How Baptists Read the Bible (& Violet Hedger)

 On Tuesday morning a few of us gathered for morning prayer.

We read from the Psalms, from 2 Kings and from 1 Timothy.

The 1 Timothy reading included the verses we have read this morning:

‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man’ (1 Tim


and elsewhere in 1 Corinthians it says,

‘women should remain silent in churches’ (1 Cor. 14.34).

What do we do about these verses?


Violet Hedger was the first woman to be accepted for training as a Baptist minister.

The year was 1922.

She trained at Regent’s Park College, although the principal,

Henry Wheeler Robinson, (who had became principal after she was accepted,)

did his best to pretend she wasn’t there.

In fact, where as all the other male ministerial students had their examination

fees paid for by the Principal, which was the custom,

Violet had to pay her own.

It was only in 1990 Paul Fiddes, who was the then current Principal at Regent’s

Park, wrote Violet a cheque to cover those fees.

The cheque was for £5!

Following her training,

Violet went on to be a Baptist minister in Derby, Halifax, Chatham, and Chalk


It was during the war that she was minister at Chatham in Kent.

And her church there, Zion Baptist, was bombed three times.

On the final occasion it was bombed,

she was buried in the rubble and knocked unconscious,

she was rescued but left permanently disabled.

Not that this stopped her. Her final pastorate at Chalk Farm,

saw her rebuild – both physically and spiritually – the bombed-out church.

It was said of Violet that she was:

‘a pioneer in women’s ministry

            she battled against family opposition

            widespread prejudice

            emotional breakdowns

            and physical disability

to fulfil the ministry to which the Lord called her.’ [i]

She died in 1992.


In 1941 she wrote an article for the Baptist Quarterly reflecting on her ministry. [ii]

She begins by saying

‘a newspaper placard asserted to me as I walked through Oxford Street, that “War gives woman her chance.” If that be true, then it s tragic that only in this awful failure of man’s control of the civilisation he devised is a chance given to half of humanity … It should be ‘the Church gives woman her chance.”

She goes on to tell several stories, like:

  • I was delighted when, leaving after I had taken a service, I was bidden “Goodnight” at the door by a short-sighted but loyal deacon, who said, “You should come next Sunday and hear our own minister.”
  • At one Yorkshire anniversary, I crawled under a scaffolding to the pulpit, and then, forgetting, that I was standing on a small box, I stepped back, and disappeared in the middle of the sermon!
  • There are many who doubt if it be safe to be buried by a woman. A family – members of my own church – asked the Vicar to take the graveside service, and I that in the house!
  • I am very cheered that my deacons’ wives say that their husbands have never been home so early from deacons’ meetings before!
  • Of course, there are some whose main concern is the kind of frocks a woman will wear, or her hats. Having seen some minister’s ties, I think there is little need for worry!
  • At a town in Surrey, where I was taking an anniversary, my hostess came to meet me. She expected someone tall, elderly, with glasses, wearing a widow’s weeds. As no such person appeared, she went home and left me on the platform!
  • So many churches think of women in terms of washing-up and tea-making – estimable occupations in themselves, and I think highly of those men who undertake such duties at home, and wish they would do them sometimes for the church.
  • The Call to a spiritual vocation comes in the same way to a woman as it does to man; brooding over the week that has to be done to evangelise and rebuild the world, there comes a clear to this Christian ministry …


Why tell the story of Violet Hedger?

Why remember her life?

I think one reason is it tells us something about how Baptists read the Bible,

and verses like the ones from 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.

As Baptists we take the Bible seriously.

We believe Scripture to be trustworthy and authoritative

and yet we have ordained Violet and many other women.

Many Baptists (but not all) have said that women should teach,

that they should have authority over men,

that they should be the opposite of silent in church.

In my 6 years at Belle Vue we have welcomed the ministry

of Ruth, Myra, Sheila, Emma – all ordained ministers of the gospel

and that is not forgetting the ministry of Sue, Brenda, Kalbi and Liejse.

My own life is grateful to many women who have taught me the gospel:

Maggi, Fleming, Carol, Beverly, Sally, Beth, Paula, the list could go on …

This appears in direct contradiction to the teaching of

1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.


