Sermon: Jesus Christ is enough – Galatians 1:11-end

Been a while since I preached, but tonight at our Evening Service of Holy Communion with Prayer for Healing, I’ve had the chance to get to grips with Paul’s earliest letter, the one he sent to the Galatians. 

There is a lot of talk in our news these days about the power of the regulator. Whether it is the press, the energy companies, education, or – dare I say it – the church !, regulation is seen as a means of offering control or enforcing responsibility, or of speaking on behalf of those who regard themselves as damaged, disenfranchised or dismissed, or not, as the case may be.

In our reading from Galatians this evening, St. Paul is speaking into a situation where the regulatory authorities, known as the Judaisers, have muddied the waters of the Galatians’ freedom found by faith in Christ. These Judaisers have come and played on people’s doubts and fears, suggesting that the gentile Galatians can’t possibly be proper Christians unless they are circumcised like the Jews to whom Jesus came first; circumcised like Christ himself would have been. They are trying to apply the regulations of the old Hebrew Law being applied in this new community, new context, new covenant. Why? So that the Judaisers can avoid the pressure they’re getting from other Jews who see them spending rather a lot of time with Gentiles (Gal 6:12). The regulators were suggesting others fudge the issue of their faith in an act of self-preservation.

Regulators achieving nothing but confusion, and fudging the real truth of a situation? Regulator’s making life difficult for others in an effort to get the authorities off their back? Now who’d have thought it! 😉

These regulators, the Judaisers, are making it up. Forming man-made rules for a new situation. Granted, they’re from old, divinely-ordained rules, but they’ve not thought about whether these are still appropriate, relevant to the new situation, and, importantly, in line with the revelation of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul however, is on their case, and on the case of the Galatians too, and woe betide those who catch his attention by deviating from the priority of living by the Spirit (Gal 5:16)! 

He knows he’s told them before, but he’s darn well going to tell them again, and given that it’s written down in large, friendly letters (Gal 6:11), to be read, shared, and re-read among the community, they’re not going to be allowed to forget it. ‘It’ being Paul’s autobiography.

Paul was not brought to faith by men. (Or women for that matter if I want to avoid being accused of sexism.) Unlike the Centurion to whom Peter was sent to explain the faith, or the Ethiopian Eunuch whom Philip baptised after a conversation on a chariot, Paul got it direct. He simply, and most spectacularly, encountered the risen Christ. A bit like Peter and Philip, but much more instantaneous and dramatic and without their three years wandering around Judea as Jesus’ disciples.

We know the story, so let’s not spend time on the road to Damascus, because in this account Paul doesn’t either. Neither does he mention the three days he spent blind and starving before he was healed by Ananias and the scales fell from his eyes (Acts 9:17). What he sees as important for the Galatians, and what is important that we consider for ourselves today, is how much he listened to other Christians.

Paul didn’t. He didn’t consult or listen to anyone (Gal 1:16). We’re not told by Luke in Acts, or here in Galatians, of any detailed explanation being given by Ananias of who Jesus Christ was, and what he had done through his death and resurrection for this warrant-wielding, chain-jangling persecutor. There was no baptism prep – Ananias simply baptised him. No Alpha course, no catechises, no ordination training. 😉 Saul has encountered Christ, and that is enough. As Paul, a changed man, he simply preaches in Damascus a bit, gets himself into trouble (Acts 9:19-25), escapes and goes away for three years, during which he falls almost completely off the radar.

The raging fanatic of a Jew that was Saul, complicit in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), goes away after meeting the risen Christ, listens to and talks with none of the key leaders of the Christian faith, skips off to Arabia, to spend three years doing… doing what exactly? Probably to grapple directly with God over all the different questions he now had about how all the different things he’d grown up learning and knowing as a devout and high-flying Jew were changed by his encounter with Jesus. It’s not like the region around Mount Sinai known as Arabia, hadn’t been used for a similar purpose once or twice before!

And that is his key point in this passage. Jesus Christ was enough. He didn’t need to be persuaded of who Jesus was – he knew all that. We know that this isn’t that long after the resurrection, given his presence at Stephen’s stoning, and Saul’d been persecuting the Christians because he knew exactly who Jesus had said he was, and feared the consequences! Now, he knew first-hand, that far from being a rabble rousing circus act, Jesus really was the Son of God (Gal 1:15-16), there was nothing to question. Neither did he need to have his preaching skills judged by the leaders of the church at this stage; his theological studies and his skills of oration were not in question!

No, what we sense here is important, is that he went to spend time with God. The scales had fallen from his eyes, he no longer needed to be confined by the chains of the old covenant in which he was well-versed, but instead he needed to explore for himself the freedom he talks about later in Galatians, the freedom of faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5). He had something that he would later write about to the Corinthians, ‘the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2Cor 4:6).

So when Paul is writing to the Galatians saying “don’t listen to the regulators”, he’s saying it because he had no intention of letting the Galatians be hood-winked by the very laws that he himself had broken free of. The Galatians connection with God needed to come direct, without interference. The regulations of circumcision weren’t appropriate or applicable to these Gentile converts to the Christian faith.

The same goes for us to. Jesus Christ is enough. Faith in Christ gives freedom to live life as God would have us do, directly responsible to him – testing the appropriateness of our actions and callings in the light of the Gospel of Christ, yes, but not testing or regulating the Gospel itself, received by faith. If Christ is recognisable in the Gospel we preach, then God, not man, is praised. The glory goes to God (Gal 1:24). If we put regulations round that Gospel, try and contain it within a set of tick-box criteria that say it’s only authentic if we live it out a certain way, worship in a certain fashion, say certain prayers, wear or otherwise a certain set of clothes, then we’re regulating the Gospel we’ve received.

Yes, we’ve all received a Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus that is not of human origin. It’s a gospel that we have to grapple with daily, whether we encounter it as something shockingly fresh on our road through life, meet it in the healing hands of another believer, or the preaching and witness of a sick man as was the case for the Galatians (Gal 4:12-14). How we receive the Gospel, and the encounters we have with the Holy Spirit as we continually respond to it, is likely to impact heavily on our calling, our Gospel life.

