Author Archives: Stephen Sizer

Mary: How to Follow Jesus

mary

I would like us to spend a little while thinking about the very first member of the church. The very first person to see the risen Lord Jesus, the first person to respond to him, the first person to tell the good news to others, was not one of the Apostles, but a woman, Mary Magdalene. Let’s discover how Mary became a member, the first member of Christ’s New Testament Church. Then let’s think what that means for us too. Mary Magdalene appears in all four Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. From these we learn that Mary Magdalene became a friend and follower of Jesus after he cast out 7 demons from her.

She was present during Jesus’ trial (Matthew 27:45). She was there at the Crucifixion (John 19:25). She watched Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus (Luke 23:56).  And on Easter Sunday she and some other women were the first to discover the stone had been rolled away (John 20:1), first to meet the risen Lord Jesus (John 20:15-16) first to tell the disbelieving disciples the good news (John 20:18).

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The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

cross-and-crown-of-thornsI wonder if you have ever been to a Death Café? There are or have been nearly 3,000 around the world since the first was held in London in 2011. Visit www.deathcafe.com, enter your postcode and you will be directed to the nearest. There was one at Virginia Water Library last week. “At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. The objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion about death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session. – With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action – Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!” I welcome this initiative to break the taboo of talking about death. But how much more helpful and above all hopeful to discuss our mortality in the light of the most significant death in all of history.

John Owen, the 17th Century pastor and theologian, who became chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, managed to squeeze ‘death’ into the title of a book about Jesus, three times. “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” dwells on the love of Christ and the deep conviction that Christ’s work on the cross literally saves us from the deadly nature of sin.

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Easter in Three Dimensions

Between Good Friday and tomorrow Easter Monday – that is four days – we the great British public (and some very nice Expats) will have consumed rather a lot of Easter Eggs. Do you know how many? If you put them in one big pile, how much would it weigh?  Is it 260 tons of chocolate, 2,600 tons, or is it 26,000 tons. Yes its 26,000 tons. That is a lot of chocolate to eat in four days.

Do you know what the link is between the egg and Easter? It goes back to the time when chickens laid their eggs in the Spring, like sheep have their lambs. Easter marked the end of Winter and the Lenten fast.  People celebrated Easter by feasting on things like new laid eggs which were traditionally scarce in Winter. It all got a bit confused when farmers realised they could trick chickens into laying eggs all year round by keeping them in light warm buildings,

and it got really confusing when Mr Cadbury in the 1870s realised there was more money to be made in selling hand-painted chocolate Easter eggs than real ones. Everything else is, as they say, history.

The encouraging fact, however, is that in a recent national survey, one in three people in Britain indicated that they believed in the historical and physical resurrection of Jesus.  Whether they understand the purpose is another matter.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. Its message is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax...”

This morning I’d like us to think about how the resurrection of Jesus is three dimensional.


 

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Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?

Middlesex University has recently made available my PhD thesis online. The thesis was later adapted for a book published by Intervarsity Press in English, Arabic, Spanish and Farsi. Although originally submitted in 2002, the thesis is as relevant today as it was then, covering the historical roots, theological basis and political consequences of Christian Zionism since 1800.

The Promised Land: A Critical Investigation of Evangelical Christian Zionism in Britain and the United States of America since 1800


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Zion’s Christian Soldiers? Kindle Edition

Zion’s Christian Soldiers is now available on Kindle

“Few themes in biblical studies could be as important.  Christian Zionism has brought to the church an interpretation of Israel and the Bible that future generations will criticize harshly.  It is every Christian’s obligation to understand what they are saying and how it should be evaluated.  Writing in a style that is accessible to everyone — and a passion that is sure to ignite strong responses — Sizer outlines the landscape of the problem and its solution.” Professor Gary M. BurgeProfessor of New Testament, Department of Biblical & Theological Studies, Wheaton College & Graduate School (author of Whose Land, Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians)

Read more reviews here

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Christian Zionism Preceded Jewish Zionism: WRMEA

Delinda Hanley has written an article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs about a presentation I gave at the Jerusalem Fund in Washington DC in November last year.

Read her article here “Rev. Sizer Reveals Christian Zionism Preceded Jewish Zionism

Watch the Jerusalem Fund video of the presentation here

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Resurrecting the Soul in a Secular Age

How do we nurture our souls in a secular world? Historically, Christians have responded in two very contrasting ways:

Nurturing the Soul Through Asceticism
The first approach, popular among some early Christians, was to retreat to the desert thinking they could escape temptation and find holiness through asceticism. By the fourth century CE many Christians were living as hermits and monks in monasteries out in the desert. A fifth century monk, Simeon, took this to extremes. To get away from the hordes of disciples and onlookers who came to visit him, attracted by his already extreme self-denying lifestyle, he climbed a pillar and lived there. He once survived 40 days without eating or drinking anything, which made him even more popular. He spent the rest of his life on a succession of ever higher pillars, to try and get away from the crowds who continued to visit him. Food and water were delivered by village boys climbing up his pillar. After he died, scores of others tried to imitate Simeon, and became known as Stylites from the Greek word for pillar, “style”. The problem is that we can never escape from temptation and sin, least of all retreating from the world into the desert. Jesus was himself tempted by Satan in the desert.

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Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK.  Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.

Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.  Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:

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Christmas according to Paddington Bear

Trains were humming, loudspeakers blaring, porters rushing about shouting at one another, and altogether there was so much noise that Mr Brown, who saw him first, had to tell his wife several times before she understood. ‘A bear? On Paddington station?’

Mrs Brown looked at her husband in amazement. ‘Don’t be silly, Henry. There can’t be!” “Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. ‘Good afternoon,’ it said, in a small clear voice … The bear puffed out its chest. ‘I’m a very rare sort of bear,’ he replied importantly. ‘There aren’t many of us left where I come from.’ ‘And where is that?’ asked Mrs Brown. The bear looked round carefully before replying. ‘Darkest Peru. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a stowaway.'”[1] Michael Bond’s marmalade sandwich-loving Peruvian bear first sauntered onto the page in 1958’s A Bear Called Paddington.

Named after the London station at which he was found, Paddington has been delighting generations of children the world over, ever since. Now for the first time he is appearing in the cinema too. Paddington, is a charming and funny little adventure about a very polite and friendly bear who yearns for a new home in London. Harry Potter producer David Heyman says: “Paddington Bear is a universally loved character, treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play and his perfect manners, and of course for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.”

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Can Religion and Politics be Separated in the Middle East Today?

A presentation by Colin Chapman
Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide Seminar
9 October, 2018

 Introduction

Let me begin with a one-sentence answer: it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to separate religion and politics in the Middle East today; and the future is bleak unless we can find ways of separating religion and politics and allowing religion to support an international order that is based on the rule of law.

This presentation is very much a ‘big picture’ exercise, an attempt to put some of the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together. As a Christian who is interested in the role of religion and the interaction of religion with politics, I’m trying to make sense of the history that is being played out before us in the Middle East at the present time.

I probably need to explain my credentials. I’m not a historian or a political scientist. I happen to have worked with a mission agency, the Church Mission Society (CMS), in the Middle East for 18 years and have been engaged in theological education of different kinds both there and in the UK, specialising in recent years in Islamic studies. Continue reading

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