Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Praying for Peace

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

The Week of Prayer for World Peace, supported by many organisations including the Methodist Peace Fellowship, falls in October. It precedes United Nations Day, and Remembrance Day, and points on to the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace in December.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace was founded in 1974, and is an annual call to pray for justice and peace among all people. It is a call to penitence for our failures and contributions to conflict, a renewed commitment to work and prayer for peace, and thanksgiving for all who work for peace.

Prayer for peace, the cessation of violence and killing, is perhaps the most common prayer and value of all people. Honouring those who have died in war includes prayer that no one has to die in the horrors of war. All people desire a world without war and violence.

War and violence are evil. We pray with Jesus, alongside all who live in the midst of war and violence, that we may all be delivered from evil.

The United Nations was founded, seventy-five years ago, on 24th October 1945. The purpose of the UN was to work for a world without war, and the peaceful resolution of conflict. The first meeting of the General Assembly of the UN was held in Westminster Central Hall on 10th January 1946. It called for the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.

This remains the hope and prayer for people of all nations. To work and pray for peace is to build and develop cultures and lifestyles of non-violence for resolution of all conflict, internationally and nationally, among neighbours. In households, in congregations, workplaces, and organisations.

Prayer has an important place in peace making. Everyone can pray, anywhere, for peace. By prayer we can all participate in peace making. When, or where, other activities are not accessible to us, we can pray. There are no barriers to prayer, and it is not dependent on or determined by the level of anyone’s faith, or piety, or purity.

Prayer is common to all people, of all nations, of all faiths. People like us, and people not like us, pray. People who like us, and people who do not like us, pray. People who hold enormous power pray. People who feel powerless pray.

But what are we doing when we pray?

I don’t claim to fully comprehend all that prayer means. My understanding of prayer is centred on my belief that God is with all people, that God desires the fulness of life for all people as disclosed in Jesus Christ, and my commitment to work and pray with all people towards the realisation of God’s will and purpose.

For me prayer is a way to be attuned to God. I do all I can to discern God’s will, and way and word. This includes worship and study, personally and with others. By these means I seek to be in tune with the will, the way and the word of God in some depth. Prayer for me functions in the realm of being in tune with God, not now and then but at all times. Prayer is my lifestyle and my calling, not something I offer for a few spare minutes. The life of prayer is a life in God, always. It reflects Christ in you. The Spirit prays in you. In such a life the call and cause of pray is constant.

I am of the conviction that in my experience I do glimpse, even if fleetingly, when I am indeed in tune with God. These are like moments when nature is aflame with God’s life and I am stopped in my tracks to behold what is before me (Exodus 3:2-4), or I sense a call to service deep within me (Matthew 25:40; Luke 10:33), or I discern the presence of Christ in sharing bread (Luke 24:35). These are moments I want to dwell in (Matthew 17:4; Mark 9:5) but can’t, they always solicit a response. There are moments when someone is brought in to my mind someone, and then find we are both holding each other in thought and prayer (Acts 10:19-21).   

Prayer for me therefore does not in any way amount to conjuring up some magic, or any attempt to manipulate God or anyone else, or to tell God how to order the world. In prayer I am not calling on God to become present or intervene anywhere. What I am doing is that I am seeking, in my own inadequate and faltering ways to be aligned to God’s will and way and word. Alone I will always be in danger of misunderstanding God, so it is essential to work and pray in communion with others.

The beginning of prayer for me is humility, an acknowledgement, that I am not meant to live and work alone, but am dependent on others, and ultimately on God. My work and prayer are deeper when I work and pray with others. In conversation with others, I can test and check out the will and way and word of God.

My commitment to prayer for peace or a situation or a person goes hand in hand with working in tune with God’s desire also for the fulness of life in every context. To pray is not to withdraw and leave everything to God, though sometimes there is little I can do other than express my solidarity.  

Prayer always takes place in the context of community, and the global realities, recognising that so often what is before me utterly contradicts God’s will and way and word. It can appear as I pray that I am in a realm of a wrestling between “principalities and powers” (Colossians 1:16) in which I have little influence. Yet I trust that in all things that God is working towards a purpose even where this leaves me perplexed (Isaiah 46:10), and that I am never separated from the presence and love of God (Romans 8:38). I am aware that often people on “opposing” sides pray, whether in war and conflict, or sport, for different outcomes and resolutions. Sometimes I am left bemused by this.

I frequently pray in the company of people of think differently from me, and with people of different faiths. I am thankful for all prayers for peace. I believe the prayers of different people don’t go to different Gods, but to God who is One, differently imagined, understood, and honoured throughout the world and who in no way turns away from anyone in prayer. I ask you to add your prayers to those of all who pray for peace in the world.

Inderjit Bhogal. Supernumerary Presbyter, Sheffield Circuit

October 2020

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Black History Month

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

I greet you all in the Name of Christ, and wish upon you the peace and blessings of God.

It is a pleasure to share in worship with you today, and I do so at the invitation of Cathy Bird.

I want to begin by affirming your leadership team. You are well blessed to have their gifts and company.

Look after them.

Thank you, Cathy, for ensuring Black History Month is marked.

Some of you may be wondering where this idea of Black History Month is from, having been challenged by the Black Lives Matter campaigns following the horrific murder of George Floyd on 25th May this year.

Why all this focus on Black Lives Matter, and Black History Month?

We know white lives matter, that is why it is important to insist also that black lives matter.

All people are made in the Image of God, whatever the colour of your skin. Every person is a child of God. No one should be treated as anything less than that.

Black History Month calls us to ensure black history does not remain hidden. is an annual call to us all to ensure that how black people have been treated, for example in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and more recently in the Windrush scandal, is acknowledged and not submerged in history.

Black History Month falls in October and was established a hundred years ago in the USA, having started in 1920 as Negro History Week.

Four Post Boxes been painted black as a way of celebrating black history month (London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast), and featuring prominent black Britons like the Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole (Cardiff), footballer Walter Tull (Glasgow), and comedian Lenny Henry (Belfast).

A significant Methodist contribution to the theme of colour has been Racial Justice Sunday which was established in 1995, so among other things, we are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Racial Justice Sunday, though this particular marker seems to have faded out of church life.

Racial Justice started out as a calendar date in September, it has now been moved to February. I hope you will mark it in your circuit.

Black History Month holds three important features.

It highlights the colour black, the theme of history, and that it is a month, not a day.

The most controversial part of Black Lives Matter, and Black History Month, is the term black.

Some argue, why black?

We are familiar with the cry, white lives matter, and then there are those who say, we don’t have white history month, where does it stop…do we need to go through all the colours of the rainbow throughout the year?

There appears to be a real difficulty in holding up the colour black positively.

However, because of the remarkable Black Lives Matter campaign, there seems to be a greater take up of Black History Month this year.

More people appear to be giving attention to the lives, writings, art, preaching, books of black people.

I want to return to the colour black.

It is so often the colour associated with that which is bad or negative.

People talk about black mood, black sheep of the family, black cloud and so on.

In contrast whiteness is related to good and positive things.

Black came to represent bad, in contrast to white representing good.

White is pure, black is polluted.

White is clean, black is dirty.

This moved on to white skin being seen as positive, and black skin came to be seen negatively.

It is worth paying some attention to this.

I would like to use some biblical passages to aid our reflection.

Let me begin with a familiar verse.

Isaiah 1:18 where we read, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (KJV)

Isaiah 1:18

I imagine you have heard this sentence used in prayers: O Lord, though our sins are as scarlet, wash them as white as snow.

What does that sentence actually mean?

Let me give you an alternative interpretation of this text.

Context: Punishment of Exile on the horizon.

Things are going to get worse.

White as snow does not mean better, it means quite the opposite.

Let us look at the meaning of the term “white as snow” as it is used in the Bible, by examining the first appearance of this phrase in the Bible in Numbers 12 where we read in verse 10 that “Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow”.

What does the phrase “white as snow” mean here?

Clearly it is pointing to something ad rather than something good, it is referring to illness rather than purity.

Let us take a closer look.

The context is criticism of the leadership of the great Moses.

To criticise him Aaron and Miriam pick on the choice of his wife.

Moses had 2 wives.

A Midianite, who is not mentioned at all.

But his second wife is mentioned.

All we know about her is that she is a Cushite.

We know nothing else about her.

Her name is not mentioned.

The women never allowed to speak in the text.

All we know about her is that she is a Cushite.

What does this tell us about her?

Cush is the southern-most territory mentioned in the Bible.

Cush is the ancient designation of territory on the Upper Nile, south of Egypt.

It is usually translated Ethiopia, but it is not the modern Ethiopia.

It can be reasonably assumed that the woman is of black African appearance.

Aaron and Miriam object to Moses being married to a black woman, and see this as the greatest weakness of Moses’ leadership to exploit.

Moses had married a Cushite woman, “for he had indeed married a Cushite woman”.

Numbers 12:1

What is the result of this negativity?

It leads to God actually making an appearance.

And God says Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “right you three, come out to the tent of the meeting, I want a word” (verse 4)

Strips are torn off Aaron and Miriam in the meeting, how dare you question the leadership of Moses, says God.

Then we read, “and the anger of the Lord was kindled against” Aaron and Miriam, and they are punished.

What is the punishment?

Miriam becomes white as snow.

The punishment of Aaron is that he now has to be with someone who is different, something he found an anathema in Moses.

From here on, where ever the term “white as snow” appears in the Bible, we have to read it in this way.

It is a negative term.

That your sins are as scarlet and they shall become white as snow means things are going to get worse for you.

When Black theologians point this out, they are challenging bible based communities to examine how we use colours in our language and liturgy and hymnody.

Cathy Bird is on a similar journey when asks us to examine how we use the terms light and dark in our language and liturgy and hymnody.

So, how would you feel if at a service of Holy Communion a black cloth was used on the table, and to cover the elements, rather than, as the MSB requires a white cloth?

All kinds of questions begin to emerge for church life, and for theology when you examine the way we apply colour.

