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  • Way Out Lent (13) Exodus 28-29

    This pair of chapters is pretty much taken up with the description of the priestly clothing to be made for Aaron (and his successors) to wear when undertaking priestly duties, and of the seven day ritualised ordination of Aaron and his sons.  If the Tabernacle was IKEA, I'm not quite sure what this outift relates to, but the instructions are every bit as complex, detailed and precise.

    The striking aspect of the garments, apart from their function as a "glorious adornment" is their symbolic function, exemplified by the ephod, decorated with twelve stones, each with the name of one of the tribes carefully engraved/inscribed upon it.  Clearly graven writing came in a different category from graven images...


    The twelve stones on the breastplate were to serve as a reminder to the priest, Aaron and his successors, of who it was they were representing.  They could not enter God's presence without carrying close to their hearts, literally and metaphorically, the  twelve tribes of Israel.  The priest needs to remember what it is they are about, that they are the 'bridge', the 'intercessor', the 'go-between' linking earth and heaven, humanity and God.  Never forget who it is you serve/represent and what is entrusted to you.

    Close to the Heart

    The urim and thummim, the dice used for decision making, a practice that seems to us impossibly unreliable, were to be kept close to the priest's heart.  Decisions were serious matters, not simply (even if it may seem so to us) a roll of the dice to determine the fate of another.  There should be a heart element to the decision making, not a cold, callous appraisal and a detatched decision.  A call to love those who come seeking guidance, compassion for and empathy with those whom the priest serves.

    Bells and Pomegranates

    The idea of a deity who needs to be alerted to the arrival of a priest by the jingling of bells is hilarious and bemusing.  The idea that sneaking up on God unwares puts the priest in danger is as terrifying as it is ridiculous.  Yet this, it seems is the primary purpose of the bells.

    It seems crazy, and yet... perhaps there is something about preparing oneself to approach God, about due humility, about taking seriously what is about to be enacted.  Perhaps it is a helpful corrective to the casual, chummy way that prayer and praise are sometimes approached and expressed in our own time... the careless language of extempore prayers that open with phrases such as "... yes 'n' God...".  Perhaps, too, a reminder, were one needed, of the sacred responsibility of intercession, of carrying to God prayers for others and for each other... that this is huge matter.  I am always impressed by the seriousness with which those on our Prayers Rota take this task, the careful choice of words, the pacing of delivery, the selection of topics.

    The purpose of the pomegranates is less clear, but whenever I read this verse, and indeed whenever I preach around Pentecost, I am reminded of words I first heard more than half a lifetime ago thay suggested that the bells and pomegranates could be seen as symbolising the balancing of the 'gifts of the Spirit' with the 'fruit of the Spirit'... the one noisy, the other silent yet each necessary.  I've always felt that was a helpful interpretation, hence why I share it every time it comes to mind!!

    Sacred Vestments

    When I was on my student placement with a Roman Catholic priest, he took me into the Sacristy and showed me the contents of the press where the vestments were stored... chasubles and copes, tabbards, manacles, stoles, and so on.  Thousands of pounds worth of richly decorated garments, colour coded to match the liturgical year, and sized to fit no-one in particular and anyone in general.

    These were not his vestments, aside from some clerical shirts, he had a couple of black cassocks edged in red (he was a Monsignor) and a couple of alb-cassocks (white/off white pull on over the head things).  These vestments belonged to the church and were for the use of whichever priest needed them.  So if Father Paul had a day off and Father John led Mass, the same garments would be worn... and given Father Paul was skinny and Father John tubby, the one size fits all nature of the clothes was clearly demonstrated!!

    Joking aside, there was something important being expressed here, and very different from the practices in Anglican and non-Conformist churches where clergy do robe, and wear vestments created specifically for them.  Check out the websites of any clerical outfitter and you will see the huges range of possibilities.

    In the Roman Catholic tradition, as in ancient Israel, it is the role that attracts the outfit, not the individual.  There are certain roles for which I choose to wear a clerical shirt.  The origins of why I do so are not especially honourable, but in the practices of the Roman Catholic church, and in the robes of Israelite Priests, I find a justifiable and helpful meaning: as I put on the shirt, so I 'put on' the Church, I become a symbolic representative not of myself (though of course who I am shapes everything I do or say) but of 'us', of Body of Christ.  I have no desire to dress up in robes or stoles, see no purpose for them in my own ministry, but as I re-read Exodus, I am reminded that others may legitimately think differently.