Let me offer some suggestions on how Baptists have tended to read the Bible. [iii]

  • We have said the most important place to read the Bible is not by ourselves at home, but to read it together as a congregation.
  • We have said we know Jesus through the Bible, we discover and encounter him within the Bible, but we know Jesus beyond and before the Bible and that he has authority above the Bible
  • We read the Bible to discern the mind of Christ for our life and mission, that is, we read it intentionally and expectantly, not casually or occasionally.
  • We read the Bible believing that there is more light and truth that God will reveal to us, which means:
    • We read the Bible in the present tense – addressed to us today, here, now.
    • We read the Bible as part of an on-going conversation within the church to what being a Christian looks like
    • We accept that there will be sometimes a diversity of interpretation and the strong likelihood of disagreement, but we are bound together in friendship and in trust.
    • We read the Bible with modesty, we do not claim to have the final word
  • We read the Bible with the Holy Spirit, who guides us into truth.


What this means is that when we come to the ministry of women in the church,

we have looked to Galatians 3.28:

            ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,

            neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

We have looked to Acts 2:

            I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

            Your sons and daughters will prophesy …

We have looked to Acts 10 and how the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles without

them becoming Jewish …

and to which Peter said has ‘God has shown me …’ something new

and later defending his actions to baptise by saying that

God has given the Holy Spirit to both Jew and Gentile and so who was he

to hinder God.

We ordained Violet and many other women,

            because we came to see that the Spirit was leading us to read the Bible in

new ways, just as he led Peter.

            because we came to see that baptism is the great leveller,

                        it removes any sense of hierarchy or restriction.

            One person has suggested we ordain women, because we baptise girls. [iv]

In so doing we have overlooked the verses in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, [v]

We have discerned that they are not binding on us,

            but that rather they were words written for particular problems in

particular churches. [vi]

We have said the Bible is not a text book or an encyclopaedia,

                        in which ever verse carries the same weight.

            Instead the authority and leading of the Spirit

            and the witness of other parts of the Bible have lead us and continue to

lead us to affirm, recognise, receive, the ministry of women.

We continue to ordain those like Violet because we continue to discern a call in

the lives of women to ministry.

We remember Violet Hedger

because was among the first whose call to ministry was recognized.

We remember Violet Hedger

because without her and others like Edith Gates,

many other women’s call to ministry might have been denied.

We remember Violet Hedger

in a world of “locker room” talk,

in which women can still be seen as subject to the power of men,

            to which we say the gospel says different.

We remember Violet Hedger

because she is evidence of the way we read the Bible as Baptists.

We are not literalists or liberals,

instead we seek to read carefully and be open to the inspiration of Holy Spirit

to lead us into truth as we discern it.

As we continue to consider issues of sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, war, immigration,

money, Europe, Islam, and many more,

            It is this way of reading the Bible we have learned,

                        looking to Jesus,

dependent on the Holy Spirit

                        holding our interpretations lightly,

                        but our convictions strongly

               that will see the church be faithful to her Lord.



[ii] Violet Hedger, ‘Some experiences of a women minister’, Baptist Quarterly 10.5 (1941)

[iii] I’ve been helped here by Curtis Freeman, Contesting Catholicity (2014), 273-309.


[v] For some suggestions on how to read these verses see Tom Wright, ‘Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis’ and in the case of 1 Cor 14, see Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth (Wipf & Stock, 2015)

[vi] Leonard Champion, ‘The Ministerial Service of Women’, Baptist Quarterly 20.5 (1964), 202.

A Short Interview with Tim Carter

A short interview with Tim Carter, who has just published The Forgiveness of Sins (James Clarke, 2016)

You seem to have an obsession with sin! As your new book and your previous book are about sin. What led you to write both the first, and then this new book?

Actually, I prefer to think that I have made progress in moving from writing about sin in the first book to writing about forgiveness in the second: that feels like I am moving in a positive direction! Actually something that bugs me about the church is that we have been given an amazing message of forgiveness, yet we are very good at making people feel guilty…

The first book grew out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the way in which people seemed to assume that St. Paul must have had a really negative view of human nature because he talks about people being enslaved to sin. In that book I tried to argue that Paul refers to sin as a power in the specific context of the debate concerning justification by faith rather than by works of the law: he wanted to define the human plight in a way that made it clear the Torah was not an effective boundary marker separating righteous Jews from Gentile sinners. To this end Paul argues that sin reigns over everyone, whether they observe the law or not, and the only solution is to die with Christ to the power of sin and to live one’s life in the liberating power of the Spirit. In this way the ethnic boundary marker of Torah is replaced by the eschatological boundary marker of Spirit-reception.

The second book arose from the realisation that Luke writes more than anyone else in the New Testament about the ‘forgiveness of sins’, yet he is often criticised for having a weak theology of the atonement: particularly in the version of Luke-Acts found in Codex Bezae, Luke seems actively to avoid suggesting that ‘Christ died for our sins.’ That led me into exploring the link between the forgiveness of sins and the death of Jesus in Luke-Acts. I think that Luke actually sees a close correlation between divine forgiveness and human interpersonal forgiveness.

Sometimes people ask why Jesus had to die before God could forgive us. The answer is that he didn’t, at least not in the sense that the wrath of God had to be satisfied by some sacrificial bloodletting before he could bring himself to forgive us. Rather, in Jesus God himself takes the place of the innocent victim of injustice, and it is from that context of suffering and vulnerability that God extends forgiveness to sinful humanity. Without the cross, the idea that God could just write off the sins of those who perpetrate atrocities against others is abhorrent: only through the death of Jesus does God have the right to forgive our sins. That’s why Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross (recorded in Codex Sinaiticus) is so important.

Then I found myself wondering about the phrase ‘the forgiveness of sins’, its antecedents in the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, the different ways it is used in the New Testament, and the contexts in which the phrase is used in the early church. The more I looked into it, the more I felt that this subject was important enough and interesting enough to warrant writing a book about it.

How have you found the time to research and write alongside being a local church minister? Have Brighton Road had to hear lots of sermons on ‘the forgiveness of sins’?

It’s taken twelve years! I have benefited enormously from opportunities to share my thoughts at a variety of study groups: Steve Finamore ran a small study group a few years ago; the Colleges ran some conferences for ‘Baptist Ministers doing Theology in Context’ and LST ran a series of annual research conferences; then there was the annual British New Testament Conference. Without the seminar opportunities provided at these events the book would never have been written: I aimed to produce a paper every year, and each of those papers became the basis for a chapter in the book.

The advantage of writing about something like forgiveness is that there is a constant interplay between the reality of pastoral ministry and what I read in the study. And I am fortunate in that I find that studying invigorates my ministry. So, I aim to spend half a day a week studying and make full use of study weeks and sabbaticals to bolster that. Brighton Road have been fully supportive of my studies, and I am profoundly grateful to them. They haven’t had to sit through loads of sermons on forgiveness, but if any of the brave souls who have bought the book actually read it, they will find the basis for a number of sermons in its pages.

Can we expect to see in the future a third book on sin?

I have, on occasion, been referred to as ‘Dr Sin’ at Brighton Road, and I am not sure I want the label to stick! At the back of my mind are some thoughts about guilt and shame which would tie in with the ‘sin’ theme, I guess. But whereas immersing myself in forgiveness has been good for me, I am not sure that exploring guilt and shame would be such an edifying experience. Anyway, there has been a fourteen year gap between the last book and this one, so don’t hold your breath.

What have you been reading recently that you might recommend?

I’d want to recommend two great books that tie in with the theme of forgiveness and atonement.

Simon Gathercole has written a pithy study entitled, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker Academic, 2015): in about 100 pages he explores different ways of understanding the death of Jesus and examines 1 Cor. 15:3 and Rom. 5:6-8. It’s a book that can be read at a single sitting, but which stimulates a lot of helpful thinking and reflection.

A second book which is really well written is David Downs’ Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity (Baylor University Press, 2016). This explores how Jews and early Christians all saw atoning value in practical acts of mercy, and argues that this way of thinking can also be found in the New Testament. The challenge that stays with me from reading this book is a practical one: faced with the rise of docetism, the church argued that orthodox belief in the physical death and resurrection of Jesus went hand in hand with caring for the physical needs of the poor. It’s a potent reminder that faith and praxis always need to go hand in hand.

11 books every Christian should read before they turn 25

Kris Kandiah has posted on Christian Today 11 books every Christian should read before they turn 25. I thought I'd construct my own list, a little bit less 'evangelical' perhaps. Krish's list looks a bit serious, so I deliberately included some lighter books.

