Sunday, January 04, 2015

Secrets and Fear

As I read this morning’s Gospel in preparation for what I wanted to say this morning on first reading I had, as it were, the ‘soft focus reading’ - the extension of the Christmas story which the church inconveniently locates in early January - 3 Kings called Caspar, Melchior and Balthazaar kneeling at a manger, glorious light streaming from it as they present their precious gifts.  There’s a wonder and magic about this story of wandering magi led to Jesus from the distant East by a star. It tells of the far-reaching – indeed, global and cosmic – implications of Jesus’ birth. Even more, it witnesses to God’s commitment to reach all people with news of God’s redeeming love.  And if that’s the sermon I should be preaching, perhaps I should sit down.

Then when I the Epiphany Gospel again, I noticed other things at another level - secrets. God reveals the secret of His plan of saving love to wise strangers from another land - hinting at Jesus’ call to Jew and Gentile alike that all are called Daughters and Sons of God; Herod secretly summoning the Wise Ones to quiz them for the details of how they heard of this birth; Herod sends the Wise Ones on their way with a new urgency to find the Messiah Child and to send word directly to him of the outcomes of their search; and then the Wise ones  warned secretly in a dream from the God of Israel to avoid Herod on their return journey.

But then I read it again and noticed something further.  When I read it a third time I noticed fear directly and indirectly, spoken and unspoken in the hearts of some of the characters in the unfolding story: when Herod heard the Wise One’s news he was frightened as was the whole city. Why? Fear of a loss of authority and power? A fear of unsettling the status quo? Fear of change? Fear of what the Romans might do if their puppet King Herod is unseated by another, rightful claim to the throne… There is also an urgent fear driving Herod’s calling together of all of the Chief Priest and Scribes - he wanted to make sure he got all the facts straight so he could act.

Secrets and Fear sounds more like a film title than part of a story that in one sense concludes part of the Christmas celebrations. And yet secrets and fear are all too often the unseen hallmark of our lives.

As parents, we tell our boys that we don’t keep secrets - it’s about encouraging an atmosphere of openness and dialogue, yet as parents and adults we all keep things locked tightly away like the contents of the Wise Ones’ treasure-chests on their journeys.  We conceal all sorts of emotions and experiences - hurt, anger, grief, lies, but also the truth about ourselves for fear of ridicule or social unacceptability.

Either out of our own experience or the experience of others we also now how harmful the keeping of secrets can be to our own well-being.  The word Epiphany as I have mentioned before means revealing. It’s not necessarily a lightbulb moment, but can be a silent dawning, a gradual opening of the Truth.  The Epiphany sung aloud by angels on the hillside to social lepers - shepherds - is again revealed to religious lepers - astrologers, Magi, wise men - in the night sky.  The secret is out - the world as we know it; God as we know Him; humanity as we experience and live it is transformed by the arrival of this baby Messiah.

Fear, for many, is a hallmark of these early days of 2015.  With Ebola now on these shores; if you believe the political commentators who say that the austerity of 2014 will be worse in 2015; with no sign of let up in Syria and Iraq; and planes dropping out of the sky and boats catchingg fire and sinking - life for many is not a place of Christmas joy but of fear.  Fear can destabilise and cripple us as much as any illness - and living in its long shadow can literally, over time, dehumanise us.

The Epiphany revealed to both Joseph and Mary long ago of the birth of God’s King in their care strikes fear into the heart of Herod, the Roman puppet king and his city and yet produces a very real and contrasting and transforming joy in the hearts the Wise Ones when they encounter Him for themselves.

Having celebrated Christmas for the children with a soft focus crib scene on December 25th, The adult version of the nativity moves quickly from the glad moment of adoration and gifts of gold for a king, incense for a priest leading us into God’s presence and myrrh for the healing of all hurts, to a darker world of political intrigue, deception, and fear-induced violence.  But if this Christmas story is darker and more adult, it is also realistic. We live in a world riddled by fear, a world of devastating super-storms and school shootings, a world where innocents die every day in tragic circumstances and to preventable illness and hunger. In Matthew’s story of the visit of the Wise Ones – and the subsequent slaughter of the innocents in the verses to come – Matthew paints an accurate if also difficult picture of our world.

