Tag Archives: Community

Seeking justice

An Adaption of a sermon preached at Covenant Services in September 2022 at Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate Methodist Churches.

For my first career I was manager of a Christian Bookshop and Resource Centre in Cornwall. Beyond the selling of books and resources, it was also a space of welcome, care and hospitality. We had a small sofa and coffee table in the shop, offering a place to rest, a free cuppa and, if desired, a listening ear and prayer.

It was a simple, yet incredibly fruitful, ministry. Many people would almost stumble across us, or be drawn in without really knowing where they were or why they had come in. But before long conversation came forth; God was at work.

Through that ministry I heard stories personal stories about many things, including problems and challenges people were facing. Relationship struggles; mental health worries; money concerns; unsuccessful job hunting… the list goes on.

The young man who’s benefits had been cancelled without a reason why…

The woman who had an unexpected bill leaving them without enough for food for the month…

The young female with minor learning difficulties having their social care support hours cut by half due to budget cuts…

It opened my eyes to the inequality that was on my doorstep. An inequality I knew was there but was only now beginning to really know. I was coming to see the world and life from perspectives other than my own.

But at the same time, hearing these stories about inequality, and seeing the pain, struggle, confusion and suffering there were causing, felt somewhat overwhelming. So many different issues, so many people falling through the cracks.

I would often be thinking as I walked home each day about those I had encountered. How can I help these individuals? What support can I signpost them to? Where is the system going wrong? How can I help change the system?

It is through the experience of this ministry that God opened my heart to discover God’s own heart for justice.

‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8

Micah is speaking to the leadership and people of both Northern Israel and Southern Judah. Both have been living and being led in a way which was against the covenant with God.

Micah accuses them of rebellion against God, of hypocrisy, talking about God and observing the ritual temple practices, but in ways which were empty, meaningless and was built upon corruption, theft and greed.

This is now what god calls for – this does not honour God’s covenant with them. Ritual means nothing without virtue.
For what does God require?
To Act Justly.
To love Mercy.
To Walk Humbly with God.
That is what is good.

The Methodist Covenant Service has travelled in one shape or form with Methodism for most of its existence, an annual practice bult into our denominational DNA which celebrates the faithfulness of God to us and invites us to publicly reaffirm our commitment to partner with God in mission and ministry.

That wherever we are, wherever God places us,
Whatever circumstances we face,
We might serve God.
That we will be about God – not ourselves.

Methodism also has justice in our DNA. A denomination that was birthed out of a deep desire to ensure discipleship was taken seriously, and made accessible to all people. Much of Methodism’s historical heartlands are in mining communities, communities on the margins, to which this movement successfully brought a gospel of hope and relevance to them and their lives.

John Wesley, one of the lynchpins of Methodism’s beginnings, saw seeking justice in society as a central aspect of what it means to follow Jesus. To work for Justice by both responding to needs that appear before us, and campaigning for change.

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.

Attributed to John Wesley.

May we hear God’s challenge, as individuals and as communities, to serve God as we can, as and where he calls. To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. To share the good news, and actively work for justice in our communities.

To do all the good we can,
By all the means we can,
In all the ways we can,
In all the places we can,
at all the times we can,
To all the people we can,
As long as we ever can.

Dazzled by Jesus: a reflection through the eyes of Peter

Read: Luke 9:28-36

I saw Jesus. I knew it was him, but he looked different: his face a ball of white light, his clothes so dazzlingly white that it hurt my eyes to look at them and I shielded them with my arm (dreams can seem so real sometimes).

Then I saw the other figures, two of them, and they were talking to him. It seems strange, but I knew straight away who they were: Moses and Elijah. They were all in white, all three of them enveloped in this amazing light, brighter than the sun.

And they were talking with Jesus, like they knew him already, like it was something they did everyday. But it was more than that: Jesus was at the centre of the three; he was the greatest of them. I thought a lot about that later: imagine it, the Jesus we’d walked with, eaten with, spent so much time with: greater than the greatest of our prophets.

And suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming, that this was real. It felt like somehow I’d slipped into another world. And I was terrified. Typically for me, I started gabbling, blurting out anything that came into my head, trying to make the situation seem normal: some nonsense about building shelters for them, James told me afterwards.

Then it got scarier: we were caught up in the cloud, James and John and I. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to burst and I was quaking all over. If I was going to die, to be struck down because I was unworthy to be in the presence of God himself, I wanted it to happen quickly. And painlessly.

Instead we heard a voice: it seemed all around us, loud and booming, yet it also spoke quietly as a whisper into our ears: ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ I fell at Jesus’ feet and when I got up, the cloud had gone and we were alone with him.