Paul encountered God’s grace in a very direct way, so that’s how he delivers the message of that grace – his letter’s are hardly examples of tact and diplomacy! 🙂 It might not come over very gently, but what Paul desired was that the focus of the Galatians be brought back to Christ, that they be healed of the distractions that the Judaisers are causing. As far as we’re aware, Paul didn’t notify the Jewish authorities that he’d had a change of faith, though I’m sure in due course it became rather noticeable! He didn’t go and check out what he should say and do with other Christian leaders so that they could guide and regulate him. When he returned from Arabia to share the Gospel of Christ, he did so through preaching and debate that was appropriate to Gentile communities spiritually hungry to find truth among the plethora of known and unknown god’s in the Greek and Roman world.

As I’ve been studying recently how and why we celebrate Holy Communion, I’ve revisited the story of Sara Miles, the foody and atheist journalist, who wandered into a particular church one day on a whim and ‘ate Jesus’ as she terms it, in bread and wine. Her encounter with Jesus was that direct, involved no initial explanation of the Gospel, no permission to share in the Eucharistic meal, no baptism. Her call about which she writes in ‘Take This Bread’, turns out to revolve round feeding people who are desperately hungry physically and spiritually; feeding them with sacks of basic food-stuffs off the altar table, and breaking bread in a radically inclusive and sacramental community, all so that others can encounter Jesus without little things like man-made regulations getting in the way.

It’s a tough call deciding to what extent we need to live with and by the regulations we encounter. Few would deny the need for child-protection legislation and the regulations that attend it, but what about in other aspects of our lives? At a corporate level, there are plenty of regulations in the Anglican Church, but is there a sense in which some of them can hinder us from proclaiming the Gospel in some places or at some times? Or are people praising God because of what they see St. Peter’s Church doing in extending the Kingdom of God? We have a Diocesan Bishop who is calling us to be pioneering in the way we connect with our communities, who is encouraging parishes to think “outside the box” as they join in with what God wants to do. Is the gaze of this church firmly fixed on Jesus Christ, or is there perhaps a box which says ‘St. Peter’s only does things this way’ that needs chucking in the skip, so that there’s no danger of fudging and confusing the opportunities that are presented by the Holy Spirit!?

As we consider the Gospel we have received – our own encounters with Jesus, which we will renew this evening in bread and wine and prayer – how is that going to be shared? Will we allow it to be regulated by the way we, or others, think it ‘should’ be done, or will we respond with the freedom of knowing the Holy Spirit will guide us? How much will we keep our Gospel linked to the encounters with Christ that we’ve had as individuals, and how to bridge the gap between that Gospel and the needs of the spiritually hungry? Are we really living like Jesus Christ is enough?


Living Hermeneutically about Homosexuality (thanks to Steve Chalke)

Pink Primrose
I didn’t have a photo that seemed particularly appropriate to this item, so here’s a pink New Forest Primrose currently flowering against the odds in my garden.

About ten years ago my husband and I were delighted to become Godparents to the child of some old college friends, and co-Godparent with their close friend who happens to be a lesbian Christian.  We had no problem with this, but I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t something I particularly advertised among my Christian friends back at home in our reasonably evangelical church.

There, at about the same era of our lives, I heard at least one sermon deliberately advertised as and preached against homosexuality. I still have the notes that went with it somewhere on file upstairs. I couldn’t agree with it, but somehow felt unable to argue against it, through lack of knowledge and lack of nerve.

Recently I mentioned on Facebook Sara Miles’ autobiographical ‘Take this bread’ as being ministry changing. A friend rang me some days later having bought and read the book. She commented that she kept expecting Sara to deny her lesbian sexuality as she came to understand more about Christ, and that this was one of the things she had found most challenging about the book, because it didn’t happen. I realised that this simply hadn’t been an issue for me, I was far more interested in the challenge of the hospitality of the Eucharist and Baptism! That’s for another day, but it showed me that perhaps I ought to share more openly what I think about homosexual relationships and how I hold my views as having integrity with my Christian faith.

Now seems an appropriate moment for asking forgiveness of my few homosexual acquaintances for my silence, but I admit I only do so, because someone else has done the hard work of expressing their thinking on the subject, far more eloquently and comprehensively than I would. Suddenly I don’t feel so alone, and can unashamedly and lazily quote them.

First, I came across this quite balanced article around New Year from the Independent ‘Evangelicals who say being gay is OK’.

Then, this week, even better, was Steve Chalke’s excellent article ‘A Matter of Integrity’ which talks about responding hermeneutically ‘in thoughtful conformity to Christ’ to the matter of homosexuality and particularly homosexual relationships. I probably ought to find something to argue with him over, but I’m afraid I’ve failed. I’m either that bad, or he’s that good, you decide.

I have always disliked inconsistency, especially in myself, so hiding what I think hasn’t always been as comfortable as it might be. Before my BAP I was advised to work out what I thought about the ministry of homosexuals and homosexual relationships, in case I got quizzed on what I thought. I wasn’t, but the preparation was still useful.

Possibly Steve Chalke would see my thinking as a twisted exegesis, but looking back at my notes, my studies suggested that Leviticus 18 seems to be about not unthinkingly copying the behaviours of those people live among and keeping the purity of our relationship with God. Leviticus 20 asked people not to defile the sanctuary of God with any inappropriate behaviour, and I noted today we wouldn’t condone the death of anyone for the offences mentioned. In the New Testament, the use of the word translated ‘perverts’ in 1 Tim 1:10 comes from a Greek word the meaning of which is unclear, whilst there was a commonly used word for gay men that Paul hadn’t used (I can’t blog the Greek, sorry). Paul’s teaching here is directed at the goal of being pure in heart, of good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:15) which is what I was trying to work through to in this context!

So to have Steve Chalke articulate where his study (which includes these passages among others) has brought him to on this issue, has been very helpful. It has also finally made clear to me the difference between Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics – the former is just one tool among others for speaking about and living out the latter. Hermeneutics is basically what Sara Miles grapples with in her book, as in the midst of unexpectedly eating Christ she tries to grapple with what it means to try and live out God’s hospitality.

If doing hermeneutics means  looking at the Biblical revelation of the nature of Christ, in a way that ‘encompasses verbal and non-verbal communication of the wider culture’ then and now, then that’s what I see myself called to do now, and in the future as a priest. Sharing truths that might challenge others in their faith, is going to have to be part of the deal. I might not like the arguments that result from this, but that’s the next challenge I have to live with I guess.

