Tag Archives: worship

Stranger Danger?

Are you “religious”? Going to Church may make people ask. I struggle to answer – I’m happy to be a Christian, and freely choose that life daily, and I’m not shy of having been a Vicar. But “religious”? It sounds a bit odd, a bit out of reality and life as we know it.

Of course, Matthew is religious. His gospel is full of links to religious practice, and quotes from the Old Testament. Yet, strangely, only Matthew tells this story of the Wise Men, (Matthew 2:1-12) which drags Jesus into the real world. Does that sound odd? Perhaps. Let me try to justify:

Herod the Great has visitors. Perhaps he welcomed the exotic, or hoped for profitable trade, perhaps he was just bored. but their question immediately dispels boredom. “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?” Alarm bells sound all through Herod’s brain. He was ruthless, and paranoid. He was King, and nothing would interfere with that – he killed one wife and three of his sons on suspicion of treachery.

“Where is the new King?” is not heard as a religious question (unlike where will he be born – for which you need to know the prophecy of Micah). Herod sees it as about Power, politics, control. In his world, competition is to be crushed, violence used as a tool, and winner takes all. Matthew sets his religious story right in the struggle for power, with the bullies and the treachery and the bloody violence of that time (and others).

So he tells the Wise Men he would like to “worship” the new King ( – do you fancy being “worshipped” like that? Perhaps not.) The Wise Men are wise enough to get out, find Bethlehem, a house, a child.

And they worship him. Not as Herod would have done, with a dagger. Not “Hello, how nice to meet you, I’m a very important person too.” They bow, worship, recognise someone on a different level altogether. They give expensive presents (you’ll have heard of the significance of gold for a king, incense for a God, myrrh looking to death – if not, look at the hymn “We three Kings of Orient are.”) And that’s it. Mission accomplished. Time for home – but being wise men (and warned in a dream), they go by a different route.

Have you ever wondered what happened to those presents? We don’t know. My guess is that the gold financed the journey to Egypt, to escape Herod’s massacre of baby boys up to two. (You know that story? It fits with Herod’s character, which knows only the importance of his own success). Maybe the frankincense was sold too, to some religious person. The myrrh may have soothed cuts and scrapes as the boy grew and learnt to use the sharp tools of a carpenter – it can be used as an antiseptic.

So, are you religious? I don’t really care, unless it annoys your friends, or keeps you in a fantasy. But in the real world, are you with Herod, or the Wise Men? Where do you think real power lies, and what is it for? You have to answer, but not on paper. In conversation, what you do, and what you don’t do, you will show your attitude to power, and the way you use power, and land on one side or the other . .

Worship: as the Wise Men recognised the child Jesus –

or as Herod intended to deal with a rival?

EAT me?

As we continue to read John 6 (this week, John 6:35 and 6:41-51), we see the crowd arguing.  First comes the old complaint: He can’t be special, he comes from our neighbourhood, and we know him.  Some people still take offence at the idea, not just that Jesus is special, but that he is much more than “one of us”, and one who must be followed and obeyed.

Verses 44 and 45 gives us two sides of a puzzle.  God must draw people to Christ and belief, yet any who want to find truth can be sure of help.  Each side is helpful – we need to understand that some people will not hear, but also that none who want to learn are refused.

The “bread of life” is one of the important “I am” sayings.  It would be dangerous and wrong to make it a magical understanding of receiving Holy Communion, and equally wrong to ignore the connection to the service in which we give thanks (“eucharist”) above all for the sacrifice of Jesus death and the triumph of his resurrection – the central points of faith.  We do that with more than words, with action, and by eating.

Is it just eating? No. To gobble stolen consecrated bread would be of no advantage.  It is about feeding on Jesus – through his teaching, his life, understood, obeyed, absorbed by the power of the Holy Spirit into our life, transforming from within the person.  What is eaten becomes part of me, provides energy, rebuilds my body, alters my mood.  Eating together with other believers brings us together, as sharing a meal always does.  With them we worship, becoming more like what we hold worth praising, and give thanks (remembering how much there is to be thankful for), and by our prayers try to work with God and with one another.

Jesus gives everything for us.  We are invited to receive what he gives, to let it become part of us, to change us, to energise and direct us.  Never a mere ritual, an act of personal worship may assist and advance the process.

