Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five Minutes Space

Each year Simon keeps an Advent blog which he tries to update daily with thoughts, prayers and readings. 

The idea is that they should help us create five minutes' space in our day to help us to slow, to reflect, and to focus in hope on God and to help us get the most out of the Advent season. Why not go and take a look... Click on the screenshot below...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Christ is King

Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present.

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates everything into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me through faith in him. The liberation beginning to be experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you.

Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Statement from The Bishop of St. Albans following the vote at General Synod

The Bishop of St Albans the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith issued a statement issued on 20th November 2012. The Bishop of Hertford and the Bishop of Bedford have associated themselves with it:

After many years of discussion and debate the General Synod of the Church of England today rejected the legislation which provided for the ordination of women as bishops. A two-thirds majority was required in all three Houses of Synod. Whilst the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy achieved the necessary two-thirds majority, the motion was lost by a few votes in the House of Laity. I have always been a supporter of women bishops’ legislation and I share in the disappointment of the many outstanding women priests who play such a valuable role in the mission and ministry of our diocese

I recognise that a significant minority of people in the Diocese of St Albans have theological objections to the proposals which were being debated. I have always tried to keep in close contact with them and to support them. Nevertheless I know that the vast majority of people in the diocese were in favour of this development and for them today’s vote will be a cause for deep sadness.   We need time to reflect on what has happened. In the meantime, I urge everyone to double their efforts to love and serve their communities, offering their pain and frustration to God. No one has any cause for rejoicing; all are aware that the pain felt will affect the whole church. I was grateful for the grace shown when the result was announced to the General Synod in silence.

 It is a bishop’s task to unite all those in his care and I call on all the people of the diocese that I lead to continue in the service of their communities, loving them as Christ loved us, sacrificing their pain to that task. As we double our efforts to reach out to the most needy, we will discover the future to which God is calling us.

We have more listening and more work to do to achieve the end result which so many believe is the right way forward both inside and beyond our church.

†Alan St Albans

Text taken from a statement on the St Albans Diocese website, available to read here

Monday, 19 November 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

Not many of my lessons at secondary school stick in my mind but one does... We were waiting for a Maths lesson to begin and our teacher was running seriously late. It’s fair to say we were being a little ‘boisterous’ to say the least and certainly not waiting well with our books out, pens at the ready.  Instead the class ‘Joker’ was up to all sorts of no good at the front of the class - which was hugely entertaining at the time.

In the midst of the mayhem that our class room was becoming, in came one of the English teachers who was teaching in a nearby classroom. He had a reputation of having a formidable temper. Purple with rage with thin pursed lips he burst into the room and yelled above the noise, ‘What are you waiting for?’

The collective nature of our activity and noise merged us as if into one being - a creature oozing the hormone-laden scent of deodorant and bravado - and we responded as with one voice, “CHRISTMAS!” This earned us collective laughter and a detention, but the question remains - what are we waiting for as 2012 draws to a conclusion?

Many are waiting for a better time when jobs and income will be more secure. Many are waiting for war in far-away lands to end so that loved ones can return. Many are waiting for the arrival of a baby or someone they love to get well or to die peacefully. Many are waiting to win the lottery. Many are waiting for nations and Governments to act on a plethora of international issues like working to prevent the impact of Climate Change or Peak Oil or poverty in developing nations.  Many are waiting for things in some unnamed general sense to be better, like they were before. Many are waiting. Many are waiting...

Even as we stand in the queue at the Post Office waiting is not a passive thing - we wonder when it’s our turn, we look at the posters around us, we plan our day, what we will eat, how we will make that awkward phone-call....

But waiting is an active thing.  The same is true of the season of Advent. It is the time that the Church sets aside to wait actively and attentively for the God who promises for generations in the story of what we call the Old Testament in the Bible, to come among us in person. He comes to right wrongs, to restore justice, and to renew our relationships with each other and with Him.  It sounds good doesn’t it and it buys right into the hopes and longings of many of us right at the moment.

But as December rolls on and our hopes are raised and our longings met we discover that God Almighty is delayed in coming in person and He sends a baby instead.

All too often this baby is portrayed in many a Christmas card scene as ‘little Jesus meek and mild’ and yet we forget at our peril, that this baby, this Jesus comes to fulfil God’s hopes...  and ours. This Jesus - healer of the broken, crosser of barriers, welcomer of the outsider, forgiver of willfulness, lover of the loveless, table turner, water walker, crucified, dead, buried... and raised...

As we wait for things to get better. As 2012 rolls into 2013. Why not gives this Jesus a chance to fulfil your hopes and dreams... Meek and mild, as if...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Seeing the Sights

I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.

Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.

Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iran then certainly in North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraqi or Afghani 'peacekeeping' missions to end or the war in Syria to cease or even for David Cameron to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Love is a verb

Norma Jean Mortenson spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, 'Here, Honey. Take this and don't ever tell anyone what I did to you.' When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened she was beaten badly for saying bad things.

Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person too--not just a body--or a pretty face--but a person. She went to Hollywood and took a new name-- Marilyn Monroe and the publicity people told her, 'We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.' And this was her reaction, 'A symbol? Aren't symbols things people hit together?' They said, 'Honey, it doesn't matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.'  She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, 'Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?' Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles.

Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn't know was that she was in her dressing room being sick because she was so terrified. She kept saying, 'Will someone please notice I am a person. Please.' They didn't notice. They wouldn't take her seriously.
"She went through three marriages--always pleading, 'Take me seriously as a person.' Everyone kept saying, 'But you are a sex symbol. You can't be other than that.'

"Marilyn kept saying 'I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.'
"And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 when all beautiful women are supposed to be on the arm of a handsome escort, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. She killed herself.  When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her. Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. He answered with the words 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!' That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone--left it dangling.

'What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?' She died because she never got through to anyone who understood or cared.

In his encounter with the scribe in this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us also of the all transforming importance of love, but that love is not just an emotion, but a verb. 
In replying to the question about what the most important of the 613 commands and 365 prohobitions of the Old Testament Jesus quotes from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That call to love God with all that you are is a declaration of faith in the God who loved us first. It is still said by faithful Jews each day. God’s love for us is unconditional, unmerited and undeserved. He just loves, not because of what we have done or who we are, but because of who He is. It is the underpinning of everything.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

The order in which Jesus quotes these it seems is crucial. It is not possible to love God and not love our neighbour and a good litmus test of us knowing that we are loved by God and loving Him in return is practically displaying that in loving others. If we leave church and do not display love to others in action, we have failed as his disciples. For love is not about how we feel but about how others feel because they are loved by God through us and a sharing of what ourselves have received through the outpouring of God’s love for us all through Christ on the cross. The second command is the fulfillment of the first and we are called to follow that love...

[Here I encouraged the church to respond to the need for help that we need as we seek to set up the Food Bank]

Love is a verb - love is a person in Jesus Christ in and through you.