So, there’s me then, coming out all hermeneutical and proud of it.

Imitating God – a team event! Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

I had worried that using an Olympic theme might be too much for some this morning, but apparently it wasn’t as I’ve lots of positive feedback. For many however, the image that spoke to them most was that of the spider crabs who shed their shells! Go on, read it, and tell me what you think!

I have done extensive research over the last couple of weeks, and I make no apologies – this sermon will have a distinctly Olympic flavour.

As we celebrate, I wonder how many of us have wished that we
● Had the breadth of skills and strength of Jess Ennis
● Could run as far and as fast as Mo Farah
● Or cycle with the speed and stamina of Wiggo or the highest achieving of them all, Sir Chris Hoy!

They are, the games organisers hope, an inspiration for generations to come; people who are now the ‘gold standard’ of what it means to be a British athlete. People to imitate and look up to.

But though some of their achievements are down to natural talent, the next generation of athletes can’t expect to roll up at a track and just win a medal! Despite protesting that he has a lackadaisical training regime, even the Bolt himself couldn’t do that and win two individual gold medals!

All of our sporting heroes would testify to what their Gold medals have cost them in blood, sweat and tears! They would also say that over time, and because of their total and utter commitment to what they wanted to achieve, their skills and abilities have improved by stages: sometimes almost imperceptibly; sometimes in unexpectedly large gains, like those who have gained new personal bests during the championships, even if they’ve not won a medal!

Before many of the British competitors have featured in their event, we’ve also probably seen and heard the stories of tough training regimes, early mornings circuit training, hours spent in the pool fitted round the school day, miles and miles clocked up pounding roads or pedals to develop stamina. These are the things that make them different, because what makes people stand out as Olympic Champions isn’t the winning a medal, but what has gone into it, their motivation and commitment to their sport.

After each event, and perhaps dreaded by more than just the competitors, the post-competition interviews have been a testimony to all those who have helped support each competitor – the behind-the-scenes team of coaches, health professionals and very often family members who have dedicated huge amounts of time, effort and often money to each Olympian’s success. For example the family of our Olympic Dressage Gold Medalist, Charlotte Dujardin, had spent their inheritance on a horse who they felt was worthy of a girl who (they said) “could make a donkey dance”!

If people are willing to make such massive sacrifices in an effort to achieve Olympic medals, and inspire a nation of would-be athletes, then this passage is surely challenging us to consider what we need, and the sacrifices that we must make, if we are going to be imitators of God!

When we become Christians, we are making a commitment to do our utmost to be moulded into a better and better likeness of God, to be changed from whatever we were, and recreated into something new and improved.

This is what St Paul is referring to in the verses that proceed what was read just now. We are reminded that as Christians we should have a new attitude of mind, one that is different from those that prevail in the norms of non-Christian societies, one that puts away our old selves and enables us to be renewed to form a likeness of God.

But, when our friends, colleagues and the neighbours in our street look at us, do they in fact see a gold standard Christian, totally recognisable as such, known by our actions as a Christian, how we live, how we speak, and by our dealings with others? Or if we look through the eyes of others, are we showing signs of fatigue, a lack of match practice or race fitness perhaps due to the fact that we’re not necessarily putting time in on the basics of living up to our faith in God?!

So what do we need to focus on in our training programme as a Christian, and what sacrifices must we make, to be formed into something even faintly resembles the likeness of God that we commit to striving for by professing our faith in him?

The key thing here, is to remember, we’re not completely on our own, because in a very special way, it’s a team event!

Yes, as Ephesians stresses repeatedly, we are called to be faithful witnesses in our own special way, part of the living unified body Christ on earth, each created for specific tasks and gifted to fulfil them. That is indeed the team of which we are part, a national team if you like of people who are all different but belong in some way to the same place. It’s like people sort of joked last Saturday, when comments were passed that it’s wonderful to see the variety of Great Britains who have won us gold medals; not just the mixed-race, the white public school kids, past asylum seekers, the every-day Brits, but EVEN a ginger – a red-head!

But though that’s very important to remember, that’s not the team that we need to focus on when we’re planning our own individual training program as Christian’s. What we have that is special is the most elite support team available.
God has provided us, his dearly loved children, with exactly the raw talent, the family support and coaching staff that we need.

The raw talent we possess is of course that we have already been created in God’s image, which I think we can acknowledge gives us a head start in achieving our goal. The problem is how often do we actually remember that our natural talents and abilities, are God given, God created, and that therefore we have some responsibility to God for keeping them in good working order, and using them to the best of our abilities. If we aren’t or we don’t then we are dishonouring God, and the image of him that he wants for us.

Then there is our faith in Christ – the one perfect sacrifice, who gave up absolutely everything for God, and for us. Created by God in human form, Jesus is just as much a member of our family support team as our Father who made us. And of course, he made the ultimate sacrifice if we remember the cross is the place where he paid the price for our failures to honour the image of God that is placed in each of us. It’s what Jesus did that means that each time we realise a mistake we’ve made in our training programme, we can understand what it means to be forgiven, so that we can focus clearly again on what bits of God we are best suited to imaging in our lives.

And of course, if we struggle sometimes to see ourselves as an imitation of God, Jesus gives us the ultimate example of what we’re aiming at. Because that’s what we should be striving for; to be more like Christ; to imitate him as the example we have been given of what it means to be like enough to the character of God, for others to recognise that likeness as real and true. For as the beginning of Eph 5 tells us, we are to

“Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2)

Just as Christ.
When we recognise that we have been created as children of God, and that Jesus is THE ‘gold standard’ of what we are called to be, we don’t want to be shown up as fakes or imposters, with no more likeness to God than wearing a set of false sideburns makes us a likeness of Bradley Wiggins! Surely we want to be as Christ-like as we can possibly be?

And yet, it’s such a tough call isn’t it? I guess we’d all admit, we’re hardly overnight success stories. The process is a gradual one, as we allow God to work in our lives, and as situations arise where we find new gifts, or new ways of making the best use of the way that we’ve been created.

That is why St Paul is reminding us in this passage that every detail of our behaviour has to have integrity with Christ’s example of what we’re called to be as imitators of God, on his national team.

