Monthly Archives: April 2016

Easter summary (Easter 6c)

Coming near the end of the Easter season, we might ask what we have learned.  John 14:23-29 tells us Jesus words “those who love me will keep my word” (keep my commands in other translations) which raises the question of why we would want to.

Jesus also claims “I do as the Father has commanded me” John 14:31.  There is a clue.

I think the Easter season gives us time to absorb two big ideas.  The first is life beyond what is seen.  Against the constant temptation to limit our interest to what we can see, what is available now, the Resurrection widens our horizons and greatly increases the scale of reality.  Yes, we shall have to give an account of our use or abuse of all God’s gifts – but just as we learn to look at God’s gifts rather than our own abilities, so we grapple with eternity rather than 70 years life, more or less.  The universe is bigger and better than we think.

The second big idea, not denying that the Resurrection of Jesus has all sorts of things to say to us, is simply: “Jesus was right!”.  God endorses, in the strongest way possible, his teaching, his life, his sacrificial death.  At all the points where we might have wondered “Is that the right way?”, “Is God really like that?” or just “You must be joking!”, God says again “This is my Son, listen to him“, as he had at the Transfiguration, and in part at Jesus baptism (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, quoting Psalm 2:7).  Jesus spells it out to Phillip, when asked “Show us the Father“, he says in effect, “I have” – and in the Resurrection, the Father agrees.

Of course, that is not the end of the story.  We shall have to learn to live with it, and with the Holy Spirit (watch this space  . . ).  It will take much of the rest of the (Church) year to look at details and specifics, but Easter has set the scene:  Life is bigger and has more potential than you thought, and Jesus is right!

Commanded to love (Easter 5c)

It is funny how easily we avoid some of the most important bits of the gospel.  In John 13:31-34 Jesus commands his followers to love as he loves.  Wonderful!  We are to be loved, understood and forgiven – but how easily we forget that we must (yes, must) love, understand and forgive.

CS Lewis usefully made the point that if you try to love someone you don’t like, the best thing is to ask yourself what you would do if you did like them, and see if you can do that.  Sadly, we are good at making it difficult.  The linked passage from Acts 11:1-18 helps explain.  Peter had to face up to great barriers in going to a Gentile (the centurion Cornelius), baptising the family, and staying there.  He has some explaining to do to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem – and the issue will come back.

Not an issue for us without a background in Jewish faith?  But it is.  Every Church sets up barriers to belonging to the core group.  Even when newcomers are welcomed at the door, there are so many things to learn – a new set of words, a unique style of music, strange activities, – we could go on.  Not that we are nasty about it, or even that we understand what it is like for newcomers very often.  But this is a strange way to love the hesitant, or even the needy and hurting.  We need our Christian culture to guide us, and we need to sit lightly to it to love those outside the present group.

We’re stuck.  We can’t say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t commanded us to love”, because we would lose so much that is wonderful.  But to accept the command and try to practise it, is difficult!

The Lord is – my Tour Guide? (Easter 4c)

I was in Cyprus for the SAT7 Network Conference (very good, but another story), and we spent three days being tourists afterwards.  That also was enjoyable, but made me think about a contemporary re-write of Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Tour Guide, provided as part of the package.
I shall pay only as much attention as I want at any time, and interpret instructions about departure times and activities as I see fit.
I shall expect attention, my problems sorted and my questions answered;
but I shall not feel any need to be polite, or form a relationship.
If I get into trouble, I shall scream for help,
but if not, I don’t expect my priorities and enjoyment to be interfered with.
If there is good performance and I feel generous, they might be a tip,
but it is someone else’s job to pay.”

Perhaps that’s overdoing it, but I do wonder if the Good Shepherd has not sometimes been replaced.  This Sunday, we remember John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”  We may use Psalm 23 (“I have everything I need” – not want!).  A Shepherd directs the flock for a purpose they may not understand.  He protects the sheep from dangers they may not notice, and makes plans they may not be aware of.  To be part of the flock, the sheep have to be – part of the flock.  With the shepherd, under direction.

So there is a question: Is the Lord your Shepherd (with this understanding), or do you see him as your “tour guide”?

Exodus and Easter (Easter 2c)

This week we read the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the victory at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), along with stories of the Resurrection and the Acts sequence.  The Exodus is a long time ago – c1250BC, so 3000 years, when we find 300 a big gap.  Can I convince you it still has something to say?

The Israelites were freed from slavery (still an issue), and given an identity as a people bound to God by a Covenant agreement.  They had to learn – repeatedly – of God’s power, faithfulness, and ability to lead them.  They might have learnt from the plagues which eventually convinced Pharaoh to let them go, but it seems they were always ready to complain!

So what is there for Christians in the old story?  Well

  • Easter is very much about celebrating freedom from slavery to sin and death.  We have a Christian identity, and are part of a Christian family, because of the victory God has won without our help.
  • Sadly, we often forget – who we are, what God is like, what we are to be like.  We have Christian stories to tell, but they are sometimes left out, and sometimes we miss their relevance and significance.
  • The journey through the Red Sea is sometimes compared to Baptism, or to the becoming Christian.  In Romans 6 Paul talks about our dying with Christ to the old life, and rising to a new (quality and purpose of) life.
  • Jesus last meal with his friends was a Passover (or very much reflected it – scholars argue the timing).  Jesus took the story of the Passover meal the night of the last plague, when the Israelites were kept safe from the death of the firstborn in houses marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, and gave it new significance.  Jesus gives the cup of wine the status of his blood – blood of a new Covenant.

So perhaps the Exodus story has something to teach Christians about Easter.  The final point I find reassuring: the Israelites found it hard to learn, to keep the discipline, to follow their leaders.  Perhaps Christians aren’t so bad!