Following Apple?

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With Apple reporting record profits, most commentators are asking just one question – what’s next? Since the legendary technology giant is faced with only two futures. One is coming up with a revolutionary new product which will again dominate the market. Or simply, going downwards. Tim Cook’s team then must be toiling 24/7 to find ‘what’s next’ or lose their position as King of the Castle. For, as Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates says – his fear is missing the next turn in the road.

 

So, which turn did the Church miss? Was it the increase in Sunday activities, s decline in organised religion or even the blossoming in options for entertainment? Well, it could have been much earlier. It could have been when television mushroomed from a one-channel wonder into the all-encompassing communication platform it is today. In short, the Church did and does not do TV well!

 

From the very beginning the Church has tried to meld television onto its existing ways of doing business. As a result, we are usually offered mildly patronising congregational services spiced up by breathlessly excited presenters. Worst still, are high-brow discussion programmes where some non-media savvy cleric gets trounced by eminent humanists bent on taking chunks out of religious belief in any form.

 

Even the idea of one congregation sending SMS comments to the preacher during the sermon misses the point. Because it is not the interactivity that is misplaced, it is the concept of the sermon itself. Where else would people sit through a lengthy monologue without visual aids other than the odd political meeting or in lecture theatre?

 

Let’s then consider how we use the huge opportunities of social and multimedia for their own strengths and not cobble them on our own cherished if outmoded worship practices. This means using words, images, audio and video in a coherent and stimulating whole that communicates the gospel concisely. As an illustration, I give you the many outstanding documentaries now being shown on such difficult topics as cosmology, physics and ecology.

Is this means of communication easy? – no it isn’t! However, neither is foreseeing the next bend in the road; a bend if missed could mean the Church coming off humanity’s superhighway entirely.

 

 

 

 

How did Poloroid do it?

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Do you remember the Polaroid camera?

This amazing invention by Edwin Land that gave photographs in 60 seconds.  In fact, my school friend’s father had one for his business.  I still remember the thrill of peeling back the paper cover to see the image taken a few moments before.  Of course, the film’s cost was horrendous. Yet those acrid smelling pictures were truly magical. This technology is gone however; overtaken like most film cameras by the digital revolution.

And so, just as I asked recently about the fate of Kodak, I wondered too of Polaroid? Then I realised that my cell phone charger was made by none other than Polaroid.  Thinking about it, I realised that there were many of their products in my supermarket’s gadget isle. So, Polaroid has survived when other others such as Ilford and Agfa had not.

 

Good on them, but how?

 

Well, Polaroid’s mission statement explains:

Polaroid has been a trusted global brand for 80 years and is best known for pioneering instant photography. We embrace the nostalgia inherent in our past, allowing us to embrace old technologies through new technologies and beyond.

 

I rather like the idea of embracing the past but then using it to make things new in the future. The Church could learn from this vision. For, if we wish to bring people and Christ’s Kingdom closer together, then our ’products’ need to be constantly evolving. Put more brutally, gone should be panics over finding new members, more off-the-self services and fund-raising to be replaced with styles of worship and community that are radically more suited to the digital 21st Century. Since an openness to new ways of working would free us up to do better with less. It would help us give priority to the ‘why’ instead of the ‘how’.

 

So, what did for the instant Land camera? Ultimately the smartphone with its lens that gives truly instant images. The irony is that it could well be powered with a Polaroid charger.

That’s how they did it!

 

Do you understand?

Do you understand?

 

Acts 8.26-40

 

One of my favourite visits when we are on holiday in Durham is the local air museum. Very much a self-help operation, there is a certain air of how things used to be before electronic screens. This sense is heightened by their reconstruction of a wartime street. In a kitchen, an aproned woman is baking with earthenware bowls and an enamelled gas cooker. The air raid warden’s hut and Anderson Shelter give a reminder of the nation being ‘all together’ facing a common foe. And the toyshop’s window displays metal Meccano – now there’s memory from the past!

 

i12011And after a few moments, it is easy to say – those were simpler times, those were better times and then the real clanger –those were safer times. For one door lies ajar and it tempts you to push it open – only to find the undertaker on the other side. Those war years then were not safer times – they were indeed very dangerous times. This however doesn’t stop us from searching for that cheapest item of eye wear – rose-tinted spectacles.

 

Now nostalgia fuel myopia was certainly a risk facing the early apostles.

