Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can't un-learn!

Having read:

and really enjoyed it, thought it was nicely written, down to earth style with wit, humour and warmth, accessible, a few things i wouldn't agree with regarding the way he thinks about details of Christian belief, but overall definitely a good to very good book. I thought i would try:


Now i can't decide whether i like this or not, it has the same style, but seems to be trying to be clever in a more self-conscious way and (i think) fails - particularly when it comes to Biblical Critique, the idea that the pentateuch and Job was all written by Moses seems to me to be a rather clueless approach to Biblical authorship (though i may well upset some folk by saying this). Anyway, with regards to the book, i still like much of the style, and there are sublime moments in the chapters, particularly the one headed simply 'Jesus', there are still bits to be enjoyed and savoured and there are moments where Miller's turn of phrase is perfect, and he says something which can make a lightbulb go on in the brain and 'ah, now i understand' moments occur.

I am oscillating between liking this book, with reservations and disliking this book with glimpses of stuff i really like. Still worth reading, i read lots of things i disagree with and can enjoy and appreciate them, but not a gem of a book like 'blue like jazz'.

Anyway the reason for the heading of the post and my comment about Biblical critique is that over the past twenty five years or so i have journeyed through many parts of the Church - having started off in a very conservative Evangelical church which grounded me in a love of and appreciation for Scripture, i moved in my mid teens to a Charismatic church which showed me the joy and release of Spirit filled living whilst offering still a regard and respect for the Bible which i hold on to now. Looking back, though, i can see an overwhelmingly uncritical attitude to both the Bible and those who claimed to interpret it was the mark of my Charismatic fellowship, and i became less and less convinced by the often right-wing, narrow interpretations offered to me as i grew more aware of who Jesus was (from my own reading and studies) and the breadth of the Church beyond my own fellowship...

I went on to join and Evangelical Anglican church as i worked for a School's outreach group called Scripture Union in my late teens, then to carry on that part of my journey by being confirmed when I moved to London to College in South West London, and a degree in Theology (with Drama!). As I read more, prayed more, saw more and learned more i realised that the simple, or rather simplistic, version of what is in the Bible and where it came from didn't actually ring true any more. I found myself more convinced by the four source hypothesis about the foundation of the Pentateuch than the idea that Moses wrote about his own death, and that one of his scrolls went missing for a few hundred years and suddenly popped up in time for the Deuteronomic reforms. I realised that differences in the language used about God and the style of the writing in different chapters, passages and in large chunks of the Old Testament pointed more towards the skilful (inspired, i would say with no hint of irony) redaction (editing) of the scriptures than the idea that it could all have been written by just a very few people... I found the arguments about authorship in the New Testament, and the synoptic thesis, and the 'so-called Pauline Epistles' challenged my understanding and stopped me from holding on to the simplistic 'dropped from the sky, it's inspired, don't ask too many questions' approach...

I went through a liberal phase too, and as i explored my calling to ministry i enjoyed the experience of the high Church (or Anglo-Catholic) wing of the C of E. I went to a broad Church college which had the label 'liberal catholic' - but was taught by faithful Christians of a variety of denominations, theological standpoints and experiences. I went on to be a curate in a very broad suburban church, then Assistant Priest in an Anglo-Catholic parish in South Kensington, central London, then came here where i have been for nearly six and a half years.

From all of this you will see that my experience has taken me through most of the labels which McLaren uses below in my earlier posting and i have taken from these experiences a rich and varied understanding and appreciation of two thousand years of christian experience. But no matter how much i want to i can't go back to thinking of the inspiration of Scripture as i did twenty or so years ago, i can't pretend not to have been convinced and challenged by Biblical critique and to take things at face values. I don't believe that creation happened in six days, and i don't think the Bible says we have to believe that, I do think that woven into scripture are 'myths' which may not be literally true but contain depths of truth which many literalists miss out on by arguing about whether they are literally true or not. All of these things i am willing to discuss and be challenged on, and who knows, if God convinces me i need to change my ideas then i am open to that - but my experience of loving God with heart, soul, strength and mind means that i am willing to use my brain to struggle with my faith, and i continue to remain as faithful as i can to the God whom i love and seek to serve, trusting in God's Holy Spirit, and in the grace brought me through the death and resurrection of my saviour Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Yesterday's sermon

seemed to go down well, though i am not sure it's one of my best, at least written down - it seems to go better when i speak it, as a number of people mentioned how 'enthusiastic' i was, or even 'passionate' according to one member of the congregation...

Christ the King (2006) Year B RCL Principal

Readings

King of All

Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year . Officially the Church year begins on Advent Sunday. But on this last Sunday of the year we have a theme to crown the year, indeed something which brings our focus back to the central belief of Christian faith. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.

So what is this feast? Why do we celebrate it? What difference does – indeed what difference should – it make?

In a way it is a celebration that echoes Ascension Day, which marks the end of Eastertide. This long period that we mark as the Sundays after Trinity in the Prayer book and in our lectionary – we call ordinary time. It contains significant feast days of the Church such as All Saints, All Souls, SS Peter & Paul and others – but it doesn’t historically have the same ongoing significance of times in the year such as Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.

On Ascension day we remember Christ ascended and glorified. No longer bound by mortal flesh but resurrected and glorified in his resurrection body. We honour Christ as second part of the Trinity and thereby ruling and reigning with God for all eternity. Robed in splendour and majesty we give worship to God as ruler of all.

And the feast of Christ the King offers another reminder of that. Before we approach the great celebration of the Incarnate God in Christ at Christmas we are reminded of the fact the same God who took flesh, who lived a human life, who was humbled in taking human form, is ruler of earth and heaven. We are reminded that Christ is king of all creation, is the Holy One who we worship and adore.

