Tag Archives: relationship

Are you receiving me?

(There is a dialogue sketch on Mark 6:1-13 available here).

How do you communicate with God? It’s a very personal thing, and should be. But it is also important, and so worth talking about.

People vary in the ways they relate. Some are more spontaneous, some more formal and organised – I remember a story about one person, who was said to pray as if he were addressing a business meeting, but – they said – that was all right because he talked to everyone like that.

The story of Jesus going to the synagogue in his home town (Mark 6:1-13) is sad. He is known to be a wise teacher and powerful worker of good miracles – but he is offensive because of his local background. Nobody suggests he has done anything wrong, it seems just to be that he can’t be taken seriously. It’s sad, because it means he can do little there – there isn’t the open communication, or the trust we call faith, which makes it possible to teach and heal.

But then the twelve are sent out on mission. Their confidence in Jesus has grown to a point where they can take a risk and try things for themselves. It will be an important leap forward in their faith, their understanding, and their communication skills. The instructions to take no provisions increase this – can it work? Yes, apparently God can do it.

So, how do you communicate with God? Is it a “wish list” of things wanted, or an expectation of emotions flattered and soothed? Is it about what you want, or is there a relationship where you can be honest about what you want and feel, but also listen for what God is doing and saying – even when that is not what you want to hear?

Are you like the locals, who didn’t want to take Jesus seriously and found excuses not to, or like the twelve, who (probably with very mixed feelings!) went and did what they were sent to, and as a result learnt and grew and celebrated?

Trinity -?

If you use your computer bible to search, you will find the word “Trinity” absent from the New Testament. So why do we call this first Sunday after Pentecost “Trinity Sunday”?  Because Christians asked questions about God, and found answers which are still important from scripture.

It began with questions about Jesus. “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22) – Jesus taught with authority; he did miracles: not only healing, but controlling the rough sea. John says much about the Father and the Son – “All that my Father has is mine;” John 16:15. Paul calls Christ “the visible likeness of the invisible God” Col 1:15, and several of his letters begin “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ [together, like that] give you grace and peace.” 1Cor 1:3

Then the Holy Spirit, who came to Jesus at his baptism, and to the disciples at Pentecost, is recognised. The word Trinity may be absent, but the trio appear as in Mt 28:19  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Why does it matter? It might seem a remote and theoretical discussion – but isn’t! God is not a lonely old man creating the universe as a hobby, nor is he just Jesus the man.  God is a relationship!  Have you ever thought about that? A relationship beyond our understanding, with sympathy and communication!

Relationships are a popular concern: Teenagers, parents of children, children about parents, we all wonder about community, and the threat “they” pose – whoever they are.  God is a relationship. Christians must learn to relate, like God. The world will watch to see if we can cope with one another, and doubt claims to bring forgiveness is we are not even speaking to one another.  I am glad the gospel, which shows Jesus relating to all sorts of people, also tells me that failure in the disciples was forgiveable, as long as they kept with him and kept trying.

“God is love”. (1John 4:8,16). We quote the example of Jesus, both his behaviour and his sacrifice in accepting death by crucifixion, but love is what God is, as well as does. Jesus mission is an overflowing of a quality always in the Trinity – or do I mean among the Trinity?  So “Trinity” is shorthand from after New Testament times for a biblical picture of God as a relationship, important for our dealing with people and especially other Christians.

The Son is not the same as the Spirit, and neither is the same as the Father. Is this dry theory? No.  Different and equal, not in competition, working perfectly together, accepting themselves and one another, reaching out together in love and service – but who am I taking about?  God, yes.  The Church – ideally, as it shows the God it trusts.  Every Christian individual, despite our fragmented structure?

Just as we are tempted to think we understand God (that has to be a laugh), we think we have it right, that our tradition is valuable – (which is true).  We face a temptation: we have it all right, our tradition is enough.  Wrong.  God, unity in diversity, makes us think about being different together.  God, love without competition, makes us think of using different gifts in the service of all.

I wonder if I have persuaded you?  Those who followed Jesus of Nazareth came to know God, and recognised relationship in God.  So Christians, even if not good at relating, must be interested and learning – about love, unity, communication.  As the early Churches worshipped and thought, they recognised in God diversity and unity. We need to take that model of unity seriously; not all being the same, but having a shared life and goal.  I can’t fill in the details, I can suggest that if we get closer to God, it should become clearer and easier.

