Stocki Sermons

CHANGING MY THINKING ABOUT CRIMINALS

Jailkeys

Cape Town made me wide eyed. Oh my, the beauty! Then it opened my eyes. To the ugliness of crime. I had just brought a group of students in. They were robbed. They lost all sense of security. We had to move them fast. 

If I had gotten the hold of the wee urchins who stole clothes and electric devices I would have pulverised them myself before taking them to the police. I was angry. I wanted justice. Vengeance probably.

The next evening, we were at a Ronan Keating concert! I know, not my thing but the students needed a night out and my friend was playing bass guitar! 

Keating didn’t grab too much of my attention but then he sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto. Elvis didn’t sing many profound potent political songs. In the Ghetto might have been the only one.

That song changed my whole perception of the crime against us. Originally called The Vicious Circle, In the Ghetto does a few things. It rehumanises the criminal. It asks questions about a society that causes the crime. It points the finger at all of us for being blind to this.

A few years later I was talking to my friend Sandi. Sandi was from the Cape Flats and he told me that as a teenager he made a choice to get himself onto an Operation Mobilisation ship because if he had stayed on the townships without education, jobs and hope,  he would have ended up on drugs and in crime, probably in prison.

We can have a lazy response to crime. They deserve all that they get. They get it too easy. Put them in and throw away the key.

I believe this to be wrong in several ways. The dehumanisation of the criminal. Our blindness to the part of our complicity in not doing anything about the social injustice that allows crime to flourish. We also need to remember that almost all our prisoners will one day be back on the streets and those on probation are already in our communities, so a mindset of restoration, rehabilitation and redemption is for the good of everyone.

Of course, for the follower of Jesus this should be obvious. If I was a sportsman in the dressing room before a game, I would listen to all of what the coach says. What they might say first and then the last thing they say before leaving us to go and play might be the most vital advice to remember.

Jesus started and ended his ministry talking about prisoners. Then on the Cross Jesus promised a man sentenced in the courts to be with him in Heaven. Restoration, rehabilitation and redemption are at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel. 

We as Jesus’ followers need to be about that too. Jesus had no desire to leave anyone wallowing in a prison cell. He came to offer everyone “life and life in all its fulness.” (John 10:10).  It therefore seems to me that the Church should be working in close relationship, as individuals and congregations, with the  Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and others to transform the lives of all of those sentenced in our courts so  that they might eventually become contributors to a City of Grace that they should be benefiting from.  

No one is beyond the influence and redemption of Jesus. As I wrote in a poem awhile back... 

I came across Jesus

Hanging on a cross

Carved in sand on a Spanish beach

His sparkling eyes 

Cut through the night

Like no one was out of his reach.

 

Incredibly and very tragically, as I used this story of Sandi in my speech in Hydebank College and Women's Prison I had no idea that he had been taken seriously ill back in South Africa. By the time I used the story again in my Sunday sermon Sandi had died. He was too young. This goes out in his tribute and with prayers for his wife Zimbini and family. You made your contribution brother. Thank you!


STOCKMAN'S CHAPEL TALK IN TAYLOR UNIVERSITY, 11.11.19

Stockman in Taylor

In November 2019 I had the privilege of speaking at Chapel in Taylor University, Uplands, Indiana.

It is a University I had been to many times and love very much. 

This year I brought a few things together in my talk - BEING WITH OUR ENEMIES. Basing it in Luke 6 where Jesus asks us to love our enemies, I unpacked a 10 week series I had preached in Fitzroy on Sam Wells' idea of BEING WITH. What is it like to be with our enemies? I then used 4 Corners Festival as an example of how we are trying to be with.

In the end this is a very good way to hear a lot of what I preached at the end of 2019 crammed into 25 minutes... follow the link below...

WATCH MY CHAPEL TALK AT TAYLOR UNIVERSITY HERE

(with thanks to Sam Wells and Jim Wallis, from whose work I got my American illustration)

 


BEING WITH JESUS - THE SNOW PATROL COMMUNION

What If This - SP

In Fitzroy, just now, we are in a series called BEING WITH. We are seeing the greatest problem at the heart of our humanity as being isolation. The following was posted on social media by Fitzer, John Trinder. It seems that Winnie The Pooh was into our BEING WITH SERIES

 

"Today was a Difficult Day," said Pooh.

There was a pause.

"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Piglet.

"No," said Pooh after a bit. "No, I don't think I do."

"That's okay," said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.

"What are you doing?" asked Pooh.