Today is a chance to reflect on the majesty and splendour of God in Christ, the one who died, rose again and is seated on God’s right hand. It’s a great celebration of just who Christ is, of what he is, of what he has done and of who we are in relation to him, our ruler, our leader, our God. It is also a day to ask the question – what does it mean that we believe that Christ is the King, and what difference does it make to my life and my faith today.

In our Gospel we see an encounter with Jesus where Pilate, starting from a position of doubt, asks ‘are you the king of the Jews’. I wonder what was going through this mind as he asked this, whether he was really searching to find the meaning of what the accusations made against Jesus were all about. Perhaps he also was taunting Jesus, the text itself leaves the question open.

Our Gospel reading also reminds us of Jesus, the human one, or Son of Man (mentioned in the reading from Daniel for this morning) as the older translations say, having a very real sense of where the power and authority he possessed came from. He says ‘My kingdom is not of this world…’ It is this that should inspire us to see our own ministry and mission as the Church of God – we are those who are mandated by heaven, if you like, given a divine commission to live as children of light, as subjects of God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of God is an important ideal that runs throughout the teaching and ministry of Jesus. This kingdom is not a place, or set in time – it is a state of being. A better word than kingdom might be ‘reign’ or ‘rule’ – the kingdom of God is that state which is achieved when women and men submit to God’s gracious reign and live lives worthy of the calling which God has given us.

And it is this which is the lesson of the feast of Christ the King – acknowledging Jesus Christ as our ruler and leader. It is a reminder that we who are by our baptism subjects of a divine kingdom. And what are the consequences of this acknowledgement? If we really believe that Jesus is our king this should have a real effect on our everyday lives – after all the life and liberty we have by being part of the country we are, under the constitutional monarchy of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II means that we enjoy the privileges we do.

Likewise, our status as subjects of our Divine Ruler should have an everyday impact, it should inform our conduct and the actions we undertake. In fact, in a way that a human ruler cannot manage, we should be going further and allowing our rĂ´le as subjects of God’s kingdom inform even our very thought-life. St Paul writes, 2 Corinthians Chapter 10 that “ we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” There is no limit, or perhaps I should say, there should me no limit on that over which Christ is ruler in our lives.

There are three things which we must take seriously if we are to truly serve Christ as our king:

One is to know Christ – in most situations there is no opportunity to get to know the ruler of a nation in a personal and intimate way. With Christ we have the great privilege of reading his word, the Bible, spending time in prayer talking to him and being able to listen and learn from him – in our prayers, our Bible reading, in sharing with other Christians.

Secondly we are called to submit, and to serve, to take seriously the demands that our Christian faith must make on our lives. We must all ask ourselves – is there any way in which I am different to the person I would be if I did not follow Christ? What difference does being a Christian make to my life? What could I do to make my faith more of a reality, what could I do to be a servant of God in such a way that it makes a difference in my life.

Thirdly – we should enjoy our lives as part of God’s reign. The promise of God is not just about rules, regulations, laws, constraints, morals etc etc etc In the end the reign of God results in lives transformed, hearts filled with love, lives bearing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, goodness. These are not constraints on our lives, they free us to be the people that God longs for us to be.

To be honest, I would not be a minister of a faith that is inward looking, miserable or negative. My calling is to preach the Gospel – Good News – of a kingdom of life, of living life to the full, of enjoying the fullness of God. That’s not to preach hedonism, but responsibility, work and fulfilment. We are to be people whose love of life and love of God shines. We are to be those whose commitment to the kingdom is visible in such a way that it is attractive. and whose enjoyment of life affects all that we do and say.

Preaching today on Christ the King is exciting, it reminds us that God has good in store for us. But the message of Christ the King is not one of a kingdom ‘one day’, but of a reality now, of the reign of God that encroaches on the lives of those who seek to follow here and now, who enjoy following Christ, no matter what the difficulties, and whose lives reflect the glory of God.

May the love of God dwell in us and shine through us as subjects of our heavenly king, and ambassadors of his divine, joy-filled kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rumours

Rumours is a weekly email list which sends stuff out about the readings for the next week.

That sounds really boring, its not, it is funny, thought provoking and well worth getting, all you need to do is sign up and you will get Ralph Milton's thoughts for the week, a joke or two, a look at the Psalm for the week, some funny stories, and a variety of bits and bobs which are far more interesting than the usual blurb in the electronic mailbox! Here's his instructions for joining and leaving:

To Subscribe:
* Send an e-mail to: rumors-subscribe[at]joinhands.com
* Don't put anything else in that e-mail

To Unsubscribe:
* Send an e-mail to: rumors-unsubscribe[at]joinhands.com
* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail

I've put [at] instead of the usual symbol to keep those ever present spambots from picking up the address easily... Thanks to moog for that tip...

The other thing to remember is make sure your spam filters let rumours in! If you want to see a copy of rumours before signing up then send me a mail fracme [at] yahoo.co.uk and I will happily forward one to you.

Ralph is responsive to thoughts, critique, humour and other email snippets too, plenty of interaction available on this list - so give it a try.

Posada for advent

Posada is a tradition of taking figurines of Mary and Joseph home for a night over advent - we're trying it with the kids in our Church fellowship this year, but there is an electronic twist to the tradition being offered this year by Andii Bowsher over at Nouslife blog, sign up for a chance to take part in the first (as far as I know) e-posada...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Christian Bloggers


Just been asked to join Christian Bloggers, worth a look at...

Greetings and thank you

My sitemeter registers very few details about who comes to this site (you will be glad to know) mainly only numbers, time you stayed and whereabouts you come from - and I'm always glad to see the diversity of visitors, and the different places you're visiting from. It's great to have people from all over the world who take some time to browse these thoughts, I've not travelled much, but I've learnt plenty from all the international friends and colleagues I've had over the years. So greetings to you all wherever you're from and thanks for stopping by.

