Monthly Archives: July 2010

People Of The Passion

Learning to be surprised

Key Words Surprise Bible
Source People of the passion
Author Stephen Barton
Page 1
Quote The most important lesson in learning to read the Bible is learning to be surprised

Going into the desert

Key Words Desert Lent Blame Sin Darkness
Source People of the passion
Author Stephen Barton
Page 14
Quote We do not like staring the dark side of human nature in the face, because we are not often very well equipped to attend to the dark side even of ourselves. We want to find a scapegoat instead. We need to have someone else or something else to blame, a trait that has been with us from the time of Adam’s complaint about Eve to God in the garden (Genesis 3.12). This is a reason for observing Lent.

-It is a time for being in the wilderness, a time for going out into the desert ourselves instead of sending out the scapegoat, a time for wrestling with God and being tested by the devil. It is a time for dealing with the Judas in you and the Judas in me.


Key Words Fasting Sacrifice Material Spiritual
Source People of the passion
Author Stephen Barton
Page 22
Quote Fasting is the symbolic giving up of material things so that we can discover the primacy of spiritual things

Faith in the public domain

Key Words Politics Religion Evangelicalism
Source People of the passion
Author Stephen Barton
Page 39
Quote Now, I do not want to deny the good in this. It has its own integrity, I am certain of that; and it captures some- thing of the truth of Christian faith, as many will testify. The trouble is, however, that it does not really have room for politics, management, economics, international affairs, ecology, the workplace the arts and sciences, or the public domain in general -except, of course in so far as these can become areas of evangelistic activity or tools to that end.

But there is a more serious failing than this. What I have in mind is the fact that the effective withdrawal from politics and the public domain which is so characteristic of this kind of religion is itself a political act (however unwitting), with disastrous consequences. Either it fails to challenge and change the political and social status quo or it leaves the public domain open for occupation by forces which may be oppressive and evil.

Peter and John

Key Words Contrasts Action Meditation
Source People of the passion
Author Stephen Barton
Quote Peter represents the way of action, John represents the way of meditation


I just want to take this opportunity to point out that there is no such thing as “spirituality.” Doesn’t exist, has no meaning. It’s just a name for “doing what I want to do and feeling that the universe somehow smiles on me for doing it. – Alan Jacobs

There is an indefinable something in this I want to agree with.  It’s the appropriation of spiritual things as an excuse for consumerism, me-first, self-pleasing mysticality.

It’s like the heavy focus on John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, life in all its fulness” – you can see how that verse can be taken in a whole bunch of hedonistic directions.  I notice that one of the most hit articles on this site is titled “Life in all its fullness”.  I am suspicious about that.

Amos and Amaziah

Difficult Passage

Amos 7:7-17

This morning’s passage, the last we look at before I go away on holiday, is not easy.

It is from one of the toughest books of the Bible, the prophet Amos.

Amos is the prophet of doom in the Bible.

I thought we might begin in looking at some tough words from Amos.

The Lion and The Bear

18 How terrible it will be for you who long for the day of the LORD! What good will that day do you? For you it will be a day of darkness and not of light. 19 It will be like someone who runs from a lion and meets a bear! Or like someone who comes home and puts his hand on the wall—only to be bitten by a snake! 20 The day of the LORD will bring darkness and not light; it will be a day of gloom, without any brightness.[1]

Amos 5:18


Hush Do Not Mention The Day Of The Lord

9 If there are ten men left in a family, they will die. 10 The dead man’s relative, the one in charge of the funeral, will take the body out of the house. The relative will call to whoever is still left in the house, “Is anyone else there with you?”

The person will answer, “No!”

Then the relative will say, “Be quiet! We must be careful not even to mention the LORD’s name.”fAmos 6

There is a picture in the film the Pianist, which is about a pianist called Spielman, who manages to escape from the Nazis in Poland at the beginning of the war, for many months he hides out in various flats and abandoned buildings,

Until one day the Germans fire a grenade through the house that he is in,

And stunned, he escapes out the back, before the Germans come in.

He climbs over a wall, weak, devastated, and all around him, street after street of dusty, destroyed buildings.

