Sunday, February 22, 2015

God, where are you?

It’s one of those wonderful questions children ask.

And indeed when we invited everyone, the children included, to ask those questions they always wanted to ask, it was one of the ones one of the children came up with.

Where is God?  God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

It’s a set of questions that works at all sorts of levels.

At that simplest level of genuine enquiry the child makes the way we talk about God can give the impression that God’s a person just like any other person.   I’m a person and I live in a particular place and have a particular address.  So, if God’s a person then surely God must live in a particular place and so to say have a particular address.  So, God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

I want to respond to that kind of question by capturing the immensity and sheer awe at the God who is above and beyond and around and within all things, all existence, the God is nothing less than being itself.  That sense of wonder and awe and majesty of God comes for me in reflecting on the immensity of the universe … or even the multiverse.

My son, Dave, put a video clip up on to Facebook this week and drew my attention to it – one of those clips that makes you go ‘wow’ what an incredible world we live in and it’s only the tiniest, bit of the universe … which itself may be only one unimaginably tiny dimension of the multi-verse.

See such a video and it somehow enlarges my understanding of God – God is in every tiny bit of the being that is all that can possibly be imagined … and God’s a bit more too!

Our older young people will be reflecting on the arguments for the existence of God.   For me each has some value, but none of them actually proves God – but maybe they go some way towards suggesting that believing in God has some basis, is what some thinkers suggest is ‘warranted faith’.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God suggest everything must have a beginning, it traces that back to the very beginning and then suggests that something must have made that very beginning – the big bang – and that must be God.

The teleological argument, or the argument from design, suggests that there is a movement forward in all we see and that movement forward is what gives a sense of purpose – there must be a design to the world around us – and that must be God.

My favourite was thought up by someone called St Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury nearly 1000 years ago.   It is called the ontological argument.  God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.  I like that.  The bigger, the more complex, the more difficult to understand, the world, the universe, the multiverse is … then God is greater.

God is nothing less than being itself.   God is every process there is of coming into being.

Three is a wonderful sense of awe at the immensity of the God who has no specific location, cannot be pinned down anywhere, but is in and through, above and beyond, around and within everything there could ever be.

That’s the sense of wonder there is in those wonderful passages that speak of the world and all we see around us and see their origin somehow in the very being, the very mind of God.  One of my favourites comes in Proverbs 8

This ancient wise writer of words of wisdom thinks of the wisdom of God as the very life-force of the universe …

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
   at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
   or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

And if the wisdom of God is the very life force of the universe then we need to seek out this wisdom of God to get an understanding of the world we live in and of life  itself.

32 ‘And now, my children, listen to me:
   happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
   and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the one who listens to me,
   watching daily at my gates,
   waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
   and obtains favour from the Lord;
36 but those who miss me injure themselves;
   all who hate me love death.’

This is a wonderful argument for opting to do RE at school – explore, ask questions.

Where is such wisdom to be found?

Where can I find such wisdom.

I love the way it is possible to channel the energy of something as immense as the sun into one particular spot.  Now comes a health warning. Don’t try this on your own if you are under a certain age … or for that matter if you are above a certain age.  Maybe actually it’s something we should only ever do in very careful circumstances.

Take a magnifying glass in the full sun and focus the energy of the sun on a single spot and it bursts into flame.

What if this wonderful wisdom of the God who is all around was focused in one particular spot, in one particular place, at one particular time?

That’s the conviction I have as a Christian.

In the beginning was the word, that wisdom, that wonder, and the word, the wisdom, the wonder was with God, and the word, the wisdom and the wonder was God.

And the word became flesh, dwelt among us, became one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on a bus, to quote the song we happened on when listening to Radio Gloucestershire the other day!

In Christ we see a window on to God … and what do we discover.  John tells the story of this Jesus Teaching that centres on love for God, love for neighbour.   A life lived in bringing healing to hurting people.   A life that ends in untimely death and yet a life that cannot be held down by death, a life that is risen.  And in the letter that maybe accompanied the gospel comes that remarkable insight … God is love.

This is the wisdom that can be discovered – this is the wisdom that leads to life.  This is the excitement that means the world as it unlocks the key to living in the world of God’s creation.

Where is God?  God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

All around us and within, above and beyond, deep down in our innermost being … and yet to be found, to be discovered, to be made real in one particular place, at one particular time, in Jesus Christ.


That’s one way of answering that question.

And it’s the way I followed in the first part of today’s service, albeit in a more jokey and fun way than it may appear here in writing!!!!