    I wonder, what are the symbols, literal or otherwise, that serve to remind what it is I am called to do and to be?  What might form my 'ephod' take, were I to have one?  What might be on yours...?

  • Receiving (5)... Love builds up the other...

    Last week's service, to which I have just listened saw the preacher facing a huge challenge: it was Valentine's Day and it was the first Sunday of Lent, which in the lectionary focusses on the Temptations of Jesus.  Deciding how, if at all, to combine such seemingly disparate themes, is far from easy, and I would have made very different choices had it been me preaching.  There is no one 'right' way to approach such challenges, and only experience of that which doesn't work out, as well as that which does, enables us to find our own way through such challenges.

    So, in reflecting on this sermon I remind myself of my self-imposed guidelines...

    • We come to worship not to be entertained or to be educated but in the hope of encountering God
    • In every service there is a nugget to be found and cherished
    • Love is not selfish but seeks to build up the other

    As the sermon ended, I detected a sense of disappointment, possibly even defeat, in the voice of the preacher - whatever he had hoped and dreamed of, it hadn't worked out and he knew it.  The last thing he needed, the last thing he needs, is criticism.  He had worked hard and dilgently, identifed lots of ideas and tried to make links between the diverse themes of "romantic love" and "temptation" as well as exploring the dangers of proof-texting and what the narrative might suggest about Jesus' nature.

    There were at several great ideas in there, any of which I would love to hear as a sermon in its own right, as each had important stuff to ponder.  And there were important themes that need to be explored, but which could not be adequately handled in the time available.  What follows are some thoughts on the themes/ideas I noted...

    Great Idea No. 1: The Nature of Temptation

    The preacher noted that for something to be a temptation, and not merely a crazy idea, we must first consider it to be credible.  As a result, we won't be tempted to jump off buildings to prove we can fly, but we might be tempted to behave in ways that we hope will make others admire us.  Not rocket science, but I've never actually heard a preacher say it, and certainly not then extend that the temptations Jesus faced... for them to be real temptations, he had to believe them to be credible.

    It was also noted that temptation is rarely blatant but instead is usually subtle, developing over time, as something which is innocuous and even potentially good becomes distorted.  Bread to feed the body is a good thing, but obsession with self-gratification is not.  The slide from feeding hunger/serving need to gluttony/greed/etc can be subtle and pernicious.

    Great Idea No. 2: The Dark Side of Romantic Love

    In what I am sure was a determined effort to link the theme of temptation to Valentine's Day, the preacher spoke about the risks and realities of sexual affairs, often starting out quite innocently but, if unchecked, starying into dangerous territory. 

    It takes courage to speak of such things from the pulpit, and what was said was important.  Unfortunately in the context of the wider sermon, I felt it jarred slightly.

    There are topics that visiting preachers can address that are not so 'easy' for resident preachers, and this might at first sight seem to be one such, but I'm not so sure... who knows what nerves might have been touched and pastoral conversations be needed?

    Great Idea No 3: Gender Justice +/- Gender-based Violence +/- Sexual (and other) Abuse

    One of the things I really admire about this preacher is his unabashed commitment to gender justice.  Almost every sermon he preaches either highlights something good about the women in the narrative or some way in which the church/society needs to learn to treat women better.  With such a passion, there really must be a superb sermon waiting to be 'birthed' and I'd love to hear it.

    He also spoke about sexual abuse and gender-based violence, and the temptation to blame the woman for what she wore or where she was, as if the poor inncoent male could not help himself.  Abuse of power, of relationship, of strength...  the list is endless.

    There is some superb BMS material on this complex topic (including also trafficking, prostituion etc.) that would enhance the knowledge base for such a sermon(s).

    For all that, this is not an area in which I would choose to preach unless I was supremely confident that the necessary support was in place to manage any consequences... every church has among its members women, men and children who have been, or are being, abused physically, sexually or emotionally.  I think, and maybe it's a cop out, that I'd be more likely to explore this via a Bible Study group.

    Great Idea No 4: Use and Abuse of Scripture

    One of the threads in this sermon was around 'knowing the Word', by which usually what was meant was the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  The dangers of proof-texting, of taking verses out of context, the way words change their meaning, the choices made by translators... oodles of avenues to explore, and big questions to ponder about the link between the 'word' spoken by the preacher, the 'Word' which is the scriptures and the 'WORD' revealed in Christ.

    Perhaps it's because I've preached such a sermon that this one appeals to me... a sermon that is more didactic than kerymatic, but one that helps others to recognise and reflect upon their own approach to the texts, hopefully allowing fresh insights to be uncovered.

    Great idea No 5: The Temptations of Christ

    There was an interesting, if not fully explored, idea around the three temptations recorded.  The first (bread) was related to Jesus' humanity, that it was clearly right to meet his material needs.  The second (power) to his divinity: clearly all creation should be at his feet.  The third to his relationship with YHWH/God: surely if God had sent him, God would save him.  These were, all to fleetingly, brought into conversation with aspects of the gospels, miracles, healings and ultimately the crucifixion.

    I sense there was at least one, and potentially three, good sermons here.

    Building Up One Another

    There have been times, and there will continue to be times, when I reach the end of a sermon, my heart sinks and I feel that this has been a 'dog' of a sermon.  The ideas have not been communicated as I'd hoped, the 'feeling' was that people were not engaged or challenged or encouraged... All sorts of reasons.

    All preachers have 'off days' and the best preachers sometimes deliver the 'worst' sermons.

    We have to learn not to judge one another on the basis of performance or novelty or entertainment, and instead to encourage one another to keep on keeping.

    This sermon has given me LOADS to think about, loads of ideas that will perculate in my mind and one day shape a sermon of my own, and that has to be very good.

    Inexperienced preachers tend to try too hard, endeavour to include every idea they have, and cite lots of commentators, if only to demonstrate that they've done the work.  For experienced preachers, sometimes a little blase in preparation, this can be a reminder both of how far we have travelled, and also what we may have lost along the way.

    L, please don't feel demoralised or defeated, I know that this sermon was the product of serious study, earnest prayer and dogged determination.  There was plenty to ponder and I am glad you made me ponder it, if only briefly.  Be encouraged, try to relax just a little, and enjoy continuing to prepare to lead people in worship.


    EDIT Since I posted this it has become clear that at least one person felt I should not have done.  I have made a few alterations here and there, but the post is substantially as it began.  It has been a salutary reminder that words, once spoken cannot simply be retracted, and that no matter what the intent of the author/speaker, it is the reader/hearer who makes meaning of what is communicated.

  • Way Out Lent (12) Exodus 25, 26, 27

    Three chapters again today - once I realised what I was reading it seemd a mite daft to stop part way through.

    Moses, up on the mountain for a very long time, is receiving detailed instructions for the 'flat pack' temple that is to serve as the centre for religious ritual for the foreseeable future.  The level of detail is incredible and allows artists and flim-makers alike to create replicas that almost certainly are a reasonable representation of what is described.

    As I read the description of the tent and its frames, a rather mischievous thought came to my head of this as an IKEA product... read the numers of loops and fastenings, pegs and poles and you may see what I mean!  Almost more scary is this model making kit than can be purchased.

    To what purpose this waste?

    The descriptions are incredible - seemingly obscene amounts of precious metals and fine fabrics are to employed to create this tent and its contents.  How can this be justified?  Surely there are better, more practical uses to which these riches can be employed? 

    Throughout history people have created vast, ornate, beautiful edifices dedicated to the glory of God.  Peasants offering, or having demanded from them, whatever they owned to further the endeavour.  And towns and cities vying with one another to have the tallest steeple, the most ornate altarpiece, the finest organ or whatever it may have been.

    There is always the risk that beautiful buildings are dedicated "to the glory of NNN and in memory of God" as someone once said to me about a church I was visiting.

    And yet... the story of the woman who annointed the feet of Jesus and prompted the question, "to what purpose this waste" always gives me pause.  Life is fleeting and fragile, in the medieval period, when many of the great cathedrals were emerging it, was often short and  brutal.  Maybe this was what people could do... they couldn't read or write, but they could carve stone or wood, could undertake practical tasks to make something beautiful for God.  Most of them would never see the end result, but I guess they would die knowing they had contributed to something greater.

    I have to confess I struggle with beautiful buildings that seem to suck resources, human and financial, that could be more helpfully employed elsewhere.  I do tend to see church premises as 'plant' as something functional, where 'fit for purpose' is the primary aim.  And yet... there is something valid and vital about aesthetics... which is why I straighten table cloths, line up hymnbooks, and tweak the layout of chairs!!

    One for me to wrestle with, I think.

