Thursday, 14 December 2017

Where Will It All End?

LUKE 1:39-56 Advent 3 2017.  A Reflection.

(First told in the sermon slot during worship at Luther King House Theological College on December 12th 2017)

Christmas can get out of hand can’t it?  Especially when the relatives turn up …

Well here’s a Christmas story about a relative coming to visit and things getting out of hand.

Oops sorry –  that’s not very LC is it? 


Liturgically Correct.

Let me start again.

Here’s an advent story about a relative coming to visit.

Let me warn you, it’s an odd story.  You know, like one of those modern stories where you are never entirely surely what’s going on.  If you listen carefully, underneath the surface you can hear all kinds of chaos bubbling away.  Frankly, it’s a little disturbing, the kind of story that leaves your wondering, “Where will it all end?”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning.

It all starts rather, well, rather recklessly.

Mary, pregnant Mary, runs for the hills. No one is entirely sure why she was in such a hurry.  Perhaps she was embarrassed?  Or maybe she was Excited? Either way she seems to have forgotten that advent is about patient waiting. Doesn't bode well does it?

In fact, the more the story unfolds the more it begins to look as though this ‘ere pregnancy malarkey is affecting Mary's memory rather badly. Not only has she forgotten the meaning of advent but she’s also forgotten her manners.

Instead of greeting the man of the house, you know, behaving properly, she heads straight for the old woman. No don’t complain, don't accuse me of being sexist, it is his house.  Look, it says it.  Right there in Holy Scripture. “… she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  See!

I don't know about you but quite frankly I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe she’s being rude, or perhaps just a bit cheeky - she is a teenager after all.  Mind you,  there could another, more sinister possibility.  Some would say, God forbid, that she’s being deliberately subversive.  I do hope not.  After all, where will it all end?

Actually, the more you read the story, the more you find yourself wondering if there hasn’t been something of an outbreak of recklessness in Judah.  Even the Holy Spirit has been affected. 

I mean look.  He too is ignoring the proper channels, bypassing the priest, the man, and pressing Elizabeth’s prophecy button instead!  I can think of some who might argue that God has silenced old Zech on purpose, you know, just to let the women get a word in edgeways.

Then the next thing you know, the babies are getting in on the act.  Unborn babies! First there's Holy Spirit inspired prophecy that sees deep enough to recognise the Lord in a foetus and then we get charismatic dancing in utero.  The world’s going mad!  Where will it all end?

Actually, there might be another way of looking at this.  I said it was the Holy Spirit who was behind these goings on, but you know what, on reflection, if you look carefully at what Elizabeth says, you’ve got to wonder if this really is the Holy Spirit at work after all.

I mean, bless her, Elizabth seems to have got a bit mixed up.  On the one hand she thinks that Mary’s unborn child is her Lord, “Why has the mother of my Lord come to me?” and in the next breath she’s speaking as if the Lord is the one who sent the Angel with the message about the baby, “… blessed is she who believed … what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 

See what I mean?  Poor old dear.  Probably a bit hormonal.  Getting her theology all confused like that.

Next up, the pregnant teenager is at it. And boy! (sorry, child!) does she go for it. 

Talk about delusional! Just because crazy aunty Liz has called her blessed she now seems to think that all generations will call her blessed!  I mean to say!  All generations?  Who does she think she is?  After all Joseph’s no Abraham and she’s no Sarah.

But there’s more … not only has she got delusions of grandeur, she’s starting to sound like one of those there dangerous radicals.  Someone somewhere is not complying with the prevent strategy. And once you start playing fast and loose with government directives, well, who knows where it will all end?

I mean, have you heard the stuff she’s coming out with? Bad theology and subversive politics that's what!

“Bad theology?” I hear you ask.  Well just take a look. She sounds like one of those soppy evangelicals. Me, me, me, my, my, my – my God, my Saviour, my blessing.  This is the worst kind of Yahweh is my boyfriend nonsense.  I ask you! What she needs is a year or two at theological college.

And then on top of all this extreme, hyper-spiritual, over-individualised, doe-eyed nonsense, she starts laying down extremist politics: scattering the proud indeed!  Or in other words scaring people off!

Not only that but she’s advocating the overthrow of legitimate governments;  wasting money on scroungers – oops sorry – PC alert – “the lowly”;  taxing the rich so they no longer have two bank accounts to rub together and then giving it all to the so called hungry.  Prophetic correctness gone mad!  Where will it all end?

