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More On Royalty And Republicanism From One Christian Perspective

Following my last post, and especially the initial comment by Phil Ritchie, I thought I would write a little more, especially as Phil asked about a Methodist perspective. What follows is entirely my own views.

I nearly became an Anglican. I had grown up in Methodism, and sensed God calling me to something – I didn’t know what – and to explore that I ended up studying Theology as an independent student at Trinity College, Bristol, an evangelical Anglican theological college.

While I was there, my calling crystallised. It was the ordained ministry. However, did I stay in my native Methodism or follow the highly attractive advertisement I was seeing for Anglicanism at Trinity?

Many factors came into play in making my decision, some pro- and some anti- both traditions. For the purposes of this discussion, there were two that I found decisive in feeling  I could not go over to the Church of England. One was knowing that if I changed, I would have to be confirmed by a bishop in the so-called ‘historic succession’ as if I had never been a Christian before. That seemed – and still seems – to be a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life prior to any such time. That was the most fundamental objection I had.

The second reason was that I couldn’t come to terms with the idea of an Established Church. Tying the church to the structures of government was to risk seduction by privilege, wealth and power. I didn’t regard it as being as insurmountable, but I cringed every time I saw an ordinand kneel (or even prostrate themselves) before a bishop and take the Oath of Allegiance.

The reason I don’t see the Oath of Allegiance as an insurmountable objection (although I’m uncomfortable with it) is because Article 37 of the C of E’s Thirty-Nine Articles, ‘Of the Civil Magistrates’, can be read simply to affirm that Christians respect those in civil authority. It just happens to be with the monarch in this country:

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify; but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.

That it should be used by bloggers such as Cranmer to accuse Pete Broadbent of not believing the Church of England’s doctrine by virtue of being a republican seems to push the language too far. It depends what import you put on the phrase ‘godly Princes’. Does that and must that merely invoke royal rulers? Romans 13 is more general about authority, even if it is written under the Roman Empire.

Those who fervently defend the connection of the Church of England to the monarchy should remember how equivocal (to put it mildly) Scripture is about royalty, something that Article 37 potentially overlooks. When Israel demands a king from Samuel, the Lord says it is a sign they have rejected him. They want a fashion accessory, and kings come with a record of oppression, was the reply. And in the New Testament, where there is no option but to live under Caesar, while his rule is respected, his claim to lordship is emphatically denied.

Royalists may counter that a republic brings all sorts of ugly notions, and until a few years ago they raised the spectre of Cherie Blair as First Lady. Yes, all forms of power and authority come with risk. The quasi-messianism of some who campaigned for Barack Obama should make us queasy, too.

But insofar as I understand these things, a biblical approach to authority includes the following:

1. Respect those who are called to rule;

2. Do not exalt them beyond their status as human sinners;

3. Be prepared to call them to account.

4. Pray for them.

Can a constitutional monarchy fit this description? Can Christians put their names to it. Can a republic? The calling to account seems to be the issue for me. How is an institution called to account when the eldest son automatically succeeds to the throne? And for a republic or democracy, does calling to account become corrupted to a desire merely for what the people fancy?

Maybe I am neither a royalist nor a republican.

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Internet Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee must be having a laugh, right? Nominating the Internet for the Nobel Peace Prize – they must have gone soft in the head this last year or two. Last year Barack Obama only had to breathe and suddenly he was a Nobel Laureate, at best on grounds of aspiration, certainly not on what he had achieved after a matter of months in the Oval Office.

Yes, there are plenty of good things on the Internet, and yes, a certain proportion of it is about ‘dialogue, debate and consensus’, but then there are the flame wars, the pornography, the terrorism and government monitoring, to say nothing of the dross, the mundane, the trivial and the narcissistic.

In any case, there is much more to peace than ‘dialogue, debate and consensus’. In Judaeo-Christian terms peace involves harmony, justice, healing and reconciliation just for starters.

And who would receive the award? Tim Berners-Lee, maybe? I can’t help thinking of the story that Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman tell in ‘The Starfish and the Spider‘ about being quizzed by French officials years ago with a persistent question: “Who is the President of the Internet?” Despite their frequent attempts to explain its decentralised nature, their inquisitors needed an answer. Only when one of them said he was the President of the Internet were they satisfied.

