Seems like everyone has been watching the football recently
We get swept up in a mood, where spectating becomes almost like participating
Watching becomes almost like taking part – except that it isn’t

The world is full of powerful people and powerful interests who would like us all to be spectators
Spectators are a lot easier to deal with than people who want to make a difference

It’s easy for people to buy into the mood of a spectacle
It’s easy to escape into a fantasy of participation
Easy to slip into a parallel reality that is no reality at all

It’s easy for us to do the same – even in our church life
It’s easy for us to become spectators – people who go to church to watch a spectacle
People whose faith amounts to little more than turning up on Sundays to watch what goes on

This is all wrong
When it comes to faith, we should never be just spectators – we are the players

This sanctuary, our place of worship isn’t the pitch – it’s just the dressing room
It’s a place to prepare, a place to get our kit on, to hear the pep talk, to encourage one another
It’s a place to come back to when the match is over, to wash off the mud, slap each other on the back, celebrate a win or hope for a better result next time

But you can’t play football in the dressing room
There has to be a point when the banter stops, and the action starts

Think how top players feel, after all the training and preparation, if they’re not called onto the pitch
It’s a dismal thing, to sit for ninety minutes on the bench

Some Christians don’t even get that far
Remember the old joke
I’m in the school football team
That’s great – what position do you play?
Left back – left back in the dressing room

What an awful position, to be left back in the dressing room – is that where we’ll end up?
Imagine, if the manager doesn’t think you’re prepared or motivated enough to face the opposition
Is that what we want, as Christians?

If our faith never leaves the dressing room, we’ll never play a match
If we never face the opposition, we’ll never hold the trophy
If we don’t really want the trophy, I don’t know why we’re here at all
15 July 2018, St George’s, High Heaton


We are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves  (Nehemiah 9.36)

It is hard to think ourselves back into the situation of Nehemiah and his community.
They came home to Jerusalem, but it was no longer the capital of a nation state
The ruins of the city now lay in the Persian province of Palestine

They had been released from captivity, but they were not really free
Most of what their land produced had to be handed over in taxes to their new rulers, the emperors of Persia
That is what the word ’empire’ means – exploitation
Empire is a system where one country controls the productive assets of other countries, and uses them for its own benefit

Nehemiah puts it very clearly
We are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. (Nehemiah 9.36-37, esv)
He feels the pain of living in a situation which does not echo God’s design
Of being prisoners in their own land, of working the soil but being denied the fruits

This Lent, we have followed a course devised by the Centre for Theology and Community.
The Centre links the exploitation of the least well-off in society by payday lenders directly to the breakdown of community

We have abolished slavery, haven’t we?
Although we’ve only just finished off paying off the debt the State incurred in compensating the slave owners of the Caribbean
And the police are giving increasing attention to the problem of modern slavery

What forms does slavery take in our society? The answer is, many
Someone at a training session on modern slavery, someone I had met several times before, suddenly shared that she had been trafficked into this country and made to work as a domestic servant, abused and unpaid

Many forms of slavery are more subtle than locking someone in a room to sew fashions, or forcing them to sleep in a shed between long shifts picking vegetables in the fields
The free market our society is basically in favour, has voted for in elections, of creates opportunities for unscrupulous people to profit from poverty

Market freedom is economic freedom – freedom for people with money
The market is free, but it treats people differently depending on their circumstances
The more money you already have, the easier and the cheaper it is to borrow
The more desperate you are for money, the more it costs you to take out a loan

The market is free, but for some people it creates traps
When you take out a payday loan, it appears on your credit record
Even if you repay on time, it’s more difficult to borrow from mainstream lenders in future
So when you need money again, you might find yourself driven back into the arms of the payday lender you borrowed from in the first place – you might become a regular customer

Payday lenders deliberately target vulnerable people at moments of difficulty
Think of the adverts on television: a
A young driver broken down at the roadside, who needs his car for work
A harassed working mother whose son is complaining because the boiler has broken down and he can’t have a shower

A payday loan looks like a convenient solution to problems like these
But it creates more problems and more pressures further down the road

Financial pressures are a leading cause of relationship and family breakdown
Relationship failures and family breakups have an impact on society as a whole
In other words, everyone bears the cost of payday loans and poverty more generally

We are sometimes tempted to blame people for having got themselves into financial difficulties
We are tempted to believe we are morally superior, because we are more careful – more responsible
Blaming the victims makes problems easier to tolerate – it does nothing to solve them

How do we break the cycle of blame and disadvantage that leads to social division?
The whole thrust of the gospel is, we cannot be an island of perfection in a sea of corruption

In the first recorded sermon Jesus preached, he proclaims good news to the poor and liberty to the captives (Luke 4.18).
How do we as a church proclaim this good news in our community?
The course we have been following says we should do it through specific, visible actions

Nehemiah does this – he rebuilds the walls of his city
He doesn’t stop there – he rebuilds the community and family life by attacking the problem of exploitation, and the slavery that proceeds from debt
He attacks those problems by appealing to the law of God, that says no Jew shall enslave another, take away their land, or take advantage of their poverty by charging them interest on a loan

In the passage we heard today (chapter 9), Nehemiah implicitly brings all of these things together
He produces a covenant, and has it signed by the political and religious leaders of the people

Remember what the biblical covenant is: a divine decree, that binds the people to the land, to one another, and to God
It tells them how they are to live in the land, how they are to behave towards one another, and how they are to love and obey their God

Nehemiah draws up his covenant to set the seal on a new way of living
A way of life that binds everyone together and binds everyone to God
A testimony not just for themselves, but for all the nations round about who have mocked the collective poverty and humiliation of the Jews and their struggle to rebuild