And that is what is at the heart of this darker, more adult-oriented story of Jesus’ birth: the promise that is precisely this world that God came to, us, so often mastered by secrets and fear that we often do the unthinkable to each other and ourselves that God loves, this gaping need that we have and bear that God remedies through Jesus the king, Jesus the way into God’s presence and Jesus the healer of our hurts. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the living, breathing, and vulnerable promise that God chose to come live and die for us, as we are, so that in Christ’s resurrection we, too might experience newness of life. 

Come and pay him homage - pledge allegiance to this Infant King as his man or woman and open up the treasure chest of your heart and offer what you have there - whatever secrets and fears for the present and the future you have locked away - and let Him reveal to each of us the transforming treasures of God.


I am indebted to the scholarship of David Lose for some ideas in this sermon

Light in the Darkness - a Christmas Sermon

The world seems somehow much darker at the moment… Glasgow seems darker following the accident on Monday - candles have replaced the Christmas lights. The joy of Christmas has been replaced with the grief of a whole community.  They are a  city with a broken heart following the deaths of six people only about a year after the tragic helicopter crash in the city. ‘People make Glasgow’

The world seems somehow much darker at the moment…  Peshawar seems darker where the smallest of school uniforms is the most powerful reminder of the slaughter of 132 children of military families in their school by the Taliban. In a world of compassion fatigue can we really be desensitised to these deaths? "You can take down my school, you can take down my teachers, you can kill my brothers, but you cannot take away my identity," said one 18 year old student.

The world seems somehow much darker at the moment… Sydney seems darker in the aftermath of the café kidnapping of some 30 or so people and subsequent siege last week which ended in the deaths of 3 including the kidnapper.  The world seems somehow much darker at the moment… It might be since the events in Ferguson and Staten Island in the US where racial tensions seem to be running higher than for a generation. Or maybe it’s the number of global “hotspots” there are in the Middle East, the Ukraine, Nigeria, South Sudan and more. Or maybe is the number of deaths caused from Ebola and the fear that disease strikes into the hearts of so many thousands of miles away. Or maybe…

The world just now seems rather dark, even hostile. And so I wonder what this Christmas will feel like when so much of the world seems to be in turmoil and the angel’s cry of “peace on earth” seems like more of a frankly worthless, utopian wish than a blessing and we who gather to sing carols and hear the Christmas story seem so very small against the backdrop of this troubled world.

And that’s when a part of this morning’s Gospel stood out to me. Truth be told, I’ve heard it countless times, but this time is struck me differently: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

What strikes me is that the events Luke describes also seem incredibly small. I mean, what does Emperor Augustus or Governor Quirinius care about a pregnant teenager or wandering shepherds? Mary, Joseph, and the rest – are so incredibly small compared to these rulers. And yet Luke declares that whether these rich and powerful leaders care or not – whether they even notice or not – yet the events Luke describes in detail are going to change the whole world. Forever.

It’s an audacious claim, when you think about it: that the birth of a baby to an unwed teen in a backwater town could possible matter. And yet there, in a nutshell, is the promise of the Gospel: that God shows up where we least expect Him to be and always for us.

So though this world be dark, it is not forsaken, and the headlines we read and worry about will have their day and then fade again against the backdrop of this story we’ve been telling now for nearly 2000 years. God loves this world! And God will not give up on it…or us. Moreover, God continues to come to love and bless this very world and invites us to do the same.

Well, if Luke reminds me that the Gospel has always been set amid world events as a promise that God works among the seemingly small and insignificant to change the world, John calls to mind a more realistic assessment of human life. Right near the end of the Gospel we heard last night, St John writes: “No one has ever seen God” To which I want to reply, “No way?”

