Sunday, 28 February 2016

On Repentance

Our theme today is one of Repentance.  To repent of course, we need to have something to repent of, so my first question this morning is who here thinks that they have something to repent of.  As show of hands should suffice – and I don’t need to know details!

It’s always good I think to get a sense of unity in a church.  On a more serious note though, of course we seek to repent because of sin.  What is sin?  It often sounds like an outdated world in today’s world of postmodern thinking where nothing is really right or wrong.  Postmodernism is something that so many people hide behind, everyone is due their opinion, and no opinion is better than any others.  The trouble with that is, is that if we follow the Bible, then God’s truth is the ultimate truth, in other words there really is a real truth, we  are then as followers of Jesus duty bound to figure it out, sooner rather than later.  The original Greek that was used for what we call sin, was Hamartia, which means to “miss the mark”.  Imagine watching an exciting, nerve-racking penalty shoot out; sorry for the football analogy.  It is a sudden death situation.  The team that misses the mark, misses out on the Prize. 

In Theology, to “miss the mark” really means to miss the mark of God’s perfection, and that’s all of us.  So yes, we are all in need of repentance.  The word repentance (as we know it), and yes another Greek lesson coming up, is actually a translation of the Greek work Metanoia, which is defined as “a change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or a spiritual conversion”  One might think of Paul’s Damascus experience as a tell tale example of repentance, or Peter on the beach with Jesus after Easter.

Metanoia is used 22 times in the New Testament and is used in a variety of settings.  Luke Ch 15 for example, tell us “ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents (changes their way of life), than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent”.  This is giving meaning to the parable of the lost sheep, of course, where a sheep goes awol and the Shepherd goes out to find it, at great personal risk .  If we ever get confused about the background meaning behind the parable of the Prodigal Son, bear in mind that the parable occurs just 4 verses later.

The emphasis placed on the rejoicing in the Kingdom of Heaven over one sinner who repents needs to be born in mind when reading the parable of the Prodigal Son. 

Peter, of course, in Acts at Pentecost says, “ Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”.  In fact the urge to repent occurs more often in Acts than in any other book of the New Testament.

The call to repentance goes back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist’s clarion call was “ Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. After Jesus emerged from the wilderness, he used the very same phrase, even down to the original Greek.  Repentance is then the first thing Jesus says in his ministry according to Luke.  The importance is brought home by the last words of Jesus according to Luke.  “ He told them, This is what is written; The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”

Repentance is therefore a key theme for Luke, who also authored Acts by the way.

I think it is fair to say therefore it was important then and now, to reflect on where we are and to resolve to make a change in our way of life – to repent in other words, and of course, since we are in the middle of Lent; a time for taking stock, to consider the pain and suffering that Jesus underwent to bring redemption and forgiveness to a suffering world.

A time to take stock and look at our lifestyle or habits today and ask ourselves honestly the question.  Are we living in accordance to God’s Holy Will or are we rebelling and seeking to follow our will instead.  And what is that rebellion other than sin.

If we find that we engage in the latter, and I suspect everyone here would own up at least in private that they do, then the call “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” is as relevant today as the day it was first uttered.

I wonder therefore whether you feel if sin itself is an outdated concept nowadays.  If we take a look at Chapter 6 in Paul’s letter to the Romans there is a discussion of two paths, one which leads to Death – The path of sin following the false God of Humanity, the sin of Adam if you like, and one which leads to everlasting Life – the path of Grace, as instituted by Jesus. 

At first glance this is problematic.  The last time I looked, Believers still mess up, they still get ill, they still die.  It is this problem at the heart of the chapter that reveals the tension between the here and not yet aspect of the Kingdom. The tension is purposefully left unresolved.  It is up to us to be part of the figuring of this out.  Humans by their nature sin.  Believers by their new nature do not sin.  Believes however, are human.  But Believers also represent a renewed type of humanity. 

Hang on with me because no one said it is easy.  I think within this we see the reality of the beachhead of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (think of the D-Day landings) and the ultimate renewing of creation at God’s culmination (think of V-E Day) when there will be a time of celebration and harmony not seen since the first days of Genesis itself.

It leaves me with another question.  How long does it take to die to sin?  Roman’s Ch 7 seems to talk about Paul’s own struggles, and if I am honest, then I have a long way to go.  My own thinking suggests a lifetime, but just when I am getting a bit too comfortable, Jesus makes it plain in our reading from Luke that time is precious and important, we need to be urgent about our activity of metanoia – changing our ways.  Not because of any nonsense such as a rapture, but because unexpected things happen.  We can all be subject to unexpected changes in our health that can change our circumstances.  Bad things happen.  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, changes in Government, a sudden economic downturn.  In Jesus time it was a crackdown by Pilate and a tower collapse.  Jesus stance was to say that bad things will happen in the world – he himself was starting his journey to something terrible in Jerusalem, but that now is the time to put ourselves right with God, now is the time to turn back, to change our ways, to repent. So we should avoid falling into an undue sense of comfort, don’t put off until tomorrow that which you should do today!    

