Tony Jasper is an author, broadcster, actor playwright, journalist, with several degrees in Theology and a diploma in Education. He has had over 70 books published, and at one time wrote weekly for major newspapers and magazines in Britain.
He has had countless programme credits on radio, from BBC radio to BFBS and commercial stations. He has also been part of many television programmes. He is a methodist local preacher.
Outside of JTC, he is available as an after-dinner speaker, and can provide revue and cabaret. He can lead workshops on a number of subjects, and is available for conferences on drama, music, church worship, popular culture and print.
A SHORT REFLECTION
TUESDAY JUNE 23 2009
THIS is the address I gave at the funeral of a dear friend Tina Murdoch who was laid to rest on Tuesday, June 23, 2009, at Mortlake Crem. I owe much of my thought to the brilliant reflections on Faith and Life and Scripture as reflected by the Dutch priest Huub Oosterhuis. Over 250 came to this and the following Thanksgiving service. Tina was married to Rob Murdoch, and left two children Sophie and Mark.
B: "Though my body is broken, though my heart dies, you are my rock, my God, the future that awaits me." So says the Psalmist - words that have survived at least twenty-six centuries.
‘With it” he says, “I could make stab at the eternal,
There have been, and there always are, even more people who couldn't manage to get those words out, living or dying. These words are. They wouldn't exist if they had not been lived. In her most recent days, still with cheerfulness and a disdain for sympathy, Tina breathed them, moved to them, took them for herself.
Later many more will give thanks for her life, by simply being present. Others will speak. They will tell the basics, recall home, school, University, employment, social activities and so forth. You know her the best. You have personal stories to fill endless volumes. If that were the actual case, and there were books in front of us, to what page of the thousands would we turn?
When it comes to our overall life, Scripture keeps making things stark. It pointedly and uncomfortably keeps telling us that we are called to choose -for life or for death.
To choose life. To join the human enterprise known as people. Seems simple. Those who so choose know it can be joyful but also costly, Moses is the Old Testament big name who said he was speaking for God when uttering the words
"I call heaven and earth today
to witness against you
I have set before you life and death,
The blessing and the curse;
Choose life, then, that you may live,
You and your descendants"
We all know that on an occasion like this many a departing person is praised and sometimes the words lack conviction. The words spoken are economical with the truth seen, heard, perceived. It is though part and parcel of how we think we should behave on the passing of someone. But today?
Approachable, responsive, knowing no boundaries, always there, available, embracing, astonishing in generosity, loving people beyond family - these are words-thoughts - I would use of Tina, and they are true. So much so are they real and living words. From my Christian perspective the energies of the Resurrection cannot remain locked in a single human heart, they must be communicated between persons.
Tina chose Life so that we may all live now and in the future. To want to belong to so many things. To accept the consequences and entanglement' to bear with those inevitable complications. Without pretensions, with eyes wide open, with a passion. To want to belong. In her thoughts it is a bond with no ending.
All this is so much part of the Faith, believed or not, for the faith is about the most ordinary things. Jesus talks about the having of children, and about planting crops and how you must wait with good trust and not too much fuss for them to come up. He talks about the smallest seed, how it becomes a tree, and how this is the way God works, and how it works with his kingdom in this world. What an optimist! That's the kind of journey Tina walked.
I say as a long-time friend and observer that Tina belongs to you - an exceptional family, a big family, parents still alive, sisters and their families and loved ones, and nephews and cousins, and above all the mother of two great children, Mark and Sophie, and a powerful kind, loving and generous husband in Rob.
In a minute or so we shall commend Tina into God's keeping. I have one further thought. And it's a hard one to take on board at a time like this. Tina has been on a path, a route that has not been ours. We would not wish it for ourselves. The odd thing I have learnt from life is how sometimes people under the devastation of their ordeal have somehow been in touch with a new dimension of reality. They have somehow penetrated to the centre of the universe. They are greater people. They are more deeply alive. That is resurrection. I could give examples from my experience but I speak now of Tina. When I saw her, how could I not but think and want some great miracle, how could I not but feel grief yet she was at ease, believing in an after life with no difficulty at all, even then seemingly here and yet somewhere else that only she could imagine. Ours now is the difficult passage from sorrow to rebirth. We have to overcome, would she wish it otherwise?
