Act Justly

Act Justly

Historical context

Israel was undergoing a period of economic growth, there was relative peace, cultural prosperity and religious revival. At all the religious festivals the temples were full to capacity.

Everyone, it seemed was happy ….. except the poor and God.

Their religious fervour was not matched by compassion and justice.

The marginalised and the most at need in society were being excluded.

There were dishonest dealings

“Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?”
“Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.” Micah 6:11, 2:1-2

The rich are violent and lie “Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.” 6:12

The judicial system was corrupt – it was not a question of right and wrong but of who had the most money to bribe the judge.

“Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together.” 7:3

This idea of bribing the judge says Micha has influenced the way you come to God.

In these opening verses of chapter 6 they rack up their offerings as if the ever-increasing value of their offerings will buy Gods favour.

Burnt offerings of calves a year old

Thousands of Rams

Ten thousand rivers of oil

My firstborn (Canaanites practiced child sacrifice)

What then is an acceptable sacrifice to ensure God’s blessing? This is a question not limited to the time of Micah but one that echoes even today.
The people of Micha’s day believed that God was like their dishonest judges who could be bought with a bribe.

Do you know a sad truth – this is not so far from how many Christians believe and act.

It is an inherent trait in many western Christians that we believe that we can earn God’s grace or that in some way we, by our acts of religious obedience we can maintain that relationship.

We too can be guilty of trying to bribe and manipulate God to do our bidding.

“Come on God” we cry “what must I bring or do for you to bless me”? “I have tithed, I live a good life, I serve at church, I read my Bible, I pray, I…..”.

The answer is you cannot impress God with what you bring but rather by the life we lead, and I don’t mean a pious holy life but one that actually treats other people with compassion, Justice and Mercy.

We can live lives indifferent to those around us or worse, and then piously bring our worship to God and wonder why he seems so far away.

God is never impressed by our religious devotion. He doesn’t care what you wear today, how many times you have been to church this year, how long you spend reading your bible or how many hours you spend praying. He isn’t even interested in how many people you have witnessed to or “won to the Lord”. More, God is not put off or offended by your bad language or by the fact you watch PornHub, that you drink too much or you are a Harry Potter fan.

Here is his question

How have you treated your neighbour?

Not just the person next door but your neighbour. And remember what Jesus definition of who your neighbour might be.

The lonely, the outcast, the one hidden behind the leylandii hedge, the alien (immigrant), the widow and orphan, the vulnerable and the lonely. The kid bullied on social media and the gay guy who is hiding his sexuality at church. The mum or dad struggling with the kids and the kids struggling with mum and dad. Your racist and homophobic neighbour. Your noisy neighbour. Even your rich and comfortable neighbour. Your Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Green and Raving Monster Loony Party neighbour. Your Brexiteer and Remainer, your Democrat and Republican Neighbour. When Corbin is your Neighbour or May is your neighbour, Trump or Obama.

Have you acted justly – treated them, right? Have you stood in the gap, risked your reputation?

Acting Justly isn’t just about the legal definition, it isn’t just about the law courts. Its about our daily acts of kindness and justice to those around us.

Did you see the wedding of Meghan and Harry?

One of the most talked about parts of the wedding has been Bishop Michael Curry

In his sermon he said ‘Love God Love your neighbour and whilst you are at it love yourself’

He spoke about the power of love. But then he went on

A power a real power a power to change the world
He died to save us all.
Sacrificial redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world
Love makes room and space for the other to be. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s game changer.
Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way.
Imagine our world when love is the way.
No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that
Poverty would become history in such a world as that.
The earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that.
We would treat one another as children of God, regardless of differences.
We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
There would be a new heaven, a new earth, a new world. A new and beautiful human family.
The very dream of God.

Now you see I am a Practical theologian – I even have a master’s degree in Practical Theology and so I am forced to ask the question ‘how’? I’s so easy to speak of such a world of love but how would that work out what would we need to do to make that a reality.

Jesus says we are blessed not by hearing the word but by doing it!
Did you see the faces in the congregation as he spoke – the most engaged was Megan herself.

He quoted 1 John Let us love God for God is love. He that loves knows God. Whomsoever loves God knows God. Whoever you are.

For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

For the Lord is a God of justice

Isaiah 30:18 New International Version (NIV)

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

In the text today we are called to act justly.

What does that mean?

Literally – living with a sense of right and wrong and acting on it.

As I am getting older I find that I am as a friend of mine put it ‘easily triggered’.
Pat says I poke wasp’s nests.

I do it on social media I do it in meetings and even when I am preaching.

Things just get under my skin more – I can’t let things go un-said when people are being hurtful and excluding others.

When I was a young Christian up until I was in my 40’s I hated the idea of a ‘social gospel’. It was all about saving souls, rescuing people from hell.

