Category Archives: Comment

Angels and Mirrors ….. John 1: 47-51 … Michaelmas 2019

First, I have to say that I believe in Angels … both as God’s messengers and as beings that sometimes intervene.

A true story. … A few years ago now, my wife, Jo, my mother-in-law, Elisabeth and I were travelling back from West Wales to Leominster where Elisabeth lived. The A-roads in the area are relatively narrow and they twist and turn with high hedges either side. It was late in the evening and dark. Just after rounding a sharp 90-degree bend, a tyre blew on our car. It was a dangerous location and the road was too narrow to be changing a tyre without some sort of ‘protection’. Jo headed round the bend with a torch to flag down drivers and let them know of the obstruction ahead. We all tried our mobiles. … There was no signal. We tried to work out where the nearest house was but could see nothing.

At that moment a Range Rover stopped near Jo and ask what the problems was. The driver left his vehicle beyond the bend with hazard lights flashing walked over to our car, changed the tyre, shook our hands and left. We did get chance to say thank you. But before we knew it he was on his way and gone. We encountered an angel!

Let’s set aside ‘Angels’ for a moment and think a little about the Gospel reading set for Michaelmas in 2019. … John 1: 47-51.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? … Do you like what you see?

I am still surprised by the age of the person who looks back at me out of the mirror. I feel as though I am no different than I was twenty years ago but the mirror does not lie!

Many of us when we look in the mirror can be quite critical and wish that a different face was looking back at us.  And yet, if we say these things to someone else, they often wonder what we are talking about!

If we see an image that we wish was different – others don’t seem to see the flaws that we can see.  Those close to us see the face of the person they know and love – yes, not perfect – but certainly not someone who needs to worry about their appearance!

I am always surprised when I read a column is the glossy magazines that come with weekend papers, and hear someone famous or beautiful, or both, talking about themselves. It is as though someone who seems attractive and self-confident has looked in the mirror and as a result they are surprisingly over-critical of the face that looks back at them, the person that they see.

And it’s not just our looks, is it. … We can underestimate our abilities, our gifts and skills; we can be reticent about trying out something new because we think that we’ll be no good at it; we can even get some kind of distorted sense that it’s wrong to think about the things that we’re good at, in case we’re thought to be overconfident or boastful!  Sadly, so often, this holds people back from reaching their God-given potential – using their gifts and talents to help others and being comfortable with who they are.

Many of us keep parts of ourselves hidden even from our nearest and dearest.

Nathaniel, in our Gospel reading, was probably no different – he assumed that he could control what people knew about him. And then he met Jesus. … Jesus seems to know all about him, without having met him.

Jesus sees Nathaniel coming towards him and says ‘Here’s a true Israelite – without a false bone in his body.’ Nathaniel is amazed ‘How do you know me?’ he asks. ‘Ahh… says Jesus, ‘One day before Philip brought you to me, I saw you sitting under the fig tree’.

Jesus seemed to know everything about Nathaniel – from just having seen him under a fig tree. … From that glance, Jesus was able to decide that here was someone he wanted in the group of his twelve closest companions. No lengthy interview, not gathering of references – Jesus just knew.

We see this throughout the Bible, that God, that Jesus, knows things about people that enable God to give those people a new direction in life.  Jesus, meeting the woman at the well, surprises her because he knows about her past – and instead of feeling embarrassed, she runs off to tell her town all about this man. They put their faith in him – she’s an unlikely evangelist!

God is not a distant authoritarian figure judging us from afar, but a God who is tender, who is loving, who knows and experiences the messy-ness of life.  God knows us, warts and all, and keeps on loving us. God sees the good and the bad in us, and keeps on loving us. God is saddened when we stray from the way of living that he knows is best for us – but he’s not there with a notebook putting down another note about our failings, he’s longing for us to recognise where we get things wrong and to turn to him to show us how to live differently.

God lovingly ‘created our inmost parts and knit us together in our mother’s womb’ and who is saddened when we don’t like the way we look, because we’re rejecting his gift of creation.

God made us who we are, giving us unique gifts, and is saddened when we don’t use them, as if we’re saying that we know better than him.

What do we see when we look at ourselves in a mirror, or in our weakest moments? Is it an image that we have developed ourselves, is it based on rude and unfair comments made by someone in the past, or is it going to be based on what God thinks of us. A God who knows me and loves me.

In the grand scheme of things, that is all that really matters.  That knowledge allows me to be truly me, the me that God has created, known and called.

What does this have to do with St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and Michaelmas?