Girbran - the Prophet
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance. For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun, And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides,
That it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered.
ST ANNE’S LUTHERAN LONDON
SUNDAY APRIL 27 08
JOHN 14 15-21
For just a few minutes before I come to the Gospel passage Let me throw your way some word pictures, some stories:
Later we sing Precious Lord.
Tom Smucker writing in the book Stranded - Rock and Roll for a Desert Island chooses to take that Thomas Dorsey song Precious Lord.
‘With it” he says, “I could make stab at the eternal,
a word picture about our lives:
‘we are all jugglers. From the moment we are born, we are thrown balls that we spend our lives keeping in the air.’
Meet Bradley, aged nine, you’ll find him in Born to Win, a book that is about Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments
If you touch me soft and gentle
If you look at me and smile at me
If you listen to me talk sometimes before you talk
I will grow, really grow.
Every person has the need to be touched and to be recognised by other people, and every person has the need to do something with the time btween birth and death. These are biological and psychological needs to which Berne calls ‘hungers.’.
The Gospel reading - its words - of what?
I’’ve heard them read many times.
I’’ve heard them given a religious feel.
I’ve heard them made precious. I’ve heard them sound lovely.
I’ve heard sermons / addresses at funerals based on them
because they are seen to offer comfort to those who feel alone at a time of loss.
There may be some truth in the latter but I wouldn’t wish to go further.
Looking at these words the biblical commentator can tell us that it is typical of St.John’s style, namely the passage is more philosophical and circular than direct and linear. Fine. But that’s not where I want to be.
I want to impress upon you that there are no wasted moments in the Gospels, least of all in this fourth book as the New Testament is structured. .
Beating beneath these words is the passion of a great writer
so that if you let them speak to you,
if you are ready to hear and be changed,
if you are willing to take a journey, then they are not so much words written from the head as from the body,
We have the breathe, the blood, the physical presence of the writer behind the words.
You can hear these words,
you can read these words,
and you can go on to the next thing in the service after this,
as though nothing has happened
and so often that is the case in many a church service.
They pass us by.
But if you were a group of actors then I would be demanding you get right down to the source. It’s the same for any good writer.
Helene Cixous, the French theorist knew this.
She’s right: You go fishing for the right emotion which is at the source of the written sentence you have there before you.
And sometimes, hopefully all times, an actor finds and is astonished at what is found,
There’s something completely new.
I say that of an actor,a writer, but it can be so for any of us.
And I am sure that St John felt there were words,
a book hidden somewhere deep within his body
and ‘he has to climb down all the stairs of the soul to get at it.’
It’s a truth that keeps being said time and time again
for like St Paul he is certain that what he has known, felt and found drives everything else.
So, what is that?
That Jesus came to reveal to us in a superabundance how loving is the fundamental power in the universe.
He came to tell us that we need not fear,
that we could take the risk of vulnerability required by loving reconciliation.
Thus it is in and through Jesus as the revelation of the loving trustworthiness of God - But I have moved too far ahead
- if I suggest - humbly I trust -
that we need to read and hear Scripture with a particular disposition,
then I also want to say that it is folly to take a passage as it stands on its own,
in any case it was not until the 16th century that chapters and verses appeared.
This passage finds its power source because it is connected and belongs solidly to a block of five chapters where Jesus reiterates crucial themes that revolve like spokes around one central axis,
his enduring love.
And the verse that forms the central axis is John 13 verse 1.This is the verse that enables us to keep going whatever may befall.
HAVING LOVED HIS OWN WHO WERE IN THE WORLD, HE LOVED THEM TO THE END.
American Elizabeth Michael Boyle writes
We could stop right there and meditate on those words for the rest of our lives. “loved to the end.” The end of what? The end of his life? the end of our lives? The end of time? The end of divine patience and endurance?
In the context of the eternal Word, such parameters are meaingless. God is ‘the beginning who is still there when we end.”
The Old Testament visits this in that impossible piece found in Psalm 73.
