Category: Jesus

resurrection rollercoaster

Once again we are about to strap ourselves into the spiritual and emotional rollercoaster that is Easter. For me Easter starts with the long, slow Lent ascent towards Palm Sunday. The shouts of “Hosanna!” at the top begin to turn into shrieks when we swoop downwards as the authorities tell Jesus to quieten the crowd and we are thrown into a series of unexpected corkscrews as Jesus clears the Temple of the traders. 

From there we have a series of small undulations and curves as the authorities question and challenge Jesus and he tries one last time to prepare his followers for what is about to happen. 

Suddenly there’s another steep drop as Judas agrees to betray Jesus and then another slow ascent to a profound peak as we experience the Last Supper. From there we experience a stomach-churning maelstrom of emotion as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, abandoned, betrayed, tried, flogged, sentenced and condemned. 

And just when we think things can’t get any worse the rollercoaster plunges into a tunnel of pitch-black darkness with Jesus on the cross, his death and burial. At this point, in the darkness, we are disorientated and unaware that the rollercoaster is actually climbing again. 

On Easter Sunday it emerges triumphant into the glorious brightness of the new day of resurrection, restoration and recommissioning.

(I did wonder whether on Easter Sunday we should find that we have emerged from the darkness and find ourselves on a completely different rollercoaster, but that would be stretching the analogy too far!)

One of the miracles for me as a Minister at this time of year is that I have yet to run out of new things to learn and discover about Jesus. I was ordained 23 years ago and each Easter there is more for me to learn, understand, appreciate and experience and there are more reasons for me to worship the Risen Saviour. I find that it is easy to fall into the trap, however, of looking for that ‘new thing’ rather than simply stopping and reflecting on what I have already experienced and know to be true. Let me give you an example:

“Jesus is alive!” This phrase trips off our tongues so easily. Familiarity with that does not so much breed contempt as complacency. But stop for a moment. Think about it. Allow the words to sink into your heart and mind. Jesus was dead and now is alive! Don’t go off into the theological implications of that just yet – Jesus is alive!!!! The dead, executed, extinguished, disposed-of, rejected one is now the surprising, greeting, living, breathing, walking, locked-door ignoring, breakfast-eating, risen and very much resurrected ONE. Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine?

My hope and prayer for each one of us is that Jesus will meet each one of us afresh this Easter in significant ways that will revive our faith, and through us and our churches so that the Good News is proclaimed loud and clear in our communities.

Be blessed, be a blessing 

the neverending story

candleI love the Christmas season. Beyond being the season of sparkle, tinsel, presents and ho, ho, ho it’s the season that is full of joy, hope, intimacy with God and the miraculous wonder of Immanuel. There’s so much in the few verses and chapters that we read at this time of year each year. Given that there are a finite number of verses in the traditional Christmas passages in the Bible you would have thought that by now we would have run out of new things to say but in 22 years of ordained Ministry I have delivered loads of Christmas talks and sermons. I may have recycled one or two but there are probably 50-60 different reflections I have given on Christmas, plus bloggages I have written here. And I have not exhausted the narrative by any stretch of God’s imagination.

Sometimes the thoughts and ideas come easily and sometimes it is a struggle to find something new. But there is always more: I have explored the idea of God in a nappy; written an all-age story based on Nora the Noisy Angel; reflected on the names given in Isaiah 9; stuck a rubber glove on my head in a Christingle (probably best not to ask); compared Caesar Augustus with Jesus and many more. I imagine that if Ministers shared the themes we have explored this year there would be hundreds of different messages. Yet all of them ultimately point towards a baby born in an outhouse and laid in a feeding trough who was born to save the world – God’s creativity is limitless in his desire to communicate with those whom he loves – it’s a neverending story!

One year we took a risk and explored the theme of ‘Disappointment’ on Christmas Day in the first church in which I ministered. We started with disappointing presents and how we say, “Thank you, it’s just what I wanted” through gritted teeth. We then explored how the virgin conception would have led to a lot of disappointment for Mary’s family and for Joseph (initially); that the manner of Jesus’ birth was a disappointment to those who were expecting a royal birth; and that for some people Christmas itself is a disappointment because of their circumstances and who may not be with them. We finished with reflecting on how, even though Jesus’ birth narrative was full of disappointment it actually was just what we wanted and that it was a moment of hope in despair and light in darkness. Many people felt disappointed with that service because it was not the usual upbeat, bouncy, happy Christmas Day service. But I will never forget the lady who came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes as she held my hand so firmly that it almost hurt. She couldn’t find the words to say, but she didn’t need to.

