What ever happened to Kodak? 

The question of what happened to Kodak, started me thinking. For the honest truth is no one wanted its products any more. So it joined the long line of companies that have bvanished without trace.  

Is then the church heading for the same fate? Possibly,  in fact more than possibly. However don’t think I am going too follow up this prediction with yet another appeal for evangelism.  Or at least not yet. Since most exhortations come from those with a monchrome opinion of what will have people trooping through church doors to hear their usually simplicitic even bombastic world view.

Instead I am planning on sitting back and doing the hardest of activities – thinking!

What is our ‘product’?

For,  the first key question is what is the product the church has to sell? Well some years ago I drafted the mission statement for my congregation.  It was – to assist encounters with God through Jesus Christ.  All very worthy yet not more than what training gurus would call an enabling objective.  More simply, it was a step on the way instead of a destination. 

Since many will say there is a great spiritual hunger or burden of sin today. This may or may not be true for few are showing either. Nevertheless many today are living superficial lives with little progress, achievement or even hope. Surely then the Church is here to help? In other word, to put everyday people in touch with the kingdom of Jesus which is an arm’s reach away.  This is what we have not to sell but to give away.

How do we sell it?

With our product in defined, how do we get it to its marketplace? 
Here again, we need to take a rethink.  Since if we could go back in time to speak to Jesus and mentioned the word church he would have been perplexed.  The idea of people coming together well scrubbed and pink with enthusiasm for an hour every sunday is not biblical but a constuct albeit of over thousands of years. Moreover,  to have such a mixed group in one space worshipping in the same way is as oudated as large one screen cinemas. There is a need instead to work on targeted worship that meets individual needs while  still retaining a sense of community.  This means shorter acts of worship,  use of social media and genuine interactivity. 

When I served in the Navy, chaplains often talked of doing Church making it a verb and not a noun. Time is running out for Church as place and so we better make it a verb sooner than later. Because then it is a movement towards the Kingdom of God and not a prison of the past.  Time to improve customer relations, the sales force and the packaging.  

Do you recognise him?

f12000d6bb28b9556b19bb3896add406_stationsresurrection4-road-to-emmaus-clip-art_350-480Luke 24.13-27

 

If I am being honest, I remember little of my divinity lectures of nearly 20 years ago today. Wish, of course, it was otherwise. However, one comment did stick in my noddle. And it is there in today lessons. For, it seems, that after Jesus was resurrected, he was somehow not immediately recognisable.
Now, I find that rather intriguing. For if you watched last Sunday’s episode of Maigret on the telly, you will know the real drama was in the unmasking of people. Indeed, the plot of every thriller is seeing people as they really are; in truly recognising them as it were.

Well, possibly Matthew was using this concept to entice you into his gospel narrative. The storyline being that you can only understand the birth and life and death of Christ from the viewpoint of his resurrection. For, it is only from that vista, can we recognize that time itself has been defeated. More to the point, time has been vanquished not by making it ‘never ending’ but rather by making time non-existent. Now, this is a wonderful hope for those who have lost a loved one. For, through Jesus’ cancellation of time, we know our beloved are still here but just out of our mortal sight.

However, there may have been another reason that Jesus was not directly recognised by his followers.

This leads me to a great story I heard from a Minister recently:
Some years ago, when he was a Parish Minister, he happened to be at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh visiting a parishioner he hadn’t met before. He located the ward and the bed. “Hello, there, Mrs Bloggs, and how are you feeling today? “Not so bad, thanks, but I’ve got a bit of pain…about here” and she indicated her abdomen, and then proceeded to go into what the minister thought was very personal and indeed private, if not intimate detail about the effects of her recent surgery.
He was getting a bit hot under the dog collar by this time, and especially when she said that she would like to show me her operation scar.
“I think I’d better get a nurse, Mrs B”
“Right, DOCTOR” she answered
That’s when the penny dropped. DOCTOR a case of mistaken identity.
Needless to say, he made his excuses and left.