"Nothing, really," said Piglet. "Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don't feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.

"But goodness," continued Piglet, "Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you've got someone there for you. And I'll always be here for you, Pooh."

And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs...he thought that his best friend had never been more right."

 

As well as Pooh, Snow Patrol seem in on BEING WITH too. In this morning’s communion we are going to listen to their song What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get. Gary Lightbody was not thinking Jesus when he wrote these words but listen to them as if Jesus was speaking from the Lord’s Table.  

 

“What if it hurts like hell

Then it'll hurt like hell

Come on over, come on over here

I'm in the ruins too

I know the wreckage so well

Come on over, come on over here”

 

Gary Lightbody says of this song:

 

"That song is less about love as it is about friendship. A lot of my friends in L.A. and back home in Northern Ireland were actually going through break-ups and divorces around the time that I wrote the song. And I wanted to let them know that I’d been there, you know? And to just come over and sit together. Don’t have to talk, don’t have to say anything. Just know that I’ve been there too. I’ve been in the ruins too. You don’t have to talk immediately. You do have to talk […] but you can both sit together and just know that you’re there for each other."

 

BEING WITH

And then Jesus

In Matthew 26 (26-28) we read:

 

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

One of my favourite writers James K A Smith writes in his book Embracing The Kingdom:

 

“The tangible display and performance of the gospel in the Lord's Supper is a deeply affective practice. Its sights and smells, its rhythms and movements, are the sort of thing that seep into our imaginations and become second nature.

Marshalling the mundane and universal human practice of eating, and thus also taking up the common connection between food and fellowship, the table of the Lord is a catalyst for reconciliation...In a broken, fragmented world, the church is called to be the first fruits of a new creation by embodying a reconciled community; and the way we begin to learn that is at the communion table.”

 

The Lord’s Table is not an add on to the worship service. It is not just a liturgical ritual. This is a table where Jesus, in radical grace, invites us to sit down with him. To BE WITH him. To find him in bread and wine. 

BEING WITH people people transmits their values and traits to you. BEING WITH a spouse for 25 years will change who you are. You will pick up many things, good and sadly bad! 

BEING WITH Jesus is the only way to find his radical life and different rhythms becoming a part of you. 

Sitting at his table and you can soak in the welcoming nature of Jesus, his Emmanuel - God with us -companionship and his forgiving spirit. Be alert also to the humility of his cross, his sacrificial character and that servant heart for the isolated, the alienated, the lost. Look closer and see vibrant imagination, a fresh vision of how it can be and the passion for reconciliation. BEING WITH JESUS, soaking up his presence, should transform us. 

We can know about Jesus. We can hear sermons, or go to lectures, listen to pod casts or read books. Knowledge about someone is not the same as BEING WITH and knowing in that sense. We need to saturate ourselves in the presence of Jesus. Worship helps but best of all is this little piece of bread and sip of wine. Here in this intimate space we can sit in the wreckage and ruins of a broken world and find companionship in Jesus. Now… “what if this is all the love you ever get?”


BEING WITH THE OTHER - JESUS MODEL, JESUS CALL & THE CHARACTER OF GOD

Stockman 4C Launch

Two 4 Corners Festival quotations have struck a long chord with me. The first was at The New Irish Arts performance in Clonard Monastery in 2015. Taking a mainly evangelical Protestant group  onto the Falls Road for the first time is very 4 Corners Festival. That the them was the First World War, even more so! In that performance was a line, “Hatred is compromised by friendship”.

Then in 2019 we had Catholic Priest Fr Greg Boyle spoke in Skainos on the Newtownards Road about radical kinship. The responder to Fr Greg was PSNI Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Tim Mairs. This was again poignant as we were just days after the murder of Ian Ogle just a few streets away. In Tim’s address he said, “It is hard to demonise someone you know”. 

Recently, in my BEING WITH sermon series in Fitzroy I was looking at BEING WITH THE OTHER. Friendship. Knowing someone. It is all about relationship. BEING WITH.

Jesus was WITH the OTHER. Whether a Samaritan woman who was OTHER in gender, politics and religion. Zacchaeus who was OTHER in being seen as a traitor, collecting taxes for the oppressing Roman Empire. A Roman centurion who Jesus described in some of the most radical of all his sentences, “Never have I seen such faith in all of Israel”. Oh my!

Jesus modelled BEING WITH THE OTHER. He also called us to it. For those of us who live in conflict zones Luke 6: 27-36 is a tough Gospel passage. Here Jesus calls us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”. This is heavy stuff. Jesus most radical call perhaps. 

