All posts by Alan

Priest in Charge of Hale with Badshot Lea

It’s Christmas!

Have you exceeded the speed limit?

Have you cycled on the pavement?

Have you ever knocked on someones door and run away?

Have you activated your burglar alarm without nominating a key holder who can turn it off in your absence?

Have you sung happy birthday to a friend in public without a copyright license?

All of the above are against the law.  Congratulations if you have answered no to all of them!  But…

Have you driven a car before 1976 without a bale of hay?

Are you a man born before 1943?  Did you keep up your longbow practice?

That is the problem with the law – there are so many, including the ones you don’t know about that it is impossible to keep them all.

So what has this got to do with Christmas?  What we are celebrating is the coming of God to earth, but more than that, we are celebrating a whole new way of being right with God.

Lots of religions, and I only haven’t said all except Christianity because I don’t know about all of them, believe that you get right with God by doing the right things, by keeping the “law”.  This was certainly the case with 1st Century Jews who not only had the 10 commandments, but the 613 laws of Moses and others that the pharisees had created to ensure that none of the others were broken – except it wasn’t possible to keep all the laws.

Jesus was born to bring Good News to the world – the good news being that it wasn’t keeping the law that made us right with God.  Instead God loves all of us – whatever we have done – being right with God depends on God – not us.  If you look at the Bible – the only people that Jesus has no time for are those who tell everyone that you have to behave – having created laws which people find impossible to keep, and which they cannot keep themselves, despite perhaps appearing to do so.

Now at this point you might well point me towards a lot of those Christians you hear on the radio telling you about the all the “laws” that you have to keep.  All I can say is that I fundamentally disagree with them.  Unfortunately the press like conflict and the extremes of the Church of England get more press time than the centre.  This parish and the three churches in it are members of Inclusive Church, an organisation whose vision is, in part:

We believe in inclusive Church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

God is not a God who is watching over you, trying to catch you doing something you shouldn’t – adding up the pluses and minuses like some Santa figure trying to figure out if you are “naughty or nice”.  God is a God who wants us all to have life in all its fullness – to live this life in a way that is fulfilling and life giving.  That is the Good News that Jesus was born to bring to us – isn’t that something worth celebrating?

However, this isn’t some excuse for us all to do whatever we want.  If God wants us all to have life in all its fullness then we cannot enjoy our life in such a way that others ability to enjoy theirs is impacted.  If we insist on overheating the planet because we want our creature comforts, then others homes get flooded; if we want to pay less in taxes then those without the ability to earn sufficient to live will suffer; if we refuse to look after refugees, and others less well off than ourselves, then what for their life in all its fullness?  The Jewish scriptures, based on law, defend the rights of the widow the alien and the orphan – how can we basking in God’s love do less?

Of course, if you believe in a God who is trying to catch you out then you will find that a different set of priorities are necessary and you might start telling people how they should behave to be right with God.

No wonder Jesus birth is seen as Good News – now we can all live the lives that he calls us to – lives that allow us and everyone else to enjoy life in all its fullness.  No wonder we are celebrating the incarnation – God with us.  If you aren’t already part of it I invite you to join this journey of faith and to share in the Good News.

Advent 3 – John the Baptist

Matthew 11:2-11

What is the source of John’s question?

  • Was it asked on his own behalf, or on behalf  of others?
  • Was it a question of impatience – when was Jesus going to start judging, or was it one of misunderstanding the role of Messiah.
  • Did John know Jesus was the Messiah before he was imprisoned?  Or is it dawning on him?  This requires that we assume that the author of this pericope did not know Matthew 3:14ff.

The answers Jesus give are oblique.  One approach is to look at the political situation – If Jesus had said “yes” then Herod would have heard this on the rumour mill, and it would have been a direct challenge.  By quoting scripture Jesus can claim Messiahship without upsetting Herod.  

However, in the answers all the evidence of what Jesus is doing involves compassion and healing rather than judgement and condemnation.  John preached divine holiness with divine judgement and destruction – see last weeks winnowing fork and axe – Jesus preaches divine holiness and love.  Perhaps this is why John is asking – Jesus doesn’t match with his expectation.