Just this, I think. …. Angels are messengers. The most famous are Michael and Gabriel. They bring God’s message to his people. They speak the words of God. Overwhelmingly in the Bible we see Angels bringing words of hope, encouragement and blessing, whether it is to Abram and Sarah, to Jacob or to Samson’s parents, or to Gideon or to Joseph or Mary or Zechariah, or to us.

Angels are truth-speakers and overwhelmingly their message to us will be encouraging and up-building, they see us and speak to us through the eyes and mouth of God. They see us as children of God.

Michael and Gabriel, and Jesus, all call on us to be the people God intended us to be, loved and loving, blessed and blessing others, full of grace and gracious towards others.

And finally. ……………………. Angels drive Range Rovers!

The Dishonest Steward – Luke 16:1-13

I find it almost impossible to talk to people when the TV is on. Somehow the television just grabs my attention. Perhaps more amusing is what happens to me at the cinema. I’m one of those people who get completely engrossed in the film, so completely drawn into the story that I’m oblivious to anything else.

I once went with some friends to watch Braveheart (Mel Gibson) – if you’ve seen it you’ll remember that there were lots of graphic battle scenes. I’m told that every time anyone got hit by an axe or a spear my body convulsed in sympathy. After one particularly grusome bit I glanced along the row and was embarrassed to find all my friends watching me rather than the screen. … As we were leaving the cinema a friend grabbed my arm and said that it was almost as entertaining watching me as watching the film itself.

Films are meant to take a hold of us. Good films draw us into the plot. The skill of a film director is measured by how well s/he is able to draw us into the story. Gifted preachers and story tellers are just the same; they draw us into the plot of their sermon or story.

Do you remember the story in the Old Testament of the prophet Nathan confronting King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He told him a story about a poor man with only one lamb whose rich neighbour took the lamb to feed a guest. David was indignant when he heard the story and shouted, “The man who did this deserves to die”. … And after a long pause, Nathan replied, “You are that man”. … He had trapped David. His skilled storytelling brought David to the point where he couldn’t but admit his guilt.

Jesus was the best story teller of all. His stories interested, gripped and intrigued people. People were drawn to listen and to make judgements on what he said. In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells one of these stories. A story which seems to condone dishonesty. Perhaps you can imagine the possible responses of those who heard the story:

Some might have said, “There you are, I told you there was nothing wrong with the way that I am running the business. If Jesus says its alright that’s good enough for me”.

Others might have sat in the corner shaking their heads and tutting.

Perhaps others wanted to write in and complain about standards. “This Jesus is teaching things that will corrupt our children”.

Some might just have been confused, … “Why is Jesus condoning something that we know is wrong?”

Others, who were well aware of the moral complexities of life might have felt something of the strength of the dilemma the steward in the story faced. For decisions that many people face in their working lives are not black and white issues but are made up of many shades of grey. Perhaps Jesus is letting us know that he understands the difficulty of such decisions.

Whatever response it provoked, J esus’ story would have had everyone gripped and intrigued. Wondering what to make of it.

We are told, specifically, of two groups of people listening to the parable:

•     his disciples – who seemed to be the main audience;

•     and in the verse immediately after our reading we are told that the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. The response of the two groups and the message they heard was completely different:

Τhe disciples may have been confused by the story but they listened to the lessons that Jesus had for them.

In the Gospel reading, we heard Jesus challenging his first disciples about their attitude to wealth and responsibility. The same challenges apply to us! ……

First, Jesus challenges us to use what God gives us here on earth (wealth, gifts & time) for his eternal purposes, for the work of his kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus says that God gives us smaller responsibilities through which we can learn faithfulness to him, before he places heavier or bigger burdens on us (at church or in the world).

Thirdly, (in v13), he reminds us that if money & material things become too important to us we’ll lose sight of the God that we worship. In fact we’ll become worshippers of money and possessions.

Τhe Pharisees, on the other hand, sneered at Jesus. They heard the same as the disciples but they chose not to listen. We know from the rest of the NT that the disciples continued to struggle to follow Jesus but that the Pharisees saw themselves as superior to him. They rejected him and his teaching.

These questions or lessons about money and responsibilities are important ones. Many people in business struggle with just the same kind of issues as the steward or manager in the parable. It is so hard to decide where the narrow dividing line falls between dishonesty or sharp practice and a healthy competition for work. It is sometimes difficult to know when we have crossed that fine line. Ultimately, Jesus seems to be making it clear that money and wealth, jobs and security are all intended to be our servants and not our masters.

