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Hell … and other stories

September 26, 2015

abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here-e1285714292550Psalm 124           Mark 9:38-50

It has been a season of warnings. Warnings are acts of kindness. Today we have another warning.

Jesus has had people coming with their desperate needs, some are hungry and thirsty, some are not themselves (possessed) and they come to him for healing. And they also came to people who were not part of the close group of disciples. And Jesus had such a reputation that these people were also healing others in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It seems they believed in the power of that name. He was the one to be associated with. And the inner circle of disciples didn’t like that. But Jesus says, whatever you do, don’t put a stumbling block in front of ‘these little ones who believe in me’. Whatever you do you need to be ready to help the ‘little ones’ who come in desperation and in need.

Or perhaps he meant those who reach out to the needy especially in Christ’s name should be encouraged, not discouraged. Whatever you do don’t discourage the ministry of newcomers, of beginners. Some people talk about the importance of being a ‘permission-giving’ church. A church that is not so much about controlling everything and making sure only what we, the leaders, approve of happens, as it is about encouraging people to get involved in the mission of Jesus and make their own mistakes along the way.


If that’s what its about Jesus has some serious warning for those who hinder the ministry of others… If you do it you’d be better dead, better if a millstone was tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea – quite a gruesome image really.


But Jesus doesn’t stop with that gruesome image, he gets gruesomer. “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off”. In the context he is still talking about things that undermine the ministry of the kingdom of God… things need to be eliminated at all costs. Things that stop the community of Christ focus on its true calling and mission…: Get rid of them! And if you don’t act quickly, if you don’t cut the hand off early on, or gouge out your eye… or whatever… you’ll go to hell.


That’s what Jesus says… simple as that… except of course what we mean by hell might be quite different from what Jesus does.


Perhaps I should have warned you… today is my sermon on hell. The door is that way.


Let me throw some Bible verses at you that you may not have thought about, to start us thinking about hell. Before we come back to this text and look at it again, hopefully with fresh eyes.


Romans 5:18-19 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

How many people does Paul believe will go to heaven? 

Romans 11:32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

How many people is God wanting to be merciful to? 

1 Corinthians 15:22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Who will be made alive in Christ?

 1 Corinthians 15:28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

What is the final state of creation? 

1 Timothy 2:3-4This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

What does God want? 

1 Timothy 4:10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

Who is God the saviour of? 

1 Corinthians 3:15If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

How are we who build in the kingdom of God to be saved?


Let’s hold onto that thought that we will be saved ‘through fire’ for a moment.

It’s not actually a good idea to take bible texts like I just have… out of context… to prove a point. I haven’t looked at all the bible verses I haven’t at all attempted to look at the whole story, at the big picture and give a theology of hell. I’ll try and do a little bit of that in a minute. But it’s important to know that this view of “salvation for all” is actually is controversial stuff. In spite of in spite of what the apostle Paul believed, or at least hoped for, a lot of people still believe differently. They imagine, like St Augustine did, that in the end the world will be divided between two cities sealed against one another, heaven and hell. There have been many down the centuries, especially in Western Christianity who have grimly held onto the belief that hell is a place where God will continue to inflict conscious torture on the large mass of humanity forever. On the other hand there are fewer but still many, including famous Church Father’s like Gregory of Nyssa from the early few centuries of the church whose vision of the future is one of a movement of all creation into the glorious life of God. Not two cities but one. But for now let’s go back to our gospel reading.

In verse 45 Jesus says

“it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire”

 Literally what he says is ‘it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to Gehenna’. Gehenna is the name of the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning. The translators know that Jesus is not simply talking about people being thrown into that particular rubbish dump. They know that the dump has become a metaphor/symbol for something else, so they use a different word. The word is hell. But what does it mean? What is Gehenna (the dump) a metaphor for? Is Jesus warning them about eternal conscious torment after they die? Or is he talking about something else?

