Tag Archives: trinity 10

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?

Aslan

When CS Lewis wrote “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the lion was a key figure. Friendly, so that the children trusted him, he was never tame, still less a stuffed toy or little brother. The Lion was powerful, different, and while not frightening, at least awesome.

As we read Hebrews 12:18-29, we find first an account of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. It was a fearful experience, even for Moses, and more so for the people. Not only were they barred from the quaking, smoking mountain, they even had to keep livestock away. The God who was giving the commandments was not one to be treated lightly.

And we know better? I think not. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the Christian experience is different. Jesus brings us a new Covenant, and teaches us more fully about God. But there is no suggestion that God may be treated lightly. Quite the opposite. As verse 25 points out, it is even more necessary to take to heart what is given us from heaven. We can rightly be thankful that the kingdom given to us is secure, but careful that the God we deal with is “a consuming fire” – never to be played with, always respected.

CS Lewis was surely right in the characterisation of Aslan. A lion, a wonderful companion and good friend, but a terror to the enemies of love and justice.

Not mine! (Proper 13, Pentecost 11)

It is hard being poor!  Not that I have direct experience, but working with Christians Against Poverty Swansea Debt Centre brings reminders and stories.  It might be enough to make me anxious, or reinforce my mean nature, but this weeks reading in Luke 12:13-21 is a good antidote.

Jesus refuses to arbitrate an inheritance dispute (did he want to leave it to those appointed for this, or recognise that to divide a small inheritance would leave no-one enough, or was he just making a point?).  He goes on to talk about greed, and tells a parable about a rich man who plans a life of idle luxury, and dies before he can enjoy it.

He doesn’t complain about the good harvest, nor even the man’s riches, but about perhaps three other things.  First, this man is stupid to forget his mortality; he can’t control how long he will live.  Death isn’t something we talk much about, but perhaps it ought to be better prepared for – hopefully not because terrorism makes sudden death more common.

Then there is his obvious selfishness.  He either totally fails to recognise the needs of others, or thinks they are none of his concern.  It looks almost as if the person has been taken over by his possessions – who is making use of who?  In any case, he is quite wrong; the whole point of the abundance of the earth’s resources is that they are for the benefit of all God’s people.  Those who are rich have added responsibility, and an opportunity for good (remember the Good Samaritan?).

Thirdly, he misses a safety net.  If he had only paused to thank God for his gift, he might have been led to remember that nothing we have is “owned”, but only ever “lent”.  Just as we tell children to be specially careful of how they treat something belonging to someone else, so we need to relabel “mine” as “God’s loan”.  Perhaps it is only a verbal trick, but it helps sort my attitudes.

Generosity is not something we talk about much.  Which is odd, when from a world point of view we in Britain are so rich.  Luke, and the other gospel writers, make it clear that this is a gospel issue.  How we own / deal with God’s loan, is central to our life with God.  Poverty is hard, but wealth may be even more disabling if not handled with faith and generosity.