What I didn’t realise was that people didn’t need saving, they needed setting free.

Isaiah Agenda Isaiah 61:1 New International Version (NIV)

The Year of the Lord’s Favour

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]

Jesus quotes this passage in Luke 4 then adds

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

How often have we prayed ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’?

That is a social gospel prayer – you see God’s kingdom of justice and love will not magically appear but will be brought about by the people who know him. And others.

Our history is full of men and women who made a difference because they could not be silent to the injustice that was happening around them

William Wilberforce, Shaftbury, the Booths. Even Michael Curry quoted Martin Luther King

These people could not sit back and say ‘God bless you have a nice day’ they had to put their lives on the line to make a change.

How would you feel if you had to buy your young child an SOS watch? One child a week is abducted in Phnom Penh alone.

It shouldn’t be or just be these big issues – ah there’s a thought you could buy The Big Issue.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says
8Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy

It is about you giving your neighbour a voice or to join your voice with theirs.
And remember who Jesus said was your neighbour!
It is small acts of kindness and justice that change peoples lives.
It is being willing to be associated with those others shun
It is a willingness to say here I am God use me


Isaiah 11:3-4 New International Version (NIV)

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Our neighbours are waiting to see if we will raise our voices on their behalf
And yes it takes effort.

One of the great technologies and evils of our ages is Social Media.
But it can be a place to stand up against injustice – just check your facts too

I get flack for posting pro LGBT posts but it has saved lives

Isaiah 58:1-10 New International Version (NIV)

True Fasting

58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Now it gets practical

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk, (Social Media)
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry – (That’s effort right there)
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Jesus said as you have done to the least of these you have done it to me.
Visit the prisoner, clothe the naked, feed the hungry

Our task today, your task as a church is to flesh that out in your situation.

Who are the prisoners in your community, the naked and the hungry – they may not be whom you expect.

Can I just say you are not alone. Look for those who are already doing the work and get alongside them and I don’t mean just look for Christian organisations.

The disciples came to Jesus and said we saw people casting out demons, but they are not of us.
Jesus reply – those who are for us are not against us.

None of this earns our salvation, that has already been given as a gift.

This is the expected lifestyle of those who claim to follow and love God

These are the actions of those who love – we cannot serve out of duty but out of love.

And when Jesus saw the crowd, the widow, the leper, the tax collector the sinner – he had compassion.

I pray today we may know a re awakening of the compassion of God in our lives.

Acting Justly is the way of Jesus.



Love Mercy

Sometimes people say that they don’t agree with something I have preached. I would be really surprised if you at some point or another you don’t disagree with something I say.

It’s ok to question and even disagree. There is never going to a person who stands at the front of this church who is right about everything. With whom you are always going to agree. The Apostle Paul says that we should test teaching.
You and I are never supposed to be ‘passive passengers’ but in the right sense ‘critical participants’.

Teaching in the New Testament was more of a dialogue than a lecture. Consider Job, Jonah, Proverbs and Psalms, they are full of questions.
That’s why so often we read of people coming to Jesus to ask questions and to disagree.

If you disagree with me that is awesome, ……. so long as you know why you disagree.

Which fortunately brings us to today’s sermon

Love Mercy

Language is important

Lera Boroditsky has a TED Talk on – How language shapes the way we think[1]

Did you know there are over 7,000 languages in the world? Each of those languages expresses the world around them in different ways.

One of the first things we noticed when Pat and I started to learn Khmer (Cambodian) is that in the structure of a sentence the words are the wrong way around and very simple.

A phrase that was very important to me “Can I have a big bottle of Ankor Beer, please” A vital phrase if you are visiting the country.

Now it turns out there is small bottle and a large bottle of Ankor beer so for a big bottle the Khmer is

“Som Ankor doub tom moi”[2]

There are none of the intricacies of English, literally it translates as

Please Ankor bottle big one. (that’s one as in quantity)

We can forget that bible was not written in English but ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. As the understanding of these ancient languages grows so does our understanding of what the words in the Bible mean.

A translation of the Bible in English can be very different from its translation in French, German Swedish, Zulu, Russian, Indian or Cambodian. I remember when I was teaching theology at the college we would often have discussions with the international students about how their translations differed to ours.

The Bible often speaks of Love but in Greek there are at least three words that can be translated as love – eros, phillios and agape.

One translation of today’s text in Khmer reads “Act, justly Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. The punctuation is important. You could read it ‘Act Justly, Act Love, Act Mercy. Walk Humbly’

I like this translation, love is then included and sandwiched between Justice and Mercy. Justice, Love and Mercy are actions we must engage in. Just like Justice, so Love and Mercy are not just theoretical concepts, good ideas but are a way of living. We are to live our lives that reflect radical justice, love and mercy.

