I’ve been looking at Matthew 17.1-9, and it is clear to me that the Transfiguration is the turning point of Jesus story. Before going up that mountain Jesus was an itinerant preacher and healer, with no obvious destination. Yes, he has just told his disciples that he will be betrayed, suffer and die, but this walk up the mountain with Peter, James and John is the pivot point before Jesus is ready to head towards Jerusalem and those terrible events. When Jesus comes down again he is heading for Jerusalem, and a showdown with the authorities that will lead to the cross. That is why this reading is so important right now, just before the start of Lent.
The story of the Transfiguration is about change. Jesus’ appearance changes as he is suddenly revealed in his heavenly glory, and there is a real change in direction for his mission.
Now this is a time of change for the Church too. Our world has changed and is continuing to change at an incredible rate. There are social changes. There is now far greater equality of the sexes and races than when I was a young child. Here in the UK we have had a woman Prime Minister and over in the USA a man of colour has become President. Even the dear old Church of England now has women priests and I am very privelidged to work with Karen and Sue (pictures below):
There have been huge technological changes, with mobile phones moving from being the size of a brick and only capable of being used as a phone to the latest smartphones that we now have.
So much change and so often the church is like a rabbit caught in the headlights. We have access to the one who made everything; the source of all Truth and Wisdom; the one who gives meaning to everything, yet we so often respond with fear and anger to changes in the world rather than offer a lead. What is wrong with us?
We are not listening to the prophetic power of the Spirit, we are not offering a lead, we are running behind. We are offering opinions and arguments way after everyone else made their decisions and moved on. But we as Christians are so divided on almost every issue. How can we offer a lead? We still have about a quarter of the Church of England that cannot accept women priests, never mind women bishops. So how can we speak to our world words of wisdom?
But I’m wondering whether the Spirit has not given us one voice for a purpose. We still have the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, self-control etc. (Galatians 5.22-23). Perhaps what we are called to do is to show the world how to deal with difficult issues? Perhaps we are to show the world that there is a better way to disagree that to fight? Perhaps, we can love our enemies who argue with us? We can still care and love those with whom we don’t agree. I can disagree with someone who cannot accept women priests or bishops, but I should never let that descend into ridicule and hate.
If I opened a debate about homosexuality, I know from talking to the people in my church that there would be disagreement. This debate is coming to our church, so let’s learn from our mistakes over the ordination of women. Don’t let the Devil lead us into hatred and rash words. We have been blessed with a second chance to show the world how we can disagree in love.
You see, I don’t think that we have failed by not leading the way for our country. I think that we have failed to live out our Christian faith. We have been so caught up with our opinion of what is right or wrong and we have been so frightened of change that we have shown our country a gospel of hate, and malice and deceit!
What do we do about our failure, our sin? Easy, we return to the Gospel. We look at the gospel values, those fruits of the Spirit, we pray, we listen to the Spirit, we listen to each other, we pray some more, perhaps we say a little about what we think the Spirit wants, and we listen some more.
I was reading yesterday in Church Times that the Church of England needs radical change if it is to have any hope of a future. I agree, but not with all the fine looking plans for re-organisation. That is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need radical change. We need to become a Church of Christians who live the Gospel and we need to start at the heart of how we make decisions. We need to put love back, we need to have a beating heart of flesh not a heart of stone.
The Bible is a radical book, which with the inspiration of the Spirit can give us all the guidance we need. So why not turn to it for inspiration about how we are to live each moment on into the future?
God has given us all we need.
The Gospel is attractive if we don’t mess with it.
So let’s start trusting our God, get on with living as the Spirit directs, and trust the Spirit to guide us into all truth.
Kindness and compassion. It’s a good place to start…
I poem that is both soothing and haunting…
Originally posted on The Wild Sheep Society:
What sends them back to sleep?
I wrote the following poem initially with only one of the stanzas and then played around by changing the voice speaking from first to second then to third person.
Pain woke you
I’ve been away for a while. I’ve had a rest. I’ve travelled to see family and friends. I’ve seen beautiful things and enjoyed myself. I’ve seen mountains with snow on. I’ve seen my Mam and my sister. It’s been a good break but I’m also glad to be back. This is where I should be. This is where I’m happy to be.
