Meal

Meal

There are few things that I appreciate more in life than enjoying a meal with good friends and family. As an intentional way of sharing our lives with one another, it is unparalleled. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a high pressure situation. In fact it can be quite a casual act (unless you happen to being to a Michelin Starred restaurant!). We invite whom we like and spend the time in whatever way we want to.

This wasn’t the case in 1st Century Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. In that culture sharing a meal with someone had significance that it is difficult for us to imagine today. It was not a casual act. Rules surrounding meals were deeply embedded in the religious purity system that dominated society at that time.

These rules governed not only what might be eaten and how it was to be prepared, but also with whom one might eat. Refusing to share a meal was a form of social ostracism. Pharisees (and others) would not eat with someone who was seen as religiously impure.

In Matthew chapter 9 we read the story of how Jesus called the disciple of the same name, and then was invited to his house for dinner. Now Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a social pariah. He worked for the hated Roman occupiers, and he probably ripped off his countrymen in order to line his pockets.

No good Jew would have been seen within a mile of Matthew if they could at all avoid it. They definitely would not have eaten a meal with him. The religious culture of the day would have seen that as a tacit endorsement of the tax collector’s behaviour. It would have made them as ‘impure’ as Matthew by association.

Therefore when Jesus accepts Matthew’s invitation to his house for dinner, he was doing something no other Jewish religious teacher of that time would have done.

He was putting relationship ahead of rules. People before dogma. Love over law. He was causing scandal amongst the establishment and destroying any chance of his movement being acceptable to the status quo.

More than that, by choosing to eat with these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ Jesus was enacting a powerful message about the Kingdom of God, and indeed God himself. He was demonstrating God’s unwillingness to exclude anyone who welcomes him into their life, regardless of religious taboos or societal expectations.

He was demonstrating that love trumps law every time.

This really goes to the heart of what Jesus ministry was about. This is the inclusive Kingdom of God he taught about and demonstrated through his actions.

Are there people we as Christians in 21st Century Britain struggle to relate to? Are there social groups that we consciously or sub-consciously exclude from the Kingdom of God? Do we ever put law ahead of love when dealing with others? Are we more worried about our reputation than those in need around us?

The church needs to demonstrate the love of Christ, not the law of the Pharisees. We have the most incredible, life-changing, joyous and liberating message to share- let’s not limit it’s reach!

Plastic

Plastic

I had never heard of Henderson Island, an uninhabited paradise in the South Pacific, until this week when news broke that it is buried under 38 million pieces of plastic waste. That equates to 18 tonnes of bottle tops, cosmetics jars and six-pack rings, with a further 13,000 items washing up every day and adding to the mound covering the atoll.

I found out about this disaster through a tweet from the Guardian newspaper, and when I clicked through to the full article, the scale of this environmental tragedy genuinely shocked me.

It’s moments like this that have a capacity to shake us out of our complacency. The honest truth is that the devastating damage Henderson Island is currently facing is just a tiny example of the ecological disaster humanity has wrought on this planet, and most of the time I ignore it. I live as if it isn’t happening.

And that fact has been playing on my mind ever since.

For me as a Christian, what makes this even worse is much of the ecological mess we face today is rooted in western 19th Century Christian theology, specifically the misinterpretation of the Genesis 1:28 command to dominate the earth.

That people who claim to be the ambassadors of God’s Kingdom were first in the queue to exploit and irrevocably damage His good creation is difficult to stomach. As Brian McLaren so eloquently pus it “…industrial-era Christians have used toxic, industrial-strength beliefs to legitimise the plundering of the earth, with concern for future generations of humans, much less our fellow creatures.”

Part of being a Christian is being humble enough to recognise and acknowlegde when we’ve done things that hurt others, both individually, and collectively as the church. Our part in creating the current environmental crisis is surely worthy of such a response.

But the Christian faith is about more than owning up when we have done wrong. In Jesus teaching and example we see that life in the Kingdom of God is rooted in loving, generous, kind, life-affirming, altruistic, sacrificial service of others!

We can express this Kingdom living in how we treat the environment around us, which in turn affects how we love our neighbour. Evangelical pastor John Piper expressed this far more eloquently than I could;  “I think the best argument for environmental concern is love for people. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. He put us here to enjoy it. So, if we mess it up we are hurting people.

So whether it’s choosing to recycle, picking up rubbish when we walk past it on the beach, swapping energy supplier to a green provider like Ecotricity or walking a bit more instead of driving, or writing to your local M.P. to lobby for progressive legislative change, your actions, no matter how small you think they are, make a positive difference. They enhance the life of others rather than injuring them and hurting our home.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It starts small, but then grows into something much larger and more significant than you would expect, given what you had at the beginning. This is how our small environmental choices, when combined with the actions of others, begin to have an impact on the crisis we are facing.

According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in our midst (Luke 17:21) and that we as his followers are part of it. We can partner with God in the restoration of our planet! What an awesome thought!

A Common Kingdom

blogA worthwhile question to ask before starting any endeavour is ‘why?’ With blogging this question is especially pertinent. There are over 200,000 blog posts published every day on WordPress alone. What does my voice add to that cacophony?

The answer is, I hope, some encouragement and positivity. A Common Kingdom will be a blog about what it means to follow Jesus. Not a radical idea, I realise, but nevertheless one that I hope can bring value to your lives.

For me, Christianity should be lived in community. Mostly in person. That said, sharing experiences of God online to build each other up is a valuable element of 21st century faith. I would love it if A Common Kingdom were somewhere that we can explore belief in an open and positive way. We have a generous and inclusive God, and I’d love this blog to reflect this truth.

Another ‘why’ is that being creative is part of what makes us human, and reflects the image of God within us. Just as our heavenly father creates, so do we; whether that be music, painting, woodworking, writing or any other way in which you care to express yourself. I’m pretty terrible at most things on that list, but writing I can do! I trust I will encourage you in your journey with God.

Finally, the vast majority of the progressive Christian blogs I read and enjoy are American. There doesn’t seem to be as much content being generated here in the UK, and I’d like to be part of the conversation. Whilst I love our cousins in the U.S., I think there are some subtle differences in how we see the world on this side of the Atlantic, and I’d like to articulate that.

My aim is to post something new here every week, probably on a Saturday morning. For me, quality content is important, and rushing to get a blog out every day, or even every three days is not worth it. I’d rather take my time producing something I know is great and I believe you’ll enjoy.

I want to finish this post with a quote from Brian McLaren that inspired me recently. “Whatever we learn about the secret message of Jesus should make us want to seek more, learn more, experience more.” That’s my heart; to seek more, to learn more and to experience more of Him. I pray this blog, and your experiences could be part of that.