Just look at the portrayal of Jesus as a white skinned, blond haired, blue eyed Jesus in Christian art, in stained glass windows in churches.

I want to close by offering you some wisdom from a story related to the life of Jesus.

It comes from an encounter of Jesus with a black Canaanite woman.

Canaan is also in the territory of Cush.

Simple explanation.

What makes Jesus a role model for me is his capacity to learn and grow through encounter with the Canaanite woman.

This is the challenge of Black Lives Matter, Black History Month, and Racial Justice.

Engage with black lives, with black history, with racial justice.

Learn and grow.

Don’t court the anger of God with racist behaviour.

Racism is an obscenity.

It is a negation of our humanity.

It is a dehumanising form of violence.

Resist and stop racism.

At this point I want to commend to you a person who in my view is the best British Methodist theologian, namely Professor Anthony Reddie.

He has just written a most profound article on the matters before us this morning, and he insists that black lives matter, black history month, and racial justice should challenge white people to give more attention to whiteness and white supremacy, the way white people have exercised power in the last 400 years.

Thank you, and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

4 October 2020

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: The Beatitudes – Or Be Attitudes

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 1

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)

19 July 2020

What is your favourite Beatitude?

What does Beatitude mean? The word comes from the Latin beatus and means happy and blessed.

To be beatific is to be saintly, and beatification means being made a saint.

The word felicitation is also closely related to beatitude, and means bestowing blessings or happiness on someone.

The first occurrences of the word blessed in Lukes Gospel is in Chapter 1, for example at verse 48 where we have Mary singing “He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed”.

Mary is blessed because she gives up the direction of her life to God. She is blessed with a child. It does not mean she lives happily ever after, it means she does not resign herself to fate, lets go of the desire to control all the direction of her life. “Be it unto me according to your will”, she says (Luke 1:38).

Mary, as a teenager, unsure of what was happening around her and to her commits her life into the hands of God, and trusts God to bring her where God wants her to be.

This is not about giving in to fate or a state of resignation. It is about not trying to control what will happen.

This throws some light on what it means to be poor and to be blessed.

From here I discern that the key to understanding the beatitudes is to look for that attitude of young Mary, and where you see it in practice you will see something of what it is to be blessed and a sign of the Kingdom of God.

The first beatitude “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” is not therefore promoting or justifying poverty.

Where we read the words “the poor” in the Bible it refers to people who have little control of their lives, but who believe that God is with them, and leads them.

We have to keep in mind people who spend in the wilderness, unsure of their future.

We have to keep in mind people who feel trapped or captive or enslaved in their situation, that other people control their lives.

When Jesus said “blessed are the poor” he had in mind this long history recorded in the Bible. It is the history of a people of God. It is a painful and bewildering history.

The prophets of God constantly call these people to walk closely with God and to have confidence in God.

Their strength in not in might but in returning to God and resting in God.

It is when you have this mind, this attitude that you are blessed.

This first beatitude is not saying be happy that you are economically poor.

It is saying that being blessed is not in being wealthy and prosperous. It is in finding direction and strength for your life in God.

Your happiness does not lie in competing with others, or in having full control in life, relationships and situations.

There is immense blessing in giving up trying to be in control.

My understanding of stress is that stress is rooted in the sense of not being in control.

I’m sure you know that feeling, that you are not in control.

There is so much happening, you feel out of control and overwhelmed.

Experts in stress management say, don’t try to control everything.

Relax. Share responsibility. Work with others.

Do one thing at a time.

Happiness lies in having a more relaxed approach to life.

So, are there people in whom you see this approach to life?

Are there times when you have taken this approach?

Jesus says, that’s a window in to the Kingdom of God.

This is the first attitude you should cultivate.

Let go of trying to control everything, and the Kingdom of God is yours.

Nest week I will look at what Jesus meant when he said, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 2

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4)

26 July 2020 (actually delivered on 9 August 2020, Nagasaki Day)

Good morning.

I am reflecting on the beatitudes, and calling them the Be Attitudes. They offer wisdom on how to live.

We come to the beatitude, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus was not seeing poverty as a virtue when he said blessed are the poor, he was saying live in the confidence of God, not money; he was not promoting servitude but service when he said blessed are the meek; he was not justifying hunger and thirst but a commitment to work for righteousness when he said blessed are those who hunger and thirst.

It follows therefore that he was in no way belittling grief when he said blessed are those who mourn, but deepening the meaning. I long to understand what he really meant.

To understand the beatitude blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted, it helps to understand the history of Jesus’ people and his own experience.

Jesus is rooted in the history of the Hebrews. It is a history of hurt and bitter lament.

It is the history of a people who have been in captivity and enslavement, in exile, and decades of wanderings in the wilderness. It is a history of and pain and change.

You only have to read the Psalms to feel this, and hear their lament.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear my voice”. (Psalm 130:1)

There were times when the people felt so overwhelmed in their hurt that they cried to God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. (Psalm 22:1)

Jesus himself cried out in his agony on the cross using these words of the Psalmist.

Jesus own experience included immense hurt and pain.

He wept (John 11:35) when his friend Lazarus had died.

And Jesus wept when he contemplated Jerusalem and said “If only you knew the things that make for peace”. (Luke 19:42)

When Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, he had in mind the wider grief of people.

The people wept because they felt alone, forsaken, crossing whatever boundaries they had to for life, they hungered for justice and righteousness, and waited for their messiah who would make life better for them.

Sometimes they even mourned the loss of the life they had in the past so much that they even longed to go back to Egypt, forgetting the hardship of those days in slavery. They wanted the old normal, not the new normal.

In the depth of such grief they struggled to find meaning and hope, and could not agree as a people what would give them life.

So, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the people of Jerusalem: if only you knew the things that make for peace.

It is this public as well as private grief that Jesus had in mind when he said, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

To capture what Jesus may originally meant, imagine him saying these words in Beirut and Lebanon this morning.

Or perhaps in Nagasaki following the horrors of the atomic bombs there 75 years ago, and Hiroshima.

The people in Lebanon are in the anger which accompanies public grief. People are furious at the carelessness, injustice and corruption which creates national disaster and desolation. There is a national sense of loss and outrage.

The people are out on the streets venting their anger at what has happened in the horrible explosion there this week.

What words can you possibly speak into this situation where whole communities, and a whole nation is in mourning?

The word translated from Greek into English as “comforted” at a time, 400 years ago, was thus tyranslated when the word comfort meant strength.

It should actually read, blessed are those who mourn for they shall be given strength.

But the word translated comfort is profound.

The word translated comfort has roots in a verb that is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “consolation” (Luke 2:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7), and also as “friend” or “advocate” (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).

In Luke 2:25 we read that of a Prophet called Simeon, who held the child Jesus when the child was brought for circumcision, and saw in Jesus the “consolation”, or salvation, for which he and others like him had been waiting. See Charles Wesley’s Hymn “Come thou long expected Jesus”, verse 2 and the words “Israel’s hope and consolation hope of all the earth thou art”.

In 2 Corinthians 3-7, the word consolation is used seven times in four verses. Here the writer is encouraging disheartened and weary people by assuring them that God is the “God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God”.

In John’s Gospel, the word translated as comfort refers to the Holy Spirit who is described as a Comforter, or Advocate, a Friend, who stands with you in solidarity in your hour of weakness, giving you strength.

In Panjabi the word comfort is translated as Honsla, which literally means, find the strength in the midst of your grief to live with a big and generous heart and help others to do so too, live with courage.

It is also translated as Dhir, which means composure.

So the word translated as comfort is a rich term.

In its simplest form it means friend.

Jesus does not say there will be no grief. He is not saying wallow in your grief, be miserable, for this is the condition that is essential for you to be blessed.

He does not belittle grief. He acknowledges there is a time for mourning. He knew the tears of grief.

In this situation, Jesus is saying, in your personal grief, your strength will come from not being isolated. You will not be alone. You will not walk alone, you will have company. It will be company from which you will have strength, courage, consolation, composure. This will help you to build your grace, so that you can live with heart, with a generous heart. And remember, your greatest consolation and comfort lies in the fact that God is with you, as a friend. I think this is part at least of what Jesus was saying, whatever else he meant.

What do you think he was saying?

In terms of public grief, as in our times of coronavirus, and in Lebanon, and in any situation in which people grieve publicly, Jesus is saying, resist the temptation to give up, don’t give in to despair, God will not abandon you, God is with you, and God will strengthen you to resist desolation, and to engage with all that is required for the rebuilding and renewal of public life, and your Jerusalem. God’s purpose is always to build hope, to build people, to build justice and peace, to heal broken hearts. Others may walk away from you, God will not. This was certainly Jesus’ faith and spirituality.

Live your life with this Be Attitude.

This is what Jesus was saying when he said, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 3

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth (Matthew 5:5)

2 August 2020

Good morning.

We are looking at the beatitudes.

Or as I call them, the “Be Attitudes”, the attitudes that reveal the Kingdom of God, and the attitude we are called to live by in Jesus’ wisdom.

Today I will look at the third beatitude in Matthew. It is at Chapter 5:5.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

I said that blessed are the poor does not mean rejoice in being poor.

Rather it means, stop competing with others about wealth, or being in control in life, but in giving up wanting to be in control all the time. Let go of trying to be in control and have confidence in God, this is the attitude where we see a window into what the Kingdom of God means.

This helps us to understand what meekness means.

So, what may Jesus have meant when he said blessed are the meek, for the earth belongs to them?

Meekness is a word associated with Jesus.

You may have sung the Hymn:

Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee” (Charles Wesley, MHB 842, HP 738).

Jesus was actually angry when he saw people being exploited economically, and when he saw people with debilitating illness or hunger.

What does it mean when Jesus apparently says he is “gentle and meek”? (Matthew 11:29). He says, “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest”.

Jesus’ words here are about his whole lifestyle which was about being welcoming.

Come to me, he said, to those who were weary and disheartened, isolated and rejected. I know what it is to be like that, he was saying.

Far from claiming any status or title, Jesus was in utter openness and humility portraying a spirit of solidarity, openness and welcome.

For Jesus the opposite of poverty is not wealth but to give up control, the opposite of meekness is not might or majesty but giving up power.

Jesus was aware that the world is a tough place to be.

Life is exhausting. We don’t have economic wealth. We don’t have social power.

Don’t look to wealthy and powerful lifestyles to fashion your life. These may be the values of empires and kingdoms on earth, but they are not the values of the Kingdom of God.

We can’t change the world.

We don’t have the power to do this.

But we can play our part to make the world a better place, by helping to create more open and welcoming communities and spaces.

This is something we can reflect and create, openness and welcome.

This is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

So, meekness does not mean doing nothing, or being ineffectual. It does mean we are not in rivalry for control or power. We recognise we need others, because we are weary and tired when we are alone, and invite other to be community with us, and build communities in which we are gifts to each other, and find rest in each other.

Rest is best understood as being refreshed and renewed.

Where you can be like this you “inherit the earth”.

So there is a be-attitude for you.

Give up the desire for power. Be welcoming to others, work with others to make the world where you are open and welcoming. You will help to make the world a better place, and you will inherit the earth. 

Where have you seen such qualities?

Get close to those places and people because that is where you will find revelations of the Kingdom of God.

Thank you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 4

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6)

2 August 2020

Good morning. Today we will look at the Beatitude:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

We are familiar with these words about hunger and thirst. But how familiar are we with what it means to be hungry and thirsty?

Hunger and thirst make a person vulnerable and weak. To be hungry and thirsty is basic, it means you don’t have what it takes to survive and to live.

Have you talked with anyone who says he or she is hungry or thirsty?

Many people sit in streets and shop doorways with words about being hungry and homeless before them.

Hunger and thirst is the measure by which you are to know your commitment to righteousness. You are so committed to it you are hungry and thirsty.

There is only one person in the New Testament who says “I am thirsty”, and that is Jesus.

He askes a woman for water at a well because he is hungry.

He says when I was thirsty you gave me a drink.

As he hangs on the Cross, he cries out, “I thirst”.

He is thirsty and hungry for righteousness. He longs for human love and good relationships.

In other words:

  • He is not thirsty because he has neglected himself, or forgotten to take out water for himself
  • He is thirsty because he has been concerned about the welfare of others

What makes us less human is our selfishness.
What makes us truly human is our love for others.

This is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I hunger and I thirst for righteousness says Christ because I am famished by the lack of justice.

Our life is under-nourished when others are hungry and thirsty.
What matters is not personal gain, but communal welfare.

To say blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is to express the belief that God blesses and promises resources to replenish devastated communities.

In what ways are you desperate for the welfare of others?

God will quench your hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 5

Blesses are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 7:7)

15 August 2020
India/Pakistan Independence Day
VJ Day

Good morning and welcome.

I have been reflecting on the beatitudes, seeing in them the Be Attitudes, how to be, how to live.

This morning we come to the fifth beatitude.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Mercy is the most highly rated quality in the Bible.

Mercy is a key value of the Kingdom of God.

Mercy typifies Jesus.

Mercy defines God.

In Micah 6:8 we read:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, in the mind of Jesus, the one who shows mercy is the one whose behaviour his followers are to emulate. Go and do likewise, he said.

Mercy is the pinnacle of human qualities.

Mercy is condition for eternal life.

Elsewhere, in Luke 6:36 we read the words of Jesus: Be merciful, just as God is merciful.

You are at the pinnacle of being human, you are closest to the image and likeness of God when you are merciful. Mercy shows the heart and character of God.

There is no Christianity without mercy.

Pope Francis has made mercy a top priority.

He says that the fifth beatitude is the only one in which the cause and effect of fulfilment coincide: The fruit of mercy is mercy.

Show mercy and you will receive mercy.

We can see this in the Lord’s prayer where we say, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Forgiveness results from forgiveness. Mercy follows mercy.

Pope Francis says “mercy is the air that we must breathe”.

Pope Francis has a book called The Name of God is Mercy.

In an interview about the book he told the story of a Priest who came to him and said he was being too generous in being forgiving towards those who sin. Pope Francis replied to him, “When I feel like that I go to the Chapel and the blessed sacrament and tell Jesus, It’s all your fault. You have set a bad example forgiving all those who asked you for mercy. You even shed your blood for them. At least you are not asking me to do that!”.

What does mercy mean?

The Oxford Dictionary says mercy is the abstention from the affliction of suffering on the part of one who has the power to inflict it.

In other words, mercy is shown by not acting with cruelty.

That is important, and needed in our world of cruelty.

In daily life we hear people using terms like “those deserving” or “not deserving” beneficiaries of help and mercy.

God does not make that distinction.

We are all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.

But Biblically mercy is not seen in what is not done, but in what is done.

For example, all Jesus’ miracles are rooted in mercy.

When people are harassed or hungry or hurting in any way, Jesus is angry at their condition and responds with actions of mercy.

In English, we read that moved by “pity” he takes action.

But the word translated as pity in English is the Greek verb splagchnizomai, which comes from the noun splagchnon which means “belly or heart”.

Pity is the word used in English to describe what Jesus felt in the pit of his stomach, or in the depth of his heart.

What did he feel when he saw people hurting in any way?

Let me give you just one example, by referring to his first recorded public healing.

A leper came to him and pleaded for mercy.

We read that “moved with pity” Jesus healed the man (Mark 1:40-41).

The word translated pity is splaghchnistheis. That word is used in classical Greek to refer to the snorting of horses.

Jesus’ pity or mercy is rooted in his anger at horrible disease, or hunger.

In his anger at exploitation and disease Jesus was so furious that he snorted like horses, and acted to remedy it.

On at least four occasions he performs a miracle on hearing the words, have mercy on me (Matthew 20:29-34; 15:21-28; 17:14029; Luke 17:11-19).

He saw people exploited economically in the Temple, and in his anger at such exploitation he overturned the table and drove out people whom he called robbers.

Jesus was deeply moved by people’s pain to respond. His mercy is not an avoidance of action, or simply an action, rather it is a response to a real situation of suffering.

It is no surprise that his definition of a fully human person, a faith-based person, a follower of Jesus, is that such a person is moved with mercy to take action. This is what we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37).

Where have you acted with mercy like that?

Have you seen mercy, mercy where you least expected it?

I remember Nelson Mandela visiting Britain following his freedom from 27 years in prison by the apartheid government in South Africa. He was vilified by Britain as a terrorist.

When he came to Britain, I expected him to really hammer this country for his vilification.

However, he came here with an attitude of mercy and forgiveness.

He now has a statue to him in Parliament Square, and he is honoured as a strong and true leader.

Mercy is so often seen as a weakness.

Mandela showed the strength that is reflected in mercy.

Everything turns on mercy.

You are being callous and careless when you turn away from mercy.

When you show mercy, you are acting at one with God, and in tune with God.

On mercy is judged, and on mercy depends, our life now and in the world to come (Matthew 25: 31-45).

So this is a Be Attitude for daily life.

To be merciful is to be Christ-like, and to reflect the likeness of God.

Blessed are the merciful, they will receive mercy.

Let mercy define you as a follower of Jesus.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 6

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8)

23 August 2020

The focus here is not on those who are pure, but on the pure in heart.

It is illuminating to consider this beatitude in times of coronavirus, and all the issues we have in the contemporary world about cleanness.

Purity is defined as cleanness. To purify is to make clean, to make things free of pollution.

So, we have water purifiers, for example.

A purist or puritan is a person who is a stickler for correctness, and going by the rules in religion and morals.

Rules are created to define purity.

Keep social distance, wash hands, wear masks in public places.

It is amazing how quickly rules have emerged around coronavirus.

The danger in the world today is that certain groups of people as being more prone to disease, and therefore to be avoided, people of particular communities, or age, and people living with poverty.

Disease quickly comes to be associated with certain kinds of people.

Lines can quickly come to be drawn between people, and it is amazing how quickly some people come to be seen as dirty, and therefore a danger.

I think it is really helpful to understand the environment in which the Bible was written around 4000 years ago.

This would be a time before the kind of modern medication.

Even with all the medication that exists now, there is no protection from coronavirus.

So we observe the rules: wash hands, keep the distance, wear the mask.

Just imagine the approach to tackling deadly disease 4 thousand years ago.

There were strict rules about hygiene and cleanliness, and social distance and even covering the face to prevent contamination and spreading disease.

The role religion came to play in this environment was to speak about purity.

Purity was about distance, and maintained by keeping away from others to stop becoming contaminated yourself.

Religious leaders began to develop the theology that the purest one is God, and God’s purity is defined and maintained by God’s distance from people.

The religious name for purity came to be holiness.

God is holy.

People were called to be holy.

God is holy by keeping a distance from people.

Holiness, or purity, was achieved by washing and by keeping social distance, and if you can cover or veil your face, that will help.

All the world’s main religions, rooted in stories of the Bible (Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and Sikhism too) teach this.

Holiness is seen as cleanliness, and keeping apart, and the practice of face covering too is now commonly practiced.

In this theological reasoning, God lives far away from people.

Be holy, for I am holy, says God according to Leviticus 11:44.

This line is followed throughout the Bible.

Some people and animals and things and places are holy, other people, animals, things and places are unholy.

The holy becomes unholy, impure, or defiled, or contaminated by being associated with unholiness and impurity. 

In Biblical times leprosy was seen to be the most contagious ailment.

Lepers were treated as outcasts and people you should not be close to. They were dirty. Leprosy was even seen as a punishment by God (Numbers 11).

You become contaminated by mixing with those defined as dirty and therefore as outcasts.

This is dangerously close to where we are now in our contemporary world.

This is why it is illuminating to reflect on holiness and purity in the midst of all the concerns around coronavirus and contamination.

So what do we learn from Jesus? How did he live in the world demarcated by what is seen to be holy and unholy?

