Sunday, 24 July 2016

naked relationship

Just over a month ago, I spoke about trust being at the heart of our relationship with ourselves and with God.  We spoke about the importance of seeing beyond someone’s role to the individual themselves, to see people as people, persons created by God in his own image, and we know what the Bible says quite explicitly about his creation.  God saw it and he saw that it was good. 

And then there was the referendum, and Oh so quickly the country forgot about all that trust stuff, and we have lined up in opposing camps looking distrustingly over at the other.  On the day some people remembered the disgusting loss of human life that is called the Battle of the Somme, others found themselves in new trenches, looking over no man’s land in fear and shock and wondering what the other side would do.  There has been a consequential rise in hate crime, a Pandora’s box has been opened and now people are trying to find ways of dealing with deeply felt beliefs and overcoming significant hurts.  Not surprisingly, when we look at the first of our readings today we can often fall into the trap of thinking that God’s creation is anything but good.  We can suffer the same error in our thinking if we look about us today and only see part of the picture.

Genesis today contains the slightly sublime story of Abraham looking like he is haggling with God.  It looks odd to us because we have tended to grow up with a very western version of God, an image of a Chief Executive or Headmaster, someone who you don’t answer back and really don’t want to meet if you are being honest.  Is that really healthy?  Is that a picture of God that the scriptures provide us with?  I don’t think it is either of those things.  If God is kept at arms length, how can we develop a relationship based on trust and intimacy with him? If we take the time to look at scriptures, we see God talking to Cain both before and after he murdered his brother.  God tries to avert Cain from killing, and then marks him to protect him after.  God talks openly with Job, with Job taking him to task.  Abraham here at first sight seems to be berating God for his lack of righteousness, is God really prepared to punish the innocent with the guilty. 

And there is the point of the story.  In typical scriptural fashion it is really laid on quite thick when you see it for what it is.  It is a scene that allows God to say to us that actually he doesn’t pain the innocent with the guilty, he doesn’t presume everyone to be the same, he listens out for and takes care of his creation so that the innocent are spared the judgement of the guilty.  God never wanted us to walk away, he wants us to be in a relationship of deep trust and intimacy, one where we can be open with each other.  A relationship so open that the writers of Genesis painted a picture of the first humans as being Naked.  No barriers between human and God.  A relationship only perhaps seen in humanity between new lovers or between a Mother and her newborn baby in those first moments of bonding post delivery.

Fast forward a few thousand years and Jesus takes up the track of our relationship with God. 

Luke has just spoken of Jesus’ personal prayer and in the preceding verses we have just seen Jesus’ viewpoint showing the importance of choosing to listen to his word, in other words,  to seek a relationship with God.  It therefore suits Luke to include his version of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is NOT the same as Matthew’s but that is principally because we have two evangelists writing for two different audiences and they will therefore have constructed their argument  (a) with that in mind and (b) depending on their own viewpoints.  Much the same as when I sat down and wrote the notes for this message.

Does that mean that scripture is not inspired?  Well, it depends how you might define inspired.  I don’t think it mans that an Angel of the Lord physically sat there at the side of the evangelist dictating the Gospels, but by a process of prayer, thinking, thinking again and immersing oneself in scripture, the author can make themselves more available to “inspiration”, which comes via our own selves, that is, God’s own creation.  It is complicated, I know and a bit of a head spinner, but probably worth taking a moment to let that sink in.

 God calls everyone, and I mean everyone, to spread his message of love and forgiveness, and allows us to go out and deliver it in our own fashion, and by our own behaviour.  That is how much we are trusted by God.  Perhaps we should take that action of trust more seriously rather than walking away from responsibility at every opportunity.

The Lord’s prayer hallows (proclaims Holiness for) the name of God.  The name. in the 1st Century  was meant to represent the nature of someone – in this example, the love and mercy of God, so we pray that we may know him in the intimate way a child knows a Mother or Father’s love.  The picture offered by the word Abba, which is best translated as Daddy, gives a picture of a small child cuddling up to their parent.  That is the picture Jesus draws for us of what our relationship with God should be like. 

We ask for the Kingdom to come, that the Kingdom which Jesus has announced may spread out and overcome evil more and more each day. Both now and at the fullness of time.  We ask God to provide our needs and here is the hard part; to forgive our sins or debts in the same way that we forgive others.  Oh Dear.  Jesus is clear on this.  God forgives us to the same measure that we are willing to forgive others. 

