Grow where you are planted … and other “granny scriptures”

One lesson my professor taught in my homiletics class back in 1989 was to make sure you did your background research on your text/topic thoroughly to avoid relying on “granny scriptures” as the authority behind your main points.

A “granny scripture,” he explained, was something that granny said so often everyone accepted was in scripture and had as much authority. A favourite, and most worn out cliché, example is, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” There’s no such text or principle cited or taught in scripture.

If you rely on a “granny scripture” as your main point then, to use the modern meme parlance, you are relying on #alternativefacts and #fakenews. You’re not relying on fact or truth.

Another popular meme is, “grow where you’re planted” or “bloom where you’re planted.” This meme is used to advocate against proactive change. It might something go something like, “Be happy and content with your lot. You’re being ungrateful if you try to change your circumstances.

Often actual scripture is cited to support this notion, the most frequent used is 1 Corinthians 7. The context the entire letter addresses is that societal status is not an excuse for the prejudice occurring in Corinth or the resulting in-fighting among the church community there. Free citizens don’t outrank slaves, married do not have more importance than singles etc. in the church economy. Paul’s point, in chapter 7, is you won’t overcome prejudice by changing your social status.

He is not advocating the meme of seeking change is wrong. This is shown by his caveat statements, about the difference between the enslaved and the free in v.21 of “if you can gain your freedom, do so” and v.23 “do not become slaves of human beings.

There’s nothing in this chapter that advocates, if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, stay in the marriage and bloom where you’re planted. Or, if you’re working for a dishonest or unethical employer, stay in the job and bloom where you’re planted. As a couple of examples.

What if the legislators, like William Wilberforce, who lobbied against slavery had ‘bloomed where they were planted’? What if the Allies fighting against Nazi Germany had bloomed where they were planted instead of fighting on the  beaches, fighting on the landing grounds etc.?

Bloom where you’re planted, sounds noble and altruistic. But it is, often, self destructive. A more accurate application of 1 Corinthians 7, that isn’t a “granny scripture,” would be the well known Serenity Prayer.

“God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, Courage
to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

After the Sydney siege, please be a messenger of peace

In the wake of the Sydney siege in Martin Place and continuing to be prayerfully sensitive about how to respond and move forward, I have noticed some comments by “christians” protesting the presence of Muslims and refugees in our community. These comments, often, come from a reaction of fear and confusion. But some are nothing more than racist rants and are not in any way representative of Jesus Christ, Christianity or the grace and compassion that ought to characterise Christian people. This is not an occasion to slander refugees or target Muslims in our society as though they are all terrorists. Such behaviour is beyond ridiculous and infantile. Please stop it.

In the first few hours of the siege yesterday I was concerned about the association of the gunman with Islam and why Islamic leaders had not been given an opportunity to decry his actions as outrageous evil. However, they did do exactly that later in the day. Why it didn’t happen earlier, I cannot say. However, were I in their place I would have been extremely tenuous about how to respond in a sensitive and compassionate way. No reasonable person of any faith or ideology could support or condone what was happening.

I am appalled by the tragedy. I am so sorry for the hostages and their families particularly those who were killed. I say that as an Australian man and yes, also as a Christian. However disgusted and angry I may be that this occurred in my home city, I cannot respond to terror, horror and inhumanity with words, threats or actions of violence and abuse. Peace engenders peace. If I want to pursue and develop peace in my community among my neighbours there is no place for vile hatred that perpetuates racism and discrimination. That means extending peace, friendship and hospitality to all regardless of their religion, irreligion or come what may.

The gospel of Jesus is a message of peace. We celebrate that great message every Christmas when we rehearse the announcement of the angels at his birth:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 NIV

Peace comes to all recipients of God’s good will or favour. The followers of Jesus are ambassadors of peace; not strife, not hatred, not bigotry, not disdain, not animosity; but peace.

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Acts 10:36

That offer of peace extends to everyone, believer, unbeliever, anywhere in-between.

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Ephesians 2:17

We are to model peace and offer peace to all, without exception.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Luke 10:5-6

To offer peace does not mean you agree with or endorse the views, opinions, or beliefs of the other person. An offer of peace does not mean that you agree with their religions, philosophies or ideals, or that you accept their position as equal alternatives to Jesus as the only way to the Father.

It does mean that you will seek to serve, love and support any and all: Christian, Non-christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or otherwise.