Jesus’ table fellowship with those considered to be social outcasts is the frame through which Jesus’ life and ministry is best understood.

He spent time with, and ate with, the outcasts of his day.

He was willing to risk danger and contamination, and to challenge rules, in order to enhance and protect life.

This infuriated the purists and religious leaders of his day.

Jesus’ most subversive activity was seen to be his practice of eating with the social outcasts of his day.

To include the outsider was objectionable, and it led to Jesus himself being ostracised and ridiculed.

Blessed are the merciful, he said. The best sign of mercy was to include outsiders.

Purity for Jesus was not cleanness but clarity, clarity of thought and focus and purpose.

He refused to regard people or certain foods as impure.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defined the behaviour of the Samaritan as the example to follow.

This was scandalous, because in Jesus’s time Samaritans were outsiders.

Jesus’ mercy and inclusion embraced everyone, especially those considered to be outsiders. His kindness knew no limits.

This is why I find inspiration in Jesus, and why I am his follower.

I know what it is to be an outsider.

The holiness of God in Jesus’ proclamation is not defined by remoteness and social distance or social discrimination, but by intimacy and closeness, not by distance from those who are different but by loving the stranger, loving your enemies, by loving your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus’ clarity and focus lies in this that he saw the image of God in all people. In this he was consistent with the teachings in the scriptures he observed.

This is what purity of heart means in Jesus’ mind, not cleanness but clarity; clarity of focus, clarity of motive, a clarity that reveals the image and likeness of God in all people.

The pure in heart are not purists, they are not the puritans, not those considered to be clean or pious, but people who have such clarity of mind and vision that they see God in all people. They see the image of God in those who are marginalised, or maligned, or messy.

The pure in heart see God in others all around them, and God sees this purity of heart.

Purity of heart looks inwards, but always turns outwards to others.

Purity of heart seeks to eradicate impurities within.

Purity of heart achieves healing through hospitality without fear of being defiled.

Purity of heart hears God saying “do not call unclean what I have made clean” (Acts 10:15; 11:9).

Do not discriminate against particular people calling them dirty.

See the image of God in all people. Jesus proclaimed this as a blessing.

To see the image of God in others is also a way to remove fear of those who are different.

This is a good Be Attitude for your daily life and life style.

This is what Jesus meant when he said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Holiness is not cleanness, but it is certainly messy. It is symbolised in Jesus on a cross executed on a hill outside the city walls among the criminals and the unclean ones of his day.

Thank you, and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 7

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9)

30 August 2020

Essential to the things that make for peace are peacemakers. Peacemakers are blessed by Jesus. Their blessing is that Jesus calls them “children of God”.

Neither the title “peacemakers” nor the title “children of God” are self-designations. However, you can choose to be a peacemaker. Every follower of Jesus, and that includes you and me, is called to be a peacemaker. Peacemakers strive and aim for healing, not harming, and will always seek non-violent solutions to conflict.

The beatitude about peacemakers follows from “purity” of heart, and precedes persecution. Purity of heart is about the clarity with which people see the Image of God in others. Think about the great peacemakers, they all had this in common, that they see the image of God in all people.

Peace-making is not a popular task, nor is it an easy or a soft option. Peacemakers often attract hostility. Peace making is tough, and more difficult than making conflict or inflicting violence. We know from history that peacemakers are themselves hated and persecuted by others. Mahatma Gandhi was disliked by many people of his nation because he was seen as weak. He was criticised for even calling on the police to be non-violent.

Jesus was a peacemaker and is the Christian pattern and example to follow. He is described as “our peace”, making peace by breaking down dividing walls of segregation and hostility (Ephesians 2:14). He taught his followers to love their neighbours, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).

Twice in Matthew Chapter 5, those who work for peace are called “children” of God. What this means is that you most closely reflect the nature and character of God, the great Peacemaker, when you are a peacemaker.  God is the God of peace. All the great religions of the world teach this be they Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or Zoroastrians. Children of God will treat all people as children of God.

God could have had an easier life if God had chosen to make all people the same, of the same nature and character, same appearance and language, same hopes and aspirations, same likes and dislikes, same language and cultures. In God’s wisdom human beings are made in “the Image and likeness of God”, but not the same. Human beings are made in the Image of God but are marked by their immense differences.

This is what makes us beautiful, but herein also lies the route to our brokenness. Brokenness and conflict arise when Instead of valuing differences as gift and strength, they are seen as things to be feared and generate hostility. We can see this in all conflict in the world. Conflict arises when differences of appearance or opinions are seen as a problem rather than an enrichment.

Peace-making is essentially about valuing differences and diversity of opinions, facilitating deep and respectful listening to all views without rubbishing or humiliating anyone. Peace-making is rooted in seeing and valuing the Image of God in all people, including those who may revile or persecute you, and who may see you as their enemy.

Peace-making means you listen and enable listening however much you dislike what is being said, and asking questions that seek greater clarity in what is being said, and often this helps to see strengths and weaknesses in points raised. This is frequently the way to achieving shared strategic wisdom and ways forward.

Maya Angelou, the African American writer and poet says, that parents should teach children early that there is a beauty and strength in diversity. The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, whose famous dream speech has been invoked much recently, was often heard saying “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed that all people are made equal”. Not same, equal.

For all their peace-making words and actions people like Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi were assassinated, though their wisdom continues to inspire millions.

Saint Oscar Romero, who was Archbishop of El Salvador, at the height of the civil war in his country used to tell the soldiers in his country not to kill people because they were only killing their own brothers and sisters. He was seen as such a threat for preaching peace that he was assassinated, shot dead in March 1980 as he lifted the bread and wine at a service of Holy Communion.

Some years ago, I visited El Salvador. I visited the Jesuit University there. Six of their staff had also been shot dead in November 1989 for sharing stories of witnesses to atrocities.

I was shown a portrait of Oscar Romero hanging in the University. It had been shot at by the assassins of the staff. Clearly there was a feeling that the wisdom of the Archbishop, now sainted, continued to inspire people, and this was seen as dangerous too. 

The one who most closely portrays God, according to the New Testament, is Jesus who is “our peace”.

How does Jesus make peace? By removing dividing walls of hatred. By bringing hostile people together. He paid for this by his life (Ephesians 2:13). He practised what he preached. He lives on and continues to inspire millions all around the world today.

The word translated “peacemaker” means being active in holding people together. Peacemakers see the Image of God in all people, they live on a larger map, see the bigger picture, treat all people equally, and so they reflect the nature and character of God.

The world needs more peacemakers. Be a Peacemaker, in your congregation, in your school and community, in your home, in your work place and playground, in your neighbourhood, in your nation, in the world.

Peacemakers are ordinary, vulnerable people. They try to live with a purity of heart, which most importantly means, with a capacity to see the Image of God in all people, not least in those who look, and think, and speak differently. This requirement goes deep into the need for honesty, humility and integrity in relationships, and clarity and focus in thought and being. It calls on you to pray for others, including your enemies and those who revile you or persecute you. It calls on you to always strive, do your uttermost, to aim at healing, never at harming.

Make sure that your morality and ethics are not defined by those who see some people as less than human, but by the values of God seen in the life and teachings of Christ and all he called “children of God”.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 8

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12)

7 September 2020

The beatitudes are enclosed with the words “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3,10).

To say “blessed are you when people persecute you” suggests that there is a danger that some people may actually seek persecution, or martyrdom, for therein lies blessing, and the reward of the kingdom of heaven.  

To read this from the eighth beatitude is to completely misunderstand it.

No one in their right mind seeks or wishes to attract persecution.

This beatitude cannot be read on its own.

None of the beatitudes is a stand-alone guide or pathway for life. All eight beatitudes are steps along the way. None of them can be removed without the whole foundation and structure becoming hollow and incomplete and misunderstood. 

The pathway of faith that Jesus lays out in the beatitudes is made up of a life centred on God, not money; grief that is real, not ignored, but which illuminates strength and wisdom in all we mourn; selfless service without accepting enslavement or losing dignity; hungering and thirsting for justice and righteousness; upholding mercy; seeing the image of God in all people; peace-making without violence.

Jesus’ honesty acknowledges in the eight beatitude that this path, and such a life, can expect persecution.

Persecution is not sought or attracted or desired. No one can feel smug or self-righteous or brag about being persecuted.

The eighth beatitude does not ask anyone to seek persecution. Rather, it tells us why people are persecuted. People are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake”. Seeking “righteousness” is twice highlighted in the beatitudes. Righteousness is not about being right, or doing things the right way, but about doing the right thing, always. This will mark you out, and you can expect opposition and persecution.

Persecution is the pathway of the prophets. It is not coveted by followers of Christ, it follows them (Mark 10:30).

There is nothing positive in persecution. Neither persecution nor martyrdom can be explained as a badge of faith or be seen as a reward for faith.

Persecution is infliction of hurt and harassment aimed at preventing you from living out your faith and commitment to righteousness.

The worst persecution that can come your way will come from people close to you, often close colleagues, or friends. This can dissipate faith and resilience. It can easily bring you to give up.

The worst thing that happened to Jesus was that he was betrayed and denied and let down by his own friends.

Jesus said his followers can expect the same fate as him.

People will hate you for being m y followers, he said (John 15:19).

In the explanation of the parable of the sower, a person who easily gives up in the face of persecution is described as the seed that falls on rocks and does not take root, and quickly withers and disappears (Mark 4:17). A plant that has not taken root cannot last long.

What Jesus was saying in the eighth beatitude was that if you live a life based on the beatitudes, don’t expect a pat on your back, you can expect persecution.

If you stick your neck out, if you put your light on a lampstand, you are like a well flavoured meal, and a city set on a hill. Your light will shine, though some will try to blow out your candle.

You may not see rewards, or much change, but if you stay within your faith track and moral framework, you will help to keep righteousness alive.

Stand firm. Be realistic, but don’t be deterred that all you get is persecution.

