Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Psalm 42 for the 21st Century

I am dying of thirst for God
Not any old God but the real one
The living one
Where has he gone, where can I find him?

I am enveloped with sadness and tears
People mock me daily, where has your God gone?
Your church is dying..
I remember when the churches used to be full
When people could talk about God naturally

Come on my soul, don’t be downcast
Can’t you trust in God, the Living God
We shall praise him despite everything
Despite all the doubters

When your people have forgotten you
Do you think creation will forget you
From the trees to the oceans
From the stars to the rocks

Put your hope in God
For he is trustworthy and I will sing again

Praises to my saviour and my God

Friday, 6 May 2016

Chrysalis Bible Study notes Luke Chapter 8 for weeks 6.5 and 13.5 2016

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

In the last couple of chapters we have seen Jesus teaching in the Synagogue, gathering his band of close followers around him, healing the sick and performing other miracles. We have also seen how His doing so, on the Sabbath in particular, along with the challenges He brings to their understanding of religion and the strict observances and practices they seek to enforce in pursuance of it has raised the hackles of the Pharisees and the Priests. It is quite likely that their combined opposition, allied to His growing reputation, has led to Jesus changing tactics so at the beginning of Chapter 8 we are told that He is again on a tour through the towns and villages.

It is interesting that Luke is at pains to emphasise the role of the women who have chosen to leave their families and to travel with Jesus the twelve in support His ministry, including financially (verses 2-3). We have seen in earlier studies the low status of women in the society of the time and such conduct on their part would have been shocking, while Jesus’s willingness to rely on their money would doubtless have scandalised the self-righteous Pharisees.

We shouldn’t think that Luke’s gospel always proceeds in chronological order, often he groups things together, perhaps to illustrate a particular point, but as we proceed through this chapter it seems likely that four miracles follow each other in natural succession. First however we hear one of Jesus’s most often quoted parables –the parable of the sower.

In fact the parable isn’t really concerned with the sower or, indeed, with the fate of the seed, it is really much more concerned with the state of the soil! Are any of you keen gardeners’? Then it will come as no surprise to you that it should be so. In those days seed wasn’t planted in prepared fields, it was only after the seed had been broadcast that ploughing took place – hence the possibility of seed being sown in the wrong place, and in the days before chemical treatments infestation by thorns and other weeds would have been a persistent problem even for that which was in the better soil. But of course this is a parable so it isn’t actually concerned with soil or the prevalence of weeds but with the priorities of the disciples, and of ourselves.

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God are only revealed to those diligent in their search for truth – the quotation from Isaiah in verse 10 should not be seen as reflecting  Jesus’s intention, but rather a statement of the unfortunate reality that the choice of many would be a rejection of God’s way. In any event when the seed does fall on good soil the return is immense. Elsewhere Jesus refers to the “harvest” of those who are saved by knowing Him – it is in helping to bring in this harvest that our worth as fertile soil is to be demonstrated.

There follows in verses 16-18 another oft quoted passage – those who hear, the fertile soil, have an obligation to share what they learn, see and experience. Here Jesus is directly addressing those who profess faith in Him and there is a warning we should heed. We should not be complacent, we are to continually reflect the love of God as it has been and is shown to us. We cannot stand still, we either grow or we diminish, there is no other option.

What comes next (verses 19-21) underscores the importance of our commitment to Jesus. His family come to find Him. (Other gospel writers tell us that they are worried – in effect they believe He has lost His mind and they have come to take Him home for His own safety). Certainly they don’t have any faith in Him or His message, although this changes for at least one of them later on. Again we should read verse 21 with understanding, Jesus is not saying that family is not important but rather that the relationship between Him (God) and us transcends even that closeness and devotion.

We come now to the four sequential miracles.  We should perhaps reflect that Jesus’s decision to cross the Sea of Galilee is not a mere whim – He knows in advance what is to happen and this is planned for the benefit of the disciples  - and of us. . The Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee was Gentile territory, although some Jews had chosen to make their homes there. In crossing the lake Jesus appears to be putting some distance between Himself and the Jewish authorities, at least for the time being.

The Sea is about a third the size of the Isle of Wight and lies some 700’ below sea level. It is often whipped up by winds descending from the mountains to the East of the lake, as the boat was making its crossing it was caught by such a squall and was clearly in danger of foundering, yet Jesus was asleep – either so exhausted He wasn’t aware of what was going on or, more likely, simply undisturbed by the events. Remember, some of those with Him are professional fishermen, men well used to the dangers of wind and waves, this is not a panic by land-lubbers in the face of a minor storm – this is a real life-threatening emergency! In their fear they turn to Jesus, realising He is the only one who can save them.