Yet, Jesus goes on to explain to us that this is the very stuff that his followers are about. To love those who love you? Anyone can do that. He then repeats the loving and the doing good before he brings this call back to the character of God - “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

When I sued to take University Chaplaincy team sto South Africa we met with a man called Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile. Spiwo used to say how we always seem to have excuses about feeding the poor or looking after the marginalised. Oh how that is the case with BEING WITH THE OTHER. We have so many excuses. Political, theological even. Yet, in this sermon on the plain Jesus leaves us no excuses.

BEING WITH THE OTHER, compromising hatred with friendship and eradicating the demonising of people by getting to know them. It is the model Jesus leaves us, the call that Jesus gives us and it all comes from the character of God. Let us quit the excuses!


THE QUESTION MARK IN LIFE ON MARS? - PAT DUIGNAN'S FUNERAL SERMON

Life On Mars?

Not even Janice, my wife, knows this but Pat Duignan helped in a spiritual awakening for me. In my early 40s I discovered, at the school gates, that I was socially incompetent. 

Since I was 17 I had spent almost all of my time with Church people. I studied Theology at Queen’s, in Union College. I went to the Christian Union. I was then placed in a Church and worked in Churches for the next two decades. It was a bubble, an ivory tower.

When Caitlin and Jasmine went to school I discovered people who were not living in my bubble. I felt insecure. What do I talk about? Pat was the one I was most drawn to. He seemed to have as many rock t-shirts as I did. I so wanted to talk to him about music. What would he think of me, a minister? Well, I guess in the end it seems to have gone quite well. Here I am! Thank you Pat.

Over the last fifteen years, every time we saw each other we talked music. Bowie, Arcade Fire. Bowie. The Waterboys. Bowie. Dylan. Bowie. Van Morrison. Bowie. 

I will always see Pat when I hear David Bowie. Goodness he is wearing a Ziggy Stardust t-shirt in his coffin today and I am gutted I didn’t think of wearing one over my clerical shirt.

Thinking of today I was immediately down to Bowie’s song Lazarus, released just days before Bowie died:

 

“Look up here, I'm in heaven

I've got scars that can't be seen

I've got drama, can't be stolen

Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I'm in danger

I've got nothing left to lose

I'm so high it makes my brain whirl

Dropped my cell phone down below

Ain't that just like me?

 

This way or no way

You know, I'll be free

Just like that bluebird

Now ain't that just like me?

Oh I'll be free

Just like that bluebird

Oh I'll be free

Ain't that just like me?”

 

Just like Pat.

Now, over these past few days I have had the joy of listening to a lot of music. Self indulging in Bowie and Arcade Fire and calling it work. I even bought a couple of Bowie books. I wonder can I claim them against tax!

I was drawn to Changes - “Time may change me/But I can't trace time”.  There was Lazarus that I just mentioned and features in the Bible. There was (You Will) Set This World On Fire that I will mention a little later. Of course, there is also Ashes To Ashes which I might have to avoid at the committal later. Yu don’t need to hear me say at the Crematorium:

 

“Ashes To Ashes Funk to funky

We know Major Tom’s a junkie”

 

Sorry. I am aware that I need the right amount of Pat’s irreverence and a little of what as a reverend I need to have. This is all about balance!

In the end I decided to build this address round the song Life On Mars? There was some debate about which song Pat wanted is coffin carried out to. Alex (daughter) thought it might be Space Oddity but Gloria (wife) was sure it was Life On Mars? She remembers him mentioning the question mark. That question mark was the detail that convinced me.

Who knew about the question mark other than Pat… me… and a few other anoraks! My feeling was that the question mark was important to Pat.

In his first book on Bowie’s songs, Rebel Rebel, Chris O’Leary writes: “In a few lines Bowie captures a teenagers life, its slights, its cosmic sense of injustice, its losing war against tedium, its restlessness, its uneasy cynicism.”

You can see why it caught Pat’s teenage soul. Oh! You Pretty Things with its exclamation mark is also about questioning:

 

"Written in pain, written in awe

By a puzzled man who questioned what are here for"

 

Surely Pat’s songs were his way into the questions? What is this life all about? Is there life after? What about God? Many of us enjoyed following in the slipstream of Pat’s energy… the energy of the question mark.

BUT the question mark doesn’t end here. The family will have many questions. How did this happen? How did he fall? Why was there no medical way to save him? 

