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Black Lives Matter


Black Lives Matter


I was riding home from doing some Covid19 Swab Testing, so I had all my official NHS gear on and I rode home via Tesco.  This was the first time I had worn my NHS gear to Tescos.  I headed towards the back of a long queue, and as I was walking past the trolley park, a Tesco Worker called me over and told me to go in by the Exit and they’d let me straight in.  Apart from feeling a bit awkward jumping the queue (essential Britishness!) I felt like Tesco were making a real special effort to make me, and more to the point, NHS workers feel that they MATTER – really MATTER.

You’d have had to be on the moon this last week not to have heard the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”  It’s a response to the brutal killing of George Floyd on May 25th.

I have been disappointed to hear friends of mine and acquaintances object to this phrase, insisting that “ALL lives matter.”

It sounds persuasive, doesn’t it – because OF COURSE all lives matter.  But it misses the point, badly.

 In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

But surely, some might object, ALL people are blessed – not just the poor, those who weep and those who are hungry….

Jesus’ point is that these are the people who don’t FEEL blessed – who are not experiencing the good things in life that were interpreted as “blessing”.

The same is true of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan.  These are people who are routinely and continuously, at every turn in their lives made to feel that they DON’T matter.

I saw this cartoon this week that, I think, makes this point more clearly than I can with words, so – here it is, Black Lives Matter.

God wants Dolphin skins. Yes, dolphin skins!

recent edition of Grand Designs (NOT!)               


Exodus 26 (ISV)

The Tent

“You are to make the tent with ten curtains of fine woven linen and with blue, purple, and scarlet material. You are to make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. The length of each curtain is to be 28 cubits, the width of each curtain four cubits, and all the curtains are to have the same measurements.

“Five of the curtains are to be joined together, and the other five curtains are to be joined together. You are to make loops of blue material along the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set, and likewise you are to make loops along the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. You are to make 50 loops in the one curtain, and you are to make 50 loops along the edge of the curtain that is in the second set, with the loops opposite each other. Then you are to make 50 gold clasps, and join the curtains to each other with the clasps so that the tent will be one piece.

“You are to make curtains of goat hair for a tent over the tent. You are to make eleven curtains. The length of each curtain is to be 30 cubits, and the width of each curtain two cubits; the measurements of each of the eleven curtains is to be the same. You are to join five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and you are to double over the sixth curtain at the front of the tent. You are to make 50 loops along the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set, and 50 loops along the edge of the curtain of the other set. You are to make 50 bronze clasps, put the clasps into the loops, and join the tent together so that it will be one piece. As for the excess that remains of the curtains of the tent—the half curtain that remains—is to hang over the back of the tent. The half cubit that remain on either end of the length of the curtains of the tent is to hang over each side of the tent to cover it.

“You are to make a cover for the tent of ram skins dyed red and a covering of dolphin skins above that.

I read this today (in the “Message” version) and it said pretty much the same thing.  God wants DOLPHIN SKINS!!  How on earth did God expect a wandering group in the Sinai desert to get hold of dolphin skins?

I am a big fan of Grand Designs.  Well – to be fair – I am a big fan of yelling at the pretentiousness of so many of the participants of Grand Designs!  Kevin McCloud has seen his fair share of weird stuff in the building of houses…  but….

It won’t surprise you to know that the rabbis have argued about this.  The word that sometimes leads to the dolphin skin translation is “Tachash” – which is a unique word in the Torah without any definitive translation – and so very difficult to deal with.  Obscure words can often be guessed at by references to other places that they are used.  But that’s not possible here.

According to “Ask the Rabbi”:

Rabbi Yehudah understands the Tachash as referring to a blue or violet coloring of goatskin, whereas Rabbi Nechemya argues that the Tachash is the Galaksinon (a type of weasel, probably the ermine). A third opinion is found in Midrash Koheles Rabbah (1:28), as well as in the above mentioned Talmud, that quotes the teaching of Rabbi Avin who says that the Tachash is the Keresh (It has been suggested that this refers to the giraffe).


