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  • The End?

    Suddenly it seems that everyone is preaching or thinking about eschatology - I've even been guilty myself, talking about history and eschatology.  So why is that and what are we trying to get from it?

    Telos - 'end' - can mean 'finish,' as in termination, but it can also mean 'aim' as in goal or target.  This filters through into how we understand teleology and eschatology - is it "now", "not yet" or "now and not yet" or what?

    Today I was preaching for World Leprosy Day.  We had reached our goal of raising enough money to pay for a TLM sponsored house for a leprosy affected family (£360), so there was cause for rejoicing.  We used the slides supplied by TLM which focussed on past, present and future, and I then used the three supplied readings - Leviticus 13: 45 - 46, Matthew 8:1 - 4, Revelation 21:1 - 4.  These readings have a past-present-future feel to them too.  From a primitive past when isolation and exclusion were the only effective means of controlling infection, through Jesus' day when practical wisdom had become a means of social exclsuion, stigma and taboo, and on to a day yet to come when infectious diseases and their consequences will be no more.  I drew parallels with our own times, asking what illnesses or conditions function as leprosy (from the isolation of MRSA affected hospital patients, to taboos about mentioning cancer, to rejection and stigma associated with mental health issues, addiction and so on).  I encouraged people to be like Jesus, to be like TLM, and ignore or break the taboos that isolate, enslave or stigmatise people, even in our own fellowship.  I pointed to the vision of a day when all this would be no more, but fought shy of expressing a view on whether that was this world or the next!

    I did speak of TLM as an incarnational mission - a lived expression of faith and of eschatological hope (though not in those words!).  I did say that we are called to be incarnational - the 'body of Christ in this place.'  This makes me wonder if I am advocating some sort of 'inaugurated realised eschatology' (thank Kez for the phrase) or 'futurist realised eschatology' (which I got from reading about theology of history).  In other words, that the Kingdom of God (or Christ) is come on earth but is still inbreaking and will only find its fulfillment at the eschaton - the 'end.'  In such a model, the work of TLM is 'hastening the day' by its work to eradicate leprosy and its effects.

    This is not about salvation by works (that none may boast, as Paul would say) but about faith working a holism of salvation that extends to practical as well as spiritual matters.

    If this is so - and I'm making this up as I type - then the end, as in goal, and the end, as in finish, become one and the same.  Whether God will wind up time in a flash or whether we will simply slide into eternity only God knows.  What I do know is that I think that TLMs work to eradicate leprosy and make itself redundant at some future date is a fantastic example to the rest of us.

  • Minnows Making a Difference


    Proud Havant fans fill the away stand at Liverpool 

     (Picture from BBC sport here)

    I don't follow football, don't understand it, don't desire to, and fail to understand why such vast sums of money are expended to employ gorwn men to let off steam, but there you go, that's just me.  If pressed to select a team to ally with it'll either be Spurs because that's where I was born, and at least they're Premiership so it's not three embarrassing, or Northampton Town because that's where I grew up and they still hold the record for being the only team to go 'up in three seasons, down in three seasons' in the relatively old days of four divisions numbered thus.  But yesterday I have to confess to having been a smidgeon interested in Havant & Waterlooville taking on Liverpool at Anfield, to having been very pleased the minnows took the lead twice, and to being fascinated by the impact this match had on players and hard nosed sports commentators alike.

    Before the match the commentators had, it felt, written off the visitors, slightly patronised the manager by asking him how excited he was to be at Anfield, and were showing it only because it appeals to our British love of the underdog.  Afterwards they were fullsome in their praise of what had been an exciting match, of the very best of British footballing culture - inclduing swapping shirts and a standing ovation for Havant & Waterlooville.

    So they went out of the cup, but they made a difference along the way.  Few enough full time professionals get to score at Anfield, never mind take the lead twice in one game.

    I still have almost zero interest in the beautiful game but as a parable of what happens when minnows refuse to be cowed by the mighty, how losing is really winning, and how you make a difference by being yourself, I am well impressed by it.


