Sunday, October 31, 2010

The grace of God... and Wayne Rooney...

I am not a fan of premiership football on the whole. As you all know I am a fan of proper football in the Championship and I am probably Hemel’s only Preston North End fan, something of which I am proud. But when our fortunes are dwindling, I was staggered at the antics of one particular premiership footballer in recent days. A certain Wayne Rooney. The news that he was leaving Man United was like a bolt out of the blue. The wage to stay though was breath-taking... When the average UK house price is £230,562, someone seems to be looking out for him.

In biblical times, affluence was a sign of the favour and blessing of God. Abraham is blessed by God in the book of Genesis - evidence of that is all the ‘stuff’ he came to have - cattle, sheep, male and female servants and so on. Similarly in the New Testament in the teaching of Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Fool, his crops have produced so much grain he contemplates building bigger barns to store it all. Now I don’t know if God takes account of recessions or not, but it seems that blessing, affluence and success are to be spoken of in the same sentence - as one follows on from the other. In other words, if you are rich you must have found favour with God.

A prostitute went to see a minister in wretched straits - homeless, sick and unable to buy food for her 2 year old daughter. Through sobs and tears she told of how she had been forced to prostitute her own child to feed her drug habit. He could barely take hearing any more of the story she was telling and besides he was legally bound to inform the authorities if he became aware of any cases of child abuse.

Unsure of what to say to her, to offer her any advice, and so he asked her if she had ever been to church to seek any support. The look she gave the minister would live with him for the rest of his ministry, ‘Church?’, she said incredulously, ‘Church? Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They would only make me feel worse!’

Blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep,blessed are you when people hate you says Jesus. On this All Saints Sunday, the blessing of God, those on whom His favour rests, are not on those affluent few whose lives are measured in tabloid headline inches, but on those who weep, whose lives are poor,empty and broken. The rich, the full, the laughing, those of whom much good is spoken of have already been rewarded of their own doing now and are not seeing or living by the standards of eternity.

To live by the standards of eternity is to live by God’s standards. Living by these standards takes us along the road to what we might call saintliness. Jesus says saintly living is not about a rarified holy way of living, but is simply put - God’s design for life - a better way to live. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

When we consider the lives of those the church traditionally calls saints, what strikes me first is how very ordinary most of them were but how thet tried to live out these words ....from that clutch of Galilean fishermen to a consumptive French nun,from a wounded soldier who spent most of his time dreaming of damsels in distress to a forthright Albanian with a genius for spotting Christ in the slums of Calcutta. None of them looked in the least remarkable – they didn't start out as super-holy beings, nor, I suspect, did any of them spend their days with heads surrounded by a heavenly glow. They didn't even aspire to outstanding holiness but they lived Christlike lives and accepted the gift of grace that God offers to all of us, and in so doing, they found themselves transformed.

The Saints we celebrate today are ordinary people trying to live Christlike lives transformed by the grace of God celebrated in the windows, paintings, statues, icons hymns... and pews around us. Yes you too... We are called to be saints, it is in our spiritual DNA, to strive to faithfully follow Jesus Christ in our day and to proclaim the Gospel in words and works of love.

Part of our saintly calling though is therefore to side with those whom God sides and favour those whom He does.

As we answer His call on our lives to Sainthood, we must also recognise that whilst He is transforming our lives as we worship Him, His favour, His blessing, rests on those in pour community where we might least expect to find it - in the home of the grieving widower, at breakfast with the family struggling on benefits, in the cold flat of the assylum seeker, in the frightened dreams of the child in care, yes even on that prostitute mother... Love them says Jesus. Support them. Do good to them because few are, and why, because as you see your life transformed by grace and new life, so the grace and new life spills out and blesses them through you... God’s blessing is on them because of you.

On this All Saints Sunday, we thank God for His transforming grace at work in people past as well as in us today as we seek to follow Him. We pray that we would not squander that grace He so freely gives us, so that it turns into sour judgement of others in our hands and fills our mouths and lives with bitterness.

Rather let us pray that as God’s grace transforms us, it would charge us with a contagious holiness to be God’s blessing on those in our community, especially on those who need it the most. Amen.


With love and thanks to @goodinparts for part of this...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Word as a Wordle

Here is the Wordle and text of the Gospel reading for All Saints Sunday (Luke 6:20-31)

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame youRejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation. ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry. ‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep. on account of the Son of Man.

‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So some initial thoughts thus far...

In this teaching, Jesus is looking at the bigger picture for humanity and her society, with the eyes of eternity. For there seem to be eternal consequences for life and actions in the now.

What does it mean to be blessed? It's something to do with God's provision and providence but it is also to do with invoking God, but here Jesus says that God's blessing on those whose lives did not traditionally show it - not on the rich but the porr, not on those who were happy but the sad, not on those with lavish food but on the hungry etc...

Jesus is encouraging his hearers to a godly way of living that recognises that fact.

There are questions related to this passage about what success is? Are we successful if we are happy, if you have lavish food etc. It is a gospel for the Wayne Rooney generation.

How do we live as citizens of the kingdom of God? We are part of the kingdom, we should live and behave as it's members.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The CofE is making itself look stupid...

This excellent post comes from the "Employment Rights" blog which you can read here. The topic he writes about will cause some people pain, but I believe the time has come for the church to grasp the nettle and get consecrating...


Women bishops must be on a par with male bishops.

The draft legislation in the Church of England General Synod which is going to dioceses will allow women to be consecrated as bishops, if passed by diocesan synods, then agreed by general synod.

It is an issue which has been on the cards for 50 years, but seriously anticipated since 1992 when the first women in the Church of England were ordained priest, some 40 years after other provinces of the Anglican Communion, and many years after the Methodist Church.

Ordaining women as priests or presbyters – elders – presupposes that as priests they can undertake any role in the church even overseer or bishop – episcopos.

Our society is increasingly frustrated by attempts to relegate women to a second class citizenship, to pay them less than men, to give them part time temporary jobs and to give men full-time permanent jobs.

The credit crunch is likely to hit women harder than men…

Yet I can envisage women caring for their families with what little they have while their male partners go down the pub and spend their money on beer and themselves.

But that’s by the by, stereotypes don’t help much do they?

This week I want to talk about the Church of England and women bishops.

You may have heard of the Ordinariate, a Roman Catholic welcome pack for Anglo-Catholics, as long as the bishops aren’t married, and the priests promise celibacy, married or not. Let me quote one of my mentors, a certain Church Mouse: (Reproduced with thanks, though not permission)

‘First up we have the Anglo-Catholics. They seem to be splitting down the middle, with Chairman of Forward in Faith, Bishop John Broadhurst, stating that he is off to join the Ordinariate. However, he has utterly confused everyone by stating that he intends to remain Chairman of FiF and that FiF is not a Church of England grouping. This will be a surprise to the members of FiF, who are exclusively from the CofE. It was also a surprise to the Catholic Group in General Synod who have “distanced themselves” from his position and are encouraging people to stay in the CofE and fight on against women bishops.’

Then there is the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda.’

These bishops and clergy plan on sticking around for the time being, as Bishop Tony put it to me when I asked him.

‘To what end we do not know. In fact the only thing we do know about this society is that this group is exclusively for Anglo-Catholics. I am nt welcome to join. Perhaps FiF wasn’t doing it for them any more, so they wanted to re-brand.

Next up we have the Conservative Evangelicals. Not happy with existing groups such as Anglican Mainstream, Reform and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans UK, they have voted to set up a society themselves. Actually, it was just a majority of the 170 members who turned up to their annual conference who voted for this move. Again, I am not welcome to join. There seems to be a view emerging that societies can be a model under which bishops can be appointed for factions so that the faction can segregate itself from other factions within the church which it doesn’t like.’

I considered founding the Society of Willibrord for Anglicans who plan on staying put, and being involved in mission and evangelism, but it already exists. Willibrord was noted most for going to Germany, hence the humour about staying put, maybe sending others to mission fields! I would be welcome in my own religious society, but I think I would have been short of bishops, except that there are plenty of Old Catholic Bishops whose orders are recognized.

So The Church Mouse on his blog announced today that he is establishing the Society of St. Magnus for Orthordox Church Mice. Again I am not welcome to join: as he wrote: ‘If you’re not a Mouse, please don’t talk to me any more.’ The equality of women is an issue which even the most theologically illiterate can grasp, that’s why women bishops will come, and however much the church embarasses itself parliament won’t allow anything less than full parity for women bishops…but how soon? And how silly will we look with our theological posturing in the mean time?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why new media matter in the Church

The post below comes from Bishop Alan Wilson's (the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham) excellent blog which you can read here


People who don’t get it about new media often assume that the revolution in communications through which we are living is driven by desire to play with kit.
Thus the anxious, especially those who do not want to appear anxious, can stay safe from any requirement that they change, by treating the use of contemporary media as a hobby.