Don’t worry if you struggle to understand what Jesus is saying. Keep struggling, for in many ways that is the point of the parable. Let the parable worry away at you. For honest doubt, tentative faith and belief are all part of growing as a Christian.

14042-12697-man_fog_walking_edited-1200w-tn-1-1200w-tnWhen God speaks we always have a choice – we can respond with faith (struggling faith) like the disciples, honesty admitting our doubts, or we can sneer at what Jesus is saying to us, like the Pharisees did. We can turn away from Jesus. There is always a choice. God draws us into the story and brings us to the point of decision, but the choice is always ours. As disciples, we can trust him, struggling to work out our faith in the midst of a confusing world, or like the Pharisees we can reject him, turn our back on him and walk away.

Just telling a joke! – Luke 15:1-10

How do you recognize a joke? What are the signals you look out for?

There’s: ‘Did you hear the one about…’ or ‘A man goes into a pub …’ or ‘A man goes to see his doctor …’

The introduction tells you that there is a funny story coming and you set yourself up for it, you’re ready to laugh!

Have you noticed as well that often when we tell jokes, even though we’re telling a story about the past we use the present tense.

Someone once told me that much as English comedians tell jokes about Irish people. (Although, of course, we don’t do it so often now because we have recognized that it causes offence.) Much as we tell jokes about the Irish, people in Jesus day used to tell jokes about shepherds. They were considered to be country bumpkins of relatively low intelligence. Now I really don’t know how true that statement was. But there is one story in the Bible that really does seem to me to be a case of Jesus telling a joke, or at least a funny story to make a point. And that is the first half of our Gospel reading this morning.

I can almost imagine Jesus starting his parable with the words. ‘Did you hear the one about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep …’ And how does the story run? ‘Did you hear the one about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep – he left 99 out in the open field and went searching for the one that had gone missing.’

And I can imagine the sniggers, the knowing looks, perhaps even the ribald laughter. ‘How foolish, how stupid, typical of a shepherd,’ some of Jesus listeners might say.

And can you imagine the increased laughter when Jesus goes on to say that the shepherd goes home when he finds the lost sheep and has a party. Not a thought anymore for the 99!! As far as this shepherd is concerned they can look after themselves.

It is manifestly stupid. It is a silly story. No sensible shepherd would do anything like this. The loss would be too great. Better to leave the one who is lost and look after the 99 that are still fine. That makes economic sense. And Jesus audience fall around laughing, all their prejudices confirmed.

But laughter has softened them up for the punch-line. … Says Jesus, ‘This is what God is like, this is what it is like in heaven. God is more concerned for the lost than those who are OK.’

God is more concerned for the sinner who needs to repent than he is for the Pharisee who believes that he is righteous. God is more concerned for the backslider than for the good upstanding Christian. God seeks out the lost and rejoices when they are found again – even if in the doing of it, he seems foolish and ludicrous – even if everyone else thinks that God is on a wild goose chase. God chases after the lost, longing to show them his love, longing to draw them back into relationship with him.

This means that if we, in our wisdom, feel sure enough of ourselves to say what is right and what is wrong; if we, in our wisdom, define someone as a sinner. Then, rather than putting them beyond the reach of God’s love, we place them at the centre of God’s love. … Our parable suggests that God is happy to leave us to fend for ourselves as God focusses on them, as he turns his love towards them. The joke is on us!

And if we were to go on to read the story of the Prodigal Son later in this chapter 15 of Luke, it would be little different. In that story the Father is prepared to make a mockery of himself, all for the sake of a worthless good for nothing son. A fine upstanding Jewish father is prepared to suffer the shame of his village seeing him running through the streets to greet his wayward Son. And the story tells us that the Father places the lost Son ahead of the faithful but self-righteous Son! … We’ve got to be fools to miss the point of these parables. God cares nothing for what people think of him. God’s eyes are focussed on those who are lost, spiritually and physically. God’s eyes are fixed on those in need.

This is what God is like. God seeks out those who are lost, who feel unloved and abandoned. God doesn’t mind looking foolish, if only God manages to draw one lost human being back from the brink, back into his arms. And God is so taken up with joy when one of us hears of his love and responds to that love, that everything else for that moment fades completely into insignificance.

God’s love centres on the cross where Jesus died. It is consummated as Jesus rises from the dead. Just like the sheep that was lost allowed the shepherd to pick it up and take it in his arms, so God encourages us all to have that kind of trusting faith. To allow God to throw his arms around us in love. ‘Yes, Lord, I want that kind of love, please be my shepherd, now and always.’