 

For, with the death of Christ, our faith’s ancestors faced a cross roads. They could have sought the apparent safety of a socially walled-off group within their exclusive parent religion. They could have cultivated the delicious ‘them and us’ syndrome that effects all sects.  They could indeed have run back to the known and possibly safer past.

 

Or – or they could grasp the alternative. They could break out into the risks of a new world; a future of hostility and opportunity. Put more directly, they could step out bravely into tomorrow.

Obviously, this would mean a geographical journey across the lands of the ancient Roman world. But it also meant a sociological journey across the boundaries between peoples, life styles, personalities and attributes. It meant, in fact, finding new ways of worshipping, living and witnessing.

 

Since – you see – the Ethiopian official in Acts would have been a different race, culture and class than Philip. It would therefore have been very easy for him to have seen this rather exotic character at a distance and let him pass. But he did not, he took courage from the spirit and did the right thing. He leapt the wall that divided them and ask the question – do you understand what you are reading?

In return, and to the Ethiopian’s credit, he pushed his pride to one side and asked for help from a foreigner. Help to understand the prediction of the good news of Jesus Christ for all peoples.  And so, the outcome of this interchange was a baptism and the message carried outward – carried forward into the future; the future where we live now.

 

We too can blind ourselves with rose-tinted spectacles and hanker for a past of packed churches complete with overflowing Sunday Schools.  We can hunger for everyone wanting to do church in the same way. And many Christian communities still look to this reminiscence as safe and sure and cosy.

 

However, it no longer exists any more than the whole family sitting around the steam radio listening to news from foreign fronts. Instead, our world today is multi-screened, multi-coloured and multi-choice – so let’s embrace it with the Spirit – let’s step out with courage – let’s get on with the job of being the future.

 

Yet even if we want to modern day Philips, we are unsure how to access this future. And the answer lies in those questions – do you understand what you are reading?  And, can you explain it to me?

 

A first-year student in a seminary was told by the dean that he should plan to preach the sermon in chapel the following day. He had never preached a sermon before, he was nervous and afraid, and he stayed up all night, but in the morning, he didn’t have a sermon. He stood in the pulpit, looked out at his classmates and said, “Do you know what I am going to say?” All of them shook their heads “no” and he said “Neither do I. The service has ended. Go in peace.”

The dean was not happy. “I’ll give you another chance tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, he stayed up all night; and again he couldn’t come up with a sermon. Next morning, he stood in the pulpit and asked, “Do you know what I am going to say?” The students all nodded their heads “yes.” “Then there is no need to tell you” he said. “The service has ended. Go in peace.”

Now the dean was angry. “I’ll give you one more chance; if you don’t have a sermon tomorrow, you will be asked to leave.” Again, no sermon came. He stood in the pulpit the next day and asked, “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of the students nodded “yes” and the other half shook their heads “no.” The student preacher then announced “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended. Go in peace.”

The seminary dean walked over to the student, put his arm over the student’s shoulders, and said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. Well done!”

 

Here then is how to spread the good news of Jesus Christ today. Here is how we can break down the barriers of difference that so many are rushing to build up. Here indeed is how to make our faith live in this 21sr Century.

 

For we need to ask each other – do you understand? And where we hear ‘yes’ let us hear a resounding proclamation of the gospel’s experience. But where we hear ‘No’ – let us give witness from the depths of our own understanding. Our knowledge that Christ came for all humanity and creation. That Christ lives so that his presence can guide and sustain even when life is flinging its worst at us. That Christ is alive, that his church is not a museum and his people are moving forward.

 

So, this day – if you do not understand, then ask.

 

If you know, then say.

 

For then the gospel is preached, the kingdom is brought near and the past is made fresh for the future.

 

The sermon is ended – now, preach one to another.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice to see you!

Luke 18.31-42

Luke 19.1-10

 

The King James Version of the bible has many faults. But the one I enjoyed most, as a small boy, was the direct translation from Latin of the tax-collector as a publican. The mental image of some poor bartender polishing glasses up a tree amused me no end.

 

But the Latin word ‘publicani’ meant either to be contractor of public works or farmer of the Roman taxes. This confirmed that Zacchaeus was sub-contracted to collect customs duties and other taxes in his neighbourhood.

 

Now history tells us that he would have won this lucrative franchise from the Roman authorities at auction. Once that was done, he only had to collect dues at least to value of his up-front payment. In essence, his purchase price was treated as a loan to the Romans.

