Category Archives: Belfast Pride 2013

For or with? Contract or relationship?

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In tonight’s brief passage from the Gospel of St John, we heard the parable of the grain of wheat. Christ drew this parable about resurrection on the Kingdom of God from the everyday circumstances of life; it was quite easy for his rural audience to understand the principle of “resurrection produced by dead seeds sown into the earth: the image of the grain of wheat dying in the earth in order to grow and bear a harvest can be seen also as a metaphor of Jesus’ own death, burial in the tomb and Resurrection.

Using the example of a wheat seed Jesus tells the disciples that he must die. A wheat seed by itself is just one seed. However, this same seed planted in the ground dies to itself and becomes something much greater. Jesus says the time has come. His time to be glorified is approaching. He will die and through his death there will come an abundance of fruit. In the Gospel there is already evidence of the possible fruit. Who has heard this parable of the wheat seed? There are the disciples. There are some leaders of the Hebrew people. Also, among them there are some Greeks. They have come to see and speak to Jesus. People are coming to see him. Not just the Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. Jesus will die not for the few, but for the many. Jesus will die for the generation to whom he speaks and Jesus will die for the generations to come. Jesus dies for you and Jesus dies for me.

But we hear a lot of “for”. During this last week we have been spending time with Christ – so what of the “with”?

Around Good Friday in 1373, an Englishwoman was stricken by the plague, and facing what she thought would be her own death.  Much of her life is a mystery.  Her baptismal name is not recorded, but we know her better by her adopted name. She is remembered as one of the greatest of all English mystics. We know her as Julian of Norwich

In her long-ago fevered haze, Julian received a series of visions of Jesus, which she wrote down in a book entitled Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.

The Eighth Revelation, the heart of the book, concerns the Passion and the Cross, focusing on Jesus’ pain and suffering. “Is any pain like this?” she wondered, “…Of all pains that lead to salvation this is the most pain, to see thy Love suffer.  How might any pain be more to me than to see Him that is all my life, all my bliss, and all my joy, suffer?”

Recounting the vision, she ruminated on Jesus’ mother Mary’s suffering, the one who suffered more than any other in his death; then expanding the circle to include “all His disciples and all His true lovers suffer pain” at this death.  In this community of pain, forged by the suffering of Jesus, Julian articulated one of her great theological insights: “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.”  To Julian, the Cross was about ONEING—the complete unity of God with us and us with God; and not only us as humans, but as she relates from the vision, the ONEING of “all creatures that suffer pain, suffer with Him…and the firmament, the earth, failed in sorrow” and the planets, all the elements, and even the stars despaired at Christ’s dying.  The cosmic circle of grief, emanating from Jesus’ Passion, reveals that Jesus not only suffered for us; but he suffered with us—his death occurred for the sake of “Kinship and Love” with all this was, is, and will be.

Did Our Lord suffer for us or with us?

On many a Good Friday, I have sat in a darkened church, listening to readings and music, all focused on the first preposition of the Passion’s equation: Jesus suffered for us, for sinners, for the world, for me.  But only rarely have I heard spiritual reflection on the second preposition: Jesus suffered with us, with sinners, with the world, with me.

Some of us here are writers. They choose prepositions carefully. There is a huge difference between for and with.  For is a preposition of distance, a word that indicates exchange or favour, it implies function or purpose.  I do something for you; you do something for me.  Notice: someone does something on behalf of or in another’s place. For is a contract.  Jesus suffered for us—means that Jesus did something on our behalf; he acted on behalf of a purpose, in place of someone else.  “For” always separates the actor and recipient, distancing a sacrificial Jesus from those for whom he died.  At the Cross, Jesus is the subject; we are objects.

For or with? Contract or relationship?  Exchange or participation? Quid pro quo or friendship?

If we are honest, with is a hard preposition in the world of today.  Are you only with those who share your party or cause. We judge others on what they can do for us.  Indeed, we are for many things.  But we are sceptical of with—indeed; much of what we do in the world makes us ridicule, doubt, and even fear with. It is often safer to remain at a distance, to stay away from with.

When we come to Christ, we see the for. We understand the exchange, that God died for me, so I get baptized or confirmed or serve the church.  Jesus sacrificed his life so that I might exchange Hell for Heaven.  People sacrifice and die for something nearly every day, and it is particularly sobering–as in the case of soldiers—when someone sacrifices or dies for my freedom or safety.  Indeed, thinking that Jesus died for salvation may give pause, cause us to raise a prayer of thanks, feel sadness or relief; but ultimately, the idea that someone dies for something is theologically and spiritually uncomplicated.