  • And another one!

    I also have to preach at the Women's World Day of Prayer in March.  This year the principal reading is the Lukan story of Mary and Martha.  Flicking through my Bible the other day, I noticed that this story lies sandwiched between the Good Samaritan and the Lord's Prayer.  So why locate it there?  The Sunday School answer is based on chronology, and that may be true, but I was fascinated to discover this (I'm well slow on the uptake, me!).

    Last year, in my Mary & Martha trilogy sermon, I'd noted that this encounter occurs after the Good Samaritan story, and that the original readers having just been told about neighbourliness might have been a tad shocked when Martha emerged as making a lesser choice by being busy offering practical service.  Now I am trying to work out how they might have reacted to this next bit about prayer... really fascinating.

    Maybe if I take it as a slightly bigger whole, I get a sense of spritual and practical in balance?  Not quite sure what I'll preach yet, but another new insight on a Saturday night!


  • John 8 and Ash Wednesday

    Tonight my local vicar rang and asked me to preach on Ash Wednesday.  He said I could change the gospel if it didn't fit what I wanted to preach about as a 'way in' to the Lent Course or I cuold use the set reading.  This year we are going to be using Life Calling from Church House publishing, an exploration of vocation.

    I was reluctant to change the gospel reading if everything else is bog stnadard lectionary - it wouldn't make a whole heap of sense.  Having checked the two offerings, I opted for John 8 (the woman 'caught in the very act of adultery') and am contemplating possibly doing a sermon in two parts - part narrative/enactment from her perspective, and part traditional and in relationship to calling.  After all this woman was called to account by the powers that be and then called on to a new way of living by Jesus.  Whether I'll quite have the timerity to do an 'enacted' first half, I'm not sure, though if it worked it could be very powerful.

    I just went back and read what the Bible actually says - always a good idea - and realised how I've spent a lifetime locating this incident in the wrong setting.  So, I suspect, have many people I know.

    In my mind's eye, this event takes place in open countryside where the audience is essentially the men dragging this woman before Jesus.  (Sound effect meaning you got that wrong).  What the gospel says is Jesus went to the Mount of Olive then to the Temple where he sat down to teach people.  Enter angry mob with terrified woman.  A very different scenario.

    I then found myself imagining the Ash Wednesday service or the upcoming Lent studies... there we all are in church, just getting to a really holy bit when a few highly respected church officials barge in dragging with them some poor unfortunate caught in the act of some contemporary moral crime (adultery or otherwise).  How would we react?  How would I react if I was leading the service or leading the study?

    Of course, the Temple environs were nothing like a twenty-first century church, and the general impact of a few more folk, albeit angry ones, arriving would have been very different.  But it did make me think.  Some folk had gathered to listen to Jesus, maybe had come specially and were really eager to hear what he had to say.  How did they feel about what happened?  What impact did the events have on their lives?

    Having realised this, I can't unrealise it, can't go back to my rural image, so I have to begin again to think through this story.  I'd still like to try the sermon in two parts, because actually I now think that it is quite important to note that this event occurred on officially holy territory - and ask myself, and others, what that has to say about our conduct when we are in our holy huddles.

    Thanks God for stirring me out of complacency - yet again!

  • Readers, audiences, implication, imagination...

    **** RESEARCH WARNING **** 


    **** RESEARCH WARNING ****

    I have just been responding to some comments on something I wrote about implied readers - fair critIcisms of what I'd done but not stuff which made me back off totally, because now I've done a bit more reading I know there is a whole range of these unreal readers - implied, ideal, constructed, imagined, single, plural, targetted and so on.  As I typed my reply, I was conscious that I was constructing a reader for my answer, inferring certain characterstics of him/them (two real, male readers) and of myself as the writer/narrator.

    This is the trouble isn't it - you start thinking about something and it takes off on its own.

    Who is the implied/imagined/constructed reader of this blog?  Who is the implied/constructed/imagined writer?  How close is either to reality, and what is that anyway?  Aaargh, I think I need to go and lie down in a darkened room!!