Monday, 27 June 2016

New Beginnings

I have previously posted on here about my experience of depression.  it is with some relief that I can now say that I have emerged from that long dark tunnel and someone has gone and turned the lights on again!

I am even back at work, with two new beginnings.  A lecturer post at a local University and working for a colleague of mine in a private practice.  Both roles mean that I can devote myself to doing a job that I enjoy wholeheartedly, and I am blessed to be working with wonderful people.

Thank you to all the health professionals who have helped me along the way especially my GP who has been fantastic and for the counsellor who both challenged and cajoled me into seeing from the past into a future that I wasn't sure existed any more.  And to my family without whom I am sure that things would have been so very different.

My future is again interesting, so for all out there who experience mental health (or ill health) issues, hold on, there are people out there who care enough to help you.  In the darkness, it is almost impossible to see a way forward on one's own, but by accepting the gentle help of others and guidance it is possible to stagger a way forward until you can see again.  The big learning lesson for me has been one of trust, trust in oneself and trust in others.

God Bless

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Who is our neighbour? - A timely bible study in view of the referendum result

Chapter 10 in Luke comes in three parts and so I will deal with each in turn.

10: 1-24

Sending out the 72

Jesus sends out the 72.  Well perhaps, in the NRSV he sent out 70.  There are a number of ideas and suggestions as to whether the number is meaningful, did the number 72 stand as a symbol for the nations of the world?  Was there an association with the number in the Sanhedrin.  The most common understanding however is that this is indicative that the Gospel is meant not just for Israel but for the whole world.

There is a lot of work to be done.  The opposition is becoming more dangerous, (Jesus is sending out the 72 to be like lambs among wolves; if you take that image literally for a moment it is not a pleasant thought.)  They are to eat and drink anything offered; not only are they not to be picky; they will probably be entering Gentile houses and may have to eat food that is prohibited to Jews.  They are not to stay in multiple places in one town, the work is urgent, they are to give the message and move on. 

What happens if the message is rejected?  Then Jesus is also rejected and the one who sent Jesus as well.  This is reflecting the reality that rejection of the Kingdom of God is a serious business and has consequences.

The preachers returned with good news, they are upbeat.  Perhaps they did not get as much rejection as had been initially thought.  Jesus refers to the fall of Satan.  Again there is debate among theologians.  Is Jesus referring to something metaphysical or in God realm that he had seen before time began, or is it related to the feedback he has just heard.  Scripture is often difficult to understand as it is written with symbol so often.  Satan has just suffered a significant setback from the ragamuffin group of preachers.  Sometimes what we do may seem insignificant, but here we have an example of how God sees it.


The Good Samaritan

Who is your neighbour?  This story though is also about ritual purity and how it can get in the way of relating to the other, of loving the other.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a symbolic retelling of Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount, and apparently targeted at the Temple High Priests.  The bandits are called Lestai.  This is a word that means terrorists.  The victim has been hijacked by the equivalent of the real IRA, or an extreme jihadist or right wing group and left for dead.  The priests on their way to the temple walk on by.  To us that sounds awful.  However, to the priests they are caught between a rock and a hard place.  They are on their way to the temple, they would have completed a complex set of ritual cleansing to make them pass the tests to enter the holy of holies; all these were set down in the law.  The victim could well be dead.  If they strayed too close they would become defiled and would be unable to perform their priestly duties, which was the whole reason of their being.

The person who helps the victim of course is already defiled as far as the devout Jews are concerned for his is a Samaritan.  In fact more than that, he has means, he has a donkey, he frequents inns, so could this be a military man, is he one of the occupying forces?  And he is the hero of the story.  He is the good neighbour.  The parable must have been outrageous to the Jewish listeners.  The laws that they so carefully adhered to, are seen as casting them in a light of bigots who put human life second to purity laws.  Jesus is again ripping into the purity laws explaining and showing that blind adherence to dogma can easily make us miss the point.

