Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Sunday

Dear God, on this festival day we thank you especially for your servant Martin Luther. We praise you for your mercy which raised him up as a zealous reformer. You brought again to light through him the gospel which declares salvation by grace through faith and we thank you for preserving your word in all its truth for us today. You reached out to us and sent your Holy Spirit into our hearts and drew us in faith to Christ and now we are your children, rescued from the slavery of sin. Do not let us loose this gospel and our faith, or set truth aside for error. Do not let us trust in our own works to merit heaven. You have directed our faith away from the commandments of men and rest our hope only and solely on the great and precious promises of your Gospel.


Help us to cherish the blessings of your Word as our fathers in faith delivered it to us. May we be thankful for the gift of bishops, pastors and teachers. Give them courage, wisdom and zeal to proclaim the gospel faithfully. Give us the desire to support them in the work of your kingdom with the talents and means you have provided. Fill us with zeal for your Word so that we may eagerly proclaim it. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we may boldly proclaim you to be our mighty Fortress. We ask this for Jesus' sake, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all eternity.

Amen                                                     


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Slow

Not in a politically correct Jeremy Clarkson apology way, there really are a lot of very special people out there. Some are made special by consuming alcohol, others by consuming drugs. Some however are just normally missing a few cards in their pack. They all provide the business with custom, their money is the same as everyone else's, their problems also seem to be everyone else's.
As doorstaff we have to communicate with the punters, sometimes in a hurry, sometimes with all the time and patience in the world. More often than you would credit it takes all the time and patience we have. The concept that access to a venue is not a right. Simple premise, it's not yours, you don't own it, it's not a public institution, there is no "rights" issue with being rejected.
The simple ones seem to struggle with this concept. The idea should be common to just about anybody whose lived in the world. The special folk don't get it, even when explained in words of one syllable, very slowly. This can infuriate some staff, my response is generally to laugh, whether it's with the other doorstaff on by myself. I care about humanity, if I let the mentally deficient get me down I'd really struggle to keep meeting them every night.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

For my American readers


Following on from Tuesday's post I give you John Bell of the Iona Community delivering Thought for The Day on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday. Follow the link and read or listen. If you are a sucker for a Scots accent, I'd listen first.

It looks now as if politics is following the same promotional path... at least in the USA where the Democrat and Republican causes are being championed by media personalities, notably Jon Stewart and Glen Beck. In this country we too have had television personalities allying themselves with one party or another, but never with such force or profile as is presently evident across the pond.  And just as we may be inclined to question the merits of particular merchandise if its advertising relies too heavily on celebrities, so we might question whether any party which relies heavily on popular media names has run out of steam as regards the verity of its cause.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Boo Hoo

Are you upset at me?
I've been sworn at, swung at, spat at, lied about and threatened. I get paid to stand on a door to a place that advertises itself as luxurious, sexual, laden with promise and a state to be desired. I get to tell people that this is not for them, by dint of life's many varied journeys, their personal journey doesn't include the inside of the venue. I get to see the disappointment and the many alternative reactions to this. Most reactions are negative, some of them get directed at me. Some of it fairly so.
I don't play fair, I don't give folk a fair chance. I don't treat each individual on their potential. I make broad judgements, I discriminate. I get to define a select set of excluded folk, I don't care that it's not fair. I get paid by the management, I get paid to make decisions good for the business. That's why I make the decisions I do, at least that's what I like to think.
I don't dislike people in general, just the specific ones in front of me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Politics: Sanity or Honour? The view from over here.


An excellent article: well worth a read

Alongside Stewart will be his Comedy Central colleague, Stephen Colbert, whose own nightly show parodies the the fear-mongering FOX news and its presenters, who perpetuate the myth that much of America is still frontier country whose people only need a gun and Barak Obama's Socialist government off their backs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Sermon: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

(As preached to the London Eritrean Lutheran Congregation)

Jeremiah 14. 7-10 &; 19-21

Psalm 84.1-7

2 Timothy 4.6-8 & 16-18

Luke 18. 9-14

Jesus told them a story: "Two men went up to the temple to pray. One of them was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector."  Beyond that what do we know about the two men? The original audience would have identified them both immediately and understood their background. But what do we know about Pharisees and Tax Collectors? Possibly less than we think.

Centuries of Christian interpretation have led us to think of Pharisees as the bad guys, but this isn’t entirely fair. They are often presented as Jesus’ opponents in the gospels certainly, but we need to remember that they were society’s good people. We know that the Pharisee was a religious leader; a pious man who took his religion very seriously indeed. He stood in the correct posture for prayer in the temple, arms raised and head lifted. Jesus’ disciples would not necessarily have been critical of this man.

And the tax collector? Now, again, because we know how Tax Collectors were looked down on and how Jesus dealt with them generously, we usually see them as the good guys but actaully tax collectors were crooks: this man was a Jew who earned his living by working for a foreign government, collecting taxes from his own people. For years he had collected high taxes from his Jewish neighbours to give to the Roman government. He gave the Romans their flat rate on every head, and made his money by charging over the odds and keeping the difference for himself. Basically, he is a con-man, a traitor, and a lowlife. He is hated, he is guilty and he knows it.

So, we have on the one hand the Pharisee who was one of the most respectable people in the Judaism of the time and on the other hand we have a tax collector who is a fraud and a turncoat, despised by his own people.

Surely there’s no competition here in terms of God’s favour: it’s obvious isn’t it? The man of God verses the crook.

Are we missing something  here?

Jesus told them a story.

Who?

Jesus told who a story?

We need to go back to the middle of the last chapter to discover that Jesus was talking to his disciples. This isn’t one of those situations where the crowds of followers and bystanders were dogging their steps and demanding wise words and signs and wonders. No. This was quite intimate: just Jesus and his friends. Now Luke, our Gospel writer, often tends to show us the Disciples as weak and confused and, while it doesn’t do to over-speculate we can imagine the scene: the disciples are gathered around Jesus and he is telling this story. Perhaps they are at rest after a long day; perhaps sharing a meal; perhaps gathered around a fire. "And he told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt."

But are they hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between their hearing and understanding?

Are they hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between their hearing and understanding?

Which of the two men in the story would a group of Jewish men be most likely to think of as having God’s favour – the pious and religious Pharisee or the thieving tax collector?

The clues are in the prayers each man prays:

In the Pharisee’s prayer, he has nothing to ask of God. He’s basically giving God a progress report. As far as he can tell, he’s got it all under control, and he’s happy about it: “God I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, unrighteous folks, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over there.”

The Tax Collector, on the other hand , keeps his head lowered as he comes into the temple and stands some distance away . We don’t know why his guilt has got the better of him today, but there he is in the temple, full of remorse, beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t even promise to reform. All he does is ask for God’s mercy.

Remember as you are considering this, that we already know the story and its outcome. We know what they didn’t. We’re familiar with the story: so familiar that maybe we don’t consider that the message may not have been quite so obvious to the disciples.

Did you consider that Jesus was setting them up when he told them this story? Did you consider that Jesus’ summing up of the story would have shocked and perhaps even offended them?

What if Jesus had started the story differently? Two men went to the temple to pray. One was insufferably arrogant, assuming himself to be superior to ordinary people. The other stood afar off and humbly acknowledged his sinfulness before God." That’s the contrast. One makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments, while the other relies entirely upon God's grace. It's clearer now which of these two models Jesus was calling them to adopt.

The surprise ending of the story is that the Pharisee, who gave a wonderful performance in the temple, went home empty. He came asking nothing of God and he went home getting nothing from God. The tax collector, dodgy character that he was, showed up empty handed asking for God’s mercy, and went home justified and in the right relationship with God.

So what? O.K. It’s an interesting story, but so what? What has this to do with us? And this is always the issue for me: I have to make the stories of Jesus real to me; I must find an application otherwise the parable remains just a story Jesus told but without the power to touch or challenge me.

Luke presents the disciples as weak and confused and likely to misunderstand his teaching.

That surely couldn’t be us too, could it?

Well actually it could. After all, we’re Disciples and we tend to think we understand the story. But are we hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between our hearing and understanding? "Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt."

So, baring that in mind, how do we understand the story? We may hear this parable as a lesson on humility: don’t be proud like the Pharisee; go home and be humble like the tax collector. Doesn’t that sound like good advice?

But isn’t that a trap? If that's the moral we take from the parable we may have missed the point: we take a parable about God’s amazing, unconditional grace and acceptance, and turn it into a story about how we can earn or merit God’s love by being better people. We’ve got the answer now. If we can just be humble like the tax collector and not be puffed up with pride like the Pharisee, then God will accept us and love us. We may even find ourselves praying, “God, I thank thee that I am not like the Pharisee.” The tragedy and the irony of trying to make ourselves worthy of love through our supposed virtues, even the virtue of humility, is that we end up casting a sideward glance at others and measuring ourselves against them. If I need to earn God’s love, then I will have to be better than the others.