  1. Being Christian - Rowan Williams, SPCK - This is wonderful small book with four chapters on baptism, eucharist, bible and prayer. Its readable, profound and gets at the heart of being Christian. 
  2. Surprised by Hope - Tom Wright, SPCK - Christianity has been skewed towards a gospel of heaven when you die, and Tom helpfully corrects that reading with a much bigger gospel and a much better reading of the New Testament. 
  3. Worshipping Trinity - Robin Parry, Paternoster / Cascade - Who is God? is the most important question we can ask and the church has confessed that God is Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is one of the most accessible ways into the doctrine of the Trinity I know and it is framed around worship. It should leave every reader writing to Hughes, Redman and co. for worship that more faithfully confesses the Christian God.
  4. The Provocative Church - Graham Tomlin, SPCK - This book tackles the question of evangelism, but as an activity of the whole church. Evangelism is a matter of the church being the church and as such provocative and interesting.
  5. Messy Spirituality - Mike Yaconelli, Hodder & Stoughton - Mike Yaconelli was a mainstay of Greenbelt in the 1990s before his tragic death in a car accident. This book is honest, funny, challenging and lacks any pretension.
  6. The Nazareth Manifesto - Sam Wells, Wiley-Blackwell - This is a book with a simple argument, but is an extremely challenging read. Wells argues that most mission and community engagement is stuck on 'doing for' and should be centred on 'being with'. This goes further than When Helping Hurts.
  7. Redescribing Reality - Walter Brueggemann, SCM - Brueggemann opens up how to read the bible, and in particular, the Old Testament in ways that it begins to becoming a living word. I would recommend anything by Brueggemann, but chose this book because it is an attempt to help people see that reading the Bible is nothing less, as the title suggests, than re-describing reality.
  8. Unapologetic - Francis Spufford, Faber & Faber - This is nothing less than attempt to explain Christianity to those who have no time for it. In our current 'secular age' we need more of this kind of writing.
  9. Face to Face - Frances Young, SPCK - This book and the next pick up too particular issues. This a book that explores a theology of suffering and a theology of disability through the narrative of Young and her son Arthur. (A more recent update has been published as Arthur's Call, which includes the more recent story of Arthur.)
  10. Making Peace with the Land - Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, IVP - This book is about the environment, the land, food and how we might live in ways that honour and respect it as God's creation. 
  11. A Short History of Christianity - Stephen Tomkins, Lion - I thought Diarmaid MacCulloch A History of Christianity just might seem to long at over 1216. I would argue that as Christians we must be aware of our history, high and lows. The church didn't start with us. This is a short history and  entertaining one (similar in style to John O'Farrell's history of Britain).

The Forgiveness of Sins by Tim Carter

ForgsinsGreat to see this new book from Tim Carter, a Baptist minister in Horsham and a New Testament scholar. He first book was on the language of sin in Paul, published as Paul and the Power of Sin (Cambridge, 2002) and based on his PhD. This new book The Forgiveness of Sins (James Clarke, 2016) explores the language of 'forgiveness of sins' as it is found in the New Testament and early church fathers. Tim is one of a very few Baptist ministers in pastoral charge of a church (see also Ed Pillar, Simon Woodman) who also continue to research and publish academically. We need more like him.   


British Baptist Biblical Scholars (8) Marie E. Isaacs

Regent's Park College (1960-1962)

DPhil (Oxford, 1972)


Chaplain, University of Birmingham (1962-1968)

Doctoral Studies, St. Hugh's, Oxford (1969-1972). Supervised by Morna Hooker

Tutor, Heythrop College (1973-2001)

Minister, Heath Street Baptist Church (1987-2011)

See here for some reflections on the 50th anniversary of her ordination as a Baptist minister in 2013. Marie was the fifth woman to be ordained in the Baptist Union.



The Concept of Spirit:A Study of Pneuma in Hellenistic Judaism and its bearing on the New Testament (1976)

'The Prophetic Spirit in the Fourth Gospel', Heythrop Journal 24.4 (1983)

Sacred Space: An Approach to the Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Sheffield Academic Press, 1992)

'Hebrews' in John Barclay and John Sweet (eds.), Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context. Festschrift in Honour of Morna Hooker's 65th Birthday (Cambridge, 1996)

'Priesthood and the Epistle to the Hebrews', Heythrop Journal 38.1 (1997)

'Hebrews 13.9-16 Revisited', New Testament Studies 43.2 (1997)

Why Bother with Hebrews?', Heythrop Journal 43.1 (2002)

Reading Hebrews and James: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2002)

'Hebrews' in Mills and Wilson (eds.), Mercer Commentary on the New Testament (Mercer, 2003)

Seeing More Clearly with the Eyes of Love - A Short Reflection

Seeing-More-Clearly_website-publicityI popped into London this evening to share in a Shakespearian liturgy at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Seeing More Clearly with the Eyes of Love: A Liturgy for voices based on Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The liturgy and accompanying music was written and composed by some of the faculty at Regent's Park College, Oxford.

