Category Archives: Comment

Sunday 29th December 2019 – Matthew 2: 13-23

Matthew 2:13-23

If I’m honest with you, I hate this Gospel passage, I wish it had not been written. I wish I could conveniently ignore it, suggest it is untrue and set it aside. … I’d keep the bit about Jesus being a refugee. … Now that is a helpful image .. and it has been used down the centuries to infer that God understands the plight of the refugee and the homeless. And rightly so, for I am sure that God does place the needs of the underdog, the dispossessed, the homeless, very high on his list of priorities.

Yes, I like the bit about Jesus being a refugee – I could write about that now. I could use some material from Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tear Fund or CAFOD, perhaps write about the plight of those who are still unable to go home – like the millions of Palestinians trapped in what is one big refugee camp called the Gaza Strip. I could continue to talk about the refugees from the conflict in Syria, starving, this winter, in the Beqaa Valley, or I could talk of the many people who seek asylum in this country in fear of their lives who are not believed by the authorities.

But that is not what horrifies me about this passage. No, what leaves me floundering is the murder of those innocent children and God’s intervention to save his Son, while leaving others to die – at least that’s what the story seems to say. … What kind of God can save one and leave perhaps 30 or 40 (or maybe many more) to die!

Yet God does seem to intervene in favour of one & not the other…. That is the way the story of the Bible unfolds, and it is also the experience of many people around our world. So, if God is able to intervene, and if God sometimes does intervene, why doesn’t God always intervene?

I really do not like this story of the massacre of the innocents, for it holds me to account. I cannot, without discarding the story altogether, talk of a God who does not intervene at all. But if I have any integrity, I must be left with difficult questions about a God that I believe is a God of love and whose love at times seems arbitrary.

I do not like the story. And I’m not sure that I want to try to ‘justify’ it. What I want to do, in just a few short words, is at least to help us reflect on it.

There are two questions that many people ask about faith: Firstly, “Why does God treat some differently to others?” And secondly, “If God could do something, why didn’t he?” … Honestly facing these kind of questions, has to be part of living by faith. … At times, being a Christian is about ‘Arguing with God’. It is about tenaciously holding him to account for what we see as wrong. It has, at times, to be about ‘wrestling with God’ like Jacob did at the Brook Jabbok. Sometimes we argue for ourselves: “Lord, you are treating me like dirt. How can I continue to believe in you, when you allow me to face such injustice?” Sometimes on behalf of others: “Lord, I watch the injustice persistently meted out on the Palestinian people and other refugees – why do you not intervene?”

There is injustice in our world. While human beings exist there will always be injustice. Lust for power, greed, fear & insecurity are all motivators to self-protection. We protect ourselves and our own even at cost to others. And evil is magnified as it is played out on a world stage between aggressive, powerful men (And it is most often men!). Powerful tyrants, who are also insecure & afraid of being deposed. … Herod was just one of these. So insecure that he saw a baby as a threat. So numbed by previous acts of evil that he saw no problem in killing a few young children to extinguish the threat.

One child escapes Herod, and goes on to be God’s answer to the actions of tyrants throughout history, God’s answer to the ugly evil which invades all our hearts. Not an immediate answer. Not a rescue mission to protect the innocents. Not even a political solution that restricted the action of evil people and evil forces. Not much of a solution at all, if you were to judge it by the standards of the world.

God’s answer, to the massacre of the innocents, to all the injustices in life, was to allow the child, that escaped the massacre, … to die. The Bible suggests all history points to this moment – to the death of Christ. “I’ve heard all your questions,” God seems to say, “here is my answer. The death of my Son.”

It’s almost as though God draws a line under the discussion. “This is my answer,” God says. “No ifs, no buts, it’s my last word. I’m happy for you to judge me on this basis – it’s my final word.”