“Phew! real change is happening, but belongs in the world of electronic hobbyists, so it can be business as usual for us.”

In fact, communications revolutions are always driven by the ways they change people. The invention of the printing press did have interesting implications for industrial design technology, but greater far was its impact on people’s attitudes to authority including the Church and the government. Once people could read and write, especially
en masse, the old assumptions were subject to constant critical scrutiny. And, as the dear old CIA used to say, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

The true implication of the printing press only took hold in the twentieh century, as costs came down sufficiently to allow information that had previously been privileged to flow all over the place. Information revolutions never go backwards, mostly because people have an insatiable thirst for information, and you can’t uninvent the technologies that provide it. One World War I song title expressed the rulers’ dilemma in the face of 20th century mass media technology perfectly — “How do you get them back on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paree?” But at least, then, they could try to control the media.

20th Century press was entirely free, as long as you owned a press. Now we all own a press, and we remain voracious information producers and consumers. We want to know the gossip, we want to know what’s going on, we want to be entertained.

Let me illustrate. Back at school governors in the 90’s we had controversy about making seat belts compulsory on school trips. We wrote to a local MP who assured us he was very much in favour, but the European Union, the square banana lot, wouldn’t allow progress on the issue. One governor had a dial-up connection and downloaded minutes from Brussels, where the UK had singlehandedly opposed compulsory seat belts on school buses, as a restriction of free trade. Same politician. Touché! Our dear leader was instantly outed for a bit of hypocrisy that would have been almost undetectable before.

What is called from all leaders in our new context is not necessarily technical skill, though the old pride that “Sunshine Deserts” British managers used to take in not being able or willing to type, an assertion of their superiority, is obsolete.
It’s about radical transparency and mutual accountability. We shouldn’t have too much to fear, for our Scriptures teach mutual submission, redemption, and a call to consistency of life (Holiness). These are not things for which clergy should be too busy (or not). I wonder if our feared deficits in these weightier departments cause as much gut-churning fear of, and resistance to, new media as technical competence or busyness. I hope not.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Living God's Love...

Following the success of the Lent Challenge via text message, tweet and email, the Diocese of St Albans launch a new innitiative called 'Living God's Love.'

'Living God's Love.'

is an invitation to journey.

It's an opportunity
to discover new things about God,
ourselves and the world,
to look with fresh eyes and explore new ways.

It looks like a good resource and a valuable initiative, have a look and why not sign up for the Advent challange here...

The Word as a Wordle

Here it is folks - the Wordle of the Gospel reading for Bible Sunday from Luke 4:16-24...

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.

Social Media for Social Chnge...

As someone who sees the possibilities and uses Twitter and Facebook (feel free to follow me in either or both spaces) to extend the walls of the church into the virtual space, I was delighted to be made aware of this day conference... and I have booked my place...

Social media is changing the way we relate to one another on a daily basis. Globally people are spending more time on Facebook than they are using Google's search engine. Five hundred million people are now communicating via Facebook, and Twitter is reshaping the way that news is spreading around the world. With this amount of change occurring, how can Christians harness the power of social media to bring social transformation?

30 November 2010, All Soul's Church, Langham Place, London
Cost: £15, including lunch and refreshments
Plus, the first 30 people who book will receive a complimentary copy of Leonard Sweet's Jesus Manifesto at the event - so book now to get one!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

God Grant Justice...

I have been gripped by a story of humanity, faith, perseverence, and hope this week. I am of course referring to the rescue effort to free the 33 miners from underground in the San Jose copper mine in Chile.

What was it about this story that so captivated the us? Was it tenacity? Was it human perseverance? Was it engineering skill? Was it the miners’ faith and trust in God? For me, in all honesty, it was all of those and more. It seemed so unlikely that those miners were alive at all. It seemed unlikely that those miners would ever resurface. It seemed unlikely that the miners would be together emotionally in any way and yet, against all odds, their story - a rescue into the pitch black underworld snatching back the stranded one by one, has gripped us all. The rescue moved me because it is a story of the triumph of good over evil, of hope over despair, of life over death.