If we are not willing to forgive others, will God be willing to forgive us?

Save us from the time of trial is often replaced in the traditional versions as “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.   The time of trial may be seen as a time when we are at our lowest ebb, our weakest point.  Consider how Jesus prays for Peter that he will be saved from the Satan; Peter’s weak point would be when he denied Jesus.

The verses immediately following are meant to highlight God’s overriding willingness to show love, forgiveness, mercy and patience compared to us.  The events of recent days will help us all realise the sad truth of our state of affairs so often.

V 13; If you who are evil – Do you remember how I said that sometimes scripture lays it on thick, so that we get the point.  Well this is another of those examples.  It isn’t really saying all people are evil, but it is saying look at the difference between how you act and how God acts, look at the difference, that is how far you need to change. 

We celebrated a thanksgiving in our service today, it’s a remembrance of our reliance on God, but which God will you be relying on in the weeks and months ahead?  The lawmaker, the judge, the overbearing Chief Executive? Or will you be reaching out for the loving parent, the lover whom you trust your innermost secrets with, who also happens to be King of Heaven and Earth.  How do you marry the two, your best and most trusted friend but also the King of Heaven and Earth.

How you get around that mystery is the story of the rest of your life.



Friday, 15 July 2016

Don't be Afraid

Luke 12 : 1-35

Today is the last of our Bible Studies for a while and we find ourselves in the middle of Luke’s Gospel, with a sense of increasing danger.  Jesus is among a crowd, so big that people are trampling on each other.  This isn’t some sort of orderly Church procession. It’s more like the Hillsborough tragedy or some type of Beatlemania.  It’s getting dark and dangerous.

Jesus and the Pharisees are at each other’s throats.  How are we to interpret this.  Don’t forget that by the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the relationship between the early church and the Judaic community was already strained and was breaking down.  We see some of that here, in the way that Jesus’ relationship with them is portrayed.  The pharisaical movement had a lot going for it, they were on the side of the poor and the oppressed.  However it has sometimes been portrayed as a scheming giant by early Christian literature.  We need to be careful not to inadvertently spread anti-semitism in the name of Jesus.

There follows a section on who should we fear?  Well, I think that a lot of people probably have the Satan in mind, but that’s not quite what Luke actually says here.  Who has the authority to throw you into Hell?  Presumably the same Son of Man who may disown those who disown him.  In other words, it is God who we should fear, no-one else.  However, God cares for us so much that all the hairs on our head are numbered.  This is obviously not literal, it is designed to say that God loves us so much, this much, and God is the only one whom you should fear.  QED Don’t be afraid!

V 13…  And still people are looking out for themselves, why because they are afraid of being short changed or something.  It is generally fear that drives selfishness, fear that drives violence, fear that drives racism etc.  So a man calls out  “tell my brother to divide his inheritance with me”  Jesus replies in words such as “What’s it to do with me.  Stop walking away from your responsibilities and trying to pass them onto someone else”   If we think like that where is our focus, it is too focused on STUFF.  When we fall into that trap we can spend our whole life focusing on obtaining STUFF, imagining even more dangerously that when we have got enough we can stop and do nothing.  That is the time to beware, if we stop striving, then we die to ourselves.

Instead we need to stay alive, to keep growing, to stay alert keeping ourselves ready to listen and to learn.  If we narrow our gaze too much, thinking about job, or house, family or food, then are we missing out on so much else.  Life is more than that, and as Guardians of God’s creation we are called to embrace life not choose just a smidgin, and think that is enough.  We need to keep ourselves open to being useful to God, like a tree that bears fruit.  What happens when it stops doing that?

Where is our real interest and passion?  Where is our ambition?  It doesn’t have to be earth shattering – there’s another scriptural type ploy.  It doesn’t have to be huge, it can be looking after someone, it can be loving pets or the garden.  The point is that it is there that our treasure is.  That treasure can be everlasting or could be decaying depending on our viewpoint.  Scripture would probably describe that latter as putrid and worm eaten.  You get the point!

When we focus on God, we shouldn’t turn away from the world.  Creation is after all God’s own beloved handiwork.  Rather we should seek God in and through all things, which will transform the mundane into the divine.