And we shout out, “but it isn’t enough, I still don’t understand.” And God uses no more words, but continues silently to point to the cross. He draws our attention to a shattered, tortured, broken body which has taken the worst that humanity can throw at it. … Even that seems inadequate – just one death among so many. Yet God invites us to question him only in the full knowledge of the suffering of Christ, and on the basis of that suffering. Whatever else we may accuse God of, we cannot accuse him of not caring. We may not want his answer. We may not like his answer. But it is the one he gives us to ponder on.

There is a debate throughout the Old Testament about why God chose Israel – with different authors struggling to understand that they were chosen not for their own benefit, but so that God could use them for the benefit of the whole world. That they were chosen to serve. That they were special because they were chosen, not chosen because they were of themselves special. The New Testament places Jesus at the centre of the story, and he himself says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” … We are left with our questions, even with our anger, staring at the cross and pondering the love which meant that God had to die, pondering the love which meant the break-up of the relationship at the heart of the Trinity.

The Christ-child was chosen, was rescued, in the story of our Gospel this morning, not ultimately for his own benefit, but for ours. The events of the first Christmas are just as messy as the events which ended Jesus earthly life. They are just as messy as the world has ever been, just as messy as our world today.

God calls us to continue struggling with the realities of life in our world, and to do so in the context he provides for us. The death and resurrection of Christ. That is God’s invitation to each of us as Christains, to place the reality, the mess of our world in context, as we come to Holy Communion and as we encounter once again the self-giving love which is at the heart of our faith.

Holy Trinity, Ashton-under-Lyne

A very small congregation in a Church of England Church in Ashton-under-Lyne has been having a dramatic impact in its local community.

Holy Trinity Church in the West End of Ashton-under-Lyne meets for worship on Thursday afternoons. Its regular congregation is less that 10 people.

Visionary leadership resulted in the completion of a Community Centre in the church nave, and has resulted in the Centre being used extensively by the local community.

St. Peter’s Ward, in which Holy Trinity Church is situated, is in the 2.5% most deprived wards in the UK. The area immediately around Holy Trinity Church has a history stretching back to early Victorian times. Throughout much of its history the neighbourhood has been a diverse place to live.

After the Second World War the local community had a high proportion of Ukrainian and Polish Immigrants. More recently the area has hosted a cosmopolitan mix of different nationalities. The local Church of England Primary School has a delightful mix of children for many of whom English is not their first language. Predominantly children come from families that have their roots in Asia.

Church members in the later part of the 20th century became aware of the changing demographics and decided that the building needed to be a place for the whole community.

A series of grants were obtained to allow major work inside the building. Since the millennium, the very small congregation has first enabled significant projects funded by others to use the building and then more recently has sought grants and employed its own staff to address some of the needs identified by the local community.

Holy Trinity Church and Community Centre was awarded its first ‘Reaching Communities’ grant from the Big Lottery in late 2016 for a project to enhance prospects for women in the immediate community. That project has been running since April 2017 and has just received the news from the Community Fund of the Big Lottery that it will receive a further 3 years of grant funding.

Outreach workers employed by the church have been making a significant difference within the local community. Tameside College is now partnering with the Centre to provide much needed education at a level below usual college entry requirements. The local social housing provider, New Charter (Jigsaw), is funding a number of different projects with the aim of empowering local people and developing skills. Other partners provide, or fund, youth-work, martial arts, sewing classes and slimming classes. One group knits to support the work of neonatal units is a number of local hospitals, another provides much needed community space for older Asian women. The centre provided essential advice and guidance, in a number of languages, for those navigating the increasingly complex, often on-line, world of benefits and asylum claims.

The work at Holy Trinity is visionary by its very nature, as no attempt  is made to dictate to the local community. The work is founded on the understanding that a local community has all the skills needed to make its own decisions. Provided wider society, particularly local and national government and the National Health Service, is willing to provide sufficient resources without dictating to the local community then real change is possible. For many people this seems counter-intuitive, but this (asset based community development) approach has a proven record of success.

