plank

24 03 2017

We usually see in others the things we don’t like about ourselves. Once we’ve seen it, we have a choice, whether to cultivate that thought or not. Sometimes it’s just a split second –  all of a sudden we’ve written someone off as a chav or a toff or loon or a bad parent or an immigrant or whatever it is that we have judged them on. We grow that thought, we water it, we tend it, and before we know it we have become so riddled with judgementalism and are so far from reflecting the character of God as to be unrecognisable as followers of Jesus. We are acting against them in the very way we would hate them to do to us.

to judge is to take a beautiful window
and wipe it with a dirty smudge
and each time you add a new mark
and the window gets darker
and no matter how much you scrub it won’t budge
the damage is too much
and all you see is distorted
contorted
seeing clearly is thwarted
by the simplest smudge

Jesus challenges us with a simple illustration
from his father’s occupation
you know what it’s like when the apprentice gets sawdust in his eye
and it starts to water and everyone bursts into laughter
in woodwork class because he can’t see
and his sawing goes wonky
and everyone’s laughing at the speck in his eye
but they can’t see the plank in theirs
the plank!
This is our reality dressed up as comedy
pointing at the speck whilst walking round with planks

Now I know this has nothing to do with us
I know we don’t judge
We say
I’m not judgemental, I’m just saying…
I’m not being racist but…
I’m not being rude but…
I’m not being sexist but…
I’m not judging but…

But that ‘but’ is the where the speck becomes a plank
When the bad parts of our character begin to crank
up the judging
That ‘but’ is when we take our marker pen and add to the smudging
on the window though which we see the world.

I’m not judging but…

Jesus doesn’t say we shouldn’t use our discernment
or say that nothing is wrong
instead, Jesus says we shouldn’t use our place as forgiven sinners
to judge others from
love is never just detached observance
like we’re judging trees or who’s baked the best jam tarts
but love means that everything we say about someone else
reflects the love in our hearts
or lack of
we may not like what they do
and we do not have to approve
but do we love with the love that God shows to us

do we see and judge the faults in others
only so much as they give us an opportunity for forgiveness and love?
or do we secretly like the feeling of looking down on others?

to judge is to take a beautiful window
and wipe it with a dirty smudge
to judge makes us blind
whereas love is illuminating
demonstrating the intoxicating
and liberating love God has for us
to judge is to point out the speck
and not notice the plank

So when the instinct to judge
won’t budge
remember what Jesus taught
don’t cultivate that thought
don’t water it and feed it
but starve it of attention
so that in everything
we do to others what we would have them do to us
we love because God first loved us


This is an abridged version of the talk that you can hear but going here, often they sound better than they read!

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prayer and the absence of god

13 09 2016

How do we pray when we don’t feel like praying anymore? Why should we pray when we feel like we are hurling our words down an empty well, and all we hear are the echoes of our own sadness?

Stop praying? Give up? Pray something different?

God sometimes answers prayer in a straightforward way. We ask for something, he says yes, and we get what we asked for. Happy days.

God sometimes does not answer prayer in a straightforward way. Like we say to God please can I have £20 and he says yellow, and we walk off looking confused.

prayer-and-the-absence-of-god

Part of the problem is the way we talk about prayer.

Answered?

We talk about prayer being answered. Put this in a different context and see how strange it sounds. When did you last have a chat with your friend? Did they answer? Have you spent time with your family recently? Brilliant, did they answer?

Prayer is much more profound than answers. That type of prayer treats God like a divine Siri and church like a subscription to Amazon Prime – put your order in, wait for it to arrive. Grumble at any delay or delivery charges.

But then life happens, and no matter how much we can deny it, we know God does not operate like this.

But it was never like that.

A truth: God is.

Whether he gives us what we want or not, he is. He is above our mood swings, our doubts – we do not destroy God by not believing in him, or being angry with him.

Another truth: God wants us to talk to him.

Prayer is the word we give to the thing we do with our family and friends – conversation, hanging out, spending time, getting to know. The way that you can get to know how your friends and family will think, that is what we can do with God. he knows us, and we can know him, begin to think as he does.

