Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Podcast

Here is the audio of this morning's sermon at All Saints, KIngs Langley. The gospel reading was Matthew 6:25-24.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rob Bell - Love Wins

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Alan Uglow RIP

I have just heard from my Dad today that his cousin, the artist Alan Uglow, died at the end of January. I met Alan when I visited New York first in the early 1990s. As a tribute to him I have copied this obitury from teh Scotsman newspaper available here. There is another one on the New York Times website here.


Alan Uglow, artist.

Born: 19 July, 1941, in Luton.

Died: 20 January, 2011, in New York, aged 69.
Alan Uglow was an abstract painter of light-filled geometries whose expansive fields, bordered with notched lines, reflected in part his passion for football.

He died from complications of lung cancer, said his wife, Elena Alexander.

Uglow was what is often called a pinter's painter, respected within the art world's precincts but not well known beyond them.

His intuitive sense of proportion and subtle painterly texture gave his work a clarity that could easily be called classical.

His fields of white, outlined and bisected by tapelike lines of strong colour, or segmented into wide bands or blocks of colour, were indebted to the precision and tactility of Mondrian and the scale and specificity of Minimalism. Alan Uglow was an abstract painter of light-filled geometries whose expansive fields, bordered with notched lines, reflected in part his passion for football.

He died from complications of lung cancer, said his wife, Elena Alexander.

Uglow always played the physical solidity of his efforts against their optical radiance, thickening his stretcher bars so that his paintings protruded farther from the wall, hanging his works close to the ground or even simply leaning them, set on tiny blocks, against a wall.

If his outlined fields brought to mind an abstracted football field, it was not surprising. A longtime fan of Chelsea Football Club, Uglow used a photograph of a regulation coach's bench on the announcement card of his 1995 exhibition at Gimpel Fils Gallery in London.

His 1998 exhibition in Manhattan at the Stark Gallery in Chelsea included an actual bench, finished in blazing white and equipped with a soundtrack of him and a friend reading passages about football by Nabokov, Camus, Pinter and other writers.

Uglow also took photographs and exhibited them. One of his favourite subjects was football stadiums.

Alan Philip Uglow was born in Luton on 19 July, 1941 and began studying art when he was a teenager. He then got a degree in painting and printmaking from the Central School of Art in London in 1962.

Tellingly, his early passions included the spare, attenuated figures of Giacometti.

He moved to New York in 1969 and first displayed his work in 1974 in a group show at the Bykert Gallery, a well known Manhattan redoubt of abstract painting at the time.

His intuitive sense of proportion and subtle painterly texture gave his work a clarity that could easily be called classical.

His fields of white, outlined and bisected by tapelike lines of strong colour, or segmented into wide bands or blocks of colour, were indebted to the precision and tactility of Mondrian and the scale and specificity of Minimalism.

In 1978 he made his solo debut in simultaneous shows at the galleries of Mary Boone (paintings) and Susan Caldwell (drawings) on West Broadway in SoHo.

He had nine subsequent solo shows in New York, most recently at the Stark Gallery in 2002.

Uglow exhibited frequently in Europe, including a large survey of his work at the Museum Haus Esters in Krefeld, Germany, last year.

In the early 1980s Uglow learned the bass guitar and played in a rock band called Hard Labour. The band sometimes accompanied Alexander as she read her poetry.

Besides his wife, who teaches at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Alan Uglow's survivors include ten nieces and nephews.

It depends on how you hear it...

Today’s gospel will mean very different things to people who have jobs, homes, cars and food in plenty, compared with those whose lives have been devastated: 800,000 people in Haiti who have been living in refugee camps for many months; people in Christ Church New Zealand whose lives and livelihoods are gone; people in Libya facing momentous life changes.

Today’s gospel might be heard by the well-off audience as an admonishment to keep focused on the things that matter, rather than material wants. But to displaced, damaged people, the message is not so clear or easy.

Jesus is not saying that the basic necessities of human life don’t matter, nor is he saying that theses necessities will magically appear if we believe in him correctly. He is talking to people who have enough, it seems; otherwise his encouragement not to worry would simply be cruel. But what about those who truly don’t have enough? How can they hear good news in today’s gospel?