This was a liturgy; we were a congregation and not an audience, that is our voices responded and shared in this act of worship.

Woven into the liturgy were voices from A Midsummer's Night Dream, excerpts from Song of Songs and the letter to the Ephesians, five freshly commissioned poems (performed on this occasion by the poets themselves), pieces of music, prayers of intercessions, and two symbol actions. 

The amount of ideas and voices was overwhelming, too much to take in on one occasion. A friend who was one of the multiple voices and was participating for the third time in the liturgy said she was just beginning to be hear it properly. Having a copy of the liturgy allows time to return more slowly to the words.

ShakespeareI confess I don't know A Midsummer Night's Dream as well as I should, so there was much I probably didn't get as I might otherwise have done. (I should have got round to watching the recent BBC version).

What did I like? I like the ambition of the liturgy, the way we journeyed through the play and also the pattern of worship. I loved the music, composed by Myra Blyth (who for her many talents, did not know this was one). The music was suitably Shakespearian in sound, but also had echoes of Karl Jenkins and his The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. The final piece, which worked as a means of Blessing and Dismissal was wonderful. The intercessions were powerful and brought the themes of love and God into the concerns of our day. 

I think the liturgy would have worked without the five poems, but in reflecting on different characters from the play, they helped open up the play in new ways. The liturgy brilliant borrowed lines from the play, the poems and scripture in the short interludes of music.

I think it would have been good if the congregation could have shared in the singing. This might need to compose a few simpler pieces and do a John Bell style teaching them before the liturgy began.

Being there reminded me of some of the worship services of Ikon, in its use of drama, voices and response and the liturgy would go down well at something like Greenbelt.

A video was made of the service held in Stratford yesterday and apparently might make its way on to You Tube. 

Thank you Paul Fiddes and others from the Oxford Centre of Christianity and Culture.

Seeing more clearly with the eyes of love: A Shakespearian Liturgy

Paul Fiddes has put together a group of people to create 'a liturgy of voices based on Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, called 'Seeing more clearly with the eyes of love'.

The liturgy weaves together excerpts from the play with elements from the traditional Christian liturgy in order to explore Shakespeare's own theme of clarifying the vision which belongs to love. The liturgy includes newly commissioned music and new pieces written and performed by five contemporary poets (Micheal O'Siadhail, Sinead Morrissey, Michael Symnnons Roberts, Lawrence Sail and Jenny Lewis), based on characters in the play.

The liturgy is being performed in Stratford and London.

Holy Trinity Church, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon - Tuesday 2nd August 5.30pm

St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square - Wednesday 3rd August, 7pm 

Where God matters: A Sermon

You don’t get to choose God.

You don’t get to decide what God is like.

You don’t get to pick your role in the story.

Your life is not of your choosing.

Your salvation is not of your doing.


God calls.

God is who God is.

God invites.

God make yours life possible.

God saves.

That’s been the recurring message as we’ve look at the call stories of

Abraham, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The Bible calls us to re-write our biographies,

with God as the subject of every sentence.

This is not straightforward

because we are taught to believe

that every sentence should begin ‘I.’

Most of our lives are centred around ‘I’.

We have accepted the narrative that we get to make our lives up,

that we are the author of our stories,

we are the creator of our destinies.

We have come to believe that we can be anything we want to be,

we can do anything we set out to do,

if we desire it enough, if we want it enough.

This is the formula for almost every Disney movie:

            whether you’re a panda, a rat, a snail or a car. [i]

The Christian gospel helps us to see our place.

We arrive in the middle of a much bigger story,

which didn’t begin with us and will not end with us.

This is a story that begins with God:

            ‘in the beginning God …’

and this is a story that will end with God:

            ‘then I saw a new heavens and a new earth …

            and God’s dwelling place is now among the people,

and he will dwell with them.’

We live in God’s creation,

            and ‘all the world’s a stage’ to quote Shakespeare,

                        for God to share his life with us.

This is a story in which God is closely involved,

            a God who speaks and acts

                        and in Jesus becomes flesh.

Talk about God and predestination (Rom 8.29, Eph 1.4-5),

            is to see that God’s intention for creation

                        and for humanity does not change.

