Tuesday, 26 June 2012

We are in a rich season of sport at the moment: Euro 2012, Wimbledon and The Olympic Games, not to mention the cricket and the Tour de France. It seems to me that there is something almost religious about sport. Think of the ways that sporting values parallel spiritual values: the idea of dedication, of sacrifice, of team spirit, of challenge and endeavour, of achieving (or scoring) a goal, of the encouragement of the spectators, and of the joy of winning.

The writer to the Hebrews had the Olympic stadium in mind when he wrote ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…’ And St Paul also thought in those terms when, near the end of life, in prison and in chains, he wrote to Timothy: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness…’

The spirit of the Olympics is one which encourages a purity of purpose. Athletes don’t compete for money, but for the glory of winning. It’s sad, therefore, when the Games are sometimes highjacked for political purposes, because there is something noble about dedicated athlete’s lifestyle. there is something noble about playing as a team – in fact it could be a good description of the church: each person playing their part, some at the front, some at the back, those who attack, those who defend, those who can pass and those who can score. it’s been good to see how the England football team seemed to play so well together in the recent Championship, and how the team spirit did so much to give them a boost. And Roy Hodgson said how important the fans were in encouraging the team.

St Paul also wrote to Timothy, ‘Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ If we are at all inspired by the Olympics perhaps we could consider how our own spiritual lives could be more disciplined, how we can get involved in the ‘game’ of being the church, and what we can do to be winners that bring glory to Jesus, the ‘captain of our salvation’ (Hebrews 2:10 KJV), and to God himself.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Preston Passion

I've just watched the BBC's 'Preston Passion' - an imaginative and moving retelling of aspects of the Passion of Christ. It very powerfully portrayed the elements of Pilate's dilemma, the grief of the women who watched Jesus suffer and die, and the self-sacrifice of Jesus himself. Well done to the BBC for using its resources to bring Christ's Passion to a mass audince in such a popular way. But I'm afraid I would only give it 7 out 10 because the heart of the story was missing: Christ's sacrifice for our sins. Without his atoning death all we would have would be a series of moving stories with some moral value, but nothing that actually changes lives - and changes the status of life from that which is estranged from God to that which is reconciled to God.

Perhaps it would be too much to expect the BBC in such a multicultural society as ours to be quite as explicit about the reason for Christ's death and its true significance. For those who are familiar with Handel's 'Messiah', and the text from Isaiah, we did get a little reference to Christ's sacrificial death as the choir sang: 'Surely, he hath born our sins and carried our sorrows: he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him...'

The real difference Christ's death makes to us is that our sin - whatever comes between us and God - was dealt with once for all. His death opened the way for all who believe to be not just improved but saved.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Why David Cameron and the Government are wrong regarding gay marriage - Philo Trust

This is taken from J John's blog at Philo Trust

It is hard not to be troubled about the government’s moves towards legalising same-sex marriage. Although the words used are those of ‘consultation’ there is evidence that ministerial minds are already made up. Yet you do not have to be a Christian to have concerns about the issues raised by this concept. It is important to remember that despite the sneers, it is not homophobic, fundamentalist or politically incorrect to raise such concerns. Indeed, you could argue – as some have – that redefining marriage in this way does no service to the gay community itself. Let me raise the issues as I see them.

There is the issue of motivation. Civil partnerships have existed since 2004 and appear to work satisfactorily. So why is there this demand for a change in the basis of marriage? It’s hard not to conclude that this is a deliberate and aggressive attack on traditional heterosexual marriage. A small but vocal minority within the gay community seem to be pushing for a ‘take it or break it’ attitude to marriage. And within this government there appears to be little more than a desire to follow the crowd and gain votes. This combination of hostility and expediency is the worst possible basis for legislation.

There is the issue of principle. Jews and Christians would point to the clear definition of marriage set out in the first pages of the Bible (Genesis 2:18-24) and see in this God’s design for the human race. The Christian would want to point out further that this definition of marriage is reaffirmed both by Jesus (Matthew 19:4-6) and by St Paul (Ephesians 5:31). Non-believers and believers alike must recognise the near universality of this pattern of marriage in history and geography. It is also an unarguable fact that a working marriage is the foundation of social stability, a proven source of human happiness and the best basis for the nurture of children. Surveys suggest that most women and many men in partnerships would prefer to be married. If ever there was an institution over which the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ was written, it is traditional marriage.

There is the issue of precedent. If we feel that we are free to redefine marriage what, if anything, do we now exclude from legal ‘marriage’? Polygamy? Any combination and number of partners? Once you have dismantled the weighty historical and biblical foundations that uphold traditional marriage, what other foundation will you build in its place? And why should this new foundation hold? On a related issue, although we are assured that vicars, priests, rabbis and imams will not be forced to conduct gay marriages, can we really be certain that, in ten years’ time, this will not be the new frontline? I think not!

