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This year has seen celebrations all over the western world of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This was a split from the Roman Catholic Church initiated by Martin Luther and continued by John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and other early Protestant Reformers in 16th century Europe.
It was a revolt against the way the Church seemed to many to be "going off-message" with the way faith in God was being manipulated and made into almost a mechaical "system" which guaranteed salvation, so long as obedience to the Church's teaching, paying for forgiveness for the deceased and other ways of "earning" God's approval through keeping your nose clean or payments.
It revolutionused not only the global Christian faith, but also our western culture - in both good and bad ways (upside: development of social work; downside: the"white protestant work ethic").
I've been a Jesus-follower since 1961 and in all these years, I've seen all kinds of movements and trends inside and outside the church. From the strait-laced to the plain wacky,there have always been new slants on the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Some are just flashes in the pan, while others change our understanding of what Jesus calls us to be and do in lasting, helpful ways.
Rarely has anyone stopped to ask, "What exactly is our message?" Or even more dangerously, "How does Jesus want us to live?"
Yet it is becoming a serious and relevant question in these days when the Church of England declares that less than half the UK population say they are religious - and that includes more than 71% of people between 18-24 years. Is it just about packaging the message more relevantly, or does it go deeper than that?
How would you describe the message of Jesus today? Be more religious? Go to church mor often? Believe more things about God? Be nicer to your neighbour?
Jesus once said "I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10). One way of translating that might be, "...that they might become fully human".
And yet many people I meet tell me they don't believe in "all that Christian stuff" because they think the message is only "God dislikes you because you're a sinner*, so repent* and start getting religious* or you'll go to hell" *words which usually are incomprehensible to them.
So let me ask you that question again - How would you describe the message of Jesus today?
I'll be back in a week or two to suggest an answer.
Bye for now.
Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” (Exodus 3)
In 3 weeks' time I'll be conducting a woodland wedding in Leicestershire. It'll be a great occasion - the youngest child of our friends of 40 years has collected a loyal band of friends equally outrageous and full of fun as she is! There will be dancing like there's no tomorrow. I love dancing. I could watch it all day, but getting me up to dance takes a lot of cajoling. I feel so self conscious, especially at my age.
This week is the 70th anniversary of the partition of India, an event which divided the subcontinent along religious lines. Broadly speaking Muslims were forced to migrate to what is now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh and Hindus and Sikhs to India. It was an impetuous answer to an urgent question: How to bring peace to a divided nation when British rule ends? The drawing of an arbitrary line seemed the simplest answer. but it had devastating consequences for millions of lives.
"What - another one?!" Brenda from Bristol cheered us up by voicing the thought of many of us -"Here we go again!" I'm sure it's not only me, but when we reach a certain number of years, there's a temptation to think that we've heard it all before and to turn away with a cynical huff.
If you have ever read the account of the trial of Jesus (e.g. John 18), you'll have come across the remark by Roman governor Pilate, who had the jurisdiction over this kangaroo court: "What is truth?"
To many, both 2000 years ago, on the first Easter day, and now, the resurrection is seen as “Fake News”. But, 20 centuries on, we’re still talking about it because we know it’s true – Jesus really was raised from the dead.
Many media websites like Google, Facebook, Russia Today and Fox News have been battling about what is “Fake News” and how the others are peddling it and what signs we should be aware of so we can spot it.