Category Archives: Biblical Reflections

Consumed

Are we really better off, Lord?

I mean, we have more than we can possibly need,

but we want more, and our consumption destroys your world.

And while we consume, a million babies die on a dollar a day.

 

Consumption is all, it seems.

We’re never satisfied;

and envy poisons our souls so that we consume each other:

the doctor who tries to heal us,

the police officer who protects us,

the employer, the banker, the politician, the celebrity, the worker . . . our neighbour.

We clothe ourselves so easily with the victim’s apparel,

the better to consume with pure hearts,

while the real victims wear the mantle of invisibility.

 

And still we’re not satisfied, so we fight:

we fight for land, we fight for supremacy, we fight for ideologies;

we fight to ignore the refugee

in case she comes with her children and consumes what we think is ours.

 

What we can’t consume we seek to control.

That which might serve to curb our rapacity is pushed aside.

Where once we would seek to protect the innocent in public places;

now from cinema to TV we consume our violence, sex and foul speech,

allowing our children to emulate us,

whilst your prayer is ridiculed, discarded or banned.

 

Your prayer,

which speaks of your holiness;

of your blessed kingdom of love, justice and peace;

of forgiveness;

of our need of your protection – if only from ourselves.

 

But then, you can’t consume a prayer, can you?

And there is a danger that it may make us think twice;

think about you;

so its best to ban it in public, in case it causes offence.

 

But let your prayer remind us of who we are,

and of who we might be.

Let it be a doorway into your realm.

Let it be a song of praise from Earth to Heaven.

Let it be a comfort when days are dark.

Let it speak volumes when all our words fail us.

Let it be a gift to remind us that all our consumption

will never satisfy our spiritual hunger or thirst:

 

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.


Give us today our daily bread.


Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.


Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Amen.

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Vision

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
(Revelation 21:1 NRSV)

And I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth; and Heaven stretched away beyond universes, beyond time itself; and was filled with the music, the dance, the song and the art of all creation, and with the love of God; and I was overwhelmed by its beauty, its whispering subtlety and its gentle breath upon my skin. Bernini danced with Hockney, Caravaggio with Norma-Jean, Mary Wollstonecraft with Freddie Mercury. God saw all that he had created and, behold, it was very good.

And I saw all the myriad of broken souls exalted and lifted high by the cross of Christ in healing and wholeness, irresistible salvation. And I wept with the joy of this miracle. Every sin forgiven, every tear wiped away, every death destroyed by kind permission.

And I also wept bitter tears for what might have been had I, had we, only realised that the Kingdom of God was upon us like a thief in the night. I turned with empty hands and a broken heart to the one whose face shone like a thousand suns. And, though I recoiled, he took my hand and the hands of all whom I loved; and he lifted our burdens and replaced them with his gentle yoke.

And I saw the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and glory: the blind saw, the deaf heard, the dumb spoke, the last were first, the meek inherited the earth, the peacemakers conquered, the names of the forgotten were gold-etched in stone, the dead were raised, the faithful rejoiced with all their heart; there was powerful and undaunted love for God and neighbour: the world was finally healed.

And I looked, and in the far, far distance there was an empty cross, deep stained with blood, standing on a dark and wind-swept promontory, deserted, isolated; a place of pain and persecution gathered up and dumped: abandoned, desolate, save for the river of life which flowed from its heart.

Rivers of Justice

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5:21-24 NRSV)

We enjoy our worship, Lord,
and we try to do it well; its important to do it well.
If only you would let us.

We try to be reverent,
to pray the right words;
but you wander off, healing the madmen,
bored with our piety.

We try to praise,
to lift you high with all our hearts;
(and to lift our hearts as well)
but you point to those we ignore –
you thrust them in our faces!

We try to be holy,
asking you to bless this, and that, and the blessèd other.
We want it to be right for you,
(and for us);
but you shout from the mountain top,
“Stop your words, stop your noise, stop your holy silences,
stop looking east and up!”

“Turn and face the world!”, you tell us,
“Let justice flow like a stream and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.
Take my love, MY LOVE, out of your cosy temples,
and into the streets and homes where my people live.
Don’t dare to keep my love for yourselves – give it away!”

“Then you will understand,
then you will be emptied of you
and filled with me.
Then you will hurt like you have never hurt before
and know joy like you’ve never known before.”
“Then your sacrifices, your praise, your worship, your prayers and petitions
will rise from your hearts and souls like a great cloud
of sweet smelling incense.”

Nigel Carter

Food for the Hungry

John 6: 1 – 16

“Look at the great crowds – thousands of them!
They’ve come from all over the region.
Some must have walked all day to get here.”

And here we all were
sitting on the hillside;
watching, listening;
like the audience in a great amphitheatre.

We could hear his words so clearly.
As he stood at the bottom of the hill,
looking up as if he saw each one of us alone.
The breeze from the lake on this summer evening
carried his words to us,
and we were amazed.

Never was God spoken of like this,
never was the kingdom so clear, so fresh, so true,
so real as this one.
Many had spoken of it before, but not like this man.
It was not just the breeze that carried his words to us;
we drew them to ourselves, we wanted to hear,
needed to hear.
Somnolent souls began to dance
to this new music.

He finished, we began to move.
Was that a disturbance down the hill,
an altercation, a deputation?

And then those people began telling us to sit down again –
ordering us!
Bread was blessed, and something else.
Food was being distributed – there would never be enough.
Those of us at the back,
we wouldn’t see any of it.
When the man with the basket arrived he looked more
surprised than any.
We ate, bread and fish.
We ate, we had our fill!

Food left over, collected up; and he was gone.
Except for that voice – out of the depth, out of nothing,
out of stillness.
“You have been fed, your hunger satisfied.
Where now?”