There is the issue of gender. At the heart of the ‘gay marriage agenda’ is a presumption that men and women are sufficiently identical that they can be interchanged in relationships. It is taken for granted that it doesn’t fundamentally matter whether a relationship is male-female, male-male or female-female. Yet the Bible, psychology and experience combine to state that men and women are different in many ways. Feminism did not simply achieve a measure of equality for women but also a hard-won acceptance that women and men are different and that those differences can be celebrated. Allowing same-sex marriage tramples over that recognition of gender differences.

There is the issue of appropriateness. Traditional marriage is designed – or has evolved – to accommodate the complementary psychological and physical differences that exist between men and women. Same-sex relationships are very different. So on what basis do we assume that marriage is appropriate for them? Legal homosexual relationships are a relative novelty in the West and surely we need time and study to find out what is the best legal and social framework for them. To assume it is marriage is yet another presumption.

The evidence is utterly overwhelming that this proposed ‘consultation’ on same-sex marriage is hasty and ill-conceived. This proposed consultation is driven by the desire of the government to be popular; to overturn it will require little more than the recognition that it is, in reality, deeply unpopular. This is a bad proposal, made for the worst reasons and one that could have a lasting impact on society. Silence is not an appropriate response.

Posted by: J.John

Categories: J.John's Reflections

Tags: Why David Cameron And The Government Are Wrong Regarding Gay Marriage

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The world has gone mad!

Percy Pig EggIt's bad enough having Easter eggs on the shelves soon after Christmas, packed in amongst the bunnies and chicks, but now M & S have Percy their 'Easter Pig'.  Rabbits and chicks I can understand - spring, new life, etc. But what has a pig got to do with Easter? It seems rather ironic, given M & S's Jewish roots, that they should celebrate this great religious festival with a pig.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Get away from it all...to Croydon!

I've just got back from the ordination of two bishops for our Diocese - Woolwich and Croydon. These services are a curious mixture of ancient and modern, legal and liturgical, state and church. The Royal Mandate was read by the Provincial Registrar, resplendent in robes and wig, instructing 'our loyal and trusty friend Rowan Douglas' to ordain Jonathan Clark and Michael Ipgrave bishops. Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, made us laugh by reminiding us, on this day when we commemorate Thomas Cranmer, that Archbishop Cranmer and his wife used to get out of London for a break in peaceful Croydon where he had his summer palace. More seriously, he reminded us that the church must be 'inclusive' and 'affirming' - both words loaded with extra meaning in the Church of England these days.

We discovered that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who presided, has a pleasant light baritone voice as he intoned the prayers. This will probably be his last visit to Southwark before he moves to his next job in Cambridge. I'm sure he will be breathing a large sigh of relief to leave behind the problems and divisions that have beset the C of E and the wider Anglican communion during the last decade. Who would want his job?

Our two new bishops are appointed to be shepherds of God's flock, the church. We promised to pray for them and I will try to keep that promise. It's too easy to criticize those in authority over us, whether in the secular or the religious sphere. To be a bishop in the church is a noble calling and one that is only possible if God has called you. I may question what our bishops say and do, but I hope it is with respect and in a spirit of charity. May God bless Bishop Jonathan and Bishop Michael.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

"The Holy Spirit is saying..." Is he really?

I was just about to put digit to keyboard (it would have been pen to paper years ago) to reflect on the modern propensity for claiming to be prophetic and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through our own personal agendas, when I read Gary Jenkins' excellent blog on the same subject. http://redhillthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/ We were both at the Southwark Diocesan Synod last week, and both spoke in favour of adopting the Anglican Covenant, and both found ourselves on the losing side. We both heard a number of people claiming that the Covenant would 'limit the prophetic voice of the church'.

Reflecting on the number of times I have heard that or a similar phrase it seems to me that the word 'prophetic' is used nowadays to give authority to any innovation that flies in the face of tradition, reason or scripture. Whereas at one time it was charismatic evangelicals that would speak about prophecy more easily, now it is liberals who claim to be speaking prophetically when they speak in favour of, for instance, same-sex marriage.

Likewise, the voice of Holy Spirit is claimed to give weight to similar innovations. Reading the Acts of the Apostles it is clear that the Holy Spirit did move the church in a radically new direction when it was agreed that the Gentiles were also included in God's covenant along with the Jews, and that full church membership should be accorded Gentiles without them having to be circumcised. But today's claims that the Holy Spirit may be speaking through the church to embrace the personal agendas of our liberal brothers and sisters seems to be verging on a breaking of the 3rd Commandment: 'You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.'

We must all be careful not to claim the Holy Spirit's authority for our own agendas, and not to treat prophecy lightly. It seems to me, reading acts, that the Holy Spirit spoke to the church when Christians were together in prayer, and often in fasting. he seemed to speak more about mission than anything else. Let's listen and learn.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Just 10 - Just 2 more to go

Today we came to the 3rd Commandment (8th in our series): 'Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain'. Most people hardly think twice about using the name of our awesome God, Creator and Saviour, as an exclamation or swear word. But I still feel uncomfortable when people do because they are showing disrespect to my loving loving heavenly Father. Our curate Linda was preaching and she encouraged us to think about sensitive ways to say to people that we would rather they did not misuse God's name in our presence. It's hard sometimes, but our Muslim friends get much more upset if the name and reputation of their prophet Mohammed is called into question.

