Monthly Archives: February 2017

Faith – in a different light.

Some of the stories in the New Testament are important as they explain a sequence of events, others have a particular point to make.  And then there are some which are clearly important, but mainly because they make us see things in a new way.  You might say the impact is emotional rather than logical – as long as that is a way of explaining their impact, not diminishing their importance.

This week’s gospel, preparing for Lent, is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).  Three disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.  Jesus dazzles them, and then a heavenly voice emphasises his importance.

We can imagine the importance of this in increasing their motivation as disciples.  It may even have helped them as Jesus took the unexpected path of voluntary suffering – victory through (not avoiding) the Cross.   It may not have told them anything they had not been told, or heard, before.  But it sorted out their resolution, their emotional attachment to this way and this teaching.

This may be what we need.  Peter’s confusion, wanting to prolong an experience rather than move on taking it to illuminate the next challenge, is what so many of us do.  We would like God to give us great experiences, but are less enthusiastic about experiences which prepare us for service.  That is surely why we read this just before Lent.  Lent is not about giving up sugar in hot drinks, or other negatives, so much as thinking again of the cost and importance of discipleship.  What is it that gets in the way of our being more Christian, more full of joy and love, more ready to serve?  Probably a whole confusion of things which need clearing.  It may even be wanting a certain sort of religious experience.

Three disciples saw Jesus in a new light, literally.  We imagine it helped them resolve more firmly, even more effectively, to listen, follow, and do what they were told.  If our worship this Sunday helps us see Jesus, and be re-motivated, it will have succeeded.

Creation

Today we think about Creation, reading Genesis (1:1 – 2:3), and then from the sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34.  Creation is an idea many of us have grown up with, so much that we find it hard to imagine alternatives.  Christians see God as one who is responsible for the (original and undamaged) Universe, who made things and declared them good.  That means we cannot see the world and ourselves as mere accidents, nor can we see material things as somehow “unspiritual” or an obstacle to deeper understanding.  Wasn’t it CS Lewis who said (roughly) “God likes things, He made them”, and went on to remind us that the use of bread and wine in the eucharist, and water in baptism, shows something of the importance of the physical.

So Christians enjoy what God made, and feel that the world deserves the respect due to its status as God’s work.  “Green” concerns, and respect for animals as well as humans, come from this.  What more is there for Jesus to add in the gospel?  He talks about the pointlessness of worry.  We need to think more deeply about Creation, and see that a God like that – a God who made things well, and enjoyed them – can and should be trusted.  Trust will stand against fruitless worry.  We may not understand everything, but here is an answer to “what if” disaster imaginings.  God cares, and while his Creation is now less than perfect (that’s the bit in Romans 8:18-25 about creation groaning), God hasn’t changed.

If you want to worry about something, then what God is doing and wants to see done is a much better concern that tomorrow’s meal.  Putting ourselves in line with God’s agenda brings purpose, joins us with other Christians, and puts our problems in perspective.  This is what we are meant to be about, part of our “re-creation”.  It helps with anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and the wrong search for celebrity.  Perhaps that is what Jesus means by “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If what matters in your life is what matters to the Creator, you may well find purpose and peace, friends and forgiveness.  Of course, you may also find trouble – but you won’t face it alone.

Is that better?

“Nice people don’t do things like that”.  I wonder how many of us were brought up to avoid the bad manners of childhood with such words – and grew to apply them to adult crimes.  Murder, adultery, lying for advantage are often spoken against.  Most religions forbid such things in one way or another, and the ten commandments of the Old Testament are no exception.  (See Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21)

In today’s gospel (Matthew 5:21-37) Jesus seems to want more.  He is not content that we should avoid the action, but reaches further for the underlying motive.  Anger, lust, and self-centredness are the problem, whether or not the opportunity for action is present.  The idea that these (and other) attitudes might be replaced by the love, justice and mercy of God is wonderful, and very demanding.

In other places, Jesus will speak words of hope that murder, adultery, fraud and bitterness (as well as their underlying attitudes) are forgivable.  But he will not suggest that the sins can be combined with the holiness of character which is important to God, and to the life of God’s people.  The disciples he gathers will not all be exemplary characters, but cannot be content with their failures. We find hope in the fact that they continue to need grace and forgiveness, if the patience needed by the community is more difficult.

So how do we hear Jesus words?  We need to deal with our anger and disrespect of other people.  It doesn’t only become offensive if we are able to hurt them physically – the attitude is already a falling short of God’s standard – a sin.  Similarly with dishonorable relationships, whether unfaithful, or simply manipulative; and words which do not tell the truth in love (as in Ephesians 4:14-16).  This is something we shall fail constantly.  Yet this standard helps us remember the difference for those of different family background and life experience.  Christians are not called to be “nice”, but to become like God in our attitudes to all sorts of people and situations.

Rotten?

We seem to find it easy to point out what is going wrong.  Whether it is in the wider world, or locally to us, we know what we don’t like.  We complain, and gather people who make the same sort of complaints, but don’t often do anything positive.

Jesus will not let us get away with that.  “You are the salt of the earth . .” he says at the beginning of today’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-20).  Salt was vital when it preserved food – and Christians are still meant to stop things going rotten. They should, even in small amounts, prevent corruption and decay.  Of course salt is less popular in diets now, as Christian ideas seem to be in some parts of society.  We might want to moan about the cost – in broken families, or lives endangered by addictions, but again, Jesus won’t encourage moaning.  If we are to be salt, we have to preserve what is good.

“You are the light of the world . . ”  It is so much easier to criticise than to live a better way.  But that is our calling.  Be light, show the way, bring hope – not to make a personal reputation or build an ego, but to bring glory to God.  This is not easy reading, but an invitation to be part of the solution.

God has been working on that solution for a long time.  Jesus will build on Old Testament Law and prophecy – but will avoid some of the tradition that has build up around religion.  He is more faithful to God and the promises, yet heavily critical of those confident of their own goodness.  How can we hope to do better than those known for their devotion to “professional religion”? Only by knowing our need of forgiveness and grace.  “Religious observance” is not enough.  We have to let God do what we cannot – forgive, transform our motivation, make us part of the family together bringing light and hope.