Monthly Archives: June 2012

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Peter Heals The Lame Man

Life has been frantic since returning from leave at the weekend – and still is. Here, belatedly, is Sunday’s sermon.

Acts 3:1-26 
Whenever I read Acts 3, one story always comes to mind. One of the thirteenth century Popes was showing the great Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas around the Vatican. Having shown him many of the beautiful works of art, the ornate architecture and the lavish fittings, the Pope turned to Thomas and said, “No longer can the church say like Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none’.”

“No,” retorted Thomas, “and neither can she say any more, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk’.”

So we come to this famous story, this first major episode after Pentecost and the formation of the early community of Jesus-followers. And it’s a big story. It extends beyond chapter three, which we read, into chapter four, where Peter and John are hauled before the religious authorities. Just as the opposition to Jesus begins early in the Gospels, so does opposition to the apostles and the Jesus movement in Acts. It makes for three phases in the story: the healing, Peter’s speech and the opposition.

But I’ll have to leave that final phase of this story to next week. There is more than enough to meditate upon with the first two elements of the healing itself and then the speech.

Firstly, then, the healing. Right from the start, this is a story about what discipleship means. Compare it with Luke’s first volume, his Gospel. There, Jesus’ first converts (his disciples in 5:1-11) are followed by – guess what? Jesus healing a lame man (5:17-26). For Peter and John to heal a lame man here ‘in the name of Jesus’ is a sign they are walking in his footsteps. Right from the start, this is a story, then, that points to Jesus, as indeed Peter will tell the crowd (verse 12). It’s one of those stories that remind us of that important theme: nothing we do as Christians is about drawing attention to us, it’s about pointing to Jesus. Someone once said to preachers, “You can’t make yourself out to be a great preacher and tell people how wonderful Jesus is in the same breath.” That’s true for us all, whatever our gift is. Let’s call attention to Jesus through what we do.

And what does Jesus do here through Peter and John? This is not just a miracle of healing, and if it were only that this story might be daunting or discouraging to those of us who have not seen healing. There is something Jesus does in this miracle that we can all do, whether we have a healing ministry or not. This is a miracle of inclusion.

How? The man was lame. Lameness excluded you from Temple worship under Old Testament Law. It made you ritually unclean. Healing him meant he could take his full place with the People of God at worship. While we’re not sure exactly which gate is meant by the ‘gate called Beautiful’, what is clear is that now he doesn’t need to be carried just to the gate each day. Now he can go inside the gate.

Is this not what the Gospel does? God’s grace is the miracle of inclusion. To those who believe they are unworthy, Jesus says, “Come.” To those who feel that what they have done excludes them, Jesus says, “I will make it possible for you to come inside. Here is strength for you. Here is forgiveness. Here is love. Here is a fresh start.”

Here’s a video, though, about how some people feel:

All sorts of people feel they can’t ‘come to church’. It can be about lifestyle. It can be about what culture you come from. It can be to do with your generation. Only the other day I read an article about a church where someone was preaching on the need to accept all sorts of different people in the Christian family. As it was a sunny day, the Junior Church went outside for some fun and games. But as the preacher was preaching, a man got up, went outside and told the children to shut up and stop interrupting the service. I have seen comparable incidents in my own ministry. This is, in my experience, a welcoming community. However, let’s not be complacent.
A final point about the man’s lameness. Isaiah prophesied (35:6 LXX) that the lame walking would be a sign of the age to come (along with the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, the dumb speaking and so on). It’s a scripture that Charles Wesley had in mind when he wrote ‘O for a thousand tongues’ and included the verse,

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy!

Biblically, then, the healing of the lame by Jesus in the Gospels and now by his followers in Acts is a sign that God’s new age has begun. Since the coming of Jesus and especially since his Resurrection we live in overlap between the old age of death and sin and the beginning of God’s new age. Healing is one sign of the new age. More widely, as the Church we are called to be the community of the new age. All that we do and share is meant to be a sign of God’s coming kingdom. We are to be the family where those who are not OK find healing grace. We are to be characterised by love that works itself out in forgiveness and justice.

Friends, this is more possible than we think. Let me introduce you to Joel. He is six years old and lives in Reigate. He became deeply affected by what he heard at church and at school about world poverty. After seeing a TEAR Fund video at church, he knew he had to do something. He took an empty Frubes box, labelled it the ‘Poor Box’ and started collecting donations. He then decided to do a sponsored run with his mum. His Dad Martin set up a donations page on Virgin Money Giving, and wrote about it on his blog. Joel aimed to raise £60. But the word spread. So far, he has raised over £5000.

Joel could easily have said, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ The difference is, he went on to say, in his own way, ‘But what I do have I give you.’ It’s time to stop looking at what we don’t have and offering what we do have for the healing of people – and indeed for the healing of the nations.

Secondly, let’s think about Peter’s speech. I say ‘speech’, because that’s what it becomes, but it’s not initially your conventional speech. Mostly you know when you’re going to give a speech. They are scheduled, they are by arrangement. But not in this case. it’s a spontaneous reaction. Peter and John have invoked the authority of Jesus to heal the lame man, and then there is something of an accidental ambush. Word gets out, and the crowd finds the man, and yes, he has been healed.

Peter has to respond. He is in Solomon’s Colonnade, a place where Jesus himself had taught, and like his Master, this is his opportunity for some courageous teaching – again, like Jesus.

Not only that, he makes Jesus the subject of what he says. If he is relying on the Holy Spirit to give him the words to say in a crisis as Jesus promised, then it is no surprise, since the work of the Spirit is to point to Jesus, if he is the theme of what Peter says. As I said, the miracle, by being a great act of mercy and social inclusion for the man, points to Jesus. Peter makes no mistake.
And this may be an encouragement for us. When we are in the world, we can get bogged down in all sorts of minutiae in what we talk about when the topic turns to religion. But one subject will always get us a hearing. One subject will always be fascinating. That subject is Jesus. I recently read a book by a Christian called Carl Medearis. He tends to spend his time in places and with people whom you would not expect to be sympathetic to Jesus. He has spent years in the Middle East, working among Muslims. Back in his native America, he befriended the gay owner of a liberal coffee shop. But Carl, rather than going for conventional evangelistic methods that put people off, simply talks about Jesus. He gets a hearing. His book ‘Speaking of Jesus: The Art of (Not) Evangelism’ is an easy and inspiring read.

But of course to speak about Jesus to this audience has different implications from those we have. Peter is dealing with people who may have been involved in the events of only some weeks earlier. His speech is similar to the one he gives at Pentecost in that he starts with defending what has happened, and then moves onto the offensive. There is more than irony here that people who longed for the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes are faced with the One in whom God would indeed fulfil their aspirations, but they conspired to have him killed. Peter has to go from showing how God has vindicated Jesus and how Jesus is behind the wonderful miracle they have witnessed to confronting his hearers with their guilt, and calling them to repentance as the only way to the blessings of God they so greatly desire. And of course, that criticism will soon lead to conflict.

What about us? When our Christian lives lead to the need for an explanation – and if they don’t, then why not – what happens when we speak of Jesus? As I said a moment ago, there is something deeply attractive about Jesus, even in a society where the church is either boring, irrelevant or negative. But also, to talk about Jesus, his Cross and Resurrection will be such that people will need to make a response. As Peter says, once Jesus is in the frame God no longer overlooks ignorance, and that means people need to make a decision about him. That can go strongly one way or the other. It may be the kind of welcome because people find Jesus attractive, or it can be the kind of hostility that is seen in different ways – from the outright violent persecution that Christian suffer in some lands to the more subtle attempts to keep faith out of the public square that sometimes happen in the West.
So, for example, the question of facing people with the claims of Jesus has been n the national news in Canada recently. A nineteen-year-old Christian student called William Swinimer wore a t-shirt to school with the slogan ‘Life is wasted without Jesus’. Some students complained they found it offensive. The vice-principal asked him not to wear it. He refused on principle, and thus began a series of suspensions which led to five days at home. Eventually the school relented, but not before Swinimer had been told he could support his religion provided he did not offend others, and the vice-principal accused him of ‘hate talk’.

Now you can listen to that as an older and potentially wiser Christian and wonder whether this young man was naïve, but just as Peter was courageous so William Swinimer was willing to risk not graduating, rather like a promising British student risking missing A-Levels and hence university.

In conclusion, you might think then that blessing others in the world in the name of Jesus is a risky business. There is no dodging that fact: it is. But what is the alternative? If we don’t, then think of the many people who won’t be blessed. And let us think of our own faith, wasting like an unused muscle.

Joel Versus Poverty

I have told a story on here somewhere before about making a visit to a school with our children, where we witnessed a display in the entrance hall about a link the local community had with a Ugandan village. The local people there relied on growing and selling chillis to eke out a meagre existence. Our kids were 7 and 5 at the time, and we had to explain huge issues, because they couldn’t initially believe that people lived in such desperate straits in our world.

Later, when we got home, Mark (then 5) announced at the dinner table: “I’ve changed my mind about what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m not going to become an author, I’m going to save Africa.”

Trying not to show considerable surprise, nor wishing to pour cold water on his noble ambition, and secretly pleased, we asked him how he proposed to do this.

“I’m going to open supermarkets all over Africa where people can buy the food they need to live.”

“But where are they going to get the money to buy the food? The people you want to help don’t have much money.”

“That’s easy,” he replied – as only a child could. “I’ll open money shops as well.”

Mark retains his passion for Africa. He still doesn’t spend much of his pocket money or other gifts he receives.
Why am I retelling this story? Because another young boy in a Christian household is doing the same. Read Joel Vs Poverty. The difference is, Joel is getting into fundraising for TEAR Fund as a result. Not only has he written ‘Poor Box’ on an old cardboard Frubes container, he has decided to do a sponsored run on 23rd June. He has a page on Virgin Money Giving where you can donate to the cause.

There is a hashtag on Twitter to help you follow what’s happening, and it’s #TeamJoel. However, the important thing is not only to do clever social media things, but to use them in the service of giving and of changing our world.

An Appeal To Both Sides Of The Christian Debate About Gay Marriage

I have changed my views in the sexuality debate.

If you’ve known me for many years, this post might surprise you. If the 1993 Methodist Conference debate on sexuality had approved of homosexual relationships, I would have resigned as a probationer minister. Had our Pilgrimage Of Faith report in the mid-2000s approved the blessing of civil partnerships on Methodist premises, I would have had a serious problem of conscience. I would have regarded such decisions as tantamount to apostasy.

So I’m now supporting the gay rights agenda? No.

Are you confused? Join the club, and read on.

The more I watch the debate among Christians since the Government announced its consultation on gay marriage, the more I am concerned about the tone we are setting. Honourable exceptions granted, this post is an appeal for the exercise of Christian love and respect between those of opposing opinions. This is the area where I am working hard to change, not least by spending much more time reading different opinions and befriending people with opposing views. There are several areas where both sides need to listen to each other.


Both parties have launched petitions in support of their causes, and neither one deserves my support. Can we get past the sloganeering, please? The ‘traditional’ Coalition For Marriage begins with sloppy language:

Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman.

So they haven’t heard of polygamy, even where kings of Israel take multiple wives. I agree with them that marriage is the exclusive life-long union of one man and one woman, but it hasn’t always been like that, and a campaign that can’t get its facts right from the outset is dodgy. The Coalition For Equal Marriageis equal in sloppiness. It starts,

I support the right of two people in love to get married, regardless of gender. It’s only fair.

They don’t answer the traditionalist point about the legal equality to marriage that civil partnerships give. They don’t say why ‘it’s only fair’. The Reformed theologian Mike Bird, in commenting on the similar debate in Australia, wonders what distinctions rule gay marriage in and polyamory out. Please, then, can both parties think harder? Clear thinking and expression are important here.


In my native Methodism, the debate is tainted over thirty years by the ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ report that reached Conference in 1982 (I think). It listed six grounds on which Christians discerned truth, ending notoriously with ‘The spirit of the age’, which was then used to trump traditional interpretations of biblical teaching. It gave the evangelical movement in Methodism (and please note in the current debate it isn’t as simple as evangelicals versus liberals any more) fuel to claim that support for homosexual practice was opposition to Scripture. Therefore anyone who takes such a view is heretical. Still it is assumed by the great majority of evangelical Methodists that the Bible is clear on human sexuality: one man and one woman exclusively for life, and chastity outside of such relationships.

More widely, the public split ten years ago between the Evangelical Alliance and Courage made it look like the only ‘biblical’ position on this was opposition to homosexual practice.

However, what is different in the debate now is that those in favour of committed gay relationships are interacting much more seriously with the Scriptures. In this I include Christians of various denominations. Twenty years ago I don’t think you would have had an organisation like Accepting Evangelicals, founded by Anglican priest Benny Hazlehurst. He won’t remember me, but we crossed over at theological college by a year. If you want charismatic evangelical credentials, Benny can supply them: he was not long back from serving in Hong Kong with Jackie Pullinger when I met him in Bristol. But he believes that support for gay marriage can be held with integrity alongside a commitment to the authority of the Bible.

However, in my assessment there are strengths and weaknesses in both sides’ biblical interpretation. The traditional view states that every scriptural reference to homosexual practice is negative (quite true), but those campaigning for change say that these reflect particular circumstances, such as abusive relationships and gay prostitution (as in the unusual Greek words used by Paul in 1 Corinthians), and that none of them reflects the contemporary notion of committed homosexual relationships.

I have to say I think that’s (only) partly right. For example, go to a moving website such as Reluctant Journey, run by George Hopper, an elderly Methodist Local Preacher who became persuaded of the case for change, and who has sought to become a Christian friend to gay people. In his analysis of the biblical material, he argues that the centurion’s servant who was healed by Jesus was most likely his master’s gay partner. That suggests some level of commitment, and therefore unwittingly contradicts the pro-gay stance.

At this point my personality traits kick in, hoping to resolve the problem, but they don’t help. You see, I’m one who goes for the wood not the trees, the big picture not the fine details – I’m ‘N’ not ‘S’ in Myers Briggs terms. So rather than get caught up in atomistic discussions of individual verses or even words, I ask where the overall trajectory is leading us. Even then I can’t resolve it. The foundational principle for the biblical discussion in both Jesus and Paul is Genesis 2:24, which grounds everything in heterosexual terms:

For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

On the other hand, Jesus – who makes no comments about homosexuality – shows radical inclusion to social outcasts. You could argue it either way. Perhaps what we need is for people from both groups to sit down together rather than throw theological grenades.


I suspect science is becoming less relevant to the debate. Every now and again the media will publicise some story about a scientific basis for sexual orientation. This seems to have some populist appeal on the naïve ‘If it’s scientific it must be true’ basis. None of these has ever convinced traditionalists. A doctrine of original sin is usually deployed to this effect. Moreover, as the American Baptist theologian Roger Olson recently argued that a scientific ‘is’ doesn’t make for a behavioural ‘ought’.
Until recently such scientific evidence has been used in support of gay rights.

However now even such a vocal campaigner as Peter Tatchell has admitted that the evidence is rather more fluid. I think I am right in saying (but have not found the link) to say that his line has become ‘Never mind science, this is a human right’. Please either correct me if I am wrong or let me know where he said this.

All of which makes some of the arguments over Anglican Mainstream’s use of controversial psychiatrists to oppose homosexuality rather irrelevant. And besides, even if they were to host a conference with a psychiatrist whose reputation could not be argued to be tarnished by their opponents, essentially their position in using psychiatry seems to be that homosexual orientation is a disorder. If it is, then it is a medical issue, not a moral one.


So what is the basis for deciding what’s right and wrong in sexuality? What it all comes down to is, ‘How do we know that we know?’ In other words, to give it its technical word, epistemology, that is, the study of knowledge.

The traditional view takes the teaching of Scripture and makes the case I have described. Those seeking change used to put human reason more highly but that is now vulnerable. Some of the argument in the church is about differing interpretations of Scripture, particularly about which of the diverse elements of the Bible take priority, as well as the questions of translation and context.

Beyond that lies the ‘secular’ argument of human rights that is such a strong narrative in society. It seems to be based on an assumption that what two consenting adults do in private is nobody else’s business, just so long as it is not harmful. Furthermore, it is influenced by a society that has downgraded the notions of responsibility and duty in favour of personal fulfilment.

And I do believe it is correct to call this a ‘secular’ argument. It is essentially premised upon the ideas of personal sovereignty and consumerism. Whatever view we take as Christians, we cannot get sucked in by these. Personal sovereignty contradicts the notion that Jesus is Lord. The consumerist attitude of personal fulfilment stands against sacrifice. And in passing, I note that the Church has not only asked homosexual people not to fulfil their feelings, she has asked many single women to do the same. For given both the teaching that Christians should only marry within the faith and the fact of female predominance in Church, many single women, not finding a life partner in Christian circles have seen it as their duty to stay celibate. Whether you agree with the teaching or not, at heart both parties have been called to make difficult and painful sacrifices.

Ours should be a conviction based on the big themes of the Gospel – a good Creator, who begins to make all things new in the wake of fallenness and brokenness, One who is seen supremely in his Son, a God of grace, truth and love. Which leads to my final thought.

A story: I used to take some students on placement with me from a Bible college. One team led a midweek discussion group based on Nicky Gumbel’s book ‘Searching Issues’, which he wrote in response to the most commonly raised objections to Christianity raised on the Alpha Course. One of those topics was homosexuality, and the original chapter is now available as a separate booklet. Gumbel takes a traditional view of the subject.

During a debrief, I asked the students how they got on. ‘We told them the biblical view,’ said one. And I thought, ‘Oh no, you didn’t.’ Because by ‘the biblical view’ I knew they only meant, ‘what actions are right and wrong’. I said, ‘You didn’t give them a full biblical view if you didn’t start from the position of God’s unconditional love for all people.’

My spontaneous reaction that day is still a touchstone for me, especially because I am aware there are people on both sides (sorry to keep using that language, but I fear it’s true) who are hurting. I have gay friends who have suffered hurt, rejection and bullying. I have theologically conservative friends who are worried that the Gospel and mission are at stake here. Add to them the single women I mentioned above, of course.

The Christian Church, then, needs a huge dose of love to work through this matter, and I expressed my concern about the tone of the debate in my introduction. That’s the essence of my appeal here. I don’t know, but I wonder whether we will work ourselves through to the kind of place that James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, described a few years ago, to the consternation of many fellow evangelicals. His Presidential Address of March 2010 calls for ‘diversity without enmity’. He believes that the differing convictions on this subject are analogous to the differences Christians hold on subjects such as the just war and pacifism.

Is his proposal possible or desirable? What do you think? Or should the Church stick to one particular position? Indeed, would Jones’ proposal itself lead not to co-existence but to a singular conclusion?

Just one final word. I am happy to have comments from people of whatever persuasion, but in the spirit of this post I will watch for the tone of comments. Please, no labelling of people as homophobes or unbelievers. Let’s see if we can demonstrate love in the tone of our contributions.

Michael Frost: Missional Listening

It sounds counter-intuitive to many Christians, that listening is a key to mission. Isn’t mission about proclamation, about us speaking? Watch this superb video of Mike Frost on adopting a posture of listening:


He contrasts listening with prepackaged, prefabricated approaches to mission. Our culture likes to buy a package off the shelf to solve a problem, and the church is no exception when it comes to solving our problems of mission, of decline, of making worship more interesting …

Yet one of my churches is currently doing one of these very prefabricated mission packages, Alpha. However, we didn’t adopt it, because we were desperate to stimulate church growth. We ended up doing it as a result of listening. We had made a specific attempt to listen to our community at last summer’s village fair. We offered a lucky dip and asked adults who called at our stall to answer one question about what they thought the church should do in the community. We had about thirty responses, almost all of them positive. Our Leadership Team debated the replies, but didn’t come up with anything concrete.

Alpha came up a few months later. We had a moving and powerful memorial service for a much loved church member. It prompted spiritual questions. From some of those people came the request for Alpha, not us. It wasn’t on our agenda.

I love the way the Frost video ends with the appeal to listen to your community, because it is telling you how to evangelise it. How are you doing that?

The Archbishop’s Sermon At The Diamond Jubilee Service …

was online within moments of the service ending.

Now, I’d disestablish the C of E tomorrow were that feasible, because  I believe the church is meant to be a radical counter-cultural kingdom community. The consorting with power leaves me uncomfortable. All the pragmatic arguments about privilege leading to visibility don’t chime with the Gospel for me. (Besides, what kind of publicity does the Church of England get? You can’t tell me the reporting of Synods, debates and arguments advances the kingdom.)

But I rather liked the way the ABC used that in a subversive way in his sermon. Whatever the Queen’s wealth and privilege, I think ‘dedication’ is a decent word for her. Whatever happens to my pension, I don’t want still to be working at the age of eighty-six.

Then, after all the effusive words, he aims, fires and hits the target in the final two paragraphs:

This year has already seen a variety of Jubilee creations and projects. But its most lasting memorial would be the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.

Listen again for a moment toSt Paul. ‘We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us … the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness … Outdo one another in showing honour … extend hospitality to strangers … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another … take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’ Dedication to the health and well-being of a community is all this and more. May we be given the grace to rediscover this as we give thanks today for Her Majesty’s sixty years of utterly demanding yet deeply joyful service.

At last, someone who understands that Jubilee goes beyond red, white and blue. Dr Williams, I never thought I’d say this when you took up office, but I’m going to miss you when you step down.

