Monthly Archives: February 2015

Addressing Poverty and Injustice

In order to have a voice in the public sphere, the Church of England needs to be seen to speak with integrity. The Gospels and the wider scriptures have an inherent bias towards the poor. What is the Church doing to reflect this scriptural imperative?

Here is the evidence:

http://www.cuf.org.uk/research/church-action-0?dm_i=5DF,37LJO,19R1N0,BHWY1,1

Social action is not an optional side project for the Church; it is core to its heart and mission. The commitment to this calling can be clearly seen in the scale and diversity of activities offered by local churches, ranging from food banks and debt advice, to lunch imgresclubs and fitness classes. Not only do churches offer services that meet specific needs, they also create spaces for people to connect with and get to know others, helping to build stronger and more resilient communities.

Tempting – Mark 1:9-15

Think back 14 or 15 years to two significant events in the lives of two different people.

15 years ago in April 2000, South Africans were stunned by allegations that Hansie Cronje, captain of the national cricket team, had taken bribes to fix matches. The very idea that this national hero and role model would contemplate doing something dishonest and corrupt seemed incomprehensible. When some allegations were confirmed there was a real sense of national mourning. People asked: ‘If someone like Hansie Cronje can do this what hope is there for the rest of us?’

Cronje’s response, when allegations were confirmed, seemed to blame the devil for making him accept bribes to fix results. South Africans saw this as an attempt by Cronje to evade responsibility for his actions. And they were right.

To say, ‘The devil made me do it,’ is to attempt to avoid facing our own internal demons. We are responsible for our own actions.

Less than 9 months later in the winter of 2000/1, Ellen MacArthur came to prominence as one of our most outstanding sports-people. It surprised me that it was as long ago as March 2001 that the TV programme about her was shown. Do you remember it? … The story of her amazing journey round the Antarctic as part of the Vaunday Globe Race. I can remember my sense of disbelief at the stamina and commitment she showed, the difficulties that she faced and the obstacles that she overcame. Do you remember … the speed of the yacht, the height of the waves, the sight of her hanging by one arm from the mast 60 ft about the deck in the middle of a storm, trying to mend wind-measuring equipment?

At one point, Ellen said that she had a dream which she didn’t believe would ever become a reality. Yet, she said, with persistence she realised that dream. For Ellen, the chance to pit herself against the ultimate sailing challenge was the dream.

Fulfilling the dream required wholehearted commitment to see it through, remaining true to herself and to the values she had embraced.

Successful people the world over will tell you that pursuing a dream, to be the best, requires commitment, application and stamina. They will tell you of the sheer slog of hard work involved, the guts and determination that it takes to be the best. And they will tell you too that the feeling which comes after success, the joy of holding that gold medal, the status that they achieve – makes all the hard work worthwhile. Their dream, their mission achieved, they have every right to feel proud.

On the first Sunday in Lent, we remember that Jesus was tempted. In the Gospel stories, he is engaged in the sternest of tests of his commitment to his mission. The account in Mark is short. In Matthew and Luke we get a much fuller account of the battle he fought. Satan tries, and fails, to turn Jesus away from God’s plan. Satan offers Jesus the easy way out. Matthew and Luke talk of three different temptations.

Actually, it is really the same temptation in three different forms. The temptation to set aside God’s plan for his life – to put the dream on hold. A temptation that Hansie Cronje could not handle, a temptation that Ellen MacArthur faced and overcame.

Jesus is first tempted to put himself first – to change stones into bread. He is tempted to grasp power for himself rather than bring in God’s kingdom. And Satan also tempts Jesus to look for the easy route to draw people to himself, to seek fame rather than suffering and death. To look for the instant, short-term solution, rather than face real and necessary struggles.

In each case, it’s God’s plan that Jesus chooses to follow  – a path of self-denial that will lead through the cross to eventual resurrection. God’s plan, God’s dream, is the defeat of death and evil. Unlike Hansie Cronje, Jesus follows the dream, no matter the cost. Much as Ellen MacArthur did, Jesus remains focussed on his dream, on God’s dream.

So what is God’s dream? … What can we commit ourselves to wholeheartedly? … Here are four clear challenges from the full story of the temptations.

  1. Priorities: Jesus was tempted to place physical need above spiritual, to live without trusting God, to turn stones into bread. … We so easily base our security in our jobs, our homes and our money rather than in God. We need to begin again to experience God’s provision for us, rather than just living off our own resources. So, here’s the first challenge – to be prepared to make sacrifices in our lifestyle, to make serving God our priority. …. Perhaps this Lent, rather than giving up chocolate we could do something different, perhaps we could use Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings materials to engage with what it means to share in the pain and struggle others in our world face every day: (http://www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/lent/count-your-blessings). Or ….. you could join one of the Lent groups this year, promoted by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (http://www.ctbi.org.uk/688), which are aimed at helping us to understand what it it like to live in the countries of the middle east at this time.
  1. Prayer and Worship: Also, in being tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus was tempted to turn away from his relationship with God, to become self-reliant. …. How can we together, begin to show our reliance on God? …. By praying and worshipping, together and alone, by expressing together, our need of God’s help. God can & does provide the resources we need to follow the dream. We need both to rely on God, & to be seen to do so.
  1. Persistence: In Satan’s encouragement to throw himself off the temple, Jesus was tempted to look for the instant, the short term solution. To wow people into the kingdom, to impress with magic and illusion. We can so easily fall into the trap of looking for the stop-gap solution, the one that will only require a little effort now, not a long-term commitment. The easy option. … God’s call is to persistence, to commitment, to seeing things through.
  1. Place God’s kingdom above personal advancement: Satan tempted Jesus to worship him. To gain a position of power and influence. God wanted Jesus to walk the way of the cross. … It is so easy, isn’t it to want others to see our commitment, our diligence. To want others to praise us. To want to take the lead. Whereas God, in the example of Jesus, is calling us to a path of humility and possibly even suffering, and if we are to be leaders, then it will be a great cost to ourselves. …..

