Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Few Good Vicars

So here we are, it's the end of the year and the new man at the helm of the Anglican Communion has an opportunity to say stuff and make a state of the Church (of England) speech. How do you think he did?

Some of my colleagues are sighing, one has 'gone shopping', and others are bemoaning and bewailing Justin Welby's BBC Radio Four appearance this morning.  Aside from that 'good Vicars' comment, some are pointing their toes and holding their breath (and they can, believe me!) over other things that he (Justin) did, and didn't, say. So let's consider what some have told me represents the end of the honeymoon and makes Justin fair game:

'I think there sometimes is a disconnect, we sometimes give the impression at the national level that we are obsessed with a small number of issues whereas the reality that people experience in the church is of communities that are messy and untidy because society is messy and untidy, but which get on with the job that they're there for. Of course there are churches that are doing better and churches that are struggling more - depending upon area and leadership and that comes back to something Antony Jenkins has been talking about - but the reality is that where you have a good Vicar, you will find growing churches.' 

I have to say that I have to applaud the acknowledgement that we, the Church of England, have indeed become so bound up with a few issues that whilst obviously important to some are truly nothing to do with communicating the Gospel. In fact there are some clergy whom I have met, heard of (and avoided) who are so taken up with their cause of choice that they appear to have totally forgotten that we are called into the diaconal, and subsequently the priest ministry, to ensure (in addition to our baptismal calling):

That the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known,

That we exercise a sacrificial, self-giving, ministry, washing the feet of others in humility,

The leadership of God's people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel,

That the people of God are shepherded and sustained by the ministry of word and sacrament,

That they are also taught, disciplined, discipled, equipped and released (by example and teaching),

To preach the Gospel in and out of season, when it is popular and when it is not.

You know what? I think Justin has hit it on the head with his first part of that which is above. He has noted that some do better than others and you know something else that's interesting? Those who are doing well do, generally speaking have good Vicars at the helm (of course there are always the 'comfortable' churches where numbers remain fairly static because it's one of 'those' areas where people are comfortable enough to 'do' church!). Then again, some churches that are fairing less well would look even worse if it wasn't for the fact that they too have good Vicars (so smile - without you it could be even worse!).

 The reality is that there are many clergy out there who might have fuller churches if they put as much energy into preaching, living and proclaiming the Gospel as they do over the issue of __________ (add the issue your dogcollar is passionate about in the space provided and if it's isn't the reconciling love of Jesus and the Gospel then they, and you, need to get up and do something about it).

I think Justin's words will sting (I know they do for me) and yet I thing the reality is that sometimes it has to sting to let us know the medicine has been applied.

End of the honeymoon? No WAY!

Merely me getting ready to celebrate out first anniversary and to look forward to a year of challenge and growth.

Thank you Justin - timely and essential words!

The Seventh Day of Christmas - Gift Day

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit - this is what is gifted to us today as our song begins its downhill journey - The thing is that because the accommodation that creates it looks to the Catholic Catechism, which teaches that they are:

Wisdom - Understanding  - Counsel or Advice -Knowledge - Courage - Piety - the Fear of the Lord

My first thought when I saw the words 'Gifts of the Spirit' took me to 1 Corinthians 12:

'Brothers and sisters, I want you to know about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
You know that at one time you were unbelievers. You were somehow drawn away to worship statues of gods that couldn’t even speak. So I tell you that no one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, “May Jesus be cursed.” And without the help of the Holy Spirit no one can say, “Jesus is Lord.”

There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given by the same Spirit.
There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. There are different ways to work. But the same God makes it possible for all of us to have all those different things.
The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.
To some people the Spirit gives the message of wisdom
To others the same Spirit gives the message of knowledge.
To others the same Spirit gives faith.
To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing.
To others he gives the power to do miracles.
To others he gives the ability to prophesy.
To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. (Discernment)
To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. (Tongues), And
To still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages (interpretation of Tongues).