And if I've not had the chance to update things for a few days please do feel free to mooch around, there's plenty in the archives, even some pictures! Mi casa, si casa (or however you spell that!)

Oh, and do leave a comment if you have a mo...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A quote

My 'Rural Theology Association' conference on Saturday was excellent, because it was all concerned with Mission...

I know that 'Mission' is the in-word in British Christian circles at the moment, but there was a great reminder from the Bishop of Exeter who (quoting someone i can't remember, so anyone who can attribute this please let me know) said

'It's not that the Church of God has a mission, but that the God of Mission has a Church'

Apologies if i got that wrong, but the gist of it is clear...

Busy again

Remember how i said in the post about the discipline of 'slowing' that i would probably be posting in a couple of weeks about how busy i am, well this is it. But i thought it worth posting about some of the stuff i've been caught up in doing because i had the interesting and valuable experience of going into the local primary school this morning (on top of visits, meetings etc as usual) and talking about 'death and funerals' with a group of ten year olds. It was interesting to observe how kids get a handle on death in a way that adults don't necessarily manage. They were concerned about what happens to someone when they died, and keen to share what had happened to grandad's or auntie's ashes after they were cremated or where so and so funeral's took place and what happened.

I never ceased to be amazed with children's capacity to learn and to deal with things - of course for many the reality of death hasn't yet really 'come home' to them yet, and even us grizzled old Vicars can't become hardened to the pain of loss, even if we didn't know someone particularly well it can still be moving to have to minister to a bereaved family, and to take the funeral of someone, especially in tragic circumstances. We have a particularly difficult funeral coming up in my village in the next week or two, and i find myself feeling a sense of bereavement because of the circumstances, and because it is affecting not just the family but many in this village community. A reminder of the privilege and responsibility of the ministry we are called to.

I'm also reminded how crucial it is to the mission of the Church to be involved in the community in which we are set - we cannot be divorced or distanced from these places, but need to immerse ourselves in our context, or to be clearer, just to be here, to feel, to care, to pray, to hope, to wait,, to love. I think one of the greatest disservices we do to the Gospel is to separate ourselves from the people and places God has called us to serve.

End of sermon :-)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More thoughts for this Sunday just gone

As part of our Sunday evening series on 'Jesus and....' - an attempt to get back to basics with looking at what Jesus said and did, i ended up covering for a poorly colleague who was unable to speak on 'Jesus and the Law'. It wasn't a subject i planned to speak on when i chose the titles for the series, in fact I thought that it would be an interesting talk to listen to - but as you'll see in the text below the fact i had to prepare this was quite rewarding in itself. Unfortunately because of other pressures i had to eat into time spent with my friend at Hook over the weekend, and with some of my time with my mum in Devon. In the end, though, i thought what was said came out OK, and the work it took to get it to this stage was very rewarding. Comments welcomed... Been a bit short of comments lately, so here is some incentive to get involved folks!

Team Evening Worship

Jesus and the Law

Two things struck me in preparing this evening’s talk - firstly that I’m not sure how much the idea of Jesus’ attitude towards the law would be considered a gripping issue for us to be going on with in our look at his teachings and life and secondly that I was hoping to hear a talk about this rather than give one! But like many teaching tasks which ministers are called on to deal with, this was an opportunity to think, read, consider and pray through things I might not necessarily have done otherwise, so I hope you’ll enjoy going on this journey with me this evening.

Most of our understanding of Jewish law comes to us via the interpretation and critique of St Paul - I doubt that many of us are avid readers of those parts of scripture that make up the Jewish religious and social legal system - the laws contained within Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. Of course, after Paul those of us who are Gentiles can breathe a sigh of relief that his understanding and interpretation freed us from having to conform to Jewish practice and be proselytised (converted) to Judaism before becoming Christians. I say it was Paul, but from the account in Acts Chapters 10, 11 and 15 and Peter’s vision in Acts 10 of God declaring clean things previously unclean it was the decision of the council of the Apostles that made this decision, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Because of Paul’s teaching though phrases such as ‘no longer under law but under grace’ (some seem to think that this is the summary of my attitude towards speed limits!) and interpretations such as those found in this morning’s readings from Hebrews where the law of the first covenant is superseded by the new law written on the hearts of humankind have meant that we can easily dismiss the reason for the law’s importance in the life of all Jewish people and even in the life of Jesus, for he is the one that said

‘Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished’

So the law had some importance to Jesus and should therefore have some importance to us, at least understanding it should enhance our understanding of who Jesus is and should therefore influence our faith.

I don’t think I’m overstating anything here - I do believe that in order to have a fuller understanding of our own faith we do need to get to grips with where we come from, ie our Jewish roots. It may seem obvious to us, but Jesus was Jewish! If we want to know more of him we need to consider the background to that, for the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people, and because to forget Jesus place in life, his history, his context, his race, his experience, is to forget the truth of God made human, to forget that in order to be fully human we need to be in a certain place at a certain time and that (to a certain degree) makes us something of what we are…

But enough of a digression into incarnational theology (my pet subject, as you probably know). Lets try and leave our post Pauline glasses behind and look at this subject with new eyes.

The purpose of Jewish law was to mark the relationship between God and his chosen people. It marked them out as special. By following these laws and precepts not just in their so-called ‘spiritual life’ but in every area of life - family life, commerce, social action, structures of government, everything the Jewish people were setting themselves out to be distinctive.