But with is complicated, even frightening.  Good Friday plunges us into with. Have you sacrificed with others?  Have you walked the way of death with someone?  Felt the power of the suffering love?  Do you know, in every fibre of your being, the ONEING of God in Julian’s visions?  Do you feel Jesus dying with his Mother, his friends, with us, with all creatures, with the firmament, with the planets and the elements?  Can you embrace the truth that, at Calvary, Jesus’ Mother, friends, US, all creatures, the firmament, the planets and all elements died there with him, too?

The Cross isn’t a contract between God and sinners; the Cross is God’s definitive expression of kinship and love—that everything, everywhere, through all time, is connected in and through pain and suffering.  We are with Jesus on the Cross, not at a distance from it, standing by, watching safely from afar; those are our hands and feet nailed, our blood dripping, our voices crying out “We thirst.” And Jesus on the Cross, naked and mocked, is with us all on every broken-heartened, betrayal-laden, blood-soaked day of human history.  That is God’s Passion; that is Jesus’ Cross.  And, in the tortured Christ, we find the hope to endure, a love for others and creation, the power to enact God’s dream of love and justice for the whole world.  We are with God.  God is with us.

We are often asked if we have time in our lives for Christ. As believers we do. But what is much better in terms of our relationship with him is that we do, as we have done during this last week, spend time with Him.

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the simplicity of a child

The scene that we heard about in the reading earlier has been repeated many times throughout history. There are many instances which can be seen online of children approaching great teachers, some getting through the security, others being pushed away. But in today’s Gospel, the greatest teacher of them all tells his followers that they mustn’t get between the children and him.

Children coming to great teachers and holy men is nothing new, it is a practice from antiquity. In Genesis 48.13-20 we read of Joseph bringing Ephraim and Manasseh to Israel to be blessed.

Jesus didn’t just bless the children. He used them to illustrate his message as he is recorded to have done in many other places in the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew as well as the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Jesus said,

“Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

The simplicity of a child. Quite a challenge to those of us who have passed into adulthood, have grown up, and had to leave our childish behaviour and thinking behind to survive in the world in which we live.

As I was reading this passage this morning, re-reading it, time and again, to see what I should say tonight, I realised something quite special. When a person becomes a member of the Church, when a person accepts Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of mankind, that person becomes a child of God. We are all children. Thinking in another way, Jesus lived on earth as a man around two-thousand years ago. By anyone’s reckoning those of us living today are like children compared to Him.

So what do we do now? What is this passage saying to us gathered here today in our time and place?

To me, it is a reinforcement of the central message of Jesus – a message of a God of Love. A God who does not push people away, but welcomes them in and blesses them. As members of the Church, it is our duty to share this Love to all that we meet.

pope-john-xxiii-during-ecumenical-council

John XXIII, Bishop of Rome 1958–1963.

Tomorrow, many people will be walking in the Belfast Pride Parade as it winds its way around the city centre and back to Custom House Square for a huge party. Some of us from Faith and Pride will be standing as a witness of God’s Love for all of his children just outside the gates of St George’s in High Street, just as we did at last year’s parade. Everyone on that parade and everyone in the whole world is worthy of our respect and our love, for as Blessed John XXIII – whose imminent canonisation was announced today – said,

“We were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike.”

Surely we must all work within the Church to ensure that all are welcomed, not pushed away. We’re all children, and like little children we will be welcomed, and blessed by Jesus, when we approach Him now, and when we reach the end of our life, we can safely ask Him,

“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 5 July 2013.

Faith and Doubts?

Thomas hasn’t had a great press down the years, precisely because of the episode described in the Gospel reading for today.

From this, we get the term ‘doubting Thomas’, used to describe someone who is irrationally doubtful about an obvious truth. But maybe we are being a little too hard on Thomas. Holy Scripture alludes to this fact by telling us that Thomas was a twin.

Obviously he was used to being mistaken for his twin and it was logical to him that perhaps the disciples merely saw someone who looked like Jesus and was not actually him. Only the real Jesus would bear the marks of the crucifixion, and this was what Thomas demanded to see.

The first mention of Thomas in John’s Gospel comes at the death of Lazarus, in John 11, when Jesus was about to go to Judaea. His first foray into Judaea had managed to upset the religious authorities to such an extent, that they now actively sought his life. To go back there was madness to the disciples, but Thomas simply says,

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas clearly was a devoted disciple. He was prepared to put his own life on the line in following his master. This is not the action of someone who is not able to grasp the truth.

