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October 2018

Paying it forward

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Sermon preached at St John’s at the West End, Sunday 28 October 2018

I think Markus asked me to preach today because nobody likes preaching on Job. Nobody likes trying to mount a defence for a God who seems to think it’s cricket to put such a righteous man to the test. So rather than wallowing in theodicy, I shall (respectfully) ignore God and concentrate on Job, and how he might help us address today’s theme, which is money.

We’re told that Job was the greatest of all the people of the east. He had 7 sons and 3 daughters. He had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants. Try fitting that lot into the nave. He was a Time Magazine Forbes Rich List Man of the Year figure, and a paragon to boot. These days he’d probably be a Harvard Business Review case study, and George Clooney would’ve won an Oscar for playing him in a mega bio-pic. He was, as they say, a big cheese.

We read Job, or hear it read, and are outraged. How is it fair that he loses everything he has? Well, Job knows. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away” he says, rather sadly. Because Job knows that he’s not a self-made man. It’s one of our modern tropes, the self-made man. The immigrant who checks in at Ellis Island with nothing, who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, and becomes a millionaire. It’s the American dream, and all over the world we lionise entrepreneurs who started with nothing and became great through sheer hard work. And I imagine many of you sitting here can feel justifiably proud of where you live, what you’re wearing, the possessions and treasures that you own, because you earned them. You worked hard. You gave things up to get on. And we imagine Job was like that too, so we feel his pain as theft: the taking away of things that were rightfully his. Read More

Thought For The Day – Choices – 2nd Oct 2018

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As rescuers struggle to reach the victims, the death toll from the tsunami in Indonesia keeps rising. Our screens are filled with pictures of devastation and grief, and we wonder how on earth anyone can bear it any more. We seem to be hearing about extreme weather events too frequently these days, and too many people are dying. Thanks to the aid agencies, we can offer practical assistance to the communities affected, but our over-riding reaction to this news is often a sense of powerlessness in the face of natural disaster. Tsunamis and hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, are all considered ‘Acts of God’, even by insurance companies, who often won’t pay out for them, because they’re not caused by human hands.

So we turn to our religious leaders, seeking soothing words about meaning and purpose, and we observe with relief the inspiring outpourings of humanity that tend to accompany life’s worst episodes. And sometimes religious words help. There’s even a specialism within theology that devotes itself to making sense of the evils that happen, in spite of a loving God. But I wonder how much longer we can continue to blame all of this weather on God.

Yesterday saw the publication of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commissioned by the United Nations. 3 years in the making, it involved 86 lead authors from 39 countries. They’ve combed through all the scientific literature, on the feasibility, impacts and costs, of achieving a 1.5 degrees centigrade ceiling on global warming. The good news is they reckon it can be done, if the world takes some very tough steps, which will require massive global governmental consensus and action. But the report also asks us to look again at our lifestyles, to try to make more of a difference through our own everyday choices. In the olden days, God made the weather. Well, we’re making it now, and that’s a rather sobering thought.

Meanwhile, this dreadful news makes us all think about what it must be like to lose everything. In sending all love and strength to everyone suffering in Indonesia, let’s also hold our own loved ones close today.

Other Thoughts

I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.