a tale of two jesuses. by Keith Hitchman

I gave this particular talk on Palm Sunday 2017, the day when Islamo-fascists martyred 44 Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Authoritarianism, religious and political, is on the rise across the world. On Palm Sunday I addressed the question: 'How did Jesus really respond to religious and political oppression, and what can we learn from His response?' (given that Jesus was oppressed and put to death by both religious - Jewish, and political - Roman - authorities).

Texts referred to were Matthew 21: 1-11 and Matthew 27: 15-26.

The Hebrew people are living under Roman occupation and rule. Roman rule was harsh and brutal. Death by crucifixion, as thought-up by the Romans, was the most painfully slow and cruel form of execution imaginable, and was widely used across the Roman Empire. Crucified bodies lined the roads. Jesus's mode of execution was not unusual, merely common execution for the common man.

The Romans were the original fascists. The term 'fascist' derives from the Roman fasces - a bundle of rods with a projecting axe blade, symbolising power in ancient Rome, and adopted as an emblem of authority in Mussolini's (fascist) Italy.

Jesus and His people were living under fascist rule. Literally. Its interesting to note how Jesus was 'counter-cultural' in his approach to His Roman oppressors. The Jews hated the Romans (quite understandably), yet Jesus engaged Romans in conversation and healed their sick, which would have been an unheard of thing for a Rabbi/spiritual teacher to be doing. In truth, Jesus was far harder on the Jewish religious leaders. One gets the impression that He considered them far worse. No Pharisee was ever commended for their faith, as was the Roman Centurion in Luke 7: 9.  

Back to our Palm Sunday reading from Matthew 21. Jesus goes to Jerusalem for 'Freedom Week', the Jewish Festival of Pesach, or Passover. He enters Jerusalem, not on a warhorse, as would have been ridden by a warrior, but on a donkey, itself a symbol of peace for the Jewish people. Thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9: 9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.  

Crowds line the streets, welcoming Him in with cloaks laid down and palms held aloft. "Hosanna to the Son of David"...the warrior king...one who will Make Israel Great Again. 

Cut to a week later. After the Last Supper, the betrayal at Gethsemane, the arrest, imprisonment, denial and trial. Jesus is before Pilate, the Roman Procurator. A crowd gathers outside. Its the same crowd who less than a week earlier welcomed Jesus in. Now they're in an altogether different mood. More of a mob than a crowd.

A week, they say, is a long time in politics. And this has been a very long week.

Pilate, unsettled by the complexity of the case before him, by the calm innocence of Jesus, and by his own wife's disturbing dream, offers the crowd an option. A choice. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Nazarene? 

Jesus (Yeshua, Joshua) means 'The one who saves' (Heb). Jesus Barabbas, we are told, was a political rebel and an insurrectionist (Mark 15). One who wished to save his people through armed conflict. Jesus of Nazareth is a different kind of saviour to the one the people had come to expect. Jesus hadn't come on a warhorse to bring conflict, but on a donkey to bring it to an end. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. 

“Whom do you want me to release for you", Pilate asks the crowd, "Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” The one who saves through conflict, or the One who saves through peace? The people choose Barabbas.

Who will you choose?

 

St Michael in the Hamlet & Christ Church Toxteth Park, Palm Sunday 9 April 2017

the mothers. by Keith Hitchman

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.   John 19: 25

I have always been a little uncomfortable with the idea of 'Mothering Sunday'. It can be such a painful reminder. It is comforting perhaps to know that originally 'Mothering Sunday' had quite a different meaning than its come to assume today, conflated as it is with 'Mother's Day, an American invention. 

"During the 16th century, people returned to their mother church, the main church or cathedral of the area, for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either the church where they were baptised, or the local parish church, or more often the nearest cathedral. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone "a-mothering", although whether this term preceded the observance of Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions."

'Mother Church'...Mother's of the Church. At the foot stood three women. Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary, her sister. And Mary Magdalene, possibly Jesus's closest female friend. Three women, remaining, when all the men had gone (except that is for John, the Beloved Disciple).

Three faithful women.

Mother. Sister. Friend.

bind. by Keith Hitchman

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Luke 11: 14-23 contains the account of Jesus 'driving out demons', and his response to questions posed. 

Demons and the demonic are real.

It was C S Lewis who once said, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." 

