Love matters for our future https://bramhallmethodists.org.uk/scienceandprayer/

Love matters for our future,
love founded in our past;
love woven through the present,
in hope that love will last.
This love is simply, human,
profoundly, love divine;
yet love can change another,
change lives like yours and mine

While we prefer the comfort
of minds akin to ours,
the gentle reassurance
of quiet refreshing hours;
in hell and not in heaven is
where the Christ is found,
the rough and trammeled pathway,
the trampled, bloodied ground.

But can we love another
and freely offer grace,
regardless of the neighbour
within our human race?
To always be uplifting,
to love and not condemn,
will model every person
as us and not as them.

Andrew Pratt 28/9/2019 – Science and the Language of Prayer. Written in response to Ruth Armstrong’s lecture. Seminar 1. Criminology.
Tune:AURELIA
Metre: 7.6.7.6D
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

When evil gathers in the wings – Bad things happen when good people do nothing…hymn

Bad things happen when good people do nothing…

When evil gathers in the wings
the time of crisis offers choice:
to rise with courage and resist
or keep our silence, still each voice.
What shall we do when chaos reigns,
act out God’s love? Submit to chains?

As history echoes from the past,
while memories can tend to fade,
‘lest we forget’ let us recast
the hard decisions others made:
to live the love that Christ had shown,
self sacrificial, Spirit blown.

Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Tune: ABINGDON

 

Loyalty

In this month 80 years ago the Second World War began –

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
the love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice (1859-1918) wrote of loyalty and this week we have seen loyalty in politics stretched to the limit, at times, completely broken. Who can sing of a love for country that asks no question? Can anyone anymore, in this country or any other?

Soon, however things pan out politically in the UK, we are likely to have an election and I feel confused. It would be wrong use of this blog to tell you who to vote for and, in any case, I don’t know the answer to that question for us all individually or corporately, but I’ve been thinking. And it relates to that word loyalty. Where do we place that loyalty?

Let’s think back, dig into history a little. My Grandfather, born in 1886, fought in the war to end all wars. Served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, became a captain. People who fought in that war hoped there would never be another such war. The League of Nations was formed. TocH started by the Reverend Phillip Byard (Tubby) Clayton offered fellowship to members of the forces. Step through the door and rank disappeared. All in it together would be a reasonable summary. My dad joined TocH. Born in 1912 he was in the Eighth Army. Drove a water carrier at El Alamein. Royal Army Service Corps. Died when he was 60 in 1973. He and so many others fought against what they saw as ultimate evil in Nazism. Let us remember that the growth of Nazism took place in a Christian country through a democratic process.

Shades and colours of loyalty, interpretations of faith. A league of Nations that grew into the United Nations. In my lifetime Europe grew closer and distances seemed to shrink. Society has become global. We shudder at the destruction in the Bahamas, at fie by the Amazon, but also at gun crime in America and knife crime in our own cities.

And now, that potential election asks of us, against this back-drop of history, our varied and disparate experiences, our personal stories, our joy and our pain, where we place our loyalty.

Our faith and our doubt inform what we have become and put us where we are. Yet we each, as Christians, ought still to ask ourselves ‘where do we place our ultimate loyalty?’ And if this is too political then Jeremiah was too political. I think it was Desmond Tutu who said if people think the Bible has nothing to do with politics they’re reading a different Bible from me.

Where do we place our loyalty? Is it to our country? To our family? Our church? To our neighbours? My dad or your grandmother? Are we driven by self-interest?

One thing shines through the Bible, from Amos and Hosea (read them, they’re short books), through the Magnificat to the story of the Good Samaritan, to the crucifixion and on beyond the resurrection, and that is LOVE. If we are not loyal to LOVE we are just like ‘resounding gongs or clanging cymbals’. We make a lot of noise but we are worth nothing at all.

It seems that in all things, not least our political choices and decisions, we must decide how to prioritise LOVE over and above anything else. And that may take us out of Europe or leave us in. It may join us with our families or separate us from them so distantly that sometimes it will be as though we hate them. But above all only ‘resounding gongs and clanging cymbals don’t care‘. They are not human, they do not think, they CARE for nothing AND COUNT OF NOTHING.

In every choice, every decision, every vote if we see ourselves as Christians we will ask, does this choice, this decision, enhance or diminish the way those affected by it are LOVED.

YOUR CHOICE…AND MINE…EVERY TIME…don’t point the finger, don’t blame the other person, the other party, the other side, the other nation… YOUR CHOICE…AND MINE…EVERY TIME…

What sharp protestations might echo the prophets – hymn at the time of parliamentary disagreement

What sharp protestations might echo the prophets,
could mirror the actions of Christ and the cross?
We witness indifference, inaction and malice,
that break up communities, add to our loss.

But how can we counter political action
that builds upon selfishness slander and lies,
that blinds us to suffering, homelessness, hunger,
ignoring these needs as our barren earth dies?

While violence surrounds us, our dark contemplation
breeds hopelessness, helplessness, absence of light;
yet here in the darkness a spark might still smoulder,
that love might still fan to dispel hatred’s night.