With you, I am
always with you,
You hold me tight,
your hand in mine.
You will bring all things to a good end,
you lead me on
in youer good pleasure.
What is heaven
to me without you,
where am I on earth
If you are not there?
Though my body
is broken down,
though my heart dies,
you are my Rock,
my God, the future
that waits for me,
Far away from you
life is not life. *
Huub 0osterhuis puts it this: “Jesus of Nazareth lives within the sphere of a testimonty such as this when he says:”Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Believing in God, the God of Jesus, is living and continuing to live within the sphere of these words.
At times we may see, at times we may not.
Sometimes we will rejoice in faith
there will be other moments when we know only the darkness of the soul.
Those of you who claim a Christian commitment : do you not pray that if the time comes when all seems to be falling apart ,and there is the shaking of the very foundations you will have the trust and faith to come through,- the courage to be?
I especially get gripped by verse 18 - I will not leave you orphaned.
When my mother and stepfather died within months of each other, my father some twenty years previous, and having no brothers, sisters, grandparents, without partner, someone asked me what it was like to be an orphan?
I remembered there and then some drama workshops with Diana Quick.. We were into Shakespeare’s Richard the Second - she kept getting at me, pounding me, wanting to know how it felt to be losing everything, to see things disintegrating, and she took me into the time when on a Sunday afternoon at just before four when the phone rang and I learnt the girl I loved - just 30 years of age - had died in an accident -
driving me so that I could tell how it was for Richard the Second, to become almost paralysed with loss. For to really make that character live that was a journey to be made, possibly dangerous, yet neccesary.
At times for us there is the fear that having committed all it might be taken away.
The fear that perhaps it not true,
that we have built and run with a lie.
I tell you that as you grow older so that does loom heaviley but you can,t go back, turn back and yet.
The Gospel passage will speak to us if loneliness and isolation are ours. Jesus wants the band of ardent followers with all their foibles and fears to believe that the relationship with him is the one that will never fail, never let us down
Can we depend on Jesus? Is God going to be something strong enough for us to lean upon? Strong enough to make the emptiness go away, when we most need it? Will we be left orphaned?
Jesus begs us to believe that even if all in our lives can change, for better or worse but God is a constant.
a few final thoughts on this passage:
first a story
Ernest Marvin, a well known minister in the United Reformed Church, tells of the time when he was asked to preach at a large Southern Baptist Church in the USA, a denomination which prides itself on a parity of ministry among all its members. It had three ministers, all of whom were with him in the vestry.
They all wore ties with a piano motif displayed upon them. The most junior sported a simple upright piano of the old variety. The next one up in the pecking order had a baby-grand on his, where as the senior minister’s neck-wear was dominated by a grand piano - with the lids open!
I assume they do not read the Gospel for today. The relationship offered to us accesses the generosity of a Father eager to share his spiritual power with the friends for whom the Son lays down his life. Nothing about grace given in measure of man-made status outings.
The new commandment sets the terms for the two way relationship.
It’s there in 15 verse 12 Love one another as I have loved you.
Fidelity to the terms of Jesus’ new covenant not only demonstrates and intensifies oir love but also draws us into Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
The final word, a text., John 14. 23
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
Cone in Bradley, come in the Wesleys, Martin Luther, and Mr and Mrs Smith of Deby and Mr and Mrs Jones of Kent - I mean all of us.
In one of those wonderful vivid verses in the Old Testament - so fightening - it reads
‘Like blind men we feel our way along the wall - in the prime of our lives we are like dead men - we growl like bears and moan like doves, waiting for salvation.’
Poly Toynbee writing in the Guardian a few days ago
“There’s nothing wrong with U-turning when hurtling towards a brick wall - even if the driver did deny the wall was there until the last tyre-screeching moment. The question is: which side of the road will the driver end up.?”
Well, Ms Toynbee actually asks which side of the road will the Prime Minister end up on?
in our life? to walk with Jesus? without Jesus? I offer yoiu the first.
* (translation by Huub Oosterhuis, a wonderful Dutch writer and theologian)
ST ANNE AND ST AGNES LUTHERAN CHURCH
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 26 2006
TONY JASPER SERMON
I think it was Martin Luther who observed that ‘If you preach the Gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues that deal
specifically with your time - you are not preaching the gospel at all.’
