Tag Archives: good news

Warfare

Paul is writing a letter, but he is under guard in prison (we have come to Ephesians 6:10-20). He uses the picture, setting faith in the ordinary world – even his. We can imagine him listening to soldiers boasting of old campaigns.

He asks first, Who is the enemy? The temptation is to identify a person, a party, an opinion. All mistakes. “we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces “ (Ephesians 6:12) This is very important – there is a Christian fight. We may not like violence – and that is good – but faith is not a genteel discussion, but a struggle. To live as a Christian is to face opposition, difficulty, and temptation.

Paul picks up the soldier’s equipment to explain. (Perhaps he watched the guard coming on duty shed the gear in which they had just been inspected?). We notice the need for practice and experience (verse 13). (In passing we might add that the Roman army used discipline and working together to overcome larger numbers). What does he examine? The belt is Truth. It’s not about winning the argument, but about keeping with the reality of God. Righteousness is a breastplate. When you are accused, you need to be sure of forgiveness and status as a free child of God.

Shoes (sandals, well think boots) are Good News – that travels well. Faith is a shield; you don’t know or understand everything – but trust that God does. Salvation is helmet, protecting the brain that matters, even if other bits suffer. Prayer reminds you to work with God always – individual enterprise is dangerous!

There is only one weapon (despite many pieces for protection) – the word of God as sword. Not hard and cutting words, but the ones God gives which go straight to the heart of the matter.

That, says Paul in prison, is your equipment. Learn to use it, practice and get comfortable with every bit before you go into a serious fight.

Perhaps you still don’t like the thought? You wanted a quiet life, not a punch up? Will you end up with the Jews in Capernaum Jesus asked “Does this make you want to give up?” (John 6:61). Or are you with Joshua and his family (in Joshua 24), deciding to be with God and rejecting the alternatives.

This military metaphor is – only a metaphor (the weapons are differently allocated to spiritual qualities in other places). But it is also a reality to be faced while there is time for reflection.

Together round – a Cross?

How do you feel about people whose idea of a day out is to visit the Chamber of horrors? Do you really want to know the technical details of gas chambers, electric chairs or guillotines? No? I find that encouraging. But why do Christians meet around a CROSS? People generally find “Christ crucified” a strange message, let alone Good News (we are reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ).

If God wanted to sort out the world, why not do it? We can’t explain God, but perhaps he could have abolished the troublesome human race, or just taken away our freedom to do evil? This would not be our preference, so what can God do to avoid wasting the lot of us, yet sort out the mess?

The answer is – the Cross.    And it is Good News, however odd, because it is about Victory over: Death, Evil, Temptation, plotting enemies, Failed friends, [Helplessness, despair, insignificance]. In fact everything we need to beat, because the Cross is the cross – a painful death by torture. It is about a depth of commitment (God’s), about not crushing the weak or the despairing, and about sharing in the worst of earthly life. It is NOT about personal success, or pretending. It has nothing to do with “image” or “status”. In fact the opposite, it is a constant reminder that left to ourselves, we invent methods of torture.

So what’s the problem? God isn’t playing the games people like to play. The Jews (verse 22; and many others) wanted miracles – let God do something dramatic to catch attention and entertain. The Cross is dramatic, but not entertaining; its too painful, not just for the victim. It doesn’t flatter us. The Greeks (verse 22) and many like them want wisdom.    They liked to debate, and wanted to find truth in assertions of human dignity, in the heroic potential of the human spirit. The Cross tells us of humanity in such a dangerous mess that they couldn’t help themselves, and needed to be rescued.

The Church in Corinth wasn’t rich, didn’t have any geniuses; they were people others liked to make fun of, and God chose to use to show his power.    That’s the problem, as Christians we are people of the Cross, we can’t say how wonderful we are, but verse 31.

“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:31

So I hope you understand why the Cross is much more than a symbol, and stands as a summary of Christian faith. Faith which is Good News, because God doesn’t sort out the world by wasting us when we fail to meet his standards, but chooses instead the difficult and painful way of suffering the worst to offer us the best, and leaves us a reminder that shows the depth of his commitment, the greatness of his victory, and the depths to which we fall if we choose to go it alone.

Like a Virus?

