Recently, I have put up a bird feeder in my back garden. I was expecting to be inundated with birds: sparrows, bluetits, great tits, robins, goldfinches, coal tits, wrens, birds of paradise (... okay, perhaps not the last one), but what was I rewarded with? A pigeon. A dull, greedy pigeon. Thankfully, the smaller birds have discovered the feast I am providing for them but for a few days, my only visitor was this boring pigeon.
This experience has inspired me to come up with a moral story:
Once upon a time, there was a hungry bird flying from one garden to another in search of food. On coming to the final garden of his usual route, he spotted something unusual. Standing in the middle of the lawn was a feeder full of seeds, mealworms and suet pellets. With no other creature in sight, the hungry bird cautiously approached the new discovery and tentatively began to peck. Gaining courage, he ate his fill until is stomach was satisfied.
Excited about his delicious finding, the no-longer-hungry bird was about to fly off and tell all his friends when a thought occurred to him. "If I tell everyone else, they will come and eat all the food and there will be none left for me." So, the no-longer-hungry bird flew straight home instead.
For the next few days, the bird regularly visited the garden with the feeder, benefiting from all the healthy food the gardener provided. After some time, however, a voice could be heard from inside the house. "Every day I put food out in this garden but only one bird comes to feed. Maybe I should stop bothering." Panicked, the bird realised its mistake. By being greedy and not telling his friends about the food, he will no longer benefit from his wonderful discovery.
The moral of this tale is, if you find a good thing, tell and share it with other people. Keeping it to yourself may seem a good ideas to begin with but over time it may diminish or disappear. We can apply this to Jesus' love for us; don't keep it all to yourself, let everyone else know about it too.
©Copyright Martin Wheadon 2019
On Sunday, like many other preachers, my sermon featured John 21:1-19 and the miraculous catch of 153 fish. What many people ask is, is the number 153 important? This question has been considered over many centuries and I've drawn together some interesting facts.
So, as you see, the significance of the number 153 has been thought about by multiple people, with many competing ideas offered. It makes me wonder what significance other numbers in the Bible hold. I am interested in looking into this further and writing a series of these interesting facts on the main numbers in the Bible, perhaps as a type of Bible study. I'll give it a go; your feedback would be most interesting and welcome.
©Copyright Martin Wheadon 2019
East London Group Meeting - 4th May 2019 - Gants Hill
My full report of the meeting will be in the next Gants Hill URC magazine but I thought I would let you know of the East London Group Mission Statement and future events, which include:
Our Mission is to share the good news of God's love for all, especially in the east of London, through churches coming together.
Star Wars and Christianity; the Parallels
In order to engage with those who don't come to church, I thought I would write a sermon that would help connect a successful film franchise with that of the greatest story ever told.
Call to Worship: Isaiah 60:1-3 (NIV)
1“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
The story of Star Wars from episodes 1-6 is about a child called Anakin with special skills being adopted by a Jedi knight who, as Anakin grows, believes him to be the chosen one, which has been written in their legends. Jedi knights are there to protect the republic and democracy from all enemies and they do so using special powers, which they call the force. The force is available to everyone but not everyone can use it, it needs training.
Anakin grows up and because his own ambitions, is being held back by the Jedi knights. He is manipulated into turning to the Dark Side primarily to save his wife, who he believes would die in childbirth, as he saw in a dream. Anakin becomes the most evil person in the universe, controlled by a mysterious Sith Lord. The plot revolves round Darth Vader, who represents evil, and the Republic, which is defended by Jedi knights representing good. Knights must lead selfless lives and dedicate themselves to keeping the peace.
The films, containing lots of action, lots of fun and lots of escapism, have been seen by millions of people. This sermon is to show the parallels between Christianity and the films with the aim of spreading the word of Jesus using the Star Wars world, which people know about as a platform from which to explain why Jesus is so vital in todays world.
1. Anakin has no father. He was a midi-chlorian. Similarly, Jesus had no father. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) "Therefore, the Lord himself with give you a sign; The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son ..."
