Tag Archives: Jesus

To simplify . .

How complicated does it have to be? In a world where so much is complicated – technology, getting help, simply handling the everyday things we use – do the big questions have to be endlessly complicated as well? What about the decisions? Perhaps not. Paul writes (in today’s reading, 2 Timothy 2:8-15)

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

a simple summary – and a good one. Paul is chained as a prisoner, but seems to think imprisonment worthwhile, in the hope that his efforts and endurance will help others to find salvation – “safety” – in the same way, through Jesus. His concern with outsiders comes from Jesus, and is a reminder for us. He doesn’t tell us where “the saying” comes from – a hymn, a bit of worship text, a poem?, but is underlines his point:
Jesus is our focus, a leader reliable enough to follow through death to life beyond. (You have to be very sure of a leader to go on that campaign with him!) He reminds us of the importance of enduring, of keeping going – for it is those who continue their loyalty to him who will gain the benefit.

But Jesus is not like us in being possibly unfaithful. He keeps faith, whatever we do, and that is part of the difference. Jesus is remembered as the one who was raised from the dead – the great evidence of God’s approval of the man and his message. His pioneering of that journey is vital.
Jesus is also a descendant of David – not just the Messiah (“Great David’s greater Son”, to quote a hymn of ours), but one who, coming in that tradition, fulfills and advances it.

So is it all that simple? “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel” 2 Tim 2:8. Yes, and no. Yes, that is a good summary, and it does tell us where we should be focussing and who we should be following. No, because it is a summary, and to understand the summary you need to read the whole argument.

Paul goes on to that in verse 14 “avoid wrangling over words”. There are 2 sorts of discussion:

  • one is a point scoring contest, an attempt to win. It can go on for a long time as people twist words, facts, anything
  • another involves careful listening, building with others a deeper and better picture of an important reality.

Paul knows only too well how pointless the first is. Words are terribly inexact things, but they are the best means of communication we usually have. There is a danger in using them – of confusion, of point-scoring competition, of giving the wrong picture, an inaccurate picture, a picture that looks OK to me but has a totally different meaning for the other person.

You see the dilemma, and its solution. We try to work out our faith, to understand at the deepest level we are capable of. But when we are in danger of getting too clever, or too totally confused/bemused

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

That instruction can be given without qualification

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

Angels

September 29th is the feast of Michael and all Angels – a day to look into things beyond our experience and often understanding. That in itself is no bad thing! The idea that we know it all, or even all that matters (to us), is dangerous as well as arrogant.

The Bible does not tell us a great deal about angels. Michael appears in Daniel, Jude and Revelation as warrior. Gabriel, perhaps better known from the Christmas story, is also in Daniel. (The Apocrypha adds Raphael, with a major part in the book of Tobit, and Uriel in 2 Esdras). There are other un-named angels in the gospel story, visiting the shepherds near Bethlehem, and with Jesus in the wilderness and later in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus mentions them many times – but never to say much directly about them. He assumes their presence in Heaven.

Perhaps that is what we need to know. Angels are largely beyond our experience and understanding. They remind us that there is a great deal we do not even begin to understand. But God is in charge, God the One, who is also Father, Son and Spirit.

That brings us to the letter to Hebrews, and the reading for Michael and all Angels – Hebrews 1:5-14. Hebrews is written to a community tempted to leave their new Christian faith and default to their Jewish roots. The comment on angels in chapter 1 speaks of them as “ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”. It insists, with Old Testament quotations, that even these glorious creatures are far inferior to Jesus, who alone holds the greatest power.

Does that leave us humbled, by what we do not know? Does it perhaps remind us of the greatness of God’s Son, who exceeds in importance spiritual powers not subject to our limitations? Are we encouraged by the thought of forces beyond our vision fighting evil ? Or perhaps we simply wonder if this might be the beginning of an answer to the question, “What if we are not the only form of intelligence in the Universe?”. We can be thankful for Michael and all Angels, while we still admit the very limited understanding we have of angels and their doings.

Developing Sameness

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” Hebrews 13:8 (and part of today’s reading, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15, 16). Often seen – on posters, outside churches. But what does it mean? Can we just “not bother” with all the changes in the world around us, and toss them aside as irrelevant? Or will that leave us as sad momentos of a bygone age. My impression of buildings displaying this text is not always of sympathetic welcome – in fact, sometimes, rather the opposite. Defiant archaism, proclaiming the music, and the social patterns, of a generation or two ago.