I think the most important clue is quite simple. In other places in the bible ‘fire’ (like the fire of the Gehenna rubbish dump) is a metaphor for purification, transformation, healing even. It is surely possible that Jesus is warning his disciples about the pain and difficulty of healing and purification that will result if we fail to take good care of the least among us. Our welfare hinges on how we treat the least.

Perhaps the bad thing (fire) is actually, in the end, a good thing… In the end it is redemption because it changes us. These are tough and scarey warnings… but if we a right about this, and if Paul is right about God’s commitment to redeeming the whole world… we need to ask ourselves one more question

So does Jesus actually believe in hell?… as we have come to think of it in the west? Does Jesus think like Augustine of two cities sealed off from one another, where some live in eternal torment and some eternal bliss?

Now let’s took at the next verse (Mk 9:49)

For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good

Everyone! Not some in hell and some not. Everyone will need some of the salty fire, or fiery salt… He’s mixing up his metaphors now. I guess he is warning his disciples because some actions require more fire than others. But in the end of the day, Jesus says ‘salt is good’. Just like the fire is good. Salt brings out the flavour, the goodness of the meat. Salt preserves the meat. Salt cleanses. From time immemorial they have put salt on wounds. It’s an antibacterial agent. It brings healing. There’s a sting in the healing. But in the end the salty fire is not hell – as we have learnt to imagine it.

Notice that the rubbish dump, Gehenna, is said to be unquenchable. What does that mean? I think it means that God’s desire to heal and transform his people is unquenchable. God will not give up on each of us or on this community until all people are saved and all creation is at one with God – whether that be in this life or the next.


Let’s look at the next for a minute then. I want to finish by turning you to the end of the Bible the last two chapters of revelation have fire too …. In the end, says John, God is calling and gathering all peoples.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:

“See the home of God is among mortals. He will live with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away”

Then as the vision goes on it talks about a lake of fire…

The cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

That’s a mysterious phrase – second death – maybe in the light of the purifying fire, it reminds us of what Paul talks about in Romans… the dying with Christ of the old self and the new life that follows. Maybe the lake of fire is a kind of baptismal death? Maybe?

But listen to the final image of the heavenly city with its gates open and a welcome call to those outside who are free to enter:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood 

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come.” And let everyone who hears say “Come”. And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. Rev 22:13-17

 At the very end then… the vision is one not of two separated cities – heaven and hell. It is the vision of one city of God, gates open and an invitation to sinners of all kinds to come, to wash, perhaps even to be washed in the fire. It is a vision of movement and welcome, and finally (if Paul has understood this correctly) of complete redemption, where God is all and in all.




Apocalypse Now, and Again

September 15, 2015

I have been reworking my previous blog post and apocalyptic confession for our parish newsletter. Here is the update fyi.



Have you ever been looking for something in a dark room, maybe the light switch, when someone turns on the light? That’s what the Greek word ‘apocalypse’ means – unveiling.


We forget the root sense of the word because it has become so associated with a violent end to the world as we know it. There is a good reason for this. In the bible the ‘unveiling’ of God is at the same time a moment of judgement in which the violence of the world is also ‘unveiled’ for what it is. That’s what the last book of the New Testament, with its crazy imagery, is all about. In the Greek it is called ‘The Apocalypse’ (Revelation). Jesus thought like this too. For him the ‘apocalypse’ of God would be like ‘a thief in the night’. Whether it comes at a micro level to an individual or a local community or at a macro level to the global community, when the light goes on in the factory of blindness everything changes


The New Testament is clear about this change. Prior to the resurrection, in spite of all Jesus’ teaching and example, his own disciples were still in the dark.


A few weeks ago I read This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein. It made me wonder whether the planetary crisis we are facing because of global warming is going to be another occasion of the light being turned on. Klein argues that our global economic culture (also called ‘neoliberal economics’) is about to crash into the limits of the ecology of our planet. The sense of occasion here is heightened by the fact that the TPPA is a key tool in the global enforcement of neoliberal economics. Moreover, as we speak the refugee crisis and the wars which create it are putting significant pressure on wealthier western economies.