But after the children and young people went off to their groups, I returned to that set of questions.

For it is a set of questions that works in a very different way.  In a very painful way.

Where is God?  Is the question that plagues many in a world of pain and suffering.

God, where are you?   Where can we find you?  Is the painful question that has troubled so many when confronted with the awfulness of our world.
One such story is a timeless one … and it is real in our day as ever it has been.

He found it a deeply troubling question.  He had at one time been filled with certainties.  God had seemed so real.  What’s more God had seemed so relevant. He had a powerful message to share with the world of his day … and he had been so sure it had been nothing less than the word of God.

Few people listened.  And those that did had little time for the message.  But it was man’s inhumanity to man that finally got the better of him.  It was the sheer barbaric cruelty of the wars that raged that drove him to utter despair.

It was the cry of despair that rose up from the depths of his innermost being. 

God, where are you?  Where can I begin to find you?

When no answer came there was nothing left for him to live for.

That’s the story of Elijah.  He had spent a lifetime in the service of God, speaking truth to power, confronting the evils of the world of his day, in the ways of his day, challenging and defeating the prophets of  Baal.

But the King of the day was filled with evil.  And the Queen more so.  Jezebel was her name.  And hearing all that Elijah had done she determined to have him killed.

It was the last straw for Elijah.  He had had enough.

He was afraid and he fled for his life.

I’ve skirted over the next verse in the story of Elijah.

I Kings 19:4 – he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat under a solitary broom tree.  He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

It was during the bereavement course that Facebook came to the fore once again and led to a very moving and timely discussion about what too often can still be an unmentionable and not talked about taboo subject – bereavement in suicide.

A very moving article was circulated, suggesting that this is something to talk about, to have in the open.  And it pointed towards a number of places in the Bible where people get to rock bottom and have suicidal thoughts.

This is one of those moments.

Elijah, the great Elijah, has these suicidal thoughts. He want his life to be ended.

I gloss over it in telling the story.  But he’s the great Elijah, he didn’t mean it.  Maybe he did.  Maybe the story takes on greater significance if we acknowledge it.

He goes to sleep.

And it is in his sleep that it happens.

The insight is that God has something more – that’s the thing to hold on to in that context of someone feeling suicidal.  That’s the driving force of the Samaritans as they endeavour to keep the conversation going – there is something more.  This is the conviction – there is something more.

Elijah has a dream – an angel touches him and sends him on a journey, a journey that will last, the proverbial 40 days.  And he has food and drink that will give him strength for the journey.

The journey takes him to the holy mountain, to Horeb, the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave and spent a night there.

And in his mind’s eye he found himself in the wilds, yet there was no mountain top experience for him. 

The storm raged, the earth shook, fire swept over the land in front of him.

And the questions plagued him.  God, were are you?  Where can I find you.

But God was not in the earthquake.  God was not in the fire.  God was not in the storm.

And then there came the sound of sheer silence: a still small voice.

And in that moment he knew: God was there!

And there was more for him to do – to anoint others to take on the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom … and to pass on the mantle to another who would follow in his footsteps, Elisha.

It is in the sound of sheer silence, in the still small voice that God’s presence is felt.

It’s that phrase, ‘still small voice’ that is the inspiration for the wonderful exhibition of British Biblical Art since 1850 – a very secular age.

It’s on at the Wilson and it’s worth a visit. 

Writing in the beautifully produced catalogue, Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts, in King’s College London, comments about the ‘unpredictable, quirky, but always humane’ works on display and suggests that ‘the still, small voice of a Craigie Aithison Crucifixion or a Barbara Hepworth Madonna and Child can be a source of powerful resistance to the great totalitarianisms of the noisy and violent century that broke upon us in 1914.

For it may be that the greatest and most enduring truths are not to be found in that century’s earthquakes, wind and firestorms.”

But in the still small voice.

Hymn:  Dear Lord and Father of mankind

1          Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
            Forgive our foolish ways;
            Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
            In purer lives thy service find,
            In deeper reverence, praise.

2          In simple trust like theirs who heard
            Beside the Syrian sea
            The gracious calling of the Lord,
            Let us, like them, without a word
            Rise up and follow thee.

3          O sabbath rest by Galilee!
            O calm of hills above,
            Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
            The silence of eternity,
            Interpreted by love!

4          With that deep hush subduing all
            Our words and works that drown
            The tender whisper of thy call,
            As noiseless let thy blessing fall
            As fell thy manna down.