Put directly, we often don’t recognize Christ, because we have made a case of mistaken identification. More precisely, we have looking for the Jesus we have made up in our head rather than the real one. A bit like the mistake of the disciples on the Emmaus road.

For we often concoct an image up of him from childhood myths, others’ cod-theologies and even our own desires and prejudices. In essence, we want to hug the Jesus of our wants and run away from the Jesus of our haunts. And, as a result, we do not accept the real Christ with his own requests, his own goals and his own topics of conversations.
And so, we walk by; we do not recognize him in his own right.

It is here, I want to recount a tale I have told you before. For that I am sorry however it is very relevant here. Moreover, it is a great tale. It is in a book by Kathleen O’Sullivan. She says one evening she was in the queue at her local fish and chip shop. It was a bitterly cold and windy night. Everyone just wanted to pick up their food and get back to their warm homes. Suddenly, the door opened and in blew a gentleman of the road. The other customers drew closer together and away from him. The manager surreptitiously appeared and spoke to the arrival quietly. There was no problem as the tramp had enough money for a cup of coffee.
As Kathleen collected her order, she turned and looked at the man sitting alone at wall counter. Suddenly, her world reeled before her. For behind the unkempt beard, she saw the eyes of he who had seen Peter on the beach, the eyes of the one who greeted his followers on the road to Emmaus. The eyes of he who joined them on the mountain top. She saw too the eyes of one who knew her to the core of her being. Moreover, for a second, she also saw his amusement at that moment of recognition. She hurried from the shop in total confusion.

Let then the experience of the disciples on the road Emmaus be a warning to us. In fact, in the week ahead, let us try to put aside our preconceptions of Jesus and let him speak for himself. Let us look for him in the strangest and least expected places. Let us indeed not walk blindly and so allow him to pass us by. For we may not come that way again.

Oh, we say I don’t have the time.
Your right – but God has!

All we need do is recognise it in him and him out with it!

.

Amen

Are being called?

Where are all the books for new Christians? Asked a young believer in a huge church bookshop. There isn’t such a section! – he was told.

So where do we start when the Spirit rears her beautiful head in our lives?

Good question and I hope to try out a few answers.

Actually, I have already started. Since the desire to find Christ comes from us becoming aware that we are spiritual beings. Moreover, the truth is that we are being constantly called by God; a bit like those automated systems that ring our phones repeatedly. So, let start with that ‘sense of call’.

Now people make a real meal of the term being called. So much so, we are shy of using it for what it is – our creator checking in with his creation. In fact, just as when we answer our cellphone, we don’t require to be in a holy place, reading a holy book or switching to a holy mode, we just need to stop and say ‘hi’. All we need do is be in and listening.

So today let’s switch on, be still and listen.

Surprised by resurrection

Luke 24.1-12

There is only one thing more annoying than forgetting the punchline of a joke and that is to remember the ending but not the jape that went before.

 

And that is relevant today, as I saw a sermon title but could find the text. To explain, I was researching today’s talk when I came across the heading ‘surprised by resurrection’. However, I then lost the page and never did read the story beyond it.

 

Nevertheless, you’ve got to admit it’s a cracking title – surprised by resurrection. So much so, it got me thinking. It indeed got be pondering the types of surprises.

 

For there are those pleasant ones of unexpected visitors or invitations to a party. And there are the nasty ones – I’ll leave their illustration to yourself. But there is a third category of surprise – the ones that leave us dumbfounded as we simply can’t fathom what has happened.

 

Now this seems to be the type of surprise suffered by the women and the disciples in today’s resurrection story. For, as we read their story, we get no sense of joy at the Lord’s resurrection – in fact, quite the reverse. Since, if the truth be told, what they were seeing was beyond their experience and comprehension. As a result, the whole experience must have been at best perplexing and at worse downright unsettling. Because, we as a species, are uncomfortable with the inexplicable, events that don’t fit a pattern and facts that cannot be bound with others to give understanding.