All of the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives them to each person, just as he decides.'

This chapter, having continued by speaking of the fact that we are all functioning parts of the one body (the Church) concludes with:

'Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping (or administration), of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.'

This is the reason that we find some lists that speak of the 'Gifts of the Spirit' contain Apostleship, Teaching, Help, Administration and Counselling (Wisdom) - and have fourteen rather than the seven (which is two sevens so we've done twice as well!).

The key with the Gifts of the Spirit is to understand that they are not badges of authority or pride but roles to be sought, taken up and used for the 'Common Good' - they are things that build and unite, not separate, elevate and scatter.

Happy Seventh day :-)

The Fallacies and Faith of the 'faithful AND faithless'

I have recently been amazed to find the often proclaimed 'arrogance of Christians' residing more aggressively and entrenched in those who claim to have no faith.

Time and time again I find people of faith reading books from those who oppose their belief on the grounds of reason, rational thinking and logic and yet rarely do I find the opposite taking place.

Time and time again I find those who claim that reason, research and evidence form the basis of their thinking and attitudes rarely exercise reason, never do research (unless this is the revised usage of what I call reading newspapers) and accept the flimsiest of evidence (anecdotal and unsubstantiated is always of course acceptable if it's not faith for some).

The reality is that there are those from both camps who dialogue, read, think and continue to engage in research. When I became a Christian I was challenged to collect a brain at the door rather than leave it as those of no faith often accuse. My faith demands that I continue to study and to challenge the Bible and the settings - I acknowledge consistencies and similarities with some of the Biblical narratives and other writings; I accept the psychological imperatives and definitions of faith and can agree that religion does indeed provide someone to thank when it goes well, plead with when it's going wrong and appease when 'under a curse'. That said I also acknowledge the empirical evidence before me and test it with eyes that seek explanation in both science and faith. I look at the stuff I can understand and seek to find answers to that which I cannot - acknowledging the intelligence of those 'ancients'  and trying to see what their cultures might have added to the mix too!
Would that those on the other side of the divide did the same.

Recently I encountered two sides of the same 'ignorance' coin on the same day in the one episode - I find myself returning to the people and their comments and, on each replay, find myself more frustrated and (to be honest) just a little angry with them each time - Let me explain:

The Christian
This person was firmly stuck in a position whereby their faith was something fixed and what they believe was totally dug in and fixed. They 'knew what they believed' and they were not going to be shaken from it. The problem was that what was on view was an immature faith in a long-term believer and this was all due to the place they worshipped in. You probably know the type of place - great sermons on a dozen passages, a Bible with about twelve books and a faith that move mountains and a reality that made its members walk around them!

They were rigid in their belief and vehement in their rejection of 'God haters' - the primacy of the Word they neither knew or understood was central - and yet they could neither defend it or show themselves to be able workers for it. 'In the name of the Lord' is a great way to travel - but the words need to be fleshed out and take upon themselves the incarnacy that God's Word did!

There was no willingness to debate - just to shout people down and assumed to work on the basis that by repeating trite little Christian mantras and closed statements that others would 'be saved'.

The Atheist
Were keen to tell me how open-minded they were and yet even had it been open (and believe me it wasn't) there was so little of it (a mind) that chewing gum and walking would have cause a core failure!

As the conversation progressed I realised that they kept using the word evidence and yet when prodded and probed it was obvious that their evidence was gleaned from the laboratory that is the pub, newspaper and that oft quoted source: The Friend. They (mis)quoted from their prophets and gurus and (in the name of balance I'm sure) also misquoted Bible and other 'religious' stuff too. They appealed to reason but there was little of it. Pointed to facts, but they were misquotes and error-filled utterances. They spoke of research and yet had never really even read the basic books of either faith (for theist and non-theist are but two opposing faiths - God or Science, free or under authority, self-pleasing or God-pleasing - divide it as you will).

