Monthly Archives: April 2019

It’s a Revelation!

There is also a comment on Exodus 14 and 15 here, and four on John 20:19-31 as Good Doubt, Constructive Doubt, John 20:24-, and Why.

For some people, Revelation is a book of horrors and nightmares, but I want to convince you otherwise. We have 6 readings from Revelation in the next 6 weeks, and they have some positive things to say. So Revelation 1:4-8 starts off with the offer of free gifts. Not a bad strategy, but are they worth having? – you judge:

grace and peace be yours from God” verse 4

Not just God being nice to us, although we don’t deserve it (good!), but also we are given grace. I wonder if we take that seriously enough. Peace – again, not only are we no longer in rebellion against God, but we are given peace, not to worry about everything ?! not bad, and not finished:

“by his sacrificial death he has freed us

free gifts in 8 verses – its enough to get you in the habit of Bible-Reading! But there’s more. There is a good deal here about Jesus. We tend to think of Jesus the preacher and teacher, but this is later:

“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness “

to God’s ways and nature, which we need to know about;

“first to be raised from death”

The first, not only one who will be resurrected.

“ruler of the kings”

Now in power, exercising great power, in a way we still need to learn about.

“first and last”

Alpha and Omega, the A-Z of the Greek alphabet. We might say something like “Pioneer and Last Word”.

Was . . Is . . is to come.

This is a different picture, and an important one – the Lord of power, who won the highest place by obedience in accepting the lowest.

Free Gifts, from a Lord with power and honour, and then there’s us:

“He loves us “

You can’t truly say that of many in power, but Jesus has demonstrated the point, and still does!

“made us a kingdom of priests” ?

We are all to bring people to God, and God to people; here we are told it is what we are for.

Why? “to serve his God and Father” can you think of anyone better to serve? even yourself? (do you live up to his standard?). So here we are, in Revelation, blessed with Free Gifts, given by a Risen and Powerful Lord, so that we may not live selfishly and idly, but be equipped and ready to serve God in a ministry to all the world. Surely that is worth paying attention to?

Why Resurrection?

Where does the Resurrection of Jesus fit into Christian thinking? So much seems already complete on Good Friday: Jesus had become High Priest and offered one sacrifice for all time; he has given his example, and his body and blood. Yet the resurrection is central in early preaching, for two main reasons.

First (as we see in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) because the power of death has been broken. Someone has come back. So the perspective of this letter – and all Christians – is longer than a human lifespan. (So verse 19, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” – but our perspective is eternal). Many people like to think their loved ones continue after death – but without any reason for their hope. Jesus gives reason, and structure, to that hope.

Secondly, the resurrection transformed the disciples, because God raised Christ. This was most dramatic for Paul. As Saul the Pharisee, he was sure Jesus was a false teacher: his attitude to the Law and Tradition; his taking authority to himself; and the claim to be Son of God – all, in Saul’s thinking, condemned him. But then Saul, persecutor of Christians, met the risen Jesus. Since he was alive, by the power of God, he must be right – and all Saul’s ideas wrong where they differed. The resurrection of Jesus is the most wholehearted affirmation of his life and work.

So, the Resurrection shows life beyond death, giving a new perspective to human life. It proves Jesus’ authority to be that of God the Father. And so it reminds us that Christianity is Christ – we are his followers, he is our Lord.

Good Friday – the Passion in New Testament letters

This is an alternative pattern for a one hour “Meditation on the Passion”, delivered 2-3pm on Good Friday. There is an alternative reflection on Luke’s Passion narrative at Good Friday with Luke 23

Even if you are not following this as a worship service, it may help to follow the pattern: hymn, comment and reading of scripture, silence, prayer, – and on to the next hymn, three times.

1st hymn – we sang “There is a green hill”

2. There are many ways of spending an hour on Good Friday, including reflections on Jesus “Seven Last Words”, gathered from the different gospels, and on the Passion story from the gospel featured in the lectionary year. But as I was preparing this year, a different approach occurred to me. I hope it is not too eccentric, and you will find it helpful. It seemed to me that we were less like those who gathered in sight of the crosses at Calvary, since it is a long time ago and we have heard the story many times. Rather, we might see ourselves as those gathered on the anniversary of that traumatic death. Some of the impact has softened with time, but we are still affected by it, and wanting to make sense, and to share our different reactions. In that case, I hope it will be helpful to hear, not the gospel writer/s, but some of those who wrote the New Testament letters. We will ask them what they made of the death of Jesus, and reflect on their answers.