By reading a text in a different way it can help us with our understanding, broaden our vision.

If acting Justly is our action – Loving mercy is our motivation.

Now please understand that whilst we would want to say our acts of justice and mercy are driven by love – the recipients of justice and mercy don’t care where it comes from.

Love mercy – again when you think about it that too can have different meanings. I can love mercy, I can be the sort of person who just loves to have to opportunity to show mercy to other people. Or I can act with loving mercy as opposed to begrudging mercy, convenient mercy, political mercy such as Pilot with Barabbas.

In the text today, we are to do both. We are in our natures to love to do mercy and to offer it in love it is to be loving mercy.

This is why Love is sandwiched in between justice and mercy – if you love then justice and mercy are a natural outflowing of that love.

What is mercy – if this were a lecture or seminar class I would now go around the room and ask for you definitions and write them on a board.  Sadly we don’t have time so I’ll just go to the dictionary instead and give you two definitions

Mercy -:

  1. Compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
  2. Kindness that makes you forgive someone, usually someone that you have authority over:

See also – leniency, clemency, compassion, grace, pity, charity, forgiveness,

Biblical Mercy

I came across this quote.

…..mercy then comes to be seen as the quality in God that directs him to forge a relationship with people who absolutely do not deserve to be in relationship with him. Mercy is manifested in God’s activity on behalf of his people to free them from slavery; it is neither theory nor principle……

Because God is the initiator, the mercy he gives is gracious, unmerited, undeserved. [3]

This then is the mercy we are to show to others. gracious, unmerited, undeserved. And I would add unrestrained.

Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV)
33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among
you must be treated as your native-born.
Love them as yourself
for you were foreigners in Egypt.
I am the Lord your God.

Note :-  They must be treated as your native-born – there is no room for racism because we are to seem them as if they were born here – in the culture of the day ‘as if they were born from your own family.’

Secondly to love them as yourself (a concept Jesus expands on later) To see the foreigner, stranger and alien as if looking in a mirror and treat them as you would want to be treated, indeed as you would treat yourself.

And the motivation for this mercy? Well says the writer of Leviticus it is because you know what it is like to be the outsider, the foreigner, you were the stranger the alien.

I am grateful to Paul Scanlan and his sermon  ‘Love/Mercy is a baton not a gift’ for the next part:-

A Story About Forgiveness

23-25 “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
26-27 “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
28 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’
29-31 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
32-35 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Jesus tells this story as a response to a question by Peter as to how many times to we forgive some one that hurts us. And peter says should I forgive as many as 7 times (as if 7 was a really big ask). And Jesus replies try 70×7 (which is 490) And there are some religious people who would take that reply literally and when they got to 491 they would say well I have done my bit. They would actually keep a record of how many times they had forgiven you.

Jesus is making the point that forgiveness is not about quantity. Forgiveness, grace and mercy and kindness is about quality.

This parable is about mercy and forgiveness but like all parables it is also a window into the nature of God.

You see in an ideal world – a world where the kingdom of God truly is enacted the it is like the king who forgives.

All of you are forgiven – all in the kingdom of God are forgiven.

We have a habit of what we call in the west grading on the curve. We look at others and try to work out if we are better or worse than them.

Folly of grading on the curve.

You see we are all pretty near the bottom, but human nature doesn’t like that. You read the papers when a murder is committed, and people shout for justice and all sorts – forgetting that we too are the offenders.

You tell me you have not committed murder – ever been angry with someone? Jesus says you have committed murder in your heart. Not been like David who committed adultery? But have you ever looked just too long as David did?
Ever called anybody a fool?

Jesus says: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If the law applied we are all guilty.

There is not a single person here who didn’t have a debt they couldn’t pay and God didn’t make you pay – he cancelled the entire debt.

Few things make God as angry as forgiven people who do not forgive.

You know the fellow servants see the actions of this man who was forgiven but then refuses to forgive and it says they were ‘outraged’, they were angry at the injustice. They were angry that forgiveness hadn’t been shown.

In the church, certainly in the west people in the churches get outraged over all sorts of things that I don’t think God even worries about. If only we could get motivated to get angry about the lack of forgiveness that would be something wouldn’t it?

forgiveness, mercy love is not a gift given to and for you alone but is a baton for you to give away. A church that is influencing its community is a church that has moved out from being a holy huddle looking inward at itself but is looking outward into the world with the eyes and actions of Jesus. A community committed to passing on the love of God in any and every way they can think of.

The servant in this story saw mercy, forgiveness as a gift – I have received mercy. But then it stopped with him.

You do not own love – it is not yours the mercy you received does not belong to you – you are only a custodian of love for a while but it must be passed on or it ceases to be love.