“Blessed are you”, he goes on to say, “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

If you are deeply rooted in faith, and truly committed to a life based on the beatitudes, – when the inevitable persecution comes, do not resist persecution with persecution, or evil with evil.

Rather, says Jesus, “rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). Not happy, nor full of euphoria at the sate of affairs, but retain gladness and joyfulness, which will help to sustain and energise you.

There is cost and joy in following Christ.

We do not serve God miserably, but joyfully.

Don’t lose your hope, and don’t lose your joy.

People of faith should not be characterised by their miserableness, but by an infectious positivity and joy.

We rejoice that God is with us, that all we mourn also opens new vistas and avenues, selfless service, mercy, and seeing the image of God in all people, keeping us committed to pursuing righteousness and making peace.

This is the life of faith for prophets of God.

This is your Be Attitude for life.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 9

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH

25 October 2020

This is what Jesus says to his disciples at the end of the Beatitudes.

Effectively, the Beatitudes lay out what may be termed some key characteristics of Christian behaviour, and of the church

  • Poverty
  • Mourning
  • Mercy
  • Meekness
  • Purity
  • Peace
  • Persecution
  • Righteousness

At the conclusion Jesus says – in effect – where you reflect these qualities you are salt, the salt of the earth, and you are like light set on a hill for all to see.

Let’s focus on the words “You are the salt of the earth”.

You are salt.

This affirmation comes with the warning that if salt loses its taste, its taste cannot be restored!

It has no value.

You may have heard the words said to someone, “don’t lose your salt”.

This effectively is saying, don’t lose your essential being, don’t lose your humanity and dignity.

It is not easy for salt to lose its taste, but it can happen.

The key to salt is taste, though the taste of salt is not universally liked, and we are now advised to use salt sparingly or not at all in our diet.

But taste is so important.

I like to read the work of Sheffield’s John Ruskin, the radical Victorian writer, theologian and art critic. I recommend to you the lecture entitled “Traffic”, he delivered in Bradford on 11th April 1864.

He reflects on decency, dignity and creativity in a world obsessed with money. He calls for “good taste” which he defines as “essentially a moral quality”.

Be led by taste he argues.

“Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are”.

We all have our “likes” or what is to our taste.

Ruskin argued that so much that passes for design in buildings or architecture in not in good taste.

We are not required just to do the right thing he wrote, “it is not only about being just, but to hunger and thirst after justice”.

As the Psalmist wrote, “taste, and see that God is good”.

We can judge goodness by good taste.

We talk of people’s taste in food, but also, we say to people, “I like your taste in fashion…or furniture” and so on.

TASTE

I don’t partake of alcohol.

Most of family enjoy a tipple.

They take wine.

When they pour out wine for themselves, I take a glass of water.

My comment to them is, “You will drink your wine and change it into water. I will drink this water – it will become for me the finest wine”.

Seriously, I don’t drink wine, but I am a connoisseur of wine, and enjoy the five element of wine tasting, namely sight, smell, air, swill and spit.

I have learned the art of wine tasting.

Salvador Dali writes that those who know how to taste wine will not drink it.

It’s all about taste…what happens in the mouth, not taking it into your stomach. //

I learned the art of cooking from my father.

He cooked a fabulous Karahi Lamb dish.

I noted that he never measured ingredients.

He added each of the seasoning spices a bit at a time, and kept tasting the food all the time he cooked it.

And he would put a little in a bowl for me and say, “here, check the taste”.

Hmm…a bit more salt…a bit more masala.

Its all about the taste.

Do whatever you are doing with and in good taste.

If your food is not seasoned well – it will be incomplete, unless your diet or allergy requires that.

The food will be there.

It will be eaten.

But you will not think “Wow – that tastes good”.

Jesus said, “you are the salt – but salt can lose its taste – and it is not possible to restore the taste”.

SALT

Salt has many uses.

It adds taste.

It is a preservative.

It is antiseptic.

It is good for gargling, and cleaning the throat.

When I was young, living in Kenya, we used salt to brush our teeth. A bit of salt on a finger, and a good rub on all the teeth!

It has been used as currency.

The word salary comes from salt, and some people were worth their salt!

In Indian cultures salt is so precious that it is said if you waste it or spill it or throw it away you will be required to pick it up with your eyes after you have died as a punishment.

Salzburg City is famous for music but gets its name from the salt in the rock below it.

The British Empire grew on the strength of salt sold to the huge population of India.

Mahatma Gandhi told Indians to make their own salt as a way of hitting the British economy.

He led the famous “salt march”, walking to the sea, and urged people to make their own salt. //

There are many uses and stories of salt.

When Jesus refers to salt in the Sermon on the Mount – he spoke of it only in relation to taste.

Salt is salt.

Can it lose its taste?

Is it not an impossibility?

One danger is increase in salinity.

This is a danger facing the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee, following five years of drought, has sunk to a hundred year low. In 2018 the level of the lake dropped close to a black line, the level at which it loses its freshwater body.

Overuse has taken its toll.

As the levels drop the lake cannot wash away salt fast enough. Its salinity rises, affecting flora and fauna which begin to die.

Once the lake becomes saline, it will be irreversible.

Apart from climate change war does not help.

The waters of the lake affect rivers in Israel, Syria and Jordan. Water is one source of conflict in the region.

The river Jordan is shared by Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan and Syria, all of which use its depleting reserves. Because of war, each territory wants to take all the water.

In the mean-time the waters of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee are polluted, and diminished.

And it is difficult for Christians who want to be baptised in the holy waters there and to venture to the site where John the Baptist is said to have led Jesus into the water, and where Jesus walked on water.

So, many issues are raised by salt around health, economics, and ecology.

Salt can be contaminated, and salt can be spoilt to the point that you want to throw it away.

Salt is contaminated by being mixed with dirty or damp items. //

So what is Jesus talking about when he says that salt can lose its taste, its saltiness cannot be restored, it has to be thrown away? //

 Lets be clear what Jesus is not saying about us being salt.

  • He is not saying you are salt in a container. Stay in the bottle and don’t get contaminated by engaging with the dirt and dampness and mess of the world around you.

You don’t light a candle and put it under a cover to hide it. Light has to do its part – shine a light.

Likewise, salt is not for keeping tucked away in a container. It has to be mixed with other ingredients – and do its part – add seasoning and flavouring and taste.

Salt in a container is a bit like Christians refusing to challenge racism “for fear of being labelled racists”, or refusing to engage with refugees for fear of being seen to be too political.

  • Furthermore, Jesus is not asking his disciples to be salt together. A concentration of salt, too much salt, can be poisonous. Salt has to be used in small portions. Too much salt will spoil the taste.

Ask anyone who has had a cup of tea with a spoonful of salt rather than sugar!

Jesus is saying don’t remain a holy huddle.

If the disciples of Jesus are constantly in a holy huddle, if a congregation will focus only on themselves, matters internal to the congregation – it is a toxic mix.

Too much salt in one dose is a unpalatable. It is not good for anyone.

Too much salt will only raise your blood pressure.

All congregations know something of members turning in on each other – falling out over internal matters, forgetting the larger vision of the care for the environment and embrace of those who are different.

Salt has to be mixed with other ingredients.

A congregation HAS to give attention to: wars that make refugees; hunger that makes food banks essential; poverty that increases homelessness; oppression that leads to racist outrages; wastefulness that increases environmental degradation.

We can forget the bigger issues when we become a holy huddle, and we can be as poisonous as too much salt in one serving.

So what did Jesus mean when he said “you are salt – don’t lose your taste”?

To understand this we need to look at what Jesus says immediately before these words.

What we find here are the Beatitudes.

The word “blessed” is not really understood.

For our purposes, let us replace the word “blessed” with “you are salt”, and read the Beatitudes again.

YOU ARE BLESSED/SALT

You are salt when you pay attention to poverty

You are salt when you mourn and weep over hurt in the world

You are salt when you are meek and challenge intimidation

You are salt when you hunger and thirst for righteousness

You are salt when you are merciful and seek mercy

You are salt when you work and speak from a deep inner purity

You are salt when you work for peace

You are salt when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

We lose our taste when we avoid these matters, and remain a closed huddle like salt in a container.

Our light does not shine when we keep ourselves under the roof of the church.

According to Mark 9:50, Jesus said if salt loses its taste it is not even good for the soil, and not even for the manure.

According to Luke 14:34-35 being tasteful requires from the followers of Jesus to live in peace.

“You are salt” means we are at our best in small doses. We are likely to be used in small portions.

We are not going to change the world in one fair swoop.

We may not make too much of a difference.

Salt does not change the food it seasons.

Salt will be a preservative.

Rubbing salt into a wound might be painful, but we will stop the wound from getting deeper or worse.

So we will keep playing our small part.

We will keep joining protests for righteousness and justice.

We will play our part to challenge poverty and injustice.

We will weep with those who weep, and we will mourn over the loss of values and goodness.

We will challenge oppression and refuse to behave in intimidating ways ourselves.  

We will seek mercy in leadership, policy and practice.

We will uphold the path of peace.

We will stand with those who are wrongly persecuted.

We will seek always to work from a purity of motives.

We will contribute what we can to make the world a better place especially for those who are most maligned.

We will remain realistic about what we can do, we will not be deterred by what we cannot do, and we will always remain hopeful, and do all we do in good taste in the Name of Christ, the true light and salt of the earth.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom In Jesus’ Prayer

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Jesus mostly spoke about the Kingdom of God in Parables illustrating or picturing abundance, grace, forgiveness, generosity and hospitality. In my view Jesus summed up his thoughts on the Kingdom of God in half a minute, in the words of what is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer which can be said, without rushing, in just 30 seconds.

We note three key themes in the prayer.

