Bible · faith · Grace

The Last Shall Be First

I’ve been reading Jeremiah 31 today. The promise to Israel that they will return from exile.
The story of exile and homecoming is one of THE MAJOR THEMES in the Bible. A couple of things I noticed:

There are various literary devices used in scripture. Among other things, they are designed to make the message memorable, or emphasise certain aspects of the text.

For example – repeating an idea but using different words – sing, shout praise …
Or having a refrain as in Psalm 46 … ‘God is with us’

Another, perhaps less recognised literary device is to do with a mirror image structure called a chiasm

In a chiasm, you have a structure that goes something like this from Milton’s Paradise Lost:
A. Adam,
B first of men
B` to first of women,
A` Eve

There’s a nice chiasm in Jeremiah 31 that you can see here

One of the points about a chiasm is that the whole thrust of the passage is often to be found in the centre of the chiasm.

In the case of Jeremiah 31, the centre of the passage has these words.

8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

These words show us God’s heart and God’s intention for Israel. That is to restore them and bring them home. But the remarkable thing that struck me was those who are specifically mentioned as coming home. The blind and the lame, the pregnant and those in labour. That is, the most vulnerable.

God promises to become like a father to these most vulnerable of his people. They will be like the firstborn.

What an amazing thing to read and understand. God’s concern is for the weakest. As Jesus would himself demonstrate throughout his life – “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Or, as American priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon often wrote – God’s concern is for ‘the little, the lost, the least and the last.’

Are we able to see ourselves here in this company? Because we all need to find our way home. And maybe part of that journey home involves becoming vulnerable and surrendering our impulses to be strong and in control.

Wherever you are on this journey. Grace and Peace.

Grace · music · Songwriting · Storytelling

More Grace Still To Come

When I had almost got this song finished, I played it to a few people – at a songwriters circle, which Simon and I go to, and then to Kiri, and then Ben, friends who live nearby. It was so helpful to get some feedback.

When Ben heard the song, he had just popped round for a chat, and I asked if I could play the song for him. At the end he was really positive, and then asked if I had thought about having a bridge with a slightly different feel at some point. He sang what was on his mind .. picking up of the central idea of grace, singing – There’s more grace, much more grace, still more grace.

I loved the idea and went away and worked on it … it was harder than I had thought – I wanted to get some harmonies in there and I wasn’t sure where to put this new section. Should it go in the middle of the song or near the end ? Also, the song was already nearing five minutes long, and I didn’t want it to go over that length.

After about three or four goes at recording it with the bridge in different places (and losing one recording completely), I decided that enough was enough and asked Bev to come in put on some harmony.

I’ve written so much about this song – and really pleased to have got it to something I’m happy with.

So many thanks to those who helped along the way, Bev, Kiri, Ben, Simon – it’s such a privilege to have friends who listen and encourage and make suggestions. Bless you all.

You can listen to it here: More Grace

I hope you enjoy the song.

faith · Grace · LIterature · Songwriting · Storytelling · Truth

Pulling A Song To Pieces

I’m nearly finished with this song. Was this a worthwhile exercise …. I guess we learn from everything.

A Life of Love

Hear the story of a life of love, written clear on every line.
Drawing strength from up above, to see her through hard times.
She was born in a shotgun house, three rooms in a dead straight line.
Built on just a half a city lot – they’re doing just fine

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all

See the children in their Sunday best, smiling, standing all in a line.
She’s at the front in her new blue dress with her sister just behind.
Sixteen and she knows it all, finds it hard to toe the line.
Got ambition to be top girl – she’s going to shine.

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
There’s enough to cover everyone

She’s listening to her baby cry, hoping he’s the last in line.
Patience is in short supply looking after number nine.
Now her children, they’re all grown, there will be grandkids down the line.
She spends her time on the telephone, they’re always on her mind.

I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all

The Doctors listened to her heart, they summed her up in a few short lines.
Quickly scribbled on a patient chart, she never saw the signs.

Instrumental verse

You’ll find them at the edge of town, standing there in a dead straight line.
Waiting in the summer sun with roses all around.

But I’ve a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all.
I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
More than enough to cover everyone


I want to credit the source of some of the verses.