Jesus lived a very long time ago, in a different country, culture and speaking a different language. How can his life be relevant to us in in the 21st century? In Romans 5, (today we read Romans 5:12-19), Paul contrasts Christ with Adam (even more remote), but would argue that both are still relevant.

“sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin”

Rom 5:12.

Whatever you make of the story of Adam’s rebellious disobedience of God’s instructions in the Garden (it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to do what he was told – he wanted to take over God’s role and be in charge!), there is no doubt that the consequence of death and disaster coincide with our experience. Death is something we don’t talk about much, and don’t deal with very well. Wishful thinking abounds as people tell us what they “like to believe”. Yet we all experience temptation and failure – that is, sin – and know the consequences only too easily lead to death (whether our own or someone else’s). It is just as if Adam had released some deadly virus into the world, and we all now suffer because it cannot be contained.

Paul then goes on, in an aside, to talk about “Law”. The 10 commandments were long after Adam, given when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. But they didn’t introduce or invent Sin. The Old Testament law defined sin, and helped people recognise what it was. They knew it was nothing new, even then.

Today, when awareness of truth and right seem less clear, that Law not only helps to explain what God is like, but to show up how different we are, and how much we need help or transformation. Escaping sin has never been a question of just making a bit more effort – or getting old and less energetic!

“But the free gift is not like the trespass” v15 Now we are coming to Jesus. A world stuck in sin leading to death is pretty miserable, but Paul points us to the far greater power of Christ. Adam unleashed a problem – Jesus pours out the solution. The grace of his death is the answer to both sin and death. His sacrifice brings forgiveness to all who will accept it, his resurrection opens the way to eternal life for the faithful.

Paul wants us to have confidence in the effectiveness of what Jesus has done. We know the bad news; however hard we avoid thinking about it, it is part of our experience and the experience of our world.

Are we equally experienced in the good news? Jesus sets us free from sin, and from the effect of death. It is the offer of a totally different life, to be lived in a new way with new power. But it needs accepting and doing.

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!

What is Jesus all about?

The story of Jesus in his home synagogue (Luke 4:14-21) is an announcement of what Jesus is all about, and it demands attention. Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1,2, but he’s talking about the fulfillment of the greatest hopes of a people. I’m not sure if we have such clear and unified national hopes now – we don’t even talk easily about our personal hopes – but the Jewish people of the first century knew what they wanted. They wanted freedom, and the life that God had promised – a good life, a life of wholeness and plenty and right – right relations and right order – to happen in their time.

And Jesus comes to his home synagogue and says “Yes, its happening now.” And we blink, thinking, have I missed something, what happened next? Look back, and you will see that in Nazareth they took offence, and he narrowly escaped violence. Jesus had stopped quoting Is with “the time has come when the Lord will save his people” it continues “and defeat their enemies”. Perhaps Jesus didn’t need to speak of that, because it was shown to be happening.

So we are set up by Luke to ask if we recognise these things in the gospel story – both the story he tells, and the story our lives re-tell. Jesus as the bringer of good news: not always happiness, sometimes hard work (but never pointless). Good news which includes being set free – not free of all constraint, but free of evil, free to learn to live with other people as difficult as we are ourselves.

Then there’s recovery of sight. Jesus did heal some blind people, but more than that, he has made it possible for many of us to see –

  • to see something of God, his character, his activity, and purpose
  • to see in people not just what they are, but what they might be, and how God might view them.
  • to see the collection of Christians not as grumpy, quarrelsome bunch, but as the potential citizens of a new kingdom.

Some of the oppressed are free, and some of those who profited from their oppression are quite annoyed. We see a struggle developing, and already we are involved. Do you think Jesus should have known his place and kept quiet in his home town? Or are you hearing what he says and saying, even without quite getting all the significance, “Yes!”

Luke is only beginning. But he warns us that this is no story that we can read and analyse like an instruction book or technical specification. We are drawn in; right away we either rejoice that freedom is announced and healing practised, or we worry that we may lose out if things change too much.

God is in charge, the Holy Spirit is leading a new wave of history – and it continues for us. As we read on, where will your sympathies be, who will you support, what will you do?

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Jesus, because he has chosen him to bring good news to the poor. He has sent him to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people”

Yes?

Remembrance – for past or future?

Today we celebrate the end of the First World War (Armistice Day coinciding with Remembrance Sunday for the 100th Anniversary of the end of that war), and remember soldiers who died – as well as those wounded (in body or mind), and civilians, refugees, and the many casualties of war.