And that is also to say, to quote the wonderful biblical expositor Walter Brugeggemann - ‘in the deep dislocation where God has now placed us, we must do some new deciding. ‘
And who was it who said ‘This is a dangerous time in which we live. Yet the possibilities for human history are infinite for they are the whole possibilities of God’? - Martin Luther.
In and amongst the superficiality of “the 24-hour news cycle”
has it not been one of ‘those’ weeks? With happenings that send a chill through our systems as we contemplate another recital of moments that suggest things are either almost out of control, or on the verge of being so - and I’ m not referring to the English rugby world or the cricketers in Australia, with both being grind to dust - but to the regular weekly contender Iraq, and coming up fast on the possible horror stakes - Lebanon.
For the first, the news and astonishing statistic that two million people have become displaced, and which is delivered on the newscast as though it’s just one of those things. The second could see the dire return of civil war. And more death. More undeserved carnage. It’s all about power. Who shall have, and who shall not. Who shall take the spoils and who shall not. In our desperation for ‘life’ we are apt to strew death and destruction all about us. And those who perpetuate have a deep seated arrogance that it is others who shall perish.
And what else this week?
Initially of ‘little’ importance - but which became elevated into a larger scenario - the saga of a Christian check-in worker of British Airways who refuses to discard a crucifix while on duty. Amazingly the bishopric of the Church of England are galvanised into action, something that seems to elude them on most other things. The Archbishop of Canterbury, with others, takes us into the nature of a society where religious liberty and the expression of religious commitment is free, and within that context he finds the action of British Airways deeply offensive. BA is now reviewing its ban, which is another way of saying it is bowing to the inevitable.
A former Russian spy dies - some say he was murdered, but we do not know for sure. The Daily Telegraph of yesterday in its editorial speaks of a new-found Russian swagger, and asks why so.
Its editorial writer says it is because Russia is suddenly, as Mr Putin reminds us, “an energy superpower”. His defence minister is even more direct: “In the contemporary world, only power is respected.” I assume he means that those who have and possess what others want or need can decide how they shall live, if indeed it cares at all.
And one other item - there on Thursday - the 5 p.m. train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich - two first time commuters, the Queen and Prince Philip. Although it seems not every one of the 400 passengers knew - A person was reported saying “I’m sure that lady is on television.” One, the train operator - waived the cost of two first class fares - there’s the benevolence of ‘power’ - anyone poor enough not have paid would have been arrested to appear before the magistrates tomorrow morning. I trust the whoever made that decision, and who by some miracle is a church-goer, will not be reading the lesson when it is the Magnificat.
The cadences of new social possibilities rooted in the truth of God’s good news refuses to accept the verdict of “impossibility” -
that is at the heart of the Christian faith, and it underlies the powerful Scripture readings of today. But then to, these passages of Scripture reflect this constant theme that runs throughout Scripture.
They focus for their beginning and end in Jesus - the Jesus who came with a mandate to do for the world what God had intended from the outset. There is the occasion in the Gospel narrative when Jesus was asked ‘- Are you for real?’ - he told them to tell John that new life swirled around Him. And to return to Bruggemann - that is saying that a new world is being birthed among those who no longer accept dominant notions of the possible. That is the dramatic battle which engages book after book in the Scriptures,
Yesterday afternoon I used those words in a sermon at a thanksgiving service for a Methodist local preacher - I said the departing brother was one with Mr Wesley’s preachers, as they
are often called, for that is what Mr John accepted. The claim is stupendous. In the Gospel narrative it’s only 36 hours that seemingly gave the dominant version, the world’s way, it’s twisted ‘yes’ to life where in the end if we seek coming together, reconciliation, laying down of weapons and arms, it is usually in the world’s parlance, of trading off this and that, negotiating factional interests, but rarely if ever uses the language that speaks of what draws humans together at their deepest moments, embracing the human good.