What was sad in these encounters was that both adversaries worked from a position of entrenched ignorance. There was no research into what they or those with whom they disagreed believed (or didn't) and thought. There was no ability (or apparently willingness) to engage in dialogue and find out what the other side believed - just a reliance on the belief that merely opposing, and writing off, the other side was enough.

What was really sad was that neither of the people had even the basic tools to be able to defend their own beliefs and this, in my book (and God's too) is probably the most sad part of the whole.

The way forward (for theists and non-theists):
Please remember that faith engaged in without involving your brain is useless and hollow religion - it is the stuff that ignorance grows in to choke everything that God (or not god) would have us celebrate and renders us an impotent and limited, superstitious and empty people.

So read the books that form the basis of your belief (And where this is the real Bible - read ALL of it, there's 66 books you know!)

Read books about the things you think challenge our faith and find out for yourself.

Read books by people you might think oppose your faith (and people) and dialogue with them, then

Dialogue with people who believe what you believe and check your understanding (and theirs) and, that done, engage in dialogue with people you think you don't disagree with.

Remember that no one group has the monopoly on being good, acting wrongly, being stupid, having closed minds, bias, ignorance, stupidity, blind faith, selfishness, exclusivity and best of all - being just plain ugly people!

How can we say we love God when we hate the image of Him made visible in the person before us?

I scribbled this over a period of weeks - revisiting and rethinking about how what I'd encountered informed and challenged my own position and attitudes. I think that this might be the right time, as we reach the end of 2013, to post it.

Morning Prayer - Dec 31

John Wyclif, Reformer, 1384

Psalm 102
O Lord, hear my prayer and let my crying come before you. Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; when I call, make haste to answer me, For my days are consumed in smoke and my bones burn away as in a furnace. My heart is smitten down and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread. From the sound of my groaning my bones cleave fast to my skin. I am become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl that haunts the ruins. I keep watch and am become like a sparrow solitary upon the housetop. My enemies revile me all the day long, and those who rage at me have sworn together against me. I have eaten ashes for bread and mingled my drink with weeping, Because of your indignation and wrath, for you have taken me up and cast me down. My days fade away like a shadow, and I am withered like grass.

But you, O Lord, shall endure for ever and your name through all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is time to have mercy upon her; surely the time has come. For your servants love her very stones and feel compassion for her dust. Then shall the nations fear your name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory,

When the Lord has built up Zion and shown himself in glory;
When he has turned to the prayer of the destitute and has not despised their plea.
This shall be written for those that come after, and a people yet unborn shall praise the Lord. For he has looked down from his holy height; from the heavens he beheld the earth, That he might hear the sighings of the prisoner and set free those condemned to die; That the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion and his praises in Jerusalem,

When peoples are gathered together and kingdoms also, to serve the Lord. He has brought down my strength in my journey and has shortened my days. I pray,
‘O my God, do not take me in the midst of my days; your years endure throughout all generations.

‘In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; ‘They shall perish, but you will endure; they all shall wear out like a garment.

‘You change them like clothing, and they shall be changed; but you are the same, and your years will not fail.

‘The children of your servants shall continue, and their descendants shall be established in your sight.’

Jonah 3-4
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Colossians 1.24-2.7
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The Collect
Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Sixth Day of Christmas - Creation

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' - the beginning of the 'beginning' narrative and the start of great assurance or general unease. Literal or figurative days? Young earth or old earth? Creation is the source of all that is, including controversy!

People speak of the seven days of creation, but of course, as accentuated by the six days of Christmas, there are but six - day seven being the day off after the labours!

This is not the place to discuss young or old earths and the like - for here the focus is what each day results in bringing about.

Day One
In the beginning there was nothing and then came a voice with it the first uttered words, 'Let there be light!' - and, of course being God, the light was good! So God separated the light from the darkness and there it is: Day one - light and darkness. Day and night.

Day Two
In short water and sky make their entry. Science books tell me it's all about vapour, condensation and all that stuff!