The next time we see Thomas is at the point where Jesus is explaining his departure to the disciples in John 14, in that very familiar reading which is often used at funerals, to remind us that death is not the end. Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to the place where he is going.

Thomas pipes up,

“Lord we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Only Thomas is brave enough to verbalise what all the disciples must be thinking. Jesus is speaking in obscure terms, and Thomas for one, wants to be clear about his meaning. There is something very honest about Thomas here. He will not just pretend to understand or know something, he is going to understand for himself everything that is involved.

The next mention of Thomas is as related in the reading for today. Thomas clearly was a devoted disciple, perhaps one of the most devoted. However when it all hit the fan, Thomas broke and ran with the rest of the disciples and left Jesus to his fate.

Why was Thomas not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them? Maybe he was still running. Maybe he was so distraught at the death of Jesus and his own failure to act, that he needed to be alone for a while to grieve.

Then, as is the case with all of us, when someone close to us dies, he needed to be in the company of those who knew Jesus well, to share stories, to grieve together, to work out a way forward.

Only now he found them not grieving, but rejoicing, and telling him that they had seen Jesus alive.

This was too much for Thomas. The other disciples must have gone crazy being cooped up all by themselves. Thomas, called the twin, thought that there must be a logical explanation for what they were saying. Thomas who always sought clarification, needed the most extreme clarification now before he would believe.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Even though he thought they were mistaken, Thomas hung around with the disciples, and eventually the Risen Christ appeared to him as well. He didn’t scold him for not believing, but gave him usual Jewish greeting – “Shalom – peace be with you.”
Then he showed Thomas his wounds and invited him to touch them. Thomas’ response is instantaneous, “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus tells him that he has believed because he has seen, but blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.

I admire Thomas’ ability to question and just accept things at face value, because it opens the doors for us to do the same. The life of faith is not just about blindly accepting what others tell you. It is also about experience – experience of the living Christ, who doesn’t rebuke us for our doubts or our lack of faith.

Through his wounds he enters into our suffering because he has been there himself. He knows what it is to be abandoned, rejected and let down by those closest to him. But he has overcome all that and he will in us overcome all our doubts, fears and wounding.

I wonder what doubts or fears we have this evening as we gather in the presence of the Risen Christ. We are here because he has called us, and if he has called us then he wants us. Yet we come with feelings of inadequacy, rejection, personal hurt and low self esteem. We find it hard to believe that we could deserve the grace he offers. But Jesus Christ died and rose again so that the whole world in all its diversity could be reconciled to him. His grace is freely offered to all who would accept, so called deserving and undeserving. This is the Christ who gave Judas the traitor bread from the table of the last supper, who answered Thomas’ questions and doubts, who forgave Peter the denier. He will minister to you and I too and accept us exactly as we are, exactly as they way God made us.

The Risen Christ stands before us today with all his wounds showing and invites us to believe. There is nothing that he cannot achieve in us and through us if we believe in him. The derision, the rejection the hurt that we endure in this life is turned around and transformed in the presence of the living Christ, who comes to us and comforts us with the words “Peace be with you – do not doubt, but believe.”

May our doubts also be transformed in the presence of the living Christ to “My Lord and my God!”

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Wednesday 3 July 2013.

Nothing will be impossible with God

In Nazareth, an unimportant village in a remote region of the Roman Empire, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ask a young, recently engaged girl to become pregnant with God’s son Jesus and usher in salvation for the world. But Mary was given a choice, she could have said no. She could have allowed her fears to overcome.

The ancient world could be vicious towards women and especially women who became pregnant out of wedlock. Mary’s imagination must have been running wild with possibilities. Joseph would leave her, she would never marry, she would struggle to find shelter and food, she would be shunned by friends and family. She would bear the stigma of shame and scandal for the rest of her life.

God had great plans for Mary, but would not force her to accept them. Like us, and like all people, God gave Mary freedom of choice. And yet God also gives comfort and reassurance to those who say yes to Him. He wouldn’t just ask great things of us and abandon us. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God,” the angel Gabriel says to calm the terrified girl. “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Having the courage of faith to trust her life with God, Mary surrenders: “Let it be with me according to your word.” And so Mary, letting God into her to bring birth to his Son, becomes the first disciple.

In the poem “Annunciation,” the Roman Catholic poet Denise Levertov meditates on the courage and model faith Mary shows as she assents to God’s will for her life.  The poem asks us to to consider where God has introduced a journey before us, a plan for our lives and God’s redeeming story for the world, and challenges us to not turn away, in a moment of weakness or despair, from taking the “roads of light and storm”—the often difficult paths of the life of faith.