Yesterday's (22 March 2017) terrorist attack in Westminster was a demonic act. An act of pure evil, and in my opinion, motivated by evil spiritual forces.

Given that this specific attack was carried out by a Muslim: Is Islam a demonic religion? This is what some 'Christians' are saying. The answer is uncategorically, 'No'. Over the centuries 'Christians'...Jews, Hindu's, Buddhists (yes, even Buddhists), Pagans, and Atheists - have all committed similar evils under the banner of their different and often competing belief systems.

Yet, could it be that the demonic is more active within the religious sphere? Again, C S Lewis seemed to thinks so - read The Screwtape Letters. The English word 'Religion' is derived from the Latin term religare, meaning ‘to bind. Religion can 'bind' in one of two ways. It can tie us up. Confine and restrict us, narrowing our worldview, allowing demonic/evil influences to get in. Alternatively religion can, in the words of that old chorus, 'Bind us together'. 

Now is the time to 'bind together'. As Jesus pointed out, "Any kingdom divided against itself cannot stand". In Luke 11 Jesus says, "He who is not with me is against me". In Mark 9: 40 he says the inverse: "whoever is not against us is for us". Most Muslims are not 'against' Christians. Muslims and Christians might not agree on everything, but then we Christians cannot agree even among ourselves. To Muslims we Christians are, as the Quran says, 'People of the Book' (monotheistic scripture) along with the Jews, and to be respected as such. Isa (Jesus) is considered to be a prophet in Islam. The Islamism of the terrorists is a distortion of true Islam.

What is the antidote to the kind of evil we saw perpetrated in Westminster, and indeed across the world? For me it is the Way of Jesus. The Purest Way, versus the purest evil. Jesus is the Stronger Man, plundering the house of evil, with the weaponry of love.

St Michael in the Hamlet, 23 March 2017

children of the blessing. by Keith Hitchman

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.                                                 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12: 1-3

Everyone is, or has been part of a family (even if we've never known them). We're all born into a lineage. A 'blood-line'. Most families have disagreements. Sometimes these are minor and passing. At other times they are more serious, turning nasty and even violent.

Perhaps the biggest problems in the world today revolves around one family dispute. A family dispute between three members of the same spiritual lineage - The Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims. The Children of Abraham.

Genesis 12: 1-3 is what is known theologically as the the 'Abrahamic Covenant', made between God and the patriarch Abram (later to become Abraham). God commands Abram to leave where he is and to travel to a land that He will show him. In return God 'promises' to make Abram's people a 'great nation'. The People of The Blessing.

The land in question is Canaan. The boundaries of the region known in Biblical times as Canaan now surround Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territories including the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the southern sections of Syria and Lebanon.

So Abram went as commanded and settled in the land. On the way he had all kinds of adventures and difficulties, including family disagreement. Abram/Abraham had two sons. Isaac, born to his wife Sarah and from who's lineage were to become the people we know as the Jews. His other son, Ishmael, was born (first) to his servant woman Hagar. Arab scholars trace the roots of many of the Arab tribes back to Ishmael (the Ishmaelites). Some Muslims believe that their Prophet Mohammed was himself a direct descendent of Ishmael. Although both these assertions are contentious, there is no doubt that Ishmael is an important figure in Arab genealogy and in Islamic tradition.

My personal belief is that the Jews were and still are God's Chosen People. Chosen that is to be blessed by God and to be a blessing to the nations. For this is how 'blessing' works. Everyone is blessed by God, and we are blessed so that we might be a blessing to others. For me the Jews are the recipients of a special blessing, a promise made by God to the Jewish people. God's promises are never rescinded. 'For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.' (St Paul - Romans 11: 29).

The Jews are a 'nation' - a people-group. Their nationhood is uniquely bound up with the land promised to them by God. At this point I assert clearly that the claim of the Jews on the land God promised them (a claim I support), does not necessarily validate the present day geographical claims of the 'State of Israel'. Nor does the Chosen-ness of the Jews justify all military action undertaken by the Jewish State. However, in the words of the Abrahamic Covenant, to curse the Jews is also a very dangerous thing, for both nations and individuals ("whoever curses you I will curse").