So many of us struggle to see God amid the desolate headlines. So many more wonder where God is amid their own more private pain of ruptured relationships, lost loved ones, loneliness, illness, job loss, or depression. Or maybe it’s just that we get caught up in the day-to-day routine of, in an increasing number of cases, making ends meet that we have a hard time imagining that God could possibly make a difference in our world. Sure, maybe we believe in God in general, but sensing God’s presence – let alone seeing God – in the nitty-gritty of our lives seems a bit much.

But John doesn’t stop with his stark assessment. He goes on: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Perhaps the problem isn’t that it is impossible to see God, but rather that we are prone to look in all the wrong places. Rather than speculate about God’s existence, John seems to say, we should instead look to Jesus - this fragile infant whose birth we recall today. And when we do that, we encounter the God who became flesh, taking on our lot and our life that we might have hope - like a beam of light shining into our world, into our cities and neighbourhoods, however dark they may seem.

Both of these passages seem to acknowledge that, when you get right down to it, the Gospel message of hope, grace, and peace seems rather improbable, even unlikely. I mean, that the Creator of the cosmos would even know we exist, let alone love and cherish us? It’s almost too good to be true. But for just that reason this is the story I keep coming back to, hoping against hope – and, on our good days, actually believing – that it is the one true story we will encounter not just today, this week, year, and lifetime. That God so loved the world… And He still does.

Perhaps more than ever we need the light of this story to shine into the nooks and dark crannies of our soul, and the places we wonder if it can possibly be true, those spaces where the world’s darkness seems so much more prominent than the light. Because that’s what this this child was born – to shine light in dark places, to bring hope to the discouraged, insight to the lost, and the promise of peace the peace of God to all who long for it. Amen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are You Sure You Want The Advent Joy?

We are in the season of the Christmas party - office or otherwise. Some of us enjoyed lunch as members of the In Touch group last week. The delicious food aside, there on the table were the obligatory Christmas crackers, with their small ‘gift’, party hat and groan-worthy joke.  With that in mind, last week must have been a slow news week, as one of our national newspapers had the time and space to print the 50 best (or worst!) cracker jokes. I had to share a few:

How did Mary and Joseph know that Jesus was 7lb 6oz when he was born?
They had a weigh in a manger!

Why did no one bid for Rudolph and Blitzen on eBay?
Because they were two deer!

What's the most popular Christmas wine?
'I don't like Brussels sprouts!’

Those jokes may not fill you with any sense joy, but deep joy lies at the heart of all that hear and say and pray and sing today.  The irony is not lost on me that this Gaudate Sunday (gaudate which comes from the Latin to rejoice!) and in Advent and Christmas we sing ‘Joy to the World’ as we await the coming of Christ, but this time of the year often generates the highest frequency of incidents of depression and heartache.

For the prophet Isaiah, joy is not about personal pleasure or *my* happiness or even the possession of a gift already unwrapped.  The joy that Isaiah speaks of is rooted in a gut wrenching hope that the struggles and disappointments of life, will one day be fundamentally and finally resolved by God Himself.  That hope and joy rises out of knowing what it is to be burdened and oppressed, to be the little guy, to feel like you no longer matter, or that your number may be up. That no one cares. No one notices. But the good news is that through a person whom God appoints, a new freedom and peace that is deep and satisfying is coming.

As we are bombarded with ads for perfumes and toys and yet all too aware of what the international troops are leaving Afghanistan to, or what is still unfolding in Syria, Iraq the Ukraine or Nigeria, or as we begin to hear of Blue complaining that Red’s policies will not cut it leading up to the election next year: above that clamour, the voice of God echoes down the centuries speaking words of hope for the oppressed, the addicted, the imprisoned, for the broken-hearted, for those who mourn and for those whose lives are blighted by robbery and ‘petty crime.’

To Jewish ears, this is not some pie in the sky political manifesto but resonates with the practice of everyday life.  Through Isaiah, God speaks of Jubilee.

As you know Jewish people observe a Sabbath every seventh day and rest from all work, remembering God doing the same after His acts of creation. Every seventh year is a special sabbath year and involves a similar rest for land, animals and people, but the seventh cycle of these seven years cycles is extra special. It is a sabbath of sabbaths.  It is Jubilee.

