Sunday, 25 December 2011

BE BORN IN US TODAY - A Sermon for Midnight Mass

We meet here on this night, this wonderful night in which we remember the story of the incarnation our hope rooted in our experience of the Christ story; that God is here, God is amongst us, God is with us.

And we gather here in the dark of night to worship that God; to gather around this crib and marvel at the truth of the Nativity — the truth that out of the warm nurturing darkness of a woman’s womb God chose the ultimate message of faith, hope and love to be born ; that
in the dark of night, God’s vision for the world became embodied in a human life, born of a woman and that in Jesus the truth that God IS present with God’s people was shown - the ancient message of the God of love and faithfulness and hope was revealed anew.

But as we meet to remember that night we are called to remain in this night here and now, to allow that story to affect our story, to allow that truth to lead us into the truth of the meaning of our own lives.

As Meister Eckhardt a Christian Mystic of medieval times said

Here in time we celebrate the eternal birth that God the Father bore and still bears constantly in eternity, and which is also now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says that this birth is happening continually. We should ask ourselves: If it doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all? What ultimately matters is that God’s birth should happen in me. 
We are all called to be Mothers of God
Mary’s story should become our story, we are all called to be Mothers of God to give birth to the Divine through our faith, hope and love.

I love Luke’s gospel because it tells us so much of Mary’s story. And we should read it as our story too - a story for each of us as God calls us to give birth to God’s vision for the world in our faith, our hope and our love.

Can we welcome as messengers of God’s hope strangers who speak to us of God? Mary welcomed the shepherds to the side of the manger, can we listen as she listened to their message and as the gospel says ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’? Can we also find God speaking to us in those unknown to us, who surprise us in their ability to speak of God? Can we allow them to become to us bearers of God’s word?

As Elizabeth embraced Mary and supported her in recognising the message of hope she carried for the world, can we embrace one another - be Elizabeth to each other’s Mary - can we be stirred in the depths of our hearts to be excited by the faith, hope and love of another and encourage them as they tentatively begin to recognise that they have a calling to birth God’s faith, hope and love into the world? 

As the Angel comes to Mary at the annunciation - the Angel comes to us, calling us in this time and in this place to carry the hope of God in the depths of our being - to nurture fragile faith, to give ourselves to feeding hope and raising a vision of love in what can sometimes seem impossible circumstances. 

In a world where faith, hope and love often look defeated and useless we are called to dare to take the risk as Mary in her embracing of her call took the risk; as a young Jew in a remote outpost of empire, facing the scorn and violence of a Roman authority confident
in its worship of power and wealth and dismissive of the beautiful vision of her people. She held onto that vision of a God of faithfulness, hope and love - the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of the One Mary raised , the God of the One we follow, Jesus of Nazareth whom we proclaim as God's Annointed One. 

As she put her hope in that God so are we called in our time despite the world’s scorn to join in daring to hope in the One God of faith hope and love.

Can we believe that in the backwaters of our lives our faith can really make a difference? Can we let God come to us in Jesus in what may seem to us all our insignificance? Can we hear the Angel as we are given our commission, to be people of the way and to give birth in our world to the truth of God's love and beauty?

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sermon preached at St Paul's Balsall Heath Birmingham Midnight Mass 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Chanukah Sameach!

Nearly 100 Methodists from around the Birmingham District responded to the generous invitation of the local Jewish Community to attend a Chanukah celebration at Birmingham Central Synagogue on Thursday 22nd December.

The invitation was the idea of the local Methodist - Jewish Dialogue group established after the 2010 Methodist Conference to explore the Jewish Communities concerns in relation to the Justice for Palestine & Israel Report.

The evening began as Methodists arrived nice and early for a 7pm start with a tour of the synagogue led by the Chair of the Birmingham and West Midlands Jewish Representative Council Ruth Jacobs

Moving into the Synagogues Community Hall we joined 40-50 members of Birmingham's Jewish Community and a group of Muslim friends from the Birmingham Jewish - Muslim Dialogue group for the ceremony of lighting the Chanukah Menorah led by the Synagogues President Geoffrey Clements. We then watched film clips of reflections on the meaning of Chanukah by the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

We finished off the evening with an hour eating Traditional Chanukah food and meeting and sharing with one another.