Join hands now, God’s people, let love be our watchword,
let Christ be our model of life giving grace,
that those of each nation, the war torn, the migrant,
may find they are welcome right now in this place.

Andrew Pratt 31/8/2019
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Tune: WAS LEBET, WAS SCHWEBET (or possibly THE ASH GROVE)

Written at a time when parliament was due to be prorogued.

God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis 18:20-32 

This passage relates the story of God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads for the people. If any are righteous then the cities will be saved for their sake.

More often than not the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah is related to sexual sin, and righty but whether it can be taken to be a condemnation of homosexuality is not quite so clear. It looks as though this is the case until we read further.

What was happening in Sodom was a total disregard of other people. In a later passage we read that two angels – messengers – are being sheltered by Lot. Men come out from the city and want to ‘know them’ – it is assumed that this means to ‘rape them’. The messengers were alien, visitors if you like. The judgement is not primarily against the sexual act but against the men’s violation of another human being simply because they are foreign, alien. These aliens were doubly threatening as they were coming to deliver God’s message of judgment. In addition the men of Sodom want to deal with Lot even more violently because he has given shelter to these strangers. (The sexual morality of the story is even more muddied as we read later that Lot, while guarding the aliens, is willing to hand over his daughters to be raped. Subsequently we find his daughters in the foreground, getting their father drunk in order for him to have an incestuous relationship with them. Not exactly a pattern on which we might want to base our sexual ethics – remember that Lot is ‘on God’s side’).

To bring it up to date. Someone comes and stays with you and they begin to point out something of the wrong they see in you or ,your nation or town. Those with power are threatened. Firstly they resist or reject, alienate or harm the foreigners; then they aim their hatred, perhaps their fear, at anyone who gives the foreigner shelter or comfort. The foreigner is labelled and can be abused.

This puts a different spin on the story. How do we feel about the stranger in our midst? And about those who welcome and support them? Tempted to say ‘Oh I wouldn’t act like those people’. But how would we act if the presence of the messenger was going to threaten our way of life? I wonder.

Let’s step a bit further. A contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11:1-4 replaces the words ‘lead us not into temptation’ with ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’.

The word ‘trial’ (or ‘temptation’) is a translation of the Greek πειρασμός (peirasmos). The meaning of the Greek is putting to the proof, ‘trial’, as we would understand it, rather than ‘temptation’. It is used in this way explicitly elsewhere in the New Testament. It implies a testing of a person’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy.

In this light the question about how we would act confronted with the alien who is judging us becomes a testing of our fidelity, faithfulness.

Those who want to make a link between Jesus and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah usually refer to Matthew 10: 5 – 15. Jesus is sending out his disciples:

‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. Verse 14 concludes the story, ‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town’.

Putting this passage beside the one from Genesis suggests that:

  1. Given the most important commandments are to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. It is reasonable to assume that this was the message, the Good News, that the disciples were sharing.
  2. That it is this that the people may not accept. This, then is their time of trial.
  3. Rejection puts them in the position of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And this is exactly what the people of Sodom were condemned for, though the expression of this lack of love for neighbour was, for them, expressed in the violation of those who ought to be both neighbour and guest.

So for us the test, the trial, the judgement is arguably related to how we accept those who are different from us, how we demonstrate love of our neighbour, rather than on anything sexual.

O God, let intellect be held – God and the mystery of love

O God, let intellect be held
constrained, that I might simply sense
the depth, and mystery, of love
within this present tense.

As music sets the air aflame,
as sense is dumb and flesh retires
God, reach within my heart again
and fan those hidden fires.

As hands reach out to grasp the grace
that bread and wine should mediate,
reach back through hands that you would choose:
disclose, communicate.

Then held at once in paradox,
remembering in present time,
unite again this human flesh
with sacred love divine.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
© 2003 Stainer & Bell Ltd
8 8 8 6

 

The Trinity – some thoughts – nothing fixed or final of course…

On Twitter recently there has been some conversation about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Traditionally Christians believe that God is manifest in a transcendent form = creator, often called Father.

Additionally God has become incarnate, made flesh in the person of Jesus = Saviour often called the Son.

Finally Christians belove that God continues to be manifest in the life of Christians = the Holy Spirit.

The problem is that the Trinity is not specifically defined in Scripture though the names of the ‘persons’ of the Trinity are provided. Trying to put the ‘persons’ together involves mental gymnastics if we believe in Monotheism. Even the term ‘person’ is problematic as it defines an existent being.

An analogy might help:

Resonance, in chemistry, refers to contexts in which one or more electrons contribute to more than one bond in a molecule. A most common example is found in the resonant bonds between the carbon atoms of benzene rings. The molecule appears to be two things at the same time. Now if that is over-complicated it could be you’re not a chemist. No shame in that. But…

The Trinity says the same of God. God is three ‘persons’ at the same time. If we express this in familial terms we make analogies which are contradictory, don’t work. Anthropomorphising language makes it less intelligible. God is outside our human language and categories and means of expression.

What we name ‘God’ transcends time, space, language, understanding. God is not part of creation or an alternative creation. Ground of being (after Paul Tillich) best expresses this. So let’s just leave ‘God’ as mystery. Forget explanation and practise LOVE?