Which is not something we do so that we can get what we want fro him when things go wrong, like sucking up to your boss so you get a promotion or the best desk or the shift you want.

But what about the times when we are angry and disappointed and he does not save the people around us from illness or despair or death? Yes, they are tough. Those are the times we wish we could build up credits with God, and cash them in for good health.

There is no cashing in. But it is ok to be angry.

I know despair, I know anger. I know the feeling of deep sadness that only the death of a loved one can bring, like constantly falling from a great height and never landing.

Where is God then? In the valley of the shadow of death he is with us. I firmly believe that.

Most of the time.

Giving us strength, hope, raising us from despair. But not always saving us from it.

Does that help you? Does it help you if your son is diagnosed with cancer, or a friend commits suicide? Or if life is just rubbish?

Maybe it helps to know you are not alone in feeling that God is absent. Maybe it helps to be given permission to be angry.

The Bible is full of lament, that pouring out of grief and anger and questions that happen when life goes wrong. In fact, if you want a metaphor, a picture, for how you might feel sometimes, see Lamentations. The clue is in the name.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones…
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked…
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help…
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust… (from Lam 3)

God is. And we pray.

Not just for what we want, but to know the heart of God.
Not because we want God to micromanage our lives.
Not because we believe we have a divine right to health, wealth and happiness.
But because God is.

Jesus calls us to persistent prayer. Yet knowing that the purposes of God – and of life – are greater than the well-being of my life or yours. Which can be hard to hear in these times of selfie-sticks, instant gratification, same-day delivery and the importance of my personal happiness.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (from Lam 3)





celebrating a spirituality of the body

5 06 2016

Our bodies are so precious. No matter what we think of them.
Bodies are at the centre of our faith. No matter how our history has erased them.

Somehow the most embodied faith about a God who was (and is) literally embodied has become disembodied. A faith with an enfleshed Jesus (Gk: incarnate) somehow became about escaping bodies into a ‘spiritual’ heaven. Yet when we neglect our bodies for more ‘spiritual things’ – usually words, prayers, thoughts – we do a disservice to God and to ourselves.

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The early church grappled with this unspeakable notion that the Holy God could be fully human, yet they pursued it and Paul, even Paul the Pharisee, could say our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. No longer the Holy of Holies once a year in the Temple – but you, and me, where God dwells, in our broken and wrinkly crinkly lumpy blotchy flesh and blood and bone bodies.

So, our bodies matter. What we do with them matters. How we treat them matters.

I know this is tricky ground for some. Many people I know, male and female, suffer from serious body image problems, from eating disorders, from other related problems, and from bodies that simply do not work properly. I’m in no way trying to solve those problems here. I am trying to help us see the importance of our bodies, that we don’t neglect them, mistreat them, or simply forget that God cherishes them.

Jesus was very body-conscious. Not in the sense he went to a gym and wore lycra. In the sense that he saw people with broken bodies, worn-out bodies – the disabled, the blind, the bleeding, even the dead. And he hung out with them, honoured them, used physical touch to restore them, when no-one else would go near them. He made them whole, physically, socially, mentally. He hung out with people who sold their bodies to people like us for sex, honouring them in a way slipping them a tenner for a fumble under the table never would.

He also had strong words about how we can misuse our bodies. If your eye causes you to sin, he said, gauge it out, for it is better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than not at all. He was exaggerating for effect of course, but this was before you could watch hard-core porn on your iPhone during the sermon. What we do with our bodies matters. We can do great good or great harm, to ourselves and to others.

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Developing a spirituality of the body is not about a feel-good self-help programme indistinguishable from a couch-to-5k phone app; it’s not about becoming a vegetarian; it’s not about yoga or running or being happy with how we look, though it could include those.

It’s about being real with God and ourselves that this sack of flesh we live in matters. That Jesus would have us care for ourselves well. That the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life is all about BODIES; a resurrection gained through the BODY of Jesus, God made BODY, who lives in our BODY by his Holy Spirit.

And if you truly struggle with your body, as many of us do, imagine Jesus sitting down next to you on the bus. Where does he look, how does he judge, and what does he treasure? Evidence from the gospel suggests:

He treasures the whole of us.
Us, as a whole.
Us as we come, broken or whole.
Wholly holy.