The law was meant to be a positive thing, a goal to strive for. It was to show how important God was to the people of Israel. In a religious sense, observance of the law was meant to make people righteous, so those who lived by the law were considered better than others - people such as the Pharisees were elevated because they took upon themselves to observe every letter of the law. Rabbis, religious lawyers and scribes were revered as they sought to help people understand the meaning of the law and to empower them to live the law that all might be righteous.

So we have this law, called Torah, which is foundational to Jewish faith, it is the bedrock of both religious observance and the whole of life. Alongside this we have the prophets who reminded the people - often forcefully - of the importance of the law, and of the principles behind the law. We have the History books, Psalms and wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible - which we call the Old Testament - and alongside this we have a whole culture of considering the interpretation of law and of debating and discussing just how the Torah should be implemented and lived - a culture known as Midrash.

This is the background to Jesus’ own life and the faith in which he was brought up. Much of what he taught echoes the principles of the law, and he was known as a rabbi or teacher of the law by those he met. He was schooled in the law and in order to be bar mitzvah - a son of the commandments, and to be an adult and involved in Jewish worship he would have had to know and read the law (or at least some of it) in Hebrew.

So you see why this is all important to us - it was so much of who Jesus was. And much of what Jesus said was to do with the law, I can’t begin to go into depth with regards to all of the times that Jesus mentions the law, but we see from the very start of his teaching ministry in Matthew - the collection of writings that Matthew puts together under the title ‘the sermon on the mount’ - that once we have been told of the manifesto of the kingdom of God in the beatitudes and he has summoned his hearers, Jesus comes up with this strident denunciation of anyone who thinks he has come to repudiate that which has come before… The words we’ve already heard, the words which were read to us before I started - do not think I have come to destroy the law or the prophets…I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

William Temple, Archbishop of York and later of Canterbury in the first half of the last century, says this in his book ’Christ’s revelation of God’ - which is so good that I have to quote it and give him credit rather than pretending it was my idea:

‘The Sermon on the Mount is in one real sense a correction of the old Law. But it is a correction by way of completion, not by way of rejection’

He goes on to say

‘Perhaps the clearest illustration of this is found in our Lord’s treatment of the lex talionis - An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That principle looks to us like a sanction for vengeance. But that is a misunderstanding. The essence of the lex talionis is that it sets a limit to the naturally insatiate lust of revenge, which, if left to itself, will take two eyes for an eye and a set of teeth for a tooth. The lex talionis allows only such retribution as exactly equals the injury done, forbidding all satisfaction to the indignation felt against the injurer for beginning it. Our Lord was truly fulfilling or completing that process when he said that there should be no retaliation at all.’

Temple goes on to say that Jesus goes beyond the letter of the law and substitutes the spirit of the law as the guiding principle. No longer do we get to feel satisfied because we have lived up to certain standards - no more ticks in boxes righteousness - instead the demands of God’s way of doing things are never ending. We are to walk in, through and by faith, not by feeling we have reached a certain standard by doing the right things.

And this is the crux of Jesus’ relationship to the law. For Jesus the law was an agent of grace and freedom, it was grace-filled and soaked with grace. It wasn’t something to bind people, to restrict them, but the way in which people could know God and the way in which lives lived under the law could be filled with life and joy. When tackled to expound the most important part of the law he sums it up not with the commandments per se but with the summary of the law, which we call the greatest commandments, which most have you have heard me quote frequently before:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbour as yourself’. Matthew 22.37-40 (paraphrased)
This isn’t a simple (or even like many of the laws, complicated) list which when done imparts righteousness. This is a choice of lifestyle - and we realise, one that can only be achieved with the inspiration, guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit. The law may be very neatly summarised in these few sentences, but the application of such law is almost infinite in practice.

Jesus saw the law as a good thing, or rather he saw the basis of the law as a good thing. The law existed to bring people a degree of closeness to God and to one another, it gave value to even the most vulnerable members of society, it was there to provide a social and religious framework for God’s chosen people in order that all might be seen as equally important, that love for God and love of neighbour and self took primacy. Unfortunately the human propensity to believe that by fulfilling certain criteria one becomes somehow better than others took over. We can see this clearly in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: Luke 18.9-14. (reader) Doubtless the Pharisee kept the law, that’s what Pharisees did, but in keeping of the letter of the law he had become proud and arrogant, and lost the spirit of the law - which as the prophet Micah tells us to ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.’ And in that sense Jesus follows in the line of the prophets who sought again and again to draw the people of Israel back to the principals of the law rather than a narrow, restrictive application.

For these Hebrew prophets, and indeed for Jesus the law was meant to bring freedom, to free people up from worrying about what was the right and wrong and get on with living the way that God longed for people to live - in relationship to him, walking with God, living in loving relationship with one another and realising how God loved us.

It is this radical stance, we could even say this essential stance which takes the very heart of the law and demands a whole new attitude which threatened the religious establishment and brought Jesus into conflict with religious leaders time and time again, I can’t go into detail again, as it would just be saying the same thing over and over again, but Jesus came into conflict over healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, doing things which were considered against the law. They were against the letter of the law, though, but not the spirit of inclusion, compassion, love and grace. In doing this Jesus sought to draw people beyond an understanding of the law being a list of demands and help people grasp the principles of love and faithfulness (on the part of God and human beings) which was meant to be the true meaning of the law.

Now of course the question that comes back again and again with these talks is that old favourite ‘application’. To use a rather altered version of the estate agent and prime ministerial cry - what is important? Application, application, application. How does this apply to me? What do I do to apply this?

Well, hopefully you’re thinking about that anyway, but in order to draw out a few things more I want to say something briefly to finish.

