All posts by tallandrew

The Poor in the Gospel of Luke – an addendum

A few years ago I did a blog series going through the gospel of Luke, discussing what it said to us about the poor (which can be found here). Having recently re-read this series as part of some sermon prep on the same theme, I found (with the help of a commentary) some important additions from chapter 7 of Luke.

John the Baptist is in prison, shortly to be beheaded, and he is having doubts. He knows he is the one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the way for him, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one, or it there is another to come, presumably for his peace of mind. This is Jesus’ response.

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21-23

“Good news is proclaimed to the poor.” A question here would be to ask, who is the poor? Another would be, why is this incident placed here in the gospel? Just before we have two accounts of miracles by Jesus. The first is the centurion who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his servant (7:1-10). He exhibits his faith by saying to Jesus “Just say the word and by servant will be healed.” Following that is the account of jesus raising the dead son of a widow, brought back to life off his funeral bier (7:11-16). After the incident with John the Baptist’s disciples, we have the description of the Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house when a woman who “had lived a sinful life” came in, began crying over Jesus feet and then poured expensive perfume over them – during the meal! (7:36-50)

It is well known that Jesus called to him those who were on the edge of society. In this chapter, Michael Wilcock (from the BST commentary) argues that all the recipients of Jesus grace in these accounts were poor in some way. The centurion was a Roman, and whilst probably materially well-off, he wouldn’t normally have had access to the synagogue, the temple, or Israel’s God. In this sense he was socially poor as he was from the wrong ‘tribe’. The widow was facing material hardship. Her husband had already died at some point in the past, leaving only her son to be a wage earner. In the days before social welfare, families would have been the last line of support before financial hardship, and now her son has died too. Jesus not only reaches into her grief but alleviates her poverty at the same time.

In the final passage, the ‘sinful woman’ was spiritually poor. By being labeled “sinful”, she would have been on the edge of society, and most respectable people would have avoided her. She cries over Jesus’ feet and Jesus proclaims her sins forgiven, and declares “Your faith has saved you”.

So we have the socially poor, materially poor, and spiritually poor all encountering the Kingdom of God in Jesus, with the latter being declared ‘saved’. This reminds me of one of the Lukan Beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20). Jesus’ understanding of the word ‘poor’ goes beyond the material sense that we often associate it with.

Here and elsewhere, Jesus talks about “preaching” or “or claiming” good news to the poor. Yet it is evident from his actions that this also involved practical help. The Kingdom of God comes where gospel words are supported by actions, and actions by words.

Cobblers Column: Who are they?

For today’s match day programme for the game against Accrington Stanley
————-
I can’t be the only one who, on hearing the words “Accrington Stanley”, immediately associates it with a Scouse accent and an advert for milk. Milk, as the advert informs us, is what Ian Rush drinks, and, according to one little boy in the advert, without drinking milk he wouldn’t have been good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. “Who are they?” exclaims the other little boy. “Exactly!” comes the reply.

At the time the advertisement came out, in 1989, the club were in the Northern Premier League, and there is no reason to assume that I, as a young boy growing up in the North East, would have heard of Accrington at all but for that campaign from the Milk Marketing board. The club finally gained promotion to League Two after becoming Conference Champions in 2006, 44 years after a previously dissolved club with the same name (the predecessor to the current club) was forced to resign from The Football League due to bad debts.

“Who are they?” is not a question you would ask of Accrington Stanley today, having maintained a solid position in the division for each of the last seven seasons. In fact, you will not find many in football who will write off the chances of their opponents, whoever they are playing. Just as you should not judge a book by it’s cover, we cannot look at the history of a club and infer anything about the result on a given day, especially given two clubs in the same league. I’m sure Chris Wilder and the squad are approaching this game as any other, with the greatest of respect for the opponents.

Most of us remember the moment when an unemployed 50-year-old amateur singer from West Lothian, shy, bullied as a child, and diagnosed with Asperges Syndrome, took to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent and blew the judges away. What was so powerful about her performance, apart from her excellent singing voice, was that it overcame the misconceptions and initial judgements of people watching. Susan Boyle didn’t look like she should be able to sing, so most of us had written her off before she opened her mouth. Many of us didn’t respect her as a person until she had proven what she could do. Boy, were we wrong about that!

I’ve been guilty of this too, as a student teacher during my PCGE course when I was struggling to teach my subject to disinterested secondary school children (I never did get the hang of teaching). I remember being surprised as I saw someone I had graduated ahead of the previous year doing much better than me. He was someone who looked about 16 and whom, I’d judged, lacked confidence, yet there he was controlling a class and inspiring the pupils. I didn’t expect it. I had written him off and at the time, I’m ashamed to say, showed a lack of respect for him.

