Hosanna to Crucify

For a long time I found it hard to understand Palm Sunday. Not about what happened; that’s fairly obvious – Jesus enters Jerusalem and is publicly acclaimed as the long-awaited Messiah, sent by God.

But what confused me was how, in just a few days, the same crowds who had gone crazy welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem as their Messiah and king, would be shouting ‘crucify him, crucify him’.

From ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify’ in just a few short days, it just didn’t make sense to me.

And then one day I realised – that’s exactly what I do.

There are days when I am a Palm Sunday Christian. It’s all ‘Hosanna’. I speak to Jesus in prayer, I listen to him speak to me in the Bible, I love coming to Church and feeling close to Jesus as we worship and receive communion. I genuinely feel love for Jesus and I want to live with him and for him every moment of the day.

Then there are days when I am a Good Friday Christian. It’s all ‘Crucify’. I’m disappointed with Jesus. I feel that he has let me down. I’m confused about what he is, or isn’t, doing. And I just want to walk away. I want nothing to do with Jesus. I turn my back on him. I stop praying. I stop trying to meet with him in scripture. I have no desire to come to church.

The reality of my life is that I move back and forwards from ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify’. I bounce between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, from Hosanna to Crucify.

Maybe, that’s your story too? This is why we come to church each Sunday. Because we know we mess up, we get it wrong, we lose our focus.

At church we are reminded of who Jesus is. Of how much he loves us. Of his costly sacrifice on the cross and his glorious resurrection.

At church, because of what Jesus did, we can receive the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Holy Communion; God’s divine power to enable us to start afresh.

On this Palm Sunday, maybe you’re all Hosanna, or maybe even today, your more Good Friday. But wherever you are on the ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify’ spectrum today, please take this opportunity to turn to Christ, to receive his forgiveness and power that you might live with him and for him as we go into Holy Week. Amen.

Affirmation or Transformation?

I have been disturbed by the recent Church of England decision to offer prayers of blessing to those in same-sex relationships.

This is contrary to my understanding of the Bible. I do know that it is a complicated issue that affects people deeply. I have carefully read the arguments of those who say we have misunderstood what the Bible says and who want to re-interpret those texts that condemn same-sex relationships.

But, ultimately it is my deep conviction that the arguments fail to make their case.

[For those who want to explore this exhaustively, Robert GAGNON’s “The Bible and Homosexual Practice” is the best refutation of all the current attempts to re-interpret scripture that I have so far come across.

He not only demolishes the attempts of biblical textual re-interpretation, he goes further and shows how the ideas that would have had to underpin any such re-interpretations were entirely absent from the prevailing culture of the ancient world.

He also demonstrates that even in the ancient world, there were some forms of same-sex relationships that were faithful, loving, and monogamous. So if the Biblical authors had wished to point to these as good examples of permissible same-sex relationships, they were present in society. But they do not do that.

From Genesis to Revelation there is one consistent and unchanging view that is presented.]

But I think the issue is deeper that this one manifestation. I think the problem was brilliantly demonstrated in the 1999 film ‘Dogma’. Here a modernising Roman Catholic cardinal wants to update the image of the church in order to attract a broader demographic.

His market research and focus groups lead him to the conclusion that the image of Christ on the cross is too gloomy and negative. He wants to replace this with a new image of the Church – The Buddy Christ.

Here a cartoonish Jesus is presented winking and giving a thumbs up. The message is, “Jesus thinks your great!” It’s all about affirmation.

My problem is that this isn’t the gospel message that I see in Scripture.

Yes, the Bible tells us that we are precious and loved. But it also tells us that we have a terrible problem. A problem that blights our lives and will ultimately destroy us. That problem is sin.

When St Paul looked at himself, he did not see a person that needed affirming. He saw a wretched sinner who needed forgiving and transforming.

His deepest need was not to be made to feel OK about who he was, but to be forgiven and transformed at the deepest level of his being.

When he looked closely at even his best actions, he saw that even they weren’t entirely pure. He could do things that were genuinely good, but his motivations were always mixed – there was deep down always some self-regard, pride, a desire to impress others – so even at our very best we still fail. He sums all this up in a cry from the heart;

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 

Romans 7:24, NRSVA

St Paul did not see himself as someone who needed affirming, but as someone who needed rescuing.