So with a smile on my face I turned to the readings set for Sunday 16th February: What readings! 1 Corinthians 3.1-9 and Matthew 5.21-37 both lay into me. They set set such high standards for me that I feel utterly unworthy. I feel like shouting out, “Repent for the end is nigh!”. Perhaps I should have a placard too or a sandwich board, “Sinner! You’re all sinners!”.
And so you are. And so am I. So is everyone that I meet. Sin is anything that is not entirely of God, and I don’t know about you but I would be hard pressed to find anything in my life that is entirely of God, anything with not even the tiniest hint of self interest or pride. In fact if there were such a thing in my life, as soon as I found it I would feel proud of it, deeply proud that I could have something in me that was utterly sinless, and instantly taint it with the sin of pride.
The more I think about it, there is so much truth in those words from the 1662 Prayer Book confession: Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us…
It may not be popular but that is an excellent description of humanity, good and bad people alike. In fact the chief difference between good and bad is the acknowledgement by the good that they aren’t perfect, and the commitment to be better, with the help of God. It made me think of the UKIP councillor who declared that the UK’s recent floods are God’s punishment of allowing Gay Marriage. Then I stopped and looked again. I prayed and asked to be able to look into Jesus’ eyes as he says these things. I prayed and I looked and I saw passion in those eyes, I saw anger at falsehood and hypocrisy, but most of all I looked into Jesus’ eyes and saw love.
I have done those things which I ought not to have done, And I have done those things which I ought not to have done – It is as though someone has seen right into my soul. Even more frightening someone has been spying on me! I am not what I could be that is Jesus’ message to me, and following rules won’t make it any better. But remember, God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. Jesus loves me so much that he was willing to die for me. So this warning needs to be seen in the midst of the love that the Father has for me. The love that wants me to be whole and healthy. God loves me so much that he is not afraid to push me to be honest with myself about who I really am, and to push me hard.
That is what a real friend will do. A real friend will tell me when I’m out of order. A real friend will tell me that I’m being a prat. If a good human friend will do that for me, then why should I expect any less from Jesus? That is why I believe that Jesus said these words as a loving friend, not to condemn me, but to help me. We human beings are not all good, and full of love – that is wishful thinking – but we are all loved, loved and loved some more.
So that is why there there are such challenging words in Scripture. I, like everyone else that I know, need to be challenged to see the good and bad truth about myself. When I feel worthless, Scripture reminds me that I’m loved and of infinite worth to God. But the rest of the time I want to grow and so I need know how I can be better. Then I’m open to change. Then I can be healed. It is like an alcoholic, or any other addict, until they want to change there is very little that can be done, in fact little more than damage limitation.
So it is with me. Until I admit that I have a problem and want help, all that is possible is damage limitation. Until then God can save me and those around me from the worst of my actions but real healing isn’t going to happen. I need to say, “OK Father I got that wrong. I’m sorry. Please help.”
“OK Father I got that wrong. I’m sorry. Please help.” Such simple words but so powerful. Each time I say those words the Spirit can flow in and heal another part of me.
Sin has a bad press. Saying that I am a sinner sounds as though I hate myself. Hearing the Bible and the Prayer Book describe me as a sinner, sounds as though perhaps God is condemning me too. But nothing could be further from the truth: God loves me and God forgives me. God made me, and made me capable of so much good, so much love. That is what God sees in me. God sees the good and the love that I already know about but my Creator also knows all about the good and the love that he has put in me that hasn’t yet come out. Still more wonderful, as the Spirit cleans away the dark in me, even more space is created for the Spirit to pour God’s love into me.
A very thought provoking post on creativity from a writer: http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/tales-of-amber/
Earlier today we had a baptism in our informal all age service at Harleston, supported by children from the primary school. There were lots of adults and children all enjoying being able to worship together. We should have pictures to show soon, so you can have a look for yourself. On the day when we remember Jesus being presented in the Temple it seems so appropriate to be able to say:
Eva Poppy Rose (Howlett)
We welcome you into the fellowship of faith;
we are children of the same heavenly Father;
we welcome you!
