27 01 2017

There was a fine sense of timing last weekend as a very large inauguration speech  was followed hot on its heels by a very small one. Well, the text we looked at in church anyway.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It is interesting to compare the two. One spoke to a massed crowd of 1.5 million 250,000 750,000 a bigger / smaller* [*delete according to TV channel] crowd than Obama’s lots of people. The immediate discussion was how many. My crowd’s bigger than your crowd. Size matters. Especially for boys.

Jesus spoke to a crowd of virtually nobody. And those that were there were just working fishermen. No power. No influence. No money.

One speech used revolution language to talk up power and influence. To make an impact. Enforce law. A lion marking his territory.

Jesus speech began with one word. Repent. Meaning, turn around. Change your ways. Admit you’re wrong. Admit your frailties. Vulnerabilities. Show your weakness. Come, follow me.

One message was one of national self-interest, of protecting our own, of putting ‘our people’ first above all other considerations.

Jesus’ message is one of outward-looking action; his kingdom is one that reflects the Jewish theology of being a blessing to the nations around, a light that shines in the darkness. We repent and then we are to be a blessing to others.

I say this not as a comment on US politics. This is not about that. Rather, we use it to highlight the kingdom of God’s alternative way.

The way of weakness, not strength.
The way of humility, not boasting.
The way of vulnerability, not power.

We all find this hard. We are all drawn to strength. We need strength and power sometimes.

But maybe we could use these turbulent and troubling times of shouting and protesting and flagrant displays of power to think about how we live our lives. We may not be people of much influence. Maybe we are. That does not matter. Jesus invitation is to all of us, from Presidents to the poorest: repent, turn around, change, admit your weaknesses. Stand up to power and stand up for the weakest. Don’t stand for yourself. Place other people’s needs before your own. Maybe even your enemies…

Yes it’s a foolish way to live. I am in awe of anyone who manages it. Jesus’ plan of gathering 12 nobodies to inaugurate his kingdom with him was surely not wise.  It was worth it though.

And as inauguration speeches go, I know which one I am most in awe of.




the lent sessions // bathroom

13 02 2013
St Helier bathroom 2012

St Helier bathroom 2012

This is a house near us getting a new bathroom. Ready-made, hoisted up on a crane over the terraced roofs and down. A minor inconvenience for those around as the roads is closed, but what a difference for the family.

The bathroom is where all the bad stuff goes. Down the toilet, down the sink, through the plughole and away. Regular cleaning keeps this process running smoothly. But sometimes the whole system is worn out and needs renewing.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today we get new bathrooms. Today we take on the inconvenience of repentance so that the means by which the bad stuff is removed can be renewed, refreshed, and for some, replaced. We may well repent frequently, but even with regular cleaning sometimes we are worn out and a deep clean is necessary, especially where sin is concerned. So, in humility, we invite God in. And we do it together, in community. 

We celebrate when God does something big in us.  You can’t keep a new bathroom a secret. Maybe today will be the day for us. 

This is the first of a mini-series during Lent using images more than words. I am not a photographer, so they won’t be the best pictures. But I want to use pictures from what I have seen and heard around me as a starting point for reflecting on God. Sometimes they will be pictures of places I have been, but probably mostly from around where I live.

Here’s a little taste of British Pathe history for you about the original new bathrooms of the 1960’s and 70’s:

Read more here.

a rebellious repenting

16 12 2012

Repentance turnaroundSo today I did a bit of a spoken word poetry in church about John the Baptist, I didn’t introduce it or explain it, I just did it as unexpectedly as I could, because John himself was unexpected as was the man he projected, and others rejected… see there I go again. The context is me hoovering. Obviously. If it’s too long for you, jump to the green bit at the end. 