This freedom from the letter of the law should remind us firstly of the grace that is our promise, but it should challenge us because the demands of a law without limit, the law of love, are much more difficult. Through prayer, discernment, study and action we should be learning just what that means for us. What does it mean for me, for us as the body of Christ, to love him with all we are, to love our neighbour and to love ourselves? No answers there, just a question we should be considering again and again, together and in our own prayer and study.

Next we should again turn back to the one who in the end is the fulfilment of the law, in his living, dying and rising again Jesus himself fulfilled all the demands of righteousness and set us free from the power of sin and of death. I was tempted to say, in a kind of Sylvester Stallone voice, that jesus could have said in the words of Judge Dredd ‘I am the law’. Through his example and life we see the embodiment of this whole hearted, self-giving love that is the law made perfect. For the one who said that no part of the law would be abolished but fulfilled he was the one who fulfilled it. We are called to live as he lived, to be like Christ, but just as Jesus refused to make things easy, simple and clear cut when he talked of the law, nor can I say ‘this is how you need to live to be a Christian’.

Jesus' relationship with the law of love which God had gracefully given to his chosen people was a complex one, as he observed many of the proper religious formalities, but in the end we keep in mind that he went way beyond the letter of the law to the grace filled spirit of the law, breaking down the barriers which an obsession with rules and regulations creates, and bringing all of us in his final sacrifice for sin into the presence of God and to a place where, guided and inspired by the Spirit, we can live in a state of loving service to God and one another as we celebrate our own redemption and forgiveness. In this way the law was fulfilled, and the demands of the law were placed upon us all, to be loving, righteous and holy, and to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before our God.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why is faith important?

or should that be 'why faith is important!' ?

Well it's certainly not because of 'religion', or 'tradition', or beautiful churches, or singing hymns, or small groups, or even Christians - although all these things have a place in the tapestry of what it means to be a Christian. Following on from my thoughts in the 'labels' post below - it comes back to Jesus...

So here's a sermon on the theme, from yesterday morning:

Readings
Hebrews 10.11-25
Mark 13.1-8

Jesus, holy and disturbing one

Great honour to be invited as guest speaker, thank you to Chris for allowing his old Team-mate to come and be a part of worship here in Hook.

Also something of a risk, as the most boring sermon I have ever heard in my life was a guest preacher at my college, who having been asked to preach specifically on one thing started on a different tack altogether and proceeded to disappear off for a very long time on a journey that very few of us managed to keep up with…

Chris does know me, though, so hopefully I will manage both to keep to time and to keep on track with the readings for this week…

And another thing I want to say at the start is that I am into Jesus! I’m sure you are glad to hear that there are clergypersons in the Church of England that make such statements, but I want to stress this, I am really into Jesus.

For as long as I can remember my theological study has focussed on the person of Jesus, on theologies of Jesus, on what it means to talk of Jesus being two natures in one person, of the divinity and humanity of our Lord and saviour – my special interest in my theological studies has been Incarnational Theology – considering what really happened when God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a fascinating and rewarding study, particularly as it constantly draws me back to the documents of the early Church and to our Scriptures. It is something that never ceases to amaze and enthral me and for someone with my slightly anorakish nature theologically, it’s fun. As part of this I’ve been spoken about incarnational theology at Greenbelt arts festival, and in a couple of Cambridge College Chapels. Again, not meant to be a boast, but a statement of how seriously I take this study.

But in this past few months and years I have had to take a step back.

I have been reminded by God that all of this study is fine, but it is not knowing about Jesus that is crucial to my faith, to my relationship with God through his Holy Spirit. It is knowing Jesus that is the most crucial part of Christian faith.

And knowing Jesus means grappling not just with theology and intellectual arguments about him – it means encountering him, in prayer, through Scripture, in worship, in contemplation and even in the very least of our brothers and sisters.

And when we learn to open our eyes and look again at Jesus, we can be surprised, comforted and very disturbed…

Our readings for this Sunday give us both sides of the story, and help us to build a fuller picture of the one whom we follow, worship and serve.

In our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews we have what we might think of as a classical theological statement about Jesus – referring to him as the high priest who offers his one sacrifice for the sins of the world. Now its easy to become detached from that – high priests aren’t part of our everyday experience now – unless Chris has taken on a whole new way of being Vicar since he moved to Hook then we won’t have the knowledge of what it means to have a priest who offers animal sacrifices and can only enter the most holy place once a year.

But the writer of the letter to the Hebrews wants us to consider the effect this has on us, to make it real in verse 19 he says
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (emphasis mine)
This isn’t detached theological speculation but something that is to have real effect on our lives of prayer and the way we feel about ourselves and other Christians – the result of the promises taken from the book of Jeremiah in verses 16 and 17 of this chapter – that God will write his law in our hearts and minds, that God will not remember out sins and lawless acts any more…

We are forgiven, we are new people in God’s sight, we do have the promise of God’s spirit in our lives leading us to sanctification, through the blood of Jesus and the law of love that needs to sink through into our bones that we become the people God has called us to be.

Yet alongside these words of comfort, and these important theological concepts we have a very earthy, perhaps even shocking picture of Jesus in our Gospel reading.

It all starts simply enough, after worship in the temple one of the disciples comments on how impressive the building is to which Jesus responds, effectively ‘well it won’t last’. He then goes on to speak of the tribulations which will at the end of the earth and – in the part of the passage which immediately follows the Gospel reading for today – explains how the lot of those who follow him will be to be persecuted and condemned.

