New Year hymn, a resolution, perhaps – Infectious faith

1	Infectious faith we demonstrate by action,  
	when words are lived and people feel God's grace,  
	when platitudes are kept in quiet abeyance,  
	and love expressed through every human face.  

2	This is the witness we are called to offer: 
	the smile of welcome and the touch of care,  
	when every neighbour frames the Christ we honour,  
	the angel that we're greeting unaware. 

3	My friend, we cannot claim to grace the Godhead 
	when those who stand in tatters at our door 
	are turned away without a moment's notice,  
	while others sleep upon a stone cold floor.  

4	Our faith and love are nothing, simply empty,  
	just words we fling against a cloud filled sky,  
	when those we see derided, disregarded, 
	are left, without our protest, just to die. 

5	Are we to be just noisy, clanging cymbals,  
	or signs of hope upon this cold, dark earth?  
	Ours is the calling now to re-imagine 
	the love of God, to sign each person's worth. 

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2016 © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England . 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.
Metre: 11 10 11 10

Loving our Neighbours at a time of Harvest – Amos 6 – Luke 16 – Hymn

Loving our Neighbours at a time of Harvest

We are fortunate in this Country to either live in the countryside or to be relatively near to it – farming country. And now is the season of Harvest Festivals. This coming Sunday some of the Lectionary readings contain the following words:

From Amos – 6:4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall;
6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music;
6:6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

And from Luke – 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…

We are bid, in the midst of our harvest celebrations, to love our neighbours. The hymn reflects…

1          If we claim to love our neighbours
            while the hungry queue for food,
            are we prey to self-deception?
            Is perception quite so crude?
            If we sit beside our neighbours,
            begging for the things they need,
            we might share their own injustice
            in a world that thrives on greed.
2          If we punish those with nothing,
            blaming them for where they stand,
            is this love of friend or neighbour,
            do we still not understand?
            Love of neighbour is not easy,
            cuts us till we feel the pain,
            sharing hurt that they are feeling
            till they find new life again.
3          Love of neighbour sets us squarely
            in the place where they now sit,
            till the richness God has given
            builds a pearl around the grit;
            till each person shares the comfort
            of the love of which we preach,
            till we live as fact the Gospel:
            none can be beyond love’s reach.

Andrew E Pratt – From More Than Hymns  published Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2015.
Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England . 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.
Metre: 8 7 8 7 D Tune: BETHANY (Smart)

Covid-19 has mutated

So Covid-19 has mutated.

If only we had taken note of Richard Dawkins instead of lambasting him for his poor understanding of theology we might have learnt something to our advantage from his book, ‘The Selfish Gene’. This mutation was bound to happen. Mutations aren’t weird but natural and normal

All living things, however complex or simple, have a built in mechanism for self-preservation. Humans run away from lions, fish swim in shoals to save all of them being eaten by dolphins.

The Covid-19 virus was affected by our avoidance strategies. Relatively speaking it is a simple organism, a complex chemical. It can change, and does change, regularly, as a matter of course. It doesn’t think about this. It just happens. We can’t predict how it will change, but what is certain is it will.

Changes which are beneficial to the virus will enable its survival. Genes survive if they are ‘selfish’ – though there is no intention implied in this.

We have slowed the virus’s transmission by simple processes of washing our hands, social distancing and wearing masks.

A change which enables the virus to transmit more effectively is beneficial to it. Until we have effective vaccination we need to maintain actions which lessen that transmission. These actions will need to be kept in place until the R number is consistently below one to the point where the virus is no longer transmitted and/or an effective, long-term vaccination has been administered to everyone and test and trace is applied to anyone entering each country. Unless we are to exist as a totally isolated country all of this has to be applied with totality internationally.

This has massive economic and social consequences which we need to address to enable ALL people to participate in these measures and to survive. The process is not indefinite, but it is inevitably long-term. Our willingness to participate in this process is, for Christians, an indication of our love of our neighbours. Survival is predicated on our willingness to make personal and corporate sacrifices.

Without them the virus wins.

BBC News – Independent SAGE representative suggests whole of UK should be on Tier 4 (2200hrs 22/12/2020)

Love matters for our future

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.
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England,
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.

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 rightly 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.

A useful reference search Affirmative by Jonathan Tallon on Amazon