And God calls us to have this same self-negating, self-deprecating, foolish, silly love, that goes after the lost with complete abandon. Nothing sensible, nothing thought out. Just a headlong rush to share God’s love with those who need him. To love and not to count the cost. To seek out those in need and commit ourselves to their welfare.

imagesJohn in one of his epistles says, ‘This is love – not that we loved God, but that God loved us and gave his Son to die for us.’ This is the measure by which we judge our love for our partners, for our family for our friends, for our neighbours and for others who are in need. Love that reaches out unconditionally, foolishly, ridiculously without thought for the cost. That is love like God’s love. This is no joke, it’s the gist of Jesus parable set for today!

Time to Choose – Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-35

options-260x185How do you make decisions? A friend of mine makes decision-making into a hobby. I remember him buying a camera – over a couple of months, he bought all the relevant magazines, he spent hours reading through all the available information; gradually building his expertise – what he didn’t know about cameras wasn’t worth knowing. And finally he came to a decision. The process of deciding was as important as the final decision.

Some of us are spontaneous when we make decisions – a bit like me and clothes – I=ll decide one day that I need a new pair of trousers and within half-an-hour they=re bought. Others like to be careful. Jo seems to go round countless clothes shops, possibly over a number of days, before she’ll decide on what she wants – and it could quite easily be the first thing that she saw right at the start of the process.

Others find making choices just too hard – they waver over the point of decision, feeling confused, getting depressed. Some wait for circumstances to dictate their options, or try to make others make the decision. If I’m honest I can do that – I’ll often say to Jo, ‘What would you like to do?’ – telling myself that I’m being magnanimous, when actually I’m placing the responsibility on her shoulders.

However we do it – we all have to make choices. And in the end a refusal to choose is in itself a decision. … All choices have consequences – if we chose not to have an operation we must live with the problem it might have solved. If we chose not to have children we have to cope with the consequences of the decision later in life. And conversely, if we chose to have children, we have to face the risk of rebellion. All our choices have consequences.

Moses put a choice and its consequences to the people of Israel. ‘Serve God and live,’ he says, ‘turn away and die.’ He makes it seem quite clear cut.

But was it ever like that? Life is never as clear cut as Moses made it sound. Making the choice to live God’s way, making the right choice, doesn’t bring automatic blessing, wealth and freedom from illness. Jesus highlights this dilemma in our Gospel reading. Holding true to what is good, making right choices will bring us into situations of conflict, people will oppose us. As Jesus says here, being his disciple is about taking up our cross and following him.

At the beginning of our reading, we heard that Jesus was travelling somewhere – he was, in fact, on the way to Jerusalem. He had made a choice, in the relative safety of Galilee, to travel to Jerusalem – a place where, he knew he would face persecution and death. Jesus choices led to his death, a death which through seeming defeat won victory; a death which however we struggle to understand it, brought healing, wholeness and reconciliation with God; a death which was finally defeated by resurrection and new life.

I cannot help thinking that many people have had choices to make that have had the same kind of consequences, choices which have put their lives on the line or choices borne from the fact that their lives are already at risk. Others have had choices made for them, they have been forced to move and to go to new places without their consent. We have a history as a nation of failing to properly support those who face such choices and we have at times forced others to fit in with our choices.

We built our wealth on the back of the transatlantic slave trade – forcing people out of their homes, dehumanising them, devaluing them, making them work, not for a good wage, but as animals at our beck and control. … When, in the period after the war, we found we did not have enough people to work in menial and manual jobs we invited people from the West Indies to move to Britain – yes we gave them jobs, but we treated them too as less than human – you may well remember the signs that were placed in boarding house windows, the anger people expressed when someone different from them moved onto their street.

We, in the West, have a history of supporting and encouraging dictators, particularly in Africa, without thought to the consequences and so, as a nation, along with many others in the West, we bear on our hands the results of those choices – the genocide in Rwanda, the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. And we have shown ourselves less than welcoming to people who have been affected by our actions.

In these times, we face one of the biggest movements of people brought about by that same need to choose. The need to choose between life in a war zone like Syria and the possible safety of our family. The need to choose between our homeland and our lives, martyrdom or an ongoing life of faith in a new country. The need to choose is at the root of almost every refugee or asylum seeker’s story. … Our choices, their choices – all impinge on us all.

mte1oda0otcxnzq5mzc3ntq5Choices like these were made by people like Rosa Parks who refused, on 1st December 1955, to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, spurring the Montgomery, Alabama boycott and other efforts to end segregation. She was arrested, imprisoned, lost her job, but spawned, galvanised, a civil rights movement which spread across the USA.