So, come on Nobel Committee – tell us you just wanted to give us all a giggle.

Clay Shirky: Social Media And The Communications Revolution

In a wonderful TED Talk recorded last month, Clay Shirky details why the arrival of social media on a massive scale is a true communications revolution. His talk is prescient at a time when Twitter has been seen to be the most immediate way of delivering news from the front line of the Iran election protests.

Much of what he says derives from his fine book ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ that I blogged earlier this year during my sabbatical. If you don’t have time to read the book, watch this video, which is only seventeen minutes long. It introduces you to some of his key thinking, and it is highly relevant. Here are a couple of salient points he makes in this talk.

It isn’t when tools are shiny and new that they are revolutionary; it is when they are familiar and boring – because then they are widely distributed and used.

Furthermore, the contemporary communications revolution works on a number of fronts. First of all, we are no longer passive consumers. We do not simply receive what the professionals and the powerful broadcast to us. The same tools that make us consumers also make us producers: computers are not just for looking at websites and receiving messages, we can send messages and create our own websites and blogs. Mobile phones are not only for telephone conversations, we can send SMS and MMS messages.

And not only can we reply to the powerful and the professionals, we can then network among ourselves. We are way beyond ‘one to one’ and ‘one to many’ conversations; we now have ‘many to many’ conversations, and their significance grows exponentially with each new participant.

When the last Chinese earthquake happened, Twitter was the first service to break the news, because eyewitness accounts could be uploaded immediately. The BBC learned of the quake from Twitter. The so-called ‘Great Firewall of China‘ which existed to censor unsuitable material from the rest of the world was facing the wrong way. It was a long time before the Chinese authorities reverted to their normal clampdown methods.

Ultimately, though, the nature of the new social tools is such that there is no point discussing whether we like them or not, professionalism versus citizen journalism and all that. The horse has bolted, and this is the new world. Not to operate in it is like refusing to have a printing press, a camera, a telephone, a radio and a television.

The Barack Obama presidential campaign understood the new world well when they set up the My Barack Obama site for supporters. When Obama announced his support for something unpopular, they formed a forum on the site to oppose him and lobby him. Obama had to reply, explaining he had considered the issue and come to a conclusion they did not like, and that he would take the hits for that. What the campaign never did was censor the supporters. It realised that in the new world they could only convene them, and that was their task on the website.

Where does this leave Christians? Firstly, ignoring the new world is not an option. Communications (in all directions) are key to our faith. While we shall want to beware any values that might be inimical to our core beliefs (for example, the ‘instant’ or ‘real time’ nature of this stuff cuts both ways, between news spreading fast – good – and stunted reflection – bad), we cannot opt out. Churches that just want to set up static websites and think they are hip are behind the times. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr (I simply name the ones where I happen to have a presence) are now critical. We need to be active there. They are about more than the popular stereotype of Facebook and Twitter updates of saying what we had for breakfast. It is heartening in my own denomination to see that this year for the first time the Methodist Conference (which happens in a couple of weeks’ time) will have a Twitter feed. It’s already up and running. It will be the primary way in which I stay up to date with debates and decisions. Why wait two weeks for a Methodist Recorder report? Our weekly newspaper has instantly been rendered even more moribund than it already was.

By virtue of where I am publishing this article, I am probably to a considerable extent typing to the converted. But the argument needs to be carried elsewhere. I am not suggesting that every ninety-year-old in our churches buys a laptop and sings up with Twitter (although plenty with lively minds certainly could). However, it is as essential for the church to embrace the life in this new world as it was for the Jewish exiles to embrace life in Babylon. Not everyone will like it, but it is where we are right now, and we need to be involved.

Secondly, we must recognise that these different forms of communication will affect our worldview. Rex Miller argued as much, if not more, in his book ‘The Millennium Matrix‘. He said that Marshall McLuhan‘s famous dictum that the medium is the message wasn’t radical enough: the medium is the worldview, Miller claimed. Social media moves us from one-way proclamation of the type I engage in when I preach on a Sunday to an interactive and conversational approach. This must affect how we do church and especially how we do mission.

