The Parable of the King Who Failed to Keep Forgiving, or ‘What if the Messiah Came and Nothing Changed?’ - my talk today, in consideration of the people of Scotland this week making decisions about their political future; in rememberance of the complex life and leadership of the Reverend Ian Paisley; with thought for all those in our country who are saddled by debt, and the political arrangements which keep them there; in considering those nations we know who are ruled or threatened by unrestrained autocrats today ... Matthew 18.21-35 (without Matthew's commentary) has it all.
... the most notable criminal in scripture is Jesus himself. That's always worth remembering in a religion which at times, tries to look so respectable that it obscures the truth at its heart.
We might think that Jesus had done nothing wrong - but the authorities of his day did, and they criminalised him by holding a show trial - a trial held in public which wasn't intended to ensure that justice was done, but was intended to influence public opinion, to persuade the people that Jesus was a heretical troublemaker who threatened national security and who should be killed.
[This] brings us back to the heart of Jesus, who went to the cross as an act of love for us, to show the world that we are unconditionally loved and forgiven - whatever we do to God or to each other, to put an end to the power of sin in the world and in our lives. As a very old prayer goes,
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you; Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Notice the major difference between sin and judgement, repentance and forgiveness, before and after Jesus. The old law says repent, so that you may then be forgiven; Jesus says you are unconditionally loved and forgiven - and knowing this may cause you to repent. ...
... I ... hope that the cross - a symbol so often used to oppose and oppress others, a symbol so often felt as a burden to ourselves, is a symbol which can be transformed today.
We have the opportunity now to strip away all the violence and oppression which history has loaded into the cross. We have the opportunity today to translate ‘taking up our cross’ back into its original meaning, in which Jesus proposes we walk with him a path which will lead us peaceably through our confrontations with enemies, learning to see people of other faiths not as infidels but as fellow-travellers.
In inviting us to take up our cross Jesus proposes we walk with him a path which will lead us graciously through our struggles for ourselves and alongside alongside the poorest and most reviled members of society, against the powers that be.
In inviting us to take up our cross Jesus proposes we walk with him a path which will lead us patiently through our suffering, just as his loving Father led him patiently, graciously, through his. It is a path which Jesus will walk with us, and bring us out, beyond - into life.
Jesus said, ‘Take up [your] cross and follow me’. Today I say, take off your cross - to examine it awhile.
... Four very different men had engaged with the deep stuff of what makes us human, in creative and honest ways.
Sydney Carter is best known for his school-assembly hymns "Lord of the Dance" and "When I Needed a Neighbour", but in "Get Carter" John Davies (re)introduced the audience to the other half of a career in protest-folk.
With help from Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, who showcased the songs, Davies told of a man whose music was as provocative to adults as it was accessible to children.
In Carter's "The Devil" he sang "The Devil wore a Crucifix, 'The Christians they are right' The Devil said 'so let us burn A heretic tonight . . .' The stars and stripes or swastika The crescent or a star The Devil he will wear them all, no matter what they are. . ." Carter was subsequently banned from the American military hymn-book, leaving him to wonder why he had ever been included in the first place.
Describing himself as "an enthusiast, not an expert", Davies relocated the musician a long way from the school hall, and made a convincing case for reappraisal.
I never imagined that at the age of 52 I'd be onstage at an arts festival alongside a popular folk act leading a tentfull of 200-plus people in a celebratory dance, in my wellies. But Greenbelt has always provided opportunities for me to surprise myself, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity they gave me this year to collaborate with the very wonderful and lovely Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies (that's them, pictured below) in an hour of appreciation and celebration of the songs of Sydney Carter. If you're keen to peruse the contents of that hour, you can download my notes here [pdf]; if I find that Greenbelt recorded the session and have made it available, I'll link here).
We closed our set with 'Shake and Shiver', Carter's other paean to the Shakers (besides the better-known 'Lord of the Dance') and on a wet Northamptonshire Monday morning our tentfull got Carter and his lightly complex dancing music ... as he put it in Green Print for Song,
Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies: happy collaborators
"Shake and shiver. With terror or delight? With delight: I think of the quivering of leaves, of light on water, or the shiver of small bells on the wrist or ankle of a dancer. But perhaps there is a touch of terror too. Sudden beauty, sudden truth, can make you shiver."
In retrospect, 'terror and delight' might have been a good strap-line for the new-look Greenbelt at Boughton House. The practicalities of getting people on and off a country estate dug deep into a hollow in the Northants countryside, were a terror to some, especially the less-mobile in the mud at the end of the weekend. But the site itself is delightful, with its quirky landscaping, green groves and wide open spaces... and its hiddenness. It's like being invited into a secret: the act of arriving there consists of turning one's back on the fast and furious world represented by the A14, and descending into another place altogether. It is hard work, physically, doing this. Especially if it's wet. But it's hard work like a pilgrimage or a retreat. Not an escape, though of course, for being Greenbelt, once you're there what you find is a community committed to getting straight back into the world and finding the most creative, gracious and beautiful ways, of living out here.
2015 marks the centenary of Sydney Carter’s birth. I’m hoping I might put together a publication to celebrate his work. If you have any particular insights to share about Sydney and his dancing carols, or suggestions about the content of that book, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Show them no mercy - have mercy on me. Joshua was merciless towards his enemies. But Jesus had mercy on this representative of his people’s bitterest enemies. ... I think it is critical for the future of Christianity that we rekindle our interest in properly understanding the scriptures, that we make ourselves open to correcting our misreading of them over the centuries, to unearth the Christ we have lost. We have to face the possibility that for centuries we have been following Joshua rather than Jesus, and that is why we have lost our way as Christians, that is why our faith has lost credibility in the eyes of the world. ...
We usually focus on the subject of today’s gospel reading as the amazing feat of Jesus in walking on the water; we preach about what this tells us of God’s command of nature, or God’s oneness with creation. All of that is true and worthy of our praise. But every miracle of Jesus also has a human face. There’s as great a miracle in what Jesus did for Peter that day.
This is the miracle told another way - Peter took a leap of faith - and though he fell, he did not drown. For Jesus held him. And Peter’s leap of faith illuminates our own Simon Peter moments.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why, from the five thousand men and innumerable women and children Jesus fed on that Palestinian plain that day, the disciples were only able to extract a meagre five loaves and two fishes? Surely there was more food in the crowd than that. I suggest to you today that the reason why the crowd voluntereed so little to this mutual cause, was that this was a crowd in conflict, that Jesus’ audience were people at odds with each other, not inclined towards helping each other. The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand was a miracle set in wartime. ...
- Edwin Muir's 'The Absent' opened our Lights Out service of Remembrance, Prayer and Penitence on the Centenary of the Outbreak of the First World War, last Monday. You can download a pdf of the event script, in its entirety, here.