The only people who have any place being in Church are those who know themselves to be broken, flawed, failures; who know that their deepest need is not to be told that they are OK, but to accept the reality of their brokenness, to know that God’s love reaches out to them in Jesus and that he calls then to turn from their sin, to receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and to begin the life-long, slow, and painful process of transformation into holiness.

The Christian message is not one of affirmation – You’re OK – but one of repentance and transformation – You’re Not OK, but Jesus has come to rescue you.

Dry Bones and Dead Bodies

There are some passages of scripture, that as you read them, it’s like a cinema plays out in your head. The images are so strong, you can’t help but visualise them. One such passage is the valley of dry bones vision in Ezekiel 37.
Ezekiel finds himself, in a vision in a desert valley full of parched, bleached bones. Can you see it in your head? The sun is blindingly bright, the bleached, white bones lie strewn on the sand, spread out to the horizon. And then God asks Ezekiel an astoundingly stupid question, ‘Can these bones live?’

It’s a nonsense question. Preposterous. Mad. The answer is stunningly obvious – No! There has been no life in these bones for years, decades, centuries. They are deader than dead.

Yet, Ezekiel knows God. He knows that when God asks you questions, they are often tricksy. So, wisely, Ezekiel avoids answering, he simply replies, “O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel will not let his limited faith, limit God. Now that’s deep, isn’t it? Ezekiel will not let his limited faith, limit God. Is that a word from God for you today?

God tells Ezekiel to prophesy new life to these dead bones. Declare that sinews and flesh and skin will come back on them and that God’s breath will return to them and restore them to life. And as Ezekiel prophesies, he hears a rattling sound. I can hear that in my head! Can you?

And he looks up and he sees the bones coming together into skeletons. Then sinews and flesh and skin start to cover them until Ezekiel is no longer in a desert of dry bones, but a desert of lifeless cadavers. This is not a passage of scripture to read to little children last thing at night!

Eventually Ezekiel finds himself no longer in a valley of dry bones, but in a valley of lifeless bodies. Everything is there, but the vital breath of life is missing. There’s another powerful statement. Everything is there, but the vital breath of life is missing. Is that a word from God for you today?

But God hasn’t finished yet. He tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, tell it to come upon these slain that they might live. And suddenly, with a gasp, these lifeless bodies take a breath and return to life. “…and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”

In the lectionary this story is paralleled with the story of the raising to life of Lazarus in John 11. The story starts with Jesus getting a message about his friend Lazarus being ill. Jesus is 2 miles away. He could have been there in 30 minutes’ fast walk. But Jesus delays. One day. Two days. Finally, on the third day Jesus goes.

When Jesus arrives he is told that Lazarus has already been in his tomb 4 days.

N.B. as Jews count time, part days are counted as whole days. Which is why Jesus dying on Good Friday and rising on Easter Sunday is counted as him being dead for 3 days. So, if Lazarus has been in his tomb for 4 days, he must have died almost at the same time that Jesus got the message about him being ill.

The time period is significant. The Jews believed that it took 3 days for the soul to finally separate from the body. So, for them, Lazarus is deader than dead – it is the same reason why Christ’s resurrection also happened after 3 days – God only raises the deader than dead. Just so that we are in no doubt about the awesome power of God.

They lead Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus and Jesus tells them to take away the stone sealing the door. The people say, “You can’t be serious! He has been dead 4 days, you can already smell the stench of decay from here! He is deader than dead!”

This incident is one of the most significant in the gospels. You see, by this point the disciples knew Jesus as a great preacher and teacher, they even knew him as a healer and a deliverer of the spiritually oppressed, they had seen Jesus as a miracle-worker turning water into wine and multiplying loaves and fish. But they need to know Jesus as something more. They needed to know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Jesus prays to God and then commands Lazarus, ‘Come out’. There is a silence, then suddenly they hear it. The gasp as Lazarus takes a first breath. Then there is a shuffling, and Lazarus appears at the entrance of the tomb, still wrapped in the funeral bands. The one who was deader than dead, is now restored to life.

What does this all mean? What are we meant to take away from this?

Perhaps the most obvious application is the state of the Church in England and the Church of England. We now pretty much resemble a valley of dry bones. Since 1905 we have been in continual decline. We have spent 100s of millions of pounds, we have developed dozens of clever strategies and plans, and yet, the decline has continued inexorably.
We now have many, if not the majority of our parishes on life-support. We struggle to keep our buildings going, let alone pay a priest. Many dioceses are ‘selling the family silver’ to continue to fund even the reduced number of priests we currently have. Can these bones live?

Maybe there is also a personal spiritual application. Perhaps you have known a time in your life when God was real to you. You felt his presence, you encountered him in scripture, prayer, and worship. But now, it is all a bit dry and dead. Can these bones live?

What about the image of the lifeless cadavers. Everything is there, but the vital breath of life is missing. Is that a picture of our corporate life of faith? Is there any divine life in our gatherings? If people were to come into our churches would they encounter the living Christ? Would they see a community of people experiencing the living Jesus and enjoying life in all its fullness? Do we need someone to prophesy to the breath?

Maybe you have never experienced Jesus in a real and living way. Perhaps it is all a bit baffling to you to hear people talk about Jesus as a real person, someone they actually engage with. But maybe you are starting to feel a hunger building within you? Maybe you find yourself wishing that you could experience Jesus like other people seem to. Can these bones live?

If you are feeling a stirring within you for something more of God, then be encouraged. The desire for God is already a sign of the activity of God. Let me say that again, the desire for God is already a sign of the activity of God

Jesus said, “All those the Father gives to me will come to me.”

John 6:37

So any desire for God, for an encounter with Jesus, for spiritual life – is, in itself, a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in us. If you like, it’s the sound of bones rattling.
God does not play games. He does not give a desire he has no intention of fulfilling. So if you sense a desire for God, get excited. The bones are rattling. Can these bones live? “O Lord God, you know.”

If this is you, why not respond to God? If God is calling you. If you sense a spiritual hunger growing in you. If you are dissatisfied and want more of God’s full life, for yourself and for our corporate life of faith, then say your “Yes” to God.

Remember Ezekiel, he would not let his limited faith, limit God. Come to Jesus with whatever level of faith you have. As you kneel before Christ, receive his life into you – the vital breath of God. Open yourself to all that Christ offers. Encounter Christ not only as preacher and teacher, not only as healer, deliver of the spiritually oppressed, not only as miracle worker, but encounter Christ in the awesome fullness of who he really is. The one who says to you today, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
“Can these bones live? O Lord God, you know.” Amen.

Image – “File:Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones MET DP803088.jpg” by Georg Pecham is marked with CC0 1.0.

BC – JC – AD and Dennis the Little

Dennis the Little (more properly ‘Dionysius Exiguus’ or ‘Dionysius the Humble’) was a monk who lived from 470 – 544 AD. He was born in an area that is now Romania/Bulgaria. He was a theologian, an expert on canon law, and also an accomplished mathematician and astronomer.

About 500, he moved to Rome where he led a monastery as abbot and was a member of the Roman Curia.

Dennis has important historical significance because it was he who created the calendar that we still use today. It was Dennis who had the idea to put the birth of Jesus at the centre of human history. Before that years were numbered in relation to the reign of the ruling monarch or emperor.

Dennis didn’t think this appropriate, firstly because it preserved the memory of emperors and monarchs who had persecuted the church. People who memory was better expunged from the record.
Secondly, Dennis logically surmised, that if the resurrected Christ is King of the Universe forever;

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”


Then all years should be numbered relative to Christ. So Dennis named the time before Jesus BC (Before Christ) and the time after Jesus AD (Anno Domini – the year of our Lord).

This numbering scheme was adopted throughout the Roman Empire and, one and a half thousand years later we are still numbering our years according to Dennis’ plan.

As a person who regularly interacts with those who lives have been changed by Jesus, by a real encounter with the living Christ, I find the BC-JC-AD a helpful descriptor.

Also, when I read the gospel stories of people who met Jesus during his earthly life, I see the same thing. When people who meet with Jesus they are often transformed by that encounter in a way that radically changes the rest of their lives.

One striking example is of St Paul. Originally, he was an ardent Jewish persecutor of Christians. He took great delight in seeing Christians stoned to death for their faith in Jesus.

Yet, one day, heading off on another Christian-hunting mission, a dazzling flash of light caused him to fall off his horse and he heard the voice of Jesus ask him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He remained blind for 3 days until a Christian was sent by God to pray for his sight to be restored.

From that point on, St Paul’s life radically changed direction. He was the first and possibly the greatest Christian missionary. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, and was ultimately martyred by decapitation in Rome.

