Kind to the wicked!

Last night I spoke at Prendergast School’s founder’s day service - immediately after the orchestra played the William Tell Overture.

I felt I should have galloped in on a horse!

The theme was from Luke 6 - The part where Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good to people who hate you, bless people who curse you, pray for people who treat you badly and so on….

I can’t think of a time in my life where this teaching seems more appropriate!

It’s never easy to do good to people who hate you.  Why would you? They hate you!  It’s never easy to bless people who curse you.  Why would you say something nice to somebody who has just said something truly evil to you?  They deserve a serious put down, not a kind word.

Perhaps being told to pray for people who treat us badly is not so bad?  I’ve done that.  I once prayed for somebody who spat in my face.  I went straight to God and prayed about his future.  “Dear Lord” I said, “That boys future.  Please take it away?  Please make him choke of his own saliva?”  

Of course, the problem with prayer is that it isn’t one way.  It’s not meant to be. Prayer is as much about God speaking to us as it is about us speaking to him.  He may not communicate with words in the same way that we do but he does quicken our senses, give us hunches and gut feelings and speak through our own thoughts.  And on that day God said to me, in my own thoughts: “Paul, before you go on, you need to know that I’m as interested in his future as I am in yours.  I have a plan for him.  I want good things for him.”

The kind of prayer that Jesus asks of us to pray is one that brings good things to people, not bad, life not death.  Even to those who do us harm.

That’s not easy at all!

On Sunday 5th June, David Nott, a prominent British vascular surgeon, told radio 4’s Desert Island Discs how he saved an ISIS fighters life during an operation when he was volunteering in Syria.  He saved the life of a man who had destroyed so many lives.  Why?  Why would he do that?

He simply believed that that mans life was valuable.  And he decided that, as a Christian, he wanted to do him good.

There is plenty of evil in the world at the moment.  We all have personal experience of being mistreated, misunderstood and let down.  We have all been victims of theft and lies.  And most of us have been verbally, physically and mentally abused.  Yet Jesus says: love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  And he finishes that passage by saying that God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

That is a huge shock!

God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked!?

Why?

I think it’s because a future with people being kind is a lot better than a future of people taking revenge.  Indeed it is a future.  It may not feel good now, in fact it feels horrible at first, but in the long run it is better for everybody.  A future of people being kind means that eventually we’ll be able to trust each other.  

Imagine being able to trust everybody in your street, at work, at school? 

In London?

All it needs if for people to break the cycle of revenge with kindness.  

People like us.

It wasn’t easy for me to be kind to the boy who spat in my face – he didn’t deserve it and I didn’t want to.  It wasn’t easy for David Nott to value and save the ISIS fighter’s life – he certainly didn’t deserve it.  But those are the acts of kindness that God is asking of us.

When I read the news I see maybe more conflict than I have seen before: Horrible racism following our vote to leave the EU, religious and political extremism causing terrorism and the media encouraging increasing polarising opinion. 

What kind of a future does that offer?

It seems to me that our world needs this teaching from Jesus now more than ever.  So let’s be kind to each other - including the ungrateful and the wicked.

Let’s: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:36)

God help us.

That’s what I told the staff and students at Prendergast!

Lent - Day 25 - Deep

Direct Route

Tourist (Tourist)  enters SL with map, turning it upside down this way and that.

T enters SR.

T:                     Oh hello, are you lost?

Tourist:            I do believe I am.

T:                     Where do you want to get?

Tourist:            Well I’ve been all over the world. I’ve trekked in the Himalayas. I’ve sailed down the      

                        Amazon…

T:                     (Cuts in, to audience) Always a good bargain there.

Tourist:            No I mean the Amazon River. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon and even          

                        been to Lewisham.

Both:               Ahhh, Lewisham!

Tourist:            But I’ve never been to Edgware. It’s my deepest longing to get to Edgware on the  

                        Underground.

T:                     (Pause) Well that’s easy. (Points) That’s Kennington Station over there, so it’s one

                        line all the way up on the Northern Line. No changes, simple.

J enters SL and stands to other side of Tourist.

J:                     Hang on a minute! To get to Edgware on the Northern Line you have to go via

                       Hampstead.

T:                    Is that a problem? I mean other than it’s (Agitated and to audience) north of the

                       river and everyone’s ‘Hampstead Heath is so wonderful! Hampstead is so lovely,

                       blah, blah, blah.’ What’s wrong with south of the river I say? I mean is there is any

                       problem going via Hampstead than that?

