Living Hope: Everyday Discipleship

A very British nativity

The story of Christmas is one that’s very familiar to most of us. We’ve heard it several times over the years whether in church, in school, on TV or wherever else. Sometimes we might be in too much danger of sentimentalising it and making it too much of a fairy tale. It’s not really a “Once upon a time…” and a “they all lived happily ever after” kind of story. It’s a profoundly human story, taking in love, relationships and family, travels near and far, home and security, power and danger… As we hear the stories again this year, we might wonder what it would have been like for us if we were in the middle of those events, if our lives were caught up in them. How would we have felt? What would we have thought? What would we have done?

The themes of the Christmas stories are still very real in our world today. People and families are brought together and torn apart by events, by politics, by borders, by war and so much more. People travel great distances, looking for a place to stay in safety and security. Those in power can take all kinds of decisions which can mean life or death for many people. Just as Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt when Herod the King gave orders that all young boys be killed, so people today flee from war and violence looking for somewhere safe to call home. If we, or our loved ones, were in the same danger, we would surely do the same.

A video produced by the Joint Public Issues Team, which the Methodist Church is part of, tries to imagine what it would have been like if Mary and Joseph came to Britain looking for a safe place for Mary to have her baby. We’ll be showing it as part of our Christmas Day service. For refugees and asylum seekers in Britain today, these are issues that they cannot escape. All too often, they are demonised by parts of the press and by some in politics and it’s all too easy to buy into that rhetoric. Imagining the Holy Family coming to our country looking for a welcome, might just challenge us to think this Christmas, how Christian a country we really are. You can watch the video, and read more about these issues at http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/issues/refugees/averybritishnativity/

Responding to the American Election

In Britain it seems that many people are surprised, shocked or dismayed by the results of the American Presidential election. Some are resigned to it, others are encouraged or pleased. Whatever our political views, we can recognise that the process of campaigning has been divisive and has often been far from the truths and values of the Christian gospel. The prophetic witness of the scriptures calls us to a particular concern for the poor and the marginalised and the Christian ethical tradition emphasises the dignity of the human person, whatever their ethnic origin, gender, sexuality, or anything else. As in our own debates about Brexit, self-interest and a fear of the other has been a common and recurring feature. Many fear that a rise in hate crimes like the one that followed the referendum may now follow in the US. How do we as Christians respond in faith? How do we as Christians respond in action?

Christians pray regularly in the words of the Lord’s prayer that God’s kingdom will come. Our prayer for this must be all the more fervent, knowing that all human actions are to some extent flawed but knowing that God is in the midst of us, no matter what. Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth announced that his mission was to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. As followers of Jesus, this mission forms our mission. In the coming days, months and years, we need to return to this and to make sure it shapes our mission. As the societies in which we live increasingly bring bad news for the poor, increase numbers of people imprisoned and oppress women, LGBT people and people of ethnic minorities, we need to be drawn again to the values of the gospel that we have received from the Lord. Paul writing to the Philippians reminded them that amid the difficulties and suffering of the world, their true citizenship was in heaven. Ours is too – not that we need not be concerned about the things of earth, but that our true allegiance is to a kingdom that is not of this world. Our true allegiance is never to country, or party, or sect, or name but to the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, in season and out of season.

Pressing on towards the goal

At Central Hall over recent weeks, we’ve been working through Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our preaching series. It’s been a challenging time as our world has seen a succession of terrible events from Orlando, to Nice, to Turkey, to Kabul to name just a few. Each and every attack brings its own tragedy and its own horrific cost in human life. Most recently, the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel in St-Etienne du Rouvray, France and an attack on the Tsukui Yamayuri-En facility in Sagamihara, Japan have astonished and saddened us. It is hard to understand a world in which such things take place and harder still to understand the motives of those who carry out violent attacks like this.

Paul writes from prison, not knowing what the outcome will be for him. As a Roman citizen, he will face trial but one consequence of that might be his own death. Throughout the letter, he reflects on the possibility of life and the possibility of death. He knows all too well the example of Christ, who was obedient to the point of death and in that was exalted by God and seems genuinely ambivalent about whether he would prefer to die and be with Christ or live and continue to serve God. From his faith in God, he recognises that both of these things can ultimately lead to the fulfillment of God’s purposes. As Christians, we are challenged to recognise that even among the violence and pain of the world, our lives belong to God and we are called to follow in God’s way. We press on, as Paul puts it, because we have not yet reached the goal. There is a goal for us as individuals to trust in Jesus Christ and to become more like him, for us a Church to be a community formed by his teaching and for us a society to live and embody freedom and justice. We pray that whatever violence, pain and evil face us and our world, we would all press on towards these goals.

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