The contribution of the Jews to the world - their blessing - is incontrovertible ("I will make your name great"). The greatest Name of all is Yeshua - Jesus the Jew. Yeshua is the Son of God. He is also the Son of David, born into the lineage of the greatest of Israel's kings. And as the Son of Man, Yeshua came to redeem all of humanity. In Himself, Yeshua is the fulfilment of the destiny for which the Jews were chosen. He is the Blessing. Those of us who have chosen to respond to His invitation to become a member of His family - the family of the New Covenant - are grafted-in to the Abrahamic Covenant (see Romans 11). Abraham is our father too.

One God. Three great monotheistic faith traditions. The Children of Abraham, caught up in a family dispute going back some 1400 years. I believe that the first (though not final) step to resolving this conflict is to rediscover - TOGETHER - our common heritage and spiritual lineage under the Abrahamic Covenant. So that we can do more than simply co-exist. Moreover, that we may be a blessing to each other and to the world, just as God intended.

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Steve Earle (Jerusalem)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ Church Toxteth Park & St Michael in the Hamlet, 12 March 2017

un-self empowerment. by Keith Hitchman

In Luke 4: 1-11 we read of Jesus being 'led by the Spirit into the wilderness - a dry, arid and lonely place - to be tempted by the devil.'

For 40 days He stayed there, corresponding with the 40 years spent by God's people encircling the desert. During this time Jesus was tempted three times in three areas. On each occasion and in each area, Jesus was tempted to misuse His power - the power which His Father had given Him - for selfish ends.

Jesus had access to all the power. His enemy wanted Jesus to use His power for His own ends, as the enemy himself had done. Jesus resisted. 

Interestingly, Jesus went on to do all the things that the enemy tempted Him with. He multiplied bread out of scraps. He exercised power over nature (stilling the storm). And, after willingly surrendering Himself to the religious and political authorities of his time and place, Jesus went on to rule over all creation as King of kings.

But the big difference is (and it is a BIG difference), Jesus did all these things, not for Himself, but for His Father and for others.

Power is a dangerous thing. The more we have, the more we want, and the more we are likely to abuse it. And others. Which is exactly why Jesus commands us to follow Him in resisting the temptation to selfish self-empowerment, and to laying down our lives for God and for others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

St Paul, Philippians 2: 6-11

 

Lent Reflection, St Michael in the Hamlet, Sunday 5 March 2017

borrowed. by Keith Hitchman

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly...

"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Yeshua (Matthew Chapter 6)

My most memorable and meaningful Ash Wednesday was in New York in 2002, on February 13 six months after 9/11. 

I was at the end of a three week tour of American universities together with two students from the University of Gloucestershire, where I was then Chaplain. We were in New York for the day before driving to Washington for the flight home. We visited the site of 'Ground Zero' before visiting Trinity Anglican Church on Broadway. It was lunchtime. There was a choir singing and priests were dispensing ashes to continuous queues of people receiving ashes. We joined the queue and were 'ashed' accordingly. It then became apparent that these ashes had been scooped up from among the burnt rubble of the Twin Towers. Ashes of destroyed buildings...and destroyed lives. Slightly macabre maybe, but very moving nonetheless.

For ashes are symbolic of both penitence and mortality. In the Old Testament we read of numerous accounts of the People of God putting on 'sackcloth and ashes' as such a sign. 

Lent - which begins on Ash Wednesday - is the Church season of penitence leading up to Holy Week. Everything we have, everything we possess, has been 'lent' to us by God. The earth is the Lord's and everything in it. What we receive, we receive on trust. 'For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.' (1 Timothy 6: 7). In the words of Mike Skinner (The Streets):

I came to this world with nothing
And I leave with nothing but love
Everything else is just borrowed

Lent is a season of both remembering our own poverty before God (penitence), and remembering the poverty of others (charity), inextricable as these are are. This Ash Wednesday I am suggesting that instead of giving something up, we give something back. Giving something back to God through consciously giving to others.

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

The Prophet Isaiah (chapter 58: 6-9)

 

St Michael in the Hamlet, Ash Wednesday, 1 March 2017

 

mother. by Keith Hitchman

I think about the Church of England like I used to think about my mother (God rest her soul). I loved my mother very deeply, but most of the time I didn't like her at all. She didn't like me much either. To be honest, I much preferred being with people outside the family.