 

However, the danger was that the taxes collected would be less than had already been paid out. So, these collectors weren’t inclined to leniency. More to the point, anything he made on the side was his to keep. As a result, tax farmers would have lived a very good life with temptation for corruption never far away. Unsurprisingly too, these revenue men were pretty universally loathed.  So we can imagine him singing the old pop song – let’s make loads of money.

 

 

Therefore, Zacchaeus’ conversion to the side of good was not just to be welcomed it was a miracle. No wonder his change of heart would have been not just a matter of rejoicing, it would have been greeted with astonishment. For he was now singing another Pet Shop Boys’ hit:

 

When I look back upon my life
It’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too

It’s a sin

 

What a great sight Zacchaeus now has of himself!

 

It was if he was the blind man, in the first lesson, who wanted to see and had his sight restored by Jesus.

 

But that regained insight begs the questions – what are people not seeing today and why are they not seeing?

 

Certainly, the disciples could not see. They could not see the reason for our Lord’s passion. To them this talk of insult, injury and death were an anathema. This just wasn’t the way the script should be played out. Thus, we read – the meaning was hidden from them.

 

Yet here I suspect the gospel writer was being rather charitable. Since they probably were hid the meaning from themselves. For none of us willingly hear bad news. All of us what purely good news. All of us wants lazy ways. All of us want simple answers.

 

Therefore, in these troubled times, if we are not to fall into the same blinding trap, we need to start where the blind man was. We need to cry out to the Son of David with an open heart. We need to rush with expectation. We need to shout out – I do want to see. Because that is the only way to grasp the future as Christ sees it – the future not just of passion but also resurrection. That is the only way to face a future of pain as well as joy through God’s support and encouragement. For that indeed is the only way to run towards a saving vision with all the vigour of Zacchaeus, all the abandon of Zacchaeus and all the contrition of Zacchaeus.

 

Yet why not remain comfortable in the easy and simple solutions so readily on offer?

 

Why take the trouble to be persistent in seeking the Lord’s saving power?

 

Why be cured of our deluding blindness?

 

Well those questions have is a least one clear and honest answer. For it is through Christ alone will we be free of fear of the real future that awaiting us.

 

Shokoi Yokoi spent 28 years in a prison. Not a prison of walls, but a prison of fear. When the tide in World War II began to turn, Shokoi was a Japanese soldier on the island of Guam. Fearing that defeat meant certain capture and death at the hands of the American forces, Shokoi ran into the jungle and hid in a cave. He later learned that the war was over by reading one of the thousands of leaflets that were dropped into the jungle by American planes. But he still feared being taken prisoner, so he remained in his cave.
For over a quarter century, he came out only at night. He existed on frogs, rats, roaches, and mangoes. A few years back, some hunters discovered him and it was only after they sent to Japan for his aged commander to come and talk with him that they could convince him that it was safe to come out and return home.
Twenty-eight years of living in a cave because he was afraid. Twenty-eight years lost because of fear. What a shame. How could a person be so foolish? How could a person be so imprisoned by fear? A life wasted because he was afraid to see reality. A life lost. And it is all too common…

 

Let us not approach this Easter looking for the undemanding and simplistic. Let us not be blind to our risky future ahead. Yet us not also be imprisoned by fear. For the Son of David is listening. He is watching. Moreover, he is beckoning. Because this is the season of him coming to stay and stay for good. This is the season of his rising to restore glorious sight. This is the season of his merciful salvation.

 

And so, we need not say –‘ Goodbye, we miss you already’ we need only say ‘Hello – it’s nice to see you!’

 

 

 

A real nativity play

It is fitting

at a Carol service

to remember

that ballad

written by Gill Bowman

from Bellyeoman Primary

in Dunfermline.

 

It is called

the School Nativity play

and goes like this:

 

A wise man opened the curtain too soon

The star in the east fell down with a boom

The innkeeper said ‘There’s plenty of room’

Oh, it all went wrong on the day

 

Joseph’s wee brother was violently sick,

He nearly choked on his lolly stick

So, I held out Mum’s handbag quick

And it all went wrong on the day

 

A shepherd made a dash for the loo

The rickety platform split in two

It was just a stage we were going through

In the school nativity play

 

A spotlight fell and I got the blame

Gabriel’s wings made a pretty blue flame

And we all went home when the firemen came

To the school nativity play

 

Oh, the donkey sneezed and the stable fell down,

One of the three Kings broke his crown

Primary two were the talk of the town

In the school nativity play.