It might help us understand to look at the context, and the experience of the people to whom this letter was written. We don’t know who wrote this letter, but we do know a good deal about the people who received it. The knew their old Jewish faith well, but had become Christians. Tempted to go back to their old ways, they are encouraged to continue in the new covenant of Jesus. The argument is well supported with quotes from the Old Testament, and the description of Jesus as the proper High Priest, who does what the Jewish temple High Priest could never do, and makes a once-for-all sacrifice for sin. So there’s continuity, but a real (& necessary) step forward.

That’s probably applies to us, too. Continuity, but a step forward. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” What do we mean?

  • Jesus remains the same: with a welcome for sinners, rich and poor; a sympathy for all sorts of people in trouble; his welcome is not exhausted, his promises not finished, his love not out of date.
  • Jesus is the Son of God who was present before Creation, became a man as the son of Mary and the Holy Spirit, rose from death, and will return at the end of time as Judge

So there are some very important things which are the same:

  • Jesus himself, and the God he reveals
  • the qualities of God which he looks to see reflected in us: qualities like honesty, love, integrity, justice
  • and on the other hand the things which take us away from God: selfishness, manipulation of other people, pride, obsession with comfort & status, greed . . .

The Church has a continuity. We, too, read and learn from the Bible, and the stories passed on from each generation. We learn how to live as Christians, and model Christian living for the next generation.

But some things change – our society, our technology, our culture. We can rejoice in the stability of God, but must not be lazy and avoid engagement with the real world. We can make use of the Christian heritage, but faithfulness now demands we sing a new song to the Lord – one that relates to the needs and issues of today – and probably to a new tune, as well.

If it was good enough for my parents and their parents – it probably needs rethinking to be useful today. If the Nicene Creed was produced by the best Christian minds of the fourth and fifth centuries, it is worth taking very seriously – but it may not communicate to the twenty first century, or answer the questions of today.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” It’s good news, serious and true. But the fact that God has continuity, doesn’t get tired and give up does not mean that we needn’t bother with keeping the presentation of the gospel up-to-date. The greatest effort in research and development worldwide is applied to Temptation. Our job is to show that God is still at least one step ahead with the answers, and they still work better and cost less.

Managing your “isms”

How are your “isms”? I don’t mean rheumatism (though I hope that’s not a problem!), but the human systems and theories which sometimes threaten to take over our lives. They can be political: conservatism, liberalism, socialism. Or religious: catholicism, evangelicalism, liberalism, pentecostalism. All have something good to offer, but there is danger if the “ism” becomes more important than the life you should be living with its help.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae (a place now in Turkey). We are reading Colossians 2:6-15. They had 2 problems. One was a group of Jewish believers, who wanted Christians to follow every detail of Judaism. The other was a group who wanted to mix Christian faith with other religions and philosophies. They dabbled in astrology and the occult, and talked about special exercises and disciplines to achieve “spiritual maturity”.

Paul isn’t having any of it. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving“. Christian life begins in receiving Christ as Lord. I hope you understand that it still does. There is no true version of Christian faith which does not put Jesus in charge – of me, my life, ambitions, morality, money . . .

And having started in that way, we go on “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” – there’s your “isms”, and the danger of being kidnapped by them.

Against the force of “hollow and deceptive philosphy, which depends on human tradition” (NIV), Paul insists on Christ ” For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Christ, in charge. Christ supreme over all spiritual forces. Christ who had set us free, when we were helpless.

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

Of course these false teachers would have been much more flattering than Paul, with great sales pitches. But they threatened the gospel – the good news, about a Father who loves us, and encourages us to ask (for the good of all in the Kingdom, not our personal advantage).

Isn’t it strange how people are much the same, despite 2000 or more years of cultural and technical change? We still so easily get taken over by what is popular with our friends. We still invent new “isms”. Much of that is fine, if Jesus is Lord, and our lives are built on that loyalty and on obedience to Him. But “isms” so easily take over. Be careful, and mind how you manage your “isms”!

Spiritually Advanced?

Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul wrote a letter to a small town in modern Turkey – and it still has something to teach (it supplies Sunday readings for 4 weeks!). Colossae: Founded on trade in sheep wool – fleeces dyed purple with a cyclamen based dye. The Church, with Gentile and Jewish believers, was established by Epaphras, probably himself converted in Ephesus. But there was a problem in the Church in Colossae; they were getting their faith wrong, in a way which mattered. We won’t worry too much about how they wanted to improve on the gospel, but let’s look at what Paul said in Colossians 1:15-28.

First, 1:15-20. Its all about Jesus. Jesus is how we see what God is like – is God remote, severe, judgemental, or is God a pushover, a sugar–daddy? Well, the answer (to those and lots of other ideas) is – look at Jesus. Get to know the stories about him. He’s friendly (to all sorts of people), very human, but also powerful, and has deep understanding and sympathy.

For the Colossians, Jesus might have been the start, but they wanted to “improve” this faith in one way or another. Paul isn’t having that. Jesus continues in charge, superior to the powers of heaven. It is Jesus who died to set us free, it is Jesus who is head of the Church, the source of its unity – an important point, because of division. [And whether you are a new Christian, or have been in Christian things for years, you don’t get away from needing Jesus, and the forgiveness he gives].

Then, verses 21-23 talk about how that affects the Colossians. Their past had been one of alienation – led astray by the false values of a corrupt society (does that sound familiar?). But Jesus (yes, focus on him again) had intervened to set them free by his death. They are not being allowed to get away from the physical – because of their delight in the metaphysical and “spiritual”, Paul ties them down to the actual, bodily death of Jesus. Their future depends on their holding on to their initial commitment to the gospel they once heard and accepted.

After the central and continuing importance of Jesus, and God’s purpose for the Colossians, Paul talks about his own role. He sees himself as entrusted with a message – not some secret knowledge to be passed on to initiates, but the gospel taught to believers openly. That is your message, too. If you know what Jesus did and does, don’t keep quiet about it. The glory is not some religious experience, but the presence of Christ among believers – the new life they share, and in which they grow in holiness and service.

There are lots of people who need to know these things: Jesus has to come first – in Church, in my life, in the way I do faith. There are many round us who forget, or don’t know, that without Jesus death for us, we are lost in the false values of a corrupt society. And there are those, even in religion, who do not remember the responsibility we have of sharing the gospel message, and living and working for it – even when that means suffering.

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?

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:”

Good God!

Jesus makes some wine, but it’s a sign – the first of a series in John’s gospel. (John 2:1-11) But what is a sign? We shall see. Let’s start at the end. verse 11 Jesus performed this first miracle in Cana in Galilee; there he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Other translations use the word “sign” for miracle. The signs are more than odd or unexplained events, they are clues, if you like, to what is happening. And all the signs point to Jesus:

  • not because he is looking for publicity (in every case there is a good and compassionate reason for the miracle. Here, the embarrassment of the family hosting the wedding.)
  • often they point to Jesus as the answer to a need, even spiritual bankruptcy. Here there are details
  1. 6 jars for water – not the perfect number 7
  2. The “wine” of Jewish celebration runs out
  3. The “mother” must no longer dictate action

Again, all the “signs” in John point to what God and his Kingdom are like (John 10:10)
Again, marriage is endorsed here. It is sad that many now find that politically unacceptable. Marriage is good, a gift of God to people who need it and benefit from it
More widely, as we see in other signs, Jesus sets about restoring and improving relationships. The signs point away from manipulation and control to freedom and responsibility.

Many signs point to God’s provision. This one in particular:

  • Here wine is provided, in quantity (perhaps 900 bottles), and of a notable quality
  • Here Jesus action (quietly done) means a feast can continue without embarrassment.
  • Jesus and his disciples (who may have contributed to the shortage of wine!) are welcome guests, not a burden to be shouldered – symbolically important.

As so often in John, there is a great deal to look at, and symbolic detail to ponder. Let’s not get lost though; Jesus was a welcome guest who transformed a party. It was a sign of what he was doing, and pointed to a God with a generous understanding of people, a willingness to give what was good, and to help repair what was damaged or disordered.