I hope that you will have a joy-filled Christmas. I pray that you will find space for yourself to be refreshed and reflect on something new that God’s Spirit has revealed to you from the Christmas narratives. And I hope and pray that even if there is disappointment you will know encouragement and blessing from people whose lives God has touched through you this year.

Be blessed, be a blessing, and Happy Christmas to you all

passwords

loginI don’t think I am the only one who has come to hate passwords, am I? In the good old days of telephone banking I might have to remember one password along with my date of birth and mother’s maiden name. I was rubbish at it. I could remember my date of birth and mother’s maiden name but kept forgetting the password.

Now password protection is everywhere and we are told to use a different password for each website and password-protected activity. How on earth are we meant to remember them all, and what chance do we have at remembering which password was for which event?

I have to remember a password to log onto my computer. And periodically my computer tells me that the password has expired and I need to choose a new one. Not re-use an old one, but create a new one! The pressure of trying to come up with a new combination of characters that would be difficult to guess and easy to remember causes my eyeballs to swap places and my brain to deflate like a sat-on whoopee cushion. And then when I switch the computer back on I have to try to remember the new password and the sneaky variations of capital letters, numbers, symbols and other special bits. And while I am typing these things in all I am shown is a series of dots so there is no way of knowing if I have typed the wrong thing. I’m sure that the stress we feel at that time is not healthy for us.

And then there’s the anxiety caused if the password that I have typed in is deemed incorrect. Now what? I try typing it again.

Nope.

I try variations on a theme.

Nope.

I try the old password (just in case).

Nope.

I type in the password as I remember it but R E A L L Y slowly.

Nope.

I start complaining to the computer that I am typing it in correctly in the hope that it will be sympathetic to me.

Nope.

I get to a place where I am almost in tears and, as a last resort, type in the password again.

And suddenly it’s deemed acceptable!

And that’s just to get into the computer. Next I am confronted by passwords for my email, for websites and for all manner of other things. And for some of them, if I get it wrong too many times, I then get presented with some squiggly letters and numbers that I have to try to interpret and type in to prove I’m not a robot! They’re almost impossible to read.

Others don’t ask me for the whole password, they just want the 3rd, 7th and 17th character from the password. How am I supposed to work that out?

And all of my other gadgets have password protection too.

Aaargh!

The only consolation I have is that if I am finding it this hard to get into my computer and logon to websites then perhaps those who have malicious intent will also struggle.

The thing about computer passwords is that you have to type them in perfectly for them to be acceptable. You have to have the right characters, the right case for the right characters, and the right characters in the right case in the right order. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

As I reflected on my password angst I thought that perhaps this is a good analogy for the good news of Jesus: To be in God’s presence we need to get the password absolutely right: and the password is our life. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

But the good news is that Jesus has given us his password – his perfectly-lived life. His death was the moment that his password became universally available and gives us complete access to God. And it always works. All we have to do is use it.

And while I am sort of happy with that parable, I am also discontent with it. Because it makes it seem as if God wants to keep us away from him and that he wants to keep us out. In fact the opposite is true. God wants us with him, he wants us to know him, to experience him, to be with him forever. He loves us so completely that we will never fathom the depths of his love. I get the feeling that rather than wanting us to remember the right password all he really wants is for us to want to gain access to him, to want to know the password. He will then supply the password and everything else we need.

Be blessed, be a blessing

a brief history of communication*

communicate

Technological advances have provided us with so many new ways of communicating with each other. It probably started with Thag and Ug gesticulating to each other and making sounds that they mimicked – gradually evolving into a spoken and comprehensible language. Cave paintings at that time of history were perhaps the earliest form of strategy planning – this is what we are looking for and we’re all going to attack it when we see it.

But Thag and Ug could only communicate with each other when within earshot. Maybe blowing into an animal horn or big shell helped with vague instructions and rallying calls, but you still had to be able to hear. Until some bring spark (!) invented fire and then we had the possibility of warning beacons and someone else thought about making smoke signals.

Technological advances from this point onwards seem to have been accelerating at an almost exponential rate. Written language (and the invention of the quill and paper) enabled people to write things down and send them to someone else, perhaps attached to a person or a pigeon (which also provided a tasty snack for the reader). Semaphore and flags enabled more specific communication over distances.

