Tag Archives: encouragement

Scripture, on and offline

Friday was wet and windy, and I stopped my car to collect a food waste bin from the middle of the road. It was clearly an odd thing to do in the rain! Very clearly – I got “looks”. People tend to assume that pleasing yourself – doing what you want to – is either a natural right, or at least something given the more senior members of a group, or perhaps those who have money to spend. But that’s a mistake!

The Christian faith teaches us that the strong – so especially those older members of the congregation, who have practised for longer – are NOT to please themselves, but to help others to build up their faith and strength. This may be less of a shock to parents and grandparents.

Look at today’s lesson Romans 15:1-6. Paul has urged the congregation not to split over minor issues – eating meat (often sacrificed in pagan temples), drinking wine, or arguing over whether or not to observe particular Jewish festivals (in a mixed Jewish-Gentile congregation). Now he says:

“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Romans 15:1-3

Basic Christian gospel. Jesus offers us love and forgiveness, not because we deserve it, but because of his love and God’s plan. We are invited to respond, learning the same love, and finding the same HS strength.

How do we know about this?

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

Yes, on Bible Sunday we are sent back to the Bible. I know some of you are involved with Open the Book, and know how children enjoy and benefit from the stories. I know some of you will be involved in study groups, or follow Bible notes individually. I wonder if you have woken up to mobile phones?

  • Mine has a Bible downloaded (free!) with a daily verse
  • it also has Scripture Union Daily Bread notes
  • Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline for each day with the right readings, canticles, and a reminder of feast days + commemorations
  • and of course there are many gospel films on You Tube (+ a lot of rubbish)

The point of all this? Not getting a “qualification”. Paul lays it out clearly:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Romans 15:5-7

The Christian life is tough. We are to have the attitude of Jesus, our Lord, and to draw strength from the same Holy Spirit. It won’t always be appreciated. Often it won’t even be understood – look, or rather read, what happened to him. But it is lifegiving, for us and for others. Our worship and thanksgiving are not some cold duty, but the gateway to a new and wonderful life. Together, will all our failings, we write a new chapter of God’s rescue of his people and his rebuilding of broken humanity. It’s worth being a part of.

Mistake – or . .

If I ask you to read Mark 10:35-45, I wonder how you react. It’s not that it’s complicated or difficult to translate; it is just very different to what we are used to in the media, and in what seems to be “ordinary” life. I hope, though, that you do find something to take away, ponder, and perhaps talk about.

I wonder if you see a warning. James and John were ambitious, perhaps even a bit ruthless about their aims. But they hadn’t really thought it through, and if Jesus had been less sympathetic it could have got them into all sorts of trouble. (2 crosses, or let the other disciples deal with their ambitions?). This shows up a real gap between Christian thinking and what passes for ordinary standards and expectations – a reminder of the gap, that we have to understand and get over.

But if there is a warning here, there is also an encouragement. These two are key disciples, and despite their blunders they are still included in Jesus circle of friends and students. Not only that, but their imperfections are not air-brushed out of the gospel account – quite the opposite. That’s got to be good news! If Jesus could choose and use people like that, there is hope for us, with all our imperfections.

Or perhaps what stays with you is that last verse, Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It fits with the Old Testament lesson Isaiah 53:4-12, about the Suffering Servant who would redeem many. It fits with the Hebrews reading (Hebrews 5:1-10) about Jesus as a High Priest, bringing people to God and God to people. But it doesn’t easily fit with our culture of celebrity.

Have we really come to terms with Jesus choice of ministry – choosing to die, rather than to escape (as he could have done). Do we really want to follow and learn to imitate that sort of Lord?  We don’t need other people to remind us it is a strange choice. We easily forget that the eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, Mass, liturgy, breaking of bread – there are many names) we celebrate is a thanksgiving for the death and resurrection of the Son of God who died for us. Because it was necessary, because that sets us free, and allows the love of God to get to us, and through us to others.

I wonder how you react to a gospel reading like that.

Do you take warning, not to let ambition lead you astray?

Are you encouraged by the fact that Jesus uses real people, with their rough edges?

Do you find yourself wondering again about how differently God works, because we would never have planned Jesus ministry like that?

