The Lord’s Prayer

Rowan Williams, in his book ‘Being Disciples’, makes an interesting link between the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” and the succeeding lines about forgiveness. I struggle to follow Rowan Williams a lot of the time, probably because I’m not one of your natural mystics. (For all the time I spend staring at trees, I would find it difficult to articulate what’s going on for me in those encounters beyond simply finding it spiritually satisfying). However, what Williams wrote did feel profound and these are the thoughts I’ve been having in the days since reading it.

First of all, I have grown to like the Lord’s Prayer. I started using it more frequently a few years ago when reading about St Francis of Assisi. I like St Francis because he liked animals. I like animals. Apparently Francis told the Friars to say the Lord’s Prayer 24 times when they prayed. I find the prayer says all that needs to be said, and very succinctly and helps keep my rambling prayer-thoughts on track. In particular, I think that the double-sided forgiveness clause is a stroke of genius, connecting my attitude towards those who have wronged me to my hope that God will forgive me, and describing a life lived in grace towards God and towards the world. The perfect tense in Matthew’s gospel challenges me – I ask for forgiveness “as [I] have forgiven.” It’s not a pledge of vague intention, but a statement of completed deeds, which is presented as the model for God’s forgiveness of me. The language of debts and debtors (not sins or trespasses) also seems to root forgiveness in the real, material world. I might forgive you for the way you spoke to me, but I’d still appreciate having the ten pounds you owe me – they’re two quite different things … unless you’re Jesus, in which case they’re not. I think that, for Jesus, spiritual and material were like dimensions of one reality, in the same way that thoughts and actions were dimensions of one real person.

The debt thing leads back to the daily bread. If I am praying for my daily bread, trusting God for my needs, then why would I borrow, either from a neighbour or from the future? Racking up a debt would indicate that I have not been content to live within the gift God has given. God’s provision is enough, but it doesn’t always feel like it. The present moment is enough, but I worry a lot about the future and fret about the past. On the flip side, if I am content with God’s gift of today, why would I lend to you? Who cares about tomorrow, or next year, when in each day, God provides? I should just share today’s bread with you, because it’s “Give us…” So it seems that the radical trust involved in living in the grace of what God has given is wrapped up with not finding ways to get more for myself and not keeping accounts with others, but letting the grace ebb and flow around and everyone will have enough. It seems like a very gentle way of life, and contrasts hugely with the way the world is, where some of us accumulate so much at such great cost to other people, animals, plants and the earth itself.  Jesus’ alternative seems very liberating to me, but a long way from where I am.

The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew’s gospel (Luke’s version doesn’t count because he’s missed half of it out while his mind wandered – so much for ‘Lord, teach us to pray’). Nigel Wright says that Matthew presents the story of Jesus – including his teaching – as a framework within which we may learn to live as his followers. To me, it’s as if within the grace and truth embodied in Jesus, there’s a broad space where we can live free. Jesus’ teaching can be hard, and his example is near-impossible, but it’s not a test to fail or a stick to beat yourself with. It’s a gift from God, with trust and forgiveness and love at the heart of it – a broad space within which life is given and received, hallowed and enjoyed.

There are parallels in the older covenant. The Torah, the Law of Moses, is not just a collection of commandments against which your life is to measured. It’s five books of stories, including some great stories (and some terrifying stories), about people and the God who made a covenant with them, within which life can be lived as a gift of God’s liberating grace. I think that engaging with the Law in its wholeness teaches how you can live free by God’s grace: not just the commands but letting the larger story live as your story, inhabiting the story just as you might inhabit the land itself as a gift.