And He does, first rebuking the wind and waves and then rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith – do you see how challenging that is? They have acknowledged Him as Master (verse 24), they have acknowledged that He alone can change the situation but that faith isn’t enough it seems! Yet even when He has done what they hoped He would they still needed to ask who was it who had such command of the elements? The answer to their question comes from an unexpected source.

Having miraculously survived the storm the boat makes landfall, there is some dispute among scholars as to exactly where this was but that is of little concern to us. But even as the boat grounds on the shore a naked madman with iron shackles dangling from his wrists and ankles approaches shouting at the top of his voice. The disciples’ reaction would probably have been to put out to sea again immediately, but Jesus steps out of the boat and is addressed by the man who succinctly answers the disciples’ question! (See verse 28b – “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”).  

This is the famous incident of the “Gadarene swine” for the man is possessed not by a single demon but by many, so many in fact that they describe themselves as a legion – it may well be that this is a direct reference to a Roman legion and, if so, it means they would be counted in thousands. There is no doubt that Jesus will liberate the man but at the demons’ request He allows them to enter a herd of pigs which rushes down into the lake where they drown. We can wonder at a number of things here, why would Jesus heed the demons’ request? Wasn’t it unfair on the owner of the pigs? Why would the demons drown their new hosts? Or, more importantly, we can concentrate on the fact that a man is worth more than a herd of pigs!

However, once the townspeople hear what has happened they come rushing out to see if it is true – Is the madman sane? Have all the pigs drowned? Who has caused these things to happen? As these are gentiles they have no expectation of a coming Messiah and when they find that it is all true, their reaction is one of great fear. They want Him to go – a reaction that many still share when they encounter the risen Christ – but not so the former madman, he wants to stay with his saviour. But this will not further Jesus’s purpose – instead the man is to go home and simply tell of what has been done for him, to share what he has experienced of Jesus – isn’t this what is required of us all?

You may wonder why it is that Jesus is happy for this man to tell what has happened when others have been sworn to secrecy. It is likely that there is no threat to Jesus by his actions becoming known here in gentile territory, but back home amongst the Jews it would further add to the disquiet of the authorities and that Jesus does not want at this time – He still has much to do

Jesus returns across the lake and is met by a crowd, one of whom has a special reason for wanting to see Him, Jairus’s young daughter is dying and despite being a ruler of the synagogue he is either a secret follower of  Jesus or simply so desperate he will try anything. Either way Jesus agrees to help.

But He is diverted from His intention by the actions of an equally desperate women. For 12 years, the same time as Jairus’s daughter’s lifespan, she has been bleeding – for all that time she will have been ritually unclean, literally untouchable and shunned by all. In her desperation she manages to merge into the crowd undetected and in the throng surrounding Jesus she gets close enough to touch the edge of the garment hanging from His shoulders – it is enough, instantly she is cured! But her plan is thwarted, Jesus immediately reacts - for healing was always at a cost to Jesus, it took power from Him – “Who touched me?” An apparently daft question - He is surrounded by people who are jostling Him and, of course, He already knows who it was. But that isn’t the point, He also recognised the faith of one person who wanted to touch Him and why! Can you imagine her embarrassment and fear? Instead of surreptitiously being made well she is forced into the spotlight, made to expose her shame to everyone, scared that He will take away what she has been given. But that isn’t how Jesus works. Why then does He demand this of her?

The revelation of her healing wasn’t done to humiliate her, but to facilitate her reintegration into society. Look at the tenderness with which He addresses her (verse 48) – this is the only time the Bible records Jesus using this intimate term, surely indicative of His great compassion for her?

The diversion over, Jesus resumes His mission, but apparently too late. The girl is already dead. Professional mourners were the order of the day and obviously as assiduous in pursuance of their trade as modern day ambulance chasers for they were already there wailing away in feigned grief. When Jesus tells them to shut up as the girl is only asleep there is scornful laughter, the only time the Bible records such a reaction to Jesus’s words.

Notice how Jesus ensures that the miracle He is about to perform is witnessed by only a few, three disciples and the little girl’s parents. Taking her by the hand he restores her to life and then commands that she be fed – note, too, that now He is back in Jewish territory He orders the parents to keep silent as to what has occurred. Others will have to theorise, perhaps He was right, she was only asleep, but the parents and, probably more importantly, the three disciples know better.

So much for the narrative, but what else can we see?

Luke has shared four events which occurred so that the disciples could see the power of their master, to discern His concern for the wellbeing of ordinary people experiencing extraordinary suffering or the pain of the inevitable consequences of mortality.

Beyond that, however, the writer is introducing a theme, that of the role of tribulation in the life of all, including we who profess to be followers of Christ. We don’t embark upon a road that will be easy and avoid all problems. To the contrary, we will see that it must be a necessary part of our journey - as it was for Christ Himself.

AMH                                                                                                                                                                         04/05/2016

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Musings on the road, Glad to be preaching again.

Good morning everyone, I understand that today is National Sorry Day.  So before I start I would like to say Sorry for missing my scheduled date in November.  I was unfortunately indisposed being unwell.  On a more serious note though, when I look around at the world today, it seems obvious to me that there is still a long way to go in the healing work of creation.  So it seems fitting to really say sorry to God as we haven’t done that well over the last two thousand years.

It’s not that the church has been an abject failure, not at all, but like his disciples who were with him, we still often miss the point and because of that the ongoing work of building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is taking longer.

We are like the Israelites in the desert, taking 40 years to make a journey that should have taken 11 days.  It must have seemed like an eternity. 

In our second reading today, Jesus is speaking to his group on the night before his death, throughout these long speeches of Jesus, his language gradually becomes more clearer and less opaque, which could reflect the gradual waking up of those with him to what was going on, or to an increasing frustration on Jesus’ part or more likely was a literary tool used by the author to open the eyes of the reader to Jesus divinity.  The reading is a response to a question by Judas (not the Iscariot one), this is probably Judas son of James as mentioned in Luke.  It could be Thaddeus in Matthew and Mark.  Judas seems to have missed the point, along with the rest of his companions.  The author seems to have set Ch 14 as a question and answer session with most of the questions set by the apostles looking at a predominantly worldly perspective; Consider Thomas in v 5, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” and Philip in v 8, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us”.

Jesus speaks of Love and Faith, the relationship that exists at the heart of the Trinity, and then in v 28 he says something that on the surface seems very odd.  “for the Father is greater than I”

What can he mean?

It is a phrase that has caused problems over the years in people’s thinking around the relationships in the Trinity.  Is this phrase really suggesting a hierarchical relationship exists, or is it perhaps that Jesus in his human state is refusing again to fall for Satan’s temptation for him to avoid the Cross and rule in another way.  In this way Jesus is making himself subservient to his Father’s will.  It is perhaps relevant in our understanding here to consider that John does not have Jesus in Gethsemane sweating blood and asking for the cup to be delivered from him but concluding that he will follow the Father’s will.  Is this John’s reflection of that scene in Gethsemane?  In v 30, He goes on to mention the accuser but confirms to his apostles that the accuser’s power is limited because Jesus will do as his Father has commanded.  It is love and mercy that is again at the forefront of the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the protracted farewell discourses, we are given an image of what the destination and mission of Jesus is, nothing less that the healing of the breach in creation caused by sin.  It’s about restoration, and the reunion of the Kingdom of Earth with that of Heaven.

The writer of Revelations, our other reading today, who may or not be the beloved disciple, is clear that there will be a new creation, and in fact perhaps one already exists.  One of the complexities in Revelations is the variability in time settings.  There is a new age.  This is a line of thinking that people in the 1st Century would have understood as history was believed to occur in “ages”, especially from the Jewish perspective.  It is also clear that the image we sometimes have of the purpose of life being to follow Jesus in order to escape to heaven at our death is false.  After all, heaven and earth are inextricably linked. 

The new city comes from heaven to earth.  It is a descent rather than an ascent or escape from earth, which leads me to refuse the images of the ideas that surround the idea of the so-called rapture.

The author also gives us a picture of what the new Kingdom looks like and feels like.  The curse in broken, the Tree of life now brings healing and restoration to all the nations, not just Israel.  Eden is now opened again and is available for everyone. 

Light has overcome darkness. 

Whilst outside of life there is only death and falsehood.  The mention of dogs in 22:14 by the way is because dogs were considered to be unclean.  Sorry to all dogs and dog owners.  Just another example that Revelations is NOT to be taken literally; it is about using symbol to make a point.

The other piece I would like to highlight is that the author’s picture of the new City, the new Jerusalem, is set in contrast to the picture of Babylon in Ch 18.  For Babylon, we see Rome, land it highlights the lie at the centre of the Pax Romana.  A lie that sees the rich and powerful able to enjoy a life of comfort and splendour while the majority of the population are burdened down with taxes, forced to work log hours, always under the looming threat of a strict and harsh judiciary which know no mercy.

What does this mean for us today? 

Let us keep our focus on God and the Kingdom, let us speak our bravely at injustice and lack of righteousness wherever we come across it in word and action.  Let us stand firm and bring the world to task when we are told to act according to its double standards.

Rather we should reflect love and mercy. 

We should clothe the Naked – another way of saying we should protect the vulnerable

We should heal the sick – We should open our communities to those who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised.

We should speak up against injustice by holding Governments to account.  

We should not fall for the temptation of riches and pleasure; the lie that would grant us comfort at the expense of our neighbour.

Let us then, stand with Jesus and seek to continue his work of bringing the real New Age to fruition, let us welcome in the Kingdom.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit