Reflections

The Lord’s Prayer Controversy

It has been in the news recently that the agency that handles advertising in British cinemas has refused to show an advert in cinemas in the UK which features the Lord’s Prayer believing it would upset or offend audiences.
On the one level I find this ban itself upsetting and offensive. In my opinion, our culture of political correctness causes far more offence than it does bring harmony, as more and more people are restricted from speaking freely about what they believe. It is often the case with these kind of stories that our main reaction is to sit and moan about the erosion of our freedom of speech and that ‘this used to be Christian country’ etc etc. However, on another level I’m glad that something the church has done has caused this kind of reaction. If we are truly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus then it should rightly be offensive and split opinion down the middle. The gospel is a powerful and subversive message that should rightly challenge the world.
Rather than write my own response to this situation I’d like to share a blog written by Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield. I feel the Bishop articulates something that is important for us to grasp and understand. Take time to consider his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer and use it as a meditation to pray the Lord’s Prayer again afresh.
At the end of the day, all the noise and hype that this story has generated can easily drown out the reason why this advert was produced in the first place, namely to invite people to pray. So lets pray!!

The Bishop of Sheffield’s blog post can be found at here but I’ve copied all the text below.


Seven reasons to ban the Lord’s Prayer

Britain woke up this morning to the news that the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from cinemas.

The Church of England has produced a sixty second commercial.  The only words are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, said by children, the bereaved, people at work and so on.  It’s a beautiful film, Certificate U. The ad is to promote a new website, Just Pray.uk.  The plan was (and is) to show the film before Christmas at screenings of the new Star Wars film to help everyone think about prayer and to pray.  What could be more simple?

The distributors have declared the Lord’s Prayer unsuitable for screening.  They believe it carries the risk of upsetting or offending audiences.

Cue indignation from the press, fury from the Archbishop (according to the Mail anyway) debates about free speech, a possible challenge in the courts and a storm on social media.

But wait just a moment.  Suppose the cinema chains got this one right?

I disagree with their decision and I disagree with the reasons they have given.  I hope it’s reversed.  I don’t believe the film will offend or upset audiences, in the way they mean, and I don’t believe it creates a new precedent.

But from the point of view of global corporations and consumer culture, from the perspective of the gods and spirits of the age, there are very good reasons indeed to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and from culture and from public life.

This is a prayer said by billions of people every day in every language on the planet.  In every single moment in time, someone is praying these words.  They are the first words of prayer we learn as children and the last words we say at the moment of death.

The Lord’s Prayer is powerful for a reason.  These words shape lives and families and communities and whole societies.

There are real reasons why the Lord’s Prayer has been banned by the demigods of consumer culture, in the boardrooms of the cinema chains.  Here are seven, one for every line.

First, this prayer gives to those who pray it an identity and a place in the world and a countercultural community.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”.  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time.  It opposes the myth that our lives do not matter.  It opposes the myth of fragmented humanity.

We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human beings who are therefore our sisters and brothers.  Only someone who has found this new identity can stand against the advertising culture which night and day seduces us to define who we are by what we spend.

Second this prayer gives us the courage to live in an imperfect world.  “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish his kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.

Third, and most powerfully, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to live with just enough.  This is the most dangerous reason why it cannot be shown with the adverts at the cinema.  It teaches us not to want more.  It teaches contentment, the most subversive virtue of them all.

“Give us this day our daily bread”.  This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer only for what we need.  Every other advert in the cinema is there to encourage us to spend money in pursuit of happiness.  This one restrains our greed.

Fourth, the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  There is a way to deal with the rubbish in our lives.  “Forgive us our sins”.

Consumer culture holds before us the image of perfection.  We cannot be happy until we look like this person, live like that one.  Each image is a lie.

The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  The Lord’s Prayer offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily. The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.  Grace subverts the whole culture of advertising.

Fifth the Lord’s Prayer offers a way of reconciliation.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  We are not meant to feud or live in hostility or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.  That reconciliation happens without expensive presents, without going into debt, without credit.  People are not made happy by more things, another consumer lie.  The greatest happiness comes from relationships.  The key to great relationships is reconciliation and forgiveness.

