Easter Hope from Suffering

jimmy's photo

Jimmy Mizen

In the height of summer sitting outside my caravan under a tree in Oxford, the chill of Easter seems far away. Yet a few days ago those balmy days came back me when I found a book given to me by my cousin over that holiday. More to the point, it’s heart rending story reminded me also of why this season can be dark and cold. Because it is a story of suffering and this is the week of suffering.

 

Jimmy Mizen was a member of a large Christian family living in Lewisham, London. We can imagine his excitement that morning. It was his 16th birthday and he was popping out on the 10th May 2008 to buy his first lottery ticket. After  the newsagents, he stopped to get his usual snack  at the bakery. A few minutes later he would be lying dying in his own blood after being stabbed. Shortly after,  his family arrived, his mother fainted at the sight as a young brother said – Jimmy’s gone to heaven.

 

His assailant had a long criminal record and had several times tried to mug Jimmy’s brother. That day he came into the shop and demanded that Jimmy move aside using foul language. Jimmy asked for the word – please and was assaulted for his trouble. This attack resulted in him being dying as from a cut to his neck. At the subsequent trial, the Judge didn’t believe the story of Jimmy’s killer that he had been provoked and  jailed him for 14 years. During the trial Jimmy’s family had to suffer the taunts and sneers of the defendant and his family.

 

Here then is suffering; suffering of Jimmy who was said to have looked scared even in death, suffering of his family and even if we are reluctant to accept it – suffering of the killer for he was to be attacked himself and stabbed in prison.

 

How then did the suffering of Christ help with the suffering of Jimmy’s family? How did the suffering of Christ bring a form of hope to Jimmy’s family? How indeed did the suffering of Christ bring some fruit from from the suffering in this story?

 

Well, despite the bleakness of the days, weeks and years ahead, Jimmy’s mother,  Margaret,  said they were held by a strength outside themselves. This was need shown at the church door on that first Sunday when she said that she was thinking of the suffering of the killer’s parents.

 

It was the strength given to the family when 16 candles were brought forward at Jimmy’s funeral as they could ask – did their flame fix Jimmy in eternal memory or did their flame call on the story  of Jimmy’s life to fix what is broken – to fix us?

 

It certainly gave Danny, one of Jimmy’s brothers, the strength to say to Kay Burley on Sky News – I have tried to hate Jimmy’s killer – but I can’t.

 

Ultimately this inner power allowed the Mizen family to set up the Jimmy Mizen Foundation. Now it has the aim of giving teenagers a sense of being part of a community, of having a role to play and be responsible for their actions. To that end they have fostered a number of programmes including a drop-in cafe that can be a place of advice and safety. However,  it is their talks that have really made a change. These are given everywhere including prisons. One such gained this letter from an inmate.

 

I’m writing this letter to thank you for the touch you placed on my life.  I am currently in prison for murder and serving 16 years. You advised us to write a sorry letter to my victims parents.  No matter how much I twist and turn and ask God to rewind time,  I cannot make up for a life lost.

 

My mind has been at battle for a long time over the existence of God, but today you have shown me who will win the war.

 

Today God showed me you.

 

And today you showed me God.

Thank you.

 

So where did this strength and power come from?

 

The day after Jimmy’s death, his father Barry was due to act as a Eucharistic Minister at his local Catholic church. He could of got out of it, but he chose to serve the chalice.  As he did – he of course said the words ‘blood of Christ’.  As he  did people cried and cuddled him. He felt that he had the strength to  comfort them as he became literally soaked in their tears.

 

It seems then it is in contemplation of Jesus suffering we not only put our own in context but know, that through him, God knows suffering.  Moreover, it is through his suffering this week we find the the power to bear our own even transcend it into making it a place of hope and reconciliation.

 

Since it is only through not looking away from Christ on the cross can we find meaning and inspiration in the song that Tommy sang at Jimmy’s funeral:

Brother I feel weak

Feels like his and seek

Now you are gone.

The directions you give

Are all that I love for but I’m lost.

 

So come on and find me

I know you’re behind me

Cause you sparkle.

 

I’ll never lose your sparkle

 

I’ll never lose your sparkle

 

It brightened up the darkest day

And cheered up the saddest face

No, I’ll never look away

No, I’ll never look away

From your life.

 

Christ as Welcome

Christ on Palm Sunday

Christ on Palm Sunday

I suppose, in a way, I am a professional wedding goer. By that I mean I am often invited to conduct weddings in hotels and other grand venues. Now I am usually there very early to make sure everything is ready for the ceremony. As a result, I get on the chat with the staff. And very quickly I suss out whether their welcome of the arriving wedding party is genuine or a front for the sake of business. Since there is no doubt a genuine welcome is worth its weight in gold no such a special day.

 

We cannot doubt that most of the crowd that day on the Mount of Olives were honest in their welcome. That is not really in question. But what is – is why their welcome was genuine and to what purpose. Some came because they saw Christ as a political figure – the military messiah long looked for by the Jewish people – the liberator of the land back to the Israel of the Old Testament writers’ imagination. Others more, laudably perhaps, saw a religious reformer bringing justice, honesty even spirituality into moribund even corrupt practice. A practice which, to many, had become a business. However, there would have been a few who welcomed him for himself – they knew him and they loved him for it. He in turn knew them and loved them for themselves.