2. Anakin is a slave in the desert hoping to set his people free. Compare to Moses. Exodus 1:11-14 (NIV) 11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labour in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
3. Jedi knight Qii Gon Jinn believes Anakin to be the chosen one. Compare John the Baptist proclaiming Christ. In front of the Jedi council they ask, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Compare Matthew 11:3 (NIV) “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4. George Lukas says that people are reading too much into the movie but the original writer who started the Star Wars franchise was Joseph Campbell, a philosopher of religion and an ex-Catholic.
5. Yet, “May the Force be with you,” sometimes getting the response, “And also with you,” is more or less a direct echo of our “May the Lord be with you,” to which we also respond, "And also with you." Ruth 2:4 (NIV) 4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered.
(Latin: dominus vobiscum). Sound familiar?
The story is a battle between good and evil; the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice and peace for the Democratic republic versus Sith Warriors, who are on the Dark side.
Anakin rose quickly to be a Jedi knight and was very special but he wanted too much too quickly and felt the other knights resented him and were holding him back. The weakness of his ambitions were manipulated by the Sith Lord, using lies and deceit. Anakin wanted the power of the Dark Side to save his wife, who he had seen in a dream die in childbirth, and the Sith Lord exploited this good intention. I now transport you to the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, where the serpent asks innocent questions and manipulates Eve’s thinking by casting doubts. The Sith Lord uses exactly the same methodology as the serpent.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Satan is “the God of this age” and has blinded people so they cannot see the light of the Gospel. In Matthew 4:8-10, Satan tempts Jesus, offering the World if he would just bow down to him.
The Force, that is so evident in the story, could possibly be likened to the Holy Spirit, except that the Holy Spirit is used for Good, whereas, the Force can be used for good or evil. 1 John 1:5 (NIV) 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Anakin secretly marries because marriage is not allowed by Jedi knights, for attachment leads to jealousy and split loyalties. Compare the Catholic Church, which does not allow its priests to marry after ordination. Jedi knights must live a selfless life whose purpose is to protect and care for all other life and to dedicate themselves to keep the universe at peace. As Christians, we must lead selfless lives and be a living sacrifice just like those knights.
6. When Anakin went to the Dark Side, he slaughtered many children, which brings echoes of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Matthew 2:16 (NIV) 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
One of the powers of Jedi knights is that they can move objects without touching them. When Luke Skywalker in training failed and Yoda his master showed how it was done, Luke said, “I don’t believe it,” and Yoda replied, “That’s why you can’t do it.” In Matthew 17:20, we are told that faith can move mountains. Is it because we don’t believe it, that our own personal mountains are still there?
On Anakin’s journey to the Dark Side, he is torn between being a spy for the Jedi knights and being a spy for the Chancellor; having to serve two masters is a real issue. Compare Matthew 6:24 or Luke 16:13. They state “What is good depends on your point of view,” but Matthew 19:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 clearly tells us what is good in Gods eyes. Similarly, we are told truth depends on our point of view - what is truth? - and we go to John 18:38 to find the answer. We are told fear keeps people in their place, if we go to 1 John 4:18 we read that perfect love drives out fear.
The whole battle between good and evil introduces us to the idea of Lucifer and Satan. Tradition has a story of a rogue angel and that this angel was too ambitious, his heart became proud and he fell from grace and became Satan. Luke 10:18 (NIV) He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Ephesians 6:12 reminds us of our battle with cosmic powers in this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil, which means we have to wear our own armour. Ezekiel 28:14 is directed to the fallen angel who we call Lucifer, as the anointed cherub. An interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-14 is about Lucifer, a fallen angel, making himself higher than God.
Could it be that the Cherubim, the mighty angels who are to serve as guardians, are our Jedi warriors? They, in Genesis 3:24, guarded the Tree of Life with a flaming sword flashing back and forth, was this the Jedi knight's lightsaber? 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (NIV)
The whole background is set within the tension of oppression and with peace only happening because all opposition had been quashed. This seems very similar to Pax Romana where the Romans kept peace by ensuring that all opposition was removed.