As for an explanation of the Torah’s choice for using Tachash skins for the covering of the Tabernacle, the commentary of Rashi (Shemos 25:5), notes that the Tachash skins were aesthetically pleasing with their multi-colored skin. Such skins would add great beauty to the Tabernacle’s appearance.

Wait…  God wants Giraffe Skins??

All of which is in itself very puzzling.  But I am more puzzled by the sheer detail that God goes into.  If you read the surrounding chapters, God is detailed to the minutest degree about EXACTLY how his tent is to be made – and it appears to involve a whole lot of gold and gold-smelting (which again can’t have been THAT easy to achieve for a nomadic people just getting used to the nomadic life, in the desert and on the run!

It is obvious to all but the least attentive reader that this material is a real hotch-potch of different kinds of material edited together (some might say, not very well!) to tell a story for which the various pieces were not all designed.  To put it crudely, it’s a bit like doing a jigsaw of a lighthouse – but some of the pieces come from a jigsaw of a zoo and other pieces come from a jigsaw of a British seaside comedy postcard and yet other pieces come from one of those impossible baked-bean puzzles.

At first sight, this might seem like a problem – it might seem dishonest, even.  Much virtual internet ink – and many, many pages of real ink have been spilled by people who have made it their life’s mission to harmonise and explain this disparate collection of material and present it as if it was always a single, unified, coherent whole.

But as Walter Brueggeman and other excellent scholars remind us, we need not be too worried.  An ancient people have harvested stories and accounts and bits of poetry, creation myths, deluge accounts and lists of heroic characters and genealogies and tales of battles – and woven them together to tell the story of how they traveled with God.  The individual bits and their origins are not really THAT important – other stories have been told!  The story we are interested in – and the story we are now a part of is THIS one.


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What language the creator speaks…

Today we give space for the fabulous Brian McClaren whose spirituality is infused and energised by the awesome splendour of God’s creative splendour.  It is clear from his writing that he really feels the joy and wonder of the whole created order and a keen excitement that he is part of it!  I feel the creative force of God, therefore I AM!

If you ask what language the creator speaks, the best answer is this:
God’s first language is full spectrum light,
clear water, deep sky, red squirrel,
blue whale, grey parrot, green lizard,
golden aspen, orange mango, yellow warbler,
laughing child, rolling river, serene forest,
churning storm, spinning planet.
A psalmist said the same thing in another way:
The universe is God’s work of art, God’s handiwork.
All created things speak or sing of the God who made them.
If you want to know what the original artist is like,
a smart place to start would be to enjoy the art of creation.
(Brian D McClaren: “Seeking Aliveness“)
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Babel revisited…

DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

I am trying (again) a Bible-in-a-year programme and I am loving it.  Admittedly I am still reading big chunks of Genesis rather than big chunks of Leviticus – but I am trying NOT to reach for commentaries or other people’s analysis, rather I want to allow the bare text to hit me as if for the first time.  (Confession-time here: some of it WILL actually be a first time, shocking as that may sound coming from a Minister ordained for about 26years!)

Anyway – the picture gives it away – today included Babel.  I’m reading from the Message – so this is what I read…

Genesis 11 (MSG)
“God Turned Their Language into ‘Babble’”


At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down.

They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.”

God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.

God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into “babble.” From there God scattered them all over the world.

Now… I am not saying other interpretations are wrong – I have preached them all!  You are familiar with the territory

  • The people build a tower to try to reach heaven.  God doesn’t want the disturbance up there – so she finds an ingenious way to prevent them being good builders – she confuses their speech!
  • or… The people are getting too powerful – far too big for their boots – God can’t really stomach the potential competition so she knocks them down a peg or two by confusing their speech.
  • or… It’s purely an aetiological story (an origin story) to explain why there are so many languages.  (or to explain why there are so many of these ruined old towers littering the countryside!)

Reading it again in its context – it didn’t really sound predominantly like any of those things to me.  Before this story we have the fallout from the flood – and the family tree of Noah – and the story of them all dispersing – scattering – going out into the big wide world to be fruitful and multiply.  After this we have Abram being called to leave the familiar and venture into the unknown – to spread out and scatter.