J:                    Well it’s deep isn’t it? It’s the deepest underground station in London.

Tourist:           Deep? I didn’t realise I would have to go deep to get to Edgware.

T:                    Hang on a minute. You’ve sailed down the Amazon….

J:                    (Cuts in to audience) Good bargains there.

T:                    …..Amazon River…. You sailed down it in a canoe.

Tourist:            But deep underground? That’s scary.

J:                     And what if you get stuck at Hampstead Underground. Do you know how deep

                        that shaft is?

T:                     (Sarcastic) You’re going to tell us right?

J:                    58.5 meters. That’s 192 ft. Shocking!

T:                    (To Person 2) Thanks for that. (To Tourist) But you want to go to Edgware right?

                       That’s your goal?

Tourist:           Yes (tentatively). Yes it is! (definite)

J:                    You’ve got to ask yourself, is it worth it? I mean what if the lift gives out. Then

                        you’ve got to climb the emergency staircase. 320 steps. That’s a lot of steps.

T:                     But if you really want to get to Edgware don’t you think it’s worth taking the risk

                        and making the effort.

Tourist:            I don’t know.

J:                    You don’t have to go deep if you don’t want to. If I were you, instead of going via

                        Hampstead, (Gets out phone) I’d go three stops on the Northern to London Bridge

                        and change on to the Jubilee line.

T:                     What does she want to do that for?

J:                     On the Jubilee and go to Canary Wharf.

T:                     But that’s in the wrong direction.

J:                     There’s a fantastic Dim Sum restaurant at Canary Wharf.

Tourist:            But I want to go to Edgware.

T:                     Yes, she wants to go to Edgware.

Joffe:                But why go to Edgware when you can go to so many other places? Look I’ll tell

                         you what, why don’t you stop off at North Greenwich; take the cable car across

                         the river.

Enter L SR from back and pushes T out of the way to stand next to Tourist.

L:                     You don’t want to do that! (Gets out Ipad) Edgware is it? What you want to do is

                        go one stop on the Northern Line to Elephant and change to the Bakerloo line.

T:                     That’ more like it.

L:                     Six stops and you’re at Oxford Circus.

T:                     But she wants to go to Edgware. (Pause) Don’t you?

Tourist:            I think so.

T:                     No you don’t. You want to go to Oxford Circus for the shops.

Tourist:            (Thinking) Shops sound nice.

T:                      But you said…

L:                      Shops, shops and more shops. I mean why go all that way? Oxford Circus in much

                         nicer.

K enters SL and pushes J out the way to stand next to Tourist

K:                      No, no, no, you don’t want to do that. (Gets out laptop) What you want to do is

                          get on the Northern Line

T:                       That’s what I’ve been saying.

K:                      Then you want to get off at Embankment.

T:                       Embankment?!

K:                       On to the District and Circle…You see that’s a nice shallow line. None of that

                          going deep stuff.

T:                      Well it’s a long way round, but I suppose you can get off and Kings Cross and…

K:                      And stop off at Sloane Square.

T:                      (Exasperated) But the Northern Line is straight through!

K:                      All that way on that deep old line? I don’t think so. See if you get off at Sloane

                         Square you can make a quick detour to the Saatchi Gallery and stop for lunch at

                         Peter Jones. Perfect. Then if you fancy you can just go round and round all day.

T:                      But never getting to your destination. Look the best way to get there is on the

                         Northern Line. Yes, it’s deep and dark and to be honest not the best underground

                         line, but faffing around in Sloane Square or Canary Wharf won’t get you there. Do

                         you want to go Edgware or not?

Tourist:            (Thinking) You know Sloane Square sounds quite nice.

Tourist, J, K and L leave SL talking about how nice Sloane Square is. T is left on the stage looking puzzled. 2nd Tourist enters from back struggling with a map. Pauses, sees T.

Tourist 2:            Excuse me, would you mind telling me how I get to Edgware on the

                           underground?

T:                        Get a taxi!

T storms off leaving the second tourist bemused.

(Written by Tracy and the youth and read by the youth at the Bear Church)

Lent - Day 24 - Dear Seedlings

Dear Seedlings

I wonder how you all are. You were only acorns when I saw you last, but I daresay you are now fine saplings on your way. I look forward to the day when you will be fine Oaks here in Green Park.

