Monthly Archives: August 2009

Boneless Chicken

The Story Of The Banquet

“Accompanied by her fiancé, a woman went to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston and ordered the meal. The two of them poured over the menu, made selections of china and silver, and pointed to pictures of the flower arrangements they liked. They both had expensive taste, and the bill came to thirteen thousand dollars. [Keep in mind—this is 1990.] After leaving a check for half that amount as down payment, the couple went home to flip through books of wedding announcements.

 

“The day the announcements were supposed to hit the mailbox, the potential groom got cold feet. ‘I’m just not sure,’ he said. ‘It’s a big commitment. Let’s think about this a little longer.’ When his angry fiancée returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, the Events Manager could not have been more understanding. ‘The same thing happened to me, honey,’ she said, and told the story of her own broken engagement. But about the refund, she had bad news. ‘The contract is binding. You’re only entitled to thirteen hundred dollars back. You have two options: to forfeit the rest of the down payment, or go ahead with the banquet.  I’m sorry. Really, I am.”

 

“It seemed crazy, but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party—not a wedding banquet, mind you, but a big blowout. Ten years before, this same woman had been living in a homeless shelter. She had got back on her feet, found a good job, and set aside a sizeable nest egg. Now she had the wild notion of using her savings to treat the down-and-outs of Boston to a night on the town.

 

And so it was that in June of 1990 the Hyatt hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken— ‘in honour of the groom,’ she said—and sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters.  That warm summer night, people who were used to peeling half-gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d’oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminium walkers. Bag ladies, vagrants, and addicts took one night off from the hard life on the sidewalks outside and instead sipped champagne, ate chocolate wedding cake, and danced to big-band melodies late into the night” (Yancey, pp. 48-49).

To Love And Love Again

 

So the first round of dancing kicked off this one time I remember

And I don’t know why, but I wasn’t dancing this time round

But my friend Graham Hero was dancing with this girl called Jacqueline Onyx

 

Now Jacqueline – and I can remember very few other girls in this class, which shows you how much rejection hurts

Was one of the A-Listers in the class, and I had yet to encounter the concept of “Out of my league”

So I thought they were having a nice time

And I thought Jacqueline might be appreciative of my moves over the last 48 bars of the Gay Gordons

So I tapped Graham on the shoulder

And Jacqueline’s expression changed from one of pleasantness to a Jacqueline I had never seen before

 

She was furious that this boy obviously beneath her and clamped themselves onto her for the next two minutes of her life

And she made this abundantly clear with her furious expression

And I am sure the odd nip and dig and push

 

My first experience of rejection.

 

That awful moment of putting yourself out there,

Vulnerable

And you have no control over what the other person is going to do

And you discover at an early age

That what the other person might do is charge in the most vulnerable parts of you and do serious damage.

 

That Moment

I had a spate of funerals last year when everyone I seemed to be burying or doing a funeral for had met their spouse at the dancing.

 

All the families that were now before, often in mourning

But clearly families that had good histories,

Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren

 

All owed their existence to this moment of incredible vulnerability

When a bloke wondered across the floor of the Barras

Every single scrap of his reputation on the line

And uttered the immortal line “Are you dancing?”

 

And the response, which hangs out the agony, the vulnerability for ten more seconds

“Are you asking?”

 

“Yeah I’m asking”  – so he can’t pretend that he’s not into this

 

And then the response.

 

These children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren

Hanging on that moment.

 

Recently I spoke to a couple who have just started going out after many many years of being friends

And I was in awe of this, because there must have been a  moment when one of them must have said to the other, “I no longer want to be just friends”

 

And one of them has to go out to that vulnerable, naked point

Where a friendship that has had years of investment

Hangs in the balance.

 

What We Remember

And we remember two moments,

 

We remember the moment of the “No”- we remember it because it was a moment, when our deepest soul was examined, and someone said they didn’t want it

And a dark voice starts to get louder – you weren’t good enough

 

And then the moment of the “yes” – the moment when you could have danced a jig.

It’s This Moment

It’s this moment in the reading today.

That moment of extreme vulnerability.

 

We are into the Second Chapter of a book called Song of Solomon

It’s a book that is the Mills and Boon moment of the Bible

It’s a book with some fairly racy stuff in it later on.