In a relay race if you don’t pass the baton on then the race is over. More than that if you don’t pass this on and try to keep it just for yourself it is like stale food and starts to go off and rather than being appealing it actually puts people off.

Now please understand I know why we would rather have the present than the baton. Having to give love away is costly – it can cost reputation, it can cost time and effort, yes it can be dangerous but it is in the end what is most fulfilling.

God said to Abraham ‘you are blessed to be a blessing’.

Love cannot be contained. The outgoing love of God is seen in Jesus – Jesus came to lay down his life in love that we might live.

And here is love, not that we loved him but that whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Get this we didn’t even like Jesus and he gave his life his love for us.

Let me give you a warning – if you don’t share Gods love if you don’t pass it on – God will find someone who will. He will find a church who will. And if there is no church he will find someone else to share the love outside of the church.

But if you will take God’s love and run with it –share it – pass it on the you will breathe life and hope into not only your church but your family and your communities.

Jesus says you have freely received so you must freely give.

This love must also be without conditions – I know of churches that say well to be a part of us and to receive the love you must change first. Jesus never said that. Jesus accepted and then believed that the power of God’s love would do the rest.

This video has to one of my favorite church videos ever

I love the tag line “Where Mercy is required”

We cannot have a boarder control at our church doors, not a quota not a visa check.

Most churches should be filled with spiritual undocumented aliens.

When Jesus died on that cross he declared God’s grace love and mercy to all humanity.

Do you know God loved you from before you were born. His love could not have been greater. He didn’t love you and more when you became a Christian he was just thrilled that now you knew that love.

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the parable of the three lost things – a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. You know none of those things lost their value because they were lost!! From their creation they were valued.

Being found does not increase your value – it doesn’t change the heart of God what it does is reveal to us the value we were always held in.

Let me give you some final texts to encourage you as we finish

Matthew 5:7 New International Version (NIV)

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Luke 6:36 New International Version (NIV)

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

James 2:13 New International Version (NIV)

13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Hosea 6:6
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

This a text Jesus uses when questioned about his questionable table companions.

Matthew 9:9-13 The Calling of Matthew

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. ’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Let me ask you this, when was the last time, when ever have you been with people where if a picture was shown on Social Media others might be offended?

Let’s ask another question, who have you avoided?

How then can we who are recipients of that love, who know we no longer live under law, who are free and have found our Joy, how can we now withhold that love from others. Let us make a commitment that from here I will take the baton of God’s love and grace and forgiveness, his mercy that he has shown me and pass it on.


[2] My apologies to all my Khmer speakers


Walk Humbly

Walk Humbly with your God

Micah 6:8

I want to begin with some very familiar words.

 Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

Let’s stop there for the moment and just consider those words.

How many times have you prayed the Lord’s prayer?

I think I must have said the Lords prayer hundreds if not thousands of times. As a young child these words were a part of every assembly on every school morning,not to mention twice on a Sunday and weddings and baptisms and funerals.

But what do these words mean? If this is a prayer then what are we expecting to happen when we pray
‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’?

What would the answer look like?

Are we expecting that in some miraculous fashion God will intervene in human history and make everything right?

I also suspect, that when we read ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ we tend to think globally. ‘God we want the world to reflect your will’. And that is a good prayer.

However, the world is smaller than the globe. The world where I want God’s will to be done is also in this country, in this county, in this city, in this town, in this church, in my family even in my own life.

In every aspect of our living we want Gods will to be done and his kingdom to come.

Can I get and Amen?

So, let me ask again, how is God’s kingdom going to come and how is his will going to be done?

I don’t think God is going to reach down and fix things any more than he already has.

The means of God’s kingdom coming and his will to be done has been entrusted to the church.

What does God’s kingdom look like? Well it looks a lot like Jesus, and more it looks like a world that acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with God. Or as Jesus put it one that loves God and loves their neighbour, whomsoever that neighbour is, as themselves.

When we pray, Father Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, I think there is a response from above that says ‘Amen, get on with it’.

So often we miss the point that we are to be the answer to our own and to one another’s prayers.

We have already looked at what it means to Act Justly – to know and to do what is right. We looked at what it means to Love Mercy, to love with the love we have been already shown and to forgive with the same generosity and grace that we have been forgiven.

Every time we act justly and live lives that love mercy we are showing the evidence of God’s kingdom and his will right here and right now. More than that our actions and words reveal God’s kingdom, they build God’s kingdom.

And today I want to take this further and ask what does it mean to walk humbly with God and why is that important in building the kingdom of God?

A few years ago, one of my teachers at college John, told us a story about the day he visited a huge rubbish tip outside of a favela (slum) in Brazil.

On this day, on this rubbish tip, he met a group of young children who were holding a bible study. They had found parts of a Bible on the tip and now every day they were studying it together.