Books and then the printing press were a quantum leap in mass-communication – enabling more people to read the same thing. (Assuming they had been taught to read).The invention of the tin can, coupled with string, gave a brief opportunity for people to speak to each other over distances – limited only by the length of the string and how empty the can was.

And then telegraphs and telegrams and telephones meant that you could speak to anyone, anywhere (so long as they also had access to a receiving unit). Radio enabled longer distance communication without the need for long wires. The next step from radio is television where you can see the person speaking to you.

Innovations on these themes led to satellite communications to speak in (almost) real time around the world. For a while we had pagers (remember them) enabling people to send us a message when we were not at home or in the office. Computers and the Internet then created a whole new way of communicating (email) and bringing that together with the phone produced mobile phones and texting. Video conferencing expanded rapidly at this time, and the ability to create simple websites meant that almost anyone could put their opinions out there for anyone to see: people have visited this blog from almost every country on the planet!

And yet, with all of the technology that we have now, and with all of the innovations that will come, nothing actually beats Thag and Ug in each other’s presence communicating face to face. If you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence.

And so, dear bloggists, I give you the reason for Christmas: if you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence (cue sounds of a baby being born)…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t claim any particular expertise in this area. Don’t rely on this as rigorously researched wisdom, it’s light-hearted speculation to make a point!

polar exploration

confusedWhat is it about humans that makes us want to polarise? Is it because we secretly like conflict – perhaps something left over from our cave-dwelling kill-or-be-eaten past? Maybe it’s because we want to know who’s on our side, and by definition who isn’t?

If you listen to interviews on the radio phone-ins they always seem to try to find two people who have opposing views on the topic to argue against one another. I remember a while ago listening to a debate about whether or not (and there’s a clue in that part of the ‘discussion’) it is right to teach young people about sex or teach them about abstinence from sex before marriage. I was really unhappy with the way it was set up, especially as it seemed to be an opportunity for church-bashing, so I phoned in. I wanted to point out that it’s perfectly possible to teach young people about all aspects of sex, including the emotional ones, even if you hold a view that abstaining from sex before marriage is most beneficial. Sadly I didn’t get on to make that point and the show continued with the polarised debate.

You can take almost any significant issue (and many trivial ones) and polarise opinions on them. For example, do you like Marmite? The answers you would be offered would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However it’s possible that some people like Marmite in some circumstances (on their toast in the morning) but not in others (in sandwiches with bananas and anchovies)*.

It grieves me to say that Christians are some of the best at polarising. We seem to relish an ‘yes or no’ approach to almost any issue, usually coupled with an inference or implication that if you disagree with me (and I can back it up by some reference to the Bible) then you are a heretic and should be subjected to some of the worst aspects of the Spanish Inquisition (you didn’t expect that). I may be overstating things for comedic effect, but I hope you get my point.

I could put a post on social media about any of 20 different subjects on which Christians disagree and I am fairly confident that quickly a discussion thread would follow that quickly degenerated into a polarised argument. Today is 31 October. That is a date which polarises Christians, doesn’t it.

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther, a disaffected priest, nailed a piece of paper containing 95 radical opinions about church practice onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That simple act is seen as the spark that lit the touchpaper of the Protestant Reformation.

What? You didn’t think I meant Luther’s 95 theses? You thought I was referring to Halloween? Ah, well, if I was writing about Halloween some of you might start picking up virtual stones to lob in my direction while others of you might start a virtual fan club. So I am not going to.

Instead I am going to suggest that there is another way. It is the way of dialogue instead of debate. It is the way of seeking common ground rather than focussing on what we disagree about. It is the way of affirmation and blessing, not devaluing and condemnation. I believe it is the way of Jesus. He had a lot of controversial things to say. He disagreed with a lot of people. In the end some of them were so incensed that they contrived to arrange his crucifixion.

But to most people he offered welcome and inclusion rather than division and exclusion. He seems to have gone out of his way to mix with the ‘wrong sort of people’. The only times (and Christians should be aware and beware) that he had harsh words to say to people was to the religious people who excluded people from society and from an encounter with God by their words and actions.

“Ah, yes,” some of you may be saying, “But didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 10:‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”’?”**

Yup. That’s what it says. But he was not talking about doctrinal differences or ethical conundrums or what to celebrate on 31 October. He was talking about the cost of following him and for some people that would mean that their family turned against them.

