Saturday 6 July 2024

A Prophet Without Honour

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6, NIV)

Jesus has come to Nazareth. And we know from Luke's Gospel that he's reading and preaching from Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Because the Lord has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor." 

This is exciting news - especially because Jesus is saying it is fulfilled in him. He stands before them with the Good News of God's work in freedom and salvation. And they should be delighted that they are hearing this. 

But turns out some people don't actually want to be given the chance to see God's freedom working in the world. Instead they'd rather find excuses to not allow the Spirit to be at work. Calvin put it well in his Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels : “It is not mere ignorance that hinders men, but that, of their own accord, they search after grounds of offense, to prevent them from following the path to which God invites.”

And they didn't come to be changed, to be caught up in God's new work. They came to be people who taste the Scripture - not those who drink God's Spirit. This was a safe place. They could come, worship, be entertained by a little talk, and go away - unchanged. So of course they're going to come up with all the reasons that they are now going to go home, and rehearse over their Sabbath meal, for why this Jesus isn't all that after all.

And don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with people first coming to church through belonging. You're part of a group. You get a chat afterwards. People care and ask how you are. There are biscuits.

But there is so much more. The Spirit of the Living God wants to share God's love with us. The scriptures are full of joy and challenge and hope. When we come to worship, we can know that God is really here, joining with us.

Or we can be a critic, list the 7 things we've not liked today, decide which four things about other people we judged, and trot home and go over them at the dinner table. It's lazy. It's less effort than engaging with scripture and hoping to be transformed to be like Jesus. And ultimately it's less fulfilling, of course. It's not even as useful as just coming for the biscuits.

But that's how they reacted to Jesus because they didn't want to change. How do we respond to God's word today? 


Tuesday 2 July 2024

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

There was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. And one went missing.

And the shepherd knew there was some shepherding to be done re number 100. And should have gone out to find her.

But the ninety-nine pointed out that they'd prefer to be moved to some better grass.

And they really wanted to do some in-depth study on what it was like to be a sheep that was safely in the pen.

And a salt lick. Obviously they had a salt lick, but maybe a nicer salt lick?

And they wanted a decent consultation on that collie. Sure, the dog was keen to keep them safe. But all that nipping their back legs, when they just wanted to have a bit of a wander, seemed a bit much. Maybe they could replace the collie with a labrador? Much less nippy.

And grass was a bit dull. Maybe they could be let out on some clover occasionally.

So the shepherd spent a few days settling all the various needs of the 99 sheep.

The hundredth was eaten by a wolf on day 2.

But the other 99 were OK.

So it was all fine. 

Thursday 27 June 2024

We left him out there (after Thomas Hardy)

We left him out there

To drift on the air

The sun cast down its face

The rain will bless his place

The tides will cushion him to sea

Maybe now he is free.


Friday 21 June 2024

Sunday 16 June 2024

Gardens (III) The Memory of Trees

In our first foray into the Garden, gentle Beaker Folk, we considered that there was a garden with two trees. And one was of life, and one was of knowledge. And God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And this Edenic state of affairs came to an end when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and there was no going back.

But the memory of trees (© Enya) remained. The Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. The Canaanites (and the Israelites, when nobody was looking) worshipped around the Asherah poles. The Norse and Germans in their turn, had the Ash tree Yggdrasil, the World tree.

And the Israelites knew that trees could regenerate given the right condition. Isaiah told us, "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

And in time, a branch grew from Jesse. And alongside, another tree grew. It was cut down for the use of the Roman Empire, and on it was nailed the son of Adam and Eve who was also the son of God.

On that tree, the son of God promised he'd meet a condemned rebel in a garden shortly - "today you will be with me in Paradise". And that tree of death became a tree of life. The curse in Eden was reversed by that obedience in Gethsemane, by that tree on a hill, and resurrection in the Garden of Life.

And that paradise - a walled garden - turns out to be a Garden City. I don't know if the founders of Welwyn or Letchworth Garden Cities thought they were trying to build the New Jerusalem, but it was a noble aim.

This walled garden has gates. But they are never shut. So you can go in whenever you want. And you can check out any time you want - but you'll never want to leave.

And here is the Tree of Life again. This time with bonus fruit and healing leaves.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from

the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:1-5)
Let's face it, if the water is a clear as crystal, this is going to be heaven for all except the owners of water companies. 

And everything is new again. The creation is in the state of peace which Paul tells us in Romans it is currently groaning for. We are in the Eden we have dreamed of - the Eden which our earliest myths told us about, the imaginary garden we always wanted to return to. And all manner of things will be well, when we have the Lamb for our sun and God for our king, and will be finally at home.

Just a Mustard Seed

One thing about the Mustard seed.

And it’s something Jesus mentions in passing. He takes it for granted.

That when the tree is very large, the birds of the air shelter in it.

And we can, in our way of making allegories, come up with explanations as to what the birds represent  - the Gentiles, maybe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But also, Jesus is just taking for granted God’s goodness in creation. God’s generosity. The birds have a place to rest, because God has provided the mustard seed. We are called to care for God’s world, with its many dependencies, its web of wonder.

Friday 14 June 2024

Seeds (in General)

Thing about a seed – it drops where it likes. And it may or may not grow.

You drive down the side of a main road. Or walk along a canal towpath. There’s always loads of apple trees.
They’ve not been planted there. They’re self-seeded from apple cores, thrown out of cars or thrown off boats going down the canal.

Apple trees never grow true from seed. Every apple tree from seed is genetically unique. They’re not like yer Granny Smiths or Golden Delicious, grafted from cuttings so every one is the same.

They’re free. Every tree down the side of the A1 or the Grand Union. They’re unique. There has never been a tree like them. There will probably never be another.
You can moan about people throwing apple cores out of windows. You might be the sort of person who wants every apple on earth to be a Cox's Orange Pippin.
Or you can be glad that so much genetic diversity is blooming down every hard shoulder. Rejoice in the glory as God does, I believe, that every tree is unique, and blooming and fruiting to the glory of its creator.

You never know what a seed might do. But you can give it a chance.

A Mustard Seed

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

I was reading about the plague of bamboo in suburban gardens. To be clear- I wasn’t actually in suburban gardens when I read it. I live in a village. I mean, it’s growing in suburban gardens and I read about it.

Didn’t we all love those gardening programmes in the early naughties? Alan Titchmarsh all Northern camp. Tommy Walsh the digging woman’s catnip. And many men seemed particularly drawn to Charlie Dimmock for her extensive aquatic gardens knowledge.

A plague of decking fell across the land. And with it – majestic and swaying in the breeze – came the humble bamboo. Formerly used only to prop up tomato plants, we started using terms like ”architectural”.

And now, twenty years on, mighty bamboo takes revenge. Its frondy fronds are everywhere, its roots probing our foundations for weakness.
And it all happened while nobody was looking.

Jesus’s mustard seed wasn’t of the “produces small green sprouts when germinated on damp kitchen roll” variety.
I’m indebted to Pliny the Elder for telling us that black mustard was, bamboo-like, a rampant spreader. You’d just plant the one tiny, tiny seed to provide an accompaniment to your traditional Roman roast beef. Next you know, it’s all over the garden. And attracting the birds as well, according to Jesus. Though he may have been exaggerating for effect.

Starts from a tiny seed. Grows like Topsy. Shelters all the stragglers that blow in. Good analogy for the way that tiny single seed was planted in the Judean earth, germinated, and spread across the Roman Empire. Though it was a mortal shame when it went to seed.

You can take a train across Middle England. See the spires and towers of her churches. Where threes and fours cling on, holding the faith once delivered to our ancestors in whatever modern, post-modern or fetishistic mutations it has taken. And wonder – if a seed dies can it grow again? And if it does not die, how can it bear a crop?

Could the seeds sown from the dying plant germinate and grow again? Make a shelter for all the homeless birds of the air, blown from their nests by the winds of cruelty of our money-drunk, greed-blown, egocentric, plasticated society? Provide a place of shade, a place for security above the rats in the rat-race?

I don’t know. But it may not cost much to plant a seed. If it dies it dies. But if it grows – it can take over the world with kindness.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Will there be a Quiet Place in Heaven?

Will there be a quiet place in heaven?

Not that it would be all bad, the feasting and drinking

And the singing Hallelujahs for ever.

I’m sure that’s all fine, as the countless angels wing their flight

And we join the unending hymn of praise.

But will there be a quiet place in heaven?

When the new heaven and new earth are joined in singing

And the tables are laden with the food of eternity

Will there be a place in the corner of the open-gated city

Where you can just be still as the eternal river trickles by

In the shade of the leaves of the tree of life

And dangle your hands in the cool water as it flows

And maybe pick an apple meant for you before time began

And waiting there for you now time is at end

And wonder how – if time is no more – there are still seasons

And water still runs downhill

And listen for the sound of that still small voice

While the brass bands play downtown?

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Theological Reflection Commemorating the Life of Jürgen Moltmann (1926-2024)

Beaker Folk in hi viz and steel-toed Doctor Martens sadly enter the Moot House

They stomp up to the Worship Focus

*** STOMP STOMP STOMP ***

All: JÜRGEN MOLTMANN! 

They stomp back out of the Moot House

Sunday 2 June 2024

Nativity of Thomas Hardy (1840)

Photograph of Thomas Hardy as a middle-aged man. Balding with a fine Victorian moustache like a literary walrus


First Yokel: It's that Thomas Hardy's birthday then.

Second Yokel: Aye. That it be.

First Yokel: Him'd be 184 if he were still alive then.

Second Yokel: Aye. That a' would.

First Yokel: Hast finished "Jude the Obscure" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "The Woodlanders" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "The Return of the Native" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Shall us along to the Peter's Finger in Mixen Lane for a pretty drop o' tipple?

Second Yokel: W' all my heart.

First Yokel: Happy heavenly birthday, Thomas Hardy.

Second Yokel: If he's up there he's gonna be feeling a bit stupid.


Wednesday 22 May 2024

Manse Life

Condensation is the situation for the habitual viveur in what is known as 
Manse Life 
A quiet life can be avoided if you take the route straight through what is known as 
Manse Life 
Tom's got a droopy roof. He gets intimidated by the macho builders. 
They love a drop o' tea.
Manse Life 
Why's that gatepost dangling? You should cut down on your manse life, mate - get another job.

All the people
So many people
They all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their 
Manse Life
.

I get up when I want, except on Sundays. And every other day of the week.
Manse Life 
I put my dog collar on, 'ave a cup of tea, and fret about leaving the 'ouse
Manse Life 
I see Miss Pigeon. I also see Miss Sparrow too. It gives them a sense of enormous wellbeing.
Manse Life 
And then it's funerals for the rest of the day. Safe in the knowledge my entire life is devoted to it.

All the people
So many people
They all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their 
Manse Life
.

It's got nothing to do with your Property Committee ya know.
And it's not about the meetings. Which go round and round and round and round... 

All the people
So many people
They all go hand in hand
Hand in hand through their 
Manse Life
.

Friday 17 May 2024

Gardens II : A Second Choice

In the first of this little series, we considered a simple situation. A man, a woman, a garden, doing the right thing. And we ask ourselves a question - what could possibly go wrong?  And the answer is: everything.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane - (c) 2024 Sally Coleman

And back in April, that was a simple situation and if, like us, you're trying to get a wildflower garden to thrive, it was a simpler garden. Primroses and bulbs. With the only complication the slugs eating the flowers. The garden was just awakening - like Eden itself did - and everything was short grass and simplicity.

Now in May, things have changed. Primroses have gone over. But you don't want to cut them just yet as they need to seed. Buttercups spring up and Fox-and-Cubs awaits its chance. But is Fox-and-Cubs an invasive plant? Or pretty in its own right? Forget-me-nots are randomly spread around the place. And round the edge, and springing up just where you might not want it, is keck, or as some know it, cow-parsley. And the great dilemma is, what do you do with keck? It's pretty. It's so good for hoverflies and other nectar-lovers. And yet - it's a right pain, spreading everywhere. I suppose you can just accept its grace for what it is, and thank the good Lord that it's not its big sister, Giant Hogweed. The garden is much more complex. At some point we must mow it to ensure next year's primroses. But when? So many nuances.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NIV)

The world was simple - one man, one woman, in a garden. The choice was simple. 

But now - the world has grown old and complicated. A man in a garden. The ones who should be with him in his prayers and decisions are snoring under an olive tree. And the pressures come in from all angles. The man is at the centre of religious disputes. Is he the Messiah? The Son of God? Is he a blasphemer, a heretic, demon-possessed? And then there's the political ones, overlapping. Is he a rival to the authorities? Is he putting himself up against Caesar?  Is a rebellion coming?

The liar in the garden was a snake. Here in the garden, Jesus knows that the liars will be those who bring false accusations.

And what is he going to do? Adam and Eve were told they would be gods. Is Jesus going to use godly powers? Call down a legion of angels to storm the Praetorian? Destroy the Temple and raise it in three days? Create through violence an empire of love instead of the Roman's empire of hatred?

Or go with the ancient prophecy, made in this world's mythical spring-time:  "He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel"? The prophecy that his mother half-fulfilled 33 years ago when she said "yes" to God's call to her.

Adam and Eve had to make one, simple decision. This man - one complex one. But let us arise - here comes the betrayer.

Jesus Calls Mary - (c) 2024 Sally Coleman

It is over.

The decision was made. A battle took place. In a garden dedicated to the dead, in the quiet of the dawn, there is no whisper of the trouble that has been taking place in Hell this weekend. Just the birds, maybe the rustle of a fleeing guard.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:11-18, NIV)

It's just like it was in the beginning. A man, and a woman, in the garden, at the beginning of the world. On the First Day, after God has rested.