And this idea of being scattered is quite dominant in the story.  This time I read it as a story of a people who wanted to settle down – put down roots – become established (and powerful) in their own defended and bordered space.  I read it as a story of a people who have had enough of spreading and scattering and going out into the big bad world as nomads and travelers, they wanted to be defined and settled and homogeneous.

And God is horrified.  “Strewth!” she says, “what will they come up with next as an excuse to stop journeying and traveling and moving on and becoming more diverse?”  And she stops them by confusing their speech – they are scattered – which is what she wanted them to do in the first place!

Many a Pentecost sermon has told the Pentecost story – all speaking different languages and yet understanding – as the opposite bookend to the Babel story (many of mine have!)  And that’s all well and good – except that usually the scattering is assumed to be a bad thing!

What if this Babel story expresses somethings that are still true today?

  •  That a mixed up world of differing languages (and associated cultures) is not a bad thing to be healed by Pentecost, but a GOOD thing – a thing that God always wanted.
     
  •  That even if we can only fathom it metaphorically in our very static, non-nomadic definitions of a “normal life” – it is a GOOD thing for us to think of ourselves as a “traveling, wandering race – the people of God” (that old hymn!) and that God is distressed when we find our lives getting too “settled”.

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Three Questions…

Acts 8:26-40 (CEV)
Philip and an Ethiopian Official

The Lord’s angel said to Philip, “Go south along the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So Philip left.

An important Ethiopian official happened to be going along that road in his chariot. He was the chief treasurer for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia. The official had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. He was sitting in his chariot, reading the book of the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit told Philip to catch up with the chariot. Philip ran up close and heard the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The official answered, “How can I understand unless someone helps me?” He then invited Philip to come up and sit beside him.

The man was reading the passage that said,

“He was led like a sheep on its way to be killed.
He was silent as a lamb whose wool is being cut off, and he did not say a word.
He was treated like a nobody and did not receive a fair trial.
How can he have children, if his life is snatched away?”

The official said to Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or about someone else?” So Philip began at this place in the Scriptures and explained the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, they came to a place where there was some water. The official said, “Look! Here is some water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. Then they both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

After they had come out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit took Philip away. The official never saw him again, but he was very happy as he went on his way.

Philip later appeared in Azotus. He went from town to town, all the way to Caesarea, telling people about Jesus.


Three questions…

“How can I understand unless someone helps me?”

“Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or about someone else?”

“Look!  Here is some water. Why can’t I be baptised?”

This Ethiopian official is sitting in his carriage reading Isaiah from a scroll – aloud!  Commentators tell me that was the norm back then – and that what we consider to be the norm (reading to yourself) only became the norm when monasteries required silence!  Still – it was handy because it meant Philip could hear what he was reading.

He’s reading Isaiah 53:7-8.  He’s on his way home from a pilgrimage to worship in Jerusalem, maybe he bought the scroll while in Jerusalem and is eager to get to grips with it.

Philip is courageous enough to start the conversation.  Trotting alongside the still-moving carriage – Philip asks – “Do you understand what you are reading?”  “How can I understand unless someone helps me?”

Or as other translators put it: “How can I understand without a guide?”

In our reformed tradition we are fond of saying that our sole source of authority is Scripture.  Sometimes people quote the phrase “sola scriptura” – “scripture alone”.  People sometimes mistake the “alone” to mean that we need nothing else.  Yet “sola scriptura” is only one of the five “solas” of reformation theology:

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

And yet more, this Ethiopian official has the scriptures in his hands – in his carriage.  For him, merely having the words of scripture in his hands is not enough – merely reading the words for himself is not enough – he has no idea what he is reading.

“How can I understand unless someone helps me?”

The URC in its statement of Nature, Faith & Order says that “the highest authority for what we believe and do is God’s Word in the Bible, (so far that sounds like “sola scriptura”) alive for his people today through the help of the Spirit.”

This Ethiopian official needs the help of the Holy Spirit.  How does the Holy Spirit help him?  The Spirit sends Philip as guide.

