Friday, February 29, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

The recent cull of doorstaff I talked of has left me with less time on my hands. Alot less than the jobless few who seem just to lurk around popping in every now and then to see how it's all going.
It must be sad if doorwork's all you've got or had.

I've got a missus who'd be more than happy for me to get the boot but as it is I'm crawling up the
greasy pole. There have been some gaps in the ladder above me and I've been filling them. Getting paid for it but not getting the permanent post or the respect. May have to town hop to get that.

What has struck me is, now I'm filling in up the ladder, the jobless and the useless are trying to get me to play for them. All of the lads I work with I have time for. You can't work, night in, night out, with a team who you'd rather see caved in than kicking arse. The thing is, the job is about business. Not about the business of picking up pretty blondes, or kicking arse better than someone else. It's about punters in and drinks spent and money taken and made. If you get that, then maybe you'll know why when trade's slack, doorstaff get culled. The ones with the least business friendly manner first. I'll talk and chat and honestly hope you're doing well. Ask me to make a call that's bad for business and I'll tune out, very fast.
As to whether I'll be climbing the ladder, who knows.
Off to earn my crust and enjoy the end of the month payday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Salvation and Faith: The place of Scripture

In the discussion over the last three posts, one area that we have not raised has been what our attitude to Holy Scripture is and to what extent that attitude is significant to salvation. None of the scriptural passages we have offered so far refer to scripture directly in relation to what is expected of us in order to gain salvation.

For instance, qfc suggested:

"and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength...You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Susan also gave us:

“Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Love does not demand its own way.
Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.
It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

And there were many others. The thing is that none of them gave us acceptance of the Bible as a creedal statement or condition of faith.

So, Dear Friends, over to you once again: are there such Scriptural injunctions? Is salvation conditional on our acceptance of scripture? If so, what level of acceptance?

It seems to me that there are four basic ways of understanding scripture.

•Not to believe any of it (which isn’t much of an option for those professing a Christian faith).

•To take a Fundamentalist approach and argue that scripture is inspired literal truth and is to be accepted as the Word of God without question or interpretation.

•To follow a Conservative line which suggests that the Bible is the word of God filtered by the cultural and historical context of those who felt inspired to express their views.

•To accept a Liberal interpretation which says that the Bible contains the word of God and which also recognises allegory and myth as valid literary Biblical genres.

Let’s have a look at the incident where Jesus heals a blind man.

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him. I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man's eyes with the mud, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means "Sent"). So he went away, washed, and came back seeing. The neighbours therefore, and those who saw that he was blind before, said, "Isn't this he who sat and begged?" Others were saying, "It is he." Still others were saying, "He looks like him." He said, "I am he." They therefore were asking him, "How were your eyes opened?" He answered, "A man called Jesus made mud, anointed my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash.' So I went away and washed, and I received sight." Then they asked him, "Where is he?"
He said, "I don't know."
John 9.1-12

•If you take the atheist option the whole thing is a fable with no basis in truth.

•The Fundamentalist position says that if it is in the Bible it must have happened exactly as it says: Jesus had the power to heal from God and the cure of the blind man was a Messianic sign. The story reminds us that Jesus can heal our spiritual blindness too.

•The Conservative might say that there are many similar stories of Jesus healing the blind so it is likely this happened. Jesus had the power to heal and possibly used forces we do not understand, or by suspending the laws of nature. The story also clearly has a spiritual meaning which is probably secondary to the fact that Jesus revealed his power.

•The Liberal could well claim that while Jesus might have used paranormal powers what is more important is the inner meaning of the story. They might see it as being more of a parable than an event because it is trying to express the idea that we are all spiritually blind from birth because of our sin. An encounter with Jesus can change all that because it makes us see things in a new way and that is the true miracle.

And of course we can slip between the cracks and oscillate between ideas being Liberal over some passages and quite fundamentalist over others.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that we cannot simply lay the Old and New Testament worlds across our contemporary world, as a kind of divine blueprint, and attempt to make our world conform in every detail to the ancient near East of biblical times. We cannot ignore differences of time, culture, language, knowledge and perception. Every age is, by its nature, contingent. The Bible itself provides much evidence of radical changes in belief and ethics in response to changing times and circumstances. This fact alone shows that the text of the Bible is not transhistorical nor transcultural.

The love and judgement of God alone are changeless. Men and women and the histories they create are certainly not. Our perceptions and expectations of the deepest human relationships have changed very considerably over the centuries as our understanding of what it means to be human has developed. How many conservative evangelicals today model their marriages on Old Testament law or on New Testament precepts which prescribe a subservient role for women? They rightly ignore much else in the legal codes and social conventions found in the Bible.