My prayer is that all those sharp question marks in the family’s hearts and souls and minds will be comforted by God. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a Comforter and I hope Jesus is proven right. 

Of course we all have question marks. I have. I am asking if Pat heard the Bible verses I read to him in hospital? Did he find the peace that I prayed that he would have? A peace beyond understanding. A peace that the world cannot give.

All of us are on what I call sacred ground in these days. We are in this space between earth and the beyond. It is ground to reflect on good times. We laugh a lot on this sacred ground. We weep a lot. We question a lot. My Bible readings today from Isaiah 40 and Luke 9 had lots of question marks. Who is God? Who can compare to God? Who is Jesus? Do we gain the world and lose our souls?

The morning after Bowie died I had to do Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2. Here is what I said:  

 

“Bowie will be remembered way beyond his innovative songs… as an actor, an artist in its widest sense, a pusher of the boundaries of fashion, a blurrer of the lines of sexuality… 

Perhaps some think that as a Reverend being a Bowie fan is a guilty pleasure… BUT we shouldn’t forget his spirituality either.

I remember the shock when he dropped to his knees during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium and recited the Lord’s Prayer. 

He said afterwards, “In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers. A lot of my songs seem to be prayers for unity within myself. On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable.

On his 2013 record The Next Day Bowie took the words of St Catherine of Sienna and made them into a guitar strut of a Pause For Thought. The song (You Will) Set The World On Fire is taken from St Catherine’s words “Be who were you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire”.

In the lyrics of this song and the riffed up music he sets it to Bowie expressed perfectly Jesus intentions for all of us when he told his disciples he had come to give them life and life in all its fullness. 

As a rock star David Bowie lived a full life and if we lean and listen closely to the tributes and reminisces this week then we will hear him encourage us to do the same… like David Bowie “Be who were you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire…” … and as with Major Tom, “may God’s love be with you”

 

Here in Fitzroy we believe that God answers a few questions. We believe that God knows what we are made for. Not just as a human race but as individuals… 

We believe something in humanity broke down. Humans reached to be more… and became less. Jesus was born, died, resurrected and ascended to heal the brokenness. God came to earth to deal with the questions marks. 

So thank you Pat for leaving us to ponder Life On Mars and its question mark. Gloria, Alex and Christopher, may God comfort all your question marks. All of us, let us take these question marks about God and life, the the after life and who we were meant to be into the rest of our lives.


THE NEW LIFE STARTS HERE - MY SERMON FROM TH EBBC RADIO ULSTER MORNING SERVICE

Stocki Pop

Resurrection

 

When the most torturous darkest darkness dawns

In the most soothing healing light

And the mind so rattled settles

In slow aftershock realignment of perspective

When the eyes refocus

To peer through the hours of looking away

To be envisioned with the revelation

Of more than a gardener

And the soul stops tossing, turning, churning up

From its sickly desperation

And hopeless heartache

To waken up

To take it in

As the earth re-knits after tremoring

And on this firmer under, standing

We reach for shimmers, like dust caught in sunrise

To catch the splinters flying

And piece the fragments of debris

Into everything new

Never the same again

The dreams dead, revived

The hope buried, reborn

The vision of a future, redeemed 

It is the peace after the warzone

It is a resurrection dance after the wake

It is a whole new Kingdom come

The new life starts here.

 

The new life starts here. I stole that from Mike Scott, the main man in The Waterboys. Somebody pointed that out this week on Twitter. Scott himself joined the conversation. I was concerned for a moment and then he said that he stole it from Dante!

Whoever it was in the long long line before I stole it, it describes for me post Resurrection life. 

I remember a Saturday night when I was 17. I was sitting in the back of a mini bus on the way back from a Youth Club night out in Portrush. We went up to visit the GB Weekend but let’s move on! I spent the whole 30 miles back to Ballymena, gazing at the stars, asking if God existed or not. 

If there was no God I’d look elsewhere for the meaning of life but if God did exist then surely that was the best source to scoop life in all its fulness. When I wrote these words I didn’t see their close connection to Nick Cave’s There Is A Kingdom that Dave sang earlier:

 

The starry heavens above me

The moral law within

So the world appears

So the world appears

 

My world appeared that night. At least it was reconfigured, realigned, redeemed, resurrected if you like! Wherever my life was heading life before that May evening 40 years ago it was completely redirected after it. 

So, with Thomas. The last three years has already been a life he had never expected. If he thought that these 3 years was something then he’d seen nothing yet. After this meeting with the risen Jesus, a whole new world appeared. The New Life Starts here.