 

We are starting a new series with this title at church, and this is a version of the opening talk. Over the series we’ll be looking at eyes, hands, tongues, scars, heads, shoulders and feet as we explore what it means to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, to be temples of the Holy Spirit, and to honour God with our bodies. 





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
true

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.





blind in the mind

15 09 2015

When things go wrong, we pretend we don’t believe we are being punished for what we did in this or a previous life; but I’m amazed at how many people think that they are. Not in a Hindu reincarnation-type way, just in a ‘there must be a reason for this’ type way. My success is down to me, but my failure is someone else’s fault. Or, if my success is due to God’s blessing, then my failure is down to.. what? Punishment, clearly. At least, that’s the theological cul-de-sac where so many end up. Let’s call it the Hoddle waddle. Everything happens for a reason, right?

In a series on Jesus’ “I am” sayings, we looked at the account of the man who was born blind, and who Jesus healed; this account includes discussion about who’s fault it was he is blind – his? his parents? nobody’s? – whether religious rules are more important than people, and ultimately that his physical blindness wasn’t due to sin, but sin can lead to spiritual blindness.

As it was an all-age service, I wrote the talk as a spoken-word poem in language for all ages, hopefully. Here it is:


the man was born blind
but it was the pharisees who couldn’t see
well, they could see, see
but they couldn’t see, see
they could see with their eyes
but not with their hearts
they could play I-Spy
but they took any chance
to keep other people in darkness
and themselves in the light

like the man who was born blind
who actually couldn’t see
they behaved so unkind
they pretended they couldn’t see him
him who had to beg at the roadside for money
whilst the pharisees feasted on olives and honey

jesus turned this all upside down
turned the smile on the pharisees into a frown
and the blind man who had been so full of worry
turned his face around so he could see the funny
side of being healed with spit and mud
and nobody believing it was really him
and he didn’t even know which man Jesus was

but this story isn’t really about this kind of blind
Jesus was really talking about being blind in the mind
the kind of blind where you find people being unkind
blind to their kind, unkind in their mind
and thinking this kind of unkind mind is the mind
of our God

you’re blind Jesus says it’s like all you see is black
but I am the light so don’t turn your back
like a smallest of candles that can light up a cave
i am the light of the world that God gave

the light that shines in the darkness so you can understand
from a candle to a fire that the Holy Spirit fans
I am the light of the world Jesus said for people like you
the question is now – what will you do?
will you hide you light under a bucket so nobody can see
or pluck up the courage so that you can be free
and show Jesus the light to all people around
and his light will surround and dumbfound and confound
but the darkness will be bound – in fact it will bound away
when Jesus’ light switches on it’s like a brand new day

so let’s not be like the pharisees blind in the mind
but like the man who was blind who let Jesus be kind
and jesus led him from fear to be free
I once was blind but now I can see

© 2015 Kevin Lewis 





i am not

15 04 2015

I am not the sum of my successes
I am not the sum of my failures
I am not this community’s only hope

I am not the number of people in my church
I am not the number of people who aren’t
I am not God’s employee

I am not holding the future of the kingdom in my next finely crafted sentence
I am not my statistics

I am not meant to grow a hard shell
I am not defined by what people think of me
I am not defined by the fact most people don’t think of me at all

I am not an island, immovable and independent 
I am not a plastic bag blown by the wind
I am not aware enough of my place in God’s heart

I am who I am because of who Jesus is
I am learning to start there
With him.

I am. 

This is something God spoke to me about at Spring Harvest. I forget it so easily. By God’s grace he uses the glorious ruins of ours lives. It’s the counter-cultural order of self-discovery:
1. who God is
2. who I am in God
3. who I am
4. who we are. 

If you appreciated this, you may also appreciate I am the vicar, I am, from the archive.





church ≠ damage limitation

16 11 2014

The Holy Invigilator stares at the class, pacing, watching, eager to make the eternal boredom of heaven worth it by catching someone cheating, or not letting them go to the loo, quietly chuckling at their terrified expressions as the clock slowly… ticks… tocks… ticks… then the bell goes, out comes the red pen, and the fun of marking their pitiful lives truly begins.