Thirdly, while some will be bewildered and confused by the new world, I think it gives us cause for hope. If others can get their message out so quickly and broadly, then we can too. And we should be at the forefront of the revolution, not merely copying a new trend but innovating. We are the children of the Creator God. The Church’s history of arts patronage is something we could recover here, in that we could be leaders, not simply followers in the social media world. Why not?

Anyway, I said this was a conversation, and I’ve rattled on for a thousand words now. Over to you. What do you think?

Sabbatical, Day 78: Susan Boyle

Let me be the last blogger in the world to comment on the Susan Boyle phenomenon. This is the famous YouTube clip, with now somewhere around thirty million viewings in a week:

Visible Measures has more detailed stats. That clip is more popular than the Iraqi journalist throwing shoes at George W Bush, Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama’s victory speech.

And here is the 1999 recording she made of ‘Cry Me A River’, uncovered by the Daily Record and thought to be her only CD recording so far:

She’s being reported on even across the Pond in the Huffington PostMashable speculates she might be the biggest YouTube sensation ever. And so on.

The core of the story is, of course, that she is a forty-seven-year-old single Christian woman who has ‘never been kissed’. Her appearance is not one that displays conventional beauty. Some have taken to calling her the ‘hairy angel’. Even the official website admits the judges had probably made up their minds negatively about her before she began singing. However, they were then blown away by her voice. Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden were on their feet before she finished her audition song. Simon Cowell added his imprimatur at the end. 

My thoughts? First of all, in my experience, the Christian church has got Susan Boyles tucked away all over the place. Whatever we have by way of cheesy worship bands or choirs filled with members who remember when they had strong voices, we also have a collection of people with Susan’s kind of talent. Not only in the sense of her singing ability, but also with their commitment – like her – to quiet community work that benefits not them but those they serve. Like Susan, it may be to elderly people who don’t matter in the demographics of the advertising world. But they are there, and as Christians we should celebrate these people – their talents used in the service of God, both directly in worship and through love of neighbour as expression of love for God. 

Secondly, the Huffington Post article linked above refers to her as an example of the meek inheriting the earth – so appropriate, considering her faith, and so pleasantly surprising from such a renowned secular liberal source. The writer and commenters celebrate the triumph of someone on the grounds of raw talent rather than image and physical beauty. So let’s think about that.

For one thing, yes, this is the way God sees people – God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. How refreshing to see that the wider world is hungry and thirsty for such an approach.

For another, it ought to be grounds for repentance in the Christian music industry. View the CD sleeves from major stars in the Contemporary Christian Music field, especially from the States, and there’s little doubt good looks are required alongside the musical ability. Of course, they will be dressed modestly, because we wouldn’t want to think any of it was about lust, would we? That only happens when someone wears revealing or provocative clothes, doesn’t it? Yeah, right.

But I also wonder how long this will last. Britain’s Got Talent is the sort of TV show that works symbiotically with the tabloid newspapers of this country. Tabloid culture has got form in this area, and it’s not promising. It’s only sixyears since Michelle McManus won Pop Idol. Not being the conventional sylph, she was an outsider. However, she won. There was widespread public sympathy for a large woman. However, nineteen months after winning the contest, she parted with her management company, and said she believed it was to do with her weight. Not only that, sections of the popular media turned against her, and her weight became the reason to poke fun at her.

I think someone needs to be ready pastorally to support Susan Boyle whenever the populist tide turns against her. For knowing the cynical nature in some of our media, I fear it is inevitable. Once they have sold newspapers to those who love her, they will want to sell copies to the other camp and not lose them.

…………

Finally, how wrong can you be? A few weeks ago, I wrote about a family service in a church where a lot of long words were used. Today, one of the Sunday School teachers told me he had the same impression of that service. However, after reading my blog post, he asked every single child what they thought of that service. Every single one of them replied that they thought it was great. They were taking on board much more complex thoughts than either he or I had anticipated they could.

Let’s hope I’m wrong about the fate of Susan Boyle, too.

Sabbatical, Day 60: April Fools, Online Photos And Music, Tim Keller, Sojourners

This morning before school, we tried to explain April Fool’s Day to the children. They got the hang of it to a certain extent, and much enjoyed the collective prank played on all the pupils at their school today when staff told them they had to hop everywhere. 

