Posts Tagged “jesus”

(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!”


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We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. (Simon Sinek)

In his TED talk Simon Sinek tells why the ‘why’ is important. Much more important than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’.

I work for a Church. I think my job is about the ‘why’ but very often it has little to do with ‘why’ and much more to do with ‘how’ and ‘what’.

Over the past 20 years the church in the West has declined. It’s a long and sad story that has been told often. In response to that story people have come up with plans, strategies and programmes. You’ve probably heard them all.

‘If we do this people will come’.

Sounds like ‘Field of Dreams’ doesn’t it? Except it doesn’t. Not quite. In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ Ray builds a baseball diamond in his back yard against everyone’s advice. He goes on his journey to Fenway because he believes that he will find something significant there. He builds the baseball diamond so he can share what he believes. He doesn’t tell anyone what they should see, or how they can see it. Just that a bunch of dead baseball players seem to show up and play in his back yard baseball pitch.

Sinek thinks that ‘why’ is the golden question. I think he’s right.

People didn’t turn up to hear Dr King for him. They went for themselves. He didn’t talk to them about his plan, he talked about his dream.

Obama did the same. Remember the signs? HOPE.

The SNP did the same. ‘We believe in Scotland’. Relentlessly positive about what could be.

So what is the Church’s ‘why’?

People don’t follow Jesus because it will make their minister feel better. They don’t come to church to make the person who sits beside them feel better.

They follow because they believe. They follow because they believe that God’s grace and forgiveness will change their lives.

That’s not the story we tell. Our story is all about ‘how’ and ‘why’.

If you love God this is how you should behave.

You should love God because if you don’t you’ll go to hell.

That’s the story we tell.

We tell a story of joining a programme or a class or a group, not a story of lives and a world transformed. We tell a story where we apologise for being small or poor or not very good at this not of amazing things done by ordinary people helped by God.

We tell the story of Jesus like this:

“God sent Jesus to die on the cross because we are so terrible. Our sins are forgiven, but we need to earn that forgiveness over and over again because we are all still miserable sinners. Don’t do that. Don’t wear that. Don’t listen to that or love that person. Don’t have sex. Don’t have fun.”

Let’s contrast that with how Jesus asked people to follow Him…

“Follow me and your lives will be transformed.”

Nothing about Jesus invitation is about Him. It isn’t a command and it’s not even about Him. It’s about them.

I will make YOU different… Come with me and YOUR life will never be the same again.


Now, what is it you want me to do?

That’s not our story. That’s not the one we tell.

It should be.

But it’s not.

We explain the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. We call it theology or a sermon. We don’t tell people the ‘why’. Our ‘why’ is simple and strange and compelling and transforming.

God loves you.

Yes you.

Yes, even you.

Not just good people or straight people or white people or rich people or clever people or left footed people or any other label.

God loves YOU. He loves you so much that he sent his only son to die so that we don’t have to worry or be scared and so that we can live life free of guilt and shame and doubt and worry.

The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are interesting. But the WHY… now that’s a story we should tell.

Update: Here’s the new Apple ad… If  you don’t believe what Sinek is saying.  Watch and see if they mention the ‘how’ or the ‘what’…

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

( if you’re using one of Apple’s flash free devices)

Not once… but you want a macbook, ipad, ipad mini, ipod or iphone, even though they never mention any of them by name, tell you how much they are or even where you can buy them.

That’s the power of ‘why’.


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One of my favourite books is called Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli.  The tag line of the book is ‘the adventure of childlike faith’.  In it Mike argues that following Jesus should be an adventure.  That Jesus is dangerous and wonderful and that Christians should be known for the fire in their souls, the wild-eyed gratitude in our faces, the twinkle in our eye and the holy mischief in our demeanour.

There are quotes, poems and stories at the beginning of each chapter.  They set the scene and give a flavour of what’s coming.

There are two at the beginning of chapter 4, ‘daring playfulness’.  The first is this quote from a Rabbi’s sermon:

‘Life is tough.  It takes up much of your time, all of your weekends and what do you get at the end of it?  I think the lifecycle is all backward.  You should die first, get that out of the way.  Then you should live twenty years in an old age home.  You get kicked out when you’re too young.  You get a gold watch, you go to work.  You work for forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.  You go to college, you party until you’re ready for high school.  You go to primary school, you become a little kid, you play, you have no responsibilities.  You become a little baby, you go back into the womb.  You spend your last nine months floating in the womb and end up as a glint in someone’s eye.’

I love that sentiment.  It makes me smile.

But perhaps the second short quote is one we should really pay attention to this week.