Jewish society in Biblical times had a consensus that a great many things were wrong, and others right, as set out very comprehensively throughout Leviticus. We don’t tend to accept them as such now, despite our claims of obedience to scripture, and despite the very clear and severe penalties ascribed to the wide range of prohibited activities. Let’s remember, too, that polygamy was accepted in the Old Testament, yet that is inconvenient to our view of Biblical morality and so can somehow simply be swept aside without discussion. According to Leviticus 25, I may own slaves and yet no Christian I know would sanction that although it is scriptural and accepted in the New Testament too. St. Paul, as you know, refers to it more than once without seeming to challenge it. What conclusion do we draw?

So, ignoring the atheist viewpoint, which of the other three viewpoints above reflects a belief in the inerrant word of God? Do they all in their own way? Is our attitude to scripture determinative of salvation?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Christian Unity and the Nature of Salvation 2

Following on from my last couple of posts I’d like to look more at the idea of salvation and Christian unity.

Thanks to all who left helpful ideas as to what a protocol for the Christian life might be: I found them incredibly helpful and it was also very interesting to see what scriptural passages resonate with various friends. There is probably a fascinating study here into the circumstances which sear a passage into one’s consciousness.

In the last but one post I talked about Christian unity and how personal contact and mutual respect makes conflict between Christians difficult. But what of those situations where the contact is via e-mail or blogging? This exercise is a case in point: I have never met any of you who comment here and yet there is an openness to discuss and hear alternative perspectives. I experience a similar feeling when I comment on the sites I regularly visit: (all listed on the side bar). This, I suspect, is because we are a self selecting group and we blog with those we perceive to be sharing a similar world view. That does not mean we always agree, but we can hold those differences in creative tension.

The difficulty comes, when it comes, with the written word: we can not discern voice tone; we can not see non verbal cues or interpret body language; we are in the dark about nuance and often in the dark about humour, especially in a cross cultural exchange. We have different national characteristics when it comes to jokes and teasing and different levels of tolerance about what is the norm. It is a wonder that we do not miscommunicate more than we do, although I am sure we all have a legion of stories where it all went badly wrong and ended up with all out war by e-mail with each exchange becoming MORE STRIDENT.

I have been recently blogging outside my comfort-zone as some of you know and that looked to be working well and then it all went pear shaped.

In terms of Christian unity what I find difficult are those who do not remain open to an alternative perspective. Perhaps I am too tolerant and respectful of others, and I am clearly far too liberal for some people, but I find it deeply disturbing when someone confronts me with a theological issue and tells me not so much that they do not agree with me, which is fine, but that not only am I wrong, I am also clearly not saved because of the view I hold. This of course led to the exercise in defining a scriptural basis for what salvation means or requires which was in the last but one post. Even so, you can assent to all of those criteria we identified and still be bound for hell for not subscribing to someone else’s narrow world view. “I can not conceive of the possibility of being wrong, nor that you could be right because if you are right I must be wrong, and as I cannot conceive of being wrong it must be you who is wrong.”

This is a particular risk with written communication where there is no relationship. How many times have you rehearsed an argument in your head that was going to tell it like it is? How often did the conversation take place like that when you were actually face to face? It is quite hard not to see the humanity in others and quite hard not to be respectful of them in actual conversation: we tone it down, we are forced to listen and sometimes we find our own position shifting. At the very least we agree to differ. There is rarely an out and out fight.

I tend to feel that the phrase “I am not publishing your comment because I am offended” in the context of blogging is often one of the last resorts of those who are struggling in a discussion and I often speculate on whether offence has actually been given or simply taken. Similarly “You are banned from this blog” seems to me to be an admission of defeat on the part of the blog owner who is, presumably, feeling threatened. Alternatively it is a power trip: “You can only comment here again if you meet such and such a series of conditions.” So can we effectively engage people by commenting on their blogs? Should we even attempt to offer an alternative perspective? Is it destined to end in tears with people taking umbridge? A couple of blogs back I asked for views on whether a blog should be an evangelistic tool. "Can you imagine a priest/pastor who has a blog and has no interest in presenting the gospel to people?" (This was a question posed om another blog.)

It's all part of the same vexed question which has been occupying my mind of late.

Back to my college experience: we do not look at our discussions as about being right or wrong, or even as more right and less right. We look at the strong areas of commonality and it is clear that there is always much more that unites us than divides us.

Am I naïve in feeling that that is the way forward?

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Judge that you be not Judged

“By their fruits you shall know them” Mat 7.15-16

When you read this passage, what is your first instinct?

• Do you look for the negative?

• Do you look for the positive?

• Do you seek to find what fits your prejudices or worldview?

• If you find what you perceive to be the negative, does that cancel out the positive?

