Thought for the month
In his final speech as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that the task of the church is to preach ‘with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other’. So taking him at his word, I am going to interweave what we find in today’s Bible readings with what we have seen in this week’s newspapers.
So let’s see what happens:
Abraham looked up and saw three needy strangers standing nearby. “Quick,” he said to his wife, “get three bags of the finest flour and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf, had it cooked and served it to the strangers. (Genesis 18)
A soup kitchen has spontaneously popped up in the heart of the Borough of Kensington to feed all those who have lost everything in the Grenfell Tower fire. Countless people have come from near and far bringing clothing, shoes, bedding, offering a bed for the night, toys for the kids, a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.
Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3b–4)
People of every tribe and nation, race and language are pulling together and putting their differences aside to bring good out of the most awful adversity. The word on the street is of new life rising up from the ashes.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, lost like sheep without a shepherd.
The tensions that have built up between Muslims and ordinary Londoners has given way to common expressions of humanity.
These are the people Jesus called as apostles: Simon, Andrew; James and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.
These are the people who came to help: Firefighters and ambulance crews; paramedics and nurses. Refugees and asylum seekers; People who voted Tory, Labour and UKIP; People with mental health issues and addictions; people not at all like us and people every bit like us. People who put their differences aside to do what needed to be done.
At the end of the day, as the American priest Dan Berrigan used to say: ‘Faith is seldom where your head is. Nor is it even where your heart is. Faith is where your ass is.’
Faith is not about sorting everything out in our heads and getting our thinking right about God. That’s called theology!
Nor is faith about chasing warm fuzzy feelings about God in our hearts. That’s called devotion.
Faith is about rolling our sleeves up, getting our hands dirty and mucking in to repair the mess of the world that God loves so much. And that’s called action!
Rowan Williams may well have retired as Archbishop of Canterbury but his challenge remains. With the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, will we bring God’s vision to bear on the atrocities of everyday life, or will we dismiss Rowan’s challenge as ‘pulpit banter’, tuck in the ribbons, zip up our Bibles, and do all that we can to make sure the good news of the gospel doesn’t escape between now and next Sunday?
If like me your answer is ‘No’ then: May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers and half-truths. May God bless you with tears for those who suffer pain and rejection. But above all, may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference, do what others claim cannot be done and in so doing, bring good news to all who need it now, more than ever. Amen.
Sermon preached at Rosyth on 18 June 2017
by Rev Dr Michael Paterson (email@example.com)
The feast of Pentecost celebrates the disciples’ experience of the Holy Spirit. A lot of people describe that moment as the birth of the Church. It’s a strange story full of images that are hard to imagine and ideas that are even harder to grasp. I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t over-complicate it, though, and if a normal use of the word ‘spirit’ wouldn’t cover what we mean. The Bible says that God ‘is love’, and perhaps that’s all we need to know about this awesome moment. God pours out the essence or spirit of himself upon a group of very unhappy men and women, and that changes everything for them.
One of the Resurrection stories tells of Jesus breathing on his disciples so that they can receive the Holy Spirit. You have to pretty close to someone to feel their breath, as close as a mother to her child or perhaps two lovers to one another. To get close to God, so close that you can ‘feel God’s breath’, is a powerful image of the intimacy that is at the heart of a message about God’s involvement in the world. God need not be a distant creator or a stern moral authority, but may be as close as the air we breathe, and with the gentleness of a breath able to pour His Spirit into us, filling us with love that drives out fear and helps us become the people we’re designed to be.
Spirit of God, as gentle as a breath of air, as powerful as a stormy wind, fill us and shape us today with Your love. Where we are afraid encourage, where weary refresh, where deflated fill us with the hope that love is at the heart of all things, and all things will come together in Your love. Amen.
The Prayer for the Day by Mark Wakelin broadcast on Radio 4 on 22 May 2010:
treat yourself to a copy of the PftD Volume 2 anthology (ISBN 978-1-78028-966-3)
One of the most extraordinary passages in the Bible tells the story of Christ’s goodbye, which we call the Ascension:
“While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshipping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.”
It was the last time the apostles would see Jesus. They had experienced the utter catastrophe of His death, followed within days by the triumph of His resurrection. Later, He left them. Instead of the sadness we might expect after His final farewell, they were exuberant and went back to Jerusalem. What an extraordinary reaction. Jesus had gone, Jerusalem was fraught with danger, yet they seemed brimful with confidence.
Ringing in their ears was His repeated teaching about the Kingdom of God and the commission to preach forgiveness of sins throughout the world, beginning at Jerusalem. They were to wait there until they were “clothed with power from on high.” Far from feeling abandoned, they were full of hope and eager to be equipped for their vocation. They and the Christian community would represent Christ on earth, as He represented them in heaven, “seated at the right hand of the Father”, in the words of the Creed.
All this is temporary. God has not planned the world to remain in its present state in perpetuity. Our particular era may seem to be particularly grim, but it is but one strand in human history and we are no more distinctive than any other generation. Although the world as it is seems to be lasting a long time, we are living in what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews calls ‘the final age’. We are to anticipate a finale, when Christ’s rule will be apparent to all. There’s an Old Testament proverb which is particularly apt: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Isn’t that exactly what we hope for every time we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as in heaven?
The Archbishop of Canterbury and others are prompting us to join in a global ‘wave of prayer’ between Ascension and Pentecost (25 May to 4 June), concentrating on “Your Kingdom Come”. That will make us usurpers, praying for God’s Kingdom to displace all others! It will also make us one with Christ.
Editorial from the magazine of Upper Holloway Baptist Church
More about the prayer initiative at this link.