It is a bit like that area at the top of Woodlands Crescent used to look

You were aware of the life that used to happen there,

And the children that enjoyed these streets, the families that sang here,

And unlike Woodlands Crescent where the residents you hope are in better homes,

Here are the homes of people who have in the last year have been killed.

These are words of Amos

Why such hard words?

Why? Look At This

Some of the hardest words in the New Testament are in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he despairs of the practices in the Church.

For chapters he protests, and he blasts, and he demands more,

Because behind this, is the hope that this Church be more than a social club

But is something that will last to eternity.

1 Corinthians 3

You are also God’s building. 10 Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. 11 For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. 12 Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. 13 And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. 14 If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. 15 But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.[3]

The hardest words, are for the Churches strength on the toughest day

The Plumbline

The words of Amos, concern a plumbline

In chapter 7, verse he looks and God has a plumbline in his hands

The vision we see starts with a plumbline, one of these things

And at the bottom of it, a plumb-bob.

In it, Amos, sees God upon a wall, the translation here says “beside a wall”, but the word upon, is used in the Hebrew, when God comes upon you, you do not survive.

This is remarkable.

Recently I was underneath an section of the new M74, at Rutherglen,

And you can see the vast metal sections of trunking that support the new road.

And I was thinking, what would happen if one of these fell upon you.

You would be crushed.

But this concrete has been built, straight and true.

And it is the same with the wall that God stands upon

It has been built with a plumbline

The plumbline in Amos is like a test, it is something that is hung next to the society,

Next to the human heart, and says “How are we doing here?”

I am not sure if walls particularly enjoy plumblines

The wall is quite comfortable, sat there,

And then the builder comes along with the plumbline

Which means that some parts are going to be scraped, some are going to be shifted, some are going to be gone,

Basically when God is “upon” an item of human stone work, that is not normally good news for that stone work.

And then God says, I am going to put a plumb-line to the heart of my people.

Right in the middle of the them

The part that decides their values, the bits of them that really count,

The Plumb Line Hangs Over Our Culture

The plumb lines hangs over our culture:

In the World Cup, the amount of money made by the nation of South Africa is £400m,

The amount of money made by FIFA is £700m

And the amount that FIFA pays in tax to South Africa is exactly 0, a precondition of being able to hold the tournament there.

Or in an American Military prison in Kuwait there is an 22 year old Private, Bradley Manning.

His crime is to have leaked a tape of Black Hawk helicopter killing nine people, shooting on a van that came to help, the crew making up a story that they had been fired on first, and then laughing at the people that have been killed.

They are still free

The person who broke the story, allowed the words to be public,

He is prosecuted.

Or in our own country,

There is a way of paying tax which is instead of paying a wage, you get paid a dividend.  The disadvantage of being paid a dividend is that you get paid four times a year, the advantage is the tax rate is lower.

The new coalition had made a promise to bring the wage tax band, and the dividend tax band into alignment with each other, but after citing some research from the United States, have decide that the top tax bracket will be 50p in the pound, but if you get paid a dividend it will be 28p, which will benefit the most well off enormously.

How are you doing with generosity to the poor?

How are you doing with your civic responsibility, the thing that we need to do to look out for our neighbours.

How are we doing with our carbon footprint

How are we doing with consumerism, cutting out the things that we don’t need

How are we doing with our diet, not eating more than we need.

How are we doing with faithfulness to the people around us – committed and loyal and loving to the neighbours and families God has given us

The line hangs

How are you doing with giving

How are you doing with shopping for fair trade goods

How are you doing with your allocation of time

The Human Heart

And the line hangs not only in other people, but also in the human heart

One of my teachers from University used to say, if I want to assess someone’s true spiritual condition, I will want to see their wallet, I will want to see their diary, and I will want to feel their pulse.

It is the job of the cleverest, brightest people in our world, to devise clever means of persuading you that your happiness is only one purchase away.

Do you ever have the experience of picking up cheaply an item that was once heavily advertised.

An iPod that can no be purchased for £20

A second hand German car

A Gillette sensor razor

And you remember what the advertisers told you would happen to your life if you owned that thing

And you sense now, the emptiness of those claims.