First, the shotgun house in the first verse, comes from the story “The making of a Minister” – in Ragman, stories by Walter Wangerin.
Arthur lived in a shotgun house, so called because it was three rooms in a dead straight line, built narrowly on half a city lot.


The second verse comes from a picture – of my mum and her eight siblings all standing, one behind the other, from shortest at the front to tallest at the back.


The chorus was triggered by a passage from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson.
Lila speaking:
“On Sundays you talk about the Good Lord. how he does one thing and another.”
“Yes I do.” And he blushed. It was as if he expected that question too, and was surprised again that the thing he expected for no reason was actually happening. He said. “I know that I am not – adequate to the subject. You have to forgive me.”
She nodded. “That’s all you’re going to say.”
“No. No, it isn’t. I think you’re asking me these questions because of some of the hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.” He said, “You can probably tell I’ve said the same word too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.


The verse that begins: The Doctor’s listened to her heart, is from Ragman again –
Arthur Fort with his jaundiced view of hospital. “$20 a strolling visit when they come to a patient’s room,” he said. “For what? Two minutes time is what, and no particular news to the patient. A squeeze, a punch, a scribble on their charts, and they leave that sucker feeling low and worthless.”


And the final verse is inspired by words once more from Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
So when she was done at Mrs Graham‘s house, she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you would know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be after so many years, waiting in sunlight all covered in roses.


faith · Grace · Poetry · Storytelling · suffering · Truth

Full Of Wonder And Mystery

I’ve just started reading Marilynne Robinson’s book – ‘Lila.’ Set in the town of Gilead in Iowa, it has the feel of other novels I’ve read recently. (The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and Devisadero by Michael Ondaatje). All of the books are written with the skill of a story teller and the language of a poet.

As someone who believes in the grace of God that surrounds and covers us, I was struck by these words, spoken by her pastor husband.

…. No. No, it isn’t. I think you are asking me these questions because of some hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.” He said, “You can probably tell I’ve said these same words too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged, and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.

Grace and peace.

Bible · faith · God · Grace · Jesus · Prayer

So Much To Tell You

I’m told that to increase your readership, you need to blog often. Ah well.

There is so much to say, but sadly I’ve forgotten a lot of it. However, here’s one snippet, and it’s all about water.

But first, the plan. I have a plan for the year. A plan that is slimmed down from last year’s marathon of 4 scripture readings every day. So this year, I’m spending the first six months reading through the prophet Jeremiah at a very leisurely pace, just a few verses each day.

Alongside that, I’m reading just a few verses from Mark’s Gospel each week. The same few verses every day of the week. I’m also trying to build in 20 minutes of silence each day. It’s a simple diet.

I’ve got a couple of other books that I’m reading alongside the scripture readings – Running Over Rocks, by Ian Adams. 52 short chapters – one for each week of the year, each one focussing on a simple spiritual practice.

And finally, Sounding the Seasons, a book of sonnets by the poet Malcolm Guite, one sonnet each week.

It feels good so far.

Oh, and I forgot – of course a psalm each day.

So, last Monday, I had three readings that included these words:
From Psalm 93:
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!

and from Jeremiah 2:
My people have … forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

and from Mark 1:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  
And just as he was coming up out of the water,
saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.’

It’s interesting that all three readings are in some way about water.
Mighty waters
The fountain of living water
The waters of baptism
And as I thought more about the Gospel reading and the water of baptism, my mind went back to the very first words of the Bible, noticing three parallels between the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of Mark’s Gospel

Parallel 1 – Descending and Hovering

At the baptism of Jesus, is it the dove that is important, or the description of the dove descending ?
Maybe what’s happening here is answering the prayer of the prophet Isaiah – “O that you (God) would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1)

This descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove in Mark chapter 1 reminded me of something very similar in Genesis chapter 1:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Parallel 2 – Good and Pleasing

And, in Genesis chapter 1 we have the repeated refrain – and God saw that it was good, while in Mark chapter 1, we have God saying “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”

In Genesis 1 God sees what he has made, and it is good.
In Mark 1 God speaks a word of affirmation over the new thing that is coming in Jesus.

