Tag Archives: justice

Please Pray for Iraq

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Please pray for the Yazidi and Christian communities of Iraq, whose people are facing genocide, and for the governments of the West, who have the power to act before its loo late.

Thank you.

Pray for the courage to do what is right: to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Nigel

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A Friend on the Journey

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
(Luke 24:30-31 NRSV)

I must admit that my favourite story about Jesus, from the time after he had risen, is the account of the “Walk to Emmaus” from Luke’s Gospel.

It is Easter Day and two of Jesus’ bewildered disciples are taking the afternoon walk from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus when a stranger joins them. Luke informs the reader that the stranger is the risen Jesus, but his friends don’t recognise him.

As he walks with them he lifts their hearts with his explanation of why all these things had taken place. When they get to their destination it is dusk so they invite the stranger in to eat with them.

As they recognise him in the blessing and breaking of bread, they are astonished but, even as he disappears from them, they suddenly understand the depth of meaning in their encounter. Hearts ablaze with joy and enthusiasm, they ignore the dangers of a night-time journey and rush back to Jerusalem to tell their friends.

Jesus’ friends had thought that it had all gone horribly wrong for them; that all in which they had put their hope and trust had turned to dust; had been an illusion. Even as reports of Jesus’ resurrection began to emerge some of them (quite understandably!) struggled to take it in.

The encounter with the risen Christ changed that.

We have the benefit of the New Testament to explain this to us, and many have encountered the risen Christ starting with a tentative exploration of the Gospels.

But Luke, in his vivid account, gives us another clue. It was in the breaking of bread that his friends recognised Jesus with them; and for twenty centuries countless worshippers have discovered the same.

There are several names for it and numerous ways to understand it, but it remains true that many continue to find strength, inner healing, peace, forgiveness, renewal, enthusiasm, commitment and a deep sense of relationship with Jesus through worship which includes the breaking of bread.

Jesus,
Set my heart ablaze with love for you
and my neighbour.
Guide me to your truth
and enthuse me by your Spirit.
Amen.

Salty Goodness!

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under-foot.”
(Matthew 5:13 NRSV)

I had a friend who tended to have something of a standard response to those who irritated him. “That man is the salt of the earth” he would proclaim, before adding “and he doesn’t half rub it in your wounds!”

I have, today, read an article on the BBC website which speaks of the discomfort felt by atheists in some US communities.

I found the article to be full of sadness for a variety of reasons.

At one shockingly ironic level, you could take the word “atheist” in this article and replace it with the word “Christian” for many. There are places and occasions in my own country where it is not always wise to speak from an explicitly Christian perspective, and those who discover a faith can find themselves ridiculed by friends and even family. So it is sad that people of faith and atheists find themselves experiencing the same sense of dislocation from their peers or from their community for exactly the opposite reasons.

Regardless of what others may say or do, if Christians are so convinced of their rightness that people feel excluded or even persecuted, then we have failed and we should apologise.

God’s Kingdom is one of sacrificial love, and of justice. Any kingdom which seeks to gather one group together and excludes others, for no other reason than that they don’t share our world-view, is not a Kingdom I would wish to be a part of. It is the realm of the tyrant.

Jesus rebuked those who only cared for their own kind. He also reminded people of the commandment to love God and neighbour. He did not say “Love your neighbour if he believes in God.” He simply said, “Love your neighbour.”

The whole business of being “the salt of the earth” is that Christian lives should enhance the experience of those around them, not poison it. We must be mindful of history and, as frail human beings, seek to act out of love. That is especially true in our families, amongst our friends and in our wider communities.

Jesus,
In your love you have welcomed me into your Kingdom.
Help me to understand my call
to share that love with others,
not to prove my point
but in obedience to your gracious command.
Amen.

Enlightenment

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
(John 8:12 NRSV)

One of the periods of history which I find most fascinating is that few years spanning the second half of the eighteenth century. It was a period of exploration, intense scientific investigation and radical philosophical thinking.

Though not unique in history, the period of the late 18th century changed the way in which many people saw the world. It spawned many social movements, new discoveries, new ways of governing and even new nations. It was the age of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Voltaire’s Candide, Captain Cook’s Voyages, of Paine’s Rights of Man, and so much more.

It was also a time when many sought to break away from what they saw as the shackles of religion and the overbearing authority of the Church.

Ironically, given that so many at the time sought to marginalise religion, Jesus had come to bring a new enlightenment all those centuries before.

In some ways, Jesus did re-assert traditional values, such as our duty to God and our neighbours; but in other ways he spoke out vehemently against those ways of thinking and being which enslaved minds, souls and bodies.

Jesus did not decry the faith of his time but his constant theme was that those who really knew God, who had a relationship with God, would see that religion was not a substitute for, or an escape from, the cold reality of their daily lives. Neither was it a means of social control.

He demonstrated that to love God was to seek to ensure that God’s love was enacted in every aspect of life; and not just personally, but in community, too. It was not a call to fundamentalism (at least, not as we understand the word), but to liberation and enlightenment. The way to bring in God’s Kingdom is to simply live it from day to day.

Encumbered by our Sunday School image of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” we often fail to see the radical and deeply subversive nature of his life and his teaching.

To discover something of the real Jesus can be quite illuminating.

Jesus,
open my eyes to see your truth;
free my soul from its preconceptions and prejudice;
enlighten my reason with your words of love.
Amen

Stunted Growth

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
(John 8:10-11 NRSV)

There are those who would argue that the story of the Bible is the story of human sin, and what God decided to do about it. Hmmm. Well, maybe.

Whatever the truth of that, we certainly seem to have a fascination with the whole notion of sin. If that were not so then many books would never be published, movies and tv soaps would have no audiences, and very few newspapers would be sold.

But the nature of sin varies from one culture to another and within societies, as does the degree of tolerance or otherwise.

In the quotation above, the Gospel writer is recounting the well-known story of the woman “caught in adultery.” No one seems to be concerned about the fact that there must have been another person present. The mob wants to stone her for her sin, or condemn Jesus for his lax attitude to the law. His response is to invite the sinless person amongst them to begin the stoning. They get the message.

But what is sin? Well, it could be argued that sin is exemplified in the Ten Commandments and in all the laws given out in the first few books of the Bible. There are very many who would agree with that notion and a host of laws which have grown from it. So perhaps the nature of sin can be codified.

Except I don’t think it can; not in that way, at least.

There is a simpler way. If we are, indeed, children of God from birth to eternity, then surely God want’s the best for each of us. My sin, then, is anything in my life, over which I have control, which prevents me from growing into the kind of person I have the potential to be. The same is true for you. Growth may be thought of as physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual and in terms of social, economic and physical/mental well-being. Additionally, and potentially far more seriously, our sin is anything that we do that hinders the growth of another.

That is why Jesus summarised all the Commandments by saying “Love God, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.” If we can get that right, we might be less obsessed with sin.

Jesus,
your love conquers my sinfulness.
Teach me to live that love
in my daily life
and amongst those I meet.
Amen.

A Change of Heart

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
(Mark 1:14-15 NRSV)

Christians occasionally find themselves teased with the image of the street-corner preacher, clutching a huge brass-clasped Bible, whilst wearing a maniacal expression and proclaiming “repent for the end of the world is nigh!” I once saw a cartoon variation of this satire in the form of a man, wearing a huge sandwich board which proclaimed “The end of the world is nigh” on the front and “half-price meals at Joe’s Café” on the back.

The problem is with the word “repent.” It hangs like a mill-stone around the necks of so many as an exhortation to beat our breasts in sorrow for our past life, to seek God’s forgiveness and to turn to Christ.

Whilst there is a great deal of truth in that, especially where our consciences trouble us for genuine (as opposed to imagined) misdeeds, the definition is much too narrow. There is more, and better, to it.

The word “repent” is based on an ancient Greek word which means “to have a change of mind,” or to “think in a different way.” We might think of it as a change of heart, perhaps as a consequence of thinking more deeply or seeing the “bigger picture.”

When Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, he is more concerned with saying that something new and wonderful is being inaugurated than he is in raking up the ashes of people’s earlier lives.

Jesus is challenging his hearers, including ourselves, to break out of conventional and long-assumed modes of living to see the world from the perspective of eternity: from God’s perspective.

The Kingdom is not a place for world-weary cynicism, or for exploitation of the status quo. Membership of The Kingdom is not limited to those who think they have attained a degree of holiness.

The Kingdom is the place for those with big and growing hearts, who open their minds to what God is doing in his world, and who want to join in.

That’s the Kingdom of God which Jesus came to proclaim.

Jesus,
show me the big picture
as far as I am able to see it.
Change my heart,
grow my mind
to understand the works of your Kingdom.
Amen

Treasure

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Luke 12:34 NRSV)

I am often wary when someone pipes up with the old adage, “Charity begins at home.” The phrase is often used as a conversation stopper, or as an excuse to stand back from our responsibility to our fellow human beings.

In fact, it often displays a thinly-veiled hard heartedness; a meanness of spirit.

Yes, charity should begin at home. Our nearest and dearest are God’s gifts to us and we have a primary responsibility to love them in practical and sacrificial ways. The original meaning of the word we know as “charity” is, quite simply, self-emptying sacrificial love. So charity should begin at home, but it shouldn’t end there.

In his teaching, Jesus never says that money in itself is a bad thing; it is, after all, simply a means of exchange. But money and power often go hand in hand. The more money we have, the greater our freedom to decide, and the greater our power. Those with little money often have little power and can find themselves at the mercy of those who have plenty of both.

So it is not money which Jesus criticises, but our attitudes towards money.

In fact, it’s not just money: wherever we focus our attention (whether it be money, status, celebrity, our jobs, our cars, our hobbies and interests, even the social circles we move in) there is always the danger that the “thing” will become our god.

If we sit lightly on our possessions; enjoying what we have, not worrying about that which we don’t have, and doing our best to share our good fortune, whilst seeking to empower others, then we begin to move towards Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbour.

If I am tuned in to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, then my heart is less likely to be fixed on my needs and more likely to discover its treasure amongst God’s other children.

Jesus,
when I am worn down
by the cares of money,
or any one of a thousand distractions,
give me a heart for your Kingdom
and show me where my treasure really lies.
Amen.

Using the Same Measure

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
(Luke 11:2-4 NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer, in its different versions and many languages is surely amongst the most commonly used of all Christian prayers. If you can’t think what to pray then the Lord’s Prayer will certainly do.

It is not, in fact, a “religious” prayer in a sectarian or denominational sense. Anyone and everyone can pray it.

But the words do indicate the radical and subversive nature of Jesus’ teaching. It is a prayer of praise and adoration, an acknowledgement of God’s providence, a prayer for protection, a prayer of healing and reconciliation: and a prayer for justice.

“Forgive us our debts (or sins or trespasses)” is a part of the prayer which many of us might offer at times when our consciences trouble us; but the prayer also offers a caveat of pragmatism – “for we ourselves forgive . . .”

Do we? Do we forgive others to the same extent that we expect God (and people) to forgive us?

Do we ask God to use the same measure with us, as we do with our neighbours? Because that is what the prayer means: “Judge me with same level of justice that I judge others.”

For justice is not only about restitution; and it is certainly not about revenge. Justice will ultimately involve painful reconciliation and healing; and that will also involve a degree of forgiveness.

Some will find this shocking; but without forgiveness there can be little chance of reconciliation. Those who forgive bear the cost, the pain, the insult of the offence. It can be the most difficult thing; but it is the way of the Kingdom of God.

Our Father in Heaven,
may you be praised and honoured above all.
may your Kingdom of justice, mercy and love come;
may your will be done on Earth as in Heaven.
Give us today the food we need.
Forgive us the harm we have caused
to the same extent that we forgive those who have caused us harm.
Do not lead us to the time of hard testing, but protect us from evil.
Amen

Mixing it Up a Bit!

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
(Matthew 13:31-33 NRSV)

“Better to be an honest sinner than a phoney saint;” so goes the adage, and there is a great deal of truth in it.

Jesus mixed with all kinds of people who were far from perfect, and who continued to be far from perfect even after their encounter with him. They were a bit like you and me, in fact.

But that encounter with him did change lives, perhaps especially the lives of those who became his followers. And herein lies the “secret.” Jesus did not turn up on a “battle bus” with political manifesto; nor did he raise an army to change the world by force. In fact, it’s pretty clear that he didn’t want to found a new religion (boy, did we ever get that one wrong!).

What he did do was establish that which we pray about every time we use the Lord’s Prayer: the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven).

The citizens of this kingdom are not primarily those who are holier than the rest of us; who say all the right things and who know all the correct theology. They may be such people but that is not the qualification for citizenship of God’s Kingdom.

The citizens of the kingdom will be ordinary frail human beings who will, despite their many imperfections and their daily struggles, live out the kingdom values in the “little” things of everyday life, as described in the many teachings of Jesus.

Those small acts will be the mustard seeds of the Kingdom, the unseen yeast in the dough which, over time can combine together to transform our world much more than the rhetoric and exhortations of a thousand preachers.

Jesus,
show me the ways in which
my attitudes and actions
may serve your transforming Kingdom.
Amen.

Consequences

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
(Luke 23:33 NRSV)

Have you ever played the game of Consequences? As children we used to play it occasionally: writing random names and actions on pieces of paper, folding them over and then passing them on for someone else to write the next bit. At the end the paper would be unfolded and the story read out, amid much giggling at the various outcomes.

Of course, all actions have consequences, for good or ill, intended or unexpected.

In the story of Jesus it is quite clear that most of his disciples expected a very different outcome than did Jesus himself.

They expected a new King to be crowned; one who would, probably leading an army, throw out the hated Roman occupiers and revive the ancient kingdom of David.

Jesus knew different. He knew that the kingdom of costly love which he came to establish was deeply subversive of the existing kingdoms and, as a somewhat ironic consequence, would generate substantial opposition.

He challenged those who abused power.

He challenged those who abused wealth.

He challenged those who abused status.

He challenged those who wore their religion like a badge but refused to acknowledge their obligations to fellow human beings.

He showed that many people’s ideas about God, and God’s purposes for his world, were wrong.

He demonstrated that, in his Kingdom, life would be lived differently; in the present.

Jesus knew there would be consequences. And so there were: betrayed by a friend, arrested after dark and dragged off to face trumped-up charges of blasphemy before a kangaroo court, hauled before the governor on different charges (treason against Rome), beaten, scourged, humiliated and finally brutally and publically executed as a political expedient.

And as a consequence his enemies believed that they had solved their problem and set an example for other would-be messiahs to be aware of. “This is what happens to those who challenge us.” His friends thought that their hopes and dreams had died on that cross.

But the important thing for us to remember about the crucifixion of Jesus is that it is not the end of the story. There are further consequences.

Jesus,
Sometimes I look at the cross
and just don’t know what to think;
overwhelmed by its mingled story of love
in the face of deep brutality.
Help me to grasp its meaning
for your Kingdom
in our time.
Amen.