Day Three
Dry ground appears and as we all know - have a bit of ground and stuff soon appears - creation is where this starts! So we have dry ground, with vegetation, and where it's not dry there are seas. Friends call this 'Tectonic day'!

Day Four
Things are settling down and there are now visible in the sky the sun by day and the moon by night - and stars and seasons too I assume  for position, and appearance, of stars ( like Winter's Orion) bring us seasons (not just climatic you know).

Day Five
Getting good (I'm bird watcher and fisherman) as we get out first, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' for sea creatures and birds.

Day Six
What's left? Oh yeah, animals - and with them the pinnacle of creation, Human beings.

So that, in a nutshell, is creation - is it any wonder that the next day was a day off?

Light - Dark
Water -Sky
Ground - Green stuff
Sun, Moon and Stars
Birds and Fish
Animals and People

Literal days or otherwise - friends (and books - what are merely written friends) tell me the order is right and the division logical and scientific - and that's a bit of a winner, isn't it ;-)

My gift to you today? The wonderful 'Days of Creation' by Burne-Jones (can be seen in the windows of St Editha's, St George's Chapel, and the brief summary of the Genesis account.

Morning Prayer - Dec 30

Psalm 111
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.

The works of the Lord are great, sought out by all who delight in them.
His work is full of majesty and honour and his righteousness endures for ever.
He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
He gave food to those who feared him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He showed his people the power of his works in giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his commandments are sure.
They stand fast for ever and ever;
they are done in truth and equity.
He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; holy and awesome is his name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have those who live by it; his praise endures for ever.

Psalm 112
Blessed are those who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land, a generation of the faithful that will be blest.nWealth and riches will be in their house, and their righteousness endures for ever. Light shines in the darkness for the upright; gracious and full of compassion are the righteous. It goes well with those who are generous in lending and order their affairs with justice, For they will never be shaken; the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance. They will not be afraid of any evil tidings; their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their heart is sustained and will not fear, until they see the downfall of their foes. They have given freely to the poor; their righteousness stands fast for ever; their head will be exalted with honour. The wicked shall see it and be angry; they shall gnash their teeth in despair; the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Psalm 113
Give praise, you servants of the Lord, O praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised.

The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, that has his throne so high, yet humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ashes, To set them with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a place in the house and makes her a joyful mother of children.

Jonah 2
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?”
The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit,  O Lord my God.
As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

Colossians 1.15-23
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

The Collect
Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Fifth Day of Christmas - the Pentateuch

Having encountered the first four books of the New Testament yesterday - today's gift relates to the first five books of the Old - the name coming from the Greek, Penta (five) Teuch[os] (volumes, vessels or containers) - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Originally found as one volume (as it is in Jewish bookstores today) it was probably Ptolemy Philadelphus and his seventy translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek that split them into five separate volumes (I'll cover Philadelphus sometime today) and formalised the names according to that which is contained in them:
Genesis - Beginning (because it starts with 'in the beginning') through to the Patriarchs and exile
Exodus - The departure from Egypys and the journey through the  wilderness to Mount Sinai
Leviticus - The Levites were the Priests and is all about what they, and the people, do to serve God
Numbers - Takes it up from Sinai to the very edges of Canaan, the 'Promised Land'
Deuteronomy - originally thought to be the Words of Moses to the Jews on the Plain of Moab before heading into the 'Promised land'

In both Old and New Testaments the Pentateuch is a single entity and it is important - something that the way in which it is regarded by both clearly demonstrates:

