Jesus in the filth

maxresdefaultThe text of my Midnight Mass talk at St Luke’s earlier ….

Tonight is a holy night.
A night when we remember, celebrate, the birth of Jesus.
The Christ child.
The Saviour of the universe.
God incarnate.
Tonight is most definitely a holy night.
But what is holiness.?
Surely it has something to do with Godliness.
And I seem to remember from when I was a child that Godliness is somehow connected to cleanliness.
And I suspect many of us have grown up with that sanitised image.
To be holy is to be clean, dazzling, white, pure.

And with those images, many of us have grown up not only thinking that we can never be holy ourselves, because lets face it, none of us have clean, dazzling, white, pure sparkly lives, but also that we end up believing that we are never really good enough for God.

I have chatted with many people of varying ages in the cafes and bars of this area. Although each conversation has been unique and individual, there has been an amazingly common thread that has gone through each one. Most people tell me that they believe in God, but that they are not religious. Then those same people tell me that they don’t go to church because ‘well, if I did the roof will probably cave in!’ In other words … that person thinks they are not good enough, not clean enough, not pure enough to come before God.

But, is Godliness, or holiness, really linked with cleanliness. Where did that saying come from? Many think that it is a quote from the bible. It’s not. It’s actually a quote from Francis Bacon, and he didn’t write it until 1605.

As I look at the scene before us on this holy night, I am not convinced that Holiness, Godliness and cleanliness go together at all. I am not convinced God cares that much about how clean our lives are, but maybe more interested in our intentions, in our motivation?

The scene before us on this most holy of nights of two young parents, Mary and Joseph, who had travelled dusty roads for 4 days from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary on the back of a donkey, sleeping under canvas on the way, who then end up in a stable with the stench of animals and the muck around, even having to use the feeding trough for a cot to lay the newborn Jesus in – none of that sounds very clean to me.

It seems to me that we have made this amazing story all cute and lovely with fluffy animals and smiling shepherds and nice warm overtones. But, this was a filthy stable! Stables are not great on the cleanliness scale!

To try and illustrate how shocking this scene is before you, can you imagine the uproar there would be if Princess Kate, was forced for one reason or another to give birth to Prince George or Princess Charlotte, in a stable somewhere!? The doctors would be having fits because of germs and risk of infection, the authorities would be wound up in the red tape of health and safety, Corbyn and May would be firing accusations across the house of commons floor, the Queen would not be amused and newspapers would be split over the reason for the scandal. For a scandal it would be.

And a scandal it was … THE royal baby, God incarnate, the ruler of the universe, the saviour of the world, was born not in the luxury and relative safety and security of a palace or a royal hospital … but he was born in the muck, dirt, grime and filth of a drafty stable.

A stable is just no place for a baby!
And yet …. this is what we have.
Jesus, the most holiest of babies, was born into the filth of this world.
And while that may shock us, that is precisely why the birth of Jesus is good news for all of us.

In tonights readings we find Jesus in the ruins of Jerusalem in Isaiah, we find Jesus in the messy process of creation in Hebrews,  and we find Jesus as a light in the darkness in John. One interpretation of that darkness could be the dark uncomfortable places in our society of fear, torture, hunger, homelessness – the messy places that the media like to sweep and hide away. Jesus knows exactly what the tough places in our world are like.

If we look at Jesus in the gospels ‘One of the teachings he resisted was ‘holiness-as-separation‘ the idea that you need to stay pure to be acceptable to God.

Jesus got involved in the dirt and mess of his creation. Jesus ministry is not to gather the clean and sanitised and take them into a private club. Jesus ministry is to those who are told they are unwanted, those who hurt, those who feel they are not good enough, those who feel they do not have holy lives, those who do not have sparkly whiter than white pure lives …. those like you and like me who desperately want to belong, but don’t believe we can.

The birth of Jesus in the stable on this holy night means that not only we can belong, but that we do belong. Because Jesus was born into the reality of this world, he understands, he knows how we feel, and he can be found standing with us. Because we are worthy of his time, we are good enough to be in his presence.