I must end with words from 2 Corinthians (13:13)  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you – us – all.”

Resurrection

You don’t need modern science to tell you that dead people stay dead.  True, in my lifetime there have been changes of definition – we used to talk of heartbeat or breathing, and now both can be replaced by machines for a time.  But if you resuscitate a dying person, you still have to deal with the reason why they were dying in the first place.

So, when Matthew tells us of Easter Morning (Matthew 28:1-10), he is not saying that the crucified and buried Jesus has been resuscitated.  He is very carefully saying (as Luke says in Acts 10:40) that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  He is the same, and not the same.  Recognisably the same person, his body seems to work under different rules, and is clearly not weak and failing.

We’d love to know more.  What exactly is involved? How does this happen?  And we are not told.  Perhaps it would be beyond us.  We are given reasons to believe, but no explanation of the mechanism.  Matthew is careful to lay out reasons: Jesus had warned his disciples, there was prophecy, the tomb is empty – despite the guard, and the difficulty that causes the authorities.  Perhaps most important, I cannot think disciples lived new lives, and went to their deaths, for a lie.

Matthew is keen to explain that the risen Jesus continues the relationship with his disciples that has been the most important part of their discipleship.  As time went on during his ministry, they didn’t learn a system, progressing from elementary to standard and advanced.  They got to know him, what he was like, what he thought important, how he used the power and gifts of God.  That would continue.  It might not be an easy beginning: all had made mistakes earlier, but now, they had to come to terms with the fact that at Jesus betrayal and trial and death, they had all failed – seriously.  Re-forming that relationship with Jesus would be difficult, but vital.

That is one of the important things about Easter for us.  Like those disciples, we face the challenge of building a new life.  Even if we have been Christian for decades, it is always a new life, resisting the easy slipping back into the habits and ways of the surrounding world.  Can we live in the way he still lives, following his lead, keeping close?  It always has been a challenge, and still is.  We don’t have to make the journey to Galilee, but seeing Jesus, and what he is doing, is very much part of our Easter agenda.

Distraction – and focus on the important (Kingdom 2c)

Religious people have a sad reputation for arguing over trivialities.  I wish I could claim it was undeserved, but too often religion has been seen as trivialising, competitive, irrelevant – and the criticism has sometimes been just.

It’s a relief, then, that when Jesus is approached by a group of Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection or afterlife, with a trick question about relationships in heaven, he is not distracted.  Luke 20:27-38 has a basis in Deuteronomy 25:5-, regulations designed to safeguard families and their property.  The Sadducees had been foiled earlier in chapter 20.  Demanding to know about Jesus’ authority, they had been unable to answer his counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist.  Now, they want to make Jesus, with his belief in resurrection, look silly, or simply to distract him into a pointless speculation.

Jesus gives an answer which is straightforward and helpful.  Heaven will be different.  People raised to eternity will have different relationships, and surely a clearer focus on God and his plans.  He goes on to use the book of Exodus (part of the 1st 5 books of our Old Testament, which the Sadducees accepted as authoritative) to suggest afterlife.  If God can introduce himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, then they must still be alive in some way.  He IS their God, not WAS.  It is not an argument we might have thought of, but very much in the logic of this group. (see Exodus 3)

So, can we avoid the trivial, time-wasting and meaningless?  Perhaps.  But will we be able to focus clearly and sympathetically on what is really relevant and important, in God’s terms?  That is the challenge of Christian life in any age.  Jesus is a strong example and motivation.  Not only will he not be distracted in this exchange, but he will shortly go to his death.  All the gospel writers make that the climax and focus of their story.  Whether it will also figure in our story and conversation is a matter of daily decision, and focus.

I am grateful for Paul’s words (2 Thess 2:16f): “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”

Prayer (Proper 12, Pentecost 10)

Jesus prayed, and what his disciples saw made them want to pray, too.  (Was it the effect on Jesus, or the renewal of his power or creativity, or just so much part of his life?  We aren’t told.)

The instructions he gives in Luke 11:1-13 are short.  This is no “formula”, but teaching to be pondered and understood.  (Compare the account in Matthew 6, and you will find rather more words, but the same impression of an outline).

The familiarity of the words to many of us can blunt their impact.  They start, not with us, but with God.  That is important. We might be happy to dive into our problems, requests, worries – but we are told to begin with God.  (God as “Father” may cause problems to those whose parent was not much loved – but we know of good parents.  A parent remains one with power, perhaps to direct our behaviour, always to know what we are, and have been.  It is not an equal relationship).