The Spirit is the driving force in this whole passage.  The Spirit sends Philip to the carriage – the Spirit drives Philip to get involved – but on the surface – to the eyes of the world – Philip is doing the work; Philip is running alongside the carriage; Philip is being the guide; Philip is explaining the scriptures – starting with the bit that the Ethiopian is reading.

Philip starts in the place where the Ethiopian official IS – he takes his current questions and situation seriously – and uses that as the starting point for explaining the Gospel.  He doesn’t say – jot down your email address and I’ll send you a tract – he gets in the carriage and explains what the Gospel is – starting with Isaiah – and ending with Jesus.  

This is what the Ethiopian Official needs – he needs someone who not only knows scripture, but also knows the God of scripture; someone who reads scripture but also LIVES scripture; someone to guide him who has felt the embrace of God; someone who can read the cold ink on the page in the warm light of God’s Spirit.  He needs a Philip!

Kingsteignton folk are not short of scripture or access to scripture – Bibles are free online or on your phone!  What they ARE short of are Philips – people who know scripture and also know the God of scripture.  You know what’s coming next, don’t you!  On any given day of this coming week – you might be in a position to be a Philip for someone else…

The second question…

“Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or about someone else?”

The Ethiopian Official is on his way home from a pilgrimage to worship in Jerusalem.  He is described as a Eunuch.  If that’s what he was then he would not have been allowed far inside the Temple, he would have been denied access, left outside the inner courts, made to feel less than whole – probably shamed.  It is an act of great faith and humility that he even went if he knew that’s how he would be treated.

And he’s reading these words:  

“He was led like a sheep on its way to be killed.
He was silent as a lamb whose wool is being cut off, and he did not say a word.
He was treated like a nobody and did not receive a fair trial.
How can he have children, if his life is snatched away?”

You might imagine that he identifies with these words…  “shorn”, “treated like a nobody”, “treated unfairly”, the chance of children snatched away…

“Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or about someone else?”

In other words, “is this only about Isaiah and his situation back then, or is this about me too?”

Philip might have said – the Bible is never only about “back then” – it is always a word to us, today, in our circumstances.  Maybe Philip went on the explain that just a couple of turns later on in that scroll Isaiah says that the days are coming when Eunuchs who worship God will always be welcome in the house of God and will receive a name better than sons and daughters.  But Philip certainly explains that not only is this about him – that God knows him – but that God understands all of his suffering and humiliation and shame because Jesus walked the way of the cross.  And Philip explains that when the Eunuch’s story of being outcast and made to feel shame and humiliation is grafted into God’d story and refracted through the story of the cross and the resurrection – it becomes a story transformed, it becomes a story of redemption, restoration and hope.

The third question…

“Look!  Here is some water. Why can’t I be baptised?”

What’s to stop me being baptised here and now? 

Without the guidance of the Spirit, Philip might have had several answers…

You don’t live in Israel; you serve a foreign queen; you’re a eunuch – you’re not whole;

you live in the wrong place; you have the wrong job; your sexuality is suspect.

what if someone asked you in Tescos – “here’s an aisle full of bottled water – can you baptise me right now?”

you might say…  errrr…  I don’t have the authority… I’ll call Phil…  you need to go on a course first… errr….

But it is God’s Spirit who is the driving force here – barriers and objections are bulldozed out of the way – and he is baptised there and then.  He needs to be welcomed and accepted NOW.  Walls of prejudice and prohibition that had stood for generations came tumbling down, blown over by the breath of God’s Holy Spirit, and another man who had felt lost and humiliated was found and restored in the wideness of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ.  AMEN!


 

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A brutal killing…

Two teenage girls have been stoned to death by ISIS extremists after they were found in a house with two men – who were each flogged 50 times.  The girls, Hasna, 17, and Madiha, 16, were accused of committing adultery and executed in front of a crowd of hundreds in Deir ez-Zor city, eastern Syria.

Two older men were then sentenced to 50 lashes – also in public – after being identified by a Sharia Court as Abu Zubair al-Idlbi and Maher Hameed.