He didn’t give us any explanation: just told us not to say anything to the others, to anyone, until he was raised from the dead. We didn’t understand what he meant then – it only made sense a long time afterwards.

James, John and I didn’t talk about it much among ourselves. I think we were all trying to work out what it meant, but we couldn’t quite get there. I only knew that I’d had my confirmation: this man Jesus, my friend and teacher, he was the Christ, the Son of God: he’d come at last!


Follow Up: How do you see Jesus today?

Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.

Standing against racism

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (NRSVA)

Weekly Reflections from Rev Dan, also published in Tues News 13/7/21.
Sign up for the weekly Tues News here.

Friends, 

“At the heart of the Methodist community is a deep sense of the place of welcome, hospitality and openness which demonstrates the nature of God’s grace and love for all.

Our church communities are called to be places where the transformational love of God is embodied and life in all its fullness is a gift which is offered to all people.

There are no distinctions based on race, gender, disability, age, wealth or sexuality, or any discrimination associated with this gift.”

Extract from the Strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity, Methodist Conference 2021, p782. 

After some weeks of incredible football and an intense match last Sunday evening, where England played their hearts out against the team that were always tipped to win, to end up at a penalty shootout and come second in the tournament seemed to me to a pretty good result. Not only that, but even more importantly, the way the whole team have sought to live with integrity, solidarity and ownership of their decisions is an example we need to see more of. 

So it has been devastating to witness yet again the systemic racism that is present, and seemingly becoming more prevalent in society. To ‘blame’ England’s loss on a trio of gifted footballs because they are black is abhorrent and should have no place in our society, I hope you would agree. 

But how will we respond? How do you stand against racism in your living and daily activity in your community?

This morning I feel convicted to recognise that to do nothing, to ignore or let it pass by in the hope things will change, or that someone else might do something about it, is the collude with the racists themselves. To do nothing is to deny the truth that all people are made in the image of God. 

Rooted in Christ, we can have confidence that despite worldly opinions, the invitation to God’s table is for all. So let us stand up, speak up and live with confidence in justice, dignity and solidary for all God’s people. 

In peace and hope,Rev Dan 

My Soul is…

A reflection based on John 12:20-33.

Reflect: how does your experience of ‘feeling’ through the pandemic echo with or conflict with what you believe or know to be true of God?

Downloadable PDF

Full Text

In John 12, after being approached by Andrew, who has been approach by Phillip, who has been approach by Greeks wanting to come to the Passover festival (are you still with me!?), Jesus begins to talk about his coming death. Or at least, we know that he was talking about his coming death. The author of the gospel of John knew. The disciples, the Greeks, the crowd? Perhaps not so much.

In a moment which, in the text, takes us from a conversation with those around him to a conversation with his Father, Jesus says ‘Now my soul is troubled’. (John 12:27)

Though troubled is perhaps an understatement and under-interpretation of the truth of Jesus’ feeling here. A more literal interpretation of the Greek might be agitated, or more crudely, in shock, turmoil or distress.

Jesus wasn’t troubled in a trite and simplistic way. it wasn’t simply that the shopping delivery had arrived and they had swapped your beloved smokey bacon for your less favoured unsmoked.

Jesus was feeling turmoil and anguish in the depths of his soul because of what was looming on the very near horizon. He was soon to be glorified – which to the Author of the gospel, Jesus’ being glorified was the being ‘lifted up’ – the cross.

As Christians we talk of glory, often, as a good thing – ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’ goes the popular hymn. But Jesus was not feeling good – despite knowing what was to be gained through this moment.

Jesus has already talked about how useless a single grain is unless it falls into the earth and dies, to then come forth and bear much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus seems to know here, what needs to happen – but his feeling – his feeling was pain. His feeling was turmoil. His feeling was fear. His feeling was urging him to say to his Father ‘save me from this hour, this time that I know is at hand’ John 12:27.

In a moment of pain and fear, Jesus was honest with God about how he felt, despite what he knew was to come.

Friends, when was the last time you told God how you feel? How you really feel? Asked ‘where are you God?’ when you’re struggling to feel God with you, despite knowing that God is there?

Jesus’ experience shows us that it is ok to be feeling something that is contrary to what we know, or think we should be feeling. We can’t deny the truth. Can’t suppress the reality of our feeling – if we do, we start to be dishonest with God, and dishonest with ourselves.

Friends, be honest with God today, just as Jesus was, because through being honest with God about how we feel, we are honest with ourselves.

Socks, Shirts and Skirts

Each of us, daily, clothe ourselves. At least, I think we all do!

What we wear each day is often influenced by the activity of the day, though over the last 12 months that fact has likely been diluted for many of us!