Why is it that we do not watch our own advertising, with the wisdom that we watch children’s advertising.

We watch children’s advertising with horror,

Horror that the advert overplays the happiness the of the children playing the game – as if children ever play the game, as if children ever sit down together

And horror as the price comes up

And weariness as we have to persuade the child that their eternal happiness does not depend on owning Masters of Gromiti dungeon warriors, or Barbie house.

And then we switch channels and think “That is a lovely sofa that DFS own

I would be a better minister if I owned an iPad.”

Or if only I got that promotion, if only I got that job.

What Can We Do?

This is not meant to be some disempowering guilt

What can we do?

We can shop locally – because research shows that money spent locally hangs around the local economy for longer, supporting tradesmen, and small businesses through the recession.

We can be informed – about world affairs, about life in Britain, so that we do not succumb to the lie that we are worst off, or we are isolated.

These two can be met together.

Drew Munro, a long time supporter of the Church, who has had to move business, sells newspapers on delivery.  You just have to go in and ask.

We can shop fair – fair trade goods make a huge difference to the farmers who sell to the Fair Trade market.

We cut out the carbon – because it is that that is most likely to render the planet in future a place where people say “hush”, this place is devastated, do not mention the name of the Lord.

And the parts of our lives which are good, and we say to ourselves “Have I got time for this any more?  Is this really worth it?”  The plumbline says, keep that part in.

We must seriously listen

And then the  warning of Amos

“High places of Isaac will be brought down

And the Holy places will be devastated

And God will arise upon the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Two Things You Can Bear

You have a choice at this point.

You can have these difficult words upon you,

Which provoke us, make us restless and profoundly uncomfortable

Which demand from us actually utter dependence upon God to try and put things right in our lives, because we are certainly not going to manage this ourselves.

You can bear these difficult words,

About the plumb-line,

Or you can bear God.

Amaziah the Priest

The one in the story who can’t bear the words is actually Amaziah the Priest

So Amaziah the Priest of Bethel, sends for the King.

“Amos has conspired against you” – actually Amos had said “Jeroboam’s house will be killed by the sword” but Amaziah twisted it “Jeroboam will be killed by the sword”

Conspiracy suggests secrecy, Amos has been open

And against “you”, says the Priest “against everyone” is the truth

And the “land cannot bear all his words”

Note “they are his words”

And the land cannot bear it, we cannot cope, the people of the land

Or in the way that we might put it today

“He is bad for business

He is bad for moral

He is bad for the country”

His words are not in the National Interest

They are unpatriotic”

He is dragging us all down with this lies, his untruth, his propaganda.

And then Amaziah says to Amos, in words which are much more gentle, as if he is trying to protect him,

“Oh seer” – which probably was an honorific term

“Flee to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophecy”

But Amos, redoubtable Amos says, “I am no prophet,

And my Father is not a prophet” – he is not interested in rank

“I am a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees”

He is part-time sheep farmer, and the rest of the time he is a gardener,

He is a labourer

But the Lord took me from the flock, and the Lord spoke and he said

‘Go and prophecy in Israel”.

All this talk about safety, all this talk about being a “seer”

I will tell you what God says.

And he says to you Amaziah, “thus says the Lord”

Not “Thus says Amos”

“Thus says the Lord”

Your wife will become a prostitute

And your sons and daughters will die by the sword

And you will die in an unclean land

And Israel will go on exile from its land”

You cannot cope with my words,

Well now, you have to cope with this.

And that is how our story ends.

Press Pause

These are not the last words in the book Amos

These are not the last words in the Bible

There are other words that are going to come after these

But just now, we have to press the pause button,

Let the plumb-line hang

And let us look carefully at our lives.

And let us say to God,

If there are things that need to be got rid of

That I can be straight, the kind of wall that could bear you,

Get rid of them, starting now.

If I do not listen to your words

Then I listen now,

And I will obey.

Given in Memory From

Where these falls given in memory of Ella,

A woman whose life was a big part of this Church

They are a crucial reminder that God speaks,

Through words

These are the places where the word comes from

And these words are difficult to bear

But they are the words that bring life

So in the words of Jesus, if we have ears, let us hear.