I think it might be the same with Jesus. The Christian life may be less about some transaction when a holy man was killed on a cross and more about that episode plus the rest of his story too: not a transaction at all but a gift. It’s about inhabiting that story as our story and I think that the Lord’s Prayer takes us to the heart of doing that. Amongst other things, it looks for God’s will to be done on earth – including the bit of earth that’s me and the bit I inhabit, but applying to all other inhabitants of earth too. As already pointed out, it uses the material language of debt rather than the spiritualized language of sin. It insists on being plural: although Jesus has been advising praying in your room, in secret, it’s still ‘us’ and ‘our’ daily bread. So it’s a prayer prayed with the world, on behalf of all beings on earth who (in the words of Psalm 104.27) look to God to give them their food in due season. And it has at its heart this radical trust in God and a refusal to keep accounts either with God or with anyone else, because today is a gift and the gift of God is always more than enough. So the Lord’s Prayer is not about my spiritual (or mystical) practice. It’s about a world whose basic system moves wealth from the poor to the rich, a world of refugees and war, of pollution and climate change, of exploitation of soil and extinction of species, and it’s about the transformation of this world until it resembles a just and peaceful community in which all flourish. I wonder if it literally was the Lord’s Prayer, i.e. the prayer Jesus prayed, the prayer that kept him grounded in and aligned to his mission, and I wonder why it’s not had the same effect on the church that’s prayed it for 2,000 years or on the dominating culture that’s supposedly rooted in Christianity? Or on me, for that matter.

“Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Such a simple sentence that, if it were ever put into practice, would change the world.

 

 

Pet Service

It was my first ever pet service today.  We did the story of Noah’s Ark.  It’s tough, because this is a service aimed at little kids and Noah’s Ark is such a dark story that I’m not sure it’s suitable for children.  Anyway, I kept it at the level of a nice man who saved animals in a big boat, and we were OK.

It was a small start, really.  Two dogs, one cat and a rabbit.  We did have lots of soft toys, though, so there were lots of animals we love in church this morning.   I brought along my new pet – a brown unicorn (very rare) …

Mickey the Unicorn

 

Turns out it was Mickey the Monkey in a horse mask with a paper cone stuck on – how disappointing.  He was making a protest about the situation of his friends, the orang-utans in Indonesia, whose home is being lost, not to flood, but to de-forestation for palm oil plantations.   Seems like the world is still full of corruption and violence, just like in the days of Noah.  It’s hard for us to change, though, as we like all the stuff we have and worry that if we don’t have as much as we possibly can, we might not survive.  Could we manage without cheap oil from oil palms, even if it means the extinction of the orang-utans?  Apparently not – palm oil is in a lot of food and cosmetics, and is increasingly used in bio-fuel.  My point this morning was that Jesus (whom his friend Peter said saves us like the Ark saved Noah and co.) makes it possible to change, by showing us that God loves us and that we can trust God rather than stuff.  Our animals also teach us about love and trust, and together we can do a better job of caring for the world.  A simple point, I know, but we were a congregation of simple folks, especially the rabbit.

We sang “Rise and shine and give God the glory glory”, accompanied on the ukulele.   I’ve heard that, as space was tight on the Ark (as on most ships), Noah and Mrs. Noah only had room for a ukulele each, which they played at night to help the animals sleep.  Therefore all stringed instruments today are descended from those two ukuleles.  If that story isn’t true, it ought to be.

 

Climate Week

Here’s a contribution to Climate Week – yesterday’s sermon.  Apologies to those of you who don’t like sermons.  At least with a blog sermon, you can argue with the preacher in public.

The readings are: Isaiah 55.1-13 and Luke 13.1-9

275px-The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

The readings today hinge on whether or not we can have hope.

For the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the 6th Century BC, hope was a live issue.  Would they ever be able to return home?   Not all were unhappy in exile, but for those that were, Isaiah’s prophecy of a glorious return may have been all very well, but was it just pie in the sky?

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish … so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but wil accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Is 55.10-11)

In our day it’s hard to hold on to an earlier sense of progress.  As fast as we make breakthroughs in medicine & technology, we devastate more of the planet.  Power & water usage increases.  More of the forests are lost.  Global warming in this cold weather sounds like quite a nice idea, but global weirding does not, as we experience more unusual weather – droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc, leading to more refugees, more hungry people, etc.  While the rich world spends more money on things that you can’t eat – rare earths, palm oil for biofuel, – even things that don’t exist at all, like some of the financial tricks & gizmos that seem fundamental to today’s economy – while we spend money on what doesn’t actually satisfy or fulfill us or make us happy, millions go to bed hungry, and the trees and the animals die.

Jane Goodall – “The greatest danger to our future is apathy”.

The world isn’t going to get better while those who can make a difference choose to do nothing, or, with a shrug of the shoulders, pack their troubles into their old kit bag and smile, smile, smile all the way to oblivion.

