Archive for the “God, Faith & Church” Category

John 11:1-44

Lazarus.

Jesus’ friend.

Dying.

And what does Jesus do?  Something else.  There’s no hurry.  No rush to see him or any hint that he might save him.  So many miracles, so many strangers healed, made whole, restored… why not Lazarus?

Again the story is laden with symbolism but there’s some real raw emotion in here too.  Mary and Martha are two of his closest followers and Jesus seems pretty indifferent about their brother’s fate.  I wonder how they felt about Jesus at that point?

 

Of course it all turns out well in the end… or does it?  Lazarus will spend the rest of his life as the man who died.  And not just for a moment.  He was dead for days.  Long enough for decay and stench to set in.

How do you come back from that and live?

How do you come out of the darkness of the tomb back into the light?

But that’s exactly the point… I AM the resurrection says Jesus.

And Lazarus lives again.

(Perhaps The Stone Roses… for the offering?)

Comments 3 Comments »

 

I love when someone asks,”Can we do ….?”.  Mostly the answer is easy… YES!!!  (And why are you asking me? It’s YOUR church!)

A Burns Supper… a family meal with poems, dancing, song and speeches.  And this is what it looked like.  150 people of all ages enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties, the talents of children and adults and, most importantly, being together in community.

And it was brilliant.

But, so what?

Look at the picture.  Do you see what’s happening?

Talking.

Listening.

Conversation.

We could have had separate tables but the long tables meant people were sitting next to other people they might not know, that older people were sitting next to young children, that people made new friends.

I used to have a colleague that talked about planning moments of spontaneity.  I love the idea that what we do is to create the space and the opportunity for stuff to happen… and then get out of the road.  One of the biggest temptations in ministry is to fill the space, to programme every moment and to make sure there is no opportunity to go off course.

When we do that we completely miss the point.

The space is the purpose.

The conversations are the point.

The relationships are what matter.

Comments No Comments »

For five minutes or a couple of hours on the first Sunday of the month people come and sit in a candlelit church.

Sometimes it is the simplest idea that catches the imagination.

Providing a place of sanctuary and stillness is one of the gifts the church can provide to a busy world full of stress and concern.

Be still and know that I am God.

Tags:

Comments No Comments »

(photo Avril Cutler)

As I read a large chunk of the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion this morning I was struck, not for the first time, by the role of the Empire.

Pilate is the Roman Governor and so plays the part of the Empire in political terms.  He tries Jesus and finds no crime but does the will of the people because politics isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about getting things done.  Pilate’s conversation with Jesus is fascinating.  Throughout we read again and again that Pilate is astonished and amazed because Jesus refuses to play the political game.

The whole pattern of the crucifixion mirrors the coronation of the emperor.  It’s a subversion of the story of power.  Right from the first line of the first Gospel, Mark, we see this counter story laid out.

The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

For us that seems like an obvious, even bland introduction.  But it’s not.  It’s a hugely loaded political statement.  It says Jesus is Lord… not Caesar.  The Roman Empire spread ‘peace’ across the known world through fear and violence.  The Emperor was a god and ruled as such.

Jesus is the opposite.  He has no army, no political ambition to rule or to dominate.  He does have one thing…  authority.  And it terrifies those in power.  Pilate can see it.  The religious leaders can see it.  And their Empires can’t live with it.

Empire stretches far beyond the rule of Rome.  The religious Empire was just as powerful.  Even the Roman governor is scared of facing off against them.  They have contained and codified God.  They have quite literally put God in a box in a room that nobody is allowed to go into, even though the box isn’t there anymore.  They have regulated how and where and when God should be worshipped.  They have decided what is and is not pleasing to God, what behaviour will be tolerated and what rituals must be performed.  They even dish out the punishments, including death, when people break the religious rules.

This Empire can’t cope with a God who isn’t angry and vengeful.  This Empire doesn’t know what to do with grace.

So, when this Jesus comes along and challenges both Empires by being all that they should be but are not, there can be only one outcome… he has to die.

If Good Friday teaches us anything it surely has to be some kind of lesson about power.  A king who washes feet, who has compassion and love for the poor and the sick, who has no place to live, never mind a palace, who has no army or uniform and no claim over territories or governments or countries, stands before the might of two empires and is executed in a brutal manner on a garbage heap.  Power and ambition and rules and authority and fear and hatred win…

Each time we try to claim Christ as ours and ours alone, each time we try to create rules and regulations, to enforce our way of thinking or our way of doing it, or  when we just plain want our way, we join the empire and take the side of domination.  We stand with the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!”

 

Tags: , , ,

Comments No Comments »

I’ve just spent a few days at college considering play and creativity in the context of church. I have lots of notes and thoughts, but the one that has stuck with me is about space to play and create art.

Play is at the centre of creativity.

IMG_3669

Play is about trying things out.  It’s about testing ideas, positions, opinions and options by imagining what they would be like without committing to them.  Art then, at least partly, capturing what you discover as you play.  This process of imagining something then making it if  done reflectively can be a spiritual practice.

That must surely begin with a playful attitude, the expectation that church is a place that encourages and enables play and art and creativity.  And that means you!  Yes, YOU!

So, how do we create both the expectation and the space for our churches and communities to be creative places?

I don’t think it’s accidental that Messy Church and Godly Play have been two of the most successful things to happen to the church for years.  Why?  Because they centre around play.  Spill the Beans works in a similar way because it centres on story, a playful and imaginative exploration of an incident or idea.

The strength of these approaches is perhaps that they don’t expect masterpieces, just that you take part and see what happens.

That your contribution is valued and valid…

no matter what your art teacher told you at school.

I’m fed up with church being about finding the one, correct answer.  The idea that a parable has one right, correct and universal meaning is just nonsense.  They are stories designed to make us think, imagine, test, explore and create meaning.  So, how else can we explore these meanings except by play and art?

The kingdom of God is like…

Imagine is the kingdom of God is like…

‘is like’ is an invitation to imagine.

What if it is like:

a seed

a man in a field

a box of treasure

a prodigal son

a vineyard

or whatever else we are invited to imagine.

How does that playful, fun, imaginative engagement help us to understand more about God, life and each other?

If that’s no the point of church what is?

Tags: , ,

Comments No Comments »

Intergenerational church.013

Amy Peterson

I’m training to be a minister.

I have all kinds of issues with that statement, but for now it can just be a few words that give context to what follows.

Part of my training is to spend time with the Scottish Episcopal Institute studying a diploma in theology for ministry.  I had very little experience of the Episcopal Church prior to this so their use of written liturgy and the way they celebrate the Eucharist (communion) was odd to me.  I had never experienced a sung compline or evensong.  My experience up to now had been of  preaching box churches, cubes of Mother’s Pride and shot glasses with a varying quality of content, all ‘dispensed’ in a way which is often the antithesis of communal.  But that is my primary experience.  Most of the other times I’ve participated in communion have been in ‘informal’ gatherings with a common cup and a lump of bread which feel more communal but sometimes lack a sense of connectedness to much beyond the people we are with at that time.

I know that church is odd, but because of my previous experience with my brand of oddity I thought Episcopalian liturgical practice was just plain weird.  It sits a little uncomfortably with my view of ‘priesthood’ and what happens when we celebrate the eucharist, but there is also something about it that speaks to me.  There is great depth in the weirdness which seems perhaps to be missing in what I’m used to.

So, confronted with this ancient ritual and drama, I wonder a little more about what we think church is, and is not, and what we might have gained and lost in our rush to be ‘relevant’.

If you search back on this very blog I’m sure you’ll find me railing against a church that finds itself ‘irrelevant’, and I still believe that to be true.  The relevance I hope for is that what we do helps people to connect with God, each other and their communities.  That relevance is captured in what we do and say, not necessarily in adopting the latest cultural fad or style.

This would be the stage that you point at me and call me middle aged, expose my growing ‘conservatism’ and  wonder what happened to the rebellious youth…

He’s still here.  I hope.