The contrast is not between tax collectors and Pharisees, but between those who trust in themselves and despise others and those who know that they are sinners, the proud and the humble. Other Pharisees may well have prayed for God’s mercy just as this tax collector did, and other tax collectors could have thought quite highly of themselves and despised Pharisees. Even some Christians have been known to think so highly of themselves that they despise others.

No, the Pharisee and the tax collector are the same. They both need God’s love. The difference is that the Pharisee doesn’t know it and the tax collector does. The tax collector went up to the temple with nothing to show for himself. His hands and his heart are empty and he knows it, and so he has room to experience the good news that there is nothing we need to do, nothing we can do, to earn the grace and love of God.

Ours isn't so very different from the world Jesus was born in to. It was to both worlds, theirs and ours - the worlds of those who trust in ourselves that we are righteous and regard others with contempt - that he told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. This parable serves now as then as a word of judgment on all those times when we would compare ourselves with others and declare ourselves righteous or those others somehow unworthy. Anytime we try to draw a line between who's "in" and who's "out," this parable tells us that we’ll will find God on the other side, for as soon as we fall prey to the temptation to divide humanity into any kind of groups, we have aligned ourselves squarely with the Pharisee, on the other side from God.

In our New Testament reading this morning we see some of these ideas developed by St. Paul. The passage from the Second Letter to Timothy shows that in some ways Paul resembles both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Like the Pharisee, he boasts of his accomplishments. He has competed well; he has finished the race; he has kept the faith; he has earned a crown of righteousness. Paul never denies the character of his commitment or the extent of his success. But like the tax collector, he knows the source of his ability to accomplish these things: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” According to Paul, all the glory belongs to God.
St. Paul shows us the way: this parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly.

If we can hear God's judgment in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, then beating our breasts and saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," is surely not a bad response.








Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If New York Governor candidate Carl Paladino can't sort our homophobic principles, how can he sort the traffic on Second Avenue?

To be fair to Paladino, he doesn't hate gays. He loves 'em! The lady gays anyway, judging from the emails he forwarded to colleagues over the last few years featuring lesbian porn. An inspired piece of writing by British Based American Hadley Freeman. Read full Article Here

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Plums



My beloved and I were in the kitchen bickering companionably about my perceived shortcomings in the culinary area. She was preparing a sweet. There are some fabulous Autumn fruits about and I have been poaching pears and plums in mulled wine and honey. Today it was to be plums with cinnamon: I watched my beloved liberally sprinkling the cinnamon.

First course over it is time for the plums. I am chatting to the daughters when another little voice says:

I think I may have put cumin in the plums instead of cinnamon.

I try the plums. She is right.

It was an easy mistake. Cinnamon and cumin are the same colour.

I look doubtful.

My beloved goes into the kitchen and returns with two jars, their labels turned away from me. I correctly identify cumin from its colour immediately.

Well, they're Indian plums. she continues, unabashed. They're quite sweet and not unpleasant.

I can't tell, having covered mine in cherry yoghurt. There is a certain je ne sais quoi. No actually, there is a definite Je sais.

Your friends can contact me for the recipe via Facebook.

Go on. I dare you.

Update: My beloved wishes it to be known that in nearly 30 yrs of marriage there have been very few recorded culinary mistakes on her part and that if the tables were to be turned I would be seriously embarrassed. Fair point.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ah.... 11 year olds

A dull Monday afternoon and I have Yr 7. Year 7b. We are looking at Christian art and symbolism.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We have done Chi-Rho and Alpha and Omega with a little lesson about the Greek alphabet on the side. We have done YHWH and discussed Hebrew writing. We have had fun with Ichthus and now we have got to the Dove.

Sir, Sir, Why did God send lightning on Jesus?

Sorry Connor?

Why did he?

What?

Strike Jesus with lightning.

He didn't.

But it says it there. On your powerpoint.

Read it to me.

The Spirit of God descended in the form of a Dove and a lightning on Jesus.

(There is a sort of snorting caugh from Carol, my support assistant. She seems to be having trouble holding it together.)

Read it to me again.

The Spirit of God descended in the form of a Dove and a lightning on Jesus.

And again.

The Spirit of God descended like a dove and  ...oh.....