Elsewhere, The Guardian claimed it was giving up ink and instead would entirely be published in sub-140 character messages on Twitter. Some might be concerned about dumbing down, I’d be concerned for the spelling – anyone remember the days of the Grauniad? I also received a Facebook message from the We’re Related application, claiming that one Barack Obama of Washington, DC had added me as his fourth cousin, once removed. I’ve never heard of him, so it can’t be true.

Meanwhile, Miss Universe described Guantanamo Bay as ‘fun’ and Alan Shearer became manager of Newcastle United. Oh no, those two are true.

Staying in the realm of truth, it’s been a bit of a techie day. I finally uploaded the Lee Abbey photos to my Flickr account today. I’ve organised them into three sets, all under one collection.

I’ve also been looking at some of the popular online music services in the last twenty-four hours. Yesterday, I downloaded the software for Spotify, but have been hampered by slow connection speeds. Some artists also had far fewer tracks available than I had hoped. I have also signed up for a free trial of emusic. I thought the offer of fifty free MP3 downloads was generous, but soon realised it would be easy to exceed that.

However, the emusic download manager has crashed tonight – whether that’s due to our slow connection as well, I don’t know. Certainly the problem isn’t limited to Spotify: YouTube videos only play a bit at a time, and the Flickr upload I mentioned in the previous paragraph took three attempts to complete. I’ve tried the usual tricks of rebooting and disconnecting the router for thirty seconds, but so far to no avail.

But if all the above sounds like trivial fluff, I have done some serious things today. Most notably, I have read three chapters of Tim Keller‘s ‘The Reason for God‘. To date, I’m impressed with the way he graciously exposes the weaknesses in contemporary objections to faith, especially Christianity. He manages to do so intelligently, without coming on like an intellectual warmonger. The book is definitely for people of a certain academic ability, and while I have the odd query about what he thinks everyone can agree on (immediately after he has exposed fundamental differences), I think this looks like one of the best works of apologetics I have read in years.

And here is a great article from Sojourners, about the increasing involvement in social justice issues by American Christian musicians.

Finally, just to say that Debbie is getting better today. Still washed out, but the fever has subsided and she has not been in bed. I’m relieved she’s improving.

Just Another Brit Offering Thoughts On Inauguration Prayers

Today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth (what’s the obsession with numbers?) President of the USA was the first one I have watched on the Internet. Thank you, BBC. I guess it was appropriate, given the way Obama leveraged the web in his campaign.

Actually, I can’t remember the last one I watched on the small screen. Watching on the web was a pragmatic decision, knowing that if I put it on the television, the children would cry out for Nick Junior.

I didn’t catch the whole shebang, since I was dashing in and out of the study from the kitchen where I was cooking the family meal. What I saw of Obama impressed me. Yes, the words of his speech were very general, but I don’t see how they could be otherwise. I felt he communicated honesty and realism with his evident oratorical gifts. As everyone says, the real test will be in the days to come. Well, no surprise there.

I caught a fair bit of Rick Warren’s prayer, but again not all of it. The whole of it was inevitably up on YouTube rather quickly:

If I thought about it, there would probably be parts with which I would quibble. However, it seemed to me that the tone of Warren’s prayer was one of evangelical conviction combined with a reaching out rather than a tone of condemnation. You may feel differently – do say below.

I found quite a contrast with Gene Robinson’s prayer earlier in the week, also available on YouTube:

Now I admit openly that theologically I am far more likely to be close to Warren than Robinson. I also left a barbed comment on a friend’s Facebook page when she rejoiced that Obama had invited Robinson and that the bishop had promised not to be overtly Christian in reaching out to people of other faiths.

But having said that, I felt I owed the man a fair hearing in case I had been wrong in the heat of the moment. So tonight I watched the clip above.

And I’m still disappointed. I don’t want to get into the pro- or anti-gay issues here, there are larger questions about the theology and tone of the prayer. There are things in it with which I can happily agree, especially the importance of remembering the poor in the world rather than being triumphalistic. However, my concern about the tone is that it all sounds rather hectoring. It seems to fall into the category of prayer as ‘preaching with eyes closed’. Am I being unfair? I realise this is a rather subjective judgment. It may be his accent!

The theology is of rather more concern. His opening phrase is the one that sets up the idea of reaching out without being specifically Christian: ‘O God of our many understandings …’ You will not be surprised to know that someone of  moderately conservative theological persuasions has difficulties with this. Is belief in God a matter merely of human understanding? If so, where does the Christian belief in Jesus fit in? Granted, the doctrine of revelation has its problems, especially when some people claim a near-infallible understanding of the whole counsel of God, but I’m just not prepared to trade in the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ, especially focussed in his incarnation, his exemplary life, his atoning death and resurrection, and his reign at the Father’s right hand. Has Robinson merely baptised secular inclusivism with God-words?

I’d be interested in your opinions. I just ask that since Warren and Robinson are both the subject of passionate views for and against, that we keep our tone as civil and loving as possible, without compromising our convictions.

Carol Service Address: Who Is Christmas For?

Luke 2:1-20

Poverty 
Father Christmas has let me in on the present my parents have bought for my wife. It’s the DVD of Mamma Mia. You may have heard that this has become the fastest-selling DVD or video of all time in the UK – faster even than Titanic. Maybe it’s more than the catchy songs of Abba.

Or it might have to do with the fact that when times are hard, we look for some good old-fashioned escapist entertainment. Admittedly the current revived interest in stage musicals predates the recession, but it would be nothing new for there to be a revival of them during a recession. Certainly that was true in the nineteen thirties. 

In the current climate, how many of us are spending less this Christmas? Or are we putting even more on the plastic and postponing the evil day? Could the Christmas story have a message for people whose credit is being crunched?

I think it does.

Sometimes we get the wrong image of Mary and Joseph. Some people assume that Joseph as a carpenter is some kind of self-employed businessman with a decent income – rather like the reputation of plumbers.  Then we grab hold of the attempts to book into an inn and think of them trying to get into the Bethlehem Travelodge. It’s not quite what you’d expect from people on benefits.

However, the traditional English translations that say ‘there was no room at the inn’ are almost certainly mistaken. The word translated ‘inn’ from the original Greek of the New Testament is one that means a guest room. That could be a guest room in an inn, but it could also be a guest room attached to a typical single-room Palestinian peasant dwelling.

Given the Palestinian emphasis on hospitality, that is more likely. Joseph’s relatives try to do what is expected of them and take the couple in, but all they can offer is the raised area where they keep their livestock. And hence the baby is laid in a feeding trough. This is a picture of poverty.

And later on, when the infant Jesus has to be dedicated in the Jerusalem Temple according to Jewish tradition, his parents make the lowest cost offering, the offering prescribed for the poor.

What do we have, then, in the arrival of Jesus to his mother and legal father? We have the presence of God in the middle of poverty. 

The recession will mean poverty for some (although not on first century Palestinian terms), and reduced standards of living for others. But Jesus promises to turn up in the middle of difficult circumstances. Focussing on his presence – rather than presents – will make Christmas a celebration, whether we have a lot of gifts to open or not.

So if you are struggling this Christmas, invite Jesus in. He’s probably hanging around somewhere close already. Ask him to make his spiritual presence known in your time of difficulty. He’s used to that kind of situation. And his love transforms it.

Exclusion 
Something else about my wife. Until she married me, she had lived all her life in the town where she was born: Lewes in East Sussex. If there is one thing for which Lewes is famous, it is the annual bonfire. Six ‘bonfire societies’ produce amazing public displays for the Fifth of November every year. You may know that historically, as a town steeped in the tradition of dissent, the Lewes Bonfire has paraded an effigy of Pope Paul V, alongside one of Guy Fawkes and of contemporary bogeymen, such as Osama bin Laden, George W Bush, Tony Blair and Ulrika Jonsson in recent years.

But you might recall the national controversy five years ago when one of the bonfire societies from the village of Firle made an effigy of gypsies in a caravan. The effigies are traditionally burned every year to the cry of ‘Burn them! Burn them!’ A group of travellers had particularly annoyed the residents of Firle that year, and hence the choice.

But several members of the bonfire society were arrested by police, and an investigation was carried out into whether criminal offences relating to racial hatred had been committed.

Why talk about Bonfire Night at Christmas? Because if you get a flavour of popular disdain for travellers and gypsies, you will get a feel for how shepherds were regarded in Palestine around the time of Jesus.

We have cuddly images of shepherds from our nativity plays, Christmas cards and perhaps from our carols, too. But the reality is that they weren’t liked that much. Oh, the Bethelehm shepherds could supply sheep for the Temple sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem, but they wouldn’t be allowed inside the Temple themselves. Popular opinion saw them as thieves.

Yet the angels show up for a group of first century pikeys. Excluded people. A group that suffered discrimination and prejudice. Were the birth of Jesus to have happened in our day, we might imagine angels showing up in a deportation centre for failed asylum seekers or an AIDS clinic.

Perhaps there is some aspect of your life that pushes you to the fringes of society. Maybe it’s a reason for people rejecting you. If so, then the Christmas message is one of Jesus coming to offer his love precisely for somebody like you.

And … 
But what about everyone else? It’s very nice to say that Jesus has come for the poor and the excluded, but didn’t he come for everyone? Yes he did, and the message of the angels to the shepherds is a message for us all. The newborn baby is a Saviour (verse 11), and the angels sing that God is bringing peace on earth among those he favours (verse 14).

Now if we’ve heard the Christmas story over and over again in our lives, these references to ‘Saviour’ and ‘peace on earth’ might become part of the words that trip off our tongues without thinking. But we need to connect them to one other detail in the story. It came right at the beginning. Who issued the decree about the census? The Emperor Augustus (verse 1). Who was described as a saviour, because he had come to bring peace and an end to all wars? Augustus. Whose birthday became the beginning of the new year for many cities in the Empire? Augustus’. 

Did he bring peace on earth? What do you think?

I don’t mention all this just to give you a history lesson, two days after the school term has finished. I think it has important connections today. Having talked about the poor and the excluded, let’s talk about one person who this year has been far from poor and certainly not excluded. Barack Obama. 

Remember his slogan? ‘Change we can believe in.’ As one magazine said, it sounds like Yoda from Star Wars came up with it. Change was the word he kept emphasising. So much so that even his ‘change’ slogans kept changing!

The same magazine that likened his slogan to Yoda also interviewed John Oliver, the British comedian who appears on the American satirical TV programme The Daily Show. The journalist asked him, ‘How long will we be living in an Obama Wonderland?’ Three weeks, or at most four, said Oliver.

Why? Because politicians can’t deliver peace on earth. Augustus couldn’t. Obama won’t. It will be just as The Who sang, ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’

Well, you might reasonably say that Jesus hasn’t brought peace on earth, either. Sometimes the Church has made sure of that, and we have a lot for which we need to apologise. It isn’t just the wars in the name of religion (although atheism and liberal democracy have a lot to answer for, too). It’s been our attitudes in ordinary relationships. 

What we the Church have departed from has been the prescription of Jesus for peace on earth. Peace on earth means not only peace with God, because Jesus would die on the Cross to bring the forgiveness of our sins. That peace requires peaceable attitudes with one another.

The Christmas message, then, for all of us, is one not of indulgence but of sacrifice. In Jesus, God descends – even condescends – in humility to human flesh and a life of poverty, blessing the poor and the excluded. The descent continues all the way to the Cross, where he suffers for all. And having done all that, we cannot presume it’s just to receive a private blessing of forgiveness. It’s so that the peace we receive from him at great cost can be shared with one and all.

May peace be with us all this Christmas. May the peace of Christ be the most precious gift we give and receive.

Links

Here’s another collection of links.

Alan Hirsch quotes D T Niles on planting the Gospel in different cultures.

Heaven help us, an Obama worship song – via ASBO Jesus. Much more fun is the Irish O’Bama song (full video here). More seriously, here is Obama interviewed in 2004 about his faith.

The team at Think Christian ask, What if Starbuck’s used church marketing? You have to see this video. LOL without a doubt.

A thief apologises and makes restitution – it’s headline news.

Oxford researchers list top 10 most annoying phrases. What about other contenders?

How to speed-read. Any other tips?

Finland has rated the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ DVD set adult-only.

Shady dealings by Tesco. Want bread with your music magazine?