[1]None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. Am 5:18

[2]None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. Am 6:9

f f6.10 Verse 10 in Hebrew is unclear.

[3]None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. 1 Co 3:9

Discerning Christ

Richard ColesFrom former Communard, and present-day sit-com consultant, game-show panellist and vicar, Richard Coles:

If the dean of St Albans has got it tough, spare a thought for the archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams, Anglicanism‘s greatest asset in his efforts to hold the Communion together, is left looking like a liability. I cannot think of another archbishop who has so obviously shouldered his cross, but I wonder if, in the long run, that kind of sacrifice might be the only way to turn darkness into light.  For this one is not going away and, when the present hoo-ha has died down, we are faced with the ineluctable necessity of hard theological and pastoral graft; first, to get some clarity about the moral status of homosexuality, and, second, to find ever more creative and imaginative ways of discerning the likeness of Christ in our ugly mugs.

Raoul Moat – Some Early Thoughts

And the other problem with this is “now we’re making this about police incompetence” is that the quotes from actual residents don’t go in this direction.  Here’s some from the Guardian:

He [one resident] said: “The police have been excellent, they’ve kept us really informed throughout and have been particularly friendly. You’d have thought Moat would have moved on, but as it happens he was right on our doorstep. Our home was one of the closest to where he was hiding.

“You imagine he might be in our garden, which he basically was, and that makes you think that, now it’s ended, we’re just very grateful for the expertise of the police.”

With the failures of tradition broadcasting we must be doubly grateful for new media; for the phone-ins, blogs and message boards which provide a more balanced, reflective, informed and less hysterical account of current affairs.

SInners In The Hands Of An Angry God

Almost certainly the most frightening quote on this website, from Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”.

The endless suffering

Key Words Hell Punishment Condemnation Eternity
Source Great Sermons by great preachers
Source Author Edwards, Jonathan
Location 39
Quote  There will be no end to this exquisite, horrible misery. When you look forward you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty, merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains

God’s Advocates – Stanley Hauerwas

Both quotes are from an interview with Stanley Hauerwas and one of his associates.

Heroes and saints

Key Words Discipleship Forgiveness
Source Gods Advocates
Source Author Shortt, Rupert
Location 180
Quote “The hero is in many ways the model we look up to in contemporary society – even though we want to be very democratic and egalitarian about heroes and say we can all be heroes spontaneously. We all feel it’s our job in our generation to make the story come out right, which means stories are told with the heroes at the centre of them and the stories are told to laud the virtues of the hero – for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of a saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.”

Scarcity and abundance

Key Words Scarcity Generosity Ethics Grace
Source Gods Advocates
Source Author Shortt, Rupert
Location 183
Quote The word is gift (for how we should think of human existence). You only know what it means for us to exist in relationship to God’s existence when you recognise that our existence is gift: it’s not necessity. God didn’t have to make us. He chose to have us as his creatures. It’s all grace. One of the ways to think about it is that Christianity is ongoing training to help us accept our lives as gifts. It s a very hard thing to accept our lives as gifts, because we somehow want to have control over them, and there can never be control when your life is gift.

Life as gift –
The interesting issue is not “Does God exist, but do We?” Its all of life experienced as gift. And to take the example of how Stanley writes about the time-consuming and distracting practice of bringing up children: God gives us time to do the things he really wants us to do.

Nieburhian ethics as moral man and immoral society –
the ethics that dominated twentieth century though in this area is actually about shortage. There’s not enough – not enough life, not enough resources, not enough wisdom, not enough goodness, there’s not enough revelation – fundamentally there’s not enough God. Whereas for Stanley, there’s too much God.

The problem is, either our imaginations develop resistances because we want to be our own creators – we sin – or our imaginations simply aren’t big enough to take in everything is of God. The things that we need, really need, are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness … It doesn’t matter how many resources we’ve got, if we haven’t got these things, we can’t actually use those resources abundantly. Well, the Holy Spirit gives us those things abundantly but many discussions of ethics are written as if there were no Holy Spirit and no Church.