Growing up I remember my mother as being very Victorian in terms of her morality. Older single men were always bachelors. Homosexuality was never mentioned in our home, and when it was it was always in the negative. I used to play Tom Robinson's 'Glad to be Gay' up loud on the sitting room stereo just to annoy her. I was very annoying.

Towards the end of her life my mother, Thomasina, lived in Kenwyn Nursing Home in Truro, a place which was very kind to her. There she was befriended by a young gay man who was her personal care worker. His name was Mark. For a brief period Mark became like a second son to my mother. I wasn't neglectful, but I didn't get down to Cornwall often. I was too busy seeking to make a name for myself in the Church, perhaps? And, like I said, we didn't get on.

Even after moving away from Cornwall, Mark continued to visit my mother. He used to drive from Manchester, with his partner, just to see her. I shall always be indebted to him.

I think about the Church of England like I used to think about my mother. Right at the end of her life my mother and I had many tearful conversations. I remember her talking about Mark, the gay man, and about how good he was to her. "Well of course, I always had a lot of time for the Gays", she said.

cruciformation. by Keith Hitchman

For me, as for many people, Jo Cox MP was an inspiration. Again, like many of us, I hadn't heard of or about her until after she was so cruelly murdered. The most inspirational thing for me about what I have learned of Jo Cox, was her willingness to overcome division and to cross political boundaries, in order to achieve what she needed to, on behalf, not of herself, but of others.

Jo Cox worked closely with Tory MP Andrew Mitchell on issues of international development. After her death, Mitchell wrote, "What was so striking about that was that here was a newly-elected Labour MP who had so little time for the petty aspects of party-political life of Westminster...A lot people in her situation would have been very reluctant to work with a wicked old Tory like me, but Jo never minded." (My fearless friend Jo Cox, The Telegraph 16 June 2016). Similarly, Jo Cox joined together with another Conservative MP, Seema Kennedy to campaign for a commission to tackle the growing social epidemic of loneliness. This worthy campaign continues after her passing, the Labour part of the partnership having been taken on by Jo's good friend, Rachel Reeves MP.

If we can learn anything from Jo Cox's life, and death, it is this: in her own words (from her maiden speech to Parliament), ‘We are far more united than the things that divide us’. 

Was Jo Cox a person of faith? I don't know. In one sense it doesn't matter. Her values were certainly 'Christ-ian' in the true sense of the term.

Jo Cox held firm convictions, on which she was not prepared to compromise. Yet she was willing to listen and to treat those with whom she disagreed (and was in opposition) with dignity, respect and civility. Her whole demeanour was one of openness.


I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (NIV)

The Church in first century Corinth had many problems. One of the most destructive was disunity. The divisions Paul speaks about could well have been at least partly nationalistic. Factions formed around Apollos (Egyptian), Paul (a Roman citizen), and Cephas/Peter - all who were ethnically Jewish, but of different nationalities. 

Is Christ divided? One of the most persuasive objections raised against religion in general and the Abrahamic religions in particular, is that 'religion causes wars'. Its a hard point to argue with. Yet, it is us - humanity - who cause war, not God. God is united in Godself. The Christian doctrine of The Trinity images God as existing co-harmoniously as three-in-One - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Book of books (Bible) says as much, and equates division and divisiveness with evil. Jesus Himself said:

"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" Matthew 12: 25-26 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one." John 17: 21-22


Christ is not divided, and in Him we - and a redeemed humanity - are truly united. The enduring symbol of our unity is the Cross. Think of who was gathered around the Cross - female relations & followers, the remaining male disciples, Roman soldiers, fellow 'criminals', religious hypocrites, and not a few stragglers. It sounds just like the motley crew gathered around the Cross in churches week-by-week across the globe. 

Interestingly it was a Roman Centurion who declared his personal epiphany with the words, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15: 39). Maybe this Centurion was mindful of Jesus's reputation as One who who gave dignity to His people's oppressors. It is worth noting that Ancient Rome was perhaps the first fascist state/empire (Mussolini modelled Italian fascism on his Roman forebears, and the term 'fascism' derives from the Latin 'Fasces' - a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging, and a symbol of Roman power).

Think also of the symbol of the Cross - the cruciform - a living picture of Christ's loving embrace of the whole world, appointed on the four corners of the compass. 