• Where does this passage fit in with what we have already identified in the previous post?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Christian Unity and the Nature of Salvation

The Bishop preached this morning and he used the Old Testament text: Exodus 17. The very last verse of that struck me, v7:

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Is the Lord among us or not? This has been a theme very much on my mind of late in relation to my dealings with other people – well, other Christians, to be precise. At college the other students are mainly Anglican, although there is also a Methodist and of course, me, holding up the honour of the Lutheran Church. When I look at the Anglicans, there are students representing all shades, from High Church to New Expressions via Evangelicalism and with at least one student from alternative Episcopal oversight and a no–women-in-ministry parish. There is, in short, no specific Anglican identity and a variety of liturgical and theological positions. Nevertheless we get on extremely well and the challenge of the variety and different perspectives is enriching.

It strikes me that the respectful and supportive group dynamic derives from the fact that we meet regularly and face to face, both in lectures and in social time. It is hard to fall out with someone who differs from you when both of you have a commitment to finding the wider areas of common agreement rather than dwelling on the small areas of disagreement. Do we agree on the precise nature of the theology of the Eucharist? Probably not. Baptism? Again no. The role of women in the Episcopate? Not a universal common view there either. Do I assume then, that because we don’t agree with each other – or more to the point that they don’t agree with me – that they can not really be Christians and therefore not saved? Unequivocally not. There can be few other people whose call to Christian service has been tested as much or for as long as a group of ordinands.

Equally, though, I would not make that assumption about any other Christian and this has raised the question asked of me and by me of others recently in the blogosphere:

What is the nature of salvation?

There seem to be a number of positions in the New Testament and the one I favour is “Believe and be baptised.” (Mark 16.16) but that raises other issues such as “Believe what?” or “Believe in what?” So here goes:

• Rom 3.23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The premise of sin, old fashioned as the vocabulary is, is surely impossible to argue against if we have any self awareness.
• John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” This goes for me with John 14.6: “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
• Eph 2.8-9:”It is by grace you have been saved through grace…not because of works lest any man should boast.”
• John the Baptist preached a gospel of repentance and salvation as did Mark in Mark 1.15: “Repent and believe in the Gopel.”
• Rom 10.9:”If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So we come to an awareness of our fractured relationship with God and the need to put it right. Except we learn we can’t put it right on our own and the mechanism has been provided for us by God, the subsitutionary death of God himself in Christ to atone for our sins. The innocent suffering for the guilty. Herein lies the interface between the prompting of the Holy Spirit and Free Will. Will we listen and believe? Of course herein also lies the justification for evangelism. Some people hear and believe, some seem not to hear but come to faith later, often much later, and some hear and reject the Gospel, which is the teaching of the Parable of the Sower.

So, assuming there has been a conversion experience, what do we expect next?

• I am a great fan of Philippians 2.12-13:"Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling." There is a terrible responsibility on each of us to seeks God’s will and guidance.
• James 2.18: "I will show you my faith by my works" So there is an outward demonstration of that saving faith. This is not about good works but about obedient discipleship. This is backed up by Galatians 5.22f which lists the fruit of the Spirit, which offers some areas where we should see change.
• Yet we are still human and fail constantly. This side of the grave there is no perfection and temptation takes its toll as we continue to make mistakes and get it wrong. We are, as Luther would later put it, saint and sinner at the same time, saved yet sinning. We can not continue to indulge in sin without open remorse, yet our fallen natures often get the better of us. Heb 12.8: The Holy Spirit always convicts the believer of unrepentant sin.

Now there may be more, but for me that sums it up. In short: repent, believe, be saved by grace, show the change in your life but recognise that you are still vulnerable to temptation. Be open to the spirit, continue to repent and seek the strength of the Spirit to grow more into the likeness of the Saviour.

Wow, I have turned my blog into a tool of evangelism.

Now then dear guest: over to you. Have I got this right? Would you disagree (not so much with the text as with the theology)? What have I missed? What would you add or remove? Are these ideas common to different denominations or even within the same denomination depending on churchmanship.

What are the fundamentals of our common faith to you?

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord saying “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's time for Sex Ed!

There doesn't seem to be a good age to start sex -ed. It either seems to early or too late. What happened to the window of opportunity which is the right time?

Where I teach, there is little culture of responsible sexual behaviour. There is a significant minority of pupils - usually from the less educated and lower socio-economic groups - who are spreading chlamidia around amongst themselves. They know there is a school nurse anonymous drop-in programme but they shun it.

"They'll only give us tablets."


"Well you can't drink and take the tablets."

So, these precocious, in your face and far to sexually active to be age appropriate teenagers would rather drink and shag than get better.

"Chlamidia. Thats a nice name for a little girl........."