 

Well, something in those observations can chime with us today. Since it begs the question – why do we welcome people into our church?

 

Now let me be the first to say there are many worthy reasons for welcoming new faces to our fellowship. Take for example, the need all humans have to worship God and find a supportive community. We may feel that ‘two or three gathered in my name’ is an insufficient formula for a congregation in Britain today. Similarly, we may worry about the spiritual well-being of someone who does not maintain an active fellowship with Christ through his family.

 

Yet no matter how important these reasons are – they are trumped by but one other. We welcome them because they are beloved by Christ – Jesus knows them and loves them and they in turn need to know him and find their love for him.

 

In the word of the famous advert – Simples!!

 

And how do we know of this love, how do we talk of this love and how do we prove this love?

 

There is a story about a man who visited a church. He parked his car and started toward the front entrance. Another car pulled up nearby, and the irritated driver said to him, “I always park there. You took my place!” The visitor went inside and found that the service was about to begin. He found a spare seat and sat down. A congregational member approached him and said, “That’s my seat! You took my place!”

He apologies and moved to a vacant pew.

Within moments another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit. You took my place!”

 

The visitor was troubled, but said nothing.

 

Later, as the congregation was praying for Christ to be present with them, the visitor stood, and his appearance began to change. Scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. The marks of the crown of thorns were clearly visible on his forehead. His back started to show scars of a beating. Someone from the congregation noticed him and cried out, “What happened to you?”

 

The visitor replied, “I took your place.”

 

In a nutshell – let our welcome be genuine – let us welcome in Christ’s love – let us welcome for Christ’s love. But above all, let us welcome in Christ’s place.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ on Palm Sunday

Christ on Palm Sunday

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!

Matthew 25.31-41

Isaiah 58.1-3;6-8

girl drinking at tap

Clean water provided by Tearfund UK

It strange how small decisions, made by others, can affect us. Take this week. As you may know, we have a successful St Luke’s Facebook page. I regularly put on it prayers, stories and sayings which then automatically get sent to those who have indicated they like the page. Up until early this month we had 48 people who liked St Luke’s. But now we have only 47; someone switched their liking off as it were. I looked over the various items I had posted just prior to this choice but couldn’t see anything that might offend. It seems then simply someone had made a decision; a judgement if you like – pardon the pun.

 

None of this is surprising since hourly we are making choices, deciding things and making judgement calls. Out of these we form our world view which in turn dictates our attitudes and actions. And so in a very real sense we are who we decide to be.

 

Here then is where we can start fruitfully with the parable of the sheep and goats; the story of judgements and judgement. For, we can’t doubt surely that those on in sheep’s clothing had given prior thought to the hungry. They had made a decision about the thirsty. They had opened themselves to see the stranger and prepared themselves to act for the those unclothed. In other words, their moment by moment choices had built up into a judgement that put them in the right.  Similarly those who had not maintained this chain of perception, thought and action and been left out.

 

Yet we could ask what makes us make the right decisions?

Well, that comes down to how we want things to be. It comes down to what we believe and what inspires us. It comes down to seeing things as God does.

 

And what better vision for today’s society and tomorrow’s world than that of the prophet. Since Isaiah calls for a nation of generous decision makers. He demands a community of rightful choosers. He warns against those who personally do not judge to loosen the chains of injustice, to share food and to provide shelter.  Moreover, he asks two questions and these are – what world are you deciding to build and what are you doing about it?

 

Ah we say these are good questions – I am happy at having a crack at answering them myself. But I wouldn’t have the nerve to ask Mrs Snooks next door them. I wouldn’t dare broach them with John at the club or coffee after the meeting.

 

Why is that? Simply because these questions we think are too hard  – too hard to ask and too hard to answer!

 

Years ago, when the Betty Crocker Company first began selling their cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time.

It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn’t understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren’t buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn’t want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it.

 

So, Betty Crocker changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success.

 

Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to “packaging” or presenting the decisions we, as Christian,s must make today . They try to make the call to build God’s vision for society as easy as possible because they’re afraid people won’t “buy it” if it seems too hard.

 

This is a mistake being made by many politicians and their parties this election time. But the truth is people don’t always buy pat, simplistic and cheap answers. Instead they can make hard choices and better judgements. They can be turned from dream followers to decision gifters. They can indeed be the builders of God’s civilisation. All they need is to be inspired, enthused and, ultimately,  shown the vision that right decisions can achieve.

 

They can indeed still feel the power of that sentiment expressed by President John F Kennedy when he said at Rice University on 12th September 1963:

 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

 

Here then is how we get others from the goat column to the shepherd’s fold. For those who have studies the rhetoric of that speech have worked out how Kennedy made front page news around the world with it. Because this speech used three strategies: he offered a beckoning frontier, he created a historical moment of urgency and he invited the hearer to live up to the pioneering instinct of the human race.

 

Let us use the same strategy when calling others to choose for the hungry, thirsty and homeless. Let us offer them the beckoning world that is possible only by deciding for Christ. Let us tell them they must take the ‘Kingdom option’ quickly. Moreover, let us warn them that their judgements will culminate in the judgement of what great humans can achieve and what lesser ones did not.

 

Since if we can go to the moon nearly 50 years ago and create the digital age in two decades, we can make Isaiah’s world in a mere instant.

 

All we need do is chose and chose now.