The Law - Joshua 1.7; Ezra 10.3; Nehemiah 8.2,7,14; 10.34,36; 12.44; 13.3; 2 Chronicles 14.4; 31.21; 33.8; Matthew 12.5; Luke 16.16; John 7.19
The Book of Moses - Mark 12.26
The Law of Moses - 1 Kings 2.3; Daniel 9.11; Malachi 4.4; Luke 2.22; 24.44; John 7.23
The Book of the Law - Joshua 1.8; 8.34; 2 Kings 22.8; Nehemiah 8; Galatians 3.10
The Book of the Law of Moses - Joshua 8.31; 23.6; 2 Kings 14.6; Nehemiah 8.1
The Law of God - Nehemiah 10.28, 29
The Law of the Lord - Ezra 7.10; l Chronicles 16.40; 2 Chronicles 31.3; 35.26; Luke 2.23,24
The Book of the Law of God - Joshua 24.26; Nehemiah 8.18; 
The Book of the Law of the LORD* - 2 Chronicles 17:9; 34.14
His (Moses’) Writings - John 5.46

Divisions within the Pentateuch
Beginnings: Genesis 1 - 11
Patriarchal Narratives: Genesis 12 - 50
Oppression and deliverance of the Jews: Exodus 1 - 19
Camped at Mount Sinai: Exodus 20 - Numbers 10
Wandering in the wilderness: Numbers 10 - 21
Getting ready for entry into Canaan: Numbers 22 - Deuteronomy 34

The Pentateuch is rightly found at the beginning of the Torah (Jewish Bible if you like) and the Christian Bible because it is the foundation upon which the rest of the Old and New Testament stands. It outlines the very beginnings of all that is; the 'people of God' (the Jews) and God's interaction with all of humanity. It is generally fair to say that everything before it might be regarded as before history (and is therefore 'prehistoric!'). It is the source of Jewish theological thought and forms the basis for civil, moral and religious laws (theirs and ours today to a great extent).

Not an easy read in parts, but truly and essential read: Enjoy

*LORD = YHWH (Yahweh - The God)

ps. Someone remind me to explain JEDP some time in January ;-)

Beauty: in the hand of the photoshop expert!

It's not often you'll find a topless woman on my blog but I came across this and thought it spoke volumes about the faux world we inhabit. A world where that which is valued, adored or desired exists, in the main, within an electronically manipulated or created reality.

'Vanity, vanity - all is vanity,' says the preacher in Ecclesiastes One.

We create desires (in sexual, fashion, product and self-perception) that can never be fulfilled and then invent ways to salve our sadness that mar God's image in us and make us uglier than we ever were :-(

Now who do you think wins with this situation (the good guy or the bad bloke)?

The First Sunday of Christmas -2013

Isaiah 63.7-9
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lordthe praiseworthy acts of the Lordbecause of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favour to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely’; and he became their saviour in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 

Psalm 148
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host! 
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens! 
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created. 
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. 

Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! 

Let them praise the name of the Lordfor his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Hebrews 2.10-18
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’ 
And again,
‘I will put my trust in him.’
And again,
‘Here am I and the children whom God has given me.’
 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. 

Matthew 2.13-23
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 
‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion
Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home:
help your Church to live as one family,
united in love and obedience,
and bring us all at last to our home in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The fourth Day of Christmas - Four Gospels

Continuing with the assumed theme of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' and being day the fourth, we find ourselves stopping to draw breath with the Gospels and a challenge to me to find something to offer you. So here goes :

Gospel - the 'Good News' and taken to be eye-witness accounts.

We have three consistent 'eye witness' accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke and because of this we often refer to them as the 'synoptic' Gospels: (Same) 'syn' - 'optic' (sight) and use the shorthand // (meaning can be found in the other synoptics) and one of a different kind in John.

Each of the synoptics bear the name of their author - that's obvious innit?

Each of the synoptics was written for an intended audience and their assumed knowledge shapes the content of each of them.

Matthew - Written for a Jewish audience: Begins with genealogy to show Jesus fits the bill with regard to fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies and continues to defends his deity as the Christ.

Mark - Written for a Gentile audience. Explains Jewish customs and explains various terms. Quotes Old Testament less than Matthew or Luke.

Luke - Written for intellectual Hellenistic (Greek) Jews. Also writes the book of Acts - this is the 'home of the parable' and seeks to make sense of that 'which has been taught' - meaning to help the Jews understand that Jesus is the fulfilment of their hope.