If we scour our eyes across the Gospel According To John, John writes a lot about this word  life. Life appears 47 times in John’s account of Jesus life. It is there at the very beginning:

 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

 

Then, as we near the end of the Gospel, in the passage Jane read today, John’s declaring that the whole point of this whole thing is about LIFE… 

 

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

If we look right bang in the middle of this Gospel we find Fitzroy’s motto verse:

 

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

John was trying to say something about this word life. It can easily be translated eternal life but also abundant life. I am no Greek scholar, indeed any one at College with me listening on the radio are having a good laugh right now, but I have come to believe as I look at contexts of its use that John is talking about a life full in quantity and quality. There is an eternal life dimension but Jesus is never about a life that doesn’t begin until we’re dead.

The new life starts here. 

Jesus came among us to show us this life, to give us this life and then send us on our way to live that life,

It was a life based in Jesus - who said in another part of John’s Gospel he was “the way, the truth and the life” - 

It was the life of the original design. The life we humans were supposed to live but somehow in our own arrogance lost.

That story in Genesis puts it well. In an idyllic garden humans were tempted to be God. We reached to be more than we were supposed to be and ended up less than the humans we were created to be. In trying to be God, we became God-less. I don’t mean Godless in some life of debauchery and sin though that often came with it. I mean life minus God’s input, minus God’s infusion. 

We had lost God. We has lost meaning. We lost life in all its fulness. 

Jesus incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension are all about putting that to rights. When Thomas cries “My Lord and my God!” he’s no longer without God. The God-life, the new life, the resurrected life starts here.

So, let us ask ourselves what that life looks like.

And let us not look at how it looks in some ethereal place.

How does it look after the Easter we have had. Sri Lanka and Lyra McKee but two contemporary events that seem to fly in the face of all this resurrection talk.

Jesus never said that everything would be neat and tidy and clean with lots of Shloer and Battenburg cake post resurrection. The Resurrection life was vital to be able to live in a world that would have wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes. 

It is into such a world that the resurrection life needs to kick in. As Peter Greig put it in his book God on Mute, Whenever life gets tough and we cry out to God for help, our desire is always to be airlifted out of the theatre of war.  But more often than not, instead of airlifting us to safety, God parachutes down to join us in the muck and chaos of our situation.” 

It is in kinds of these places that the new life needs to start!

14 years ago this week I was interviewing songwriter Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue for the Rhythm and Soul show I hosted at the time. He had his brand new record Pale Rider with him and told me I would like the track Calvary and that it was about Christmas! 

Ricky went on to explain that when he was growing up he noticed in his Church that as soon as Jesus was born they had him on the cross. 

Immediately I was thinking of the difference between a road a route. Novelist Milan Kundera says of roads and routes:

 

“A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop.”

 

I realised that if we have Jesus on a route to the cross then we miss the road of his teaching and life. The destination therefore becomes meaningless as we have no idea what to do when we arrive there!

My take on it is that we need to follow Jesus as he invited his disciples to do. As we follow him down the roads of Galilee, Samaria and Jerusalem we can pick up all his insights. Like fruit off a tree we should put them in the baskets of our souls

What goes in the basket? All those lessons…

  • The last will be first
  • give up your life to find your life
  • store up treasure in heaven, not on earth
  • wash each other’s feet
  • touch lepers
  • eat with tax collectors
  • befriend prostitutes
  • sitting down with Samaritan women
  • Love God
  • Love neighbour
  • Love even Your Enemies

Baskets full, we then follow Jesus through the cross… through the resurrection… to live the fruit of his ministry on the other side of that. 

The new life starts here… The Resurrection life.    

How then should we live?

There are marks, values, energies of this new life.

The new life…

 

1.  RE- IMAGINES

 

“on earth as it is in in heaven” Jesus put it in his prayer. That takes some imagining!

 

2. GRACE INTERRUPTS

 

“when you do it to the least of these you do it to me” he told them of service. Serving those least deserving. Unmerited favour. God like love.

 

3. HOPE BREATHES

 

Empty tombs, resurrections and rumours of a glory to come…

Let me finish with a story of one man who reimagined, grace interrupted and breathed hope into our own Northern Irish Troubles.

In March 1988, tensions in Belfast were higher than maybe ever before. In the midst of the darkness, one man was not prepared to let the killing go on. He re-imagined, grace interrupted and breathed hope onto the streets. That man was Fr Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Brother based in Clonard Monastery just off the Falls Road.