Jesus uses that quaint religious word, “Repent”.  It’s a dangerous word.  It makes us think of old time preachers dangling the congregation over the pit of hell.  The word gives the sense of feeling sorrow for sin.  Biblically, though, sorrow is not enough.  E.g. John the Baptist in Luke 3.8 – “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.  It’s not enough to say you’re sorry. What Jesus, or John the Baptist, or the prophets call for is a change of life to follow a change of heart.  They call for a complete change of direction – from the thoughts and ways of a world broken apart by greed, fear and division, to the thoughts and ways of God.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found.”

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55.1-2)

God provides what we need and he pays the cost.

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Is 55.3a)

(By the way, ‘soul’ in Hebrew is just a way of emphasizing a person’s being – no Platonic division betw matter & spirit.  The prophet is talking about life here & now, in a world of bread and wine, rain and trees).

It can be hard to believe it’s urgent. There’s still enough climate-change denial out there making the counter argument.  Anyway, in a few years science will have sorted it all out, so that we can carry on as we are, more & more of us consuming more & more … just like science has sorted out cancer & no one dies from it any more, right?

Anyway, our economy is big enough to be resilient – I haven’t noticed big gaps on the shelves in the shops where the potatoes or flour used to be, even though last year’s harvests here & around the world were terrible.

Anyway, we might feel sorry for the people starving & being displaced in other parts of the world, but maybe it’s their fault anyway.  Everyone knows that if you suffer, you must have done something wrong – right?

Jesus isn’t so sure about that.  In the light of a massacre and a fatal accident, Jesus says that those who died weren’t any more sinful than anyone else – but unless you repent – unless you completely change & turn around towards God – you will perish.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.”

Ah well, time for a nice story.  It’s a story about a tree.  It’s a fig tree.  Fig trees take their time to mature to the point where they produce figs, but this one is taking much longer than most.  For three years after it should have fruited, it’s failed to produce anything.  Every year, the landlord calls by for his crops, and every year he’s disappointed.  After three years, he’s had enough.  “Cut it down!” he tells the gardener.  “Why should it use up the soil?”  What’s the point in a fig tree that doesn’t produce figs?  It’s as useless as a rain forest in Indonesia – the land could be much better used for oil palm plantations that actually produce something you can sell.

The gardener has earth on his hands, dirt under his nails.  He spends his life in the humus, and so he has some humanity about him.  The gardener has nothing to gain from the fig tree, either way.  It’s possible that, like many peasants in Galilee or Judea in Jesus’ time, he was working simply to pay off an unpayable debt to the landlord.  Maybe once it had been his family’s vineyard.  Now he just worked there for someone else.

But this humble man, living in connection with the living earth, but disconnected from the false world of markets and money-making, seems to have viewed the little fig tree, not as a wasted opportunity to make a profit but as a life worth caring for.  He pleads with the landlord for another year.  He’ll put in some extra effort and do all that he can to encourage the tree to fruit – if the landlord will let him have the time and the manure.  But there’s a time-limit even in the gardener’s pleading.  One more year.  It’s not one more year to carry on as before, and then another year & another year – all fruitless.  It’s one more year to change and become fruitful and give life.  And if not, then cut it down.

The tree should be fruitful.  The followers of Jesus should be fruitful.

In the coming of his kingdom, God is looking for fruitfulness.  In the fulfillment of prophecy, God is looking for fruitfulness.  He expects his word to achieve his purpose.  God is looking for the fruit of lives transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus – he’s looking for people who will walk Jesus’ way.

There’s a world to be changed. There are lots of little metaphorical fig trees being deprived of their share of what they need to thrive.  There are sick people to be made well.  There are hungry people to be fed.  There are refugees to be housed.  There are divisions to be healed thru reconciliation and peace.  There is waste and war and over-consumption and the devastation of the earth and its plants and animals and people – and it needs to stop.

But – one more year!  God’s not going to cut you down & cast you onto the compost heap just because you’re not perfect yet.  God is gracious and compassionate, patient and abounding in steadfast love.  There is hope.  There is always hope with God.  God does not sentence us to death.  God sentences us to life.  It’s not an easy judgement, because it’s not a reprieve for us to carry on as before and forever stay fruitless as we live to please ourselves.  Instead, God opens the door to life – a changed life, life in all its fullness, life in all its fruitfulness.  God in Jesus provides all that we need to change and thrive and become fruitful – as we choose to be humble and plant our lives in the death and resurrection of Jesus, to walk the way of the cross and live for others, for the glory of God.

There is always hope with God.  But Christian hope is never just sanctified optimism.  It is hope with a long view and a long arm – stretching across a global church in table fellowship with some of the world’s poorest people, and stretching back in time to Eden and forward to the new Jerusalem at the end.  Christian hope is not easy hope.  It’s hope that’s forged in the fire of suffering and patient endurance, as we live in solidarity with the suffering earth and in solidarity with Christ on his cross and hold resolutely, always, to belief in the resurrection of the body.

Seek the Lord while he may be found.  Don’t put off doing business with God.  The time given to us is not endless.  But while it is given, let us choose life – for all.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; and the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands”. Is 55.12

Choose life, for Jesus’ sake.

Sistine hand eco

 

Candlemas

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a course in Salisbury and went to choral evensong at the cathedral (which is one of my favourite cathedrals).

Salisbury Cathedral

One evening, the girls’ choir sang as an anthem Dorothy Parker’s poem, Prayer For A New Mother, set to music by Richard Shephard.  I found it very moving.

I thought I might use it in church this Sunday, but I don’t think it’s going to fit into an already over-crowded liturgy.  However, I want to share it, so I’ll share it with you . . .

.

The things she knew, let her forget again –

The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,

The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men

Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

.

Let her have laughter with her little one;

Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,

Grant her the right to whisper to her son

The foolish names one dare not call a king.

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Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,

The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,

The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud

That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

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Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go

And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan

The proud and happy years that they shall know

Together, when her son is grown a man.

.

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And here’s a link to it being sung (although not by a choir in Salisbury Cathedral).

The Christmas Wolf

There’s a little voice in my head asking what’s wrong with the Christmas stories in the Bible, that I feel the need to write new ones.  But I can hardly hear that little voice, because of a much louder voice howling like a wolf – “Aarroooooo!”  

Here’s this year’s story …   (The biblical background is Isaiah 11.1-9)

 

Once upon a time, far away on a hillside outside a little village called Bethlehem, there were some shepherds looking after their sheep.  They took it in turns to keep watch through the frosty, moonlit night, because they knew that they might not be the only ones watching the sheep.

Sure enough, hidden in the shadow of a big rock, was a wolf, and he was also keeping a close eye on the sheep.  In particular, he was keeping a close eye on one of the lambs, just a few weeks old, who looked very tender and tasty.

Suddenly, the sky grew bright as if the sun had risen in the middle of the night, and the wolf slipped behind the rock.  He could hear a voice, but he couldn’t understand human speech – although the voice didn’t sound like any human he’d heard before.  Then there was some singing, and then everything went quiet and dark and normal again.

The wolf peered around the rock and was delighted to see that the shepherds were walking down the hillside towards the village – every single one of them – leaving the sheep completely unprotected.  The wolf couldn’t believe his luck!  That lamb was his for the taking.  He started slinking slowly out of the shadows, towards the flock of sheep.  But then, as if out of nowhere, a big old wolf blocked his way.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked the old wolf.

“I’m hungry, and that lamb is my supper,” replied the younger wolf.

“The sheep belong to God tonight,” said the old wolf.

“But God doesn’t eat sheep!”

“True, but God protects the weak and saves the lost.”

The young wolf felt very frustrated.  “I am weak with hunger,” he pleaded, “and I am frightened of men, with their slings and their sticks.  The men have gone.  Surely God has given that lamb to me.  Let me eat.”

The old wolf shook his shaggy mane, making himself seem even bigger than before.  He said, “The men have gone to see God’s son, who has been born tonight in the village.  God has sent them to worship the baby.  God is looking after his sheep tonight.”

“But what about me?” asked the young wolf.  “Doesn’t God care about me too?”

“That’s why the baby has been born,” said the old wolf gently.  “The baby is God come into the world to make peace.   Peace between God and the world, and peace between all God’s creatures.  Tell me – do you enjoy being frightened?  Do you enjoy being feared?