In conclusion, the parallels between Star Wars and Christianity are:
© Copyright Martin Wheadon 2019
Gants Hill URC was the venue on Saturday 6th April for the Knife Crime Conference sponsored by the Gateway Community Church. It was highly informative with many qualified and expert speakers. In the UK (2018), 43,000 stabbings of which 342 were fatal and, this year, in London alone, 23,000 knives have been seized of which 4,500 were from 10-15 year old children. In Ilford, we have already suffered three fatalities this year. Our local MP spoke about the issue but I want to concentrate on the presentation given by an ex-gang leader called Sheldon.
Sheldon, whose parents came from Jamaica to the "motherland", grew up in the 1960s running away from Teddy Boys, Skin Heads, and then the National Front, in an age where being black was not respected and, in his opinion, racism rife in the police. He urged the black community to stop blaming the police, local authorities or teachers and start to take responsibility for themselves: "Stop deflecting and start reflecting." He believes the black community must look at its own issues, such as the family unit. Where are the fathers? Who are the role models? He grew up with two parents but he does not remember receiving any love or hugs from his father. He said parents need to be accountable. He then quoted these two statistics: a 2015 study by the UN claimed that children were growing up in a love-less house. The average Dad, if there is one, spends 35 minutes per day with his child. The average Mum, if there is one, spends an hour. The average time spent on social media by a child is 9 hours. So, the question is, who is raising our children?
He went on to describe how easy it is to be attracted by gangs and how, once you are trapped, you cannot escape. This is as relevant to boys as it is girls whether black, white or Asian. If parents are not looking after their children, the gangs will. Our children have to cope with social media bombardment, aggressive music and the lure of a life style based on monetary gain. Children are starting to be groomed at 9 years old, then at 10 will start to carry weapons and by 11, on their BMX bikes, will be distributing drugs amongst their peers. Meanwhile, girls are very good at recruiting younger boys. These children are taught to tell lies to their parents. Children of age 7-11 in Stratford can earn £75 per day selling drugs, which by the age of 15, if they don't get caught, can increase to £500 a day. The sense of belonging to a gang, the sense of safety a gang provides, together with the monetary reward, makes the gang a very attractive proposition.
Sheldon believes the only thing that would work to solve this issue is a societal change where the family and community starts to take responsibility. He went on to show pictures of a white gang of 9-11 years olds in Liverpool who were not only selling cocaine but had guns.
The presentation was an eye-opener, it is time for talking to stop and action begin; focused that works rather than token, which just makes us feel better. The challenge has been set and it is up to us to respond with love, prayer and action.
Isaiah 40:27-31 is one of the most encouraging passages in Isaiah and reminds us that “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The more my ministry develops and my spiritual eyesight gets closer to 20/20 vision, I see God working through our flaws just as much as our strengths. It is almost as if whatever happens to us, God can work through it for his purpose to be fulfilled.
A silly example is my memory. I am not alone I am sure in climbing the stairs, reaching the top and forgetting what I had come up for. My system of writing a post-it note at the bottom of the stairs to remind me at the top of the stairs what I wanted is not foolproof, however, in my rummaging and thinking of why I had come upstairs, I find the most amazing things that I would not have found normally.
Rev'd Martin Wheadon
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Hazel for all her help in setting up and designing our website - our exciting venture. So, thank you Hazel for being so generous with your time.
The hope with this website is to regularly update the content and try to make it interesting and relevant. So, thank you Hazel for agreeing to help us with this project long term.
When Hazel isn't working on the website, she writes a weekly blog about places she has visited in London, many of which I have visited with her. These include the Royal Academy, the British Museum and lesser known places, such as the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. The articles are very interesting, so I encourage you to check them out. www.hazelstainer.wordpress.com
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon