The Good Bouncer!

Psalm 23

John 10.1-4

My old school song was in Latin. And when I was taught it in primary school, we weren’t even given a translation.  So, even today, I can recite it at break-neck speed without the first idea of what it means. A tribute then to the memory of youth. A similar feat can be the ultra-swift recitation of the 23rd psalm. Since many of us were forced to learn it by heart. Yet the danger is the same as with the school song, words without understanding.

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By Xxinvictus34535 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Let us then take time today to tease out this, the most famous of psalms. Let us take time to meet it afresh not as a memorising chore but as a friend. Let us indeed find within its refreshing depths, meaning that will get us through to those green pastures and quiet water flowing by.

 

Of course, the key word in the 23rd Psalm and indeed our lesson from John’s gospel is ‘shepherd’. Now this conjures up those overly sentimental portraits of Jesus carrying a lamb in his arms. Yet this meek and mild image is somewhat misleading. For, in the Old testament, the descriptor ‘shepherd’ was often used for a king. Therefore, we should perceive from our psalm not just God’s promise that we will get through that valley of darkness but that he has the means of doing so.  In fact, it is his rod and staff that comforts, protects and gives us peace of mind. In our personal reflection on this psalm, then, let’s swap the shepherd motif for one of a commanding power guiding us into righteousness. The right way of helping to spread tables with food, of providing overflowing cups of clean water and of ensuring safe dwelling places. That indeed means restoring the soul of a community so that we all fear no evil.

 

Let us now leap forward many centuries to meet the mind of the writer of John’s Gospel. Here again the image of the shepherd is invoked. And once more, the picture of a rather strangely Anglo-Saxon Jesus carrying an adorable lamb comes flooding into mind. Yet, once again, I must counsel caution. Ok we should continue to hold onto the powerful king concept, but I am also aware of a fly in the ointment. Since, the 1st Century Jewish listener to Christ’s teaching would have other views on shepherds. It a point I don’t often raise at Christmas. The reason being no nativity play would complete without the traditional appearance of small boys adorned with mums’ tea towels.

 

But a two thousand years ago in the Holy Land, shepherds were viewed as outsiders. They lived rough wandering lives in the hills, they didn’t go to the synagogue and they could not observe Jewish rituals.

 

Therefore, we could make our lesson from John more contempory by reading Jesus as saying – I am the good bouncer. No one comes through to God expect via my security. Some other places have real thugs on the door but with me you are safe and will be secure inside.

At first this reading is disconcerting. But then with some thought, not least of the events of the past few weeks, we can get a fresh feel for that level of comfort Christ is offering. Put directly, he is someone who rushes towards danger when everyone else is running away. Someone who will fearlessly intercept the bad before injury is caused. The person who will push into the smoke and flame to carry us to safety no matter the pain and risk to themselves.

 

Here then is an image for us to carry into the next week. The vision of a powerful and courageous Christ as our rescuer and protector; the idea of him being our fourth emergency service.

 

Talking of the fourth emergency service, I believe that the Automobile Association used that catchphrase in their advertising a few years back. I have to say, I have just paid my annual subscription that organisation and it wasn’t cheap. But when you need them, you need them. So it is with Christ the king Shepherd and Christ the guard Shepherd.  Therefore, we do need to pay our subscription. We do need know what Christ offers and be part of his security team. Moreover, need to keep in touch ready to call in any emergency.

 

There is a story told of an old vicar being asked to party. He went along but to his dismay the other guests were the rich and famous. Not surprisingly, he felt like a fish out of water. Suddenly someone had the idea that all should take part in the entertainment. A well-known pianist played entrancingly, a celebrated singer gave full voice and a great actor recited. He had just played the role of a saintly missionary and repeated the 23rd Psalm version from the script. Then it came to the minister’s turn. He protested he knew nothing except the 23rd Psalm and that had already been done. Everyone demanded he did something. Then our actor stood up and said – I knew only the Psalm’s words but you know the Shepherd himself.

 

Let us then know words less and the shepherd more. Let us talk less shepherding and rely more on the shepherd. Let us dine now with the shepherd as King and protector. For then alone will we not want for more.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

How long?

Psalm 13

How long is a piece of string?  When we go into the garage and ask how long it will take to fix the car – we don’t expect that answer. We don’t expect the mechanic to shrug his shoulders and say – how long is a piece of string? When we put an order in to Amazon we don’t expect that answer. We don’t expect an email saying we will deliver when they get to the end of piece of string. Yet when we talk to a doctor or a minister or even a politician we often get that answer. How long is a piece of string?