I’m still passionate about people who lead worship being creative, engaging and taking risks, but all that happens within and around a central act where we gather around a table and break bread and share wine together.  We join in a great and mysterious act that binds us together with what was, what is and what is to come.

“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘‘relevant.’’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”

That’s nothing less than radical.  That’s nothing less than transformative.  That’s nothing less than deeply relevant.

And it’s weird.  And I like that.

I’ve come to like the use of the same words at the same point.  The words of Compline have become dear to me and the appearance of some of those words in my mother’s funeral service struck a real chord, exposing that deep connectedness again.

It’s there that relevance lies for me.  In the depths, not the shallows.

It’s in the words of our rites and rituals.  It’s in the words of carefully crafted sermons.  It’s in the poetry of prayer.

Some of the mystery and life in those words is in the speaking of them.  Rob Bell told a story in a recent podcast of his preaching class at seminary where a student preached a very boring sermon.  The teacher picked up the script and started to read the same words…  The class were amazed.  It turned out that the words were great, it was the initial presentation that was lacking.

Church is weird.

I hope it stays that way.

But I also hope we can remember that the weird stuff we do and say needs to be done and said well.

 

 

Comments 1 Comment »

loom

There are times when it’s ok to let something pass quietly.

There are other times when something has to be said.

I was charged with leading worship at the URC Youth Assembly last weekend and as we neared the end of our time together it grew more and more apparent that we should acknowledge the moving on of those aged 25, who would be old to return next year.

I saw a loom like this one on Twitter last week.  Someone created one for the Deep Impact conference in Aviemore.  It looked great, so I stole it.  I was going to use it for something else but as the young people wove their brightly coloured strands together it struck me that this could be something we could use to mark a rite of passage.

Here’s what was said between the singing of Guide me, O thou great Jehovah and I, the Lord of sea and sky:

“Could those for whom this is their last Youth Assembly please stand if you are able or raise your hand to let us know who you are.

You know that I like songs and that extends, perhaps surprisingly, beyond Abba’s greatest hits. There’s a song by Semisonic called ‘closing time’. Everyone thinks it’s about chucking out time at the pub. But it’s not. It’s actually about a man contemplating the birth of his child. It has one of my favourite lines in it, and I think it says something for us all, but especially for you at this time. It’s this:

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Youth Assembly is one of those things that come into our lives and it can be a hugely significant part of both our journey of faith and our journey through life. For those who have come to the upper age limit today, passing the grand old age of 25, this time of worship marks the end of your time with this particular part of the church.

And that is how it should be. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. And that’s as it should be.

God needs you. The church needs you.

So we want to take the opportunity to thank you, for you’re the gifts you have shared with us, for your enthusiasm and most of all for your friendship. You have blessed this community. Your stories, just like the strips of cloth on the loom, are woven into the story of this church and have been an integral part of the fabric of our life together, bringing colour and beauty.

We would like to bless you as you step out from this place and set out on new journeys of faith.

We would encourage you to take all that this place has meant and still means to you with you, to take the best of us, to take your passion for God, and share it with those you meet along the way, wherever your journey takes you.

When we bless people and send them out we have a tradition of ‘laying on hands’. So, could those around the people who are moving on gather round them and just lay your hands on their shoulders as we pray a blessing on them.

 

A Commissioning (adapted from Spill the Beans)

The Gospel,

The Good News of Jesus Christ

is demanding,

and challenging,

and subversive.

It is nothing short of revolutionary.

 

This is the message we preach.

This is the story we live.

It’s not an easy life.

But is a life like no other.

 

The call to you

is to stand up and be counted,

exactly as Jesus did:

to go after the big fish,

to make disciples of all people

often leaving familiar things behind.

 

It’s time to step out

Time to embrace your calling

Time to break cover

Time to follow Jesus

into the world

 

But go with our friendship

go with the love of God almighty

go with the leading of Jesus, the Christ, your saviour

go with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit

to guard and keep you safe

this day and always.

Amen”

Comments No Comments »