Theology Talk by Bishop John Pritchard on January 27th

The retired Bishop of Oxford, Bishop John Pritchard now living in Richmond came to talk to us about the 5 events that made Christianity.  Jesus is the centre of his faith and he told us that many people are fascinated by Jesus.  Apparently 52% of the UK has no religion but there are 2.3 billion Christians in the world. 70,000 Christians are added to that number daily worldwide.  Jesus is still respected by non believers.  Apparently Jesus is the no 1 person people would like to meet from history.  Philip Bulmer is very critical of the church but very pro Jesus.  Even Ghandi admitted that the Spirit of Jesus was the only one that could save.  Einstein an unbeliever recognised Jesus as a luminous figure.  Jesus made such an impact on people of different or no faith, yet he was only in public life for 3 years!  In New Zealand there was a poster on a wall describing a radical, non-violent  teacher, never anti gay nor mentioned birth control, longhaired brown skin middle Eastern Jew – Jesus!! Albert Schweitzer said that Jesus came to us as one unknown, spoke to us asking us to follow him; to those who obey him he will reveal himself and they will learn who he is in their own experience.

John repeated the phrase that Jesus is the centre of his faith.  He studied Law at Oxford University and there he met Jesus and everything made sense.  He loves taking people on pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  On the last day of a pilgrimage they can see one of 3 possible sites for the road to Emmaus story. There they go into a monastery garden which is quiet.  He loves the strength and serenity of the Monastery building.  There they share their final communion and pull all their experiences together.  He also leads retreats in the Holy Land, which he finds a more profound experience as they are not just going from one site to another.

The five events that made Christianity are (a) birth (b) death (c) resurrection (d) ascension and (e) Pentecost.  These are held together by the person of Jesus.  We tell of this love story, the origins of which are in the nature of God. The first letter of John states that God is love.  It is the Biography of love and the Biography of faith.  Love is creative; a couple create a home; a writer loves words; a gardener loves plants; a scientist loves discovery.  God wanted to share his joy and love of the world and his desire to create led to the incarnation.  We only know God’s love as expressed in Jesus’ words and actions.  John 1 is the outpouring of the light and love of God, revealed in Jesus.  If we go into a house with no windows we stumble in the dark until we come into a room with a large window and we find the view stunning, but also it can be overwhelming; do we stay inside and look out of the window or dare we go into the light and experience it?  We see God through the window of Jesus, but some might go out of the window into the mystery of God.

Jesus preached with authority, healing people in Galilee and everyone took notice.  He announced the Kingdom of God which was at hand, where love reigned expressed in new ways of love, justice and peace.  Such a message seemed dangerous to the religious authorities. The accuracy and power of the message was dangerous to the religious and secular leaders, as it upset neatly constructed rules of behaviour.  Jesus had too much truth and light and they needed to get rid of it; the light was too much for them.  Father Paulo went to talk with ISIS, but he was killed for standing up for love, as Jesus did.

  1. The resurrection

The authorities had to get rid of the dangerous Galilean, but love like his was too full of life for him to remain dead.  Of course Jesus died, but God raised him and he lives; love has come again; the cross was a victory not a defeat; death was defeated.  We are an Easter People, so we should not let the sorrows of the world hide the joy of the risen Christ.

  1. What you do with a love like this? That love needs to be given its proper place. The Ascension put everyone in its place; Jesus at the right hand of his Father; the disciples now on earth rejoicing and worshipping God in the temple.
  2. The power of God, his Holy Spirit is available to every believer; that transformational love, which is there for us and the world. Anyone can co-operate with God’s energy, renewing the world away from its self-centredness. We are part of the 5th or 6th chapter of the Biography of love, a tough love, which is the last hope for the world. In the Eucharist we reclaim his love in our lives, so that God can continue to write his love to world.

Biography of Faith

Five events echo the faith story of Christian people like us.  God’s love is in us, not just manifested in Jesus. That is not prescriptive but is descriptive of what many of us experience.

  1. The birth of faith can be expressed in different ways such as twice born or being converted. John Pritchard had a sort of faith when he went up to Oxford to study, but that faith became real for him at the university.
  2. The crisis of faith comes for us all; hopefully not too soon after we have made a commitment in faith. We need time to root ourselves in Jesus before we face complex questions or find more questions than answers. In Christianity many Christians find themselves as it were outside worship, feeling critical of it.  That can become a full scale crisis of faith.  They might still worship masking their true feelings in the church, but life has gone from their faith.  The darkness of Holy Week can be a bitter experience.  Will we come through it alive?  It is tragic how many founder at that time without a wise guide; Andrew Motion lost his faith when his mother had a bad accident.
  3. New Life can come after the crisis; for some that means leaving the church altogether; for others it means having a more liberating faith, which is open, more inclusive and kinder. After a crisis of faith, faith can be less definite, not as clear cut as it was before, but that faith can be deeper.  John now feels he is a better listener and not so ready to proclaim what he believes as right.
  4. Faith finds its true place in our lives, as happened at Jesus’ ascension into heaven and our faith has a more natural expression. John now finds his faith is the centred motor of his life.  Jesus has gone to heaven and the disciples had to learn to relate to God as Jesus had done.  God is God and we can relax in him, who we trust and he is our ‘home’.  We recognise that we are at home with Christ.
  5. Finally we are set free and empowered for love.

In the first stage of faith we are inward looking, but after a crisis our faith deepens and becomes essential for our lives.  Love has to overflow from us into action in the world.  Love has to be expressed, so we can reach out to others with mercy, compassion and peace.  Our own personal Pentecost comes when we are empowered by love of God to love our neighbour.  Faith is a journey likely to have a period of complexity  in crisis before we learn to accept the grace of God resulting in a deeper and more open and wider faith.

John finds the Holy Land a wonderful place to reflect on the 5 events of Christianity, in a journey of the mind and heart. It is a single story told in 5 chapters in which we follow the main character of Jesus in the biography of love, leading to our biography of faith in 5 sessions, changing us gradually into the likeness of Christ.

God is the God of the whole world, not just of Christians but of all faiths and of those who have no faith.  We have a unique faith in God through Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s energy and power. That divine energy of love, justice and compassion puts the life of the Spirit into our very selves.  We worship a huge God, uniquely revealed in Jesus.  John finds that God gets bigger and bigger and he sees the Holy Spirit as active in the world beyond faiths.  He is sure the Holy Spirit will direct people towards the truest route to God.  For John Jesus is the truest route to God.  Jesus is still at work in the world; wherever people are open the Holy Spirit will be there.  Jesus is the most direct line to God.  Any descriptions of God are metaphors, as God is beyond our understanding.  God has given us Jesus, who revealed the nature of God in his biography of love.  We limit God to our ways, but God is beyond God; there is always more love and grace to discover.

  1. We need to be properly attentive to another person and not put our own interpretations in.
  2. We need to listen really not just to the words the person is saying, but also to see the feelings underlying the words.
  3. Only then can we tentatively suggest, ‘I wonder if this would make sense?’, making a suggestion or inviting them to consider commitment. We need to be truthful to who we are.

I found John compelling to listen to.  I had a more simplistic faith until my first husband died after his fourth overdose, when I had a crisis of faith.  Now my faith is less simplistic but deeper and I have more questions than answers.


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