 

But it’s a book that celebrates romantic love

 

And it’s important that that book is in there

It’s important that the book’s in there

Because otherwise Romantic love is something which is sordid, a little bit embarrassing, not quite as good as God’s love.

 

It’s a cheaper, popularised version.

 

We have kind of God’s love which is parental

It’s has a certain distance

It is sacrificial, it is wise, and will do anything

But if that is the only picture we have of love

Then love will always lack a certain passion.

 

So Song Of Solomon comes into this.

And says if you want to talk about love, you need to talk about the passion, the joy, the ecstasy of love.

 

And it has it’s beginnings in this moment.

 

There are two lovers here in the story

We know by the time that our passage begins, into chapter two,

That the two of them like each other

But neither has fessed up to the other

So there is still considerable doubt going on.

 

We take up the action in chapter 2 verse 8

 

“The voice of my beloved”

 

–          This whole series is about a man called David, and the connection you don’t get in the English, is that the Hebrew word for Beloved is David, so she is actually saying here “Look, here comes my David.”

 

And he comes bounding over the hills

He is bounding like a gazelle – showing off in other words

You don’t have to bound like a gazelle when you travel across a hill

And springing over the hills.

 

He is keen.
And she likes this

But he takes a risk, because he is not playing it cool

 

In fact, what is interesting here is that he is brave,

You see to play cool is actually a form of cowardice

It is to say “This doesn’t really matter”

It’s the moment when you say “Are you dancing”

This is braver than that.

It goes to a more vulnerable place.

 

And then he stops

Do you see that in verse 9

“There he stands behind the wall, behind the windows

Peeping through the lattice”

 

Because there is a limit to where he can go

If you love you cannot barge in, you have to be invited.

 

And then you have this speech

“Come away my love – “count the number of times he says to her “Come”, “come on”

The winter is past – how long has he been waiting for the end of winter

And the rain is over and gone – how many times has he wanted to go over, but it was pouring, there were things getting in the way

He has dreamt of this moment

And then he starts talking about the spring

“The flowers are budding in the earth” – you have got to hand it to the boy

This is a lot braver than “Are you dancing”

And there is the poetry, the risk of this

He has to play this just right

 

Because if you overdo these things, then she will run a mile

Freaked out by the over the top-ness of this

It’s about being making yourself vulnerable, without forcing the other.

 

I once had a friend, and ex-marine, who had this girl that quite liked him.

They had kind of got together a bit but then things hadn’t worked out

At least that was his conclusion, she was still keen

And she was brave, she decided to come up with a gesture that might win him

The ex-marine, weight pressing bloke

 

The gesture she came up with was to “buy him a hamster for his birthday”

 

And it didn’t work – it was like coercion – how do you respond to a hamster.

 

So the beloved has to be careful here, he can’t go hamster,

But he refuses to be uncommitted.

 

“The flowers appear on the earth – the earth is telling you this is the time

And the time for singing songs has come

And the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land – turtle dove coo-ing time must have been the romantic sound track in those days.

 

And he asks

“Let me see your face

“Let me hear your voice”

 

And this is a moment of such vulnerability

Of waiting, of yearning, of not knowing

Such potential to go either way.

 

And then a line that doesn’t work so well in translation

“Cath us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards, for our vineyards are in bloom” – I guarantee you that that line was never used in the Barras.

 

Three possible scenarios

And there are three possible scenarios here.

Scenario One

The first scenario is that the woman does actually come out the house

 

She comes out the wall, the security of her Dad’s house

And goes off with this beloved, off with David.

 

But the Bible never says at this point, “And they lived happily after”

Because love, when it is responded to always requires work.

There is a scene later on in chapter 5, with this same couple

And the foxes are not running about the fields any more

And the spring flowers are not erupting from the earth with quite the same virility.

 

There is a second scene that happens, when this couple have now got together

Which shows that this moment of vulnerability still exists in a relationship.

 

The Woman

2 While I slept, my heart was awake.

I dreamed my lover knocked at the door. – So the woman likes to get to bed early, and the Beloved has been up late watching some dodgy documentary on Five

The Man

Let me come in, my darling,

my sweetheart, my dove.