Yesterday in my morning prayer I was confronted by the account of the stoning of Stephen. Whilst the film, “The Life of Brian” makes light of this method of public torture and execution, I find that I cannot. It is not a thing of the past – it is a brutal reality today. I will not recount the grisly details here, the photo above is the least gruesome I could find without making light of the issue. Paintings of the stoning of Stephen show him serene and almost unaffected by the stones, and whilst I totally understand the motivation of the painters in depicting the story in that way – I found that I could not.

Acts 7:51-8:2 (CEV)

“You stubborn and hardheaded people! You are always fighting against the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors did. Is there one prophet that your ancestors didn’t mistreat? They killed the prophets who told about the coming of the One Who Obeys God. And now you have turned against him and killed him. Angels gave you God’s Law, but you still don’t obey it.”

When the council members heard Stephen’s speech, they were angry and furious. But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. He looked toward heaven, where he saw our glorious God and Jesus standing at his right side. Then Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”

The council members shouted and covered their ears. At once they all attacked Stephen and dragged him out of the city. Then they started throwing stones at him. The men who had brought charges against him put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As Stephen was being stoned to death, he called out, “Lord Jesus, please welcome me!” He knelt down and shouted, “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Then he died.

Saul approved the stoning of Stephen. Some faithful followers of the Lord buried Stephen and mourned very much for him.

I have found myself haunted by this story – and the stories I have read of people being stoned to death in today’s world. Of course, Luke does not recount the story in order to campaign against the brutality of stoning. Luke tells the story in order to bear witness to the extraordinary courage and assurance that Stephen’s faith in God gives him. Such incidents might not have been commonplace, but they would have been familiar enough to Luke for him not to have been surprised that it happened. And there was more to come as this incident seems to have marked the beginning of a much more targeted campaign of persecution against the early church.

How easily we become desensitised to the brutality of the world around us 
and our involvement in it…

Stoning is a very deliberate kind of torture and execution. It is designed to be carried out by the whole community, it is an expression of the terrifying verdict that this whole community has decided very publicly to demonstrate that they can no longer abide you drawing another breath in their midst, and they will all play their part in killing you. It is also designed to free any single person of individual guilt – with stoning it is impossible to tell which stone actually caused the death or who threw it.


God will not let us get away with that kind of excuse:
“It might not have been MY particular stone…

Jesus said: “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” And one by one, they melted away.

Martin Luther, talking about the crucifixion, said this: We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.”   He might just have easily said, “We all carry about in our pockets His very stones.

Put those stones down.  You won’t be needing them anymore.

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To be a child of God…

1 John 3:1 (CEV)

Think how much the Father loves us. 

He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are. 

The idea that we are God’s children says something about our relationship to God.
The idea that we are God’s children says something about our relationship to one another.

But for today – just this thought…

I have three children and as a consequence I have sat through many school concerts! I know there are parents who SAY that they enjoy each and every performance and are proud of every single child – but I was never one of those parents.

When kids other than my own were performing, I’d be looking at my watch wondering how much more we could take of this!

BUT

the moment one of mine took the stage – everything changed. I was instantly paying full attention, I was willing them on to greatness – and heart-swellingly proud of every tiny thing they did however accomplished or not it might have been.

That’s what I think of when I hear myself described as a child of God. I think of God willing me on – desperate for me to succeed – immensely proud of every tiny step I take.

And the amazing thing is that we are ALL God’s children – and God is like that for ALL of us!  (even when we play the recorder!)

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Gamaliel the wise?

Acts 5:34-42 (CEV)

But one of the members was the Pharisee Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher. He ordered the apostles to be taken out of the room for a little while. Then he said to the council:

People of Israel, be careful what you do with these men. Not long ago Theudas claimed to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed. All his followers were scattered, and that was the end of that.

Later, when the people of our nation were being counted, Judas from Galilee showed up. A lot of people followed him, but he was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

So I advise you to stay away from these men. Leave them alone. If what they are planning is something of their own doing, it will fail. But if God is behind it, you cannot stop it anyway, unless you want to fight against God.

The council members agreed with what he said, and they called the apostles back in. They had them beaten with a whip and warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then they let them go.

The apostles left the council and were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus. Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another. They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Gamaliel got Paul & Co. out of a tricky spot – but how wise IS his advice?