3. To begin, we must hear from Peter. The impulsive fisherman was one of Jesus’s disciples, indeed their leader by Jesus’ appointment. It was Peter who recognised Jesus as Messiah, and saw him in heavenly glory at the Transfiguration. It was also Peter who promised not to deny Jesus, but who disowned him three times the night of his arrest. Forgiven and reinstated after breakfast on the seashore, he led the early Church. The New Testament has 2 letters bearing his name, and it is to the first 2 chapters of the 1st letter we shall turn. So, Peter, we are glad to have you through the words of your letter. What can you tell us about Jesus Passion and death?

1Peter 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17  Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24  For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25  but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

Peter is clear that Jesus death is the motivation for our Christian life – a holy life. There is more in chapter 2:21 on:

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25  For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Thank you, Peter. You have made it clear that we were bought – at great cost, the cost of Jesus life – for a life of holiness. This was no accident – he was chosen before the creation of the world. Clearly those you wrote to were in danger of suffering for their faith, and you pointed to Jesus example, as “he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross”. Our debt to Jesus – your debt too – is enormous.

Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.

Prayer: Holy Lord, whose life was given willingly as the cost of our freedom: free our minds to understand your death, and our lives to live for your glory. Amen

2nd Hymn – we sang My song is love unknown.

Peter has told us something of why Jesus death made sense – at least what it achieved. Now we must ask the other leading apostle.

Saul the Pharisee may never have met Jesus during his earthly ministry. We know that he was at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), but as an opponent of the Christians. Wonderfully converted when on the way to Damascus to persecute the Church, he became the great missionary to the Gentiles – though always going first to the Jews of any town he visited. Although his letters do not tell us stories of Jesus, it is clear that his message was very much about him: so 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  . . .(and he continues to note the various resurrection appearances)

1 Corinthians 15:1-4

You might think this is just an introduction, but it is central. The (NIV) heading added to 1 Corinthians 1:18f is “Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom”.

1Corinthians 1:18  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Thank you, Paul. We could have gone further, to read in Romans 6 how our Baptism is a dying with Christ to sin, to rise with him to new life – but enough. It is not difficult to understand that some would have been more impressed if Jesus had directed legions of angels in terrible reprisal against his enemies, or even done some action so amazing as to crush all opposition. There are still those who want “success” above all. “Success” because the Cross is God’s greatest success – just one we find hard to credit, accept, and live by. It is easy to see how others would prefer Christian faith to be academic, theoretical and debatable, like the philosophies of the Greek thinkers.

That Jesus dies for us is embarrassing, painful, a reminder of the depth of our failure. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.

Prayer: Almighty Father, we thank you that Jesus did not crush his enemies with overwhelming force, despite their violence, nor leave us some abstract but irrefutable teaching. Help us to follow the Saviour who chose the Cross, and to live as his disciples, whatever the cost. Amen

5. 3rd Hymn – we sang We sing the praise.

Peter and Paul have both pointed us to Jesus, and his death, as central to faith. It was difficult for Jews to accept – and non-Jews found the exclusive claims of Jesus just as difficult as some modern sceptics. Who else might we invite as the final contributor to our memorial gathering?

The writer of the letter to Hebrews has not left a clear identity (though there have been many guesses!). He (?) is clearly familiar with Jewish belief and practice, but also desperate to prevent Jewish believers – that is, Christians – from relapsing to a Jewish faith without Christ, which would give them an easier life and less danger of persecution. Like both Peter and Paul, there is a clear focus on Jesus:

Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4  So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

But Jesus is important for more than his status. This Jewish writer wants to talk about the greatest High Priest, who offers himself as the final sacrifice.

Hebrews 4:14  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

This High Priest is sympathetic, because of his suffering, and much greater that any other.

Hebrews 9:11  But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15  For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 10:11  Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12  But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13  and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14  For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Jesus the High Priest – the one who brings us back to God – who offers himself as a sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice offered once for all time. These may not be easy ideas, – we are more used to politicians telling us of the sacrifices we must make because . . . But here we are told of a sacrifice made for us.

