Monday, 30 March 2015

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

It was with joy that we rejoiced at the installation of our new font and its dedication by Bishop Nick. Taking these words as his text Bishop Nick reminded us that these words were spoken to a people going into exile and that although God would not desert them life would not be easy and they would have to dig deep into their resources of faith.

On a day that promised much joy, beauty and celebration we were reminded of our imperfections as we discovered that the plug at the base of the font was not a good fit and there was leakage. Bishop Nick reflected how quickly we all fall short of the promises made for us at baptism, repeated at confirmation, and reinforced at the beginning of every service in the form of confession. We leak! And we’re in good company. Even the apostles, full of determination to stand by their Lord at his time of need, denied and deserted him the moment their resolve was put to the test. Why should we expect to be any different?

Does that make us hypocrites as suggested by a certain politician who criticised the recent pastoral letter issued by the House of Bishops without the benefit of having actually read it? Yes it does, but at least we admit it – we don’t mind letting people see the ways we leak, and we know that the world, and its people including us, are in a mess. But we also know that there is Good News to be had – and it’s up to us to ‘leak’ it out into the world! Yes – we’re in trouble, but we are drawn by hope and not driven by fear. The Christian life is not always an easy ride, but we are promised the joy of salvation as a reward.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

"Please look after this bear"

I suspect that there are few people who don’t like the stories of Paddington Bear; the little bear whose Aunt Lucy sent him to England when she entered a home for retired bears in Darkest Peru. Paddington was homeless, found by Mr Brown on the platform of Paddington Station with the sign “Please look after this bear “round his neck.

I suspect most of us would be delighted to take home a real Paddington bear, not considering the risks involved: a foreigner with a chronic addiction, (marmalade!), maybe not house-trained, and a bear for goodness sake!

So why might we be more reluctant to help, befriend, take home the many homeless and destitute people we encounter in our local railway stations and on the high-streets of our towns and villages? These people are real, not a character from children’s fiction. Do we walk by on the other side, a little uneasy about the stranger in our midst? If we do, it has a precedent.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus told the story of a priest and a Levite who each, in turn, walk by on the other side when they encounter a man left for dead by assailants on the Jericho road from Jerusalem. We can speculate all day as to why they ignored the man, but the bottom line is, they did. Yet a Samaritan, moved with compassion, went to the injured man’s aid.

He was himself a foreigner, not only a foreigner but one whose fellow countrymen were despised and hated by most Jews living in Jerusalem and the surrounding country. The very man who he gave help to would likely have seen him as an enemy! Nevertheless, his concern was for his fellow human who had been so brutally attacked. He saw the need and stepped in, without consideration of any risks he might personally be taking. He gave of his time, his own money and committed himself to ensuring that the stranger was cared for, even taking him to safety on his the back of his own animal.

Let’s not forget that Jesus was a stranger throughout his earthly life. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him”, [John 1:10]. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lives in all his children. So, the next time we encounter a stranger and are tempted to walk by on the other side, rather than show love and compassion, we might re-consider. It could well be Jesus that we are choosing not to love.

Sculpture: The Homeless Christ by Timothy P Schmalz.

Philip Williamson
Ordinand on placement from Yorkshire Ministry Course

Monday, 9 March 2015

Becoming a home with God at our heart

The violent act by which Jesus cleansed the Temple in today’s Gospel has long been a subject of debate.  Was Jesus speaking out against market forces; attacking the religious cult of his time; or trying to reassert the true purpose of a sacred space?
For the Israelites the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple, was a place like no other.  It was the place God was encountered in a unique way.  When the Temple was destroyed by the Romans just a few decades after the crucifixion the Jewish leaders of the time argued that now the home, and the table where the Sabbath meal was shared, had become the ‘small sanctuary’ for a faithful people scattered across the world.
For Christians that place of meeting with God is even more personal than where a meal is shared in the home.  God comes among us and within us.  Charles Wesley uses that idea in the hymn I Thou Who Camest from Above when he wrote: ‘kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart’.  In his poem Love George Herbert similarly portrays the encounter with God as intimate and direct: “’You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  So I did sit down and eat”.
Beliefs shape us and influence the course of our lives.  It seems to me that the outrage of Jesus about the market place invading the Temple was about the creeping tendency of trade to fashion our relations not only with one another but with God.  It may be that the free market is the least harmful of various alternatives, but when left to operate without restriction it poses major threats to human wellbeing.  It is about more than just buying and selling.  Writing about the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers William Kenan argues that:
“capitalism constitutes the human self in a very particular way: as an individual, autonomous, rational, self-seeking, cost-benefit-calculating consumer.”
Human beings have always traded and probably always will.  But when that trade defines our relationships in religion we lose the place to reflect on the very purpose of that trade.  We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  The Temple was somewhere that put the rest of life into perspective.  The value of those who went there shouldn’t have been defined by the wealth of what they could buy to sacrifice.  As Jesus made clear in the parable of the widow’s mite, the market cannot evaluate the true cost of giving or the depth of someone’s relationship with God.
In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes that “we are the temple of the living God”.  Like the Jewish homes with their ‘small sanctuary’, the Christian has a place set aside where true values are treasured and acted upon.  It is both within us and shared in the company of the Church.  When we meet together in worship our value isn’t defined by wealth but by love: and we are invited to see the value of the world in the same way.

Chris Swift
Lead Chaplain at Leeds NHS Trust Hospital