are supposed to belong to God and God will reclaim us. Just as the locket made its way back to the rightful owner through a series of unbelievable events, we discover our destiny as we make our way back to God through Jesus Christ in the unusual way of his death and resurrection. It sounds beyond belief, but it is really grace -- we are forgiven and brought back to God and this is what Paul means as he writes to the Ephesians and us using this phrase ‘in Christ.’

As adopted children ‘in Christ’, every experience is reframed, from our most bracing joys and cherished achievements to our besetting temptations, our most anguished regrets, and our most wounding losses. "In Christ" we are joined to the power and presence of God Himself and no longer have to make our way in the world alone without hope or meaning. "In Christ" we are knit to others who will cry over our dead with us even as they help us sing hymns of resurrection. At the same time, being "in Christ" is no sentimental togetherness. You’ve heard the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ to describe family ties - Christ’s blood shed on the cross is eternally thicker, for through it, we are bound together with each other and with Him.  But like all family relationships this means sticking with each other, supporting one another in love through the good and not so good alike.

Do you know where your life is going?  Where you are headed? Do you know where you come from? Where you roots lie?  Friends we live in an age where many of us can’t easily answer those questions because of uncertainty at work, because our relationships are stretched, because we live in what many call a mobile population, because we may not know even the next generation up in our own families.  Many of us are looking to connect ourselves to the past - look at the rise in interest in genealogy - where do I come from? Even our family histories become something to study - what did you do during the war Grandad, it’s for my history homework...

Many of us are are looking to connect ourselves to the future - look at the rise in self help books and life and career coaching where is my life going? But at the moment it might be more pressing and fundamental than that.

Paul remind the Ephesians and us this morning that our lives past, present and future fluctuate and change but they only begin to truly make sense when see life not as about assenting to particular political slogans, or about decisions that may or may not affect our present, or even something we do alone, but life is something to be lived and loved because of a God who loves us no matter what, searches us out no matter where we’ve been or where we are and brings us back home.