Parallel 3 – Thrown out and Tempted

Following the description of God’s work of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, the plot moves to the temptation of Adam and Eve, which results in them being thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

Following Jesus’ baptism, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drives (or throws, banishes) Jesus out into the wilderness where he is tempted.

It’s as if the wilderness place is where humanity is, and it’s where Jesus goes to begin his work of winning humanity back. He goes to the place where we have to deal with the compulsions that drive us apart from one another. The hungers that have gone from the natural healthy desires to something twisted and broken.

And it’s here, where we dwell, that Jesus confronts and overcomes those desires – and is able to hold on to the knowledge of being a beloved son of God.

And Finally

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice these parallels. (Indeed, maybe I read it somewhere and forgot it, but it stayed in my subconscious?) But I do find it amazing, wonderful, inspiring etc that the start of the Hebrew Bible begins with God’s work of creation, and the start of the Christian Gospel begins with God’s work of New Creation, in which, at last, God comes to be present with us to lead us … not back to the garden, but ultimately onwards …

(But that’s another story)

So may you know, deep within you, that (as one wise person has said)
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more,
and there’s nothing you could do that would make God love you less.

And Finally, Finally

Here’s the sonnet by Malcolm Guite on the Baptism of Christ:

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.

Grace and Peace.

Bible · Church · faith · Grace · Theology

Which Side Are You On ?

Or – alternative readings of Numbers Chapter 16.

I’m reading the Old Testament book of Numbers at the moment.

It’s a book worth spending time on, because of parallels with the situation of the Christian church. The narrative of the book of Numbers is set in the time after Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but before they enter the land of promise. The Christian story is also set between a time of deliverance through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and the future time when God will fulfil the promise of a ‘New Heaven and a New Earth.’

It’s a story of a community that at times is divided because of the challenges that they face in their wilderness wanderings. it’s a time of formation, with Israel trying to work out what is their identity and mission, as competing voices clamour to be heard.

In Numbers chapter 16, we read of a rebellion headed by Korah, one of the Levite tribe.
The Levites as a tribe were given the responsibility and privilege of serving in the Tabernacle, the ‘Tent of Meeting,’ which was the focus of Israel’s worship. However, their duties were limited, and overseen by Aaron and the other priests. Korah’s issue is that some Levites were seen to be better than others. His point is that the whole of Israel have been called and have an equal status – all are holy.

16  1 Now Korah, along with Dathan and Abiram took two hundred and fifty Israelite men, leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they confronted Moses. They assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face. Then he said to Korah and all his company, ‘In the morning the Lord will make known who is his, and who is holy, and who will be allowed to approach him; the one whom he will choose he will allow to approach him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all your company, and tomorrow put fire in them, and lay incense on them before the Lord; and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You Levites have gone too far!’

Then Moses said to Korah, ‘Hear now, you Levites! Is it too little for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to allow you to approach him in order to perform the duties of the Lord’s tabernacle, and to stand before the congregation and serve them? 10 He has allowed you to approach him, and all your brother Levites with you; yet you seek the priesthood as well! 11 Therefore you and all your company have gathered together against the Lord. What is Aaron that you rail against him?’

As the story progresses, Korah and his large number of followers are portrayed as faithless, wishing they were back in what they see as the relative comfort of Egypt, and angry that Moses’ leadership style is too authoritarian.
Moses and Aaron are portrayed as men full of integrity, not making any profit out of their leadership position.
Then God comes into the story, and is clearly on the side of Moses and Aaron, the result being that Korah and all his followers die.

As I reflect on this passage, I’m asking two question:
1: Who wrote the account ? Usually it’s the winners who write history. In this case it was likely the priestly class who are the authors.
2: Is it possible to read it from different standpoints ?

So, reading it from the point of view of the leaders, we’ve got a revolt that threatens what God is doing and the leaders of the uprising must be punished. Leaders are ordained by God and should be obeyed, or else !

Or, could you read this from ‘below,’ from the point of view of the rebels, and say to the priestly class / leaders about their reading of events – well that’s what you would say! The truth of it is that when people without power and influence try to have their say to bring about change, they usually end up worse off, as on this occasion. The leaders use their position, and invoke God or some other power as being on their side.