Are you ready? Are you ready? Am I ready for what? 
I saw John the Baptiser dancing on the spot
Or not so much dancing but he’s getting excited you see
Waving his arms all enthusiastically 
Are you ready! He calls out, somebody’s coming!
You’d better have a wash then Jonny-boy cos your armpits are humming

It’s alright for you to say 
we all need to change our ways
Like it’s some kind of last days
When the valleys will be raised
Are you in some kind of crazed
Desert preacher prophet phase

Hang on there’s a car pulling up it must be my special guests 
And here am I hoovering in my pants and vest
Quickly I’ll get dressed and stoke up the fire
Because it’s my friends Elizabeth and Zechariah
I say they’re my friends, I’ve known them for years
They’re worried about their son John they’ve been reduced to tears
They knew he was special but they didn’t know why
And now he’s doing all this preaching in the public eye
And it’s not harmless stuff he’s saying; no sentimental guff
He’s a gritty young fella and he looks pretty rough

Not what they were expecting
After the angels projecting 
Their son so rejecting
And all the time expecting
A rebellious repenting 
This desert preacher prophet thing

He was so rude to all the people who had come to follow him
Like they were jumping on a bandwagon just so they could get in
To God’s good books – you know, repenting but not in their hearts
Hypocrisy was the biggest thing that wound up John by far
You brood of vipers, you liars and thieves 
With your cheap repentance the axe is coming to your trees
To cut you down and throw you into the fire 
He said it again and again like he was never going tire
But still they came what shall we do they said
Share you clothes, your lives, your love, your bread

This is a big changing
A wide and ranging
Values exchanging
Family estranging

And rearranging 
This desert preacher prophet thing

The soldiers came to John and said so tell us what you mean
Cos’ we’re in charge of behaviour here: do we need to be clean
And John was brave and bold I think he was stupid actually
And told them not to thieve and rob and act like thugs and bullies
He even said that they should be content with all their pay 
They looked him in the eye and laughed and then walked away

And then there were the tax collectors who came to be baptised
To see them talking to a prophet I’ve never been more surprised 
They asked him what they should do to repent like he was saying
Don’t take more money from anybody than the amount they should be paying
It seems obvious to us but tax collectors are hated thieves
There’s no way John’s the messiah while those people live and breathe 

So yes I can see why his mum and dad are worried 
That before long it won’t be them but be him that’s being buried 
And his cousin Jesus is beginning to hang around him
More shame on the family might be about to surround them
They’ve come to me for comfort but I don’t know what to say  
Because he’s set apart for God that John, in a funny kind of way
With his camel hair and funny diet and as tactful as a hatchet
He reminds me in distinctly of an Elijah-style prophet

Not what they were expecting
After the angels projecting 
Their son would be rejecting
And all the time expecting
A rebellious repenting 
This desert preacher prophet thing

It seems John was talking about a rebellious repenting 
And that’s why God called him to life and then he sent him
To soldiers to be different and to tax collectors the same
And to ordinary people to live in honour and not in shame
If we are serious about following the God who we profess
Then it’s not enough to come week after week just to confess
But we make serious changes to our lives and be generous all the time
Are you ready? Am I ready? To be generous with my life? 

It’s more than just a sweeping and a cleaning to look pretty
It’s more than just covering over the parts that look dirty
It’s more than just plumping the cushions and hiding the toys
Quickly running the hoover round and poshing up your voice
When your friends come round they should see you as you are 
When God comes round to live with us? I know it sounds bizarre
We show him that we love him not by following all the rules 
But by a rebellious repenting that might make us look like fools

Cos we won’t buy dodgy goods or take cash in hand on the side
And we won’t swear at our families because in our hearts we take pride
We won’t cheat the welfare system or claim someone else’s pension
We won’t do dodgy tax arrangement or things too complex to mention
When we lose our rag we apologise even though it means losing face
Then we don’t do it again – it’s called living in expensive grace 
Living life a different way – the hard way – following The Way
I think that might be Jesus, I think that’s what John’s trying to say.

May we be people who live differently, living lives of rebellious repentance.

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