Be still – be yourself!

Durham Cathedral from the south

Durham Cathedral from the south (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if it is my being at that ‘difficult age’ or the times but the months seem to be winging past.  In fact, the constant round of work, travel and the odd bit of telly, can leave the old brain fairly buzzing. So much so, few of us ever seems to be static even for a moment . No wonder then that I think often of the wisdom of the local expedition bearers who insist on regularly stopping to let their souls catch up! Nowadays we think less of our bodies let alone or spiritual well being.

Going on this year’s summer holiday was more vexing than usual. The days before were particularly hot and busy. The journey was hot and slow with road works. The camping site was hot and packed. And trust me, in Britain the word ‘hot’ is rarely said in the same breath as ‘weather’.

In fact, to escape the heat with the dogs we made the short trip – air con on full blast – to a local beauty spot on the River Wear. It was there I wandered in the medieval ruins of Finchdale abbey; the place where the monks of Durham Cathedral came to rest and recuperate in the summer months.  Something of the ancient meditative mood must haunt the stones. For I found myself sitting and thinking – be still and know that I am God. Perhaps we also need to be still and know ourselves as well.

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Who is a good Samaritan today?

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10.25-37

busy_samaritan

My grandfather used to say – he never knew how ignorant he was until his family grew up and told him. Well, I didn’t realise how ignorant I was until I encounter this story… the story of the Good Samaritan. Since, it has to be said that, in the past I have always taken the term Samaritan for granted. In truth, it meant to me little more than a good friend in time of dire need; I knew also of that wonderful organisation of listeners to people in distress and with thought I would recall the biblical people as long forgotten as the tribes of the Old Testament.

So nothing done, I just had to research the Samaritans and the land of Samaria for this morning. It turns out that their history is a complex one as was their reasons from breaking away from main stream Judaism around the time of the Babylonian exile. Then, about a thousand years later, many converted to Islam in the middle-ages. As a result today there are only 800 followers of the Samaritan religion. Yet despite that small number their modern story connects well with the Good Samaritan of Christ’s parable. For their homeland of Samaria is in the central inland bit of the Holy Land. Nowadays, we would say it is in the occupied West Bank. As a result we can make the Good Samaritan story much more poignant for ourselves – here and now – by thinking of Jesus teaching us of the Palestinian rescuing the beaten up Israeli. Quite an object lesson that would be I am sure you will agree!

Nevertheless, to get the full sense of a current meaning to the Good Samaritan we must leave Israel-Palestine and return home. Since, even here in ‘we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ Scotland, we surely cannot deny that there are divisions, there are ‘them’s and us’, and there are indeed ‘oors and theirs’. And so if we were to rewrite the Samaritan’s, Jew’s and inn keeper’s stories we could fill in the blanks with our own dislikes, prejudices and ‘just can’t stands’. Worse still if we were really being honest we could recount the parable for people that leave us outwardly accepting but inwardly uncomfortable of. The people that leave us feeling a tad two-faced as well as a smidgeon prejudiced.

To make my point I turn to a story towards the end of a church-initiated Conference about multi-faith relations.  One

of the speakers asked those attending if they would be willing to pray for someone of another faith, for example if a Muslim

asked for us to pray for their family. A minister in the audience put his hand up and said ‘yes, of course I would be more than happy to do that—I’ll pray for anyone’. Then, the speaker asked the

minister if he would be happy to ask a Muslim to pray for him. An uncomfortable silence followed.

However the sharpest point of the Samaritan story is less to do with reminding us that all humans are our neighbours and more to do something even more challenging. Because the story does not refute the idea that there are saintly people and bad people, courageous people and cowardly people even wise and silly people. Quite the reverse, it affirms that humanity is a spectrum of spectrums. But, it also illustrates that it is daft to try and predict people’s character and behaviour by their labels. Since, we surely would have ticked for the good column the priest and Levite whilst possibly putting the heretical foreigner in another box entirely. In essence, this story makes us more and not less ask the question who is my neighbour and then be startled by the answer.

When we were visiting France many years ago, we meet a lady who had grown up in Glasgow after her father came to Britain during the war. She related to us a story of her Grandparents who had remained behind in occupied France. In this story a most unlikely Good Samaritan featured. Because, she told us that her grandparents had had two German officers and their batman billeted on them. The ‘German brass’ were very harsh on the young soldier and, as a result, the French couple rather took him under their wing. After all, with their son away, they must have recalled he was someone’s son as well.

One night, he came to them alone. He said yesterday I heard you listening to the Free French Radio. This was indeed a very serious offence. Now, the lad went on – I am not going to say anything – but those two certainly would. The radio went into the river that night.

Who then was that young enemy soldier’s neighbour? Who was that French man and woman’s neighbour? Who indeed in this crazy mixed up world is having mercy on us?

Now go and do likewise!

Poem for times of trouble

I found this on my Facebook page today:

 

We who were once far off,9994-sunrise-at-orvieto-umbria-italy-free-landscape-and-scenic-desktop_531x331
who wandered as if
in a wilderness,
searching for water,
desperate for shade,
now rest in your embrace,
feast on your word,
drink from a well
that will never run dry,
and have found the place
we were searching for,
as Christ has brought us home.

Sparing a thought for those in peril..

During the British National Suicide Prevention week spare a thought and a prayer for those who suffer so badly they would take their own life.

