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Farewell to Yorkshire

Matthew 13.1-9,18-23The time has come to say ‘farewell’ and two songs come to mind. The first is the farewell song at the ball in the Sound of Music, when the children are about to go to bed. There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hallAnd the bells in the steeple too,And up in the nursery an absurd little birdIs popping out to say "cuckoo"…There’s something slightly sad and faintly absurd about saying farewell without being able to say proper goodbyes.The other song is ‘So long, it’s been good to know yuh!’ by Woody Guthrie:Well, the churches was jammed and the churches was packed,But that dusty old dust storm it blew so blackThat the preacher couldn’t read a word of his text,So he folded his specs ‘n’ took up a collection, sayin'...So long, it's been good to know yuh,So long, it's been good to know yuh,So long, it's been good to know yuh,But this dusty old dust is a-gettin' my homeAnd I've gotta be driftin' along.The song had it…
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A model for leadership

Psalm 145.8-14Israel had emerged into history as a federation of tribes committed to the idea that they didn’t need a national leader because God was the one true leader who united them all. This idea didn’t survive contact with reality. In no time at all people like Gideon, who was supposed to be an inspired leader acting on God’s behalf to provide much needed leadership in a time of crisis, was acting like a dynastic ruler and trying to get his sons to succeed him. Before long the idea took hold that an anointed king was needed to represent God to the people and the people to God. Fledgling democracy gave way to emerging dictatorship, and all within a few pages of the Bible.But the Biblical concept of leadership was further complicated by the enduring idea that kings might hold temporal power but prophets and priests are still called by God to speak truth to power and keep it in check, to remind the king (or queen) who’s really the boss. And the idea driving this relationship, that …

The true leader

Zechariah 9.9-12 (NRSVA)What does a true leader look like? Someone who - like Pontius Pilate - is defined by their obstinacy? Someone who wraps themselves in Churchillian posturing and jingoistic slogans? Someone who’s one of the people? Someone who’s the epitome of calm and rational argument?Zechariah’s prophecy breaks the mould of leadership. A true leader doesn’t sweep to power with war horses and chariots or in a hail of arrows. They do still command peace to break out - and their dominion will indeed have no boundaries - but they proclaim its arrival from the back of a donkey. The prisoners of hope will be set free, not by fighting in the streets but by a silent revolution unfolding in people’s hearts and minds. In that sense the true leader is indeed a ‘popular’ leader. They’re not a typical political leader, they’re an inspirational, charismatic, prophetic leader with a similar approach - despite their many faults and failings - to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King…

Playing Games with God

Matthew 11:16-19 (NRSVA)One of the fascinating things about this passage is that it gives us an intriguing glimpse into Jesus’ own childhood. This isn’t St Luke’s version - where a saintly and erudite Jesus sits listening intently to the scribes debating in the Temple. This is a recollection from Jesus’ own lips. Like any preacher or teacher he’s reaching into his own memory bank for illustrations.We need to put out of mind any ideas we might have about teenagers hanging around together in the marketplace drinking cheap cider. Before the Twentieth Century there was no concept of being in between childhood and adulthood. At the time of Jesus you were either a child or a grown-up, in his case apprenticed to his father. Adolescent girls weren’t allowed to mix with boys and were soon married off, and teenagers of both sexes were probably too busy to do much socialising anyway.So this is a childhood memory. At a loose end after doing their chores or attending scripture classes, the childre…

St Paul and Sigmund Freud

Romans 7.15-25aWith considerable psychological acuity, St Paul understood - long before the theories of Sigmund Freud turned this into science - that we can genuinely believe in something, and want to do it, but find ourselves completely unable to follow through. Something deep and primitive is embedded in our nature, a sort of instinctive self-centredness - that will not let us go. We are, in fact, enslaved to it.More than that, patterns of behaviour become embedded in our psyche because of long forgotten events in our childhood. So we play out the thwarted love that a jealous toddler feels for its mother when she sleeps at night not with the child but with the father. And as we grow older, the way that we’re treated by our parents, and their role models - good or bad, shapes the way that we respond to others and treat them in our turn. Parents can never be perfect but we can only hope that they were good enough to save us from further psychological damage.How can we escape from this…

Is the coronavirus the wages of sin or a gateway to grace?

Romans 6.12-23The New Revised Standard Version rather slavishly follows the Authorised Version of the Bible here, on which it’s based. Wilfully ignoring the modern connotations of a phrase like ‘you once presented your members as slaves to impurity’, it persists in using this rather archaic translation of a Greek word that really means ‘limbs’. What Paul seems to be saying is that in the past we were zombies for sin, but now we that we’ve given our lives to Christ we can enjoy God’s free gift of eternal life - we can truly live in him.Mind you, taking into account the conduct of American presidents past and present, it’s easy to understand why the American translators of the New Revised Standard Version obstinately stuck with the word ‘members’. Perhaps they felt it’s new sexualised meaning wasn’t entirely inappropriate. What Paul is saying still works when it’s understood as a way of allowing God to take control of some of our more fundamental drives and instincts.But in a time of gl…

Predicting the Future

Jeremiah 28.5-9 (NRSVA)This passage describes a battle of the prophets, a sort of prophesying contest which happened in the Temple. The Prophet Hananiah faced down Jeremiah and told him that he was getting it all wrong. The Kingdom of Judah wasn’t facing disaster, instead things were just about to get a lot better. The heavy yoke of the King of Babylon was about to be broken and the people who’d already been taken away into exile would be allowed to return, bringing with them the treasured sacred objects that had been looted from the Temple..This put Jeremiah in a difficult position. He was convinced that Hananiah was mistaken, but to deny the truth of such a hopeful prophecy wasn’t going to increase his own dismal popularity ratings. So he’d no alternative but to solemnly endorse what Hananiah was saying. ‘Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfil the words that you have prophesied.’ But he added a warning. The reputation of people who promise good times will always be measured b…