The other story that has moved me this week is the counterpoint to that of the Chillean miners. This week the inquest opened into the deaths of 52 people when bombs ripped through tube trains and a bus in three locations on 7th July 2005. Seeking justice for the dead and injured, the coroner’s court has heard harrowing evidence about the extent and arbitrary nature of the attacks, but also stories of incredible courage as civilians and members of the emergency services ignored warnings about returning to the bomb blasted scenes to search out the injured and the dying. As the carnage of those attacks is turned over one shard of metal at a time, we notice again and again the hand of human compassion reaching out to embrace, to hold, to heal and console.

This morning’s Gospel reading sounds like it is straightforwardly a parable about prayer. The Gospel writer Luke even tells us so - Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart, and yet as we take a closer look there is more to this story than first meets the eye.

The judge in the story, then as now, has extraordinary power. He is the last port of call to administer justice according to the laws of God. The judge in the story exercises not the law of God, but is a law unto himself as he is not willing to hear the widow’s case.

The widow, throughout the pages of scripture, is a vulnerable victim - she could not inherit her late husband’s estate. Widows were dependent on the generosity and support of others. All the widow wanted was justice, but the judge flouted the judicial protocol of the day by refusing to even hear her. Eventually he relents though because she is so persistent. The judge does the right thing for the wrong reason. Jesus’ story says that if the unjust can be persuaded to act justly, the point surely is that those who pray to a just and loving God should never give up calling for justice in their cause, because the one who is righteous, namely God, can be trusted.

God is the protector of those like the widow and the judge of those who persecute them. As I read and reread the passage three words stood out - God grant justice. Yet waiting for God to grant justice can so often be the hardest part.

To experience the justice of God, we must place ourselves within the will, within the life and in the presence of God. The widow receives justice from the judge because she makes it her business to be in the judge’s face. She is constantly in his presence. Similarly to receive the justice of God, we must be open to the presence of God. There is an inextricable connection Jesus seems to be saying between persistent prayer and the justice of God.

God is like the judge in the parable, in that his justice is unexpected and surprising. God’s justice stands contrary to what we expect, desire or deserve. God is a god who not only forgives a murderer like Moses who killed an Egyptian guard or Paul who persecuted and murdered early followers of Jesus, but uses them to reveal something of His loving purposes to the world. The rescue of the Chillean miners touched me so much because this daring mission brought these men back to the surface alive. In turn it reminded me of the God of justice who engineers a gripping rescue through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, into the pitch black underworld of our lives, snatching us, the stranded, back one by one, back into the presence of His Father whether we feel we deserve to be there or not. God doesn’t write us off as a mission not worth executing, but but instead He goes the extra mile to search us out and bring us back to himself in love.

So often our lives can be torn apart like a bomb blast. Our hearts warped and twisted - whether of our own doing or through the actions of others - and the God of Justice gently and slowly helps us sort through those experiences, offering us the nail-pierced hand of perfect compassion - reaching out to embrace, to hold, to heal and console. To plead our cause in prayer to this God is to not find us ignored by Him. Waiting for that justice to come is painful, but God assures us, it will come.

Three words stand out from the Gospel - God grant justice. To know God’s justice is to know God. His justice is not a piece of clothing that He puts on and takes off like his favourite jumper. It is who He is. But to know God, we must know His Son Jesus Christ; not know of Him, not know about Him in an intellectual way; but to know Him as the one who asks us to follow Him and to discover more about His God and Father through what we see and experience as much as through what He says about Him. All too often though I hear - I believe in God, but He hasn’t answered my prayer. But what were you praying? Are you prepared to get in His face with your request day and night? And who is this God you believe in? I believe in the law of gravity but it will not save my immortal soul and does not love me into new and eternal life.

Friends it is not possible to call ourselves Christians and not in some way be following Jesus. For we are not Christian if we are not in some way going deeper into the life of faith - discovering more about God through what we see, experience and discover with others, as much as through what Jesus teaches in the scriptures.

Friends, if this morning you long for a faith that is more than an intellectual exercise or assent; if you long to discover more about a God who longs to help make sense of the broken fragments of your life and transform for good; if in your deepest being you long to be taken from the darkness into the light and love of His presence then let me assure you that you are placing yourself within the will, within the life and in the presence of the God of justice. If this is you this morning and you want to know this more for yourself then pray with me these words:

Holy God, faithful and unchanging: enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth, and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love, that we may truly worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God,now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Word as a Wordle - Trinity 20

This week's Gospel reading from Luke 18:1-8, looks straightforwardly about prayer...