When Michael Stone opened fire and threw grenades into a crowd of mourners at an IRA Funeral, Fr Reid was standing there, wanting to get between Stone and the crowd intent in murdering him. The new life can lead us into some dangerous places.

A few days later he was back in the funeral cortege of those whom Stone had murdered. During this funeral, two members of the British army found themselves in the midst of a tense crowd and when a gun appeared the crowd thought that another Stone incident was about to go down and dragged the soldiers from the car. 

Fr Alec tried to get between the angry crowd and the soldiers, at one point on his knees with his arms around them. He was threatened with his own life if he didn’t move. A short time later, Fr Alec ended up in a back alley giving one of the dying men the kiss of life and last rites. 

In the dark despair Fr Reid’s imagination was working out how to interrupt all this senseless bloodshed. Though he failed to give a soldier the kiss of life he was kissing life into our country. 

He was at the funerals to receive a letter. It was now covered in the blood of British soldiers BUT it was the conditions by which Sinn Fein would go into talks with John Hume to begin the peace process that we benefit from today. 

Fr Alec went back to Clonard, changed the envelope and drove the letter up to Derry and handed it to John Hume. The rest is history. A history re-imagined, grace interrupted and hope breathed by a man living the resurrected life of Jesus, bringing in the Kingdom, God’s will on earth as it is in heaven!

All of us need to live that new God infused, Resurrected life. The darkness is crying out for us to particles of Jesus light across our land. In a country divided by how we see the past and trapped in the open wounds of what we have done to one another we all need to conduits of God’s love in the troubled placed.

At this landmark that I call the Lyra McKee Crossroads we need to live life in all its fulness.

Jesus has risen.

Thomas believes it.

"My Lord and my God."

The New Life Starts Here.


NOT WHAT WE BELIEVE... WHAT WE LOVE

Stocki Love Them Uns

Yesterday morning, something happened during the sermon. It happens a lot but not with the same power as it did yesterday morning. Something broke in. It wasn’t in the notes in front of me. It wasn’t in any of my preparation thoughts. It came out of the blue and it was as fluid in my mind and fluent in my speech as anything I have ever said. It was the word for yesterday. It even came with a little pulpit thump! It is the word that people have spoken to me about since, talked about at home and even while climbing a mountain. For those of us of faith, the Holy Spirit interrupted.

I had nothing to say on Brexit, so the Spirit interrupted and told me I had. A phrase I have been using for some years from the books of James K A Smith broke in. We are not what we believe, we are what we love. The gut has us. The kardia in the chest drives us. As a preacher I need to fill my congregations hearts with the good news of Jesus Gospel much more than their heads. Our heads can be full of grand ideas but if the chest, gut and heart are full of other things, what we believe doesn’t matter. The apostle James suggested it would end up as faith without works - dead!

So… the challenge yesterday morning was for all of us in Fitzroy. What do we love? Yet, I also sensed it was a political comment on what is driving all of our politicians… 

 

We are not what we believe

We are what we love.

 

Trump will get four more years

I am sure of it

Convinced by the ordinary man on the street

Who said

I don’t like the way he goes about it

But I know he has made America a better place 

Than it was two years ago

Let me paraphrase

I really don’t like the way he goes about it

But I am better off

Let me explain that

He acts against everything I believe in

But he is giving me what I love.

 

We are not what we believe

We are what we love

 

What we love pounds our chest

What we love grabs our gut

What we love drives all our decisions

By-passing our beliefs 

With its sheer force

It pushes and pulls us to ideologies

To red lines

To borders

To flags

To language acts

We can believe a million good thoughts

But if our love is misplaced…

 

It is why Jesus had a golden rule

That everything else he said was built upon

A command that ties up every other command

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

And with all your soul

And with all your mind

Love your neighbour as yourself

And in case you mis-define neighbour

Love your enemies too.

 

With that in our gut

With that thumping our chest

Our hearts will overflow 

With humility, peace and justice

Salvation and shalom 

For EVERYBODY

Not just for what I love.

 

To know someone

Do not ask them what they believe

Discover what they love.

 

We are not what we believe

We are what we love.


PRAISE THE LORD - PUTTING GOD IN GOD'S PLACE, PUTS US IN OURS

Stocki Preach

Based on Psalm 146

 

Praise the Lord

Even in the middle of war

Praise the Lord

When you are knocked off your feet by illness or grief

Praise the Lord.