My head is wet with dew,

and my hair is damp from the mist.

The Woman

3 I have already undressed;

why should I get dressed again?

I have washed my feet;

why should I get them dirty again?

[1]

One commentator has said the Hebrew here translates to “I have a headache”

 

Do you see that the vulnerability again, though

He cannot force his way in.

 

He has to work, he has to learn to come home at a decent time

He has to change, and she too has to work and change

You see the stuff that is easy and flowers, anyone can do that

But the stuff with late night work, that takes real love, and that is where the foundations of relationship are built.

Unrequited Love

The second scenario is this for the beloved

That she does not come out.

That he makes the great speech and she says no

And two days later he discovers that she said yes to his best mate.

 

And he can decide that from this point, that he is never going to love again.

 

“What do you get when you kiss a girl

You get enough germs to catch pneumonia

And after you do, she’ll never phone ya

I’ll never fall in love again.”

 

But this scenario is death.

 

A friend of mine is currently doing a course on play therapy

And the person teaching the course is a woman who learnt play therapy on food lines in Ethiopia

I was kind of curious about this, because the last thing you need when queuing in a drought stricken country for food for your child, is someone wondering next to you with a glove puppet and a ball of plasticine saying “Do you want me to help you play with your child.”

 

But they discovered that when mothers in food relief programs played with children

The child was twice as likely to live

And the reason for this is that in an environment where children are likely to die, mother’s keep a distance from their children; they are wary of loving when there is a chance that the child might die.  And the play therapy gave these distant mothers the courage to love.

 

There is still a huge risk, because the mother might love more, and the child might still die, but if she loves more, it has a much better chance to live.

 

To decide to love again risks further humiliation and rejection

To decide not to love again is death

Love Again

The final scenario is that the love appears at the door of the house.

And is rejected

But decides to love again.

 

Love requires wisdom, and it requires that the lover has to think seriously about returning to that house; but also if they do not return, still to love.

 

There is a story of Jesus turning up at a village in a hostile country called Samaria

And Jesus is rejected by the village

And some of his followers say “master, shall we call down thunder on that village”

And Jesus says “no”

 

He knows when to walk away

But he does not destroy.

 

And wisdom sometimes demands that we walk away, but we do not destroy, nor wish destruction on the one we leave.

 

I know a situation where a spouse has been very damaged by an alcoholic husband, and she has to emotionally leave him, but she will still visit him in hospital.

 

But sometimes we must keep coming back,

 

Another place Jerusalem, Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.  And you were not willing.”

 

But Jesus, despite the pain of rejection

Despite the pain of asking to dance and the lover saying “no”

Jesus knew what it was like to dance with a riled Jacqueline Orrick

 

But he comes back

He returns to Jerusalem again, and he is held up before the Jerusalem crowd and first they acclaim him, but when he is bloodied and humiliated, they cry “Crucify”

But Jesus still loves

And when Jesus gives his disciples the job of following him

Where must they begin?  In Jerusalem.

And when his people are birthed on Pentecost

Which city is it this happens in?  In Jerusalem

 

Jesus does not give up on love.

Does not grow bitter.

 

Which league does Jesus belong to?

Is he in the happy club with Graham and Jacqueline

Is he in the A-listers

No, he is amongst the crowd who tasted rejection.

 

But still he comes back to love.

 

The scenario of love where we love

And love

And love is spurned

 

Is, of all the three scenarios, the love of Jesus

And it is the calling of many of you.

 

Love Of God

And this is how God loves you

God loves you with tenderness

 

He is at the wall of your heart now,

Saying “Run with me, come and love me”

 

He says to diffident, power crazed, distracted Church

“Will you love”

 

He says to a people who have countless times before gone after other lovers

Who have gorged themselves on wine and chocolate

Who have spent thousands on remortgages and wasted time on distractions

And who have neglected family because of long hours at work

And who have spent little time on the God who created them

On the son who saves them

On the Spirit who sustains them

 

He stands at the wall

As he has come so many times before

 

“Will you come with me?

Will you love me?”

AMEN


[1]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

A hand with a ring on it

Teen ChallengeJust in from a wedding which was full of emotion.