This is basically how many see God. Life is an exam and being a Christian is the art of avoiding getting in trouble with God, appeasing him with good behaviour, keeping our heads down. Which is weird, as Jesus was the exact opposite. He even said I didn’t come for the goody-goodies, but for the dubious

But. The parable of the talents. At first glance it seems to corroborate the exam paradigm. But it doesn’t. Jesus is talking about people who have been entrusted with something of great value. A ‘talent’ was a huge amount of money, maybe 15 years salary for a labourer, so roughly £187,000 on the minimum wage. Two servants take a risk, one doesn’t. He was scared of falling foul of the master, so instead of doing something productive with the money, he went for damage limitation. He buried it.

Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have been entrusted with the treasure of God, but have been so scared of losing it they’ve buried it in the ground. It is not lost, it is preserved, but nobody benefits from it. At least you don’t get into trouble for losing it, right? Wrong. 

When we meet Jesus and follow him, we are entrusted with a great treasure. What are we going to do with it. Bury it, for fear of losing it or getting it wrong, or take a risk with it? It’s like any sort of training – running, cooking, discipleship. Practice, and you get better. But if you just sit around, you will not. We may have been given faith, but if we don’t practice it by actively living it out, it will not grow. To those who have, more will be given. Bury it, and you’ll lose it.

The point of this parable is not that we must work hard to avoid being told off by the Great Invigilator in the sky. The point is there is far more to our faith and this life than we can ask or imagine, but if we bury the treasure in the ground we will not discover it. Church is not meant to be the place we celebrate damage limitation by showing off the dusty treasure we buried that hasn’t changed in years. God help us, but that’s what it can seem like sometimes. 

Church is where we gather to say ‘look at the risk I took and the mistake I made and the blessings I discovered’. Church is an encouragement not to be lazy, but to grow in our confidence, and to see the treasure grow and grow and grow.

Don’t bury yourself in the ground. Take a risk. Dare you. 





jeffrey jelly baby learns about peace

13 11 2014

You’ve never been caught taking close-up photos of jelly babies? Now’s the time. One of the challenges of church leadership is telling the same stories well, or finding new ways to tell the same stories that engage a varied audience. This is something I created for our all-age Remembrance Day service, and have used in assemblies alongside telling it with actual jelly babies on a table. I put it here in case it prompts or inspires you to have a new idea, however strange you feel when you first have it. And remember, the best visual illustrations are edible ones. 

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destroying the arrogance of mans

24 09 2014

Two very different incidences this week revealed the way we men so often accidentally – and not so accidentally – assume and adopt positions of power and dominance that should not be acceptable, but are. The first is the way that Emma Watson gave an excellent speech for #HeForShe about not demeaning and sexualising women, which the Daily Mail reported by reviewing her outfit and the Telegraph used a stock picture of her in a more sexy outfit than the one she actually wore. The second is David Cameron’s ‘She purred down the line…‘ throwaway comment about the Queen’s response to the Scottish referendum result.

Emma Watson then. She takes the mantle, knowing that she will be demeaned for talking about not demeaning; abused for talking about not abusing. Barely has she finished when the repercussions start. Men, we can stop this. To support and uphold and stand by women is a totally and truly and utterly Christian – and human – thing to do. Jesus was touchy about demeaning women. After all, his own mum would have been rejected as he was born a bastard. So he made a beeline for abused and hurting women in order to restore them. To restore them. Not to humiliate them, not to act out some domination fantasy over them, not to replay years of cultural stereotypes over and over again. 

Men, when we join in sexist jokes we are part of this hateful and horrible bullying. When we judge women by what they wear and not what they do we are part of it. When we do that, we show ourselves to be as weak as classroom bullies usually are. To be truly human, to be truly man, is to stand up for women until they are not demeaned, abused, hurt, sexualised and judged. The changes start with us, in our families, homes, workplace, cars, colleges, schools. 