This historical reality of this was confirmed in 2002, when a 2.4m marble sarcophagus was discovered during excavations around the ‘Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls’ in Rome – the historical site of his death.
This sarcophagus was inscribed with the words “PAULO APOSTOLO MART” (“Paul apostle martyr”). Dating evidence has shown the bone fragments inside to fit with the time that St Paul lived.

What about you? Do you have a BC-JC-AD story? Have you met with the living Jesus in a way that has transformed your life?

If not, would you like to meet with Jesus?

If so, reach out to him in prayer, go along to your local church, read the gospels, ask Jesus to make himself real to you, and see where that encounter takes you…

[This post was inspired by John McGinley’s excellent new book “The Church of Tomorrow”)

When Wisdom is Not Enough

The Bible is comprised of many different kinds of literature – love poems, legal codes, records of the royal court, hymns for worship, historical narrative – just to name a few. One particular genre is known as ‘wisdom literature’, and it is the closest that the Bible gets to philosophy. Wisdom literature is concerned with ‘the way the world works’ and ‘how to live well’. It is distilled wisdom drawn from careful observation of life.

One of the most famous passages of wisdom literature in the Bible is from Ecclesiastes chapter 3;

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

If you are like me, your experience confirms what we read in Ecclesiastes, there are certain ‘times’ in life, seasons. We can identify moments when it is right to plant and other times when it is time to reap a harvest.

There are times when you need to uproot things and then there are times to build.

There are certain times when you should speak out and then other times when it is best to hold your peace.

Discerning what ‘time’ you are in and embracing that, is therefore a wise approach to life.

But whilst philosophical wisdom tells you what usually works out best, for most people, most of the time. That doesn’t mean it works out well for everyone, or all of the time.

There may be a time, after a long, rich, and full life, when your body is tired out, that death feels right and appropriate. But what about when that doesn’t happen? What about those who are taken from us, and it feels too soon? What use is wisdom literature then?

Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t just give us philosophical wisdom, it also provides us with theological hope.

The Bible tells us that God loves us. So much so, that Jesus came to die for us, so that we can turn to God in repentance and faith, be forgiven for our sins, and be reconciled back into God’s family – something which gives eternal significance and meaning to this life and hope of a life to come.

We have that beautiful picture of heaven in Revelations chapter 21;

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21:3-4

It is a wonderful human image. The picture is of a small child, upset and in tears over something, running to Dad. Who takes the child into his arms. Gives them a reassuring hug. Wipes away their tears and says, “It’s OK, you’re with Dad now. Nothing can hurt you anymore.”

That is the Christian hope in a beautifully simple and very human image.

So, by all means, let us take heed of the philosophical wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Let us try to discern the times and seasons of our life, embrace the season we are in, because that’s a wise and helpful approach.

But above and beyond that wise approach, let’s make sure we have also turned to Christ in repentance and faith, oriented our life towards him, so that we can also have the hope of heaven, however life goes.

The Slow Work of God

Our high-speed, frenetic, quick-results culture is directly opposed to spiritual growth.

Which is why recent books like ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark COMER, are so valuable.

But I recently re-discovered a piece of writing from Pierre TEILHARD de CHARDIN, that I had found very rich and helpful, but which I had lost for five years.

It is a segment from a letter written to his cousin, Marguerite TEILHARD-CHAMBON. He seeks to give her some spiritual advice.

It is such a beautiful piece of spiritual writing, and so rich and rewarding of deep meditation, that it has often been used as a prayer.

I am glad to have re-discovered it. It is a precious jewel and I commend it to you.

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—

and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God,

our loving vine-dresser.

Pierre TEILHARD de CHARDIN SJ (1881-1955), from a letter to his cousin Marguerite TEILHARD-CHAMBON

The Spiritual Discipline of Hope

The Spiritual Discipline of Hope
“But as for me I will hope continually and will praise you more and more.”

(Psalm 71: 14)

This psalm is the prayer of an old man.

How do we know? Well, he prays later on asking God,

“Do not cast me away in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails.”

But even as advancing age reminds him of his mortality, even as his enemies start to surround him, he states what his settled approach to life is –

to hope in God and to praise Him more and more.

It is relatively easy to praise God when life is good. When troubles are few and blessings are many.