The Cross of Christ. Foolishness perhaps to some, but to those of us who are on the Journey of Salvation the power of God. More than a mere physical symbol of power. But a living symbol inhabited by the Power of life. Power to overcome division. To reconcile. To unite.

 

Christ Church Toxteth Park, 22 January 2017

 

luminosity. by Keith Hitchman

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?
— George Fox, English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Sunday's Telegraph carried a fascinating article about Bethlehem-based iconographer, Ian Knowles, from which this quote is taken: 

Mandylion, Ian Knowles, 2012, artists private collection, Bethlehem

Mandylion, Ian Knowles, 2012, artists private collection, Bethlehem

The core principle of iconography is to capture the divine light [‘luminosity’] radiating from within the subject

In this Season of Epiphany we think about the Magi. The Magi followed a 'star' - a light in the sky - to 'the house' where the boy Jesus was living (Matthew, chapter 2).

The Magi's understanding of the cosmos was not a modern scientific one, in that to them a star was a celestial light, rather than a luminous ball of gas, as we understand stars today. Hence, the Magi were not astronomers, but astrologers. It was their astrological knowledge that led them to Jesus, which raises all sorts of interesting questions! 

You could say that the Magi were seeking en-LIGHT-enment, or more precisely the En-LIGHT-ened One. Jesus is the En-LIGHT-ened One. He is the One 'True Light', the Light of the World, who comes among us to banish darkness (John, chapter 1 & chapter 8). 

And Jesus is, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, 'the radiance of God's Glory'. The Luminous One. 

As disciples/followers of Jesus, we are to be 'reflectors' of Jesus in the world. Lights of the world, displaying his 'luminosity' wherever we may be. In this way we become walking epiphanies, manifesting Christ to those who do not yet know Him. 

He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.
— Hebrews 1:7

Christ Church Toxteth Park & St Michael in the Hamlet, 8 January 2017

take the child and his mother, and escape. by Keith Hitchman

If you had to leave your home in a hurry and flee to another country, what would you take with you? 

Passport. Warm clothes. Medical supplies. Money. Pay-as-you-go mobile phone. Non-perishable foodstuffs. 

Some examples of what Syrian refugees took with them on their long journeys.

Some examples of what Syrian refugees took with them on their long journeys.

Migrant: person/s moving - migrating - from one place to another, cross county, country, or continent

Refugee: person/s seeking refuge (sanctuary, safety) in a place/country not their place/country of origin

Jesus was both a migrant and a refugee. We read about this episode in Matthew chapter 2:

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

As followers of Jesus, when we see people fleeing war, persecution or worse, our FIRST response - BEFORE we form an opinion - is to remember that Jesus had to escape his homeland, and for very similar reasons.

King Herod was a puppet-ruler. A despot. In a frenzied effort to kill the True King, Herod unleashed his terror squads on the Holy Innocents. Jesus's family escaped to nearby Egypt, in much the same way that most Syrian refugees have escaped to neighbouring countries. By the skin of their teeth.

The infant Jesus, along with his earthly parents, was Himself a migrant and a refugee, and the Risen Christ is with anyone seeking safety and sanctuary. So should we be.

Excerpt from a sermon given at St Michael in the Hamlet, 1 January 2017

of troublesome priests. by Keith Hitchman

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket (29 December, 1170, Canterbury).

Archbishop Becket was killed because he challenged the power of the English monarchy, argued for the political independence of the Church, maintaining that Christian/biblical values were higher than those of the state.

It was King Henry II who allegedly asked, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?", paving the way for Becket's 'Murder in the Cathedral', immortalised in T S Eliot's play. The Anglican tradition has a proud history of 'troublesome priests'.

In our Gospel reading today (Luke 2: 12-35) we read of another 'priest', Simeon, patiently waiting in the Temple for the appearance of the Messiah, 'the consolation of Israel'. We aren't told whether Simeon was 'troublesome', or not. We do know that he prophesised the destiny of Jesus, the Great High Priest, who was Himself to be crucified for troubling the religious and political authorities of his time.

As believers and followers of Jesus, we are all the 'priests' (1 Peter 2:5-9). As such we, like Thomas Becket, are called to be as 'troublesome' as He, asking questions and challenging injustice, despite the risk.