It’s a good ending – it’s not a perfect ending
Nehemiah calls the people to re-affirm their status as God’s chosen people
Yet there they are, still living as slaves in the Promised Land

That is the point where the New Testament begins
The people we read about in the gospels live under the dominion of Rome, not Persia
But they, too, thirst for release from captivity – for redemption
They long for salvation history to reach its climax – for the kingdom to come

We are in the same situation of hoping and longing, now and not yet
We have a new covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ
As Christians, we exist to proclaim this new covenant – the covenant of hope and life
We proclaim it, while we wait for the coming of our Lord in glory

The best way to proclaim the covenant of hope and life is to make it real for others
The best way to make it real is to do something concrete and visible for the people who suffer most from the loss of hope

We try to act in ways that bring real hope – as a testimony that our faith is real, because the gospel hope is real
We’re not rich, we’re not powerful, so we act in small ways
But we try to act in ways that are real and authentic, and ways that make a difference
Ways that build relationships with people in our community
Ways that speak of salvation; ways that are prophetic

18 March 2018, St George’s, High Heaton

Nehemiah lays down the law

Posted: March 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly. … He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday.  Nehemiah 8.2-3

It’s a struggle combining Mother’s Day with the themes we’ve been looking at during Lent
You probably know, Mothering Sunday was a day when people returned to their mother church – the church where they were baptised
Which meant it was also a holiday people could spend with their parents – and perhaps bring their mother a gift
So it eventually became a day devoted to celebrating mothers and thanking them

Mothering Sunday from medieval times was also a day when fasting rules were relaxed
Before the final weeks of fasting leading up to Easter

The theme of the whole season of Lent is repentance
And it’s certainly true that family relationships hinge on repentance – the willingness to admit it when we have been in the wrong

On Tuesday evenings in our Lent course, we’ve been making our way through the book of Nehemiah
How does the book of Nehemiah relate to Mother’s Day?
You could say, the overarching theme of Nehemiah is God’s love for his people

God’s people often act in ways that seem to show they don’t deserve his love
God responds in ways that demonstrate his disapproval
Sometimes quite drastic ways – like allowing the armies of Babylon to burn down Jerusalem
But he never disowns them – he is always there for them, the moment they turn back to him
A bit like a mother

We’ve had some debate about how to pronounce Nehemiah
The correct Hebrew pronunciation is nee – chem – yah
The yah at the end means ‘God’
The whole thing means, ‘God is compassionate’
His story is designed to show God’s compassion in action, working through Nehemiah

Nehemiah about rebuilding – rebuilding the city, but also rebuilding social relationships and the people’s relationship with God
This rebuilding is a work of repentance

I’m only here once a fortnight, so you’ve only heard half the story – so let’s recap
Nehemiah is one of the Jews living in exile in Babylon
But the Babylonians have now been conquered by the Persians

Nehemiah is a high official, serving the Persian emperor Artaxerxes
When the story begins, he’s with the emperor in the city of Susa, the main capital of the empire and the emperor’s winter residence

Jewish visitors tell Nehemiah how bad things are for the exiles who have gone home to Jerusalem
The walls are broken down, the gates have been burned
The people are in trouble and ashamed – humiliated in the eyes of their neighbours

Nehemiah prays (he prays before every action he takes), then he asks the emperor if he can go to Jerusalem and give them his help
The emperor agrees – he sends Nehemiah there as governor, but we don’t find that out till later

Nehemiah sets the people to work to rebuild the walls
They succeed, even though their enemies try to stop them

But that’s not the end of the work
The real heart of the book is the passage we looked at last week, from Chapter 5
The poor come to Nehemiah, and complain that they are being exploited by the rich
They can’t afford to feed themselves or pay their taxes, so they are being forced to borrow at high rates if interest; to sell their lands, and even sell themselves and their families into slavery

Nehemiah gets the rich and powerful together, and tells them off
He says, this isn’t good enough – the way you’ve behaved is a disgrace
You’re dragging down our reputation in the eyes of the whole world

He says, I and my friends are having to give food and money to the people you’re exploiting
We even have to pay out of our own pockets, to buy back Jews you’ve sold as slaves to foreigners

He says, no one should exploit a fellow Jew who is poor or in need
If anyone needs help, give it to them – expect nothing in return
Don’t charge interest on the money you lend them, don’t take their land, don’t enslave them

In chapter 8 Nehemiah goes further: he realises, this people needs some religious re-education
The reason they’ve wandered so far from God’s law is, they don’t actually know it

I admit, it’s hard to believe this part of the story in the form it’s told to us in this chapter
It’s hard to picture the whole people standing outside, from dawn till noon
While Ezra the priest reads the whole of Deuteronomy, chapters 1 to 34, and other priests give a running commentary
It’s hard to believe they listened to the whole thing, never mind that they broke down and cried tears of repentance
But apparently, that’s what happened

What were they listening to?
The book of Deuteronomy is a series of sermons preached by Moses to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land – instructions about how they were to live there

God brought this people out of slavery in Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan
But along with the land, he gave them the law
The law sets out the relationships God wants the people to have with the land, with one another, and with himself

Nehemiah reminds the people, God punished your fathers by driving them out of this land
If you want to remain here and do well here, obey God’s law
Not just the bits that suit you – all of it
Not just the bits that seem to condemn other people’s sins – but the bits that seem most immediately to condemn your own
The bits that speak most forcefully to every individual are the bits that speak about how they are to treat one another

How does all this relate to Mothering Sunday?
Mothers are home-makers – and Nehemiah dedicates himself to rebuilding a home for the people

Meaning not just the physical laying of one stone on another
But restoring the spirit of love and justice within the community

The end of the passage shows the people have learned this lesson
They weep tears of repentance, then they rejoice and hold a feast
But the poor are not forgotten, and they are not left out
The well-off send portions of food to those who have nothing, so that they can join in

The rebuilt city is not just a physical symbol of the nation’s greatness
Not just a dwelling place for God’s people
But a home, a dwelling place, for God himself – a place that proclaims, God is with his people

Which brings us back to the difficult questions, the challenging questions
We, too, are rebuilding; every church is a temple of living stones, that is constantly being rebuilt
Because people die, or move on, and new people come

What kind of home are we building here?
And who is it for? Ourselves, our God, our neighbour?
Which of these comes first? And which should come last?