Jesus got angry. He turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, he highlighted the mis-match between what the scribes and the pharisees taught and how they actually behaved. He brought healing that enabled people to look after themselves, setting an example of kindness, compassion and love that stood out in a world of bitterness and hatred. Jesus spoke truth, and indeed was truth, where there was none.

Yet, even when angry Jesus didn’t allow his anger to get out of control, nor the monumental task ahead of him to stop him from what he was doing. In the Wilderness, and the Garden of Gethsemane, the work of the devil against God’s mission in the world wasn’t given a foothold, but was pushed aside so that Jesus could focus on his chief task – to make it possible for each of us to have a personal relationship with God that has no boundaries.

Except of course that we often construct our own protective shells, as a barrier that protects us from the world around us, enabling us to feel safe from the pain that others can cause us, which we might think has the added benefit of making us feel like we’re tough enough and strong enough to cope in the world on our own.

The preacher, beachcombing on Rhossili Beach, 2nd August 2012 (photographed by her husband)

For all those suffering Olympic fatigue, let me take you to the beach for a few moments. We’ve recently had our holiday on The Gower, and been introduced to the wonderful and sometimes huge beaches there, particularly to Rhossili.

One of our favourite activities on a beach is beach-combing; walking the tide-line armed with a carrier bag and a camera, finding things of interest. It might be a bit of drift wood, the skeleton of a seabird, a range of interesting seashells. On Rhossili we came across probably hundreds of spider crab shells, just the bit that covers the main body of the crab. Some were quite tiny, others were bigger and often encrusted with little barnacles or the little wiggly lines of ‘shell’ made by keel worms.

The reason that there were so many of them, was because crabs shed their shells as they grow. The shells being hard limit the size of the crab inside them, so as they get bigger they shed the shell, with whatever is hitching a free ride on the outside of it, and a new shell forms and hardens to fit the new contours of the crab. If you are a spider crab it must feel good to get rid of the constriction and the extra weight of those lodgers living on your shell, and instead have the freedom to grow and do the new things that your extra size allows. And yet, at the points in its’ life where it sheds it’s current shell before forming a new one, it is both at it most vulnerable, and presumably growing at the fastest rate.

I thought of these spider crabs when I was considering how we train, grow and develop as Christian’s towards the ‘gold standard’ of who we are called to be in God’s image.

We shouldn’t be trying to be more like Christ, by ourselves, or in our own strength, protected by the shell of things that make us feel safe, but which tend to allow bad habits to get a foothold and make a rather noticeable home in our lives, which then hides our faith in God, and what we’re really meant to be like.

To go back to the idea of our own Olympic training support team, what we are in effect trying to do is trying to fulfil our God given potential, and live up the example set by Christ, without making use of the coach we’ve been provided with!

We lie to the world, and are not authentic in our desire to be like God, if we try to follow him without relying on the guidance and direction of our coach, the Holy Spirit, who after all has been given us by God as his means of communicating with us.

In The Message version of the Bible, Eph 4 v30 is written like this:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.

We have to shed the protective casing that can often form almost imperceptibly around us, and take the risk of making ourselves vulnerable, if we are to continue growing into the imitation of God that we are capable of. Only without that protective casing can our God-given coach really help us grow, because the Holy Spirit needs the freedom to work with who we are on the inside.

If we want to honour the example Christ has set us, and be the best imitators of God we possibly can be, then we have to give him the freedom to coach us, to let him have his way with us, so that we can be the best we possibly can be. We aren’t on our own, this is a team event, and we have the best chance possible of winning with the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit on our support team.

Sunset from Rhossili Beach, 24th July 2012

Eavesdropping and entrapment – Jeremiah 20:1-13

Rather unusually for me, this was a rather more expository sermon than I normally deliver. 

I wonder how often we listen in on other people’s conversations, either inadvertently because we happen to be nearby, or deliberately to discover something of interest or importance to us. It’s not always advisable, but it’s actually quite easy to find ourselves doing it. But what if were able to eavesdrop on the conversations that some people have with God?

Let’s take Rowan Williams as an example. I wonder, hypothetically you understand, what Uncle Rowan might have said to God recently? Say, about 2 weeks ago, during General Synod perhaps? Because he the public eye, we don’t have to eavesdrop on what he actually said; things like “I long to see women bishops in the C of E” and also “I long for there to be … provision for those who continue to have theological reservations on this subject.” Yet, I wonder, as the deeply prayerful man he is known to be, whether in his private spaces with God, he allowed his frustration to show, and suggested that God placed a ‘plague on both their houses?!’

In this passage from Jeremiah we are being given quite deliberately, the opportunity to eavesdrop on two conversations. One between a prophet and his colleague priest, and the other between the same prophet and God.

We hear the first of these conversations in three ways:
● as a passer by watching an altercation between two priests by a Temple gate in Jerusalem;
● as a Jewish slave of the Babylonian empire denied a homeland and a place of worship by the actions of our forbears;
● and today, as the inheritor of this ancient text looking through the lens of a new covenant found in Christ.

If we were passing the Upper Gate of Benjamin shortly before the fall of Jerusalem, we would quite possibly have recognised both the characters who stood at odds with each other.

One was the outspoken critic of the nation’s greed and idolatry who called the people to reform and repent, and who prophesied in the name of God the destruction of not just their Holy of Holies but of their city and their nation.

The other, nominally a priestly colleague of the first, was the legal guardian of the Temple precincts, known probably for his placatory blindness to the greed and violence of the nation, and keen to protect his position and his family.

One was fresh from the stocks, derided, ignored, denounced and whispered against; the other maintained the status quo by denying the truth of God by force.

Seeing them confronting each other was probably no surprise, but perhaps as an eavesdropper we would have sensed the change of focus in the prophet’s words. For this priestly official of the temple, the word of God had suddenly got personal, very personal indeed. It was no longer words spoken against a nation with whom God had lost patience, but with a leader of the people, whose very family, wealth and person would be exiled and destroyed. To hear someone so exulted be confronted by news of their own death and burial anywhere outside of Jerusalem, as a result of their own jealousy and pride, must surely have shaken the idle listener if not the thick-skinned guardian of the Temple.

But would that eavesdropper really have considered that all that Jeremiah spoke affected them? Or, because nothing had actually happened to anyone since Jeremiah had first proclaimed God’s vengeance, would it have been dismissed as someone else’s problem, and simply become an incident to gossip round the next street corner?

Hearing the description of that incident read, several decades after the event, as a Jewish slave in a foreign land, knowing that all the prophet Jeremiah had spoken had come true, must have stung. The blame for your own situation could be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the Temple priest, and those like him who had ignored the word of God, for the sake of their own position and gain.

Living in the context of the exile that Jeremiah had foretold, perhaps contemplating the loosening grip of the Babylonian empire on your life, and the long dreamed-of return to Jerusalem, listening to that story could have inspire a waryness to the motives of your leaders, and a considerable motivation to be faithful to God in all things. And yet, and yet…

Today, we don’t eavesdrop on the prophet’s words from a nearby gateway, or read the account like a history book written in hindsight. Now, through the lens of the Gospels, we watch the persecution of Jeremiah by his fellow priests, and see in it a precursor of the persecution which Jesus suffered at the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees 600 years after these events, when once again God’s covenant people were not open to the word of God being proclaimed among them within the Temple Courts.

Is Jeremiah’s accusatory prophesy over Pashhur so far removed from Jesus’ condemning the money changers in the Temple within sight of the chief priests and teachers of the law, in Matthew 21? No, it isn’t.

Is it so far removed from those who speak out against tax avoidance and un-necessary brand dominance at the Olympics, or those that are concerned for injustices in milk prices, or the secularisation of our education system? No, it isn’t. But, do these contemporary voices speak in the name of God, or simply from a sense of general moral outrage?

Because, as I’m sure both our Archbishops are only too well aware from personal experience, like Jeremiah, if you are called to speak what you understand as God’s truth, in the public sphere today, you are likely to be derided, denounced and whispered against, ignored by many of those to whom you speak.

Little surprise then, if when Christian leaders have their personal time out for a private conversation with God, they get more than a little peevish, and lament their lot. Just like Jeremiah.

For the second part of the passage here is no piece of poetry or the account of a public display of weakness, but a written testimony to a “vocational crisis, caused by the prophet’s distress at being stuck between an insistent God and a resistant people”, designed perhaps to bring about the remorse or repentance of those still in exile for whom it was recounted.

Jeremiah, is not the only person in the world ever to have felt backed into a corner by God, with no way out but to fulfil a calling that they know will bring hardship, persecution and the reproach and misrepresentation of even those that should be their colleagues. It is perhaps a case of entrapment rather than deception, because Jeremiah 1 shows that no deception has been involved. For it is clear from the outset of Jeremiah’s calling that he recognised God as putting the words in his mouth, and that those to whom he proclaimed their own idolatry and wickedness, would fight against him, what he said, and the God he stood for.

If we look again through the lens of the Gospels, are the sufferings of Jeremiah really so very different to those that Jesus warns his disciples of in John 16, knowing as he did that the authorities would put them out of the synagogue, or ordinary people kill them thinking that by doing so they were offering a service to God? (John 16:2)

In fact is this lament of Jeremiah’s, condemned by some since as blasphemous, really so very different from Jesus’ cry from the cross “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”! (Mark 15:34)

Yet, Jeremiah’s complaints do not stay focused on the God that placed him in this situation. He knows that he is in the service of God’s compelling truth, and that is why he must speak it, a truth that speaks out both against the violence and destruction of a nation against its own faith and people, and of the violence and destruction that will be ranged against them by external forces. Jeremiah cannot be true to his calling under God by being silent.

So Jeremiah’s sharpest complaints are against his persecutors, and his only request of God is against them, that God might judge them by their actions. It is not that God doesn’t know his cause, for we know it is the one to which God called him, but it is one that his own humanity requires him to lay before God so that he forces himself to acknowledge God’s ownership of the situation in which he feels trapped.
Tough though he is finding the ministry of prophet, he acknowledges God as a mighty warrior, fighting as foretold on the side of the truth Jeremiah proclaims. So even at this his lowest ebb, the prophet is able to silence his own complaints with thanksgiving, full of confidence in God’s deliverance.

Surely that was a word of hope to those in exile in Babylon. God can be trusted, and will fulfil the prophesy they were to read about later in the account of their exile that “When seventy years are completed in Babylon, God would come to them and fulfil his good promise to bring them back to Jerusalem.” (Jer 29:10)

Again through the lens of the Gospel, Christ prophesies that he will die but rise again (Mark 8:31) but then be taken from from his people so that the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth (John 16:12) can bring God’s people back to a place of relationship with him, a new Jerusalem. God’s word of truth, through prophets like Jeremiah down the ages to Christ’s own teaching, can be trusted.

So, where does all that leave us today?

Firstly, it poses us questions about whether our private conversations with God have integrity.

Do they really reflect the anguish of serving God faithfully, and if they don’t, why don’t they?

Is it because we are like the unfaithful idolaters ignoring the truth that God is speaking into our hearts, directly or through the mouths of others, and we can’t therefore look God squarely in the face and pour out our hearts to him?

Or is it because when we have been obedient to his calling, and found that true to his word, God has placed us in some darn tight uncomfortable corner where we are forced to say things that make us unpopular or do things that cause us emotional pain or turmoil, we feel we shouldn’t lay it all before him and cry out in our distress: “Lord, you got me into this mess; now get me out again!”?

Secondly, we are being posed questions about the level to which we embody the word of God.

We proclaim in our creed that we believe in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, that by those means we live in a relationship as close to God as the one that Jeremiah witnessed to. Yet, is our faith in God visible as something which burns within us in such a way that it drives our behaviour and our thinking in every waking moment, both the public ones, and the private ones?

For all the torture, the gloomy prophesy, the sense of being trapped in a God-given situation over which a mere human has no control, the frustration at man’s inhumanity to man and unfaithfulness to God, this passage should give us hope!

We have a God who is with us, and though he sees us for who we are, we live in that new covenant relationship of forgiveness through Christ for what is past. With utter honesty we can lay before God our fears and frustrations, and we can always start afresh each day to witness to God’s faithfulness and sing the praises of the one who upholds in all we do in his name and for his glory.