You can do that and repudiate the evils perpetuated in the name of various ideologies and religions. You can do that and be friendly and hospitable to Muslim neighbours and repudiate stupid racist jokes, name calling and other abuse or mistreatment (particularly of Muslim women wearing head coverings). You can do that and welcome and support refugees without maligning or misjudging their motives on account of one who happened to have an evil agenda.

To that end, I join with many others throughout Sydney who have offered to ride with or stand with Muslim friends, neighbours and coworkers and oppose any mistreatment or hatred. Some of you may not be comfortable entering a Christian Church building, but I extend an invitation to you to join us this Sunday for a Christmas lunch. (post edited in 2015 – comment for details on address)

I’ll ride with you.

I’ll pray with (and for) you.

I’ll welcome you.

In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Photo on 16-12-2014 at 10.10 am #2

Sydney Siege Prayer Advice

This is my letter to the Church community where I am the Pastor.

By now most will be aware of the situation, still under development while writing this, of an armed siege in a Lindt Cafe in Martin Place in the city.

In the days ahead the details of the situation will be clearer. For now though there is far too much speculation and unfortunate sensationalism happening in the media. Please follow the advice and example of the Police, Premier and Prime Minister and avoid such unhelpful speculation.

What we do know is that there are people being held hostage in the café; there are people in the building above the café that are unable to leave because of the hostage situation; there are people in Martin Place that are probably not able to safely leave their offices; there are people working in the city that may have a lot of difficulty getting home this evening; families of those affected as well as our police and authorities and their families will be under a lot of stress and pressure until the situation is resolved.

So I encourage you to pray for God’s will to be done;
that a safe and peaceful resolution can be achieved;
for spiritual and emotional protection and healing for the hostages, their families and the authorities involved;
for the counsellors that will need to sensitively assist them in the following days ahead;
for the city churches that are opening to welcome seekers and distressed city workers;
for the perpetrator or perpetrators involved to be brought to merciful justice and given repentance and restoration;
for members of our community who are confused by the terror of this crime and unable to process how they should respond;
for yourself and your family, that you might trust in God’s promise of true peace for those who know Jesus and that you are able to live in that peace now especially and share with others your hope in God through Christ.

The Anglican Prayer Book has a helpful example prayer that you could use (as suggested this morning by Rev. Dr. John Dickson), if you feel you would like to pray, but are unable to find the words. (NB: I’ve modified the old English phrases)

We beg you to hear us, good Lord. That it may please you to preserve all that travel by land or by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children; and to show you pity upon all prisoners and captives. We beg you to hear us, good Lord. That it may please you to defend, and provide for, the father-less children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed, We beg you to hear us, good Lord. That it may please you to have mercy upon all men, We beg you to hear us, good Lord. That it may please you to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts, We beg you to hear us, good Lord.

May God’s peace in Christ be with you.

Praying for Sydney Mardi Gras

One of the most polarizing events in Sydney’s cultural calendar is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. What started as a political advocacy and protest march has grown into a major Australian tourism extravaganza. It regularly attracts international celebrity and acclaim. Locally it’s a popularly promoted festival and gives rise to various protests and campaigns in reaction and response from the more conservative, usually Christian, members of the Sydney community (although not exclusively these days), who are concerned about the tone, message and lifestyle mardi gras promotes.

I wonder though, how Jesus, friend of sinners, would react and respond to the occasion. I don’t see any precedents in the New Testament that indicate he would be a red-faced, screaming, placard holding protester. Neither, do I see the Son of God off his face at the after party having popped a few of whatever may be the latest party drug or stimulant. I suspect his action would be one of grace, love, compassion and service.

Local Sydney Pastor, (among other things), John Dickson, penned this prayer. I think Jesus would be the one who would model how this prayer is answered and lived out to the glory of God.

For my friends, who are at Mardi Gras tonight, and, well, if you read this at all, are probably doing so late Sunday afternoon or Monday at the earliest, hear the words of this prayer as my prayer for you AND me.

A PRAYER FOR THE NIGHT OF MARDI GRAS – by John Dickson

Dear Lord,
God of the righteous and the wicked,
Have mercy on your people, the church,
for their wickedness:
for allowing biblical convictions about love and sex
to justify unbiblical words and actions
toward men and women made in your image.

As it rains on tonight’s parade,
may this speak not of your judgment
but of your promise to cleanse and forgive
all who turn to you for grace.

And teach our nation,
especially your church,
to follow Jesus, the Friend of Sinners,
that we would learn how to care deeply
for those with whom we profoundly disagree;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

‘I want a principle within’

English: Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.

Words by Charles Wesley. Music by Louis Spohr 1834, adapted by James Stimpson (1820-1886)