Reflection: Is this the stupidest promise ever?

Aug 7, 2015 by

by David Baker, Christian Today: And Herod solemnly swore: “Whatever you ask me, I will give you – even half of my kingdom.” (Mark 7:23) History is littered with the wreckage of foolish promises. In the United States, many reckon that George HW Bush’s famous line when he was running for President – “read my lips: no new taxes” – was one of the most spectacularly breached political pledges ever. In the UK, plenty of campaigners are waiting to see if David Cameron’s 2009 “no ifs, no buts” vow not to expand Heathrow Airport will be broken, especially given recent recommendations by experts that the site should have an extra runway. And now – as we continue our fortnightly pilgrimage through Mark’s Gospel – here’s King Herod in Mark chapter 6, making a spectacularly stupid promise. It’s Herod’s birthday (v21). Family members and local civic dignitaries are in attendance. Presumably the wine is flowing freely, and the King is no doubt the worse for wear. Moreover, he’s been much impressed by his daughter’s dancing. As she comes up to him to receive his acclaim, Herod, in an expansive moment of alcohol-fuelled generosity, and no doubt hoping to impress his guests, announces to her: “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” So delighted with his own largesse is he that he even repeats the vow a second time, albeit with the modest qualifying condition of only “up to half my kingdom”. At this point Herod’s wife, who had a longstanding grudge against Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, steps forward to prompt the girl: “Ask for the head of John,” she says. Immediately, the grisly gift is procured and brought in on a plate, presumably to a mix of drunken cheers, revulsion and fear from the assembled company – and to Herod’s personal consternation as he realises what he has done (v26). This is more than simply an episode of gruesome martyrdom, though it certainly is that. It’s a story of choices – and how the choices we make affect not only us but others also. Read here  ...

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Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at York Minster

Jul 12, 2015 by

We will make ourselves unpopular says Archbishop Justin. Amos 7:7-17, Ephesian 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29 The very solidity of our institutions, the beauty of our buildings, the historic richness of our liturgy and music all conspire together to say to us that we have achieved much, and the future is in our hands: when we then look at the context in which we live, the changes in our society, the contradictions and struggles within our own beliefs and understandings of the call and purpose of God, to have all in our own hands often feels insecure and leads us to fear. When we fear, we retreat into ourselves and become yet more fearful and insecure, as we find within ourselves the darkness and tendency to sin which leads us to doubt our own capacity to overcome the threats that loom like dark shadows in a child’s room at night, promising far more danger than they are capable of delivering. […]  Yet there is always more to fear in ignoring God’s plumb-line to His church than in the constant need to be alert to God’s realigning. We know that John the Baptist felt fear and doubt as he lay in prison. His ministry had been so powerful, and his example so good, down even to the avoidance of any possible pollution of food, that Gregory of Nazianzus reflected, commenting on this passage, how someone God loved so much and did so well, could be allowed to suffer so greatly; and if this is the case we should not be surprised or fearful by suffering ourselves for faithfulness to the Gospel. John was faithful, yet his faithfulness led him to prison and martyrdom. Faithfulness to God over and above loyalty to society or government or custom or culture is never popular. Whether we speak of the need for morality in society, or of the need for the poor to be loved and valued equally, (a standard which we must move towards with a true living wage for all our staff everywhere), or of the importance of the family as the base community of society, or of the intrinsic value of life at its beginnings and ends, or of the need to welcome the stranger, and for solidarity across Europe in doing so: in all of these and many more at every level, we will make ourselves unpopular. Read...

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Reflection: When God seems absent, what do you do?

Jul 3, 2015 by

By David Baker, Christian Today: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Mark 5v35) What do you do when it looks like God hasn’t shown up after all? Perhaps you’ve been praying earnestly for something – and the situation has apparently started to get better, only for things to suddenly take a turn for the worse. Or maybe you’ve had a powerful encounter with the Lord in some way – but then just afterwards, “real life” raises its ugly head and hits you in a particularly brutal way. As we continue our journey through Mark’s Gospel, we find two individuals grappling with harsh realities such as these. The first person is a religious leader. We’re even told his name, Jairus (5:22), reminding us he’s a real man, with a real life – and a real problem: his 12-year-old daughter is seriously ill. Jairus throws himself at Jesus’ feet, pleads for help – and must have been both relieved and excited when Jesus agreed to accompany him home. And then – disaster. Jesus gets distracted on the way! Another urgent pastoral need presents itself (we’ll come to that in a minute) – and Jesus stops off to help. While that situation is unfolding, messengers come and tell Jairus: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” Why indeed: Jesus has turned out to be not so helpful after all. Just for a moment, God seemed to be acting; but now it turns out the situation is hopeless. Meanwhile, what about that pastoral interruption? It was “a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years,” we’re told (v26). Let’s pause for a moment and reflect: during those 12 years, it’s more than likely she cried out to God for help, seemingly without result. Where were you 12 years ago, and what were you doing? It’s a long time in anyone’s life – especially if prayers appear unanswered. You most likely know (and you can read it in Mark 5) that the woman with haemorrhages is healed as she touches Jesus’ cloak. And, amazingly, the 12-year-old girl is raised from death – an incident so remarkable Jesus’ original Aramaic words (“Talitha koum” v41) seared themselves into the memories of those who witnessed it. All this reminds us that: Read here...

