Resurrection Politics

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It’s been a busy week, and we all know that a week is a long time in politics. Between the US and North Korea and the announcement of a general election in the UK there is a lot going on. And the general mood on the internet seems to be that we have politics-fatigue. Having had our fill of Trump and Brexit the last few months some other news would have been a welcome change, but May’s announcement was not met with much enthusiasm.

Maybe we are still reeling from the dramatic political events of 2016 and the campaigns for both the referendum and for the presidency in the US which seemed to signal a shift in political culture and ushered in an age of alternative facts and alternatives to experts. The result, among many other foreseen and unforeseen outcomes, is a nation punch drunk with politics. And this is fertile breeding ground for cynicism. What’s the point in another election when there is no one worth our vote, and we are all going to hell in a handcart anyway?

This week was also a busy week for Christians as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  The Easter story is one of light out of darkness, love that triumphs over hate and hope that will not be defeated. The story of resurrection is the story of God’s love bringing transformation even when it seemed like the story was over. So whilst I am sick of politics, hate the thought of enduring another campaign and cannot muster up any enthusiasm about putting my cross next to any name on the ballot paper, the events of Easter tell us of the transformation a cross can bring.

There is a great temptation to flounder around feeling hopeless and helpless, but despair is a vice and not a virtue.  Our calling is to live as Easter people; to hold on to the hope of transformation.  However messed up and frustrating the political situation – or any other situation seems –  faith, hope and love remain.

The empty tomb that Mary and the other women found on the first Easter morning might not seem like it has a lot to do with turning out to vote when you would rather turn off the TV and pretend none of it is happening, but that’s kind of what the women did. Jesus who they loved had been defeated, humiliated. He had brought them all to a place of danger, let them down, and it was over. There was nothing to show up for after his crucifixion, it would have been safer to hide away. But they showed up anyway to anoint the body of Jesus who they loved. They showed up to carry out their duty towards their deceased friend. They showed up to make him fit for death after his degrading execution. They showed up and discovered transformation, enduring hope and inextinguishable love. They found out that it all still mattered.

The resurrection didn’t bring perfect justice to every situation on earth. It didn’t make people consider the common good in all of their actions or desire peace or love their neighbours as themselves. But it did mean that all of those things are a real possibility. When other things come to an end, faith, hope and love remain and the promise of that transformation is worth showing up for.

LH

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Flattery, Destruction and shouting stones

Palm sunday

When Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds go wild for him that must be a huge moment of affirmation. They know who he is and they are celebrating the Son of David, the King of Kings. In Luke’s version of the events we know as Palm Sunday, some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to silence his followers, to stop them shouting their praises and he responds “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40). Jesus knows who he is, not because the people are waving their palm branches at him and lining his route with their cloaks, but because it is the truth. Regardless of whether anyone recognises him as the Messiah or not, the whole of creation knows that he is God with us, and so even if the people don’t celebrate it, the stones will shout aloud.

The thing about Palm Sunday is that it very quickly turns to the events of Holy Week, and as many a preacher will say this week, the cries of “hosanna” will soon turn into the cries of “crucify him”. There is nothing as fickle, or as scary, as a crowd whipped up into a frenzy. If Jesus is looking for affirmation, he doesn’t find it in the crowd, he doesn’t even find it in the 12 disciples who betray him and desert him. I once heard June Osborne, the Dean of Salisbury, say that in ministry you get a lot of flattery and you get a lot of destructive criticism and that it’s really important not to absorb either. Jesus’ journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday embodies the extremes of flattery and destruction. The people who flattered and cheered were the same people who spat and jeered.

So it really matters that Jesus knows who he is. I don’t necessarily mean that at that moment he knows that he is fully God as God is and fully human as we are; but he knows that he is the Messiah. He knows that what he does will affect all of creation. And he knows this is true whatever anyone else is saying. When we try to discern what God is calling us to, we listen to the voices around us. The voices that flatter and the voices that criticise might be the loudest voices, but they are not the ones to rely on. Sometimes the voices that flatter and criticise are ours, we tell ourselves things that can get in the way of hearing what God is saying. What is it that is true, regardless of what anyone else says? What is it that the stones are shouting? What is it that in both the times of greatest affirmation, and the worst rejection and betrayal is still true?

As we journey with Jesus through the events of Holy Week, as we share in his crucifixion on Good Friday and in his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, what is it that we are being called to? As we experience the lows of vulnerability, rejection, humiliation and defeat, and the highs of victory, triumph and love which conquers death, what is true throughout all of that? What are the stones shouting, and what shall we do about it?

LH

Options Evening

Signpost

The other week  we attended our son’s GCSE options evening and, apart from the process seeming far more stressful and complicated than it was when I chose my O levels over 30 years ago, it caused me to pause and think.

The first part of the evening consisted of a welcome and introduction followed by an explanation of the process and what the young people could and couldn’t choose.  The member of staff then proceeded to ask the pupils to consider two questions in choosing their options:

“What subjects do you do best at?”

“Which of them do you enjoy the most?”

This started me thinking about what we do when we consider our calling.  Do we consider what we are good at (our gifts) and what we enjoy doing when we think about what God is calling us to do or to be?  Whilst God may ask us to move out of our comfort zone He is the one who gave us our gifts and made us who we are.  When we say to our children that we want them to do the best they can so that they can meet their potential do we allow ourselves to do the same?  Do we use our gifts to serve God?  We all have gifts even if we don’t acknowledge them.  This should be our starting point in thinking about vocation – what are we good at?  What are we passionate about?  Starting from this point of view we can then consider how we may be called to use them.

When my son has chosen his options it won’t be the end of the choices he will need to make, and those two questions might be useful further down the road.

AB

Maximise Wealth Retention

Fox Hole

‘Maximise Wealth Retention’ – the headline leapt out from the leaflet lying on the doormat, one of the day’s collection of junk mail. The flier was advertising a seminar, the subject of which was protecting your assets in the event that you would need to go into care. A further strapline argued that what you had worked hard for should be passed on to your loved ones, not used to take care of you in your old age.

My reaction to the headline was a gut one – a rising sense of distaste. Whilst I fully recognise the need for the elderly to be properly cared for, what caused a bitter taste was the implication that we should keep what we have earned and let somebody else bear the cost of our care as we grow older, that passing on an inheritance to our own was deemed to be a right, regardless of the cost to society as a whole. Contrasted with an earlier conversation where a colleague had shared the delight of marching with thousands of others for the NHS the two attitudes were striking in their contrast.

I fully appreciate that many people have worked hard for what they might have accrued but during this season of Lent, when we are meant to focus more fully on being disciples of Jesus, the ‘maximise wealth retention’ mantra seems to me to be at complete odds with Gospel priorities. If we are followers of Jesus what is it that we pursue and where do we find our security? Our priorities determine our decisions, our actions and the routes we take; are we being called to re-evaluate what they might be, and to walk a different path?

JH