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  • To See as God Sees

    Matthew 25 with its 'whatever you did (or failed to do) for the least of these, you did (or failed to do) for me' is one of the most significant influences on my understanding of ministry.  Trying to see Christ in others, to do for them as I would wish to do for Christ is not always easy.

    How do we see, as God sees...

    • The person with mental health issues who invades our personal space and insists on touching us
    • The dogmatic fundamentalist who aggressivley tells us we are wrong, and who picks squabbles with anyone who challenges her
    • The frail old man who smells of stale urine and whose speech is slurred
    • The person with learning disabilities who sprays us with crumbs as he speaks with a mouth full of half chewed bread
    • The 'aggressive' beggar who sits on the pavement and asks for money
    • The feuding neighbours who shout loud and long over perceived offence

    How do we spot Jesus, word made flesh, in our village/town/city?

    How do others spot Christ in us?

    How are we the unlovely person whom God loved so much he sent his only son?

    Much to ponder, I feel.


  • Divine Borrowing

    Among my better loved Christmas carols is 'Born in the night, Mary's child' which speaks of birth in a borrowed room and burial in a borrowed tomb.  I like the concept of 'borrowing' in relation to Jesus, the itinerant who seems to have owned very little.  Indeed, the concept of 'borrowing' really extends from 'womb to tomb'... or does it?  If God created everything, then everything belongs to God anyway, and so God has 'divine right' to employ anything and everything.  But God has entrusted creation to humans, has somehow let go of that right without abdicating responsibility for it.  Which is why Jesus came, why Mary's womb, the Bethlehem stable, various rooms and boats, Simon of Cyrene's strength and Joseph of Arimathea's tomb (to name but a few) were borrowed, and employed, in Christ's service.  To borrow what you have made and surely, de facto, own is a mysterious concept indeed.

    Yet there is something very beautiful about it too - that God would allow us to lend or even to give, by dint of our own choice or obedience, those things that to us are 'ours.'  Mary gave that which which was most precious - not only her body (as if that weren't enough) but potentially her marriage, her reputation and her life; Joseph of Arimathea wasn't so far behind really - his final resting place, his credibility among the religious leaders, his own reputation.  Mind blowing.

    Another of my favourite carols is the much maligned 'In the Bleak Midwinter' with its final verse, 'what can I give him... give my heart.'  God does not simply snatch from us, God gives us opportunities to lend or to give.  All this is too big for me to get my mind around, and this is hardly a carefully considered post, there is no great pondering behind it, but to respond to God's call to employ what we have been entrusted in the service of the Gospel is, it seems, privilege indeed.

  • Divine Stupidity

    Last night I found myself pondering, as I often do at this time of year, why God chose to enter our experience as a human baby, no, actually as a human embryo, forming in the hiddenness of a peasants girl's womb in a culture that would most probably shame her, and in extremis execute her.  Why would God choose pregnancy, inherently risky - in our own country and time something like 10% of pregnancies fail within the first month - and so utterly ordinary?  Why would God do this at a time that meant the young girl, late in her pregnancy, would have to undertake a journey of some eighty miles on foot - afterall no twenty-first century travel company would have permitted her to travel.  Why would God not ensure there was a guest room waiting when they arrived?  Why would God alert a group of, undoubtedly grubby and possibly grumpy, shepherds out watching sheep?  Why would God drop hints to foreign 'pagans' that would lead them to abandon their homes and travel hundreds of miles to make sense of it all?  Why didn't God give them a map or a sat-nav rather than let them go to see Herod?  Why did so much conspire to make the miracle fail and yet it happened?

    Often we have a too-clean Christmas story.  We marvel at how God protected his Son, supplying just-in-time somewhere to stay or an escape route to Egypt (with a whole new set of 'why' questions to ask) rather than marvelling at why God would do something so utterly stupid in the first place.  The potential for failure was enormous - and it isn't helpful to picture God stepping in every time it could have failed and making it all perfectly alright.

    The apostle Paul asserts that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdow, which gives me confidence to say that what God did was stupid without fearing a thunderbolt from on high.  The incarnation is a miracle, let's not ever suggest otherwise, and part of that miracle is the very craziness of God in choosing a plan that could, at least humanly speaking, have failed even before it began.

    So, as once more my mind is blown by the God who has the audacity to usher in the Kingdom simply by being conceived in a borrowed womb (more on borrowing in the next post), I stand in awe of Divine Stupidity.

  • Praying in Advent

    IMG_0582.JPGOn Sunday morning I 'did one of my things' whereby I invited people to write, draw or symbolise their prayers for others (or for themselves) on the back of a sparkly gift tag shaped like a tree decoration (I got mine in Wilkinson's in Dibley on my flying visit a couple of weeks back but I'm sure they can be procured pretty much anywhere) and then to come forward, if they so wished, and add their prayer to the church Christmas tree.  Whilst this took place we sang over and over the Taize chant 'In the Lord I'll be ever thankful.'

    I was thrilled with how many people took part in this act of worship, and how varied and lovely the prayers - the invitation to draw or symbolise prayers is always amazingly liberating for people who are shy of speaking them out, even in writing.  One person commented to me how lovely it was to see the prayers of God's people on the tree.  And the tree does look rather beautiful, I have to admit (despite me almost knocking it over this morning as I moved it to take the photo!).

    In a couple of hours we will hold our final Advent prayer lunch, when folk will gather to share a short time of guided reflection and prayer before sharing soup, bread and cheese and donating to Christian Aid.  I have loved every moment of this, as I used to 'down south', from preparing the liturgy to setting out the room and buying the bread.  Michel Quoist, the French worker priest observed that the whole of life could be a prayer - which is as well when I am rushing hither, thither and yon seeking to make ready for a space for stillness (superb irony, eh?).

    Today our reading is the mysterious and beautiful prologue to the fourth gospel, as we ponder the miracle of the incarnation.  Whilst buying the bread this morning, I decided to treat us all to some festive biscuits - but the posh supermarket is a bit limited in this respect, so we ended up with a selection of cinnamon, chocolate and oatmeal 'people-shaped' biscuits.  It seems somehow apposite that as we ponder word made flesh we will munch non-gingerbread men.  Just hope there are no high sacramentalists present...!


  • 'Ten Things' Some Thoughts

    Recently a number of people at church have been reading John Bell's 'Ten Things They never Told Me About Jesus' and commenting on how refreshing it is.  I have just read it.  It's a really easy read and I guess what struck me most was that whilst it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, I have rarely heard anyone outside of a theology class speak about any of it.  So why is that?  Why do we who have been privileged to spend time really reading the gospels, discovering what first century Israel/Palestine was really like and glimsping new insights then revert to twee Victorian twaddle when we get into the pulpit?  Actually, we don't all, and we don't always.  Some of what he said I have said in sermons; some of it I have heard friends and colleagues say in sermons.  But maybe we need to find creative ways of helping more people to discover for themselves not just these ten things, but how to discover 'more light and truth' from the Scriptures.

    It really shouldn't surprise us to know that Jesus was fully male, had a sense of fun, liked food, got angry with evil and so on; these are things I've known for decades, long before I studied theology, so I was a bit surprised others didn't.  But it is true that there are people aplenty who want to turn him into a feelingless plaster saint: I do recall someone telling me that Jesus on the cross was serene despite clear contradictory evidence in the gospels.

    I think the big thing I gained from reading the book was not what it said, or even how it said it, but the reminder that it is all too easy to collude with untrue or unhelpful understandings of what the scriptures say and to deny others the blessing of learning to read them as 'grown up children' curious and open to discovering new and wonderful things of God.  I think I feel a possible study series coming on!!