Tag Archives: old-fashioned

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a sympathy for all sorts of people in trouble; his welcome is not exhausted, his promises not finished, his love not out of date.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.

Change

“Look, Teacher! What wonderful stones and buildings!” (from today’s reading Mark 13:1-8) Jesus disciples are impressed by the Jerusalem temple – it was both large and magnificent, but Jesus answered, “You see these great buildings? . . every one of them will be thrown down.” It was a prophecy that would be fulfilled some 40 years after he spoke.

We don’t always enjoy change, and try to resist, forgetting that it is part – and a necessary part – of life. Whether you look at an individual person and the changes that come with time; or at their education, career and retirement, or at family structure – in each change is clear.

The disciples knew this of course, but if they thought religion might be a buttress against change, they were to learn differently. It is true that God does not change with the fashions, swapping his favourite virtues from generation to generation, or updating the 10 commandments for fear of seeming old-fashioned.

But the practice of Christian faith changes. Let me give you an example. Early Methodists lived at a time of gin shops – cheap oblivion to poor social conditions. Their response was teetotalism; Christians were not to drink, but to spend on their families, and help those in need. It is an advertisement for Christianity in Nepal today – drunkenness is a social problem, so again the Church is teetotal, and popular for it.

In Britain a century later, what had been a Christian virtue was sometimes an eccentricity. Now, I am happy to drink in moderation – but if I was a student? I’m less sure. I’m glad to see Street Pastors caring for the drunk.

It’s not that the Christian standard – avoiding drunkenness – changes, but its expression depends on social conditions. To say that God does not change is true and important. But to be faithful Christians, it is never enough to live in the same pattern as our ancestors in faith. Society changes; the key issues vary. The way we live has to express the love and purpose of God to the people around us.

A key issue is the question of security. The disciples may have seen the massive temple stones as an indication of permanence – which they were not. Jesus wants to give them, not a system or a ritual, but an education in spiritual reality which will make them secure, firmly based for the difficulties to come. He knows, and they must learn, that the only true foundation is God himself.

As we come to Christmas, I know someone will say to me, “I do love the traditional carols (or . . ) they’re what Christmas is about” – and I will struggle to know how to say. “No, it’s not carols, it’s God living with us that gives us the security to adapt our lives to serve him in every generation.”

Jesus knew there would be problems – false teachers, wars. More important, he knew that security was not in changelessness, but in God himself.