Dynamic project leadership is resulting in local people effecting real change.  Community members are growing in self-confidence, local people are developing their skills through being at the Centre and through volunteering. For some, moving on through a process we call ‘Grow Our Own’ into employment with the Centre or in the wider local community.

There is real hope and joy in the faces of many involved with this project.

This is Christian Mission at its best! The Kingdom of God is growing. Christians, those of other faiths, and others who profess no faith, working together to bring hope to one local community.

The grant award  secures this work for a further three years, until April 2023.

Copyright

Copyright on Internet Images and Text

The situation relating to copyright on the internet is confusing. The detail of laws in different parts of the world is different and as a result the issue is confusing to most people.

So, for example, the ‘socialmediaexaminer.com’, [1] which is an American page, says the following:

Copyright laws were established not to give the author the right to deny their work to other people, but instead to encourage its creation.

Article I, Section 8, clause 8, of the United States Constitution states the purpose of copyright laws is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

It’s a delicate balance between the rights of the creator and the public’s interest. When in conflict, the balance tips more heavily toward the public’s interest, which is often contrary to what the creator believes to be fair or just. [1]

However, The UK government [2] says:

Sometimes permission is not required from the copyright-holder to copy an image, such as if the copyright has expired. Permission is also not required if the image is used for specific acts permitted by law (“permitted acts”, or sometimes referred to as “exceptions to copyright”).

People can use copyright works without permission from the copyright owner, such as for private study or non-commercial research, although some exceptions are not available for photographs. Further details are available here:

http://www.gov.uk/guidance/exceptions-to-copyright

If permission is required to use an image, permission will need to be obtained from all the copyright owners, whether it is a single image with numerous creators, a licensed image, or an image with embedded copyright works. Sometimes there will be one person or organisation that can authorise permission for all the rights in that image; in other cases separate permission may be needed from several individual rights owners.
The creator of a copyright work such as an image will usually have right to be acknowledged when their work has been used, provided they have asserted this right. If you are unsure whether or not the creator has asserted this right, then it is recommended that you provide a sufficient acknowledgement when using their work. [2]

The key question for many of us who write blogs and who both quote from other sources and make use of pictures from those sources, is what is meant by the words in bold italics above.

1. Text on the Internet and in other primary sources

The first question to address is what is meant by ‘fair dealing’. Another government website [3] talks about ‘fair dealing’:

Certain exceptions only apply if the use of the work is a ‘fair dealing’. For example, the exceptions relating to research and private study, criticism or review, or news reporting.

‘Fair dealing’ is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing – it will always be a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case. The question to be asked is: how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

Factors that have been identified by the courts as relevant in determining whether a particular dealing with a work is fair include:

  • does using the work affect the market for the original work? If a use of a work acts as a substitute for it, causing the owner to lose revenue, then it is not likely to be fair
  • is the amount of the work taken reasonable and appropriate? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken? Usually only part of a work may be used.

The relative importance of any one factor will vary according to the case in hand and the type of dealing in question. [3]

‘Fair dealing’ is one element of this issue.  A more critical question is: What is meant by ‘Non-commercial research‘? One place to look for answers is with Wikipedia (Creative Commons) and specifically their comments relating to this matter. [4]

Non-Commercial (NC) “means not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation. The definition is intent-based and intentionally flexible in recognition of the many possible factual situations and business models that may exist now or develop later. Clear-cut rules exist even though there may be gray areas, and debates have ensued over its interpretation. In practice, the number of actual conflicts between licensors and licensees over its meaning appear to be few.” [5]

However, this site, which makes images widely available on the internet and specifies the licence on each item, is an American website and so governed by US Law rather than EU law. A while back I joined the ‘Copyright Aid’ forum so as to be able to check whether particular activity on my blog met the requirements of the law. My usual practice in relation to images is to ask the photographer or copyright-holder for permission to use the image. There are however circumstances when this is unnecessary or it is impossible. Under these circumstances two matters are important, first, a commitment to ‘fair-dealing’ as discussed above. And second, the status of any blog as a non-commercial activity.