Sixth, the Lord’s Prayer builds resilience in the human spirit.  When you say this prayer each day you are prepared for the bad days.  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 

When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale, a saccharine creation of film makers where every story has a happy ending.

We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where we are tested, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the midst of the most challenging moments of our lives.  Faith is for the deep valleys as much as the green pastures.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.

And seventh the Lord’s Prayer tells us how the story ends, how this life is to be lived and lived well.  “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen”.

The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  Our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Life is to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, remind us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, build resilience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder they have been banned in the boardrooms of consumer culture.

+Steven

Note:

This post is based on a sermon given in Peterhouse, Cambridge on Sunday 22 November.

To view the Lord’s Prayer film go to: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI

To view the Just Prayer website go to: justpray.uk

For the Pilgrim Course on the Lord’s Prayer see: http://www.pilgrimcourse.org/

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Sad You See

I feel it is right to take a little detour from our conversations about prayer to take a moment to reflect on something that came from Sunday’s sermon.
To briefly recap we were looking at Acts23:1-11 where Paul divides his accusers’ opinion by declaring that he is standing trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead. Amongst his accusers were the Pharisees who believe in the resurrection and the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits. The Sadducees’ faith, that has no understanding of afterlife or spiritual life beyond the here and now, seems rather pointless and hopeless to us. It is a faith that seems purely theoretical; something that exists only in the writing of the law. But I wonder whether in some ways our faith can be come rather ‘Sad You See’ (Sadducee), meaning that we lose touch with or forget the reality of the spiritual realm around us. The modern, material, urban world does so much to dull us to the spiritual realm. Therefore, we need to stir up and remind ourselves of the full reality of the life in Christ.

  • Take time to recall and remember times and events where you have experienced something of the resurrection or angels or spirits! Share them and encourage one another with your testimony of encounter with the living Jesus.
  • How does the hope of the resurrection play out in the way you live your life?

Let’s pray we know and see Jesus more (Ex33:18)

Can you have too much unity?

I’m continuing to pick up on the things we talked about at the last church business meeting and so this week I’m focusing on complacency.

You may think the title to this post is a little strange, surely unity is good and God’s intention for His people? Yes I think this is true, but it maybe that we need to think a little bit about what we understand unity to be. We may look back and remember times when the body wasn’t so unified, times when their were factions, splits, divisions. These may have seemed like negative times, but is unity simply the absence of division or is some tension needed in order to produce a healthy unity.
When contentions arise in the church they should, even if they seem to be over ridiculous things, cause us to take a look at ourselves and ask if there is any truth in the issues that are being raised. Situations like these can cause us as a church to be challenged, in a healthy way, and grow as a result. With a lack of contention and tension in the church it is possible we can become sleepy and cosy with ourselves. And when we become so comfortable and at ease with each other it is quite likely that we stop challenging one another to grow and continue to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. What we might consider as unity may simply be that we have become overly pleased with ourselves – we don’t seem to do anything wrong or badly, we become self congratulatory, overly content and we cease to be able to objectively reflect on ourselves. This kind of ‘unity’ is a recipe for complacency!
Therefore, there needs to be space within our unity as a church for prophetic voices to be able to challenge, admonish and raise contentious issues. Unity mustn’t be allowed to be an excuse or reason for complacency. Instead unity is the bond of Christ’s love that holds us together as we challenge and encourage one another to grow in Jesus.

