Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Word Power

It is well known that it takes a lot of time and space to turn around an oil tanker. Something that big doesn’t change direction easily. Sometimes, when we look at the society around us, it can feel like an oil tanker. We see things that are heading in the wrong direction but feel powerless to do anything about it.
The subject of steering large boats came up in a letter written by Jesus’ brother, James, which is preserved in the Bible. James reflected on how even a large boat is steered using a small rudder. (This feature of maritime design hasn’t really changed in 2000 years.) James observed that our tongues are rather like the rudder on a ship; they are very small but have enormous power and influence, for either good or ill.
I write this after a week in which violent hate crimes have dominated the news. We get a lot of weeks like that every year.
Across the world ‘law abiding’ people look on with horror, and wonder how anyone can get to the point of committing such atrocities. But the people who carry out those shootings, bombings and stabbings do not work in isolation. Their murderous impulse is the consequence things that other people have said. Behind every such act of violence are the words of ‘law abiding’ citizens who speak the hatred and prejudice which somebody else eventually puts into action.
Human society may feel as unsteerable as a supertanker, but it is - in fact - effectively directed by the things that ordinary people say. If we speak anger. If we speak intolerance. If we speak prejudice. If we speak hatred. Sooner or later, those words will be turned into violent action, and all of us should share the responsibility.
It works the other way too. If we speak acceptance, and forgiveness, and tolerance, and graciousness, then we are playing a key part in steering our society in a better direction. The results may not be instant, but the tanker will gradually turn.
For good, or for ill, words are powerful things. Let's use them wisely!

Just published:
by Robert Harrison
the life and loves of a disciple of Jesus

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Property & Theft

When Jesus turned his mind to the ’10 Commandments’ his intention was not to help us to be perfect but to remind us how helplessly imperfect we all are. He said 'You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” but I say to you that  if you insult a brother or sister you will be liable to judgement...You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery,” but I say to you that everyone who looks at someone with lust has already committed adultery.’ This is challenging stuff. But when Jesus turned his attention to the next of God’s iconic words, ‘You shall not steal,’ he took the challenge to another level.
If Jesus was simply keeping to his previous pattern, he would have said something along the lines of, ’do not even think of taking something that belongs to someone else.’ Instead he said, 'If anyone takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt,’ and, 'If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.’
What Jesus is drawing our attention to is that theft is only the tip a of the proverbial iceberg of a greater problem. That greater problem is the very concept of ownership.
One day Jesus met an devout young man who had committed himself to keeping God’s law since childhood. The young man asked what else he needed to do to enter heaven. Jesus replied, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ It wasn’t the answer the young man was hoping for.
Jesus is not suggesting that 'property is theft’, but he is pointing out that property is a problem, and one that tends to separate us from God. For Jesus, caring for people is always what matters most. If we can care for someone by letting them steal our property, then we should allow them to do so. When it comes to God’s final judgement, he won’t be interested in how much we own; he will be interested in how much we’ve used it to help people in real need.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Self Justification

"You shall not murder.”
Out of God’s ten famous instructions, this is probably the easiest for the majority of us to read. Most people have never murdered anyone, nor even come near to doing so. So we can give ourselves a satisfied pat of the back…at least until we start reading the New Testament.
Jesus launched a concerted campaign to stop religious people from administering satisfied pats to their own backs. Armed with a strong understanding of God’s forgiveness, Jesus made it his business to cast each and every one of us in the role of “sinner”. He said, “You’ve heard it said from way back, ‘Don’t murder’ … But I say to you: anyone who makes their brother/sister angry is liable to judgement.”
We human beings have a natural instinct to self justification. Without pausing for thought, we cover over our failures, make up excuses and point the finger of blame at other people. It’s not pretty, but we all do it.
When we consider God’s 10 instructions our natural instinct is to justify ourselves, attempting to tick as many boxes as possible to reassure ourselves that we are good people.
Jesus’ advice is: don’t bother! He wanted every person listening to his Sermon of the Mount to walk back down the hill understanding themselves as a sinner in need of forgiveness. OK, you may never have murdered anyone, but you have annoyed plenty of people, and insulted them, and spoken ill of them behind their backs. That hurts God too.
God did not give us those 10 simple instructions with the expectation that we would all live faultless lives. That was never likely to happen. God gave us 10 simple measures to help us understand how far short we consistently fall. He is not inviting us to justify ourselves, he is inviting us to turn to him for forgiveness.