Monthly Archives: October 2017

Bible

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus as part of the Bible Sunday gospel (Matthew 24:30-35).  But what is the significance of that? Context is important. You may remember that the Bible says “There is no God” – but you do need to look at where, and what it means.  The whole quote is better ‘Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!” ‘ Psalm 14:1, and 53:1

So what is the context here? This text comes from a chapter about persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final judgement. Each of the first three gospels has a similar section, and in each it is difficult to separate the parts about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD from the parts about the final judgement at the end of time.

This text is important to both: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Christians needed to know in the first century, when everything was falling apart in their world, that God was faithful and reliable. In the twenty-first century we also need to know that.

But we might ask, which words matter? Three things come from scripture:

  • We need to know a simple statement of gospel: Because of God’s love and Jesus’ death, there is life, forgiveness and hope for any and all who will admit their failure and need, and turn to Jesus’ Way. (its not the precise words that matter, but the message)
  • Secondly, the words which describe what it means to live as a disciple ( / follower / student) of Jesus. The stories which tell us what he is working at, and how we need to learn, obey, and relate to one another . . Words to guide us in Christian life are valuable.
  • And particularly from this passage, we might add as part of that, words of support for hard times and tight corners. Jesus insists that God will “gather his chosen people” 24:31 at the end. Or you might think of promises about not being alone, of your prayer being heard, or of not being tested beyond the possibility of resistance. These are important words of scripture, but they need to be known and understood. Exaggeration will lead to disappointment and disillusion; ignorance to despair; right hearing will equip and encourage us for life.

Again, you may remember that Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (Old Testament scripture) to the devil in the wilderness – and the devil also quotes or rather misquotes scripture – context and meaning matter!

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus Matthew 24.35. We must understand, from the context and comparison of text with text, what is meant. Then we are equipped.

MONEY!

If you want to offend someone, telling them what to do with their money is a good way to go. It is a very “personal” matter, but one Jesus spoke about quite a lot.  Mind you, when the Pharisees ask a question about tax (Matthew 22:15-22), it is rather like the bolas they use in South America – 2 or 3 balls linked with cord, thrown to tangle the legs of an animal and bring it down.

The question to Jesus was a trick – they thought they would trip him whichever answer he gave. Money was a key issue, as emotive then as now. “Don’t pay tax” might be popular, but  treason would be reported him to authorities.
“Pay tax”  would discredit Jesus as a true Jew, painting him as a collaborator with the Roman occupation.  Whatever Jesus says, it will be unpopular – telling people what to do with their money usually is.

But Jesus escapes – not with a clever answer, but with the right one. We need to take note of it. Loyalty to God is most important, but it doesn’t let us off all other commitments. In this case, you can pay tax without being unfaithful (it’s still true).

  • Pay tax, even to “pagan Caesar”, for the peace, justice and trade you enjoy, even in a difficult regime
  • pay God, to whom you owe everything [perhaps we forget that is part of our religion]

Why do we give as part of our faith? Recognising:

  • God created it all
  • God paid the price for us when we could not
  • because, especially in our culture, this is how we express thanks and commitment.

Money is a tricky subject. Jesus didn’t give it a wide berth and avoid offending people. He said that our use of money is part of our faith, part of a response to the love of God which has to involve every part of our lives. In fact, giving is part of the gospel Good News. It reminds us of the good things we have (not only the material ones!), and makes clear our thanks and commitment to the Giver.

Invitation needs answering!

From time to time, people say the New Testament is useless to us because it is totally out of our culture. A half truth, which ignores the fact that human needs, and sin, don’t vary a great deal from age to age. Take today’s parable. [Matthew 22:1-14]  Unique to Matthew in this form (Luke 14 makes a different point in a story also about refused invitations), it does need some untangling and thought.

The first 7 verses tell of an invitation to a feast – refused, with the servant messengers ignored or ill-treated. This is clearly a reference to God’s invitation in Jesus (the marriage is of a Son). The destroying of the city may be a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Verses 8 to 14 seem rather different – the feast is full, but someone without a wedding garment is thrown out. This could be a problem – how is someone off the street expected to get one? Some suggest they were given out by host. Thus the refusal to wear it becomes a deliberate insult. (Documented at Mari, Mesopotamia). Others say clean clothes were expected, as a compliment, and a third group point out that clothes in scripture often symbolise character.

The detail is obscure, but the point is clear: the invitation is free – your great good luck is to get one you might never have expected. But you do have to do something; first of all, go! Even when you get in and are enjoying yourself, respect the host.

Is there anything here for us? I don’t think we’d have much difficulty understanding how unwelcome is a wedding guest who gets drunk while telling stories against bride and groom; or who arrives in dirty overalls smelling to high heaven!  Part of this story is about the consequences of our actions. In terms of our faith, how do our actions affect our relationship to God, and to other people? You can’t earn a place in heaven, but you can lose it by failing to take the invitation, and following-up appropriately.

Or you could say that those who depend on His hospitality need to remember to honour God. If you hope for heaven, then start behaving like it! Not sometime when you get round to it, or if you feel like it. More and more our twenty first century culture wants to tell God how to run the universe. We believe in heaven, not in hell. We believe in being forgiven, but not in forgiving. We believe that someone else ought to deal with young people, the financial crisis, illness and death – so that we are free to do what we want.

And God says, “Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast . .” Listen to the story. Think it through and take is seriously.

  • There’s good news – a free invitation.
  • There’s reality – you need to do something about it, and in time.
  • There’s a warning – what you do will have consequences.

 

 

The joy of limited responsibility!

There are (at least) 2 ways of living as a Christian:

  • loaded down with all the concerns – lists of sick people to pray for, world problems, – proper concerns, but “heavy”, and liable to make life hard going.
  • or with a sense of God’s ownership, and thanks for it:
    sometimes (as at Harvest) times are good – there is the reminder of the gifts of creation
    sometimes (as at Christmas, Easter, Pententecost) focus on the gift of Jesus, of his life, his death for us, his sending of the Holy Spirit.

In darker moments, when its easy to focus on what is going wrong or badly, and the pain of it, the best way may be to go on with a sense of God’s ownership. We don’t have to understand, as long as someone makes sense of it.  We are not called to be in control, but only to do our part.  If we don’t understand everything, is that a great surprise – God is much greater than we are, and there is no suggestion we have all the information, let alone the ability to process it properly.

Jesus tells the story of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46), picking up from Isaiah.  God had worked, not just to pop plants in, but to clear a place, build a wall, plant, and get everything set up. All the tenants had to do when they came in later was to carry on with the harvest and maintenance. There is real anger at their attempt to take over ownership – the deceit, theft, pretence.

Of course there’s a warning here for us all: Don’t imagine you own – anything! On earth, we’re all tenants, and we need to know that, and pay due regard to the landlord.  That’s the negative side, but see the positive as well – Like a good tenant, you don’t have to worry when the roof leaks – you do what you can, and tell the owner. That’s your responsibility.

When life is good – Give thanks.  When life is not so easy. Give thanks for the owner, who has to deal with everything. We don’t. And if you can remember that, you could save a lot of nervous energy.  Whether it is as easy to put into practice as to understand – well, you try.