So, there you have it a strange chaotic tale in an obscure backwater.  A pregnant teenager. A doddering old woman.  A dancing foetus.  Confused theology. Superspiritual twaddle.  Loony left politics. And not a man in sight anywhere to keep order.  I ask you: Where will it all end?

Of course, we like to think that we know where it will all end: a cross, a grave, a resurrection, a Holy Spirit deluge, a new people, a coming again and a new heaven and earth.

I do like a happy ending.

Only this story isn’t about eagerly anticipated endings it’s about unexpected beginnings. Odd beginnings with divine life making an appearance among unfavoured people in strange places, unnamed places, easily overlooked places, quiet places, hidden places, places as deep and dark and quiet and hidden as a hymen-sealed womb.

Friday, 26 May 2017

After The Bomb

This week the place where I live was violated.  Children from our city and our region, were cruelly killed and maimed.  As you are no doubt aware, Manchester is living through one of the most difficult weeks in its proud history.  And in the heart of this city my colleagues and I at Northern Baptist College have been getting on with the job that we believe God has given us, the same job that the college has been doing for over 150 years, preparing people for servant leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ.  It hasn’t been easy. 

On Tuesday, our staff team travelled out of our shaken city for an away day.  We spent most of our time naming, discussing and praying for each of our students.  Today, back at Luther King House, our home base on Manchester’s famous curry mile, we have been interviewing four people who believe that God is calling them into Christian ministry, calling them in other words to devote their lives to helping people to follow Jesus, helping people to love, to serve, to pursue peace and to work for justice. To be involved in such a process is always a profound privilege. This week it seems a particularly fitting way to be spending our time.


Well, because the slaughter on our doorstep has reminded us just how much our city needs communities of people committed to living the Jesus way.  When some might be tempted to let anger turn into hatred, Manchester needs people who will remember that each of its citizens, whether red or blue, whether African, Asian or European, whether Sikh or Christian, Jewish or Muslim, whether northern-born or less fortunate, every last one of us is first and foremost a human being, created by God, bearing the image of God (however distorted) and precious in the sight of God.

As one of those charged by my denomination to form the next generation of church leaders I have to make sure that all our students remember what churches are for. No one can be allowed to leave our college in any doubt whatsoever that our churches must never become self-interested, seeking only their own wellbeing, neglecting the communities that God has called them to serve.  They must never be allowed to think that mission is only about growing bigger and bigger churches. They must never be allowed to devote themselves to growing disciples simply for the sake of growing disciples without asking what disciples are for, what difference disciples are supposed to make in the wider world.

We need leaders who will help churches become what they were always meant to be: communities of the prince peace, the healer, the lover of outcasts, the one who would eat with anyone whether he was supposed to or not, the one who wept for Jerusalem.  Any church that does not seek the welfare of its city is a contradiction in terms. Any church that forgets to build bridges of reconciliation forgets whose church it is.  Any church that is content to let outsiders stay out has lost its way and lost sight of its Lord.  Any church that thinks that this kind of stuff is none of its business is plain wrong.

That’s what I have to remember.  That’s what this difficult week has reminded me.  I pray to God that I will never forget.  I pray that you will never forget either, even if you are not fortunate enough live in Manchester. 

One of the things that people often say, when they are touched by tragedies such as the one that happened on our doorstep, is, “I wanted to do something but I felt helpless.”  If that’s you then thank God you’re are not helpless. If like me you name Jesus as your saviour, there’s lots you can do.  Here’s six suggestions for starters.

1.    You can resolve to remind yourself each morning that every person who lives in your village, town or city is a child of Adam and Eve and therefore your brother or sister in God.
2.    You can commit yourself to helping your church to become the kind of church that behaves a bit more like Jesus.
3.    You can identify someone in your community from another background, another race, another religion and simply get to know them. If that sounds scary, start by smiling and saying, “Hello.”
4.    You can find a group that is working to build bridges in your community and join them, whether they carry a Christian label or not.
5.    You can go on praying the prayer that Jesus taught us pray, “… your will be done in my part of your earth as it is in heaven” and then act like you mean it.
6.    And you can, if you would be so kind, pray for my colleagues and me in the heart of our hurting city, that we might be able to grow leaders who know how to grow churches who know how to grow the kind of communities that will gladden the heart of God.

This first appeared on Christian Today