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Rosa Parks.

I love Rosa Parks, just an ordinary lady who changed America by her defiance not to give up her seat for a white passenger. She got arrested which triggered a mass bus boycott, which snowballed with people talking to the streets in protest marches (with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech). Eventually racial segregation was outlawed and attitudes changed (so much so that in 2008 Barack Obama became the first ever black President of the United States).

Why that day she refused we don’t know -although we do know she’d worked late and was tired. Yet for some reason she had had enough. Something inside her said “No”.

Rosa Parks was a Christian, she went to Martin Luther King’s Church, perhaps it was the Holy Spirits quickening and emboldening that made her stay seated and remain seated?

The driver shouted at her, the other passengers got angry, the police were called and she was arrested, yet despite all this she remained sat on her chair! I wonder if I had been in her shoes would I have capitulated, back down and given in?

Rosa Parks showed great bravery not just in her act of defiance but in her refusal despite the pressure she remained steadfast and resolute.

Yet it was costly for Rosa Parks who lost her job as did her husband. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Many black people were murdered, lynched, by white supremacists. Many more were arrested, beaten up and imprisoned. Even now blacks make up 12% of the American population but 33% of the prison population, and black Americans are twice as likely as white people to be unemployed.nica It was, and is, a costly battle, with a long way to go until we see real and true equality.

Rosa Parks risked the comfort of her today for the dream, the possibility -however slight- of a better tomorrow (at the time there was no certainty that they would succeed) but she did her bit that caused a domino effect that changed America and the world.

The thing I like most about Rosa Parks is her ordinaryness, she did not hold elected office nor was she famous, just an ordinary woman going about her evetyday daily life, when she made a decision and changed the world.

Perhaps there is something that you need to say “no more” too, something that is not right that you have been living with or aware of for too long?

It takes a special form of courage and faith to build and plant seeds for a future you might never see in your life time.

Maybe you feel that the chance of success is small and wonder what your small action can achieve? -If so, let Rosa Parks story embolden you to do your bit, do the right thing even if it is costly, because small things can, and do, alter the course of human history.

You might be in a situation where you are tempted to give in for an easy and more comfortable life, if so, hold firm and don’t move, wobble or budge if you believe it is right.

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Igagai

Ikagia is a Japanese word that is difficult to translate but could be translated as vocation, it is your motivating force, the reason you get up in the morning and the words you would want to read about yourself in your obituary.

St. Paul’s ‘Ikagia’ would be “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain!” John Wimbers’ said his purpose was to run the race Christ had for him and to take as many people with him as he could! What is your Ikagia? Does it look like Jesus or does it resemble the tower of Babel?

Who are we living for? Is it ourselves to be like the rich fool who gains the whole world but yet loses their life? Or is it for Christ building with gold that will last for all eternity? Where are we going in our life? And how are we getting there are we blessing those we travel alongside

Over the course of these few days we have looked at work and purpose being something good given to us before the fall. We have looked at the distortion of sin which has confused our purpose and our destiny. We looked at vocation being bigger than just working for the Church but rather God’s call is for his people to be his salt and light in the world, often called to industries that perhaps Christians have historically shunned such as the arts or politics. Yet also questioning whether some activities and roles were comparable with the call to follow Christ?

So, how can we know where God is calling us? The Japanese word here helps us a little here, asking ourselves “What we are good at?”, “What you love and are passionate about?”, “What does the word need?” and “What can you get paid for?”

Recently I was involved in a piece of youth work where we had a steering group of young people that gathered other young people together for a consultation about what it was like being a young person in our town and talking about ‘aspirations’, and interestingly we discovered that many of the young people’s aspirations were about ‘being a good person’, being spiritual and having hobbies with s healthy work life balance, having healthy and functioning relationships. I remember as a teenager the aspiration we were force fed was about getting a job and earning money.

For a long time whilst I was a Vicar it was all consuming and although I poured my everything into being a good Vicar (but was never enough for some parishioners who would tell you they felt neglected!) but came to realise that there was also the call to be a good husband/dad/uncle/nephew/friend/colleague and neighbor all of which also really mattered to God, the call if God was for a whole life not just the spiritual part of it.

Eugene Peterson talks of the world squeezing us into its mould let the call of Christ us towards liberation to be the person we were created to be. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus prayed that: “your (God’s) Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven”, which I believe is a call for every believer who loves Jesus and has a pulse! It will look different for all of us!

So let us explore where God is calling us to shine out like stars on the universe as we live for Christ in all we say and do and in who we are.

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Making Santa Green Again…

We are all sort of familiar with Santa Clause with his red pyjamas and long with beard. Yet what many of us don’t know is that cocola turned him red in the advertising of their product and he has been painted red in our imagination ever since.