“I was never young because I never dared to be young.”

Is that where we are in our faith and in our church?  Are we scared to be young?  Are we trying to be great without knowing what greatness is?

What would it mean to be a childlike church?  Not just child-friendly, but childlike.  How can we become a place of imagination and daring and wonder and playfulness?

When Jesus points towards the least he picks a child.  He doesn’t pick someone who is rubbish at everything and he doesn’t pick the poorest and he doesn’t make fun or embarrass anyone.  He picks a child.  A child who needs looked after and nurtured and encouraged and played with… and loved.  Maybe that’s a clue about what church should be like…

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jesus_cheI’m working on a sermon for Sunday.  A couple of things have been swirling around my brain for a while.

The first is Shane Claiborne’s ‘Jesus for President’ stuff where he talks about the revolutionary kingdom.  The subversion of the Gospel of the Caesars and Mark’s mocking of Caesar in the way he depicts the Crucifixion as a coronation.

The video I posted of Rob Bell sharing his thoughts on the Good News echo these thoughts.

So that’s where Sunday’s sermon is going.  The kingdom of God is a subversive revolution.

I remember the fuss about this picture of Jesus depicted as Che Guevara, the revolutionary who was a key player in the Cuban revolution.  People were genuinely outraged.  I hope it was because they wouldn’t associate Jesus with violent revolution but I have more than a sneaking suspicion that people just don’t see Jesus in the revolutionary role.

So, what do you think?  was Jesus ‘meek and mild’?  Or is there more to this Gospel than that?  Is the Gospel political?  Is it a call to subversive living?

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The Holy Sites (day 5)

6.00am: Wake up

7.30am: Bus trip north to Haifa, the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth

Stop 1 – Haifa – Elijah’s Cave on Mt Carmel, Haifa

I knew that the Holy Sites were places where important Biblical events had happened, and I knew that there were churches built over the top of most of them but I don’t think anything quite prepares you for  the reality of what that’s actually like.

Our first stop was Elijah’s cave, which, as expected, is inside a church.  Weird, but kinda cool.  At each stop one of the young people read a related Bible story in Arabic then one of our American friends (Eric, Harold of George) said a few words about what the significance might be for us today.  The challenge here was the same one Elijah issued to the people; will you worship the little gods you have created or will you worship the one true God?  Funny how things are so different but so similar.

Elijah's Cave

Stop 2 – Cana of Galilee

Up a back street in a small town in the middle of nowhere seems an appropriate place for Jesus’ first miracle.

Excavations at Cana

Stop 3 – Church of the Heptapegon

The site of the feeding of the 5,000.  The heat of the day was starting to have an effect.  Standing around outside the church was almost impossible, hanging around inside was almost as bad.  The church is beautiful but just after we arrived three busloads of other tourists piled in and any sense of peace, wonder or holiness was shattered.

On reflection it’s funny that I should feel that large numbers of people in this place should take away from the experience.  5,000 people turned up to listen to Jesus teach.  The thing I’ve never understood about this story is why they wouldn’t have food with them?  We were on a bus trip for a day and had enough food and water for a week.  What were these people thinking?  Or was this a miracle that was more about sharing?  About community?

The church has a beautiful courtyard with a lilly pond.  The flowers are spectacular but are surrounded by buzzing bees, all working together, all important, all contributing so there is enough for all.  Perhaps that’s the kind of miracle our world needs?

Water Lilly

We had ice-lollies instead of bread and fish as the temperature soared to 42C!

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This week on the Something Beautiful Podcast we chat with BWG* Eric Bryant, author of the book Peppermint-Filled Piatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love, stand-up comedian, speaker, and a pastor on staff with Mosaic in Los Angeles.

from his blog ::

We live in a diverse world filled with unprecedented opportunity. There is a call to move past the barriers that stand between us and those who may be different. Eric Michael Bryant has seen tolerance shown to those who are different than us — racially, religiously, sexually, politically, economically — and believes there must be more. After all, Jesus didn’t just tolerate people; he embraced them all with love.

Using lighthearted humor, engaging personal stories, and a “party theology,” Bryant shows us how to love our neighbors and fulfill the vision Jesus had for the church from the beginning.

Whether that is through building relationships with the help of bounce houses, stand up comedy, or piñatas, followers of Christ will be inspired to actively engage the world around them.

Eric shares about his time growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt, some of his ministry experiences in Seattle and LA as well as the lessons he’s learned about tolerance and love along the way.

(*see the book for more info)

Adele Sakler (part 2)

If you missed part 2 of Adele Sakler’s (Existential Punk) story then have a listen!

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