Richard Thompson has a different idea of what attracts him to the ladies:

In troubling times, consumers flock to online psychics. A business school professor observes, “You have an illusion then that you can then control the outcome. People want the illusion of control.”

A List Apart has an article on working from home, with tips from readers.

For the geeky among our Jewish friends, a motherboard menorah.

Glitter hit axed from music GCSE: so even before he was a convicted paedophile, they hadn’t noticed the line in the lyric that says, “I’m the man who put the bang in gang”?

It isn’t just Christians who believe the credit crunch is as much about values, trust and integrity as anything else.

Origins – the missional network based on an evangelical theological basis formed by Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, Skye Jethani and others. I’m thinking of signing up.

Man tries to pay bill with picture of spider!

Well, that will do for now. I’ll try to put another list together for next week.

Peacemakers

“Blessèd are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

I remember my first Remembrance Sunday service as a minister. The Anglicans and the Methodists gathered together every year in the parish church. The vicar didn’t like preaching, and always delegated that to the Methodist minister. He chose the Beatitudes of Jesus as the Bible reading. I’m sure you don’t see any parallels with this morning, then. :)

In my naïveté, I felt I had to expound the whole passage. I said something about every one of the nine beatitudes. So – here we are, another ecumenical Remembrance service in a village parish church, settle back into your pews … 

No. I’ve learned. There is enough in one of these Beatitudes to fill our thoughts on a day like this. I could have chosen, “Blessèd are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”, but instead I selected, “Blessèd are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” What might these words of Jesus mean for us on Remembrance Sunday, and what might they mean for us generally in following him?

Peace with God
We cannot understand the mission of Jesus unless we see it as being out peacemaking between God and human beings. He said that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45, italics mine). Jesus came to bring reconciliation. He came with the message of God’s grace and mercy for sinners. He demonstrated it by his outrageous association with the most unworthy members of society. He accomplished it in his death on the Cross, where he took the blame for the sins of the world. In his Resurrection, he made the new life of God’s kingdom visible and possible.

In the Gospel of Jesus, peacemaking bridges the gap between God and people caused by our sin. The apostle Paul says that God in Christ appeals to us to be reconciled to him. That happens through the Cross, when we respond by turning away from sin to follow Jesus and trust him. It is the work of Jesus as the Son of God to make God’s appeal to us and to make the bridge-building possible.

So what better time to find peace with God than Remembrance Sunday?

Peace with Neighbours
At college, a friend of mine bought a book of cartoons about the symbol of reconciliation at Holy Communion services, the sharing of the Peace. The cover had a cartoon showing one character offering the Peace to a rather frosty person. Its title? ‘No Thank You, I’m C of E.’

Some people think the introduction of the Peace into Christian worship is one of those touchy-feely happy-clappy trends that don’t fit with traditional worship. In fact, it’s a much more ancient tradition than the Book of Common Prayer. Only one tradition of Christian reconciliation is older, if you want to be truly traditional, and that is Paul’s command that we greet one another with a brotherly kiss. I don’t hear traditionalists calling for that too often!

But my serious point is this: a liturgical action like the Peace symbolises the fact that if we are at peace with God, we are called to be at peace with our neighbour, insofar as our efforts allow. That is why the Book of Common Prayer invited all those who were ‘in love and charity with [their] neighbour to take [the] holy sacrament to [their] comfort’.

In other words, we cannot have the blessings of reconciliation with God as a private possession without striving for reconciliation with people. Children of God will be such peacemakers. We will forgive those who have wronged us, not by pretending something didn’t happen or didn’t matter, but by separating blame and punishment. We shall take steps to apologise and make appropriate amends when we know others have been hurt by our actions. This is what those who have been adopted into the family of God do. God has built a bridge to us in Christ: we build bridges to others.

Peace with the World
Here’s the thorny problem with this text on Remembrance Sunday: if Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers, should we ever go to war? Clearly, Christians have disagreed about that for two thousand years. I’m not about to settle it in one brief sermon. 

It’s worth noting that there was a political application to Jesus’ words here. If peacemakers were to be called ‘children [sons] of God’, then that would have struck a chord with his first hearers. In Jesus’ day, you will recall that his homeland of Israel was occupied by Rome. There were different Jewish responses to the fact of occupation. The wealthy Sadducees ingratiated themselves with their rulers. The Pharisees prayed for change.

