Colossians 1:15-23 Kinetic Typography

Watch this. It’s brilliant.

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From the vicarage – March 2015

Vicarage and meAs a church, I believe we listened with new ears last Sunday to the retelling of the true story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Through the record of this one encounter, God has touched quite a few of us. I thought I’d uncovered all her issues in my sermon, but then, this morning (Tuesday), Madeline came to the prayer meeting and said that she’d seen, for the first time, that the Samaritan woman was not young but old.

The seven major life issues which the Samaritan woman faced and which had a damaging effect on her all bear striking similarities to the issues we all face today. First, she was isolated. This poor woman had no social support. She exposed herself to the risk of attack, rape or mugging when she went outside the town, at lunchtime, alone. She had no friends to laugh with and no company for protection. She was left to carry a heavy water jar in scorching heat, because she was isolated.

She also suffered from racism. “Why do you talk to me? You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.” You can hear her racist attitude in the question. Jews and Samaritans did not mix socially. They were suspicious of each other, because of their race. Jews looked down on Samaritans as inferior and so they kept apart.

Then there was her social separation caused by gender; “I am a Samaritan woman.” In her culture, men and women could not speak in public like this. Sexual suspicion kept them apart.

When Jesus offered her living water, which he said would well up inside her to eternal life, she was confused. But then Jesus revealed her past to show what sort of thirst he was speaking about. All her life she had been thirsting for love and a sense of belonging. She had tried husband after husband after husband (five in all) but could not find the love she was looking for. And now she wasn’t even married. Her latest lover did not love her enough to offer her any commitment and protection.

So she was labelled a moral outcast. We can all imagine the sort of things people said behind her back, as she was shunned by polite society; “slut”, “man eater”, “husband thief.”

She’d tried religion but it had failed her. Samaritan’s worshipped on a mountain and Jews in Jerusalem. As far as she could see, religion made matters worse. It increased the racism, made her feel judged and even more of a moral failure. Religion created more social problems for the genders and did not satisfy her thirst for love.

Time was running out. She was waiting for the Messiah (The Christ) to come but she was getting old.

Isolation, racism, tension between the genders, a thirst for love, morally outcast, the failure of religion and she was in the later stages of life.

Then Jesus said “I who speak with you am he.” Jesus is the Messiah she was looking for. His life, teaching and death (Zechariah 12:10-13:1) and resurrection (Revelation 21:6) opens a fountain of living water for all who believe him. He says “Believe me, woman.” And when she believes, the living water flows freely, with out cost, as a great and life changing gift from Jesus. Her thirst is quenched and her eternity secured.

We are all thirsty for love, acceptance and belonging which overcomes isolation, racism, tension between the genders, moral failure and the divisions caused by religion. We long for a world where our children can grow up and be nurtured by the whole community; for an end to isolation; for all people from all nations can living in community together; for a way men and women can mix socially without suspicion or tension; for moral outcasts to welcomed back into community; for an end to religious division and for a place where it is safe to grow old, looked after by neighbours as well as family. Time is running out. We need a Saviour.

Our Lent course starts this Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm in the hall. It focuses on the theme of hospitality, which is how the story of the Samaritan woman ends. Her whole town urge Jesus and his disciples (all Jews) to stay with them (Samaritans) which they do for two days. The town is then transformed as the woman’s story is heard and believed and many Samaritans come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour and the Saviour of the World (John 4:42).

There is a way this can happen for us. We must each individually believe Jesus and receive living water from the Saviour of the World. He will gather is into community around himself as we tell our stories of his work in our lives.

This Lent, will you come to the Lent course and as we each receive living water from Jesus, be willing to urge others to come and eat, laugh and share with him?

With love

Neil

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The Good Samaritan, gospel or salvation by works?

What follows is an email I wrote following a stimulating discussion on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  What is Jesus teaching here?

Dear N and N

Further to yesterday’s stimulating discussion about the interpretation of the Good Samaritan and the reading of parables in general, I’ve done some more study and have found a few really useful websites.  This is not me trying to have the last word, but to share the results of my further research for your consideration.

The first website is a quick and helpful summary on how to read the parables, based largely on the teaching of Gordon Fee.  It is well written and supports the view that we should look for the plain meaning of the text, and not allegorise.  The article cites Augustine’s commentary on the Good Samaritan as a particularly poor allegorical interpretation.   Augustine allegoricalises everything in the the parable, which stretches the meaning of the parable for too far, as I did in my sermon with the wine, oil, donkey and the inn.  The point of the first article is, as far as possible, to preach the main point of the parable in context and not to look for layers of hidden meaning, as Augustine did.

There is, however, significant contemporary evangelical support for reading the parable as a clarification of the relationship between the law and the gospel in respect to justification.  The plain reading of the parable is that salvation or justification is by this law not that law, or a new works righteousness, as I will explain.

As I said yesterday, if Jesus meant “Go and do likewise” as the answer to “what must I do to inherit eternal life…love God and love neighbour…do this and you will live.”  Then the Samaritan gains salvation by works.  The main point of the parable may be to teach the expert in the law that his law keeping (not touching a dead body as so, therefore, failing to love his neighbour) does not earn him salvation (i.e. justification is not by the works of that law).  However, if there is no gospel contained within the parable then someone must earn salvation by keeping the law.  The question is only, which law should I keep, “Do not touch a dead body” or “show compassion”.  In contemporary culture, this reading of the parable goes something like, “going to church and keeping moral laws does not earn salvation but being kind to people does, therefore I don’t need to go to church.”  This is a false dichotomy and to avoid it then Christ or the gospel of Christ must be present in the parable.

I have three commentaries on Luke.  Each one discusses how the teacher of the law kept the ceremonial law (would not touch a dead body) and the Samaritan kept the law to love neighbour, so Jesus is teaching the priority of the latter law over the former law.  This is right.  However, each commentator also recognises that the implication of this conclusion contradicts the gospel.  To solve this dilemma, each commentator simply states the doctrine of of salvation by grace through faith as extrinsic to the parable.  In effect, so as to avoid contradiction, they each conclude that Jesus was not answering the question on how to inherit eternal life.

It is entirely possible that Jesus could have avoided answering the man’s original question. Did Jesus duck the question or did he gave the answer on justification within the parable, as parable?

A quick internet search for the Samaritan as a type of Christ has produced these three results, the first of which is by Glen Scrivener, our 3-2-1 Gospel friend.

This second post does the work which you did N, in exposing the expert in the law’s failure to keep the law before discussing the Samaritan as a type of Christ and the victim as a representative of every human.

The third post appears on the Confessing Evangelical blog, as a summary of a sermon by the rev Reg Quick (Chairman of ELCE).  The post is called Law, gospel and the Good Samaritan.

As a type of Christ, the least we can say of the Samaritan is this: he came to the dying man, bound up his wounds, healed him, carried him and paid the price for entry into a place of rest and security.  (cf Ezekiel 34 for example).

I have found others who read the victim as Christ, but I find it hard to see any gospel in that reading.

The question which remains is this.  Can parables which are not expressly allegorical (e.g. the parable of the sower or the parable of the wheat and tares) ever be interpreted in a similar way within a biblical context?  Or, put another way, as the whole of the bible is the word of Christ, can his whole word be used to interpret parables?

I believe that the parable of the good Samaritan insists that we do the biblical theological work, though very carefully so as not to stretch the meanings in the parable too far.  If we don’t use a biblical theological framework then scripture contradicts scripture and we are left to impose extrinsic systematic doctrines on this parable, as contradictions.  But there are no contradictions in scripture and we want to avoid the modern cultural interpretation  “if I am kind to other people I will go to heaven and so I don’t need to be religious.”

The first of the webpages above reminds us that Jesus taught in parables to stir up thinking.  He’s certainly done that.

Happy reading

Neil

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From the Vicarage February 2015

The bedroom window this morning

From the vicarage

As I write, it’s 100 days to the next general election. Polls suggest that it will be the closest election in many years. Why is this? Some people believe that politics and politicians are all the same these days. There is no great ideological battle or class struggle. The political arena is about personality not principle. Government has become about being popular and managing the economy. (has it ever been about anything but the economy?)

It seems that there are two main issues which the main parties believe will determine the outcome of the election.

  1. Debt.

Why has the government borrowed so much money (£1.45 trillion – £25,000 for every person in the UK) and how will we pay it back? We continue to increase borrowing at £5200 per second. By the time you’ve read this parish magazine (1 hour from now) the government will have borrowed another £18,700,000. Because of this, we face the real prospect of a massive debt crisis like Greece.

  1. The NHS and welfare
    What is wrong with the NHS and welfare and how will they be fixed?

There are two other big issues which need thinking about.

  1. British Values
    What are British values and where to they come from?
  2. Cohesion and integration.
    British society is now super diverse. Do you think cohesion and integration are important and, if so, how will they come about?

Last election we held a hustings at Holy Trinity. I plan to hold another one, probably on Thursday 23rd April. At that hustings, we will put these questions and others to the parliamentary candidates.

I’d also like to ask the candidates, what makes for good government?

You might have a great question which will make politicians think about their role more carefully. If you have a question which will get below the petty popularity parade and go deeper than money management of the economy, please let me know it. Drop your question in at church, or into the vicarage. Text me (07810 544 265) or email me (rev.robbie@btinternet.com).

As a democratic country, we will get the government we ask for and so deserve. I pray that the hustings and the election will make us ask what we want from our government not just which party to choose.

God bless

Neil

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From the vicarage Jan 2015

vicarage snowFrom the vicarage January 2014. New Year’s Resolutions.