It strikes me that this is not so much another apocalypse (from the one which prompted the writing of the New Testament) as the same apocalypse in a new way. Will our recently globalised modernity have the light of the Christian Gospel turned on in a new way?


What Naomi Klein and others (like Jesus back in the day) are making very clear is that only radical cultural and economic change will do. We must become ‘members of one another’. As Pope Frances is saying, the Christian hope is becoming a global necessity. We must become communicant members of the earth’s ecosystem. Suddenly the lights are turning on and we cannot help but see the implications of our own parish’s vision statement – to be an ‘embodiment of the kingdom’ and of Christ who calls us together. We cannot help but see the ungodly destruction of the cultural trajectory we have been following.


A few weeks ago I was asked by a Diocesan Climate Change group in the Anglican Church to contribute some thoughts for a paper to go to their Bishops’ meeting. In my response I felt it was time to confess our faith in God again, in a way that is specific to this time and kairos moment. I wrote something along these lines


We believe in God the Father/Mother: The earth is the Lord’s. We are part of it for its nurture. It is not our possession, just as we ourselves are not our own possession.


We believe in God the Son: Jesus Christ is the meaning of God’s creating act. He is the logos of love out of which and towards which creation is moving. Raised in new materiality he leads us in the renewal of the earth. Participating in him we can be set free to give ourselves to others and to our immediate created environment in hope.


We believe in God the Holy Spirit: In Her the life of God is shared. Neoliberal capitalism, even if (perchance) it succeeds in improving the situation of some in poverty, nevertheless forms human beings in a way that is contrary to the Christian gospel, making the maximisation of self-interest a virtue and a habit. In the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ it should be rejected as a theological and practical heresy, a dangerous principality and power, and a sin against the Spirit of God.


Such a confession could (and perhaps should) go on. However, this is the core of it and it calls us to timely action. This changes everything!


Bruce Hamill (Rev)


Apocalypse Again: Confession in a time of Climate Crisis

September 2, 2015

climate apocalypseThe apocalypse of Jesus the Christ, in all its singularity, comes again and again. Whether it comes at a micro level to an individual or a local community or at a macro level to the global community, it comes, nevertheless, like a thief in the night.


It comes as the unexpected newness to which the status quo is blind. A light goes on in the factory of blindness.


The question we are asking is whether the planetary climate crisis will occasion such an apocalypse for our globalised modernity. Will the physical limits of this planet act as a sign and a vehicle for the Christian gospel?


Whether it does or it doesn’t, the news is now unavoidable. Our global economic culture is about to crash into the limits of our planetary ecology. Only radical cultural and economic change will do. We must become ‘members of one another’ and communicant members of the earth’s ecosystem. The ancient truth of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ is that precisely this is central to what it means to embody Christ and his mission. Veni Spiritus Sanctus!


Here in this context we can make our confession in the triune God


Father: The earth is God’s. We are part of it for its nurture. It is not our possession, just as we ourselves are not our own possession.


 Son: Jesus Christ is the meaning of God’s creating act. He is the logos of love out of which and towards which creation is moving. Raised in new materiality he leads us in the renewal of the earth. Participating in him we can be set free to give ourselves to others and to our immediate created environment in hope.


Spirit: Neo-liberal capitalism, even if (perchance) it succeeds in improving the situation of some in poverty, nevertheless forms human beings in a way that is antithetical to the Christian gospel making the maximization of self-interest a virtue and a habit. In the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ it should be rejected as a theological and practical heresy, a dangerous principality and power, and a sin against the Spirit of God.


Confession without action is dead. Therefore in this context and time we commit ourselves to the following action and policy:


A total moratorium on fossil fuel exploration (by governments)

Divestment from the fossil fuel industry (by all of us)

Investment in clean energy and infrastructure (by all of us)

Emission targets which aim seriously at zero-carbon future and which respect the 2 degree guardrail (by governments).