Jesus questions about John are in fact a questioning of Herod – again however, without providing Herod with enough evidence to hang him.

a reed shaken by the wind can mean two things

  • a proverb for the commonest sights
  • a weak waverer

Herod’s coins had a symbol of a reed on them, and Herod himself was seen as a waverer.  John was neither of these.  People do not go out into the desert to see either.

soft/luxurious robes were the sign of a courtier – a flatterer of Kings – which was far from John.

Prophets have a message from God and the courage to deliver it.  John was certainly this.

Elijah was expected to return before the Messiah and Jesus gives him this role.

Why was John less that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven?  One interpretation is that “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven means Jesus.  But if all are considered members of the Kingdom of Heaven then John had not seen the crucifixion, the demonstration of the love of God.  As above John has been preaching destruction – hardly Good News – but Jesus preached and then lived out God’s love and all in the Kingdom of Heaven know this.

Advent 2

Matthew 3:1-12

This Sunday we remember the Prophets, and the thing about John the Baptist is that there hasn’t been a prophet in Israel for 400 years.  The passage is full of symbolism, a lot of which we won’t naturally understand

John dresses in the same way as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)  – and the old prophets (Malachi 4:5) say that Elijah will come before the Messiah.

He (mis)quotes Isaiah: A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

In pre Roman times most roads were not made up – the only roads that were made up were for the King to use – so the passage is equating the Lord with the King – the Messiah.

At the heart of the passage is a call to repentance, and a call to trusting in God’s grace.  Jewish faith believed in repentance as the way (back) to God.  There were nine norms of repentance:

  1. Wash
  2. Make yourself clean
  3. remove evil doings from God’s sight
  4. Cease to do evil
  5. Do good
  6. Seek justice
  7. Rescue the oppressed
  8. Defend the orphan
  9. Plead for the widow

The latter three of these being a constant refrain – to care for the alien, the orphan and the widow – perhaps something to contemplate in the forthcoming election!

The condemnation of the Pharisees and Sadducees comes because they believe that keeping the law is what is required, and that being children of Abraham guarantees that they will be right with God – not repentance.  In Aramaic the words for children and stones are similar, and so John is using word play to attack them.

Finally we come to the axe at the foot of the tree and the winnowing fork.  Those of us who lean towards a loving God struggle with these images – but they only apply to those who do not repent, and repentance can happen at any time.  However, I would want to argue that the sooner we repent the better – life is better lived in the light of repentance than it is otherwise and life lived without repentance is already a form of hell!

Where are you on the journey of repentance?

 

Part Time Job

We are looking to recruit a part time administrator, with some flexibility over hours.  Attached below is a Role Description.

If you would like to know more about this, please contact Alan Crawley, 01252 820537 revd.alan@badshotleaandhale.org.

If you wish to apply, please send a CV to Alan with a covering letter explaining how you think you meet the requirements by Wednesday 15th May 2019.

Role Description for Paid Administrator

Sacrifice

There are obvious links here to theories of atonement, and in particular penal substitution.  Whilst I don’t like the theory on its own, when taken with other theories I find that it can add something to the whole idea of atonement.  However, to do this I find it helpful to remember that Jesus was both human and divine, and that in the Trinity God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and as the Athanasian Creed says :

Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.

So, instead of God requiring Jesus to go to the cross, it is God too who goes to the cross, which makes in more an image of love than an image of vengeance.

So God puts and end to the need for sacrifice by self sacrifice!

#OURHOLYWEEK

Serve

This morning I was at the Cathedral for the blessing of the oils and the renewal of vows.  During the service I was led to reflect on the theme of serving others, however it is done, and it made me question the balance between the amount of time the church spends on serving people versus how much time is spent on worship or evangelism.  If we look at the Gospels, most of Jesus time was spent serving others (which might lead to evangelism) rather than talking to them.  Time for a think!

#OURHOLYWEEK

Betrayal

As we are in Holy Week, the most likely inspiration for the theme of Betrayal is that of Jesus by Judas – Durer picture above.

