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  • Lost in Translation?

    Today I've been writing my 'John's Portrait of Jesus' sermon, which uses as its its jumping off point the prologue to the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1 - 18).  I had a lovely time playing with my commenatries and even my Greek Testment, discovering the way in which the word 'word' might have been understood all those years ago and how God's word 'does what it says' in Genesis 1 (not sure I'd ever quite grasped that before (no this is not a myth/literal debate, just the idea that a word did more than simply express a thought)).

    I had a lovely time finding all the seven signs and (re-)discovering that with one exception (healing the man born blind) they were done without contact, five being by command and the other (walking on water) involving an unpredicated ego eimi (woo, she knows the phrases!).  The power of word as doing what it says shines through.  I'd never before thought about why John doesn't have Jesus making the same physical contact that say, Luke, does with sick and dead people, or even bread, but now I get it (I think).

    I got all excited, then I thought about my congregation and realised that I was incapable of expressing this in words - not because they are dense but because it's all a bit technical and far away from their experience.  Then a moment of revelation (hee hee, good Johannine theme) - I have to incarnate what I want to share: the excitement of the word becoming flesh and revealing the glory of God is something I have to try to 'be' on Sunday.

    When I was training, one of my tutors after coming to see me preach comented that I was very serious and never smiled - not the person they were used to seeing in college at all.  Well, there were reasons... Anyway, they also said - and it has obviously stuck with me - that I am the face of Jesus people see on a Sunday.  This is part of what I want to get across this Sunday, that (in the words of Paul) "you are the body of Christ" and the word needs to be lived daily so that people we meet may encounter Christ in us.

    I don't think the sermon as written is my greatest ever - it has been a slog - but I pray that my excitement at discovering more of the riches of this gospel (which, let's face it isn't my favourite) and another bit of support for James 2:26b will not get lost in translation.

  • More Biblical...?

    Yesterday I used my narrative sermon based on Luke 14, which seemed to be fairly well received.  For some reason the whole service only lasted 50 minutes (less songs?  shorter prayers?  less interaction in the 'introduction to theme' bit?) so I suggested that people take the opportunity to have a longer chat with each other, and share a little more deeply before rushing off home.

    As usual, feedback was nothing and not a lot, but one person said they thought that the sermon was more 'Biblcial' than usual.  I asked if they meant that its style was more like the Bible - i.e. a story - but they said no, then failed really to explain why they thought this.

    I am intrigued, because the basic preparation, and my perceived level of hermeneutics (interpretation) and exposition (explaining), was no different from usual.  Was it that the style obscured this - that it was the 'character' rather than me who did (apparently) the interpretting and applying?

    I wonder what a 'Biblical' approach to a sermon might be?  To sit down, as a first century rabbi would have done, rather than to stand?  To stir up mutterings in the hearers, as Jesus did?  (Though of course "he read it lovely" as they'd say round here).  To begin 'thus says the LORD' in the style of the prophets?

    I'm not sure I have any answers, but it's nice to get compliments, however obscure they may be!

  • The Mysterious Incident of the Boy from my Class...

    A couple of years back, a friend lent me 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time', and I recall noting the name of the author and thinking, how curious, there was someone of that name in my class for two years at primary school (the third primary school I went to, we moved house twice in six years) and thought no more about it.

    Now he has another book out, 'A Spot of Bother' so I decided to check him out via Google - and discovered that he was none other than the person I sat opposite for two years.

    I very much doubt he remembers me, but I can (smugly!) remember beating him in practically every subject - the obvious exception being English Composition, I was always better at writing 'fact' than 'fiction' - though he was one of the people who gave me a run for my money, so to speak.

    So, I've just ordered his latest offering from Amazon.  Ah, but I remember him when he wore short trousers, played the recorder, 'worked' in the school bank, and had his poems published alongside mine in the Eldean Eye (annual school magazine).  Nostalgia!!

  • Glamourous Religion?

    Having our services in the afternoon makes Sunday morngins quite strange.  Often I end up doing church work but summer means life is less busy and Iget to blob around a bit.  Some channel surfing picked up a fascinating conversation that drew me infor a few minutes.  It was E4's 'Big Brother Live' and a couple of people were having a discussion about religion (not a clue what their names were, I don't watch it) one turned out to be a nonpractising Jew from Finchley the other a stripper from Wales.