We are created and called for fellowship with God.

This is Plan ‘A’ and there is no Plan ‘B’.

God’s intention before creation and God’s goal

            is that we might share in the life of God.

Of course we’re not sure we like the language of predestination.

We’re not sure it is good news.

It is too often heard as bad news, because predestination has meant

that human beings have been foreordained either to be either sheep or goats,

and mostly goats.

Rather than being good news this sounds like very bad news.

It condemns those who are not elect, who not chosen,

by God to a life without God in eternity.

Why would God will some to reject him?  

What has gone wrong here is to associate predestination and election with eternity,

when in the Bible, the focus is on mission.

            Abraham is elected to be father of a nation and means of universal blessing.

            Jeremiah is elected to be a prophet to the nations.

            Peter is elected to be an apostle to the nations –

‘I will make you fish for people’

            The church is elected to praise God and bear witness

to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul says those who are called are called according to God’s purpose (Rom 8.28),

                        that is, his intention, his mission.

            And that purpose is to ‘conformed to the image of his Son’ (Rom 8.29);

                        that is we are to be, in the words of Nick Lear,

                                    ‘free samples of Jesus.’

To say we are called does not mean we are the chosen few destined for heaven.

Our calling is not a separation from the rest of the world,

            but a calling for and to the world.

The creation mandate to be God’s image-bearers does not change,

            and in Jesus we are given the template

            and in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are given the power and the promise.

When God calls it always includes a command to witness to the mercies of God.

God has entrusted us with an enormous responsibility.

In the language of the Baptist Union’s Declaration of Principle,

          ‘it is the duty of every disciple to bear witness

to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

and to take part in the evangelization of the world.’

That it what it means to be called.

When we consider that responsibility it may feel more like a burden.

We live in a time in which

            ‘we are in danger of worrying ourselves into extinction

            because we seem less the players in a great drama of redemption

than the last remnants of a great experiment.’ [ii]

We live after Christendom,

            we live in a world in which everything is changing,

            and the church is not sure where we fit,

            and at times we seem desperate to embrace any fad that might end up

boosting our numbers

(at the moment it seems to be something called Pokomon Go!)

We living in challenging days –

no more challenging than previous generations, but challenging none the less.

I wonder if instead of cowering before the challenge, we see also the opportunities.

Perhaps like Esther, we have been called for such a time as this.

This is the opportunity, which is also a challenge:

                        to live lives where God matters. [iii]

You might be feeling a bit short-changed by that six-word suggestion,

            but I would offer that to live lives where God matters

            is not straightforward,

            in fact I’d go as far as to say that to live lives where God matters is impossible

without God.

This the opportunity for the church,

            this is the calling of the church,

                        to be a people who live lives where God matters.

The other week, the children of year 1 at Hamstel Infants School visited the church.             There are five classes, so it took three visits.

            On one visit I asked the question: I wonder what you think is most important in this church?

            Different answers were given – the screen, the drum kit (!), the Bible, the cross, the windows, the people, and one teacher even said me!

            These were good answers.

            All of these things, perhaps even the drum kit are important in this church.

Thinking back on that occasion, and thinking about what I’ve said this morning,

            I wonder if I missed an opportunity to say that of course what is most important in this church is that God matters.

Everything else is a gift of God.

            Ministers – hopefully are a gift.

            The Bible is definitely a gift for it is revelation.

            The screen and drum kit aid our singing.

            The windows are gift because they allow light into our space,

                        We gather not in the shadows or in secret,

                                    but in the light.

            The cross is a gift because it is a reminder of God’s eternal love.

You – the people – are a gift because our lives are enriched and encouraged

by one another

            Bread and wine are a gift because they are means of communion,

                        of sharing in the life God in Christ.

Each of these gifts are a means of enabling us to live lives where God matters.

You have been called

            to make God the subject of your life.

            for the glory of his name,

            for the sake of his kingdom,

through the power of the Holy Spirit

            and the grace of the Jesus Christ.


[i] William Cavanaugh, Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World, p.74.

[ii] Colin Gunton, ‘The Church in the World’ in Theology Through Preaching, p.140.

[iii] This is the title of a book by Herbert McCabe. I also borrow it from John Rackley who likes to ask churches three questions: 1. What matters here? Does God matter? Do the things that matter to God matter?

