Archive for December, 2016

Street signs

Posted: December 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

11 December 2016, St Cuthbert’s, Heaton

Isaiah 35.1-10  Matthew 11.2-11

What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What did you go out to see?

It is often said church that Advent is the time of waiting
Which strikes us as odd, given the way everyone outside is rushing about

This week’s theme is patience
Not waiting patiently with our eyes closed, but constantly looking out for signs God is at work

One of my mother’s favourite phrases was “wait and see”
“What’s for dinner?” – “Wait and see”
“When will dinner be ready?” – “Wait and see”
“What are we doing after dinner?” – “Wait and see”

But there are some things we should already be able to see, in this time of waiting
Even if dinner isn’t ready, you can smell what’s cooking (oh no, not cabbage again)
There are glimpses of God, and his plans, that we call ‘signs’

I went with some friends a few weeks ago to hear an American social missionary and evangelist called Bill Wilson speak in Derbyshire
The theme of his talk was, “what do you see?”
He showed us pictures of places he had worked and children he had rescued there
He challenged us to recognise God’s call to go to those places

His biblical text was John 20 – the scene at the empty tomb
Three people see it, but they see in different ways

John 20.1 Mary Magdalene looks at the tomb from outside
John 20.6 Simon Peter looks into the tomb, and tries to make rational sense of what he sees
John 20.8 the beloved disciple sees – and believes
It was only because followers of Jesus saw and believed, that our world has changed

How do you see things? How do you look at the world?
Do you see the same world as everyone else?
Because we are commanded not to see as the world does, but to see the world through God’s eyes

To look with eyes of understanding – to discern God’s purpose
To look with eyes of faith – to be vigilant, which means being prepared to act on what we see
To look with eyes of love and forgiveness, because God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son

Twice in our reading from Matthew this morning, Jesus challenges people about what they see
He talks to the followers of John the Baptist about the miracles he has performed, and he orders them: Tell John what you hear and see
Then he speaks to the people who once followed John, who are now listening to him
He questions them three times: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? … What did you go out to see? … What did you go out to see?

That’s the question Bill Wilson asked
We should all ask ourselves that question

Because the underlying question is, why look, if you’re not prepared to see through appearances?
Why look, if you’re not prepared to be challenged? if you’re not prepared to act?

It’s a question I asked myself last night
It was my first official shift with Newcastle Street Pastors

It was quite a busy night, especially towards the end
We were trying to help an inebriated young lady to get a taxi home
The trouble was, she wasn’t very keen to be helped
We finally had to recognise the best thing to do was to let the police look after her

A young student had started following us around
He had become separated from his friends, and didn’t want to be on his own
But he was really interested in Street Pastors, and eager to find out why we did what we do

He asked us, why come out in the middle of the night for the sake of people who don’t deserve to be helped?
He pointed out, not unreasonably, that most of the people we tried to help were in some way responsible for the mess they were in – including himself
No one forced them to stay out till 4 in the morning; no one forced them to have another drink

That’s the human perspective – but should it be our perspective?
The fact is, we are all in a mess, it’s all our own fault, and none of us can help ourselves

We are in a mess because of sin, and exactly what type of sin we are guilty of does not matter
The Bible tells us, if you break just one commandment you are guilty of them all

What if God had looked at sinners the way some Christians look at sinners?
What if God had decided, we don’t deserve his help?
There would have been no Christ on earth, no Christmas, no Christians, and no forgiveness for anyone

So that’s why some Christians become Street Pastors
They want to help others because they know that when they were lost, God came to their rescue in Jesus Christ
They don’t ask whether others deserve to be helped, because God didn’t ask
They try to make the love of God we don’t deserve real and believable, by acting on it

What do Street Pastors do?
We talk to people; but more often, we listen
We hand out water bottles and space blankets and Mars bars and flip-flops
We offer simple first aid for cut hands and feet
If we can’t help, we call on someone else who can

We are not the perfect revelation of God’s love – you only see that in Jesus Christ
But we can be a sign pointing to that love – something that can be seen and touched
So many people we spoke to that night had a glimpse of that – they saw in us something different
Our willingness to go out into the wilderness – even city centres in the middle of the night

We try through our simple actions, to reach people’s hearts and imaginations
We want them to know the blessing of the love of God, revealed in human flesh in the birth of Jesus Christ
We want them to see, in Isaiah’s words,
the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God, revealed in our humble, prayerful willingness to help

We believe we can point to the highway that God has laid across the wilderness of human unhappiness, away from the pointless search for escape through another night on the town
The highway God has laid is the revelation of the grace and mercy of God, in Jesus Christ
And for this sign at least, there is no need to wait

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Quick to judge, slow to love

Posted: December 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

5 December 2016, St George’s, High Heaton

Isaiah 11.1-10  Matthew 3.1-12

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding

I started to look at the readings for Advent a few weeks ago
I decided the theme of the first week was urgency
This week the theme is justice
Next week, the theme may be patience – but you’ll have to wait and see
In the final week of Advent, all these strands are pulled together

But this week, as I say, the theme is justice
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 72, Give the king your justice, O God

The Jews expected a mighty king to appear and judge the world
Isaiah tells us to expect a king who will rule with justice and equity
Paul in Romans repeats this prophecy, and applies it to Jesus

But of course, Jesus was the one who was judged
He was subjected to a show trial by the powers of this world, and condemned

But then something happened his enemies never expected
Jesus was judged again – by the only judge whose verdict matters
The death sentence was reversed, and the guilty man was declared to be righteous

We are all accustomed to the idea of judgement as one of the Four Last Things
– Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell
We believe we are in Christ, and we share in his righteousness
Because Christ is righteous, we are also declared to be righteous
So there is no fear of God’s judgement for us any longer

The Jews of the time of Jesus were looking to the Day of the Lord as their great day of vindication and triumph over their enemies
We are all familiar with the idea that the dead will rise for judgement on the last day
Perhaps we quite like the idea, that everyone else will see we were right all along

I’d like to make a distinction, between justice, judgement, and judging
Most of us like to think we are good judges
We are certainly good at passing judgement – we do it all the time, without thinking
We have more in common than we would like to admit with the Pharisee in the temple, who says: Thank you God, that I am not like everyone else

But when we judge, how often are we right? How much more often are we wrong?
If we rush to judgement, our judgements will not be just
If we’re always eager to judge, people will realise we lack judgement

In fact, because we have been forgiven, we should feel no need to judge
The Bible itself warns us not to judge
Because every time we pass judge on someone in public, other people judge us
They make judgements about the sort of people Christians are

What’s the difference between judgement and judging? The difference is wisdom
You can judge without wisdom – people often do
But to judge well, to show good judgement, is to judge wisely

We should remind ourselves what wisdom is
Being wise in God’s eyes doesn’t mean being clever
It means looking at the world and other people through God’s eyes
Which we learn to do only very slowly, through our study of God’s Word, through prayer, and through trying to live wisely – which is a deeply humbling process
Wisdom, humility and good judgement go together, and grow together

When we pass judgement without wisdom, there’s no justice in what we say
We are only doing what the Pharisee does – protecting our self-image and our sense of our own value, by bracketing out people different from ourselves
People who might question our values or endanger our pride in what we think we are

God’s judgement is perfect: but so is his mercy, and so is his love
That should be our aim: first, learn to love; then learn to be merciful
And if we begin to do those things, we’ll begin to learn how to judge – but perhaps we won’t need to judge, or want to