Jesus asks each of us to choose … to choose to follow him to the cross. To choose to do what we know to be right, but to do so fully aware of the consequences. Following Jesus is about making a choice, a choice to live, to the best of our ability, in the way he lived. The choice is costly, it will mean changes in our lives. It will mean welcoming the stranger, reaching out to those who are different from us. It may mean sacrifices. It may mean acknowledging the shame of our corporate responsibility for the mistreatment of those different from us.

Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross. But not just through the pain of the cross and self sacrifice, but on into resurrection, to new life. Living in the light of God’s love. He calls us to be part of a new world order, to be part of his Kingdom. A kingdom or peace and of justice where we choose to live for the good of all, where all are welcomed and loved.

In the end we all have to choose, just like those listening to Moses did. Our way? Or God’s Way? Moses advice is ‘Choose life, choose life lived with God?’ Life with the risk of conflict with those who will think us odd, who may at times persecute us. Life, lived for God and for others. A topsy-turvy life of death and resurrection. But abundant life, secure in the knowledge of God’s love.

New Archbishop for the Province of Uganda

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba elected 9th Archbishop

Archbishop-Elect Kaziimba [8]

With the retirement of Archbishop Stanley Ntagali on 1st March 2020, the Bishops of Uganda have elected his successor, The Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba. The election took place on 28th August 2019. We look forward to seeing  the direction that the Archbishop-elect will lead his Province in coming years.

Bishop Edison Irigei, Dean of the Church of Uganda, said, “We thank God for His clear voice and direction among us for who shall be our next leader. We also ask all Christians to pray for this season of transition, especially for the Archbishop and Archbishop-elect who are bidding farewell in their dioceses, and for the Archbishop-elect to be prepared to receive the mantle of spiritual authority as Archbishop.” [1]

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba has served as the Bishop of Mityana Diocese for almost eleven years. “In addition to his responsibilities as a diocesan Bishop, Bishop Kaziimba also currently serves as the Chairman of the Provincial Board of Household and Community Transformation, as well as the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Ndejje University, Chair of the Committee for HIV and Public Health for the Inter-religious Council of Uganda, and Chair of Words of Hope Uganda Radio Ministry.” [1]

Perhaps his most famous predecessor, the 3rd Archbishop Janani Luwum (1974 – 1977), served as Archbishop during the political tenure of Idi Amin. He was martyred in 1977 for standing up against the misrule of Uganda by Idi Amin.

Archbishop Janani Luwum [9]

In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to dictator Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances. Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.

Wikipedia says that: [7]

On 16 February 1977, Luwum was arrested together with two cabinet ministers. The same day Idi Amin convened a rally in Kampala with the three accused present. A few other “suspects” were paraded forth to read out “confessions” implicating the three men. The archbishop was accused of being an agent of the exiled former president Milton Obote, and for planning to stage a coup. The next day, Radio Uganda announced that the three had been killed when the car transporting them to an interrogation centre had collided with another vehicle. The accident, Radio Uganda reported, had occurred when the victims had tried to overpower the driver in an attempt to escape. [2] However, when Luwum’s body was released to his relatives, it was riddled with bullets. Henry Kyemba, minister of health in Amin’s government, later wrote in his book A State of Blood, that “The bodies were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest. The ministers had been shot in a similar way but one only in the chest and not through the mouth. Oryema had a bullet wound through the leg.” [3]

According to the later testimony of witnesses, the victims had been taken to an army barracks, where they were bullied, beaten and finally shot. Time magazine said, “Some reports even had it that Amin himself had pulled the trigger, but Amin angrily denied the charge, and there were no first-hand witnesses.” [4] According to Vice President of Uganda Mustafa Adrisi [5] and a Human rights commission, Amin’s right-hand man Isaac Maliyamungu carried out the murder of Luwum and his colleagues. [6]

Janani Luwum is recognised as a martyr by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion and his death is commemorated on 17 February as a Lesser Festival. His statue is among the Twentieth Century Martyrs on the front of Westminster Abbey in London. [7]

References

  1. https://churchofuganda.org/info/the-rt-rev-dr-stephen-samuel-kaziimba-elected-9th-archbishop, accessed on 31st August 2019.
  2.  “Death of an Archbishop”Time Magazine, 28 February 1977 
  3.  A state of blood: The inside story of Idi Amin (1977) Henry Kyemba 
  4.   Amin:The Wild Man of AfricaTime Magazine, 7 March 1977
  5. Moses Walubiri; Richard Drasimaku (14 May 2014). “Mustafa Adrisi: Life during and after exile”New Vision. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  6. Watuwa Timbiti (12 February 2015). “Luwum murder: What witnesses said”New Vision. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janani_Luwum, accessed on 31st August 2019.
  8. https://www.independent.co.ug/bishop-kaziimba-from-mityana-is-new-church-of-uganda-archbishop, accessed on 31st August 2019.
  9. https://churchofuganda.org/info/archbishop-stanley-ntagali-says-janani-luwum-laid-down-his-life-for-god-and-his-country, accessed on 31st August 2019.