He seems to be saying that if a human venture is not “of God” then it will fail (so we can leave it to wither) and if a human venture is “of God” it will flourish and there is nothing we could do to stop it anyway. On the face of it, it seems like a recipe for doing nothing in any situation and simply leaving it to either flourish or fade away depending on whether it is “of God”. At least we won’t then have been seen to OPPOSE God’s plans, even though we never actually supported them either.

On the face of it it seems like UNWISE advice. Human ventures that are not “of God” clearly DO flourish and take root – they don’t just wither away! Antisemitism, to take a current hot topic, is deeply rooted and flourishing around the world – the slave trade too (clearly also not “of God”!)

In a previous life I might simply have dismissed Gamaliel on that basis – what on earth could he have to teach us. BUT… it is at least possible that this being a long time ago and us not really knowing the man, I would be being unfair.

so…

Maybe it is wise to suggest that the context for this advice is a bunch of religious people from the same tradition arguing about theology – it is advice for a much more limited sphere than my objection assumes! Maybe in that religious context, Gamaliel’s advice is very pertinent. Why DO religious people spend such a lot of energy arguing among themselves about minutiae? Maybe Gamaliel is saying – these guys are in the same family as us. They’re making some pretty bold claims – but we have traveled together as a community of faith for thousands of years and we have seen great upheaval and change, some of it good and some of it not so good. Let’s just see how this one pans out – it might be phooey – but it might turn out to be something good. God has surprised us in the past! Chill!

That might be enough – it might help put some of our internal religious squabbles into context.

But maybe it’s more too…

There is stuff I should get on with – projects I should launch – and yet I have delayed and held back, possibly for fear they will fail. Maybe Gamaliel’s advice to me today would be – “Go on, Phil – have a go at it, make a start. Maybe it’ll fly, maybe it won’t – if it does, then that’s because the holy Spirit puts wind in its sails, if it doesn’t, then maybe that’s not what God wanted you to be doing just now and it is better to know than than not!

Cheers G – oh wise one!

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Who’s in charge around here?


John 3:31-36 (CEV)
The One Who Comes from Heaven

God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.

The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever.

John the Baptist is answering questions from his disciples about this young upstart, Jesus, who people are starting to follow. What should they do? These verses are part of John’s response.

John paints a picture of Jesus being handed the reigns of power by God (the Father). We might want to talk about the theological thinking behind that picture and what the implications are – that might be interesting, but I doubt it would help us understand how to be better people, so I will resists that and stick with John’s word-picture of Jesus being left in charge.

There is a fairly common film/T.V. trope where someone unlikely is put in charge – often of a hard-bitten and close-knit police unit. The new person in charge is sometimes a woman, often an outsider, maybe a young wet-behind-the-ears academic who hasn’t got the street-hardened years that the other detectives have – whatever it is, there is usually something about the newcomer that causes resentment.

It usually starts badly – their authority is questioned as Jesus’s was (“where do you get your authority from?”); their background is put under scrutiny as Jesus’s was (“he’s just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Does anything good come from Nazareth?”); people ignore them, as they ignored Jesus (“He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him.”) and when the going gets tough, desertion and rebellion begin, as it did with Jesus (“Because of what Jesus said, many of his disciples turned their backs on him and stopped following him.” John 6:66)

But then, against all the odds, the newcomer does something extraordinary and everything changes. (Fill in the blanks yourself!)

Of course it isn’t a perfect analogy – but maybe there’s something in there, and that’s where the film/T.V. series usually ends.

But the Jesus thing doesn’t end there. Jesus goes on to ascend and he leaves us in charge! And maybe we feel like the new police chief, in the thick of it with nobody listening and everybody (including yourself) thinking you are simply not up to the job.

Maybe that’s when we need to (yes, with God’s help!) – DO SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY!

There are so many ways to be extraordinary – we could be extraordinarily generous,
extraordinarily loving, extraordinarily grace-filled, extraordinarily kind, extraordinarily forgiving, extraordinarily ambitious for the gospel of peace…

The world is watching!

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