When it came to the groom’s speech he stood up, holding a badly scarred hand.  He said that he had been a drug addict for fourteen years, but had gone clean thanks to an organisation called Teen Challenge and encountering God.  He couldn’t believe that a hand he had nearly lost because of drug use now had a wedding ring.

He then thanked his Mum for never giving up on him.

Yvonne and Stephen (aka Simmo) – thanks for a fantastic day.

The Scarlet Thread

There are two reflections on this.

The first from Ortberg.  That there is in us such a stupid pride, that we would refuse the blood of the Jew who is going to save us.

The second is there a better way of the Jew to show the German Nazi the folly of his thinking, than to give up his own blood like this and to win him round.

Begins with look at logos, and how these denote power or success.

Who would congregate around a group whose logo was the cross?

A look at the theme of sacrifice, and of blood which runs through the scriptures, including:

  1. Rahab and the spies – Joshua 2
  2. Making of garments for Adam and Eve – Genesis 3
  3. Abraham’s covenant – Genesis 15
  4. The Passover – Exodus 12
  5. The day of atonement (Leviticus 23) and the death of Jesus

The Spirit and The Feminine

A Treasure We Don’t Understand

Phyllis Tickle at Mars Hill – 3rd May 2009

Very funny intro about not being a true feminist because she has seven children.

Spoke about the 500 year cycles of Church history, and being in the great emergence

Also spoke of prophecy of Joachim of Tournee who spoke about history being divided 2000 year cycles

2000 – 0 – the era of the Father

0- 2000 – the era of the Son

2000 – 4000 – the era of the Spirit

And after that 1000 years of the dispensation.

Exegesis of Genesis 1 – the “Let us” of God, the parts of God, including the feminine – this includes the Shekinah (the ineffable glory and beauty of God) and Sophia (the wisdom of God).  This is not Trinitarianism.

That in each faith we have to cling to our mysteries, these are the parts that we fall down before.

Best way to think about this is to think of H20 and that this is something that we do not know ever as H and 0, but at different times as water and ice and steam.  The best fleshing out of this illustration which I have never been particularly sure of.

Then to Genesis 18 – the three parts of God which visit Sarah

Talks about the three language groups (Latin, Syriac and Greek) that come out of the room at Pentecost, and how these are the forebears of the three great strands of Christianity (Western, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern).

Goes through and Icon which is about this, and explains the meaning of the icon – which is a picture of Genesis 18 and also a picture of the Trinity.

Then talks about the Nicene creed and the Filioque clause (The Filioque clause made interesting, and it’s importance understood – not just an argument over semantics).  For Tickle, the Filioque clause created a hierarchy of Father, Son and then Spirit which relegated the Holy Spirit.  In addition, the Spirit’s identification with the feminine also relegated its importance in patriarchal Western thought.

Tickle then talks about Bet Qu’ol – the daughter of voice, the voice of God which is replaced by the Spirit, but is still present in the gospels.

Trible then moves to John 14, and the feminine task of home preparation in “I go to prepare a home for you” (not sure how accurate this is, check out Rob Bell here).

There is also a closing section on the Spirit who draws beside (the Paraklete), with a quotation from Kipling’s “Mother of Mine, O Mother of Mine”.

The knowing of the Spirit, is an erotic relationship.  Augustine talks about this in his Confessions

“Late have I loved you Oh beauty ever ancient

Ever new

Late have I love you, you were within me, but I was outside

It was there that I searched for you

In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things that you created

You were with me but I was not with you

Created things kept me from you

Yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness

You flashed, you have shown and you dispelled my blindness

You breathed your fragrance on me

I drew in breath

And now I pant for you

I have pasted(?) you, now I hunger and thirst more for you

You touched me and I burned for your peace”

That’s the love affair we are invited to.

The God who is here, hears

It is as if the whole of Newcastle life is conducted in the shadow of this stadium

And it’s presence is a reminder that in the day to day living of Newcastle

There is something else that happens on Saturdays, a little bit of magic.

That some other people here do something very special.

Not so much these days,

But a decade ago, when these were people like Keegan and Shearer and Ginola and Asprilla

Folk who beat Man Utd 5-1, and come within a whisker of the championship

The man who understood this best died recently, Bobby Robson

Bobby Robson the manager understood that Newcastle players were there to give something special to the people of the city and the Geordie nation.

