the crowd

23 03 2016

This is a spoken word piece that I used on Palm Sunday, when we had over 100 guests for a baptism. It begins with the first 45 seconds or so of Chariots of Fire…

There’s something about this music that makes you want
to do everything in slow motion
you picture yourself running along the beach in a white t-shirt
the wind is blowing, there’s the wet sand and the ocean
and if you remember the London Olympics opening ceremony
Mr Bean is about to trip you up

It’s music that speaks to us of triumph and success
beyond the white shorts and white vests
I can’t even remember what the film was about
but the music still makes me want to cheer out loud
even just to be in the crowd…

To be in the crowd.

Today’s Bible reading was a lot about crowds
crowd’s being loud
but the thing about crowds is if you don’t want to be loud
well, that’s allowed, after all, you’re in a crowd
keep your head down
keep yourself moving around
Just a face in the crowd.
Like the boy over there selling lemons,
just watching

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus went into Jerusalem with a crowd like this
Some of whom were his friends and followers
Other’s were more cautious, just hangers-on
Some just had nothing better to do
So as the crowd grew they stayed because
who knew, there might end up being a riot
or just something more interesting
than watching the lemon seller
juggle lemons

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd with Jesus were pretty sure
that Jesus was special
more than just a street magician
or clever politician
not just your average preacher
or rabbi-style teacher
but the Messiah, a King
that sort of thing

so they served him and helped him
and gave up their lives for him
even when their families said they were crazy
and told them not to join the crowd

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd were sceptical
Frightened of being heretical
and so were being tactical
in keeping their distance
don’t get involved
or the roman soldiers
might get too close

Some in the crowd were intrigued enough
to be near the front where the jostling was rough
and near enough to get the occasional shove
but they were not convinced that God was love
and so were frightened
their eyes widened with the thought
of actually pinning their hopes on this man Jesus

they said to themselves I’m not religious
whilst staring at the man called God With Us
but could not bring themselves to hear the invitation
of the disciples to join with us
because they thought they were not good enough
or convinced enough
or just hadn’t really reckoned it could possibly be

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus didn’t charge around
with Chariots of Fire playing in the background
but he took his time
he let the people think and make up their minds
as well as turning water into wine
and healing the eyes of the blind
and being actually, really God.

Where are we in the crowd?

Maybe we have got questions…
which is fine because there’s no suggestion
that the disciples didn’t have questions
Maybe we’ve never thought about Jesus
actually being real
Maybe we’ve never even been a face in the crowd
until today
right now

and maybe today at this baptism is the time
when you see the light of Jesus in your eyes
and an ancient faith is awakened
a dormant sense of God is shaken
and you realise you’ve been looking for the meaning of life
and the meaning of life has been standing there all along

Jesus, who sees all of us in the crowd
as his friends
whether we come with knees bowed
or are so far away he needs a long lens to see us
Jesus waits patiently.
What he offers us is new life
being washed whiter than white
when we pledge to follow him
to trust him

And this is a big deal
the whole Jesus being real thing
it changes everything
So I invite you
join the crowd, have a look
don’t just be like the boy selling lemons.
So when Jesus says come,
you are ready
because he gives us a future and a hope
to me that seems worth a go.


water or water

6 07 2012

Sometimes there’s comedy in the gospels that we miss with our straight-laced reading and bland NIV translation. I was preparing for a full-immersion baptism, and the Bible passage was the woman at the well. It seemed appropriate as there’s lots of water. As I was reading it, the incident was suddenly laced with comedy and verbal slapstick.

Jesus meets this excluded women at the watering hole. She is collecting water. He needs water. He asks her for water. He means water. She asks him how he can ask her for water, what with her being a Samaritan. He says, if you knew who I was you would ask me for water, and I would give life-giving water.

He’s talking about something deeper than water water but she still thinks he’s talking about water water. So she says but you haven’t got a bucket for water. He looks confused because you don’t need a bucket for his water, which isn’t water water but living water. He tries again, saying that this water water might quench thirst but you will be thirsty again, but his water (not water water, other water) becomes a spring of water (other water, not water water) that gives life eternal. 

She thinks, that water’s got to be better than water water if it means I don’t have to come to the water hole with a bucket, I’ll have some please. But Jesus isn’t talking about water water. He’s talking about… water. Other water. Same word, different meaning.