 

And it is for these reasons, resurrection is not a hot topic even amongst Christians today. For, we know we don’t see it in our every day. And, as a result, we fear it can be more a stumbling block to faith than a promise of that faith.

 

What then is to be done when we encounter this surprise called resurrection?

How do we cope with the incomprehensibility of resurrection?

Ultimately, what does resurrection genuinely mean for you and I?

 

Well, I believe we must start at a point where the disciples did not. And that means approaching the whole narrative with an open mind. Since Jesus’ followers had a lot of misconceptions about how his rule would be established. As a result, they were not ready to be surprised – surprised by the total newness of the situation.

Let us not make the same mistake – let us be ready to be surprised.

 

Next, we need acknowledge there is much in this physical universe we do not understand – indeed don’t know about. What other civilisations lie far out in space as an example.

 

When we do this, we prepare ourselves for the surprise of something totally different.

It is then we are ready put aside all the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the resurrection. We ready to set aside explanation. We ready to acknowledge our limitations.  And now are we are open to encounter – encounter with risen lord in our lives. We are open to companionship –  companionship with Christ with us. And we are open to love – the love of the living Jesus.

 

Finally, we in the right place to receive the real surprise at the core and purpose of resurrection.

 

Since in the early part of World War II, an American Navy submarine was stuck on the bottom of the harbour in New York City. It seemed that all was lost. There was no electricity and the oxygen was quickly running out. It seems the crew was lost.  A Navy diver went over the side of a rescue ship to the dangerous depths in one last rescue attempt. The trapped sailors heard the metal boots of the diver land on the hull’s surface, and they moved to where they thought the rescuer would be. In the darkness, they tapped in Morse code, “Is there hope?” The diver on the outside, recognizing the message, signalled by tapping on the casing of the sub, “Yes, there is hope.”

Here then is the real surprise of resurrection. Here is the real purpose of Easter. For it is not about chocolate eggs and bunnies. It is not even about days off and family get-togethers. It’s about being surprised by hope where we least expect it. It is about being surprised by hope in the darkest places. It is about finding hope when we least understand it. In fact, it is about coming alive again by more hope than we can handle.

 

And that is no joke!

Weeping angels

My one call to fame

is that I saw

the very first episode of Dr Who –

now that ages me!

 

Today I don’t keep up

With this famous sci-fi thriller.

 

Therefore, I had never heard

of

the Weeping Angels.

 

Apparently,

they are a race

of predatory creatures

that resembling stone statues.

 

According to The Doctor,

the Weeping Angels

“are as old as the universe

(or very nearly),

but no one really knows

where they come from.”

 

He also describes them

as “the deadliest,

most powerful,

most malevolent life-form

ever produced.”

 

On Palm Sunday,

we hear of Christ

weeping over the stones

of Jerusalem.

 

For he perceived

in its heart

an evil

not of fiction

but of sad reality;

by that I mean,

the evil

humans can do to each other.

 

And that seems as old

as the universe too

and again

no one often

can tell where it comes from.

 

Of course,

his tears that day

would not be the only ones

shed in the week ahead.

 

For his followers

would weep for their master,

Peter would weep for his denial,

Judas for his betrayal

and possibly most poignant of all –

a mother would weep for her dying son.

 

Here then is a story

that can chill

more than any TV monster.

 

Yet we have the antidote

to any scary moments

ahead.

 

We have the sight

of the empty tomb,

we have the companionship

of the risen lord

and we have his strength

to glimpse heaven

just around the corner.

 

And how do we tune

to that programme?

 

Well, we can do that

in a blink of an eye.

 

We can do that in prayer.

 

Let us pray

for the rebuilding

of a better global Jerusalem

here and now.

 

Lord God,

you cried over your people

and we cry with you.