Oh?

The Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus.

Well done.

You mean God set him alight?

No Bethany.

How long till the bell?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lacking in inspiration ....

.... or just plain tired but seem not to have the words right now. Too much going on.


So here's a picture I like.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SIA goodbye

It seems the doormans bane the SIA, the Security Industry Authority, is on the big list of QUANGO's listed for a "phased transition into a new regulatory regime".
Will this mean higher efficiency?
Will this mean higher data security, not un-vetted un-documented migrants doing data entry and handling ID, credit card & bank details?
Will it mean higher quality of service, not process times so long cheques sent have expired and applications drift for months once they have been made 'priority'?
Will it mean better value for money, not £200+ for a shiny card, a partial CRB check and a poorly maintained database entry?
Will it mean accountable assessments of cases affecting livelihoods and families, or will it be summary judgements made by anonymous individuals with no visibility of evidence or opportunity for rebuttal?
Will it mean membership relates to repr?
esentation in a positive meaningful way, or will it just be us paying in to keep annonymous unelected committees sitting and their tea trays full
All I can say is I wait and see. I can only say doing a noticeably worse job would surely have to be an act of deliberate collective failure.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to Vicar School, Dr. Bob and the Sikh Chip shop and Mission

Some people have a Spiritual Home: perhaps York Minster or St. Paul's; maybe a local parish church or some special place they happened on once abroad on a significant holiday.

Mine is the Wakefield Police College.

It was there, during my training for ordination that much of my ministerial formation took place and where I had some wonderful social and significant spiritual experiences.

The Wakefield Police College.

That might sound a bit sad, a bit naff to some people I suppose but I was back there on Saturday morning, slipping under the Anglican radar - never on a delegate's list but always welcomed - to experience the latest in my ongoing training. My Anglican friends call it IME (Initial Ministerial Education) but I invariably get it wrong and call it EMI. (I seem to be fixated on the possibility of our cutting a disc at the end of the process.) They also call it Potty Training or Post Ordination Training. They may say that: I couldn't possibly comment.

I have a strong sense of coming home when I arrive here: a familiar environment and the company of good friends - friendships forged in the intimacy of training for the priesthood.

"Just watch my stuff as I pop to the Loo." Dr. Bob asked vaguely of Stuart, Hilda and I.

What are the chances? WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? A group of clergy in the middle of a Police College. I ask you!

Looking for our tutorial room we passed a sign directing police recruits to the Diversity Awareness Unit. Was it, I mused, purely a coincidence that the Diversity Awareness Unit is an a black corner on the margins of the college?

Our topic for the morning was mission and in our small group we discussed a variety of related issues. What I noted in particular was the difference in approach to the theme between those in full time paid ministry and those in secular employment. Monica works for the NHS, Dr. Bob is a University Reader in Science Education and I am a teacher. We found the models up for discussion fascinating (more of which later) but the conclusion was largely that different models influenced our approach to our secular work than the models that pertained to parish ministry.

"Life is live." noted Monica in response to Dr. Bob's concerns on presenting on Radio Sheffield's "Ask the Boffins." (Not Hip-Hop F.M. then?) Dr Bob is one of three scientists, one physicist, one chemist and one biologist who are the boffins. He is, of course, also a priest.

"Last week, someone phoned in and asked Is there a God? I replied Yes, one of the others No and the third I don't know. I'm not sure where that left anyone. Anyway" he went on. "No one really listens. I think we have a radio audience of about 10 - probably housebound and arthritic so they can't change the station. I suspect half of them have to turn up their hearing aids and the half have gone out and left the radio on as a deterrent to burglars.

And then on the way home I went into the Sikh chippy. Are you a Christian? they asked me looking at my dog collar. You know, God and church and all that. We got into conversation and they talked a bit about having lost touch with their spirituality and I said You need to get back to the Gurdwara then. Was that rubbish mission?"

I didn't think so.

Anyway, back to the Key note presentation. (Those with a low boredom threshold with all things theological, look away now.)

The Rev'd Dr. Gavin Wakefield was our speaker and I was fascinated from the start as he walked us through a number of models of mission. He was using the book Constants in context: A Theology of Mission for Today by Roman Catholic authors Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder. Now I remember sitting in lectures hearing about Missio Dei and I felt sufficiently familiar with the topic to feel comfortable just sitting back and listening. One of the things that struck me straight away was the authors' remarks one of the most important things Christians need to know about the church is that the church is not of ultimate importance ... the point of the church is not the church itself. And these guys are Catholics? I must buy this book. I am hooked already. Bevans and Schroeder identify six constants which they see as defining Christianity wherever it is found: Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Salvation, Theological Anthropology and Culture which they apply to the following models of mission.