So, whatever issues you have with someone else if you disagree with them disagree well.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to the One who said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and less to those who want to have a heated debate.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t like Marmite (under any circumstances) and would not recommend trying Marmite, banana and anchovy sandwiches unless they prove to be a gourmet delight, in which case you heard it hear first! However, despite my lack of desire to consume the brewing by-product I don’t have a beef with those who do (see what I did there?)

**I think I got the punctuation right

a parable from golf

Last week I was invited to be the after dinner speaker at a Christian Golf Society day. I was also invited to join them for a round of golf before the meal… the less said about that the better! Ahem.

After dinner I shared a few illusions with the golfers (including a few golf-related illusions) and showed them this very special golf ball.

This is the first (and so far only) golf ball to have started with me on the first tee of a round of golf, be used for the entire round of golf and finish by landing in the cup on the 18th green. It’s a very special golf ball.

Golf balls are cleverly designed for one main purpose. They are designed to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup. They have dimples on them to aid flight. The dimples are like the wings of a golf ball and (surprisingly perhaps) a dimpled golf ball will travel higher and further than a smooth one. It’s something to do with air pressure.

They also have a core inside the hard exterior. This core is like the engine. When (if) the club face connects with the ball the inner core is compressed and then expands to hurl itself off the club and travel faster and further than a solid ball would.

It’s very clever and different balls have different dimple arrangements and different cores in order to be easier to control or travel further.

However they all have the same purpose – to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup.

I have retired my special golf ball from active duty because I can’t bear the thought that it might get lost because (this may surprise you) I often lose golf balls. When I am searching for my lost ball I often find other balls that have been lost by other golfers. When a ball gets lost it does not stop being a golf ball, but it stops fulfilling its purpose – to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup.

Humans are like golf balls in that we also have been created for a purpose. That purpose is to know God. But like golf balls we too can get lost: lost because our attitudes, actions, thoughts and words take us from the ‘straight and narrow’. It doesn’t stop us from being human, but we’re not fulfilling our purpose because these things separate us from God.

The message of Jesus is that we don’t have to stay lost. He said that he came to find those who were lost and there’s a party thrown in heaven when that happens – even more than if a golfer finds a special ball he had lost.

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 5

Dear Internet

Welcome to another of the musings of Mr Grenville-Stubbs. (I don’t think we know each other well enough to be on first-name terms).

I have not written anything for a while because I have been trying to work out which way I will be voting on Thursday in the EU Referendum. I consider it to be more than my democratic right, it is my duty to vote. That is why I have not missed a Church Meeting for the past 37 years. I have witnessed many changes in our church over the years (and have opposed most of them).

Our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker keeps telling us that a Church Meeting is not a business meeting, nor is it a democracy, but it is an attempt to discern God’s will together by listening to each other and seeking to see what is right. He says that we are not voting to see who is in the majority but as a way of working out how well we have discerned what God wants.

I think I know what he is saying, but I prefer the cut and thrust of debate, the clinical nature of points of order, and the complexity of proposals and counter-proposals. I vote to express my firmly held opinions and convictions, and no amount of discussion is going to change my mind.

That is one of the things I have enjoyed in the count down to the EU Referendum in the UK. There has been a lot of heat generated by both sides. But it has also left me feeling a bit confused: one side will make an exaggerated, headline-grabbing claim and then the other side will refute that (but the headline has done its job). Then the other side will do the same.

I had a leaflet arrive through my letterbox this week from the ‘Leave’ campaign that was full of promises about how much better the country will be if we leave the EU, but those promises are surely empty because they are not from any particular party but a coalition of people from across the political landscape. I was completely turned off by some of the racist rhetoric that I have seen, so I will not be voting ‘Leave’ on that basis.

However, I had another leaflet through my letterbox from the ‘Remain’ campaign that was full of warnings about the danger to our economy from a vote to leave, and about how much better off we are at the moment. How can they predict the future like that? And the rhetoric I have heard against those who want to leave has been rather unpleasant too, so I will not be voting ‘Remain’ on that basis.

I told Revd PI-T that I did not know which way to vote and he suggested that I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and see if that helped me. He said that this was Jesus’ manifesto of what the world could be like if we lived in the way that God intends. That did seem a bit heavy but I did as he suggested and it helped. I decided that I will not be basing my decision on the negativity and lies that have characterised both campaigns. I am going to see if I can find any traces of what Jesus was talking about and vote for whichever one offers us the best opportunity to be more like that.

When I told Revd Phil this he was speechless for the first time since I have known him. The look on his face was priceless!

Yours faithfully

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)