'Murder in the Cathedral', University of Gloucestershire Chapel, 2003

'Murder in the Cathedral', University of Gloucestershire Chapel, 2003

topics to avoid. (christmas 2016) by Keith Hitchman

There are perhaps two topics of conversation to avoid at our dinner table's this Christmas - politics and religion. As we approach the end of 2016, we've probably by now had enough of politics (and probably religion too). But the two are hard to ignore, aren't they?

Jesus was born into an intensely political situation. His (middle-eastern) country of birth, Judea, was under occupation by a foreign - European - superpower (the Roman Empire). The country itself was run by a puppet king, Herod, who was by all accounts a complete madman.

Jesus's family came from Nazareth in Galilee, which was and is quite a pleasant area in the North of the country, but very poor and looked down upon my the metropolitan elite based in Jerusalem. It even had its own 'River Mersey', the Sea of Galilee.

But Jesus wasn't born in Galilee. He was born in Bethlehem, a small town in what is now the occupied territories. This was because his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, were forced to travel there to complete the census registration, an ancient form of public surveillance.

Hence, Jesus was born as a displaced person. He was later to become a migrant and a refugee, fleeing Herod's murderous hit squad.

This Jesus was born as a temporarily homeless infant in a borrowed cowshed. Those who visited Him at his birth, and afterwards, were not the religious leaders of the day, but shepherds and kings. 

Shepherds were nomads, wandering the Bethlehem hills with their ragged sheep and goats. The equivalent of modern-day gypsies perhaps, viewed with suspicion and dismissed. Hard-working people, nonetheless.

As for the kings, there is a lot of debate about who or what they were, and how many. But what we do know is that they originated from North Africa, or possibly Persia (which is now Iran). And that they were rich. We know this because of the gifts they brought - gold, frankincense and myrrh - 'top end John Lewis' items. Sign of wealth.

So, Jesus was born into a world much like ours. A political world. A divided world. Surrounded by rich and poor, He was born to show us a better way than our political and religious systems. A higher way. A way out of the cycle of hate which afflicted, and still afflicts the world today. The Way of Love.

Jesus shows us the Way because He is The Way. He is Immanuel. God with us and God for us. All of us. 

This is the true Message of Christmas, past and present.

Merry Christmas.

 

Christmas Message, Midnight Service, St Michael's in the Hamlet.

the crack where the light gets in... by Keith Hitchman

Attending the St Michael's School Christmas Carol Concert last week, I was mesmerised by the school choir's rendition of Leonard Cohen's song 'Hallelujah', written as it was about the soothing of Saul's troubled spirit by David's singing.

Another lesser-known song of the late Leonard Cohen is 'Anthem', which contains the immortal lines, 'There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in'.

Its true, isn't it? There is a 'crack in everything'. Nothing's perfect. Least of all us. Someone once said that we are, each one of us, 'cracked pots'!

'There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in'. For me, this line sums up the meaning and message of Christmas perfectly.

For, no matter how dark the winter skies get, the sun always breaks through eventually. And no matter how dark the world appears - and the world appears pretty dark at the moment - a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out...

...This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people...

...a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only Son...Jesus Christ. 

 

Excerpt from a Christmas sermon 2016

ADVENTure is out there. by Keith Hitchman

adventure (noun): Middle English - aventure, adventūra, what must happen, feminine (orig. neuter plural) of Latin adventūrus, future participle of advenīre, to arrive

ad-vent (noun): Middle English - Latin adventus: arrival, approach. Of Christ. 

The 'Christian life' is an ADVENT-ure. A great adventure. The greatest adventure. The Way. 

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”
Matthew 3: 1-3

'Prepare the Way of the Lord'. The first believers in Jesus Christ were known not as 'Christians', but as people 'People [or followers] of The Way [of Jesus]'.

The Way of...

...Repentance

Repentance is the act or process of turning away from the ('sinful'/evil/corrupt) ways of the world, toward the person and Way of Jesus Christ.

Not the way of self-righteousness. Indeed, the thing John the Baptist, and later Jesus, had against some of the Pharisees, was not their religiosity, but their self-righteousness. Their sense of social and spiritual superiority. Their belief that their 'way' was better - purer - than other people's. John the Baptist wasn't having any of it. “Brood of vipers!", he called them.

The Way of Jesus is the Way of Repentance, and the Way of...