Called to be Prophets: A Sermon (post EU Referendum)

[This sermon is part of a series looking at call narratives in the Old Testament. This week it was Jeremiah 1.1-10. Following Thursday's EU referendum I try within to offer some response]


The book of Jeremiah begins with the words:

‘The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah,

one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.’

Not anything particularly special,

its not to dissimilar to how other books of the prophets begin.

But – you knew there was a but coming! -

it says Jeremiah is from Anathoth.

Not a well known place,

but it has a minor history in the story of Israel.

Anathoth is the place where the priest Abiathar

is banished by king Solomon (1 Kings 2.26)

for not supporting Solomon’s claim to the throne.

Here in Anathoth, a rural village,

away from the urban centre of Jerusalem

and all that is going wrong there, as king after king

fail to rule in the ways of Moses.

Here in Anathoth, it is not forgotten,

a memory, a story, a covenant is passed on and

now 400 hundred years later,

Jeremiah comes to Jerusalem

as one carrying the word of the Lord

with warning and ending.

From the exiled margins,

outside of Jerusalem,

God raises up Jeremiah,

known by God, appointed by God,

even before he was born.

Are we to see here an example of the patience of God?

Oh how we need patience in the coming days and months.

What there is no doubt about, is that once again we see God has a plan and a

purpose and it involves us.

God has habit and it's a habit of calling men and women into his purposes,

into his story

and where we live our lives in the context of one life span – ninety years or so –

God works over centuries …

bits of God’s story go on pause and then they get reactivated.

Its time for the descendants of Abiathar to re-enter the story

and Jeremiah is the one appointed to take centre stage.

The Bible displays a God who is always interrupting lives,

calling them to something that was not in their sights,

or in their plans.

Our lives are not our personal projects,

forget about your career goals,

refuse to write your own life story.

Instead start listening for the summons,

the call.

For God comes to call

and our lives will find themselves

in constant reference to the one who alone is sovereign.

Look at Jeremiah:

he has no ambition to be a prophet.

Unlike most young people who are always saying they are old enough

for whatever it is they want to watch, or wherever they want to go,

Jeremiah says I’m too young.

Age is not a factor when it comes to the call of God.

Some of you listening,

think you’re too young for God to bother to give you a task,

well remember Samuel and Jeremiah!

Some of you listening think you’re too old,

but God does not believe in retirement,

just remember Abraham and Sarah!

Some of you listening think its ok, you’re neither old or young,

but in the middle, hidden in the masses,

where you might hope to avoid God’s call.

Here’s what I would say:

Jesus follows Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations,

as one set apart,

as one known to God

and as those who follow Jesus,

we share in his prophetic ministry:

The church are called, set apart,

appointed to the nations

and so to each one of us we pick up the mantle

of Jeremiah via Jesus.

In these days we need to recover

what it is to be prophetic communities.

And to each one of us,

The word of God says:

You must go to everyone I send you to

and say whatever I command you to.

And to each one of us,

The word of God says,

Do not be afraid,

for I am with you and I will rescue you.

The claim that God is with us,

of course is echoed in Jesus own words to his disciples:

‘surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’ (Matt 28.20).

An Old Testament scholar by the name of Walter Brueggemann,

reflecting on Jeremiah says:

‘Jeremiah’s life consists in coming to terms with the word of God,

finding ways to articulate it to his contemporaries

and living with the hazardous consequences of that reality.’ [i]

Isn’t that an apt description of the Christian life?

We try and come to terms with the living word of God who is Jesus

and we try and find ways to share that with the world and our friends

and we live with the hazardous –

that is, the challenging, risky, unsafe –

consequences of having being called by Christ.

In a divided nation with an uncertain future,

the church stands.

The call to Jeremiah

is replayed in every life that responds to way of Jesus.

Speaking truth to power,

challenging lies and injustice,

working for the good of all,

re-describing reality,

refusing to accept the status quo,

believing in the kingdom of God,

is to open up ourselves to ridicule,

to claims of being unpatriotic,

and to the threat of violence –

all things Jeremiah faced,

Jesus faced,

and in some places the church still faces today.

Listen again to what God says to Jeremiah:

‘I appoint you over nations

            to uproot and tear down

            to destroy and overthrow

            to build and to plant.’

This is a summons to declare the end of one world

            and to proclaim the beginning of a new world.

In other words, God calls Jeremiah

            to the work of the gospel.