Change, Promise and Worship

This Sunday, many will celebrate the “Nativity of John the Baptist”, looking again at the way Luke begins his gospel.  He has a story of change to tell – radical change, as Jesus brings a new way of finding God, living life fully, and belonging to his people and his world.  Yet the story begins with an elderly couple, not known as especially important, with worship (even at its most traditional, in the temple in Jerusalem), and the fulfillment of promises.

Zechariah the priest is no celebrity.  He does his turn of duty in the temple, and may have been surprised to be chosen to offer the incense.  He was certainly surprised to meet an angel with a message for him! But the experience was not all celebration – he is dumb for a time.  (This is all part of Luke 1, though before the reading set which is Luke 1:57-66, 80). The angel’s promise comes true, and a boy is born.  We shall know him as John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, and the “forerunner”, who prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry.

Strange, isn’t it, how radical change begins with a relatively elderly couple, faithful to the old ways of worship and living, and works through promises, both old and new?  Perhaps it’s not so strange.  Our God does new things, but with a sense of continuity.  The promises of the scripture give pointers and reassurance to those who want to keep up.  We celebrate the Nativity of John (and perhaps also his beheading, in August), knowing that both we beyond his immediate control, as God let his life and death be a sign for those watching.  That would be quite something for use to be given, too!

Rest?

This is the time in the year when we move from Sunday readings going through the great themes of Christian faith (Creation at Harvest, the preparation of Advent before the birth of Jesus at Christmas, then how he was made known through Epiphany, the cost in Lent, his death and resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, ending with a week to think about God – phew!) to spending time on the implications.  Today’s reading (Mark 2:23 – 3:6) tells us of two arguments about the Sabbath.

In twenty first century western culture, we have rather given up on a shared day of rest.  Not only do we need people to keep the hospitals open and the lights on, we assume we can go shopping, or for a meal.  The cost, often paid by the poor who have to take jobs which prevent them spending time with their families, is seldom considered.  But lack of rest affects many, who are constantly busy, often tired, and stressed.  Perhaps Christians need to reflect on the Sabbath principle.

The commandment to free the seventh day from work is found in the ten commandments.  Exodus 20 (verse 8ff) relates it to the creation – saying in effect that the need to stand back and rest is part of how we are made.  Deuteronomy 5 (verse 15), repeating the command, takes it to the release from slavery in Egypt.  Either way, the observance of a seventh day of rest became a distinctive characteristic of Jewish people.

Unfortunately, the principle was overlaid – perhaps even strangled! – with human traditions.  Jesus disciples are criticised, not for doing a day’s work, but for quenching their hunger with a handful of grain. (The “work” is rubbing the ears to release the grain).  Jesus kind healing is similarly seen as breaking the tradition.  It will become a key issue in the conflict which will see him killed.

That leaves us to try and understand how our lives should provide for rest, worship, and practicality – for ourselves and others.  The command to keep one day free at all costs in not repeated in the New Testament, though there are instructions not to neglect gathering for worship (which requires the congregation to share free time!). I hope there will be a doctor, policeman, or other emergency service available when needed – but should I be choosing to shop on a Sunday, travel on a Sunday, or make others work that day when it isn’t necessary?  Jesus was hard on unthinking tradition, but never complained about the principle of having – and allowing others – sabbath rest and worship.

Faith – in a different light.

Some of the stories in the New Testament are important as they explain a sequence of events, others have a particular point to make.  And then there are some which are clearly important, but mainly because they make us see things in a new way.  You might say the impact is emotional rather than logical – as long as that is a way of explaining their impact, not diminishing their importance.

This week’s gospel, preparing for Lent, is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).  Three disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.  Jesus dazzles them, and then a heavenly voice emphasises his importance.

We can imagine the importance of this in increasing their motivation as disciples.  It may even have helped them as Jesus took the unexpected path of voluntary suffering – victory through (not avoiding) the Cross.   It may not have told them anything they had not been told, or heard, before.  But it sorted out their resolution, their emotional attachment to this way and this teaching.