 

The ancient Psalmist

Teaches us to Praise The Lord

That praise should be a discipline

When happiness is not all around

Praise is believing in spite of the evidence

Praise is resistance to evil

Praise is realigning us to the bigger, wider, alternative truth.

 

Praise reminds us that God is

Creator

Sustainer

Redeemer

That God will bring

Justice

Salvation

Shalom.

 

Praise is when we put God in God’s place as Creator

And find our place in God’s creation

Praise puts us back in sync

 

In sync are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In sync are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

In sync are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

In sync are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

In sync are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

In sync are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

In sync are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God. 

In sync are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

In sync with God’s place as Creator

And our place ion God’s creation.

 

In an episode of Tales Of The Unexpected

Someone said

“You know who you are with a gun in your hand. 

You are a somebody.”

At the Communion table

I say

“You know who you are with a piece of bread in your hand. 

You are a somebody.”

 

In a world of war or illness or grief

That might be a tale unexpected 

But when we praise God 

We believe

We resist

We put God in God’s place as Creator

And find our place in God’s creation

When God is Lord

Everything is different.


SENT IS OUR IDENTITY - 10:10 in Ten Sermon Series Blog #7

Stockdale Sent

Jacob Stockdale’s great aunt belongs to Fitzroy. The day after he scored two stunning tries against Argentina and in many ways arrived on the world Rugby union scene as a superstar I suggested that I saw all of Betty’s power, speed and grace in both tries!

I also contrived to then use him as an example of Isaiah. When Jonny Sexton looked up and asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us to that try line?” Immediately Stockdale is on his shoulder, willing and ready to catch Sexton’s pass and steam towards the Argentinian goal line… “Here am I, send me!”

The story of Isaiah 6 is of a vision of God in the midst of a time of transition. In a world where the powerful force of Assyria is threatening, the vision of God’s might is in a holiness that gifts a grace interruption, freeing Isaiah from guilt and sin. Forgiven, redeemed and renewed Isaiah is enthusiastically up for anything and when God asks who he would send, Isaiah, is as fast as Stockdale, with his “Here am I send me.” 

This is of course in a sermon series looking at what it is to live life in all its fulness and asking what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in 2017. Our identity is as those who are sent. Sending is a recurring theme in the Gospels - “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

Janice and I attended the recent Scottish Baptist Assembly. I was the poet! Anyway, we heard some good key note addresses and went to a couple of good seminars. The theme of the conference was Messengers Of Hope and what struck us was the places that we were being encouraged to take the message. Rich Robinson had us playing bingo on a Sheffield housing estate and Juliette Kilpin had us worshipping in a Church full of Muslims in the Calais Refugee Camp.

I left the conference thinking that without doubt we got the message of the conference. My question was, had we what was needed to able to go to the places we were being sent to. I remembered a story Gordon MacDonald used in one of his popular books of the 80s. His son bought him a ferret that started eating the furniture. When they tried to get rid of it back to nature, they realised that it was too tame to survive in the wild. Just like the Church maybe?

At one of our Presbyterian Special Assemblies, a few year ago, David Bruce spoke about the bawn. You see it in a variety of Northern Ireland place names! It was where we Ulster Scot Presbyterians retreated for safety when we arrived from Scotland to colonise the land. David suggested that even now in the twenty first century we needed to get out of the bawn. We are still in siege mentality when God wants to send us.

This is one of the things Fr Martin Magill and I were thinking about when we started the 4 Corners Festival. We felt that the Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity was all very nice. Look we can read and pray together. We don’t hate each other. We wanted Jesus to not be trapped within Church walls but to be making a contribution to the peace and well being of the city on the streets as Jeremiah spoke about.

This all takes us out of our comfort zone. I am pretty convinced that we are socially special needs. I remember at the 4 Corners Festival homeless feast being out of my depth. What do I say? How do I connect? I feel the same in certain parts of our city. I feel like a tame ferret, stuck in my bawn for too long. And I don’t think I am alone!

It is time to go. To be vulnerable and courageous. I read this poem at the Scottish Baptist Assembly. For a Christmas PW (Presbyterian Women) event in Fitzroy, where the theme was “Being sent”, I wondered if there was any sending on the nativity story...

 

An angel was sent

To break to Mary the shocking news

To find out if she was up for the privilege

Mary was sent into a tail spin

That would need some cool prayerful courage

So she sent herself off to Elizabeth 

A companion who understood and affirmed.

An angel was sent, again

To calm Joseph’s shock and anger

And turn his disappointment and confusion into complicity.