Abandonment of all corporate and international globalisation projects like TPPA (by governments)

A renewal of localisation and sustainable local projects (by all of us)

 a commitment to reduced levels of consumption ( by all of us)


Bruce Hamill (Dunedin, New Zealand)

Singing, Drinking and Time          

August 15, 2015

 John 6:51-58             Ephesians 5: 14b-20measure-of-a-man-main

 Today we continue our journey of exploring what it means to ‘chew on’ the bread of life. Those who eat the bread of life, who consume Jesus… are those who live into the life of the age to come (eternal life). Again Ephesians, our Epistle reading, has something to say to this great theme in the Gospel of John.

 “Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead…”

It’s the kind of thing we should programme into our alarm clocks in the morning.


The writer says, “Be careful how you live”… be wise… wake up… don’t sleep through your life. For, says Ephesians, “the days are evil”. Not irredeemably evil. Redemption is what its all about. The days are surrounded by God’s redemption. The Christians at Ephesus are called to be a part of God’s redemption. That’s why they wake up in the morning. But the days are evil.


“Make the most of the time”… says the Epistle. And we say “What time?”. The tyranny of time is the mantra of so many people these days. We have no time. We work longer hours than ever before for less income and both parents have to work to survive. And the children have to do so many things in order to have a chance at succeeding in the rat race of competition.


I watched a powerful movie at the Film Festival this week. It was called ‘The Measure of a Man’ in English. The original French title is ‘Le Loi du Marche’ (The Law of the Market). It is a finely tuned observation of the life of a man, Thierry, a good man who loses his job and is struggling to keep his life together. His son is disabled and needs extensive care. But the home is a happy place. However, with the loss of his job the world beyond starts to grind him down. The job agency sends him off on a course. But the course qualification is useless to get a job on the new machines because he has had no experience. Eventually he ends up working in security at a supermarket (hence the title ‘the law of the market’). In that role he is witness to those caught shoplifting in various ways, on the cameras in the roof.


There is the elderly gentleman who has no family and is caught with two small items of frozen meat in his pockets and cannot afford to pay for them. He has no one to help out so they call in the police. Then there is the staff member who is spotted not scanning something through. Then there is the staff member who rather than binning the discount coupons pocket’s them. She tries to hide it, in her understated desperation, and loses her job. Next scene we learn that she has committed suicide somewhere at the supermarket. The boss gathers the staff and does a big speech to insist that there are more troubles in her life and they ought not feel guilty about it. Her son had drug issues, there is trouble at home and so on. The supermarket bears no responsibility. In fact no one is responsible. The boss speaks a greater truth than he knows. The system itself has destroyed her and everyone else. It is a system without humanity or mercy. We understand its necessity. The stealing and lies are wrong. And yet the whole world (the market in the wider sense) is what is ultimately destroying them.


It is a film with an incredible attention to detail, both financial and emotional, but one which uses the detail to let us see the bigger picture. The law of the market casts a bright light on the saying in Ephesians ‘The Days are Evil’.


When the days are evil, time itself can be a tyrant. It is hard to make good use of the time because the world around us wants to control our time… God’s time. We feel like there is a shortage of time. Time has become a commodity. “Time is money” we say. Good use of the time, becomes a use of time which secures our financial bottom line.


On the other hand we might take the view that we have all the time in the world… avoiding all thought that our time is coming to an end we might end up postponing indefinitely all significant calls upon our time, moving from one distraction to another because there is no main thing from which to be distracted. There are just distractions.

 Either way we forget the single thing that matters


The writer says, even though the days are evil … be wise and ‘understand what the will of the Lord is’. Not whether or not you should buy the red or the green dress or whether you should park further out of town and walk or pay for a car park… Ephesians has already told us something about what the will of the Lord is… Eph 1:10 says that the will of God is to gather everything together in Christ. The reality of Jesus is going to gather all the chaos of the world together and reorder it and make peace. That’s the will of God. Eph 3:10 says that we as church are placed as witnesses to all the spiritual powers of the world, which are often caught up in deception and evil. This witness too is the will of the Lord. The will of the Lord is that big picture, that beautiful reality that visits our detail with great hope. When we just want to survive, the writer calls us to wake up to what God is doing and be a part of it. So even the detail can be beautiful. Perhaps especially the detail.