This may be what we need.  Peter’s confusion, wanting to prolong an experience rather than move on taking it to illuminate the next challenge, is what so many of us do.  We would like God to give us great experiences, but are less enthusiastic about experiences which prepare us for service.  That is surely why we read this just before Lent.  Lent is not about giving up sugar in hot drinks, or other negatives, so much as thinking again of the cost and importance of discipleship.  What is it that gets in the way of our being more Christian, more full of joy and love, more ready to serve?  Probably a whole confusion of things which need clearing.  It may even be wanting a certain sort of religious experience.

Three disciples saw Jesus in a new light, literally.  We imagine it helped them resolve more firmly, even more effectively, to listen, follow, and do what they were told.  If our worship this Sunday helps us see Jesus, and be re-motivated, it will have succeeded.

Are you Religious? (Epiphany)

Are you “religious”? You may get asked if you go to Church. I struggle to answer – I’m happy to be a Christian, and freely choose that life daily, and I’m not shy of my work as a priest. But “religious”? It sounds a bit odd, a bit out of reality and life as we know it.

Of course, Matthew is religious. His gospel is full of links to religious practice, and quotes from the OT. Yet, strangely, only Matthew tells this story of the Wise Men, which drags Jesus into the real world. Does that sound odd? Perhaps. Let me try to justify it:

Herod the Great has visitors. Perhaps he welcomed the exotic, or hoped for profitable trade, perhaps he was just bored – but their question immediately dispels boredom. “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?”  Alarm bells sound all through Herod’s brain. He was ruthless, and paranoid. He was King, and nothing would interfere with that – he killed one wife and three of his sons on suspicion of treachery.

“Where is the new King?” is not heard as a religious question (unlike where will he be born – for which you need to know the Old Testament prophecy of Micah). Herod sees it as about Power, politics, control. In his world, competition is to be crushed, violence used as a tool, and winner takes all. Matthew sets his religious story right in the struggle for power, with the bullies and the treachery and the bloody violence of that time (and other times!).

So, he acts: He tells the Wise Men he would like to “worship” the new King – do you fancy being “worshipped” like that? Perhaps not. The Wise Men are wise enough to get out, find Bethlehem, a house, a child.

And they worship him. Not as Herod would have done, with a dagger. Not “Hello, how nice to meet you, I’m a very important person too.” They bow, worship, recognise someone on a different level altogether. They give expensive presents (you’ll have heard of the significance of gold for a king, incense for a God, myrrh looking to death – if not, look at the hymn “We three Kings of Orient are.”)

And that’s it. Mission accomplished. Time for home  – but being wise men (and warned in a dream), they go by a different route.

Have you ever wondered what happened to those presents? We don’t know. My guess is that the gold financed the journey to Egypt, to escape Herod’s massacre of baby boys up to 2. (You know that story? It fits with Herod’s character, which knows only the importance of his own success). Maybe the frankincense was sold too, to some religious person. The myrrh may have soothed cuts and scrapes as the boy grew and learnt to use the sharp tools of a carpenter – it can be used as an antiseptic.

So, are you religious? I don’t really care, unless it annoys your friends, or keeps you in a fantasy. But in the real world, are you with Herod, or the Wise Men? Where do you think real power lies, and what is it for? You have to answer, but not on paper. In conversation, what you do, and what you don’t do, you will show your attitude to power, and the way you use power, and land on one side or the other . .

Expectations (Bible Sunday)

When Jesus went to synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-24), he announced the fulfillment of prophecy going back centuries, the opportunity for his hearers to be involved in the turning point of history, the moment God’s plans were put into action.

And they didn’t want to know.

They should have been ready.  The scriptures they read week by week, and discussed, had all the clues.  The Messiah was expected, the Servant was known from Isaiah – this was nothing new.  But the lack of expectation meant that Jesus could not be heard.  It was as if God was not welcome in synagogue.  What happened there had to conform, to affirm the social order and its leaders.  If Jesus wanted anything to change, Who Did He Think He Was!?  (a rhetorical question – a correct answer would have saved them).

It is not difficult to see how it could happen.  Social pressures can make us blind to what God is saying and doing.  But will I go to worship with an expectation of meeting God, of hearing – perhaps what I don’t want, or expect, to hear?  Will my congregation be ready to hear, pray, pick up the clues from scripture?  Will it matter enough to override other plans, assumptions, and the weariness of another week?

Jesus went to worship, but the congregation could not hear God.  It is the worst thing that can ever happen to a congregation.