The Fourth Mark of Mission – 25th August 2019 (Isaiah 61:1-9; James 2:1-26; Luke 6:20-26)

This is the fifth Sunday in our series about the five Marks of Mission. … Just to remind ourselves once again, these are the 5 Marks of Mission espoused by the Church of England:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

We have not been able to follow them in order. We started with the first but then jumped to the third and then the fifth. Returning first to the second mark of mission, we are now going to consider the fourth Mark of Mission. Over recent weeks, we have heard how interdependent these Marks are, we cannot pick and choose between them. Together they describe God’s Mission in our world and we are called to see what God is doing and to join in.

The fourth mark is: To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

Luke 6: 20-26 contain Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a part of Jesus Sermon on the Mount (or on the plain). I have paired up the blessings and woes below:

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

These beatitudes in Luke are so different from those in Matthew. Matthew separates his blessings and woes by a few chapters. And his message seems spiritual rather than physical. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”

We might ask ourselves questions like: Why do we have two versions of the Sermon in our Gospels? Which is the right one? Surely they cannot both be correct?

Indeed, it is likely that the Luke passage is the earlier of the two. It is more likely that Jesus words have been expanded by Matthew to emphasise their spiritual meaning, rather than contracted by Luke to focus on the physical meaning.

What is most important for us, is that we have both. They speak to each other and they remind us that we cannot just listen to one without the other. The fact that they both exist reminds us that Luke meant what he wrote. He was not being essentially spiritual but speaking about our world and our values.

When Luke says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” … He means it. He paints a picture of God’s ‘upside down’ world in which the poor and hungry are exalted over the rich and powerful.

The question he expects us to ask is: Where am I in these different pairs? Am I hungry or poor. Am I one who mourns and weeps. Am I someone who is persecuted. Or am I actually rich, filled, happy and thought well of?

Who am I?

It can be easy to think we know what words like ‘poor’, ‘hungry’ and ‘rich’ mean. Likewise it can sometimes seem clear who is the victim and who is the persecutor. But it is rarely this simple. What one person calls a terrorist, another calls a freedom fighter.

What does this tell us about drawing conclusions, and how might we become better informed regarding conflict situations? Or even about the realities experienced by many in our own country.

Are they wastrels? Or are they downtrodden? Do they play the system? Or are they overwhelmed by the system and unable to change their circumstances for the better?

Society has always worked on these kinds of polarities. In UK history, the poor usually received the great judgement. White collar crime, such as embezzlement or fraud of significant sums of money, attracted punishment but was usually seen as excusable. Worthy of punishment, yes. But easily put behind you and of little ultimate significance as you pursued your next, perhaps shady, business opportunity. However, the theft of a bag of potatoes because your family was starving resulted in a harsh prison sentence or transportation to the colonies.Convicts transported to Australia at work outside Sydney 1843. [1]

Are we the poor, or are we the rich? I guess it depends on our perspective.

For the majority of our world, all of us here today are rich. Yet in our society are those who are really poor. People who have, for whatever reason, found themselves as outsiders. The numbers are increasing, the need is increasing, even here in our own town. And we have people of courage who are prepared to work for change. Pauline Town’s work with “We Shall Overcome”, [4] Greystones, [5] Infinity Initiatives, [6] Emmaus. [7] All of these have a prophetic witness. They have recognised that our society has failed significant numbers of people. They seek to do something about this reality.

What might Luke’s Beatitudes teach us about our mission priorities?

We are focussing on the 4th Mark of Mission. It calls on us to “Transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.”

As just one example, let’s stay with our own town.

Try to imagine yourself now living the life of someone who has, for whatever reason, found themselves on the street here in Ashton-under-Lyne, with no money, no credit cards and no friends to turn to.

What does it feel like in the first few days? Do you still have a sense of hope that things will change?

How does it feel after a couple of months with no income, no friends, and no roof over your head? ………….

Someone kindly helps you to attend the Housing Advice Centre on Old Street [3] and finds a way to get you some food through a Food Bank. Do you feel grateful? Or do you feel an overwhelming sense of shame?