    "From those whose hearts prompt them"

    Right at the start of this complex desciption, God asks that "those whose hearts prompt them..." give of their resources for the creation of the Ark, Tabernacle, Altar and associated accoutrements.

    This is really important - not a levy, not a tax, not a membership fee or a service charge (though at least some of these will emrge later for other reasons) - a free will offering by those who feel they wish to give.

    Experience shows me, both in the Gathering Place and in Dibley, that 'Gift Days' or 'Pledge Days' allow huge levels of generosity to be expressed by those who feel 'led' or 'called' or 'moved' so to do. 

    Not everyone can give financially, and when we invited pledges a couple of years back, we deliberately included what we termed 'soft pledges' - offers of practical help and prayerful support, offers that were concrete and definable, offers that were nebulous and de facto unmeasureable.

    The key was, and is the voluntary nature... which appears in the small print of this section of Exodus.

    Graven Images?

    When I first moved to Dibley someone asked me, in total seriousness, whether the wooden cross in the porch constituted a graven image.  I was a little thrown by this, since throughout most of my life protestant nonconformist churches had proudly boasted about their 'empty crosses.'

    The commandments in Exodus 20 prohibit graven images to be made of anything in heaven, on earth or in the waters under the earth, yet now in the plans for the Temple we find golden cherubs, and lamp holders shaped like flowers... what is going on?

    The commandment clearly refers to idols - objects made to be venerated in their own right - rather than to decorations.  But as I noted above, it is all to easy to slide into situations where servicing the ornament outweighs its original intent.

    Early Baptists built plain chapels; by Victorian times geometic and abstract designs had appeared with a lick of gold paint here and there.  Nowadays banners and posters, photos and video screens are commonplace.  Notwithstanding anything I've already said, I think it's generally a good thing that we have learned to value and enjoy art and creativity rather than maintaining a stark puritanical approach.  At the same time, there does seem to be a fine line between valuing, appreciating, enjoying and even 'sanctifying' something and sliding into idolatry or even servitude of that same thing.

    The Hebrew people were to create for themselves an amazing Tablernacle, a portable temple that would 'shout' the power and majesty of their God to anyone who cared to see them.  The contrast between their own nomadic, peasant existence and the esteem in which they were to hold their God is as challenging today as it was then.  Certainly it challenges me to evaluate how I employ the resources entrusted to me.

  • Way Out Lent (11) Exodus 23-24

    Today's chunk of text illustrates brilliantly what happens if you accept the artificial divisons imposed over the centuries, as the first bit more properly belongs with the end of yesterday's material, and what follows is a bit of a hotchpotch to say the least.

    Justice for All

    The section begins with a series of rules designed to ensure justice for all, irrespective of wealth and influence.  Perverting the course of justice, even under the strong influence of others, is not acceptable. 

    I think it was the peer pressure element that struck me, and how difficult it can be to stand up for views that seem not to be shared by others whose opinons or friendships we value, or who we perceive as the 'gatekeepers' within communities or organisations.  To 'go with the flow' can be as bad as to actively behave in unjust ways.  We know that, it just isn't always so easy (a) to recognise when we do so and (b) to change it when we do.

    Rest and Ritual

    Clearly refering to a settled society, comes the instruction to allow a sabbath for the land - a year in which the fields, orchards and vineyards may 'rest' and restore themselves after six years of cultivation.  And a reminder of the Sabbath day as a routine rest day for people and animals alike.  Perhaps the repetition shows that the temptations of intensive farming and relentless human endeavour were as real then as they are now.  I recall when at primary schoool, how we were taught about the introduction of three-field crop rotation system and even then I felt it was prefigured in the Bible...  However the ancients came upon this model of farming, like many other agricultural 'rules' practised by earlier societies, it has taken until recent times for science to understand why they were a good idea.

    Three 'lasting ordinances' are specified - the Passover, the First Fruits (Spring Harvest) and the In-gathering (Autumn Harvest).  Inherent in these rituals is something both about dependence on God as liberator and provider, and of the rootedness of the people within the natural world.   The festivals kept by the Church bear little resemblance to these ancient rituals, either in style or purpose, and, though sometimes one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, not one of our major festivals is a divinely mandated 'lasting ordinance'.  Were we to search the New Testament for anything that might constitute their equivalents we find only 'Breaking bread', 'Baptism' and possibly 'Foot-washing'.  I wonder how we might feel were the church to abandon Christmas, Easter and Pentecost?  It is certainly worth pondering why we choose these and what it is we think they are all about...