The way the priests wrote it, they come down on the side of Moses, but my sympathies are with Korah. More importantly, we need to read this through a New Testament lens. For St Paul, there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, Slave and Free, Male and Female – the biggest distinctions in the world of 1st century Judaism. All are equal in Christ.

The impulse to make distinctions between people is a powerful one. It’s embedded in our culture of achievement. Some are seen to be intrinsically worth more than others. To varying degrees, this separation can still occur on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, wealth, education, class, etc, and in the church, ordination. In opposition to this divisive approach, the Gospel declares that in Christ we are of equal value, with no distinction and no requirement to meet a certain standard.

There are applications for leadership here. A reading of the incident that is sympathetic to Moses, but also trying to be a ‘critical friend,’ might say that Moses has become too remote from the people with the result that they complain without understanding what Moses is doing. We see that all the time in the church and in secular environments. Leaders need to keep in close touch with those in their care.
A more critical judgment of Moses (and Aaron) might say that they have become proud of their status, and see themselves as beyond reproach. If leaders in a church become too separate, the danger is that they see themsleves, or are seen by others as more holy than the rest. This quickly leads to a culture either of dependence or rebellion, rather than a healthy interdependence that recognises the holiness of all.

Grace and Peace, especially to all in leadership.

Grace · Me · Songwriting

There’s A Circle Of Grace

Walter Brueggemann talks about the way that the Christian life can be summed up in two words – Gift and Task.

This post is definitely gift. I’ve been trying to write this song for a couple of weeks. I had the phrase ‘circle of grace’ that popped up in something I read, and I already had the words ‘where the lost can be found, and the bound can be freed.’

It took some time to realise what the song needed to be – two halves with something linking between the two. It seems that songs have a life of their own, and part of the craft of songwriting is to help bring that song to life. Was it Michaelangelo who described the work of a sculptor as bringing out the figure that is already there in the stone. Just removing the stone that is not part of the figure …

Anyway, here it is. Lyrics below and rough recording on BandCamp. Circle of Grace

Where the lost can be found

And the bound can be freed
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

Where the hungry are fed
And the dead can be raisedq
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

It’s not status
or money or looks
or keeping the rules
Empty handed
we come to this kingdom of fools

It’s not knowledge
or image
or power that’s the key
There’s a circle of grace
that’s setting us free

Where the broken are healed
and the least will be lifted on high
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me

Where the last will be first
and the thirsty be filled
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me.

Jonathan Evans. Copyright 2021.

Grace and peace to you.

faith · Following Jesus · Grace · Running · Theology

Learning To Enjoy My Running

Regular readers will know that I’ve been trying to get a bit fitter by running the ‘Couch 2 5 k’ programme. When I finally got to running 30 minutes without stopping (which is an achievement for me, believe me), I got a bit obsessed with my times and really wanted to get below the average time for my age group. After a few weeks, I got my time down to around 35 minutes, with a consistent 7 minutes per km – goal achieved!

However … I wasn’t really enjoying the running. It was slog to be honest. I was always listening for the voice that would tell me that I had run another km, and how long it had taken. I was listening to some great music, but the run itself – well …

So for the last week or so, I’ve just set a timer on my phone for 40 minutes, and run until the timer bleeps. I’m listening to some podcasts instead of music, and finding that this is working really well. Not having the app on that tells me distance, and time, and time per km seems to have taken the pressure off so I can just enjoy the run.

And … (theme link coming up here) … I listened to a Nomad podcast with Rob Bell today and heard him say things that seem to be very timely. When I was working (especially when I was a vicar), there was a lot of energy trying to get better at things, to be more successful, to preach so well that the church would be full, to put on spiritual courses that would help people to transform their lives – etc etc. All with good intentions I think, but focused on the result that I was looking for as much as the energy I was putting into the particular project.

The thing is, we just can’t predict how people will respond. We can’t live by how much impact we have on other’s lives. We need to find a place where we can relax into what we’re doing, and just enjoy being ourselves.

It’s no good picturing myself as ‘another, better me’ further down the line. It’s enough to work out who we are. To go deeper into our own lives, To ask questions that will take us into new lands.

Rob Bell – ‘We can easily live our lives skimming over the surface … but in most conversations, we’re only one or two questions away from something really really interesting.’