5          Drop thy still dews of quietness,
            Till all our strivings cease;
            Take from our souls the strain and stress,
            And let our ordered lives confess
            The beauty of thy peace.

6          Breathe through the heats of our desire
            Thy coolness and thy balm;
            Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
            Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
            O still small voice of calm!

Quaker activist who campaigned against slavery:  John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

“the still, small voice … can be a source of powerful resistance to the great totalitarianisms of the noisy and violent century that broke upon us in 1914.

“For it may be that the greatest and most enduring truths are not to be found in that century’s earthquakes, wind and firestorms.”

But in the still small voice.

What is the inspiration of that resistance?

It is the still small voice of Christ who is the subject of so many of the pieces on display.

Some challenge, some disturb, some comfort, some reassure – all offer an alternative to the earthquakes, wind and firestorms that bedevil the world of the twenty-first century as much as the twentieth.

Maybe we should cultivate that sense of quiet and peace, seek again, the still small voice, and find the presence of God in Christ.

Where can we find Christ?

Did into his story in the gospels and what you find is one who teaches love for God and love for neighbour, one who brings healing into a hurting world, one who shares the pain and suffering of humanity and opens up a way through the valley of the shadow of death into the peace and glory of the God who is love.

But it is in the practice of that love that Jesus is to be found … it is in the silence of eternity interpreted by love that we truly find where God is …

I was hungry and you fed me,
thirsty and you gave me a drink;
I was a stranger and you received me in your homes,
naked and you clothed me;
I was sick and you took care of me,
in prison and you visited me.’

“The righteous will then answer him,
‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you a drink?
When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’

The King will reply,

‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!’

Matthew 25:31-40

Hymn:  Jesus, where can we find you?

Jesus, where can we find you
In our world today?
Jesus, where can we find you
Incarnate word today?

Look at your brother beside you,
Look at your sister beside you,
Look, listen, care.

Jesus, in the hand of the healer,
Can we feel you there?
Jesus, in the word of the preacher
Can we hear you there?

Jesus, in the mind of the leader
Can we know you there?
Jesus, in the aims of the planner,
Can we find you there?

Jesus, in the thought of the artist,
Can we sense you there?
Jesus, in the work of the builder,
Can we see you there?

Jesus, in the face of the famished,
Can we see you there?
Jesus, in the face of the prisoner,
Can we see you there?

Jesus, in the faces of children,
Can we see you there?
Jesus, in all of creation,
Can we see you there?

Doreen Potter was married to the General Secretary of the World  Council of Churches – the hymn is copyright the Caribbean Conference of Churches.  Sadly, she died at the young age of 55 from cancer.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why is there suffering in the world?

It’s a month since we had a Sunday Special and got people to jot down some of those big questions that can often trouble us.

Today we come to a very big question that people asked in lots of different ways.

It’s a question that I fear doesn’t have an answer.  But it is a question I believe we can respond to.

·         Why is there so much suffering in the world?

·         Why do people get ill?

·         Where is God when I need him?

I want to suggest three ways in to making a response.  The first doesn’t work.  The second is helpful.  The third is the way that for me not only makes most sense but it is also most helpful.

I don’t think it gets you anywhere if you start with a philosophical idea of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving.  You end up angry at a supposed god who does nothing to stop bone cancer in children or little insects burrowing into the brain.  The problem is that argument starts in the wrong place, it starts with the wrong premise.

Stephen Fry had exactly that angry outburst this week in an interview with the Irish TV company, RTE, that went viral on YouTube and then on Twitter.

In an interview on the radio he made it quite clear – “I don’t think I mentioned once any certain religion, and I certainly didn’t intend, and I know I didn’t, to say anything offensive towards any particular religion,” he said. “I said quite a few things that were angry at this supposed God. I was merely saying things that Bertrand Russell and many finer heads of the mind have said for many thousands of years, going all the way back to the Greeks.”

Why is there so much suffering in the world?  I don’t want to make my starting point some theoretical idea about god that’s been worked out by philosophers.

I want to make a response as a Christian from within my Christian faith and share how I respond to this question as a Christian believing in God.

So my second way of responding I think is more helpful for me.  As a Christian I find a more helpful starting place is the Bible.  For me as a Christian this Book is the place where I find more than any other the inspiration for my faith.  What is wonderful to me about the Bible is that it is all about people who have found that very same inspiration for the faith that keeps them going … .and it’s been written and put together by people with that very same inspiration.