And then there's the 'Good News':
John - Written for everyone, this is the theological and evangelistic  Gospel and is the first home of truly Christ centred (Christocentric) writing - the home of miracle and the  'I AM' statements (7 of each) - not a parable, genealogy or baptism to be found here!

There are loads of theories about how the synoptics came to be written - I grew up with the four source theory (I know, I know) and regardless it's a great place to start thinking about how our Bible came to be written. So in a nutshell (should that be a nutcase?):

There was a common source, 'Q' (from the German 'Quelle' - source) to which Matthew and Luke added their own observations 'M' & 'L' (a bit like someone reading something about the 1966 World Cup final and two comanpanions adding their reminiscences). Mark is a 'standalone' Gospel and so we have three Gospels looking at the same situation (birth, life, death, resurrection) coming out of four sources.

C'est voila - the four source theory diagram (and explanation)

My Fourth Day of Christmas gift to you :-)

Morning Prayer - Dec 28

The Holy Innocents

Psalm 36
Sin whispers to the wicked, in the depths of their heart; there is no fear of God before their eyes. They flatter themselves in their own eyes that their abominable sin will not be found out.
The words of their mouth are unrighteous and full of deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and to do good.
They think out mischief upon their beds and have set themselves in no good way; nor do they abhor that which is evil.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.

How precious is your loving mercy, O God! All mortal flesh shall take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house; they shall drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life and in your light shall we see light.
O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.
Let not the foot of pride come against me, nor the hand of the ungodly thrust me away.
There are they fallen, all who work wickedness.
They are cast down and shall not be able to stand.

Psalm 146
Praise the Lord, O my soul: while I live will I praise the Lord; as long as I have any being, I will sing praises to my God.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in any human power, for there is no help in them. When their breath goes forth, they return to the earth; on that day all their thoughts perish. Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong and bread to those who hunger.
The Lord looses those that are bound;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord watches over the stranger in the land; he upholds the orphan and widow; but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Genesis 37.13-20
And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’

Matthew 18.1-10
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.
‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

The Collect
Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod, though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son and by the innocence of our lives frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Third Day of Christmas - Trinity

The third day of Christmas and we have two options - so here's the first of them in the shape of the Trinity. So, leaving aside the idea that God might be green with three leave (thanks to the good old Shamrock) and so many other modalism, multiple personalities and the other confusions, let us try a bit of sound theology (again) as we revisit past thinking:

The Trinity is a simple concept in that God (the Father) is the author of life and of our reconciliation (salvation) to Him. God (the Son) is the means by which that reconciliation with God is effected by the freewill submission to death on the Cross for each of us. God (the Holy Spirit) lives in us and guides us to maintain that relationship and live within the salvation reality that is open to us. (of course we tread a fine line here!)

One of the clever devices that comes from the early church is the little drawing that puts it simply and graphically so we lame brains can grasp it:

Of course we can get more into this and head for Nicea (325AD) and get to grips with the 'substance' (ousia) and we find that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one ousios (homoousious), not similar (homoiousious), not different (heteroousios). One subtance, three distinct and separate wills - all in accord.

So here's your 'third day' present - a cool diagram :-)

A Guardian Article that demands reading

Having read this challenging and (as is always the case with Chris Arnade) well written piece I have to commend it to you as something well worth a read (and unlike some newspapers you don't have to subscribe to do so):

Arnade begins:

The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes

I've been reminded that life is not as rational as Richard Dawkins sees it. Perhaps atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy
'They prayed whenever they could find 15 minutes. "Preacher Man", as we called him, would read from the Bible with his tiny round glasses. It was the only book he had ever read. A dozen or so others would listen, silently praying while stroking rosaries, sitting on bare mattresses, crammed into a half-painted dorm room.

I was the outsider, a 16-year-old working on a summer custodial crew for a local college, saving money to pay for my escape from my hometown. . . 