Holiness has not so much to do with how we are, but how Jesus is with us. It is the presence of Jesus in our lives that makes us holy.

So …. this Christmas, why not come back to your creator, Jesus, and take on board that good news; the good news that says  you are loved, you are accepted, you are good enough and you belong and that, yes, you are holy too!

Amen

 

WWJ NOT D

found this on James Lock via Digging a Lot
It shows the radical Christ we need to be following:

Christ said:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’
this is the first and great commandment.
The second is like it
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’

There is a lot of love there!

blessed are ….

©will Humes
http://alturl.com/f2dd7

I have awoken to a lot of news today flying around and the reactions to those events. There are plenty of people here who are far better qualified to comment on such events and upon the various reactions, not least those who have been personally affected. The celebration of any death, though, does leave me feeling rather cold.

Maybe today, though, could be a day to remember the words of Jesus …

Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven


Blessed are those who mourn
for they shall be comforted


Blessed are the meek
for they will inherit the earth


Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they will be filled


Blessed are the merciful
for they shall receive mercy


Blessed are the pure of heart
for they will see God


Blessed are the peacemakers
for they will be called children of God


Blessed are those who are persecuted for rigtheousness’ sake
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-12)

the authority of Nazareth

Adrian gave me an excellent article to read a while ago as part preparation for my ordination to the priesthood. The article is comprised of two talks given under the title of ‘Authority of Ministry’ given at the Dean’s conference in Chichester earlier this year by Revd Dr Sam Wells.

The talks are excellent and Wells looks at the different kinds of authority represented in the priesthood which I found very interesting. I got particularly excited, however, towards the end of the speech when Wells starts to talk about we restore authority where authority has been lost due to being abused or misrepresented.

He argues that there are three approaches to restoring some form of authority.
One way is by working for people. This is quite common in all areas of professional life where we train and get good at what we do and then use our skill to try to resolve problems on the behalf of others. This may make us feel good, but it quite often leaves the recipient feeling deskilled and devalued in some way.

Wells says the second model is working with people. This can make for good partnership as long as the agenda is set by the person in need. This is more a relationship based on equality, recognising that the journey is as important as the destination.

Wells suggests a third model, which resonates with me in a significant way. Wells calls this being with which acknowledges that some things are not problems and some problems simply can’t be fixed. ‘It means having the patience not to search around for the light switch, but to sit side by side for a time in the darkness’ and ‘learning to be with people is learning to treat people as if every day were their birthday. Being with is just that – spending time being with people not to fix them, or to instruct them, but being with them for no other reason than wanting to hang out with them.

He looks at these models and compares them to the shape of Jesus’ life. I find this illustration particularly powerful:

‘So Jesus spent a week in Jerusalem working for us, doing what we can’t do, achieving our salvation. he spent three years in Galilee working with us, calling us to follow him and work alongside him. But before he ever got into working with and working for, he spent 30 years in Nazareth being with us, setting aside his plans and strategies, and experiencing in his own body not just the exile and oppression of the children of Israel, but also the joy and sorrow of family and community life’.

Wells calls this the Authority of Nazareth. May we both experience and develop more in the way of the authority of Nazareth.

Poll says: Jesus is the person people want to meet

I’ve been subscribing to the EA’s Friday Night Theology email for quite a while and this weeks email intrigues me. Jesus is the person most people would like to meet … read on:

One of the more unlikely poll findings you could imagine was revealed this week from the team that brought us Primeval. Three thousand people were asked which dead person they would most like to meet, and top of the list came Jesus Christ. A surprising one in three said they would like to meet him above anyone else. Those who organised the survey had fully expected Princess Diana, who came second, to head the list, but it was Jesus who apparently captivates the British public’s hearts and minds the most.

