Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Jack-In-A-Box God

In a photo by Mark Brunner,
Thomas is shown shielding an unnamed man believed
to be a white supremacist
In June 1996 a branch of the Ku Klux Klan announced planned to hold a rally in Ann Arbour, Michigan. A counter protest was planned. Keisha Thomas was one of several people that attended and protested from an area that had been fenced and set aside for the protesters.The protest proceeded until one protester announced over a megaphone that there was "a Klansman in the crowd".  The unnamed man was a middle-aged white male wearing a T-shirt depicting the Confederate flag and an "SS tattoo". The man began to run but was knocked down, kicked, and beaten with placards. Thomas, who was at that time 18 years old, instead of joining in the beating, found herself moved with compassion motivated by her Christian faith, shielded the man from the crowd and shouted for the attackers to stop and that you "can't beat goodness into a person". She said later that she had acted as she had also because she know what it was like to be hurt. A few months later, she was thanked personally by the son of the unamed man she helped that day.

This story of Keisha Thomas, powerfully demonstrates what we try to teach our children - do to others as you would have them do to you, or something similar. Talk of being a 'Good Samaritan' is common parlance - we know what the expression means from doing an unexpected good deed to someone else through to manning an emergency phone line. But if we reduce this extremely well known parable of Jesus to a morality tale - we lose it's power to shake us awake into living the values of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is approached by a lawyer and asked a question to test him. Lawyers then as now are trained to know their subject - in this case the Scriptures - and to be able to get at the truth. The lawyer knew the answer to the question that he asked Jesus about inheriting eternal life - it's a classic example of religious legal exchange - a checking out of your opponent - and we know this by Jesus' two questions back: what does scripture say and how do you read or interpret it? And if a strict legal interpretation of Deuteronomy and Leviticus from which the lawyer quotes were what was required then today's Gospel reading would have stopped with Jesus' response - do this and you will live. But as is so often the case with Jesus' teaching, there is so much more.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Back in the days of unrest in Egypt in 2011, you may recall photos emerging of a group of Christians gathered hand in hand arm in arm around a group of Muslims as they prayed. This wasn't a one off as we also saw photos of Muslims repaying the gesture of recognition and kindness. This has spread. In Nigeria, Boko Haram the Islamic terrorist group is an equal opportunities destroyer - levelling Mosque and Church alike, so in just over the border in northern Cameroon on Friday's Christians protect local Mosques and on Sunday's Muslims reciprocate in the same way recognising each other's freedom to worship but also their shared humanity.

The lawyer's question isn't a bad one. The word neighbour used by the Lawyer is plesios - the one who is near. A next door neighbour. But we have a natural inclination to love those with whom we have a connection to by blood or friendship. And we would love it is Scripture could pat us on the head and tell us that. When the lawyer quotes from Leviticus (Love your neighbour as yourself...) the word there is re'a - my compatriot. Not whoever is near to me, but one with whom I have something to do - someone I am connected to. Phew! So imagine the shock in the crowd when Jesus opens the definitions of neighbourliness in Greek and Hebrew to include those far away from me and my family - religiously, ethnically and socially. A Jewish man is set upon by thieves and his kinsmen give him a wide berth whilst his ethnic enemy reaches out in compassion.
Rev'd Andy Griffiths

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man... He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.' A couple of weeks ago, my friend Andy Griffiths who is a Vicar in Essex, was on his way home from a meeting when he stopped off at a shop.  The person behind the desk (British Asian, mid-20s, has never lived outside Essex) told him he had just been racially abused.  A man had told him "We voted leave, now you have to leave" and "I'll come back every day until you leave this country or I glass you".  When he tried to point out he was British and that isn't what the word "leave" meant on posters, the assailant just kept saying "We voted leave, now you have to leave, we voted leave now you have to leave".   Clearly the assailant was the worse for wear, but that doesn't change the fact that a crime was committed. Andy stayed until the victim was feeling calmer, and had called the police.

The Samaritan, outside the Jewish law and not welcome socially or ethnically, is described as showing pity and mercy - two attributes of the God of Israel. The Samaritan acts as the Compassionate God in human form and therefore Jesus is identifying himself with this Samaritan - and suddenly not only is this a morality tale about being nice to people, but again Jesus blows open our tightly bound who's in and who's out view of our safe little worlds but also of the remit and extent of God's love - because God is clearly acting in a loving way not to the Samaritan (oh isn't that lovely) but through the Samaritan (sharp intake of breath.)