It begins with larger than life stories set in the beginning of time that are filled with timeless truths for every generation.   The world we live in is a wonderful world, it’s the world of God’s creation.

But people make a mess of that world.  There is something in people that prompts them to make wrong choices.  And the consequence of that is that things go dreadfully wrong.

So much of the world’s suffering is down to us human beings – and you can see it in today’s world – illnesses that result from the lifestyle we choose to lead, we are seeing it work out on a world scale that climate change is happening because of the way human beings choose to live.

The thing about the Bible story as it unfolds is that the God who is the inspiration for the people caught up in that story is the God who comes alongside people and helps them to set things right.   The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob on through the pages of the Bible is the story of God setting things right – it is the story of salvation.

Where people follow the kind of framework set out in the ten commandments then on the whole things go well.

However, and the word ‘however’ needs to be spelled in big capital letters.

HOWEVER, that general picture doesn’t explain everything.  There’s a big danger.  A massive danger.  That wherever there’s suffering and illness you say – people must have broken God’s framework, done something wrong.

IT doesn’t work that way.  That’s the whole point of the book of Job.  Actually really good people suffer too.  Suffering comes to everyone.  There’s no escaping it.

The inspiration for Job comes when he goes out into the wild open countryside and is challenged to think of the immensity of a world that always has more questions to be asked.   We catch only a time glimpse of the immensity of the world we are a part of – and God’s even bigger than all that.  Maybe it’s best to live with unanswered questions – in a faith that turns to the immensity of God.

I find that a more helpful response.  As I sense something of the wonder of an incredibly wondlerful world, it strikes me that the whole story of the universe is one of cataclysmic events happening that have within them the beginnings of something new, the beginnings of life itself.  I get to the point when I realise there are always more questions to ask about this wonderful world, and then sense God is greater than all.   That’s an inspiration to me.

But there’s more.  As I read this Bible it has a momentum, it’s leading up to something.  And this is where I come to my third response – as a Christian I want to start with Jesus – that’s my starting point for getting the inspiration I need for my life.

So, what do I see in Jesus.  First of all, wherever Jesus encounters suffering, illness he sees it as something to counter – his concern is to bring healing and wholeness to people who experience suffering.

So if I have to live with unanswered questions about why suffering – one thing is clear, where I see it I must seek to alleviate suffering, if I am to follow in the footsteps of Jesus I need to be engaged in bringing healing into the world.  That gives me a motivation for my life.

But what happens when suffering comes – when my faith is rocked – when I find there is no inspiration for my faith.  Stuff happens – that prompts this big question to be asked in an agonising way, the cry o God, why such suffering?

I want to look to Jesus and what do I find.  When his close friend Lazarus died an untimely death Jesus may share wonderful words of inspiration with Martha which are an inspiration to this day – ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. But when Jesus then meets up with Mary who is so distraught she has nothing to say we read simply that ‘Jesus wept’.

Then as he approached his own death there is a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when all he is driven to pray to God to take this cup from him.  He prays with such agony that he seats blood.

That agony is accentuated on the cross when in the agony of his dying, he cries out My God, my God why have you forsaken me?

But as the story unfolds and he utters that prayer – Father into your hands I commend my spirit’ and then through death and burial comes resurrection and a new life opens up.

Jesus opens up for me two things – a God who as one who cares with the deep, deep love of a father, and is alongside us through the darkness, and remains with us when we feel he is not there.

Jesus also points me in a direction that is in an intangible way so helpful.  Even when you feel God is not there – pray.  Not necessarily the nice prayers that say thanks.  But the desolate prayers that are angry with this Father God.

That’s part of the experience of Christian faith – and what Jesus does is to use prayers that were an inspiration to the people who first prayed them and that have been down through the ages an inspiration to many and are an inspiration to us today.  On the cross those words come from Psalm 22.

In among the Psalms are prayers of desolation – and they show me actually it’s not just OK, but it’s really important to rage not at the supposed God of the philosophers, but at the Father God opened up to us by Jesus – because when you do that it is a help.

There was one reading Joanne Moston wanted to do herself in among all the times of worship I put together for our visit to Jerusalem.  A church supposedly built on the site of the High Priest’s house where Jesus spent the night after the Garden of Gethsemane.  We went down into a deep pit, a dungeon.  And it was down there Joanne read this psalm.  She invited us to think of Jesus in his solitude drawing on this psalm.

We’ll read it together from the church Bibles.

Congregation –
LORD God, my saviour, I cry out all day,
and at night I come before you.
2Hear my prayer;
listen to my cry for help!

Leader –
3So many troubles have fallen on me
that I am close to death.
4I am like all others who are about to die;
all my strength is gone.
5I am abandoned among the dead;
I am like the slain lying in their graves,
those you have forgotten completely,
who are beyond your help.
6You have thrown me into the depths of the tomb,
into the darkest and deepest pit.
7Your anger lies heavy on me,
and I am crushed beneath its waves.

8You have caused my friends to abandon me;
you have made me repulsive to them.
I am closed in and cannot escape;
9my eyes are weak from suffering.
LORD, every day I call to you
and lift my hands to you in prayer.

10Do you perform miracles for the dead?
Do they rise up and praise you?
11Is your constant love spoken of in the grave
or your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
12Are your miracles seen in that place of darkness
or your goodness in the land of the forgotten?

13LORD, I call to you for help;
every morning I pray to you.
14Why do you reject me, LORD?
Why do you turn away from me?
15Ever since I was young, I have suffered and been near death;
I am worn out from the burden of your punishments.
16Your furious anger crushes me;
your terrible attacks destroy me.
17All day long they surround me like a flood;
they close in on me from every side.
18You have made even my closest friends abandon me,
and darkness is my only companion.

Where is God when I need him?

The stark reality is that it feels as if he is not there.

Say so.

Say so in prayer

In prayer use a Psalm such as this.

Read it from a Bible.

For the inspiration of the Bible is that such a prayer is not the last word.

It is precisely when ‘darkness is my only companion’ that we can hear another voice.

Interestingly the title given to the Hebrew text of Psalm 88 is “A psalm by the clan of Korah; a song.  A poem by Heman the Ezrahite.”

But look on … Psalm 89 follows.  The Herbew title describes it as ‘a poem by Ethan the Ezrahite’.

It’s as if at that moment of deepest darkness there’s someone else in the family who can share something that can itself become an inspiration.

Just read those first 2 verses …

1O LORD, I will always sing of your constant love;
I will proclaim your faithfulness for ever.
2I know that your love will last for all time,
that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky.

What’s so powerful for me is that that inspiration only comes if you have the courage to rage against God in the words of Psalm 88.

This for me is the wonderful thing about the God opened up for me by Jesus – the world is a wonderful place, but a world that prompts so many questions it is impossible to answer them all.  The God of creation is the one who is with us even when he doesn’t feel as if he is there, whose love for us will last for all time, and ultimately bring us into his glory.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why can't different religions live together in harmony?

Jesus had this wonderful way of turning questions round on people.   It certainly made them think.

The question I am going to offer some thoughts on today is the kind of really good and interesting question that you could devote a whole book to – it prompts all sorts of interesting questions and all sorts of interesting discussion.

Why can’t different religions live together in harmony?

You could begin to respond to that question by exploring all sorts of ideas – it’s down to the people who belong, it’s down to the way people read their sacred texts, it’s down to a creeping fundamentalism, it’s down to things that distort religion.

I’m not sure it’s very helpful to talk about religions in general – or the theory of different religions – I’m not sure how helpful it is ultimately to talk about ‘religion’ in theory.

I want to make the question about people – why can’t people in different religions live together in harmony.  I think you would get a little further maybe if you pursue that a little further.

The danger is that it is theoretical … I want to make the question even more personal.  What about you?   What about me?  How can we live together in harmony with people of other religions?

When Paul visited Athens what struck him was how religious people were – how many different altars – it was just the same in Nero’s Rome.  It’s telling that as Paul comes to the end of his letter to the Christian community in Rome and as he turns to the way they are called to live their lives in the light of the sheer grace of God that’s let loose in the world by Jesus Christ he is in no doubt:  “Live in harmony with one another ….If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Paul’s whole understanding of the Christian faith found its focus in Jesus.

Take a look at the story of Jesus and one thing becomes very apparent.  He engages with people as people.  When a Pharisee, one of those who seeks to take seriously the whole of the Law of the Hebrew Scriptures, came to Jesus by night, Jesus enters into conversation with him – and treats him as a person.  “God so loved the world, says Jesus to Nicodemus, that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

When a centurion sent for Jesus because his servant was ill, Jesus related  to him as a person and brought healing to his home.

As soon as you put a label on someone it’s easy to dismiss them, somehow reduce them as a person.

Instead Jesus wanted us to treat people as people.

His followers found that a tough lesson to learn.