The real challenge comes when life is hard, when troubles surround you, and when blessings are few.
Praising God, holding on to hope, in those circumstances is the mark of a real and genuine faith.
In the present moment, this text is of great significance for those of who are English Anglicans.

The Church of England as a whole, and many of our local parishes and benefices, look like they are on their last legs.

Our theology is increasingly incoherent. Our leadership paralysed. Our finances don’t add up. Our numbers are few, and increasingly aged. The necessary team of volunteers required to maintain our ministries and our buildings are hard to come by.

In the face of this some are how will we respond?

Some turn to moaning. Trying to find a scapegoat to blame – leadership, postmodernism, a culture that is hostile to faith etc.

Others are just in despair. Paralysed by the deep pain of everything they hold precious crumbling before their eyes. They hunker down, close their eyes, and hope they will be safely dead before the lights finally go out.

Surely there is a better way?

And maybe we have it in our psalm. The psalmist facing his own mortality and end, surrounded by enemies that are coming for him, decides to adopt an attitude of hope and a posture of praise.

Our God has not changed.

The Bible is full of unlikely reversals. In fact our faith is centred on the unlikeliest of reversals, Christ’s resurrection.

So despair is never an appropriate response.

In the story of Jonah, the Ninevites hear Jonah’s prophecy that God is going to destroy them for their evil actions. They believe the message. But their response is not despair.

Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

Jonah 3:9

They choose to hope in God’s mercy, they repent and cry out to God. And they are heard.

As we look at the reality of where we are, let’s not fall into despair, or anger, or complaint.

Let’s instead follow the psalmist’s advice.

Hold on to our hope in God and praise him more and more.

The Shorter Westminster Catechism tells us that;

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

So whatever happens, if we are praising God we will be doing the greatest thing a human can do.

In fact, when we are praising God it is the only time in our lives when can be actually certain that we are doing the right thing.

So I am taking this verse as my verse for 2023. I am going to try and put it into practice in my life.

“But as for me I will hope continually and will praise you more and more.”

Slow Spaces

Over the past few months, we have seen the creation of a new thing across our country – Warm Spaces.

Such is the economic pressure on our society with the massive increase in energy costs and rampant inflation, that for many, heating their home has become a luxury they can’t afford.

Responding to this situation, we have seen the creation of ‘Warm Spaces’, designated places that are opened to the public and where they are welcome to just come and get warm. Places such as libraries, churches, community centres, village halls, pubs, coffee shops etc. are all registering on warmspaces.org as places you can go if you can’t afford to heat your home.

On the one hand, I am ashamed that our society such places are necessary. Surely, in an equitable society, wages should be sufficient for people to be able to cover their normal living costs – it is an outrage that we have created an employment market that allows this to happen.

On the other hand, it inspires me that there are people out there who are willing to help, to show solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our society. I pray God’s blessing on them.

But reflecting on this phenomenon I was led to wonder, what other societal needs exist? What other kinds of ‘spaces’ might be beneficial across the country?

It struck me that one very real need is for ‘slow spaces’.

Our contemporary pace of life is often frenetic and frantic. We rush from one thing to the next, never feeling like we have enough time. Even in our downtime we are often double-screening, over-loading ourselves with information, sights and sounds.

The Mental Health Foundation suggest that 5% of the population has a generalised anxiety disorder (see https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/anxiety).

This is even affecting our children,

“Among those aged 6 to 16 in England, one in six had a probable mental health condition in 2021, up from one in nine in 2017. Current figures are especially concerning for adolescent girls aged between 17 and 19: one in four had a probable mental health condition in 2021.”

(see https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/charts-and-infographics/children-and-young-people-s-mental-health)

Clearly, the way we are currently living is not good for us.

As a Christian, I am always prompted to see if the Bible has any wisdom for us in this area. I was reminded of the origin story in Genesis. It is interesting to see how the initial relationship between God and Adam and Eve is expressed.

It tells us that Adam and Eve,

“…heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day”.

The picture it paints is of God coming to go for a walk with Adam and Eve in the evening. A gentle stroll, where they share together the activities of the day, enjoy each other’s company, and just chill.

We see this reflected with Jesus and his disciples. He has sent them out in pairs to visit all the surrounding towns and villages, to preach, to heal, to deliver the spiritually oppressed. When they return, excited but also exhausted, Jesus says the following to them,

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

(Mark 6:31)

There are four elements to this;

Come with me – The first thing that brings us rest and restoration is simply being in the presence of Jesus. As God came to be with Adam and Eve, at the end of the busyness of the day. So we need to make space and time simply to be with Jesus, to open ourselves to his presence, to rest in him and with him.