Mend Me With Gold. What a wonderful concept: The cracks of age are a thing of beauty to be celebrated. In an age obsessed with youth this is a concept that is so desperately needed to help our society to rebalance.
When I was preparing to speak to you today I came a cross the following quote, “We don’t like talking about money in this church. And we really don’t like it when the Vicar does it!” I can understand that. I hate it too. Perhaps I am too English, but talking about money just seems course and uncouth. It feels like swearing, like talking dirty in Church. Even if I was comfortable talking about money I also know that the quote I began with is so true. People don’t like their priest talking to them about money. They feel uncomfortable and often resentful. I then feel guilty for upsetting everyone.
It can feel a bit like being an evil father raiding his children’s piggy bank. I see the picture in my mind: Crying little children (creased faces, sobs and tears running down little faces), a much loved piggy bank in pieces on the hearth and me scrabbling around grabbing all the coins I can get another drink.
But you are not children, and I am not here to steal anything. I am simply a Christian minister speaking contrary to our consumer taboo about money. I also know that I am likely to be largely preaching to the converted. I suspect that if you are reading this you are generous and use the resources given to you by God wisely. But even so, I need from time to time to remind myself that the way of Christ that I have started along requires all of me, and my money is part of that. Even so it is hard, so I will address this message to me, and if any of it fits for you please accept it for yourself.
Jesus summarised the Law and the prophets in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40) This is where my money rightly fits, it fits in the wider context of Stewardship; Where Stewardship is using all that I am and have for good. Stewardship is using all that I have for this way of love, loving God with all of my heart, all of my mind and all of my soul. Stewardship is about me loving my neighbour as myself.
My Stewardship starts with that question from Jesus to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel (16.15): “Who do you say that I am.” That question was asked of me when I first became a Christian and Jesus asks it every day of my life. Each morning Jesus says to me, “Nigel, who do you say that I am?” And each time I respond with Peter’s reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Each time I do that I am drawn a little bit further into the love of God. Each time I reply it is more my own answer. Each time I am a little more able to love God with heart, soul, mind and everything else that makes me me. Each time I respond I learn to love my neighbour a little bit more. Then each time I am enfolded a little more in God’s love, I am able to be a little more generous with all that I have been given.
Each time I grow a little in Christ, I trust him a little more and so don’t need to hold quite so tightly to things; possessions (car, motor bike, computer), my time, and my money. Sometimes, there are rare moments when I know for certain that none of it is mine anyway. In those moments the ‘my’ can be dropped and all seen as they are, gifts from God’s grace. This is so liberating when it happens, giving or not giving, time, possessions, money, are all released from my care into the control of God… Then I’m back to normal again, lacking in love, and fearful of what might happen if I give too much!
I am messed up about giving, and generosity and love. Just like most of us. But what I do know is that as I learn to love more, the worry and fear are a little less powerful. As I pray, and read my Bible, and worship with my brothers and sisters, I learn to be a little more forgetful about love: I find that I am more able to love without realising it; the Love in me becomes unconscious love that comes from deep inside me, and is not forced.
So what I have found is that Stewardship is something that grows naturally out of my faith. My ability to be generous is greatest when my faith is strong and I am least generous, grasping even, when my faith is weak. Generosity is a fruit of faith, a fruit of the Spirit and Stewardship is just considering how best to be generous.
This world and all in it are so much less without generosity. This town that I live in and the villages around it are diminished without generosity. Without generosity there is no care and compassion. So when I encourage Stewardship among God’s people I am encouraging a practice of health and love. When I encourage people outside of Church to be generous, I seek to do the same. I aim to give people the opportunity to be generous, with time, talents or money. Of course, I would like this Church to be on the receiving end of at least some of that generosity, but if not, I will be content to see an increase in generosity and love, wherever it is directed.
So please don’t be embarrassed about Stewardship. Without it everyone is the poorer, Christians and non-Christians alike. But for us Christians it all starts with Jesus looking into our eyes, saying our name, and asking, “Who do you say that I am?”
Insightful thoughts with much to say about how we value things (even one another) that goes way beyond the issue of free books: There’s no such thing as a free lunch ~ on the rightful exchange of energies..