Respecting others in football begins with respect for people – for each person we come across day by day. Each person is an amazing creation of God, and when we take the time to look, we can discover that too.

Go on, watch it. You know you want to:

Cobblers Column: Persistence

For the Matchday programme for tonights game against Hartlepool United.
——–
It was certainly an exciting end to our last home game, against Exeter, ten days ago. The second half performance was, in my opinion, excellent, and but for a good performance by the 19-year-old Exeter goalkeeper, Christy Pym, the winning margin could have been a lot more. But credit to our lads who stuck at it, and wave after wave of attacking pressure finally paid off with Marc Richards’ acrobatic winner. This was the third last-minute goal we have scored so far in this campaign and has been followed up by an excellent away win at Dagenham.

I’m sure this sort of persistence will stand the team in good stead as the season progresses. But this makes we wonder: What might this attitude look like in other aspects of our lives? If we want to be good at something, clearly we need to put the time in to practice and keep the effort up. When we see an amazing piece of skill on show on the pitch, like Marc’s bicycle kick, it is certainly the result of talent, but it is also the result of a lot of behind-the scenes hard work. Practice makes perfect, as they say. And in sport, the results of practicing are there to see. But what about at work, at home, or in our relationships?

For things that matter, it is worth stopping every so often to assess whether what we are putting in to them is giving us the result we want. And if not, what do we want to change? For many of us the question will come down to where we spend our time – does this accurately represent the priorities we have in our lives?

In our church this autumn, a few couples are committing to set aside time to talk to their partners about a different aspect of their relationship each week for seven weeks – like an MOT for relationships. At it’s core, it is simply an investment of time into the most important relationship of their lives – a distinct period set aside to listen and talk to one another. Participants would like their relationships to last the distance, and are therefore being persistent in their efforts along the way. Looking at couples who have been happy in their relationships for many years, it is safe to assume that they have put the work in over the years – to overcome obstacles, re-evaluate expectations and make some new common priorities.

There may be a similar analogy in our work lives too. Where do we want to go? In this case, being persistent may mean looking at the long game. It may result in re-prioritising aspects of our work, or even stopping to analyse what we want out of our careers. Do we need to change jobs, retrain in another field. In either, persistence is key.

Against Exeter the persistence of the players paid off. Today I’m hoping it will do the same – but before the 89th minute please, to save all of our nerves!

Cobblers Column: Busy

For the Northampton Town vs Exeter game today.
——————————
The season is only three weeks old and already the Cobblers are facing their seventh match this afternoon against Exeter. Since the beginning of preseason, it’s been a busy time of hard work by all, with not much chance for a break. Stuart, Craig and the team of fitness coaches and physios have had to make sure that everything is paced correctly for the players to be in peak condition – and not overtired – come match days.

There have been times in my working life when I feel that I’m staggering through a mountain of tasks with hardly a chance to sit down. I’m sure that is the case with many people. Keeping fresh in the midst of a heavy workload is tough. If you scour the internet there is plenty of advice available, some better than others, but these are a few things which can help us during busy periods.

1. Get enough sleep. Whilst it can be fun to have a late night out from time to time, as we get older, it seems to take longer and longer to recover the next day. I find I need about eight hours sleep per night to function well, but for each person this is different. Shortly after our second child was born, I was noticeably struggling to stay alert during important meetings! Skimping on sleep makes us less focussed, more grumpy, and can be unproductive in the long run.

2. Take time off each week. In the early days of the Soviet empire they experimented with different lengths of working week in order to boost productivity. They failed, and in 1940 returned to seven days, like the rest of the world. The principle of taking at least one day off per week to rest and spend time with family is a Biblical one. The story of creation (whether you read it literarily or metaphorically) describes God working for six days and resting on the seventh. Hence, we seem to have been created with the need to rest for at least one day per week. My day off cannot be at a weekend (Sunday services!) but I always aim to take one full 24 hour period off each week.

3. Schedule me-time during the day. As little as 30 minutes of quiet thought per day can have a significant effect on our wellbeing. I start each day by reading a passage from Bible and praying for people, issues and situations on my mind, which sets me up for the day ahead. Others I know make time to be with their thoughts or contemplate the day by walking the dog on their own, or taking time out over lunch.

4. Say ‘no’. If there is an important task to be completed, prioritising it above less urgent issues or distractions can be highly liberating. I’ll admit I’m terrible at this, but I am learning the art of saying “No”, which doesn’t always go down well, but can be valuable in the long run in reducing stress and achieving what you set out to do!