By yourselves – We are restored and refreshed alone, or in the company of those who know us and love us. Large groups are not conducive to restfulness. It is difficult to relax with people you don’t know. If you are to find restoration and refreshment in Jesus, it will be alone, or in intimate company.

To a quiet place – Noise is inimical to rest. It is hard to find peace in the hubbub of normal life. If you are to be restored, you will have to make an empty space for that to happen. Screens switched off. Distractions minimised. Interruptions prevented. You will also have to quieten the noise in you. Something that takes time and practice.

And get some rest – Rest is not the ultimate goal. We are not called to lie a life of restfulness. Rather, we need rest in order to be able to work well and in a healthy and sustainable way. The goal is a balanced life of work and rest. Something enshrined in God’s pattern for human flourishing by the idea of Sabbath. Again, this is something we see expressed even in the origins story.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

(Genesis 2:2-3)

God’s pattern for a healthy and sustainable life is to take one 24 hour period each week to simply rest. To do those things which restore, refresh, re-energise, and re-invigorate.

As I observe our society, it seems more and more clear to me that people need ‘slow spaces’. Spaces where the pace is taken down a notch, where the sound is switched off, the screens extinguished, where people can come into the presence of God, find healing for their bruised and battered souls. Places where people can find refreshment, inspiration, courage, and hope.

I have no doubt that we could create secular ‘slow spaces’ in gardens, art galleries, libraries, village halls etc. But we do already have a network of ‘slow spaces’ across the country, almost no village or community is without one, we generally call them churches.

These should be places that operate at a different rhythm, a slower pace. Where the call of eternity takes precedence over the demands of the immediate. Places where we gain perspective on our often frantic lives, where we learn to ‘walk with God in the cool of the evening.’ Where we hear afresh Jesus’ call to, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

There was a popular phrase I remember from my youth, “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse”. It comes from a 1947 book by Willard Motley ‘Knock on Any Door’.

From a Christian perspective I would want to re-write this as,

“Live slowly, die well, have a beautiful soul“

Christmas Changes Everything

The opening part of John’s gospel is known as the Prologue.

It is written with a chiastic structure, this means that it has a central verse, and it is that verse which communicates the most important idea. The central verse of the Prologue is this one,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God

John 1:12

If you had to summarise St John’s understanding of the meaning of Christmas, it would be this. For St John, Christmas means that those who will receive Christ, who will turn to him as their Saviour and Lord, are now offered the possibility of being adopted into God’s family, to become Children of God.

St John will express the same idea and draw out the significance of what it means in perhaps the most famous verse of his gospel;

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

This verse tells us that to be part of God’s family means life.
God will not allow Himself to be separated from His beloved children, not even by death.
And because death is not the end, life has meaning.

One of my favourite poems is Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe SHELLEY. SHELLEY took his inspiration from a Roman-era historian Diodorus Siculus, who described a statue of Ozymandias, more commonly known as Rameses II (possibly the pharaoh referred to in the Book of Exodus). Diodorus reports having seen a statue, which he claims was the largest in Egypt, which had an inscription on it which read:

“King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”

Diodorus siculus

Inspired by this account, SHELLEY crafted a sonnet. In this poem a traveller crosses a deserted landscape and comes across the ruins of statue, of a once great and glorious king.

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

‘Ozymandias’ by Percy bysshe shelley

The point of the poem is that, if death is the end, then even the greatest of lives ultimately has no meaning. We are born, we may flourish for a while, we may even achieve greatness. But we fade, we die, we are eventually forgotten. What we did, how we lived, what we achieved, the choices we made, none of it has any lasting meaning or value – if death is the end.

But Jesus comes to open up to humankind a different possibility.
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

To those who will receive it, Jesus offers life. Eternal life. Life that continues beyond the grave. A greater life, a fuller life, and endless life.

That offer transforms the nature of this earthly life. This life becomes the preparation. To use an acting metaphor, this life is the rehearsal for that greater life, that greater reality which is to come. This life is where we develop our character, where learn to take on, to live into our role as Children of God.