This is a Jesus who pulls no punches, who is blunt, and in some ways frightening. When I first read St Mark’s Gospel all the way through (and I recommend you read it all the way through in one sitting if you have an hour to two to spare) I was shocked by the Jesus who I saw there – like the Jesus referred to by Philip Yancey in the book ‘The Jesus I never knew’ or in Brian McLaren’s ‘Secret Message of Jesus’ – I saw again the bold, challenging, disturbing Jesus who spoke out in anger at hypocrisy, who overturned established thoughts about religion and faith, who – through the passion and power of the Holy Spirit – fought against injustice and oppression by word and deed. This was the Jesus who so antagonised and distressed the authorities that they condemned him to death by torture on the cross. The Jesus who is unafraid to speak about the cost of love and faith. The Jesus willing to give himself even to death for that love and faith.

And in our Gospel reading for today we see a Jesus who knew what was important, that the things we tend to rely on – whether buildings or traditions in religion, whether its our comfortable living conditions or luxuries – all these things are transient, and what is most important is to cling fast to him. As it says so wonderfully in our reading from the letter to the Hebrews Chapter 10 verse 23
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful
May we be those who are both comforted and disturbed by Jesus, inspired by God’s Spirit to live those lives of faithfulness we are called to and secure in the love and forgiveness that leads to new life. Amen.

One enjoyable part of my weekend

There were lots of enjoyable parts to my trip away, but i enjoyed my Friday morning when i had the chance to meet with someone who reads my blog and who happens to be my mum's boss! To sit and talk about faith and theology for an hour or more was a real joy (some readers may be slightly bemused by this concept). As an elder (I think, apologies Henry if I've got this wrong) and part of the leadership/ministry team in an Independent Evangelical Church Henry has very different experience of church and church structures to myself, yet it was great to be able to talk about things which are important in faith and not feel there were ecclesiological barriers, more a concern about what it means to be and do Church for the benefit of our communities. Very refreshing.

I also got a brief conversation with his son who has some exciting hopes for mission and ministry in the town of Exmouth, near where i grew up in Honiton - in fact we lived in Exmouth for a while! I hope this conversation will continue, it sounds good...

where was i?

Didn't have time to post before going away so some folk may have thought i disappeared off the face of the earth!

Went off on Thursday to Devon, to see 'me dear ole mum' and to attend a Rural Theology Association Conference. Then on Saturday up to the outskirts of London to stay with a clergy friend who used to live in the very house i now live in, who is now Vicar of Hook in Surrey and to preach in his Parish on Sunday Morning at the two morning services...

Then a dash back to Cambridgeshire on Sunday afternoon to speak at our Team Evening Worship service on the theme of 'Jesus and the Law'

I suspect both sermons/talks will be posted here very soon.

Very enjoyable time, though very tiring. Circumstances back here in the parish meant that i didn't get all my preparation done before going away, so had to take a laptop and books and get some writing done whilst on the move, as it were. My only disappointment is that the 'Big Blue Beastie' - ie my Motorbike - decided that its battery had had enough and died as i was about to load up and head off. I had to take the clunky old Volvo with me, which meant i could carry much more gear but made the journeys considerably less fun than they should have been.

I did have a bit of a consoling moment in the way down. As i drove around the M25 (the world's largest car park) and the traffic slowed down to a jam the sunset (which being the insensitive type i am i rarely notice) was stunning, overwhelming! I said a quick prayer of thanks for God laying on the entertainment for those of us stuck in traffic and really did find my spirits lifted for the whole trip after that - it was wonderful. And the volvo made it without any trouble, so much to be grateful for.

This would be an exceptionally long post if i were to go into detail of all that happened over the past few days, so i will split things up a bit over today and tomorrow and leave it for now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

labels - who am i?

One of the things which attracted me to Brian McLaren's book 'Generous Orthodoxy' was the subtitle 'Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian'

I have had various times in my life when taking on a label (Charismatic, fundamentalist, Evangelical, Liberal, Catholic etc etc) was a way of giving myself an identity, usually expressed by what i wanted to disassociate myself from rather than what i actually believed. On the whole, though, my choice of labels has been a divisive action rather than a uniting one, an exclusive rather than an inclusive act. These days there is one label i won't compromise on, Christian, and the rest don't matter. If someone wants to know about what i mean when i say i am a Christian i won't resort to labels, i'll tell them about Jesus, and tell them something of my story and what it means to follow Jesus - or at least what it has meant and means for me.

I don't mind being called a Christian, or a disciple of Jesus, or a follower of Christ, or a Jesus Freak - in fact i love it. All the other stuff is pretty much superflous.

Though i would pretty much share Brian McLaren's labels, if you must know - though i may mean different things when i use them (another problem with labels).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Some thoughts on remembrance

I didn't want to post a Remembrance Sunday sermon again this year - but thought i would post my thoughts which i wrote for our local parish magazines to offer a little food for thought...

Remembering

Some would say I have a brain like a sieve, but my memory is pretty good, I think. The problem is that I try to keep too much in it. Like the cartoon of the little boy at school who raises his hand and says ‘please may I be excused, my brain is full’. So I have discovered an excellent way of helping me to do the things I need to do – lists. That may seem obvious to most people, but my character has never been one which likes lists, and it is only in the past couple of years I have discovered the joy of crossing things I’ve done off a list, and knowing that I have come back from shopping with everything I set out to get.

And it is important that we write things down, so that we remember. Those who wrote down and kept the stories and prophecies, hymns, histories and teachings of the Bible knew that. They wanted to make sure that when later generations looked back they could see where they had come from, share stories of important things that had happened and remind people of the amazing things that God had done, and the love that God had shown to people through the ages.

November is a month where all of this is very pertinent. In some Churches at the beginning of the month All soul’s day will mean that people remember friends and relatives who have died who have been particularly precious to them.. On the 12th of November many of our Churches will be reading out lists, lists of people who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. We don’t do it just out of tradition, but as a very real reminder of the cost of freedom.