For we know the road ahead,

its every pothole and place of ambush.

 

We know it is we who wait on the side-lines

and silently watch you slip by

on your way to the anguish

of a night’s silent garden,

of a betrayer’s wine-stained kiss,

of the shout of hammer on nail.

 

Lord God,

you cried over your world

and we cry with you.

 

For we know only too well

the hurt and despair,

the lack of peace and hunger for war.

Yet we know too

there is love and healing enough.

You showed it yourself

in your gentleness and compassion.

 

You said it yourself from a cross

and you proved it once and for all

in an empty tomb

just when the world believed

it was all empty words.

 

Promised Messiah,

visit the desperate places.

 

King of kings,

give strength to the powerless places.

 

Living Word,

walk in the lifeless places.

 

Servant saviour,

tend in the needy places.

 

Rejected sufferer,

comfort in the painful places.

 

Death defeater,

bring wholeness and healing

to all places.

And start here, Lord, among us.

 

 

Indeed, we now offer

our own tear prayers

 

 

 

Amen.

 

Saints for one day

Luke 22.47-53

 

Well that is another year past since we met here in last Holy week. Has it been a good year for you? Possibly and I hope so or possibly not! Of course, there have been days of joy and roses but there may well have also been the ones more adorned with ashes into the bargain.

In truth, looking back over since last Easter we too regularly see what my old chemistry teacher called human ill-nature. Put more directly, the world has seen better times. Or as one newspaper correspondent recently entitled his article – Welcome to the age of anger.

 

Yet, it is human ill-nature even anger that brings us to this week. Since, theologians will write screeds about why Christ has to die upon the cross. And these ideas are worthy of great study. Yet the fact at the simplest level was he was a powerless and troublesome outsider. One who gets picked up by the midnight patrol out for trouble. One who speaks the most dangerous words of all – the unvarnished truth.   For, we all know what happens to the outsider who speaks out not just under totalitarian regimes but often in democracies as well. For, the lives of those who make the crowd angry tends to be time-bound. Witness, for example, the recent massed assault on an innocent asylum seeker in Croydon.

 

Nevertheless, Jesus was not a hapless victim. He was not just a person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, he used his judicial murder to turn the tables. He defeated the tawdry power structures and self-serving and rabble-rousing. He turned the nastiest and bitterest side of humanity into something more magnificent than was, is and every will be perceived. He made the mob into disciples.

In a word, he turned the Friday of Judas into the Sunday of God.

 

Now at this point I wanted to bring to your attention some saintly person who would typify the outsider hero of today. And whilst a few names came to mind, I realised there seems a distinct dearth of heroic leaders prominent in our global village today. Worse still, even some who have been much venerated in the past have now been shown to have feet of clay.

 

What’s then to be done?

 

Simples!

 

We here – you and I – need to fill the gap. We must be the saintly women and men of this hour. We need to be heroes even for a day. We must, in the name of Christ, take the people from Friday’s gloom to Sunday’s Sunshine. For if we don’t, no one else will!

 

How?

 

By following Jesus even into the darkness to bring healing. We need to echo his words and say loudly to the world’s faction – No more of this!

The we need heal people – one with one – with all their nature ill or otherwise. We need heal communities – one with one – with all their diversities and differences. We must heal the nations – one with one – with all they could to offer each other.

 

Feel you can’t do that?

 

Well, one hero from the year gone past has just come to mind. Since British astronaut Tim Peake was courageous enough to follow his dream and fly into outer space. He was harmonious enough to live with his neighbours, Russian and American, in the International Space Station for 6 months. But above all, he was astute enough to see this beautiful vulnerable earth spinning in the realm of darkness and say –  “Don’t let anybody tell you –  you can’t do anything.”

 

So, come on! Let’s be saints not of the darkness but for our bright blue planet earth. Let’s make Easter Sunday last well into the year ahead. In fact, for Jesus sake, let’s make it a better year all around.

 

Amen