Monthly Archives: October 2007

On The Telly

Urgent phone call this morning: Anglia TV want to film the building extension we’ve had done at the ecumenical church I serve. Glad my Catholic colleague (the Catholics funded it all) rang me to invite me to attend, along with his deacon and the Anglican priest. Caused diary problems, though. My wife is ill with the flu, and I said I’d do the school run rather than be on TV. But she got another mum to pick up our daughter. So I made it, and should be on the regional news tomorrow night.

Having said that, we were mostly filmed looking admiringly at the building inside and outside, rather as if we’d never seen it before – one of those TV news fictions, a convention whereby TV reports the truth by staging a fiction. They then interviewed Father Frank as our spokesperson – entirely the right choice, and I think he did a good job.

There was a time when I would have rushed to get my face on the telly. Today I felt ambivalent. But I did it for two reasons. One was that Father Frank asked me. There had been an unfortunate communication breakdown two weeks ago when a local paper wanted to cover the rededication service. Phone messages didn’t get through to me for me to turn up to that photo call. Frank went out of his way to involve me. It was important to honour his generous spirit. The other reason was that I hope it goes some small way to show that the story of today’s church is not all decline.

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links for 2007-10-17

links for 2007-10-16

Rowan The Christmas Fairy

And you thought only American Christianity produced tacky toys and souvenirs:

Anglican archbishops to star atop Christmas tree

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links for 2007-10-14

Tomorrow’s Sermon: A Map Of Mission

Luke 17:11-19

Introduction
The day we went on holiday this August was manic. I had to take a funeral at lunchtime.
When I returned, Debbie said to me, ‘Get changed as fast as you can, there’s
been a crash on the M25. You navigate, I’ll drive.’

It was natural for me to navigate. As a man, I am the better
map-reader. Of course, equally as a man, I can only do one thing at a time!

Well, perhaps some will forgive me, then, if I describe
today’s sermon as ‘A Map of Mission.’
There are geographical features in this story, and they give us images of God’s
mission, as practised by Jesus.

1. Between Samaria
and Galilee

The story starts with a geographical note:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region
between Samaria and Galilee (verse 11).

The action takes place ‘between Samaria and Galilee.’ That
accounts for the mixed group of lepers, both Jewish and Samaritan. Jesus would
never have reached such a group unless he had been ‘between Samaria and
Galilee.’ Galilee, where Jesus had based himself early on (Capernaum), chosen
the apostles and conducted much of his early ministry. Galilee in Judea, part
of the Jewish homeland. Samaria, on the other hand, home (in the eyes of Jews)
of spiritual deviants and heretics, home to the Samaritans, who were regarded
as ‘half-foreign, Israelites of doubtful descent’[1].

So where would be more comfortable? Galilee, surely.  Jesus would be with his own kind there. It would
be like structuring your whole life around church and your Christian friends. The
company of like-minded people who care about you is an attractive proposition. But
Jesus cannot stay there forever. Even on his way to Jerusalem, the capital of
his native Judea, he rides the boundaries between Samaria and Galilee.

I suggest you that is exactly what God calls us to do, in
following the example of Jesus.  He calls
us to surf between the comfort zone of those who share our faith, and the
people whom we might despise. That puts us in a place to meet people in need, and
demonstrate God’s love. Had Jesus remained in Galilee, he would not have met
these lepers; they would not have been healed; and the Samaritan leper would
not have found saving faith.

Why should we live ‘between Samaria and Galilee’? Just as
the lepers are desperate for help – they call out for mercy (verse 13), so
there are many crying out, but perhaps not knowing what Jesus can do for them. Even
the lepers here don’t completely know – their cry for mercy is a standard
request for alms.

So it isn’t just ‘why’, it’s ‘how’: how do we live between
Samaria and Galilee? I think it starts with dispensing with fear. Some
Christians have a naïve image of life, that everyone in the church is Good, and
everyone outside is Bad. They become fearful that we will be contaminated, and
unable to resist. So they counsel an avoidance of non-Christians. I witnessed
this a couple of times when I had a sabbatical, and we worshipped at a Baptist
church. One retired minister counselled the congregation not to watch a (then) forthcoming
television
programme
, because it wouldn’t be encouraging to the Christian faith. Never
mind the fact that it would constitute a ‘water cooler moment’ at work the next
day, a real talking point, he told Christians to steer clear.