Though the message is going to be perceived differently by those who have enough and those who do not, the message is really the same: do not spend your time, energy, and heart fretting about this stuff. If you have enough, be thankful, and beware of making an idol of having what you want, rather than merely what you need. If you don’t have enough, it’s not because God doesn’t love you. Jesus is working to disconnect the link that was commonly made in his day: those who please God have plenty; those who have displeased God will suffer.

If only it were that easy. Of course, there are those in our culture who spout off after every natural disaster or act of violence, claiming that they know what specific sin is being punished. Even in these last few days a website published a view that the earthquake in New Zealand was God’s punishment for the NZ Government’s liberal attitude to sexuality.

It certainly would simplify matters to be able to draw a straight line between a list of do’s and don’ts and the corresponding benefits or punishments. For example, if you steal, there will be a tornado; if you welcome gay people, there will be an earthquake.

It seems that Jesus is encouraging his followers to look beyond that kind of straight-line thinking that attaches virtue to success and vice to failure. He is making a claim that God’s desire for us is that we all have enough, rather than using some complex calculus to determine precisely how blessed or cursed we will be. “No one can serve two masters,” he says. We have to decide what our priorities and values are, and if we’re going to follow Jesus, then those priorities and values are probably not best focused on ourselves. Jesus is saying, “Look beyond the boundaries of yourself.”

In this light, the situation in Haiti, Christ Church, or Tripoli doesn’t get magically better, nor does the person in desperate circumstances automatically understand this as good news. But it does sound like encouragement not to let dire straits reduce us all to complete selfishness. If we are sitting at the top of the comfort scale, we should not be worrying about getting more, but about how to share what we have. If we sit at the bottom of that scale, we should not regard that as permission to lie, cheat, and steal our way to comfort.

But more than a moral admonishment, this message claims God’s care for everything God has made: people, lilies, the birds, you and me. While we have ample evidence that God doesn’t prevent disaster, Jesus assures us that God is deeply concerned with the lives God has created. In other words, we are not alone, no matter how bad things seem. And no matter how good things seem, we didn’t get there on our own. No matter how bad things seem, God’s heart bleeds with ours.

The Sermon on the Mount, of which today’s gospel is part, is not only subversive to the values of the Roman empire, it’s a mandate for those who want to follow Jesus. There is a lot of bad stuff going on in the world; this was true in Jesus’ century, just as it’s true in ours. Jesus’ teaching in the face of all that is wrong with the world is consistent: have faith, and do something about the bad stuff by doing all the good stuff you can, for the values that underlie the Kingdom differ from those in life lived in the world as we know it.

Being good stewards of what we’re given is important work. But in light of Jesus’ message today, it seems that an additional criterion for good stewardship should be in place. The question must be asked, “How are we serving the kingdom of God?” Is the way we use our resources really revealing Kingdom values? Is there any connection between what we want and what God might be telling us to do and be?

What Jesus proclaims, to refugees in Haiti, those struggling in New Zealand, peaceful revolutionists across the world, and us comfortable people alike, is that the kingdom of God is at hand. Grace and mercy are available to all. For those of us who already have much, it may well be that God’s grace and mercy come through us on their way to those who are in the deepest need. What an awesome responsibility that is. And what an amazing joy – to be a conduit for the care and love of God for God’s people and God’s world. Even Solomon in all his glory didn’t shine as brightly as those who share and give and work for the kingdom of God. Will we shine or be lacklustre? Time to speak and act, putting worry to one side, and be co-workers with God, anchored in the values of the kingdom God is ushering in.

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world, prices rise, debts increase, banks collapse,
jobs are taken away, and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
and fix our hearts where true joys are to be found,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Word as a Wordle

This week's Wordle is of the Gospel reading for Sunday from Matthew 6:24-34.

Jesus asks us to get our lives in proportion and to focus on the things that really matter...

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6 v25-27

Throughout our everyday lives we are urged to want more; our society places great store on material possessions. It suggests that the car that we drive, the brands of clothes that we wear, the mobile phone that we use all define us in some way. It is easy to be lulled into believing this, and losing sight of our true value as a unique, loved child of God.

