Monday, 25 July 2016

Inside out - Sunday 24th July 2016

We all make judgements based on outward appearance. It’s inevitable. Whether we are simply choosing who to sit next to on a bus, or appointing an employee, or even selecting a potential lover - we base much of our judgement on what we can see.
When God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, he instructed the old man which town and family to visit, but did not advise him on which of Jesse’s sons to choose. Samuel took one look at the eldest son, Eliab, and quickly concluded that he had found his man: a tall, dignified, mature warrior - obvious king material! But God gave Eliab the ‘thumbs down’. “You humans look on the outward appearance,” God told Samuel. “I look at the heart.”
Samuel worked through all seven sons present and God rejected them all, leaving Samuel to ask Jesse if he, by any chance, had any more sons. Jesse responded, “There’s the youngest, but he’s only a shepherd.” (Clearly not king material!)
David was brought. He was young and inexperienced, but it was his heart that God was looking at. He was the man.
When it comes to yourself - God doesn’t love you because of your skin colour, your age, your choice of clothes, your height, or your weight - of course he doesn’t. But we still follow Samuel’s error and judge other people by such things.
Next time you meet a stranger, do your best to look beyond the obvious externals and try to perceive what they are like inside. Look at them as God looks at them. You may be surprised.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Tender & Humble - Sunday 10th July 2016

Middle-Eastern emigration into Europe (via Turkey) is nothing new. It was happening in the 1st Century as many Jewish people sought a new life in the established Roman cities of western Turkey. Among those migrating Jews were many who embraced the teaching of Jesus.
These migrants, like others before and after them, held firmly onto the customs of their homeland, in particular to their God-given law. This determined difference caused suspicion and tension, and there were repeated attacks on the migrant communities. (This is an all too familiar story!)
St Peter wrote a letter to the oppressed migrants, which is as remarkable for what it does not say as for what it does say. He said nothing at all about maintaining the Law of Moses, which was so important to his fellow Jews. He did not advise the Jewish-Christians to stand out in either their Jewishness or their Christianness. Instead, he simply advised them to accept and respect their new surroundings, and live well and honourably.
Peter was applying the message and example of Jesus into this situation. For Jesus, the measure of godliness was not in explicit religion but in ordinary, practical love. Peter summed up his advice to the unhappy migrants saying: “finally, all of you, have: sympathy; love for each other; a tender heart; and a humble mind.”
This is a glorious gem of practical advice. Whenever we find ourselves in stress or conflict, we need these words to echo in our minds: “have a tender heart and a humble mind”. That will mark out the path that Jesus trod before us.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Common Hypocrisy - Sunday 3rd July 2016

Hypocrisy is common. When St Peter visited the Christians in Antioch (Galatians 2), he was keen to endorse the multicultural community of Jesus’ followers there. He ate and drank with them without showing any concern for the strict food laws that he personally valued. Well done Peter!
However, when a group of strictly-observant Jewish disciples arrived from Jerusalem - representing Peter’s co-leader, James - Peter did a sudden U-turn. He didn’t want these influential visitors to see him eating with ‘Gentiles’. St Paul was furious at Peter’s hypocrisy, and publicly criticised him for his shallowness.
Needless to say, Christianity survived Peter’s hypocrisy. The teaching of Jesus continued to spread around the world, even though - sadly - the Jesus movement eventually separated from mainstream Judaism.
The root cause of Peter’s hypocrisy was simply that he wanted to be liked by the people on both sides of the current dispute, but he couldn’t please both groups at the same time. We all fall down that gap on occasion.
Hypocrisy is common, particularly among people who hold strongly to a certain set of values. It is very hard to promote the challenging values of Jesus’ teaching, and not fall into hypocrisy. If we tried to purge all the hypocrites from our churches, we would soon have no-one left. It is better that we be gentle with our criticism and quick with our forgiveness.
Hypocrisy is common. Gracious forgiveness must be even more abundant.