 

Nativity plays then

are part and partial

of our own Christmas stories.

 

They are blessed

with a naivety

that speaks of the child

in all of us

dreaming of trees

and parties

and presents.

 

They speak of Christmases past

with their myriad of memories.

 

They speak of a simple faith

that is nice to have

at this time of year

 

Nevertheless,

it is too easy to place

in the whole shebang

of stables, shepherds,

donkeys and wise men

in the fairy tale category.

 

It is too easy

to see it

as little more than

a cute scene

for a sparkly Christmas card.

 

And, thus,

we dismiss it

as having no deeper message

to us.

 

For it could be said

we all go home

when reality comes

to the school nativity play.

 

Nevertheless,

that forgets the dream.

 

The dream that has

Somehow

got people

to be less like people

and more like God

for two thousand years.

 

The dream that

somehow

the world was changed

by that story

from Bethlehem.

 

The dream indeed

that we ourselves

can and will be changed

by the ultimate truth

behind wee boys in towels

and girls in mum’s old curtains.

 

For the essence of this story

is that the world

is not made better

by the great,

the successful

and the mighty.

 

The human experience

is not improved

by the globe’s outstanding thinkers.

 

Your life and my life

isn’t brought in touch

with transformational love

by the chief executive,

the director

or the government minister.

 

That is done

by ordinary people

being extraordinary

in the muddle

and trouble of life.

 

It is done simply

because God is with us

in the muddle

and trouble of life.

 

Moreover, Christ

is most clearly seen

in the muddle

and trouble

and even rubble of life.

 

Last year

at our Christingle service,

Ken, Daryl and I

cast the nativity story

into the set

of the latest Star Wars film.

 

Hopefully it was fun

and entertaining.

 

Yet some years earlier

I wrote the same narrative

into a real conflict zone.

 

Since even as we speak,

the UN private jet

is landing amongst

the regime’s fighters

and cargo planes.

 

The corridor

into the besieged district

will only be open

for less than an hour.

 

So as the convoy of land-cruisers

speeds through

the dark and rubble

of a once thriving city,

the diplomatic team

know time

is desperately short.

 

Even before they stop,

the bodyguards are out

with their assault rifles

securing

the graffiti scarred block’s entrance.

 

The visitors are almost

man—handled

up the stinking stairwell

and into a freezing room

lit by a single battery lantern.

 

There, for a moment,

the rush turns to hush

as the grandees

take in the new born child

lying in a Red Cross aid box.

 

In the gloom,

they sense the unease

of the father;

an older man

in builder’s trousers and fleece.

 

Yet the young mother

is somehow serene

even as the wind

whistles through

the broken window.

 

In a moment,

those representatives

of the world’s government

s drop to their knees

and worship.

 

But it is only for a second,

for an explosion

is heard in the distance,

radios cackle

and the guards

start to push

the panicky civilians

out of the enclosing danger.

 

A helicopter clatters overhead

with sinister intent.

 

Suddenly, one diplomat

recovers enough composure

to remember

they have brought a gift –

one of the most precious things

on planet earth.

 

As he offers it,

the father stares

hungrily

at the unbelievable treasure.

 

Since it is none other

than

a visa for the United States.

 

Come he says

and bring the saviour

of the world

out of here!

 

Come he can do

so much good

from safety.

 

Come this is no place

for a child!

 

No – says the mother,

he was born here,

he is born for here

and he will stay here.

 

For this is the place

of this child.

Now for his sake go

and make it safe.

 

As we return to our world

of cardboard crowns

and plastic cribs,

let us not forget

that other world

of the real nativity play.

 

Let us not forget

that Christ came

for the muddle

and trouble of life.

 

Let us not forget

that Christ too

wants to be with us

when we face

life’s muddle and trouble.

 

Above all,

let this story inspire us

to make our ordinariness

extraordinary.

 

Let this story

transmute us

from wanting to be great

to wanting to be good.

 

Let this story

permeate our being

so that we to go home

now

and make

this crazy mixed up world

safe –

safe for every primary two child –

safe indeed

for God to be with us.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah’s Promises

Jeremiah 36.1-7 (p798)

Jeremiah 31.31- 37 (p793)

 

Promises! Promises! Promises! If there is one word that can sum up this year politically it is promises. And whether they will be fulfilled remains to be seen.