It is easy to focus on what we want, rather than what we have, and to focus on the material rather than the other ways in which our lives are blessed. However hard life seems, we have things we can be thankful for.

Action: Spend some time writing down some things that you are thankful for. Spend some time giving thanks to God for his blessings to you.

Pause for reflection: As well as being thankful, we need to acknowledge our anxieties. What money worries do you have? Share those with God in prayer.

You may find the following prayer helpful :

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world, prices rise, debts increase, banks collapse,
jobs are taken away, and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
and fix our hearts where true joys are to be found,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Elbow - 'Lippy Kids' (Live at Blueprint Studios)

Wednesday Podcast - Polycarp

Folks, here is the homily that I preached this morning as we remembered Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr:

Honoured as one of the first Christian martyrs, Polycarp had been Bishop of Smyrna on the Adriatic coast of Asia Minor for over forty years when the persecution of Christians began. He was arrested and given the option to renounce his faith and so save his life. His response was: "I have been Christ's servant for eighty-six years and he has done me no harm. Can I now blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" He was immediately burnt at the stake. His remains were gathered together and buried outside the city; thus began the practice of celebrating the eucharist over his burial place on the anniversary of his death, a practice which also grew over the martyrs' tombs in the Roman catacombs. Polycarp died in the year 155.

Almighty God,
who gave to your servant Polycarp
boldness to confess the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ
before the rulers of this world
and courage to die for his faith:
grant that we also may be ready
to give an answer for the faith that is in us
and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

One like the Son of Man said to me, "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 'I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.'"

This is the word of the Lord. Revelation 2. 8-11

Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

This is the gospel of Christ. John 15. 1-8

You're Gone - Marillion (Live at the Cadogan Hall)

This just makes me so happy...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Podcast

I am going to start making my Sunday sermons available for a limited period of time as audio downloads (MP3 format.)

The player below should enable you to listen to the MP3 audio.

You should be able to dowload the audio of this Sunday's sermon (20/2/11) based on Matthew 5:38-48 here

Perhaps some of you could give it a whirl and let me know if it works?

Living the Love of God

Uwe Holmer with Margot and Erich Honecker.

Eight times the Ministry of Education in East Germany said no to Uwe Holmer's children when they tried to enroll at the university in East Berlin. The Ministry of Education didn't usually give reasons for its rejection of applications for enrollment. But in this case the reason wasn't hard to guess. Uwe Holmer, the father of the eight applicants, was a Lutheran pastor at Lobetal, a suburb of East Berlin. For 26 years the Ministry of Education was headed by Margot Honecker, wife of East Germany's premier, Erich Honecker....

Then when the Berlin wall cracked, Honecker and his wife were unceremoniously dismissed from office. Under indictment for criminal activities the Honeckers were evicted from their luxurious palace, suddenly finding themselves friendless, without resources, and with no place to go. No one wanted to identify with them.

Enter Uwe Holmer. Remembering the words of Jesus, 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,' Holmer extended an invitation to the Honeckers to stay with his family in the parsonage. His charity was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in. Some members of his own church threatened to leave. Pastor Holmer defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper. "In Lobetal," he wrote, "there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, 'Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless. What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us."

In this morning’s Gospel reading, in this section of what some call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to what may seem an impossible task - to love our neighbours, to pray for our persecutors and, in so doing, to become more like our heavenly father.

1. Love Your Enemies. The love that God commands of us is love so great that it even embraces our enemies. When Jesus said he must have startled his audience, for he was saying something that probably had never been said so succinctly, so positively, and so forcefully before. We naturally love people or things which are beautiful. The love of which Jesus speaks here, however, and which is most spoken of in the New Testament, is agape. It is the love that seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare. This kind of love is the love that God is and shows us, and expects of us.

God’s love sees all the hatefulness and all the wickedness of the enemy yet desires to free them from his hate, to do them the highest good, to rescue them from them sin, and save their soul. Our “enemies,” of course, do not always come in life–threatening forms. Often they are people who are simply mean, impatient, judgmental, self–righteous, spiteful. God commands us to love them. Whether a conflict is with our spouse, our children or parents, our friends or a devious business opponent or spiteful neighbour, our attitude toward them must be one of love. Others say retaliate. Jesus says reconcile. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. How can we do that when we don’t want to?