These words of God through Isaiah, were first spoken to a defeated and broken people whose city was razed to the ground, whose centre of worship had been decimated, whose loved ones have been slaughtered and raped, whose identity and very existence has been attempted to be wiped from the page of history.  And into the silence following this genocide comes a shout of divine hope.

During the Jubilee, property and people held as payment for debt were returned to the families to which they originally belonged, slaves were freed and sent home, prisoners could be pardoned and so on. The use of Jubilee language in this section of Isaiah’s prophesy is a clear indication that the freedom proclaimed by God is intended to be made permanent.

Though the Jubilee was a rare event -- to be observed every fiftieth year -- God's servant is sent to announce that that our long-longed for liberation is now and that God will act now to free people from debt and oppression. But this freedom isn’t just physical, it’s emotional too - instead of feeling shame at being the defeated and humiliated underdog (heads hanging and wearing funeral clothes) they are to be welcomed as honoured wedding guests - anointed with oil and be-garlanded.

This is a message of hope and assurance in God. This is the sort of message that makes us want to stand up and shout yes please, where do I sign, that makes us sing in spirit: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.

All this stands in stark contrast to the jostling to pay at the till for our Christmas shopping.  This Advent hope and longed for joy taps into Archbishop Justin’s shock and shame at the state of a nation and culture that needs foodbanks to feed our nation’s hidden hungry. it is not good enough to excuse ourselves that it’s somehow ‘their’ fault because of choices ‘they’ have made when ‘we’ fail to speak out against or vote out the system that perpetrates it all.

True joy this Advent and Christmas is marked not by jokes but by concrete actions - not by carol singing, but by rebuilding walls and lives and skills and bank balances. It is about dignity for the despised and hope for the hopeless and not just by a passing feeling.

This is the ‘Joy to the World’ that we sing of - but not just in Advent.  This is God’s new way of living.  Always. It begins with us accepting John the Baptist’s call to re-orientating our lives God-wards in repentance. But then it  must focus outwards to others. It is transformative substantive change. It is practical.  It is local in our community.  It will involve us mixing with others who may lack dignity and who feel humiliated by us and others like us.  But it is has divine mandate… still. Jesus did it. Are you in?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thankfulness - for baptisms, weddings and funerals (for Remembrance Sunday)

As any Anglican priest will tell you, one of the privileges of parochial ministry is what might be in a throw away phrase termed ‘hatch, match and dispatch.’  It is an honour to help those who come to articulate thanksgiving for the safe arrival of a new life and dedicating them to the God who brings all things into being, to give words to the celebratory love between two people as they commit themselves to each other for the rest of their days, and in a dignified way to acknowledge the pain of a relationship ended by death and to speak and seek hope.

Last week we reminded ourselves that a sense  of thankfulness runs like a golden thread through these weeks of the Kingdom.  As we heard Jesus’ Beatitudes we thought more about a sense of thankfulness for the pilgrim people of God. And on All Saints Sunday, specially the Christian men and women who have heard the call of Christ and who in their ordinary humanity, have been a blessing to others in our journey of faith. It is in their ordinariness that I experience the holiness of God. Through them I continue to see the face of Christ and hear His voice.

Today I am thankful for the church being there at the milestones of life, and in baptisms, weddings and funerals, reminding us of the constant presence of God throughout life, and I encourage you to be too.

Aside from the archaic and maybe even slightly threatening nature of this parable of Jesus - at it’s heart is the story of a wedding. But as anyone will tell you, the time of waiting between fumbling to put the engagement ring on a finger to uttering the closing words of the vow ‘… according to God’s holy law. I the presence of God I make this vow’ can seem intolerably long.  Yet the waiting to wed involves an active waiting with plenty to organise and plan. The privilege of taking a couple’s wedding is meeting a loving couple, establishing a relationship with them, and enabling them to articulate their love for and commitment to each other surrounded by their closest and in the presence of the God of Love, through all things that are to come.

St Paul then brings us to the final stages of life’s dance. Having rejoiced at the enlarging of love as a child is brought into the world - a mystery that induces deep thankfulness in most of us, when our most intimate relationships with others end, we come crashing down.  St Paul, writing to the Thessalonian Christians, speaks of the hope of Christian faith in the face of death because of the Resurrection of Jesus. But as anyone will tell you, the time of waiting between our loved one taking their last breath to the words ‘… earth to earth, ashes, dust to dust…’ can seem intolerably long.  Yet the waiting to commend and commit someone to God involves an active waiting with plenty to organise and plan. The privilege of taking someone’s funeral is meeting with those who mourn, establishing a relationship with them, and enabling them to articulate their love for the person who has died and grief with those who surround them with their love in the presence of God - the Lord of life and death.

Today I am thankful for when the pilgrim people of God - the church - who has helped me to articulate my emotions into words, and walked alongside me as I committed myself to walk with my wife into the future for better or worse, those who rejoiced with us at the arrival of children and consoled us when it gets hard, and who silently wept with us at the death of those whom we have loved as we remember them as we have committed them to God.

The word ‘remember’ literally re-member, means to bring something from the past into the present. It is an emotional act with a strangely physical aspect to it.  As we remember the cost of all war but perhaps this year of all years the human cost of the First World War, and we remember all those who have and continue give their lives in the cause of peace, so we should also remember those who have pilgrimed with us in our life journey.  General Maslov writing at the end of WWII described German children crying as they searched desperately for their parents in a blazing town. ‘What was surprising,’ wrote Maslov, ‘was that they were crying in exactly the way that our children cry.’ After Nazi propaganda had dehumanised the Slavs, Soviet revenge propaganda had convinced its citizens that all Germans were ravening beasts…’

Reflecting on the brutality and inhumanity of Auschwitz, Thomas Merton wrote that in order for something like Auschwitz to happen, ‘…It is enough to affirm one basic principle: anyone belonging to class x or nation y or race z is to be regarded as subhuman and worthless, and consequently has no right to exist. All the rest will follow without difficulty… As long as this principle is easily available, as long as it is taken for granted, as long as it can be spread out on the front pages at a moment’s notice and accepted by all, we have no need of monsters: ordinary policemen and good citizens will take care of everything…’

That is, accepting caricatures of inhumanity can too easily turn ordinary people inhuman. Surely Remembrance must be at least in part about reminding ourselves that other people whoever they are, are not caricatures, not beasts, but other human beings who walk with us in life. These have people children, who cry like our own; who love and commit to love and who grieve at the ending of those relationships by death.  These are women and men, who may be strangers but also could be our friends.

On this Remembrance Sunday I re-member with you those who gave and continue to give their lives in war to maintain our relative peace and long that swords be turned to plough shares and spears turned to pruning hooks and that nation should not turn against nation and not learn war any more as it says in Scripture, but I also re-member all those of God’s pilgrim people - who have rejoiced with us in our joys and weep with us in our sadnesses - including you - those who once were strangers and are now becoming friends as we pilgrim on together knowing the truth of the words of Job revealed in the resurrection of Christ:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,

then in my flesh I shall see God.”

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Thankfulness - for the people of God

The four weeks that lie ahead of us are often called the Kingdom Season.  It is not really a separate ‘season', like Epiphany or Lent, but it feels like one and is often treated as one. 

A favourite image of the Church is of a pilgrim people and throughout  the Church year we travel with Jesus in the readings, sermons and prayers.  We witness the birth of Christ, we listen to his teaching, we are there at his crucifixion, and we celebrate his resurrection. 

Everything we've worked for throughout the year is now coming to its conclusion in the Kingdom Season.  This is when we come to understand what this has meant in the lives of Christian men and women throughout the ages.    

November starts with All Saints' and All Souls' Days, but during the next three weeks 23 Christian monarchs, priests, teachers of the faith, or mystics are remembered by name - and the church remains thankful for their witness with a myriad of others both named and unnamed in the lectionary and in our own lives.  The final Sunday of the season celebrates Christ as King.  God's work is completed and we wait for the New Kingdom to be revealed in all its fullness.

It is this sense of thankfulness that runs, often unseen, throughout these weeks as the Christian year draws to its conclusion and as we long for the completion of the work of God in Christ and in each of us. That sense of thankfulness will be a special focus for our thoughts and in sermons over the next three weeks. So today I am thankful for the people of God - and I encourage you to be too.

Jesus says blessed are those people who find life unfulfilling, who grieve the loss of a loved one, who are unassuming and don’t push themselves forward, who strive for that which is right, who do not retaliate, who are good from the inside out, who bring sections of the community together, who are kicked around by others especially for what they believe - they find the favour of God. They will be happy in the end.

This sense of blessedness, of happiness is not the reward for enduring awfulness now. Blessedness says Jesus does not describe a divine future but a present reality, life in the now, but therefore what sort of a world do they describe? Certainly not our own. 

“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus, but in our world the meek don’t get the land, they get left holding the worthless beans. “Blessed are those who mourn”, says Jesus, but in our world mourning may be tolerated for a while, but soon we will ask you to pull yourself together and move on. “Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as hopelessly naïve.

Even in an age of austerity our national creed is one of optimism (not mourning), confidence (not poverty of spirit), and abundance (not hunger or thirst of any kind), and it is in service of such things that we invoke and assume the blessing of God. And so we live by other beatitudes:

Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.
Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.
Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.
If we are honest, we must admit that the world Jesus asserts as fact, is not the world we have made for ourselves.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus cannot very well insist that we become poor in spirit if we aren’t, but He can show us how to look upon such people with new eyes, and so gain entrance to a new world. In that sense on this All Saints Sunday, the Beatitudes testify that it matters deeply whom we call “saint.”

Today friends I am thankful for the ordinary pilgrim people of God down the ages who have tried to live out and live by these blessings. They may not have done it perfectly, in fact I rejoice in the fact that in most cases they haven’t. I take heart that most of them are under-educated, lack connections and who never had much but are content with the lot that God gives them.  In that ordinariness I see the holiness of Christ because they have tried to follow Him and it’s that for which I am thankful, for in and through many of them, I have found and continue to find a deeper faith.

I am thankful for Flo Allen a now long dead unremarkable Lancashire lady who lacked status & influence and yet whose simple passion for Jesus helped literally thousands of local children explore faith for themselves.  I am thankful for Canon Ben Eaton a gregarious international American who grew up in the Lebanon, studied theology in Puerto Rico, and served the church in the slums of Equador,in Barcelona and Paris who shared with me an all who encountered him the extravagant generosity and hospitality of Christ in the Eucharist.  I am deeply grateful for Gertie Gascoigne now in glory with her Lord, a now almost certainly forgotten lady of faith who as I shared Communion at home with her, with the consecrated elements balanced precariously on a on a tea stained planter, and in those moments I saw and met Christ for myself.

For these and for you I am thankful.  There isn’t a tricky point to make here save that when God made human beings in His image, He meant that always, and when He promised to come amongst us in Christ I believe that He did and did not mean once only but always. 

What this means on this All Saints Sunday is that today I am thankful for all the Holy Ones of God, whenever and wherever they may be found - including you - because in you I see and hear Christ, I learn from Him with and through you and I am encouraged and supported and challenged by Him through you.  On this All Saints Sunday I encourage you to ponder for a moment on who continues to support and encourage you in your journey of faith, to be thankful to God for them, and maybe if you can - tell them and tell them why.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Seven Impale - Beginning/Relieve

I can't recall how I stumbled on Seven Impale. It could just have been following up on the suggestions made by Spotify. I don't recall.

What I know though is that I haven't discovered a band that meets me at musical intersections as much in many ways as Seven Impale.

Hailing from Norway, the band make a glorious jazzprog/progjazz noise, but this is no punky fudge. The music broods and soars, jitters and shimmers and I love it. Simples. Enjoy.

Read, Mark Learn and Inwardly Digest...

So following this morning's Epistle reading from Colossians 3, I was reminded of starting Secondary school, an odd thing to recall on Bible Sunday I know but there you have it.

When I started Secondary school I remember going to buy all the relevant uniform to kit me out. I remember getting my blazer, which seemed enormous, but I was told with a smile, "You will grow into it" as it was expected to last for a god few years. I can remember for the first few weeks going to school with a vest and a jumper in the vain hope that it would fill the blazer out!

It's like that often with our appreciation of Scripture - through it we will grow into an appreciation of it and it's importance and therefore also into a relationship with God Himself.

(In place of a conventional sermon, my colleague and I had a conversation (a dialogue sermon) and I enclose my part of the conversation below.)

Q:  What is the importance of scripture for you?
A:  This may sound like a crazy thing to say but when I first came to faith in my teens, I wanted to be one of those Christians that ate scripture up, that read it insatiably, but I wasn’t. The Bible bored me. It was a historic document, key to my faith, but I was told it was important, so it must be!

Over the years, I have wrestled with, grappled for meaning within, tried to relate to scripture in many ways and places. I used to spend much time, like many of us maybe, focussing on what I believed were the important parts of scripture - the Gospels, and to a lesser extent some of the Epistles and left much of the Old Testament and Wisdom literature well alone. I just didn’t get why they were there in the canon, I couldn’t make sense of them or relate to them. No one taught me how to realistically deal with scripture in devotion. As a result I rarely read it aside from in church.

Once ordained I daily read scripture in personal devotion and wrestled with it regularly - trying to relate it to my every day living. Over time I came to realise that within scripture is contained the whole gamut of human emotion and experience and God’s involvement within that experience of life.

In my university days, many Evangelical friends referred to the Bible as the Word of God and seemed to reverence the pages of this book that I just didn’t ‘get’ over and above the Word of God - namely Jesus, whose story it told. I found this hard to deal with. 

I eventually realised that scripture wasn’t the Word of God nor was it simply words about God. I came to hear the voice of God still speaking to me through those dusty words of former millennia.

Finally, I read a book called “Life With God’ by Richard Foster, and American Baptist, who wrote a very influential book a number years ago wrote a very influential book called ‘Celebration of Discipline’ about a disciplined Christian almost monastic rule of life. In ‘Life With God’, Foster talks about Lectio Divina as a way of engaing with scripture prayerfully, asking God to speak through it and listening. He describes why scripture is important to him with a  phrase you may well have heard me use - he talks of scripture as the big story of God’s involvement and relationship with people where God says to us ‘I Love you; I want to be with people like you; will come and be with me.’ Scripture for me still encapsulates and embodies that story and that invitation.

 Q: How do we use scripture for personal devotion?
A: I read it daily, but in 2 ways - in devotion and in study. As study - scripture contains the building blocks of the life of Christian faith. It shows how God’s revealing of Himself over history has changed right up to it’s ultimate in the Incarnation. In the Epistles and beyond we discover how the early church came into being and grew as God’s ministry to and through her flourished.  As a rule of thumb, I find scripture a challenge and a yardstick as to how we engage with God in our day and age - it asks me some very challenging ethical and moral questions about myself, my beliefs and my culture - some of which leaves me so challenged that I either discard it or discount it. I am not advocating either approach, but some of scripture is very challenging, especially when we realise it was written in one cultural context and language and then placed up against our own.  But it also invites into a living relationship with God.

I read scripture devotionally too in that context as we pray morning and evening prayer, say the paslms, as I visit the sick and as I prepare for and lead worship. Through it I believe God has still got things to say to my often weak and failing humanity about who I am in relation to who He is and His love for me no matter what.

Q: What passage of scripture sums up the Good News of Jesus Christ?

A: John 3:16 - A former Archbishop once said that the Church was the only organisation that existed for the benefit of it's non members.  In Jesus' words we are reminded that God loves the world - not the church, not just a club for the holy good and true, but the world - all of us always. His love is for us whether we feel we are worthy of it or not. Being loved and accepted under all circumstances by the one that brought all that is into being... well that surely has to be good news...