God has a habit of operating outside our expectations and leaping out of the box we put him in. This jack in a box God in Jesus: came as a vulnerable baby; taught a wild inclusive love; dared to die the death of a bandit; and is risen. All unexpected. Here the jack in a box God in Jesus, challenges us not just to see God in others, which is harder than ever it seems in post Brexit Britain, but to receive God in and from others - from those not like us, those whom we oppose, those whose lifestyles challenge our nice tightly bound morals or politics. So don't just reach out the hand of friendship to a next door neighbour - as good as that may be - but we need to go out of our way, across the road, and seek God out in places and amongst people outside your comfort zone - perhaps particularly amongst the refugees locally, amongst those who have the UK their home from Europe and further afield for work in recent years and amongst the gay community locally - not just because they need our love right now and by God they do - but because there we will find Jesus, the Samaritan, showing mercy and pity to us.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

St Peter And The Art Of Prediction

At Diocesan Synod yesterday, Bishop Alan began his presidential address speaking about a book called ‘Superforcasting: The Art and Science of prediction.’ In it, the authors look at the way that experts attempt to predict the future, such as what is going to happen to the financial markets in the coming year. It’s telling, however, that one of the authors has concluded that in a wide range of subjects “there was very little difference between the accuracy of so-called ‘experts’ and guesses made by the man in the street.”

Well that’s what we re-discovered this past week. Most of us went to bed on Thursday night believing the opinion polls’ view that there was a small margin in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the EU. International money markets agreed and the exchange rates and share indexes reflected this consensus. Some of us stayed up to watch the results come in and as they did we discovered that we had decided to divorce our immediate European neighbours after a forty year marriage and we now want to have a different set of relationships with other countries.

But this fracturing of relationships on the global stage, only mirrors the reshaping of relationships that we see at an individual or cultural level where increasingly we as people distrust large institutions of power that tell us what to think or do - instead we constantly seek our own political ideologies and cultural identities (no longer are you a mod or a rocker but you might be a post punk or prog rocker or any other myriad of identities today and tomorrow be something totally different). Similarly traditional models of relationship such as marriage no longer enduring and are ultimately disposable because all that matters is my happiness. We are ever increasingly the ‘me’ generation or put another way - the L’Orel generation - because all that matters is my happiness - because I’m worth it.

Caesarea Philippi was a Roman town south of the Golan Heights. It was previously known as Banias but it was renamed by Herod Philip II to honour Caesar - and himself too - and their ongoing relationship of power and it was the administrative centre of Herod’s rule. It was also one of the places where the goat god Pan was worshipped who was said to have been born in a nearby cave, known as the gates of Hell.

Jesus asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Until last September few people in her native Macedonia had heard of Katica Janeva. As chief prosecutor in a small border town, her work mainly consisted of pursuing petty thieves and people-smugglers. But now she has been thrust centre stage in this turbulent former Yugoslav republic. Her new job is to probe claims of wrongdoing and corruption raised by a huge wiretapping scandal that has engulfed the government. Her identity has changed from being a basically unknown to being a widely known fighter for truth and justice.

Katica Janeva
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man - an identity with implications. He’s identifying himself as a ‘son of Adam’ the man in the street; he’s also contrasting the lowliness of humanity and the glory of God; but he’s also identifying with a future figure who’s coming will signal the end history and the coming of God’s judgement and justice. Do people in these early days of his ministry and in a place laced with political, kingly and spiritual power, know yet who Jesus really is - what his identity is, and what he’s come to bring about?

Jesus said: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. Pope Francis, the successor to St Peter whom we commemorate today, his ministry continues to cause controversy. In a visit to Armenia recently, he described the killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians as genocide. This on the one hand is an olive branch to the Armenian Apostolic church from the head of the Armenian Catholic church as the Apostolic church canonised those who died at the end of the Ottoman empire as martyrs, but it’s also on the other hand a clear call for historic justice and ultimately reconciliation.

The Pope meets the Armenian Patriarch.
I have often wondered why Jesus renames Simon as Peter. Petros, the stone or rock. Peter doesn't seem particularly stable or reliable a person on which to build something as lasting as the church. Peter the fisherman; Peter the one who misunderstands; Peter the one with his foot so often in his mouth; Peter the denier of Christ. And then I realised Simon only becomes Peter when he lives in the life changing reality of the coming kingdom of Jesus the Son of Man. Simon is Peter not because Jesus tells him he is, but Simon is Peter because of who Jesus is and what He continues to lead him into and reveal to him about the love of God. Simon's new identity as Peter isn't something he earns, but something in grace that Jesus confers on him again and again and again. And no other power - political, cultural, or spiritual - can take that away from him.

