What is “The Gospel”?

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There is an inherent inner tension that consumes many followers of the way. So many feel the conviction in their beliefs about Jesus but are unsure of how to articulate them to a quizzical world. Surely there must be an easy way to justify our deeply held beliefs? It must be possible to reduce the Christian faith into a suitably strong concentrated form that we can keep in the cupboard like stock cubes. Everyone is looking for something beefy that they can easily unwrap when they need it.

Here Tom Wright subtly reframes the questions people are keen to ask.

Instead of the formulaic reductionism that people seek, Wright frames “the gospel” in the context of something much bigger; the whole story. He sets the life of the Christian within the ongoing narrative of God’s interaction with humanity focussing on the person of Jesus Christ. Can you live with the unending quest for that illusive superficial “cure all”? The easily unwrapped gospel flavouring? Or would you rather focus on something much deeper and richer?

The Wedding

Here’s something original that I’ve written.  It isn’t meant to be read, it is meant to be orated by someone with a strong Yorkshire accent – Me.  If all goes to plan, I will be doing that very thing at this moment in time in church.  Hope you like it.

Wedding at Cana

It was the end of one of the most bizarre weeks I’ve ever had.  I have seen some strange things in my lifetime but some things make you stop and take notice.  I mean yesterday was one of the…

Hang on, I should really start at the beginning of all this and let you see for your self what I mean.  My name is Matthias.  Not many people know what my name is.  Not many people speak with me for long enough to ask.  If they do take time over it they usually speak at me rather than to me.  You see my job is mainly to do exactly as I’m told, when I’m told.  If that doesn’t happen I’m in big trouble.  My job is to work up at the big house.  The work isn’t too bad as long as I keep at it and don’t slack off.  I have to start early in the morning and usually have to work late into the evening but I enjoy my work.  It is my job to ensure the smooth running of the house.  The master is a fair man and I make sure that his house is clean.  He has things to do and I ensure that the family are well fed.  They call me a slave but it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Mostly I work in the house and make sure everything runs smoothly.  Well that is how it has been until recently.

Things all changed when the master came and told me that he had just announced the engagement of his daughter.  He was not acting like himself, he seemed so happy.  He spent a great deal of time talking to me that afternoon and not just the usual instructions.  He even asked about my family.  It was the first time and the last time he has ever shown any interest in my life.

He was so keen to show the rest of the town just how much he could spend on his daughters wedding.  After all a hefty dowry was being paid and he wanted to show them all that she was worth it.  His plans were grand but it all rested on me to make them happen on the day.  Obviously there are others up at the house who helped with the onerous task but the organisation was down to me.

Of course the closer to the event the worse it has been.  I have spent most of the last week fetching and carrying.  I’ve only managed to catch a couple of hours sleep – I’m so tired.  I had to make sure that everything was ready and the wedding would go off without a hitch.  Of course the last few days have been nearly unbearable.  As the day has drawn nearer people have been getting more and more stressed and began barking orders at me.

“Matthias go get the tables.”

“Matthias, where are the guests going to stay?”

“Matthias, what is happening with the food?”

“Matthias, GO AND GET THE TABLES!”

I had to bite my tongue just to get through it but finally we made it to the wedding without a falling out.

And when it arrived it was such a good day.  Everyone was wearing their best clothes and behaving as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  Everyone was really enjoying themselves.  Some would say that they were possibly enjoying themselves a little too much.  It is always the same once someone gets married.  The band strike up and people start to drink the wine.  They dance o the music and they have some wine.  The food is served and they have some wine… People like to enjoy the occasion and let their hair down.  Some may say that some of them enjoyed themselves a little too much but who am I to judge.  I’m probably just bitter because I didn’t get to join in.  What I heard all day was

“Matthias, show the guests in”

“Matthias, bring out the food.”

“Matthias, clear that up.”

The work of a slave is never done, there is always something that needs fetching, carrying, cooking or cleaning.

As the evening progressed everything was looking fantastic.  The wine kept flowing and everyone kept laughing and dancing.  It was good to see that all of the hard work I had put in was going to pay off.  The event was going off without a hitch which was a good job as it was my neck on the block if anything went wrong.  And how it was going to go wrong!