11 March 2018, St Cuthbert’s, Heaton

You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years. … You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you  Leviticus 25.8-10, esv

We take our calendar so much for granted, it’s easy to forget that ancient cultures had calendars of their own
We may not realise that these calendars embodied different ways of thinking about time
In nearly every case, that was a religious view of time

To the ancient Hebrews, the universe is a divine creation
Each new day, each season, each new year, is a new act of creation –a divine gift
God has his times and seasons, and these must be our times and seasons, if we want our will to agree with his

We sang, :Lift your voice, it’s the year of Jubilee; out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes
The year of jubilee – what does that mean?

It’s got nothing to do with the English word jubilation
It comes from the Hebrew yobel or qeren hayyobel, the horn of the ram meaning trumpet – the trumpet used in temple worship

The Jewish calendar is organised around cycles of seven
A week is seven days, mirroring the days of creation, and the seventh day is the Sabbath, a day of rest

The years follow the same pattern
Every seventh year is a Sabbatical Year – nothing is planted and the earth is allowed to rest

Every seventh Sabbatical Year, in other words every 49th year, is a Year of Jubilee
The Jubilee is a great religious festival
It is a time of redemption, and restoration; it marks a new beginning

Jubilee is a time to focus on relationships with neighbours, with the land, and with God
Sometimes, people in this society sold themselves into slavery to clear their debts
Jubilee is the time when the law says, they must be set free

If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee (Lev 25.39)

The Promised Land is God’s land – he gave it to his people as their inheritance
The land was divided among the tribes and their clans, as described in Scripture

The land cannot be bought and sold – it can only be rented
When the year of Jubilee comes, the land returns to its original owner

In writings from before the exile, Scripture promises judgement on people who try to build enormous estates for themselves

Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field, until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.” (Isa 5.8-9)

You know the story of Naboth’s vineyard – he refused to sell his land to King Ahab
Because it was not his to sell – it was his children’s inheritance
An inheritance which came not from him, but from God

We know if the Bible condemns anything, it must have been something that was already happening – you don’t pass laws against crimes that no one commits
The Bible’s books of the law tell God’s people their actions have divine consequences

Every Jubilee is an opportunity and a summons, to make a fresh start
A time for people to repent of their disobedience, forgive their debtors, free their slaves, restore the property they have taken, and turn back to God

According to tradition, God’s people entered the Promised Land in a Jubilee year
The exiles return from Babylon in another Jubilee year
The timing of their homecoming is a sign that God is making a new covenant with his people – which means a fresh start, a new obligation to live according to the laws of God

Nehemiah comes to lead the people who have come home
And he’s upset to find already they have departed from the law of the covenant

They are doing three things to their poorer neighbours which the law explicitly forbids:
– Lending money to them and demanding interest
– Taking over their land
– Forcing them and their families to work as slaves

Nehemiah only came to Jerusalem to help the people rebuild the walls
But he finds there is a much more important work to do
To rebuild the community, and restore justice

He takes the wealthy to task; he forces them to make restitution; he declares a jubilee
In doing so he tells them, in no uncertain terms, that the blessings of God are meant to be theirs; that their poverty is not a sign that God favours others more than them

That presents us with a challenge
The poorer you are in our society, the more likely you are to suffer exploitation
Poverty breeds poverty, and disadvantage breeds disadvantage

What does salvation mean, to people who live in poverty from day to day?
How can we talk about the promises of God, to people who have only known disappointment and broken commitments?

How can we talk to people who have nothing, about the riches of Christ?
What does it mean to say to people with nothing, as Jesus did, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10.10)?
How can we demonstrate to people, who can’t get themselves out of debt, that coming to Christ is a new beginning, that wipes out the past?

Unless and until we find ways to do address the material problems of poverty, it’s not likely they’ll believe that the kingdom we speak about is something real

3 March 2018, St George’s, High Heaton

Ashamed of the cross

Posted: February 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed

It’s said that every political career ends in failure
Certainly that’s true in a democracy
A career ends when the electorate or your own MPs or your party members in the constituencies turn against you
When the pressures of the latest crisis, the latest policy mistake, the latest scandal tip the balance against survival

One moment, Margaret Thatcher was saying “ten more years”; the next, she was gone
Winston Churchill, revered as a wartime leader, could not survive in the politics of peacetime

Nehemiah sounds like the name of a prophet
He had a strong sense of God’s calling to do the work he did

But he was also a politician; a high official in Artaxerxes’ court
Who was sent to the province of Judah as its governor (though we are not told this until much later)
Like every politician, he had his opponents and he had his enemies

When we studied a passage from Nehemiah earlier, we heard about some of the struggles he had to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls
Why was it so important to rebuild the walls?
Because God had chosen the city of Jerusalem to be the place of his special presence on earth
The city at the heart of the Promised Land

The Jews had believed Jerusalem could never be destroyed
Right up until the moment the Babylonians marched up and destroyed it
And then marched all the richer inhabitants off into exile

The destruction of the city was God’s punishment for the Jewish nation’s sin
So for Nehemiah, to rebuild the walls and repopulate the city is to remove the signs of their humiliation
To tell the whole world, you cannot mock us or triumph over us any longer – God has restored us

He says to the people, Come, let us build the wall, that we may no longer suffer derision (Nehemiah 2.17)
When he prays, he says, Hear, O our God, for we are despised (Nehemiah 4.4)

Shame is also the theme of our gospel reading today
Jesus says, to the crowd and his disciples, Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8.38)

Who is Jesus speaking to?
You could say, he’s speaking to every individual in the crowd
It’s an invitation to leave the crowd behind, to ignore what other people say, and come to him

You could say, he’s speaking to the disciples
He’s saying, my teachings are hard for people to accept, and opposition is only going to increase
Heed my warning, because I know you’ll be tempted to desert me

But mostly, Jesus is speaking to one person – Peter
Because Peter is the only one in this passage who actually tries to silence Jesus

Peter rebukes Jesus, and in turn is rebuked
What is it that Jesus says that day, that Peter finds so hard to accept?

