Category Archives: Sunday Readings comment

Comments on readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (Bible Readings used by many Churches worldwide), as used in the Church in Wales.

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.

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.

Stand firm

(Philippians 3:17-4:1) “Hold fast!” – “Stand firm!” it sounds a bit like a battle, and so it is. You can see that in the gospel reading today (Luke 13:31-35), as Jesus refuses distraction in the work he has to do before he goes to Jerusalem to die. Paul’s words to the Philippians sound less military, but. .

“Keep on imitating me” Paul says. We might prefer “Keep on imitating Jesus”. But, then as now, many don’t know Jesus to follow, and look to us to see something of him. It’s a big responsibility – we know we fail, but that is part of it. How to fail, repent, and go on – that is very important.

“For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” What a strange way of putting it! (We’re back to the battle) Doesn’t he mean enemies of Christ? Perhaps, but as he explains in verse 19, we see he means not only a selfish life, in opposition to Jesus teaching; but also the complete opposite of his example. Jesus gave, they take.

The enemies of Christ’s death on the cross live for themselves: food, drink, money, sex, comfort, ambition, power, ME and mine.

“Their end is destruction” – “They are going to end up in hell” – Paul’s words, but pretty blunt. We might say its a “dead end”; but we need to take seriously the consequences of going that way. There has to be an alternative, and there is.

“But our citizenship is in heaven” Simple, yet important. This – this world, this job, this text – isn’t where we have to succeed, or fail. Jesus death on the cross opens up for us a new horizon. He found reason to live for us and give for us, even to the extent of that death. As we learn to follow, we find more important things than ME and mine. God’s love is worth more than a promotion; serving with his people is worth more than comfort or power.

We don’t find it easy to teach children to share – toys, or parents, or anything else. We don’t find it easy to teach Christians, even when they say they are committed to being disciples of Jesus, that their lives must follow a different Way to the rest of the world. A better Way, but one which involves discipline and sacrifice to achieve more wonderful things on earth, and in heaven, our place as Citizens of Jesus Kingdom. It’s not just that there are one or two things we don’t do, and some little habits (like prayer and services) we add on. The Christian Way is a whole attitude to life, sometimes difficult and demanding, but worth everything.

Paul was close to the Christians in Philippi – but even there he had to remind them about Christian behaviour, and the need to “stand firm in the Lord”

Standing firm, but in the Lord, not in unchanging tradition. Philippi was a Roman colony – they would understand about being citizens of somewhere else, and the benefits of that. But being citizens of heaven was something they needed to go on learning – as we do.

Faith

After 3 years of weekly comments on the gospel readings, I am moving on to comments on readings from the New Testament letters, while also referring you to earlier posts on gospel readings.

For Luke 4:1-13, see http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/lent/

In Paul’s letter to Rome, we read 10:9 “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved.” Romans 10:8-13

It is very simple. Our attempts at “being good” are never enough to win us God’s approval or get us out of trouble. We need something else – belief / faith / trust in Jesus. (We need several words because they get cliched). Just as a skier doesn’t walk up the hill – they take a cable car or ski lift. So in Christian faith, we don’t expect to get there by our own effort. It is the doctrine historically called “justification by faith”

So, all you have to do is say the words, and that’s it? No. “ For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved”. Rom 10:11 The scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.”
To say “Jesus is Lord” was dangerous – Caesar was Lord, in Roman terms. To “believe that God raised him [Jesus] from death” verse 9 was not a matter of opinion; it was to recognise his significance, power, and authority. This faith that saves is a basic direction in life, more significant than adoption or marriage.

Does it matter what we do, then? Of course. You can help or hurt, be a blessing or a curse. Look at Jesus in the wilderness – he is trying to get it right, working out his trust in God the Father. [Or, if you are reading Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Look at the man bringing his produce to a Harvest festival, using words to recognise God’s gift of land and food].

If you are marking the season of Lent by some special or extra activity, it should be something that removes obstacles to God’s work in and through you. If you weren’t at all bothered to let Jesus control you, your faith would be in question – “Who are you kidding! “ we would say, “you don’t trust God, you keep preventing him doing anything!”.
But you can’t work it backwards, “I’m good, so I must be Christian”, not even “I’m good, and I believe in God, so I must be OK”. Not true – Jesus and the New Testament don’t say that.. Romans 10:9 “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved.”