He knew the story of the mines, the men who went into the bowels of the earth,

Choked with dust and covered with mud and in danger from gas and water and rock falls

And they came out on a Saturday, and they saw Millburn play

And there was something different for them

A bit of magic.

It’s there in the Newcastle strip, the black and the white

The black of the mines

And the heavenly white of what might happen on the pitch.

The two big stadiums in Glasgow have a similar effect I guess on those who work in the East End and in Govan

In Edinburgh the biggest stadium was Murrayfield, kind of out of town

But the centre piece of Edinburgh is the castle – a sign of power

And of the Mound with the bank on it – a sign of something extra, the money that went through Edinburgh

It’s the same with London, no prominent stadiums

But all these buildings in the City of London

Signs of the money that goes through the city

Sign of something magic, it was thought, that secured the lives of the citizens

That set the city apart, made it special.

In earlier times these buildings weren’t football stadiums

But temples

Temples and football stadiums do a similar job to each other, they are meant to be home to the gods.

And in Ephesus you would have Artemis

And in Smyrna in Nemesis

And in Corinth in Aphrodite

Religion And Cities

Sometimes they were Christian temples

Rome became important because of St.Peter’s Basilica, which commemorated the fact that Peter had died there

St. Andrew’s became prominent because it had a religious centre that Andrew was meant to have turned up in

There is a link here between the power of the city

And the power of the gods.

The temple is a reminder to the people that God has not left us

That there is more to our lives that what goes on in out day to day lives

More to life than the fraught, everyday, often trivial business of living.

The Story Of A Building

I wonder what it was like when this building was opened.

The history of this building is in the mines that began to appear all around here in the 1870s.

There were pits at Gateside, Gilbertfield, Hallside, Dechmont, Spittal, Loanend.

The steel Company of Scotland also built the steelworks at Hallside in 1873.

You don’t meet so many who worked in the mines these days

There was Willie Burnett who died a couple of years ago

Who used to go in on Sunday, to check the mine for gas on a Monday

But these were all these men working the earth

Danger and poverty

And they needed to know that there was someone with them

Someone bigger than the colliery manager

Bigger than the fears they had about the future

And so the Church came, a mission from Kirkhill

And in 1882 the first minister came – Rev MacMaster

And then in 1885 this building was dedicated – and Rev P Hutchinson became the minister.

And what did the men think when they went down the mine and they saw this building

What did it tell them about the life that they led

What did it tell them about God.

You must never think that God lives here

That if you have a Church it’s a kind of good luck charm

It’s a way of keeping the gods happy

But it must tell you something about God

The very basic thing

God is here

God is not only here

But he is here.

Solomon Builds Temple

The story we have from the Bible today is about the greatest Biblical building

The temple

King David had wanted to build a temple

He wanted that reminder that God was in the city

And he wanted to do something grand for God

In these days God was living in a tent, and David kind of thought that was beneath him

God seems to have been less fussed, because when you have temples

People think God is smaller – that’s where God lives

That’s where you do the God thing

And as long as you keep God happy

Then he will kind of leave us alone

So God was still keen on the tent

And he also wasn’t keen on David building the temple – he had blood on his hands

But it wouldn’t be David who built it, but his son Solomon.

David got all the gear together

All the wood, the stone

And for 7 years Solomon built the temple.

And he prays to dedicate it with the simple thought, that we are not here alone.

He says

“Heaven and earth cannot contain you” – we haven’t got you bottled up God

(Who would want a God that you could put under house arrest)

And all through the prayer, Solomon is at pains to point out that this is not the place where God is confined

But somehow this place represents the truth that God is here

He is lots of other places

But he is also here.

But he says Let your eyes be open night and day towards this day

Of which you said “My name shall be there” (v27)

And Solomon says “when we see this place, we are going to pray

We are going to give you all the stuff that floats around in here

We are not going to hold it to ourselves

We are not going to pretend that it doesn’t matter to us

We are going to pray

You are going to get some praying

Because this is not a world where you have left us along.”

If this house stands for anything

It says “God is here”

Now let him hear the stuff that’s whizzing around.