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8.31)
In other places where Jesus prophesies his death he speaks only to his disciples, and he warns them to keep silent
But in this scene, in the presence of a crowd, he says these things
quite openly (Mark 8.32)

Why does Peter rebuke Jesus? Because he thinks Jesus has lost the plot – literally
Jesus is talking in a way that does not fit the story Peter has been telling himself
He is talking what sounds like nonsense

What story has Peter been telling himself?
It’s a story that never quite comes to the crunch

In Peter’s version, perhaps the disciples and Jesus go on travelling around the country together
Jesus goes on teaching and working miracles
There is opposition and suspicion from the authorities, but not too much

But now Jesus says quite openly that his story is about to reach a crisis
He also tells the people around him if they want to be accepted, they must go all the way with him
They must take up their cross and follow me (Mark 8.34)

It’s an ultimatum – that’s obvious – but it’s not clear what Jesus is actually asking
He demands a commitment, from people who can hardly begin to guess what that commitment might be

With Nehemiah, it looks quite simple
Nehemiah tries to remove his nation’s disgrace by rebuilding a city
It’s a difficult task, but people know what it involves
Taking up your cross and following Jesus is much harder to understand

But one thing is very clear – the end Jesus prophesies for himself looks very much like defeat
To be arrested, to be tortured, to be hung on a cross like a traitor or a rebel, is nothing like the end Peter was hoping for
It seems like nothing heroic – nothing but humiliation, and indescribable pain

Peter is ashamed – and so he deserves the warning Jesus gives
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8.38)

To Nehemiah, restoration is rebuilding, obliterating the signs of disgrace, putting things back as they were
Jesus offers something every different
Jesus tells anyone who wants to follow him, salvation means letting go of everything
It means suffering the ultimate defeat, the ultimate disgrace
You won’t even know if it was worth it, until the very end – until a point beyond the end, until the resurrection

Anyone can believe in the cross, if by the cross we mean two pieces of wood nailed together and erected by a roadside or on a hill
Crucifixion is the most brutal fact of Roman justice, exhibited in plain sight to every passer-by

To believe in the resurrection, before the fact, is much more difficult
In fact, almost impossible
No one around Jesus, at that moment, is capable of that faith
That’s why at the climactic moment, as Jesus is arrested, they make their escape

To believe in Jesus, you must take up your cross
The only way you will know the meaning of the cross is by living it

You have to go all the way with Jesus – all the way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the tomb, to get to the resurrection
You can’t stop short, you can’t go round – not even to save yourself

It sounds like madness, and Paul admits the difficulty in 1 Corinthians:
we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1Co 1.23)

The lesson of the Easter story is that one fine day, faith comes to a crunch
There is a moment we have to commit to the truth of the gospel
That Jesus was obedient to the Father, to the point of death on a cross – however crazy that seems

He calls us to walk that same path, of willing sacrifice
To own Christ and all his blessings, we have to own the cross

The world would like us to deny Jesus
They would like us to deny the defeat and the humiliation, as well as the loaves and the fishes and the miracles of healing
The first step in denying Jesus is to deny the cross

If we deny the truth of the story of the cross, then we deny the resurrection
If we deny the resurrection, we deny the need for the resurrection
Which means, we deny the problem of sin – the reason Jesus came

If there was no sin, if no one needed forgiveness, Jesus didn’t need to come at all – we don’t need a Saviour
And if we don’t need a Saviour, because there’s no sin, then there’s no God

In other words, if we deny the cross, we deny everything
But we preach Christ crucified – as Paul did
And in everything we do as a church, especially in Lent and over Easter, we preach the need to take up our own cross, and follow Jesus faithfully, to the end

25 February 2018, St Cuthbert’s, Heaton

I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Nehemiah 2.18

I wonder how well we know the book of Nehemiah
The thing that stands out most in my mind is that Nehemiah was the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem
He also restored the worship of the Jerusalem temple
But what does the book of Nehemiah mean for us? What does it mean for our community?

As we read, we realise the walls are just a part of the picture
That bigger picture is the restoration of the relationship between the people and their God
That’s why we also heard a reading from Genesis this morning

God shows Noah the rainbow, as a sign of the covenant he makes with humanity and al living things
The theme, repeated again and again, is covenant, covenant, covenant
And that is also true of the book of Nehemiah – which is deliberately written as a re-telling of Deuteronomy, the book that tells how God prepared his people to enter the Promised Land

Nehemiah tells the people God wants them to rebuild the city wall
But he also tells them to treat one another with justice
If there’s no justice for the people in the city, there’s no point in having a city

The book of Nehemiah also reminds us of the importance of prayer
Nehemiah does great things, but he doesn’t rush into action
His first response to every situation is prayer
He prays before he leaves the Persian court and comes to Jerusalem

When he gets to Jerusalem, he does nothing for three days – perhaps because he’s tired after the journey
But I think he spends that time in prayer
Then he goes off and tours the city by night, and looks at the ruined walls
And I’m sure that’s also time he spends in prayer

Then he assembles the people, and speaks to them. He says,
You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me.

