This piece is being written in the week before our country's referendum on our future in Europe, and will be published and distributed after we know the result. Safe in this form of time-travel, I can declare here what I ought not to do before the event - that it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will have voted to remain 'in' Europe. It may be that the recent political debate has raised other important existential and spiritual questions around to whom and to what we should belong.
As human beings we all belong primarily to God, and then, to one-another. A true understanding of this fact makes a nonsense of borders and boundaries, and a true understanding of this ought to bring the realisation that every human-life is precious. Grasping how much God loves each and every one of us is the enlightenment that leads to peace. When the Pharisees and Herodians tried to cause division and political turmoil around Jesus in the first century, by using a question over to whom his followers should pay taxes, Jesus' response was to place the value on the human rather than the fiscal. He took a coin and asked his challengers whose image appeared upon it. "Ceasar's" they replied. Then, said Jesus, "Give to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and give to God the things that are God's" (See Mark 12:1 3-17, or Matthew 22: 20-22).
Whatever has happened with the referendum, let us give ourselves and one another to God. Let us value our own lives and the lives of others more highly than material goods or political notions, and let us bring peace wherever we can.
We are all God's Children, we belong to God - and no referendum can ever change that!
This year - and this June in particular, our nation and the Commonwealth celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's ninetieth birthday. For two thirds of her life, this remarkable Christian woman has been our Queen - making her the longest reigning Monarch in British history thus-far!
Even more remarkable than Her Majesty's length of reign, has been the manner of her service - which calls to my mind the words of Graham Kendrick's wonderful worship-song; 'From Heaven You Came' in which the extraordinary self-giving of Jesus - who is the Servant-King - is described. It seems likely that Her Majesty's own Christian faith and understanding of King Jesus' rule as 'Servant' has been a key element of her own selfless devotion to her duty and responsibilities as our Monarch, which she has exercised with such grace and wisdom. I hope that her faith has brought, and will continue to bring strength, comfort and joy to Her Majesty in both her public and private roles.
There can be few roles as daunting or potentially complicated as to be the Monarch of this Nation. However, all of us have responsibilities of one sort or another which we can execute with greater grace and wisdom when we are in relationship with Jesus whose life was poured out for us on the cross. Now, Jesus lives and reigns; He is the King of Heaven who shows us new ways of living, new ways of loving, new ways of caring for all people as His subjects. Jesus says to us: 'A new commandment I give you: that you love one-another, as I have loved you' (John 13: 33-34).
As well as participating in the village celebrations in St Helen's and Seaview on the weekend of 11th/12th June, - why not join us at 10.00am at St Helen's Church for a special service (Sung Communion) which will celebrate Her Majesty's Birthday and give thanks for her life and Reign.
Have you ever used 'Mother' or 'Mummy' as a way to speak or pray to God? It is not so outlandish as you might think. After all, God is the author, the creator of gender, and not the subject of it. When Jesus' disciples asked him how they should pray, he answered that they (and therefore 'we') should begin with 'Our Daddy in Heaven' ('Daddy' is much closer to the Aramaic word which Jesus uses than is 'Father'). It is an intimate warm term which speaks of a loving God who is close to us and our needs, and neither distant nor stern. In his actions and teachings Jesus illustrated that God is merciful and forgiving, gentle and protective (see the parable of the prodigal son, or Jesus' reference to himself as like a mother-hen in Matthew 23: 37). There was certainly an understanding in the Jewish faith that the feminine was a part of the Divine - as we can see from the 'Wisdom literature' of the Old Testament and other texts - for example God as 'midwife' in Psalm 22:9-10, and Isaiah 66:9).
Does it matter whether we use 'Father' or 'Daddy' or the feminine equivalents? - well, perhaps not, so long as we do not lose sight of the loving God who is at the heart of our prayers. The trouble is, if we exclusively use masculine images and terms for God, our understanding of God can become polluted by poor male role-models, and a human history which is sadly over-exampled with patriarchal oppression and abuse. Exclusively using female terms might eventually lead to similar distortions, but generally in our world it has been, and is still, women who have been the oppressed rather than the oppressors.