The priorities of Jesus are seen here in the honouring of

  • Your Name
  • Your Kingdom
  • Your will

The Kingdom of God is seen on earth (as in Heaven) where:

  1. God’s Name is honoured (not my name or anyone else’s)
  2. What we decide, do or say reflects God’s Kingdom (not a personal aspiration or opinion)
  3. The will of God is discerned and done (not my will or any other individuals’)

Following these words Jesus’ petition reflects where these three key themes are seen:

  1. Where all have daily bread (a world free of inequality, gluttony or greed, governed by the philosophy of hospitality and enough). Give us our daily bread literally means give me what is on my essential shopping list for my daily needs. The key item of course is food
  2. Where all debt is remitted or forgiven (a world free of debt), and a spirit of forgiveness governs relationships
  3. Where all are assured of strength/support in their times of trials/tribulations/temptations (a world free of isolation and loneliness, and wanting what is not yours)
  4. Where all are delivered from all that is evil (a world free, for example, of awful disease and crime, war and violence, waste and environmental degradation; where relationships are healed and reconciliation is real)

This is the kind of world where we see change and transformation of the world as it is. In such a world God’s will is done, God’s Kingdom comes on earth as in Heaven, and God’s Name is hallowed.

Or as the Prayer says it, in such a world, “Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory”. We see signs of the Kingdom of God here and there, but the Kingdom of God is not fully realised on earth, so we constantly pray, “Your Kingdom come”.

The prayer of course is addressed to God the divine loving parent and creator of all. I hear the words “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name…” in all people and all creation, all the time. Jesus captured in just a few words the prayer of all, and all creation, centred on the Kingdom of God.

This is a good daily prayer.

Jesus said, when you pray use these words.

Prayer is not meant to be wordy, or to tell God how to order the world.

I can assure you that I pray for you every morning.

What do I pray for you, and for all others I pray for?

I say the Lord’s Prayer in your name. This is what I pray for you and all people.

There is simple wisdom in Jesus’ prayer.

Use these words as your prayer, and use the wisdom contained in Jesus’ prayer for your daily life and decision making, always seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Inderjit Bhogal

12 July 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

The Beckly Lecture 2020: Peace, Pandemics and Plastic Bottles – Prioritising the future?

The Beckly Lecture: Peace, pandemics and plastic bottles – prioritising the future?

Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE

Monday 29 June 2020

7-8:15pm

Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE is founder and President of City of Sanctuary, a grassroots movement to build cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable people. Inderjit is a former President of the Methodist Conference, was Leader of the Corrymeela Community and is President of the Methodist Peace Fellowship.

Inderjit will be talking from his many years’ experience as a public and practical theologian, about how our world and our churches face the challenges ahead. When it feels as if different priorities are competing, how can we respond with integrity to God’s call for justice and peace?

Inderjit will speak for around 45 minutes, with a chance for Q&A afterwards. The Lecture will be hosted on Zoom.

Register here

CLINTON MCCURBIN: JUSTICE NOT VIOLENCE

Clinton McCurbin died, or was killed, on 20th February 1987, as Police arrested him in the NEXT shop in Wolverhampton town centre. He was making a purchase when the shop assistant suspected he was using a stolen Bank Card. Police were called. Clinton died while he was being arrested. The story going around town was that Police had a knee over Clinton’s neck, in a head-lock, to hold him down during arrest, and he died of asphyxia. This incident unleashed a fury of anger at what was termed “police racism and violence”.

A national march against police racism and violence was organised in Wolverhampton on 7th March 1987. A crowd from all over the country was expected. Many in Wolverhampton stirred up fears of “War in Wolverhampton”. The local Express and Star newspaper carried a front-page headline centred on the fear of violence. Local people were advised to stay away from the town centre on the day of the march for their safety. Shops along the route of the march were encouraged to board up their windows and doors. Faith leaders, of all faiths, advised their communities to keep away from the march, and not support it because it was expected to be violent, and they did not want to be seen to be endorsing violence. Some of them gave interviews on local radio to this end. Members of a Church along the proposed route of the march prayed for snow on the day of the march, hoping this would lead to its cancellation. The fear of violence was real and deep.

I had a town centre office and ministry in Wolverhampton as co-ordinator of the Wolverhampton Interfaith Group at the time. My Methodist leaders, whom I respected greatly, had also asked all Methodist Church members and ministers to give no support to the march. My office was on Queen Street, opposite Express and Star offices, little more than a hundred yards from the spot where Clinton died.

I recall quizzing in my mind as to whether, as a faith leader it would be appropriate for me to go against the advice of my seniors and join the march. Wolverhampton Interfaith Group looked to me for leadership and direction. I decided to join the march, and announced this through interfaith networks, inviting any faith-based person wanting to join me on the march to meet me in the Friends Meeting House half an hour before the commencement of the march.

On the actual day of the march, it snowed, quite heavily! We had blizzard like snow conditions. This drastically reduced the numbers who turned up. Instead of the anticipated 10,000 crowd, around 1000 were there. 

Twelve people turned up to walk with me. I decided to walk in my clerical gear, and wished on this occasion that I was a Bishop and could wear a Bishop’s outfit, and be loud as a faith leader. As it was, in the wintry conditions, with winter coats, my clerical collar was quite hidden. I went out with my coat hood up. To all intents and purposes, I was hidden and anonymous. My companions asked me where we shall be in the march. “Right at the front”, I said, “the media of the world will be here. We will walk at the front, be central to the march and all the walkers, and then we shall also be able to bear witness to the truth of the occasion, and not just rely on media stories. We want to say that there are faith-based people who care deeply about the concerns at the centre of this march, and are against police racism and violence. I am confident that a march against violence will not be violent. We will walk at the front to declare our solidarity”. I wanted to be able to say to all those joining the march, and to Clinton’s family, the Church is here and with you.

We found our way to the head of the march, and walked there. Those participating were predominantly black and Asian people. There was a significant white people’s presence. Many were carrying banners expressing outrage at police racism and violence. Snow was falling heavily as we commenced walking. It snowed all day, quite heavily. This can be seen from photos taken on the day. As we walked past the Church where members had prayed for snow, I was clear in my mind that the weather is not influenced by people’s prayers, if it did, I would pray for rain in drought ridden areas on earth so that people there could grow their own food. Prayer is not about ordering God on how to order the world. I was walking in the march as an act of prayer, expressing solidarity with people’s hurts and hopes. It felt like I was bearing something of the cross of the hurting, exhausted Christ, as a man called Simeon did on the road to Golgotha.

Wolverhampton was closed and quiet on the day, not only because of the snow but also because of the march. But the march was noisy. I sensed a deep anger in the walkers at police racism and violence. There was visibly a heavy police presence. There were those in the march who would have turned violently on to the police, but were remarkably restrained, expressing their outrage verbally rather than physically.

The march slowly snaked around the town, and then halted right by my office. From here the NEXT shop where Clinton died could be seen. Clinton’s mother, Esther McCurbin, wanted to go to the spot where her son died to lay a bouquet of flowers and pause for a moment of silence. This was a real flash point. Marchers were getting agitated. I could see that scores of police officers were lined up here blocking the way to the sacred spot. The police sensed violence and wanted the march to proceed, but no was moving. I was right at the front with Esther. She was determined to lay her flowers and say her prayer outside the NEXT shop associated with her son died.

I went and spoke to the Police Officer who appeared to be in charge, and explained the situation. Taking me to be the leader of the march he said, “get the march moving”. I told him that there would be no movement until Mrs McCurbin could go and lay her flowers where her son died. “Can you promise me the march would move on if I allowed that?” I said, “Yes”. He spoke into a walkie talkie device he had, and like the parting of the Red Sea, the blue line of police officers moved aside to allow Esther to have the personal moment she desired. “Who are you?” asked the Officer in charge, holding what was a recording device in front of my face. “Inderjit Bhogal, I am a Methodist Minister”, I replied.  “Are you the leader of this march?” he asked. I simply suggested to the Police Officer that the march would move, and that Mrs McCurbin should be brought to Lichfield Street by the Prince Albert Statue and that she could join the march there again. This was all agreed. Suddenly I was seen as the leader. It seemed to me that people are like Sheep without a Shepherd. This space is so often occupied by people who exploit it with all kinds of messages and methods, for good and for ill.

The march proceeded. We turned into Lichfield Street. Mrs McCurbin joined us again at the Prince Albert Statue as agreed. But at this point the march stopped again, and stalled. This was the next flash point. From here the NEXT shop could be seen clearly. The world’s media seemed to be gathered on the steps of the Midland Bank on Lichfield Street, from here they would get the best photos of the anticipated violence.

From here too, all the way back to the NEXT shop there was a heavy police presence, beginning with Officers on foot with riot shield to protect them. Behind them Police on horse-back. Behind them Police reinforcements in Vans. The Police had also come expecting war and violence, and so too had the media.

I found myself standing between some black youths, carrying bricks who had come to have a fight with the police, and the heavy police presence, carrying various weapons and riot gear. I recall looking at the photographers lined up strategically. I felt they wanted to show the world images of violent black youths. I was determined there was not going to be any violence and that the media would not get the story and images they were here for. 

I started shouting to the black people in front of me, “you throw one brick and you have lost the battle. Look at those photographers. Their images will portray you as people with bricks and but no brains. You are more than that”.

Then I started shouting, “We want justice not violence”. There was a man with a loud hailer. I took it from him to shout “we want justice not violence”. Gradually others started shouting this too, and it became a chorus and a crescendo. Two or three others came and stood with me between the police and the angry marchers. This chanting went on for about fifteen minutes. It was freezing cold. The snow fell relentlessly. I noticed that the marchers began moving on. Only I and those who stood between the marchers and the police shouting for justice and non-violence were left there, including David a good friend of mine, another member of the clergy who joined the march with me. Gradually every one disappeared, the marchers, the media, the police. I have no idea where or how the march concluded. David and I stood there reflecting on the events. A local Press photographer took a photo of me that appeared in a Newspaper the following week.

It was freezing cold, but I felt very hot just then. I was soaked with sweat and snow, and exhausted. I did feel I had participated in and witnessed remarkable expression of anger at police racism and violence. I also felt I had helped to prevent violence in which there would have been human casualties and property damage.

