Thursday, 28 March 2013

Don't miss Maundy mysteries!

If you are somewhere in the world which follows the Western church calendar, then today is Maundy Thursday! Maundy : The day before the much more celebrated Good Friday, the last day of the working week, the day we can't wait to get through in order to finally reach the holiday weekend!

Traditionally, Maundy celebrated the last Supper that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples. In some circles it carries other names, my favourite, 'Thursday of Mysteries.'It sounds like a day spent watching back to back Scooby Doo cartoons!
The word Maundy, an evolved Anglicisation of the old French Mande - Command. 'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you' John 13.34

Saying these words, Jesus, the leader and champion, took a towel and began to wash the feet of his friends and his betrayer. What a shocking and uncomfortable way to demonstrate your love as service. Bending, humbling, assuming the position and role of a servant. A lowly servant at that, one who would go unnoticed, unthanked for his practical work.

That the Messiah who was welcomed and heralded into Jerusalem should stoop so low to conquer; That he should act out his commandment to love, not with words alone, but with actions; This is the greatest mystery of Maundy.

The mystery of a whole new kind of love: The servant leadership of footwashing about to be played out on the greatest stage in history within 24 hours. On a bleak hillside above Jerusalem, the one to whom John the Baptist said 'I'm not even worthy to tie your shoes', now not only bends to wash dirty feet, but gives his own dirty, battered and abused body, his very life.

The mystery of Maundy is the mystery of the grand drama at the beating heart of the gospel of love. The incomprehensible passion of a Saviour, giving himself up for the unworthy, the unrepentant, even the unaware.

In the rush to an Easter weekend - Don't miss these Maundy mysteries!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Looking for theology behind the chair!

St Augustine's chair, destroyed in the Reformation, now pieced lovingly back together for each enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Today, placed up near the altar table, behind the screen which separates the congregation from the main players and the action.

The Reformation should have seen the screens destroyed with the chair. What is this idea that there are parts of a building that are holy, parts of religion that are just for a select few, special places where God dwells and where the many cannot enter? Don't we remember as Holy Week 2013 begins that Jesus tore the screen down, ripped apart the giant curtain in the original temple which separated man and God? Didn't he open the way for all of us who believe to follow him boldly into the Father's holy house, and back out into the fallen world, still shining with his holiness? The great hope of the gospel is that there is no sacred/secular space, no where where God's people can't be or that God himself isn't. To put it another way, every secular place we go gets contaminated with holiness- no screens are necessary!

Unfortunately for our traditional Anglican friends, their theology never quite got through to the furniture. Slowly, over time, the furniture and tradition starts to shape theology again - Lovingly pieced back together by a small number who cherish the old ways but don't realise that they are indecipherable to post Christian Britain and incoherent to scripture.

Perhaps Augustine's magnificent patched up chair is one of the great metaphors for the Anglican inability to ever quite leave behind the old and come fully into New Testament Christianity. If Cranmer's reforming zeal from the beginning was eventually muted, I suspect his modern successor will fare no better against those who would walk quietly behind him, rebuilding pre Reformation theology as quickly as it is dismantled.

All of this of course makes it less likely that the gospel will be clearly seen and heard by the unchurched English- assuming any of them are still listening or looking hard enough for answers behind screens, walls and chairs.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Waiting for the white smoke of intimacy.

The world's media is camped out in a damp St Peter's square waiting for white smoke that tells us 115 select men have heard God speak on behalf of millions. These are moments of high drama and intrigue, but what if God intended that all of us could hear his voice and know his plans?

Way back when, Moses groaned at the needs around him, wishing that all God's people were prophets- he might finally get some peace! What Moses hoped for is now open to all of us. It used to be the chosen just few, on behalf of the many. Even after Jesus ascended, his anxious disciples drew lots to find a replacement for Judas - shifting the burden of hearing God away from nervous men and onto the luck of the draw, knowing a gracious God would work this way on behalf of weak people who couldn't fathom his heart.

Everything changed at Pentecost. Never again would true believers need to draw lots or hedge their bets. Suddenly, full of the Spirit of God,they were able to make decisions as though they could actually sense what God himself was saying. Instead of lots, they boldly said, 'it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit' as they released and appointed leaders. Leaders recognised by churches, received by the people, appointed by the Spirit- not just picked and enforced by the few.
This breathtaking clarity shouldn't be a surprise to us. Jesus had taught them that all his sheep can hear his his voice. Paul showed us that this had become the common practise of the churches when he said to the Corinthians that they can all prophecy one by one.