...Power

Not power as the world knows it. Not the strong man power, but a 'power made perfect in weakness' (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

John the Baptist declared, “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire." 

Fire is perhaps the most powerful elemental force known to humankind. Wild, unpredictable, mesmerising, transformative...

Jesus gives us this power. His power. The power of the Holy Spirit, working in us to transform first us, and then others. Churches, neighbourhoods, cities. Even nations.

What an ADVENTure.

 

An excerpt from a Sermon - 4 December 2016 (Advent 2) Matthew 3: 1-11

struggle. by Keith Hitchman

Excerpt from a sermon at St Hilda's Church, Hunts Cross, 16 November 2016

Names are important. Not everyone knows the meaning of their name, yet I am amazed how often the meaning of a person's name actually describes them. My name, for instance, means 'from the battlefield'!

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32: 22-31

I have always loved this story from Genesis 32, because its about an ordinary bloke struggling with God.

Jacob is his name. He's a bit of a dodgy character. Dodgy, but not all bad. Like I said, ordinary. Jacob is on-the-run. He's upset his Dad, because he stole his brother's birthright (a serious offence back then) and his brother is out to kill him. Things are not looking good for Jacob.

Jacob finds himself all alone at night. All alone with his thoughts, regrets, and fears, when he comes face-to-face with God. God comes to him in human form. And they wrestle. All night.

God found that He could not overcome Jacob, so God leaves him with a dislocated hip. Ouch. Thereafter Jacob walks with a limp. Woundedness is the true mark of leadership in the Kingdom of God. It was John Wimber who said "Never trust a leader without a limp." If your church leader appears to have it all together, or worse still if s/he infers they have it all together, don't trust them because they're lying.

Which brings me back to naming. After Jacob fights with God, Jacob refuses to let God go until God gives him a blessing. If you remember the back story of Jacob, you will know that Jacob grabbed hold of his brother's heel in the womb - which is the meaning of his name (Jacob = 'holder of the heel' or 'supplanter').

Jacob is after the blessing. Any blessing. Being after the blessing is not a bad thing in itself. But stealing your brother's blessing is. 

So, God gives Jacob the blessing of a new name. A new name for Jacob is a new start. Instead of being known a Jacob, he will be known as Israel, which means...'one who struggles with God'. 

That is what I love about the story of Jacob. Its about identity. The identity of God's people is 'struggle' and not 'supplanter'. Its our 'name'.

good. bad. different? by Keith Hitchman

17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.  Mark 10: 17-18

This week I have been involved in an online discussion about 'good' and 'bad' in British politics. It seems to me that much of our politics runs on an assumption that one side is 'good' (us), and the other side is 'bad' (them). Often this means that the other side - them - is seen as 'all bad'. There is a refusal to see any good in the other.

Ultimately this approach has terrifying consequences, although most people engaged in it don't realise it until it is too late. It starts off with nastiness (abuse on social media and the like) and ends up with actual violence, and murder. This is the (un)natural conclusion to all political, and religious extremism.

Jo Cox was murdered by someone who, however deranged, had an 'us and them' mindset. Everything about Jo Cox stood counter to this attitude. Prior to her death she had struck up an unlikely alliance with Tory MP, Andrew Mitchell (of 'plebgate' infamy). Writing after her murder, Mitchell had this to say about the person he called his 'fearless friend':

What was so striking about that was that here was a newly-elected Labour MP who had so little time for the petty aspects of party-political life of Westminster. A lot people in her situation would have been very reluctant to work with a wicked old Tory like me, but Jo never minded. When we set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Syria, she and I chaired it together, taking evidence from military commanders, diplomats and officials from the region. She might have been new to Westminster, but she led the way.

This illustrates what I have been trying to argue this week. Not all Tories are 'bad', and not all Labourites are 'good', or visa versa depending on your political allegiances. Just because I disagree with someone, it doesn't mean that I should develop a hatred for them.

I think Christians in particular should not only shy away from, but actively oppose judging individuals in this way, if for no other reason that its simply not the 'Jesus Way' we are supposed to be following.

Jesus said that "No one is good but One, that is, God". At first glance this can appear somewhat condemnatory. No one's good, so we're all doomed. We need to read the subtext.

