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God has to die

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Colonel Beltrame and the Meaning of Service & Sacrifice

John 13.1-17 Self-sacrifice is headline news, and what is more, different understandings of self-sacrifice are colliding in some of our news stories. In modern Islam a new radical understanding of self-sacrifice has emerged. It’s prompted by a desire to turn the wheel of history and create a new Kalifate or Islamic state. It feeds off the notion that there are no shades of grey in this life, only a clear distinction between black and white, belief and non-belief. And it has an absolute disregard for the value of human life. This new version of Islam claims to be firmly rooted in tradition, but if we imagined a new strand of Christianity that looked for its justification to medieval theology instead of to the Bible, and argued that it was right to kill Muslims because that’s what the crusaders did, then that would be a good analogy with this new kind of Salafi Islam. It’s backward looking but very selective in its choice of ancient texts. Suicide bombers see themselves as making the ulti…

Walking the Plank with God

Exodus 33.18-34.8, Romans 8.31-39

Moses asked to see God in all his glory. God granted his request but said that, unfortunately, it would be fatal to look upon his face. 'You will see my back,’ he promised, ‘[But] you will not see my face.’ Christians can sometimes be a bit condescending about this. Unlike Moses we do get to see God face to face, at least in the face of Jesus. But there again, do we actually know what Jesus looked like? The Methodist  Prayer Handbook this year has the face of Jesus on the front cover, but it isn't just a picture of one face; instead it’s a composite of four very different faces of Jesus. He’s at once both familiar, with a face like ours, and impossible to know. The Welsh poet R S Thomas, who was a priest in the Church of Wales, said that God is very difficult to see. ‘We never catch him at work,’ Thomas said. It's always as if he’s just left the room. In the film 'Whistle Down the Wind’ some children walk to an isolated farm to see Jesus, w…

Four False Assumptions

Matthew 17.14-20 This is a passage that is riddled with false assumptions.
Let’s start with the prejudice against people with epilepsy. Straight away Matthew strikes the wrong note. The man's son is not an epileptic. To admit any such thing would be to allow his illness to define him.
Rather, he’s someone who has epilepsy, which sometimes - perhaps occasionally, but perhaps as much as several times a day even - disrupts the normal flow of the son’s life. Nonetheless, he’s not an epileptic. He’s a human being with a disabling condition called epilepsy.
Then again, there is the assumption that epilepsy is associated in some way with darkness and demonic possession. It's certainly a mysterious condition; even today the cause can be unknown, but the prejudice against people with epilepsy is absolutely unjustified. It's a physical condition which can often be controlled very effectively with medication.
The third false assumption is that it's not acceptable to fail. This assump…

Crossing the Jordan River

Joshua 3.9-17, Mark 1.4-20

The River Jordan occupies a pivotal role in Israel’s landscape and history. Geographically, it marks the original boundary between the Promised Land and the outside world. Although Joshua instructed two of the twelve tribes to settle on the West Bank, to this day, citizens of Israel living on the West Bank are regarded as living outside their official homeland.
Historically, the crossing of the River Jordan by the wandering tribes of Israel marked a new chapter too. A nation state was gradually carved out of the land of Palestine, with all the bloodletting and displacement of the original inhabitants which that so often involves. In modern times, the state of Israel has reclaimed the same territory, with similar consequences for the Palestinian Arabs who’d made it their home.
Even for those of us who’ve never seen the Jordan, it retains its ancient status as a boundary between the Promised Land and the rest of existence. For Christians it’s become a metaphorica…

Encountering God Hands On, Face to Face

John 1.1-16, Colossians 1.11-29

There are parts of the New Testament where we could easily get the impression that Jesus had always been part of God until he became human, when he somehow left behind all the glories of heaven and condescended to share a less complete, less satisfying existence as a human being. So, for example, there’s the famous hymn which St Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippian Christians: ‘Though he was in the form of God, Christ Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.’

There’s a name for this understanding of what God was doing for us in Jesus. It’s called Kenotic Christology, from the Greek word for ‘emptying’, ‘kenosis’. God emptied himself out, abandoning much of what it normally means to be God, in order to share our human experience. But there’s a problem with this, for it assumes that God had never really been with his creation before he became human and isn’t really with us n…

Putting lighter fuel on the bonfire!

John 1.1-16 A few weeks ago my daughter went out and bought a Christmas candle. That night she decided to light it. Everything was fine until, after an hour, the whole thing suddenly burst into flame.

Fortunately my daughter was in the room, the candle was extinguished and no harm was done. But then she took a fateful decision. She decided to put a post on Facebook warning her friends about the candle and asking them to pass on the news about its dangers.

Within a few hours the post had gone viral and within a couple of days it had been shared more than 300,000 times. Journalists began ringing the house. The story appeared on lots of local newspaper websites around the country, on the BBC website, and on The Sun and The Daily Mail websites. My brother-in-law even rang to tell us it was on Teletext. I didn't know that Teletext still existed! TV crews asked to visit the house, but my daughter politely declined.

This turned out to be a good idea, because  already people were trolling he…