Before turning to the advice provided Copyright Aid, here are the comments about these issues carried by the Jisc in the UK (formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee) whose role is to support post-16 and higher education, and research, by providing relevant and useful advice, digital resources and network and technology services. [6] Their website comments as follows (the emphasis is mine):

However, in addition, an image may appear on a blog even if no specific authorisation is provided by the copyright-holder provided a hyperlink is used rather than ‘copy and paste’.

References

  1. https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481194/c-notice-201401.pdf, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  3. http://www.gov.uk/guidance/exceptions-to-copyright, accessed on 15th December 2019
  4. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/NonCommercial_interpretation, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  5. This conclusion is borne out by the “Defining Noncommercial Study,” https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Defining_Noncommercial, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  6. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/copyright-law/exceptions-to-infringement-of-copyright, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  7. https://artuk.org/about/copyright-exceptions#, accessed on 15th December 2019.
  8. https://www.copyrightaid.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2788&p=8043#p8043, accessed on 15th and 16th December 2019.
  9. https://artuk.org/about/what-is-non-commercial-use-vs-commercial-use, accessed on 15th December 2019.

The Lynn and Fakenham Railway – Part 1

Although first mooted in the 1840s, the Lynn & Fakenham Railway was not opened, over its full length, until 1880. It only had a short independent life, being absorbed into the Eastern & Midlands Railway in 1883.

A look at the history of the line and it’s route through the Norfolk countryside is for a future post.

The Lynn & Fakenham Railway is mentioned in an article in the journal “Railway Archive.” Interestingly, that article is about the locomotives which were initially purchased for the Cornwall Minerals Railway. [1]

The Cornwall Minerals Railway developed out of a series of older Tramroad which served the Cornish Mining Industry. It owned and operated a network of 45 miles (72 km) of standard standard gauge railway lines in central Cornwall. It started by taking over an obsolescent horse-operated tramway in 1862, and it improved and extended it, connecting Newquay and Par Harbours and Fowey.

It  had a chequered history having been hurt by a collapse in mineral extraction due to a slump in prices. But after a period in bankruptcy it recovered enough to take over a defunct route between Fowey and Lostwithiel – the Lostwithiel and Fowey line.

In 1896 it finally sold its line to the Great Western Railway which had been leasing it for some time.

Its main passenger line from Par to Newquay is still in use as the Atlantic Coast Line, and also carries some mineral traffic, but the Par to Fowey line has been converted to a private road. [2]

CMR No. 1, Treffrey was built, along with all of the CMR locomotives, by Sharp, Stewart & Co. Ltd of Manchester. It was named for Joseph Austin Treffrey but the name plates were mis-spelt. These locus were intended to work in pairs, back to back and it is likely that the lack of rear bunker and the open cab were intended to facilitate this way of working. There is no evidence to suggest that the traffic on the railway was ever large enough to justify this intention. [1][2]

The Cornwall Minerals Railway was adventurous in its intentions and purchases. It anticipated far more traffic from the mines than was to materialise and bought 18 (yes, eighteen) 0-6-0T steam engines to serve the anticipated high demand. [1] When the line was leased to the GWR in 1877, the new lease-holders quickly realised that the over provision of motive power was a financial drain on the Line. The GWR returned 9 of the engines to their makers, leaving 9 to serve the needs of the Line. [1:p30]

Of the 9 remains locos, a further one was sold by 1883 to the Sharpness New Docks Company and based on the opposite side of the River Severn from the Forest of Dean. [1:p31]

We are interested, in this article, in the fate of the 9 locos returned to Sharp, Stewart. Or, at least, 8 of those 9 locomotives. 8 were purchased by the Lynn & Fakenham Railway and ended their days in various guises on the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) which was the ultimate successor to the Lynn & Fakenham Railway. [1:p30] A first batch of three were sold to the Lynn & Fakenham in 1880, a further five were sent to the Lynn & Fakenham in 1881. [1: p36]

