Advent 9: Isaiah 9:6-7, Revelation 19:1-16, 1 Timothy 6:11-16

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We all get the concept of justice. You do something wrong and there is retribution, you are made to pay in some way for your wrongdoing. It is central to our society that we try as hard as we can to stay within the law of the land as set out by our government or face justice.

Of course, not everyone manages to do this. There are and will always be criminals, those who cheat the system or those who choose to disobey the law as a form of protest. The former two groups do so out of greed and selfishness in many cases, with a total disregard of the law. The latter, those who protest, often do so because they perceive some kind of injustice which is to be railed against; often they’re right because the laws of human beings are, by their nature, flawed.

The same is true of God’s law. He is referred to as sending Jesus to govern over us in Isaiah and there are many references to his justice and law. There are still laws we must try our hardest to keep; laws regarding worshipping God, loving and caring for others, keeping God’s commandments etc. we have a choice as to whether or not we follow these laws, but they are there.

The difference is in the way justice is meted out. We all face it, but we can throw ourselves on God’s mercy. This is where the difference lies. When you throw yourself on the mercy of a human court you may need to make deals to get leniency. However, throwing yourself, sincerely, on God’s mercy and…

suddenly you are innocent of all charges. You’re sent from the court a free person and told to keep within the law. And, because of that, you try even harder to do so.

The thing is that, at some stage, you’ll break those laws again. It’s one of those things you can’t help. So you go back to court, worried that your past errors will be taken into account. You throw yourself on God’s mercy again and…

suddenly you are innocent of all charges, again!

That’s grace. You don’t deserve it, but Jesus, who came to Earth at Christmas, took the punishment we should have had on the cross. He did it, not to save us from himself, as some thinks it means, but to save us from ourselves. To save us from that spiral towards destruction that sin leads us to. We must face justice for our sin, but we have Jesus to stand up for us and declare us not guilty.

It’s not a get out of jail free card. We can’t just ask for forgiveness then keep doing the same old thing. It is a second chance, though, and a third chance. And a fourth, fifth, sixth…

Advent 8: Matthew 25:31-46

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Just under a year ago I read this passage and thought about how much it clashed with what so many members of our political and media classes cry out for whilst claiming Britain is a “Christian country™”.

As a result, I wrote this post, the words of which were as follows,

Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me””

This struck a chord with a lot of people. My average number of views per post is about 100-150. This post received over 8000 from all over the world. I received a lot of messages telling me that this was exactly how they felt things were going in the whole western world right now, that our God given mandate to help and care for the weakest and most vulnerable in our society is being ignored for self interest and fear.

We have more and more right wing, populist politicians; from the US Tea Party to UKIP in Britain; who are shouting loudly about how migrants are the source of our problems, or poor people relying on handouts, or those who are working hard to help these people make the most of their lives. The sad thing is that these political groups also position themselves as the guardians of Christianity in an increasingly secular world.

Thankfully, we also see groups such as the Trussell Trust, Street Pastors, Crossreach and others who truly do portray the image of Jesus in a modern, broken selfish world. They go out and help, feed, clothe, support those they find in need, whilst, in some cases, railing against the fact that this need is even there in some of the richest societies on the planet.

The time has come to stop blaming, punishing, demonising and marginalising. The time has come to start helping, feeding, encouraging, educating, mentoring, listening, befriending and running our societies in a new way.

A new way which was put forward 2000 years ago, but we have sadly failed to replicate since the plan was made for us.

A way where our responsibility is to look after others, safe in the knowledge that others will look after us.

To welcome strangers, not to run from them.

To feed the hungry, not to tell them it’s their fault because they cant cook.

To lend a hand to the dispossessed.

To care for and listen to the suffering.

To house the homeless.

To love each and every person on this Earth as the unique and amazing creation they all are.
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Lent Day 26: Luke 17-18

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On 15th April 1989, thousands of football fans descended upon Sheffield for the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough.

At 3.06pm, just six minutes after kick off, the game was stopped when it became clear that something had gone horribly wrong at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, where the Liverpool fans were housed. A gate has been opened by police, who had lost control outside the ground, and fans poured into the already over capacity central pen, crushing those inside which the weight of thousands of bodies.

96 people never made it home.

In the intervening years, the families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough, plus those who were at the game and survived,  have endured smears of violence and drunkenness from politicians, police and media (particularly the Sun newspaper, which is still not sold in many Liverpool shops). They have seen inquests and enquiries which have said that the disaster was an accident with little or no culpability apportioned. A coroner’s inquest refused to see evidence from after 3.15 on the day as he said there was no chance of survival for any of the fatalities beyond that point; despite witness statements to the contrary.

Incompetence, cover ups and turning a blind eye from those who were meant to protect the victims and their families. But no justice.

The families of the 96 never gave up, though. In September 2012, over 23 years after the disaster, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that the fans were in no way responsible for the disaster. Multiple failures by the emergency services caused it, followed by a co-ordinated police cover-up.

After 23 years, the truth was out. But there was one thing missing.

Justice.

On 31 March, this Monday, a new coroner’s inquest opened. The verdicts of accidental death from the original inquest had been quashed and the evidence, all of it this time, is to be examined again.

The families never gave up. They pushed and harassed and campaigned and shouted and pleaded and argued until, finally, the chance for justice was given to them.

Jesus tells a similar story to this of an old woman demanding justice. She, too, only gets is after keeping on at the judge for years until he gives in, tired of her and worried about how far she will go.

In both cases an unjust system still gives justice. As Jesus asks, though,

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8 NIV)

God is just and he will grant justice. His justice may not involve jails or fines, but it will involve redemption and punishment. It’s not revenge, but the opportunity to be saved and justified and changed for the better. That is true justice.

He also tells of the tax collector who comes before God, praying for forgiveness because he is a sinful man. This is God’s justice. The man has realised what he has done and it is breaking him, but he still has the chance to ask God for forgiveness, to repent, to change. Surely a bad person changing for the better is more amazing justice than our revenge-filled notion of it?

Too often, when we talk of justice we actually mean retribution. We want to see people punished harshly to quench our righteous anger at the terrible thing they’ve done. You only need to look at the papers, TV news or Facebook to see that. Whenever a particularly nasty crime happens there are immediate calls for the death penalty, or deportation, or chemical castration, or beatings.

That’s not justice. Justice isn’t punishment for revenge or anger. It’s being held accountable for your actions and paying the consequences, but still having the chance to repent, change and be accepted.

The Hillsborough families aren’t asking for revenge, just for blame and innocence to be properly apportioned. For sincere apologies to be made. For mistakes to be accepted, admitted and learned from. That is justice.

Justice for the 96.