2. Pray for Your Persecutors. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. ” When we start to pray for someone you don't get on with, God begins to answer your prayer by changing our attitude toward them. We must love them because of who they are—sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, just as we were and do. We must pray for them that they will, as we have done, seek His forgiveness and grace. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany, wrote of this teaching of Jesus, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. For if we pray for them, we are taking their distress and poverty, their guilt and perdition upon ourselves and pleading to God for them.” Love our enemies and pray for them. Why? Because God’s desire for us is thirdly,

3. Become Like Jesus. To love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors shows that we are children of our Father who is in heaven. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The heart of all that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount—in fact, the heart of all that He teaches—is contained in these words. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

God’s will is nothing less than that we become like him and love like Him. But what does that mean?

If I say I love my wife, you can see evidence that I do by the way that I support her, the way that I care for her, the way that I react to her and so on for she is worth loving!

What of our enemies though? Are they worth loving? Enemies usually stand against us, oppose us, hamper our hopes and dreams and sometimes endanger us. Yet Jesus asks us to love even these because God does.

We can only love even those we find unloveable and pray for them, when we consciously, daily, willingly, lay aside our reputation, lay aside our rights, lay aside our self-righteousness, lay aside our pride, and lay aside a version of Christian faith that is all too often so heavenly so as to be of no earthly use, and instead stand with Uwe Holmer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Martin Luther KIng jnr., Maxamillian Kolbe, Gordon Wilson, Desmond Tutu and countless others known and unknown to us, and trust Jesus Christ to give us His love and enable us to live His love for all, friend, neighbour, enemy. Amen

Friday, February 18, 2011

Radiohead - Lotus Flower


I bought and MP3 recorder recently and I am going to be experimenting recording sermons on it and uploading them to my blog. If any other Mac users can give me some tips and hints (use GarageBand, not to use it, how to feed my blog, etc).

Please click on the Podcast tab above to listen to the new content, which at the moment is an experiment.

Check back on Sunday night hopefully for my first full attempt!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Overtone Quartet - "Treachery"

This is marvellous... They are Chris Potter, Jason Moran, Dave Holland and Eric Harland and they are playing at Ronnie Scott's on 30th April. Bring it on!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Radiohead - All I Need (Official MTV Video)

in celebration of their immanent new album 'The King of LImbs' available to preorder here

The Word as a Wordle

Leviticus 19.1-2,9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.


As I read the reading from Leviticus and then at the wordle, it became clear that the heart of the reading was about 2 relationships - between God and people and people and people.. Hope to tease this out more in the next few days...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hurrah! New Elbow...

No, not bionics, but a new Elbow cd is due soon and can be preordered from here...

In the meantime, here is a video of the song 'Neat Little Rows.'

Spiritual Indigestion

I am not really a fan of sweets, never have been. I like a few varieties and like to eat them very very occasionally, but I guess that’s just me. One day, when I was in my early teens I went out for the day with a friend of mine. We went in to town and then to the cinema. Now he was a big sweet fan, and pretty much from the moment of leaving the house he was tucking into minstrels, sherbert lemons, jelly babies et etc etc. Having trawled around town checking out the local record shops, we got to the cinema for the film we were due to see. Popcorn, fizzy drinks and more sweets and chocolate were purchased with hard earned pocket money and we settled down to watch and to munch.

As the film went on, I began to feel more and more unwell. By the time I got to bed that night I had chronic stomach ache, a racing pulse and I generally felt terrible. My parents were worried, to be honest, so was I. It was only at bed time, as I complained about how I felt, that my mum asked me what I had eaten over the course of the day and out came the al a carte menu of sugary treats. Ah, said my mum, that’ll be it... She disappeared and reappeared with a fizzing glass of liver salts. I discovered I was not dying, but suffering from chronic indigestion and was it any wonder?