(Still with me? Oh good. I know some of you are getting on and have a limited concentration span.)

  • A Trinitarian model:
The clear image for this model was a church without walls. The church "... is itself the result of the overflowing love of God, expressed in the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit. Ad Gentes 2

Like Jesus the church is sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, to spend itself for the life of the world. (Jn 6.33, 10.10 and 20.21) The gifts of the Spirit are not given for personal edification but for building up the whole laos. It is a pilgrim community called by God. In eschatological terms Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience and experience a foretaste of the world's destiny of full communion with God through baptism and the eucharist. We live in expectation of parousia. Salvation in this model, consists in participation in God's triune communal life and mission. Salvation is holistic in its commitment to to justice and reconciliation with other people and the world we live in and on. The Spirit of God is available in all creation.

  • A Liberation Model: seeking God's reign or the liberating service of the reign of God. (Evangelii Nuntiandi)
We witness by the lives we lead, remembering that Jesus was the first and greatest evangeliser. Our proclamation brings others into the church who in turn become witnesses. The World Council of Churches notes the link between the reign of God and the church's mission of of liberation and its commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

In this model Christology is seen as the historical witness of Jesus which is present but not yet fully realised. In terms of Ecclesiology, such an understanding of the church points to its radical missionary nature, for it is only in mission that the church continues to be what it is. Jesus' Kingdom ministry of healing, forgiveness and inclusion is at the centre of its life. Salvation is victory over institutional and structural sin and evil but injustice is always lurking and there will need to be prophetic correction.

  • A Salvationist model: with its proclamation of Christ as universal saviour.
Redemptoris Missio asks "Why mission?" and concludes it is an obligation to proclaim the truth of the newness of life found in Jesus Christ. " .. this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3.8)  The Lausanne Covenant states " To evangelise is to spread the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the scriptures..." Ironically this model reveals an exclusivism amongst Evangelicals an Pentecostalists and inclusivism amongst Roman Catholics. in Christological terms,  we are only reconciled to God by faith in Christ Jesus and there is no salvation outside the church. The Ecclesiology is therefore urgent and future orientated. Sacrificial atonement and penal substitution become significant in this model: human beings, though created in the image of God, are sinful and guilty and lost without Christ. Mankind needs freedom from death and for eternal glory.

The Lausanne Covenant again: "We believe that the interim period between Christ's ascension and his return is to be filled with mission of the people of God, who have no liberty to stop before the end." In Theological Anthropological terms, all people have the right, in their equality, to hear the gospel but not to have it imposed.

Culture must be challenged and enriched if necessary.

  • Mission as prophetic dialogue
Mission has to be dialogical and this must be constant. It must also be prophetic as it challenges each new generation. "Only by preaching, serving and witnessing to the reign of God in bold and humble prophetic dialogue will the missionary church be constant in today's context." (Bevans and Schroeder)

The challenge here is that witness must be authentic and there is, therefore, emphasis on justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Mission must include interreligious dialogue because the prophetic demands honesty, conviction, courage and faith. There is a big emphasis on reconciliation including within and between churches.

In this model mission must engage in inculturation because there is a tension between being at home in a culture and challenging its negative aspects.

(O.K. Got that? Welcome back)

In my secular life it is quite clear to me that although I once espoused a Salvationist worldview I have moved well to the left. I know my starting point is Trinitarian - seeing where God is at work and joining in in the best tradition of Missio Dei - but with significant overlays of Liberationism and Prophetic Dialogue.

Isn't it great to discover ones way of doing things has labels? I feel quite reassured: a bit like a patient getting a diagnosis. What I have has a name. Whoopee!