With reference to the sermon on the mount, this is also an example of loving your enemy.  Who is your enemy?  He is your neighbour.  Who is your neighbour?  He may end up being your enemy..


Mary and Martha

This is another famous part of the bible, famously probably misinterpreted as well.  Often this scene is said to set business against prayer, to set activity against contemplation, and as such people have often felt forces to choose one over the other.  But I don’t think it is about that at all.  Mary is said to be sitting at Jesus’ feet.  She is in effect being a disciple.  She doesn’t it seems know her place.  She has stepped outside society made boundaries for acceptable female behaviour.  She is making herself equal to a man for goodness sake. 

Martha is finding this intolerable and complains.  Does she think that this behaviour will cause trouble?  Jesus again surprises us.  He again shows an enlightened attitude to women.  He tells Martha that she has nothing to worry about, and in fact, Mary is doing something that is to be commended.

Authors  note:     In view of the harsh words of the last few weeks that people have put forth on the internet over the referendum and the pain that so many people in this country still are feeling as a result of the decision, this bible study that speaks again of relationship and inclusion may be helpful in the necessary healing process.  In the following weeks, I urge everyone to stay close to God and just rest in his/her arms if you are not sure what to say or do.

©  Colin Waldock

Saturday, 18 June 2016

It's all downhill from here

It’s all downhill from here.

Some years ago I had a dream about this episode, which is odd as I didn’t used to read the Bible regularly.  I dreamt that I met Jesus on his way down the mountain from the Transfiguration.  I don’t know why that was the time and place, but in my dream it just was.  I was sad and angry that Jesus was going to his death in Jerusalem, and I wanted to protect him.  I called out to him, and gaining his attention I pleaded with him, warning him of the danger.  He put his arms around me and we were one in that moment.  In my sleep I cried tears of sadness and love.

I am still not sure what it means but I am always reminded of the dream when I read about the Transfiguration and the immediate aftermath.

We have just witnessed something a bit special.  It is special enough to walk on water, stop a storm by telling it to stop, and raise the dead.  But this is something else.  We have just seen something very old testamental.  Two greats on a mountain top with a cloud overshadowing etc etc.  For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus is the new temple, the place where God resides, where the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth meet.

Meanwhile on the plains, we have failure, illness, panic, a tense situation that could become violent at the drop of a hat.  Amidst all this, the disciples are shown as still having so much to learn.  There is no quick learning in being a disciple of Jesus.  It takes a lifetime.  And is full of failure.

V 40, the Father states that the disciples could not help the boy.  Why not, they had just come back not long ago with tales of gung ho about how they had healed and exorcised.  Had pride got in the way, had they stopped relying on God? 

Jesus healed the boy, Luke excludes some material used in Mark’s Gospel, but his gentleness for the family is shown in v42 “and he gave him back to his father”.  Again the result of a miracle is mending that which was broken.  All the crowd, like the crowd at Nain, were praising God.  They still didn’t see Jesus as being God incarnate.  We shouldn’t be too hard on them, it hadn’t happened before, and there was no reason for them to suspect this, it is easy for us to rewind and fast forward when reading about Jesus, those with him had only the present and the past to play with.  God was doing something new in Jesus, something that was surprising everyone.

Jesus again tells his disciples that he is going to be a different sort of Messiah, but they can’t see it, they as still thinking that he is going to be an avenging Lord.  They wanted to know who among them was the greatest.  Was this because they had seen three go up the mountain.  Where they getting a bit tired of being a second string group?  These are questions, rhetorical in type that aren’t meant to have an immediate answer, rather to encourage thought and reflection.

Jesus in response does a very Jewish thing.  He acts as a Rabbi, sitting down with his disciples to teach them.  He takes a child.  The word child in Aramaic was the same as the word for Servant.  The disciples then need to become like servants.  They are being childish but they need to become like children, and in the 1st century that meant to become like a servant.  Again Jesus talks about the upside down topsy turvy world of the Kingdom of God that his followers need to live out.  We still don’t get this, Jesus calls for no status, no titles no thrones or seats of honour.  This group today is not my group, it is not led by me, rather we are a group of disciples, followers of Jesus who meet to find out more about him, and how better to follow him. 