Faith, as trust in Jesus and letting him control – that’s what matters. Being Good, or less good – that doesn’t work with God, it’s just something we deal with later. Understand these words from Romans properly, and they bring great relief. What God asks of us is not that we reach a standard, but that we trust him, and let him do the work.

Seeing in a new light.

Jesus’ Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-43) is a strange story, even when compared with the miracles and unexpected events of the gospel. What does it mean? What difference does it make?

It does highlight the need to read each part of the gospel in context. Not only does this come in the middle of the gospel, It is in a chapter full of change.

The 12 have been sent out 2 by 2 on mission. Coming back, the crowd interrupted their “time off” with Jesus, and he fed 5,000. Then Jesus asks about what people are saying about him, and Peter recognises the Messiah, the promised King sent by God – but immediately Jesus talks, not of majesty, but of suffering and death.

Then comes this mountaintop experience, perhaps throwing a new light on what is happening. Jesus shows the glory of heaven. Moses, representing the Old Testament leaders, and the Law, is present as a witness, and so is Elijah, not just representing the prophets of the Old Testament, but also the forerunner promised in Malachi 4:5-6. They talk of Jesus “departure” – the Greek word is “Exodus” – which he will “bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem”.

Perhaps you see what is happening. Jesus is taking his mission in an unexpected direction. He will deliberately avoid a revolution to try and make him King, and instead offer himself as a sacrifice. Will the disciples understand? – Will we?

Peter is still thrilled by the experience, and he wants to stay. The heavenly voice has a different priority – “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

The journey of faith will test their loyalty. Jesus will go in directions they did not expect – and did not want. But they continued to learn to listen, trust, and follow.

That’s all very well in the first century. We might think we know better, and set off into Lent with the same routines – choosing something to “give up”. But what we need to do, especially at a time of change, is to consider the cost of Jesus’ rescue, and to “spring clean” our spiritual habits to make sure they fit the needs of faith now.

Yes, society is changing, the Church is changing; perhaps it is a time of uncertainty or transition for you, too. So we all need a new vision of Jesus, which give us confidence and the motivation.

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  – because that is specially important when things are developing rapidly, and may not be as they seem.

At the bottom of the hill, they have to face a failure to heal. The disciples need of Jesus is again clear. They are learning to reflect God’s glory, to work with the Holy Spirit and follow God’s chosen way. But they have not finished learning, and neither have we. So keep close to the Saviour, and keep listening!

Creation matters

You might wonder why Christians bother with thoughts of Creation. If so, it may help to think about alternatives to the story we have heard (in Genesis 2:4b-9 and 15-25):

  • many now seem to think the universe is an accident explained by science. It has no purpose, people have no significance, and there is no basis for love or justice unless we pretend to find one.
  • Others don’t care about causes. They just believe that “Might is Right”, and what matters is to be on top of the pile, not the bottom
  • and some think that if there is Fate or god, it is no friend, and may even be out to catch them our or get them!

So: part of the Good News we have to share is about God, who in love creates. Though we have done some damage, the universe was well and beautifully made. It shows God to be wise, powerful, and to understand and plan in ways quite beyond our little minds!

Of course, there is an element of threat in this. It means this is not my world – it does not revolve around me, my wants, my ambitions . . God the creator owns it all. Even “my” possessions. Even “my” life. That makes quite a difference to the way we see things. You may notice in John’s vision of heaven, Revelation 4, that it is not all about family reunions and eternal holiday – the throne of God is central, and worship is what is happening.

Similarly, the God who chooses to make man and woman in his own image dignifies every human – even the poor, disabled, refugee, handicapped, criminal . . It is not for us to change his priorities.

So I hope you are beginning to see that Creation – the Christian understanding of a God of power and love who chooses to make us and our surroundings – is important. We have to come to terms with not being in control, with not having owner’s rights. Yet, this is Good News, just as the disciples in the boat that stormy day (Luke 8:2-25) discovered it was wonderful to be with Jesus, who understood their panic, and was able to put things right. Just as Adam and Eve found out, when even after their rebellion (Genesis 3: “We don’t have to be told what to do by Him!”) God acts in love to provide first, clothing, and a future salvation.

Belief in a Creator God does not mean we don’t have to bother about the way we treat the Earth and leave it for future generations. The knowledge that we are managers, or stewards – of the universe, as well as our lives and possessions – puts us in a good place. We have a responsible job, and excellent support!