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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.