John speaks up about someone else who has been casting out demons; it seems without the proper authority or written forms.  He hadn’t attended the meetings, and teaching sessions.  Jesus reply is inclusive not exclusive.  If this person is doing work for them, then he is on the right side.

And still they don’t get it.  Jesus has set his sights on Jerusalem; he knows he has to go there.  It is the centre of Judaism and the temple movement, so he has to .  The Samaritans bar him.  Before in his ministry they had welcomed him.  Why not now.  Probably because of the focus on Jerusalem, while the Samaritans had an issue with Jesus, he did not with them.  He rebuked James and John who called for fire to be called down on the Samaritans, and he later used the Samaritans as an example of love and compassion at the expense of the temple leadership.

Finally, we have a scene where a number of people seemingly call to follow Jesus, but he seems to be awkward almost and off putting.  Let the dead bury their dead was outrageous for a 1st Century Jew, but burial of course wasn’t like it is today.  There were two stages, the original internment and subsequently the placement of bones into an ossiary, this could take years, so the request isn’t so urgent as it seems to be, the request is saying let me do things I need to do first and then I might get round to it.  Judgement is coming and Jesus’ time is now short.  There is an urgency, we are going down into Jeruslalem, down into something dark and dangerous, we are heading into Hell.  People are in for a rocky ride from here on in, so their full attention is going to be needed. 

Baptism, Relationship and the Law

Today, we have celebrated the baptism of young Tobias, and during the baptism, we, all of us, as a church family reminded ourselves of what we believe in.  We shared the words of the creed.  By doing so we recall a covenant made with us by God.  It is worth noting that we don’t say that we expect each other to fulfill a set of rules or challenges.  We don’t promise to set up committees, even though they are in their own way important.  The promises we all made were to love, to teach and to live by example, and we promise all this not by our own efforts but with the help of God.

It is a relationship that needs trust, reliance and faith if you like.  We have heard from scripture today that speaks into situations of faith.

Paul writes to the Church in Galatia, which was in what is now Turkey.  It would have actually been a collection of house groups, certainly not a cathedral or an organized mega-church or anything like what we see today.  It appears that these new followers of the way, who were mostly gentiles – non-Jews – were being targeted by a more conservative group of Jerusalem based Christians who were feeling that the movement was moving too fast.  They wanted to keep the movement within the constraints of the law as set out in the book of Deuteronomy.  It is part of the ongoing argument in the early church surrounding the necessity of circumcision, and consequently a true belonging within Israel. 

Paul is concerned for this group that he has recently planted and therefore sets out an argument comparing faith to the law.  In faith, we see a relationship, a covenant with God which Paul links to God’s original covenant with Abraham which can be found in Genesis 12:7; set against the law given by Moses; Paul, remember, is a Pharisee by education and background, Paul had studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the leading Rabbis of the time so he was well educated in the law.  Paul then has a good understanding of Judaic law and even if we don’t agree with him, it is a bit like listening to an expert of a subject, we should at least show him the respect of his position.  It is quite likely for instance that if we wanted to know about the history of the Conservative party, then even if we don’t like his policies then we should at least listen to what say David Cameron or Michael Heseltine have to say on the matter. 

Paul argues that the law is given primarily because of the rebellion of the people against God, in other words the people were living in a state where there was a breach in the natural relationship with God, remember that Exodus 19:12 states
"You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

There can be no better picture of a breach in relationship when we were created according to Genesis in the image of God and to walk with God.  Paul states that the law has been completed and fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  You may recall that in Matthew 5:17 Jesus himself states that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.

