Sunday, 27 January 2013

The challenge of being one body when we all want to be mouths or belly buttons...

In writing this I have that sense that some people will be 'concerned' by what I'm saying here.  I've deliberately used an emotive example because it is only when we examine our reactions to issues that may be difficult for us that we can begin to comprehend how our behaviour needs to change.  What follows is actually not about belief but about action because sometimes action is far more important.


1 Corinthians 12:12-31
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Mouths, belly buttons and the Church of EnglandWhat are we doing here? I know that we all ask this question of ourselves from time to time, perhaps with that kind of doom laden voice of our internal teenager, ‘Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life?’, but that’s not actually what I mean. We spend far too much time worrying about ourselves. So I’m not thinking here of us as individuals, but of us as a church. What are we doing here? What is the church actually for?

The reason I like the two readings that we have here is because they answer that question for us in fairly simple logical steps, yet leave us fundamentally challenged as to how to respond. They also give us a pretty good indication as to why, as an institution, the Church of England is struggling. You see the clue is in the phrase in 1 Corinthians, ‘You are the body of Christ.’

Christ is no longer physically present in the world, but we are, and the Church says that he lives in us. So on this earth we are meant to be continuing the work which he started. In other words, if you want to know what the church is meant to be like, and what we are supposed to be doing here, then all we actually have to do is look at what Jesus does.  And the Gospels make it easy for us. We don’t have to read, learn and digest the whole of all four Gospels, although that’s not a bad idea. This passage from Luke actually makes it nice and easy for us because it comes from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and reads like his manifesto. This is what he intends to do, and so he sets out his stall using a prophecy from Isaiah.

This is what Jesus intends to do: Bring good news to the poor; Release to the captives; Recovery of sight to the blind; Let the oppressed go free; Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Now it’s really important that we understand that poor means both those with limited financial means, and those who are poor in spirit. Likewise, release for the captives means exactly what it says in liberation theology terms, but it also means releasing those who are captive to circumstances, emotions, and patterns of behaviour which bind them.  The blind refers to those who can’t see physically and those who can’t see spiritually. The oppressed are those under the rule of unjust governments and those who are simply oppressed by others, by feelings, by spiritual forces beyond their control and so on. This is the work that Jesus believed he was called to do.  And we are the Body of Christ, which simply means, this is now our job. This is what we’re here for. This is what we are supposed to be doing, basically setting people free from circumstances in order that they can become the kind of people that they were meant to be. This is why it’s called the Good News, which is what the word Gospel means.

Unfortunately the truth, in my experience, is that whilst we are doing this in part at grassroots level, it seems sometimes as if the national church is often doing exactly the reverse of what we’re meant to be doing, and I think the reason for that is that we let our judgements about right behaviour get in the way of doing the right thing. In other words we often only seem to want to help people if they conform to our ideas regarding behaviour.  To illustrate what I mean I’m going to use what may seem a controversial example, but it needs to a difficult example to explain what I mean. Last week Steve Chalke, a known leader and big name in the evangelical movement, declared that the way the church has treated homosexuals is akin to how we treated slavery, by misusing texts from the Bible as an excuse to maintain our prejudices and keep people excluded from the lives they should have.  That it was an evangelical leader rather than someone out of the liberal wing of the church is a huge deal. Someone with a big profile has broken ranks, and he will of course be applauded by some and pilloried by others. I think he’s right. In our culture, for generations, homosexuals have been oppressed. What does Jesus say he will do? Set the oppressed free.  The reason we haven’t is because we have stood in judgement on a particular type of behaviour, often without proper and deep scriptural understanding. My feeling is that Jesus is first concerned about how we treat people, regardless of our feelings about them. I’m deliberately not commenting here about the rightness or wrongness of any particular type of sexual expression; this is not about belief, it is about how people are treated.  Jesus ate and drank with the people everyone else rejected.  Who knows what he believed about them, but that seemed secondary to him.

If we had been acting like the Body of Christ here on earth, then rather than being the people who were being lampooned by the press and condemned by the public, we would have been challenging the government decades ago with the words, ‘You, as a nation, have oppressed these people. Set them free to have the lives and rights that you have.’  We would have come under fire for the right reasons. Instead we now have the opposite, where society has done the work of the church and begun to look out for the needs of an oppressed minority whilst the church has spent its energy arguing about whether it can stand in judgement on a group of people, forgetting that Jesus said, ‘Do not judge or you will be judged’. I take that to mean that we are commanded first and foremost to help those who need help and worry about behaviour at some later date.  But we don't seem to want to act like that.  The simple truth is that at a national level we do not act like the Body of Christ. We are not Good News.