“No,” admitted the young wolf.  “I do not enjoy fear from either side of it.  But it is the way the world is.  It has always been like that and always will be.”

“It is the way the world is,” said the old wolf, “because the world is broken by fear.  This baby makes peace.  He will heal the world and make it new.  The wolf will live in peace with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion, and a little child will lead them.  That child in Bethlehem – he will lead the world to peace.”

“That is a wonderful thought,” said the young wolf.  “Tonight, in honour of God and his baby son, I will live in peace with that lamb.”   And he bowed his head low.

When he lifted his head, the old wolf was nowhere to be seen.  There wasn’t even a paw-print in the frost.  But the young wolf knew that he had been in the presence of God.   He didn’t feel hungry and frightened any more.  He felt a warm glow of life within him and he leapt up onto the rock and lifted his head to the stars.

And some say that when the angels sang that starry night above the fields of Bethlehem, amongst the sopranos and altos, the tenors and basses, you could hear a wolf lifting his voice in praise to God – Aaroooooooo!

 

Wolf lamb and bear

 

 

 

 

Elijah’s Christmas

This is golden oldie, written in 1997.  The bible background is 1 Kings 19.1-18.

Elijah’s Christmas

The prophet Elijah was sitting in his cave, feeling sorry for himself.  An angel appeared to him and said, ‘Cheer up.  God loves you.’

Elijah said to the angel, ‘That’s easy enough for you to say.  You don’t have to live here, day after day.  You don’t have to make your way through this miserable, mixed-up world.  You don’t have to deal with the same stubborn, godless people every day.  You don’t have to try to live a good, godly life amongst all the sin and wickedness and debauchery and devil-may-care partying.  You don’t live my kind of life.  You can just breeze in, deliver your message, and shoot off back to heaven.’

But the angel replied, ‘No, really, God does love you.’

Elijah said, ‘Look.  All the things I’ve said about you, I could say about God.  This rotten world’s going down the drain.  Everyone hates each other.  Relationships are breaking down.  There’s dreadful poverty right next to fantastic wealth and no-one seems to care.  No-one’s bothered about God.  What does God really know as he peers down from his lofty throne?  What does God really know about what life on this planet is actually like?  How can God love us when he does nothing to help us except send angels now and then to say, “God loves you.”  There comes a point when words just aren’t enough.  What we need is action.  So don’t you stand there saying your piece over and over again.  Clear off!’

The angel fluttered to the entrance of the cave, safely out of Elijah’s reach.  He said, ‘God loves you, Elijah.  God loves everyone, and he’s going to prove it.  He is going to do something, and I’m going to show you what it is.  Watch this space.’  And the angel disappeared.

Elijah stared at the mouth of his cave.  Suddenly it started to snow.  ‘That’s odd for this time of year,’ said Elijah.  ‘Must be God.’  But God wasn’t in the snowstorm.

Then Elijah heard sleigh-bells, but God wasn’t in the sleigh-bells.

Then Elijah heard a deep voice booming, ‘Ho Ho Ho!’  But God wasn’t in the voice.

Elijah heard carol singers, oxen lowing, sheep bleating, donkeys braying, robins tweeting, envelopes being opened, carving knives being sharpened, corks popping, crackers cracking, fathers snoring, shepherds singing lullabyes and a little drummer boy.  But God wasn’t in any of these.

‘You’re wasting my time!’ shouted Elijah above the din.  Then he heard a choir of thousands of angels singing their hearts out.  ‘Now that’s more like it,’ thought Elijah.  But God wasn’t even in the angels’ singing.

Suddenly, all the noise went quiet, and the snow stopped falling.  The snow on the ground melted and made everything muddy.  Elijah strained his eyes in the darkness and his ears in the silence.  All he could hear was, very faintly, the crying of a baby.  And God was in the crying.

Elijah wrapped his cloak around him and went out to the entrance of his cave.  ‘It’ll never work,’ he said to the darkness and the silence.  ‘It’ll never work.  The risks are too great.  Anyway, how can a baby save the world and prove anything about God’s love?  The whole idea’s cock-eyed.  Now, those thousands of angels – that was on the right track.  But a baby …?’

The baby was still crying, and the more that Elijah thought about it and the more that he listened to the crying, the more he wondered if, maybe, this was just what was needed – this was exactly the way – perhaps the only way – to save the world.