Their method of study was simple but effective – they would read a passage and then ask, ‘who am I in this story and what does that mean’?

As John sat there with them that morning in the heat and the stench of the tip they began to read the story of the good Samaritan.

At the end of the story the leader asked the question ‘who are you in this story’?

John told us that in his mind he reasoned that he might be the Samaritan or maybe the inn keeper or even the donkey carrying the injured man. But he told us that somewhere deep within he heard a voice that said, ‘keep quiet John, say nothing and listen’.

Each of the children sat there that morning answered in the same way ‘I am the person who was beaten and left for dead’.

That was their world view – They were the victim. John said he realised that coming from a western world view we are in our own minds those who solve problems who fix things – we are the ones with power. In that moment he learnt what it was to walk humbly.

But what when you have now power? When you cannot fix things?

I love this picture –

I’s called ‘Begging for Change’. Originally it was done by and Australian artist called Meek but made famous after it was reworked by London based Banksy.

It is easy to go for a quick fix, sticking plaster approach, to throw a few coins into a cup when what is needed is empathy and humility and change.

Not so long ago a church Pat and I belonged to were beginning the process of planting a new church in Todmorden. The first meeting was a general get together at the town hall to explore the possibility. I will never for get the comments that were made that evening by the local residents. With almost one voice they said, ‘we feel abandoned’. Abandoned by the council, by government, by the church and even by God’.


That is such a strong word and not one we expect here in the UK. Abandoned.

That feeling that no matter how loudly you raise your voice no one will care, no one will listen.

The dictionary definition of mercy is: –

  1. Compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
  2. Kindness that makes you forgive someone, usually someone that you have authority over:

The problem with this definition as I said at the time is that it is built on power. I have the power to act in mercy.

Remember last time I said to you if you want to really annoy God then don’t pass on the forgiveness you have received.

I like this picture –

There was once a man who was shipwrecked on a desert island. After many years he was rescued. His rescuers noticed that over the years he had built three buildings.

“What is that first one”? he was asked
“That is my house” he replied
“What is the second one”?
“That is my church”.
“And what about the third one”?
“Ah”, said the man, “that is the church I used to belong to”.

Did you know that there are over 30,000 different denominations of the Christian church worldwide?

Do you know why? Because at some point someone was certain that their view point was more biblical than the church they attended.

One of the books on my book shelf is by a theologian called Peter Enns.

I had been wanting to buy this particular book for some time then whilst we were visiting some friends in Northern Ireland we happened to find a “Christian” book shop.

Like most men I wandered around for half an hour before I went to the desk to ask if they had any books by Peter Enns. The man behind the counter frowned at me and in his best Irish brogue said, “we don’t stock him anymore, he used to be sound but now he has left the path.” By which of course he meant that Peter Enns no longer subscribed to their particular brand of theology. Such a threat was Mr Enns to their thinking that they had removed all his books (even the ones they previously agreed with) from their shelves.

The book ironically is called ‘The sin of certainty’. It’s a great title and really sums up the idea of walking humbly with God. The humble man recognises that he might not be right and even if he is, he will walk with humility.

Did you ever get into trouble for not being a bad looser but a bad winner?

Evangelical Christians can be the worst winners.

Over the decades I have been a Christian my theology has changed. In some cases, it has been tweaked here and there and in other areas it has undergone a total rethink. I have grown and as I understand more I continue to learn.

Peter Ennis in his book recounts how his theology was thrown a curved ball whilst watching an in flight Disney film.

Bridge to Terabethia

I really don’t think we can fully understand the pressure and religious turmoil that the early church went through. The church you and I are now a part of started as nothing more than a handful of people who formed what was an obscure sect on the fringes of Judaism.

Here are a group of Jewish believers who are about to have their world view shattered as God reaches out way beyond their comfort zone and into to the gentile world. As God includes those who they would naturally, and in their minds, biblically exclude.

God has to take Peter onto a roof and it takes three visions before he gets the point that all are to be included. Do not declare unclean what I have called clean. But biblically the animals that Peter saw were unclean and forbidden for him to eat.
Jesus had to confront the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus and then it would take a further three years of study before Paul was ready to teach that God really does include the gentiles.

The physical words of the Bible may never change but our understanding of them does.

Once the bible was used to justify slavery and the oppression of women. Thankfully there were those who were prepared to challenge those views to say there is a different interpretation. The words are the same, but our understanding has changed and continues to change. The Word of God is not some dead dusty text but living and active.

We no longer think, well most of us I presume, no longer think that the sun revolves around the earth, but when Copernicus first proposed the idea that the planets revolve around the sun he was branded a heretic.