Happy New Year! Have you made any New Year’s resolutions this year? If you have, have you checked to see if your resolution would appear in the top ten New year’s resolutions for 2014? (Lose Weight. Get organised. Spend less and save more. Enjoy life to the fullest. Stay fit and healthy. Learn something exciting. Stop smoking. Help others fulfil their dreams. Fall in love. Spend more time with family.) Or is your resolution unique?

Resolutions are strong intentions to change something in our life, for the better. There are many places in the bible where the people of God resolve to change things. In 2 Chronicles 20:3 Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD. In Psalm 17:3, King David sings “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” When Daniel is carried into exile in Babylon, he resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. (Daniel 1:8). And in
1 Corinthians 2:2 the Apostle Paul tells the church “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Each of these is a great resolution, but the greatest resolution in all history is the resolution of Jesus, to die for the sins of his people. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prays resolutely “”Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

Our resolutions are most pleasing to God when we seek to love and obey Him more. Like Jehoshaphat we can enquire of the Lord. Like David we can resolve not to sin. Like Daniel we can resolve not to defile ourselves. Like Paul we can resolve to know nothing expect Jesus Christ and him crucified. Like Jesus we can resolve to do the will of God, even if it is costly or requires self-sacrifice.

I have come across two great resolution role models. The first is Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) who was Lord Chief Justice at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Hale’s resolutions shaped the attitude of all judges who followed him. Here’s a few of his resolutions:

  1. That I rest not upon my own understanding or strength, but implore and rest upon the direction and strength of God.
  1. That I be wholly intent upon the business I am about, remitting all other cares and thoughts as unseasonable and interruptions.

Then American pastor Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) wrote 71 personal resolutions which you can read online at (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards).

  1. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  1. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  1. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
  1. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

The resolutions above are great examples to follow. Will you make resolutions to live for God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength? Be specific and ask God for help to keep your resolutions. We can’t keep them on our own. God will be our strength.

With much love, Neil

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From the vicarage November 2014

From the vicaragevicarage

According to some, the world is divided up into three types of people: Optimists, pessimists and realists.

Someone else once wrote a letter:

Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist,

Whilst you were arguing about whether the glass of water was half empty, half full or about right, I drank it.

Your sincerely, the Opportunist.

Whether you are an optimist, pessimist or realist, God calls us to be opportunists.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most      of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

We are given an opportunity by God to work together to make the most to overcome evil, and we do this by making Christian community around the gospel of Jesus Christ (or rather, the gospel of Jesus Christ creates such a community).

To make the most of the opportunity we have, I need your help with a survey.  There’s going to be a meeting on 17th November for the people at church who are most involved in the ministry of teaching God’s word and of prayer.  At that meeting, we’re going to imagine what an ideal, small Christian community would look like.  This is where you can help by imagining together.

CS Lewis wrote something which encourages us to think beyond our present reality:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Will you try to imagine a different world to the one we live in today?  Imagine a Christian community on your street.  What would that community do together?  What values would they have in common?  What would the people in that community do with their time?  What attitudes would they have?  How would those attitudes be formed?

Please have a go.  Write some thoughts on a piece of paper and give it to me in church or email me.  Let your imagination inspire something great.

With love

Neil

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Updated urban ministry reading list – can you help make any more suggestions?

My urban ministry reading list is growing. I’ve noticed that many of the books were published in the last five years (I’m planning to add publication dates soon). This suggests to me that many Christian missionary pastors are engaging with urban ministry, which is encouraging.

I believe there is lots to learn about urban ministry from the reformers and from the Victorian era, when industrialisation and urbanisation created new challenges. Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor is a classic which comes to mind. Our church has lecturn bibles and prayer books dated 1841 from The Society for the Propogation of Christian Knowledge. I wonder if there are any books on urban ministry from those eras which anyone is aware of, as well as others from contemporary authors.

Urban Harvest – Roy Joslin

Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God – H M Conn & Manuel Ortiz

Unreached – Tim Chester

Center Church – Tim Keller

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself

by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, John M. Perkins

Good News for the Poor – Tim Chester

A Heart for the City: Effective Ministries to the Urban Community John Fuder

A Heart for the Community: New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry Hardcover – 1 May 2009 by John Perkins (Foreword), John Fuder (Author)

To Live in Peace by Mark Gornik

Restoring At-Risk Communities: Doing It Together and Doing It Right by John M. Perkins

Crossing the divide: a call to embrace diversity – Owen Hylton

Dynamic diversity: the new humanity church for today and tomorrow – Bruce Milne

Multicultural Mininstry: Finding your church’s unuque rhythm – David A Anderson

Building a multi-ethnic church – Linbert Spencer

Angels on the walls: the risk taking faith that reclaimed a community – Walkace and Mary Brown

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