And yet, was it a betrayal? To be betrayed there has to be a both a loyalty, and a harm.

to not be loyal to your country or a person

There has long been a train of thought that Judas was required, even destined, to hand Jesus over, because without Jesus being handed over there would be no Resurrection.  If we buy this argument then Judas was not betraying Jesus, but helping him.

It all rather depends on your view of predestination; if you believe in free will, then Judas could have not handed Jesus over, whilst God could still have found a way for the events to play out.  However, in these circumstances, the fact that Judas chose to do so then becomes a betrayal, and adds to the pressure on Jesus, as he then knows that one of his disciples has betrayed him.  It could even be that the words

Do quickly what you are going to do

are not, as I always interpreted, a command to go and inform the chief priests, but an instruction to go and do what he was going to decide to do, as the suspense was unbearable (this is almost certainly a minority reading, as John’s Gospel is always showing Jesus as in control – however, I find that contemplating ideas like this can add to the understanding of what happened, even if they are “wrong”).

#OurHolyWeek

Love

Recently the government have proposed no fault divorce.  Some Christians are against this, though for reasons that I don’t quite understand.  (Disclosure, I am divorced and remarried).

Their argument appears to be that doing this will make divorce easier, and therefore more people will get divorced, and this is a bad thing.  There appears to be an assumption that making it difficult to get out of a marriage is a good thing as otherwise people would leave on a whim.

When I was at theological college our lecturer asked us when a couple were married: was it when:

  1. the marriage was consummated?
  2. the certificate was signed?
  3. the priest declared it?
  4. the couple agreed to live together for the rest of their lives?

The answer that he gave was 4 – in a marriage the couple are the ministers of the marriage – everyone else is a witness to it.

In the same vein, I would want to ask: when does a marriage end?

If both of the couple wish to separate then surely it is when they decide that – the rest is legal necessity, and the easier that is made surely the better?

The problem perhaps comes when one spouse wishes to end the marriage and the other doesn’t (eg Owens v Owens).  Yet in this case the couple are divorced in all but name.  What good is obtained by denying the legal separation in this case?

The other argument about couples staying together (or not) centres around children.  There are numerous studies round this eg https://www.verywellfamily.com/should-you-stay-together-for-kids-1270800, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemplating-divorce/200911/divorce-doesnt-harm-children-parents-fighting-harms-child (which partially argues against the previous article) and https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/22/children-divorce-resolution-survey-rather-parents-separate.  I think what I take from this is that the impact on the children depends more on the behaviour of the parents than on their legal status.

What do you think?

#OURHOLYWEEK

Rage

Each day in Holy week Christians on social media are being encouraged to post under the tag #OURHOLYWEEK on a different subject each day.  So here goes!

What is your take on rage?  Is it something to be avoided at all costs or something to harness?  Perhaps it depends on your view of control and your definition of rage.  I suspect that if you grew up in a family where uncontrolled rage was a common experience you are not that keen on it.  But perhaps sometimes extreme anger is required.  Perhaps Jesus turning over the tables in the temple is an example (or perhaps not – although I find it difficult to imagine such behaviour without an element of anger); without it where does the energy to fight injustice come from?

What do you think?

Who do you think Jesus is?

On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as the Messiah; and yet, they seem to be expecting him to behave differently to the way that he does.  They were expecting someone who would “rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age and World to come“, and at a time that Israel was ruled by the Romans this would require their overthrow.

Every Thursday local clergy discuss the following Sunday’s Gospel, and this week one of the discussion points was whether the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem was the same one who cried out for his crucifixion a few days later.  The arguments centred on whether people would have changed their minds so quickly.  The choices were broadly: “no they wouldn’t” and “if they were disappointed by the failure to overthrow the Romans…”; no doubt there are others too.

It certainly looks as though they didn’t expect the kind of Messiah that Jesus was, ruling by influence rather than by power, indeed, refusing to use power when the opportunity arose, rather allowing himself to be put to death rather than invoking the power of God.  Indeed,

So my question is: “What kind of Messiah do you believe in?”.

Richard Rohr writes that:

Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God

Over the years many people have had a view of God as somewhat like a medieval King; someone who it made sense to be afraid of, and to try and keep on the right side of.  Jesus came to tell us that God love’s us, and that nothing that we do can stop him loving us.