A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

People are people

 
It’s one of those New Testament stories which many people who aren’t particularly familiar with the Bible know. Acts 9 tells us how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who had been zealously persecuting the Followers of The Way (soon to be called Christians), was travelling to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus asking why he was persecuting Him. Saul then met a Christian in Damascus called Ananaias who placed his hands on Saul, who then regained his sight (scales literally fell from his eyes, where the saying comes from). Saul changed his name to Paul, made it his mission to spread the Good News of Jesus to as many as possible and, in doing so, ended up writing most of the New Testament.

It is the most amazing, dramatic story of redemption; one which has served as an example of hope to Christians for 2000 years. It has always been seen as the most startling example of a life transformed by the risen Christ.

Today, however, there may be stories coming out which are almost, if not equally as amazing. Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in the Middle East have reported a former fighter with ISIS who started dreaming about Jesus telling him he was killing His people. This man was so affected by this and other things which happened, including a Christian who gave him his Bible before being killed, that he has run away from ISIS and given his life to Christ.

The article in the link suggests, although only anecdotally, that this is not an isolated incident. If so, this is an amazing testament to the way people’s lives can really be changed by an encounter with Jesus and how even the hardest hearts can be softened. 

Now, I posted this link on Facebook and a friend of mine, perfectly understandably, pointed out that this makes no difference to those who have already been killed by the brutality of ISIS. He also commented that there was no redemption for those whose lives had been cut short. That is something I’d dispute, particularly in light of Jesus’ own words,

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭10-12‬ NIVUK)

What can be more righteous than refusing to bow down to such an evil doctrine as the warped version of Islam which ISIS espouse. Surely all those persecuted, and killed, by them have been blessed for doing the right thing. Surely their redemption is secure.

Those carrying out the persecution, however, are far from redemption. By redemption, I do not mean escaping from justice. Anyone who has carried out atrocities in the name of ISIS deserves to face justice, regardless of whether they now reject ISIS or not. However, their redemption as human beings, as children of God, as people welcomed into the Kingdom, is still possible if they do the same as the man who approached YWAM. The redemption they will receive, that this one man has received, is a spiritual redemption; one which shows the world that they are human beings, not monsters, and allows them to have the chance to do good with what remains of their lives.

Nothing will turn back the clock and undo the actions of persecutors, but God allows the slate to be wiped clean for every person, regardless of their actions,

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1‬:‭12-17‬ NIVUK)

Paul is the example here. A man whose actions were comparable with those of ISIS towards Christians, but without whom the Christian Faith may not have spread so successfully in those early days. He accepted what he once was, but also accepted what he had become was through God’s grace.

So, I’m choosing, as well as praying for the persecuted Church, to pray earnestly for their persecutors. These are human beings, broken and hate-filled human beings, but people created in God’s image as we all are. I pray that each and every one finally sees the true face of the God they claim to follow and turn away from theatre of destruction they have chosen. Lives can be changed and saved by this, I honestly believe this. Violence against these people doesn’t work, but maybe a true act of love can do.

Why I agree with the National Secular Society, for once

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The UK Parliament is currently debating the Local Authority (Religious etc. Observances) Bill. It was introduced as a Private Members Bill by the Conservative MP Jake Berry, who recently said that it provided “freedom to pray and to hold prayers at the start of council meetings, should that local authority wish to do so.” at a committee stage debate on the Bill.

He also stated that it was designed to combat “an aggressive and unwelcome secular attack on our core British values.” This is, no doubt, referring in part to a ruling in 2012 that prayers before meetings of Bideford Town Council were unlawful if held as a formal part of the meeting, following a challenge by the National Secular Society and an atheist town councillor.

There have also been a couple of amendments tabled by other Conservative MPs to the Bill. Edward Leigh MP has proposed a close which requires local authorities to “keep in mind the pre-eminence of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as the historical foundations of the United Kingdom” when religious observances are held. Phillip Davies MP has also proposed that prayer actually be a compulory part of Council business (“the business at a meeting of a local authority in England shall include time for (a) prayers or other religious observance, or (b) observance connected with a religious or philosophical belief.”).

Now, I am a Christian, so you may expect me to wholeheartedly welcome these moves. However, far from welcoming them, I actually fear for the implications of the Bill and the amendments, both socially and theologically.

To legally oblige people to pray during public meetings, or at any time, regardless of their faith or lack of faith is pointless at best and counterproductive and divisive at worst. One of the reasons I’ve heard many times for people’s lack of respect for organised religion is the way they feel it was forced down their throats during compulsory religious observance when they were at school. Making people do something regardless of their will is a sure fire way of turning them off of the thing you are trying to encourage. In fact, more than turning the, off of it, it breeds outright hostility to the act and to those who take part in it.