It is interesting that the symbol for philanthropy and the real meaning of Christmas being by a multinational corporation to become their motif for their consumeristic endeavours.

Father Christmas rather than living on the north pole and surrounded by elves in a toy factory (thanks Hollywood for that) he is really based on a real life Saint, St. Nicholas, an early bishop, of a place in Greece called Myra. He was a fiery redheaded man who was passionate about orthodox theology an on one occasion punched some of the followers of the Arius heresy (think Jehovah’s Witnesses).

He was also a wealthy man having been left a fortune by his parents. He was extraordinarily generous but was also very humble and used to give gifts and blessings by stealth.

On one occasion when an old man thought he might have to sell his daughters into prostitution due to their abject poverty, on hearing of the families poverty Nicholas threw a bag of gold down his chimney which saved the family and enabled them to survive and turn their lives around.

Often the poor would do their washing outside and would hang their stockings out to dry and Nicholas would put money in their drying stockings as a way of blessing people anonymously.

Nicholas was so extraordinarily generous that his “stealth generously” became that of legend. Following Nicholas’s death many of his clergy follows his generosity to the poor and marginalised, over the years the entire fortune was spent on alleviating poverty in Myra.

As I thought about St. Nicholas and his kindness by stealth, I was challenged by the idea of how often we do the right thing for the wrong reasons, how we like affirmation for our good deeds and how we like other people thinking we are good and kind people. The recipients of the original St. Nicholas never knew the human hands that God used to bless them. I want to have a humility like this, although I know on some days I have a long way to go!

The legend has lived on even until today, but rather than being a Saint whose life can challenge and inspire us, we mystify and romanticise so we aren’t challenged to be more like Christ by the example of St. Nicholas.

Also Nicholas was someone who sought to give practical help wherever he saw human need or suffering, rather than simply being generous and self congratulatory once a year.

Interestingly, the change from green to red has significance in the Catholic colour of seasons red is infrequent celebrations of Saints Days (rare events) rather than the green which is ‘ordinary time’ which is most of the time.

We often ask children “if they’ve been good?” In order that “Santa” might come, which actual makes generosity a reward for good behaviour rather than an unearned gift. Indeed take this flawed thinking we end up catagagorizing people into ‘the deserving and undeserving poor’ which places ourselves in a very judgemental position, all of us have made mistakes and squandered opportunities and needed the help of others.

So rather than dismiss Santa as a myth let’s recapture this green hero, his humility and philanthropy by stealth, but please don’t punch and Jehovah’s Witnesses!

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The Tree of Life…

At the heart of the first few chapters of Genesis is the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A tree that produces fruit, a tree whose fruit looks delicious and tempting, and a tree that God forbade us touch, a tree that represents the choice between going our own way and going God’s way.

The fruit that looked so enticing ended in death,

The tree at the heart of Genesis changed absolutely everything!

In some ways this tree is a symbol of one of the key tenets of Christian philosophy God’s blessing humanity with free will.

God could have made humanity some robot race that did as they were told without choice, yet we forget that love isn’t love unless the recipient is free to accept or reject it. A friendship is only pure and holy when a no means no, incredible that God respects our choice to follow him and be his friend or to turn from him and live without him.

Choice is a gift, but sadly we all know we are capable of not only making bad choices but also being too stubborn to admit we made a bad choice as our situation deteriorates.

Interestingly half way through the Bible at the start of the book of Psalms we see a healthy tree bearing fruit with their roots going down into God, rather like Jesus picture of the man who built his house on the rock or the sand, a picture of choosing to go God’s way being the best choice we can make if we want to flourish.

At the end of the new testament there is also a picture of the tree of life “whose leaves are for the healing of the nations” at the centre of the new Jerusalem city, a picture of God having restored his creation, and making everything new.

Yet there is another ‘tree’ in the Bible, a tree that says that a person is cursed who dies upon a tree. A tree that didn’t look attractive or tempting at all. This tree is a cross of wood, a symbol of death and suffering, the worst form of execution and torture that the Roman Empire could think of.

Jesus took the curse of the fall upon himself, dying in our place. This tree, the cross, changes everything and is at the heart of scripture and the Christian Story.

The cross offers us a choice, a new choice, a choice of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, with the fruit of transformation and life all eternity with God.

So let’s see the first tree that unleashed the virus of sin when people walked from God, and the second tree -the cross of Christ- that is the cure for the curse, the cross brings life from death and hope from despair.

The cross of Christ speaks a better word to the world.

Today both trees are offering us their fruit, which shall we choose today, life or death?