And Mary thinks that he's the gardener. Which is logical - in a garden. And in a sense, she's right. He is the gardener. He was the one through whom this world was planned and made. It's only through him that this garden - let alone this world, this universe - exist. He sets the rules of physics that bring the sun's rays from heaven, and defines the biology that means the plants grow.

In the beginning, God said "let there be light". And now God's Word says just one thing - "Mary". And she sees. And she believes. And the decision made, back in our race's mythical morning, is superseded. The one who planted the Tree of Life has, through a Tree of Death, changed everything. And the world starts to be remade.



Tuesday 14 May 2024

The Leaking Roof of Dreams

 I blame this edition of The Sportsman

It was them calling Old Trafford a "cathedral of Sport" that caused the issue. Due to a misunderstanding and a clerical error, it was accidentally redesignated as coming under Church of England faculty rules and the Manchester United board was constituted as a PCC.

And now the roof has sprung a leak.

Old Trafford Sign - "Welcome to the Theatre of Dreams"

The request to fix the roof went in to the Archdeacon. Who after consultation discovered that the required changes weren't like-for-like and it had to go to Faculty.

Historic England asked why the supporters couldn't just stand in the rain like the old days. While the Victorian Society said they'd object to the development unless Dennis Irwin was brought back into the back 4. Which, to be fair, would probably improve the current defence.

Then after a couple of years of consultation, and design changes - some people asked whether the roof could be painted green and gold - the Faculty papers finally went to the Church Warden, Doris. Who promptly forgot to put them up on the notice board.

Two years on, the recommendation from the DAC has expired. And it's all got to go round again.

Except now there are plans to move Old Trafford to a new purpose-built mega-church. So the PCC is hopelessly split. Nobody thinks the Rector is going to last much longer in this post, and they're hoping to get a new incumbent from Holy Trinity Brompton.

Goodness knows, they need the prayers.

Saturday 4 May 2024

The Plague of Ladybirds

 And Moses saith unto Pharaoh another plague shall ye endure. For the land will crawl with harlequin ladybirds. They shall creep across every surface, and die on thy hard surfaces and the inside of they windows. And still Pharaoh would not let the people go.

But Moses' aim was out that date. And the plague arrived thirty hundred years later, in the land that is called Ingerland.

And they mostly got stuck in old churches. For they had flourished late in the warm autumn and winter, and awakening in cold churches did they search for the holes through which they had crawled to hibernate.

And vergers, wardens, and clergies throughout the land did wax woeful. And cry out against the little shiny invaders which dropped dead on all their altars, and crawled across their memorial tablets, and clung against the windows seeking the light.

And some saith, it is like unto the year 1976. When we had another plague of ladybirds. And they did crunch under our feet, like unto the rock that is sold in Skegness if thou bash it on a table.

And some saith, they are an alien species from an alien place. And must die to save our native two-spotted and seven-spotted ladybirds.

And others saith, doth the Good Book not tell us to protect the alien? Who thinkest thou that thou art?

And the church cleaners did sweep them up in bushels, and throw them into the darkness that lurkest under the yews in the churchyards.

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Moot Update: Re-definition of the Planet Skaro

 We've always been a welcoming community. But we're struggling with the increasing numbers of Thals that have taken refuge. They're nice enough. But having them wandering around all day, telling us how violence is bad, can be a bit aggravating when you want to get out and at the more recalcitrant Beaker Folk with a cricket bat.

We had to take action. So the Moot this evening has declared that from now on, Skaro is a safe planet.
And if the Moot says it's safe, it's safe. Mr Davros assures me it's very welcoming.

Monday 22 April 2024

The Slaying of St George

In common with other great moral and educational institutions, and Magdalen College Oxford, we shall not be celebrating St George’s Day here at the Beaker Folk.

We consider St George to be “stale, pale, male”, the archetypal Englishman who would rather stab a maiden-eating dragon to death with a spear than get it round the table to see whether it can find a compromise – eg only eating old people or something.

As part of our cosmopolitan, forward-looking, eclectic religious oecumenicalism we shall tomorrow instead be celebrating the traditional Catalan feast, La Diada da Sant Jordi. This will feature vegetarian bullfighting,  a procession of roses, and a free bottle of San Miguel with a slice of lime in the neck for every Beaker Person.

I know some people will be fuming about this. The St George’s Day dinner is a tradition that goes all the way back to 2018. But you have to move with the times. And the times say goodbye St George. And Hola, Sant Jordi!