‘Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery’… or another translation has it, ‘that leads to desperation’. At each step along the path that Thierry took in the movie, there must have been the enormous temptation to obliterate himself, to drink his sorrows away, to drink himself into the ground, to silence the pain and go to sleep.


But the call of Ephesians is to wake up, not to escape down the path of despair.


The alternative to getting drunk is not self-control. It is being under the influence… of the Spirit. Do not get drunk … BUT be filled by the Spirit.


And do it with music! And do it together!

‘singing to one another (not just to God but to one another) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.’


I think we underestimate the power of music to be used by the Spirit of God to lift our spirits. Do you ever do that… ‘make melody to the Lord in your hearts’? Do you have those moments when you are singing inside? But it’s interesting the writer knows that music is not just ‘to the Lord’ it is also a way that we talk to one another (‘singing to one another’) about what matters. It is often said that many people learn most of their theology, their understanding of God from the songs they sing. This can be a worry! as well as an encouragement. We are not just brains on sticks. We are emotional bodily creatures who move to music, both emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes its hard not to tap your feet… even if you’re a presbyterian!


To sing together is to participate in beauty together. To be lifted up… by the Spirit. To sing together is like getting drunk. Both are ways in which we might not be completely in rational control. We are moved…. in singing as in prayer.


Unlike getting drunk it can move us away from despair rather than towards it.


“Giving thanks at all times for everyone/everything.” Both ‘everyone’ and ‘everything’ are possible translations here. It’s a powerful thought to give thanks for everyone. Even those who annoy us. Those who talk too much. Those who get the car park ahead of us. Those who buy the same red dress as we bought.

Our reading says, effectively: Get over it! In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.








The Problem with Bread

July 31, 2015

sliced bread John 6:24-35                            Ephesians 4:1-16


There’s a great TED talk on addiction I would recommend to anyone who’s interested. It’s by Johann Hari entitled “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong”. (


He talks about an experiment in which a rat was put in an empty cage with two feeding containers. One has water in it and the other has water laced with heroin. Faced with this choice the rat prefers the heroin and dies fairly quickly. This seems to confirm the traditional story we tell ourselves about addiction. It is caused by ‘chemical hooks’ in a substance so if you take it enough you get caught. But a scientist called Bruce Alexander decided to see if that was the full story. So he created a different cage. A rat heaven with tunnels and cheese and coloured balls and other rats (i.e. lots of sex), and the same two feeding containers in the middle with water and heroin. Result: the rats were fine. They didn’t get addicted. They didn’t die.


It’s more to do with the cage than the chemistry of heroin. Hari talked about evidence from human life that confirm this thesis (based on the 20% of heroin users in the US services during Vietnam and research about their reintegration into society). His conclusion is clear: When the environment people live in is one of connectedness and purpose the chemicals don’t have the power over them. It’s about the way we bond. When we bond with one another in certain ways we thrive. When our ‘cage’ is such that we can’t bear to be present in our life for various reasons, boredom, pain, emptiness (like a rat in an empty cage) we find something else to bond to… And whatever it is, the alcohol, the computer games, the drugs,… it substitutes for the real relationships and captures us.


The opposite of addiction is not sobriety it’s connectedness … human connectedness, says Hari.


We say we’re the most connected generation… as if fb friends counted as real connectedness. No the connectedness Hari is talking about is our deep, nuanced, textured, face-to-face relationships – the people you can call on in times of need.


Bill McKibben cites research that shows that since the 1950s the number of friends that people say they can call on on in a time of need (i.e. real connectedness) has steadily decreased. Over the same period of time the floorspace per person in our homes has steadily increased (parable of our time)


The alternative to connectedness is a modern kind of captivity.


