Category Archives: Theology

Resurrecting the Soul in a Secular Age

How do we nurture our souls in a secular world? Historically, Christians have responded in two very contrasting ways:

Nurturing the Soul Through Asceticism
The first approach, popular among some early Christians, was to retreat to the desert thinking they could escape temptation and find holiness through asceticism. By the fourth century CE many Christians were living as hermits and monks in monasteries out in the desert. A fifth century monk, Simeon, took this to extremes. To get away from the hordes of disciples and onlookers who came to visit him, attracted by his already extreme self-denying lifestyle, he climbed a pillar and lived there. He once survived 40 days without eating or drinking anything, which made him even more popular. He spent the rest of his life on a succession of ever higher pillars, to try and get away from the crowds who continued to visit him. Food and water were delivered by village boys climbing up his pillar. After he died, scores of others tried to imitate Simeon, and became known as Stylites from the Greek word for pillar, “style”. The problem is that we can never escape from temptation and sin, least of all retreating from the world into the desert. Jesus was himself tempted by Satan in the desert.

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Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK.  Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.

Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.  Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:

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Christmas according to Paddington Bear

Trains were humming, loudspeakers blaring, porters rushing about shouting at one another, and altogether there was so much noise that Mr Brown, who saw him first, had to tell his wife several times before she understood. ‘A bear? On Paddington station?’

Mrs Brown looked at her husband in amazement. ‘Don’t be silly, Henry. There can’t be!” “Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. ‘Good afternoon,’ it said, in a small clear voice … The bear puffed out its chest. ‘I’m a very rare sort of bear,’ he replied importantly. ‘There aren’t many of us left where I come from.’ ‘And where is that?’ asked Mrs Brown. The bear looked round carefully before replying. ‘Darkest Peru. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a stowaway.'”[1] Michael Bond’s marmalade sandwich-loving Peruvian bear first sauntered onto the page in 1958’s A Bear Called Paddington.

Named after the London station at which he was found, Paddington has been delighting generations of children the world over, ever since. Now for the first time he is appearing in the cinema too. Paddington, is a charming and funny little adventure about a very polite and friendly bear who yearns for a new home in London. Harry Potter producer David Heyman says: “Paddington Bear is a universally loved character, treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play and his perfect manners, and of course for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.”

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Advent: Preparing the Way (Luke 3:1-6)

Our Advent reading from Luke 3 introduces us to the three most important themes of the Bible.  They can be summed up in three questions.   The primary theme in the gospels concerns the identity of Jesus. “Who is Jesus?” The second theme has to do with the mission of Jesus. “Why did Jesus come?” The third theme has to do with the call of Jesus. “What does Jesus demand of us?”  When you read the gospels thoughtfully – you discover that every event, every story, every quote, every conversation is about one of these three themes.  It is asking or answering one of these three fundamental questions. About Jesus’ identity; his mission; and his call.  Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? And what does Jesus demand of me? Let us try and answer these three questions this morning. Then we can celebrate Advent and look forward to the return of Jesus. Continue reading

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Advent: Jesus is Coming in Glory


If you were like me, when you were very young, there were only two really important events in your life. You felt like they could not come soon enough. What were they? The first was… your birthday. The second was… Jesus’ birthday. Both involved presents. Lots of presents. Then when you were old enough to know that Father Christmas was not in the Nativity Play and you were allowed to stay up late, there was a third special day. New Year’s Eve. There were no presents but you still looked forward to the party and seeing in the New Year. For me, Summer holidays were special but never as special as my birthday and Christmas Day. We love to celebrate beginnings. We celebrate new life. Our birthday. Family birthdays. Jesus’ birthday. The birth of a new year. So what is it with the Church? When does the Church year begin? Not Christmas and the birth of our Saviour. Not Easter and the gift of new life. Not even Pentecost and the birth of the Church. The Church year begins with Advent.
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Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?

A presentation given at the Palestine Center in association with the Jerusalem Fund, in Washington DC, last week on the historical roots, theological basis and political agenda of Christian Zionism. The presentation was drawn from the following three summaries of my PhD thesis on Christian Zionism.

Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?

Christian Zionism Master History (part 1)
Christian Zionism Master Theology (part 2)
Christian Zionism Master Politics (part 3)

Read more here

 

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Who is my Neighbour?


A sermon preached at New Covenant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, based on the famous parable of Jesus found in Luke 10:25-37. Continue reading

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Hypocrisy in High Places

A young boy asked his father a question, “Why must we surrender our Jewish faith and attend Lutheran services here in Germany?” The father replied, “Son, we must abandon our faith so that people will accept us and support our business adventures!”  The boy never got over his disappointment or bitterness. His faith in his father was crushed. He gave up on religion. He left Germany and came to England to study. He spent many months in the Reading Room of the British Museum developing his convictions. These he published in 1848 in “The Communist Manifesto”. His name was Karl Marx.  Marx argued that capitalism would inevitably self-destruct, and be replaced by communism. And religion, he insisted,

“…is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

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On Being a Neighbour

Did you realise that once broadcast, TV signals begin an endless journey outward into the cosmos at the speed of light?  That means our earliest TV broadcasts are probably travelling through star systems more than 400 trillion miles from earth. Do you realise that our neighbours living 60 light years away are watching the first episodes of the Lone Ranger in black and white. 50 light years away they are now watching Bonanza. 40 light years away they have moved on to the original Star Trek series. 30 light years away they are able to watch the Dukes of Hazzard. Just 20 light years away it’s the Sopranos. Those only 10 light years away are being blessed by countless episodes of Lost. Scientists tell us that the further away your neighbours live, the more likely they are to hold outdated, inaccurate and stereotypical views of you.

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Eating Jesus

“Follow me, Vicar, into the red zone… Life is too short, and my time left too precious…This is why I shall not be going to church any more. I’ve never been a fan of the baby Jesus, but now, as the summer of middle age begins to fade, I can no longer tolerate the interminable hymns and the dreary psalms and the saccharine lectures on peace and imperialism and recycling from beardy in the pulpit. In the past I could sit on my hands and bite my tongue and count the seconds, knowing that soon I’d be released into the fresh air. But today I just don’t have the time to waste and I’m filled with a sometimes uncontrollable urge to throttle the vicar, goose the organist and make a break for freedom through the vestry….Me? Well, since I believe you should live life and not spend half of it in church, preparing for death, I’d take the Mazda, warts, beeps and all, every time.”

That’s how Jeremy Clarkson introduced the new Mazda CX-7 in the Sunday Times
recently. Although I’m already a fan of Mazdas, Jesus was right, when he said “you cannot serve both God and money” or in the case of Jeremy, “You cannot serve both God and cars.” I would love to have a one-to-one with Jeremy and find out whether, like many other people, he has been turned off Jesus by the caricature of Christianity he may have encountered.

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