Not up to it

Some nights you're full of cold, carrying a niggling muscle injury or sprain, not had enough of the right sleep or otherwise off colour. Doing my job, there are not a lot of options for ducking out of a shift and when you're there and signed in there really shouldn't be any way to shirk off the heavy stuff. You can't sit around when a fights kicked off, people are being restrained and emotions are running high. You can hang about the door and direct traffic, hold up the incoming, hold out the ejected, speed out the departing and try not to get too wound up.
On the whole you just have to get through it. You ask for an early night, you opt for the roles with a lower likelihood of being first on scene, and hope you don't end up running around every night. What you do is feel like shit all night and hope you can get your head down and get some proper rest. Other than that, I just try and be my normal cheerful, forgiving, open-minded, charitable self. Sorry, that should have read be my normal surly, judgemental, opinioned and harsh minded self.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spanked

I was working one night in a dirty little chav hole of a venue. It was midweek and we only had a limited number of customers hanging on into the end of the night. There were a few stragglers from a girlie birthday party, mini skirts, hair badly extended, hoop earrings and tits, midriff, arse and legs out. One group they interacted with was 3 dodgy looking lads in horizontal stripes and variously shaved heads, looking like they'd been out celebrating either a prison release or a no-win no fee payout. These three gents went over and struck up a rapport with the girls. After a round of drinks, the girls decided to put on a bit of a show. The lads were sat 'round a table and the girls got onto the edge of the dancefloor and started gyrating against the railings. This show caught a few peoples attentions and the girls lapped it up. The glorious finale was when one of them shoved her arse towards one of the gents and he provided an open handed slap to the cheek which nearly took her feet off the floor. I was expecting her to get irate, maybe get a bit sheepish, no, she giggled, gyrated up and down a few more times then asked him for more before bending over for another smack.
I left them to this only to find her complaining as the lights went up and I began to shuffle everyone out. She bitched to me that he'd slapped her. I said, I'd seen it but that giggling and asking for more wasn't a very mixed signal. She left it there an staggered on into the night with one cheek with a full purple handprint over the nearly completely uncovered buttock. It didn't seem to bother her too much as she kept warm on the way out with his hand over her not throbbing hot buttock.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Sermon: The Mustard Seed

I’m quite a fan of the Lectionary: I often imagine erudite and pious men and women thoughtfully matching passages that go well together as a service to us to make sense of the whole word of God. Today, though, perhaps those people overestimated us. The reading from Luke begins with the apostles crying, "Increase our faith!" but we don't know why. Now possibly you could remember what happened in the preceding verses, but I couldn't. What’s the context here?

I read these words and wondered if the disciples were perpetually anxious or pious but that doesn’t sound much like the disciples as Luke generally presents them. Or perhaps they just felt like you could always use more faith so they just asked for it every once in a while. (Well, we could all do with that attitude, couldn’t we?) Or, possibly they felt they were duty bound to ask for more faith. (Again, who couldn’t?)

After I read back in the passage, I discovered the real reason was simpler than these but also harder. Jesus has just asked the disciples to do something they know they cannot do. He tells them, "If a person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive." If we ponder the daily practicalities of that for a moment we should all be horrified: that is indeed a hard road to travel.

In one of the other Gospel versions of this story, Peter asks Jesus, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Or to put it another way, an infinite number of times. Challenging or what?

No wonder the disciples were begging for an increase. Perhaps they could forgive seven times in a lifetime, but seven times a day? Even Mother Teresa couldn't do that. I ceertainly couldn’t.

The disciples are more like us than we are often willing to acknowledge. They are willing to do what is reasonable and even exceptional to follow Jesus. They have left their homes and their jobs and their families to travel with their Master, but now Jesus begins to ask impossible tasks and they don't know how to do them. As a matter of fact, they know they can't do them.

When they come to this brick wall, they want him to wave some magic wand. They want him to give them some superhuman powers to do what they know in their hearts cannot be done. They want some blueprint, some clear manual, that offers seven steps for being a disciple. You may all be too young to remember an American initiative called the Five Spiritual Laws that were doing the rounds in Evangelical circles some years ago, but they wanted something like that. Not that there was anything wrong with the Five Spiritual Laws as such but they weren’t, of course, the simple answer we assumed they would be.

In short, the Disciples wanted to be transformed, but they didn't really believe they could be. Does that ring any bells? They had become so accustomed to seeing their world as it was that they couldn’t imagine the world as God wants it to be. They couldn’t imagine seeing the people who have wronged them as their brothers and sisters instead of villains.

Here we are a few days after the election of the new Labour leader and most of us have known for a long time if we are red or blue or orange – maybe green (you know, when they show the map election night and colour the cocnstituencies according to which party won there). The pundits tell us that our nation has become politically cynical and the voting statistiscs seem to support that. This usually means that those who vote are the really ideologically committed and so the results are skewed and the country seems more starkly divided along ideological grounds than it actually is. So deep is the division that most of the time we cannot even talk to one another much less hear the piece of the truth the other person has to say. American politics seems even more polarised.