As the evening wore on there was a problem that is even now still a mystery to me.  I had made most of the preparations for this and I bought the wine.  I had strict instructions to buy enough for two hundred guests to have as much as they want and that is what I did.  It wasn’t the best of wines but it was by no means the worst either.  You wouldn’t give it to the emperor if he came round for dinner but lets face it, he wouldn’t be coming.  I know that I told them to bring enough!  Here we were half way through the evening and we were running out.  If I am honest with you I was about to find somewhere to hide.  This was about to be the most embarrassing moment for the master, running out of wine on this day when he was so proud.  No-one would forget the wedding they went to that ran out of wine.  I was so sure but what if I was so tired I made a mistake?  I knew that he would punish me either way as all he would care about is that he told me to sort it.

As all this is racing through my head there was a bit of a commotion in the corner of the room.  I’m not quite sure what happened as I was observing from a little way away so this will be a little sketchy.  I didn’t really know who these people were but I recognised some of them.  I think they were from Nazareth which is a few hours walk away and it isn’t the sort of journey you make every day.  Suddenly the man and woman start being quite curt with each other.  It is all in hushed tones but you can tell from the way they are looking at each other that she is being quite insistent.

With all this going on at the same time as the crisis I am having over the wine I was a little panicked to say the least.  Being summoned over to this furore was an added complication that I didn’t need.  I walk up there expecting harsh words to be spoken to me in front of everyone.  At the least I was expecting the master at any minute to publicly shame me for my mistake so that he can save face with his guests.  The funny thing is it didn’t happen.  The woman just tells me to do whatever this other guy says.

I was astounded to say the least.  His instructions were the strangest thing I’ve seen.  He says to me “fill the jars with water”.  I’ve never been of the most religious persuasion but it didn’t seem to be the most appropriate time to be worrying about ritual purity.  I tried to explain this to him but he was quite insistent that I do it.  I got help from the others and we kept our heads down.  It took us half an hour to do it too.  Somehow we managed to get 180 gallons of water from the well and into the room without disturbing everyone.  We used every bucket we could find and filled those great stone jars to the top.

So we let the guy know that we had done it and informed him that he could perform his ‘ablutions’ but he just stayed where he was.  He instructed me to take some of the water from the jars and give it to the chief steward.  I started to protest that he was enjoying the day but this guy was insistent that I should take the water for him.  Not only that he intended that I gave it to him as a drink.  I’d never heard anything like it before.  I already knew that I was in trouble with the master so I decided to do as this guy said as I had nothing to lose.  I crossed the room to the cold stone jars and took a drought.  Again crossing the room I presented it to the chief steward.  At this point there was a large commotion as you would expect.  It took me a moment to realise what had happened.  Instead of being chastised for my stupidity by the chief steward he was shouting across the room at the bridegroom.  “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

We were stunned.  No-one knew what had happened apart from the group  from Nazareth and the servants who helped to collect the water with me.  We had to check it for ourselves to make sure.  Back across the room to the stone jars and sure enough, filled to the brim with wine!  Everyone was sat enjoying themselves as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place.  The day continues without a hitch and the master is saved from being shamed in front of the whole town.  For my part, I am saved from being punished for my mistake.  And all because of this young guy from Nazareth.

If I was in your shoes I too would be cynically thinking that it was a trick.  I have seen some charlatans over the years and this sounds pretty far-fetched.  Recently we have had lots of people in the streets performing ‘miraculous deeds’ and trying to take your money.  I know that we filled those jars with water from the well.  He didn’t ask for anything or make a big show out of what he had done here that evening.  He didn’t even go and touch the jars so most guests were oblivious to what he has done.  I still don’t really know who he is.  He is just some guy from Nazareth.

And after the party has ended and the excited feeling seeing something so miraculous abates it is back to normal.  There is clearing up to do, a house to run and a master to serve…

New Lectionary

I probably use this more than anything else every day. Simon Kershaw’s awesome new 2012-13 free Church of England Friendly Lectionary. Now in raspberry flavour.

Thanks Simon!

In The Beginning Was The Word

I’ve never posted a sermon before.  I’ve never thought that it would add a great deal to the ether.  However, 80 people of varying ages were all talking about the incarnation in the hall this morning after I blindsided them with this.

