Search This Blog

Monday, 27 March 2017

Trying to preach on Mothering Sunday, after a terrorist attack

This week our country has been rocked by the actions of Khalid Masood, driving at speed down the pavement over Westminster bridge, killing and injuring dozens, running into the grounds of the Palace of Westminster, before being confronted by the unarmed PC Keith Palmer, whom he killed with a knife before being shot himself.

Two every day things, a car and a knife, have been used to make widows and orphans this week.

But for me and probably for many of us, the thing that has stood out has been the extraordinary reactions of ordinary people.

From the tube messages, that for years have gone beyond grim announcements of service delays and cancellations, to ironic commentaries on London life,

 to the expressions of solidarity poured out on Twitter, to an MP – a politician, that most mistrusted breed of people – trying desperately to save PC Palmer’s life.

People have been good this week. They have shown that within us all there is a reservoir of kindness and generosity that us buttoned up Brits seldom show.

And in the candles in Trafalgar Square, and in the embrace of Muslim and Christian leaders, I see something that I want to thank God for. Because I believe that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, in whom there is no shifting shadows. Whether it’s the kindness of a stranger or the love of a mother, those things that nourish our souls more than anything else, are God’s gift.

So we heard 1 Corinthians 13 this morning, very appropriate for Mothering Sunday. But if you read it in the light of Wednesday in Westminster, how does it sound?

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Keeps no record of wrongs? Can we do this?

 Yes we can. We can rejoice, not at injustice, but whenever the truth wins out. We need never give up, never lose faith, we can endure through every circumstance, not because our love is enough – it isn’t – but because God’s love stands behind it.

God’s love ensures that we can go on presenting our credit card of love at every opportunity, and God will make good the debt. We can go on pouring out love and goodness, and the well will never run dry.

Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? Maybe she can. But even if that were possible, I would not forget you, God says.

So today we say thank you, Lord God. Thank you Jesus for the blood you shed, for the battle you won. Standing in its victory we sing salvation’s song.

Monday, 9 May 2016

An enforced break

I'll be taking a break from daily posts for a little while. My father has fallen and broken his hip, so I will be occupied looking after him to a certain extent.

If you are the praying sort, prayers for Steve Sharp and his wife Marie would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Luke 17:20-37:

In Old testament times, people used to talk a lot about "the Day of the Lord." They looked forward to it as the time when God would right all wrongs, when his people would no longer be threatened by foreign powers, and would get the recognition they deserved. After all, they were his chosen ones.

But the prophets began to say that the Day of the Lord wouldn't be a good day, it would be a terrible day. When God came, he wouldn't vindicate his people, he would condemn them for their wickedness.

After the terrible events of the exile, the remnant of God's people were chastened. They determined that never again would they fail to keep the law, and groups like the Pharisees came to the fore, who were meticulous in observing every detail of God's law. They began to hope again, for a coming Messiah who would sweep away the foreigners and give Israel back their birthright.

Perhaps this helps us see why the pharisees couldn't leave Jesus alone. He ticked many of their boxes as they waited for the Messiah. And his talk of the coming Kingdom of God sounded very similar to that old Day of the Lord stuff.

So they ask him. And get a dusty reply, like the prophets of old. Don't look forward to the coming of the kingdom. You won't enjoy it. It's not a day for the likes of you, who are hypocrites, who think you're so great, but are missing the point with your law keeping and your stuffy hypocritical righteousness.

And to the disciples he says, don't try and do a countdown. You can't predict when this day will land. It will come so suddenly that no one will be ready for it.

But it's coming. The vultures are gathering. The carrion birds smell a feast.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Luke 17:11-19:

Why does familiarity breed contempt? Why can't we keep love and gratitude going? Why do they just wither and turn sour as the years go by?

These gloomy reflections are prompted by reading the story of a bunch of lepers, living on the borders between Galilee and Samaria. 9 of them were Jews, one was a Samaritan. They were more united by their suffering than divided by their ethnicity.

But they weren't united in gratitude. When Jesus heals the whole bunch of them, the Jews all skip off without a care in the world. Only the Samaritan falls to his knees and pours out his thanks.

