Monday, 22 May 2017

Size Matters - Sunday 21st May 2017

In the world of education, size matters. The larger a class, the less efficiently pupils learn. Wealthy families pay significant sums of money to put their children in schools with small classes. Political parties promise huge sums of money to reduce class sizes in state run schools. Smaller is almost always better when it comes to learning groups.
Jesus knew this. As a rabbi, he was part of an adult education system that was committed to delivering high quality, wholistic, learning. But Jesus faced a serious problem: his teaching and message was so popular that he soon had too many pupils (disciples). As a result, his educational mission risked becoming inefficient and ineffective.
Rabbinic tradition advised that no rabbi should have more disciples than he could effectively teach. Following this principle, Jesus robustly cut his class size down to just twelve. There must have been a lot of disappointed men and women that day, but Jesus wasn’t trying to build a large movement; he was trying to teach a renewed philosophy of life and faith. At key moments Jesus cut that group down even further, to just three: Peter, James and John.
Most Christian churches fail to be Christlike in this matter. Churches like to be big, and big churches are considered to be successful. But the bigger a church grows, the less efficient it becomes at delivering Jesus’ teaching. Some growing churches wisely sub-divide themselves into small groups where effective learning can take place.
As a teacher, Jesus knew that size matters - smaller is better.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Wonderful Disagreement - Sunday 14th May 2017

It's a rather obvious point to make, but a lot of things look very different when seen from different perspectives. Take a simple thing like a cork, for example. Look at it from one angle and you see a circle. Turn it round a bit and you see a rectangle. Two people looking at the same cork from different perspectives could have an intense debate about what shape this thing is. They would both be right - to an extent, and they would both be wrong - to an extent. The truth is that there is more to a humble cork than can be seen from any one viewpoint.
In life, society, church, faith, politics etc. we need differences. Things are complex; no one person's opinion or perspective is complete. Without disagreement we can never grasp the truth. However, human beings have a strong tendency to gather around those people who see things the same way that they do. This happens in churches as well.
In the traditional model of church life, one point of view dominates all others - that of the minister. When that happens, no matter how insightful and saintly the minister may be, there will be important perspectives that are missing. To make the situation worse, there is a high chance that the people who hold those important alternative perspectives will leave and seek a church that sees things their way.
We need differences of opinion, but they are not easy to manage. Moses did not work alone; he worked in partnership with his sister, Miriam, and his brother, Aaron. At some points in their story, the contributions of Miriam and Aaron were essential; at other points their judgement was less good. Stresses developed and God had to take the three of them aside to get their relationship back on track. Forgiveness was required.
We need different perspectives, preferences and priorities in our communities, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy or comfortable. Forgiveness will always be required.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Small is Beautiful - Sunday 7th May 2017

When four young students in ancient Babylon began to meet together to discuss their shared love of the food, customs and beliefs of Jerusalem (their place of birth), something started which had a positive impact on the future of both cities for generations to come.
When four young Galilean fishermen - who often talked together about their hopes for the future of their nation and their faith - decided to take a holiday to listen to the teaching of John the Baptist, something started which continues to have an impact across this planet, even today.
It is amazing what God can do with a handful of people who share a common interest and have the determination to put their ideas into action.
Human culture is frequently obsessed with size. Be it in business, politics or religion, we assume that bigger is better. God appears to see things differently. More often than not, when God does something wonderful its origins lie in efforts of a small group of people who got together around a common interest.
Churchill famously said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” He was referring to the efforts of the Royal Air Force, but the same words could just as well be applied to those whose determined efforts have brought the the good news of God’s love to our corner of this world.
In big church congregations our potency for God’s kingdom is easily lost or diluted. It is when we get together in small groups that things begin to make a difference. Small is indeed beautiful in God’s eyes.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Servant of Servants - Sunday 30th April 2017

The resurrection of Jesus was not simply a matter of resuscitation. Jesus, after his death and resurrection, was different to his former self. For a start, he seems to have looked a bit different; people didn’t immediately recognise him (though that may have been because they were not expecting to see him). Also, the post-resurrection Jesus doesn’t seem to to have been subject to the laws of nature in the same way. He appeared and disappeared suddenly - even when the doors were firmly locked for fear of the Jews. In his resurrection, Jesus hadn’t returned to his old life; he had moved on to a new life.
But physical features are not that important. What really matters is character and personality because these are the foundation of our relationship with him. Was this the same Jesus as before? Or a different, heavenly version?
The story of Jesus meeting his disciples by the Sea of Galilee, early one morning after an unsuccessful night’s fishing, shows us that the post-resurrection Jesus was very much the same old Jesus. As he ever did, he surprised and confused his disciples. As he ever did, he cared for and provided for his disciples.
In his resurrection, Jesus hadn’t reverted to being an all-powerful super-being, to be treated with terrified deference. Far from it. After his resurrection, Jesus - who had once washed his friends’ stinking feet - cooked breakfast for them. Jesus hadn’t transformed into a king of kings. He remained, as he had ever been, the servant of servants. And so, we should assume, he remains to this day.