I read out John 1:1-14, prayed and then climbed the pulpit.  I then put on a call centre headset (a relic from one of my previous lives) and then acted this out:

Hello, you’ve got through to the Big Brother research office. My name’s Robb and I’ll be taking your call this morning.  Before we go any further I need to inform you that all calls are recorded and may be broadcast in the final edit of the show… In any order…. and…. at any time between now and the year 2059.

At this time I need to remind you that Big Brother is a reality TV show.  That means that we are looking to show people in their entirety.  This means that we may choose to use any of the material that is recorded and that it is the responsibility of the participants for their own behaviour.

If you are prepared to agree to these conditions then we can proceed with the call.

[pause]

You are?

May I remind you that your answer is legally binding.

[pause]

You’re sure?

[pause]

OK that’s excellent.

Before we go any further it is important to establish that it will be practical for you to come down here.  Will you be able to come down here for an extended period of time?

[pause]

So you are able to leave your Father behind and come down here?

[pause]

You will?

Excellent.

Are there any special arrangements that we need to make for your arrival?

No, you are happy to come down here in exactly the same way as everyone else?

That’ll be good.

Have you seen the programme before?  Things are a little different now that we have moved to channel five.

[pause]

You have?  Great!

It is important that you realise the full implications if you are to come down here.

Let’s start with some of the practical matters.

Coming down here will mean that you will be required to do many of the normal things that everyone else does.  There is no special treatment for people.  There will be times for people to eat and sleep as you would expect.

Do you have any dietary requirements?

… ah I see, you want to be treated just the same as everyone else.  That’s good.

As you are aware of the format of the programme, I won’t need to remind you that you will be entering the house with 12 other men.  These people will be your companions when you come down here.

[pause]

So you are looking forward to meeting people.  Great.

In the past we have had some… erm…. interesting people.

So far this year we have already got a banker who would be joining you down here.

We have been a little worried that this may cause some friction.

[pause]

Well some people are obviously concerned about the current financial situation.

[pause]

Well people feel that they have been betrayed by them.

Now that they have received all these taxes as well…

[pause]

So you think that is someone you could spend some time with.  Goood.

We do tend to attract colourful characters down here.  If you remember a few years ago in the celebrity version of the show we had Samantha Fox.  As I am sure you know she had a colourful career in the newspapers.  Obviously if you come down you may well find yourself spending time with people like her.

[pause]

Good… I just wanted you to be aware because people often worry that this sort of thing can affect your reputation.

[pause]

So you’re quite prepared to live with the consequences…

…excellent…

Obviously not everyone is as… erm… exotic as this.

In the past we have found that people often respond well to someone they can relate to… the common man shall we say?  With that in mind we have already signed up a guy from Whitby.  He has spent most of his working life on the trawlers.  He has a really strong accent and he doesn’t take any nonsense.  We’re hoping people will be able to relate to him.

[pause]

Ah, I see… These are just the sort of people you are hoping to meet whilst you are down here.

[pause]

It is our experience that over the time you spend down here you will probably become close to these people.  Obviously some people are more popular than others.

We have found that different groups can form.  Sometimes this happens because of personality conflicts but sometimes over something like race or religion.  Who can forget what happened with Shilpa Shetty.

[pause]

Yes I see what you mean about having to meet people as they are.

[pause]

The problem is that sometimes things can turn nasty.  Sometimes people are forced out of the house.

[pause]

You are aware that this may be a very public experience.

[pause]

Yes

[pause]

So you are happy to follow someone else’s will.

[pause]

Even if it isn’t yours

[pause]

No matter how painful the experience is

[pause]

Sorry sir, I was just wondering if I could take your name?

OK…

Could you hold on a moment.

[Covering microphone]

Christina, Christina. I’ve got another one.

You know…

Come on you know the ones. The religious ones.

This one’s priceless. You should have heard the name he gave.

Perhaps I should ask him if he knows David Ike.

[Uncovering microphone]

Sorry about that sir, I was just having a problem with my computer.

Where were we?

I’m going to need a few more details. It will be really good to have you come down here…

[Leave Pulpit]

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Amen

The Book of Jonah

 

Timbo’s church are doing a project for Biblefresh this year.  They are recording the E100 passages as spoken word throughout the year.  I think he wanted me to point a mic at him and just have done with it.  I may have gone a bit overboard.