But it's the Jews who have got God. It's the Jews who look down their noses at the half-caste Samaritans, and despise them for their faint-hearted religion. It's the Jews who are the inheritors of all the wonderful promises of God, from Abraham onwards.

So why can't they say thank you? Why has familiarity bred contempt? Why is this sour, bitter-minded saying so depressingly true?

Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Luke 17:1-10: a box of bits

All the gospel writers seem to suffer from a problem known most commonly in modern life to people who have bought flat pack furniture from IKEA.

Yes, we've all done it. We've put the bookcase or the coffee table or the chest of drawers together, and discover there's one bit left over at the end. It doesn't matter how carefully you try to decipher the instructions, how many times you count all the pieces in their plastic packets, there's always something left over. The good news is that it doesn't really matter, the furniture usually stays together perfectly well without the spare part (unless you really did miss out something vital!).

When Luke and his fellow gospel writers had finished assembling their gospels, they had a few bits left over. A few miscellaneous sayings, a couple of minor miracles, and a story or two that seems too good to leave out, but which doesn't obviously fit in anywhere in what you've written.

So what do they do? Do they ignore the leftovers, and hope that the gospel won't wobble without them? No. They usually slot them in somewhere, just in case somebody might find them useful.

That, I think, is what Luke has done with today's section. If you've got time, and are interested, have a read of the other gospels (Matthew and Mark in particular) and see where they chose to put these bits. You'll find them in quite different places, connected with other stories and events. You'll probably also find Matthew and Mark's boxes of bits left over!

Luke seems to have hung his spare parts on the pegs of forgiveness and faith. He tells his disciples to be gentle to each other, to forgive each other's failings, and not be a temptation for someone to sin, They have something to say about faith, he has something to say about knowing their place - we are servants who should be content with doing our jobs, and not expect constant thanks and praise.

Try this bits on for size. If anything fits, keep it!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Luke 16:19-31: Some people just won't listen

Some people just won't listen. That's what Jesus had concluded. He tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man, whose situations in the afterlife are the opposite to what they experienced on earth.

It's the rich man who has the focus, and we see him full of regrets for his thoughtless life. He's still a bit arrogant, trying to order poor Lazarus around and get him to fetch a drink of water. But he is thinking about his brothers, and wants to do what he can to prevent them ending up where he is.

So he dreams up another job for the ex-beggar, now he's got to be a messenger boy and warn the brothers to mend their ways.

But Father Abraham is having none of it. Let them read the Bible! It's all in there. No, but if someone rises from the dead, then they will listen, surely? No one can ignore a sign as big as that!

Can't they?

Just you wait, Pharisees. Soon you'll have the chance to ignore Jesus on an even bigger scale than ever before. Enjoy it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Luke 16:13-18: Divorced from reality

I'm reading verse 13 again today. It served as a conclusion to the previous parable, but also it introduces the next section - the controversy with the pharisees over money.

Luke lets his careful objectivity slip for a moment, and says something rude about the pharisees. He calls them "lovers of money." So he's clearly siding with Jesus, who has just warned them that they cannot sit on the fence - either they love God, or they love money. It's as stark as that.

For Jesus, the pharisees, though looking righteous, are actually poison. They are doing dreadful harm by kidding people that being like them is what God wants, and when people copy them, they find themselves further from God than they were before. What a travesty! The "godly" are the ones doing the devil's job, tempting people away from God!

Jesus tackles one of their arguments against him, that he is ignoring the law, and letting riff raff in to God's kingdom. No - I'm not ignoring the law, you are! You're so busy finding clever little ways to get round the spirit of the law while obeying the letter of it - divorce being an example - that you completely miss the point.

Divorce had been made easy, so long as it was regularised. Get the paperwork in order, and essentially you could please yourself. That's the way the pharisees played it. Jesus' reply is simple: adultery is adultery, it doesn't matter what you call it. Anyone who has been tempted to break their marriage vows (and show me a person who says they haven't been tempted and I'll show you a liar) will be familiar with the convoluted thought processes that we use to justify it to ourselves. "Of course, in any other circumstance this would be wrong, but ..."

So am I saying that al divorce everywhere is wrong? No. I'm saying don't think legalistically about the law. Jesus didn't. He thought idealistically about it. What is the ideal that the law is trying to uphold?

Honour the ideal, don't just keep the rules.