Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Wrong Sort of Immigrant

Ah, European elections. They present the chance for us to realise we are part of a bigger world and yet too many approach it as an opportunity to shrink their world down, like a pair of Levis in a hot bath.

This small minded trend shows itself when small minded parties claim they aren’t racist just because they want to raise the issue of immigration.  I don’t believe them.  They go on about how their old neighbourhood has changed and they aren’t comfortable with the newcomers because they have different ways and their food smells funny etc. But they never point their finger at me.

My kids and I were laughing the other day as I reminded them that they are the children of an immigrant. And we worked out that I must be the wrong kind of immigrant.

The wrong kind of immigrant because so far no one has pointed at me (while claiming to not be racist) and moaned about me taking people’s jobs, women or  state handouts.

Nobody complains that I came here unasked (well, technically my wife invited me). No one tells my children they should go back to where they came from (Epsom and Croydon) .

I am the wrong kind of immigrant because I don’t speak a foreign language comfortably and so I don’t make them uncomfortable. Okay, I don’t say “Tomato” like the locals, but that is hardly a deal breaker.  In fact, I am so invisible when you think “immigrant”, I once mentioned my status in a sermon and a little old lady came up afterwards and told me that I wasn’t one.

I guess I’m the wrong kind of immigrant because I’m not mentioned in the same breath as the “problem” ones.  And that can only be down to fear about their race and origin.

Immigration is just one of hundreds of issues where we need to talk like grown ups. It’s jostling with how bad our roads are; how education is poorly funded and has been made too results orientated and legislated too ideologically; how basic services we rely on shouldn’t be put out to tender or expected to be profitable; how energy companies shouldn’t be able to see their customers as cash machines. We need to talk about climate change. We need to talk about what I have the right to demand from society and what society has the right to ask of me.

There is lots to talk about and no one debate or discussion will solve all our problems. Just as no one group are to blame for the mess we are in.

The immigration discussion is always destined to  be a poor one (“send ‘em back”) when it is grounded in fear. And I read a bible that tells me regularly to “fear not”. It tells me regularly that if I am afraid of my neighbour then I will find it hard to love my neighbour. It tells me that if I make my nation an idol, then the kingdom of God and its values will always have to wait.

The followers of Jesus are drawn from all the nations and yet belong to none.  That gives us the freedom to put down roots wherever we are and be good for those around us wherever we are.  We are not called to be fearful patriots or net curtain twitching neighbours.

We are called to be people who are at home nowhere and everywhere.

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Downton Abbey It Ain’t

(a sermon for Easter 5; John 14:1-14)

If you have encountered this passage before it will most likely have been in one of two settings: a funeral or evangelism. At funerals we use the passage to give hope and express hope that our death is not the final stop in the journey of life. In Evangelism, it is used to convince others that Jesus prepares a place in heaven for those who believe in him.

Here, Jesus is telling his disciples he is leaving them soon for a new place they can’t go to yet. It is farewell rather than goodbye because he will wait for them and prepare for their arrival. Thomas makes another underwhelming appearance by asking, “But how will we find the way?” as if Jesus is going to give him a postcode to put into Google maps.

The disciples misunderstand what he is telling them. They want directions. They want to be where he is (assuming it is a lovely place, like God’s house must be). However, Jesus has been constantly pointing out that to make the journey he is making, you have to do more than punch a postcode into a sat nav. This is the journey that begins with picking up a cross.

Like many of the bible passages we take up and make comforting, that comfort comes with a risk of missing the big picture. He is telling them about a cosmic movement of the kingdom of God . John is notable for presenting the disciples as unknowing. They expect the wrong type of messiah; they don’t understand what Jesus is doing. It is part of his theme of light in darkness. They remain in darkness until the resurrection shines light on them and revels God’s glory.

Here Jesus is speaking to them about a future which begins now. A kingdom in which we all dwell together in peace and security and without fear. A kingdom that ought to be filling us now so that we aren’t strangers in a strange land later.

So, what we often present as a “sound bite” for our comfort and encouragement, is actually packed with massive Kingdom themes which inform our journeys to and in that kingdom.

Where will you find me?

If you have children or grandchildren, you may be familiar with the Where’s Wally books. Here the disciples are playing “where’s Jesus”. The only other time Jesus uses the expression “in my father’s house” is about the temple when he was found there teaching at age 12. The temple was meant to be where heaven and earth met. Wherever those two place meet that’s where you find Jesus because that is where you find God. The temple was a stone reminder of the reality of heaven meeting earth, not the definition of it.

It can be the big eschatological meeting of heaven and earth in Revelation or the small ones we have every day when we love the poor and love our neighbour and immerse ourselves in God.

I don’t know about you but the first thought that always comes into my mind in this section is Jesus making beds and plumping pillows, a bit like a maid in Downton Abbey. Instead, he will go ahead on the cross and in the tomb and whatever happens on the Saturday of Easter to prepare that meeting of heaven and earth in the future and in our lives now.

How will you find me?

I once went shopping with my mother in Walmart and we got separated in the gigantic store. I looked all over and couldn’t find her. One of the staff saw me and took my hand asked what was wrong? I said I couldn’t find my mother. She asked if I wanted her paged on the PA system. I said no, seeing as I was 45 years old it might be a little embarrassing!

I am the way the truth and the life. You will not find my father’s house without me as your guide. Without practicing my way. Without my sacrifice. Without the Godly truth I have been telling you all this time.

Now we tend to do two things with this. If we are afraid of making people feel excluded because they aren’t followers of Jesus, we water this down and add the very small word “a”: a way, a truth, a life. Jesus is just another holy wise man. Others are available. On the other hand we can condense it down so that if by an accident of history, or geography or poor evangelism I will go to Hell because I didn’t have the name of Jesus on my lips when I died. I may have looked remarkably like one of those sheep in the parable of the sheep and goats but that won’t matter.

The truth here is that you don’t come to the Father through systems and beliefs. You come through Jesus who looks at each person to see if it is like looking in a mirror. Can he see himself in you? He will not ask you to recite the creed or ask if you think he is God. He will look for the family resemblance.

How can I do this?

Do I look like Jesus is a scary thought. I’m a sort of overweight scruffy man on the cusp of proper middle age full of habits, good and bad, and a whole life of experiences. I don’t think I look very much like Jesus nor do I think under my own steam I can fake it very well.

Jesus promises the helper. We are out of shape, unfit for the task so Jesus sends a coach. The spirit comes from the father and the son. We have to remember that we are mistaken if we think the spirit comes to give us our desires and to fill us with power. Instead he comes to make us resemble Jesus, to be a presence in his name and a reminder of his life, words and acts. The world needs less demonstrations of power and more demonstrations of love. The spirit helps us to love like Jesus did and to deal with the outcomes of that love. The spirit expands the image of God in us.

Where do we find you? How do we find you? How will we be able to do this? We start with love because that is the soil and the climate in which that heavenly place is nurtured. Jesus’ way and truth and life is saturated by Love: the father’s love for us and our love for him and our neighbour. When we love, we know the way to where Jesus is.