We need to address the fear. The First Letter of John has
the perspective we need:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them,
because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1
John 4:4).

Step out. Stop being afraid of non-Christians. Of course,
there are Bad People out there. But unless we live between Samaria and Galilee,
we shall not meet the outcasts of today who need the love of God. For like the ‘lepers’
of Jesus’ day, we cannot wait for them to come to us: they will not come.

2. Go To The Priests
The second movement is what Jesus tells the leprous men to do:

When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to
the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean (verse 14).

Note that Jesus sees
the lepers. He must see their condition. He knows their problem. He calls for a
real act of trust in sending them to the priests: off they go without seeing
any change in their skin. It’s rather like Elisha commanding Naaman to wash
seven times in the Jordan. Madness!

But on another level, it isn’t madness at all. As the lepers
obediently go (and what did they have to lose?), they are healed. Yet I am sure
you will know it is significant they are sent to the priests. A priest had the right to declare a leper clean, and
thus able to rejoin the community of faith. A priest alone could pronounce
someone an outcast no more.

So this healing is far from the nonsense perpetrated by some
Christians who say, ‘You’ve been healed – just throw away your pills.’ This is
a verifiable act of healing, and the priests will confirm it independently.
Believing in Jesus calls for faith, it doesn’t call for fiction. It means
trusting him enough to obey him, but it doesn’t mean a game of make-believe.

What does this mean for those of us called by Jesus to share
in the mission of God? I think it includes the need to be both hopeful and
honest. Hopeful in this sense – that just as Jesus blessed people whether they
were from Samaria or Galilee, so do we. When we encounter someone in need, we
offer help if we can. And whether we can or we can’t, we offer to pray for
them. Maybe we feel nervous about suggesting we pray for someone: how will they
react? Will they think we have a screw loose? More likely, unless their name is
something like Richard Dawkins, they will probably be pleased. Whether you pray
right then with them or not is a judgment call at the time, but keep the
promise to pray.

For too long we have confined the Christian healing ministry
to the walls of a church building. But if we follow Jesus in hopeful faith,
then we take it outside the walls. My impression is there are fewer stories of
Jesus blessing people in the synagogue than other locations. We may feel as if
doing so is like toppling off a precipice. Sometimes that is because we think
God is less inclined to answer prayer when the needy person has no faith. But rarely
if ever do Jesus’ miracles depend on the one in need. More often, the question
of faith is associated with those praying. Now if that is the case, then our
prayers will be no less effective than within the Christian circle. Remember,
it was a Samaritan, not a Jew, who came back to thank Jesus. It’s time to be
hopeful!

Hopeful … and honest. Honest, because Jesus said, ‘Show
yourselves to the priests.’ No flannel. If it doesn’t happen, don’t pretend,
don’t make excuses, but keep praying. When God does bless, it will be
unmistakable. Keep hanging in there, loving, supporting and praying.

3. This Foreigner
When the ten are healed, but only the Samaritan returns, Jesus says,

‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’
(Verses 17-18)

‘This foreigner’ is an over-statement as a description by a
Jew of a Samaritan. As I said earlier, Samaritans were regarded as ‘half-foreign,
Israelites of doubtful descent.’ In using the expression ‘foreigner’ here,
Jesus is deploying ‘the term used in the temple inscription that forbade the
entry of foreigners into the Jerusalem temple’[2].

If Jesus speaks about the Samaritan like this, then he has a
radically different view of access to the Temple. ‘This foreigner’ gets to praise
God and thank Jesus as a sign of his faith. So Jesus is not imagining the
Temple as a stone fortress, with all sorts of defences to keep out various
undesirables or inferiors, such as Gentiles or women. For him, there is no ‘Court
of the Gentiles’, beyond which they may not go. Jesus’ Temple is not a
defensive castle. It is more like a marquee with open flaps. Boundaries are
clearly there, but there’s an open invitation to peek at what’s happening, and
even come inside.

What is the challenge for us here? It is to make our church
communities less like castles and more like marquees. It is about reducing the
obstacles to finding faith.

Now I have to be careful here. I do not mean that we throw
away those parts of our faith that some people find intellectually difficult.
Nor do I mean that we shape our faith according to popular social morality. But
I do mean that we take down some other barriers.

We dismantle the barrier named ‘Holier Than Thou.’ How many
times have we heard people say they are not good enough for church? Of course,
we respond by saying that it isn’t like that, but this has not just to be said,
but modelled as well. It means a vulnerability, openness and honesty before
people, if they are to see what we are truly like. And that means building deep
relationships with those ‘outside the Temple’.

We take down the barricades that mean children start leaving
the community of faith before the age of eleven. We stop treating their
activities as simply what they do before graduating to ‘real church.’ We won’t
simply impart information to them, but invite them to get stuck into practical
Christian action. Remember, Jesus taught his disciples by getting their hands
dirty in mission and service. That is just as possible in appropriate ways with
children as it is with adults. We’ll listen to their concerns and help them see
where the Gospel connects with them and challenges them.

In all this, we need to be relevant and down-to-earth. Yet we
cannot reduce our vision of God. Quite the reverse. C S Lewis had a beautiful way of putting it
in one of the Narnia novels, ‘Prince
Caspian
’:

Lucy awakes from a deep sleep and is compelled to get up by
the sound of a voice calling her name. She follows the sound and shortly
encounters the great lion himself:

‘Aslan, you’re bigger,’ she said.

‘That’s because you’re older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’[3]

It’s not all about answers, solutions, techniques and
packaging up everything. Curiously, the Temple remains more accessible if we
continue to embrace mystery. A God who is bigger, stranger and more mysterious
than we can ever conceive. One we can never pin down, although we can be
confident of certain things about him – especially his redeeming love in
Christ. We commend this God as we walk daily between Samaria and Galilee, as we
meet today’s lepers with the love of God and send them in hope and honesty to
the priests.


[2] Ibid.

[3] C S Lewis, Prince
Caspian
, quoted in Ruth Hassall and Ian Macdonald, Effective
Ministry To Tweenagers
, p 17.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tomorrow’s Sermon: A Map Of Mission

Luke 17:11-19

Introduction
The day we went on holiday this August was manic. I had to take a funeral at lunchtime.
When I returned, Debbie said to me, ‘Get changed as fast as you can, there’s
been a crash on the M25. You navigate, I’ll drive.’

It was natural for me to navigate. As a man, I am the better
map-reader. Of course, equally as a man, I can only do one thing at a time!

Well, perhaps some will forgive me, then, if I describe
today’s sermon as ‘A Map of Mission.’
There are geographical features in this story, and they give us images of God’s
mission, as practised by Jesus.

1. Between Samaria
and Galilee

The story starts with a geographical note:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region
between Samaria and Galilee (verse 11).

The action takes place ‘between Samaria and Galilee.’ That
accounts for the mixed group of lepers, both Jewish and Samaritan. Jesus would
never have reached such a group unless he had been ‘between Samaria and
Galilee.’ Galilee, where Jesus had based himself early on (Capernaum), chosen
the apostles and conducted much of his early ministry. Galilee in Judea, part
of the Jewish homeland. Samaria, on the other hand, home (in the eyes of Jews)
of spiritual deviants and heretics, home to the Samaritans, who were regarded
as ‘half-foreign, Israelites of doubtful descent’[1].

So where would be more comfortable? Galilee, surely.  Jesus would be with his own kind there. It would
be like structuring your whole life around church and your Christian friends. The
company of like-minded people who care about you is an attractive proposition. But
Jesus cannot stay there forever. Even on his way to Jerusalem, the capital of
his native Judea, he rides the boundaries between Samaria and Galilee.

I suggest you that is exactly what God calls us to do, in
following the example of Jesus.  He calls
us to surf between the comfort zone of those who share our faith, and the
people whom we might despise. That puts us in a place to meet people in need, and
demonstrate God’s love. Had Jesus remained in Galilee, he would not have met
these lepers; they would not have been healed; and the Samaritan leper would
not have found saving faith.

Why should we live ‘between Samaria and Galilee’? Just as
the lepers are desperate for help – they call out for mercy (verse 13), so
there are many crying out, but perhaps not knowing what Jesus can do for them. Even
the lepers here don’t completely know – their cry for mercy is a standard
request for alms.

So it isn’t just ‘why’, it’s ‘how’: how do we live between
Samaria and Galilee? I think it starts with dispensing with fear. Some
Christians have a naïve image of life, that everyone in the church is Good, and
everyone outside is Bad. They become fearful that we will be contaminated, and
unable to resist. So they counsel an avoidance of non-Christians. I witnessed
this a couple of times when I had a sabbatical, and we worshipped at a Baptist
church. One retired minister counselled the congregation not to watch a (then) forthcoming
television
programme
, because it wouldn’t be encouraging to the Christian faith. Never
mind the fact that it would constitute a ‘water cooler moment’ at work the next
day, a real talking point, he told Christians to steer clear.

We need to address the fear. The First Letter of John has
the perspective we need:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them,
because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1
John 4:4).

Step out. Stop being afraid of non-Christians. Of course,
there are Bad People out there. But unless we live between Samaria and Galilee,
we shall not meet the outcasts of today who need the love of God. For like the ‘lepers’
of Jesus’ day, we cannot wait for them to come to us: they will not come.

2. Go To The Priests
The second movement is what Jesus tells the leprous men to do:

When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to
the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean (verse 14).

Note that Jesus sees
the lepers. He must see their condition. He knows their problem. He calls for a
real act of trust in sending them to the priests: off they go without seeing
any change in their skin. It’s rather like Elisha commanding Naaman to wash
seven times in the Jordan. Madness!

But on another level, it isn’t madness at all. As the lepers
obediently go (and what did they have to lose?), they are healed. Yet I am sure
you will know it is significant they are sent to the priests. A priest had the right to declare a leper clean, and
thus able to rejoin the community of faith. A priest alone could pronounce
someone an outcast no more.

So this healing is far from the nonsense perpetrated by some
Christians who say, ‘You’ve been healed – just throw away your pills.’ This is
a verifiable act of healing, and the priests will confirm it independently.
Believing in Jesus calls for faith, it doesn’t call for fiction. It means
trusting him enough to obey him, but it doesn’t mean a game of make-believe.

What does this mean for those of us called by Jesus to share
in the mission of God? I think it includes the need to be both hopeful and
honest. Hopeful in this sense – that just as Jesus blessed people whether they
were from Samaria or Galilee, so do we. When we encounter someone in need, we
offer help if we can. And whether we can or we can’t, we offer to pray for
them. Maybe we feel nervous about suggesting we pray for someone: how will they
react? Will they think we have a screw loose? More likely, unless their name is
something like Richard Dawkins, they will probably be pleased. Whether you pray
right then with them or not is a judgment call at the time, but keep the
promise to pray.

For too long we have confined the Christian healing ministry
to the walls of a church building. But if we follow Jesus in hopeful faith,
then we take it outside the walls. My impression is there are fewer stories of
Jesus blessing people in the synagogue than other locations. We may feel as if
doing so is like toppling off a precipice. Sometimes that is because we think
God is less inclined to answer prayer when the needy person has no faith. But rarely
if ever do Jesus’ miracles depend on the one in need. More often, the question
of faith is associated with those praying. Now if that is the case, then our
prayers will be no less effective than within the Christian circle. Remember,
it was a Samaritan, not a Jew, who came back to thank Jesus. It’s time to be
hopeful!

Hopeful … and honest. Honest, because Jesus said, ‘Show
yourselves to the priests.’ No flannel. If it doesn’t happen, don’t pretend,
don’t make excuses, but keep praying. When God does bless, it will be
unmistakable. Keep hanging in there, loving, supporting and praying.

3. This Foreigner
When the ten are healed, but only the Samaritan returns, Jesus says,

‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’
(Verses 17-18)

‘This foreigner’ is an over-statement as a description by a
Jew of a Samaritan. As I said earlier, Samaritans were regarded as ‘half-foreign,
Israelites of doubtful descent.’ In using the expression ‘foreigner’ here,
Jesus is deploying ‘the term used in the temple inscription that forbade the
entry of foreigners into the Jerusalem temple’[2].

If Jesus speaks about the Samaritan like this, then he has a
radically different view of access to the Temple. ‘This foreigner’ gets to praise
God and thank Jesus as a sign of his faith. So Jesus is not imagining the
Temple as a stone fortress, with all sorts of defences to keep out various
undesirables or inferiors, such as Gentiles or women. For him, there is no ‘Court
of the Gentiles’, beyond which they may not go. Jesus’ Temple is not a
defensive castle. It is more like a marquee with open flaps. Boundaries are
clearly there, but there’s an open invitation to peek at what’s happening, and
even come inside.

What is the challenge for us here? It is to make our church
communities less like castles and more like marquees. It is about reducing the
obstacles to finding faith.

Now I have to be careful here. I do not mean that we throw
away those parts of our faith that some people find intellectually difficult.
Nor do I mean that we shape our faith according to popular social morality. But
I do mean that we take down some other barriers.

We dismantle the barrier named ‘Holier Than Thou.’ How many
times have we heard people say they are not good enough for church? Of course,
we respond by saying that it isn’t like that, but this has not just to be said,
but modelled as well. It means a vulnerability, openness and honesty before
people, if they are to see what we are truly like. And that means building deep
relationships with those ‘outside the Temple’.

We take down the barricades that mean children start leaving
the community of faith before the age of eleven. We stop treating their
activities as simply what they do before graduating to ‘real church.’ We won’t
simply impart information to them, but invite them to get stuck into practical
Christian action. Remember, Jesus taught his disciples by getting their hands
dirty in mission and service. That is just as possible in appropriate ways with
children as it is with adults. We’ll listen to their concerns and help them see
where the Gospel connects with them and challenges them.

In all this, we need to be relevant and down-to-earth. Yet we
cannot reduce our vision of God. Quite the reverse. C S Lewis had a beautiful way of putting it
in one of the Narnia novels, ‘Prince
Caspian
’:

Lucy awakes from a deep sleep and is compelled to get up by
the sound of a voice calling her name. She follows the sound and shortly
encounters the great lion himself:

‘Aslan, you’re bigger,’ she said.

‘That’s because you’re older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’[3]

It’s not all about answers, solutions, techniques and
packaging up everything. Curiously, the Temple remains more accessible if we
continue to embrace mystery. A God who is bigger, stranger and more mysterious
than we can ever conceive. One we can never pin down, although we can be
confident of certain things about him – especially his redeeming love in
Christ. We commend this God as we walk daily between Samaria and Galilee, as we
meet today’s lepers with the love of God and send them in hope and honesty to
the priests.


[2] Ibid.

[3] C S Lewis, Prince
Caspian
, quoted in Ruth Hassall and Ian Macdonald, Effective
Ministry To Tweenagers
, p 17.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tomorrow’s Sermon: A Map Of Mission

Luke 17:11-19

Introduction
The day we went on holiday this August was manic. I had to take a funeral at lunchtime.
When I returned, Debbie said to me, ‘Get changed as fast as you can, there’s
been a crash on the M25. You navigate, I’ll drive.’

It was natural for me to navigate. As a man, I am the better
map-reader. Of course, equally as a man, I can only do one thing at a time!

Well, perhaps some will forgive me, then, if I describe
today’s sermon as ‘A Map of Mission.’
There are geographical features in this story, and they give us images of God’s
mission, as practised by Jesus.

1. Between Samaria
and Galilee

The story starts with a geographical note:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region
between Samaria and Galilee (verse 11).

The action takes place ‘between Samaria and Galilee.’ That
accounts for the mixed group of lepers, both Jewish and Samaritan. Jesus would
never have reached such a group unless he had been ‘between Samaria and
Galilee.’ Galilee, where Jesus had based himself early on (Capernaum), chosen
the apostles and conducted much of his early ministry. Galilee in Judea, part
of the Jewish homeland. Samaria, on the other hand, home (in the eyes of Jews)
of spiritual deviants and heretics, home to the Samaritans, who were regarded
as ‘half-foreign, Israelites of doubtful descent’[1].

So where would be more comfortable? Galilee, surely.  Jesus would be with his own kind there. It would
be like structuring your whole life around church and your Christian friends. The
company of like-minded people who care about you is an attractive proposition. But
Jesus cannot stay there forever. Even on his way to Jerusalem, the capital of
his native Judea, he rides the boundaries between Samaria and Galilee.

I suggest you that is exactly what God calls us to do, in
following the example of Jesus.  He calls
us to surf between the comfort zone of those who share our faith, and the
people whom we might despise. That puts us in a place to meet people in need, and
demonstrate God’s love. Had Jesus remained in Galilee, he would not have met
these lepers; they would not have been healed; and the Samaritan leper would
not have found saving faith.

Why should we live ‘between Samaria and Galilee’? Just as
the lepers are desperate for help – they call out for mercy (verse 13), so
there are many crying out, but perhaps not knowing what Jesus can do for them. Even
the lepers here don’t completely know – their cry for mercy is a standard
request for alms.

So it isn’t just ‘why’, it’s ‘how’: how do we live between
Samaria and Galilee? I think it starts with dispensing with fear. Some
Christians have a naïve image of life, that everyone in the church is Good, and
everyone outside is Bad. They become fearful that we will be contaminated, and
unable to resist. So they counsel an avoidance of non-Christians. I witnessed
this a couple of times when I had a sabbatical, and we worshipped at a Baptist
church. One retired minister counselled the congregation not to watch a (then) forthcoming
television
programme
, because it wouldn’t be encouraging to the Christian faith. Never
mind the fact that it would constitute a ‘water cooler moment’ at work the next
day, a real talking point, he told Christians to steer clear.

We need to address the fear. The First Letter of John has
the perspective we need:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them,
because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1
John 4:4).

Step out. Stop being afraid of non-Christians. Of course,
there are Bad People out there. But unless we live between Samaria and Galilee,
we shall not meet the outcasts of today who need the love of God. For like the ‘lepers’
of Jesus’ day, we cannot wait for them to come to us: they will not come.

2. Go To The Priests
The second movement is what Jesus tells the leprous men to do:

When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to
the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean (verse 14).

Note that Jesus sees
the lepers. He must see their condition. He knows their problem. He calls for a
real act of trust in sending them to the priests: off they go without seeing
any change in their skin. It’s rather like Elisha commanding Naaman to wash
seven times in the Jordan. Madness!

But on another level, it isn’t madness at all. As the lepers
obediently go (and what did they have to lose?), they are healed. Yet I am sure
you will know it is significant they are sent to the priests. A priest had the right to declare a leper clean, and
thus able to rejoin the community of faith. A priest alone could pronounce
someone an outcast no more.

So this healing is far from the nonsense perpetrated by some
Christians who say, ‘You’ve been healed – just throw away your pills.’ This is
a verifiable act of healing, and the priests will confirm it independently.
Believing in Jesus calls for faith, it doesn’t call for fiction. It means
trusting him enough to obey him, but it doesn’t mean a game of make-believe.

What does this mean for those of us called by Jesus to share
in the mission of God? I think it includes the need to be both hopeful and
honest. Hopeful in this sense – that just as Jesus blessed people whether they
were from Samaria or Galilee, so do we. When we encounter someone in need, we
offer help if we can. And whether we can or we can’t, we offer to pray for
them. Maybe we feel nervous about suggesting we pray for someone: how will they
react? Will they think we have a screw loose? More likely, unless their name is
something like Richard Dawkins, they will probably be pleased. Whether you pray
right then with them or not is a judgment call at the time, but keep the
promise to pray.

For too long we have confined the Christian healing ministry
to the walls of a church building. But if we follow Jesus in hopeful faith,
then we take it outside the walls. My impression is there are fewer stories of
Jesus blessing people in the synagogue than other locations. We may feel as if
doing so is like toppling off a precipice. Sometimes that is because we think
God is less inclined to answer prayer when the needy person has no faith. But rarely
if ever do Jesus’ miracles depend on the one in need. More often, the question
of faith is associated with those praying. Now if that is the case, then our
prayers will be no less effective than within the Christian circle. Remember,
it was a Samaritan, not a Jew, who came back to thank Jesus. It’s time to be
hopeful!