Still, as my fourteen year old daughter commented:

"Doesn't Chlamidia make you infertile? You should just leave them to get on with it and let the gene pool find its own level." So perceptive and so compassionate all in one!

And yes we have the unplanned pregnancies too and an unknown number of secret abortions. In one of my classes I have a fifteen year old expectant father. He is very cocky (!) and full of himself and at the same time he is a frightened and vulnerable little boy who burst into tears when we were looking at Christian and Buddhist attitudes to abortion. This is the same boy who absolutely lost it when he and his girlfriend were separated in the post morning break chaos on the corridor and he was directed away from the crowd by some colleagues. "If my baby dies I'll never forgive you, you bastards." Then he broke his knuckles punching the wall in a temper tantrum.

So this morning I introduce the topic to a class of 13/14 year olds. Two thirds listen intently, keen to learn and understand, grateful and relieved that there is an adult willing to have a calm, relaxed and informed conversation. ("I could never have this conversation with my Dad.")

The other third, though, fell into giggles at the mention of the word "contraception" and were on the verge of hysterics at the word "condom". These are the least well educated and from most socio-economically deprived section of pupils. They have limited horizons (I've never been to Leeds. I once went to Dewsbury with my mother on a Saturday and it were busy. I shouldn't like Leeds")and very young parents. I know that a cycle is about to be repeated. While the other two thirds listen, learn and take it all in, this group remain completely untouched and untouchable by any concept of sexual ethics, self respect, issues of STIs, contraception, sexally age-appropriate behaviour, teenage pregnancy or abstinence.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lent 2

Only recently in the classroom I was talking about Lent. One girl responded with a totally blank look.

“Well” I said, “Some people choose to give up things like crisps or biscuits, cake or chocolate.”

“Oh” she said, with the dawning of understanding on her face, “It’s a weight-loss programme is it?”

One could be forgiven for thinking that we have trivialised Lent: you know, making small sacrifices which mean nothing. You want to know about fasting, ask your Muslim friends. They understand fasting and who knows, perhaps Lent was once far more like Ramadan. If giving something up is the major symbol of those things which distract people from God, we might well ask what those distractions are today: food? Possibly; time? technology? consumerism? How can we adopt an approach to those things which cloud our relationship with God? Perhaps less giving up and more taking on would help: a greater commitment to recycling, eating locally produced foods, leaving a smaller carbon footprint upon the planet... So many challenges, choosing one could be life-giving in so many unexpected ways.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Variations on the Curch Calendar

So, last week I preached for Lent 1. The Bishop proclaimed himself pleased with the sermon and said:

"I'd like you to preach it again next week in Nottingham"

"Em...right, but this sermon was on Lent 1 and next week will be Lent 2"

"Not in Nottingham. They didn't have a service today."

"Just remind me. How did you get to be a bishop?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


O.K. I give in:

I have slogged in front of this computer all day to complete a 4,500 word essay on:

"I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins"
What are the ecumenical implications, liturgical problems and pastoral opportunities in the recognition by all the churches of our common baptism?

3000 words later I am ready to throw myself under a bus. I don't know. I have lost the capacity for rational thought. What are the implications, problems and opportunities?

Answers to:


The role and place of evangelism

"Can you imagine a priest/pastor who has a blog and has no interest in presenting the gospel to people?"


For my own part, I have every interest in presenting the Gospel to people, but not through blogging. Most people who visit here are already Christians and I remain convinced that face to face witness is best. I nevertheless pray that those who visit here as unchurched may see through me and my visitors a glimpse of the Gospel.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New friends and blog etiquette

Now as far as blog etiquette is concerned I came across this. (Scroll down to Blog Etiquette 101) recently. This is not a template I wish to copy, but it got me to thinking, so here is my blog etiquette:

This blog is primarily my learning journal.
It has no evangelical function.
I assume that most of my visitors are Christians, but recognise that some are not.
I will never ask for your spiritual credentials.
This is to be a safe place for people to share ideas and views and to let off steam.
It is to be a network for those with a similar world view, but others are welcome to comment subject to the following:

I ask visitors to:

Respect me and other visitors.
Not to hijack this blog for your own agenda.
Not to rant too much, that is my prerogative.
Not to question or judge the Christian committment of other visitors

If you are not as keen to hear the alternative perspectives of others as you are to assert your own, this may not be the blog for you.

And so to new friends. I have discovered a few new blogs recently and I commend them to you: Firstly is Thoughts From Jeff Jeff is a Lutheran youth worker from Ohio. Then we have two which are a little light on biographical detail but are well worth a visit: Why Do We Nator? and Roland's Ramblings In return you three guys should have a look at Of Course I could Be Wrong and see the company I regularly keep. Good folk one and all.

On a different tack, I seem to have taken up masochism for Lent and I have been blogging with Pastor Brian on Time 2 change churches. This has been a challenge to me as although it taps into my latent but long dormant evangelicalism it is a straight down the line, no holds barred American Evangelistic blog. If you know this is not your style, don't go there, you won't like it and you're likely to be called a false prophet and a pretend Christian. Pastor Brian and I have been "discussing" a number of issues: I have been challenged about the wrath and judgement of God and I hope I have challenged him on the love and justice of God. Pastor Brian, under no circumstances should you visit Of Course I Could be Wrong and, God forbid you do, do not post a comment on it. You have been warned!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lent 1

Genesis 2.15-17 and 3.1-7
Psalm 32 1-11
Romans 5 12-19
Mat 4.1-11

We are without an organist this week. We are also the world's worst singing congregation. Therefore we will listen to sections of Handel's Messiah (Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, live recording in Budapest) at various points during the sermon.

As you know, the gospels are essentially four biographies, composed of teachings, miracles, parables, and narratives about Jesus of Nazareth woven together so effectively to make a story.

After John, comes Acts. Luke’s Acts is essentially a history book of the life of the early church. Again, the history of the early church is an accumulation of stories, especially stories about the Apostle Paul.

So, what is the book after Acts then? Can you tell me? Romans is St. Paul’s last book before he died and it is the summary of all his theology. It actually predates the writing of the Gospels and was in many real senses the first Christian document.

Now, the book of Romans is not a history book like the Gospels and the book of Acts. In fact, in the book of Romans, there are no historical facts or anecdotes about Jesus or St. Paul. In the book of Romans there are no parables and no miracles. Unlike the gospels and the book of Acts, even unlike Paul’s other letters, the book of Romans is almost all Christian theology and doctrine.

The Apostle Paul is credited with helping Christianity to become a world religion. Even though he was a Jew by birth and a Pharisee by training he was also a Roman citizen. He could not conceive of Christ as a gift for a small sect from a tribal God. To Paul the incarnation was God's gift to humanity, not to Judaism only. Without the benefit, or the obstruction, of Christmas stories, of angels and magi, of stars and shepherds, which I talked about last time I preached here, Paul believed that God had done something very special for all humanity.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this chapter from Romans, but there’s a lot about it I don’t know. But one thing I do know - it’s about sin. Handel, in his wonderful Oratorio, The Messiah, reveals to us in Scripture and music how universal the experience of sin is.


This passage from Romans is always a hard passage and it does remind me of an old T.V. sketch when everyone went to church to hear the new curate. A husband and wife are sat together and she has to keep nudging him to keep him from snoring through the sermon. On the way out of the church the husband was enthusiastic about the sermon. “Curate that was the best sermon I’ve heard for a long time!” His wife just rolls her eyes, pulls him aside and says to him, “You didn’t hear a word of that sermon.” He, of course, protests, and she, frustrated, asks, “What was it about then?” He shifts his weight from foot to foot for a while and replies, “It was about sin.” Not at all satisfied she perseveres: “Well what did he say about sin?”

“He was against it.”

So in this text St. Paul argues that just as sin had come into the world through one man, Adam, now through another man, Christ, God was giving us the gift of freedom from sin and from the negative impact of the Law of Moses. Humanity now is invited into a new relationship with God through Christ, one based on God's action for us rather than our achievements through obedience to a set of rules.

The point of the Adam/Christ comparison is to emphasize that the human project begun in Genesis, the key part of the creator’s project for the whole creation, has been put back on track. Paul doesn’t offer a full ‘doctrine of sin’ here: it is enough for the moment to know that sin involves disobedience, failure of loyalty, a fracturing of the creator’s intention, which, because it is a turning away from the source of life, cannot but bring death.

Now Jesus did not start where Adam started; he began where Adam ended up. The ‘obedience’ of Jesus is the firm platform on which we as Christ’s latter day disciples now stand: Justified by our faith in God’s saving plan as accomplished through Jesus death on our behalves.

And this is where today’s Gospel story from Matthew comes in. This isn’t a story where we’re supposed to focus on what the devil might have looked like or what it might have been like for Jesus to find himself on the pinnacle of the temple. That’s not the point of this passage. This is about relationship. It’s about connection. Matthew’s point in describing the temptations was to connect Jesus to the ongoing story of salvation begun in the Old Testament. In the temptations Jesus continues to model how we humans should behave. We learn from examining this time in Jesus’ life because we can connect it to those times in our own lives where we struggle with our relationship with God and with humankind. We can be supported in that struggle by this account. It helps us put things in perspective. It helps us remember that, when we might be tempted to put something in our lives before faithfulness to God, we can remember that Jesus has been there before us and that his faithfulness to God is our model for coping with temptation.