Thanks to Dr Ruth, Linus and Pete for providing extra voices…

Rock Mass @ Biblefresh Wakefield

The Rock Mass just got big!!  Time for ‘Metanoia’ to ROCK Dewsbury Minster!

Wakefield Diocese are having a huge celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the bible called Biblefresh Wakefield.  There are all sorts of activities going on during the day.

In the evening we will be holding a Rock Mass.  It is ideal for bringing your yoof to.  It is also great for bringing your adults to.  Ancient sacramental worship with a rock band and everything you need for a rock concert.

If you are interested in coming or bringing a group, please join the facebook event and consider following @biblefreshwakey on twitter.

Pentecost

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When the day of pentecost came they were all gathered in the upper room screaming out of the windows for the fire brigade….

Faithfully Retelling Our Story

If you have visited my blog on a regular basis you may have noticed that I spend quite a bit of time talking about narrative and story. We are part of an ongoing historical narrative that has been told from generation to generation about the God who has chooses to interact with us throughout time. It tells of our ancestors and it points towards our future generations. Long before we had doctrines we had the story and we are asked to retell this story and continue to live it in our daily lives.

Tony Jones blogged about a sermon delivered by Nadia Bolz-Weber on Easter Morning. Nadia blogs here and tweets as @Sarcasticluther. It is a while since I have visited her blog so I was really glad to be pointed back to it by @jonestony. I’ve just watched the video (about 53 mins in) and it is brilliant. There is something about the way in which Nadia retells our salvation history that is compelling.

This is a leader we can follow. And the thing that really cooked people’s noodles wasn’t the question “is Jesus like God” it was “what if God is like Jesus”. What if God is not who we thought? What if the most reliable way to know God is not through religion, not through a sin and punishment program, but through a person. What if the most reliable way to know God is to look at how God chose to reveal God’s self in Jesus?

I won’t repost her sermon in full. Please watch it. Continue to faithfully retell our story.  Continue to faithfully live the next chapter of our story.  Be inspired. Be renewed. Be changed. Be a “a people who still have the dirt from our graves under our nails, while we stand here shouting Alleluia! Christ is risen”!!

[Yesterday I spent a long time writing this blog post and WordPress ate it. If it does it again I am going to give this up and take to living on a rock just north of Holy Island.]

The Viral Bible Project

As part of the Biblefresh initiative to celebrate 400 years of the authorised version of the bible, the Viral Bible project was launched this week at Spring Harvest.

The Viral Bible Project has taken off with a roar at Spring Harvest Skegness, as the members of the Christian Motorcycle Association got ten new Bibles into circulation around the country. The Bibles will be passed on from hand to hand, linking friends and sharing Bible passages along the way.

Specially-customised NIV Bibles, donated by publishers, Hodder, will be randomly distributed at Christian festivals such as ROOTS, Keswick, New Wine, Summer Madness, Leading Edge and Soul Survivor during the spring and summer.

The happy recipients will be invited to enter their basic details and highlight a passage that has challenged or influenced them. They will log onto a dedicated website – www.viralbibleproject.com to place a ‘pin’ on a Googlemap, and then pass their Bible on – to go as far afield as possible.

It sounds like quite a fun way of engaging with the scriptures.  I wonder if someone will pass one on to me.

Why Approving Women Bishops is Important for Fresh Expressions

With the current debate in the Anglican Church about whether women should be consecrated to the Episcopate in the UK part of the communion it is rare to see debate that doesn’t just revisit old territory.  I don’t think I have previously come across debate around this issue that explores how our leadership structures relate to Fresh Expressions of faith. 

David Muir has written an excellent piece for Share The Guide entitled “Why approving women bishops is important for fresh expressions“.  It is an excellent, concise and profoundly theologically reflective piece calling to examine the issue of God’s character.  I hope you will go and read the whole article so I will merely quote it here.  This paragraph highlighted a very important question about the way in which we view the past, present and future and our relationship with God.

God is forming communities of faith within 21st Century British society. He calls those communities to be different, in ways that reflect and reveal his holy character within our particular human cultural setting. But he does not call us to be the same as the peoples he has related to before, as if they were entirely shaped into his will already. If we copy our forefathers in that kind of way, we become merely a people apart, separated from society around in a kind of time warp, a culture trap, with distinctives that for that very reason fail to reveal the heart and character of God in our particular setting.