I walked away from the scene reflecting how critical it is to provide leadership and a voice for non-violence. It is important to offer wisdom of non-violence. I did follow this up in succeeding days and weeks by meeting with the Chief of Police in Wolverhampton to state the message of the marchers, and to talk about racism awareness strategies.

There were those who felt I was a “police collaborator”, some of those who argued this regarded the police as “the enemy” and wore balaclavas over their faces at street gatherings and clearly knew me for they talked with me by my name. I knew who they were. And at the same time, I was asked by my Methodist leaders to explain my actions in joining the march. I explained to them that I may have helped to prevent the “war” that was expected on the day of the march. I don’t know. But in my mind joining the march was the better decision than deciding to stay away. I have always tried to walk for justice and non-violence in my exercise of ministry.

A few days after the march I was present at Clinton’s funeral. I walked at the head of the procession with Paul Boateng MP to the Church in Heath Town. Clinton’s death was a tragedy. He was laid to rest in peace and with respect and dignity.

Inderjit Bhogal

20 February 2020

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Hope

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

In Christ you are revealed as One who pitches a tent and lives among us.

You take sanctuary in us and make your home in the core of our being.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your mission,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the whole world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life,

Wholesome life on earth,

And life that is not extinguished by death.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your sanctuary and strength,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

I am pleased to offer this prayer and meditation to support the important and good work of All We Can with some of the poorest communities in the world.

I am not an optimist, but I am always hopeful, I keep hope alive and encourage others to do so too.

Optimism is an attitude that says, relax, everything will be ok, leave everything to God, all shall be well.

Hope is an attitude that says, whatever situation we find ourselves, we will say “right, now come on, roll up your sleeves, we will work together with others around us, apply all the wisdom available to us, and work for the best result, God being with us and our helper. We can make things better and we will not give up”.

Optimism is individualistic and passive.

Hope is solidarity and pro-active.

This hope is in me, for me it is rooted in faith, and solidarity with others.

I see it around me and I find it in others.

This hope has inspired and sustained me not least in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

I see this hope in the incredible expressions of solidarity in people, that within all our vast differences we are all one human race, every person is precious, every person is vulnerable, no one is immune, our sickness and our health, our existence and our survival, rests in each other.

I see this hope in the incredible solidarity in people, in attitudes and acts of grace and generosity, in people of all faiths and ethnicities and nationalities, from infants to hundred year olds, that have spread more rapidly than Covid-19.

We have glimpsed and discovered our incredible connectedness to others all around the world.

We have glimpsed and discovered our intricate connectedness to the air and the earth and the environment and all creatures great and small all around us.

We have realised that though people say “we are all in the same boat together”, that we are not all in the same boat. There are different boats, with different levels of protection.

We are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Some people are not even in boats, they are in the water, and looking for life belts.

We have all experienced fear and anxiety about the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, and friends.

We have realised others are in a similar situation to us.

We have a solidarity in our humanity, and frailty, and desire to be safe.

We all seeking refuge and sanctuary.

We have realised that while some of us have good protective people and provision around us, and have homes and gardens, others don’t, and live in danger, in streets, in refugee camps.

Thousands have lost the their homes through wars and violence and extreme weather, and are as refugees seeking refuge and sanctuary.

This coronavirus storm will pass.

But as we take sanctuary ourselves, we keep in our hearts and minds those in their own sanctuaries now, with all the surrounding concerns, those without homes, those away from homes, and refugees who continue to be “the least important” internationally, and we uphold them in our work and prayers.

I give thanks for and find hope in the work of charitable work of organisations like All We Can, through whom we can maintain our solidarity with those who feel most excluded and vulnerable.

The issues in which our hope is grounded are vast.

We will find strength in our human solidarity.

In the midst of everything I have found myself wrenched to the core of my being as a young friend of mine, Lucia, went through a fourth Liver Transplant. The operation took place in January. Lucia worked hard with an incredible team of NHS staff and her family to pull through. Lucia died recently, four days before her 21st birthday.

I have been in desperate need of hope in this situation.

Lucia herself, along with her family and NHS team have filled me with immense hope. She participated in every decision about her life and support, made difficult by the coronavirus restrictions.

Lucia has generated an incredible response to organ donations, and founded her own initiative in this, details of which can be found on the website Live Loudly, Donate proudly.

People like Lucia fill me with hope by bringing the most challenging situations to life, and affecting how we are and live and handle apparently insurmountable obstacles. 

So often I find hope and the way ahead in the life of those who struggle the most, who would be within their rights to shout out at God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, but who by their own hope hold out a vision of God where you may least expect to find God.

The ultimate symbol of that hope for me is Jesus Christ.

The story of Lucia reminds me that those who are in difficult situations are also people of hope and resilience. They help to keep my hope alive.

Thank you and bless you for the hope you hold and represent.

Please spend a moment to view how the All We Can Coronavirus Appeal is bringing hope to some of the world’s poorest communities as they deal with the effects of this coronavirus, in particular in our work with refugees and refugee camps at this time.

Bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

28 May 2020, Twenty First Birthday of Lucia Quinney Mee, founder of Live Loudly, Donate Proudly

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

DUBLIN INTERFAITH ONLINE REFLECTION AND PRAYER

Today is Pentecost Day, when Christians recall a day when God blesses people with the Holy Spirit, and reminded themselves that the Spirit of God is poured out “upon all flesh”.

This day is recognised in churches as the birthday of Church.

The very first message on this day, by the Apostle Peter was exactly this, the Spirit of God is poured out on flesh, God blesses all people, and when Peter said this he was speaking to people of different nations.

The image of the Spirit of God is the breath of God.

The breath of God is the source of all life.

Breath and clean air epitomise our times of coronavirus.

It is sad that coronavirus attacks the capacity to breathe.

We remember all those on ventilators now, and all those who care for them, from cleaners to consultant surgeons.

It is sad also that the words at the centre of news this week are “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by Police in Minnesota, USA.

I am also saddened by the violence that has erupted following his death. Anger and protest have to be expressed non-violently.

Another sad image of our times is that of war and violence destroying people’s lives and homes, driving many to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

Every day myriads of people set out to cross whatever barrier is in the way to find safety and a better life. When people are deprived of their homes, their families, and familiar surroundings, they will be grateful for welcome, hospitality and safety.

I live in Sheffield.

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s words adorn the side of a Sheffield Hallam University building. The good sighted can read the words of the poem as they walk to the city from the railway station:

“O traveller from somewhere to here…to wander through the labyrinth of air,

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff become a priming place which

lifts you to speculate…

What if…?

What if…?

What if…?”

I like that triple “what if”.

What if we could all work together to bring our diverse population into shared conversations, even if difficult conversations, on how we can work together to build better understandings, deeper relationships of mutual respect and trust, and come to genuinely accept each other as human beings?

What three things can we do?

My three challenges in response to these what ifs are centred on the belief that God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh. We are all human beings made in the image of God. So here are my three challenges:

Be human, and always call others back to their humanity.

Be hospitable, and always call others to express hospitality.

Always challenge hatred. This is done by challenging inhumanity and

inhospitality.

The way ahead for us all now is to widen and deepen relationships across different cultures, creeds, colours and identities, to end hatred, and together to build cultures where all are welcome, and valued. We can be united in building hospitality. We have fantastic opportunities in our multi-ethnic and plural societies to meet and eat with each other, to share our stories and discover our interconnectedness, and link the local with the global.

How we all relate to each other, and in particular to people seeking sanctuary and safety will be central to humanity. How we all treat those who are in greatest need for safety will be the measure by which we shall judge personal, national and international morality and spirituality.

A Prayer:

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your work,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your strength and peace,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, 31 June 2020

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Attention

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

We are all asked to “stay alert”.

Staying alert requires paying attention.

This is what all good teachers call for.

Pay attention, and this is a pre-requisite to staying alert, and living to your full potential.

In our meditations I began with attention to breathing, and to stillness. These precede attention.

Good attention flows from breathing well and stillness, and will help to provide the clear focus of attention.

We all have many distractions such as unsolicited apps, messages, and so on.

Attention flows from breathing and stillness, being in the present moment, being aware of what or who is there, considering information, reflecting, and resolving to do something as a result.

This is really what research means.

Pay attention, observe, collect data, reflect on it with care, till you have a revelation, your data offers new illumination, new information.

If you are like me you will have had moments when something or someone makes you pause, stop in your tracks, and pay attention in this way.

For example, you pass something regularly, and one day this something, it may be a tree or view for example, catches your breath and stops you. You become present in that moment and place, you really consider the information, you reflect, and you take action, even if it to gasp “wow” in a moment of revelation.

During this time of coronavirus, with less air pollution, there have been some remarkable photos of mountain ranges from massive distance on facebook and twitter.

There was a photo of Mount Kenya that someone took from Nairobi City which is 85 miles away.

Many people living in Nairobi responded that the photo is a fake, you surely cannot see Mount Kenya from Nairobi!

But the photo is a fact.

What is more, that view is actually visible from Nairobi most days, but most people don’t see it.

The man who took the photo says, “the hustle of Nairobi prevents people from looking up. The slowing down is not there”. He said that maybe, the Covid-19 virus has slowed people down, and with less air pollution helped people to see more.

As I said, we can all walk past things many times and miss them.

But there is a moment in which we become aware of something for the first time, and think, I pass this regularly yet I have never been aware of it before.

There is a story in the Bible of Moses who was minding his sheep in a field when suddenly he saw a bush that seemed to be aflame. It made him stop, and turn his attention, and look with more care (Exodus 3:1-12).

When Moses saw the bush that seemed to be aflame, he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” (Exodus 3:3). As he paid attention here, he felt he heard the voice of God drawing his attention to brutality and suffering, and the experience changed his life.

He became the leader he was.    

Young Mary had a moment when she believed an Angel was speaking to her. In the Church calendar this moment is called the “annunciation”. As she paid attention in this special moment, she heard the voice of God, and “pondered” on what she heard (Luke 1:26-31).

She became the mother of Jesus.

Today is 24th May. It is a special day in Methodist Churches.