In Jesus’ name


Amen

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Prayer and the Devil

Luke Ch 11: 1-36

1. Teaching on Prayer.

Luke has just spoken of Jesus’ personal prayer and in the preceding verses we have just seen Jesus’ viewpoint showing the importance of choosing to listen to his word, in other words to seek a relationship with God.  It therefore suits Luke to include his version of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is NOT the same as Matthew’s but that is principally because we have two evangelists writing for two different audiences and they will therefore have constructed their argument  (a) with that in mind and (b) depending on their own viewpoints.  Much the same as when I sit down and write the notes for these Bible Studies.  (Please note I am not equating myself with any of the Gospel writers here!)

Does that mean that scripture is not inspired?  Well, it depends how you might define inspired.  I don’t think it mans that an Angel of the Lord physically sat there at the side of the evangelist dictating the Gospels, but by a process of prayer, thinking, thinking again and immersing oneself in scripture, the author can make themselves more available to “inspiration”, which comes via our own selves, that is, God’s own creation.  It is complicated, I know and a bit of a head spinner, but probably worth taking a moment to let that sink in.  God calls everyone, and I mean everyone, to spread his message of love and forgiveness, and allows us to go out and deliver it in our own fashion, and by our own behaviour.  That is how much we are trusted by God.  Perhaps we should take that action of trust more seriously rather than walking away from responsibility at every opportunity.

The Lord’s prayer hallows (proclaims Holiness) for the name of God.  The name is meant to represent the nature of someone – in this example, the love and mercy of God, so we pray that we may know him in the intimate way a child knows a Mother or Father’s love.  The picture offered by the word Abba, which is best translated as Daddy, gives a picture of a small child cuddling up to their parent.  That is the picture Jesus draws for us of what our relationship with God should be like. 

We ask for the Kingdom to come, that the Kingdom which Jesus has announced may spread out and overcome evil more and more each day.  We ask God to provide our needs and here is the hard part; to forgive our sins or debts in the same way that we forgive others.  Oh Dear.  Jesus is clear on this.  God forgives us to the same measure that  we are willing to forgive others. 

If we are not willing to forgive others, will God be willing to forgive us?

Save us from the time of trial is often replaced in the traditional versions as “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.   The time of trial may be seen as a time when we are at our lowest ebb, our weakest point.  Consider how Jesus prays for Peter that he will be saved from the Satan; Peter’s weak point would be when he denied Jesus.

The verses immediately following are meant to highlight God’s overriding willingness to show love, forgiveness, mercy and patience compared to us.  The events of recent days will help us all realise the sad truth of our state of affairs so often.

V 13; If you who are evil – is just a typical literary exaggeration tool of the period used in order to make a point. 

2. Beelzebub

Who or what on earth is Beelzebub?  In short probably a derivation of an ancient deity called Baal, who occurs in the Old Testament.  Baal was a Syrian god, deemed by the Israeli people to be an alien power hostile to YHWH.  As people came to appreciate and notice the power of YHWH more, the other gods in the area gradually came to be un-deified, and came to be viewed rather as demons.  Whereas Baal, meant “Lord of the Heavenly House”, Beelzebub came to mean “Lord of the Flies”.

Bit of a downturn for Baal. 

Beelzebub is now equated with the Satan.  Jesus is therefore being accused in v 15 of being an agent of the Satan.  Why?  Well he played fast and loose with the law and its demands at times, he didn’t overly use prayer or mantra’s during his exorcisms; he just evicted, or threw out the demons apparently on his own authority.

Jesus first of all points out that a house divided cannot stand, just think of the labour party at the moment.  Of more importance though is Jesus view that he is enacting the Kingdom of God through his actions.  He is therefore announcing that the Kingdom - the realm – of God is come upon us – it is not here yet in it’s fullness, but we are already living in it’s embrace (Oxford Commentary)

Exorcisms then don’t reveal anything special about Jesus.  There were many exorcists around in his day (ten a penny).  Rather he uses them to signal the presence of God’s Kingdom arrived, here and now, and he announces as a consequence the ultimate demise of the Satan.  The writing is on the wall, so to speak, using a metaphor from a scene in the book of Daniel Ch 5. 

The reality and the urgency of the contest demands a response, so when the woman calls out “Blessed is the womb that bore you...” Jesus counters, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it”

The word of God is progressive, it moves forwards constantly, it changes the world, it is transformative.  It doesn’t look back at past successes, there is still much to be done. 


If we listen to this message, see who he really is and fully embrace the truth, the light within us will shine to obliterate the darkness, and we will be seen to be an image of God by our actions and by our behaviour.   © Colin Waldock