John Alfred Anderson (62)
Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
James Gary Aspinall (18)
Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
Simon Bell (17)
Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
David John Benson (22)
David William Birtle (22)
Tony Bland (22)
Paul David Brady (21)
Andrew Mark Brookes (26)
Carl Brown (18)
David Steven Brown (25)
Henry Thomas Burke (47)
Peter Andrew Burkett (24)
Paul William Carlile (19)
Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)
Gary Christopher Church (19)
Joseph Clark (29)
Paul Clark (18)
Gary Collins (22)
Stephen Paul Copoc (20)
Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)
James Philip Delaney (19)
Christopher Barry Devonside (18)
Christopher Edwards (29)
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)
Thomas Steven Fox (21)
Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)
Barry Glover (27)
Ian Thomas Glover (20)
Derrick George Godwin (24)
Roy Harry Hamilton (34)
Philip Hammond (14)
Eric Hankin (33)
Gary Harrison (27)
Stephen Francis Harrison (31)
Peter Andrew Harrison (15)
David Hawley (39)
James Robert Hennessy (29)
Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)
Carl Darren Hewitt (17)
Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)
Sarah Louise Hicks (19)
Victoria Jane Hicks (15)
Gordon Rodney Horn (20)
Arthur Horrocks (41)
Thomas Howard (39)
Thomas Anthony Howard (14)
Eric George Hughes (42)
Alan Johnston (29)
Christine Anne Jones (27)
Gary Philip Jones (18)
Richard Jones (25)
Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)
Anthony Peter Kelly (29)
Michael David Kelly (38)
Carl David Lewis (18)
David William Mather (19)
Brian Christopher Mathews (38)
Francis Joseph McAllister (27)
John McBrien (18)
Marian Hazel McCabe (21)
Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)
Peter McDonnell (21)
Alan McGlone (28)
Keith McGrath (17)
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Lee Nicol (14)
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William Roy Pemberton (23)
Carl William Rimmer (21)
David George Rimmer (38)
Graham John Roberts (24)
Steven Joseph Robinson (17)
Henry Charles Rogers (17)
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)
Inger Shah (38)
Paula Ann Smith (26)
Adam Edward Spearritt (14)
Philip John Steele (15)
David Leonard Thomas (23)
Patrick John Thompson (35)
Peter Reuben Thompson (30)
Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)
Peter Francis Tootle (21)
Christopher James Traynor (26)
Martin Kevin Traynor (16)
Kevin Tyrrell (15)
Colin Wafer (19)
Ian David Whelan (19)
Martin Kenneth Wild (29)
Kevin Daniel Williams (15)
Graham John Wright (17)
Rest in Peace

Lent Day 11: Matthew 23-24

I used to be a Cub Scout. I also joined the Scouts when I was 11 (I’ll be 41 this year, so it was a while ago now!), but I thought it was boring, so I left after a month.

I loved being a Cub, though. We did Cub camp, when I was young enough to think sleeping in a tent was an adventure, not just really cold and uncomfortable. We did loads of activities to earn badges. We played football (well, others played football. I just happened to be on the pitch at the same time as them, being useless.). I even learned to iron and cook baked beans in the Cubs.

One thing I remember from my time is the motto of the Scouting movement.

“Be prepared”

It invites all Cubs and Scouts to make sure that they are physically, mentally and spiritually prepared for anything to happen. If you’re ready for anything then you are ready to meet almost any challenge life has to throw at you. In order to do this, you build your skills and knowledge, as well as constantly being alert and on the look out for anything you may need to react to. You need to be both proactive in your preparation so that you can be reactive in your response.

The same goes for all of us. Jesus is coming back. He is pretty clear about that and he’s pretty clear that we need to make sure we’re ready for him when he comes.

Now, some people try to pre-empt this by scouring the Bible for clues as to when it might happen. They quite passages out of context, find convoluted mathematical equations to give a date and time. Many build followers who buy into these theories (literally. Many make a lot of money out of these predictions), and who are sorely disappointed each time the hour passes… and nothing.

Here’s something else Jesus was pretty clear about,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36 NIV)

Nobody knows when it will happen. Not even him!

If Jesus doesn’t even know, then how are we meant to work it out? Well, we’re not. We are simply meant to be prepared.

Being prepared means listening to what Jesus said, then putting it into action. Look at the “woe unto you” passages in Matthew 23. We should be humble, not boastful in our faith. We should lead others to Him, but not make their lives an unbearable burden when we do. We should give to the Church, but not forget to practice justice, mercy and faithfulness as well otherwise it means nothing. Remember that what’s on the inside is what makes us clean, not the outward appearance we present to others. We must place ourselves under his protection, because trying to make our own way just won’t work.

There’s a lot more to it, but all of these sum up our preparation for the day he comes back. It may happen before I finish writing this. It may finish before you finish reading it. It may not happen for hundreds of years. It is certain that it will happen and, when it does, we will know about it.

So, be prepared. Use Jesus as your teacher. Make sure you can determine his message from the ones your given which are meant to take you away from him, not towards him.

It’s daunting stuff. It’s the most important thing you can do, though.

Be prepared.