This is the rector's letter in the parish magazine for Dec 16/Jan 17.
It seems an understatement to say that we are living in strange times. Most of the world is coming to terms with the surprise of the US election result. Our own unexpected referendum result in June continues to reverberate throughout the political scene in the UK. The paradox is that although people had their say on a specific day in both cases, it is now all out of our hands. We can only watch how things progress, hoping and praying for the best from those entrusted with power and influence.
Sadly, these remarkable events have been accompanied by an increased hostility to the outsider. Some newspapers have run headlines seemingly intended to cultivate hostility to refugees, migrants and those who have simply move to the UK for a better job. (Although this doesn’t seem to apply to people from the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand!) As I write this, the home affairs select committee is about to enquire into the causes of the surge in reported hate crime in the UK, following the Brexit vote. Key evidence will come from the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. It seems a minority with extreme views saw the vote as a reason to express their prejudices in violence and abuse. Many from both sides of the referendum have, of course, condemned their actions.
Whichever way we voted, the Christmas message has something to say to us at this time. First, it reminds us that whoever holds great power in this world, they are not controlling the bigger story. Despite the might of the Roman Empire and all its tyranny and cruelty, Jesus Christ was born into this world. The local despot, Herod, failed to stop him. He went on through his life, and his death and resurrection to change the world. Caesar, Herod and Pontius Pilate are long dead, but Jesus still changes lives today, and will continue to do so, whoever is president or prime minister.
It also reminds us starkly of our Christian responsibility to welcome and care for the homeless, the refugee and all in need. It’s a long-standing tradition in the Old Testament: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Joseph and Mary depended on the hospitality of a stranger to provide a place for Jesus to be born (Luke 2:7). Shortly afterwards, they were refugees in Egypt, fleeing a tyrant who wanted to kill them (Matthew 2:13-23 - the bit after the Christmas reading). And in due course they settled in humble surroundings in Nazareth, away from Joseph’s home town, settling again up north.
We may not all vote the same way, but the message of Christmas calls us all to hold those values. To do so, we must oppose prejudice, show compassion, and have generous hearts for the most vulnerable and needy, whatever their nationality, belief or background.
May we celebrate Christmas with a spirit of hope, joy and peace, so that we take that spirit out into our troubled and broken world.
Sunday, 27 November 2016
Saturday, 19 November 2016
MORECAMBE PARISH CHURCH 30 Oct 2016
ALL SAINTS DAY
Luke 6: 20 - 31
Ok we’re going to start with a quiz. Which of these phrases are from Shakespeare and which from the Bible?
(Shakespeare died in 1616 which means he was around when the King James Bible was published in 1611. They have both come into our language and conversation and stayed.
Put your hand up if you think it’s the Bible / Shakespeare
A man after his own heart 1 Sam 13: 14
Cast thy pearls before swine Matt 7: 6
I must be cruel only to be kind Hamlet
All they that take the sword
shall perish by the sword Matt 26: 52
Neither a borrower or a lender be Hamlet
Do to others as you would
have them do to you Luke 6: 31
You should all have got that one right, we’ve just had it read to us! It is quoted often by people who don’t know if it comes from Shakespeare or the Bible, because it’s so good.
Jesus had the most amazing way of seeing through to the real point of a matter and expressing it in the most pithy, memorable and often surprising way.
These verses for instance, which we know better probably from Matthew’s version, are so full of a profound understanding of human beings and how societies work; they are so appealing and yet so uncomfortable and radical.
Is this what a SAINT looks like, on this All Saints day?
Poor, hungry, weeping, excluded, reviled, defamed on account of the Son of Man (v 20-22). Like so many in our world – they are the ones, Jesus says, who are blessed.
And is this God’s verdict on all who oppress the poor?
(v 24 – 25)
woe to you who think you’ve made it through wealth and don’t share it,
woe to you who are full of yourself,
woe to you who laugh and sneer at others’ misfortune?
Woe to you when you live only for the approval of others
It’s all going to get turned upside down.
It is very difficult to get away from the fact that Jesus is making a political statement here. His congregation were the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and he wanted to give them hope, not false hope, but real hope that things would get turned right way up. You will be filled, you will laugh and rejoice and leap and dance v 21 & 23, he promises.
But Jesus says to those that listen, v 27, you have a responsibility in this: “ love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” which is summed up in v 31: “do to others as you would have them do to you”
In between (v 29 – 30) Jesus gives some examples of how that might be worked out, which would have been obvious to those who heard him at the time but which perhaps need explaining today.
Turn the other cheek
V 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. Matthew is more specific – “the right cheek”.
OK Mike I’d like you to come and strike me on the right cheek. I’ve asked Mike because I know he’s not a violent man!
How are you going to do it?
Mike: Either with my left hand, or back-handed.
But in the Jewish Law the left hand was only used for unclean tasks (you may know or I’ll leave it to your imagination!) So this aggressor must have used his back hand.
And the back hand was (and is) not to injure, but to insult, to humiliate, to degrade. It was not administered in those days to an equal, but an inferior. Masters back-handed slaves; husbands backhanded their wives; parents their children; Romans backhanded the Jews. The whole point was to force someone who was out of line back into place.
So, Jesus says, “if anyone strikes you (with the back hand to humiliate you), turn the other cheek”. The people Jesus was talking to were used to being degraded and he says, refuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.
And if I turn to you the other cheek Mike – what are you going to hit me with? Right fist
The left cheek offers the perfect target for the right fist but only equals fought with fists.
So this was an act of defiance – it said to the slave master or the Roman oppressor, “I am your equal. I’m a human being just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am a child of God.”
What Jesus is saying loud and clear to the poor and excluded and reviled is: don’t co-operate with anything that humiliates you. Stand up to your oppressors, assert your humanity. BUT don’t treat the oppressor in the way he treats you. “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. Find a different way of being which is neither being a victim or being violent.
Give away your shirt
It’s the same principle with the next phrase:
“from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”. This would mean stripping off all their clothing and standing there naked. (We are not going to have a demonstration!)
Imagine the guffaws this must have evoked from Jesus’ congregation. We think it’s funny, so did they but they were also aware that for the Jew it was shameful; any kind of nakedness was a taboo. In effect the man is saying “you want my coat, here, take everything.”
Imagine him walking away with nothing on. His friends and neighbours would be aghast – ‘what happened to you?’ They would be outraged by him being so degraded. The point was made – ‘we can’t put up with this humiliation any longer’.
But, Jesus says, in your resistance: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. *
We can read through the gospels and see how Jesus lived out these principles. Always resisting violence, but never submitting to the bully (Matt 26: 52, John 19: 11).
This is what it means to be disciple of Jesus, a Saint. Do you remember the drama about our Patron, St Laurence which Brian wrote and we enacted a few years ago? He was a saint who followed Jesus in non-violent resistance – there are many.
And I believe this is the invitation of Jesus to all of us; “find a different way of being; let my life be in you and I will give you what you need to be neither violent nor a victim”, “do to others as you would have them do to you”, and you will be blessed.
*Taken from : ‘The powers that be’ Walter Wink p 102 - 5
- Sue Kiernan, Reader at Morecambe Parish Church
- Sue Kiernan, Reader at Morecambe Parish Church
Thursday, 17 November 2016
Sermon for 16 Oct 2016. Trinity 21
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
[Peter and Barbara were marking their golden wedding by renewing their marriage vows.]
A lot of people fear that the art of letter writing is dead. If, like me, you have embraced modern technology and correspond with typed letters, email, Facebook Messenger or other online methods, then sitting with a real pen and paper is quite a daunting experience. My handwriting was never good, and over the years it seems to have deteriorated to the point where even I can’t read things I’ve written in a rush. So, Peter and Barbara, I hope you’re impressed how neat my writing was on the card I sent you. I wrote it very slowly!
The Bible contains quite a lot of letters. Most of them are in the New Testament, and the majority are credited to St Paul, including the second letter to Timothy that we heard read earlier. The section we heard captures what seem to be a kind of farewell address from Paul to his young companion and he packs lots of points in.
My daughter, Ellie, is now at University in London, and she’s phoned and also sent messages about what a great time she’s having. It prompted me to remember phoning home from University in the early 80s. First you needed some coins, then you queued up to use a payphone, and then as the money was running out, you quickly said everything you needed to say before it cut you off. This part of the letter feels like that – it reads like someone rattling off a lot of points before the time runs out. And it may well reflect Paul’s final thoughts before his execution in Rome in the late 60s AD. The next sentence after the bit we have printed, it says “the time of my departure has come”.
So, if you only had a brief time to say what you needed to say, what would you want to include? It’s a good question to reflect on.
Timothy was a young side-kick to Paul. His mother was a Jew, but his father was Greek. And in verses 14 & 15, the first thing he is reminded of is to hold on to the wisdom and teaching that had been handed down to him. Those sacred writings – scripture – would only be what we call the Old Testament, which had been collected together and even translated into Greek by this time.
Next week is Bible Sunday, but we have something different coming up then. It’s really helpful that this reading came up this week. What does Paul say to Timothy about Scripture.