God is good. Goodness comes from God. All human beings are created in the image of the Divine. We re-present what William Blake called the 'Divine Image'. This means that everyone, no matter how much 'bad' they have done, has some goodness in them. No one is all good (apart from The One) and no one is all bad.

Politics at its worst is tribal. It reinforces division. Us verses them. In the words of Frankie: 

When two tribes go to war
A point is all you can score

Jesus came in the name and person of The One, not to score points but to bring Shalom - Oneness. He talked about and demonstrated another Kingdom. Another rule, based on servanthood (and not domination), which subverts the 'us and them' narrative. His Kingdom coming. A Kingdom where there "is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female [etc, etc], for all [are] one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3: 28). 

In the words of Carl Medearis, "Maybe there's no 'them' and 'us'. Maybe there's just 'us'. Good. Bad. Different.

 

core message. by Keith Hitchman

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1: 6-14

I find the range and choice of Church Growth resources - ideas, books, plans, strategies, approaches - simply bewildering.  Its a bit like standing before the toothpaste section in an American superstore.  Mission paralysis.  So, resources notwithstanding, just how do we stem church decline and sustain growth?  The answer I believe is in our 'core message' - the Gospel/Good News of Jesus Christ.

Here in Britain we are in the middle of (political) Party Conference season.  Each political party is seeking to hone and present its 'core message'.  Of course the Church is not a political party (although we often behave in a partisan manner), but we do have a core message - "revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality..."

This is a message for which which we have been entrusted (vv. 12 & 14). A gift of God (grace) received on trust.  Something like a trust fund, to be invested in and passed on to future generations.

The Gospel is a revealed message (v. 10). This message is not something you can make people believe. Sometimes I think that as the Church we are trying too hard. The harder we try, using natural means only, the harder it becomes, leading to missional fatigue.  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is revealed truth.  Not only a revealed truth, but also a revealed mystery, impossible for us to fully comprehend.  In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”

I think this is the secret of the effectiveness of the Alpha Course. Is Alpha the perfect Christian beginners course? Of course not. It has loads of theological holes and gaps in it (as do all such courses). The secret of the Alpha's effectiveness is that it gives space for God to reveal Himself. 

The core message of the Gospel is given and held on trust (entrusted), it is revealed, and it is suffered for (vv. 8 & 12). If you believe and attempt to put this message into practice, you will suffer for it. Not all the time of course, but it will get you into trouble.

So, this is the core message of Jesus Christ. Entrusted. Revealed. Suffered for. This is the holy life to which we have been called, and to which we - those of us who believe it - give testimony. Amen.

From a talk given at St Hilda's Church, Hunts Cross, 2 October 2016

 

follow the money? by Keith Hitchman

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. Luke 16: 14

Power and money often go hand-in-hand.

Back in the 1980's the popular Christian author Richard Foster wrote a bestseller titled Money, Sex and Power, in which he identified these three things as the most corrupting influences on the Christian soul.  

Money. Sex. Power. The overriding issue is power.  The more power a person has, the more able they are to be corrupted financially and sexually.

The Shrewd Manager in Luke 16 had power over his debtors, as the Rich Man had power over his manager. Power is the most corrupting force. Very few people are able to resist its wiles.

Nineteenth Century historian Lord Acton famously remarked, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Which is why Jesus divested Himself of it (kenosis), and calls upon us who follow Him to do likewise. 

Power can give you great wealth, and with it great influence. Religious power notwithstanding. Just take a look at the Vatican City or the wealth of the TV evangelists. Although Jesus commends the manager for his shrewdness, he also condemns him for his dishonesty.

The problem with great wealth is this: If we allow it to have power over us, money becomes our master (and not God). We fashion it into an idol, which we worship, like the People of God worshipped the golden calf (Exodus 32). 

Like Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [the god of money/wealth].” (Luke 4: 13)

There's nothing wrong with earning 'good money', or with having great wealth. Its our attitude to it that's the issue. Our speaker at today's City Breakfast event hosted by River in the City at Liverpool Cathedral was Gary Grant, founder and MD of The Entertainer chain of toy shops. Gary spoke about how he tries to run his business according to biblical principles, choosing not to pander to the unrestrained power of market forces, but instead to put God, his employees and his customers first. Gary's testimony is that God has honoured him and his business as a result of taking this approach. A story in sharp contrast to that of some of the other 'great men' of retail, who in recent months have been found out.