Ruth Jacobs co-facilitator of the Methodist - Jewish Dialogue group said in response to the event

'The Birmingham Jewish Community was delighted to welcome so many Methodists to a Chanukah event held at Birmingham's Central Synagogue. The local Jewish Methodist Dialogue group formed as a response to the Justice for Palestine and Israel Report enabled this event to happen and provided the opportunity for grass roots engagement to build bridges and gain greater understanding.'

Supernumerary Minister Revd Donald Sampson said it was:

'A most inspiring evening of great warmth and goodwill, with many insights being shared formally and informally.'

Organist Peter Harding who came with three generations of his family to the event said:

'A great evening. We all enjoyed it. Grandma had a long conversation with an elderly member of the Jewish community and my son Richard was delighted to be plied with food by many of our hosts. I had some really interesting discussions as well.'

Revd Ray Gaston Birmingham District’s Inter Faith Enabler and joint organiser of the event and co-facilitator of the Methodist - Jewish dialogue group said:

'I was very excited by the response from grassroots Methodists who turned out in such numbers for this event. The dialogue group which has now met for nearly 16 months has been a place where differences have been shared and it has not always been an easy place for any of us to be . However, those of us who have stayed with the process have found it challenging and difficult but also immensely enriching and real relationships have begun to be built. This event was the start of spreading that experience into our wider communities, there is much here to build on and hope for..'

Thursday, 22 December 2011


As part of our Christian - Jewish Relations themed week for first year Ordination candidates, Queen's students took part, a couple of weeks ago, in a Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) initiated and funded visit to Beth Shalom  - The Holocaust Centre in Newark Lincolnshire.

For a report of the event see Fiona Hulbert's write up for CCJ at their web site.

January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day and this years theme is 'Speak Up, Speak Out'  and CCJ along with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have produced a list of resources plus an excellent 20 page pack to help commemorate the day in Church services.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mahayana Theology

Jesus Meditating in a Forest
One of the most interesting and challenging dialogues between students and visiting speakers on the Christianity in Dialogue module last term at Queens was with Revd Dr Janet Williams who came to engage students with the question 'Can a Christian be a Buddhist?' Her answer was an affirmative yes, some of the students were not so sure! However, the interface between Christianity and Buddhism and the phenomenon of 'double-belonging' is a significant factor in Christian Inter Faith engagement today.

I've recently come across an interesting website run by Comparative Theologian John Keenan. Keenan has written widely on Christian - Buddhist encounter and is well known for bringing Buddhist - especially Mahayanan - concepts into dialogue with Christian revelation in order to explore how to articulate the truth of Christian understandings of God. He writes:

"Mahayana theology" is a Christian theology that is informed by the philosophical wisdom of Mahayana Buddhism. Just as the early Church Fathers first employed ancient Greek philosophy to articulate the Christian faith, one may employ this ancient Buddhist philosophy to restate that same faith and thereby come to new and somewhat different understandings.

The website has links to Keenan's books but also to free articles outlining his work and understandings. Check it out here

Monday, 19 December 2011

Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre - Upcoming Training Events

The new Anglican led and government backed Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre in Birmingham has a series of interesting training events in the new year on Inter Faith engagement particularly related to the Near Neighbours Programme . For details click on the links below

Faithful Conversations – talking about God in everyday situations 

You can also find out how to apply for grants of £500-£2000 for local community led interfaith activity at Bringing People Together - Near Neighbours

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Soul in the Machine - An Evening at The Hubb

I had a great time yesterday spent lunchtime eating and sharing with Mohammed Ali at a cafe near his Arts Centre The Hubb just down the road from where I live on the Stratford Road. I was then back at the Hubb later that day for Soul in the Machine billed as 'A journey of the soul through a technological world / VISUAL ARTS EXHIBITION LAUNCH, as well as PERFORMANCE POETRY and LIVE PERCUSSION'.