The first thing he says is that it is inspired. (v16) In the original language, it says god-breathed. Some religious traditions have sacred writings that are regarded as having been dictated by God. The Quran has to be correct in every detail when printed, and in Arabic for that reason. The book of Mormon is believed by Mormons to have been delivered on gold pages by an angel.
Christians have never seen the Bible in that way. It isn’t a dictated set of instructions, although as verses 16 and 17 state, it is believed to be useful for guiding and correcting. Much of the Bible is story or poetry, but within that unique and special story, people have found inspiration and faith.
It’s quite remarkable that through the history of the church, people have found faith just by reading the Bible. St Augustine and Martin Luther were converted whilst reading verses from the letter to the Romans, and John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed, as he put it, by reading what Martin Luther wrote about Romans – it even worked second-hand!
It’s one reason that the Gideon organisation still try to ensure Bibles are placed in hotels, hospitals and other public places. They believe that God can still speak into people’s lives today through the words of this ancient and sometimes difficult book, because our faith is that it is inspired.
Second, he says it’s useful.
I have quite a lot of useful things in my house and garage. For example, I have a soldering iron. My dad gave it to me – he spent a lot of his working life, working for a telecoms company, using a soldering iron. He still uses one a lot at the age of 88, which causes me a degree of anxiety, as you can imagine. Whenever I visit him, there is always an old radio that someone has asked him to fix, as he will know what to do. He probably has the valves in his shed, and he’s handy with a soldering iron. My soldering iron is useful; it’s just that I never use it.
However, I do have a mini vacuum cleaner that’s rechargeable. It’s absolutely brilliant for chasing round after all the fluff that our dog, Dino, leaves around the house. I find little bundles, like tumbleweed around the place, and this gadget sucks it all up. That’s useful – and I use it.
The scriptures – the Bible – is the essential tool for the Christian life, says Paul. It’s what you use to shape and correct your life; to line it up to God’s way.
Now when we think of the Bible correcting or challenging people, we might have an awful vision of people with big Bibles, placards and condemning words. That’s not what Paul means. He debated, he had conversations, he wrote letters, he argued, he preached. In every circumstance, his toolkit was his memory of the scriptures and his knowledge of the story of Jesus. It was his anchor, his reference book and his guide.
We all have useful things we don’t use; Paul’s plea is that Bible isn’t one of them
But following on from that, thirdly, it is the place we find Jesus.
Verse 15 on the first page, our faith is in Jesus Christ. If you listen to some Christians, they sound like their faith is in the Bible. But that’s wrong – it’s in a person. Christians are people who are committed to following Jesus, not a set of statements, a constitution, a flag or a book. And our lifelong task is to work out what is means to be faithful followers as we face the many and varied challenges of this life.
The key to doing that is to spend time with the story of Jesus. For Paul, that would have meant listening to people who were eye-witnesses, and Paul himself wrote a bit down – especially the story of the last supper. It may be that he heard or even read early versions of what would become a gospel – it’s not possible to say. But he clearly knew the story.
And knowing your story is important. There’s a series on the First World War just started on BBC4. It’s good because it doesn’t just focus on the western front – it goes into what was going on in Austria and Serbia and inside Germany, which helps to explain how things happened. And those events probably affected all of our families. My grandmother’s first husband was killed in the trenches, and at least one other relative was gassed. My grandad was out there from Jan 1916. It was only because of the war that he met my gran, who was a widow, and they got married. I still remember standing in the Pozières cemetery looking at the memorial to my gran’s first husband and reflecting on that very strange thought that if he hadn’t died, there would be no memorial and I wouldn’t exist. There’s the big story of the war, and yet in the middle of it is part of my family’s story and my story. It’s part of who I am.
In the same way, those who are followers of Jesus are shaped by the story of Jesus. His story is our story. That’s why we have a gospel reading at every communion service. We reacquaint ourselves with the person we follow, and the story that has shaped us. And we hear more of that story in the communion prayer itself. We’re reminded of the story before we share in communion, which are the symbols and sign of the climax of the story – the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s part of who we are.
So reading, reflecting, discussing, sharing, learning and wrestling with the story of the Bible is essential to us all, otherwise we don’t know who we are, where we came from, or where we are going. Most of all, we need to know who we are following.
So the Bible is inspired, not dictated, which means it speaks for itself and changes lives.
The Bible is useful – sometimes bewildering, but correcting, challenging and informing us.
But most of all, the Bible is our family story – a story of struggle, rebellion, forgiveness, reconciliation and most of all, the story of Jesus, the one we are called to follow.
Mike Peatman, Rector of Morecambe Parish Church