And the Zealots were the freedom fighters. Rome would have viewed them as terrorists. What did the Zealots call themselves? ‘The sons of God.’ At very least here, then, Jesus repudiates the use of violence in advancing the kingdom of God.

It may be a different matter when it is not a matter of forwarding the Christian cause as one of justice for others, where we defend the oppressed. Jesus would have had the Hebrew word for peace in his mind, shalom. Now shalom is not peace simply defined as the absence of war. It is about the presence of justice and harmony in society.

Thus if promoting justice and harmony meant taking forceful action against the wicked, we might in some ways be peacemakers. However, that is something that needs weighing carefully and only pursuing in ways where we guard as much as possible against descending to the level of the oppressors. So, for example, that is why – although I disagree with Barack Obama on issues such as abortion – I welcome his commitment to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

An Anglican priest from Kenya once told me, “If I am attacked for being a Christian, I will not fight back. If I am attacked for being a black man, I will.” Whether you agree with him or not, he was trying to distinguish between the fact that Christians may not seek to advance the Gospel aggressively or violently, but we may use force if it is a matter of justice for others. However, let us exercise caution. Force should only be exercised with reluctance, not enthusiasm. 

One final area of peace to mention this morning:

Peace with Creation
This may seem an odd thing to talk about, and perhaps the moment I said ‘Peace with creation’ you thought this was going to be an excuse for some trendy talk about the environment.

Well, this point is about environmental concerns, but it is thoroughly rooted in the text. In the Old Testament shalom peace includes harmony with creation. This is not some ‘Hello trees, hello flowers’ approach, or viewing our planet as a goddess called Gaia, as some do. It is about taking seriously our stewardship of God’s world. If in the kingdom of God the lion will lie down with the lamb, if nothing will be harmed or destroyed on God’s holy mountain, and if the throne of God is surrounded not merely by humans but by ‘living creatures’, then we have a vision of harmony with God’s created order.

Even without this vision, we would surely want to fight to make peace with the environment for the sake of our children and grandchildren, just as many fought for a just peace in World War Two.

But the Bible’s vision of the future is a large and compelling one. It is not, as popularly supposed, one where the material is vaporised and we are all ethereal spirits floating on clouds. Rather, it is one where just as Jesus’ body was raised in a new physical form, so will ours be. It is one where heaven comes down to earth, and God inaugurates a new heaven and a new earth. Creation is redeemed with a new creation. Peaceable creation care today anticipates God’s future. It is in harmony with it.

Blessèd, then, are the peacemakers. Children of God are those who have been reconciled to their heavenly Father through the Cross of Christ. In response, they offer that same peace to others, they seek reconciliation with their neighbours, justice in the world and the well-being of creation.

May the Holy Spirit help us all to be peacemakers.

Links

I thought I might collect some of the links I’ve found interesting but not necessarily saved to my delicious account. I know several other bloggers do this about once a week, but most of my best ideas are borrowed! Anyway, here goes:

Three little words so hard to say: in the week of the Obama landslide, an investigation into why politicians are reluctant to say “I don’t know”.

Brother Maynard nails some of the nuttier ‘prophetic’ responses to Obama’s victory.

Meanwhile, Erika Haub describes voting in the US election.

A primer on today’s missional church: can’t remember who tipped me off to this page, but J R Woodward collects a huge resource of web articles, videos, bios of missiologists, book reviews, blogs and reources for all who want to explore the good ship Missional.

Glad to see this: New lifeline for Bletchley Park. A few years ago when he did his MBA, my brother-in-law sorted out their ecommerce.

Were these Christians worshipping a modern-day golden calf?

Spring Harvest, King’s College London and Paternoster Publishing are hosting a one-day conference on how Jesus taught and we learn.

The cult of Mac: why Apple is more than a corporation, it’s a religion. And how does ‘branding’ affect our faith?

This picture reminds me of friends who used to mime the action of birds when it came to the ‘I’ll fly like the eagle’ line in Geoff Bullock’s worship song ‘The power of your love’.

Well, that will do for a first attempt. Do you find any of this useful?

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