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

The need to persistently pray is the purpose of Jesus telling the parable in the first place and yet the Wordle this week seems to show an other angle to this story that I had not really noticed before...
Three words stand out - God grant justice. Re-reading the passage there is a strong connexion between praying and imploring the God of justice to act, especially in favour of the downtrodden and marginalised...

Need to tease this out more in the light of the 7:7 enquiry and the rescue of Chillean miners and our listening to God discerning our priorities as a church...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Damien Rice - The Blower's Daughter - Official Video

Having chatted with someone about love and lost love and broken hearts and hope, I found myself singing this exquisite song from Damien Rice.

The lyrics, below, are all about love, life, loss, broken hearts and ...

Well I hope you enjoy this fragile, musical beauty.

And so it is
Just like you said it would be
Life goes easy on me
Most of the time
And so it is
The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky

I can't take my eyes off of you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes off of you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes...

And so it is
Just like you said it should be
We'll both forget the breeze
Most of the time
And so it is
The colder water
The blower's daughter
The pupil in denial

I can't take my eyes off of you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes off of you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes off you
I can't take my eyes...

Did I say that I loathe you?
Did I say that I want to
Leave it all behind?

I can't take my mind off of you
I can't take my mind off you
I can't take my mind off of you
I can't take my mind off you
I can't take my mind off you
I can't take my mind...
My mind...
'Til I find somebody new

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Fruits of Justice - Bishop of St ALbans Harvest Appeal

This year as a diocese we are being encouraged to support Tear Fund's work in Uganda by raising money for the Church of England's 'Climate Justice Fund.'

What do we know about Uganda?

Uganda map

Approximately 70% of Ugandans earn their living from farming. Until a few years ago, the predictable rainy seasons provided Uganda's farmers with two good harvests of staple foods. But climate change has hit them hard, bringing hunger and malnutrition - particularly in eastern and northern parts.

In the Teso region of eastern Uganda, the floods in 2007 killed 20,000 people and wiped out crops. Poor rains in 2008 and then drought in 2009 meant thousands of people had to survive on food aid and wild fruits and leaves.

Uganda - small map

Uganda is among the world's 50 poorest countries; the country has one of the lowest life expectancies at just 43. 30% of Uganda's 30 million people live on less than $1 per day. A significant proportion of child deaths are due to malnutrition...

The statistics are one thing, but the stories of the people of Uganda are quite another. I was moved by Winnie's story...

Winnie's family lost everything when floods hit eastern Uganda in 2007. For months, the family survived on food aid and wild leaves. Winnie (now 5) and her sister Merab (7) were often sick. Then drought set in.

'It was very hard', says Winnie's foster dad Stanley. 'I felt terrible that I could not feed my wife and children. Merab has sickle cell anaemia and the lack of food made it worse. He joints were swollen and she was in terrible pain.'

'I prayed to God that he would give us the strength to get through. And God answered my prayers. He brought the Church to us.'

With help from the Anglican Church of Uganda's development team, Stanley and his neighbours in Odort parish, Katakwi District, have set up a farming group. They've received tools, equipment and training to grow drought-resistant crops such as watermelons and sunflowers. Stanley (32), the group chairman, has also been given a kick-start with poultry farming - and he now has 210 chickens in the small yard of his self-built home!

'We have benefited a lot' he said with a smile from ear to ear. 'The girls and our two younger sons are all able to eat three times a day. It has been two months since Merab was sick. Merab and Winnie are able to go to school.'

Stanley Sunflower
Merab Chickens

Half the world's population lives in desperate poverty on less than $1 a day. Stanley is one of them. For basic survival, and nothing else, Ugandan farmers need to earn 1 million Ugandan shillings a year (£320). Last year, Stanley earned just 600,000 shillings (£192) - from a small harvest of watermelons and from finding additional work as a brick-maker.

Now, Stanley's watermelons and sunflowers are established, so the harvests should provide a much larger income - as long as the rains come. And his 200 chickens act as insurance for a non-rainy day.

Please give generously to this appeal. £10 will buy enough drought resistant seed for one family for one year. Please give as generously as you can via the JustGiving site.