Incidentally, the last of the 9 locos returned to Sharp, Stewart was sold to the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway before ending up at a colliery in Northumberland. [1: p30]

Treloar comments that the Lynn & Fakenham’s successor, the M&GNJR was “despite their lack of success … inspired … to design and build a later type of 0-6-0 tank with similarities to the original locomotives, some of them even using the wheels from the ex-CMR engines.” [1: p30]

This is recognised at least in part by the LNER Encyclopedia which says:

“The Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway’s (M&GNJR) ‘Shunting’ Class (LNER J93) were designed by Marriott and built at the M&GN’s Melton Constable’s works. In common with many M&GN types, the Shunting Class followed Midland Railway practice and included a number of Derby design features, such as the cab, tanks, and boiler mountings. The boiler drawing was made at Derby in 1896, and the nine locomotives were built at Melton Constable between 1897 and 1905.

Most of the J93s were built carrying the ‘Rebuilt Melton Constable’ plates, and six of the class (Nos. 93-8) were reputed to have been rebuilt from locomotives that had started out on the Cornwall Minerals Railway (CMR). These were built by Sharp, Stewart & Co. in 1874, and acquired by the Lynn & Fakenham Railway in 1880-1. These were then inherited by the Eastern & Midlands Railway – predecessor of the M&GN. The stock register describes the J93s as new locomotives, and Mr G.B. Clarke (draughtsman to Marriott) is on record as emphatically stating that the J93s were new locomotives. Therefore, J93s Nos. 93-8 should really be considered replacements for the ex-CMR engines. After saying this, there is some evidence that some of the J93s carried ex-CMR wheels at one time or another. These had ten spokes and built-up balance weights, whilst the new wheels had twelve spokes and cast-in crescent weights. Some photographs from the 1940s show individual J93s carrying a mixture of both wheel types!” [3]

The LNER/M&GNJR J93 Class of shunting locomotive which was based to some extent on the original CMR locomotives design by Sharp, Stewart. [1][3]

Eastern & Midland No. 11, one of the original CMR locomotives with the Sharp, Stewart Tender. [4]

The Lynn & Fakenham Railway and it’s successors clearly had problems with the original CMR locomotives. They did not last long in their original guise. The lack of coal space was a major problem! By the time they were in use on the M&GNJR, they had been provided with tenders, as shown above. The tenders were all fabricated by Sharp, Stewart in the 1880s to their standard 4-wheel design. A series of pictures is provided with the article in Railway Archive. [1: p36-39]

In addition to these 0-6-0 locomotives, the Lynn and Fakenham bequeathed a number of other engines to the Eastern and Midland Railway. These included:

Seven 4-4-0T locomotives built by Hudswell Clarke for the Lbetween 1878 and 1881; [5][6]

and

Four Beyer Peacock 4-4-0 locomotives built 1882/1883. These were the first of a total of fifteen of the class. The remaining eleven were built for the Eastern and Midlands Railway before 1888. [5][7]

References

1. Peter Treloar; A Scattered Family: The Cornwall Minerals Railway’s 0-6-0Ts; Railway Archive Issue 30, Black Dwarf Lightmoor Press, 2011, p27-40.

2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornwall_Minerals_Railway, accessed on 16th November 2019.

3. https://www.lner.info/locos/J/j93.php, accessed on 16th November 2019.

4. https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/131449-creating-a-believable-freelance-pre-group-company, accessed on 16th November 2019. The provenance of the photograph is unclear. It appears on ‘rmweb’ as part of a long discussion about creating a realistic pre-grouping model railway.

5. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_and_Midlands_Railway, accessed on 16th November 2019.

6. https://railway-photography.smugmug.com/LNERSteam/1893-MGNR-Midland-Great-Northern-Railway/EMR-Eastern-Midlands-Railway-Hudswell-Clarke-4-4-0T/i-v4ZHNHZ, accessed on 16th November 2019.