Which tempts you?

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The Saviour with a Bruised Heel.

When you stamp on the head of a snake you might kill it, but you probably will kill yourself in the process, as it the act of destroying a snake by crushing it with your foot, the snake will sink its teeth into you and infect you with its venom.

A friend of mine, Phil, was on a mission trip and saw some horrible and very poisonous spider -unfortunately for the story it wasn’t a snake- scuttling towards his family, knowing that these are deadly my friend stood between the spider and his family, prepared to be bitten by the spider and die in order to protect them, he killed the spider with his heavy boots. He wondered what if I didn’t have boots to handy? What if the only option to save my family was to crush it beneath my bare-feet, true he would have saved his family at the cost of his life sacrificed.

The picture is very similar to this verse, the Jesus who stamped on the snakes’ head, dying so we might live and be free. Clearly there was no other way to save us other than paying that great but dreadful cost.

On the cross Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis when God said that Satan/the snake “would bite the heel” heel of Adam’s descendants (and we see the toxic snake bites throughout the brokenness of the world and human relations) but also that from Adam’s descendants would come one who would “crush the serpents head”.

The picture looked like a defeat for the son of Adam bitten on the heel and filled with venom as well as Satan’s head crushed, an idea so shocking -God would allow himself to die at the hands of his creation- that to many people (especially Muslims) find this hard to believe that God would (or even could) do this out of love for us.

Christ who flung stars into space, the God through whom all things were made, the one who spoke into the darkness left the glory of heaven to come and rescue his beloved creation as one of us, and yet this rescue was not that of a glorious superhero saving the world without breaking a sweat or messing up their perfectly quaffed hair, no this victory was costly -cost everything, Jesus died for us, in our place, in the most horrific manner we can comprehend.

Jesus took the part of the second Adam, one who lived his life God’s way in holy obedience to God, and both took the fall and took on the fall, living amongst us -tempted in every way- and yet without sin. When we see Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane we feel his pain as he prays “Lord if this is possible let this cup pass from me” before adding that great prayer of faith “yet not my will but yours be done!” Jesus surrenders his will to the Fathers, he takes up his cross as the whole Godhead’s heartbreaks as they reconcile and redeem their beloved creation in a costly sacrifice for the whole of this divine trinitarian community of love.

Hebrews says “it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross” -the joy set before him was ordinary people, me and you, coming back into relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins.

Isaiah says: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all”.

Jesus fulfilled the Genesis prophecy of having his heel bruised by Satan.

Sin, death and the devil threw everything at Christ, they tore him down by seeing nailed to a cross.

Yet Jesus took it all for us “the punish that brought us peace was on him”, his heel was bruised, but even though he died in agony, death could not hold him back nor sin destroy him, he rose and was victorious. Jesus the bruised heeled Saviour left by his death and resurrection, sin, shame, death, Satan and hell beneath his feet. As the scriptures remind us “death where is your sting? It has been swallowed up in Victory!”

The bruised heel and the crushed head, was not both destroying each other, because God refuses to let sin, death or hell have the last word, and Jesus rose again.

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The Third Creation Account… (John 1)

One of my guilty pleasures is a love of Agatha One of my guilty pleasures is a love of Agatha Christie’s and ‘whodunnits’ in general, they are a bit formulaic where the detective gathers everyone together and does the big reveal explaining the story again but this time everything falls into place and is seen by everyone for the first time clearly.
In some ways I feel like the start of John’s Gospel feels a bit like this. It is as though John is writing the third creation account, a revisit of the original story seen for the first time not through the lenses of confusion and subterfuge but clearly. Here John reveals the central character of the creation narrative, Jesus Christ: “the one through whom all things were made” (v3) and true that there were clues such as ‘let there be light’ be uttered by the light of the world himself, God revealed as Elohim a plural name for God: “let us make humanity in our own image”.
For me the key verse comes right at the beginning: “In him (Jesus) was life” -up until then it had looked as though death had the upper hand, creation is about birth and life and the fall is about separation and death, here comes Jesus with a mandate for life. In him was life -the resurrection was won by him as the grave could not hold or contain him-.
Jesus described as the word -a Greek way of saying ‘the divine reason for everything, the grand idea that makes sense of it all’- going back to the whodunnit picture ‘the word’ is like saying “the answer, the missing piece of the puzzle, the final clue” which I think is a great way of understanding who Jesus is.
Jesus is also described in a very Jewish way as the light of the world (imagery used by prophets such as Isaiah of God) again with the idea not just of revelation (like the Greek Logos) but also light as the opposite of darkness, light cannot co-exist with darkness -the darkness has to flea: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [a]comprehend it” In understanding the great plan of God he himself is good news without any darkness, light is a symbol of hope, and for the lost a light is a guide back towards home. All good ways of understanding Jesus active in creation and active within his world, the Godhead -Father, Son and Holy Spirit- working together in the rescue mission of humanity.
Now rather than trying to understand God from his actions written down in scripture the word has become flesh. God with skin on. The word has pitched his tent in our neighbourhood, God has really and truly become one of us, the creator has taken on the form of his created. The radicalness of this act of self-giving love of God coming amongst us as a baby in poverty, on the run as a refugee, and growing up in a place where “nothing good can come from” (Nazareth). God has been made known in the face of Jesus Christ as the Carol-writer wrote: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity, born as man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel” -Immanuel literally meaning ‘God with us’.