As for me, I am old now. Yes, very gnarled on the outside and my girth is rather large. I’ve been climbed, scurried on, pecked, and carved on. I mean really who ever thought for one minute it was a good idea to carve on a tree. Rude! I have many age circles now and I’m grateful for each one. They each mark a year that I’ve lived through all the seasons to be the old tree I am now.

(Starts giggling as if tickled) Sorry, that was the squirrels. They get everywhere.

It’s with a heavy taproot that I must give you some sad news that I heard on the grapevine, or to be more precise, from the grapevine. I must tell you of the untimely demise of two of your older relatives, Twiggy and Elmer.

Now seedlings, you must learn from their mistakes.           

To be a tree our first priority must be to go deep, become grounded, rooted in the earth. No one’s going to give you what you need. You have to dig deep and find it, tap in to the source. Now I know some of you find yourself on paved streets where it’s hard, but if you can’t go down too far, get moving across. Stretch out those roots, meet up with other little saplings and share, dig deeper together.

Once you’ve got all that going on you can think about what’s above. Stretch your branches out, reach for sky and take deep breaths. Carbon dioxide in, oxygen out.  (Do it with me seedlings) Carbon dioxide in, Oxygen out. (sighs) That way you are being what you were intended to be. Take it all in and let it all out. Marvellous.

Remember we are trees. (Dramatic) It was for Treedom that we were set (hesitant)…..Tree.  It doesn’t matter what type of tree you are, just be a tree. (Looks at congregation) Now everyone be a tree!

Your loving father,

Oakley.

(Letter as written by Tracy and the youth, and read by the youth at the Bear)

 

 

Lent - Day 23 - Dear Twiggy

Dear Twiggy

I can’t tell you how upset I was at your letter. What a bitter fruit it was to swallow, that is if I could swallow.

I hate to remind you, but the summer really will end and then where will you be? I’ll tell you where you will be – where you are now, because you are a tree and trees don’t move (unless you’re a Triffid) and when I last heard you were a Sycamore.

 It’s all very well putting all your current nutrients in to your top half, so to speak, but I think you’ll find the winter a killer and I mean that literally, unless you put some thought and effort into growing those roots.

I urge you to think about what happened to your Aunt Maple. One season in all her glory and then she fell apart. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree I say, although I am not for one minute suggesting that you are an apple tree.

For myself I am committing all my energy to going down. Deeper and deeper I go. I have found water, but now I want the purer stuff. I will not give up until I have found the greatest source of nutrients and water to be found.

I certainly don’t have time for all that photosynthesis business. Who cares what our branches look like, or if we’re giving homes to birds or developing green leaves? (Coughs loudly - wheezy) Excuse me I’m having a bit of trouble breathing. I can’t think why.

Your friend in treedom

Elmer 

Lent - Day 22 - Dear Elmer

Dear Elmer

Thank you for your last letter. So long since I heard from you. I realise that you are not the carefree sapling that you used to be. Ah how we used to wave our branches in the air… like we just didn’t care. Those were the days eh? In fact those still are the days for me.

I’m reaching for the sky so to speak and my leaves are greener than ever. I really do feel like I’m branching out in every direction. Birds are nesting in my foliage and children are climbing high. Through these summer days, all sorts of people are resting below the shade of my barnet. (Pats her hair) Not a day goes by when something isn’t happening near my tree. Although I must say I do wonder sometimes if I have the word toilet written on me. Dogs and humans: no respect! But never mind, I’m soaking up the sun and photosynthesising like summer’s going to end by winter.

I thought it was very boring and annoying of you to say I should spend more time concentrating on putting my roots down. I mean why would I want to do that? Why would I want to go deeper? You’re bark-ing up the wrong tree if you ask me. Our job as trees is to be out there in all our splendid leafy glory, don’t you think? I simply don’t have time to spend energy on my roots. I want a glorious life being the best tree I can possibly be. Live while the leaf is young I say. A bird in the bush is worth more than one in the…root. I mean who’s interested in roots anyway? There’s a reason that they’re hidden. They’re so ugly.

 I just don’t believe that there’s water and nutrients to be found down in that earth, I really don’t. In fact I have withdrawn my taproot. I’m a city tree, so I don’t really need one anyway. The water table is quite high enough for now. And I really can’t be bothered to reach out with my other roots.

And have you taken a look at your branches? No? Exactly that’s my point. There’s nothing to see. You’ve not photosynthesised all summer and look at the state of you. Thin spindly branches, while I am glorious. You’re really not giving anything back. I think that everything that matters is up here above ground, the sun, the rain and lots of people to see how wonderful I am.