Annunciation

Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’

From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 2 July 2013.

Following Christ means transferring our security

SunriseFairfieldA

Each morning gives us an opportunity to renew our hope in Christ.

In the reading (Luke 9.51–62) earlier this evening, Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem for the last time.

Along the way, He meets three men who have heard His call in their hearts. These encounters teach us three tough lessons about what it means to follow Christ. This evening I am focussing on just one of them.*

To follow Christ, we have to transfer our sense of security. We have to relocate it from ourselves to God. Throughout our lives we have been taught to rely on ourselves for success and happiness, but we have to unlearn that lesson. We have to learn to rely wholly on God, plugging all our efforts in life into His Grace.

This is what was meant when Jesus answered and said,

Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Christ is trustworthy, but He is not predictable. When we follow Him, we have to agree to go one step at a time – He refuses to give us a full-life outline in advance. When we follow Him, we have to stop pretending that we can keep our lives under control by our own efforts. Accepting Christ’s friendship, we agree to follow Him, to put our lives under His leadership.

We are on an unpredictable adventure. We do not know where God will lead us, nor what He may ask us to do. When we join Christ’s army, we have to hand him a blank cheque.

We all want to make this transfer of security from self to God. Many of us are here because we know that we know God. By depending more fully on Him, our lives will be brought the meaning and fruitfulness that we all long for.

But how do we do that? How do we become more faithful followers of our Lord, more hope-filled disciples, more stable Christians? This transfer of security from ourselves to God is a virtue – the virtue of hope. Like all Christian values, it was planted in our souls like a seed when we placed our trust in God. It’s already there, we have to help it to grow, which we can do by exercising it.

One of the mot effective ways to exercise this virtue is by practising a long-standing tradition of beginning each day with a prayer – often called a morning offering.

This is a prayer we say before the day begins – perhaps immediately on getting out of bed, or perhaps after our shower and before we head to breakfast.

It’s a short prayer, putting everything in perspective: thanking God for the gift of another day; asking God for guidance and protection; renewing our promise to accept and do whatever He asks of us as we continue on the adventure of following His unpredictable path.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Sunday 30 June 2013.


* The other two are: 1. Following Christ means persevering through difficulties; 2. Following Christ means actively taking risk.

 One example is: “Lord, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. By your power, keep me on the road to salvation ; do not let me fall into any sin today, but grant that all I say, all I think, all I do may glorify you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (catholic-forum.com)

As Christ Loves Us

We have just read [in John 21:15-19] that, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. To Peter’s confusion, the question was asked three times. Each time Peter answered in the affirmative. Jesus responded with “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus wanted to make absolutely clear what he wanted Peter to do. He wanted Peter to look after the other early Christians, as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

Earlier on in his ministry, before the crucifixion, Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:11)

As well as making sure that Peter knew he was to be a leader, Jesus was reminding him that he would have to make personal sacrifice, perhaps even sacrificing his own life, in his leadership role. As today’s reading said, Jesus “said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” According to tradition, Peter was executed by crucifixion, but at his own request he was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to be executed in the same way as his master. This is why the symbol of St Peter is an inverted cross, and there is at least one knealer in this church with St Peter’s cross on it, although it is quite common to see it turned upside down by mistake.

In this country, we are very lucky. By the grace of God, we don’t have to fear the kind of persecution that Peter did. So what do “feed my lambs”, “shepherd my sheep”, and “feed my sheep” mean to us today?

The answer to that comes in another passage from John’s Gospel, this time from the Last Supper. John 13:34-35:

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other

For Peter, discipleship meant taking on the mantle of the Good Shepherd, even following Jesus in the way that he died. For us, discipleship means loving one another as Christ loves us.

Loving one another as Christ loves us.

To fully appreciate the power of that statement, we should ask “What does discipleship not mean?”

In my mind, the first and foremost thing that discipleship does not mean is hours of Bible study. That is not saying that it is not a good thing to read and try to understand the Bible, but the Christian who spends many hours in dry dusty libraries—as I have done, and I enjoy doing—is not a better Christian simply because of that study. The Christian who, because of circumstances, opportunity, inclination, or other reason, does not spend hours engaged in Biblical study is not a worse Christian simply because of the lack of study. Being able to open your Bible and find the 4th chapter of the Book of Habakkuk is not a measure of someones Christianity.

Discipleship does not mean anger. There were plenty of synagogues in Palestine in Jesus’ day. I think that pretty much all of them taught things that Jesus disagreed with. Did he camp outside them, waving placards with Old Testament quotations on them? No. He preached his message to whoever would listen, and in love he welcomed all those who came.