It was as Jesus was setting off on his journey to Jerusalem that his route would take him through a Samaritan village.   You sense in the story a real division with the Samaritan people.  The Samaritan people in that village don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus … and that incenses the followers of Jesus …

1As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem. 52He sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a village in Samaria to get everything ready for him. 53But the people there would not receive him, because it was clear that he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

55Jesus turned and rebuked them.
You do not know what kind of Spirit you belong to; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.”

6Then Jesus and his disciples went on to another village.

It’s as his mission gets really under way and he sends out 72 followers to bring the message of the kingdom to the towns around, healing to people’s lives and peace to their homes that he gets in conversation with an expert in the law.

That expert in the law got it right in Jesus’ eyes and summed up the whole of the Law in two things Love God and Love your neighbour, Jesus told the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan in order to show that we should think of everyone as our neighbour.

People not labels.

How hard a lesson to learn.

This week has seen the 70’th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  At Cheltenham’s Holocaust Memorial day ceremony in the Municipal offices last Tuesday there was a chilling reminder of the steps it takes to follow the path to genocide.

It starts with classification – that tendency to see people as stereotypes.

It is the tragedy of our Christian story that anti-Semitism took such a hold as Christianity became a state religion.  Jewish people were expelled from these islands for centuries – it was a contribution from our churches that Jewish people were allowed back in the middle of the 1600’s – as our forebears went back to the roots of the Christian faith in the person of Christ and in Jesus himself they felt that it was not for the state to determine which religion was acceptable or not – Karen has written a novel about those beginnings – one fo the figures that plays a part in that novel is Thomas Helwys – who seeks to confront the king in his defence of religious freedom and conscience …

n 1612 Helwys wrote that the king of England “is but an earthly king...: for men's religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the king shall not answer for it, neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”

The programme contains notes on other genocides since the holocaust – Cambodia 1975-79, Rwanda 1994, Bosnia 1992-1995, Darfur 2003 to the present.  It could have gone back in time to the Armenian genocide of 100 years ago.

At the end of a week that has seen the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz I am drawn to a thinker who experienced at first hand the tragedy of genocide more recently in the Balkans.  The Croatian writer, Miroslav Volf in a powerful book Exclusion and Embrace challenges us to cultivate the capacity to see through the eyes of the other.

“We enlarge our thinking by letting the voices and perspectives of others, especially those with whom we may be in conflict, resonate within ourselves, by allowing them to help us see them, as well as ourselves, from their perspective, and if needed readjust our perspective as we take into account their perspectives”

This is something for us to take to hear in all sorts of settings.

If we are to see through the eyes of ‘the other’, Volf suggests that we need to cultivate the art of ‘double vision’:  “The practice of ‘double vision’… presupposes that we can both stand within a given tradition and learn from other traditions.”

This is something that seems to me to be important.

I want to come back to Jesus – and the way he treated people as people – coming for all people.  To see things from another’s perspective we need to know where we stand and how we see things from our perspective.

I want to reaffirm my faith in Jesus Christ as the one who opens up the very nature of God as the God who is love.

Clear commitment to the faith that is important to me is the starting point for me.

This is the insight of Miroslav Volf

He is not unrealistic about the possibilities opened up by this way of seeing.  “Nothing can guarantee in advance that the perspectives will ultimately merge and agreement be reached.  We may find that we must reject the perspective of the other.  Yet we should seek to see things from their perspective in the hope that competing justices may become converging justices and eventually issue in agreement.”

It was Hans Kung, a Roman Catholic writer who said,

No peace among the nations
without peace among the religions
No peace among the religions
without dialogue between
    the religions
No dialogue between the religions without understanding of
   the religions.

But the dialogue he advocated is
Dialogue with steadfastness

We need to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Chrsit as Lord and Saviour.

Do that, stand firm in that faith, and then see people as people made in the image of  God, and build relationships of love.

The beginnings for us of seeking such harmony is in a simple prayer …

Gracious loving God,
Teach us to live in harmony with one another
To live peaceably with all and so
give us eyes to see as others see
ears to see as others hear
and a gracious loving heart
that’s faithful to You
in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s have those words in our hearts as we now listen to a piece of music played at the Holocaust Memorial from the Methodist Central Hall – and shared by Richard -  the beautiful cello and piano piece (Prayer) by Ernest Bloch. The cellist is the son of distinguished cellist Raphael Wallfisch (who was at college with Richard’s wife Alison) and grandson of Anita Wallfisch, who survived Auschwitz because she also played the cello and was part of the Auschwitz Orchestra.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light