Monday, 17 July 2017

Who to Choose - Sunday 16th July 2017

Imagine yourself in a familiar place where there are a number of other people as well as yourself. Then imagine that Jesus walked into that place. Who would he go to first? Who would Jesus sit with, or stand with, or talk with?
The general practice of Christian worship is that people sit in rows while the leader addresses everyone at once, so the scenario above doesn’t come quickly to mind when we think about Jesus. But we know from the Gospels that he did a lot of his ministering on a one to one basis, often ignoring the larger gathering to focus on an individual.
So, in your imagined situation, who would Jesus go to?
A year or so into Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist was having second thoughts. It seems that Jesus wasn’t being the kind of Messiah that John was expecting. So he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to double check. Was Jesus the one whose arrival John had been proclaiming, or should he look out for someone else?
Jesus drew the visitors’ attention to the rag-tag assortment of humanity that surrounded him. "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
The emphasis here is not on the miracle cures, but on the people themselves: those who are blind, or lame, or disfigured, or deaf, or dying, or poor - the disenfranchised people who begged a living on the suspicion-clouded fringes of ordinary society. These people - as Jesus saw it - were the shining stars of God’s kingdom. And the fact that they were being loved and helped, was the best available proof that God’s anointed one had indeed arrived.
When Jesus walked into a place, he looked out for the person who most needed his love - be that a blind beggar, or a staggeringly wealthy but guilt-ridden and lonely tax collector. As we seek to continue his work in our daily lives, we need to do the same.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

What's the Point - Sunday 9th July 2017

What is the key to true religion? If you consider the world’s major faiths, the central features of religion seem to be: iconic buildings, long-followed traditions, regular rituals, frequent prayer, and particular beliefs. Whatever order you may rank these features in, 21st century Christianity fits the pattern with its church buildings, its services of worship, its customs of spirituality and its core beliefs.
What does God make of all this?
In the final days of Jesus’ life, he laid out to his followers the criteria by which God will judge all the people of our little planet. His message was quite clear. God will assess us according to how we have responded to the practical needs of those in greatest need who are not managing to care for themselves. To make the point quite clear, Jesus repeated it four times. (See Matthew 25:31-46). With that point made, his message makes no mention whatsoever of beliefs, prayers, or patterns or places of worship. These things simply do not feature.
Some decades later, Jesus’ brother, James, turned his attention to the same theme. He expressed a similar understanding to that of his much more famous brother: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress”.
Put simply - if our acts worship, our prayers and our beliefs encourage and enable us to offer practical care to those who need our assistance, then they may be of some value. But if our practice of worship and our understanding of God does not lead us into practical care, then our religion is quite pointless.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Immigrants - Sunday 2nd July 2017

Immigration is a major issue across the world at present. It has been a key factor in recent elections including Britain, France and the USA. Italy is expressing major concern about it. This is nothing new. Immigration was a significant issue back in the days of Moses.
As the Israelites were preparing to live in their own land for the first time, God gave them comprehensive guidance through Moses as to how they should conduct themselves. The subject of how they should treat immigrants features repeatedly. That divinely inspired guidance is just as pertinent today as it was over three thousand years ago.
The first instruction is that there should be one law for everyone, native and immigrant. This repeated instruction gives immigrants equal rites and it also gives them equal responsibilities. Immigrants are to be treated no differently from anyone else. This equality extended to worship. All immigrants were invited (but not commanded) to take part in Jewish worship.
The second instruction set up a welfare provision to meet the basic needs of all immigrants who had yet to settle and make provision for themselves. It amounted to a 3.3% tax on all income to provide for people in immediate need of support - whether native or immigrant. There was a parallel requirement on businesses to allow a margin of inefficiency in order to provide for those who were disenfranchised.
All this provided a robust and generous welcome to immigrants in Israel, but Moses’ instruction goes even further. "The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself.”
This instruction to love immigrants as we love ourselves leaves no room for doubt in how we need to approach this controversial issue.
There is a natural fear of uncontrolled immigration which touches us all in one way or another, but God calls us to rise above it. All the people on this planet are loved by God, whoever they are and wherever they are. We must love them too.