God’s indispensable bubbles – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

I actually preached this more than a week ago, and it feeds from what I was thinking here about how our new bishop has challenged me personally. It also draws inspiration from a affirmation of faith for children which uses bubbles that I saw on Fr Simon Rundell’s blog here. I’m not sure what our (more elderly) mid-week congregation made of it, but I hope it spoke to them, and might speak to you.

I wonder what connections we will each make in our minds when I say the words “washing up liquid”?

We might remember that we failed to complete the washing up before we left home this morning, that (in my case) the men in my family have a habit of often leaving the dirty washing up water in the sink bowl for hours afterwards, or we might think of clean, fresh, hot washing up water, full of bubbles!

Bubbles! (blow some)

I found an affirmation of faith this week, that is based round blowing bubbles, which I thought we could actually share now, rather than the creed we normally say later in the service.

As you watch the bubbles form (blow some more) see the way the light shines on them: are there rainbows revealed within?

Each shares the same shape, spherical, but each is different in size, unique and special. Just like us.

Our identity as Christian’s as we’ll have heard in 1 Corinthians 12:1-12 last week, is as God’s people, the Body of Christ, made in his image. That is why we are infinite in variety, beautiful in shape, and perfect in form, like these bubbles (blow some more.)

So remembering that, can our affirmation of faith be that of answering a really positive, “Yes!” to these statements.

God the Father, created these bubbles, the universe, and each and every one of us. Do we believe this? Yes!

God the Son, Saviour of us all, who breathed the same air as us on this earth, the same air with which these bubbles are filled, lives today in our hearts. Do we believe this? Yes!

God the Spirit, who moves these bubbles, and which fills this space with power from on high, plays within us, guiding and strengthening us. Do we believe this? Yes!

If we are like those bubbles, it’s rather worrying because many of them have gone. (Look round, there might still be a few left somewhere.)

The fine film of soapy water that forms those beautiful spheres has been popped by the air pressure in the world around us. Their strong but fragile surfaces have broken; died if you like.

The soap detergent that forms those bubbles, and does all the hard work in our washing up bowls to make things clean, can only do so much, before the dirt and the pressure of air around them, brings their lives as bubbles to an end.

Which is I guess where we hope we’re like the last remaining bubbles, hanging up there in the air, perhaps stuck to something, and where perhaps the analogy could end.

But I know there are times in our lives when we feel weak. It’s like the bubble of exciting, joy bringing, brightly coloured life that we were, has been popped. It might be through age, illness, the situations that are putting pressure on our lives (like an impending house move, or a change of jobs), but that sense of weakness can come to make us feel that we’re useless, to God or to anyone else for that matter.

In 1 Corinthians 12:22 we read just now “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” The bubbles, or at least the detergent that forms them, may be weak but it is indispensable – certainly if our dishes are to be cleaned thoroughly, and we are to have fun blowing bubbles with our children and grandchildren!

It’s not the size, the shape or the number of colours that we exhibit, but what we are made of that is important, and what holds us together.

If, as this whole section of Corinthians is suggesting, we are the Body of Christ, and we all have a part to play, what is our part when we go through those weak periods, or enter a stage of life where we can’t physically do as much as we’d like. It’s all very well being told we’re indispensable, but how can that indispensibility manifest itself in our lives?

When our new Bishop Tim was enthroned back in April, he called all those who live and worship in the Diocese of Winchester to be three things. He called us to be prophetic in mission, pioneering as faith communities, and… and this is the one that is particularly pertinent here… he called us to be passionate about our personal spirituality, our prayer life, the rigour with which we exhibit our faith in patterns of prayer.

Prayer should be like the very thin film of soapy water that forms a bubble. It’s where the strength of the bubble is. Yet like the film that forms a bubble, our prayer lives are often the first thing to break when we touch something dirty or a hard surface. Life gets in the way, and the pattern and form of our prayers are what takes the first hit.

When I was young and blowing bubbles more often, my Mother used to add glycerine to the bubble mixture. The glycerine seemed to make the bubbles form more easily and last longer. Interestingly glycerine is the same stuff that when added to the royal icing at Christmas makes the Christmas Cake easier to cut open and share. I have no idea why.

So if we are God’s indispensable bubbles, a bit weak and prone to going pop, what can we do with our prayer life to make our individual bubble stronger? What is the glycerine, if you like, that we can add to it? Can that glycerine be used to make something else easier to share?

This is something I’m grappling with myself at present, and I’m not going to pretend to have an answer, let alone ‘the’ answer. What I am aware of is that it’s a question we need to take seriously, and apply individually to our own circumstances, our own weaknesses.

In my case I’m being encouraged to do two things at present. I’m only just starting out with these ideas, but they are things that might help others, or into which you can shed some insight for me yourselves.

One is to understand the Psalms better as a way of strengthening my prayer life, as the Psalms now form a part of my regular pattern of daily worship and prayer. This strikes me as glycerine that will strengthen my individual bubble; that will help make me a better likeness to Christ. [I have been recommended an old book ‘Wisely Praying the Psalms’ by Benedictine Monk Ambrose Tinsley which arrived this week and will form some of my summer reading.]

The other is to join with others across our Diocese in patterns of intercessory prayer. Each month the Diocese has an intercessions list (downloadable here), where the international links and individual parishes of the Diocese are outlined day-by-day, so that each parish, minister and mission idea is surrounded by our prayers.

Our new Bishop is also encouraging us to pray for nine days (a Novena) for the wider church, the issues and arguments that are plaguing it, and the individuals that are coming forward this Petertide to be ordained into it from around our diocese.

I will be using elements of that cycle of prayer and novena in our intercessions shortly, but it struck me that such intercessory prayer, alongside things like our own parochial Emergency Prayer Chain, are like the glycerine that will actually enable us as a church, to be shaped and cut in such a way as the Gospel of Christ is more effectively shared. In that way we might be better able to be a more pioneering faith community that will inspire prophetic mission, just as our Bishop has suggested we should be.

So I want to suggest that however weak we might be feeling, physically or spiritually, the one thing that we can do, that will show just how indispensable we are, that will strengthen us and help our church to be more pioneering and prophetic, is to find what glycerine we need, and pour it into our prayer lives!

What should our values inspire us to?

St. James, Bramley near Basingstoke, Hampshire

So, at St. Peter’s we’ve got some values that we want to start teaching, praying and living… probably a good cue for a summer of writing Bible studies!

