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  • Eh?

    Sign seen in the place where this evening's service was held:




    So how do you read it?

    a) A person from China overcooks the evening meal?

    b) Some obscure ceremony whereby those attending the evneing meal are subjected to a 'chinese burn'

    c) A combined Burns Supper and Chinese New Year celebration?


    It was, as we all undoubtedly guessed, (c) but I'm afraid (b) came to my mind, and when I pointed out the potential confusion to someone they thought I meant (a).

    As the saying goes, 'what does it say, how do you read it?'

  • God is not...

    One of the ways we thought about referring to God this morning was using the 'via negativa' (not the same one as the apophatic tradition I don't think) that says 'God is not'... so, immortal, invisible, not resting, not hasting, etc.  not enough time to move on to complexities such as mutability or passibility, but still.

    Along the way, I said, very unoriginally, God is not a man, God is not white, God does not have a beard, God does not wear a long white dress, God does not sit on a cloud.  Evidently this reminded one of my congregation of a cheesy little song, for which they sent me a You Tube link.  Enjoy... or endure...

    Thanks H; it made me chuckle anyway... and think a bit too

  • First Sunday in Lent

    Today's readings are:

    Genesis 9:8-17
    Psalm 25:1-10
    1 Peter 3:18-22
    Mark 1:9-15

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gospel reading for today is a scene setter... the Baptism of Jesus and his subsequent sojourn in the wilderness, all recorded in Mark's zap-pow minimalist fashion... no stones to bread, no bow down to me, no jump off the Temple, just wild beasts and angels.  Had we only ever had this one gospel, our view of the wilderness temptations would have been less narrow, we would not have assumed that in forty days only three ideas popped unbidden into Jesus' mind.  We would be more open the diversity that being 'tempted in every way as we are but without sin' might mean.

    The Psalm I've already commented on, and the Genesis passage takes us to the covenant with Noah after the flood (ding ding another 'forty days' or'very long time') but it is the 1 Peter that draws my attention:

    For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you -not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3: 18 - 22 NRSV)

    This passage ought to shock us.  it seems that the writer tells us that after the death of Jesus, Christ went and proclaimed to the 'spirits in prison' by which we presumably mean 'hell', those who in the former times (viz, life) had not obeyed God.   So what did Christ proclaim?  "Ha, ha, see now you burn for all eternity?"  No.  I think not.  Paul Fiddes in his writing on atonement theology speaks of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, and asks something along the lines of, is there any crevasse too deep into which the shepherd will not descend to rescue his lost sheep?  The traditional doctrine (?) of the 'harrowing of hell' seems to follow a broadly similar logic... that the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection symbolise Christ's descent into hell to rescue whoever was there.  Now, any or all of these might be good or bad theology, none the less, we are told, it seems, that it is not good enough to say that those who have not professed faith in Christ at the time of their death will burn for eternity, or simply be annihilated, depending on what stance you prefer.  Nor does it allow us to adopt a simplistic universalism that says there is no hell, no potential of separation from God, even fleetingly.  A good friend of mine expresses a conviction that as we pass through the gate between life and death, as we come face to face with God, we will be so overwhelmed with the love of God that we will be incapable of wanting any other.  I like that idea.  Some people conclude there is no hell... I wouldn't go that far, since I need a 'dumping ground' for evil... the essence thereof, not those somehow imprisoned by its thrall.

    So there you go, all very complicated for a Sunday morning brain dump, and not very 'spiritual' at all.  Hidden in this passage is , however, a lovely little phrase..."God waited patiently..." and prompts me to prayer.

    Patient God,

    Not rushing us to instant decisions

    Not demanding we say yes' or 'no'

    Without careful, even prayerful, consideration

    You wait

    For us

    With us

    Never ever giving up on us

    (Not that 'ever' or 'never' are categories that mean anything to you)


    Scripture tell us it is your will that none be lost

    Scripture tells us Christ proclaimed to those in chains...