Jesus did fulfil the Law in his living, dying and resurrection.  The age of being subject to the law had come to an end.  We live as did Paul and his compatriot early Christians in a New Age, where we are no longer subject to the law as set out in Deuteronomy but are under a new law of relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Paul further argues that the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:7 “To your offspring I will give this land” should be read with offspring as referring to Jesus in the singular, rather than the way it is commonly understood.  He also makes the point that the promise – or covenant – is superior to the subsequent development of the law (something closely tied to the political existence of the new nation state of Israel).

The covenant, therefore, is fulfilled in Jesus, who sets out a new covenant, announced at the last supper, inaugurated with his own death and validated in his resurrection.  A covenant based on Grace and Truth, Love and Mercy, Self-Sacrifice and Non-Violence.

It is this covenant that we enter into in Baptism.  It is via a covenant with Jesus that we are granted entrance into the original covenant that God made with Abraham, making us as Gentiles children also of Abraham.  We can now walk with God again through Jesus. We can return to the state that existed in the Garden of Eden, but this time in a new way.

Any birth is traumatic and potentially painful whether that be for physical birth or birth of ideas.  So let us take a journey using another piece of scripture that I believe will shed light on and meet up with the strand we have just been thinking about.

Our call to worship came from Psalm 42 which together with Psalm 43 is one poem set in 3 verses with Psalm 43 being the last verse.

It follows a journey of depression, (My soul thirsts for God; My tears have been my food day and night), isolation (I say to God, Why have you forgotten me), the psalmist then recalls time of relationship and praise at the Temple ((the place where Heaven and Earth met) (I used to go to the house of God…with shouts of joy and praise)  In Psalm 43 there is a focus in on the problem, (being rejected by God in a faithless nation) but looking forward in faith that (I will go to the Altar of God, my Joy and Delight, at God’s Holy mountain). 

This journey of depression, isolation, remembrance, clarification and progression is one that is probably well known to all of us at some time and no doubt is true of parenthood.  But note that even at the depths of despair, the psalmist keeps coming back to God.  It is the relationship with God that is all important.

This journey sequence can be found in Luke 24 in the Story of the Road to Emmaus.

Two disciples are in shock, saddened by the sudden loss of all their hopes (and for these two disciples – quite possibly the acute mourning of a family member), they are overwhelmed by a sense of failure and loss – how had it all gone so suddenly wrong, when whilst they are travelling away from Jerusalem they meet a stranger who turns out to be none other than the risen Jesus, God himself.  Their relationship renewed, they return.

Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God and further announced the start of God’s rule in Earth as in Heaven.  It is up to us, his disciples, the new Israel, just as it was for Paul and the others in the early Church to carry on the work of Jesus in transforming the world into God’s Kingdom. 

Where does baptism fit in with this, especially perhaps infant baptism or Christening?  Think of it this way, it is a proclamation of the good news.  We are declaring that his family, and Tobias in particular, have today been marked by God as his.  Tobias will grow and make choices that only he will and can make.  He is given however the opportunity to fulfil the promise of new life, just like all of us.  No one is given the knowledge of their particular future, but one thing is certain, we are known by God and He will always be with us wherever we find ourselves.

So, I ask you.  Are you more concerned with following the law?  I mean the written and unwritten rules of churches and denominations, or do you seek first the Kingdom of God and yearn for relationship with God?

How does this affect your behaviour?  How does walking with God affect you now and in your future?  How does remembering your promises that we made earlier impact on you?  Are you prepared to be Jesus to your neighbour?  Will you announce the Kingdom of God to the world?  Will you keep your doors open to allow the Holy Spirit into your lives wherever you may be and let the Spirit walk with you?

I tweeted a few weeks ago; “Christianity it's not about religion it's about relationship. Take a walk on the wild side with God”.  I challenge you to do just that.