Service and Sacrifice

I thought it would be a good idea to pick up on a couple of things that I spoke about at the church business meeting the other Sunday. The first of which being service.
Last week we looked at the passage in Ephesians that pointed towards the idea that service (or ministry) isn’t something that only a select few people within the church do, but is something that every person in the church is equipped to do. Everyone in the church is called to serve and minister to the Lord. This service can take on all kinds of forms and isn’t limited to a few obvious ‘jobs’.
Our service can often be guided by the gifts we have been given; those who have been blessed with the gift of hospitality are likely to be found giving hospitality and those who have been blessed with a gift in administration are likely to be found administrating etc.
But ministry in the church doesn’t just begin and end with the gifts we have been given. At the heart of Christian ministry and service lies the idea of sacrifice, since we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This means ministry and service isn’t necessarily all easy or something that comes naturally to us. Serving the Lord will involve us engaging with things that we aren’t necessarily very comfortable doing, in places we wouldn’t necessarily want to be and at times we wouldn’t necessarily choose. This type of serving is costly discipleship which echoes the way of king David who said ‘I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ (2Sam24:24) If this is the case, serving the Lord needs to be something that is, for all of us, our upmost priority. Not service that fits in and around everything else we do, but something that governs how we live; a way of life devoted to the Lord.

Topical Teaching – Homosexuality

If you missed this week’s message I really recommend you have a listen! I’ve uploaded it here.

I think it would be a good idea if we considered how we would respond if someone asked us:

What does your church think about same sex marriage?
Are homosexuals welcome at your church?
Are homosexuals condemned to hell?
What is your view on homosexuality?

Before answering, consider how to approach the question from a gospel perspective rather than following the world’s definitions and agenda.

 

If you are interested in listening to some of the testimonies I mentioned on Sunday then go www.livingout.org

The Acts of The King’s Church

Yesterday Sheila brought a great encouraging and challenging message to the church. If you missed it, I hope to upload it to the church website later in the week.
Sheila outlined the tension that comes with some of Jesus’ last words on earth before He ascends to heaven. On the one hand He says ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ And on the other hand He says ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ The tension comes with the call to ‘go’ but ‘wait’. If you are anything like me then you aren’t too dissimilar to my dog, who is very good at running away madly when I say ‘go’, but struggles to be obedient to the command to ‘wait’! Activity is often much easier to get involved with than sitting and waiting on the Holy Spirit. However, if we wait for the Holy Spirit our activity will be fruitful and less hard work! The key in all of this is to be obedient to God’s voice – to ‘wait’ until it is time to ‘go’.

Sheila then went on to outline what she has seen the Holy Spirit doing in our church over the last two and a half years. The list of things was very encouraging to review. However, the challenge wasn’t to leave things where they stand. The Holy Spirit has clearly been at work amongst us but we are challenged with the call to continue to get deeper into what God is doing in our church. Just as Ezekiel was urged to go deeper into the river flowing from God’s temple (Ez47:6-13), so we are being urged to go deeper into what the Holy Spirit is doing in our church.

Let us consider together how we go about getting deeper into ‘the ‘river’ of the Holy Spirit. How do we do this?

Can I suggest that one major element in this will be through prayer – prayer for the church, prayer for other people and allowing others to pray for us. To this end, don’t miss the opportunity of having Paul Bennison with us this coming Sunday. He loves praying for people, and God often does great things through him when he does!

 

False Kings, Kingdoms, Gospels and Gods

On Sunday we looked at Acts 12:20-24. In this short passage we saw how an earthly king (Herod), held power over an earthly kingdom (territory effectively given to him by the Romans), which gave him the ability hold the offer of an earthly gospel (the supply of food through peace with the king) and which elevated him to the status of a god amongst the people. God then passes judgement on Herod and he dies a sudden and unpleasant death, being eaten by worms. In bold contrast we are told ‘but the word of God continued spread and flourish.’ It’s a striking contrast which leaves us with the questions:
Who really rules?
Who’s kingdom remains?
Who’s gospel holds real promise?
Who is really God?
And as a result where do we put our ultimate trust? In worldly powers or in heaven’s power?
For Christians the answer to these questions is usually easy to give in theory, but often difficult to make in practice.

Take some time to reflect on the implications of this for us. Where are there tensions and challenges to where we put our ultimate trust? What are the ‘Herods’ in our world today – job security, financial security, health, family, friends……….?

Read through Is40 and use it as a meditation on the above.