Our greatest need is for new visions and dreams and for fresh imagination. Our television screens often show us the eyes that betray empty, lost and helpless looks, of people who forget who they are are and where they have come from - but according to Jim Wallis the American preacher and teacher, that can be a description of the pre Christmas desperation that grips people of the shopping malls, especially as Christmas gift time approaches - he speaks of the need for the Christian community to recover a prophetic task - to put our contemporary situation most starkly, the poor are dying, the earth is gasping for breath, and the middle-class is busy shopping.
The Scripture passages of today place before us the question of power, of earthly power, of power exercised by divine kingship.
They speak of corruption in earthly power. The Divine Kingship is marked by justice and righteousness.
In the Gospel passage there is a clash of ideologies. is power, ‘genuine’ power : ‘power for people’ rooted in the political and military might of Rome and represented at that moment in Pilate?
On the other hand also claiming ‘power’ come the religious authorities with their man-made laws and certainties, their own prestige and self adulation at stake. And who is to say that such
a state of affairs has not constantly afflicted the Christian Church - ask Martin Luther, or if you want it in more up-to-date terms, although admittedly not so serious, it’s there in a lovely little cameo told by a friend of mine, Ernest Marvin, a minister of the United Reformed Church, the co-instigator with Ewan Hooper of the best ‘Christian’ musical of all time, A Man Dies.
Ernest speaks of the time when he was the preacher at a large Southern Baptist Church in the USA, a denomination that prides itself on a parity of ministry among all its members. It had three ministers, all of whom were with Ernest in the vestry. They all wore ties with a piano motif displayed upon them. The most junior sported a simple upright piano of the old variety. The next one up in the pecking order had a baby-grand on his, whereas the senior minister’s neck-wear was dominated by a grand piano - with the lid open!
To return directly to the Gospel passage - in human happiness terms we are to learn that power does not lie in armies, nor does it lie with those who grab and hold, but these are endemic within the human system, so that when Pilate ask his question of Jesus, as to where his power lies, he inevitably puts it into words and forms that he understands - so he asks Jesus if he is a king. You could say that if Pilate knew the Jesus of the Gospels he would not have expected an answer for Jesus rarely, if ever, answers anything. I was in another Church yesterday, to the one where I gave the sermon, and there on the wall was a large poster with words asking - what would Jesus say about our television programmes? For ten pounds you could come and hear pundits give you their answers! Amazing!
As verse 37 of chapter 18 in John’s Gospel shows, Pilate answers his own question when he says - ‘so you are a king’ and Jesus doesn’t answer, but does what he seemingly enjoys most by setting in motion the possibilities that spring from his asking a question to counter another. He asks Pilate whether he accepts the very teaching premises that underlie his own ministry - of one who speaks the truth and who gives flesh to the truth, and those who belong in his kingdom are those who live in that light.
I do not detect in this powerful Gospel passage the view that there are two races of people - the Christians or Jesus followers, and others...... only one race - the human. So, to instance a similar thought I read a long time back in Monica Furlong’s book The End of Our Exploring, if you take latter view then it is not necessary to out everything into Christian jargon. ‘Crucifixion and resurrection
is the common lot of all, whether the words are recognised or not. If Christianity is our native tongue then that may be the way we want to talk about what we see around us, but if we have begun from a different vantage point then our language will be different.
What we all have in common is experience of joy and pain, hope and disappointment, shame and gladness.’
She tells an old joke that used to be told at the expense of the Roman Catholic in which St Peter was showing a new arrival around
heaven. He introduced him to one sect after another, and then
they arrived at a large enclosure with a high wall all around it.
Keep your voice down,’ said St. Peter.’ They like us to think they’re the only ones here.’ For Roman Catholics read Christians.
I want to finish with a jazz world illustration, for it speaks to me of a world that is full of possibility if we let it all hang out, and in essence captures the magic of all those parties that Jesus keeps speaking about - no, there is no occasion as far as I know where you can pay ten pounds to hear what records Jesus would spin at his Christmas party - we can only say that the Jesus party would ring with welcomes and affirmations, of hugs and embraces, cares and concerns, laughter and tears -
Extract from READING JAZZ edited by Robert Gottlieb, Bloomsbury, 1997 p 547.