Three writers. Different personalities, styles and approaches. Yet all clear that Jesus does something of vital and eternal importance, and does it by his death. Perhaps for us hearing them in this context helps explain – explain why the violence, hatred, injustice, evil, is not the last word. Why the faults and failures of people like us matter, matter terribly, yet can be forgiven.

As we remember the great High Priest, reconciling us with Almighty God by the perfect sacrifice of his own life,

Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.

Prayer: God of your Ancient People, the Jews, and of all humankind, whom they called Gentiles; God of the religious and the secular, the good and the bad, remind us of our need of forgiveness and direction, and take us forward into the life you have made possible. Amen

Go into God’s world in peace. Remember all that has been done for you – the sacrificial death of a Saviour, the victory over evil, the gift of life, and the blessing of God who planned our rescue, of his Son, who paid the price of our forgiveness, and of the Spirit, who directs us in new life and discipleship, be with you now and for ever. Amen

Final 4th Hymn we sang When I survey.

Attitude

There is a comment on the gospel for Lent 6c titledFailure and Success” here.

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:” – says Paul. (In today’s reading from Philippians 2:5-14). Having heard an account of the Passion, it strikes home even harder. This is our pattern, our example. this is the route that has been pioneered for us, and left for us to follow.

Scholars suggest that Paul was adopting a hymn here. It makes no difference, for whatever follows “The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:” is going to be a hard act to follow. There is also a question whether Paul was tactfully skating round failures in the leadership at Philippi. Were relationships there not so good? was there disunity, boasting, ambition and selfishness? Again, the answer is not essential to our understanding. Churches are not perfect – each is a congregation of sinners. But we need to know where we are heading, and what we are supposed to imitate, how we are to work towards our goals. Again

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:”

This Holy Week we have more opportunities than any other week in the year. Of course it is easy to see how things can go wrong. Of course we can see many other patterns of leadership and service. But we are committed to this difficult example. Think again:

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:”

Status – or Grace?

There is a comment on the gospel for Lent 5c here.

What is your standing? Or I might ask, What is your status? Are you important? Are you good? Should people take notice of you? Perhaps its not the sort of question we ask very often – at least, not as bluntly as that. Yet some people do seem to be more important than others, and we all have some idea why we might matter.

It’s significant when we look at our 2nd lesson (Philippians 3:4-14), part of Paul’s letter to a church he was fond of, at Philippi in Greece. While he was on good terms with the church and its leaders, it seems there were other teachers – perhaps travelling ones – wanting to insist that Christians lived fully as Jews, and kept the Old Testament law.

Paul gets quite worked up about it. He, of all people, could claim importance in traditional Jewish terms:
no adult convert, he had been born into Jewish faith, a member of a significant family. More than that, he had kept the tradition in its strictest form, as a Pharisee, and even worked against the Church in his enthusiasm.

But see what he says “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ”.

What makes Paul important? Why should people take notice? Nothing about his background, nor his life achievements. He uses that phrase “confidence in the flesh” – not literally his medical status, but the human point of view, the one which rates people as “important” or “not worth the time of day”. He will have no compromise with these “teachers” who want to boast of their lifelong achievement in Jewish good behaviour. Nor will he let the Christians in Philippi adopt this way of thinking.

What does he say? “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul knows that his hope of heaven does not rest on his record of good behaviour, but on forgiveness won by Christ, and on grace – God’s gift. That is so important he will not compromise, or let any forget it.

He goes on to talk about persistence. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. There should be changes in our lives for the better – but the transformation we have to allow, and continue to allow, is by God’s power through the Holy Spirit. It is not an achievement we can boast of.

I don’t know how you think about yourself, or other members of your community. I do know that Christian faith offers a big challenge to the way most people think. For Christians, lots of achievements others rank highly are really not that important, while faith, and a life of obedient service are vital. The Holy Spirit should be seen working on improving us, but that’s God’s achievement, not ours to boast about.
I wonder what the Philippians made of it all. I wonder if it makes sense to you, and whether you will be able to keep it in mind.

Perspective

[for a comment on Luke 15:11-32, Lent 4c gospel, see this.]

How do you weigh up somebody new? The way they speak, dress, spend their leisure time? Perhaps their work, and the amount of money they seem to have and spend?

