Tag Archives: Justce

Staring at the Sky

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:9-11 NRSV)

The story of the Ascension is so rich in symbolism that we can miss something of its simpler message. After Jesus has given his final instructions to his friends, he takes his earthly leave of them.

There is joy, bewilderment, anticipation . . .

. . . and then a couple of angels turn up and say, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

And I look at that phrase and I hear echoes of, “Don’t you get it? You’ve got a job to do. There’s a world to change, and a Kingdom to be welcomed, and it’s like nothing you have ever seen before!”

Certainly the disciples were to be patient for a while. They needed to wait to see what God would do first, so that they could do His work, rather than their own thing.

But they had better be ready, and so had we.

Because when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit came they were able to go off and proclaim the Good News of Christ in word and deed, and so little Christian communities began to spring up everywhere.

The Spirit enabled, the Spirit empowered, the Spirit enthused and inspired, but the believers had to be ready and willing.

And so, in a quirky way, the message of Jesus’ ascension for us may be, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

There’s work to be done. There is God’s love, not only to be shown, but to be given away. There are people to be fed, spiritually, and sometimes physically. There are prayers to be offered. There are deep relationships to be built. There is justice to be worked for and evil to be challenged.

So an important message of the Ascension is to be ready and prepared; ready to serve God with the gifts he has given us, and prepared for the opportunities and challenges we will face along the way.

Jesus,
you call me to wait for your guidance
before jumping in with both feet.
Help me not to use that
as an excuse to do nothing!
Show me the tasks you call me to take up,
and guide me through your Holy Spirit.
Amen

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The World Turned Upside Down

Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:2-9 NRSV)

There are those who have a mental picture of Jesus which depicts him as if he were some kind of Victorian philanthropist, who says “nice” things and only mixes in genteel company. They get a shock when they discover something of the real Jesus.

Certainly, Jesus was the living embodiment of God’s love, and he taught in ways which revealed God’s love, but he was also often deeply subversive in some of that teaching. The passage above is an example of that.

Jesus has gathered his disciples around him and he begins to teach them about the Kingdom he has come to establish, but he doesn’t start with kings and princes or others at the top of the social strata. He starts at the bottom, with those who are often ignored, or not valued, or abused.

He speaks of those who know their need of God, those who are burdened with grief, those who will not impose their will and who see the good in others; the powerless who want to see justice, those who will actively work for peace; those who are not duplicitous and scheming in their dealings with others.

In other words, he turns his back on the culture of “might is right” and the “winner takes all” mentality.

This is no revolutionary’s manifesto, but with these words Jesus announces the inauguration of a kingdom which has a two-line constitution. Whatever our station in life, whatever our role in community or society, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

How would this “constitution” work out in our own time?

Jesus,
you turn our values upside down
to bring us to your kingdom.
Open my eyes to your truth
and my heart to your commandment of love.
Amen

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

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

Men Walking Dogs

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

Sometimes young men
with two Rottweilers or two Alsatians.
Macho, “Don’t mess with me!”
Discarding a can or a bottle to prove it.

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

But mostly they were old men
with Collies and Labradors.
Keeping fit,
whiling the hours,
stopping to chat,
(the dogs snarling and growling at each other);
checking out the skyline
of the world’s erstwhile workshop.

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

“Me? Used to be on the hammers down there.
Did thirty years before they made me redundant.
Sorry. What did you say? Can you speak up a bit?”

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

“Yeah. I was a foundry man
until I had the heart attack.
They shut the place down not long after;
sell Swedish flat pack furniture there now.”

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

“Came down here during the war:
directed labour;
had to go where they sent you.
Worked here ever since.
Made me redundant a few years before I should have retired.
I remember the night they tried to bomb us.
They missed.
Blew the Church right out of the ground.
Nothing left; just a big hole.”

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

“I was a toolmaker. Yes, it was a very skilled job. Pay was good, too.
Our place made parts for the car industry,
when there was one.
I like to go fishing if I get the chance,
but the wife isn’t too good these days:
a bit shaky on her pins.
So I don’t like to wander too far.”

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.

While the “economic miracle”
wiped away the symbols,
the very structures
of the life they once knew,
doing more damage
than Hitler’s Luftwaffe ever did.

Men walking dogs,
over the hill.
Meeting, chatting, pausing to remember.

Inviting us to question:
is there a place in
God’s post-modern paradise,
the global Eden,
for men, over the hill,
walking dogs?

Nigel Carter

Arise, Shine

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

(Isaiah 60:1 NRSV)

You call us to arise and shine out Lord;
to shine out in the darkness.
Your glory rested on your people,
and now are we to know that it rests upon us,
has risen upon us?

Your prophets spoke to the generations;
warned of what you require,
what is needed of your people
so that they may shine in the darkness,
so that your glory would rest upon them.

They spoke of unbelief;
of piety up to the armpits.
of people who wade knee-deep in ceremonies;
and, in so doing, hide from you,
the real you.
Have we substituted for the real you
the you we have constructed
in our bid to escape from reality?
If so, we are surely in exile far from Babylon.

When the hungry starve,
the widow receives no justice,
and the battered girl must bear her bruises
for the sake of her children;
or the teenager must sell her body
to feed her habit,
and that of the man who caused it,
when the worker is cheated of his pay,
where the sick are offered no healing or comfort,
where the poor are offered no hope,
and slaves must accept thir brutal lot;
where all turn their back on real reality,
the reality of your eternal love,
and its uncompromising demands;
then the people are already in exile
and thick, thick darkness covers the earth.

Free us from our escapism, Lord;
from investing our lives in a box in the corner of the room,
from pouring all our hope into two weeks in the sun,
or the Christmas that will be much better next time around,
or a supermarket trolley,
or a lottery ticket,
a home or a car,
or the bottom of a glass;
or in Teflon coated self assurance
which masks the brittle eggshell of our soul.
Free us from projecting our failures onto others
and vesting our children with our faults,
like a ball and chain around their ankles.

Show us how to arise and shine, Lord,
Show us the light of Christ
and his kingly rule.
Show us, Lord, the paths we must tread
to be your true servants.
Equip us with the tools to to love, build,
to nurture, to grow:
ourselves, others and your kingdom.

Then your glory might rise upon us
and your light shine out from your people.
Then the darkness may disperse
and we may know you as real.

Nigel Carter