At grassroots level there are amazing things happening where the church is coming alongside their communities in difficult circumstances, opening their doors in welcome, and stepping out beyond those doors into the lives they are called to serve. I have friend who leads ‘The Order of the Black Sheep’, a Christian community for those who society rejects.  For years there has been a Christian presence amongst looking out for the prostitutes working behind Kings Cross station.  Now we have street pastors in places in the country, just being there, being caring for those coming out of night clubs the worse for wear.

How, then, have we got to this point where we are known as an institution that brings bad news, keeps people captives and seems to be spiritually blind? Personally I think there may be many reasons, but there is a general philosophy that we can find if we go back to the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which can be seen as indicating two major faults in the church today that we need to be aware of in order to change.  There, not only does he liken the church to being a single body, he carries the metaphor deeper and likens each individual to being one part of that body. That therefore means that in order for the body to function each part must take its place and use its gifts.

So the first reason behind some of our difficulties is what looks to me to be a need for power. I know of plenty of churches which are struggling either because the vicar believes he or she should do everything, or because the congregation believes that their vicar should do everything.   You know as well as I do that each of us has our gifts and we are always better when we allow people the space and encouragement to try things out and to grow in the gifts that they have. But when you get one or two people who want to be in charge, they will gradually try and exert more and more influence, often by taking on several of the more high profile jobs in order that they get their own way, and exclude others.

To do that is anti-Christian, it is the opposite of being the Body of Christ because it is essentially saying, although I am an eye, I also want to be a hand, an ear, a mouth, oh definitely a mouth, and maybe a leg too. So we have this situation where people who influence take on the jobs that other people should be doing, and we stop being the Body of Christ.  And that then leads to the second difficulty which is that of exclusion. This is when either an individual, or a part of the church, points at others and says, ‘Because you do not believe as I do, or do what I do, you are not legitimately a part of the church.’ I have a couple of friends who have been told to their faces that they are not Christians anymore. Why?   It’s because they are asking difficult questions and learning about spirituality in a new way that falls outside the narrow box of what others say a Christian is allowed to believe. And so we get different bodies within the church such as the ironically named ‘Anglican Mainstream’ saying, ‘We are the true church, not you,’ which can be roughly translated as, ‘We are all mouths and you are clearly an ear and therefore you are not one of us.’

In other words the institution of the Church has allowed itself to become embroiled in partisanship with each group trying, very vocally, to declare that it is the true church when the actual truth is that we need each other. Liberals need evangelicals to challenge them to read the Bible. Evangelicals need liberals to challenge their interpretations of scripture.  The catholics remind us of our traditions and history and we need the charismatics to remind us that our beliefs are meant to be experiential, and they need liberals and evangelicals to put a context on their experiences and challenge their interpretations. Or in other words, ‘We are the Body of Christ.’ The church in this country is struggling because it has forgotten this.

So what does it mean for us locally? Firstly some words of affirmation. Every single one of you is valued for who you are.  I hugely value diversity and the best places are ones where there are evangelicals, charismatics, liberals, catholics and everything in between, because we need each other.  It sometimes leads to interesting debates, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. I know that as a vicar, if people didn’t disagree with me it would mean that I wasn’t saying anything challenging. What’s more, disagreeing with the vicar about theology or interpretation does not mean you can’t be a part of the Body of Christ.

But it’s not all quite as simple as that because you also all need to ask the question, ‘What part am I?’ Are you an ear that is also trying to be a mouth, an arm, a leg and an eye? To do so is to work against being a part of the Body of Christ and it shows you do not value anyone else but only want your own way.  But also, if you are a mouth who is determined instead to be an unseen bellybutton, then you are depriving the Body of Christ of valuable skills. If you are a pair of arms that resolutely remain folded, then work that could be being done is being left undone.  So let us learn to value each person for the gifts they bring. Let us learn to have the humility to step aside, particularly if we have become too protective of our job, and may we each be given the courage to say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that, but I am willing to give up some time to learn and have a go.’  I’m not sure how much we can change the national church, although we should pray for it, but we can, every single one of us, act our part to make our local church mirror the Body of Christ, being loving, accepting, working to set people free and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. But we can only do that if we each do our own part.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Wine. Lots of wine. Lots and lots and lots....