So today, we continue with the theological truths about Jesus. Not the histories of Jesus as in the four gospels, nor the history of the early church as in the book of Acts. We focus on one primary idea of St. Paul today, one primary theological notion. Paul says, from one man, Adam, sin spread throughout the whole world. Watch: I take one drop of food colouring and put it into a glass of water and that one drop of food colouring spreads out through it all. You can literally see it spread. So also, from Adam, the first man, sin began and has spread throughout the whole human race. Paul then says, even stronger than Adam is the one man Jesus Christ and his grace has spread throughout the whole world. And importantly, the power of grace is much stronger than the power of sin. The power of Christ is stronger than the power of Adam.

For Paul, Adam represented all unredeemed humanity. Whether or not Paul actually believed that Adam was the first human being or symbolically a template for everyman, the concept of human solidarity and the corporate personality lay behind his attempt to explain both sin and salvation. This passage is difficult to read in almost every English translation. Yet as William Barclay, the twentieth century Scottish theologian, said: "There is no passage in the New Testament which has had such an influence on theology as this passage; and there is no passage which is more difficult for a modern mind to understand." Barclay puts into simpler terms what Paul attempted to say to the Romans: "By the sin of Adam all men became sinners and were alienated from God; by the righteousness of Jesus Christ all men are now considered as righteous and are restored to a right relationship with God.... Whatever else we may say about Paul's argument this we can say - it is completely true that man was ruined by sin and rescued by Christ." And this same book Of Romans, let us remember, with St. Paul’s thoughts on sin and grace would later be the inspiration for Martin Luther as he reinterpreted Catholic thinking on the matter and changed the religious face of Europe. Let’s go back to Handel who uses St. Paul’s theme of Adam and Christ:


I have a difficulty with this theme: I need to visualize death or evil. I need to be able to use analogy to illustrate when death or evil starts at one point and then spreads otherwise it’s just words.

Let’s consider cancer. Cancer always starts in one little place in your body and then it spreads to another place, and then another and then another, to the lymph system and then into the bones. And by the time you go to your doctor, it may have spread all over the place. No matter where the cancer is, the doctors always try to trace it back to its beginning, to that spot where the cancer all began.

Another example: consider chicken pox. A child comes to school and he has the chicken pox. No other child in the class has chicken pox. The infected child touches everybody, breathes on everybody, sits by everybody, and next week, nearly everybody in the class has chicken pox. You could trace the chicken pox in the classroom back to the one child who infected all his friends. Chicken pox begins with one and spreads to almost everybody. That is juts the way chicken pox is.

It is with these images that we begin to understand the thoughts of St. Paul. Paul is a thinker, a theologian. He is the one who has big thoughts about so many aspects of Christ and the Christian faith. Paul thought about sin which started with one man, Adam and slowly spread so that it infected the whole human race.

That is what St. Paul understood. He understood that the nature of sin is copy cat, is imitative, is suggestive and it spreads throughout the whole human race, not because of genes and chromosomes but because of the nature of inter-relatedness of human beings and the nature of sin itself.

But, that is not the point. What Paul said is true, but that is not the primary point. It is true that our sin is copy cat, imitative and suggestive; but that is not the point. The point is; how much greater is the power of God, how much greater is the power of God’s righteousness, how much greater is the power of God’s grace.

So my mind says, how can we visualize taking one drop of goodness and seeing it spread? Like with the food dye and the glass of water. So how do you take the Presence of Christ, and drop it into the whole world so that it spreads? How does God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, God’s goodness spread throughout the whole world? God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, God’s goodness is not spread genetically or chromosomally, but it is spread through our inter-relatedness, our inter-connectedness, our lives inter-woven together. How do we visualize this?
All you gardeners understand plants that spread e.g. the ivy on our hillsides or banks of flowers. Rachel planted the raised bed in our garden a couple of years ago, and in the good weather it is lush and full as the plants have spread. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of life, is like that. In the kingdom of life, goodness and beauty spreads.

What Paul is saying is this: through one man, Adam, sin spread throughout the whole wide world. And through one man, Christ, grace spread throughout the whole world. And this grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is much stronger than sin. The power of grace is so much stronger than the power of sin in your life and so….

So what does this mean for our daily lives? It means that we have the power through the Holy Spirit to spread the message of Christ like the food colouring in the glass. Call it evangelism, call it witness, but do it. We spread the love of God, the forgiving power of God and the grace of God through the lives that we lead and in relationship with other people. We are the living witness to the saving power of Christ. The message of the gospel is reflected here in Romans: the power of grace is so much stronger than the power of sin. Everyone once in a while, when we get overwhelmed by the power of sin and darkness in our lives, and every once in a while when we feel like throwing in the towel, we need to remember the gospel of God, the truth of God, the grace of God. And the gospel is this; the power of grace is so much more powerful than the power of sin.