My mother is an ardent Tory and I mean ardent. She is only slightly to the left of Atilla the Hun. Once I asked her, "How do you get along with your friends who are vote Labour or Lib Dem?" and she said, "I don't think I have any friends who vote Labour or Lib Dem."

We think the world is red or blue or orange, and we cannot imagine that there is an identity deeper than that. Our world so readily gives us labels and we much too readily accept them. Just ask someone one of those red-line questions: immigration, the E.U., gay marriage, abortion, and immediately when they answer you think that you know who that other person is. Watch a stranger on a bus read a newspaper and, if you can see the name of the paper, you probably know their voting profile and their stance on any number of political and social issues. Our response to them may well be shaped by the perceptions we have just had about them.

Once we have that identity fixed, it's hard to believe anything else. Yet Jesus says if a person repents seven times in one day, seven times we are to see them afresh as a child of God. Jesus calls us to look again at the person who has wronged us and see them as God sees them: not as a villain but as a child of God capable of sin. Forgiveness is not about whitewashing the past; it's about seeing the present in a new light and looking toward a future of redemption. Forgiveness insists that the people are not red, blue, orange or green. Or male and female; black, white, brown or yellow; straight or gay; working class or middle class or any number of the false categories we use to pigeonhole people. Instead we all belong to the flock with Jesus as the shepherd.

No wonder the disciples cried, "Increase our faith." Jesus is calling for them to see their reality in a new way. Since they don't know how to do this, Jesus gives them an answer, but it's not the one they expect. He tells them, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you." The disciples want a diagram for getting from point A to point B, but they don't get one. Faith isn't a game plan for solving our problems, nor is faith understanding why things are the way they are. At the end of the day, faith isn't about answers.

Faith is about the love of God through Jesus Christ. Faith is about being grasped by Jesus so that we know in our heart and bones that our lives and his life and the life of the world are mixed together. Once that happens, we see ourselves and our neighbours and our world in a completely fresh way. Once that happens, we know that the only thing that matters is that love and that the only reality is grace. Once that happens, we can forgive because we are new creations; and, therefore, we see everyone else as a new creation.

The hard truth is that we cannot earn this gift nor can we achieve it. It's a gift. All we have to do is open up a little and God does the rest. We need faith the size of a mustard seed; that is, we need a small crack in our frozen hearts and God will transform us.

When we think about whether we can change the world, we always despair. But let us remember it's not about us, it's about God working through us. We can do little, but is there anything God can’t do? Our task is to pray for faith and to trust in the giver.

And the truth is, it doesn't take much. A word, a touch, a gesture can give us a fresh perspective. It only takes a faith the size of a mustard seed for God to transform us.

Have you ever read "To Kill a Mockingbird"? I was on detention duty last week and some of the kids were doing catch-up reading for their literature. Supervising detention is very boring – one step away from spiritual death - and so I picked up a copy and as I browsed I came to the point where the white men came at night and surround the jail where Tom, the black man, wrongly accused of a crime, was held? The men are a mob. They don’t see Tom; they only see an enemy because of how they have categorised him and they are blinded by rage. Scout, a little girl, (It can only be an American story) watches them. Her father tells her to run away and go home. But Scout doesn't run, and she doesn't fight. Instead she finds the right word that becomes the mustard seed.

Scout looks at one of the men in the mob and says, "Hey Mister Cunningham, don't you remember me? I go to school with Walter. He's your boy, ain't he? We brought him home for dinner one time. Tell your boy 'hey' for me, will you?"

There was a long pause. Then the big man separated himself from the mob, squatted down and took Scout by both her shoulders. "I'll tell him you said 'hey,' little lady." He left and one by one the mob dispersed.
The girl whispered the words of grace. She gave the mustard seed of faith that opened the man's eyes and heart and soul. Instead of a red, blue, orange or green world, it's a world of grace. God whispers those words every day in every place. May we be open enough to receive.
Let us pray.

Gracious God, because we so often lose our way and become blind, open our eyes to see our brothers and sisters as truly our brothers and sisters. We pray for you to open our hearts to your life-giving grace so that we might know more of you and become instruments of your will. We ask these things in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

(With grateful thanks to The Right Rev. Porter Taylor for the ideas as this was a very short notice sermon due to someone else’s illness.)