 

Yet life is full of promises which are not quite all that they seem. The small print in that insurance policy. The advert which is misleading. Or, more trivially, the food that is not as tasty as the picture on its packaging suggests. So, in a way, we are quite sceptical even cynical of promises.

 

Yet in Jeremiah we hear of two promises. One which is summarised for the Israelites in the scroll that Baruch reads out in the temple.  Since, in our first lesson, God is portrayed as promising judgement upon their ruler and themselves. In fact, that is a recurrent theme throughout the Book of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, elsewhere in Jeremiah we have found a more palatable promise; the promise – I will be their God and they will be my people. A promise indeed we hear echoed in the words of the last supper – the words we repeat communion upon communion – the words that we find made flesh in our lives through the risen Christ.

 

How then do we reconcile these two apparently opposing promises? How do we find hope as well as admonishment in Jeremiah’s prophecies? How do we understand a God who judges firmly as well as covenants to be our saviour in time of trouble?

 

I am not sure if you have seen the new Netflix series called The Crown. It is based on the early years of the reign of our Queen. Whilst I suspect that it is a bit apocryphal in parts, it is nevertheless very entertaining and glossy. That isn’t surprising, as the price tag for 10 episodes, was a cool 100 million dollars.

 

In it, we see the child Princess Elizabeth being taught the elements of the constitution. Not least that the monarch’s role is only to warn, advise and guide her government. So too we can see the role of God in human affairs. This is not surprising as we can warn a child not to go near hot stoves but in the end, we cannot always prevent him or her. We can advise on friendship but not stop a relationship. We can encourage the doing of homework but not actually do it for a youngster. And so, it is with God.

 

Here then lies the apparent judgement of God. For it is more about foresight, more about a warning, more about lifesaving advice than any imposition of a sentence.

 

However, in the end, we can and do ignore this sage wisdom and go away ahead to the inevitable outcome. We can and do turn our backs on God’s foresight and travel blithely on. And so, in the end of the day, we are not really visited by God’s action rather we must live with our own.

 

Where then does this leave God’s second promise. The one about being our God and we being his people?

 

I must admit to never having read Clive Staples Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have only seen the film. Nevertheless, even in that format, its Christian message cannot be mistaken. And it is all to do with that second divine promise.

 

Since At the beginning of the book four children are playing in their uncle’s wardrobe when they discover it is a doorway to Narnia. As they enter Narnia they learn it is under the spell of a wicked witch.
The children hear rumours that Aslan, the great Lion, will soon return to the forest so they devise a plan to overthrow the witch. But Edmund then turns traitor to the cause.
The witch requests an audience with Aslan and talks to him about the deep magic from the dawn of time. She says, “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that I have a right to a kill.”
Aslan agrees and Edmund is to be sacrificed on the Stone Table. But then something unexpected and horrible happens. Aslan offers to be sacrificed in place of Edmund. The witch is delighted to be rid of Aslan once for all. He is bound, humiliated before the Witches entourage, and killed. It appears to the children that wickedness has won the day and that all is lost.
As the children tearfully leave the scene it is dawn. They hear a great cracking, a deafening noise. They rush back and find the great table split in two and Aslan gone. Suddenly he appears before them and as they shake in fear he explains to them “that though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she does not know. The magical promise beyond time that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

 

Here then is the throne of the second and greatest promise from God. Since he doesn’t just stand aside wringing his hands as we make a complete mess of things. He doesn’t just stand waving a teared stain hankie as go our errant way. Instead, he has sent someone to help get back on track. He has sent someone to help change us towards making amends. He has sent us an ever-present saviour to sort out the debts we have accrued and take their price upon his own head. Simply, he has sent, sends and ever will send Jesus Christ.

 

As this year ends with all its promises threatening to turn to unwelcome omens, let us remember the opportunity always to go in a different direction. Let remember the promise of God’s wisdom to illuminate a brighter path. Let us indeed remember the Son’s promise of opening a fresher way by paying off the toll.

 

No wonder then the Witch in C S Lewis’ book banned Christmas – for then there would be but a wintery foreboding in our hearts. Mercifully, the Lion’s return is always promising.

 

Amen

 

Your offering will now be received as Don play for our reflection