A choir of angels were sent

To sing the news of peace and good will

To shepherds who were sent

Scurrying with joyous abandon

Right into the holy of holies in straw and filth.

Oriental stargazers were sent in awe and wonder

On the trail of a sign of seismic shift 

So, Herod sent for his religious scholars

To make theological sense of the conjecture

The King then sent his death squads

To kill the idea and the revolution being born.

An angel was sent, yet again

To Joseph in a dream to warn of a nightmare

Which sent Joseph, Mary and the baby off to Egypt as refugees

Because God so loved the world he sent

Himself to be present with us

To light our way in darkness

To overturn the tables of our greed

To give himself for our redemption

To bring God’s will to where he was sent

As it is where he was sent from.

 

As the Father sent the baby

We are sent.

 


DO NOT BE CONFORMED... 10:10 in Ten #5

Stocki Saphara

(I have been preaching a sermon series called 10:10 in Ten... This is one of them in blog form. I hope they will all appear but perhaps not in order!!)

Brian Zahnd dangled himself over the fiery furnace of heresy in a recent blog by beginning with the words…

“I have a problem with the Bible. Here’s my problem…

Now you see “sound” Christians do not have problems with the Scriptures, so Zahnd was dangling big time. Then with a preacher’s timing that is very much like the timing of a comedian he continued…

“I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa.

That’s my problem. See, I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.”

Ah, sighs the theologically correct police we can listen again as the problem is not with the Bible but with the reader.

What Zahnd raises in his red rag to a bull is indeed a huge problem. Most western Christians are of the middle class western variety and live very comfortable lives of entitlement. We even think that the Church is entitled to a voice. 

To read the Bible correctly we need to be slaves, refugees, under Empire. When I was a child I used to get Pharaoh and Herod mixed up. There was no need. They are the same and you can add Nebuchadnnezer and Caesar to the list. The children of God are under Empire, subversive agitates, even threats and always imaginative hope filled, grace drenched alternative imaginings to Empire. 

BUT WE ARE NOT…

So when we read Paul’s words in Romans 12: 2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” we need to immediately confess that we are conformed. We have been part of a powerful Empire, we are invested in the powers of commerce and we enjoy the comfortable  spoils of it. For us western Christians this is a tough call. Jesus suggested it’s as tough as an camel going through the eye of a needle.

So if we are wanting to be transformed, Paul suggests that it begins with renewed minds. It is about a different seeing. It is about the alternative imagining of God’s way, dreaming heaven on earth. For the early Christians this was about looking through Caesar’s Empire to find Jesus’ Kingdom.

In their book Colossians Remixed Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat unpack this resistance to Empire. They reveal Colossians 1 as a subversive poem reimagining Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar. Everywhere in the Roman Empire were images of Caesar, bearing down, oppressing and dumbing the thinking. Walsh and Keesmat see Paul as trying to renew the imaginations of Christians with that long description of Christ. Walsh and Keesmat go on to then ask the appropriate question - what are the dominant images that have conforming power over us in 2017? What dumbs us down?

They point out commerce. We are bombarded with advertisements to tell us what the Empire expects us to buy as we follow a reckless and unaccountable capitalism where the bottom line of the profits is almost The Emperor. Material comfort, leisure and our own right to be entitled to such a life is where that all leads. Individualism. My security. My privacy. My needs being met. And there we are… we are ancient Egyptians, comfortable Babylonians and Romans living in villas. 

The rest of Romans 12 is an antithesis of such an Empire. Paul tells us we are all connected. He goes as far as to tell us that “we belong to each other”. Our individual rights are restrained by being part of something bigger. We are called to sincere love, sharing with those in need, living in harmony, being willing to associate with those of a lower disposition and not repaying evil for evil.

As I prepared this idea as a sermon, we had a touring group of Storytellers in Belfast from Uganda. They were sharing their stories. Once they were hopeless children without a future but were sponsored by strangers from far away. Now they had graduated college and were working. What struck me was that they were giving away anything they had, sponsoring others through school. One was sharing her home with none homeless children. They were remarkable stories.

I couldn’t help but think that they did not have the same problems with The Bible as Brian Zahnd and I have. They were not living in Roman villas or under our Empire. Having less, remarkably enables them to be more open and willing to be able to share what they have. Uganda is a country who have welcomed one million over their border in the past year from South Sudan. Their generosity has been widely recognised. We with oh so much more to share voted Brexit and are attempting to close our borders! 

Do not be conformed… Oh, I have a problem with The Bible…

read Brian Zahnd's article here