What people?

If Someone Sins Against A Neighbour (v31-32)

If there has been wrong doing against a neighbour

Then God intervene let justice sort itself out

If someone has had bother with neighbours – then this is the place you go

All you people with noisy neighbours

Folk in the street that don’t talk to you

Or people who have not been the best behaved to their neighbours

This is the place for you.

There is no police to sort things out

There is no judge for neighbours who are too annoying

There is God.

I wonder what you have felt this week about the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Opinion has been divided.

Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing and led a campaign for justice said this

“I don’t believe for a moment that this man was involved in the way he was found to have been involved.

I feel despondent that the west and Scotland didn’t have the guts to allow this man’s second appeal to continue because I am convinced had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him.  It is a blow to all those who seek the truth.”

Swire wants to know about a break in the night before into Heathrow airport which was kept quiet until after the trial verdict.

Stephanie Bernstein whose husband Michael was killed said “If this was Obama Bin Laden or of his deputies, would we even be having this discussion?”

This happened because Megrahi came from a country where there is oil

This is not compassion , this is weakness

Rev. John Mosey whose daughter Helga died said “It is right he should go home to die in dignity with his family.”

Pamela Dix whose brother Peter died  “Even if Megrahi is responsible he is only a very small cog in the whole chain.”

Susan Cohen whose only child Theodora was killed along with 35 fellow university students said “It makes me sick”

Paul Halsch whose 31 year old wife was a victim said “This may sound crude or blunt but I want him returned from Scotland the same way my wife Lorraine was and that was in a box.”

Martin Cadman whose son was killed “It was the right thing to do.”

Kara Weipz whose 20 year old brother Richard was killed “I don’t understand ho the Scots can show compassion.  It is an insult and disgusting.”

The Sun said “Abomination”

Kenny McCaskill “he goes to meet a sentence imposed by a far higher power.”

The crowds in Tripoli cheered, what were they cheering

And the man that waved the saltire, did he know what that was doing to people

The outrage is at a world which has lost faith in God

And therefore doesn’t know how to do justice

We are not sure if we got the right guy

And we do not have a punishment severe enough for murdering 270 people

But we do not know how to mete out justice

When our own hands have blood on them

And we don’t know how to give compassion, because a world where it is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

Would mean that the only people who had their eyes and their teeth left

Were those clever enough to hide their tracks

Or wealthy enough to bribe the judge

But we cannot just hand out compassion and mercy, because there is no justice in that sort of a world

And it is a mess,

And when a man convicted of the bombing returns to a heroes welcome

And when another man who has been tireless in trying for justice says “I think we got the wrong man”

Then it is difficult to see justice in any of this.

And the temple says “Believe in that God takes care of justice.”

Somehow, there will be justice,
And this building is a reminder of the God who brings that about.

Defeated By An Enemy (v33-34)

People who have been defeated by an enemy.

Because they have sinned.

– not all defeats are because of sin, but sin does make us weak.

People who have lost land in Iraq, in Pakistan,

People who have lost land in Sudan

People in Israel who have lost land

This is their prayer.

Imagine you bought your house, and then an army moved in and said you have to move away

There is a God who listens to this kind of stuff

He doesn’t stop us from every having to go through it

But he hears

And something happens – there is restoration.

And this building is a reminder of a God who is hear

And who listens.

No Rain v35-36

Here the prayer is folk who are in danger of losing crops because of sin which has led to there being no rain.

This is the prayer for those who sense an unblessed life

Everything goes wrong, nothing goes right

And this building is a reminder that God hears

Because there is a God who hears.

And who makes things different.

Calamity v37-40

And then if there is calamity, then the people

No matter what it is

Plague, famine, mildew, swine flu, AIDS, locust, caterpillar,

In the middle of what cannot be controlled, something vague out there which may get us

This building is a reminder that God hears.

Foreigner v41-43

And this is not just out God

It is the God of all the earth

This is not just out God, but the God of all the earth

The God who hears

People Out To Battle v44-45

And then if the people go out to battle

You guys are all soldiers of Christ

And this day you go out to battle

If you are teacher you battle ignorance and loss of hope and ill-discipline

If you are health professional then you battle disease

You may battle against under resourcing

You may have to fight a battle against declining health

You go out to fight battles

All of us go out to battle for Jesus

And in that may God go with you.