Lets give the last word to Handel.


Christ in us is much more powerful than Adam in us. Amen.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Beyond the Pale: banned from a blog!

I seem to have got myself into trouble.

While I was off work with a bad back and laryngitis (no, I don't sense enough sympathy there) and between catching up with some college work and writing a sermon, I browsed the blogosphere and found myself on Time2change churches, where I joined in with a debate.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself one of three (musketeers) banned for being sarcastic and mean.

You can find the exchange on Time 2 Change Churches under the post "What sort of a creature are you?" Judge for yourself. It is a long time since anyone questioned my credentials as a Christian. Having said, that through my conversion experience, my baptism and my attempts at obedient discipleship, I was covered with the blood of Christ, and that I accepted justification by faith alone, I was somehow found wanting. I find it odd that because I was not prepared to accept the very narrow confines of churchmanship promoted there I should be cast into outer darkness. The message is that if you don't see it my way you are wrong. By what right, on the basis of what personal knowledge and with whose authority do these people take it upon themselves to stand in judgement of me from the distance of another continent? Funny old world, Christianity.


Over the weekend I was involved in leading worship twice. The first time (with no voice and a walking stick, you remember) I led Morning Worship from the Methodist Worship Book. On the last afternoon I was responsible for creating and delivering a Doxology.

We were given feedback by the two tutors. I was told:
  • I needn't thank people for standing, sitting and singing in Morning Worship.

  • My Doxology was "interesting" but there were huge reservations about its suitability.
So here it is:


L: O all you works of the Lord, bless you the Lord.
C: Praise him and magnify his name forever.
L: O you Angels of the Lord, bless you the Lord.
C: Praise him and magnify his name forever.
L: O you children of men, bless you the Lord.
C: Praise him and magnify his name forever.
L: O you servants of the Lord, bless you the Lord.
C: Praise him and magnify his name forever.

Come, now is the time to worship (Brian Doerksen)

Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to give your heart.

Come, just as you are to worship.

Come, just as you are before your God, Come.

One day every tongue will confess you are God,

One day every knee will bow.

Still, the greatest treasure remains for those

Who glady choose You now.

L: Holy Spirit, coming so silently,
giving life and refreshment and beauty everywhere;
coming in a way none can understand; coming invisibly;
coming in the night of affliction; may your love dwell in our hearts,
may your strength invigorate us, may your love kindle our whole beings, to love him who first loved us. Amen

L: The Holy Spirit is making us into the Disciples God wishes us to be. He has given us gifts and skills for the building up of his church and sanctified them. We recognise these gifts as we affirm one another. Please feel free to adapt the wording on your sheets as we find and affirm our friends.

…………, I value you for…………………………………………. May God bless your ministry, give you his guidance, show you his ways, keep you ever in his love, give you his strength and comfort and hold you in the palm of his hand.

King of Kings, Majesty (Jarrod Cooper)

King of Kings, Majesty,God of Heaven living in me.

Gentle Saviour, closest friend,

Strong Deliverer, beginning and end.

All within me falls at your throne:

Your majesty, I can but bow,

I lay my all, before you now,

In royal robes I don't deserve,

I live to serve Your majesty.

Earth and heaven, worship you,

Love eternal, faithful and true.

Who bought the nations, ransomed souls,

brought this sinner near to Your throne.

All within me cries out in praise:

Your majesty, I can but bowI lay my all, before you now.

In royal robes, I don't deserve

I live to serve your majesty.

C: Give us:
A pure heart that we may see you,
A humble heart that we may hear you,
A heart of love, that we may serve you,
A heart of faith that we may live you:
You who we cannot fully know, but whose we are.

L: God who made us, we worship you.
Christ who saved, us we thank you.
Spirit who strengthens us, we need you.
God the Father, bless our days.
God the Son, we give you praise.
God the Spirit, guide our ways, now and forever more. Amen

All my student colleagues really appreciated it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Here's one we made over the weekend

A Daily Office

A Moment to Focus...

Be still for the presence of the Lord is shining all around...

We may...
sit in silence,
listen to the sound of music,
sing a short hymn or chant
light a candle
ring a bell.


Your Holy Place
I come into your holy place:
I bow in adoration in your presence
Let me be still and close to you:
Quieting myself before your love.
Awaken me today to your glory:
That I may rejoice in your grace.
Awaken my heart to your love:
That I may know your care.
Lord, I seek to do your will:
To meet you and serve you in others.
I come to you with people in my heart:
Let me go out to them with you in my heart.
Let me know that all places and peple are holy:
May I find everywhere is hallowed ground.