This life is where we learn to make the right choices, where we begin to learn to live and act according to the values of the Kingdom of God. To do those things that bless and enrich and augment, rather than those things that destroy and impoverish and damage.


“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

The Power and Peril of Dreams

There are 21 dreams recorded in the Bible, 15 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New. Of the 6 New Testament dreams, Joseph, the Father of Jesus, has 4 of them. You might want to reflect on that fact. Why? Why Joseph and why so many?

You might remember that there was another Joseph in the Old Testament for whom dreams were also highly significant – Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor DREAM Coat.

Throughout human history, people have felt dreams to be significant as ways in which knowledge and insight can come to us.

In our scientific age, with the advent of Freud and Jung and the science of psychoanalysis, the significance of dreams has taken on a new dimension. The strange thing about the human mind is that we are often unaware of what is going on in our own head. We have no access to our subconscious mind. But in dreams that subconscious mind can break through. Psychoanalysis uses that access to the subconscious in dealing with mental health problems. Problems such as anxiety, depression etc. can be caused by unresolved trauma or deep existential concerns in our subconscious. Dreams can give us clues as to what is going on at the deepest level of our minds.

As Christians we believe that dreams operate at 3 levels –

• Metabolic – you eat cheese late at night, your digestive system has to work hard processing this, so you don’t sleep as restfully and it can give you weird dreams. It is a purely physical phenomenon.

• Psychological – in sleep our minds process the events of the day, or our subconscious can break through, all of which can shape our dreams. Again, this is purely natural.

• Spiritual – We also believe that God can sometimes use our dreams to communicate with us.

All of these 3 can be happening at the same time. So we need to discern our dreams. I see my spiritual director each month and before we meet, I send him the past month of my spiritual journal – my noting down of anything in my life feels is spiritually significant, any sense of God at work, any issues I am struggling, any scriptures that have felt important, and also any significant dreams that I have had. We then work through that material together to try and discern what God might be doing in my life, or saying to me.

Rev Russ PARKER, who was in Leicester diocese for a while, was one of the first people to rediscover the spiritual significance of dreams in the 80s and 90s. His books ‘Healing Dreams’ and ‘Visions in the Night’ give practical advice on how to offer your dreams to God as a way of his speaking to you and how to reflect upon and discern any dreams you might have for their spiritual meaning.

There is a general principle in the spiritual life, called the Matthew 13:12 principle. Jesus talking about how people hear his message says;

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.

Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

Matthew 13:12

What Jesus means is that, when you hear God speak, if you are receptive to that and respond to it, then your attention and receptiveness will be rewarded by God speaking to you even more.

But if you hear God speak and refuse and reject that message, then God won’t speak to you again and you will lose even what little spiritual insight you have.

This applies to all of the divine mechanisms of communication. In whatever way you pay attention to God, that way becomes a way in which God is more likely to speak to you. To put it another way, God speaks to us in the way that we are most paying attention. Joseph pays attention to God speaking in his dreams and God uses that means of communication again and again.

This reality has a very frightening aspect to it. What if Joseph had not recognised that God was speaking to him in his dream. What if he just put it down to eating cheese late at night?

Or, what if Joseph had recognised that it was God speaking but felt that the shame of being laughed at, of losing face in his community, when a baby arrives too early to be legitimate, was too high a price to pay? What if Joseph had ignored his dream and just gone ahead with his plan to separate from Mary? What would he have missed out on? He would never have been the father of the messiah. He would never have been celebrated down through history as St Joseph patron saint of fathers and families.

Do you see the point? This should terrify us.

It means that in the humdrum of our everyday life there is always the possibility that God’s invitation will come to us.

And it will always be an invitation that we can easily miss.

And it will always be an invitation that we can easily refuse.

How terrifying is that?!

So, the first question for us today is, are we paying attention?

Are we making space for hearing God in our daily lives?

Do we have a posture of openness?

Are we paying attention in the circumstances of our everyday lives for signs of God’s activity?

Are we spiritually awake?

The second question comes when we sense that God may have spoken to us. That question is, what are we going to do about it?

Are we prepared to take it seriously?

Are we prepared to obey?

Even if, like Joseph it messes up our nicely-ordered plans? Even if it is costly?

Advent is a time for taking stock. Looking at ourselves long and hard in the mirror. As we think about the Christmas story and the examples of the characters in that story, their openness to hearing from God, their willingness to obey, perhaps we might reflect on our own lives. Amen.