Now indeed is the time to turn back, though without diluting the urgency, we need to be realistic about abilities.  We need to start turning now, but like one of those huge oil tankers, it will take some time to complete the process.  We need to show we are serious, and keep on persevering, but God is a God of love and mercy and knows that we will still mess up on occasions.  Trust therefore in God who will hold you up when you fall, who will guide you by the hand, he just asks you to start the process of turning back to him and he will be with you through the entirety of it.  Just make sure that you are turning towards God and not away from God

So we find ourselves in Jesus’ footsteps on this Lenten journey, we are all on our own Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  How will you use this time.? To give up chocolate, to give up Coca-Cola or Pepsi or to instead look in the mirror and see instead the you that you’ve created over the years, and look behind that you to see the real one, the you made in the image of God, to live in partnership with God, in relationship with the Trinity.  Give up instead the self that rejects God.  Give up instead the ways that say “I need, I want, That doesn’t quite fit with My dreams.” Mirror instead Jesus’ own prayer, “Not my will but yours, Father”

Repent therefore for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!   Turn back to God’s ways.


Friday, 26 February 2016

Bible Notes 26.02.16

Chrysalis Bible study 4:  26/02/2016     Luke 2: 1 – 20
Refs:         NIV Bible
L Morris (Tyndale Commentaries) Luke
M Wilcock (The Bible Speaks Today) Luke
T Wright Luke for everyone
B. M. Metzger (Ed) The Oxford Companion to the Bible

Having set the scene in the opening chapter of his Gospel Luke reaches the main event – the birth of Jesus. Somehow, familiarity with the story and the commercialisation of aspects of the events may have diminished the impact of these verses, so let’s try to enliven them!

Scholars have debated the accuracy of Luke’s reference to a census, there being no direct record of one having taken place at this time in this province, but there is ample evidence of similar procedures elsewhere at other times and according to some experts it is quite likely that changes in the administration of the Roman Empire around this time would have called for the creation of such a record and it is far from inconceivable that one did take place.

So once again we sense the unseen hand putting in place the pieces of the jigsaw – a decree from far off Rome causing Joseph to return to his tribal seat. But in a patriarchal society why would a heavily pregnant Mary have had to go too? (Tax reasons? Neighbours vicious tongues?) whatever the reason, it ensures the fulfilment of the prophecy in Micah (5:2) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The squalor into which the Christ child was born has been unforgivably sanitised by our immediate ancestors and by the more recent depictions on Christmas cards.

The reality was far different – our tradition says the birth took place in a stable, early Christians believed it to have been a cave. It may even have been the lower story of a house where the animals would have been kept, possibly alongside their human owners as a source of warmth – but whatever the exact details this was the last place any women would have wished to give birth. In the midst of filth and apparently unaided (She wrapped him in cloths, no mention is made of a mid-wife or female family member being there). She puts her baby in a manger – filled with hay it would have been warm, but perhaps more importantly above the level where the rats were likely to sniff about at night? But there is another less obvious reason, as we are about to see.

For on the hillside outside the town some shepherds are guarding their flocks, when an angel appears – I wonder if it was Gabriel?  Our studies may have made angelic appearances seem commonplace by now, but the shepherds didn’t know the story. They would have been terrified.

The angel tells them about the new baby and that he is in the town, but how will they know they have the right one? How many are likely to be being cradled in manger? The pieces of the jigsaw again.

Then, just in case they were in any doubt – how many angels? An army! Tens of thousands!

And no wonder, this is the greatest event in history – God breaks into His own creation bringing the salvation He has promised for so long – but who does He pick to be told about it? Shepherds! Shepherds of all people.

David was a shepherd who became a king, but the reputation of shepherds had slipped a long way since those days. They were reviled because their work meant they couldn’t adhere to the strict religious observances demanded by the Pharisees and animal husbandry is a 24/7 occupation meaning they couldn’t keep the laws regarding the Sabbath. By the time of Jesus birth they were generally viewed like modern day travellers – living on the fringe of the law, at best, their testimony invalid in Court. But who else would have been out at night to tell?

Jewish legend had it that the news of the coming of the Messiah would be announced from the Tower of the Flocks – which stood by the road from Jerusalem, just outside Bethlehem.

And these weren’t ordinary shepherds. Leviticus lays down the sacrifices to be offered in atonement for sins, often this took the form of a ram or a lamb – and special ones at that, Leviticus 7:3 speaks of the treatment of “the fat tail” of sheep specially bred for this purpose.

These were almost certainly flocks of sheep bred for sacrifice, was it not appropriate that it was to their carers that the news of the birth of the lamb who would for once and for all take away the sins of the world was revealed?

AMH 25.2.16

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Living in the shadow

I have lived with depression now for what seems an age.  It can be mighty weird at times.  Some days I think I am doing OK, only to find that those around me tell me I am having an off day, other days I feel lousy and people come up to me and say "you are looking very well!"