So – back to running. What the last week is teaching me is that I can get the exercise, and enjoy it, if I’ll only relax – I don’t need the constant effort to get faster. Chill.

Grace and peace

Bible · faith · Following Jesus · Grace · World Affairs

On That Day This Song

I’m preaching at our Thursday Communion Tomorrow.
Here are my thoughts on Isaiah 26:1-6 and Matthew 7:21 &24-27

Isaiah 26:1-6
On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low.  He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

Matthew 7:21 &24-27
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’

I remember a period of time when I was preaching every week that it seemed as though every sermon had the same theme – death and resurrection. I just couldn’t escape it. And I have that same feeling as I am sharing these thoughts today. The verse that struck me in today’s readings was that first verse in the Isaiah reading – ‘On that day this song will be sung …’

Isaiah is looking with the eye of faith to a day when God will restore his people. When there will be singing and rejoicing as they return from exile to the holy city Jerusalem. That return will come after years of tension. On the one hand there has been the unfaithfulness and disobedience of Israel and on the other hand the faithfulness of God, who at times allowed them to be punished, but always within the bigger scope of his faithful love for them.  

We’re watching a prison drama on T.V. at the moment.  The governor of the prison is trying to bring in reforms, to make the prison a place of restoration rather than punishment.  However, at times, she has to act in response to inmates who break rules in ways that just can’t be ignored.  She has to take away privileges partly as a message to the prison inmates, and sometimes for their safety.

The events in Isaiah’s time seem rather like that.  There are times when God has to take away privileges because of Israel’s failure to live well – that part of the story ends in the disaster of God’s people being carried from their homeland into exile. But the underlying story is one of restoration.  The hope that is always extended by God is that transformation can happen.  That a nation – Israel – that has lost its way can come back from the brink and be restored.  The whole of Isaiah is about the possibility of something new.

Our world is living through such a time of tension now.  Whereas it’s usually the poorest that suffer through drought, famine and war, the pandemic has had a much wider impact, affecting those who live in the relatively wealthy nations. Many have died, or been bereaved, or are living with long term effects of Covid; others have had their livelihoods threatened or taken from them.  All of us have experienced the removal of privileges – We have not been able to see family, to socialise, to enjoy sport and entertainment, to eat out and so on … without putting up with severe restrictions.

And as we go through these difficult times, things have been brought to the surface.  In the first lockdown, the need to tackle climate change was brought to the fore as we heard of cleaner air as there were fewer carbon emissions at that tine; the need to tackle poverty at home was apparent as we became more aware of the impact on many of losing jobs and needing food banks as well as government support to put food on the table.  The need for a new economic order is clear as we see the major threat now to a whole range of sectors – hospitality, entertainment, leisure, shopping – and it’s not clear what life will look like when we emerge from the crisis.  

So where is God in all this ? And if God is doing a new thing at this time, what might that new thing look like ? 

I suggest that we are more used to asking those kind of questions for ourselves personally than for issues that impact us globally.  In our day to day life of faith we look to God as we pray for those we know in need; we look to God for direction and help in our lives and our decision making. But we are now confronted with something new that affects us all.  

So How will we respond ?

I think the question I’m asking is this:
Is it all just down to the human race to make the best of this situation that we can ?  
Or is God involved in national and global events, as well in our own personal lives ? 
In other words, is God God of the macro as well as the micro ?

In reading Isaiah, it seems abundantly clear that God is involved in both the personal and the national, and if anything Isaiah even more concerned with the way that God addresses and deals with the community of Israel than he is with the individual.  In an individualistic society like ours we may find that hard to take, but there it is.

So back to where I started, with death and resurrection.  It’s the heart of Christian faith and also the faith of Israel as they go through the death of exile and the resurrection of return. We are going through it just now … and yes, we need resources to do that, but we will also need to look for resurrection, and the new thing that God will do.
God’s resurrection promise to Israel in Isaiah’s time is a coming together of God’s steadfast love and a renewed people – see in verse 2 “Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.”

The two go together – God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and a response of godly living.  That’s why, at the end of the sermon on the mount, which started with God’s grace – ‘Blessed are those who know their need of God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” … we hear Jesus challenging us to respond to that grace – to be those who not only hear the words of Jesus, but act on them.