7. https://www.lner.info/locos/D/mgn_arebuild.php, accessed on 16th November 2019.

 

So, Someone Shot Jesus!

On Thursday 7th  November 2019, the Guardian carried a half-page article about the artist Lorna May Wadsworth, and particularly about a painting that she painted as a devotional object for a Church in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. [1]

The painting  was commissioned by the Parochial Church Council for Nailsworth to hang behind the altar in St George’s Church in September 2008.

It was the request of the late Alan Denman, an ex-church warden who died in January 2008 aged 86. He left £5,000 to the church and the painting was part of a bequest. [2]

A new exhibition of Lorna May Wadsworth’s work was being assembled in Sheffield at the Graves Gallery. [3] The exhibition was planned as a retrospective of her work and ran/runs from 9th November 2019 to 15th February 2020.

When the painting of the Last Supper was being unpacked the painter noticed that there was a hole in Jesus’ right side which, after investigation, was found to have been caused by an air-rifle pellet.

Wadsworth expressed a concern that someone was so aggrieved by her portrayal of Christ that they wanted to attack it. …

What makes this painting unusual in a British context is the choice Wadsworth made to depict Jesus as black. The model is Tafari Hinds and Wadsworth’s intention was to challenge people’s perceptions, to ask the viewer to ‘look with fresh eyes’.

I am not too sure why anyone should have taken exception to the painting, but to have done so reflects more on the iconoclast than on the artist.

It is normal for us to create God in our own image. We have no warrant for doing so, but most of our religious paintings do just that. They reflect the culture in which they have been painted. So we tend to imagine Jesus as white with longer hair and blue eyes – the ‘Robert Powell Jesus’.

The truth is that Jesus would have been middle-eastern in appearance, probably not over tall, with swarthy skin and a prominent nose. Ultimately we domesticate our images of the divine, because to do so allows us to comprehend God better. If our whole perceptual framework is challenged, everything is uncertain. ….

What was Jesus like?  …….. Someone not to different from me! …. That is a valid and helpful response when first thinking about what it means for God to be incarnate.

However, we cannot stay there. We must not leave it at that. ……

For God incarnate, one of us, is God incarnate, one of us.

And we are all different. We cannot appropriate Jesus as our own. He belongs to us all. Every culture over the centuries has an equal stake in the person of Jesus. Jesus is one of us.

References

1.  https://amp.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/nov/06/artist-lorna-may-wadsworth-discovers-bullet-hole-in-jesus-in-last-supper-painting

2. https://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/4769963.huge-painting-of-the-last-supper-for-st-georges-church-nailsworth-is-complete

3. https://www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/museums/graves-gallery/exhibitions/coming-soon

 

Harvest 2019 – John 6: 25-35

This is a shortened version of a post from 2015. ….

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” – John 6:35 .

These words from Jesus follow the story of the feeding of the 5,000. …

We have all probably experienced what is is like to be physically hungry. Just as those 5,000 who were fed by Jesus did. However, in the context of that miracle, Jesus talks about our hunger and thirst – not so much physical but spiritual.

Just as we feel hunger, all of us experience deep longings at the core of our beings which need to be fulfilled. Longings to be accepted, to be loved, to count for something, to make an impact, for others to see us as significant, as important or as strong.

Often these longings are well hidden away, but at times we encounter them in powerful ways. Perhaps in grief over the loss of a loved one, perhaps in the dark of the night when we are less in control of our emotions, perhaps at the point where everything seems to be going so well for us, yet something seems to be missing.

So many of us are driven to fulfil these longings for significance, for meaning in our lives. Perhaps we become workaholics, or we become demanding and jealous in our relationships, or we pursue success at the cost of everything else, or we turn to alcohol or drugs, or … some of us, to add a little levity,  even go shopping.

It’s part of the human condition! We long for our deepest needs to be met and we search for ways to make this happen!

Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Or to put it more succinctly, “I am all you will ever need.”

