I’ve just read of the cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld and Vue refusing to show a 1 minute advert from the Church of England (BBC report here). The advert features different people praying the Lord’s Prayer. A peaceful expression of a faith is banned for Christmas. So sad, pathetic even. I pay to see a film but I still end up sitting through adds for things I don’t want and certainly don’t need. I’m sure 1 minute of the Lord’s Prayer would have cheered people this Christmas.
Rant over: See the Advert here: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI
1. Attended their church faithfully over many years;
2. Given sizeable donations to their church and/ or charities; or
3. Both 1 and 2.
I love most sea food. I say most because there are some fish that I just haven’t been able to bring myself to try, at least not yet. Jellied eels are one food that still defeats me, they just look ‘wrong’ and all of that jelly just repels me. One thing that I do love are anchovies. I remember when they seemed to come with every pizza. I miss them but usually forget to ask for them specially. I love them but the ones in the tins are just so salty. The other day I was in the delicatessen in our little town. It is always dangerous for me to go in there: Well it is mostly dangerous for my wallet and my waistline. This time I spotted a pot of anchovies in oil and asked to try one. The assistant (who hates fish) carefully ‘fished’ one out for me. I held it by the tail, dropped it into my mouth whole and stared at her in shock. I think she thought that I was about to throw up, but then I smiled. The taste was so completely different from what I had expected. There was no saltiness at all. I could taste the fish and an intense sweetness that I was just not expecting. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be able to describe a fish as sweet, but there was the proof on my tongue.
I love it when life throws up surprises for me like that anchovy. I particularly like it when I discover something that I could never have imagined before. It thrills me that God has filled this created world with such variety, wonder and freshness. At the very least it can be a partial antidote to all that is wrong. I have found God to be the God of surprises. The more I think that I have got to know him the more I discover something new about God. It is this that, at least in part, keeps my relationship with God vibrant. It is this that makes it a relationship rather than merely an academic study of the strange concept of ‘God’.
The fact that God is the God of surprises should be no surprise. It is very much the experience of Jesus’ followers and of the early church described in the New Testament. The disciples were utterly shocked when Jesus said to them,
“It’s hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom!” The disciples were shocked to hear this. So Jesus told them again, “It’s terribly hard to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.” (Mark 10.23 -25 CEV)
The disciples new that it was only God who could bless someone, so it followed that it must have been God who blessed the rich with their riches. So no wonder they were shocked at Jesus’ words. If the ‘blessed’ couldn’t get in to God’s kingdom then how could anyone get in? What chance was there for them? They were shocked by this, but eventually realised that Jesus was saying that getting into the kingdom of God was a gift that only God could give, not something that anyone could buy with money or even with good living.
The disciples had many more surprises to come to terms with, not least that Jesus would have to suffer and even die if the way into this kingdom was to be opened to anyone at all. Then later, after the resurrection, almost everything that they had taken for granted about how God wanted them to live was changed:
The Sabbath – gone very quickly. Indeed, the first Christians considered the Jews lazy for taking Saturday off.
Food laws – again these went in the first few years of Christianity as all foods were declared clean.
Circumcision – the central mark of Jewish identity for any man. But this quickly went too.
Jesus – God and human – something blasphemous to most Jews.
The Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – again blasphemous to most Jews.
So what surprises has God go in store for me now? What is God trying to show the people here where I live? What is he trying to get us to see? It could be valuing again something that has been considered to be old fashioned. Here I think about how the old 1662 Prayer Book worship attracts people even today, and its use seems to be growing again.
Surprises, by definition, are a surprise so how can I be sure that I hear God and respond? Honestly, I don’t have any guarantee. But I have found that taking time to listen and respond to God makes it that little bit easier to be ready for His surprises. Listening to and with others helps too. I’ve found so many times that the things that I get confused about are crystal clear to others around me.
I get this feeling that God is saying something surprising and challenging about the refugees, about the natural world, and the climate, about family life, what it is to be a Christian, and so much more. I once wished to be one of those early Christians, right at the start of it all: With all the changes, challenges and surprises around at the moment, perhaps I have been granted my prayer.
God is the God of surprises, so be careful what you wish for, God might just answer your prayer.
A moving new poem:
A sea of books
I set sail on the sea of books;
My fleet of novels
Amid a wind of acclaim.
Hope was not enough
Armour against the tides;
Their bright flags faded,
Tattered and ragged,
Ripped by the storms.
Then came the days
When piracy threatened
And every author cried
“It’s a jungle out there!”
And eyed others askance,
Seeing fellows as rivals
And former friends as foes.
The sea became too busy,
Impossible to navigate,
Books thronged, thick as flies
On a week old corpse.
I called my books home
And weary and gratefully
They came back to harbour,
Hulks in a haven,
Safe from sinking and shame.
Source: A sea of books
I’ve been spending lots of time recently with little children. I’ve been taking lots of baptisms and each time there have been lots of children livening up the church. I’ve also been into the primary schools, visiting and taking assemblies. I love the vibrancy of young children and their honesty. Both can be a problem, particularly when trying to keep order. They get excited about things which needs careful handling in a church service or in school. They can also be relied upon to say the most unexpected things!
I can be in full flow “I baptise you..”, pause for breath and a loud high pitched voice calls out, “Mum that woman’s got a funny nose!” Indeed, if a woman ever wants an honest answer to the question, “Does my bum look big in this?” they should ask a young child.
Children are mostly honest about what they like and what they don’t. Their bodies are new and need to run, jump and play. They tend to say what they think or see; at least until they ‘learn better’. I suspect that the adult world would be very fraught if everybody said exactly what they think, when they think it. But I also think that more honesty would be good. I don’t always want to run around but a little more exuberance would be great too!
So, with this experience in mind I think I have some idea what Jesus might be meaning when he says,
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10.14-15 NRSV).
I think that Jesus is talking about the value in God’s kingdom of honesty and zest for life that young children are famous for having. It is the innocence of young children that is so beautiful. I’m not being sentimental here, I’m under no illusion that little children are angels. Indeed, I would be very worried if I knew a child who was never naughty – it just wouldn’t be normal. No, what I mean is that little children have an innocence that comes of just acting on what they find as they explore their world, good and bad. They are only just learning right from wrong, and, as the law states, they are not fully responsible for their actions.
That is so different from me and my fellow adults. I have a good idea what is right and wrong and I still so often choose what is wrong, or at least what is less than the best. This is the conscious, premeditated nature of adult sin. Something so much worse than the relatively innocent naughtiness of young children.
Jesus therefore is calling us to be more honest, and innocent as we approach the coming kingdom of God. I read that and I want that, but I am an adult and it is so hard to do. In fact I find it almost impossible. Finding it impossible but wanting to be one of Jesus’ children, I prayed. I prayed, “Jesus help me to receive the kingdom like a little child… help me”. I prayed and had the impression of Jesus smiling at me. Then my eyes were opened a little more.
The kingdom is a gift. A gift must be ‘received’. But the kingdom is so nonsensical to the adult mind. As an adult I am too likely to refuse to receive the kingdom of God: A kingdom where weakness is strength, the first are last, and death on a cross is the only road to life. I need to put away all my fixed ideas and see, really see, what God wants to show me. Like a small child I need to be excited by what the Spirit is going to reveal next.
I need to let the Spirit give me a new innocence. An innocence to trust God. An innocence to say what I see, not what I believe can be: To walk into the new Eden of God’s kingdom and not be ashamed.