How do the people respond to Nehemiah’s testimony? Are they convinced? Yes!
They said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

The toughest part of mission is, breaking the news to the people who will have to do the work: how do you persuade them? Nehemiah shows us how

First of all, it helps if people know you are someone who prays
Nehemiah’s habit of prayer reveals him to be someone serious, someone of integrity, someone who wants to serve God rather than himself

How often do we come together for prayer in our church, outside worship services?
How far does that reflect the time we spend in prayer, individually?

Secondly, it helps if people know you’ve done your research – you’ve spent time seeing the situation as it is on the ground
Nehemiah doesn’t just act on the basis of the reports that reached him in Susa
He takes the time to see for himself exactly how things are

Prayer walking is an obvious tool to use in seeing our community through God’s eyes – but every meeting with people from our community, formal or informal, should be preceded and followed by prayer

Thirdly, it helps if people can believe the thing you want to do comes from God; that God’s purposes will be served by the work, and God’s hand will be on the workers
Nehemiah gives a testimony
He tells them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, in his life in exile and the important job he had been given
He tells them
of the words that the king had spoken to me, how God had persuaded Artaxerxes to release him from his duties, to do this important work in his own land

It is good to have people in our churches come forward with individual insights and revelations given in prayer
But for anything to happen, the church community needs to sense a collective purpose, and have faith that this is God’s purpose

In the next few weeks we’ll see how the story unfolds
And how Nehemiah’s story still speaks to our church today
Particularly how we see the relationship between the faith we proclaim in our worship, and the life of the community outside

18 February 2018, St George’s, High Heaton

We’re going to build the wall

Posted: February 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

The remnant who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.  (Nehemiah 1.3, esv)

This Sundays and in the five Sundays of Lent, I’m going to do something different
Instead of following the Bible readings in the Lectionary, I’m going to work my way through one book of the Old Testament – the book of Nehemiah
I may still use some readings from the Lectionary. But the focus will be on Nehemiah

These sermons on Nehemiah will also be introductions to our study sessions on Tuesday evenings
The study sessions will be based on a Lent course devised a few years ago by the Centre for Theology and Community

The Centre’s mission statement says, they believe Christianity requires social justice as well as individual transformation
We are committed to working with people – not just for them
AND We seek to root our action in listening – to God and neighbour

We believe as Christians it’s important to read the Bible
But how we read the Bible is very important
The theology of the course is liberation theology

What does that mean?
We’re probably used to preaching and teaching where you have an expert talking down
Our churches are organised and run in ways that make sure this is what happens
Almost unavoidably, the voice of that preaching is an educated voice, the voice of someone from a privileged class

Liberation theology is theology from the ground up
It tries to hear what the Bible means to the poorest and most disadvantaged in society

It has its roots in the 1960s, in Latin America, in societies ruled by military dictators
Countries where there was not even a pretence of democracy
Very unequal societies, societies governed by elites who governed in their own interests
Where people who made trouble simply disappeared

When liberation theology tells the story of the cross, it points out that Jesus spoke about freedom to people who were poor and oppressed
When Jesus spoke to the people who wielded power, he spoke about judgement

Liberation theologians point out that Jesus was executed for political reasons
He was killed at the instigation of powerful people, including officials of the temple itself
But some interpretations of the gospels don’t give enough weight to those facts

I wonder how well we know the book of Nehemiah
The thing that stands out most in my mind is that Nehemiah was the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem
He also restored the worship of the Jerusalem temple

In the course of telling that story, Nehemiah also gives us great lists of names, of the heads of families who helped rebuild the walls, and the people who came back to Jerusalem from Babylon
And the priests and the Levites and the gatekeepers who served in the temple

All this is very interesting to historians – but what does it mean to us?
Theologically, we might say God approves of Nehemiah’s work of rebuilding the walls
We might start to think that maybe we should build some walls of our own, to put the fear of God into our neighbours and protect ourselves from impurity
Is that the message of Nehemiah? Some people have thought so

We know the famous walls of history, and some of the rulers who built them
We know what threats they were trying to protect themselves from, and the kind of statement they wanted their walls to make
Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, Pres Trump’s wall on the Mexican border

Donald Trump says he wants to make America Great Again – MAGA
You could say, Nehemiah wants God to make Israel great again – MIGA

But when you read the book of Nehemiah, you realise power and status are not what he is after
Nehemiah’s work on Jerusalem’s wall is just a small part of a much bigger picture

That bigger picture is the renewal of the covenant
The restoration of the relationship between the people and their God
And the details of that picture, the way people treat their neighbours, are at least as important as the wall

If there’s no justice for the people in the city, there’s no point in having a city
No point in having walls – because there is nothing behind them that deserves protection

The course on Nehemiah we are going to follow draws parallels between Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem and our attempts to rebuild our communities.
It tries to help us to look at the ways in which you and your church can listen to the needs of the local community and respond in a way which combines charity and justice.

How does the course find this message in the book of Nehemiah?
Let’s see how the book opens – but before we do that, let’s remind ourselves of the situation Nehemiah faces

The Jewish elite had been taken captive to Babylon and lived there in exile for around 70 years
The poor people stayed behind and were forced to work for their new masters, the Babylonians

Eventually the Babylonian empire was toppled by the Persians, who had a different way of dealing with the countries they ruled over
They allowed them much more control of their own affairs, and in particular they encouraged them to carry on the worship of their own gods

The emperor Cyrus, the one we read about in the Old Testament, issued a decree in 538 b.c.e., setting out these principles and allowing the Jewish exiles to go home and rebuild their temple

The temple was rebuilt on the exact site of Solomon’s temple
That took 22 years, and the temple was rededicated in 516

Not everyone went home immediately – there were still many Jews living elsewhere
Nehemiah is a powerful man, a Jew who still lives in Babylon, serving the Persian King Artaxerxes
He regularly gets news of the things going on in his homeland, and this news upsets him

He knows about the Jews who are in Jerusalem, trying to rebuild
But their efforts are running into trouble
There has been damage to the walls, and the gates, and the worry is that the temple itself might be destroyed again

Nehemiah has the emperor’s ear – he knows he can ask for a favour
If Nehemiah was just a politician, what would he have done?