David Cameron. So much to say, but in that throwaway line he revealed a great deal about how men present to the world. Confident, capable, in control. We all know the Queen does not ‘purr’. She may well have been pleased. But she is not a cat. To talk about her as if she is a domesticated animal, and he is the warrior hero rescuing her country from the brink… no, he was desperately relieved, he massively miscalculated, and she is very much above him in the order. But the archetype dominant man cannot have that. So we use language, the way we tell stories, to keep ourselves dominant and in control. 

It’s not just a ‘posh’ thing, though it is easy to attribute some of it to that Etonian, private-school self-confidence in which success is assumed, mistakes are someone else’s problem, and the distance between revealing the pain of our hearts to the world is about 1000 miles. But we see it all over the place. We men will make jokes about our insecurities so that nobody else can, and more often than not will demean someone else in order to cover our own sense of shame. Most of us do not do than in conversations about the Queen. It may be about our wives, the ‘girl’ at work, the woman walking down the street, or what Emma Watson wore whilst giving her speech. 

Men, this matters. Disappearing Page 3 matters. Judging women by appearance matters. Talking disrespectfully about your kids mum matters. Christians must be at the forefront of standing up for this, because Jesus stood up for women outrageously and took the rap for it. It’s not actually about being feminist, it’s about being human.  

See how you can change a conversation, hold in the sexist joke, and say positive things about women around you today.





jesus and the invisibility cloak

21 09 2014

You know the story about Jesus and the invisibility cloak? Well, technically it wasn’t his. Maybe that’s what confused you. It’s not a well-known artefact in New Testament studies, but then, it’s easy to hide with an invisibility cloak. 

The story begins with a woman, name unknown. This woman is invisible. Or at least, she wears an invisibility cloak. When she walks the streets, nobody sees her. She is still there; they can still bump into her. It’s hard not to bump into someone you can’t see.  She doesn’t like being invisible, but when you wear the cloak, there’s not much you can do about it. 

Except at night. The cloak doesn’t work at night. At night she is seen, especially by men. Men who can pay. They see her… or, they see something in their heads, they definitely touch her, but they still don’t ‘see’ her. And they certainly don’t see her when walking with their wife in the market the following day. But at least she feels she exists at night.

Or that was how she felt. Until she met this man. Not the usual meeting with a man. He was… different. He didn’t take advantage of her, exploit her; he didn’t look straight through her. He looked straight at her. He saw her. Properly saw her. And he saw her yearning to be different, her shame over her lifestyle and her hopelessness about changing it. And he changed it for her. He forgave her. The cloak of invisibility lifted from her. She felt no shame. She felt… alive! 

 She needed to say thank you. She knew this man would be having dinner with a man called Simon that evening. Simon was the opposite to her. He was very visible. When he walked through the market, people didn’t bump into him; they saw him and moved out of the way. She was a sinner; he was righteous. Or so they all thought. So for one last time she put on the cloak, and joined the other invisible people at the edge of the party, hoping for scraps from the table.

It didn’t go to plan. Amazed at Simon’s rudeness to Jesus, the invisible woman took control. She tore off the invisibility cloak, and knelt at Jesus’ feet. She wept on his feet, dried them with her hair and poured perfume on them. The crowd were stunned at such a brazen act. Did this woman not know she was meant to be invisible? Simon waited for Jesus to rebuke her. Instead, he rebuked Simon. The proud man, the righteous man, the visible man. Jesus showed him for what he was. Visible, but hollow. Unlike her, who was invisible but full of love.

Looking at the woman and talking to Simon, Jesus asked: You see this woman? No, thought Simon. The point of women like this is you do not see them. They are invisible. But Jesus went on. He commended the woman for her love, shown in such dramatic fashion. And he rebuked Simon for his rudeness. At this point Simon wished he was invisible. Your sin are forgiven, Jesus said to her. Go in peace.

The woman left with her head held high. And she left the invisibility cloak crumpled on the floor, never to be worn again. 

This is a true story. I may have made up the cloak bit.

If you feel like you are invisible, this story is for you.
If you feel like a sinner unworthy of Jesus’ attention, this story is for you.
If other people have put the cloak on you, this story is for you.
If you have put the cloak on yourself, this story is for you.
If you put the cloak on others, this story is for you.

May we leave our invisibility cloaks behind as we follow him. 

 

 








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