The Diamond Jubilee And Living On Past Glories

So I flitted between repeats of Have I Got News For You on the Dave Channel and whatever was happening at the Diamond Jubilee Concert. It was altogether too ‘mainstream’ in its musical tastes for me (as I would expect). But here’s what struck me: you have the extraordinary visuals for Madness‘ wonderfully cheeky rendition of Our House:

Stevie Wonder got a bit confused between the notion of birthday and Jubilee:

And Paul McCartney certainly gave the gig a spectacular ending, not least with Live And Let Die (no, HRH, don’t take that literally about your mother):

But, but, but. What an embarrassment Elton John was. And I say that as someone who liked his early music. Well, the Seventies stuff, up to about the Blue Moves album. While I’ve posted the full performances above of Madness, Wonder and McCartney, I can’t bear to do that for Elt. The nadir, which epitomised the whole sorry performance, was Crocodile Rock, and it’s telling there are no decent quality clips of that track on YouTube this morning. I have a fondness for that shallow little song, because it brings back certain teenage memories. I used to co-edit a satirical school magazine in Sixth Form, and when our Physics teacher turned up one day in glasses for the first time, we ran posters around the school about Elton Vine and rewrote this song as Crocodile Clip. (I’ll pass on our deeply unChristian rewrite of Your Song as My Song.)

Crocodile Rock last night showed what has been obvious for years whenever Sir E H John has sung in public (at least, going on TV performances). He can’t reach the high notes any more. He tacitly admitted it by delegating the falsetto part not even to backing vocalists but to the crowd. McCartney and Wonder hit some bum notes, but they still had some decent range.

At the end of the set, the compère said Elton was someone who certainly knew how to put on a show.

He does. He just can’t sing anymore. Which is inconvenient but doesn’t get in the way. He’s living on past glories.

And we got something similar with the video montage of the Queen’s reign, set to the orchestral version of U2’s Beautiful Day. It all reinforced the ridiculous ‘Sixty Glorious Years’ slogan that has been repurposed from a 1930s film about Queen Victoria. Not that you’d expect an event like this to highlight Princess Margaret’s wild life, Randy Andy’s supposedly secret trysts with Koo Stark, the annus horribilis or the effect of Diana’s death on the royal family. There, too, like Reginald Dwight Esquire, we can live on past glories.

Not that we’d know anything about putting on a good show and living on past glories in the church. Oh, no.

Is The Queen’s Jubilee A Real Jubilee?

Er, no, it isn’t. Not to the Christian, anyway.

I bear Her Majesty no malice. Take your pick between monarchies, republics and theocracies: all have serious weaknesses which I’m not going to explore here. And yes, I shall go to our street party and enjoy myself with our friends and neighbours.

But let me defend my opening. Because The Real Jubilee is so much better.

Yesterday, Mark got home from school with a homework project for half-term to research The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. All the usual stuff about what’s going to happen, what the children are going to do and so on. So he finds the official website and started typing away.

“Hold on a minute,” I said, “do you know what a Jubilee originally was?” I knew he wouldn’t have a clue, and I explained simply the Old Testament origination of the fifty year intervals at which slaves were released and land returned. With the incentive that surely no other child in his class would know about this (and probably not his teacher, either) he added this to the beginning of his project. Never have I found Leviticus so useful with a child.

It is put in a more sophisticated way by Nick Spencer in his article The Other Jubilee, posted at Theos yesterday. There, he explains the heart of the problem. We have confused Old Testament Jubilee (from the Hebrew ‘jobel’) with Latin ‘jubilo’, meaning ‘to rejoice’. Hence we have the incongruous notion of a Jubilee without justice. A party (which is fine) but nothing else. How glad I was, then, to see my friend Sally Coleman post a link on Facebook to the Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Jubilee For Justice petition. Now, I know signing a petition only goes so far, I know that it’s easier than ever online and it becomes a substitute for getting our own hands dirty if we’re lazy, but it’s a start. I like the aims of the campaign:

Cancel the unjust debts of the most indebted nations

Promote just and progressive taxation rather than excessive borrowing

Stop harmful lending which forces countries into debt

I’ll put my name to those. And I just wonder whether, with all the talk we’ve had of churches getting involved with Diamond Jubilee Beacons we might have had a more effective witness by grass roots action for something in the spirit of a biblical jubilee. But then I’m a church leader and I’ve been far too slow to connect with what a jubilee originally was. I’m just catching up rather too late, thanks to my son’s homework.