He would have wanted to take action immediately
He could have asked for an army
He could have led them to Jerusalem, driven out the troublemakers and then commanded the soldiers to help the people build up the walls

But Nehemiah is a man of God
So the first thing he does is to turn to God in prayer
And in his prayer, he tries to see the problem as God sees it

He doesn’t just spend a couple of minutes in prayer, or even an hour
He spends several days; he weeps and mourns, and he fasts

The prayer he offers isn’t a prayer for the destruction of his people’s enemies
It’s a prayer of repentance

He sees the sufferings of the people as the consequence of sin
He admits that he and his family share this guilt

He remembers the story told in the book of Deuteronomy, of how the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land
He remembers that Moses gave them a warning from God
If they sinned, God would remove his blessing and drive them out of the land
That, basically, is what happened in the exile

But the God who exiled the Jewish people is still the God who chose them in the first place
They are still the covenant people, and God’s love for them is faithful and everlasting

He still holds out the promise to his people, that if they turn to him again in their hearts and keep his commandments, he will restore his blessing

That is what Nehemiah prays for, and he prays that God’s favour will take one particular form –
That the Persian King will listen to his request, and grant him some time away from court
To see for himself what is going on in Jerusalem and to help if he can

In the next few weeks we’ll see how the story unfolds
And how Nehemiah’s story still speaks to our church today
Particularly how we see the relationship between the faith we proclaim in our worship, and the life of the community outside

11 February 2018, St Cuthbert’s, Heaton

Encouraging tired eagles

Posted: February 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles

Jesus always seems to be very busy in Mark’s gospel
Immediately, he did this; At once, he did that; The same day, he did something else

He is baptised in the Jordan, and immediately driven out into the wilderness
He arrives in Capernaum, and immediately goes into the synagogue to preach
When he finishes preaching he goes at once to the house of Simon and Andrew, and immediately heals Simon’s mother-in-law

The urgency Jesus feels communicates itself to those around him
He calls to people fishing, and immediately they leave their nets
He teaches, and at once the authority of his teaching is proclaimed everywhere

Immediately is an interesting word
It literally means, with nothing in between
In the Bible it indicates that people are responding to the Spirit
There’s no human doubts or hesitations in between the Spirit and the people it speaks to– they just respond

What stops us responding to the voice of the Spirit immediately?
What stands in between and gets in the way?
The simple answer is us – we do. Specifically, our lack of faith stands in the way

I’m not talking about doctrine
I don’t mean that we disbelieve in the Holy Trinity or the divinity of Christ or life after death

But do we have the complete trust in God that lets us act immediately when he calls us?
Do we have the faith that God really calls us and really tells us what he wants us to do?
Or do we talk ourselves out of being faithful and responsive to God – because it’s safer?

I think we do. Where do we see this lack of faith at work? Where does it express itself?
I think in that sense of tiredness we hear about so often

Let me put that in context. It’s not only people in church who feel tired
Feeling tired is one of the most common complaints in modern life

It’s so common, it’s got its own acronym: TATT – tired all the time syndrome
At any given time, 20% of people complain of feeling unusually tired
5-7% of people feel so tired, they complain to their doctor about it

GPs only think it’s worth sending half of those patients for tests: bloods and so on
Few of those tests produce any abnormal findings
Most patients don’t get any formal diagnosis
If they get anything, it’s usually a descriptive diagnosis – something like ‘stress’

If there are no positive medical findings, does that mean the problem isn’t ‘real’?
No, obviously not – it just means the problem needs a different kind of treatment
Advice on lifestyle, attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and so on

What about us in church? What do we do about our sense of tiredness?
I think we sometimes talk ourselves into feeling tired
Which is good, because it means we can talk ourselves out of it
We just have to break the habit we have of talking about how tired we are

Let me give an example of how that can happen
A teacher got fed up of children at school telling her things were ‘boring’
The things they were studying, or the work she asked them to do

So she banned the use of the B word in her classroom
No one was allowed to say anything was boring

They had to come up with more creative ways of saying it
“This isn’t very interesting” “This could be more exciting”
It had a big effect not only on how students talked, but on how they approached their work

I tried a similar thing here, at our Saturday families event in December
The weather was frosty – but I banned the C word
No one was allowed to say it was cold
“It’s bracing” “That wind has an edge to it” “It’s not very warm, is it?”

Why should we try to change the words we use? Because words matter
If other people say it’s cold, you start to feel cold – even if you weren’t cold before
They talk you into feeling cold

That’s also true of the T word – TIRED. People can talk you into feeling tired
If they say they’re tired, you start feeling tired too – just to keep them company
If they tell you that you look tired, you start to feel tired – even if you weren’t tired before

What do people in church mean when they say they’re tired?
It think it really points to feelings either of boredom or discouragement
Neither of those feelings have any place in church

Is our tiredness real? Yes
Is it 100 % physical? Probably not – I actually think it’s spiritual
We feel tired because we don’t have enough faith; we don’t believe the Scriptures
What does Isaiah say?

The Lord … does not faint or grow weary …
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

I like what Isaiah says here – even young people get tired, if they rely on their own strength
But people who find their strength in God just go on and on and on
Remember that song we sing – “The joy of the Lord is our strength”

They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint – is that how we feel?