For some people, any rereading of the bible will always be a challenge and it scares them. That’s OK but over 2000 years our understanding has changed anyway.

Humility is empowering for change.

It prevents stagnation an allows for progress and growth.

It stops us charging in as the fixers and makes us engage as listeners and become partners. It is John learning to keep quiet to hear the world view of those children.

By listening we learn, understand and grow, but for some even the task of listening is dangerous.

Before Pat and I visited Cambodia we thought it would be good to know a little about the country and its religious culture. So we started reading about Buddhism. I found that actually Buddha was an ok guy with great wisdom.

“One teacher experiences the truth of the teachings and hands it down as inspiration to his students. That inspiration wakens the student who passes it on further. The teachings are seen as always up to date, they are not though of as “ancient wisdom”.

It’s like a recipe for bread, each baker must apply his general knowledge of how to bake bread, but each time it is cooked it is completely fresh.

That knowledge helped us when we were there to actively engage with people. They were genuinely surprised that we knew about the Buddha.

But we also heard of evangelists who visited the country with the same gospel message they give in the west. They assumed the people would know the bible story, they don’t even know who God is let alone Jesus.

When the Apostle Paul visits Athens he knows the Athenians know nothing about Jesus, so he starts not by quoting the bible or words of Jesus but by quoting their own teachers and philosophers.

Even if you believe you are right, walking humbly allows you to join the conversation. The opposite of humility is arrogance which shuts down the conversation.

To walk humbly with God is always to have the thought that actually God knows more than I do, and I maybe don’t have all the answers.

To walk humbly with God is to recognise the God-ness in all people. It is to be a disciple, that is one who learns, to learn you must listen and critically evaluate what you hear.

To walk humbly with God is to recognise that we can learn from children on a rubbish tip in Brazil, from a Buddhist monk in Cambodia or from my neighbour.

When I was first asked to bring this series of sermons to you, my brief was something along the lines of ‘how do we help the church to reach out into the community together’?

The answer is to allow the words of Micah to reach down deep inside of us and then to become a part of the life of us as individuals and a the body of Christ, the church.

To be a people who are known to

Act Justly

Love Mercy

Walk Humbly

I genuinely think a people like that are attractive and affirming and I think a people like that will find that God’s kingdom does come, and his will is done, here on earth as it is in heaven.

Deep down my sock has slid off in my shoe

One of my Facebook ‘friends’ posted this on her time line, how would you react?

All of the comments on the post were responses which supposed that her sock had actually come of in her shoe. Now maybe that’s the truth, perhaps it is nothing more than one of those days when your actual sock has come off your actual foot in your actual shoe.


Maybe it’s a comment on her life. That’s how I took it. That it was one of those times where we appear to be ok on the outside but somewhere deep down our metaphorical sock has come off our shoe of life. The only person who knows it is us and we are conscious of it every step we take but we keep smiling and pretending that everything is ok.

Of course the sensible thing would be to stop, take off the shoe and correct the sock – only life isn’t always that simple and I am going to push this analogy as far as I possibly can because for five or more years I think I walked around with my metaphorical sock coming off and I was too scared to put it right.

The problem with dysfunctional socks is that you are the only one who knows, in the beginning anyway. Every step you take reminds you that something is not quite right. If ignored long enough it will cause us to limp and then others start to notice.

I now know what my sock was and is and I have written about it elsewhere but I wonder what yours is? Deep down do you know your sock has come off?

You know what I did? I stopped and I decided I didn’t like the socks anyway and I would rather go barefoot.



In the morning there was Leah

Rachel and Leah

Some thoughts on Genesis 29 Leah and Rachel

Leah’s father Laban had tricked Jacob into marrying his oldest daughter Leah. Quite how it took until the morning for Jacob to realise that he had married the wrong woman is beyond me, however here is what we know about the two women in this story.

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.

So we know that Rachel was more beautiful than Leah, certainly from Jacob’s point of view.

We also know that Leah loved Jacob and was loyal to him. The names of her six sons’ reveal her longing that Jacob would love her in return.

Although we are told that Jacob loved Rachel, nowhere does it say that she loved him, in fact when you read the story you see that Rachel wasn’t a particularly nice person. For all her outward beauty she lacked inner grace.

Even though Leah lacked Rachel’s good looks she had an inner beauty and peace that was seen by God. We are told that God saw Leah and had compassion on her and she conceived.

The story in Genesis tells us that it is through Joseph, Rachel’s first son, that the family are saved from the famine however it us through Judah, Leah’s son that the line of Jesus continues.

God is not impressed with our filtered Facebook selfies but with our hearts.


When the bad guys wore black

I was recently asked by a student how long it took to prepare my lecture, I replied about 35 years.

Most people can go to college and read books, study to remember names and dates, facts and details.

You don’t need age to teach facts and age is no guarantee of wisdom however

Age brings experience – and from that, if we choose, can come wisdom.

You can learn about grief but only when you lose someone close to you do you learn about grief.

You can learn how to be a good parent but only when that helpless bundle is placed into your arms do you learn to be a parent.

You can learn about forgiveness, but only when you choose to forgive those who have hurt you the most do you learn about forgiveness.

These and a myriad of other lessons you can learn from the pages of a book, be prepared for by your teacher but you only truly learn when it happens to you.

Bravery, heroism, self-denial, selfless generosity  are acts of will not acquired knowledge.

The only way to build up a deposit of Love is to love now. The more you spend the greater your balance.

As the years pass, if we are willing, our lives become full of something we call experience and there is no short cut to experience. It is full of things called failures and regrets, success and pride, hopes and remorse.  Joy and sorrow, gain and loss.

Once, I was young and full of ideology, things were clear, the bad guys wore black.

Now I am full of ideology and things are still clear but now I see the hurt and the past in the man in black. I see the road he travelled down and the path he took and I wonder … what if …..



Afraid of Grace?

Why some are afraid of Grace

Let me state for the record that after my conversion at about 16 I was a card carrying, biblically fully immersed, four spiritual laws believing, Evangelical.

From that moment on my life was a tragic re-enactment of the book of Judges – One moment I was God’s best friend, hours of devotion, Bible reading and prayer. The next I was, to use a well known phrase of the time ‘backslidden’. I would, like the prodigal son, come to my senses and head off to the Father. There I would repent and all would be well again (minus one fatted calf) ………. until the next time, and the next and the next. I just couldn’t live in the ‘Victory‘ that everyone else seemed to be living in. (only later did I find out that they were struggling too but no one told anyone else)

Hey let me add a quick aside – There are genuine Christian folk who have had radical life changing experiences of knowing God and have for years lived in that relationship. I honour you for you example. However not all of us had that experience.

To continue …..

I suffered for years it was like a spiritual roller coaster after a heavy meal and two chocolate puddings with ice cream – it was never going to end pretty.
I never knew that there was an alternative – Grace.

Let me explain.

One day I began wonder ‘what if making disciples had nothing to do with saving people but rather was a growing into an understanding of a salvation you had already received but didn’t know about and/or understand?’

Now thoughts like that did not fit easily into my evangelical thinking. What if the church found out I was thinking heresy?

But the thoughts went on ….

I  wondered  when it was that we as humans first developed the idea of tribes, of the categorising people into groups, distinct from each other.

The moment you have distinct groups you have ‘them’ and ‘us’ and ultimately an ‘in and out’ friend or foe.

Much of the debate in evangelical circles ever since I was that annoying 16 year old was about who is in and who is out.

Of course those who know they are in are desperate that those who are out might come in and they spend millions of pounds and endless hours of effort to convince the out to come in. Sadly however (according to the religious police) facts are facts and Biblical ‘TRUTH’ is Biblical ‘TRUTH’ and if you are still out at the end (of your life or time itself, whichever comes soonest) then you won’t be in and will very defiantly be out. (But, and here is the good news, you will not be out in the cold!)

It seems to me that this is a form of Old Testament Christianity. By that I don’t mean a Christianity based on works (although that does seem to exist as well) but rather one that is a system of in vs out.

Israel in the OT was called to be a blessing to the nations but became isolationist and inward looking. This was a trait that was confronted and condemned by the prophets, yet now is reincarnated in evangelical Christianity. Israel’s task was not to make all nations a part of Israel but to point all nations to God.

There are those of us that in all honestly have come to believe that in Jesus the whole in vs out argument was abolished. Jesus in his life and words loved and declared in those that the religious establishment declared out. As Paul says there are no longer distinctions and divisions, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor (and whilst we are on the subject, no black or white, conservative radical evangelical or liberal, straight or gay etc) literally no in or out we are all in Christ.

That is not to say you are not black or white but just in God’s economy it doesn’t figure. As Paul argues ‘as we were all once in Adam so we are all now in Christ’. Once we were, now we are not, simples.

Ah did you hear that shout? That was a cry of angst by many in the church.

‘If’ they ask ‘we are all in what is the point of evangelism, won’t people just do as they like and sin and sin and sin, sex drugs and rock-n-roll (oh you mean like ordinary Christians?) What about ‘HOLINESS’ and ‘JUDGEMENT’’ ?

Sorry, Jesus took care of all that. You see the apostle Paul argues the same point, ‘what then, should sin abound that grace abounds all the more?’ his answer is no, why no? Because of the one thing so many talk about but don’t appreciate, the love of God and the indwelling of his Spirit or GRACE.