I don’t really mind, I just hope that you do react to it, and take it away, think and pray about it, and find ways of talking about it, too.

It’s a Sign

It could have been a disaster! Yet this story (John 2:1-11) has so much to say. Jesus took his disciples to a wedding – and we imagine he was a welcome guest. A bit of a celebrity, with a stock of stories to tell . . Perhaps we forget what a welcome guest He was.

Then disaster strikes – the wine runs out. We aren’t told why – whether it was thirsty disciples, bad planning, or delivery failure simply doesn’t matter. But who wants their wedding remembered for the catering disaster? There are all sorts of symbols here of things not working:

  • 6 jars of water for ritual washing (not 7, the perfect number)
  • Jesus’ mother is gently told not to manage his ministry – the old order is moving on to the new.
  • Even the water (of washing) is about to become the wine of celebration – but that is anticipating.

The wine runs out. Jesus takes charge – the provision he will make involves some hard work, without people understanding what is going on. But the servants fill the jars with water, and draw it out to take to the master of ceremonies. And, to his surprise, its the best!

God provides; we don’t always see how (as here), and can’t often predict what is planned. Yet He makes the best of the situation – that’s worth remembering. Here is a wedding gone wrong, but

  • Jesus, who refuses to do tricks to make himself look good, is shown to be kind (saving embarrassment) and affirms the importance of marriage by his presence and action.
  • Jesus works a creation miracle, showing his power over the world he created. Not just good with people, is he?
  • Jesus performs the first of 7 signs which John will carefully note in his gospel. Each reveals something important about Jesus, and so moves the disciples on in their understanding and commitment.

There are all sorts of sub-plots, in fact you can probably find some more for yourself:

  • Here is The Bridegroom (Old Testament picture for God) at a Wedding, to start a new family
  • Here is a human celebration running out of steam, but finding a greater celebration which works and keeps going..
  • Here is wine, which the Rabbis made a symbol of Torah – Old Testament law, replaced by better from Jesus

You could get lost in the detail, all the symbolism, but this story is about a God who provides (though we don’t always understand how or why), and who provides the best. It is a sign of what is still to come – in gospel and in life – but one meant to encourage disciples. Even us!

(There is another comment on John 2:1-11 last year: The (first) sign, January 2017).

Sowing?

In Ireland, they take longer over the weather forecast, and even include the statistics for grass growth over the last month in different areas!  Perhaps it is not surprising, given that agriculture is a rather more serious concern for the average person there than in the UK.

It may be that as we read Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23 – leaving out v10-17), we are brought up against what we are serious about.  It is meant to be an encouragement (like the rest of the chapter, all about the Kingdom of God).  Reading carefully, we may learn what is beyond our control (and not worth worrying about), and what is going on (to help if possible, and beware the dangers for ourselves).

Jesus knows that when the message of God’s Kingdom is sown (which applied to his ministry, and still to ours today) it is a call to loyalty, obedience and action.  The reaction to that call varies:

  • there are hard places, like the path which will be ploughed after sowing, but loses seed to birds.  Some people just want to know, they have their own agenda, know what they want – and it doesn’t include God.  For anything to grow there, it will have to be tucked into a gap made by the Holy Spirit.
  • The rocky ground is just shallow.  There is no problem getting a reaction here, but it is liable to pass on to the next enthusiasm, and the next.  If this ground can be cultivated (sometimes it can’t), honesty is needed.  To live the Christian life is the best thing you can do – but it will be hard at times.  More than ever you need other believers to watch out for you, pray for you, and need you to help them too.
  • The seed is never sown in sterile compost!  We all come with weeds – past hopes, habits and hang-ups.  To get through these, not only do we need honesty, but also to know the worth of God, and the temporary nature of so much that seems to tempt or threaten.

This parable may be very familiar to you, but I suggest it may reveal how serious we are about sowing God’s Kingdom, and living it.  Don’t be surprised or upset that some sowing of the Kingdom fails to grow – it doesn’t mean the seed is bad, or the sower useless.  Understand the problems, if that will help.  But above all realise that sowing will produce a harvest, a good and significant one.  Jesus’ disciples needed to know that when his ministry hit opposition – and they still do.