Those Who Have Sinned Against You vv46-53

And then those who have sinned and they have been thrown out the land

Even when everything you have ever worked for comes to nothing

Even the things you have worked for in the name of God

There is a God who hears

Story Of Bandits

There is a story of James Fraser, a missionary who worked in China in the early 1900s

He had this strong conviction of the God who hears,

And his encouragement of prayer was one of the most remarkable things about his life.

Fraser went out to China, and felt a remarkable conviction in prayer to work with a group of people called the Lisu.  These were a people amongst whom there were hardly any known Chrisians.

Fraser worked tirelessly amongst these people

He was a warrior in prayer

He believed that the God who is here, hears.

And he prayed for the work, even through many years when there was little fruit.

It was not just Fraser himself who believed that the God who is here, hears

He had this prayer group in Letchworth in England, nine of them I think

One night Fraser was out travelling on the road in a dangerous country, where he had to spend the night sleeping beside the road.

Fortunately he was unscathed, a short while later he met a man who became a Christian.  The man said, I saw you once before, I saw you sleeping beside the road,

James Fraser said “Why didn’t you steal my things”

“There were nine warriors beside you”

Fraser couldn’t work out who these were, since he had been travelling alone

And then he remembered the prayer group

These were the nine warriors at Fraser’s side

Across continents, God heard prayers to protect his faithful

But there is a bigger thing I want to say about the prayers of James Fraser and the nine Letchworth Warriors.

It is about the long vision of God

And it is about the ability of God to see beyond temporary hardships (which are but fleeting in the light of eternity, said Paul in 2 Corinthians).

Because there were other times when Fraser and his Church did suffer

The bandits didn’t see nine warriors beside the road

And thought they were acting with impunity.

But God still heard the prayers

Today Fraser’s name is now revered amongst the Lisu people

The alphabet he developed to translate the New Testament and hymns into Lisu language is now remembered as the Fraser alphabet, and recognised by the Chinese government as the official alphabet of the Lisu language.

Because James Fraser worked on developing house groups and local leadership,

The Lisu Church was best placed to survive under the persecution of Communism

And now it is estimated that between 40-50% of the Lisu people are Christians

In the long

Across continents

And across decades

The God who is here, hears

The God who hears

This is the sin of the people whose sin has destroyed

Driven them so far away from God,

From home

From any kind of life.

And God is here

And God hears

AMEN

The problem with celebrity Christians

Is there something inherently anti-Christian about being in the public eye, or if you are famous make sure and not bring faith into things (“We don’t do God” as Alastair Campbell put it).  It seems the most effective celebrity Christians are the ones who don’t make a big play of it, who profess because they want to, and not because they have taken up the office of famous testifier.  Could that be the reason that Simon Mayo, Mark Kermode and Bono are hanging on in there, whilst Edwards is adamant that no matter where his journey is from here, he won’t be heading back to Church.

So if a celebrity does become a Christian, perhaps we should quietly ask them to refrain from talking about it, or at least talking about it away from large crowds.

C.S. Lewis On Prayer

Letters To MalcolmC.S. Lewis starts this penetrating set of treatises on prayer like Victor Meldrew.  He goes off on a rant about innovation in worship.  No such thing being necessary etc. etc.

However once he’s cleared the debris of that annoyance off his chest (accumulated during too many hours in services that had clearly been chaffing his soul – you’ve got to feel sorry for the hapless vicar that had to preach to C.S. Lewis) he hits form.

One thing that always stays with me is a section on how he prepares for prayer.  This is by meditating on the matter around him (the carpet and walls being an illusion, since they are fizzing masses of nanoscopic particles and probability waves) and that his own being is an illusion (since the matter in his body cannot fully embody who he is as a man); from this point faith in God is not such a stretch.

There are a few other quotes here.