. . . We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility. Sonya addict bronx Sonya with her cross and rosary. 

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well . . . 

. . . I also see Richard Dawkins differently. . .  I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently. I see someone doing what he claims to hate in others. Preaching from a selfish vantage point. '

For the bits inbetween you'll need to visit:

Chris Arndale - The Guardian 24/12/13

Thought for the Day: Loony Christians

Here's the church


Here's the people

If we didn't have loony Christians we wouldn't know what sane ones were now, would we?

Of course the problem as I understand it is that there are so many people out there speaking for God when what we really need to have is God speaking for Himself, from His word - in context - and speaking to His creation - In Love.

This means that before we begin to utter forth on His behalf (regardless of whether you're being fundamental or liberal) and it doesn't matter what your motives are (selfless or selfish) you need to stop and ask yourself a few questions:

Do you fully understand the reality of the issue you're getting worked up over?
                 (watching Glee, 
Neighbours or Corrie doesn't count as authoritative!)

2. What does the Bible actually say over the issue in question - do you really know? 
                 (This is Not what do you want it to say or what you think it should say!)

3. Have you prayed about the issue? I mean REALLY prayed!

4. Have you discussed the issue with enough people to have developed a balanced and Biblical response?

5. Is your attitude loving: Righteous anger is rarely righteous or right!

6. Are you doing it the way Jesus would have? Because if it isn't - STOP IT

Unless you can answer 'Yes' to the above questions then you'd best go back to your Bible, your knees and find out all the facts - until then please do nothing that will give God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and His Church a bad name please.

Simple innit?

'Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.'     Gal 6

Morning Prayer - Dec 27

John, Apostle and Evangelist

 Psalm 21
The king shall rejoice in your strength, O Lord; how greatly shall he rejoice in your salvation! You have given him his heart’s desire and have not denied the request of his lips. For you come to meet him with blessings of goodness and set a crown of pure gold upon his head. He asked of you life and you gave it him, length of days, for ever and ever. His honour is great because of your salvation; glory and majesty have you laid upon him. You have granted him everlasting felicity and will make him glad with joy in your presence. For the king puts his trust in the Lord; because of the loving-kindness of the Most High, he shall not be overthrown.

Your hand shall mark down all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them like a fiery oven in the time of your wrath; the Lord will swallow them up in his anger and the fire will consume them. Their fruit you will root out of the land and their seed from among its inhabitants. Because they intend evil against you and devise wicked schemes which they cannot perform, You will put them to flight when you aim your bow at their faces.

Be exalted, O Lord, in your own might; we will make music and sing of your power.

Psalm 147.13-21
Sing praise to the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion; For he has strengthened the bars of your gates and has blest your children within you.
He has established peace in your borders and satisfies you with the finest wheat.
He sends forth his command to the earth and his word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool and scatters the hoarfrost like ashes.
He casts down his hailstones like morsels of bread; who can endure his frost?
He sends forth his word and melts them; he blows with his wind and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Israel.
He has not dealt so with any other nation; they do not know his laws.

Exodus 33.12-23
Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’

The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

1 John 2.1-11
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him’, ought to walk just as he walked.
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

The Collect
Merciful Lord, cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Blessings of Christmas

Are to firstly be found at 08:30 on a Christmas morning celebrating the Eucharist with so many wonderfully faithful and engaged people.

Secondly to be privileged to preside at such a service with the wonderfully measured and sound piece of liturgy that is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) service.

The cherry on the cake comes in the shape of the location this took place in - and I have to say that the chapel dedicated to St George in Tamworth's Parish church is one of the most lovely and sacred spots of all that I might have been able to do this service in.

Between Burne-Jones' 'Days of Creation - the Patriarchs and Prophets - and St Christopher (all dedicated to Sir Robert Peel) and the joy of knowing that one faithful member of the church would rejoice that the candlesticks and cross were back where they belonged - it was a splendid start to what was destined to be a wonderfully blessed and restful day.