Nigel Carter

Who is Apollos?

For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

(1 Corinthians 3:4-7 NRSV)

Who is Apollos?
Who is Paul?
What’s their place in the scheme of it all?

Who are Timothy, Titus, Priscilla or Jude?
Name their value, if it be not crude
to ask the truth or to seek for proof
of their worth
in all the earth.

Will Matthew
Mark
Luke
or John
bless the bed that I lie on?

Who will I follow,
Who shall I serve?
What doctrine do I have the nerve
to put my trust in –

Oh, this news just in:

Catholic, Orthodox
Methodist, Baptist,
Low Church, High Church
URC, Free Church,
C of E, can’t you see
the joke is on you and me
if we can’t find a way to be

One for Christ!

Nigel Carter

Who do you think you are?

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

(Luke 7:31-35 NRSV)

It’s all your fault,
not mine, but yours.
I may well sue!

I played my part, but you wouldn’t play yours.
I played wedding music –
but would you dance?
Not a bit of it.
Your trouble is that you won’t dance to anyone’s tune but your own.

I sang funeral songs –
and did you sing?
No. I knew you wouldn’t.
I said to myself just before I began to sing,
“I bet you won’t join in!”
And I was right, wasn’t I?
Go on, tell me I wasn’t right – I dare you!

You can’t, can you?
Admit it.
Admit it because you know I’m right and you’re wrong!
As usual.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again –
you’re all self!
You! you! you! all the time.

You never consider me, or my feelings.
You never listen.
You never co-operate.
You never inflate my ego.
You won’t let me label you,
pigeonhole you,
categorise and classify you,
identify you,
control and manipulate you,
wear you like a badge,
carry you like a trophy,
condemn you and humiliate you,
demonstrate my power over you,
and, of course, my rightness
and your wrongness.

Just who do you think you are?
A bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss,
would it?

Nigel Carter

The Tongue of a Teacher

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens–wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

(Isaiah 50:4-8 NRSV)

“The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher,
to listen as those who are taught”.

We like that idea, Lord;
when it’s applied to us.
We like to be thought of as wise;
that we’ve seen it all before;
that we know the way of things.

“If you need any advice, just ask.”
Drawing more comfort from the saying than the hearing.

“If you want my view . . .
I’m no expert, but . . .
A word to the wise . . .
If I were you . . .
Have you ever thought about . . .
I don’t want to criticise, but . . .”

We wear the weary with our wisdom.

But the tongue of the teacher
is the tongue of the one who is taught;
the tongue of one who will listen;
who hears your conversation over bread and wine;
the tired footsteps of a burdened body;
the anguish of nails, wood, flesh, blood.

The tongue of the teacher is the tongue of one
who hears, daily, the echoes of the cross
and offers not a monologue of pretentious learning,
but a word of hope, a sentence of encouragement;
not a lecture of condemnation,
but a prayer for healing.
The tongue of the teacher
is the tongue of one who is taught;
knowing crucifixion;
hearing of resurrection;
silent in the presence of God.

Nigel Carter

The Scapegoat

A Prayer for Good Friday

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:3-6 NRSV)

“The Lord laid our iniquity upon him”

Just what did Isaiah know, Lord?
Anything or nothing?

As we walk this Good Friday road
to the foot of the cross,
those words of the prophet echo
in our minds, in our thoughts.

We see Jesus,
Messiah,
Christ,
Holy anointed one,
King of Kings,
Lord of Lords:
lifted up in suffering and pain
like Moses’ bronze serpent in the desert
– for our healing.

We don’t know what the prophet saw;
but it doesn’t matter.
His words fit the bill,
model our theology
and fuel our devotion.

Help us to see Christ crucified today Father,
not so that we can be morbid and depressed;
but rather
so that we may see those things,
those people, (yes, including ourselves)
those systems, those ways of being,
which would crucify him again and again.

We need our prophets today,
not to tell the future,
but to foretell your word,
to be a beacon,
a light in the darkness,
to prevent it from finally covering the earth.

Nigel Carter

Ten Men Healed

Luke 17: 11 – 19

Ten men healed,
and nine went their way.
Ten men healed,
but just one turned to say
words of thanks and praise.

“Were not ten cleansed –
why this one soul?”
(Do ninety per cent
presume to be whole;
that the Father of Light
should owe them their right?)

But, I can see
that it may be
you will heal me;
can make me free
of pain and doubt;
matters not if I work it out,
if I’m cold or hot
or thank you,
or not.

Ten men healed,
but one gave thanks.

Five thousand fed
in their serried ranks.

Countless loved:
how many forgot
your gift to them
though they knew you not?

Those seeds were planted
in hearts of women and men;
though we take you for granted
can you do it for us again?

Grant us your healing, O God.

Nigel Carter

Son of the Living God

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

(Matthew 16:15 NRSV)

Matthew 16: 13 – 23

You are the Christ!
You are the Messiah!
You are the anointed one of God!
You are God’s own Son,
superior to any living being!

You are the one sent by God to take us home,
to put an end to evil, to lift up the lowly,
to make the things of heaven be the things of earth.

You are all powerful, all mighty, all knowing,
not only God’s chosen but God’s very essence.
The world will be your footstool!
You are the architect, the builder and the key-holder to the new Jerusalem.
If you say it, it will happen.
If you don’t, it won’t.
Invincible!

So how could anyone let these terrible things happen to you?
God forbid it!
I forbid it!
Why don’t you forbid it?

We won’t let the world persecute you –
For all the kingdoms of the earth shall be yours.
Legions of angels will protect you
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Why, you could even turn these stones into bread if you wanted to.

You call me Satan.

Why?

Nigel Carter