What is Jesus asking of us as we keep the Feast of St peter today? In these days of a shifting political landscape in terms of our relationships with our European neighbours and each other depending on which way you voted; after, what I believe to have been a poor four months of debate from both sides leading up to Thursday’s referendum based on a small minded and visionless politics, we must now move forward together for the common good.

St Peter will have heard Jesus teach on the greatest commandment - to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbour. Like St Peter’s successor, Pope Francis, how do we now listen to and show love to those with whom we have disagreed in these days, but also, how do we ensure - as followers of the same Jesus that Peter knew - that the voices of those who were not heard in the referendum or the voices of those who are constantly silenced in our communities or our world are heard? As we prepare ourselves as communities to welcome Syrian refugees from the UNHCR camps and elsewhere in the coming months: How do we not only transform the name - refugee, migrant, scrounger, vermin an so on - that they are given by the media and our communities - but transform their lives to become people again?

Spend a moment in quiet and in your mind ponder: what does it mean for me to say that Jesus is the Messiah. How would I describe Jesus to someone who never heard of him before. How would I demonstrate that I am no longer Simon, or Paul, or Maureen or Julie, but Peter through whom God’s kingdom is coming to a child…or adult…or friend…or a Syrian refugee.

Peter saw in Jesus what’s possible even in the face of political might and the very real fear for some.  Rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender the powers that control people’s lives, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

UN World Refugee Day

As many of you know we are collecting goods as listed below in the lead up to World Refugee Day on 20th June 2016.

Please take any goods listed below to St Thomas', St John's or St Peter's up to and including 19th June.
These will then be taken to those in need in the camps in Dunkirk and Calais.

Thank you in advance for your generosity.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Herts Welcomes Syrian Refugees

We recently hosted a meeting to discuss what we can do individually and as parish to support and welcome refugees who come from camps in Syria under VPRS scheme.

There is a new tab on this website which we will try to keep up to date with current information and news which will also feature on our parish Facebook page.

In the meantime here is video made by Save The Children about children in Syria which we showed at the meeting.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thy Kingdom Come - A Week Of Prayer - 8-15 May 2016

In the days leading up to Pentecost, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have asked every parish to pray that every person would meet the Risen Jesus for themselves and for renewed confidence for the church in sharing their faith. In a letter they wrote:

“At the heart of our prayers will be words that Jesus himself taught us – ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”

Why not join us to pray specifically on these days:

9 May - 7.30am at St Peter’s
4.00pm at St Thomas’ House
10 May - 9.15am at St Thomas
  2.0pm at St Thomas’
11 May - 8.45am at St Peter’s
12 May - 11.00 am at St John’s
14 May - 9.30am at St Peter’s

or at the Eucharist that week:

9 May - 7.30pm at St John’s
11 May - 9.30am at St Peter’s
12 May - 7.30pm at St Thomas’.

Why not use the week as an opportunity to pray specifically for 5 friends to know our Lord Jesus. It is one of the most powerful thing we can do. Prayerfully choose 5 friends - write their names down on a piece of paper, or a small card, or have 5 small stone that represent them with you in your pocket & pray that they too may come share the joy of the Resurrection. You might like to use the following prayers:

Loving Lord,
Please work in me so I can share your love, life and message with…
Reveal your love to them, that they might know, follow and witness to you,
For Your Glory.  Amen.

Loving Father,
Send your Holy Spirit so I can share your love, life and message with…
Reveal Jesus to them, that they might know, follow and love him,
For Your Glory.  Amen.

You build your church through the power of your Spirit.
By the same Spirit enable me to witness to… your love, beauty and grace.
That they may come to the fellowship of the faithful
For Your Glory.  Amen.

I pray that you will lead… to you. 
Thank you that you love them and I pray that you would break into their life and show them your love, grace and peace.
For Your Glory.  Amen.

Let’s take the opportunity to pray to God, with the whole Church of England that, ‘…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…’ in people’s lives, in God’s church and in our nation.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Mothering Sunday - 6 March 2016

Worship is as follows:
9.00am St John's Heronsgate
10.30am St Thomas' West Hyde
10.45am St Peter's Mill End

All Welcome!