    The conversation was about strands of Judaism, respectfully explained by the Jew, who said 'I'm sure all religions have their own magic' - interesting comment - who clearly had a good overview knwoledge of world faiths and traditions within them.  The other person then said, 'I'd like to be Jewish, I think its a really glamourous religion."

    This made the temperature of the 25% of my blood that is semitic rise more than somewhat, but the Jew just smiled and said, really? before going on to explain how she might go about finding our more about what was involved in converting.

    I was not impressed by the idea of Judasim (or any faith) as being glamourous.  Was this person really unaware of the 6 million Jews killed in the Shoah?  Was she really so unaware of the difference between culture and faith?  To be fair to her, she appeared quite genuine in her questioning and her comments, if maybe not thought through, were authentic.  Overall it was a positive experience to watch - if interrupted by the bird song they seem to have to play every few seconds.  This was a deeply respectful conversation between two people about questions of faith, culture and lifestyle.  The questioner even felt safe enough to ask if being a stripper would matter, and received a gentle, respectful answer.

    I'm not a great fan of these reality shows that seem to thrive on showing people arguing, getting drunk or engaging in sexual activities, but to eaves drop on this little conversation felt like a privilege.  It also gave me an insight into the way that one person, at least, perceives religion, not as matters of faith but as attractive or otherwise cultures.

    A bit more channel surfing took me to a discussion about the mooted Mega-Mosque (seating at least 12,000) which was far less respectful, though its participants were all very knowledgeable.  I had to smile at the idea expressed by one person that building a mosque four (or more) times the size of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral (the largest Christian place of worship in the UK at 3k seats) was about triumphalism - doesn't he know that that's always been the case with churches and cathedrals - taller spires, more seats, more ornate decoration, etc.... Even dear old Dibley had a Baptist chapel for 600 (thin) Victorians when the population was never, ever going to sustain that.

    Now, back to the unglamourous business of getting ready for this afternoon's service...

  • Echoes of the Past

    Yesterday I discovered that via the university library I could access a fair number of eighteenth century documents electronically.  What I like about the ECCO is that it does fuzzy searches - probably because spellings vary so much back then (three spellings of the same place name in one document I looked at) but it is so much better than the usual non-fuzzy searches in library catalogues.  Can we now also have seventeenth and nineteenth century equivalents please (a 1% cut on profits would do as a fee for suggesting this...!).

    Anyway, tracking down my own congregation in old documents was quite fun.  And nothing, it seems, changes very much.  New Connexion Minutes...

    1798 for a certain, no longer formally Baptist but still extant, church reads (spelling changed here to 21st century English)...


    "We have erected a new meeting house at [Dibley] which cost more than £300.  We have about £100 to pay; towards the raising of this we must crave the assistance of our sister churches.  Further particulars will be laid before those who encourage us to apply.  Two reasons we just mention here, viz, 1st our old house was too small; and so ill constructed that it could not well be enlarged. 2. our burying-ground was also too small: we had not room to bury our dead.  To which we may add a third reason, the additional was proffered to be given, provided we would erect a new meeting house thereon.  State of religion sadly below the primitive standard, yet we hope we still enjoy the presence of Christ.  Oh! for love to God, and to each other; and zeal for every part of divine truth.


    1800, same church ends...


    NB [this] church is divided since the last Association, and has parted with about an hundred members (among whom are several of our most affluent and active) who are now connected together under the name of General Baptist Church at [Dibley].  Mr Orton pastor


    Interestingly, the same entry records that service times are usually 2 p.m., 'save ordinance day' when it was 10:30 and they had a church meeting on the third Sunday of the month.  Even after Dibley separated, the parent church preached at six other places.  Speaking for themselves for the first time, Dibley said...


    We are comfortable, well united, and trust the work of the Lord prospers in our hands; we preach at four places, and in general, are well attended with hearers at them all.


    They were not shy, and brought a question to the Assembly...


    We having separated from [-] church, upon certain conditions proposed and agreed to by us and to them when we were united in one Church; desire to know the opinion of this Association, whether either Church has a right, without consent of the other, to recede from, or alter those agreements, ratified by both, when we were united in one Church.


    The answer was one word  - 'No.'  It sounds fair enough, but two centuries on a tiny charity continues to pay each church around £6 per year.  We'd happily wind up the charity, but they, bless them, won't.


    So there we are, grotty buildings, precarious finances, feeling comfortable and not seen as ever so spiritual - not a lot's changed!