Hopeful … and honest. Honest, because Jesus said, ‘Show
yourselves to the priests.’ No flannel. If it doesn’t happen, don’t pretend,
don’t make excuses, but keep praying. When God does bless, it will be
unmistakable. Keep hanging in there, loving, supporting and praying.

3. This Foreigner
When the ten are healed, but only the Samaritan returns, Jesus says,

‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’
(Verses 17-18)

‘This foreigner’ is an over-statement as a description by a
Jew of a Samaritan. As I said earlier, Samaritans were regarded as ‘half-foreign,
Israelites of doubtful descent.’ In using the expression ‘foreigner’ here,
Jesus is deploying ‘the term used in the temple inscription that forbade the
entry of foreigners into the Jerusalem temple’[2].

If Jesus speaks about the Samaritan like this, then he has a
radically different view of access to the Temple. ‘This foreigner’ gets to praise
God and thank Jesus as a sign of his faith. So Jesus is not imagining the
Temple as a stone fortress, with all sorts of defences to keep out various
undesirables or inferiors, such as Gentiles or women. For him, there is no ‘Court
of the Gentiles’, beyond which they may not go. Jesus’ Temple is not a
defensive castle. It is more like a marquee with open flaps. Boundaries are
clearly there, but there’s an open invitation to peek at what’s happening, and
even come inside.

What is the challenge for us here? It is to make our church
communities less like castles and more like marquees. It is about reducing the
obstacles to finding faith.

Now I have to be careful here. I do not mean that we throw
away those parts of our faith that some people find intellectually difficult.
Nor do I mean that we shape our faith according to popular social morality. But
I do mean that we take down some other barriers.

We dismantle the barrier named ‘Holier Than Thou.’ How many
times have we heard people say they are not good enough for church? Of course,
we respond by saying that it isn’t like that, but this has not just to be said,
but modelled as well. It means a vulnerability, openness and honesty before
people, if they are to see what we are truly like. And that means building deep
relationships with those ‘outside the Temple’.

We take down the barricades that mean children start leaving
the community of faith before the age of eleven. We stop treating their
activities as simply what they do before graduating to ‘real church.’ We won’t
simply impart information to them, but invite them to get stuck into practical
Christian action. Remember, Jesus taught his disciples by getting their hands
dirty in mission and service. That is just as possible in appropriate ways with
children as it is with adults. We’ll listen to their concerns and help them see
where the Gospel connects with them and challenges them.

In all this, we need to be relevant and down-to-earth. Yet we
cannot reduce our vision of God. Quite the reverse. C S Lewis had a beautiful way of putting it
in one of the Narnia novels, ‘Prince
Caspian
’:

Lucy awakes from a deep sleep and is compelled to get up by
the sound of a voice calling her name. She follows the sound and shortly
encounters the great lion himself:

‘Aslan, you’re bigger,’ she said.

‘That’s because you’re older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’[3]

It’s not all about answers, solutions, techniques and
packaging up everything. Curiously, the Temple remains more accessible if we
continue to embrace mystery. A God who is bigger, stranger and more mysterious
than we can ever conceive. One we can never pin down, although we can be
confident of certain things about him – especially his redeeming love in
Christ. We commend this God as we walk daily between Samaria and Galilee, as we
meet today’s lepers with the love of God and send them in hope and honesty to
the priests.


[2] Ibid.

[3] C S Lewis, Prince
Caspian
, quoted in Ruth Hassall and Ian Macdonald, Effective
Ministry To Tweenagers
, p 17.

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Bloopers

Moronland.net – Top 13 Worst Slogan Translations Ever

Found this via Clipmarks – I’ve heard some of these before, notably the Pepsi and General Motors ones. You could use some of these for fun in sermons, although some wouldn’t be appropriate. But have a laugh, anyway.

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links for 2007-10-13