What is weirder is the effect it has physically.  I am a physiotherapist, and tended to work on the assumption of looking for a musculoskeletal cause for pain.  I currently live with migratory pain on a daily basis, which I am 99% certain is secondary to the depression.  Again, weirdly, the pain can be worse when I feel better mentally and vice versa.  There doesn't seem to be a pattern at all, which of course is why it is not musculoskeletal in origin.

There are things I can do, and things that just seem to undo me.  Coping with conflict is the hardest at the moment, I suspect that is something I share with the other 1:4 of the population.  I am relieved that with 2 Billion other sufferers I am not alone.  Looking at those figures, Mental Health problems are almost if not more prevalent that TB which affects a 1/4 of the world's population, at least when I last checked.

The one certainty I do have is that God is with me in this.  Being depressed itself is not a reflection on my faith or lack of it.  It simply is.  It may well be part of life in all it's fullness for all I know.  However, while it is not pleasant, and the world seems to have difficulty in coping with Mental Health issues, God is quite happy to be associated with me, and is always present.

When this desert changes to an oasis, I know this, that God and his angels will still be there with me, wherever and whatever I am doing

Friday, 19 February 2016

Luke : 1 57-80 - notes

The Birth of John the Baptizer and Zechariah’s song

It’s all about Jesus really

John’s Birth after Mary leaves Elizabeth.  Luke has a tradition of a baby being named on the 8th day, this may refer to the tradition of  “ Brit Malah”, or circumcision of a male child.  However it is not clear how accurate Luke is being here with Jewish tradition of naming of a child.  Some commentaries throw doubt on this, although internet research of Jewish custom does seem to tie the naming ceremony with the Brit.  The circumcision will allow for the child to become part of the community, much like Baptism in Christianity is an entrance rite to the Church community.

Luke suggests that those present assume he will be called after his Father, but this again is problematic as there is ample evidence in the New Testament of sons not necessarily being named after their Fathers. Modern Jewish custom indeed does not recommend the naming of children after their parents if they are still alive.   Peter’s father was for example called Jona.  I have not detailed Jesus as he like John has been given a name by Gabriel.

Zechariah’s song not as famous as the magnificat but important nonetheless.  It sets the scene for Jesus and heralds his arrival.
It clarifies John’s role; he will prepare the way of the Lord; John will be the “Prophet of the most High”.

Zechariah brings to an almost magisterial conclusion the promises of the Old Testament, announcing the redemption of Israel.  The final exodus.

Zechariah would not have known if Joseph had accepted Mary, so his acclamation that the saviour will be a descendant of David suggests that Mary was of the Davidic line as well.

Having taken into account the experiences that he and Elizabeth has gone through – they would have communicated  to each other by sign and writing -  it is clear that Zechariah believes something great is going to happen with the birth of the child of Mary.

The scene is now set for Jesus.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Luke 1:25-56

Refs:       NIV Bible
L Morris (Tyndale Commentaries) Luke
M Wilcock (The Bible Speaks Today) Luke
B. M. Metzger (Ed) The Oxford Companion to the Bible

Luke’s focus shifts from Jerusalem to Nazareth and the second scene as the story unfolds.
It is now six months since Elizabeth had become pregnant and Gabriel embarks on his second visitation – this time to the future mother of Jesus.

Mary: She is a virgin and in the Jewish tradition betrothed, to the carpenter Joseph who is probably quite a bit older than she is. Betrothal lasted about a year before marriage, it was a binding contract, moreso than engagement in our culture, and could only be dissolved by divorce. She is young, but what age do we think she might be?

As Colin pointed out last week, God hasn’t spoken in 400 years (Mary hasn’t heard what has happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth) but now she is visited by an angel.

If Gabriel’s greeting troubles Mary, do his words of “reassurance” seem likely to lessen her apprehension?
What can we see in the prophesy Gabriel reveals concerning who Mary’s son will be and what He will do?
Is there anything strange in Mary’s response? (How will this be … since I am a virgin?)
How does Mary’s reaction to her impending parenthood differ from Zechariah’s reaction to the news of his?
Mary submits to the will of God – what do you think might be going through her mind as she does so?
Mary has been called “Mother of God”, how do you think we should regard her?  

We move to scene 3 – we aren’t exactly sure whereabouts Zechariah and Elizabeth lived but it is certainly out in the sticks! Having learned Elizabeth is already expecting a child Mary determines to visit her – why would she do so, what risk might she run?

The two women meet and Elizabeth is immediately aware of who Mary is and of the importance of the child she will bear.
In each scene the Holy Spirit has been mentioned – doing what?

Mary’s song of praise – The Magnificat.
Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months but seems to leave before the birth of John (the Baptist).
Does anything strike you as odd in this?

What about Joseph? He has only had a passing reference made to him, but let’s look at Matthew 1:18-24 to fill in the gap. I’m not sure at what point the angel visits him, or which angel it, is but he is guided in what he should do. What trait is apparent in Mary and Joseph?

We see two couples into whose lives the supernatural breaks unexpectedly – can it still happen?  

AMH. 11.2.16