A spokesperson was quoted as saying, “These results show that Jesus Christ will always be the British Public’s ‘Superstar’”, which if you think about it, is truly remarkable. It must also be particularly galling to John Lennon fans who infamously claimed that the Beatles were ‘more famous than Jesus’. Well not any more: Lennon didn’t even make the top ten!

So what can we conclude from the fact that Jesus did top the poll, and what does that say to us in the church, whose main purpose is to introduce folk to him? In particular, does the fact that so many people want to meet him suggest we’re not doing an especially good job at it? For if we were, the third of Britons that want to know him would presumably have already been introduced.

Two points arise from all this. The first is that to those who say the church is dying, that secularism has all we could ever want and that atheism can satisfy, we can easily point out that a large section of the British population would disagree. It’s Jesus they want to meet, not Nietzsche or Bertrand Russell.

More importantly, the poll also indicates that despite our obsession with celebrity, there remains within the British soul a deep spiritual need which presumably people are looking to Jesus to meet. Of course, not all those who put Jesus top did so out of some kind of spiritual longing, but a significant proportion will have. Yet many of those people will be sceptical that the church is where that spiritual need can be met. To use a business analogy, the demand is high, it is just the package we’re supplying that is the problem. They want to meet Jesus, just not if they have to go via Christians, and probably evangelical Christians in particular.

Hence, we need to be willing to ask some challenging questions about ourselves. What is it that we’re doing that despite such evident spiritual hunger is putting people off? Why is it that they like Jesus but not the body commissioned to represent him? And what do we need to start doing differently in our communities and neighbourhoods to more authentically be the arms, legs, voice and heart of Jesus in the way that we are called to be? For surely that is what it means to be both the body of Christ and his ambassadors here on earth. And anyway, if we think about it, Jesus shouldn’t even be on the list – he is after all alive and more than willing to get to know any member of the British public who wants to!

Justin Thacker, Head of Theology.

Any answers to the questions gratefully received ….

Bread-less?

One of the good things about being based at the cathedral is that I get to start each day with morning prayer and we follow the lectionary bible readings for the day. The new testament reading for today is from John 6 and Jesus makes two statements:

‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ and then ‘I am the bread of life’

Two pretty radical statements in any context!
Throughout the day I have mulled this over and I had this thought or is it a question?:

If …
Jesus is the bread of life
How did the bread of life feel
Alone
In the desert
for 40 days
bread-less?

top o the mountain

I want a mountain experience‘ is what I hear regularly, or very similar words to that effect. And why not – church as I know it, as I have grown up in it, does seem to elevate the feel good factor over and above everything else.

I can think of plenty of churches where if everything is not happy then there must be something wrong with your relationship with God. In such places it is easy to feel guilty for actually having a hassle and not wanting to take part or do anything. In such places there can be formed a desire that basically denies the realities of our humanity and so we search for a way out – the mountain top experience can be the spiritual excuse.

A journey, a relationship, if it is to be authentic, necessarily has its ups and downs, its roughs and its smooths, it’s times of joy and it’s times of pain. If it did not it would not be far removed from reality. The reality is that in real life crap happens. If we genuinely decide to deal with that it means sometimes we feel crappy. Of course we can avid it and pretend everything is ok … and not feel crappy until much later!

As I look to Jesus the man I do not see a Jesus who avoids the crap.
I see a Jesus that engages with pain in humility, in compassion and with tears.
As I look to Jesus on the cross I do not see a Jesus who smiles while in agony and pretends everything is ok.
I see a Jesus who questions, who cries out to God in mental and physical agony asking why he has been forgotten.
That must have been pretty crappy!

Mountain top experiences are cool (its high up there!), they zap energy(there’s very little oxygen up there), they leave you hungry (there’s no vegetation/food up there) and they restrict you if you stay too long (nothing grows up there). They are great for a while, but we quickly need to come down if we want to get warm, eat and be able to breathe comfortably.

So … crave the experience on top of the mountain – but don’t rely on it, don’t stay there too long and sufficate …. we ain’t called to mountain tops, we are called to engage with humanity on the ground.