Yet Paul challenges all this, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” 2 Cor 5:16. (Part of this week’s epistle – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We need to look for faith, holiness of life and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit – because these are the things that matter in eternity. It seems that the Corinthians are rather keen on classical rhetoric, and find Paul less impressive than some competitors.

Paul will not allow us to make such purely human judgements. Anyone in Christ is a new creation, transformed, reconciled to God – and given the vital job of bringing others to reconciliation with God.

Education would be more valuable if it was about godly wisdom. Sometimes it does encourage the pursuit of truth, but too often it is the competitive grasping of qualifications. If you educate a thief, you get a clever thief. For years, education was seen as the way out of poverty, the ticket out of the coalpit – but now we need to ask – ticket to where?

Culture covers everything from fine art and classical music to table manners, the habit of saving, and polite conversation. Not many that I would like to lose, yet they are about a way of doing things, not much about deciding what is right or motivating us to obey God. Wealth, in terms of the gospel, is a great responsibility, not a sign of having arrived.

Christians will spend eternity with those who never went to school (but weren’t stupid), who knew nothing of our literature, music, clothing, or food, and owned nothing worth £10. – remember that most Christians have not been European, let alone privileged. They will be the heavenly and eternal family.

On the other hand, many of those who have been closest to us – family members, colleagues, friends made through sport or leisure activities, will have no part in that. Ignorant of Christian faith, or dismissive of it, they risk losing out, unless we can provide the vital connection. “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” verse 20

We are reminded today, not just that there are many people to pray for, and that God is kind to the prodigal, but of weightier and more urgent matters. Our need is not to behave a bit better and pray a bit more, but to be sure that we are indeed reconciled to God, transformed by what he alone can do. Our whole outlook must change from that of our culture to that of our God. As we recognise a strange family, we take on also the responsibility of adding to it while there is time.

When disaster strikes

(Sorry, behind with this after a holiday!)

for a comment on Lent 3c gospel, see this page

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
(1 Cor 10:13, part of 1 Cor 10:1-13, epistle for Lent 3c)

There is always some disaster in the news, and it seldom involves us directly. Yet when we do suffer, some react as if no misfortune should ever happen to anyone – and that is ridiculous. Of course we take precautions and try to avoid disaster, but life will always be uncertain and changeable. Some texts have little impact until circumstances change, and then we hear them in a new way. This is one

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
(1 Cor 10:13)

An important text for anyone whose world falls apart, in any of the many possible ways, of which bad health is a common cause. What do we do about it? I’d like to repeat some of the obvious things:

It may be nobody’s fault – but do ask if that is true. If disaster overtakes you, take the opportunity to review – not just “Was it my fault?” but what was your life all about, and how does that match up with your Christian faith? If there are issues, then repent and confess them, so that they can be cleared away. That doesn’t guarantee cure or solution, but it will save you carrying guilt and remorse.

Do what you can, and not what you can’t. Recognise the limits on what you can do. Christian faith is not about denying the real limits of frail health or convalescence. It does not offer “magic” ways of avoiding pain, hard work, or the impatience associated with slow recovery. These things, however, can have a positive effect on faith, if people learn to live within limitations, to listen more, to be less concerned about “looking good” and “working hard”, and think more about God’s priorities.

Don’t stop practising faith. You still need worship, and prayer, and the support of fellowship, and teaching. In fact, these things become more important. You may not “feel like it” – but you need it! You may have to adapt; even to ask for help – lifts, handing over jobs, seeing other people take your place.

Pray – and not just to go back to things as they used to be!. Take away my illness? Sometimes God does that, but more often he heals in other ways –

  • it may be that he will heal the things that make illness difficult: impatience, pride, the need to “do” or “lead” or “succeed”
  • it may be that through illness you will find yourself more alert to other people, and better able to serve them
  • it may be that he will change your perspectives on life, and your ambitions
  • it may be that he will change your relationships with other people
  • it may be that you will learn to trust when you do not understand

– and I am sure there are other things.

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
(1 Cor 10:13)

If your life is good and easy, then rejoice! – and don’t feel guilty about it. Just remember that it may change, but never beyond your capacity. If some sort of disaster does strike, you should know how to start dealing with it, and how to find help if it proves serious.