    A suggestion of a second chance

    Even after our theologising says it might be too late


    Lord, teach me this patience

    Patience that does not seek immediate responses

    Patience that does not confuse long-term with eternal

    Patience that waits with you

    For your will...

    that none be lost...

    that the captives be freed...

    that the hungry are fed...

    that the blind see and the lame dance...

    that the Kingdom of Shalom come on earth as in heaven...

    To be done.

  • Lent Reflection (4)

    Psalm 25 (again!)

    Psalm 32

    Matthew 9:2 - 13


    Unsurprisingly, sin, confession and forgiveness continue to be the themes threading through today's readings. 

    Psalm 32 takes me back to another 1980s worship song :

    This is a song that has, at various points meant a lot to me... most recently I recall singing it to myself in the wee small hours when St Eroid induced insomnia fuelled my anxieties... and it links a teeny bit with where tomorrow's sermon goes (though I'm not telling you how!).

    But for all I love the (re-)assurance of the psalms/song it is the gospel reading that strikes me most profoundly, not least because of where the lectionary compilers have chosen to start/end it:

    And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
    Then some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming."
    But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?   For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"- he then said to the paralytic -"Stand up, take your bed and go to your home."
    And he stood up and went to his home.

    When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.  As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.  And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Matthew 9; 2 - 13 NRSV

    This ought to be a pretty shocking reading... a northern rabbi claiming divine power to forgive sin, a tax-gatherer abandoning his career to go with him and the two of them (plus others) heading off to eat dinner with people who sinned.  It is the last sentence, the sting in the tale, that strikes me... go and learn what it means that mercy is more important than sacrifice... a right heart trumps right religious practices.  That's all... just mercy over judgement.  Just the recognition of our own need of God's mercy leading us to be merciful to others. 

    This week I have seen/heard some strong judgements being passed and have felt uncomfortable because on the one hand I am called to be merciful and on the other I want to challenge what is said.  This week I have recognised again within myself imperfection and partiality... how much easier to be merciful and gracious to people who are gracious and merciful.  This week I have pondered afresh how sometimes it is kinder to be tough than gentle.  "Go and learn what this means..." that feels like a life-time challenge.


    Go and learn what this means...

    'I desire mercy not scarfice'


    What is this mercy Lord?

    What does it mean?

    It can't mean that I never challenge what seems to be wrong in the world...

    But perhaps it means I recognise my own propensity to sin

    Perhaps it means I recognise the partiality of my own heart

    Perhaps it means I recognise my complicity in corporate sin

    Of the church

    Of my nation

    Of all humankind


    What is this mercy Lord?

    What does it mean?

    How do I remove the log from my own eye

    Rather than spotting the speck of dust in another's?

    How do I overcome the temptation to throw stones

    Forgetting I live in house of glass?

    How do I discover the complex interplay of




    Merciful responding?


    Not sacrifice

    Not the offering of money or time

    Not the shedding of blood

    Not the perfection of religious ritual


    Be merciful because God is merciful


    In the place where I live..

    In the place where I work...

    In the land I call home...

    In the world of which I am part...

    Lord, show me the way of mercy

    Show me the way of grace

    And lead me onwards, with you



  • Work Your Proper Hours Day?

    Apparently today is the day when, on average, we complete our unpaid overtime hours for the year and start getting paid for what we do!  I'm never quite sure what it means in relation to ministers who have no fixed hours to work, can always do something else useful and have some of the least flexible deadlines possible (imagine turning up on Sunday and saying, sorry no sermon I didn't get it done this week...).  My 'job' is immensely privileged in ways that money cannot buy, but I could also work 24/7/365 if I wasn't careful.

    If you follow this link you can do a little fun quiz to discover your own approach.  Evidently my predominant result is:

    I found that I'm working in Office Zen at the Work Your Proper Hours Day website

    As my mother would say... "and the band played 'believe it if you like'"  (Also some signs of 'work den' and 'chaos engine room')