May the Lord God rest with you today and be with you as we say in response to the challenges we will no doubt face “with God’s help we will”

In Jesus’ name


Saturday, 4 June 2016

Chrysalis Bookclub - AKA Bible Study

Notes on Luke 9:1-27

If we assume and accept the arguments put forward by NT Wright (ex-Bishop of Durham) are valid.  That the Gospels all speak of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus being the means by which the God of Israel physically came into his own creation to return that creation from the exile.  An exile produced by the breach in relationship between God and humanity as described in the Genesis creation myth.  It is really important that we read the Gospels with this underlying canvas or picture in mind.  It is hard but it can be very fruitful and I believe will help to keep the Gospels relevant and challenging to us today.

Chapter 9 in Luke sees Jesus sending out his newly commissioned 12 apostles, (Chapter 6) on a mission that heralds in Luke the coming of the Kingdom of God.  In fact Luke has Jesus telling them to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick, a marker itself of a new age.  Mark has repentance as his key theme of this same mission and this could in part be due to Luke’s perception and his belief that repentance was a response in some way to redemption.

Herod presumably got wind of what was going on and is pictured as being perplexed. It’s clear that at this time people considered Jesus to be a great prophet in the line of Elijah or Isaiah.  Perhaps they felt he was Moses come back, some even thought he was John come back from the dead.  This is curious as it suggests that being raised from the dead would not make someone equal with God.  And that is important.  We don’t accept that Jesus is God because of the resurrection.  The resurrection confirms an identity rather than proving it.  It is clear here that the claim is not the same as that later made of Jesus, that he was the Messiah and that he was also LORD.  Herod is depicted as wanting to meet with Jesus.  Is this to have a nice civilized chat? Or to remove a potential threat? (He had already removed John and Jesus was going around doing stuff that proclaimed a new Kingdom – how do you think a reigning monarch would react?

Vv 10-17 has Jesus feeding at least five thousand, Luke only mentions the men.  What about the women and children? This is a miracle that implicitly states that Jesus is greater than Moses and has Messianic overtones written all over it.  It is a symbol of the Exodus story and it can be suggested that this is a type of Communion Meal. Looking beyond the obvious, there is a conversation within the middle which often gets missed.  The apostles suggest the Jesus sends the crowds away because where they are isn’t suitable for this many people.  Jesus challenges them to deal with the people and to feed them.  The apostles remember have just returned from their mission, a bit full of themselves no doubt.  Jesus, here, shows them the enormity of the task and gives them a hint again of who he is and what he is doing.

10: 18-27  has Luke immediately giving us Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah.  Mark has a number of events between these two scenarios, but Luke obviously wants us to take these two scenarios together and thus they need to be interpreted as such.  Jesus has just shown himself as being a Messiah symbolically, and then he asks the group who he is.  Although Jesus has attracted a large following it is clear that the majority haven’t realised what is actually going on.  They are only seeing Jesus as an individual, so Jesus presses them and Peter speaks out saying that Jesus is the Messiah.  He get’s it – or at least part of it!

In the western church today we see this as Peter recognizing Jesus as being God, but this wouldn’t have been what Peter meant in a 1st Century context.  Peter meant that he had recognised that by Jesus’ actions of healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry etc that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.  What he and the others still had to learn of course was that Jesus was not going to be the sort of Messiah that they were expecting, and also that in Jesus, the hopes of Israel’s messiah were to be found in a unique fusion of the Kingly and Priestly roles.

Normally the Messianic role would have been filled by two people, a King and High Priest, both very much human.  Being  Messiah had nothing to do with being God.

So Jesus starts at the outset to teach them that whilst it is true, it must remain hidden for now as it is not how the nation had expected it to be.

V23 can be interpreted as suggesting pragmatically that the cross is what happens when you stand against Rome – this is just what happened to people who bucked the system.  Luke adds “daily” seeming to suggest that the disciples of Jesus will need to renew their will to follow his way of life on a daily basis.  Salvation is LIVING in the way of salvation.  It is likely to be costly, but is the only way to true life.  There is a clear warning here which seems to relate to the ultimate redemption of creation (v26) and hints at the image of the Son of Man given in Daniel Ch 7.

Jesus ends by telling the group that some who are there will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God.

We’ll visit this next time!

© Colin Waldock