As part of the Values Working Group, it’s been humbling and inspiring helping to get us even this far on behalf of the whole church community. But the hard work has hardly started; now we need to work out as a church what it means to live these values out.

One the key things that Laurence Gamlen of CPAS kept emphasising to our Values Working Group, was that our values will inform and set our behaviour – if they don’t then they are not values that we are living by. The behaviours will be those which each member of St. Peter’s should be living out in their daily lives, and these will also become the behaviours of the church fellowship; if our values are truly inspired by Christ, then we need to show we’re living them out, like Christ.

Some of those behaviours are intentional – we will need to make concious decisions about what we decide to do based on these things things that we value about God. That will be difficult. It will require us to decide on explicit ways of behaving, and at our PCC Away Day we started to think about what might be the most important of these explicit behaviours to work on first. Eventually these should inform all our natural behaviours; it will rub off on those decisions and actions that are second nature.

These were the intentional behaviours that the PCC Away Day (in the lovely church rooms at St. James, Bramley) thought ‘fell out’ from each value, and should be our initial priorities when thinking about their impact on our lives:

The lovely church rooms in the churchyard (maintained for wildlife) at St. James, Bramley

If, at St. Peter’s we seek God by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus, this should lead to us prioritising the following:

  • we will go to meet people where they are (e.g. like Jesus did with the tax collector)
  • we will make ourselves vulnerable, and take risks (e.g. Jesus with the woman at the well)
  • we will build relationships with those we meet (Jesus did this all the while – especially with the disciples!)

If, at St. Peter’s we are seeking God by living as a community held together by the grace and love of the Father, this should lead to us

  • being supportive of each other, and clear and accountable to each other, things that need to be exhibited by all, but specifically with the leadership of St. Peter’s setting the example – with the Biblical example of how Jesus sent out the disciples
  • be spending time together using as we have already started to do, Acts 2:42-47 and the example of Jesus spending time with disciples in sharing food, teaching, journeying…)
  • show care and respect for each other (using example of Jesus care for Peter after Peter’s denial, Jesus’ washing of feet, and his eating with ‘sinners’ – to name a few examples)

If, at St. Peter’s we are seeking God by surrendering to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, then the intentional behaviours in our teaching and learning, that transform our (individual and corporate) lifestyle of prayer, worship and use of scripture should cause us to live as servants, to God, to our community and to each other. This will require us to

  • create space to be with God,
  • be passionate about our faith in Jesus,
  • and expectantly invite encounter with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It has been noticeable that the values that have been most hard-won have been the bits of our relationships where we know as a church we are hurting most (how we behave towards each other). The initial behaviours which are proving the most difficult to identify as those to prioritise, are those that come from our relationship to God; could that possibly be the work of the devil seeking to stop us in our tracks before we get started?

Bishop Alan wrote today that “Christians [should] reject those things that do not fit with the name we claim and choose those that do” and I guess, that’s just what we need to do with the way we behave, and in the way in which must affirm, train and correct each other as we go. There will be many who will need to help us along our way, our new Area Bishop, and our new vicar when they arrive, to name but two. You are welcome to constructively ‘comment’ (using the comment facility on each blog entry) and inspire us as we work out what Jesus would have us do, and pray for us that God will continue to inspire and strengthen us on our journey.

I hope too that Laurence will keep an eye on us, especially in the vacancy months to come, to help keep us on the fertile ground lest the weeds grow (Mark 4)!

Update: you may find this recent sermon has some relevance to how we live our Christ-like values – our values work was certainly heavily on my mind as I prepared and delivered the sermon, even though we officially couldn’t go public at the time.

Finding values that inspire us to be courageous Tigger’s

Back in April I blogged about participating my St. Peter’s search for some values that will inspire our living, loving and learning of the Christian faith for the years to come.

Since then, we’ve discovered that we’re facing ‘vacancy’ (‘interregnum’ to those of the old language) since the very Bishop I quoted in that item (Bishop Alan) has snaffled our vicar to go and do Fresh Expressions in Marlow! So the process of finalising our values became more urgent, as they will form part of our Parish Profile because they show where we are on our parochial journey with God.

Laurence Gamlen of CPAS has continued to be very helpful, and encouraging throughout. The process has entailed a group of exhausted lay-folk taking time out from other evening commitments to discern through prayer, Bible-study and conversation HOW it is that we wish to behave as individuals and as a church that exists within it’s general and diocesan Anglican identity. (Once again Bishop Alan’s blog feeds my own journey in this, as he’s just posted about existing as a church “that Christ may reign”)

As I understand it, the values that we’ve come up with should work alongside our purpose as a church (Worship, Outreach, Relationships, Discipleship, Service) to inspire our vision and strategy for the future which hopefully a new vicar will help us to work out.

Can God make Tigger's of us all?

Last month many of our PCC met for an Away Day which was solely devoted to the presentation of the Values which we have been working on. We had to condense a 4 month journey into one day. Usefully our current vicar started the day by asking everyone where they were on the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ scale – with many folk admitting they were feeling more Eeyore-like than anything else (rather an effort to be there, and not very hopeful about the usefulness of the day). However, at the end of the day when we’d finished presenting the values, everyone was standing at the Tigger end of the “Eeyore – Tigger” continuum; we were all bouncy and inspired to work on a variety of ways that we can discuss and explore these values together as a church during our ‘vacancy’.

So what are these values that St. Peter’s People could be inspired by God to live by? They focus on our (upward) relationship with God, our (inward) relationships with each other, and our (outward) relationships with those outside of St. Peter’s:

At St. Peter’s Yateley we will seek God

  • by surrendering to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit;
  • by living as a community held together by the grace and love of the Father;

  • by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus.

So, what’s so exciting about them and what questions have people had so far?

The exciting points were that PCC members felt they showed conviction and not judgement, that they encourage us to be interested in each other and not ourselves, that they require an act of will, that they will encourage and allow transformation to occur in an environment where there is respect within our ‘family’ for differing views, and that importantly, they all provide a good check back to our individual and corporate actions and decisions.