Discipleship does not mean holding a grudge. In today’s reading, Jesus appointed Peter as the new shepherd of the church. He appointed Peter. The man who had, a few weeks previously, denied him three times. In love, Jesus forgave.

Discipleship means love. Love for one another, as Christ loves us.

Peter fed the sheep with his ministry. When we love one another as Christ loves us then we are becoming like Christ. In our own small ways, are acting as shepherds for each other. It is with Christ-like love that we feed each other.

This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Saturday 29 June 2013.

Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God

From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop

The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.

Men will therefore see God if they are to live; through the vision of God they will become immortal and attain to God himself. As I have said, this was shown in symbols by the prophets: God will be seen by men who bear his Spirit and are always waiting for his coming. As Moses said in the Book of Deuteronomy: On that day we shall see, for God will speak to man, and man will live.

God is the source of all activity throughout creation. He cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures. Yet he is certainly not unknown. Through his Word the whole creation learns that there is one God the Father, who holds all things together and gives them their being. As it is written in the Gospel: No man has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.

From the beginning the Son is the one who teaches us about the Father; he is with the Father from the beginning. He was to reveal to the human race visions of prophecy, the diversity of spiritual gifts, his own ways of ministry, the glorification of the Father, all in due order and harmony, at the appointed time and for our instruction. Where there is order, there is also harmony; where there is harmony, there is also correct timing; where there is correct timing, there is also advantage.

The Word became the steward of the Father’s grace for the advantage of men, for whose benefit he made such wonderful arrangements. He revealed God to men and presented men to God. He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which to make progress. On the other hand, he revealed God to men and made him visible in many ways to prevent man from being totally separated from God and so cease to be. Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who live upon the earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 28 June 2013.

Faith and Pride 2013

Every evening during Belfast Pride Week (Friday 28 June to Saturday 6 July) we will be holding our short reflective services, 15 mins with Christ, at 6 p.m. in St George’s Church in High Street. We will also be going, as a group, to the launch of Belfast Pride on Friday 28 June, meeting at 7 p.m. in Costa Coffee in Victoria Square.

Supporting the Parade

Rather than walking in the parade, we will be standing on High Street, behind a Faith and Pride banner, holding pro-gay signs and cheering the parade on. The participants in the parade will then see our message of accepting, inclusive Christianity where love is love, regardless of  gender. The parade starts at 12 noon on Saturday 6 July. Our group will be assembling from 10.30 at St George’s Church on High Street.

If you are Christian and  would like to be involved, please contact us using this form.

“Don’t think I have come to make life cozy”

Here I am sitting while wearing the pink hooide. The principle is the same though. Photo: Michael Carchrie Campbell

Here I am sitting while wearing the pink hooide. The principle is the same though. Photo: Michael Carchrie Campbell

Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy.

Hard words indeed. In fact if they weren’t said by Christ himself, we might question whether or not they were actually Christian at all. Christ is about love, and meekness, and compassion, yet he said “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” (Matthew 10:34-39)

Very hard words.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” That is a quote, not from Jesus Christ, but from Winston Churchill, but I think it helps us understand today’s reading.

If you have enemies it means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life. There are many things a Christian must stand up for, and therefore being a Christian can sometimes mean you attract enemies. Your life is not cozy when you have enemies.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution [, said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:10-12.] The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

There are things you stand for when you are a Christian—things like love, and compassion, and meekness—and because you stand for those things people sometimes don’t like you.

Between us, my husband Michael and I run Faith and Pride. We believe that you can be gay and Christian. That is what we stand for when we stand in our pink hoodies. As you can imagine that attracts a certain amount of negative attention, both from the Old-Testament-placard-waving and tract-distributing Christians that everyone in Belfast is familiar with, and from gay people who are aggressively secular, the gay people who would prefer that Christ is completely absent from Pride Week.

I won’t lie. That negative attention can be very wearing at times.

Don’t think that I have come to make life cozy.

Those aren’t really hard words. Like everything else Christ said, they are words of compassion. Like Winston Churchill, Jesus knew that standing for something means you make enemies. He warned us about that. When your life as a Christian is difficult, because of your Christian stance on any issue, we can be comforted in the knowledge that these difficulties were not unexpected. “What it means [said Jesus] is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.”

Being a Christian isn’t always easy. Walking as Christ would have us walk, turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven is hard in and of itself. Somewhat oddly, that meekness sometimes gives us enemies. When those enemies make our walk difficult we should remember that, because it is a Christian walk, all heaven applauds.

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