Generosity, groups and the Gospel

One of the things I value in Christianity, and in people, is generosity. Not so much a readiness to hand out money, as a kindness, a positive attitude – perhaps because I recognise an ungenerous streak in myself that I have to work on.  So it won’t be a great surprise that I enjoy Mark 9:38,39 at the start of this week’s selection (Mark 9:38-50). Unlike groups in his day, and ours too, Jesus refuses to allow a monopoly to “our group”. (It’s no use Joshua saying stop those 2 prophesying – Numbers 11:4-29).

Jesus explanation shows how it works – if they not only claim the name of Jesus, but are doing something good with his power, – then don’t stop them, they won’t be able to rubbish Jesus after that. There is nothing here about those who use other “powers”, some of which are forbidden to Christians. Remember that Jesus is the greatest spiritual power of all – a fact which is the basis of Christian healing, and indeed exorcism (when, uncommonly in British society, that is needed). Those who work as his disciples share in something great; those who will not (whatever they write on the T shirt or headed notepaper) are useless.

You might think the passage then moves away from generosity. There is a series of sayings about damaging faith – (the Greek is “causing to stumble”, a word that gives us English “scandal”). In fact, it illustrates “ungenerosity” to others, and to yourself!

So, to damage someone else’s faith is desperately serious
and to damage your own, no less so!

What could do that? Does for example you liking for sport limit the energy you put into living as a real Christian – then it’s time to give up sport! (A bit of exaggeration? Yes and no. Your ability to play sport will decline with age; even watching it will become harder. Your competence in Christian living should increase to meet the critical challenge of God’s judgement). You may be able to reduce your commitment to sport, but if not, abandon it in favour of living Christianity.

Maybe it’s not sport, but TV, or insistence on “time for yourself”, or laziness, or some sin like dishonesty, immorality, or pride . . Whatever gets in the way of living faith – give it up! It’s the seriousness of the issue we tend to avoid. It’s not about “our group” – church being nasty to sportsmen, or actors, or . . ; it’s about losing faith, and finding our chosen life in danger of destruction. (“Hell” here is the Jerusalem rubbish dump, where there were always fires smouldering to consume the waste). God’s generosity is real – he wants us to live well, and to avoid that with other priorities is not just foolish, but dangerous.

You don’t want to be counted (by the only one who matters) as “rubbish”, your chosen lifestyle down the chute? Then be serious about doing faith!

Faith is always about Jesus, not the claims of one group against another. But that is no excuse for laziness or inaction; this is more serious than your career, or your human relationships – it may direct and change both, so – get busy!

Different!

When Nicodemus goes to have a private chat with Jesus (John 3:1-17), he goes as a Jew who knows the importance of belief in one God.  His people had experienced the Egyptian, Greek and other stories of many gods, with rivalries, conflict, deceit and so on.  They rejected these – we might think of teenagers trying to play one parent off against the other, or choosing a favourite celebrity.  Judaism, (Christianity and Islam) hold firmly to one supreme being, who is trustworthy, good, and separate from all human failings.  It was central to Jewish daily prayer, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” (different translations have “the Lord is one” and “the Lord alone“).

Nicodemus brings a number of questions.  He has much respect for Jesus – “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”.  But alongside Jesus healings and exorcisms, there is the popular teaching, which does not follow traditional lines.  Jesus seems to assume authority in himself!  If he hoped for discussion and answers, he may have been disappointed.  The idea of being “born again” or “born from above” confuses Nicodemus.  In time, he will understand that the Christian Way is no academic theory, but God’s gift of new attitudes in response to the love shown – yes, in Jesus.  It won’t fully make sense until after the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection, (and perhaps ascension and Pentecost too!).  Nicodemus will be back, to bury Jesus (John 19:39), and then we guess to rejoice at his resurrection.

Christians would take time, knowing that Jesus was neither bad, nor mad, to realise that his actions (forgiving, healing, teaching) carried the authority of God.  Not the delegated authority of a prophet or “estate manager”, but the full authority of God.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit is no mere “power”, but carries this full healing and directing force of God.

Does this take us back to many gods, who can argue or be manipulated against one another?  No.  There is a distinction of three persons, but they are so close, so totally united in love, that they act always as one.  One God, three persons.

It is unique, and beyond any other experience we might compare it with.  Mind bending might be the word.  But it offers the best “fit” with the facts.  The God you thought amazing is totally awesome – and many other things, too.  Beyond our full understanding, but we need to hold on to what we do know, and never lose our enthusiasm, and our thanks.

Glory – to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen!