We read in The Observer that there are likely to be divisions over the value system behind a radical programme to make the Church of England “fit for purpose.”

Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is one of the loudest critics of the Reform and Renewal Program. Fulcrum heard Bishop Pete Broadbent describe the Reform and Renewal program this April at one of its Pivot^Point evenings.

London clergy are hearing about the values that underpin such thinking in the diocese's Riverside Leadership Program hosted by St Milletus college, Kensington which was opened by Richard Chartres and his challenge to be 'Vision Ied and not problem obsessed.' There is a need to 'look at the clutter and simplify.' We need a 'clear direction of travel and improvisations are important.'

We are hearing the clarion call for change and are being encouraged to do something before it is too late and the church faces a very real crisis. Money is to be redistributed, clergy are to be better trained for vocations that require them to engage with the world as it is - health and safety, safeguarding, lone-working agreements, human resourcing, employing and equipping, we are registrars, we are managers, we are balancers of budgets and communicators of financial forecasts, we are also counsellors of sorts and teachers of the scriptures. We hear that 40% of the church’s clergy will retire in the next decade and MBA-style management courses will train the newly appointed to take on wider briefs and meet various targets. A particular kind of pragmatism is to be taught if it can't be caught.

Percy's concerns are over “the uncritical use of business principles, which are mostly untested...' In the Riverside Leadership program we learn that we are to be unapologetic about our explorations and training for 'leadership.' All agendas are value-laden and we can critically engage with secular management theories and discern consonance there with the values of the faith and so claim for God what might in business be building the markets.

I am not concerned by visions for simplification and a necessary pragmatism. I am in favour of flattening dualisms and capturing what we can for God. Reading D'Costa in College taught me to watch for the work of the Spirit in those places and people, books and theories that do not proclaim faith in God, that if it's all God's initiative anyway, then I can look anywhere for signs of the Kingdom, it is discernment we are to pray for as we spot what can be used for Him.

I trust that we will not be throwing babies out with the water that might seem to be filling the 'sinking ship.'

As Parish priests we grapple with Church Representation Rules, Churchwardens Measures, Ecclesiastical Law,  Annual Parochial Church meetings and how to recruit paid and voluntary people under Diocesan Safer Recruitment processes etc. We also develop our study and practice of prayer, liturgy, Anglican Communion history and exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the scriptures, preaching and spiritual disciplines. We disciple and are discipled, we are formed and chipped away at. We become rightly accountable, learn prophetic edge and make mistakes, we are challenged to combine theological rigour with the simplification process being championed because hopefully these things will complement and informs each other.

The church will be challenged to hold tight to its development of ‘character’ together with its approach to the accumulation of technique and approach which can be taught and nurtured. Alister McGrath conclusions have been that ‘the promotion of the well-being of an institution, and compliance with its culture seem to take priority over the gospel.’

From what I have seen of the church’s structures to this point in my ministry, I am convinced that this is not so: there is being modelled to me that vital engagement with the gospel that is surely our mission here on earth.  It will be interesting to see how plans for teh Reform and Renewal of the Church of England are hatched over the next five years as Synod is launched next week. 


Embodied souls

Jesus came to "unbind" us, like he does Lazarus, in that Jesus came to release us into believing by faith the Christian promise that life really does come from death. Life comes from death - we remember today those who have gone before us, this All Saints Day: those exemplary and remembered by many. Life comes from death – we remember tomorrow All Souls Day, those more ordinary and remembered by perhaps just you and I.

All Saints and All Souls - we are never to be in denial that death is the only certainty of life but we are also to know that Christ has made possible our triumph over death. Jesus came to lead us into God's culture, a culture based on life.

Halloween seems to be an unhealthy, maybe harmless, preoccupation of contemporary culture. We have had that this weekend too. The world over, there are many customs and traditions which help people to explore death. Halloween was originally, of course, that hallowed eve before the remembering of the lives of those who have died. This once Christian festival has been captured sometimes in macabre and dark ways about which we shouldn't be naïve but mostly by young children intent on collecting as many sweets as they can, quite unaware of its deeper themes.

It would seem that this All Saints, All Souls, this hallowed weekend, we are to learn from Jesus how we are to do both life and death.

We have two interesting scriptures for this hallowed day – one from Revelation that “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away,” and the other from John's Gospel to show us that when death comes, there is a right response: the weeping that we see is Christ's at the loss of his dear friend and another right response that is Christ's – a supreme confidence that death is not the end. A Christian confidence is a confidence in eternal life. This is hope indeed.

In the days of Jesus' culture in first century Palestine, there would have been a ceremonial wailing in public displays of grief that we see today in news broadcasts as people take to the streets and wail and beat their chests mourning their loss. There are cultural expectations that accompany death – the world over - but the word for ritual wailing (klaio) is not the one used in John's Gospel for Jesus as he weeps. This word is dakryo, the only occurrence in the NT- a word for weeping quietly, for crying in silence. Jesus' compassion is genuine, between him and God and the sisters of Lazarus: Martha and Mary.

Jesus responds with authenticity in his grief but he faces death too with that ultimate confidence in God's power of life. And so models in this a right response to death. His being greatly disturbed in his Spirit is better rendered angry because death, for the Christian never has the final word. A reply comes with a another word and that word is life. In the raising of Lazarus Jesus makes visible Christian reality of life triumphing always over death – Lazarus is bodily raised and really brought back to bodily life and will of course die again but never really again because his is eternal life. Death is forever undone through the work of Christ.

It is people's ever doubting this that also causes Jesus' anger. Freedom in life comes more easily when we do not live afraid of death.

The Christian story only makes sense if we trust Jesus that life doesn't end with death for those who are in Christ. Before our reading from John today the story was already beginning to be told: Jesus tells Martha as he arrives at the scene, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.' Jesus has Lazarus be a literal object-lesson of this teaching. In our creed every Sunday we say: “We look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” We can be confident as we say these words because of this reality proclaimed today – that as we meet to concentrate on souls and saints – souls are secure in Christ for those who believe in Him and the saints whom we mourn the loss of, whether well-known or not, share company with us with the Father – Paul's letter to the Ephesians teaches us that all Christians are saints waiting for the final victory promised in Revelation that one day this very place where we stand and sit even right now will be a place that knows no death or mourning or pain for the old order of things will have passed away and Christ will have finally and completely made all things new. This is our hope that we celebrate today so that as we commit this day to those who have died we can be assured and filled with peace.

The Saints today are those of Christian history, Spencer Perceval of passionate evangelical faith and those dear to us who have died in the reality of Christ. They know a life already to which we are all headed. Those souls which we will remember this afternoon are at rest but if we believe the doctrines of the church, they will one day be raised, given resurrection bodies and the New Jerusalem will come. This is the faith of the church that we profess. So let's today revisit this faith – for it is a faith based on life after life after death (read Tom Wright if you want to know more about that) – yes there is heaven – a place of rest with Christ but there is also one day that which we profess in our creed – the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come – this is that world described in the book of Revelation – God sets the bounds for eternal life – and we read of his plans here – in this Holy Book – fifteen copies of which we will soon have in our church!

Let's be confident as Christians in the Christian Hope of eternal life. With the Saints gone before us, we will one day be reunited – yes. As Richard Baxter wrote, that Puritan divine:

Before thy throne we daily meet
As joint-petitioners to thee;
In spirit each the other greet,
And shall again each other see.

There are a few I long to meet – St Paul, my favourite apostle and Spencer Perceval, my relatives again, my friends. And so today with you I am reminded of the core truth of my faith – as Lazarus leaves the tomb, the people must unbind him, there's an unwrapping, a revealing, an uncovering to come, to reveal the life within and the people must join in.

My prayer for us all is that this weekend so hallowed, when we celebrate the lives of those gone before us and in seven days will do so again on Remembrance Sunday is that between now and then we appropriate again and with more fervency our belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Our Christian Hope for all saints, all souls, all bodies. Amen.


Jonah under cover

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Psalm 86.1-9
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me. There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Luke 11.1-4
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

In our gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – to pray to God that they might not be brought into a time of trial and to pray that they might forgive others as they themselves have been forgiven. This must mean that God asks us to pray his mercy for others because we are those who have been shown such great mercy. We are to pray for those whom we consider, in our own view, to be undeserving of God's forgiveness because it never was about our view in the first place – and what a difficult lesson this is for Jonah – our reluctant prophet.

Jonah is a short book, just four chapters long, which needs elevating from its toddler church status to the levels of profundity it deserves. Jonah is significant for what it reveals about the human condition and for the ways in which it points to Christ. In chapter four, Jonah is so jealous that the mercy of God would fall on the Ninevites, whom he considers so undeserving of the love of God, because of all that they have done. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than watch the restoration of this people occur through God's steadfast love. He becomes depressed and God has to teach him to take the wider view. In his being provided with the cover of a sheltering bush in the heat of the mid-day sun that is then suddenly taken away, Jonah can for a moment understand a people without the cover of God who have fallen into not knowing their left hand from their right – who have fallen into such confusion because of their lack of guidance. God is willing to give this people another chance because ultimately each of them is his child, made in his image and worthy of his mercy and love.

We do not know whether Jonah ever recovers, we leave the story with God speaking and we do not access the inner thoughts of Jonah, we are only left with a prophet, angry, because his standards were not God's standards, and as readers, for that we feel profoundly grateful. We are sinners in need of God's bigger view.

We can read Jonah Christologically, in other words as a book about Christ. Jonah is a book full of reversals which point to the one who would finally reveal God's mercy on the cross for all those who give their hearts to him and hand over to him their transgressions, so that on the cross he might erase them from God's memory, reconcile us to God and free us from shame and guilt so that sackcloth and ashes can be replaced with praise.

Is it sound to read Jonah Christologically? Yes, Jesus himself does so in the twelfth chapter of Matthew: "Just as Jonah was for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Ninevah will rise up... because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah and see something greater than Jonah is here!"

Where is Jesus in Jonah? – well, everywhere. In the first chapter of the book, Jonah has taken to the oceans to escape the call of God and the storms whip up and the crew protest – "What are you doing sound asleep, Get up, call on your god?"Familiar? Another crew of another boat in the gospels of Jesus will call Jesus awake from his sleep and he will call on God and the waves will settle as the storm is stilled. In the story of Jonah the significances roll on, Jonah will sacrifice himself to placate the wrath of God just as Christ will pay the price for the sins that separate us from God and lay down his life for the sake of us, his friends.

In Jonah the crew have exclaimed 'Do not let us perish on account of this man's life' and of Christ, John will tell us in chapter 3 and verse 16 that God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. What Jonah couldn't do, Christ will do and secure the safety of everyone who puts their faith in him.

In our psalm today, the prayer therein echoes the cry of the Ninevites as they put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their hopes in God: For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. It is echoed by Jonah: For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing

God came in Jesus Christ to show this ultimately on the cross, relenting from punishing us and taking justice upon himself in the form of his Son. As the Father turned his face away, Jesus dealt with this for us – we are those from whom God's cover is never taken away, we exist every day underneath the shadow and in the shade of his provision so that even when we sense life's scorching rays (for there are times in life that burn) we are never without the steadfast love of the Father through the Son, there is nothing we can do that will turn the Father's protection away from us. This has all been made possible because one man was sacrificed for Ninevites everywhere, those even to this day, those whom we might consider undeserving, even every single one of 'undeserving us.'

The story of Jonah teaches us that it never was about what we consider anyway – the book of Jonah is God's way of asking us to be careful how we pray. Are my prayers to you, my Father, overly concerned with what suits me? What is God's perspective? You can bet that it is always bigger than mine will ever be. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gift of faith that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Inner circles and salt

Mark 9.38-50 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Mark describes how the disciples come to Jesus one day to 'tell tales.' They tell their rabbi that some people are ministering in his name, people they do not know. These people are not part of Jesus' inner circle.

Should Jesus be concerned about this?
No, of course not.

The disciples are effectively limiting the inclusiveness of Jesus.

The disciples are misunderstanding; seeing enemies where there are no enemies. There are others ministering in Jesus' name and this is okay, they are for us, not against us, they might not be like us but they are us, they are a part of the body and, of course, St Paul expands on this image of the unity of the body and how all parts of the body are essential for the health of the whole.

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that our greatest enemies are not outside, beyond, other than ourselves, our enemies are our issues within.

It is what comes from within, Jesus has told us, that can destroy, not what comes from without.

We are being taught by Jesus that we are not to worry too much about measuring or assessing the ministry or lives of others. We are instead to concentrate on what it is Jesus is requiring of each of us, not what he might be requiring of our neighbour. Our neighbours will each serve God in ways that are unique to them, there are as many callings as there are people.

Like Paul after him, Jesus talks about the body as he spends time with his disciples, because he wants them to understand how this body – this unity of all members, all ligaments, all parts – this harmony of 'all aspects allowing for the other' is essential to health.

This is why then with hyperbole he talks about how it really would be better to remove an offending part than lose the whole body. There are sometimes attitudes that need to go in order for the whole to remain healthy.

This is why he can talk about taking care about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of the little ones, and in the Greek the word is scandalising – we are not to set perimeter walls that are too high for people to climb, we are not to ask people to fulfil their life in Christ in a particular way in order for it to be recognised by a human audience – only God will judge.

It is God and not these disciples who is to judge the lives and ministries of these 'others.' Those here about whom the disciples are concerned and towards whom they direct Jesus' attention are not against them. They are likely for them, says Jesus, or, in other words, 'Forget about them and concentrate instead on your own journey with God.' 

In order to finally sharpen the disciples' minds again Jesus puts before them an ordinary referent: salt – a condiment essential medically for bringing healing, a condiment essential also for preserving, for preserving food. 

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that it is their own holiness to which they should attend before they turn their assessments outwards. 

They need to ask God to preserve what he has placed in them, it is this faith, this call, this task to which each has been called that must not become stale. It will stale if attention is focussed on setting up competition and rivalry with imaginary others. Their misplaced but very human desire to keep their group pure from outside influence is brought sharply home as Jesus focusses their attention on their own purity. They are to not lose their saltiness, their distinctiveness: mined salt from the Dead Sea in Jesus' day would deteriorate eventually, lose its flavour and become worthless. 