In ‘normal’ times we might put smarter clothes on if we were going to a party or the theatre; more casual clothes if we’re catching up with a friend; older, more worn out clothes if we’re gardening or decorating; more comfy clothes if we’re relaxing with a book of in front of the TV.

With the daily ritual of clothing ourselves, comes the purpose we are clothing ourselves for.

In Colossians, we read words that encourage us to clothe ourselves, not in socks, shirts and skirts, but virtues that help us to live fruitful lives which nurture and build us and each other up.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:12-15

The Hebrew verb that can occasionally be understood to mean a change of clothes is more commonly translated as renew. I wonder, when these words in Colossians were written in Greek, if this Hebrew word play was also in mind.

These virtues were alternative and subversive in the militaristic society where power and dominance were seen as the signs of success.

But the call to live in the fruitfulness of these virtues was because of a new activity and purpose – one that would lead to a renewed and transformed way of living that was disticntive and alternative, and intrinsically intentional.

These virtues are not simply about niceness, the niceness and goodness that perhaps comes somewhat naturally and passively. They are about real, intentional discipleship. Being committed and disciplined to clothing our character around the life and character of Jesus – with the ever-present help of God’s Spirit.

And through that renewing of ourself, the constant attentiveness to how we clothe ourselves in light of the renewing Spirit of God in us, we bear fruit which nurtures and build us and each other up.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

Downloadable PDF

Puddles

I had to go out for a walk in the rain with the girls this week, and so our youngest was desperate to go out in her wellies – which she did. She walked through each puddle and watched the water rise up around her toes. As she jumped and splashed her smile was oen of those smiles that beam with joy from cheek to cheek.

Seeing her joy at what before that moment had been to me a mundane and slightly frustrating task – having to go out in the rain – brought me up short. She found joy were I had seen only wet, grey and mundane. But in that moment, through her joyful splashing in puddles, I had been splashed with joy too.

What we do, and how we live impacts others. It’s the way God made us, it is our human nature to be relational, connected beings.

But God has also made each of us unique, and it is through that uniqueness that I believe God has place in each of us a uniqueness and blessing that only we can bring to the world.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:6-8, NIVUK

So whoever you are, whatever your gifts and passions and skills, use them, and splash with them – because through you, God will bless others too.

Downloadable PDF

Oceans of justice

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re privileged. You’ve got an internet connection.

If you’ve food in a fridge, freezer or kitchen cupboard for the next few days, that’s privilege.

If you’ve got money in the bank, a pension or stable income, that’s privilege.

If you’re white, heterosexual or from an ethnic majority, you’ve got privilege.

This week we’ve been reminded yet again of injustice in our society, driven by inequality and division. Digital poverty is having a massive impact on schooling and the learning of young people at home.

Community larders and Foodbanks continue to see increasing demand. Some supermarkets have been reporting shortages of some food due to bulk buying , leaving others without.

In America we saw what’s been described by many media outlets as an attempted coup by white extremists. Many have rightly pointed out that only months ago black protestors in America were met with extreme force on their demonstrations – yet these extremists easily overcame the small group of officers on duty to maintain order.

All these, and many other injustices are present in our communities and societies and all to easily can be ignored or taken for granted. The pandemic has, helpfully, made these injustices and positions of privilege more obvious – if we’re willing to notice them.

But to do we notice? Do we even recognise our privilege? And more importantly, do we step out of our glass houses to stand with and alongside those without that privilege?

The prophet Amos was probably a farm hand, sent by God to call for social justice, and condemns those who’s power and privilege comes at the cost of others. The call is to step out of the glass house, and work for justice.

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Amos 5:21-24, The Message

Oceans of Justice. that’s what I want.

Where there is water, life can be sustained.
Where there are oceans of justice, life is sustained.
Togetherness, community, equity and love grow and flourish.

Reflect

Are you privileged?
Are you suffering injustice?
How can you work for justice?

Act

To find out more about injustice and privilege, and ways you can play your part in bringing about oceans of justice visit the JPIT Website. http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/

The Joint Public Issues Team is a multi-denominational team who offer excellent analysis of current social issues and ways we can act at local, national and international level to use our privilege to stand for justice.

Download

Need a hero? Colossians week 2

“I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero to the end of the night!”[i]

Are you looking for a hero?

Yes? No? Not sure?
I think, truthfully a lot of us are, though we may not always realise it, or coin it in that way.

Society loves a hero.
Someone who will save us, a figurehead to give hope.
Film and TV is full of hero’s we love – from Marvel to Harry Potter to Poldark to Doctor Who,
We love a hero, and especially love a hero that appears an underdog, that rises up to save the day against the odds.