Cobblers Column: Character

Today’s match day column for the game against Shrewsbury

———————

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who watched with amazement last season as Liverpool, spearheaded by the deadly duo of Suarez and Sturridge, got within an inch of the Premiership title. Suarez was in the form of his life and was pulling defences apart on an almost weekly basis. After the controversies of the season before, he was finally making headlines for the right reasons.

And then we watched this summer as an innocuous challenge turned into something ugly during a World Cup group match. For the third time in his career he sank his teeth into an opposition player. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe he’d bitten someone again. On the other, it didn’t surprise me at all.

I recently read an article by an author who summed up our public lives like this: Character is King.

Our character – the traits and qualities that determine how we think of and treat others – can be our biggest strength or our greatest weakness. All of us have positive aspects to our character as well as negative. Unfortunately, in pressure situations it is often the negative characteristics that come out. We can all think of the “otherwise good bloke” who loses his head from time to time, or the office manager who loves putting others down. Left unchecked, these negative aspects can destroy us. They are worth working on to ensure that they aren’t what people remember us for.

Sixteen years ago, another young footballer was punished after an act of petulance on the pitch on the world stage. Afterwards, he received death threats, was booed at every away game up and down the country for the rest of the season, and was vilified by the press. But four years later, his reputation had completely transformed. He had gone from being seen as the cocky young kid who’d been sent off and had got his celebrity girlfriend pregnant, to a devoted husband and father, and a man who always worked 100% for the team. Earlier this year David Beckham spoke about it like this: “That sending off made me as a person”. It was quite clear to see in the years following the incident how he buckled down and attempted to change his ways.

Sadly we won’t be seeing the silky skills of Louis Suarez in the Premiership this season. He’ll be sitting out this weekend, serving his suspension, as his new teammates in Barcelona kick off in La Liga again. But I do hope he works on that biting thing. It would be nice to remember him not just as a great player, but one who achieves success after reforming from his very public mistakes.

Best of luck to all the lads out there today against Shrewsbury. May they demonstrate their very positive characteristics of determination, discipline, and teamwork in order to take all three points!

Are we listening?

I’m in the middle of reading Jeremiah. He had been talking about the fall of Jerusalem for decades, but no-one was listening. Finally, with the Babylonians at the gates of the city, he is approached for advice. First king Zedekiah. God sword to him through Jeremiah is that the city will fall, best for him and his family if he surrenders, then his life and the life of his family will be spared (Jer 38). Zedekiah listened, but didn’t heed those words. When the Babylonians captured him, they killed his family in front of him and then put out his eyes. (ch 39)

A few months on and everything Jeremiah has said has come true. You would have thought that his credibility would rise. And it had – risen enough for him to be consulted. Unfortunately not enough for his words to be heeded. Again a delegation of officers escaping the Babylonians came to him, headed up by Johanan son of Kareah, an army officer. They ask Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for guidance over whether to flee to Egypt or to sit out the occupation in Judah. Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’” Jer 42:10-12

He goes on to say that if they go to Egypt, the Babylonians will surely follow and overthrow Egypt as well. Once again they ignore his advice, dragging Jeremiah to Egypt with them.

Twice, the leaders have consulted God (through Jeremiah) but not obeyed. in both cases they have already got a plan and consult as a way of gaining a Divine approval of what they were going to do anyway. Don Carson has this to say on the subject:

“Most movements that spring up from the fertile soil of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God too deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the ways we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods….”

Think crusades. Think the angry street preacher pronouncing hell and judgement. He goes on:

“God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (with either never arise, or, if the do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people top be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorise out tearless harshness and ruthless condescension”

Think Westboro Baptist Church with their tasteless picketing.

“There wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God that what we need to sanction our preferences.”

Are we asking God to bless what we are going to do anyway, or are we seeking his will on it, even if we don’t like it?

Premiership predictions.

The football season starts tomorrow. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season

First: Chelsea. They have strengthened well in the summer, bringing in some quality midfielders and a couple of people who can score goals
Second: Arsenal. The “no trophies for x years” mantle has gone. Again they have strengthened well. The key this year, as last, is how strong their second 11 is when some first choices get injuries.
Third: Man City. Defending the title is always difficult. Her they improved significantly since last season.
Fourth: Man Utd. I expect a big improvement on last year with new players and a new manager. Van Persie will be a new man with a manager who believes in him.
Fifth. Liverpool
Sixth Spurs
Seventh Everton or Newcastle.

Relegated: Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Leicester. Palace have lost a good manager on the eve of the new season – the guy who kept them up last session, and this is always going to be unsettling. West Brom are also a bit of an unknown quantity. They were a little lucky last year and have changed their manager again, to someone I know little about.

I’ll check back in in May and assess how I did.