We are to communicate, understanding that God is somehow personal, contactable, and involved with us. Luckily, as with a good Father, we are known and understood. Still, there is the effort of seeing another person’s point of view, and what plans and directions we may need to hear, and then obey.  We have to listen, as well as speak.  (Though many Psalms suggest that we can expect a sympathetic hearing when words pour out in pain or anger, with little hearing.)

After beginning with this mysterious and wonderful other, we are encouraged to ask for what we need.  The following verses (5-13) underline this.  Ask – the Father wants to give us what is good.  Good, not necessarily indulgent.  Good, for life in service of the Kingdom, and life which finds its real purpose.  The parable is about finding the means to be hospitable, not about living comfortably.

That brings us to forgiveness.  We ask for it, with a strong reminder, not only of our need for being forgiven but also of our need to forgive others, reflecting the grace we receive!  It is a demanding line, but one close to the heart of Christian living.  How can we, who hope for heaven only by being forgiven, criticise or look down on others who need forgiveness too?

Let’s not forget the last line, that we are not lead into the time of trial – or temptation.  No, of course our heavenly Father is not making trouble for us.  Remember Jesus words to the sleepy disciples in Gethsemane – Luke 22:39-47.  Twice Jesus uses this phrase (v40,46), and the meaning is clear.  Temptation may come in many forms, all dangerous.  We ask the Father’s help to come through the hard times with faith.

So, what’s the problem?  It is not that prayer is complicated, rather that we all find good relationships hard, and honest communication demanding.  God is as close as a good parent, but the stakes are high, the distractions pressing.  But the disciples wanted to learn; it must have been something important for Jesus, and for them.

Constructive Doubt (Thomas)

This Sunday we remember Thomas, reading of his doubt in John 20:24-31. Thomas is also remembered as the traditional founder of the Church in SW India, as a disciple of great loyalty (John 11:16), and one who could speak out and gain an explanation others probably also needed (John 14:5).
John 20:24ff teaches us a good deal about the proper place of doubt. Thomas missed Jesus at Easter, and wants evidence. It says something for the disciples’ relationships that he was still with them a week later, when Jesus again appears. Jesus is not angry at Thomas, but offers his battered body as proof. Verse 27 refers to doubt (or disbelief or faithlessness, according to translation), suggesting that it is not the opposite of faith, at least for those of Thomas personality. We need to allow questions and doubt, (not cynically and unendingly, but) to reach a more firmly grounded faith.
We don’t know if Thomas accepted that invitation to probe, but whether it is the wounds, or Jesus knowledge of his words, the reaction is remarkable. “My Lord and my God!” It seems that going through his doubt has brought him further than those who did not share that experience. His words are an embarrassment to those who cannot accept Jesus deity, but also to those who have no intention of being ruled, or living as disciples committed to obedience to a master.
Jesus’ reaction contrasts those who “see” him and those who will not. This is a reference to those who shared his company on earth, but perhaps also to those who “saw” his identity as Messiah, and as “God with us”. We may not live in the first century, but will find it easier to trust and follow as we recognise Jesus identity, and place in God’s plans for the universe and for us.
John ends his chapter recording the purpose of his writing – to bring readers to believe in Jesus and find life. The miracles he refers to in verse 30 are those of Jesus ministry, but should we include additionally the miracle of life given through faith in him?

Trinity and Relationship (Trinity c)

Trinity Sunday, but does it matter in practice what the early Christians thought, from a very different philosophical background?  I don’t feel bound to their ideas, as I do to the New Testament, but I think there is value in the idea of Trinity.

John 16:12-15 has Jesus telling the disciples that the Holy Spirit will relate “what he hears”, making clear a very close communication and co-operation between Father, Son and Spirit.  The New Testament never fully explains the relationship, but shows that Jesus has the Father’s power and authority, as well as approval.  (This is a feature of many miracles, and explicitly in the forgiveness, as well as healing, of the paralysed man let down through the roof Mark 2).  Father, Son and Spirit are associated in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), and the “Grace” 2 Corinthians 13, extending the unity of Father and Son Colossians 1, John 10:30, John 17:11 etc.