We shouldn’t talk ourselves into feeling tired
We shouldn’t talk other people into feeling tired
We shouldn’t let other people talk us into feeling tired

That’s not how God created us to feel
That’s not what life in the Spirit feels like

I want us to ban the T word
Because if we believe the Scripture, there is no reason why any of us should feel tired:

those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

When we get that self-inflicted weariness out of the way, we’ll feel the immediacy of the Spirit at work in us
Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman by the well:

Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John4.13-14)

The living water Christ gives us is the life of the Spirit
Standing water stagnates, because it doesn’t move
The living water flows, endlessly, tirelessly, with an inexhaustible energy
It’s not a meandering stream – it’s a raging torrent

Let’s go with the flow
Let’s allow the power of that current to bear us up and carry us along
Because any church and any believer who tries to stand still, will be swept aside

4 February 2018, St George’s, High Heaton. All Scripture references are to the ESV.

Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom

The Christian world view is that we live in a world of signs
Words of prophecy from the Scriptures are constantly being fulfilled in our present world

Of course we are only aware of this if the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, and if we have a deep knowledge of the Scriptures
Luckily, both of these things were true of the people who wrote the books of the New Testament

That fulfilment of Scripture began in the events leading up to the birth of Jesus
It continues now in our own time, in the age of the Church

The fact that the coming of Jesus Christ and his earthly ministry fulfils Scripture is our surest proof that he really did come
And that he was exactly who his followers, then and now, believed him to be

That’s why the writers of the gospels are often so short on the kind of details that would appeal to modern readers like us
The details of what Jesus wore or what he liked to have for his tea don’t really interest the kind of readers they have in mind
It’s the fulfilment of prophecy in the words and works of Jesus that matters

We can see this from the way the gospels begin
All the gospel writers want to make clear that the coming of Jesus Christ fulfils the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures
Although they do it in different ways

Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy
A family tree which locates Jesus among many biblical stories
And also locates him within a numerical pattern which underlines the fact that his coming is the climax of history and the perfection of God’s plan for the world

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matt 1.17 p. 807)

The Bible is Jesus’ family tree, and Jesus completes the family

Mark begins his gospel with John the Baptist in the wilderness by the Jordan
This episode deliberately reminds us of:
– The highway in the wilderness in Isaiah 40
– The crossing of the Jordan, when the Israelites enter Canaan for the first time
– Which is itself an episode that re-enacts the crossing of the Red Sea
– Traditions about where incidents in the life of Elijah took place (even when Scripture itself doesn’t tell

Luke gives us a series of episodes featuring ordinary people
Ordinary people who become extraordinary
Because they are chosen to play a part in the story of the coming of the Messiah

Some of these characters play a major part in the narrative
Others appear once, and then vanish
What they all have in common, is that they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and break out in prophetic speech: Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna

Actually, I realise, that isn’t true – there’s one exception. That exception is Joseph
Joseph is worried, because his fiancée is pregnant and the baby isn’t his

At this moment of crisis, he sees an angel who tells him what to do
He has to take Mary as his bride
Joseph does what he is told, and he and Mary go off to Bethlehem together

Where does the prophetic voice come into this episode?
They say actions speak louder than words; and Joseph performs a prophetic action, by accepting Mary

How do I make that out?
Let’s remind ourselves how seriously the Jewish law takes of adultery
If married people do it, the penalty for both parties is death
If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Lev 20.10, p. 98 cf Deu 22.22)

If an unmarried man and woman do it, the man should pay the bride price and marry the woman – even if the act was rape and she doesn’t want to marry him

But Mary’s situation is worse than any of these
Mary is betrothed to Joseph – the bride price has been paid
If a woman in her situation is convicted of adultery, she should be taken outside the city and stoned to death:
If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones (Deut 22.23-24 p. 164)

So much for the law: if that’s all Scripture said about a woman in Mary’s position, Joseph’s course would be clear
But what about the prophets?
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea all speak about adultery
But not in the same way the law does

Isaiah compares the people to an adulterous woman who has cheated on her loving husband (who of course is God):

On a high and lofty mountain

you have set your bed,

and there you went up to offer sacrifice.

Behind the door and the doorpost

you have set up your memorial;

for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,

you have gone up to it,

you have made it wide;

and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,

you have loved their bed,

you have looked on nakedness (Isa 57.7-8 p. 617)

In Jeremiah 2.32 (p. 629) God himself speaks, and compares his people to a woman who cannot keep her mind on her husband even on their wedding day:

Can a virgin forget her ornaments,

or a bride her attire?

Yet my people have forgotten me

days without number.

Jeremiah also compares the nation to an abandoned infant, presumably the product of an adulterous affair, who has been taken into someone’s house

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. (Eze 16.4-5 p. 702)

When she grows up this child’s benefactor makes her his bride – but she cheats on him.

