This morning in church someone read out an Eddie Askew reflection as part of our service. This was the story at the heart of the reflection:
A man died and went to heaven, after signing in and completing all the formalities he went for a walk. He expected heavenly choirs and halos but at least the weather was good, not too hot not too cold just right.
Going a little way down the hill he met an angel. The Angel greeted him cheerfully, well you’d expect that in heaven wouldn’t you, then began to look him up and down with great interest. The Angel walked all around the man taking his time and inspecting him from every angle and looking more and more puzzled. “What are you doing?” asked the man as near to irritation as anyone in heaven could be. “Sorry” replied the Angel “I should have explained I was looking for your wounds”. “My wounds” said the man “but I haven’t got any wounds”. There was a long pause and the Angel asked quietly “But was there nothing in your world worth fighting for?”
I guess what we are willing to be hurt for is different for each one of us. But surely there must be at least one thing, one oppression, one part of the world, one people group? The life and especially the death of Jesus would suggest He thought so, and it was us, humanity that was worth being wounded for.
What will your wounds be from?
For Christmas, the answer according to a certain supermarket chain is ‘Me’. It is a great question and a provocative answer. In many ways I would agree. To be fully present, available, instead of gifts or money, is a creative option and potentially the most generous gift one person can give another. To love and be loved, are the pinnacle of humanity’s potential and fulfilment. Christmas gifts as ongoing instalments, a gift that has to keep on giving.
To do this to those I know and love, is difficult enough, let alone those I do not know or am not that keen on. what about, I know it’s hard to contemplate, those who do not want me for Christmas! Giving without being asked sounds a familiar to imitate.
Last time I checked the gift of Christmas was not me but Jesus. Praise God and lucky for everyone!!
Yesterday I had the great luxury of reading a book in bed with a cup of tea and the sun rising over the trees. It was a book about the vulnerable pastor and one of the passages was about the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, it seemed an apt thing to share today and is taken from Mark 14.36. Mandy Smith writes
“Abba Father, everything is possible for you” What a way to start a prayer! It begins with a reminder of whom we’re addressing. We’re not filling out paperwork to submit to some faceless bureaucrat. This is our Father…
“Take this cup from me.” Here’s where Jesus presents his heart’s desire. He’s not afraid to be honest and admit he wants something. Five simple syllables never had so much significance. When we pray according to this model, what heartfelt yearning do we insert here? God already knows our heart, the way we long to see restoration in our congregations and communities. Se we might as well voice them. Even if doing so makes us feel the vulnerability of hope.
“Yet not what I will but what you will.” This final statement perfectly balances the prayer, making it a very brief but satisfying prayer to pray. We’ve acknowledged who God is and what he can do. We’ve been honest about our desires. And now we end by giving God the final word. We trust the outcome to a well-meaning, all-powerful being who has heard us.
Mandy Smith The Vulnerable Pastor Downers Grove: IVP, 2015, p119.
This was one of the points prince Charles made in an interview with Diane Louise Jordan on the Radio 4 Sunday programme. This seems true whatever religion one belongs to, observes or criticises. And if this is so, then it is more than likely I am a part of that distortion. With honest reflection on my measuring up to the model of Jesus, that is also inevitable.
One would also hope that those same followers could also bring credit, credence and even validity to the said same founders. This is an incredible opportunity and responsibility. This seems to be a constructive way of doing mission, to try to be the best, pure, undistorted reflection and model of what Jesus was like. To positively address the accusation of hypocrisy. Perhaps one way to address this is to acknowledge how difficult it is to follow and be all that Jesus called us to be and how we should treat each other, to do good, bless one another regardless of mutual affiliation other than membership of the human race. We Christians are committed to trying to follow a high calling .
It seems to me to be reasonable to conclude that if Jesus is so strong about not hating but loving our enemies, then we will have enemies (Matthew 5.43-48). It does not seem a stretch that if Jesus had not wanted us to have enemies, this would have been the opportunity to say so.
The word that Jesus uses is exthrós – properly, an enemy; someone openly hostile (at enmity), animated by deep-seated hatred. exthros (enemy), implies irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a personal hatred bent on inflicting harm (exthrós) describes a person resolved to inflict harm i.e. driven by irreconcilable, deep-rooted enmity (Strongs Concordance). These are very powerful definitions.
So why would a follower of Jesus have people who are our enemies? Well it could be a combination of how someone feels about us and/or we feel about them. There are aspects of the above meaning that Jesus clearly says is an unacceptable way for a christian to feel or act towards another person – do not hate. Some of this animosity could be justified in response to oppressive behaviour or one or more other people treating other people, property or our planet in oppressive ways. It seems understandable to me that with the spectrum of behaviour that we see expressed in our world that it is inevitable that I could have enemies, those who I fundamentally disagree with. To take a stance against actions
and attitudes that oppress others, seems to be not only an appropriate response, but a correct one. To call someone my enemy, someone who I with intention and reflection want to identify enmity between us is difficult but when I feel such anger about the abuse of basichuman rights, what else should I call them?
The reflection I have is do I want to think of them as and call them enemies? Is there something to be learnt from child psychology when we are encouraged to refer to the action and not the person – that was a stupid thing to do – not you are studpid! Are there other options even when you are absolutely opposed and disagree with the expression of anothers beliefs and values? I hope so.
I am not sure where I heard this reference to the children’s game hide and seek and the connection to advent and Christmas but I do recall thinking how clever and insightful it was. It’s a fun and sobering way to come out of advent, with Christmas a few days away, to move from waiting and preparing for the coming of Jesus to his birth being upon us.
Christmas day will arrive on Thursday whether or not we have done all our shopping, wrapping, cooking etc. Is this not how it should be? Because we know when Christmas day will happen it can lull us into a complacency of thinking we know what will happen when and we forget the uncertainty of what this might mean for us the day and year after…
Coming and staying, being and doing, ready or not…
Sally brought me a book for my graduation by one of my inspirations, Stanley Hauerwas. Stanley is an ethicist and theologian, his memoir Hannah’s child is one of our favourite books. The book Sally bought me is called “Learning to speak Christian”, something she knew would be close to my heart, and a potential source of future blogs, she was right!
Chapter 5 is a sermon which he starts by quoting someone who has inspired him, Robert Jenson in Systematic Theology:
“God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead having before raised Israel from Egypt” (p79).
He goes on to comment that “This elegantly simple but dauntingly deep sentence took Jeson a lifetime of theological reflection to write. To write such a sentence requires that the grammar of our faith discipline our presumption that we know what we say when se say ‘God'”.
I have to say, I have never thought of who God is before in these terms and I am finding it a helpful perspective to reflect on who God is. I wonder who would agree, not agree? It is a concise inclusive and non inclusive term in one sentence. While I understand why Hauerwas warns against the temptation to name God in order to get the sort of God we want or need (p81), and that God’s self-naming as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3.14) can perhaps be seen as God saying trust me – I was there for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and will be for you too, the challenge to name God intrigues me.
I am pondering what my might sentence would be for who God is? I guess it would be around love, relationships, Jesus , grace and…, but then I was never was that concise!
Stanley Hauerwas Learning to speak Christian. London: SCM, 2011.
Stanley Hauerwas Hannah’s Child: a Theologian’s Memoir. London: SCM, 2013.