(David Adams, Music of the Heart, p31)


A prayer of Confession
For the times
when we have almost given up on the journey
Forgive us and keep us strong

For the times when we have been too caught up
in our own lives:
Forgive us and make us aware of what goes on around us

For the times when we've made the journeys of others
more difficult
Forgive us and help us to be a blessing to others,

For the times when we have stubbornly gone in the direction
we want to go:
Forgive us and bless us as we take a new path. Amen

(Roots Worship: issue 33, p.27)

Assurance of Forgiveness

In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on us the Holy Spirit.

(Lutheran Worship Book, p. 77)


NRSV: Ps 95;
Revelation 4.11; 5.10

This time of praise may be continued.

The Word

One or more lectionary readings may be used.


One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4.4b)


These or some other prayers may be used:

Let us offer our prayer with all God's people through Jesus Christ our Lord who ever lives to pray for us.

We pray for the needs of the world...
We pray for the church...
We pray for all in trouble or distress...
We pray for all who make a new beginning today...

Other petitions may follow.

God of compassion and mercy,
listen to our prayer.
May what we ask in Jesus Christ your Son
be done according to his word, who said,
'Ask and you will recieive.
seek and you will find
knock, and the door will be opened to you.'
To you, merciful God,
Through your Son,
In the life giving Spirit
Be Glory and praise for ever. Amen
(Methodist Worship Book, p.13)


Generous God who has brought us to this place, fill us with your Spirit so that we may be inspired, guided, strengthened, and sustained on our pilgrimage. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ your Son who walks beside us. Amen

The Lord's Prayer

A traditional version or an alternative such as this Maori Lord's Prayer may be used.

Eternal Spirit
Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all.
Loving God, in whom is heaven.
The hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the earth!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.

(The Book of Common Prayer of New Zealand.)


God who made us, we worship you.
Christ wo saved us, we thank you.
Spirit who strengthens us, we need you.
God the Father, bless our days.
God the Son, we give you praise.
God the Spirit, guide our ways, now and forever more.
(Pocket Celtic Prayers, p.62)


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Back in the real world!

Actually, I can't blame Taverner after all. I had a (green gunge) virus which took my voice. I'd like it back now please.

As ever the residential was fabulous because of the tight group dynamic and fellowship: lots of laughter and bonding talk. my student cohort is full of fantastic people. The worship sessions were well received and thoughtfully planned. We also constructed a daily office which I may post once we have tidied it up.

What I did not enjoy was the feeling of marginalisation arising from the course content. This is an Ecumenical course. I am not a Lutheran allowed on an Anglican course as some concession which was how I felt a lot of the time.

The hour and a half on the history of the development of C of E liturgy did nothing for me other than provide a resources website. The sessions on liturgical robes for Anglicans and Methodists did, however, include the 20 second segue in to "What do Lutherans wear?" On top of that, when planning my worship session, I was not allowed to use the Lutheran Worship Book even though my group were keen to. We used Common Worship (Daily Prayer) and Common Worship, both Anglican publications, and the Methodist Worship Book, even though there are no Methodists in my year group. I do not expect them to build the course around me, (I am, after all, the only non-Anglican), but the fact that my tutors do not feel able to be sensitive enough to proactively plan for my needs is quite disturbing. It wouldn't have taken much for me to have felt fully involved but, alas, they couldn't manage even that. My student friends are very supportive and deeply embarrassed about this.
Is this the course for me?

Friday, February 1, 2008


I work sober, don't drink red-bull or even coke as I value the few hours of darkness left when I get home to sleep in. Towards the end of my shift I really start to feel sleepy.
By 3 or 4 in the morning, why does anyone have any energy left?
I shuffle around the club for 5 hours with the occasional adrenaline fueled dash and wrap effort I don't really do too much. I've had a good mornings sleep beforehand and I still feel the natural urge to sleep as the night draws on.
If someone's still looking lively at the end of the night it's time to think about columbian marching powder or dance all night pills.
Anyway, off to earn a crust, then eat some fried chicken. I hope I don't have another thrilling Friday night. The less adrenaline released this shift the better, I may not have my infinite pit of patience to draw upon after the efforts of team reshuffles and new staff this week.

Weekend residential

I blame Taverner!

Lament for Jerusalem. I hate it.

Today I have no voice. That's what singing Tenor does to a Baritone in a piece with four tenor parts and not enough tenors. I am a baritone on loan. Now I am a voiceless-fourth-tenor-baritone-on-loan.

I have also twisted my back by doing something as reckless as leaning into a cupboard.

So, to recap: I can hardly speak and I can hardly walk.

This evening begins a college weekend on preaching, music in the liturgy and liturgical dance. I am also down to lead two services.

God has a sense of humour.

(I lied about the liturgical dance, but I can never watch it without laughing out loud and being ejected by church wardens. So unseemly.)