Posting thoughts and beliefs up here is a funny old game.  Some times, like the last post, what I write draws a lot of comment because people are grateful to see challenges to some of our misplaced beliefs and practices.  But then there are other times, like this one, when I read something in the Bible which simply reminds me about my own experience.  What I say below can't go without being commented on by me simply because this is all about the extravagant love of God, but the friends who have experienced cruelty and abuse at the hands of others, and for those whose livelihoods are based on breadline survival, God's extravagance can seem like a distant and cynical dream reserved for rich westerners.  I'd have to agree if extravagance was to do with deliverance from poverty, yet when the events of the reading below took place, it happened to people on the breadline in an occupied country, where rare celebrations were the only time people could over-indulge.  And my own perspective is one of difficult experiences, loss, and so on.  Yet still I want to write about God's extravagant love mainly because the Holy One seems to see something in us that I certainly don't see in myself, and I've been given a life that I would have been too timid to seek for myself.  No financial riches, just, well, something...

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Twenty three and a half years ago Alison and I were married. Ali’s home church was a Baptist church and they had a great hall at the back of the building. Given our limited means and the fact that, as a member she could hire it for free, having our wedding reception there was the obvious solution. It even had a stage so we did a few numbers with the band at the evening reception.  There was, however, just one problem. This particular Baptist church had a ‘dry’ policy. In other words no alcohol was allowed on site, not even for wedding toasts. You can perhaps imagine the amusement of my work colleagues when I explained to them that there would be plenty of drinks available, of all different kinds, but there was no alcohol.

Of course it was no problem. Back then I hadn’t discovered scotch and neither of us drank a lot of wine, (my how times change), and so we were quite happy to have a ‘dry’ wedding, although we were perhaps a little taken aback that about a month after our wedding, and as a result of the comments that some guests had made, that particular church voted to permit alcohol on site for weddings! Ah well...

But I wonder whether the pastor there had ever preached on this passage from John’s gospel, and if he had whether he would have somehow interpreted it to try and get away from the high alcohol content.  After all, how much wine do you need to get drunk? I know of people who regularly share a bottle with their partner over a meal and swear it makes no difference to how they feel. I know that for me, half a bottle would have me slurring my words as I wandered aimlessly around a room telling everyone how much I really love them.   On the occasions when I’ve had rather more to drink than I planned, I can faithfully report that I am a happy drunk, but not very well practiced, so half a bottle of wine would still probably be plenty. Now if we reflect that back to the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana what we find is that the wedding has been going on for some time. We can probably be confident that a reasonable amount of wine has already been consumed.

We also need to bear in mind that these people lead pretty frugal lives. Having a nice cooked meal and sharing a bottle of wine several nights a week simply didn’t happen. From one day to another they did their best to eke out an existence. So it was for that reason that when they had festivals and celebrations, such as this wedding, they were encouraged to eat and drink extravagantly.

So the situation is that you have a large wedding party which has been going on for some time, and then the nightmare horror moment when the best man discovers that he didn’t buy enough wine. Mary, the mother of Jesus, notices this and tells Jesus, and in fact it would seem she puts him in a position where he has to act despite his reluctance.  He responds by telling the servants to fill six stone water bottles to the brim with water which he then changes into wine, wine that is so good that the steward, if you like, the Master of Ceremonies, comments that it is unusual to have kept this good wine back until the guests were already drunk.

Now that comment is telling. It means that the party had already been going for some time with much drinking and laughter. And then Jesus converts the water into more wine. What makes this miracle so important is not the quality of the wine, but the amount of it. I’ve seen the kind of stone water jars they used for ritual washing and they are huge.  So the estimate is that, with a party in full swing and the guests already merry, Jesus converts something like 180 gallons of water into wine. Now if half a bottle is enough for me, and by this point I had already drunk that half bottle, doesn’t it seem rather extravagant if Jesus sits down next to me with a gallon of nicely aged Merlot and says, ‘There you go Paul, that’ll keep you going for the rest of the party’?


And that is exactly the point. In John’s Gospel the miracles that take place are always signs of something. They are what we might think of as rather dramatic visual aids, and by anyone’s measure 180 gallons of wine is a pretty dramatic visual aid. It equates to about 900 bottles of wine. So what does it mean? You see this miracle, in may ways doesn’t seem to have a point because no one gets better or rises from the dead.  But the point is simple. The life which God offers is as different from normal life as a good Merlot is from tap water. The life which God offers is rich and full. Jesus says this later in John’s Gospel with the words, ‘I came that they would have life, and have it in all its fullness.’

Now unfortunately some of our more materialistic cousins over on the other side of the Atlantic have interpreted this as meaning God wants you to be rich in money and possessions. Rubbish! Experience suggests that the more people have the more they tend towards being shallow and thin. What Jesus is talking about here is the depth of life, not financial rewards.

And that has been my own experience. The thirty one year journey from when I first experienced God’s presence to where I am now has not been an easy path. I have felt challenged over and over again and have had to cope with changes I would never have predicted or desired. But the life I’ve been given in return has been rich and deep beyond anything I could have imagined.  Sure there are things I would change, and decisions that with hindsight I would have made differently. But we don’t have hindsight, we only have trust and grace.

So for me the message of this passage is quite simple. The Holy One does not offer us an easy life. Nor are we offered a financially secure life. Nor does he offer us a safe life. But the depths of experience and growth in who we can become in his light and love are offered extravagantly.  If only we would see that and be prepared to go out on a limb in our lives.

Why do we persist in drinking water and cheap plonk when what is being offered is beyond what we can imagine?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

When God won't play by his own rules: How we diluted a story to make it fit our theology when the reality is much more challenging!

The Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

God moves in mysterious ways...
I wonder how many times we’ve heard that saying? Yet rarely do we really take it seriously. We assume that God moves in exactly predictable ways according to what is written about Him in the Bible. Yet if we were to actually read what happens at face value, rather than interpreting it so that it says what we want it to say, we will find that there are plenty of times when God does not do the expected God-like thing. This Gospel story is a case in point.

In order fully to understand what we find there we need to do a little unravelling of the translations. The men who came to see Jesus at the Epiphany, which translates as ‘The Revealing’ , were not, ‘Wise Men’, and they certainly weren’t three kings, even if the carol is fun to sing.   The Greek that Matthew wrote was quite clear that these men were Magi, the word from which we get our English word, Magick. But who exactly were the Magi, and how does their identity affect our understanding of what was taking place at the Epiphany?

Inevitably when we’re dealing with something like this there are disputes about who or what the Magi actually were. Modern research seems to suggest that they were magicians, sorcerers or those who could interpret both the stars and the meanings of dreams, and they probably came from Persia.  It seems likely that they were followers of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, a religion whose morality could be summed up by the phrase, ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds’, and which followed the deity, Ahura Mazda, in a dualistic religion which focussed on the struggle between order and decay.

Now there are a couple of other interesting pieces of history that link in with this story. During this point in ancient history it was often believed that the births of humans who would accomplish great things would be told forth in the heavens by the stars. Even more intriguingly there were two writers, Suetonius and Tacitus, who tell us that at that time there was an expectation of a world-ruler who would arise from Judea.

I think that it is of particular interest as to what happens next. The Magi, believing that they possess knowledge about the rise of a new king, go first of all to visit Herod. They probably would have presumed that Herod had fathered a new son who would be destined to be his heir. They went to him without guile, but Herod’s response was one of fear, as indeed was the response of all of Jerusalem. A new king, for the city, would mean disruption and bloodshed because of Herod’s reputation.

We know Herod the Great to have been a fearsome and cruel man, and what history so often shows us is that people who work their way into positions of power become terribly paranoid that someone would come to steal their power away from them. We can therefore imagine what must have been going through Herod’s mind when important Magi from Persia come to greet him and meet his non-existent new-born.

Herod, in common with much of that culture, would have taken their words seriously and would have wondered who was going to usurp him. Modern western culture may well dismiss astrology out of hand as being an old superstition, suitable just for the back pages of cheap magazines, but Herod and the people of that time took it seriously.

Herod therefore called together his own chief priests and scribes, only to discover that the prophecies of his own holy book suggest that the one anointed by God to lead the people, for that is the meaning of the word, Messiah, would be born in more-or-less his own backyard, in Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem.

