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 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.
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.
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.
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.
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 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.
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.
Are you privileged? Are you suffering injustice? How can you work for justice?
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.
“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.
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 discoverthat do not tie us up in so much doing that we can’t be?
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.
These giraffes sit on my office windowsill, you might have seen them in previous videos. We bought them on a holiday in France in 2012 and they remind me of our holiday.
They sat on our mantel-piece in Cornwall, then went into storage while we were in Birmingham. When moved here Louise my wife thought we should get rid of them, I didn’t, so we found a compromise and they ended up in my office.
Now they not only remind me of our holiday, they also remind me that as human beings, include married couples, have differences of opinion.
Lockdown as a time to learn
I want to encourage us to reflect this month on what we may learn from lockdown, because I do not believe this is a time of life on pause that doesn’t matter. I don’t believe this is a time that God wants us to waste.
Just as the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness was formational for them, I believe our living in lockdown is a time that can be formational to us. Where God has and continues to speak to us, challenge us and change us.
For some of us, we may feel like lockdown is over, for others, we may still very much feel like we’re in lockdown, for others again, maybe we’re in the middle.
Wherever we stand on that spectrum, it doesn’t really matter, it just goes to prove one of the things that I’ve been increasingly conscious of over the last few months – just how diverse and different we all are.
Diversity & Difference
And that’s where this month of learning from lockdown reflections is going to begin.
In the book of 1 Corinthians we read:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12, NRSV
The body of Christ, the community of faith, is made of lots of different parts, we all look different, we think differently, respond to circumstances in life with the full colour pallet of human diversity.
I’ve seen the diversity and difference in so many ways through lockdown. Some people have seemed to thrive during lockdown, Energised by the new opportunties and environments and challenges others have really struggled, and others somewhere in between – with good days and some not so good days.
Christian faith is not about conformity – not about creating robots that think and speak the same. It’s about being a community of faith that can call itself a communtiy while celebrating the fact we’re different.
It’s about being people tuned into God’s Spirit, collectively discerning what Gods Spirit is saying to us as individuals and as a community of faith
As we’ve worshiped from our homes, I’ve found my role as minister being less of a leader of worship, and more of an enabler of worship – offering lots of different resources by post and online, seeking to resource the diverse people that make up the churches I serve. It’s been a joy to see diversity thriving, but a challenge at times to keep up!
So as I encourage us to reflect this month on what we may be learning from lockdown, I want to start from a recognition of the diversity and difference among us.
And I want to encourage you all, to think and pray and reflect for yourself… what would you say you’re learning, or have learnt during lockdown.
And try to be go a bit deeper and further than saying I’ve learnt to use zoom.As much of an achievement that may be! `
Where has God spoken to you, challenged you or encouraged you?
What is God’s Spirit saying?
Join the Conversation
Comment below with your own reflections on leanring from lockdown.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
Growing up one of my favourite films was Toy Story. I loved the idea that my toys lived in a world of their own every time I left the room.
In the first film, Buzz is a new toy who enters Andy’s toybox community as an outsider. Buzz believes he is a real space ranger, not a toy, and believes he can fly. Throughout the film Buzz is on a journey of discovering who he really is, while the rest of the toys are on their own journey of learning to welcome difference into their community.
In Ruth 3, we found Ruth visiting Boaz at night, hoping he would give her a home, long term security and survival for her and Naomi.
Naomi and Ruth had lost much, their husbands, their security, safety. They were grieving. They were struggling for hope. The nature of the culture of the day meant they were vulnerable to the nth degree.
But Boaz is not the immediate next-of-kin. There is someone else who is a closer kinsman, and in keeping with the culture, has first rights to act as next-of-kin to Naomi and Ruth.
At the start of Ruth 4, Boaz takes centre stage. It’s his turn to take action. He speaks to the closer next-of-kin who does have first rights to act.
Now Boaz, perhaps, pulls a bit of a sly move here. I think as readers of the story we’re encouraged to see Boaz in a positive light, but it could also be said he’s possibly a bit manipulative here, or self-seeking.
Maybe he really did like Ruth and wanted her to be his wife, and twisted things in his favour. Or maybe he saw an opportunity to obtain land and so did what he had to do to get it.
So Boaz meets this closer next-of-kin, at the city gates, in public, with 10 of the city elders with them. He says to this man, – “hey, you know Naomi, she’s back, and she’s selling the land that belonging to our kinsman, Elimelech. So, I thought I’d tell you about it here and now in front of all these witnesses. If you will redeem it, do, but if not, tell me and I will redeem it.“
The unexpected discovery that Naomi own’s some land is a surprise, it was Elimelech’s, perhaps left during the famine and never returned to. The fact she’s selling the land is probably a sign that Naomi has lost all other hope, and selling the land, that would, one would think, offer long-term fruitfulness, is the only way for her to survive in the short term.
The man says to Boaz “yes – I will redeem it”. Then Boaz goes on, and claims that by taking the land, he must also take Ruth, the Moabite, and maintain the dead man’s name. This would mean any children they had would be named for Ruth’s dead husband… and that they would, in the end, inherit the land.
The man says – “I can’t redeem, it will; damage my own inheritance. You redeem it.” Does Boaz use Ruth’s foreigner status to his advantage? Or does he use this to overcome the fact that there was a prohibition against marrying a foreigner – because by becoming next-of-kin he can legal marry Ruth despite that.
They have a son, Obed, who Naomi cares for – in some ways he becomes a son to Ruth, Boaz and Naomi – Obed becomes symbol of the restoration of hope – because there can now be descendants.
No longer is Ruth an outsider, she’s found hope. She’s found home. And not just with Boaz, but with the community.
Ruth and Boaz marry, all the people and elders are at the marriage, and bless Ruth – ‘may she build up the house of Israel’ they say (Ruth 4:11). Ruth is now seen as a member of the Israelite community.
And that’s where Buzz and Toy Story come in. In life we often encounter people who are strangers to us. People different from ourselves.
As Churches – Christian communities, I believe God call us to be a community that reaches out in love to all. To welcome in the name of Christ those we perceive to be, and not be, like us. Cowboys or Space Rangers. Slinky Dogs or Potato heads. Barbie dolls or dinosaurs.
To help each other discover who we are – made in the image of God – to work out if we are real or just a toy, if we can fly, or fall with style (if you don’t understand the references – do watch the film).
To make space for all people to find hope, through faith in the God who is a God for all.
To discover that the community of faith is the place in which all people, no matter background or belief or race or gender or sexuality or ethnicity or self-confidence – can find home and belong.
Church – God’s challenge to us, regardless of lockdown, regardless of what gathered community is going to look like in the coming weeks and months, is to make sure that this call from God is the reality found among us. A community of hope. A community that points to the home that can be found when we discover we belong to God. A community that reaches in love to all.
God works through the unexpected. God works through the stranger. We are never without Hope. In God, we find home.