Like Jeremiah, as the church we too are watching the termination of a world we have loved too long and lost: [ii]

a world in which everything has been shaken up

            and we can react like Israel did and either pretend its not happening

                        and claim everything is ok

                        or we can give in to rage and anxiety and find someone to blame

                                    and cling to a nostalgia of an unspoiled past.

The church and national politics does both!

Nostalgia and indifference are the great enemies of the church,

for they refuse to embrace what God is doing

            and God is always uprooting and tearing down,

                        that he might build and plant.

In one sense, regardless of Thursday’s decision,

            the church continues to be the church,

                        shaped by the call of God in Christ,

                                    caught by the vision of God’s new creation,

            which is neither an England on its own or one joined to the EU.

            The institutions and structures that frame our politics are not eternal,

                        but provisional,

            and so our ultimate hope and faith is not in

Westminster, Brussels or Washington,

                        but in a new Jerusalem,

                                    on its way from the heavens (Rev 21.2).

How does Jeremiah live out his call? [iii]

He has a robust view of God.

            A God who is free and sovereign,

                        alive, passionate and without dullness.

            Jeremiah does not pander to God,

                        and equally God does not make Jeremiah’s life comfortable.

            In the midst of turmoil, uncertainty and fear,

                        we cling to God, who is not bound by our decisions.

Jeremiah has a sense of the large public issues.

            He is alert and engaged with what is happening in the world.

                        He is a prophet and a pastor,

                                    they are joined together

            Too many Christians are either prophets with no pastoral care

                        or pastors with no prophetic voice.

            What do I mean by that?

                        Jeremiah does not shirk from the message God gives him,

                        a message of judgement and uprooting

                        but it is comes with deep pastoral concern for those being judged.

            Prophets with no pastoral care or

            pastors with no prophetic voice are easy to ignore.

                        The first because they lack grace,

                        the second because they lack truth.

Jeremiah has a vigorous sense of his own call.

            He finds the summons of God an irresistible power in his life.

            He is called and not in the sense of some general vocation,

                        but with a particular purpose and commission.

            We struggle to identify with this because

                        we think we get to make up our lives,

we believe that our lives are the result of our free choices.

            What would it mean to understand our lives as called,

                        as one given over freely and obediently to the purposes of God?

            Ask yourself how and where is God calling me

                        to share in his work of speaking truth?

Jeremiah accepts that his call causes conflict

            that he does not have a settled life,

                        It his was a life lived in conflict with those who would not listen.

            We yearn for a settled life, an easy life, a lived in balance,

                        but I wonder if this side of eternity there can be such a life,

            especially a life that is faithful to the call of God.

            It is not that we seek conflict or hope for turmoil,

                        but that is the consequence of naming

                                    our sins of greed, violence and hate.                     

Lastly, Jeremiah is profoundly a prophet of hope.

            If you read Jeremiah would could be led to thinking

that he is more a prophet of doom.

            Yet while much of his work as a prophet is of the kind

                        that spoke of plucking and tearing down,

            he remembered his full call,

                        which ended with a word about planting and building.

            Jeremiah has the capacity to speak hope,

                        The newness of God out of death.

            There is no newness without loss.

            There is no resurrection without the cross,

            but there is resurrection.

            The prophetic call of the church is a serious work,

                        it must not dull down or make its message more palatable,

                        at the same it’s message must be one ultimately of hope,

                                    Of profound hope.

            Where is our hope today?

I suggest you don’t place it in Cameron, Corbyn, Johnson

and please definitely not Farage.

As Christians, our reason for hope is nothing less that Jesus Christ.

            Leaders and governments will come and go,

                        Economies will rise and fall,

                                    Lives will begin and end,

but Jesus remains the same, yesterday, today and for ever (Heb. 13.8).

            Hope begins and ends in Jesus.

                        This is our profound hope.

            We hope in a world that Jesus loves.

            We hope for a world that Jesus redeems.

            We share in this hope every time we break bread and share it.

            We overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

            We demonstrate this hope every time we gather around this table

                        and refuse to let politics divide us.

            We declare this hope when we confront narratives of ‘us and them’.

We proclaim this hope when we commitment ourselves

to a seek the common good for all.

            In joy or in grief come to this table

                        because you are called.

                        Be filled with hope

            that we might be prophets to our nation.                         


[i] Walter Brueggemann, Like Fire in the Bones, p.4ff.

[ii] Brueggemann, Like Fire in the Bones, p.27.

[iii] From this point on I am borrowing from Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination, pp.14-23, 29-30.