Month: October 2020

A Fragment on a Fragment

Today, (October 25th) the Church of England keeps Bible Sunday.
For Christians, hopefully, every day is Bible Day! Yet it’s good to be reminded of the importance of reading God’s story in order to be shaped by it and then to tell it.
The word ‘Gospel’ means Good News. In Greek the word for Gospel is ‘Euangelion’ which can be seen as the root of ‘evangelism.’ The Gospel writers are known, collectively, as the 4 Evangelists.
Quite simply evangelists ‘tell’ the Good News of Jesus Christ, in words but also in deeds and in seeking to live lives shaped by Jesus and therefore to grow in His likeness. St. Paul’s favourite phrase is ‘en Christo’ – ‘in Christ’. I understand he uses it 64 times. The Word of God which is both Jesus and the words of and about him are what move people to grow in prayer (relationship with God) and holiness (growing in God’s likeness).

Every Christian is called to be an evangelist – one who, in the words of 1 Peter 2:9, proclaims the mighty acts of him (God) who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

We discover these mighty acts of God in the Bible which is why Bible Sunday is such an important day. We become part of God’s mighty acts when the Bible infuses our lives with God’s love. It is the story of that love.

The earliest access we have to the New Testament story of God’s love is to be found – wait for it! – in Manchester!
In my late teens and early twenties I discovered how God’s love for me was touching my heart. I was a young civil  servant working in Manchester and one day I found myself on Deansgate where there is a beautiful building that, externally, could double up as a Cathedral. Internally even more so – though devotees of Harry Potter may believe that it is actually ‘Hogwarts’! There is a rumour!

In reality it is a neo-Gothic structure which was built as a library and opened to the public in 1900. It was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, John Ryland. Today it is part of the University of Manchester.

Exciting though the building is, my first visit revealed something even more exciting. Within it there is the earliest known New Testament document. It is a small fragment of the Gospel of St. John. It is on papyrus and it measures 8.9 x 6.0 cms. It is displayed so that you can view both sides. On one side there are seven lines from John 18:31-33 and on the other the end of seven lines from John 18: 37-38. The fragment was found in Egypt in 1920 and it has been dated by experts as between AD 100  and AD150. It may have come from a copy not long after the Gospel itself was first written. It was purchased on the Egyptian market in the 1920s by Bernard Grenfell but it was 1934 before it was transcribed and translated by Colin H Roberts. It is classified as ‘Rylands Library Papyrus P52’ Scholars have had great fun musing over it, dating it, and discussing it: why was it written, when was it written and for whom? sort of questions.

But, you know what, there is something even more important about this fragment. When I stood before it all those years ago, I experienced a thrill and a sense of awe. Here I was in front of the Word of God which was written to tell me how much He loves me. I was faced with this truth in a unique and very special way.

It was only a fragment but it brought me to Jesus in a deeply personal way. Like an Icon which reveals its subject in an intimate way, I was drawn, through this fragment, into an intimacy with Jesus which was both simple and profound. This fragment became something which fragmented my soul and allowed Jesus to slip in. For me that’s its real significance.

It’s why the Bible is so very important – both Testaments for Christians, Old Testament for Jewish people and, because it has echoes within the sacred Koran, it has its place in Muslim spirituality too.
For those who want to know God it is essential.

The inspration of J F Kennedy

The 75th Anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations is a time to ponder and reflect, not on the failures of the UN, but on the good things it has achieved. Giving thanks for those things leads on to a determination to fulfil aspirations and hopes for a future of the world which is currently in a deeply dangerous place. Not only the Pandemic of Covid-19 but climate change, Global warming and the threats to our natural world are issues that threaten to destabilise our fragile Planet. A lack of vision and self-centredness from key world leaders add to our problems.

As we reflect on what the UN is asking of us – What sort of world we want and What are the hopes for the future, it would be good to remind ourselves of the words of President John Kennedy at his inauguration. Words which are both inspirational and timely for our world today.


Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You
Inaugural Address by President  John F. Kennedy
– January 20th 1961 (slightly edited)

“We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For humanity holds … the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that human rights come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation  born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge – and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom – and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required – not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge – to convert our good  words into good deeds – in a new alliance for progress – to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbours know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support – to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective – to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak – and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction……

So let us begin anew – remembering .. that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let us explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us….
Let us seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let us unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah – to “undo the heavy burdens -. and to let the oppressed go free.”
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let us join in creating a new endeavour, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us ….to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” – a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking God’s blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

United Nations Day

United Nations | Norman Rockwell

Today, October 24th, is United Nations Day.  On this day 75 years ago in San Francisco, representatives of 50 countries met to agree a Charter which committed those nations (and those who subsequently joined the UN) to promote peace, development and human rights; pledging enhanced action to achieve its global mission. 
At its heart, The UN strives for a reassertion of the ‘universal values of tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity.’

Protecting those caught up in armed conflict and the promotion of world peace also involves the UN in working for climate change, averting nuclear catastrophe and fighting injustice.  Promoting global peace, security and prosperity is the primary mission of the UN and allied to this is the protection of the most vulnerable members of the global community.  The UN asserts that “No one has the right to remain indifferent to abject poverty and the suffering of others.”

The UN has lofty ideals which so often fail to be translated into real action for the world’s oppressed and poor. Whilst it stands for justice, that is often diluted by political activities designed to maintain the strong against the weak, to promote self-interest over freedom and justice for all.

But without the UN and its work the world would be a poorer and more dangerous place.

The UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impacts.  The following words are from the UN’s 75th Anniversary website:
“Will we emerge stronger and better equipped to work together? Or will distrust and isolation grow further? 2020 must be a year of dialogue, when we come together to discuss our priorities as a human family, and how we can build a better future for all.
Covid-19 is a stark reminder of the need for cooperation across borders, sectors and generations. Our response will determine how fast the world recovers, whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and how well we handle pressing challenges: from the climate crisis to pandemics, inequalities, new forms of violence, and rapid changes in technology and in our population.
But just when we need collective action more than ever, support for global cooperation has been flagging. In many countries, public trust in traditional institutions is in decline and relations between countries have been under strain. Will this pandemic bring the world closer together? Or will it lead to greater mistrust? Global dialogue – and action – is now more urgent than ever.”

What sort of world do we want? and What are your hopes for the future? – are the questions the UN is seeking to get people to answer – with some success. Over a million people so far have responded in different ways, especially through art. For more information and examples of the art go to:
https://artsandculture.google.com/project/united-nations-75th-anniversary.

Aspirations and hopes, dreams and visions which fire the imaginations and encourage real action need to be fed. At its best the UN is trying to achieve what Cardinal Suenens once identified when he said:
Happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to pay the price to make them come true.

That is what the UN at its best is trying to do. That is why we must pray.

A Prayer for the United Nations

God of compassion,
walk alongside all of your global stewards
who work to create a more just and peaceful world.

In the face of the world pandemic,
equip the United Nations community
with a sense of urgency and humility that lets Your will be done. 
May nations and peoples work together
to bring relief, compassion and care
with a determination that through  medical & scientific skills
and governments working for the common good of all,
people may feel safe again.
May healing and hope grow in our world-wide communities
alongside a new spirit of working together to defeat the virus. 

Each day you give bread enough for all,
grant us also the wisdom to ensure that everyone has enough.
Teach the world’s leaders to forgive,
to extend welcome across borders.
Show the world a new path beyond greed, oppression, and division.

We pray for a world united.
We pray for the power to save succeeding generations
from war, violence and self-interest.
We pray for a glory that reaffirms the dignity
and worth of every person.
We pray that your grace might ensure life in larger freedom forever, for all of your children.
Amen.