    Meat and Milk

    In what seems a random addition, comes the prohibition of eating a kid boiled in its mother's milk.  Jewish dietary laws to this day prohibit the consumption of meat and dairy at the same meal.  A roast dinner followed by pie and custard, or trifle, or ice-cream is out.  Quite what the logic is, I don't know and any ancient explanation is long since lost.  To me, it always seemed like the epitome of cruelty and disregard for the animals involved, but I doubt that is the reason; more likely it had some cultic or idolatrous significance.  Whilst we are unlikely to to be troubled by the literal ruling here, maybe it does remind us to think about where our food comes from and the welfare of the animals raised either for dairy or meat production.

    Having stopped eating meat on other grounds (it just seems terribly hypocritical foe me to eat meat when I would no longer be willing to slaughter or butcher the animal myself. I don't need or expect anyone else to agree or do likewise) I am fairly safe on the literal probibition, but I still think there are questions to ask of myself about farming methods, manufacturing processes and so on.

    Whose Land is it Anyway?

    As the story is told, the Hebrews are the 'goodies', and the land that God has promsied them is occupied by assorted 'baddies' who need to be expelled and preferably exterminated in order to rid the land of their influence and religion.

    To contemporary thinkers, informed by, for example the revisionist histories of North America, Australia and New Zealand which recognise the horrors inflicted on indigenous, 'first-nation' 'aboriginal' and 'maori' people, this apsect of the Exodus story is as a minimum disquieting.

    History is, traditionally, told from the perspective of the victors.  The role of God is interpretted as favouring those who triumph.  In our Post Modern age such claims cannot pass unchallenged... and when we read this material in Exodus we find ourselves uneasy.

    Two lines of thought strike me.

    Firstly, there seems to my simplistic reading a bit of an inconsistency within the text as we have it.  In the preceding rules and regulations, perceived by scholars to be the "Book of the Covenant" referred to a little further on in this chunk, are clear instructions to treat well those who are 'resident aliens' and ensure that their rights are protected.  Now, the natural residents of the land are to be displaced by marauding aliens, claiming divine warrant for their actions.  I don't have the knowledge to try to relate any of this to the ongoing situation in Israel-Palestine, but I do see how assertions of divine mandate lead to demonisation of the 'other' and appalling treamtent of the residents who are now defined as aliens.

    The second thought is that this a newly emergent nation, and that like all new 'movements' survival is often equated with 'purity'; rules as to who is 'in and 'out' are very clear, and sometimes behaviour is extreme.  It doesn't mean that the behaviour is right, but it is perhaps understandable, at least in principle.  There is certainly no part of the Christian Church that can hold up its hands and say "never did we behave like that."  Drownings of Baptists, burning of heretics, the Spanish Inqusition, the Crusades... let the one with no sin cast the first stone.  At the same time, let us not forget the darker side of our own story but instead learn lessons from it.

    "Ding ding! Flash, flash!"

    One of my 'A' level Maths teachers use to make this exclamation when he same aross something that he felt ought to 'ring bells' or 'flash lights' as we made connections with other topics or techniques.  I have long since forgotten the majority of the maths, but the expression remains!

    Twice in this account I noticed details that had the 'ding, ding' effect as I made connections with the New Testament... whether the NT writers anticipated such connections being made, or whether they are mine, who knows, but for anyone who reads the scriptures closely, such moments may well arise.

    Firstly, Moses along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders go up the mountain and see God.  Seventy, like seven and forty, is one of those Biblical symbol numbers, so it's use is significant.  As I read the words, I was reminded of the time that Jesus sent out either 70 or 72 (depending which source is used) disciples.  For someone with a Jewish background the potential significance of the number would be recognised.  The parallel may perhaps be extended slightly...  Jesus sending of the 72/70 signifies an extension of his ministry and mission; the inclusion of the 70 plus 2 who go with Moses suggests a possible extension of those drawn into the cultic/religious life and leadership of the emergent nation.

    Secondly, when the elders see God - which is incredible in its own right - they see something that looks like a 'sapphire pavement'... "flash, flash"... immediately, I was reminded of the vision of heaven described in Revelation, with the 'sea like crystal' and the walls of sapphire.  I could have, but did not, looked more deeply into the significance of 'sapphire'; rather what struck me was the consistency of imagery over hundreds and hundreds of years.  In this complex set of confusing texts, every now and then there are connections just waiting to be made...