It’s important to remember that the lists of names which we have on the memorials around our villages have as much relevance to us today as they did fifty, sixty or more years ago. They speak to us today of something which still affects our world, for some people the memories still feel as fresh as they did then, for others of us the knowledge that all that we enjoy today in the way of freedom, prosperity and hope comes at a price.

And for those of us who know the reality of Christian faith, we too remember that our freedom came at a price, from the death of Jesus Christ. And we keep that memory alive just as we keep the memory of those who have died in the conflicts in our world in this past hundred or so years, because some things are too important to forget.

So much to say

And no time to say it!

Life has been a whirlwind of late, and i am very aware that blogging has dropped in my priority list, so apologies for those of you who do find anything of interest on this blog and have almost given up on me.

i should be honest that pastoral situations in the Team have meant that my novel writing has gone out of the window pretty much, though i plan to bash out a few thousand words at the earliest opportunity...

This past weekend was particularly busy due to Remembrance Sunday, not sure what the equivalents are of that worldwide - veteran's day in the US? We remember all those who have died in the conflicts of the 20th Century and up to the present day - civilians and service personnel - and we pray in the hope of peace. It can descend into a kind of unquestioning patriotic nostalgia fest if we don't take care over it and though i am very much a patriot and grateful for the freedoms we enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of many over the past years, I don't think we just look back, or pat ourselves on the back for being jolly brave - but we honour the memories of the dead and consider the horror of war, as well as the loyalty, bravery and self-sacrifice that can be a part of wartime struggle. In other words, i like to spend time thinking about what i say in these services, they are important and should be thought about carefully.

Alongside this I am keeping up with my reading and thinking hard about the Church and what we are doing both here in these parishes and in the wider world. My current reading is Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy, which i know makes many of my Christian brothers and sister's uncomfortable and/or angry - but i have found it thought provoking and helpful so far. I like the way he talks about the different approaches to the person of Jesus that comes out of different traditions, and it helped me realise how easy we limit our view of Jesus if we just take one position regarding who he was and is and what he did and does for us... Sounds rather cryptic when i put it like that, its not meant to be, you probably need to read the book (its one of the links in the sidebar) to really get to grips with this.

I plan to spend some time preparing for preaching this Sunday later today, so probably will add some more to this blog later...

I am still aware that I've not said any more about this quote, which i did say i would do...

Friday, November 10, 2006

A busy week, an amazing evening

As you can see, posting hasn't happened this week - apologies to those of you who check regularly - i know who you are (actually, i don't, but some people from certain providers in certain countries come back regularly, i don't know exactly who though)

It has been a busy week, with a poorly daughter as well, which has meant any time not taken up with Church business has been family time (which for a whole load of reasons has been good despite the illness of my much loved offspring). So, no novel writing happened, ho hum, and no blogging, ho hum once more.

But here i am now burning to blog because i have just had a great evening in the company (along with a few hundred others) of show of hands, some overwhelmingly talented singer-songwriter-multiinstrumentalists from my part of the world (Devon, in the Westcountry of England) who were slick, incredibly musical, funny, and basically brilliant. They also had a support act previously mentioned on these pages called Martyn Joseph, another great singer-songwriter. Worth checking out both of their websites (just click on their names) and downloading what is on offer. I was going to mention some highlights, but the whole evening was a highlight - though i particularly enjoyed the moment that Martyn came back on stage after his 'special guest slot' and performed one of his all time great songs 'Cardiff Bay' with the show of hands folk, which has now blossomed into a threesome - the addition of a double bass player with a gorgeous voice has added a whole new dimension to their music. The song 'Cardiff Bay' is available as a free download on Martyn's site, this time played with Suzanne Vega's band!

Sorry am starting to rave a bit, it was a wonderful evening though.

It did make me homesick for Devon, though.

Monday, November 06, 2006

oops

forgot to add the bit about 'mind' in the sermon below, or rather it got edited out as i tried to format the post, its now been added to the post in italics...

And whilst admitting boo-boos i just want to say that if i could edit out the spaces in 'which superhero are you' i would, but i don't seem to be able to find how they got in there in the first place, they don't seem to be in the html code...

ha ha ha

Sometimes you've got to do these tests just because they are fun....

Your results:You are Spider-Man
























Spider-Man
80%
Superman
75%
Robin
55%
Green Lantern
55%
Iron Man
55%
Batman
50%
Catwoman
45%
Supergirl
40%
Hulk
40%
The Flash
40%
Wonder Woman
30%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Today's sermon

I only got two responses to this morning's sermon, both from the same person - could we have shorter sermons please was the first thing and the second was that we need tradition because that's what people want at church

I would have thought that was obvious by the hoards fighting to get in to our traditional services....

ahem

So, thanks Gillian for the positive comment below, at least my thoughts may have done some good ;-)

I will probably say more about this tradition stuff another time...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A sermon

I don't think anyone in my Parishes knows this blog exists, so i feel confident that posting this sermon the night before won't be giving any sneak previews...

My offering for this week...

4 before Advent (2006) RCL Year B Principal

Changes, Chances and keeping our focus

I expect many of you have heard of the seven last words of Jesus from the cross – they form part of our Holy Week services as we think of the deeper meaning of Christ’s final thoughts – ‘Father forgive them’, ‘It is finished’ and other such phrases. Well there are the seven last words of the Church too – or at least according to one of my theological lecturers there are The seven last words of the Church – that is, the words that often come before the death of a Church – are this

BUT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY

I hear that quite a lot – there’s a variation on the theme in that if something is done once in the Anglican Church it’s an innovation, if it is done twice it’s a tradition.

We are very good at getting into habits, ruts even, and making them out to be as sound and as important as our real faith is. In fact whole areas of the Church seem to think that tradition is the whole of Christian Faith, and that it is a loss of tradition that is the downfall of the Church at large.