I want us to hold that thought, that word ‘captivity’, for a moment while we look at our gospel reading today…


Jesus has just fed 5000 people bread and fish as a sign that God is with them … and the people are on the chase for more. They want another sign, more fish and chips. The miraculous sign is quickly replacing the thing that the sign points to.


And in a sense I can understand this desperate desire for a sign of God’s presence and action in the world. There’s a Lutheran Hymn that goes

“Across the world, across the street,

the victims of injustice cry

for shelter and for bread to eat,

and never live before they die” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #729)


That’s a powerful line: “and never live before they die”. In this kind of a world we cry out to God. We complain. We want some kind of indication that God really is present… especially when it’s the children who ‘never live before they die’. Give us this day our daily bread. For many people that is the basic prayer. Enough for today. One helping of loaves and fishes will be enough.


But interestingly Jesus says to the crowd: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal”.


Craig Satterlee says: “I do not think Jesus was scolding the crowd for seeking bread because they were hungry. I think Jesus was disappointed that the crowd did not expect more, not more bread but something more. Perhaps Jesus was thinking more about ending hunger than serving up more bread.”


We may need our daily bread. But if we think that’s all we need and we forget about what Jesus calls (in modern terms) ‘the sustainable food of the life of the age to come’, if our work is simply to “earn a living”, to provide bread to eat. Then, no matter how poor or rich we are, we may ‘never live before we die’. We can find ourselves trapped in a rat-cage of consumption.


That’s the first point. We can kill ourselves spiritually simply because we don’t want more than ‘bread that perishes’.


But perhaps the second point is just as important. We can kill the world, and perhaps we are, because of our addiction to ‘bread that perishes’. Craig Satterlee hints in that direction when he wonders: “Perhaps Jesus was thinking more about ending hunger than serving up more bread.”


The problem with the world is not that there is not enough bread for all. The problem is that the world is structured for competition and not sharing. The bread of life – Jesus Christ – inserts into our inner life this script: “What I have is God’s gift to me to give for the life of the world”. That’s the bread of life that we feed on. The alternative is a captivity to ‘bread that perishes’. It has its script too: “What I have is my private property, my sacred rights to private property”. Or “This is our national right to seek our national advantage over other nations”.


If we go back to the rat-cage metaphor, Jesus is saying that the bread of life creates a new ‘cage’, a new environment in which we can live. You only solve the captivity/addiction if you change the world. I want to conclude, as I did last week, by reading part of the Epistle reading for today. Because Ephesians describes the new environment that Jesus creates. It describes a new economy. And it brings us back to the beginning, to the question of captivity and addiction.


Ephesians 4:1-8

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive.


In short there is an alternative to addiction. There is an alternative to late capitalism. It is Jesus Christ and his body.


Thanks be to God


Not a contest but a doorway

June 24, 2015

I found this today in a “Common Prayer” office that I use. It’s a poem by Mary Oliver




It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Another Modest Proposal

June 10, 2015

A famous anabaptist slogan reads


A Modest Proposal for Peace:

Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill one another”


Let me make another ‘Modest Proposal’. It could be called a Modest Proposal for Unity. It could equally be called a Modest Proposal for Sustainability. Or again it could be called a Modest Proposal for Community. Or it could well be called a Modest Proposal for Localisation, or for Local Mission. I have opted for “A Modest Proposal for Sustainable Community.” Like the anabaptist proposal this title connects with something that is seen to be desirable in the wider society. Similarly it calls on Christian to lead the way in a manner entirely consistent with the Christian gospel. The beauty of modest proposals is they do not claim to solve all the world’s problems they simply claim to be a small but significant step in the right direction. So without further ado, here it is.


A Modest Proposal for Sustainable Community:

Let the Christians of the world agree

that they will only worship in congregations

within walking distance of their homes.

Or, if they can’t walk there, that they will worship

in the congregation nearest their own home,

regardless of its style or tradition.


Sound easy? My suspicion is that this modest proposal will desperately need to be held together with the former anabaptist one, otherwise the Christians of the world will fight each other to death over the details.


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