    Another 'Duff Duff'

    The section ends with the Moses and Joshua going up the mountain having left Aaron, Hur and the elders to take care of things.  After six days when the mountain is shrouded in cloud, Moses is called to ascend the mountain - where he remains for 'forty days and forty nights'... a long, long time.

    Surely, having encountered God, the elders will be inspired to lead wisely and well?  But Moses is gone for ages... 

    OK, we know what happens next, but let's try to pause here, at the edge of the mountain, living our daily lives, trusting these newly appointed leaders, whilst Moses is away doing whatever he's doing...  duff, duff....

  • Way Out Lent (10) Exodus 21-22

    Today it really does start to get a bit 'way out' as we plough our way through a long and seemingly disparate set of rules and regulations, an awful lot of which seem to invoke a death sentence.  For the first time since I began this exercise I found myself longing to get to the end of the material.  This temptation to skim or skip would, had I not steadfastly resisted, have meant I'd have missed a couple of important positives right at the end of this section.

    What Kind of Society?

    The piecemeal nature of the material gathered here, and its allusions to a settled society with fields and wells etc., suggests that these rules will have emerged over time and not been handed out to Moses 'for future reference'.

    Many years ago, I recall someone saying that you could deduce an awful lot about a society by the rules it made, because on the whole rules are made in response to bad stuff.  If this is so, then the Hebrews must have been a pretty disfunctional and violent lot!

    Many of these rules are concerned with what must happen if someone is killed, deliberately or otherwise.  Some are concerned with the treatment of women - and if what is recorded is anything to go by, however patriarchal the rules, life was a whole lot worse without them.  Family life must have been troubling, with children showing violence and disrespect to their parents (totally contrary to the commandment with blessing attached).

    All of which make me think about the laws that are passed, sometimes very rapidly and seemingly with little thought to their unintended consequences, in our own land(s).  A nation that needs to outlaw consumption of certain substances and restrict the use of others; a nation that require legislation around health and safety, trades unions and minimum wages; a nation that feels the need to create laws to reduce a perceived risk of relgious fundamentalism...  And so on, and so forth.

    When in the future read the statute books of the UK or of Scotland or of Europe, what might they deduce about us and our values?


    [Whilst part way through typing this, a friend called in and when I shared what I was reflecting on, said the kind of issues here made it sound like people who would be ideal for the Jeremy Kyle show... wish I'd thought of that!]


    Resident Aliens

    God says:

    You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

    Given that we know there will lots of bloodshed and violence before Israel is established as a nation, much of it seeming to our eyes xenophobic, this command is as poignant as it is challenging.

    How quickly an oppressed group, once liberated, can become oppressive.  How soon once our goals or desires are satisfied, we are blinded to those of others.  All too easy to forget our own history and assimilate the values and attitudes we once despised.

    And how pertinent these words when we think of the current refugee and migrant situation in and around Syria, and indeed of the endeavours by the UK Prime Minister to restrict benefits for EU migrants.  Is our corporate memory so short?  Have we forgotten what it was like before the welfare state (even if only via the history books)?  Have those of us who were bullied or marginalised forgotten how that felt?

    Loans to the Poor

    God also says:

    If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbour’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbour cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.

    We hear so much about people trapped in various kinds of poverty, and indeed have legislation in place in response to the horrors of 'pay day loans'; we see countless people begging whose stories may or may not move us to action (and sometimes, as I have experienced, have abuse hurled at us by those we try to help).

    The poor will always be with you, said Jesus, and they are.

    There are many ethical, or at least more ethical, loan providers, such as Credit Unions.  There are trained advisers such as Christians Against Poverty.  There are organisations such as The Poverty Truth Comission enabling those living with or on poverty to find a voice.  There are secular and religious charities meeting needs at grass roots in the UK and overseas.

    There is good news, if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear.

    There is a long way to go to making this command a real lived reality, people are still pawning and selling things they actually need in order to pay bills or to service loans.  But to end on a positive, this is one area that seems to touch the hearts and the pockets of many people both in 'sticking plaster' responses such as Food Banks and Clothes Banks, and in longer term, more radical enterprises such as Cooperatives and Start Up Projects.

    Over the last few weeks I've been watching with interest the emergence of a new project in Glasgow called StepUp Shoe Shine which brings together corporate social repsonsibility and people needing an opportunity to rebuild their lives.  Do take a look at the website and find out more... it feels like a creative response to a complex issue.