Chris Shannahan has blogged about the event here. I like Chris' post he really catches the mood of the evening when he says 'It was a moment of shared spirituality in the city, a moment of clarity, shared journeying towards dialogue and justice, a witness to our common humanity and to the multiflavoured, multicoloured, multifaith, multicultural soul in the urban machine. No relgious 'leaders', no elected politicians, no academics absorbing 'data' for their next book but the people of the city exploring identity and hope together through.. art, dub poetry and drumming...'  but I'm not sure I fully agree with Chris when he says "It wasn't a Muslim event or a Christian event or a Sikh event or a Hindu event or a Buddhist event or a Jewish event"

On the contrary, I think there is something positively Islamic about The Hubb. It is an expression of a dialogical Islam, an emerging Islam, engaging openly with a variety of spiritualities, cultures and art forms. I often feel when I am at the Hubb that Islam is my host, providing a space for a multicultural expression of a yearning for God, for depth and for beauty. That is what makes the Hubb unique, that is why it plays host to art forms that have an explicit spirituality at their centre, because it is infused with the spirit of Islam or perhaps islam; the idea of a universal surrender to the Divine that is held within  - but also known beyond - the institutional form Islam. The Hubb offers a new form of multiculturalism, an emerging multiculturalism where those faith communities that were previously patronisingly seen as being ''hosted' by a 'tolerant' 'Christendom' now become the host and new forms of alliance, creativity, identity and intercultural dynamism are developing. A new dynamism that we 'People of the Way of the Annointed One' in all our post Christendom multicultural dynamism can, do and will play our part.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Jonathan Sacks on the Immorality of Capitalism

The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a recent address to European Roman Catholics in Rome said:

Capitalism is a sustained process of creative destruction. The market undermines the very values that gave rise to it in the first place. The consumer culture is profoundly antithetical to human dignity. It inflames desire, undermines happiness, weakens the capacity to defer instinctual gratification and blinds us to the vital distinction between the price of things and their value.

Read the whole address Has Europe lost its soul to the markets? published in The Times yesterday at the Chief Rabbi's website

Monday, 12 December 2011

Rowan Williams on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue'

At a conference organised by the the Anglican Network for Inter Faith Concerns, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered an interesting lecture on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue' the lecture is available in text and audio from the Archbishops website (follow the link above) - well worth engaging with. Here is a snippet from the conclusion.

The Christian enters the dialogue relation ready to receive whatever of Christ the other’s relation with the Word makes possible; but s/he also enters the dialogue in order, in some sense, to speak and act for Christ, to be available for the enrichment of the other’s relation (acknowledged or not) with the Word.  And that immediately lays upon the Christian participant in dialogue the imperative to Christlike action in the pursuance of the dialogue.  The action of Christ can be thought about from two interrelated perspectives.  First, it is the transmission of a gift, the gift of ‘life in its fulness’, as the Fourth Gospel has it; just as the Source, the Father, pours out the divine life and bliss into the eternal Word or Son, so the Word gives life to the universe, and, more specifically, gives the life of a son or daughter to human beings who are made for this destiny.  If, then, we are to act in Christlike manner, we act so as to open up the possibility of receiving such a gift: life in its fullness, the dignity of the adult child of God. 

And following on from that, the mode of the gift becomes all-important.  That gift of filial life cannot be given by an act that compels or constrains: freedom in filial relation to God as Source cannot be generated or nourished by denying the ordinary freedom of the human agent.  The gift is given in Christ in a way that refuses to compel and is therefore vulnerable to human violence.  For it to be what it claims to be, it cannot rest its authority upon anything less than itself – it can’t therefore be associated with constraint or compulsion. 

This theological framework... allows us, I believe, to think of the vocation to become sons and daughters of God in and through Jesus Christ as a universal possibility that has to be sought for and worked for in an uncompromisingly Christlike (Jesus-like) fashion, yet without expecting the specific reference to Jesus of Nazareth to be always brought to consciousness as the conversation unfolds with those of different families of faith.  As I noted earlier, the degree to which a turning to the Word in the context of another faith corresponds to what the Christian associates with the gift of baptism is not susceptible to abstract analysis.  But our engagement in dialogue, rooted in the uniqueness of the Word made flesh, may, by its fidelity to the mode of incarnation and self-emptying, invite responses and movements that neither we nor our partners can easily chart, but in which God may move – just as God may move in us as we receive what the partner has to share of the Word with us.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Challenging Islamophobia - A Christian Duty

In the forthcoming edition of the Methodist theological Journal Epworth Review I have an article entitled Building trust, living the call to love – towards a Christian Praxis in Islamophobic times you can read a copy of the article here. More a work in progress than a polished proposal, the article argues for a Christian spirituality of resistance to Islamophobia rooted amongst other things in a radical application of 1 Corinthians 13.