Also, the clear indication that Christian prayer be the form of prayer which takes place not only alienates atheists, agnostics, humanists etc. but also those of other faiths who play an active and important part of our public life. To do that to anybody is wrong, but to do it to democratically elected officials carrying out their mandated duty is mind boggling. This is especially true when you try to justify the reasoning behind it. There is nothing stopping people praying together before meetings or even silently before it, but does it actually have a place in the business of a local authority? I would say not.

Assuming the reasoning behind this Bill is to allow people to follow Jesus’ teachings, why not look at what Jesus himself had to say,

“While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.’” (Luke‬ ‭20‬:‭45-47‬ NIVUK)

“‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭5-6‬ NIVUK)

Now, these verses don’t mean that all forms of public prayer are bad, but do show that an insistence on praying publicly demonstrates a desire to show off one’s own righteousness rather than actually conversing with God, the reason for prayer. Doing these things in private will be rewarded, showing off on public is, in Jesus’ own words, hypocritical.

Nobody has banned prayer or limited our right to do so, but we must realise that there is a time, a place and a method. Putting prayer at the start of business of a secular meeting as a compulsion is none of these things. I don’t often agree with the National Secular Society, but they are spot on here. It is simply not appropriate, especially to enshrine it in law.

If the Conservative Party want to “keep in mind the pre-eminence of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as the historical foundations of the United Kingdom” then maybe concentrating on justice, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and love for your fellow human being rather than battling a form of persecution which simply isn’t there.

A prayer for today

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What is wrong with us?

You get on a plane in Amsterdam and find yourself blasted out of the sky by people fighting over artificial borders due to artificially created nationalities which have nothing to do with you.

What is wrong with us?

Groups of people whose only real difference is how they choose to worship God can’t live alongside each other and can’t even live in close proximity to each other without chucking rockets at each other and killing hundreds of innocent people.

What is wrong with us?

Arguments over who should run countries become so violent that torture, starvation, rape and murder become a way of life. Men, women and children are treated with unfathomable brutality simply because of their home town, name or political thought.

What is wrong with us?

We treat the vulnerable, disabled, poor and stranger with derision and suspicion. We think they’re taking from us and that it’s no longer our priority to help them.

What is wrong with us?

Rather than seriously look for solutions, our leaders search for blame, recriminations, excuses, scapegoats and some sort of advantage. They play games and inject complications into situations which require simple humanity.

What is wrong with us?

The rich and big business are protected in ways that normal people can only dream of, yet we continue to let them get away with it.

What is wrong with us?

More people know and care about the private lives of people who are famous for nothing than know about the man-made suffering throughout the world.

What is wrong with us?

Lord, forgive us!

Help us choose love over hate.

Life over death.

Good over evil.

Compassion over selfishness.

Action over apathy.

Humanity over inhumanity.

Reconciliation over division.

Compromise over conflict.

Your grace over our arrogance.

Help us.

Guide us.

Heal us.

Forgive us.

Your children are crying out. Please hear us.

Amen.

A prayer about the Equal Marriage Bill in Scotland. And beyond.

Today, the Scottish Parliament debate and vote on the Equal Marriage Bill. This is a bill which has seen divisions widened in Scottish society and the Church as well.

For Biblical reasons (which I may expand upon at another time) I support the bill. However, there are many within the Church who, for equally valid, Biblical reasons, oppose it.

For this reason, I have a prayer. Not one that the Bill passes or fails, but for what I hope happens during the debate and beyond.

Loving, Heavenly Father

Today our politicians will decide whether or not to extend your gift of marriage to same-sex couples.

I pray that the debate is both impassioned and reasoned. That facts, evidence, thoughtful reflection and, above all, love are demonstrated by those taking part.

I pray that the mudslinging and name calling stop. That fears are not stoked. That people, not prejudice from either side, are accounted for.

I pray that your will is done. That it is done in the debating chamber, in the vote, in the reporting, in the reaction and in the whole of society in Scotland. Whatever the outcome.

I pray that we can move on from this to address the true, pressing needs in out society today. That we realise that the urgent priority is not in who can marry, but in poverty, injustice, loneliness, homelessness, hunger, inequality, religious division, racial hatred, sickness, alcohol and substance abuse, people struggling with parenthood, child neglect and abuse, disengagement, materialism, greed, exploitation, mental illness and many other things which make your people suffer.

Let us not become a people who argue over two people in love. Let us be a people who bring sight to the blind, hope to the poor, freedom to the captive and good news, your good news, to our country and to the world.

In Jesus’ name

Amen