27 December 2007

Guilt and Repentance

This topic has been running around in my head for awhile since there was a discussion about 'guilt' - several weeks gone now - on a Christian discussion group. I want to tie it in with some concepts from a sermon that I did for the Second Sunday in Advent on the topic of 'repentance'. I don't actually imagine that most people read my sermons so I wanted to briefly address the concepts of guilt and repentance in a shorter post here.

As might have been predicted on the discussion group, some people expressed the idea that 'what the world needs now is more people feeling guilty; too many people don't feel guilty about anything any more.' Now, that may or may not be true, but I think it's important to emphasise that the sole function of 'guilt' is to get us to move on quickly to doing what is right.

Guilt should function to say: 'What you did is wrong' or 'You should be doing X or Y.' That's it. Basta. End of story. Move along, no more to see here.

For many people the worst possible thing that can happen with guilt is that they remain in guilt and wallow in guilt. And I'm afraid that there are many people in this world who will encourage that wallowing. As if feeling guilty were A Good Thing for it's own sake. It's not.

My evangelical friends would now tell you - and they would be right - that Christ died to take away the guilt of our sins. What that means in the everyday world is that, according to God, being wrong can be forgiven and being wrong will be forgiven.

But I firmly believe that the bible - both Old and New Testament - makes it perfectly clear that God's main concern is that we move on from our guilt and repentance to do what is right.

In my sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, I used a quotation from the American Christian author and theologian, Frederick Buechner(1):
To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm sorry,' than to the future and saying 'Wow'.
As a Church and as people, we'll do a lot better to find God's 'wow' for justice, for inclusion, for peace and for compassion than we will sitting around wallowing in guilt. Seeking God's 'Wow' is also a much better alternative to the blame-game.

May 2008 be a year of 'Wow' for all of us.

(1) Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC; HarperOne, 1993, New York p. 79.

26 December 2007

Methodism: Dissing is Futile, Vision is Everything

I've been an amateur practitioner of Ignatian Spirituality since my undergraduate years at a Jesuit University in the 1970s. I don't claim to be an expert, by any means, although I've made some study of Ignatian Spirituality for my own devotional purposes.

The thing that I really like about Ignatian spirituality is that it actually provides fairly simple, common-sense guidelines for spiritual discernment. How do I find God in ordinary situations? How do I know that it's God talking and not The Enemy?

The principle is simple although the practice of the principle most certainly is not. Using Protestant Evangelical language: a committed, saved Christian who is genuinely trying to seek the will of God will find energy and motivation when he seeks to do the will of God. The Enemy will not normally tempt a committed Christian by trying to get him to perform blatently sinful acts. The Enemy will tempt a committed Christian by presenting him with apparently 'Godly' options. Jesus' temptation in the desert fits this model well.

One way that I suspect that The Methodist Church in Great Britian may be falling into the temptation of The Enemy (define her / him as you will; I believe) is our constant talking ourselves down. As an organisation, we have very effectively communicated the message to both our members and to the general public that we are dying, that we are useless, that we are ineffective and that we have nothing to offer. In other words, we have been very, very, VERY effective in 'dissing' ourselves. Everyone is now 'on message' with this, including the secular media.

I believe, in fact, that Methodism has a great deal to offer the world. By history and tradition our rendition of the Gospel is a very powerful 'vision statement': The Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that is: 1) now and 2) not yet. 1) A 'now' kingdom that we are called to work for in our discipleship in this life; 2) A future, eschatological, 'supernaturally'-initiated Kingdom that will come when God decides and by his mighty hand mediated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is a vision that I can get excited about; I don't understand why we are not holding this vision before the Church at every opportunity.

The human mind does not work well in negatives. We will not inspire anyone - members or others - by constantly talking ourselves down. If we keep saying that we are useless, then this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy just like the little boy whose parents tell him he will never amount to anything. Hold before the Methodist people an image of a dying, gospel-less denomination and we will become that dead thing.

I genuinely believe that by and large Methodists and Methodism know what the Gospel is. My challenge to us is to hold this vision of the The Kingdom of God constantly before each other and before ourselves. Whenever we are tempted to say 'We are useless because our numbers are declining', I hope we can hold Christ and the vision of the Gospel before each other to encourage one another. I hope we can stop repeating our narratives of discouragement.

This is not a call to complacency. It is, in fact, a call to action and a call to stop using our energy to discourage ourselves and one another but rather to encourage each other and to work for the Kingdom. Who knows what God's purposes are? This may be a time when we are being called to patience and perserverence so that God may do things we cannot even imagine in the future.

22 December 2007

Merry Christmas

I may do a 'summing up the year' thing after Christmas, but right now things are a bit hectic.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.

14 December 2007

Forgiveness without Reconciliation?

In his post, What’s Wrong with Penal Substitution?, James F. McGrath makes the very interesting point that
The penal substitution view of atonement takes the metaphor of sin as debt and literalizes it to the extent that one's actions are viewed in terms of accounting rather than relationship. It is not surprising this is popular: in our time, debts are impersonal and most people have them, and it is easier to think of slates being wiped clean and books being balanced than a need for reconciliation. But the latter is the core element if one thinks of God in personal terms. And for God to forgive, all that the Bible suggests that God has to do is forgive.
I've been puzzled for awhile why people hold to penal substitution with such emotional ferocity. In their book Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker explain the attraction of penal substitution by our society's obsession with assigning blame to individuals.

But I think that McGrath is on to something here. It's the same thing that many Jewish people complain about with respect to Christian forgiveness: that our moral system doesn't require us to seek reconciliation with the people who we have hurt, but that we simply pray to God and all our sins are forgiven.