Isn't it dangerous? That's always the fear and the accusation. Yes, that's why denominations prefer control, it's safer than a free for all. But for those who are brave enough and will come in close enough, the New Testament paints a picture of mess and immaturity, that grows up into beautiful Godly intimacy and unity.

The fear is that anything goes and God's voice is lost amongst the background noise of ideas and opinions. But the first disciples devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the word of God, longing for his true voice. In doing so, they discovered that the Holy Spirit is the best teacher, always willing to remind us of the truth of God's words - and so something wonderful begins to happen- Ordinary believers hear and obey, Gods kind of order is established not mans control or chaotic disorder from differing viewpoints. In relationship with the shepherd the sheep grow safe and well, strong and mature, responsive obedient, and remarkably unified.

So even as we pray for our Catholic friends that God will still work through their traditions, we long with a New Testament freedom for clouds of white smoke over the lives of all true believers in Jesus who are growing up in hearing his voice together.

Friday, 8 March 2013

In praise of cunning women and a roguish God!

Like it or not, there seem to be some aspects of God's character that are seen more clearly in women than in men. If Genesis 1 is right and the male and female of the species are both made in the image of God Himself, then I guess this statement shouldn't surprise us. It's just possible that the Creator God buried his rich character deep into the psyche and personality of men and women. Whilst both sexes point to who He is, men and women individually are capable of showing a unique insight to aspects of God's ways and worth.

This is never more apparent than in the little studied subject of cunning!
Shrewdness, guile or subtle thinking, prudence and wisdom. These are not uniquely female traits, but the girls are definitely in charge in the cunning department!

Think about the mother of baby Moses, commanded to throw her baby in the river. She obeyed to a degree, but only after placing him carefully with prayer and hope into a pitch lined basket, and sending her older daughter to follow him along the river bank. When Moses is discovered by the Princess, his sister Miriam pops out of the bullrushes quite by chance and offers to find a wet nurse for the boy that happened to be his mother. Genius - us fellas would never be able to work out and execute such a plan!

What about Jael, luring Sisera, the enemy general, into her tent with a promise of safety and hospitality. Perhaps if we read between the lines, Sisera had an expectation of some quite intimate hospitality. So using her body, then ordinary household utensils, Jael drugs him and pins him to the floor through his brain with a long tent peg and a hammer, releasing her people from oppression.

We could go onto Esther using the only real asset at her disposal, her looks, with King Xerxes to gain favour, then be open to God's purpose for her people once she had a hearing.

Or what about Rahab who lied to her king and gave him false information about enemy spies whom she believed God was with, all in order to save her family. She crammed her house full of relatives who were saved during the ensuing invasion, whilst a tell tale scarlet cord hung from her window.

Cunning is a fine line to dance along. There are stories of women who practise manipulation and control - that kind of counterfeit cunning comes from the serpent in the garden, taking something of what God made good and distorting it for gain. You see serpent cunning with Deliah using her looks like Esther to ensnare God's anointed leader - but without honour for God.
Jezebel or Salome carry echoes of Esther too, but distorted by wicked hearts and enabled by weak men. Salome is offered the same terms as Esther, up to half the kingdom, as she beguiled the king sexually - But unlike Esther, she harmed her people rather than serving the purpose of God, getting the head of John the Baptist served up after dessert.

Though the Jezebels and Salomes champion the dark side of cunning, a sin spoiled counterfeit version, it seems true that God himself, the master tactician loves to work this way.
Jesus tells us the story of the prudent manager in Luke 16. He commends the man for shrewdness for business practise that looks to us like fraud! Jesus Himself demonstrated a life lived as shrewd as a snake but as innocent as a dove. He shows us the perfect version of guile.

This characteristic cunning that is imprinted in our hearts as a reflection of the creator God is somewhere on the spectrum between the gullible and the rogue - but it feels much nearer to the rogue than we realise or are comfortable with!
So this blog is in praise of cunning women, who in their shrewdness and intrigue are displaying a small measure of God's perfection in the way that he works out his purposes in our lives - In praise of cunning women, and a roguish God!