God intended a relationship with his people, we see that when he is walking in the cool of the evening crying out “where are you?” but sin and shame had caused Adam and Eve to hide from their creator. Here we see God’s redemption and restoration plan offering his people back the relationship that God intended both now and lasting for all eternity. Costly bought but freely given. Given with the full and free choice of rejection “ He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him”. The God of heaven allows himself to be shrugged off by his own creation. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”
Here is God entering the mess of his world and offering us freedom from the tyranny of sin. This is the second Adam undoing the mess of the first.

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The Seamless Garment (Religion and Politics)

“I am not political I am a religious fundamentalist!” said Sam my intern to a friend of mine who was also the personal assistant to our local Member of Parliament (also called Sam) my toes curled with embarrassment as the first Sam laughed heartily, actually what followed was a good natured conversation about Christians living out their faith in our communities.

The other Sam is also an interesting character he was involved in a Christian year out when he felt called to go into politics. A call that excites me as too often the brightest and best Christians get sucked into Church (and sadly too often crushed and broken) rather than being called into the world to transform it. We talked about how all of life is in someway spiritual, just as all of life together is in some way political too. I even managed to work in one of my favourite Desmond Tutu quotes about “faith and politics being a seamless garment!” -I felt very smug about that!

I long to see Christians excel in politics, the charity sector, science, music and the arts, media and sport, being salt and light wherever we go and whatever we do. The influence of Christ in us as ambassadors of him shining out on every sphere of our world reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God.

As I thought about this further three memories struck me, the first was a thought for the day on the radio that was incredibly bland, reminding me of an episode of “yes prime minister” where when the Prime Minister took the criticism of “not actually saying anything” as a compliment. What is the message we are sending out to the world by our words and actions? What are we going unchallenged by our silence? This challenged me to think: “what message is our life and voice proclaiming?”

The second was wandering around all the fantastic Bohemia of London with art and music all saying so much, as I looked I wondered where were the Christians with words of hope, signs of the Kingdom and a prophetic voice? A verse in James came to mind about wisdom, people who want to be wise need to ask God who gives it generously, I want our world shapers to be people with wisdom and seeking direction from the Holy Spirit of the living God. Too often as Christians we have become pale imitations of the word rather than radical representation of the revolutionary Christ.

And my final thought came from an older vicar who with a touch of disapproval mentioned the political nature of my Facebook posts, I did think (a touch unkindly) about her elderly, comfortable, middle class, middle of the road congregation of respectable people, perhaps influenced as much by daily mail editorials than the sermon on the mount. This is precisely why we need to talk about the heart of God and his Kingdom needs to be speaking into situations gross inequality, exploitation, human dignity and value, prejudice, discrimination, abject poverty, trade injustice and modern slavery. Everything is spiritual and there are no issues that the Kingdom and light of God does not speak and shine into.

True, people might not agree with me but the debate that ensues I think helps us all to become not just more theologically reflective but is actually discipleship as we try and work out how to live out our lives in a Christlike way, seeking his mind and heart on every situation.

Too often in our Churches the gulf between “everyday life” and the message on Sunday morning which too often tragically is fossilized Christendom bubble of regurgitated irrelevance. If we don’t speak up on the issues that matter to God and to people then there are a million voices to fill the silence often with helpful things to say.

The Bible is incredibly political, from when God mandated us to steward creation life to rebuking Cain when he tried to squirm out if his responsibilities as a brother “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Yes” is God’s answer. We serve a political King riding into the city on a donkey and later wearing a crown of the thorns. We follow in the tradition of those who proclaimed: “Jesus is Lord” rather than Caesar, many were put to death for this, but we stand in their proud succession.

I would say that perhaps we don’t talk politics and faith as much as we should. Let’s join the voices proclaiming that “a different world is possible” and indeed is the very heart beat of God longing to see this brought to life through us.

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