We remember that the Great War was not the “War to end all wars”, that the Second World War followed, and the Korean, Vietnam, Falkland, Gulf and many other wars after that. We could get lost – and depressed – looking back.

Looking at today’s gospel (Mark 1:14-20), we remember how Jesus looked forward and announced something better: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Mk 1.15

It took the disciples a time to recognise Jesus as King / Messiah, and longer to realise that did not mean a revolution and the end of the Romans. Jesus is King. But his kingdom is good news for people of all races. And all people need to find the good news through repentance and belief.

We prefer to make excuses. I wasn’t involved – its them. But jealously, ambition, pride . . . these are ours, as well as the faults of others. We are (all) sinners who need to repent. The good news is for us – but knowing and admitting our part in failure is the way into God’s Kingdom, now and always.

Jesus would suffer, and his sympathy and understanding for the bereaved is clear (remember his mother Mary given to John’s care at the foot of the cross? John 19:25ff).  In the same way his care for the tormented and the suffering is clear from many healings, and the way they were carried out with care for the sufferer, rather than concern for publicity value.

So, let’s give thanks. That we live in freedom and peace – not forgetting many do not, even today. We live with the good news, the offer of entry to God’s Kingdom, where life is so much better. For us and for others, repent and believe.

Why read the Passion?

In many Churches this week we will read a longer passage, to follow through Jesus’ Passion story (Mark 14:1-15:47). To listen to this Passion story is to face 2 sides of reality.

One is the consistent failure of the people around Jesus.

  • Judas betrays him
  • the disciples don’t understand, fall asleep, desert
  • Peter denies him
  • the crowd want him crucified
  • Pilate doesn’t care to give him justice
  • soldiers and condemned prisoners mock him

Whatever is being achieved is not the result of human effort, offers no encouragement to depend on human goodness . .

The other side is sometimes forgotten. Jesus fights the battle against evil and death which he will win, but it is a most unusual war.

  • total casualties 1 dead
  • non fatal injuries 1 cut ear – healed immediately
  • psychiatric trauma all participants come to deal with reality better as a result of observation / participation
  • economic damage none, (unless the failure to avert the Jewish War a generation later is included, despite attempts by Jesus to avoid it). Some fishermen change trade.
  • political aftermath the Kingdom of God is established, but does not overturn other structures of government. Some officials with varying degrees of corruption are embarrassed.
  • lasting effects incalculable. The only war whose results are not buried by history.

Perhaps we begin to see why it had to be like that.  It is difficult to read, not because it is complicated, but – well, painful.  Yet this is the good news of Jesus.

Excitement!

Mark begins his gospel (Mark 1:1-8) with an excitement, which I hope has not worn off. To him religion and the message he has to deliver is not only important, and therefore serious, but also exciting and good. Losing that sense of excitement can be one reason why religion becomes boring – and that is the death of motivation!

The good news – the gospel – is of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Again, something we lose sight of at our peril. Jesus is not only God’s gift, through whom we can see the invisible God, and understand what the incomprehensible Deity is like. Jesus is also the way we are brought back to God, forgiven and freed. Mark doesn’t waste time or paper – this is the first line of his gospel!

So, how does it start? With an Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, and his announcement of a messenger to prepare the way. As Mark will make clear, the whole Old Testament has been unfolding God’s plan, and preparing the way for the coming Messiah, the great King. As we shall discover, the King was rather different to what was expected, and so preparation was needed. The prophecies of Isaiah’s book play a part (they feature in Carol Service readings!), not least by creating hope and expectation – an important element.

Then there is John the Baptist. verse 4. Mark understands him to be the messenger Isaiah was talking about, and he comments on his dress and prophetic style. Prophecy had died some hundreds of years before, but its sudden rebirth is a sign of something happening. John calls people to repentance, as part of making ready for his successor. The message is for rich and poor, religious and secularised, and is uncompromising and straightforward: You need to be forgiven, and before my successor comes!

There’s a buzz about all of this. Excitement, urgency, something more than personal preparation. Now is the time to face up to things we have been avoiding. Now we can sort out and put right. Now we can get ourselves right with God, other people and ourselves. It had better be now, because something new is coming which will take our time, effort and attention, but needs us to be ready.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. . . .

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”