The few points of discussion revolved initially around the suggestion that we haven’t yet found God, which some thought could be inferred from the phrase “we will seek God”. However, the Values Working Group had actually specifically gone for this phrase as expressing the idea that we are always seeking God, and haven’t got all the answers! Everyone now seems quite happy with this.

The other point of issue relates to the last bullet point: some PCC members thought that it made the relevance of new life in Jesus more positive rather than optional, and prefer the wording:

  • by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore why new life with Jesus is relevant.

Personally I think both phrases have the same slight problem, and yet we want to make sure we’re not ‘selling Christ short’ by not saying that we believe he makes all the difference to our lives!

My thoughts are that these are really exciting ideas to live by, but that Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t always very adventurous or courageous – if we’re going to be living a Christian life that witnesses to these Christ inspired values, then we’re going to need to be both!

So what do you think? Whether you are from St. Peter’s Yateley or not, do you come over all Tigger-ish at the idea of behaving in ways that show these values?

And what behaviours should they inspire in us as Christians?

More of that in the next post, in the mean-time, please use the comment facility to let me know what you think of our journey so far.

Symbols of identity as we become more like Jesus – Galatians 2:11-21

Baobab Tree - Mapungubwe SA 2006

This week I ended up drawing connections between Dung Beetles and Baobab Trees and the way we should be changing our identity as we become more like Jesus! I’m not sure if it worked, but God did if the ministry time after the service was anything to go by.

A message very much for my church of St. Peter’s, Yateley at this time. The values work that I have been part of in the parish was very much at the back of my mind when writing this sermon, as well as our need to define those behaviours that our Christ-like values should instil. I shall post about this work as soon as it has been agreed by our PCC for public consumption.

You are welcome to download the text of what I said: Sermon Galatians 2v11-21

Update: Posts about our values work are here, here and here (in chronological order).

And yes, there is a vague World Cup link… but not really to the football!

A dogged focus on values

I’m looking forward to the next session of the St Peter’s group that is working on identifying values that we discern are important to us as a church for the future. This is the work we’ve been developing with Laurence Gamlen of CPAS since a ‘brainstorming’ session across the church leadership during the ‘great snow’ earlier in the year. Personally, I am finding it an awe-inspiring and humbling experience to be part of the small group that has been charged with the task of discerning God-given values that are specific to us, and will need to taught, shared and lived by a whole church community in the coming years.

I therefore found this post from Bishop Alan a real encouragement and inspiration today. It first grabbed my attention because it talks about the NHS Trust in which I gave birth to our son in ’97 – at Heatherwood in Ascot (on a sunny race day in February). But I kept reading because of the evident enthusiasm for values driven leadership – and his clarity that these people who were living out values were

interested in the unvarnished truth… [showing] just workmanlike pragmatism, and a dogged focus on values… [Bishop Alan goes on to say…] if you stick with your values and resist cutting corners, in the end, you will do a better job. That takes real courage and, dare I say it, faith. I wish some churches felt freer to be honest about what’s not working, more rigorous in not cutting corners and tolerating crapada.

These are thoughts I think we will need to share and hang on to (if necessary by our fingernails, but preferably with a firm grip) if St Peter’s is going to become a values driven church.

Last time we met, our little group at St Ps reminded ourselves that we should be praying/expecting the values we discern will challenge behaviours and cause structural as well as personal transformation of St. Peter’s – obviously something that Bishop Alan saw being lived out at Wexham Park. That’s going to be the really tough bit – our work is only just beginning. Laurence keeps reminding us that it will mean that we will constantly have to measure what we plan against the values we decided upon. He uses the word ‘intentional’ a lot – living out our values as a community will mean a lot of concentration on the content of all our words and actions, before we say/do them.

FWIW so far we’ve looked at our

  • Outward focus (how we want our relationships with those outside the church to be) and come up with the word ALONGSIDEDNESS (lousy English but it seemed to sum up a load of words like: Welcoming, Accepting, Unconditional love, Non-judging, Openness, Honesty, Attentive, Supportive)
  • Upward focus (how we want our relationship with God to be) and came up with the phrases like TIME FOR GOD AND OTHERS and ENCOUNTER THAT TRANSFORMS
  • Inward focus (how we want to develop a more intimate fellowship) and are working around characteristics like
    Loving, Welcomed, Cared for, Listened to, Encouraged, Time (again!), Generosity, Trusted, Friendly, and Support – the idea of SANCTUARY also seems important. What we need to find is a word or phrase that encompasses these… I’m praying and thinking about the phrase GRACE-FULL?
Crucifix on the Screen at All Saints Basingstoke

My thoughts around my recent sermon on forgiving are that we are all frail humans who have a tendancy to fail, and that learning to forgive each other for the lash-ups we make along the way (in part because we are all individuals with different personalities) is going to be a key tool to progress – part of that “unvarnished truth” that Bishop Alan talks about. I wonder how FORGIVING becomes part of the living out of a set of values, or whether it is indeed a value in itself?

Me thinks that possibly looking at the cross gives us the answer.

An alternative Stations of the Cross

I’ve variously been thinking about my theological reflection on my placement at All Saints, Basingstoke (which has a Eucharistic and ‘catholic’ tradition), and how to apply worship ideas in my home context (more evangelical). I also had a conversation with our curate who used a sort of Stations of the Cross idea on Good Friday for our reflective service at St. Peter’s (prompting some negative ‘its not Biblical’ comments as well as much more positive ones I gather).

Part of the 'Forest Stations' at Lincoln Cathedral
My own photo of part of the 'Forest Stations' at Lincoln Cathedral

Thinking that one day I might be doing the reflective Good Friday service at St. Peter’s I wondered if you could adapt the idea to have an alternative Stations of the Cross. I would take as its ‘stations’ different parts of the image of Jesus on the Cross that we see in the Biblical stories.

So I would focus on Jesus’ hands, Jesus feet, the sign over his head, the crown of thorns, the wood of the cross, the fact that it is raised up, with crosses either side. This could be done with digital images from various places I’ve been including Furzey Gardens, All Saints’ Basingstoke, and Lincoln Cathedral’s ‘Forest Stations’ which are beautiful as well as thought provoking.

I also thought that as he died, Jesus was in community alongside the two other with whom he was crucified – and that they represented just the sort of people we are called as Christians to be in community with: those who seek what Christ has to offer in the way of love and forgiveness, and those who reject it.