We are reminded as Christians, then, by this passage that we “are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).” If we cease to share the gospel of Jesus Christ by which we impart God’s preserving salt to others, we will become effectively useless to God. 

As is characteristic of Jesus, he requires us each to consider our own lives before we consider, before we scrutinise, the lives of others. It is then that we will be far better placed to live at peace with one another. 


Feeling a bit dry and dusty?

Collect for Wednesday 23rd September, 2015

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ezra 9.5-9 At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.

Luke 9.1-6 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Why is it okay for Jesus to say 'Wipe the dust off your feet as a testimony against them'? 

On Sunday I was speaking about how it is interesting always to see that Jesus' teaching was something he followed through on; he wasn't frightened of challenge and conflict but he sought to bring everything out onto the light and to face it head-on. He challenges the Pharisees, he calls the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, he turns tables in a temple.

It seems to me that just as we can not define God by a definition of love that is outside of God and to which he must conform, we can neither create our own definition of 'mission' and ask Jesus to conform to it either. Neither the Father not the Son will capitulate to definitions outside of themselves, which are, if we really admit it, created by man. When we define love, it must look like God. God is love, God authors love and Christ is 'mission,' mission in the flesh, Mission incarnated, born for us. The purpose of mission is so that God's reign and rule come to earth. God in Godself is love and mission. What do love and mission look like? They look like God. What does God look like – like Jesus : the exact image of the invisible God and what does Jesus look like: the Bible tells us so. And so... the Bible defines love and the Bible defines mission. God is mission. The Triune godhead is all about sending: the sending of the Son, the sending of the Spirit and then our being sent ( the actual meaning of apostle ) 'sent one.' 

And so it seems, therefore, that Jesus can advocate that sometimes we are to wipe the dust off our feet ! We can move on. Our own dogged determination is perhaps sometimes just that: too dogged and too stubborn.... when perhaps God is saying to us – "Hey – I do the saving – not you, move on, it isn't their time yet, or they can't see me or hear me through you, but you are not to worry, I have just the person, who will reach them, all lined up!"

In my life, God used a teacher, a gentle woman, even of similar height to me. Through her, I first heard God in a real way, in a heart way, in an experiential way. Even on shaking her hand for the very first time, I knew! I was supposed to meet this curate of a former church, she had amazing things to tell me about God. She did.

This is then why Christ can say 'Wipe the dust from your feet,' - there is a right perspective gained when we get our eyes on God, when we know that it's his Kingdom that we are invited to build with him, that in the end it isn't up to us who chooses faith and following and who does not. There is a master builder and we are just his staff-team, there is a greater power and we are just the percussion, there is a greater plan and we play a tiny part.

St Paul wipes the dust from his feet time and time again, speaking out to all God's people, knowing some would prefer him dead. He escapes stoning, shipwreck, persecutions, personal injury, abuse, misunderstandings and it finally cost him his life but he pushes on with purpose and in the greatest of humility with an unshakable confidence in Christ.

Unshakable confidence and all other confidences are shaken down and then this finally helps us understand Jesus' command to shake the dust off our feet, to not let the dustiness cling to us from those rejecting the message of Christ.

Dust is very significant in the bible – the serpent, the Satan, the deceiver is punished by becoming cursed in his creatureliness to a life of crawling in the dust: “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:14)”. Adam whose name means ground creature, (Adamah in the Hebrew) the first human came from dust and to dust he will return at the end of his life. "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return."

Dust is an indication of our rejection of the Kingdom of God. And life in the Spirit and eternal life indicative of the life we know instead in Christ. We bear the image of the first Adam, we have this dustiness but we bear the image of the second Adam too – the life we know in Christ and so dustiness reduces as Spirit meets our flesh.

Shaking off the dust then is as symbolic as it is practical. Yes, the disciples would have dirtied their feet as they travelled preaching and bringing news of God's reign and rule but they would also have needed to move on to bring the message to those who could receive it; to not continue with the dust but to find those who were receptive and spend their efforts there, on those open to the Spirit.

And what to do about those who we might need to leave in their own dust for a while? Keep loving them anyway, love those who test you, pray for them and wish them well, but know your limits and remind God they are HIS business and give him time to do his job and as he completes his work in them.

We are that amazing combination, all of us, of Spirit and dust. 

Remind yourself every now and then. When water and dust mix we get the malleability of clay – we are lumps of stuff becoming … in the potter's hand – keep praying for the Spirit when you sense you're getting dry, let God rebuild you and remake you. Keep praying for the living streams when you walk through clouds of dust. It's okay to shake a little dust from your toes every now and then – you remind God and yourself that he's in charge... not you!



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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.