Of course none of these passages refer to any real act of sexual infidelity (though the prevalence of cult prostitutes in pagan religions may be there in the background)
The people’s unfaithfulness lies in worshipping foreign gods
The prophets liken the unfaithful people to an adulterous woman, because they can’t think of anything worse

But the surprising message of the prophets is that God stands ready to forgive, if his people will turn back to him and be faithful
The promised ending of the story is not judgement, but forgiveness and reconciliation

The most unusual account is in Hosea
God actually tells the prophet Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, in real life:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hosea 1.2 p. 751)

Hosea’s wife is faithless; but God commands him to be reconciled with her
And this reconciliation symbolises God’s intention to reconcile his people to himself, permanently:
“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. … And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. (Hos 2.16-20 p. 752)

And that, in a nutshell, tells us what it means when the angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife – deliberately ignoring appearances and common sense
So that the birth of Christ is marked by a selfless act of forgiveness and reconciliation

Paul says in 2Co 5.19 (p. 966), In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself
The end of human history is that Christ takes the church, which is his people, as his bride
The end of creation history is universal reconciliation

This universal reconciliation is preconfigured in the compassion of Joseph
Joseph acts out these prophetic stories of the husband whose woman seems to have betrayed him
He believes the word of God delivered by the angel and takes Mary as his bride

All of this happened a long time ago: what does it all mean? What’s in it for us?
Some people only come to church at Christmas; it seems like a good time to make recruits
That idea always seems rather patronising to me

We don’t want bodies just to fill our empty seats
The idea of bringing people to church is, to reconcile them to God
To bring them into the kingdom; to let them share in that great act of forgiveness and mercy that began with the birth of Jesus

Though the birth of Christ was a one-off event, the reconciliation is an ongoing process
One that won’t come to an end or be complete until the whole world has been brought into God’s kingdom and reconciled in one
And there is neither Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free; but Christ is all, and in all (Col 3.11 p. 984)

In the meantime, we seek reconciliation in the name of Christ with all the sinners and strangers who surround us.

17 December 2017, St George’s, High Heaton. All Scripture page references are to the ESV Pew Bible.

The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you

The question I want to ask you this morning is, Where do you live?
For the original readers of this passage (Romans 8.1-11), the answer is simple: we live in the imperial city of Rome
But where do they truly live? And where do we, the modern readers of this letter, live?

If you ask me where I live, the answer is simple: Heaton, in Newcastle
I’m clearly not there at the moment, but that’s where I think of myself as living

If you ask me where I’m from, I wouldn’t say Newcastle
I’d say Dunfermline – somewhere I haven’t lived since 1979
I’ve lived in other places far longer than I lived in Dunfermline – I’ve moved on

What I wonder is, how much of me remains behind there; and how much of Dunfermline has come with me
You can take the boy out of Dunfermline – but can you take Dunfermline out of the boy?

Where do you live? This is a question churches have to ask themselves too

In my last year of training I had to write a dissertation based on some “original research”
I studied the experiences of three congregations who left their buildings
One moved into a chapel that was part of a Roman Catholic church
Two moved into local community centres

Where do you find a church that doesn’t have a building?
The church comes alive whenever the congregation gathers for worship
But where does it live during the times in between?
And does it only live within those four walls?

One of the things I read for my dissertation was a work by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, called (in English) Building, Dwelling, Thinking
It’s compulsory reading for architecture students (bet they hate it)

Heidegger points out there are lots of buildings in our world, but only some of them are dwellings
A dwelling is a building where someone lives – a house, not an office, shop, factory, or garage

Dwelling is living, not just in the sense of survival, but in the sense of being
Heidegger says, Dwelling is the manner in which mortals are on the earth

The German word for dwelling, bauen, is related to the other German word nachgebour, which means neighbour
That leads us to another point: dwellings are not usually isolated buildings – they stand with others
So to dwell is not just to live in a building – it implies we dwell in a community

Dwell is one of the most significant words in this passage from Romans:
v9 you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
v11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead
dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you

Some Bible translations including the Good News say live, but dwell means much more
Dwell is the translation of the Greek word oikeo
Paul’s letters use it nine times – no other NT writings use it at all

Paul uses oikeo in 1Cor specifically in reference to the married relationship
Everywhere else he uses it, he is talking about the spiritual presence that dwells in us
So once again, as it is for Heidegger, dwelling is an experience of community

What is this spiritual presence that dwells within us?
Either the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of sin or death or slavery: that’s the choice

The most important word in this passage isn’t actually dwell
The most important word is a much smaller word
A very common word – it occurs more than 2700 times in the New Testament

That crucial word has just two letters in English: that little word is in
v1 those who are in Christ Jesus
v2 the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
v3 -4 He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us
v8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God
v9 You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you
v10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness

You can probably tell, Paul uses the simple, common word in with a special meaning

v9 is the pivotal verse. It’s in two parts, and the word in occurs twice.
– In order to live, we must be in the Spirit
– For us to be in the Spirit, the Spirit has to be in us: which means, Christ has to be in us

Paul talks interchangeably about being in the Spirit, or the Spirit is being in us
He is not just being careless

We often talk about the Spirit as a substance poured into us – as if we were a hollow shell
But it’s just as legitimate to say that we have to be poured into the the Spirit
It’s a mutual thing

1Corinthians makes this easier to understand
Paul uses dwelling in 1Corinthians as a word for the married state
If a believer has an unbelieving partner, and that partner is happy to dwell with them, that’s fine: God will respect that union and bless and even save them both

In the same way, if we want to be saved, the spirit has to dwell in us
But we likewise have to dwell in the spirit, in an intimate communion like marriage

God does not offer this intimate spiritual relationship on a one to one basis
We enter into this spiritual communion by joining the body of Christ – his Church

The true source of life is spiritual community with God through the Spirit of Christ
We find that idea not only in Paul’s letters, but the gospel of John and his other writings
Through the spiritual community of the church, the church family, the body of Christ, we participate in the life of the Trinity
Our God himself is a spiritual community, a family
If we share in Christ, who is one person of the Trinity, we share in all three

Paul talks of us as the adopted sons or children of God
He didn’t pull this idea out of thin air
It’s based on God’s promises to Abraham, and specifically on a prophecy in 2Sam 7.14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son
These Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who makes possible our own adoption by God the Father

So let me ask again, where do you live?
We all live in earthly houses, on earthly streets
But the place we dwell is with God, in the body of Christ
If we are in Christ, we are more than conquerors, and the world itself cannot contain us

16 July 2017, St George’s, High Heaton