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Because the unvarnished truth is that often the most important questions we have, begs that answer. Put more bluntly still, our key questions in life have no answer here on earth.

 

This was also the point by David in his psalm. It starts with that yearning even distraught question – how long O Lord? Moreover, it is amplified in its dismay by the next questions how long will you forget me and hide from me? He concludes his dismal interrogation by seeking a time-line for his thoughts and sorrows and defeats. David then is asking a ‘how long is a piece of string ‘question and in return what did hear? – silence.

 

Here then is the time honoured conundrum. Since with the events of the last few weeks in mind we can sympathize with David. With the terrible fire in London scarred into our memories, we too can ask the same set of questions as David. More to the point, with so much trouble around, we are equally unable to accept the answer of how long is a piece of string? Indeed, we find the silence to be – unbearable.

 

Have you noticed that as you get older, time seems to go more quickly? Our perception of time also differs depending on whether we are waiting for a bus on a bitterly cold day or watching our favourite telly programme. In fact, Einstein’s theories tell us that time does go past quicker on the space station than it does down here. Or, in simplistic terms, our heads are older than our feet.

 

This also answers questions of string lengths. For time is an entirely different thing for God. It his creation and his tool.  He stands outside it and so he controls it. Therefore, he does know the length of every piece of string, of every human life and every joy and tribulation. It’s just that we cannot perceive it or understand it or command it – we just must take it on trust.

 

David too came to the same conclusion. He came to rely on God’s unfailing love alone to put the twinkle back in his eye, bring victory to his efforts and rejoicing in his heart.  Ultimately, he came to rely on God’s own time and not his own. Because he knew that to be not the good time or better time but the right time.

 

My step-father’s aunt did wonderful tapestry. In all honesty, the reverse was as beautifully sewn as the front. But it is not always the case. For frequently, when we see the back of some great work of art it looks, politely, a bit of a mess. Yet when we turn it round our breath is still taken away at what we could not see before. And so, we are stunned by the bigger, better and truer picture.

 

If then in this week you like David are challenged by imponderable questions, let us pray we can have faith like David. On this day, when our nation seems to have multitudinous questions, may we all have patience to trust in an answer. And in this moment, across our globe we hear continually questions of how long? But to each we must say – I cannot answer – but God knows. Because God’s time should always be our favourite and favoured time. Because, God does know the length of every piece of string!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Pool of Peace

With Easter rapidly approaching, I found myself wondering what is the difference between it and Christmas. Of course, one is about birth and the other death and life eternal. But there is also a dissimilarity in atmosphere. For, whilst Christmas has been commercialised almost out of recognition, it seems that  Easter is less so. Maybe this season’s themes are just too deep to be trivialised by the advertisers.  Since the very nature of our Lord’s passion and resurrection beckons us into thinking through the big questions;  what is it ‘all about’ and  what am I ‘all about’?

 

Yet in this era of fake and real news, populist and reasoned politics, twitter feeds and texts we struggle just to stop the mind for just a few seconds. Indeed, we become uncomfortable nowadays without constant stimulation of our eyes and ears. And so we must be more disciplined, we must take charge of the situation and we must apply the ‘brakes’. Concisely, we need to get the Easter spirit.

 

Well that is all fine and dandy, in principle, but how we start?

 

The Renfrew born theologian, John Macquarrie once described God as a fathomless limpid pool with the visible universe the mere ripples on its surface.  It is that image’s profundity that invites us to close the doors, switch off the devices and press the pause button on life.  Then through the Easter story, let us submerge ourselves in the deepest meaning of God. Since that is the way to the truth and life of Christ risen. That is the way to find out what each of us is ‘all about’. That indeed is the entry point to our own Cross and our own resurrection.

 

May we find the spirit and its reward this Eastertide.

 

Pleasing God – A Bible Thought

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11 (NRSV)

Eric Liddell was a famous runner, Olympic Gold Medalist and Christian missionary. In the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’, he is portrayed as saying – ‘God made me to run fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure’

However, we tend to think that we can never please God. Moreover, it is somewhat wrong even to think we could feel his pleasure. But that is to cast God in the false image of a overbearing father who can never be satisfied by what we achieve or even aspire to.

Our reading today reminds us that God was pleased with Christ. And so, by implication, we too can give him pleasure when we use all that we are to be all we can be.  Since, after all, who does not delight in being a proud parent!

Let us pray

Lord, God

Help me be all that I can be

All that Christ wants me to be

and all that you made me

capable of being.

Indeed, let me feel  your smile.

Amen