So in the midst of a pandemic, what does that look like ?  
It doesn’t mean thinking we can save the world – that it is our responsibility to put everything right. But it does mean cultivating ways of living, habits that enable us to play our part. And as we nurture these holy habits, to be looking for signs of the new thing that God will do.

I love to tell the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, so brilliantly told in the film ‘Sully’. In the film Ches is piloting a plane which has just taken off from La Guardia airport. The plane is hit by a flock of birds and the engines disabled. Knowing both engines are not functioning, he makes a deicision not to try and get to an airport, but to land the plane on the Hudson river, which he does, with no loss of life. 

A subsequent investigation suggests that he made the wrong decision and that he could have landed safely at La Guardia or Teterboro airports. His whole professional reputation is on the line and it’s only when they run a simulation that faithfully recreates the situation in real time that he is proved to be right. 

If he had tried to get to an airport, it would have been certain disaster. It is his years of flying that enables him – in just 35 seconds – to make the right decision, almost by instinct. Everyone called him a hero, but his reponse was “I’m not a hero, I’ve been rehearsing for this.”   It is similarly the disciplines of faithful godly living that will help the Christian ‘rehearse’ so as to make the right ethical decisions in the heat of the moment.

Developing habits of generosity, honesty, kindness, faithfulness, listening … habits that will help us build healthy relationships and sow the seeds of grace in that part of God’s mission field where he has placed us.  Hear these words of Jesus in Eugene Peterson’s translation at the end of Matthew chapter 11 

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  May you know that confidence in God at work in you day by day.  Amen.


On that day …

With the eye of faith we look forward to see – 
On that day – There will be equality between black and white, and between shia and sunni.
On that day the wall between Israel and Palestine will be torn down and the children of Abraham will live in peace.
On that day people will no longer want more power and more stuff, but will be eager to share what they have.

On that day there will be no poor among us, but all will have enough to live and enough to give.
On that day weapons of violence will be transformed – bombs will be defused, and guns will be a thing of the past.
On that day the earth will begin to recover; forests that were laid bare will grow green again.  Waters that were polluted will once more be clear; 

On that day songs of joy will be sung instead of lament.
On that day families who have fallen out with each other and not spoken for years will decide to pick up the telephone.
On that day the last food bank will close; 

On that day protestants and catholics will worship side by side, and embrace each other as brothers and sisters.
On that day … on that day, those who mourn will be comforted, fear will be replaced by trust, hate will collapse in on itself
On that day the power of love will break the vicious cycles of fear and greed and hate.

On that day, on that day. Lord bring that day we pray, bring that day.

We pray – God of love and suffering power, speak again your word of transformation in the midst of our weary world. We so easlity give in to despair, to numb acceptance of the old order of things.  Kindle in us a passion for the new thing that you would do – in us, and by your grace, through us. Amen

(From Celebrating Abudance. Reflections for Advent by Walter Brueggemann)

faith · Grace · suffering

I Can Do All Things

A couple of months ago, we walked past a guy wearing a T-shirt that had the message on the front “I CAN DO ALL THINGS.” There’s a verse in the New Testament that says ” I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,” and as we walked past him I wondered if that was the message he was trying to convey. In that moment I wanted to stop him and ask him, but the moment went, and we had walked on. I still wonder what the slogan was all about.

Then, some time just before the American presidential elections, I was watching a T.V. programme about Donald Trump, to do with his friendship with Norman Vincent Peale, church minister and author. In 1952, Peale wrote a book ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ that greatly influenced Trump. This relationship seems to have been a decisive factor in Trump’s worldview, shown for example in Trump’s frequent claims that they were going to beat the coronavirus any day soon, despite the evidence that infections were increasing.

So the slogan – I can do all things – can mean different things. For Peale and his followers it might be about the power that we can exert over our circumstances by virtue of our ‘Can do’ attitude. For the Christian, it must mean something completely different. For the Christian, it must be based, not in our own strength, but in humility. And it’s not about denying the obvious facts just because we see things differently.

It often means, for example, dealing with the hard things that come our way – not by denying that the hard things exist, or by making them disappear, but by finding the grace to live with them.

Grace and Peace.