You see God’s love is greater and stronger than we realise. When people come to understand that God has included them, an amazing thing happens, they begin to change, they begin to act and sound like Jesus.

Another quick aside – note I said they become like Jesus – that is loving, caring, compassionate. You can be who you are and be like Jesus, be a disciple without having to jump through hoops. I have to say this because some of my church friends like to add that my LGBT friends have to change to be disciples or when they come to know Jesus they will change – Nope, sorry not true. 

I digress …..

They become ‘disciples’. Paul says ‘the love of God constrains me’. That why I am not afraid of proclaiming limitless Grace – because Jesus did. ‘How many times should I forgive my brother, as many as seven times?’ Jesus answer no 70 x 7 (oh great 490 times- doh) – forgive without limit. And who can forget ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.’ I can only assume that Jesus asks no more of us than he is willing to do. ‘Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us’.

Life in all its abundance, as Jesus promised is as I read it,  when we come to understand God’s Grace. That’s what discipleship is, coming to understand what you are, not making you anything and certainly not saving you.

Even if we never understand it, or get the chance to hear about it then we are all still recipients of Grace regardless. Jesus came into the world not to condemn but to save! This is really going to piss off Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins to name but two because they are included.

This Grace scares the hell out of many because we want judgement!

What do we want? ‘Judgement’ – When do we want it? ‘now would be good but certainly at the end’.

We want bad people punished; forgetting of course that we are the bad people (read the sermon on the mount). Jesus puts the bar so high that frankly it’s out of sight and certainly out of reach. Jesus says the problem is the human heart and as far as I remember from biology we all have one of those. (yes I know he was speaking spiritually but the same applies).

We want to start our argument from those who will be judged not who will be saved. Those who are out rather than those who are in.

Many Christians are afraid of this grace because it is an unfettered immigration policy.

“Don’t you realise all will come in?” There is a cry ‘they must accept Jesus’, why? Genuinely, ‘why’? You see Jesus has already accepted them. Extravagant Grace takes away our perceived privileged position.

There are so many people out there who don’t want to ‘accept’ Jesus. They don’t want to put their hands up in a service, go the front be invited to your church. They don’t want to be a statistic on your spread sheet, don’t want to wear an ‘I accepted Jesus T-Shirt’. They want to know Jesus! There is a world of difference between accepting and knowing. I know a good many Christians who tell me they have accepted Jesus but I honestly wonder if they have ever met him.

I love the OT story of the lepers outside the besieged city who realise the enemy has fled, they, the outcasts are in possession of the best life giving news ever, there is food – but wait, the healthy people in the city were really unfriendly before and excluded them – what to do? They tell the city, the enemy is defeated come and live, no demands just come and eat.

And that is the point of evangelism it is really gospel (the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’), good news to all, everyone everywhere – I love to tell people they are in. They want to know if they should be religious (hell no) if they should pray, or go to church or be more honest (or just honest) or to love more, and I say not unless you want to, that won’t make you anymore accepted by God, just know God loves you, and then ….. and then, they find want to go to church (ok so after going once many are put off from ever going again) , they start praying and start loving more, they even read their bibles!! Or not – it’s ok – I am not God’s policeman, I trust his love and grace.

It really is good news for all not just for some. Jesus really is awesomely good news.

I know straight Christians who have addictions, are cheating on their partners and have unimaginable problems, LGBT Christians who have brilliant lives and who are making a huge difference but I also know LGBT Christians who have the same problems (surprise surprise) as their straight friends. I know Christians who get up before they go to bed to read their bible and Christians who can’t remember where their Bible is. Christians who go to every worship service and conference and sensible people who don’t mind which church they don’t go to and all of them are saved by grace.

I have friends and family who would never in a million years say they are Christian (even if they have heard the words) but who are not outside of the Grace of God, they just don’t know it – until they are told – what an awesome surprise they have waiting I just wish they knew it now.

People who will never ever, ever hear the good news of Jesus in a way that makes sense and yet God will welcome in. Why am I a missionary – to tell people that God loves them not excludes them – I want them to know Jesus as a friend not a stranger.

I am well aware that there are texts about sheep and goats, wheat and tares, judgment etc. but hey I think I have an answer but I might have to write a book. For now I am happier in my love of God than I have ever been – I still fail miserably and often but I don’t beat myself up over it, I am not, nor ever will be a good example of religious political or moral correctness but … I know God is at work in me and he loves me unconditionally.

I just want to put out a plea to those of you who the religious gate keepers, who have said there are the visa requirements – I have found an unbelievably wide narrow gate with no border controls or extradition.

Jesus genuinely loves the you who you are even if you never change !!

So there are those who will see me as apostate and destined for judgement and hell, my response ……..

God loves you too, see you in heaven. 🙂

Lots of love Simon