Here's a practical idea given by one of our Readers who preached at our earlier service: if you strike your thumb, for example, while hammering in a nail and find yourself saying, "Jesus," then complete the sentence with "...Christ is Lord."

Somehow, The Daily Telegraph has got hold of the story behind the Just 10 series, though the paper has tried to present it as a 'revision' of the Commandments. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9123866/Churches-adopt-new-Ten-Commandments.html
Even more of a mystery - the paper quotes me on the series. I've even had an email from Texas about it. God moves in mysterious ways!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Miracles and Wisdom

Since Baroness Warsi recently re-ignited the debate about religion in public life, I've been following some of the correspondence in The Independent, and listening to speakers such as AC Grayling going head to head with Christina Rees (Chair of the House of Laity of the General Synod).

One of the current lines of argument of the secularists is to draw from a tradition of secular scepticism going back to the Greeks. They argue that there is 'nothing new under the sun', and indeed claim that very phrase from Greek philosophy as predating the same in Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

It strikes me that St Paul had something to say about this nearly 2000 years ago when he wrote to the Corinthian church: 'Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.' 'Irrational religion' and 'irreligious rationalism' - they are both mistaken answers to the world's needs in Paul's view. Rather, the answer is to be found in 'Christ crucified, a stumbling'block to Jews and folly to the Greeks'.

Yes, the AC Graylings of the world would claim 'Christ crucified' to be folly, just as followers of Greek philosophy in the 1st century did. I believe this is the time for the church to be confident in preaching the same gospel as Paul: 'Christ crucified - Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God' because that way - the way of sacrifice and love, of death and resurrection - is where we can find power to change our lives.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Just 10: You shall not steal

Yesterday, with reduced numbers because of the snow, we looked at the 8th Commandment - 'You shall not steal'. The reasons for not stealing are fairly obvious: to steal is dishonest, to steal spoils society by creating suspicion and fear, to steal robs us of better things - for example not paying taxes robs society of basic services, and to steal devalues honest work - "Why work if I can steal it?"

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke's Gospel shows how a life of cheating and stealing can be transformed. What made an impact on me as I prepared to speak on such a familiary story what the meaning of his name: 'Zacchaeus' is from the Hebrew meaning 'Pure'. I imagined Zacchaeus' parents choosing a name for him before he was born. There was a belief that a child's name would describe his character when he grew up; so what happened to Zacchaeus to make him so corrupt? Somewhere he broke the 10th Commandment - he began to covet, then the 8th - he began to steal by taking more in tax than was legal. But the good news is that when he encountered Jesus his life was transformed.

The people muttered that Jesus was going to eat in the house of a 'sinner'. But Zacchaeus wasn't just a sinner. Somewhere between being up the tree and coming down he became a sinner who was forgiven and saved, and his life was changed. And there is no more real change than paying back four times what you have stolen.

'You shall not steal': it's not just about burglary, but deception and fraud, office theft in the form of taking a 'sicky', tax evasion, robbing the future generation of natural resources by our profligate use of them now, robbing the poor of a fair price and wage for the goods we buy so cheaply. We might alol be complicit in these practices, just as Zacchaeus was in his day, but we can change just as he did.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Forgetting our Maker's Instructions

Last Sunday we started our series 'Just 10' on the Ten Commandments. And as if proof were needed that we as a nation need to remind ourselves of them, here is a news article from yesterday's BBC news

Britons are less honest than they were a decade ago, research by academics at the University of Essex suggests. The survey of more than 2,000 adults found that people were apparently more tolerant of lying and extramarital affairs than they were in 2000.


I am particularly interested in what the author of the report says about the effect on society:
If social capital is low and people are suspicious and don't work together, those communities have worse health, worse educational performance, they are less happy and they are less economically developed and entrepreneurial. It really does have a profound effect. If integrity continues to decline in the future, then it will be very difficult to mobilise volunteers to support the Big Society initiative."

It just goes to show that 'false testimony', which hurts people and destroys reputations, harms society. The Ten Commandments were given for the good of society. and for inidivuduals within society.

I was glad that at least one member of our congregation picked up the point last Sunday that coveting robs us of contentment. True contentment is something that we find in God, not in goods.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Just 10

In a little over 300 words God gave his people - and us - a good way to live; in fact the best way to live. We are preparing at St John's to preach on all 10 Commandments, and will be following J John's outline in his series 'Just 10'.

It's rather like taking yourself through a whole body, mind and spirit MOT. I'm excited by the prospect of preaching the series, but at the same time a little nervous as to what it might expose in my own life that needs dealing with. But the good news is that this won't be a test that we might fail. Rather, it's one that will encourage where we can do better and where we need help.

I hope that anyone who reads this blog will comment - especially if you've heard our sermons or seen the DVD on Wednesday evenings. You can find out more of the details on the church website: www.coulsdon.net/stjohns