I don’t’ want to be at loggerheads with you, but I really think you should live a little.

Your dear friend,

Twiggy

Lent - Day 18 - Provoked

As Super Tuesday drew to a close in America I was sobered by the choice of the people.  And provoked to remember a quote from Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

Today I am provoked to remember to try to be less self-interested. 

And pray for our world’s leaders.

Lent – Day 16 and 17 – Dark side

In 1968 the first astronauts to orbit the moon, on Apollo 8, expected to experience radio silence for about 45 minutes as they disappeared around the dark side of the moon. 

(The dark side of the moon is the side that we never see.  We don’t see it because the moon spins on it’s own axis in the opposite direction to it’s orbit at the exact speed needed to ensure that we always see the same side, wherever we are on earth.  Remarkable!)

But the astronauts didn’t experience radio silence.  Instead they heard a strange kind of haunting music.

The music couldn’t have been from earth because the moon itself was blocking any possible contact waves.  So where was it coming from?  It’d be fun to say that it was an alien, or even heaven’s own local radio station, but it turned out to be caused by Jupiter’s strong magnetosphere.

Day 16 of lent was on the dark side of the weekend, out of range of the internet!  It’s a beautiful place of freedom and silence, and it offers the opportunity to see from another angle and listen to noises and voices from other places.

So on day 17 - take some time to go into silence and listen to God’s voice.

Lent - Day 15 - Harley

The other day I happened upon a Harley Davidson dealership.  I wasn’t planning to drop in but when Emily said she needed to go into Debenhams to look at bed sheets, and the harleys were there, right in front of me calling for my attention, I suggested she go ahead while I took a few moments to admire some bikes.  An hour later I walked out of the dealership, not with a Harley, but with an image, nay, a dream of me owning one.  

To me, bikes, both the ones with engines and the ones without, represent freedom and adventure.  Freedom from the restriction of place and traffic, and adventure into the unknown where there are risks and thrills.  Of course not everybody likes bikes, especially motorbikes, and with good reason, but everybody likes something.  Everybody has dreams of having something that offers or appears to offer a slightly better, freer, more exciting, more fulfilling life.  Maybe it’s as simple as a cleaner house or a new pair of shoes.  Or maybe it’s a yacht on the med or a loving relationship.  

Or all of those things, and more!

During lent, abstaining from certain luxuries helps us to remember that they are just that – luxuries, and that whilst we might like to live with them they aren’t actually essential for our lives or our happiness, or our freedom.

However, the presence of God is!

Lent - Day 14 - More than we can Imagine

There are 59.5 million forcibly displaced people in our world at the moment (www.unhcr.org.uk).  That’s enough to fill Wembley stadium 666 times….  Hmmm, maybe the mark of the beast is really a combination of the worship of football and the world’s ability to make it impossible for people to live in their homes?

Don’t quote me on that!

Last year over 1 million refugees, fleeing warzones and persecution in the middle east, made their way into Europe.  And this year many more are expected to come.  I was told this morning that Germany is expecting half a million each year for the next five years. 

That is a huge amount of people to absorb, welcome and mix with.  And that’s before the very real impact of the cultural differences hit.

Nobody really knows how to respond. 

Nobody really knows the shape of Europe to come.

Today let’s think about the God who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20)

And ask for his ideas on how we can respond.

Lent - Day 13 - Imposing Peace

The main headline today on the BBC news website is about a dog that was run over and killed by two policemen in North Wales.  It’s a comparatively small issue but, for a moment, it’s taking up the prime spot in our public consciousness.

It’s a relief from discussions about Europe, the economy, Trump, Putin, IS and the NHS, for sure.  And it’s an opportunity to exercise a few of our pent-up-angry-feelings against injustice in something safe, something that stands little chance of causing us personal harm or leaving us with negative long-term consequences.

But!

But, not much really! 

Not much about the suitability and emphasis of our headline news reports for this ‘lent thoughts’ blog anyway.  

However, following on from yesterday, the dog story does raise more thought about ‘imposing issues’. 

Yesterday I suggested that we step back from the imposing issues in our lives and ask for God’s perspective.  I willingly did it myself because I’d like some things to take up less space in my sights. But I found it’s much easier said than done. 

I suppose that’s why they become big in the first place. 

So today:  Let’s ask God again for his perspective.  And keep asking everyday until we find peace.

I believe and trust that the peace will come.  Though I don’t know when that will be.  

This side of the end of lent or the other?