When you find yourself in dormitory accommodation under the “A Bed for a Night Scheme.” Do you feel grateful or scared about those you will be sharing with?

These are the realities for a good number of people each day in Tameside. [2]

What should the church’s response be? ………….. What about action? What could we do?

What could be changed – locally or nationally – to transform the issue?

What about campaigning for change? What about Universal Credit? Is it good or bad? Are there ways to change its implementation that might help? …………………. What is the role of the church in politics (with a small ‘p’)?

Matters of justice – whether justice for children, women, animals, refugees – can provoke strong emotions. What comes up for you when you consider the idea of tackling injustice? How could the church support you in this?

What could we do this year to make a change? What organisations could we work with?

And a final question before I go on the make a few short comments:

Looking at the last beatitude in Luke: What is the difference between anger and hate? How can we help ensure that our ‘fire’ or ‘passion’ is an asset rather than a hindrance in a quest for justice? How can anger at injustice be directed towards real change so that it does not develop into bitterness and hatred but makes a real difference?

So what to do?

First of all, lets talk about these things over coffee today. Is there a challenge we need to take up locally? If not the one I have suggested, are there other injustices that we should address?

Our shared giving is one way in which we make a difference. Our Church Wardens have agreed that homelessness should be the theme of our Harvest in October this year. And while our tins and produce will go the places agreed by each of our churches, our monetary giving will be shared by “We Shall Overcome” and “Infinity Initiatives.” Might you be able to give sacrificially at Harvest this year?

Lets believe too that when we work together with others we can make a real difference. I like the adjacent picture. We might feel small but we can have a big impact. We need to believe in what God can do through us.

What about the many other organisations fighting for justice across many areas of need in our borough. We have already mentioned a number. I had been hoping that Action Together would be here today but it is the bank holiday weekend and that has proved impossible. At the moment I have an impact on our behalf in that organisation. I Chair the Board of Action Together and on your behalf, I work with others to bring about change through a dedicated group of staff who seek to allocate grants, work for political change and address specific needs. What more should I or we do?

What about other faith communities? I recently attended an event at Central Mosque which was raising money for Water Aid in specific communities in the developing world. There are others around us who see charitable giving as an essential part of the outworking of their own faith. How can we work together with them? I Chair Faiths United in Tameside and we recently held a conference to address loneliness. We plan others about homelessness and possibly too about asylum seekers. I do this on your behalf as part of our mission in this place. What else might I do? What more should we do?

We need to take all aspects of God’s mission seriously and we need to remember that this 4th Mark of Mission is one of five. All are important, all interrelated. ……

We are all called to:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

To teach, baptise and nurture believers

To respond to human need by loving service

To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Prayer

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. The courage to change the things we can. And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebhur

 

References

  1. https://www.nla.gov.au/research-guides/convicts, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  2. https://www.tameside.gov.uk/Housing/Housing-and-Homelessness, accessed on 25th August 2019.
  3. https://www.tameside.gov.uk/SafetyandHygiene/Rough-Sleeping, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  4. https://www.thetamesidehangout.co.uk/we-shall-overcome-2, accessed on 24th August 2019.
  5. https://www.homeless.org.uk/homeless-england/service/greystones, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  6. http://www.infinitycic.uk, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  7. https://www.emmaus.org.uk/mossley, accessed on 29th August 2019.

 

 

The Second Mark of Mission – 18th August 2019

This is the fourth Sunday in our series about the five Marks of Mission. … Just to remind ourselves once again, these are the 5 Marks of Mission espoused by the Church of England:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

We have not been able to follow them in order. We started with the first but then jumped to the third and then the fifth. We are now going back to fill in the second and the fourth Marks of Mission. Over recent weeks, we have heard how interdependent these Marks are, we cannot pick and choose between them. Together they describe God’s Mission in our world and we are called to see what God is doing and to join in.

The second mark is: To teach, baptise and nurture believers.

Our call is to be a learning community. We are called to be people who continue to learn and grow throughout their journey as followers of Jesus. To be so, we need teachers. The call to be a teacher is not just for the clergy. We need many people who are able to lead discussion groups, able to preach, able to nurture new believers. It is possible that you might be being called to be such a teacher in God’s Church. If so, what are the qualifications? …………….

I guess that the first thing I want to know about someone who is going to teach me, is whether I can trust them. What is it that makes someone a good teacher? What should we expect from those who teach us?

Recently, I have been on retreat, reading various parts of the Bible.  I’d like us to think about a few of those passages this morning.