Even in the real world, away from sci-fi and fiction, we like to look for a hero.
We’ve spent a significant part of 2020 putting a ‘protective shield around the NHS’, trying to maximise it’s potential to save life.
But of course we have to also cope with the painful reality that life one earth cannot always be saved.

I wonder if sometimes we expect our politicians to be hero’s too.
Decisions have to be made, based on the best knowledge they have to had,
but there will always be alternative choices that could have been – and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a curse.

I’m not wanting to defend all political choices here,
but to remind us that we need be aware of our human propensity to create hero’s.
Aware of who and where we place our hope.
Remembering that we live in this world – not the world of sci-fi and fiction.

The letter to the Colossians is written to a group of Christians who are facing pressure.
Pressure to put their trust, hope and faith in new ideas, alternative hero’s and unrealistic portrayals of salvation.

But here in Colossians we are reminded that there is someone who really did come to this world to save.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.

Colossians 2:6-9, New Living Translation

If you know you’re looking for a hero – enjoy your sci-fi and fiction – I do – but look to Jesus.
If you’re not sure if you’re looking for a hero – still look to Jesus.
If you said you weren’t – still look to Jesus.

Jesus Christ was an underdog, and hung out with human beings like you and me.
People with doubts and questions and uncertainties.
People who were anxious and broken and unsure.
People living with guilt and shame.
People looking for truth, and disillusioned by the way of the world.

Jesus comes not to irradicate that. But to live in it.
To experience it. To live with us.
Jesus came to earth, living and walking in our shoes.
Jesus understands what it is to be human.

These words from Colossians tell us Jesus wasn’t simply human, Jesus was the fullness of God in human form. Jesus is human, and Jesus is God.

I believe Jesus is our Saviour – who came to save the world, you and me, because of God’s love for the world, for you and me.
And to point us to a way of living that is filled with hope and truth.

But – Jesus isn’t a hero who comes to save us because we’re helpless.
He’s not that sort of hero.
He’s the hero who knows who we are, knows our potential, and so wants us to grow and be built up. Need a hero? Let your roots grow in Jesus.


[i] Written by Jim Steinman with Dean Pitchford.

Downloadable PDF Version

More on Colossians

Learning from Lockdown #3: The Value of Relationship

Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.

Who are you connected to?

At the start of lockdown, I spent a lot of time on the phone.

Many people in my churches have been shielding, or choosing to isolate, and lots are not on the internet, and so from the start I could see regular phone calls were going to be incredibly valuable during lockdown.

We reorganised the church pastoral system to ensure everyone would have at least 1 assigned regular contact and encouraged everyone to regularly call each other to share fellowship, friendship and maintain relationship.

The hands down thing that has I call people now, people say they have valued most is the phone calls they have been receiving from each other.

People have shared that lockdown has offered the opportunity to get know each other better.

People who live on their own have shared how the phone calls have helped break up their day and left them feeling less alone, that they feel valued, loved, thought about.

That it has not only helped maintain relationships, but that they have grown and deepened.  

What has this meant I have learnt?

I think it has shown me just how essential relationships are for human well-being.
We need one another.
God has created us to be in relationship with one another.
Human interaction is in our DNA.

But why has it taken lockdown to get to know each other better?

In Luke’s gospel we find a story of Jesus and his companions, visiting sisters Mary and Martha.

Mary sits as Jesus feet listening to all he has to say.
Martha is busy doing – organising the hospitality necessary for Jesus and his companions, fretting that Mary is not helping her.

She stops, and says to Jesus – don’t you care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work on my own?

Jesus says to her, Martha my child, you are so distracted by many things, but there is only need for one thing.

Jesus doesn’t criticise Martha for wanting to be hospitable.

But he does suggest that Martha may be letting the doing get in the way of what really matters.

(To read the story in full, take a look at Luke chapter 10)

I wonder if the absence of meetings and events has meant that the distraction of doing has been removed, and suddenly we’ve discovered new ways of being with one another. Where we can be interested in one another without the distraction of the next task that needs doing or event that needs planning.

And I’ve heard testimony to the same with people’s relationships with God.

Not being busy doing has meant people have been able to spend more time focused on the one thing that matters – their relationship with God.

Now what might this mean we learn from lockdown?

The value and importance of relationship – with God and with one another.

What does that mean for the future as we begin to emerge from lockdown?

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have face-to-face activities and events.

But I do find God’s Spirit challenging me to reflect on what may need to change, what we may need to do differently, to keep relationship with God and one another as the one thing that matters.

What ways of being together can we discover that do not tie us up in so much doing that we can’t be?


Downloadable Version