In a way, we’re all a bit Woolworths aren’t we? We like our sweets, we like to pick and mix some of the key aspects of our life. We call it individuality, we say that these choices define who we are as people and they help us to stand out from the crowd whether that’s music, fashion, politics or whatever.

The same is true of religion. I wish I had a pound for every time I heard someone say “I believe in God but I don’t come to church” or some such. We like the idea of faith in God, the idea of a relationship with Him, but we don’t want the responsability. We like God but don’t want Him messing with us or our lives. We believe we can believe in God but we can pick and mix if we wish to live His way or not, a sort of a la carte Christianity that fits our lifestyle or the lifestyle of our friendship circle or culture, where the Ten Commandments have become Ten Moral suggestions - like by laws that get changed. Friends, this is not a new way to think. Jesus encounters it in this morning’s Gospel reading and it only leads to spiritual indigestion.

In Jesus day, a good, religious, God fearing person, would do all they could to keep the law of Moses and even the interpretation of those laws by rabbis which were held in high regard. The Pharisees almost made a profession of strict law keeping. They felt that if everyone would strictly observe religious law, the world would be a better place. And as true as that sentiment might be -- it simply didn't work! Jesus, on more than one occasion, as in this morning’s reading, pointed out that the law keepers of his day usually missed the point of God's law.

Last week Jesus began teaching us from the brown muddy plain about a new holiness using salt and light as images - calling us to preserve the good in the world around us, to add flavour and seasoning and to allow that in our lives to shine out and impact the world around us This morning He talks about many different aspects of this new personal holiness, but he begins with three reinterpretations of the the OT Law, four commandments of a new morality, of a new personal holiness that would have left those Pharisees standing speechless! And if we listen closely, they will leave us speechless. Listen:

1. "Call someone a fool and you'll go to hell!"
2. "If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery... you would be better off to rip out your eye!"
3. "The ancients allowed people to divorce -- I say, NO DIVORCE!"
4. "Don't take any oaths -- you shouldn't have to -- if you love God, your word is good!"

"Is he serious?" No doubt they wondered. I can relate -- can't you? What's your reaction to Jesus' words? I have to confess that I share in some of the "jaw dropping" that must have taken place that day. But, just in case people began to look for "wiggle room", Jesus drove home the last nail. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." These verses in today's Gospel only make sense to me including a verse left out of today's Gospel reading - verse 48 about the call to perfection.

This is what God wants from us - perfection. Nothing like aiming high eh Lord? And yet what Jesus asks of us is not about taking a bit of this or a bit of that, or watering stuff down, but keeping focussed on a healthy spiritual diet based on the love and forgiveness of God.

Perhaps the words of Paul in the epistle reading can help. Here's a rephrasing of what he said to the Corinthian church. "I couldn't really talk to you in spiritual terms because you are so focussed on the things of Earth. You are so hooked into this world that you don't 'get it' when it comes to spiritual things. We can talk all we want, but only God can really bring about spiritual growth."

In order to aim for Godly perfection, to go for spiritual growth, to avoid spiritual indigestion we will need to be open to the fullness of the love of God in our lives, to know His forgiveness for us and of us.

Wait now! Don't let that slip by too quickly. Are you aware of the depth of God's love for you? Have you allowed the fullness of the love of Christ to penetrate your life? To know His forgiveness through His death and resurrection?

It is only the deep love and grace of God that can give us the power to see the world and the people in our lives with God’s eyes. To know that the keeping of these spiritual imperatives will be hard, But... It is the love of God that, in His timing, brings healing and forgiveness to the mess we so often make of our lives -- and allows us to let the perfect love of God come into and through our lives for others.

To be perfect -- as God is perfect, is not so much a matter of keeping the law of God as it is embracing and being embraced by the love of God. It's about being inspired by Jesus’ forgiveness and love, his Spirit lives inside of us so that we live a righteous and holy life. The generous forgiveness of God lives inside of us; the love of Jesus lives inside of us; therefore we want to live and strive for a lives of righteousness, of right relationships with all people around us. And in those right relationships, we find the personal holiness of God. Jesus aims high and so must we. Once you have embraced the love of God you can let it go -- to others. Amen.


This is a version of what I preached today - 13/02/11