© 1997, Alex Mabbs.

Santa the Wise Man

This was a skit I performed (with the Big Man himself, of course) at our Christmas Eve fancy-dress crib service in 2010 (and repeated at our monthly cafe service, The Junction, last Sunday evening).  I thought it might be appropriate to post it on St Nicholas’ Day today.

 

Conversation between Father Christmas & Alex the Elf.

Elf: Father Christmas – thank you for taking time to come and see us on your busiest day.

FC: Good to have an excuse to get out of my workshop.  The real elves (no offence (none taken)) are driving me mad – always under my feet and chat chat chat chat chat.  I long for some peace and quiet.  I’m getting old, you know.  Too old, perhaps.

Elf: Take the weight off your feet & have a rest.  You’ve been doing this job for a long time, Father Christmas.  Just how old are you?

FC: I lost count a long time ago.  Somehow I just keep going.

Elf: You must have met some famous people over the years.

FC: Well, of course, I only visit children.  It’s only later, when they grow up, that I remember the little child who ended up doing something amazing.

Elf: And I guess they’re always asleep, too.

FC: Yes, that’s right.  But, you know, talking about this does remind me of one time, a very long time ago, when I visited this baby who I just knew was going to be amazing – who was amazing, even as a baby.

Elf: Aren’t all babies amazing?

FC: They are, but I didn’t think so then.  Back then, I was in a different line of work – still magical but different.  There was me and two others in a partnership, looking at the stars and re-telling the stories they told.  One night, we saw this incredible star – one we hadn’t seen before, and as we stared at it and tried to listen to it, we started to think the most amazing thought.  God was up to something, something that would change the world.

Elf: And the star was telling you this?

FC: In its own way, yes.  The trouble was, as we looked at it, it started to move west.  We lost sight of it and quickly packed some bags of supplies and set off to find the star again.  Every night we found it and followed it as it moved, all the time with the thought growing in our minds that it was leading us to a baby – a baby born to be a King – a baby sent from God.

Elf: So where did you end up?

FC: The star led us to a country far from our home, a country called Judea.  We lost sight of the star for a rainy night or two, but we figured that a baby born to be a king would be in the king’s palace, so that’s where we went.

Elf: And did you find him?

FC: No, but the king was very helpful.  He asked his advisors and they looked in the bible and said that we should look in a village not far away, called Bethlehem.  And when we left the palace, the sky had cleared, and there was the star again!

Elf: And was it still moving?

FC: Yes.  It was moving south towards Bethlehem.  But we suddenly realised that we were about to visit the most amazing child ever born – a baby sent from God – and we had nothing to give him.

Elf: So what did you do?

FC: We went back into the city and sold our camels. (In those days I didn’t know there was such an animal as a reindeer.  I’d rather have a reindeer than a camel any day.)  Anyway, with the money, we bought some gifts for the baby.  Well – the others bought gifts – incense and myrhh – but I thought the money might be more useful, and decided I’d give him the gold coins I’d been paid for my camel.

Elf: So you had to walk now?

FC: Yes, but it wasn’t very far, and the next night, the star stopped over this mean little house – more of a stable really – full of animals.   But there, inside, was the baby and his mother.  There was a man there too, but I don’t think he was the father, because we knew, as soon as we saw the child, that this baby was God’s own son, and all we could do was fall to our knees in front of him and worship.

Elf: This is a really amazing story.  Are you sure it’s true?  Were you really there for the birth of Jesus?  Are you telling me that one of the three wise men became Father Christmas?

FC: Well, Alex, hmm, I think it’s true, but then I’m very old and I’ve heard a lot of stories in my long life and sometimes I think I get the stories a bit muddled.  But one thing I know is true is that there was a baby born in Bethlehem all those years ago who was God’s son, and he showed the world how much God loves everyone.  And another thing I know is true – every time I leave a proper present by the bedside of a sleeping child, I look at each of their faces and I think of that baby in Bethlehem.  I remember Jesus in that little hut, lying in the straw, and I think how much God must love these children, that he would become like them – even the poorest of them.  And I wonder what they will do with the gifts God gives them and if they will become like him?  Wouldn’t the world be amazing if children grew up to be like Jesus?  And so all I want to do is visit them on a special night and help them to believe that they are special – because God loves them.