All those desires for meaning, for hope, for significance, for love – those thirsts, those hungers. Pursue me, get to know me, spend time with me – and I will meet them. This is not just some idle promise made by a preacher looking for something to say on a Sunday evening. These are the timeless words of Jesus. They are Jesus promise to us.

And note: he doesn’t say “I’ll find you something to do for me, and then you’ll feel better” No, Jesus is talking about our very being, the very core of who we are, the bit no one else can see. Right at the core of who we are, that’s where Jesus will be – meeting our deepest desires for wholeness. And not just sparingly, but overwhelmingly, generously, and, just as in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, there’ll be plenty of leftovers, flowing out of hearts that are truly loved. For once we really know that we are loved, we can really begin to love others.

Our thankfulness to God will overflow in love towards others. This is ultimately what our Harvest Thanksgiving is all about. We express our gratitude to God for God’s love and provision for us and as we do so we seek to make a difference in the lives of others. … We give because we have ourselves been given so much.

Faith or Faithfulness? Luke 17: 5-10

What does it mean to ‘have faith’?

Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree, ‘Be uprooted and plated in the sea’, and it would obey you.”

Jesus seems to be saying: “If you can screw up enough faith, if you pray hard enough, if you really believe, then you’ll be able to do powerful things. You’ll be in control of life and God will be able to work through you! If you are just prepared to leap across that chasm believing that I will miraculously get you to the other side, then you are my disciple!  ”

But is he really? ……  Or is it rather the case that we hear him saying what we think he is saying rather than listen to him properly. After all, what do we say when things go wrong for us? …… “What have I done to deserve this?” “Why is this illness happening to me?” … It is as though we do really believe that we have the power to make our circumstances right, just be being better people, by having more faith?

And so, when we hear the word ‘faith’ we so often think of something rather like the flexing of spiritual muscles, or determinedly screwing ourselves up to believe. “If only I had more faith,” we say. “If only I really believed.” … And so many of us fail to achieve this … and as a result so many turn their back on ‘faith’: “It does not work,” they say.

And so when we hear those verses in Luke 17 we hear Jesus saying something, perhaps quite sarcastic: “Faith, don’t talk to me about your faith, you have not even got enough to fill a mustard seed, if you had you’d be doing all sorts of marvellous things in my name.”

But when we do so, we miss the point.

called_chosen_-faithful_part3-680x300What Jesus is actually saying is something much more like this: “Faith is about trusting in an all powerful God, it is about living faithfully to what you believe, it is about faithful service. Just a tiny little bit of that kind of faithful living will change the world.”

Where is the evidence for reading the Gospel this way?

Firstly, there is the whole of the reading above. In the first two verses Jesus talks about faith – but then he goes on to talk about masters and slaves. He could be talking about the way in which the physical world should obey its masters, those masters being his followers who have faith. But I don’t think he is. Let’s just focus on Luke 17:10 which tells us so much about ‘faith’ …

Jesus says: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

‘Faith’  is all about being ‘faithful’. We are slaves, servants of our master, and the greatest and the best thing that we can say of ourselves is that we have lived faithful to that calling – we have served our master, we have lived faith-fully.

Second, there is that word ‘faith’; ‘pisteo‘ in the Greek. It is used consistently through the Greek version of the bible for being faithful, trustworthy, sure and true. Just here in Luke:

Luke 12:42                faithful and prudentfruitosp_faithfulness

Luke 16:10-12          faithful, faithful, faithful

Luke 19:17                trustworthy

In each of these cases, and throughout the New testament, it is the same root word,  ‘pisteo‘. So when Jesus uses the word ‘faith’, he is not asking us to screw ourselves up to believe, but he is asking us to live faithfully to what we believe, to be his trustworthy followers. To be faithful and prudent. “Those who live this way,” says Jesus, “Are people of faith. … And, (in the figurative language that he is using) it won’t just be a mulberry tree that is uprooted, even the gates of hell will not prevail against them.”gar-19