Once more we come to Trinity Sunday. With the various debates about this on social media over the last few years, I dare to hope that the preaching on this Sunday is now better than it used to be—but I worry that I am mistaken here. It is worth reminding ourselves of some key things … Continue Reading
Is Christian faith about an affective encounter with God, or about becoming convinced about the case for Christianity? You will immediately be crying ‘False dichotomy!’—but it is worth reflecting on the balance between these two ideas in contemporary expressions of faith. There was a time when the tradition of rational enquiry was most influential, but the impact of the Charismatic Movement has decisively shifted the balance. You might think that on the Alpha Course from HTB in London it would be the explanation of Why Jesus Died that would lead to personal commitment—but since the influence of the Toronto Blessing in the 1990s, it has been the ‘Holy Spirit’ day that has been seen as the turning point.
And yet there are people who have either come to faith or come to appreciate faith on the basis of thinking and analysis. Tom Holland is a historian, largely of the ancient world, and he explains in an article in the New Statesman how he came to realise through his studies that everything he really valued originated with Christian faith and not with the values of the classical period:
Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. Most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. [Christianity] is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value..In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.
What would you say is the single most important thing in preaching—either as the person preaching or as someone who listens? I guess many people would suggest clarity of delivery, or humour, or connecting with the congregation, or being based in Scripture. All of these are of great importance, though of course all are open … Continue Reading
How much should I share of my personal experience in the context of preaching? This is a perennial question facing anyone in ministry in the local church—and relevant to speaking on other occasions too. My first encounter with the issue arose when I was a teenager. I remember one of the lay preachers in the … Continue Reading
This Sunday’s gospel lectionary reading is from John 21, relating the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus’ threefold restoration of Peter. But another one of the readings is Revelation 5.11-14, a truncated part of John’s account of the worship of the lamb. Some might be preferring to preach from that, so here is the comment I … Continue Reading
When I first came to studying John’s gospel, I was armed with two things: a concern to pay attention to the details of the text; and the knowledge of all earnest Christians (thanks to C S Lewis) that there were four words for ‘love’ in Greek (eros, storge, philia and agape) pointing to the four different … Continue Reading
In 2013 we moved to our current home, which was built in 1850 as a square farmhouse in what was then part of a rural village outside Nottingham. One of the changes we made quite soon after moving in was to restore the historic kitchen garden, which had been planted over for the previous 20 … Continue Reading
Think back to the last time that someone surprised you. What does surprise do to you? Some people love surprises; others like surprises as long as they know exactly what the surprise will be! Our common experience is that surprise is highly disorienting; we don’t know where to turn or what to do next. Even … Continue Reading
This year, Palm Sunday is cancelled, so you need to do away with your palm crosses, and change the choice of hymns. The reason is that we are reading from Luke’s gospel, and Luke makes no mention of ‘palms’ during Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Instead, we only get mention (Luke … Continue Reading
This Sunday’s lectionary takes a break from our reading of Luke’s gospel to focus on the anointing of Jesus in Bethany by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, in John 12.1–8. (If anyone can explain this move, I would love to hear!). This is an unusual narrative since, if we accept one line of interpretation … Continue Reading
This week we celebrated the Annunciation, the announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she will become pregnant and give birth to Jesus recorded in Luke 1—and it reminds us that Christmas is coming! I know Christmas circular letters are not everyone’s cup of tea, but we enjoy writing ours as a review of the year, and catching up with what has been going on in the lives of others. For those who don’t like them, their distaste is summed up in that archetypal circular where everything is going wonderfully well—the demands of new jobs following promotions, the stresses of getting ready for exotic foreign holidays, and the difficulty of keeping up with so many achievements by the children. (Should you receive any like this, Lynne Truss offers a variety of ways of responding..)