24 May 1738 is regarded as the day John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, had a special experience.

At a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London, he was listening to a reflection on the Letter to Romans. Then, he writes in his diary, “About a quarter before nine…I felt my heart strangely warmed”. He felt loved by God.

He became the leader of a movement called Methodism.

Six hundred years ago there lived in Norwich a young woman called Julian. Aged about 30 she became seriously ill. At the end of her illness she began having visions., and then spent around 20 years living in a small room and writing her visions which she called Divine Revelations, a book worth reading. Her most famous revelation arises from just observing a hazelnut.

Reflecting on a hazelnut in her hand she writes that it revealed three things to her. “The first is that God made it. The second, that God loves it. The third, that God keeps it.” This simple observation gave her peace, that she can rest in God the Creator, the Keeper, and the Lover. 

The important thing about these special moments is that they happen in the everyday, ordinary circumstances which command attention and become sacred moments and places and people.

Attention can give you rest, and make you more capable and give you more direction for life.

It said to Moses you are more than a shepherd, and to Mary, you are a person of potential beyond your imagination, to Wesley you an assurance of love, to Julian confidence in God.

Attention increases your awareness, and makes you more mindful of yourself and others. It literally opens your eyes and ears and heart and soul. It is an essential quality in leadership.

This is what faith and spirituality is.

Seeing and hearing God in ordinary everyday life, and hearing the voice of God calling you to be the immense and immeasurable person you are capable of being.

Be alert, but more than this, pay attention.  

Inderjit Bhogal

24 May 2020, John Wesley Day

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Six Words to Live By: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

ACT JUSTLY

14 June 2020, third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire
This article can be downloaded for use here

Today is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower. 72 people died in the devastating fire there.

The last fortnight has seen angry protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Most of the protests have been peaceful and I detest violence where it has featured.

It is important to listen to the calls for justice, and to ask what needs to happen.

Or, to put it another way, what does God require of us, not only in this situation, but at any time?

This question features in the Bible in a number of places with significant answers.

One place where the question is asked is in the book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8 where we read:

“What does the Lord require of you but to act justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God”.

 Six words are important there: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

In any situation you have to make choices about how you will respond. The attitude you choose to live by is critical.

The words in Micah are worth pondering.

We can choose to live by those six words: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

I will take these words in two’s to offer reflection.

So, first let us focus on the words “act justly”.

What justice means biblically is that everyone can enjoy the benefits of life. The “fulness of life” (john 10:10), for all without discrimination and deprivation. This is the persistent call of the prophets of ancient Israel.

In the words of the prophet Amos, God longs for the day when “justice (will) roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:2).

Whenever men and women work in favour of justice, understood as simple fairness, and equality among people in things that enhance human dignity and well-being, they are standing on the “foundation stone” established by the God of justice.

This justice challenges the violence of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every form of domination, discrimination, oppression and war. Consequently, justice will not employ violence, and will address violence non-violently.

Commitment to justice includes working non-violently whether we are speaking of verbal violence or physical violence.

Ending particular forms of injustice is integral to the Kingdom of God, where all enjoy the fulness of life. 

Justice is not about being right or righteous, but doing right and hungering after righteousness.

In Genesis 18: 17-19, justice and righteousness is linked, and mean the same thing, the “way” of God is revealed as “doing what is right and just”. This is what brings about the completion of the will of God. Fairness, equity, and impartiality in the rule of law, and sharing of the benefits of belonging together is what is held together here (Sacks, 2003).

For Moses justice is a good life. He says, “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Justice is the route to a good life.

When the biblical prophets spoke of justice they consistently held up the “widow”, the “orphan” and the “stranger” (Exodus 22: 21-27; Psalm 146: 7-9). These three groups of people represent those who had no means of their own to live a good life, and were dependent on the grace and generosity and goodness of others.

In our times these groups relate for me to older people in care, children in danger, and refugees.  

Biblically, God is the God of justice (Deuteronomy 32: 4; Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 119: 137). It is God’s measuring line (Isaiah 28: 17). Justice exalts God (Isaiah 5:16). It is the worship God respects (Amos 5:22-24).

Act justly.

In all the debates of our times the cry is for justice, rooted in a 400 year history, and spanning Grenfell Tower, Minnesota, and Covid-19.

A cry for justice is the cry of God.

We are to hear the challenge of God to “act justly”.

LOVE MERCY

21 June 2020, Father’s Day, Summer Solstice Day

Good morning.

It is Father’s Day.

We give thanks for our fathers.

It is also summer solstice day, though it does not look or feel like it here in Sheffield. It is the longest day in the year.

Have a good day.

Last week I started a reflection on what I called the wisdom of six words to live by. The six words are from the book of the Prophet Micah in chapter 6 verse 8.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Last week I reflected on what it is to act justly.

Today I will reflect on love mercy, and next week I will reflect on what it is to walk humbly.

So, love mercy. These words are sometimes written as “love tenderly”.

All people are inspired by and respond well to tenderness in the world.

Let’s look at the biblical meaning of mercy or tenderness, and to do this I want to recall something I learned from a woman called Marianne Katopo.

I met Marianne Katopo (Katopo, 1981) when she was studying in Birmingham, in 1980. Marianne describes herself as an Indonesian novelist, poet, journalist and theologian. She says she is a poet of God. I was privileged to discuss and engage in theological reflection with her forty years ago. Her theology was published in the book Compassionate and Free, An Asian Woman’s Theology. Marianne was one of the first Asian women theologians to teach me. She says God is compassionate and free and calls us to a compassionate and free life.

She taught me much about the meaning of compassion.

The Hebrew word for compassion is “rachamim”.

I recall Marianne saying she asked a professor at a theological school in Indonesia what “ra-cha-mim” meant originally.

The professor replied that the word literally means “movement of the womb” (rachamim). It could also mean movement in the womb. It literally refers to the “guts”, a deep feeling.

For Marianne, there is no deeper experience or more God-like experience than compassion. She says, compassion is intimacy, not distance.  

The best description of mercy is that it is the tenderness a pregnant woman feels for the baby in her womb, especially when she feels a little movement of the baby in the womb.

It is father’s day but our theme has taken us to mothers.

It is significant that the mercy, tenderness, compassion, is derived from the most motherly organ in a human being, the womb. This is where the most intimate mother-child love and bond is most intimately formed or knitted. This is the root of compassion, tenderness and mercy. The tenderness, compassion and mercy of a mother for a child is deep. Women know this. Men need to learn this.

It is significant also that in English, Woman and Womb is connected.

Sometimes the bible speaks of Israel as the son of God, Ephraim.

Speaking of Ephraim, God says, “I am deeply moved for him; I will surely have mercy on him” (Jeremiah 31:20). The movement is deep within, in the womb of God. The resulting action is mercy.

There is a heart rending cry of a man pleading with Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18: 38).

On another occasion, mercy and compassion is the motivation for the action of Jesus faced with a crowd before him: “I have compassion for the crowd., because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2).

In Hebrew scriptures mercy is a gift of God to people. “I will give/grant you mercy” (Jeremiah 42:12).

Showing mercy is an emotion. Giving mercy is a choice.

Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The compassion of God has a touch of the feminine said Marianne (Katopo, 1981, page 66).  

Mercy, tenderness, compassion.

I will leave you to reflect on how you show mercy, and how you can love mercy in your daily life.

Next week I will reflect on the words “walk humbly”.

It is lovely for us to keep connected like this on Sundays.

I will sit outside chapel with a lit candle on Wednesday morning at 11am, and hold you in my prayers.

Thank you and bless you.

WALK HUMBLY

28 June 2020

Welcome and good morning.

I’ve been looking at six words to live by, with reflections on what I called the wisdom of six words to live by. The six words are from the book of the Prophet Micah in chapter 6 verse 8.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Last week I reflected on what it is to love mercy.

Today I will reflect on what it is to walk humbly.

I have found Holman Hunt’s painting entitled The Shadow of Death a good meditation on humility. His painting The Light of the World is better known. The Shadow of Death painting repays attention.

The painting shows Jesus Christ standing in his carpenter’s workshop, and is stretching himself. His mother is in the workshop too, and is shown watching the shadow he casts over a wooden rack, prefiguring his crucifixion on a cross.

The painting hangs in Leeds Art Gallery. It captured my attention, but I was drawn to it even more when I read the words beside the painting.

“He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a slave…and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2: 6-11, King James Version).

We have to be careful when we read words like “slave” here, whether it is used in the King James Version published in 1611, or the New Revised Standard version published in 1989.

The focus is on selfless service, not servitude, or being a doormat.

Humility is what I am focusing on.

Jesus’ humility is reflected in his manner and ministry. Born in a cave, crucified on a cross, he rode a donkey, he washed his disciples’ feet, he was let down by people close to him, and spurned by many rejected his message.

He made himself of no reputation.

Which other leader is there of whom we can say that?  

The words “he humbled himself” are translated as he “emptied himself” in the NRSV.

Christ reveals and reflects God who is seen as one whose divinity embraces the human body with all its beauty, bruises and brokenness, and in the words of the Charles Wesley Hymn, “emptied of all but love”.

Justice, mercy and humility come together in the striking image of Christ on the cross.

Quite rightly the cross stands at the center of churches, reflecting the life that flows from letting go of power.   

Christian thinking and theology is defined by Christ’s birth in obscurity and his humiliating death, not by rulers who live in palaces and rule by power.

This God calls us to work, walk, and share in this prophetic ministry of justice, mercy and humility, and to reflect and call for this model of leadership and life, in the hope that God will bring us to grow deeper and deeper into the image of God.

Humility acknowledges we cannot go far by ourselves. We need each other.

We are dependent on others.

We are stronger together.

In any congregation and community, this is where our strength lies, in each other.

It has been challenging to stay together in these difficult days of coronavirus.

These zoom gatherings have helped.

Chapel will remain closed till at least the first Sunday of September.

We will look at holding one or two events, within social distance, in the garden.

All documents on this topic are located here