Prayer: Letters To Malcolm

Failed rhetoric

Key Words Rhetoric Wisdom
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 45
Quote Talks about Tertullos speech in Acts 24, how it is so brief that Luke almost condemns it be treating it with such brevity. For a professional rhetor this is a real insult
References The speech of Tertullus (Acts 24:2-7)
The wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 1:18-21)

The rope breaks

Key Words Suffering Abandonment Crucifixion Passion
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 40-41
Quote Very moving passage on Christ’s suffering, ending with

Then see how characteristic, how representative it all is. The human situation writ large. These are among the things it means to be a man. Every rope breaks when you seize it. Every door slammed shut as you reach it. To be like the fox at the end of the run, the earths all stalked.

References Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36)
Gethsemane (Mark 14:32)
Abandonment (Matthew 27:46)
Abandonment (Mark 15:34)
Abandonment (Psalms 22)

The prayer evoked by God

Key Words Prayer Action God
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 65
Quote They tell me Lord that when I seem
To be in speech with you
Since but one voice is hear, it’s all a dream
One talker aping two.

Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say,
But lo! My wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can, thus while we seem
Two talkers thou art One forever and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

Lewis talks about how God, in prayer as in all things, seems to be the great delegator, who goes the long way round.
“Do you object to the apparent “roundaboutness” – it could easily be made comic – of the whole picture? Why should God speak to Himself through man? I ask in reply, why should He do anything through his creatures? Why should He achieve the long way round, through the labours of angels, men (always imperfectly obedient and efficient), and the activity of irrational and inanimate beings, ends which, presumably the mere fiat of omnipotence would achieve with instantaneous perfection.

Creation seems to be delegations through and through. He will do nothing simply of Himself which can be done by creatures. I suppose this is because He is a giver. And He has nothing to give but Himself. And to give Himself is to do His deeds – in a sense, and on varying levels to be Himself – through the things He has made.

Why prayer

Key Words Prayer Petition Listening
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 50
Quote Thinking about Pascal’s dictum (“God has instituted prayer so as to confer upon His creatures the dignity of being causes.”)

And I have another ground for preferring my own more modest formula. To think of our prayers as just “causes” would suggest that the whole importance of petitionary prayer lay in the achievement of the thing asked for. But really, for our spiritual life as a whole, the “being taken into account” or “considered” matters more than the being granted. Religious people don t talk about the “results” of prayer, they talk of its being “answered” or “heard”.

Later “We can bear to be refused but not ignored.”

Presence of Jesus

Key Words Presence Omnipresence
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 70
Quote Now the very Pagans knew that any beggar at your door might be a god in disguise: and the parable of the sheep and the goats is Our Lord’s comment. What you do, or don’t do, to the beggar, you do, or don’t do, to Him. Taken at the Pantheistic extreme, this could mean that men were appearances of God – dramatic representations, as it were. Taken at the Legalistic extreme it could mean that God, by a sort of legal fiction, will “deem” your kindness to the beggar a kindness done to Himself. Or again, as Our Lord’s own words suggest, that since the least of men are His “brethren”, the whole action is, so to speak, “within the family”. And in what sense brethren? Biologically, because Jesus is Man? Ontologically, because the light lightens them all? Or simply “loved like brethren”. (It cannot refer only to the regenerate.) I would ask first whether any one of these formulations is “right” in a sense which makes the others simply wrong? It seems to me improbable.

The wrath of God

Key Words God Fear
Source Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
Source Author Lewis, C.S.
Location 72-73
Quote If I never fled from his presence, then I should suspect those moments when I seemed to delight in it of being wish-fulfillment dreams. That, by the way, explains the feebleness of all those watered versions of Christianity which leave out all the darker elements and try to establish a religion of pure consolation. No real belief in the watered versions can last Bemused and besotted as we are, we still dimly know at heart that nothing which is at all times and in every way agreeable to us can have objective reality. It is of the very nature of the real that it should have sharp corners and rough edges, that it should be resistant, should be itself. Dream-furniture is the only kind on which you never stub your toes or bang your knee. You and I have both known happy marriage. But how different our wives were from the imaginary mistresses of our adolescent dreams! So much less exquisitely adapted to all our wishes, and for that very reason (among others) so incomparably better.

Servile fear is, to be sure, the lowest form of religion. But a god such that there could never be occasion for even servile fear, a safe god, a tame god, soon proclaims himself to any sound mind as a fantasy. I have met no people who fully disbelieved in Hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in Heaven.