Actually many of the people I speak to in the course of my ministry like both traditional and more informal forms of worship, and come to Church when they find it welcoming and thought provoking.

But the Church doesn’t handle change terribly well – and that is a problem in the world in which we live at this present time. Change is about the only thing that stays constant at the moment. And in the Church, whether we like it or not, we are having to face an awful lot of changes. Changes as we relate to the world, changes in our dioceses and provinces, changes in our deanery and in our parishes. Change is all about.

In this past few years we have seen changes in personnel in the team, changes in service times, we have three new ministers ordained and another in training for Licensed Lay Ministry (what used to be called ‘readers’), we have an administrator, we have a new Lay Chair of Team Council, and we are seeking to explore different ways of worshipping in response to requests in parishes.

Change change change, and that’s only in our local parishes. Our Diocese is looking at how ministry will serve the towns and villages of this area in the next ten years or so, encouraging more team working and much more lay participation. The Anglican Communion is facing even bigger issues – we have consecrated the first openly gay Bishop in the Anglican Communion and there are concerns about the blessing of same sex unions by Churches in the USA. We are engaged in the Church of England at looking at the ordination of women to the Episcopate and we could well have women Bishops in the coming years. We have entered into a formal Covenant with our brothers and sisters in the Methodist Church and the prospect of full union between the Methodist and Church of England denominations is a very real possibility. I’m not going to go into the rights and wrongs of the issues, only to say that it is (as we all know) something about which many Church members hold very strong and very different views. These issues may see a radical change in the Church or even a major split – though most of us hope not.

On top of all of this we have the role of constantly responding to issues and concerns which beset our world today – from terrorism to eco-theology, from feminism to post-modernity, the list goes on and on.

How is the Church to cope…?

We have wonderful readings for today that basically sum up our strategy for coping with the world in which we live. The readings for today are about focus, vision and where our concerns should be. And it is perhaps best summed up in our Gospel reading for today, words of Jesus from St Mark’s Gospel Chapter 12. When challenged to say which was the most important commandment of all, Jesus replied in verses 29-31 "The first is, "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.' The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." No great riddle, no complex theology. This is, or at least should be, the focus and reason for all that we do and all that we are as Christians. Of course, living out this high ideal is a lot harder to do than it is to speak about – and it’s worth considering for a minute just what it means to do as Jesus says we are to do here. First of all Jesus reminds using the words from Deuteronomy that were the Old Testament Reading for today that God is one – the only true God. Whatever else conspires to take his place, money, fame, sex, power even religion, is worthless. God is alone the one we should worship and serve, God is the one and only, and should be and mean everything to us.

In response to the greatness and uniqueness of God we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. There are to be no half measures in our devotion to God – just as there are no half measures in God’s devotion to us.

I’ve met many great Christian speakers who can speak with great power and intellectual ability, who seem to have a handle on just about everything – but who have left me cold. I’m not questioning their faith, but some people seem to treat Christianity as an intellectual exercise and are devoted over and above else to the pursuit of rational and logical truth – believing the supreme example of that truth to be Jesus Christ. They love God with all their mind.

Likewise I have met Christians who have a great fervour, who find themselves in tears before God in just about every time of worship, who are devoted to their faith – but at the same time who seem to leave their brains at the door when they go into Church. They believe, but aren’t quite sure what they believe or why – leaving them open to just about every religious fad that comes alone, and they are fair game for just about anyone who has a well presented argument. They love God with all their heart.

There are others who are always working for the Church, doing things for their parish or for the people of the parish, never stopping, rarely taking time for themselves – on flower rotas, children’s duty, sidespersons duty, coffee duty and just about every other rota. These folk love God with all their strength.

And there are others who spend lives in prayer, reading spiritual books, listening to great speakers, immersing themselves in devotional manuals, going on retreats and conferences and quiet days. They love God with all their soul.

And none of these are wrong – but I believe Jesus is calling us in today’s verse to put them all together – to apply all that we are to loving God, to have thoughtful, caring, open, devoted faith. To have a balance of all these disciplines, because so often if they get out of balance then people can lose the focus of their devotion – which should of course be the Lord God.

And as a consequence of this love, of this devotion to our God, our lives will be transformed and we will become wellsprings of love and devotion to others. If we can keep the focus of our love on God and through Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we become those who are filled with God’s grace and who spread that grace to others.

Then we will be those who, though rocked by storms of change and movement in our world and in the Church, never lose sight of the rock upon which our faith is built, and never lose the need to live and share the Gospel with all people. We will become those who embrace the world and embrace whatever happens in the strength and security of the God who means everything to us and who is our strength and our shield.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What's it all about?

Thanks to melodrameric for the comment on my last post - asking what the novel is all about. What can I say? I couldn't do deep (as offered by melodrameric in my last request for ideas) in a month, and the advice for us beginners is 'write what you know' so, guess what, its about a Vicar, who's a biker, and who writes. It's meant to be funny, bit of romance perhaps, bit of a reflection about this odd life that ministers are called to, but who knows, it's all coming out at random at the moment and like most things in my life it is unplanned and pretty well unprepared, i just want to have a go at it. Still stuck at 1000 words, not because of any kind of block, but because time is limited at the moment. Got an hour now, though, so need to get on with it... here we go

Thursday, November 02, 2006

And We're Off

National Novel Writing Month has begun and i have made a start, a pitiful, vague and almost unreadable start, but a start nonetheless... so 1000 words down and 49000 to go - er um

Don't expect to see a huge amount of me over the coming weeks...

You can always email me, or leave a comment (which will then be emailed to me) or go and visit pointlessdrivelchurch.org and hear my dulcet tones as i spout about all sorts of things but don't make much sense on our podcast over there...

see ya