Following Apple?


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?


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!


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!

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?




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!




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.

















The Spirit is willing!

Acts 2.1-13; 1 Cor 12.1-11


We talk about the gift’s given by God in rather a strange way. We say someone is a gifted musician or artist. We say to a friend – you have the gift of listening. We even say sarcastically – someone thinks they are God’s gift too – well you can pick your arena of life to complete that sentence.


Yet in each case we seem praise the recipient for the gift’s receipt. And so to be gifted is to be lauded. To gifted is to be honoured. To be gifted is to have a born-with ability turned into an accolade.


Why is that? I ask that since the very word ‘gift’ dictates that this inherent capability comes from without. The personal merit therefore lies in the hard work, dedication and determination in using the talent given rather than the giving itself. For whether developed or not, the gift is still there.


Here then is a good starting point to re-examine the gift of the Holy Spirit we celebrate today. For there is no indication that the disciples in any way deserved the receipt of the fiery tongues of God. They had no specific worth to be given the wind of change in Jesus Christ. They may not even have particularly wanted the Spirit that sees, challenges and demands at every moment. Indeed, their lives would probably have been much more settled if they hadn’t had the Spirit bestowed.


But, receive it they did. And as a result they were changed from fumbling disciples to wise apostles. They changed from followers to leaders. They changed from dimly seeing to being fully clued up; from the tongue tied to outstanding orators and from being becalmed in mediocrity to riding fearlessly the winds of transformation.


Let us then acknowledge our own gift of the Spirit as externally given. Let us give thanks for our own gift of the tongues of fire as the source of personal inspiration. Let us just be grateful for our own gift of the gale of compulsion to make the gospel live, speak and make changes – changes both within ourselves and in those around us.


However, is that the sermon done then?


More positively, where do we go from this simple acknowledge?


For that we need to look at Paul’s advice to the Christians at the Greek port of Corinth. For here maybe like today was a church very much in need of the new fruits of the Holy Spirit.


Since we see within the gift of the Spirit there are many qualities, many abilities and many facets. Paul indeed points out some of them in his epistle. For he talks of wisdom, knowledge, faith and more enigmatically, speaking in tongues. And by that, he is reminding we are all gifted in different and maybe not obvious ways.


However, the more important point he then makes is how we use our gifts. And so he takes us back to our merit being in the hard work and determination needed to exploit any gift rather than in the bestowal of the gift itself. Back to how we should make use of all that we have been given towards being apostles, leaders and game changers. Back indeed to how we use all that we are to build the church as a harmonious, living and Christ fulfilling community. Back ultimately as to how we fit snuggly into the jigsaw of God’s plan. For all gifts are provided for the one purpose and that is to work together. Because, as Paul proclaims, they are all given by one unifying Spirit.


Yet despite hearing this, we can still feel our skills and talents and abilities are our own. We regard them as hard won gold to be spent as we would wish. We still see ourselves as masters of our own destinies and captains of our own souls without need of the help or challenge of the Spirit.


Why then bother to seek to be part the Pentecost’s team?


A little girl was visiting her grandmother one beautiful spring morning. They walked out into the old woman’s garden. As the grandmother was inspecting the progress of her flowers the little girl decided to try to open a rosebud with her own two hands. But no luck! As she would pull the petals open, they would tear or bruise or wilt or break off completely. Finally, in frustration, she said, “Gramma, I just don’t understand it at all. When God opens a flower, it looks so beautiful but when I try, it just comes apart.” “Well, honey,” Grandmother answered, “There’s a good reason for that. God is able to do it because He works from the inside out!”


This simple story has a simple message for this Pentecost. Since God today has given each and every one of us a gift. It is freely given for our use and purposes.


Yet if we really want to see it blossom then we must apply it with determination, effort and enthusiasm. We must deploy it with the benefit of our faith, community and world in mind. But above all we need to offer all its capabilities, fruits and possibilities up to the giver. Since then we will not just build afresh but also fulfil ourselves afresh. Because the Spirit opens our treasure’s flower not from the outside but from the inside and as a result we are infinitely more beautiful.




















Easter – It’s not Christmas!

John 20.1-16


light on the upward hill

light on the upward hill


Well, are you ready

to rush home

and open your presents?






Are itching

to get on with cooking

the turkey

with all the trimmings?


Are standing by

for the arrival

of the whole family

for a party of crackers,

paper hats, riddles and carols?


Are you thinking that I have,

at last,

gone off the rails?

Continue reading

A Prayer for Holy Saturday

dalu_st_johnEach time
we do not speak your name
for fear of ridicule
we deny you.

Each time
we do not bring your love
into a situation
we deny you.

Each time
we fail to see your face
in friend of stranger
we deny you.

Forgive us,
as you forgive all
who humbly turn to you,
and open our eyes once more
to the reality of the Cross.

©John Birch, from my book ‘The Act of Prayer’

A Prayer for Good Friday

A prayer for Good Friday

Love did not die
upon that cross
but, arms outstretched,
still welcomes us,
the twisted thorns
bejewelled with
pearls of blood –
a fitting crown
for the one who is
the Servant King,
leading his people
victorious through
death’s dark vale
into a promised land.

Love did not die
upon that cross
but, arms outstretched,
still welcomes us.

© John Birch, from my book ‘The Act of Prayer’

11 May – What to do this Sunday



This Sunday we are  thinking about meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were dispirited after Jesus’ crucifixion. And although they had heard about his resurrection, they just didn’t believe it! But now a stranger hurries after them and explains God’s whole plot.


They invite him in to eat and what do you the stranger turns into Jesus.


Please then walk along the Emmaus road see who you could meet………….

Continue reading