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Showing posts from March, 2006

Thinking About Priesthood

The role of a priest is to represent the rest of the community and make offerings and sacrifices on their behalf to God. That's why the Methodist Church doesn't have priests, because it doesn't believe that we need a special priesthood to present our offerings and sacrifices. Instead, it believes in 'the priesthood of all believers'.
People sometimes say 'the priesthood of all believers' means that everyone can make their own direct approach to God. In fact, it does not mean that. It means that the whole congregation, gathered together in worship, can approach God without having to depend on a priest to represent them.
Instead of priests, the Methodist Church calls people to be ministers. The difference is that, instead of presenting sacrifices and offerings to God on behalf of the people, a minister is a servant of God and a shepherd or pastor to the congregation.
Other churches do have priests, of course. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches ca…

Coming Into The Light

I was fascinated to discover that this week's Gospel reading contains some very pertinent advice for anyone who is contemplating doing secret deals, like the ones the Labour Party – and other political parties – have done with donors.
'People love darkness rather than light,' it says, and they 'do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed'.[1] The writer goes on to make the assumption - which many onlookers make when a secret is uncovered - that when people prefer secrecy and anonymity it is 'because their deeds are evil'. This may not be a fair assumption to make, but isn't transparency the only way of ensuring the true purity of our motives? If everyone knows what we are doing, and we tell them why we are doing it, they're less likely to harbour dark suspicions about what we are up to. If we come to the light, it suggests we have nothing to hide.
Of course, human nature is a bit more complicated than this. We can be incredibly dev…

Prayer for the Week Beginning 19th March

Lord Jesus, you call us to follow your way rather than to live in the way of the world. You call us to be guided by your teaching rather than by the wisdom of the people around us. You call us to build up riches in heaven rather than to seek the kind of riches which the marketplace can offer. You call us to be faithful rather than popular, famous or fashionable. You tell us it is better to appear foolish to others rather than to do what is wrong or unjust. You tell us that it is better to lose our life for your sake and for the Gospel rather than to gain the whole world. Help us to follow you in good times and in hard times and to find our reward in knowing that we have done your will. Amen.

The Church as Marketplace

'Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!' [1] I remember once quoting Jesus' words to a friend while we were looking round Exeter Cathedral. One of the aisles had been entirely taken over by a makeshift shop selling postcards, key rings, mugs, books – the usual mixture of spiritual resources and tourist paraphernalia. I only intended it lightheartedly, as a kind of ironic comment rather than a criticism. I wasn't a minister then, but I understood well enough how much it must cost to run a cathedral. However, one of the volunteers running the shop overheard me and was stung by the implied rebuke. 'We do have some free leaflets!' she insisted, stuffing them into my hand.
Unfortunately, of course, it's the impression we make which matters most, not the good intentions behind what we do. People seldom find out about our good intentions, so all they are left with is their own impression. That's the problem with all the thermometers outside decaying c…

Losing Life to Find It

Self-denial is a counter-cultural idea. It is very hard for Christians to espouse it when all around us we hear siren voices promising us happiness and fulfilment through various forms of self-gratification. If we live a life of self-denial, which Jesus acknowledged would be very hard to do, it can be difficult to escape the sensation that life is slipping away from us and we are missing the best that it has to offer. [1] Far from saving our lives, we can all too easily appear to be losing out.
Yet, at the same time, modern communications make us uncomfortably aware that, for the majority of people in the world today, self-denial is not a life-style choice, it is simply inevitable – part of their fate. If Western Christians moan about the hardships of self-denial we make ourselves look self-absorbed, shallow and self-pitying in comparison with the vast majority of our fellow Christians, and fellow human beings, who must cheerfully embrace a far harsher existence than we do.
Of course, w…

Closing The Gap

According to St Mark, the heavens are torn apart by the coming of Jesus, just as the curtain in the temple will be torn apart by his death. [1] St Mark is thinking of the way in which, once you have snipped the edge of a sheet of cloth with a pair of scissors or a knife, it can easily be ripped into two pieces just by tugging on it with your bare hands.
But what does it mean to say that the coming of Jesus tears the heavens apart? Let's deal with what it doesn't mean first. It's not a reference to the sky, or to Jesus physically coming down through a gap in the clouds. St Luke speaks of Jesus being taken up to heaven in the clouds, but St Mark does not.
Here, 'heaven' means 'the dwelling place of God'. Suddenly and dramatically – with the coming of Jesus – the dwelling place of God is with us, in human history and human life. It's an idea vividly portrayed also in the Book of Revelation – though there it is still seen as a future event. The writer of Reve…