Ellen MacArthur had a dream – she gave it her wholehearted commitment, she risked everything to achieve it. Hansie Cronje gave in to the temptations around him.

We need a dream, God’s dream. We need to listen for his word, watch out for what God is doing and make that our dream. And if we really commit ourselves to that dream, it too, through God’s power and strength, can become a reality.

The Transfiguration – Mark 9:2-9; Colossians 1:15-20; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.

In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul struggles to impress on us the nature and importance of  Jesus as God’s Son.

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Paul and others like him were doing their theology for the first time. They had met with the risen Jesus, some had lived alongside him for at least three years, and they were all struggling to put into words and ideas the reality of what they had encountered.

Paul talks in Colossians of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, as someone in whom the whole Godhead dwells bodily. He has begun to realise just exactly who Jesus was and is, and it excites him. And in that passage from Colossians it’s as though, words tumble out as Paul realises just what it all means. We can almost feel his longing that his readers will understand too.

The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) was part of the same kind of process going on for Peter. Up to now, he has seen Jesus healing, he has felt his own poverty and sinfulness alongside the richness of Jesus character, he has listened to Jesus speaking, he has seen his wisdom and listened to his parables and gradually it has become clearer to him that Jesus is more than just a special person, but try as he might he can’t get his head round it all. In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel reading he has hesitantly voiced what is inside his head. “You are the Messiah, the Holy one of God,” he says to Jesus.

But ultimately he still isn’t sure what he means … and then comes the Transfiguration. He sees Jesus and Moses and Elijah together and he believes he’s worked it out. He places Jesus on the highest pedestal that his mind can comprehend. Jesus is the equal of Moses and Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet ever. And for a Jew, that was saying something!

And Peter wants to build booths, small shrines, little churches. He leader, his master is in his mind the equal of Moses, the equal of Elijah. This needs to be marked. And then God speaks: … “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” Listen only to him.

Peter discovers that he has not gone far enough. His own mind just was not big enough to comprehend who Jesus was, who Jesus is. The truth was just so much bigger than he ever thought.

And we are left facing the same truth – Jesus is bigger than our own ideas of him. God is beyond our comprehension and we will only begin to understand God, to relate to God if we relate to Jesus. And we will only do that if we allow ourselves to see God=s revelation of him. The lesson of the Transfiguration is that creating our own image of Jesus, of God, achieves little. All it does is bring God down to our own level. And depending on our own perspective we create a Christ who is meek and mild, or a Christ who is white rather than a Jew, a red-haired handsome specimen of humanity; or perhaps we might create Christ as the freedom fighter, the revolutionary, the liberator, or we see him as the social reformer.

“No,” says God, “Jesus is bigger than all of this – he is my Son. You can’t pin him down. You can’t domesticate him. He is there to challenge you, to save you, to draw the best out of you. Listen to him.”

We are intended to be dazzled by the light of Jesus face. To be drawn to him, and to see the world fade into dimness. And in that encounter, God expects us to be changed, to be renewed, to be challenged, to be shaken out of our present categories, our concepts of the way things are.

By meeting with Christ, we begin to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but more than that – we are challenged to move out with hope into our world, believing that God’s kingdom in Jesus is all that other’s really need, looking to bring that kingdom into being, looking for the signs of God’s presence in the world around us. Longing to serve our Lord, longing to be changed still more. Longing to be Transfigured in our encounter with Jesus.

For as Paul says in the reading from 2 Corinthians:

It is the God who in creation said “Let there be Light!” “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has also shone into our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Ashton-under-Lyne – Popular Market!

The market in Ashton-under-Lyne has won a national award for the second year running. it has again been voted Britain’s Favourite Market in a public ballot. So says an article in the Manchester Evening News and Tameside Advertiser.

More than 100,000 votes were cast in favour of the site in a poll run by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NAMBA) . Councillor John Taylor, deputy leader of Tameside council, said it was ‘fantastic news’. He said: “We have been told it is history in the making for one market to be voted Britain’s favourite on two consecutive years.

“It is a testament to the many loyal customers but also the continued drive of traders and staff to make the market a modern, forward-looking and appealing focal point in the borough, attracting new shoppers all the time. “Thanks to everyone who voted and massive congratulations to everyone involved in making Ashton Market the very special place it is.”

Ashton has had a market for more than 700 years but its hall had to be rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2004. It now boasts more than 250 stalls both inside the historic building and outside, as well as a food court which can cate rfor business or social meetings.

Market chiefs also provide wi-fi for visitors and use social media to keep shoppers and traders up to date with the latest deals, competitions and news. Cooking demonstrations and culinary workshops are regularly held at the market, including some which promote the Love Food Hate Waste project.

A former winner of Britain’s Greenest Market and Market Team of the Year, the market takes part in Love Your local Market fortnight – an annual event that encourages the public to shop at their nearest marketplace. And, most recently, it hosted Tameside Christmas Market for the second consecutive year, drawing in 10,000 visitors. It will return this winter.

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/ashton-market-voted-nations-favourite-8574561