I think that the popular view of Christianity as practiced in the West has its roots in 'quietest' tendencies. Quietism stems from the idea that sinful human beings cannot be reconciled with God unless God makes the first move. It goes on to say that because human beings can do nothing to be reconciled with God, that any attempt by human beings to 'do good works' is a rejection of God's grace. So any attempt to grow in holiness is often condemned as not believing in salvation by faith alone.

This whole system turns Christianity into a 'God and me' religion. God saves me by grace - however I think that happens - and then I don't actually have to change anything in my life. If I wrong someone, all I have to do is pray to God for forgiveness; I don't need to attempt to communicate or reconcile with the person whom I have wronged. 'Reconciliation' thus remains a 'spiritual' thing between me and God and it imposes no difficult practical demands on my life.

12 December 2007

All Cultural Atheists Now?

Richard Hall has posted a very amusing open letter to Richard Dawkins: Please, Professor Dawkins, Can I be a Cultural Atheist?

Wonderful stuff!

09 December 2007

Archbishop Sentamu: Wow!

The Revd Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, was a guest on Andrew Marr's talk show this morning. The subject of the interview was Prime Minister Gordon Brown's boycott of the European-African Summit on account of the presence of Robert Mugabe at the meeting.

Sentamu, a Ugandan, has had plenty of personal experience with protesting against African dictators as he was previously a critic of Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. Sentamu believes that Brown's boycott is justified.

The Archbishop accused Mugabe of taking the identity of Zimbabwean citizens and 'cutting their identity to pieces'. Sentamu then removed his clerical collar and
cut it into pieces to demonstrate his point. He then stated that he would not wear his 'dog collar' again until Mugabe was out of office.

In my sermon this morning, I asked the question 'What makes you say Wow?' Well, Sentamu's action on live television made me say 'Wow!'

I think this action is one of classical biblical prophetic symbolism. I think I will do the same. People will probably point out that I'm not wearing my collar and then I'll be able to explain to them why.

It's also, of course, important to make sure that other, practical things are done and that we don't only confine our actions to the prophetic and symbolic. Sentamu urged us to pray, march and protest against the regime in the way that Britian did with Ian Smith's regime. He urged every Britian to give one pound so that the homes of people in Zimbabwe and Darfur can be rebuilt when the time comes.

I'd urge you not only to watch the short video link, but also Marr's entire conversation with Sentamu. Inspiring, prophetic stuff.

Sermon - Repent and Say Wow!

I've published today's sermon, Repent and Say Wow, over on my Sermon blog.

08 December 2007

Royal Mail: No Christmas Stamp Conspiracy

On the 30th of November, I wrote a post about a a rumour I heard that the post office would only sell Christmas stamps 'under the counter' if someone specifically asked for them.

I've since seen a variation of this rumour to the effect that the Post Office were trying to 'push' the 'non-religious' angel Christmas stamps so that sales of the 'Madonna and Child' Christmas stamps would be low and that they could claim in future years that there was no demand for 'relgious' Christmas stamps.

Dave Faulkner contacted the Royal Mail about these rumours. You can see his latest post on the subjet here. The text of the Royal Mail's official statement is reproduced below from Dave's blog:
We have become aware of an incorrect assertion being made about the motives behind the sales of our Christmas stamps. There is absolutely no intention on our part to suppress sales of the Madonna and Child stamps in order to be able to claim there is low demand for religious stamps in future years. Indeed, we have produced tens of millions of them, and we want to sell them!! We have given publicity to both types of Christmas stamps, and the availability of both has been widely covered in the national and local press. Furthermore we plan to have the Madonna and Child stamps available every Christmas in future, alongside each year's "special" set, which will continue to alternate between religious and secular themes.

05 December 2007

Preaching about Sin and Repentance

A cyber-pal of somewhat long-standing (I think I can claim that, Steve?), Steven Manskar has written the first post I've ever read on the subject of The Church Needs to Hear about Sin and Repentance that I think I've ever agreed with.

In Christian cyberspace, my impression is that the people who talk about the subject of 'preaching about sin' are generally talking about individual sins that someone else commits that (allegedly) a good bit of willpower and moral fibre could solve. Let's face it, sex, drugs or - no, not rock'n'roll - drink.

Steve's talking about one of the sins that our society commits where the blame lies squarely on Western society's values rather than on someone else's alleged lack of willpower. Good post. Go read it.

03 December 2007

The Gospel of Inclusion

My friend Dave over at 42 says he is sliding down the slippery slope of thinking that Christianity proclaims a Gospel of inclusion.

Dave writes:
I guess at the end of the day it comes down to whether you think the gospel is more about inclusion or exclusion. For me that is no contest. Jesus made it clear that the two greatest commandments were about love and according to the gospels he reserved his anger for those who abused religion to exclude others. So if there is a knife edge with slippery slopes on both sides then I am always going to err on the side of love and inclusion as that appears to bring me closer to the Jesus we meet in Scripture. Now that he something to be joyful about as we slide down that slope - wheeeee!
Preach it, brother!

02 December 2007

Sermon - Swords into Ploughshares

I've posted today's sermon for Advent 1 over on my sermon blog: Swords into Ploughshares.

01 December 2007

2011 UK Census Run by an Arms Manufactuer?

Regardless of whether or not they keep my personal data private, I don't want the 2011 UK census managed by the US arms manufactuer, Lockheed Martin, simply on princicple. Lockheed Martin is one of the shortlisted contractors to provide data capture and storage services for the 2011 Census.

this post and perhaps the UK public can nip this in the bud before it has a chance to happen. Sign the petition and write to your MP.

Me Church

I came across this which gave me a giggle: Me Church.

I make no further comment!

Happy Advent

What better way to start the season of Advent than with a Carol?

Here is one that had me giggling: We Wish you an Intelligently-Designed Christmas

How do you hat-tip an email list? Consider it tipped.