Elf (probably wiping away a little tear): Thank you very much, Father Christmas.  I think I can hear the reindeer pawing impatiently on the roof, and I know you’ll be coming back in a few hours time to visit these children, so I think we’d better say goodbye for now.

FC: Goodbye everybody!  Happy Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light shines in the darkness

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  

(St John 1.5 (New International Version))

I’m not sure if this should be a Christmas or an Advent sonnet.  You decide!

The earth was dark, and dark misunderstood
the fragile point of light that pricked its veil.
These wise men, strong men, shepherds, kings must fail:
impressed by stars and glory, greatness, good,
salvation, justice, peace, the reign of God.
Bring gold!  Bring worship!  Raise the holy grail
and God will come in pow’r and will prevail!
Dark hope.  Light smouldered small on blood stained wood.
And on the path the keepers of the door
sit in the dark and, silent, watch and wait
for those who leave the lights they knew before
to find a hand to lead them through the gate.
   The earth is dark and, try with all its might,
   the dark will never understand the light.
  

© 2004 Alex Mabbs

Wonderful World

Trying to pick some lively hymns for harvest festival on Sunday was hard.   No one seems to be writing worship songs that say the world is beautiful and filled with wonder and the glory of God – it might have a lot wrong with it and we do a lot of harm to it but God loves it and is making it new.

There’s also next to nothing about God wanting everyone to have enough to eat and that means people like us with more than enough sharing more generously and addressing systems of injustice.   There are some hymns along the lines of telling each other we should do better, but what seems to be lacking is the connection between God, the world and salvation – the element of real, earthed hope.  Hope in most worship songs is focussed on how nice it will be to go to heaven and how nice God is to sort that out for me.  A very small, restricted vision and not especially biblical.

Someone should do something about it.

 

 

Capitalwasm

I was preaching about Jubilee on Sunday, using Leviticus 25 as a basis.  In the return of the land, the release of bonded labourers and the cancellation of debts every 50 years, there is essentially no buying or selling of capital in God’s economy.   All capital resources and all people belong to God, and God’s not selling.  So there can be no long-term acquisition of the means of becoming wealthy, and no ever-growing gap between rich and poor.  (The exception in Leviticus 25 is houses in walled cities that haven’t been redeemed by a relative within a year.)

Combine this capital-free economics with the rhythm of resting the land every seven years (and the Jubilee’s a two-year rest), and so much trust in God is demanded, that it’s not very surprising that the Jubilee was (as far as we know) never practised.   It’s completely ridiculous and could never work in the real world.

So here we are in the real world.  It’s everyone for themselves and some grow richer at the expense of those who grow poorer.  The rich gather to themselves the means of growing richer and keep gathering them for ever.  Capital is bought and traded by people with no interest in the actual business other than that of making money.  Money is lent at interest in order for the lender to grow richer; those who borrow easily end up trapped in a spiral of increasing debt.  Land, animals, plants and human labour are all resources with a cash value – commodities that can be bought and sold, with tradable value also derived from what might be produced in the future.  We can’t even cope with one day each week when we can’t work or shop.   For some reason that I can’t quite grasp, I am expected to believe that all this is not ridiculous.

Well, I suppose it’s the result of 1700 years of Christianity being the dominant world-view in Europe and the european-ised world.  After all, it would be ridiculous to trust God so much as to be set free from our fear of not surviving and the resulting addiction to acquiring stuff.  When Jesus said his ministry was going to be about release of the oppressed, freedom for the captives and good news to the poor, it’s obvious he wasn’t expecting us to take him literally.  Such radical trust in God could never work in the real world.

I realise that I am ranting.  What interests me is if, given the failure of capitalism (surely that’s getting harder to argue against?), there is something to be said for trusting God and looking for ways of implementing ideas like Jubilee and Sabbath in the real world.  How would we put into practise ideas like the land belonging to God; looking after each other in order to help rather than to make money; respecting the land and nature and refusing to commodify it (or people); restoring some rhythm to life and changing the 24/7 culture into something nearer an 8/6 one?

I wonder if anyone else has any thoughts about this (or about my ‘Resurrecting Economics‘ page) …