But why does it matter?  I suspect that for many people, God is pictured as a lonely old man orbiting through the universe and looking for someone to talk to.  That is rubbish.  But it is rubbish because God is a relationship. Father, Son and Spirit are so close, in such perfect communication and unity of purpose that they really are one.  You can speak of any of the three being fully involved in what any of the others does.  That is not mere theory.  It means that relationship is at the heart of Christian life.  Difficult though we find other people (rather as we find ideas of the Trinity mindbending), they are not optional.  If God is a relationship, and we are made in God’s image, relationship is of key importance, to our spiritual life as much as to our practical existence.

When we get tired of “meetings”; when Church politics and personalities irritate or worse, we need to remember that other people are not optional.  Part of our Christian living is to learn the quality of communication and unity of purpose which is God.  Which takes us to another of Trinity Sunday’s readings: Romans 5:1-5  – for those who know God’s grace, difficulties are part of the pilgrim route, schooling the character and leading to hope.  I suggested, slightly tongue in cheek, at Bible Study that our Ministry Area should adopt the motto “We also boast of our troubles”.  (The version of “sufferings” in the Good News Bible).  It might give a new perspective!

Commanded to love (Easter 5c)

It is funny how easily we avoid some of the most important bits of the gospel.  In John 13:31-34 Jesus commands his followers to love as he loves.  Wonderful!  We are to be loved, understood and forgiven – but how easily we forget that we must (yes, must) love, understand and forgive.

CS Lewis usefully made the point that if you try to love someone you don’t like, the best thing is to ask yourself what you would do if you did like them, and see if you can do that.  Sadly, we are good at making it difficult.  The linked passage from Acts 11:1-18 helps explain.  Peter had to face up to great barriers in going to a Gentile (the centurion Cornelius), baptising the family, and staying there.  He has some explaining to do to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem – and the issue will come back.

Not an issue for us without a background in Jewish faith?  But it is.  Every Church sets up barriers to belonging to the core group.  Even when newcomers are welcomed at the door, there are so many things to learn – a new set of words, a unique style of music, strange activities, – we could go on.  Not that we are nasty about it, or even that we understand what it is like for newcomers very often.  But this is a strange way to love the hesitant, or even the needy and hurting.  We need our Christian culture to guide us, and we need to sit lightly to it to love those outside the present group.

We’re stuck.  We can’t say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t commanded us to love”, because we would lose so much that is wonderful.  But to accept the command and try to practise it, is difficult!

Judas – Entrepreneur’s disease? (Lent 5c)

As Lent moves to think of Jesus’ death, we read John 12:1-8.  Jesus is having dinner with friends, and Mary anoints his feet in an expensive gesture.  Judas complains about the cost and “waste” of valuable perfume, though we are warned that as treasurer for the disciples, he was inclined to help himself, and his motives may be mixed.

I think I might have found Mary’s actions difficult, too.  It is a bit “over the top”, too much, too personal, embarrassing.  Of course, we can take the anointing as symbolic and prophetic of the cross to come.  Then Mary anticipates laying out the body with respect and love.  That is probably why we read this passage on Passion Sunday, looking at the Passion to come.  But that isn’t the point.  Mary is expressing love, thanks, – something perhaps too deep for words, and certainly beyond the evaluation of the group accountant.  For Mary, Jesus has done something deeply significant, of lasting importance.  She is different, she has found something beyond price, and she must express something of that.

Judas either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to.  He is a disciple, has had time to watch and hear Jesus, as well as talk to him in private and in small groups.  But somehow, his loyalty is limited to – to what?  To what he can understand, or perhaps even to what he can control?  His attachment to Jesus is conditional, and the conditions are about to fail as Jesus takes his own way to save the world.  I have some sympathy for Judas; I think I have often believed with an unstated condition, “I’ll follow, if . . “.  I wonder if the culture of our time, pricing everything, and always looking for “efficiency savings”, brings the same dangers Judas faced.  Would we now see him as an entrepreneur who withdrew his investment as he lost confidence in the management? – because that would not only be a mistake, but question the “business model”.  The problem is Judas relationship to Jesus.  It just isn’t up to Mary’s standard.

Passiontide, Jesus’ passion: they take us beyond calculation, beyond strategy and financial analysis.  If we are going to follow Jesus, a lifeplan will not be enough for long.  We have to share his concerns, his motivation, his love.

I’m afraid I would have found Mary a difficult person to get on with.  I am more “moderate”, planned, – in other words, calculating.  But there is a side of me which can get emotionally involved, and I must remember the importance of involving that with my faith.