 

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Dealing with mixed feelings

 

Luke 19.28-40a150

Tell me – how many cheers do you give today. And that the answer to that depends on whither you greet this morning with unalloyed joy or with mixed feelings. Certainly Christ greeted the Jerusalem crowd with the latter. As a result, our lesson this morning speak volumes for many of us here – many also who are just out there – many who have mixed feelings about entering. Continue reading

Days that changed the world

My house in Umbria


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For on Tuesday on returning home from a series of Church meetings, I caught the second half of that great film – My house in Umbria. This is a bitter-sweet comedy which nevertheless deals with some very dark themes indeed.

It starts with a terrorist bomb going off on an Italian inter city train. The foreign survivors of the bombed carriage all end up recuperating in a chaotically rustic pension ruled over by a somewhat fey and often tipsy Emily Delahunty played by Maggie Smith. The main plot revolves around a small American girl who has been orphaned by the atrocity. She is destined to return to the States with her desiccated and self-absorbed uncle.

In time, it is revealed that the gentle young German student, Werner, who is so attentive to the child – almost like a brother – is in fact the bomber.

At the film’s end, with the child entrusted to this rag-tag group’s care, they walk in the warm Italian sunset and Maggie smith’s character says to Ronnie Barker’s, I forgive even Werner. Shocking the others, they ask why. And she replies we all need forgiveness.

It seems then by the good action of offering forgiveness, they could give to each other their brokenness as well. And as a result they found peace, they found acceptance, they found even contentment.

Now as we approach Easter, let us do the same.

A Marketing Strategy

Luke 10.1-9

Acts 3.1-10

Not so long ago Black & Decker were preparing for a large promotional campaign. And to get the angle just right for their advertising, they sent out market researchers to find what ‘Joe soap’ actually wanted. They returned with the discouraging news that people didn’t want drills they wanted holes. In other words, they weren’t interested in power tools only what they can do for them.

Now that was not a surprising discovery really. Few of us get on a bus to have a ride in a Van Hool special – we get on to go somewhere. And here is an important point for the church. Because it is often said that those in church don’t want to evangelise others they just what full and vibrant services. On the other hand, those outside Christianity don’t want uninvited missionaries selling them religion on their door-steps. Where then is the answer?

Well let’s have the courage to do a little honest market research. Let’s ask what those out there want from the church in here. Would it be someone telling them how bad they’ve are and how they can be as clean as the driven snow – possibly? Would they want a group of worthies mouthing various platitudes about changing the world – possibly? But what about the offer of healing, what about the offer that their lives could genuinely be better – what about the possibility of throwing aside the meaningless sleep– work – TV – sleep cycle – for a life full to the brim with hope, opportunity and harmony?

Now, I suspect we are cooking with gas! Because sure as eggs are eggs, the crippled beggar wasn’t in the market for a character assignation – he had enough on his plate for that. Neither was he fussed about a dissertation on the woes his economic situation. After all – he isn’t one of the much lauded ‘hard working families’? No what he was desperate for was the healing of his situation and the lifting up from his disability. He wanted real quality of life. And in Peter – he got it. In that disciple sent out by Christ, the cripple found what he wanted to buy. In fact, he got what he needed not what someone else thought he needed. And as a result he understood the true meaning of the kingdom of God.

Yet what about the people in churches? What about us here? How are we going to get what we want? Well, often we are harangued to get ‘out and about’ evangelising – we vaguely chatter also about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – we even whisper in fear and trembling about taking the gospel out to the people. But the problem is we haven’t a clue how to do it. We have no marketing strategy to sell what we find valuable in our faith. We have indeed no real idea what every woman and man wants.

So what is to be done?

Have you heard the story about the elderly woman who lived in a small country town? Well, one day she had car trouble on the way to the supermarket. Her car stalled at a stop sign. She tried everything to get her car started again, but no luck. Suddenly, a man in a van came up behind her and with obvious agitation started honking his horn at her impatiently. She redoubled her efforts to get her car going. She pumped the accelerator, turned the ignition, but still no luck… the man in the pick-up continued to honk his horn constantly and loudly. So very calmly she got out of her car, walked back to the van and motioned for the man to lower his window and then politely she said: “I’ll make a deal with you. If you will start my car for me I’ll be happy to honk your horn for you!”

Now she certainly handled that very difficult situation well. But, more importantly, she handled it by knowing what he and she wanted. He wanted her car out of the way and she wanted to get her car started. And so she sold him their common need – and low and below -they went on their way together in peace.

Now Christ knew what he wanted and that was to bring people into the Kingdom. He knew too what people wanted and that was what all that the kingdom could offer them. So he sent his followers out to find those who needed their message – those who were willing to hear their good news – those who were looking for something more in life. They were then to bring peace beyond all the world’s troubles– they were to bring solutions to all that needed healing and they were to bring fulfilment to life in all its dimensions. The outcome was that not only were doors opened but so was that big one to the Kingdom of God. and so, in a nutshell, they went on the way together.

What then was the kernel of this marketing strategy of Jesus Christ?

It is well illustrated for us in this story.

A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.” An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.” A government official asked if he was paying taxes on the pit. A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.” A charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in a pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!

Well, if today we want to be true evangelists – if want to offer the Kingdom that is near – if want bring healing to life –let us do as Peter did by lifting the beggar– let us do as Christ did in that story by lifting up the lost – let us rediscover the church’s unique selling point – and do likewise.

Amen

HYMN