And so the unsuspecting Magi are tasked with finding the new born Messiah-King, and reporting back to Herod when they have done so. But on completion of their journey they receive and interpret a dream, the contents of which we are not told, which warns them against telling Herod the location of Jesus.

Now my reason for loving this story is because of the way in which it turns the tenets of orthodox religion on its head and challenges us to think outside our churchianity box. Let’s think about it for a moment. Herod and his high priests and scribes represent the leaders of the Jewish people and religion, the ones to whom Jesus was primarily called, and yet they are clearly the ‘bad guys’ in the story.

On the other hand we have the Magi who not only come from a foreign land and a foreign religion, but have ascertained the birth of Jesus through astrology, not prophecy or an angelic visit. Now listen to what other Biblical writers say about astrology. This is from Isaiah 47:
Let those who study the heavens stand up and save you,
those who gaze at the stars and at each new moon predict what shall befall you.
See, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them;
they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame.
So to Isaiah astrologers are like stubble to be burned up. How about the Magi being sorcerers? This comes from Deuteronomy 18:
No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practises divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, ...For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord... Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.
And so I find myself wondering what Isaiah and the Deuteronomist would have had to say about God speaking to the Magi through their own spiritual tools? You see it is very easy for us to find lots of rules and regulations for living in the Bible, and it’s very easy for us to condemn all sorts of practices, something that certain quarters of the Church of England seem very adept at, but then God seems to muck it all up by not adhering to the rules Himself!

So what it is that we can learn from this? What can we understand by this difficult passage?

It seems to me that the main teaching here is that we should never limit the ways in which God may choose to work for good in this world. Whilst Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Magi, was clearly very different from Judaism in some ways, they also had much in common including striving for the moral good, and the battle between order and disorder.

What we find is that God chose to reveal God's Son to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, through a foreign religion that had practices that were not permitted to the Jews. And if that is the case, then it begs the question, where else is God at work in the world outside of the boundaries of what we deem to be acceptable?

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that in the prayers at Midnight Mass I referred to God moving amongst the people of the world, regardless of what name they know Him by, yet this, I think, is the key thing which we need to learn from the Magi, that God is not bound by our rules to only do good works via the church and Christians.

I believe that we have a high calling to provide a spiritual lead in this country, but frankly we have failed in that. Instead of being welcoming and loving; instead of recognising the grace of God and basing our lives on that, we have allowed the face of the Church of England to be described as one that is based morally in rules, rather than spiritually about love, acceptance and growth.

People tell me that the God in the Bible is also about judgement, and yes that’s true too, but the picture is more of judgement on those who did not care about those who needed care. Jesus seemed able to forgive people easily, so why do we feel compelled to take the moral high ground so much?

Our concentration on being correct regarding what we think is right and wrong has made people feel excluded. I might even go so far as to say we might even have lost the right to declare God’s word in our country, and I think it may take some time before we have any respect. We have no one to blame for that but ourselves.

But will that stop God from doing good things here? Of course not! God will continue to move in all kinds of religious and secular movements. God’s Spirit is living and active in this world. She, or He, is known by many different names and to be honest I don’t think God is all that bothered so long as God is able to continue to defeat darkness and bring hope.

God won’t be limited by us. God spoke to the Magi in ways that they could understand. God was present to them within their own tradition. We should never forget that what God did was to tell them of a new king, and they honoured this new king, but they didn’t become Christians, because Christianity didn’t exist, and they didn’t become Jews either. God doing good in the world is not dependent on human labels.

Therefore we should not exclude the possibility that God will speak to others within their own traditions. Indeed this, I think, is one of the primary reasons for the interfaith movement; that in understanding what others believe, we may better understand our own beliefs and our vision of God may grow.

So when you see good things happening in the world around you, and yet they are not being done in the name of Christ, do not dismiss such things but celebrate them: God is bigger than our religion and longs to do good, and so if he could do so via magick, sorcery, dream interpretation and astrology two thousand years ago, then why should he not do similar things now, or anything else that he chooses to do to make himself known and increase the good in the world.

Of course I would prefer that good things happen in the name of Christ because it is my belief that the most complete revelation of who God is, is found in the person of Christ and his nature. But I refuse to limit God to only doing what we think he should do.

So may we celebrate the presence of God in our world and get involved. And in doing so may we all be able to make 2013 better than 2012. Amen