Yet perhaps there is an evolutionary (or even revolutionary) advantage in our using 'Father' or 'Daddy' because by using these terms in prayer, we bring into God's healing presence, our imperfect fatherhood, and the fallen-ness of patriarchal systems. In addition to his heavenly father, Jesus had a wonderful example of a tolerant, patient, protective loving human father - whose role at the very start of Jesus' earthly life is so subtle and gentle, yet so strong in his determination to stick-by his family.
Whatever our gender, and whether or not we have children of our own, we are all called to 'parent' our fellow human beings after the manner of our 'Parent in Heaven.'
When we pray 'Daddy' or 'Mummy', 'Father' or 'Mother' we offer to God our own parent-nature, for its healing and equipping. When we come before God with all our child-nature and its need and vulnerability, the distortions in our images and knowledge of God can be cleared away like mist clearing in a new dawn.
May our ever-loving Father/Mother in Heaven bring you and our world, healing, peace and joy.
It's a common refrain, and often used as a lament rather than out of mere puzzlement, for example; "What on Earth has happened to our country ... (world / town-centre / Island / children / politicians / church ... add your own!)" If we use it more literally - we are usually in some sort of shock - perhaps after someone arrives at our doorstep looking pale and anxious, or we hear a sudden loud noise or shout.
Well, in terms of what has just happened, the answer is that we have all just experienced Easter. For some it will have been a tenuous connection to an ancient festival celebrated through the eating of (less ancient one hopes) chocolate eggs and the once seasonal Hot Cross Buns.
Christians - (who generally are good at celebrating) will also have had their share of gastronomic goodies. However, many Christians still ask 'What on Earth has happened?' in a real attempt to grasp the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this, they re-embody the questions, doubts and fears of the first Christians - nearly two thousand years ago. They grappled with the horrific death of Jesus upon the cross, and his miraculous resurrection witnessed not by just a few but by hundreds in and around Jerusalem.
On the cross, Jesus met with and absorbed the most cruel and dehumanising aspects of human nature - aspects which still haunt the world today. Yet on the cross Jesus broadcast a different kind of revenge for atrocity. His 'revenge' is love, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, becomes the antidote to our inhumanity.
Appearing to his disciples and other witnesses (eating with them, sharing fellowship again) Jesus called them and continues to call others into the process of Salvation, the process of a recreated-world, and a recreated humanity.
What on Earth has just happened is the re-birth of HOPE.
Go tell it on the mountains - Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!
No matter what concerns or worries you today in your own life or globally, may the season of Easter which has now begun, be a time of new hope and new Joy for each of you, and for our world.
It is to the shame of the Christian church (of all denominations) that its history is peppered with examples of violence, extremism, and the oppression and abuse of those who should have been cared for and protected by the church. Yet at it's inception, when God came to us in Jesus - fully human, fully divine, - the followers of 'The Way' (as Jesus disciples and followers were sometimes called) practiced a faith which was radically inclusive of women, children, and those from other racial, political, social and religious backgrounds. The reason for this radical inclusivity is found in Jesus himself, who, constantly in his ministry defended the oppressed, the weak, the underprivileged. Even one's feared enemy could, according to Jesus teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, be the source of rescue and salvation. It is the 'foreign' Samaritan and not his own countryfolk who save the man who is robbed and beaten by thieves on the road to Jericho.
My hope and prayer is that the 21st century church can become more true to its origins in Jesus 1st century teaching and ministry and be joyfully diverse and welcoming. When we welcome people into church, we are not so much welcoming them into a 'building' or 'club of like-minded, like-voting people' - though sadly the church has sometimes given this impression; rather, we are inviting people into relationship with God and the knowledge of God's love for them - just as they are, where they are.
Christ unites us, but he does not homogenise us!
If your local church isn't diverse enough, join it and change it!
May God richly bless you this month and lead you into a deeper knowledge of how much He loves you.