Tag Archives: Israel

Even failure can be useful.

What use is failure? It seems that God can recycle most things. We know that we learn through our mistakes (if we deal with them properly). We know that our own need of forgiveness may help us learn to forgive others. And in Romans 11, we get a glimpse of God’s purposes as Israel seemed to have rejected its promised Messiah. (Our Sunday reading is Romans 11:1-2a & 29-32, but you may want to read more).

Paul has been struggling with this question in chapters 9, 10, and 11 of the letter. It causes him considerable and continuing pain, more so as his mission to non-Jews is seen by some as betrayal. Yet here he makes sense of his experience, of offering the gospel to Jews first in any place, but then to any who would listen if the Jewish community would not. He explains (in the body of the chapter, of which we read two short extracts from beginning and end) that the blindness of Israel has made an opportunity for the Gentiles.

However, it may be that some non-Jewish believers in Rome have seen that as a cause for boasting – not a good thing. Paul uses his example of the olive tree. If the cultivated olive tree is failing to produce, it may be pruned and a graft of wild olive introduced to re-invigorate it. (Apparently a known technique).

Of course, the “roots” of the tree are Jewish – the promises of God recorded in the Old Testament. If the “wild” olive (Gentiles) benefit, well and good, but they should be aware what they are benefitting from – and of the ease with which they could be removed!

Paul tells us that the success of the Gentile mission is part of God’s purpose, and will in God’s time provoke faith among Jewish people. We can wonder at this, and perhaps remember those who take faith in Jesus to share with Jewish people, greatly hindered by a history of injustice and prejudice. Perhaps we also need to give thanks for God’s mercy, which has included us!

Is there more? It may be fanciful, but perhaps we should look at the failing churches of the western world, and wonder if the livlier faith found in some parts of the developing world has something to teach us. Are we in danger of complacency? Are we more proud of our history than what we are doing now with our resources, education and freedoms? Do we need a pandemic to remind us that life is more than social media and materialism?

Paul grieved for his own people, and served God where he was sent. Perhaps in the west, Christians should have a greater grief for their own culture, while being ready to share – and receive – from others?

Out of this world!

Where do you fit? Do you belong? It’s difficult if you feel you don’t. Yet Christians don’t entirely, and need to be at ease with that. Let me pick up some words from Jesus in today’s gospel (John 17:6-19)
John 17:6 “I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world”
and a few verses later
John 17:9 “I do not pray for the world ”
which is odd, not only because we do pray for the world and its needs, but that Jesus disciples were given out of the world.

Of course, we live in the world, have responsibilities in the world, encourage people to work for the good of their communities. But traditionally Christians have talked of not being “worldly” – not being formed by secular values, not being just followers of fashion, success, whatever everyone wants and is talking about. Jesus took his disciples, and taught them a way of life, a set of values – that would set them at odds with many in their communities. In John 17, as he prepares to leave them, he underlines that.

He says much the same a few verses later: John 17:15 “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but I do ask you to keep them safe from the Evil One.”
John 17:16 “Just as I do not belong to the world, they do not belong to the world.”

Not belonging to the world, being kept safe from evil – these are still important. Still things to pray, for ourselves and others. It might help to look at Acts 1 (Acts 1:15-17 and Acts 1:21-26 are the readings this Sunday as well) also. The context is that funny time between Jesus leaving the disciples as he ascended to heaven, and the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to the believers, and equipped them for mission. In Acts 1, we hear of Judas fate (though it is left out of the recommended reading – don’t we like the warning it contains?) and of the choice of a replacement. Why did they need a replacement for Judas? Because the number 12 was important – 12 apostles in parallel with 12 tribes of Israel, becoming the new people of God, (not by race, or by “observance”, but by faith). You remember how Jacob was given the new name Israel, and his sons (well, including Joseph’s two sons) gave their names to the 12 tribes, each associated with a part of the Promised land? Well, now Jesus is re-making the people of God, with a new Covenant. But they are down to 11, so . .

What qualifications were required of any new candidate? That they had been with Jesus, and could be witnesses to his life, death and resurrection. (and they would also talk about the Holy Spirit once he arrived!).

That fits well. We are not to “belong” to the world. The early Christians are “growing out of” just being in Jewish religion. A new identity forms, a new people, but not a nation. For us, we live in a nation, and play a positive part in the community, but importantly are formed by the teaching of Jesus, and powered by the Holy Spirit he sent, rather than just by our own abilities, greed, or ambition. Our direction – our ambition – will seem strange to outsiders, because it isn’t just what we choose for ourselves.

Our fellowship will sometimes arouse envy, but many will not understand that it is more than good manners or common background, and comes from sharing an obedience to one Lord, and discipline in his service.

“out of this world” ? – not quite, but not belonging to it, –

belonging instead to one Lord, and one another. We have his mission to prioritise.