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If ‘Satanic Islam’ pastor James McConnell goes to jail I will go with him, insists Muslim cleric

Jun 25, 2015 by

By Rebecca Black, Belfast Telegraph: A Muslim imam has vowed to go to jail with the pastor if he is convicted, while a Catholic priest branded the court case “absurd”. Pastor McConnell (78), who retired from Whitewell Tabernacle last year, is preparing to answer charges in court under the 2003 Communications Act on August 6. The charges centre on a sermon he gave at the north Belfast Tabernacle in which he said: “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell”. It was streamed on the internet. The pastor says despite his advanced years and his ill health, he is prepared to go to jail rather than withdraw his remarks. “I have no regrets about what I said. I do not hate Muslims but I denounce Islam as a doctrine and I make no apologies for that. I will be pleading ‘not guilty’ when I stand in the dock in August.” The 78-year-old faces up to six months behind bars if convicted. Now a prominent London Muslim academic and clergyman has vowed to go to jail with the pastor. Dr Al-Hussaini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute, said he has “grave concerns” about the prosecution of Pastor McConnell, adding he “strongly upholds the moral right” for people of all faiths to debate. He said: “Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is therefore a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others,” he said. Read here...

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Father, Son, Spirit, Marriage.

Jun 2, 2015 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream. In the beginning, the author of Genesis tells us, God created the environment that we know, made up of what is seen and unseen. This tells us two counter-cultural truths: firstly that God exists, before us and outside of us and greater than us. Secondly reality, material and spiritual, is a given; my role is to reverently inhabit it as designed, not to try to subvert it and create my own version. We’re told that God created day and night, and on subsequent “days” he introduced the physical elements which make up our recognizable universe, mineral, vegetable and animal. On the sixth day he made human beings. We are given three key pieces of information in this very sparse account: people bear the imprint of God’s nature, they are created to “rule” ie to be able to have a measure of control over the environment and their own nature, and they are created to be male and female. The two genders are vital for the command that God gives: “be fruitful and increase in number.” Genesis chapter two expands on this by giving an unforgettable account of the first marriage. The vital concept of community is developed later but before that we have male and female, different but the counterpart of one another, coming together in one-flesh intimacy and fruitful relationship with one another and with God. This original goodness is ruined by sin: Genesis 3 describes the fall of humanity not in abstract or even just in individual terms but as a failure in a marriage relationship. The first human beings exchange the truth of being in God’s image but different, separate from and subject to God, for the lie that they can be “like God”. They reject the rightful authority of the Father and reach out for the thing that they were warned against, thinking that this would bring them an alternative reality of ‘freedom from oppressive laws’ as satan suggested, but instead it brought shame and exclusion. The rest of the OT is about God’s action to re-include those who don’t deserve it, through a community of believers – and looks forward to a time of re-inclusion of people from every nation. Fast forward to the Gospel of John. The first two chapters echo and allude to Genesis 1 and 2. We have learned in Genesis that the Spirit is with the Father at creation: in his prologue John shows how the eternal divine Son was also with God in the beginning. As reality was in spiritual form in the beginning, and then the material universe was created, so the Word became flesh. As God’s creative activity was divided into “days”, so in John 1 we see a narrative developing on different days: John the Baptist identifies Jesus, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, then Philip and Nathanael. Human beings in relationship with the Christ. Chapter 2 begins “on the third day”. The third day from what? Looking back (1:29; 35; 43),...

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Archbishop Welby preaches in China: the Trinity, the church, witness, and God’s sufficiency.

Jun 1, 2015 by

Report from   …One of the things that strikes me about China is how hard people work and the pressure they are under. Pressure includes the pressure from within us to succeed…Ambition is good, but it can become an idol that pushes Christ from our lives. Our worship is only Christ. Worship is what enables pressure from within and without to be managed. In praise and thanksgiving we realise again the unchangeable love that God has for us – God’s sufficiency. Pressure also comes from things not in the family (where we have influence), or from within us, but additionally from the great issues of the day, or things that happen to us, from issues of health to great issues like the environment. The church is the gift of God that enables us to sustain the burden. A friend of mine in Africa found his part of the country enveloped in war. Almost two million refugees flowed into the area. When I asked him how he coped, he said, “we did what God enabled us to do”. It was “we” did, not just I. It was a witness of compassion for those who suffer (Matthew 25) and for the world God made, by the church together. The church is a source of compassion and strength, one that we often forget. All this brings us to the heart of witness that is the Christian community, living faithfully to Christ in the normal pressures of life  as a blessing to its society in obedience to the leaders of that society, so as to enable the church to live in peace and to demonstrate to the world the reality of Jesus Christ. Witness always includes words, but it starts with actions because it is those that people around us understand most clearly. If people could be made Christians through argument alone, God would not have sent His Son, but a philosopher. If people could be persuaded to be good Christians by force, He would have sent a soldier. If people could be manipulated and tricked into being good Christians or bribed into being good Christians, He would have sent some kind of crooked person who was good at trickery. But God did not do any of those things. Our loving Heavenly Father “so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believed in Him should not perish but have eternal life” and he left a community of ordinary people like us, filled with the Holy Spirit, who exists to witness to the truth of Jesus. The community of the Trinity is lived out in the sight of the world by the community of the church. Which is why at the end of the reading is the call “always to be ready to give an explanation of the hope that is within” us, but gently and respectfully. Are we each able to explain why we are Christians? If someone asks do we know what to say? Practice...

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