  1. James 3
  2. Jeremiah 31
  3. Isaiah 50 and Psalm 45
  4. Proverbs 8

1. James 3 

Firstly, listen to what James says in Chapter 3 of his epistle. …..

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes.

He goes on to talk about the kind of wisdom that a teacher should show:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

The call of a teacher is not to be strident or contentious. A teacher who does God’s work will be one who brings peace, who is gentle, willing to yield, full of goodness. Someone who is inclusive, someone who draws people together in faith rather than someone who is dogmatic and divisive. That is the first test of a teacher of the Christian faith.

2. Jeremiah 31

Secondly, let’s listen to Jeremiah. ……………..

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

It might seem at first as though Jeremiah is saying that God’s plan is that we should all go our own way, just listen to the inner voice of our conscience and everything will be wonderful. And Jeremiah is in the wider passage talking about taking individual responsibility for our lives. He is also talking about the rebuilding of community.

I wonder whether your experience of school was a little like my experience of learning Latin or my times tables. In each case I had to be able to sing out what I had learnt in a form of chant. Do you remember? ………………………..

Education was primarily about learning facts. Which is very important. However, very little effort went into giving me the skills to think for myself. Very little was done to help me evaluate what I was being told. I suppose I picked up a few of those skills in some of my science subjects but they were still primarily about learning facts. What I most needed as part of my education was to be helped to develop learning skills that would mean that as I grew older I would be able to check evidence for myself and make good decisions. I think that is what Jeremiah is talking about. Our faith is not to be based on what we learn by rote, nor just one what we are told, we have our own faith and our own responsibility to learn and be disciples of Jesus. So Jeremiah says on God’s behalf: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.

What does a Church teacher look like in these circumstances? What role do they have? ………….

I think that, while there are some important facts to learn and there needs to be a shared understanding of faith, effective teachers of the gospel will be facilitators rather than autocrats. They will learn, themselves, how to draw truth out from those they teach and they will help us learners to learn from each other what God has for us in Scripture. Learning will be inclusive and exciting, it will build our understanding rather than just our knowledge. It will take seriously those words of God spoken through Jeremiah: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

So a teacher will show great humility and draw people together in faith and they will respect those they teach. What else will be true of them?

3. Isaiah 50 and Psalm 45

One of our well-known phrases about knowledge is that ‘knowledge is power’. Let’s listen to what Isaiah has to say about this – just one verse this time from Isaiah 50 v 4:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.

The best teachers are those who themselves are willing to learn. The best teachers believe that we need to go on learning as disciples of Jesus. The best teachers expect that God will challenge and change them  as they pursue their own journey of faith. Good teachers don’t sparingly share their knowledge but willingly share with others – seeking to bring hope to the weary. There is a similar short passage in Psalm 45 v 1:

And that verse gives rise to the song that we sang as our gradual hymn and its chorus:

My tongue will be the pen of a ready writer,
And what the Father gives to me I’ll sing;
I only want to be His breath,
I only want to glorify the King.

The best teachers continue to learn, and “only want to glorify the King.”

So a teacher will show great humility and draw people together in faith and they will respect those they teach. A teacher will be someone who is always ready to learn. ……….

4. Proverbs 8

And one more thing. …… For this we turn to the book of Proverbs, which has a lot to say about Wisdom. The wise one, the teacher is set alongside God in God’s work in the world. In Chapter 8 v 1-4 we read these words:

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 

The wise one, the teacher, will share their wisdom not just in the safe confines of the home nor in the church. God’s wisdom is for the public space. God’s wisdom applies to all things which we, as God’s people, encounter. “The heights” refers to places of worship which were always found on the high points in Israel. But wisdom speaks elsewhere as well. “Beside the way” and “at the crossroads” – on the journey and at the place of decision, God’s wisdom will guide us. “The gates in front of the town” were the place of decision and judgement in the public sphere. The leaders of the people gathered at the town gates to make decision s and to dispense justice for the community.

Teachers of God’s wisdom are called to inhabit those spaces, to be community leaders and to bring the wisdom of God to bear on the matters of civil society. Our faith is not just for the private sphere.

So, we have four important things to bear in mind if we think God might be calling us to be a teacher. ……

  1. A teacher will show humility and draw people together in faith.
  2. A teacher will respect those they teach and listen to them as they learn.
  3. A teacher will be someone who is always ready to learn themselves.
  4. A teacher will have courage and will speak in the secular and public sphere and will help us to apply our faith in the world.

Do you think God might be calling you to be a teacher? I hope so. We sure need people of integrity who will help us to grow in faith and take a place of leadership in the world.