Among Other Gods – Part 3

The Truth Of Jesus

Key Words Truth Of Jesus
Source Jesus Among Other Gods
Source Author Zacharias, Ravi
Location 150
Quote Instead of calling for Jesus’ release they cried for Barabbas, who had been imprisoned because of his part in a political rebellion. That itself showed that it was not Jesus’ rebellion against Rome that prompted their motive, rather it was their rebellion against God that was impelling their passions.
References Jesus and Barabbas (John 19:4-7)

The expediency of Pilate

Key Words Politics Corruption
Source Jesus Among Other Gods
Source Author Zacharias, Ravi
Location 152
Quote Pilate may well be the quintessential example of what politics has come to mean. He knew what was right but succumbed to the seduction of his position. In life’s most severe tests of motives, there is a politician in each and everyone of us. While Pilate was ignorant of the role he was playing, the priests justified their heinous deed, quotting Scripture in support of their cause. Divine purpose, political maneuvering, and religious fervour met in the plan of redemption.

The Silence of Jesus

Key Words Silence Persecution
Source Jesus Among Other Gods
Source Author Zacharias, Ravi
Location 153
Quote Zacharias talks about the silence of Jesus during his trial:
1. When standing before the Sanhedrin
2. When standing before Pilate for the first time
3. When standing before Herod
4, When standing before Pilate for the second time

This is the silence of
1. Goodness in the face of orchestrated evil. This kind of evil has to burn itself out.
2. Perception.

When evil justifies itslef by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil, and the devil becomes God. Brilliant illustration from the Brother Karamazov, of Jesus visiting the inquisitor.

“The Inquisitor lives in many a religious person’ mind today. We scream at Jesus but want no answer that will add to the claims He has already made. We want hHim to leave and come no more.” – Page 155

3. Consistency
Escape from slandour is a hazardous task when the very accusation can become valid not because of the truth, but because of the lack of composure with which one seeks to defend oneself. Jesus made no such mistake.

4. Fulfilled Mission

From C.S.Lewis, from Aslan after his resurrection
“It means” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

References Before Sanhedrin (Mark 14:60)
Silent before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)
Silent before Herod (Luke 23:8-12)
Silent before Pilate (John 19:9)

Picking the wrong fight

Tradionalists may continue to protest that Jeffrey John lives with his partner, that he is vulnerable to tempation.  However, after many years of living like this, surely Jeffrey John is a better judge of the situation than outsiders. If Jeffrey John thinks that this is the most whole way to live, if this is better than the loneliness and lack of companionship to which much conservative teaching condemns gay people, then he deserves support.  He holds a beacon to the possibility of another way to live.  His stance in this tortured debate has cost him much more than it has costs most of us.  We have little right to start throwing stones.

The statement by Anglican pressure group Reform (I note that the Scottish pressure groups have so far stayed silent) mentions nothing of Jeffrey John’s lifestyle, but simply opposes his appointment on the grounds of his teaching.  Which then begs the question “why oppose this bishop on the grounds of doctrine and not others?”  This leaves evangelicals open to the charge (again!) of having double standards.

And finally, there is the impression once again that evangelicals will fight dirty when it suits them.  This story has broken because of the leaking of confidential information, something that evangelicals should have nothing to do with.  Or if they do, leakers should themselves come out the closet and admit what they did was on the grounds of conscience.  You can’t leak as an act of holy war, and then hide to keep your job; we must fight our battles with different weapons.

Mercy and Justice

Was sent this famous essay by C.S. Lewis on the need for punishment to be thought of retribution – if it is thought of as cure it diminishes the personhood of the perpetrator and is open to horrific abuse by the “silky tongued” therapists; if it is thought of as deterrent then the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator is of less importance, they are punished as an example to others.Alpine Plant

Behind all this (like a vast mountain on whose side this argument is built) is that we live in a moral universe, that there is such a thing as natural law, and that it was placed here by God.  Speaking of mountains, a great quote from the end of the article on the relationship between love and mercy.

Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice; transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety. But we ought long ago to have learned our lesson. We should be too old now to be deceived by those humane pretensions which have served to usher in every cruelty of the revolutionary period in which we live. These are the ‘precious balms’ which will ‘break our heads’.