Then after some personal disclosure he didn’t have a form or a risk assessment for, the disciples return and offer him food. They mean food food. He says, I have food to eat that you know nothing about. They are confused, thinking he has stashed sandwiches in his jumper so why did they bother going shopping. But he’s not talking about food food, but food. Same word, different meaning.

I couldn’t help but think of this famous Two Ronnies sketch. So we watched it in the service.

It’s all quite funny really, this comedy of errors and misunderstandings. Like when Jesus said this is my body and it’s made of bread. He didn’t mean he was a dough ball… Imagine where that thinking could lead.  

There’s food for thought.


13 07 2011

I remember my first car chase. I say car chase. I was on my bicycle, and slapped a car for stopping on the yellow-box junction outside Oval tube. He reversed out of the queue and chased me down a side-street where I lost him.

I remember the first time I was punched. It was days after the car chase, in almost the same place. I had slapped the white van for pulling out on me when I was cycling home from work; the white van man chased me, and I didn’t lose him. He overtook me, waited for me, and punched me.

After this I took the bus to work.

I assume both those driver had driving licenses. Their driving licenses didn‘t mean they were driving well. The fact that I have my cycling proficiency certificate from 1987 didn’t mean I was cycling well either.

The proof of ability to drive is in the driving, not the certificate. The proof of ability to cycle is in the cycling, not the certificate.

I have another certificate. My birth certificate proves that a birth took place.  But it doesn’t prove that I am still alive. What proves I am alive? Me.


Jesus talks about us being born again, or born from above. It’s like being born the first time, except that the first gulp of life-source we take is not air, but the Spirit. In the Greek, the word is pnuema, as in pneumatic tyre. Filled with pneuma.

Often when this happens we get a certificate. We remember this day. Like our first birth, we rightly celebrate it, but unless we keep on breathing the Spirit our baptism certificate, like our birth certificate, is meaningless. Interesting history, but it doesn’t prove life. And this applies whether you are baptised as a baby or a believing adult. Because neither prove on-going life. Anyone can get wet.

We may go faithfully to church every week; we may just come for a baptism. But the challenge is the same for all of us. Are we living as new creations? Are we living as those who have been born from the spirit, breathing in him as our source of life, reconciled to God and changed from the inside out?

That is proof of life.  Certified.

olympic baptism bingo

5 07 2011

There’s a new Olympic sport. Not as much of a guilty pleasure as beach volleyball, but good nonetheless. It’s called Olympic News Bingo, and involves watching BBC London (my local news) and seeing how many tenuous links to the Olympics they can make with an ordinary news story.

A bus has crashed – OLYMPIC TRAVEL CHAOS.
Famous person visits London – OLYMPIC HOTEL CHAOS.


You get the picture. 

Without wishing to cash in on such cheap journalistic techniques, I was thinking about how much the Olympic ticket lottery was a bit like many people’s attitudes to child baptism.

To get an Olympic ticket, you don’t have to be into sport, you just need to want to be there; you don’t have to know what it will be there – you may end up watching cycling or wrestling or hammer-throwing – but at least you will be there; you don’t have to make any long-term commitment, just give your credit card details, sit back and wait. It may work out, it may not. At least you’ve done your bit to try. 

Many people approach having their children baptised in a similar way. You don’t have to be into Jesus (or even religion), you just need to want them want them to get into heaven, though you don’t really know what that means and actually aren’t very interested in finding out. Like handing over your credit card details to Olympic organisers, you make the “renouncing evil” promises through gritted teeth. You don’t really know what you are promising, or where you will end up, but at least you are in shout for a ticket.


And the best thing? No long-term commitment.  Ok, the vicar goes on about the ‘baptism legacy’ being you and your child involved in your local church developing healthy spiritual lives… but you know as well as he does that you have no interest in a long-term legacy, just like getting an Olympic ticket isn’t going to make you join a gym. You just want a ticket and then to go home.

I know not everyone thinks like this. We are about to do our first baptisms at our church for years and our prayer is that in the same way buying an Olympic ticket might get more people involved in the wonderfully life-giving life-changing thing that is participation in sport, so our baptisms might get more people involved in the wonderfully life-giving life-changing thing that it participation in Jesus’ kingdom, in bringing heaven to earth now, not just for the future.

Only time will tell. I know I am convinced that no ticket will give me a better view of the Olympics then from my armchair. So there I will stay.

unnecessary beach volleyball picture


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