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  • An Imperative Invitation? A Light Burden?

    This morning I am preparing for next Sunday's service, which will be built around Isaiah 55 and Matthew 11:28-30.  Reading various commentaries the word 'invitation' is used to describe the 'come' in both passages, but then my more clever commentary reminds me that the 'come' in Matthew is actually an imperative - a command or mandate.  Alas I can't read Hebrew, don't have a Hebrew OT and don't even possess a clever commentary on Isaiah, so I don't know if the 'come' is imperative there.  But I am intrigued - can you have an imperative invitation?  Could you send out cards saying 'come to my party' which actually meant 'I command you to come to my party'?  And if you did, would people still feel at liberty to decline?  Intriguing stuff which I need to think more about, even if I don't pursue it in the sermon.

    One thing I will be picking up is the fact that Jesus is not inviting people to put their feet up and relax, rather with his non-chafing yoke comes a 'light' burden.  Somehow this feels an interesting counterpoint to 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.'  Sometimes I think we see following Jesus as some sort of eternal insurance policy rather than a labour of love and service.  Sometimes I hear too much about burden-free Christianity, which clearly doesn't fit with what is said here.

    In both of the readings it seems to me there is a command invitation to come to the source of refreshment and cleansing followed by an expectation of witness to the nations (Isaiah) or discipleship (which ultimately includes witness) out of which comes freedom, joy, peace and rest.  Well, that's what I intend to say to my people anyway!

    If anyone can shed any light on the Greek or Hebrew verbs and how they relate to the idea of an invitation, I'd love to know your thoughts.

  • Sleepers Awake!

    When I first started preaching, what feels like a long time ago now (well its about a decade, so I guess it is) I used to preach now and then at a small church in Warrington where the Area Superintendent was in membership (see, it was l-o-n-g time ago, who even remembers such a role now?).  There was an elderly woman who sat towards the front, right in the centre, right in the eye line of the preacher, and as soon as the sermon began she closed her eyes for a 20 minute nap.  It was a known feature of congregational life, almost an in-joke.  For the novice preacher it could have been very off-putting but you could guarantee that towards the rear of the church sat the Super, who smiled encouragingly in all the right places, and there would always be someone who said something about about what you'd said.  For all its limitations, it was place I enjoyed preaching and I am grateful for the encouragement they gave me as I began the path towards ordained ministry.

    Fast forward to 2008, and yesterday's service when I came within an ace of giving up on the sermon!  It was a hot afternoon and maybe my kind offer to allow people to remain seated for most of the songs/hymns was mistaken, because they simply set into a soporific blob.  Sorry, lovely people, but you did.  I have a few sleepers, I know who they are, and usually it doesn't bother me, usually there is some response from someone.  Not so yesterday.  Jacob's two encounters with God formed the basis for the sermon (afterall having worked with the accounts for other acts of worship I might as well share my thoughts) elicited almost zero response.  Twenty years in six pages... zzzz two weddings in a week... zzzz large herds of speckled and spotty goats and sheep.... zzz amazing encounters with God.... zzzz.  Perhaps people just connected too much with Jacob sleeping at Bethel and decided that was for them?!  All I do know is that I left feeling discouraged, and wondered how many other loyal and hardworking ministers and preachers had the same kind of experience not just now and then but week after week?

    Perhaps I am just a very boring preacher, perhaps my congregation need to sleep - but as I start to prepare for next Sunday "come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" I quite sure we will moving around a bit more, if only to keep people awake a bit longer!  It is also tempting to preach total heresy (if I can think of any!) just to see if anyone responds!


  • Freedom of Conscience - Allegedly

    Today's ASBO Jesus offering (which is a great cartoon) has left me troubled, which of course is precisely what it's meant to do, along with informing, amusing and provoking thought.

    A well respected (well the Cof E seem to like him enough to invite him to Lambeth...) Christian cartoonist has had to remove certain posts from his blog, which has sparked a lot of concern in blog world over freedom of speech.  So far as I can tell, from looking at few Google cached versions of the removed web-pages, there is nothing offensive in what they have to say.  If you pick up ASBO's link from above, you can trace through the whole saga and form your own view.

    BBC satire programmes seem to be able to get away with saying pretty outrageous things so long as they use the word 'allegedly' as a covering get-out-clause.  Satire is a long established means of playing with ideas, pushing boundaries a little and sometimes even raising awareness, as seems to have been the intention in the case of the blogger in question.

    Baptists are quite good at asserting our historical thing about freedom of conscience and even like to make a lot of our dissenting history.  But most of us, like me, are actually respectable rule-followers who don't want to take any risks (why else is this post quite carefully worded?!) and avoid conflict at all costs.

    As I have pondered the ASBO post, and the whole thing, I have found myself reminded once more of the verse attributed to Martin Niemoller:

    "First They Came for the Jews"

    First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller


    It is easy to say we believe in religious liberty, in freedom of conscience - and allegedly we do, just so long as it doesn't start costing us either in terms of justice or prophetic witness.  Mea culpa.
  • Sending to Coventry

    Today my wrinklies are off to Coventry - one of my favourite places in the whole world, not that I've seen much of the whole world you understand, but I love spending time in the two cathedrals.  My dad always claimed that Bishop Gorton of Coventry was a relative of ours; I'm not so sure, but he (the bishop, not my dad) was there around the time of destruction and resurrection, so it's a good claim to stake!

    There is an eerie beauty about the bombed out cathedral that refused to die, something powerful about the way that it has been preserved not in aspic but as a living place of quiet, hope and possibility.  There is in the new building a sense of continuity and calm - it doesn't pretend to be an ancient building, is unashamedly of its time and yet has that same cathedral ambience of air heavy with a thousand prayer.  Together with Paddy's Wigwam/Birthday Cake it is a fine example of twentieth century cathedral architecture, and I have been privileged to worship in both.

    It is likely that many of the wrinklies will head for the shopping centres to snap up bargains.  It is likely I'll end up with a little group of unwanted odd-bods to chaperone.  But above all, we'll have a great time of laughter and love, and somewhere, when we're not quite looking, I reckon Jesus may just tag onto our group - I hope so anyway!


    PS Comments relating the Reverends Gorton to building projects are not required!!

  • Newer Hymns Worth Singing

    If you don't have BPW then you won't have this hymn, which I recently discovered and think is worth singing.  If you do, it is number 103 but I don't know the set tune, so I substituted 'Ellers' which is 624 (ii) (are you impressed?  I am!).  Chris Ellis, who wrote it, is currently minister of a church in Nottingham.


    Open this book that we may see your word

    Embodied in the drama of our earth -

    Stories of people that your Spirit stirred,

    Glimpses of hope and visions of new birth.


    Open this book that we may meet the one

    Who came as word-made-flesh for all to see;

    Show us his life, all that was said and done,

    That we might see ourselves as we could be.


    Open our ears that we may hear you still;

    Teach us to live as well as speak your word.

    Open our eyes that we might face your will -

    The word-made-flesh in those who call you 'Lord'.

    (c) Christopher Ellis