Monthly Archives: January 2017

impenetrable theological scribble

Hebrews 7:25-8:2 (CEB)

This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them.

It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have this kind of high priest. He sat down at the right side of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. He’s serving as a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up.

I was quite enjoying Mark’s Gospel.  I like Mark’s Gospel.  Mark doesn’t mess about – no flowery language, no flights of fancy – Jesus did this – then immediately he went over there and did that and said summat, then dashed off and did summat else over there…  that’s basically Mark’s Gospel in a nutshell!

So imagine my horror when out of the blue, and without warning, this barrage of incomprehensible theological scribble gets crow-barred into my morning prayer! 

It is a scientific FACT  that nobody has any idea what the author of Hebrews is really on about.  Some people pretend they do – but actually, they don’t.

Here we have some extended scribble about Jesus being a Royal High Priest.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible that the audience that this author (Clement of Rome? Barnabas? Paul the Apostle? Luke the Evangelist? Apollos? Priscilla? – not the Queen of the Desert one – who knows!!) had in mind was entirely and completely at home with this extended priestly metaphor and they nodded sagely when they heard it and were carried forward in their understanding of who this Jesus is – in fact it is likely they were at home with it, which is why the author (Clement of Rome? Barnabas? Paul the Apostle? Luke the Evangelist? Apollos? Priscilla? – not the Queen of the Desert one – who knows!!) used it.

but…  we are NOT.

It’s like the fact that a joke ceases to be funny if you have to explain it.  “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” (E.B.White)

“If you have to first explain the entire 1st century Jewish priestly culture and practice and imagine what it felt like and how it worked BEFORE you can make sense of this metaphor – then the metaphor has lost its power.” (P.Nevard)

It highlights for me the raging thirst in the world for language about Jesus that makes sense today and in our culture.  We CAN do away with these dead metaphors without doing away with Jesus – seriously, we can!  The author of Hebrews (Clement of Rome? Barnabas? Paul the Apostle? Luke the Evangelist? Apollos? Priscilla? – not the Queen of the Desert one – who knows!!) clearly had a Jewish audience in mind.  Had s/he been writing for a different audience, s/he would have used different metaphors…

Jesus is Dumbledore…  Jesus is Gandalph… Jesus is Aslan…. Jesus is Gene Therapy… Jesus is the Large Hadron Collider…

Jesus is the same Jesus is the same Jesus even if the metaphors change.

so… what metaphors are useful in the UK in the 21st century to introduce Jesus to a world thirsty for understanding?

Jesus, guns and law…

Mark 3:1-6 (CEB)

Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.

 

Last week I posted something about Jesus laughing – and someone responded on facebook with the picture of “Laughing Jesus.”  That picture often shows up and people remark that you don’t often see pictures of Jesus laughing in church.  That may be true – but I have come across that picture of Jesus laughing many, many times in churches now – maybe because it is pretty much the only one.  It is certainly more common in churches than that picture of Angry Jesus (above) – though it is not as dramatic as kalashnikov Jesus! 🙂

(actually – type “Jesus with gun” into Google images – and there are dozens of options!)

Anyway – Angry Jesus.  yes, we all know he turned over the tables of the money-lenders – but it’s still not really an image of Jesus that has gained much popular currency.

Here he is – angry again…

He’s in the Synagogue – and here’s the third incident in a row where the pharisees are looking to trap him or trip him up with some legalistic trip-wire.  I don’t think that’s what makes him angry.

This time, Jesus engages the Pharisees BEFORE breaking any of their sabbath-laws.  He asks them a question.  He invites them into a conversation about the nature of the Sabbath – he wants them to engage with him about the blessing that Sabbath can be – about what God intends for God’s people in this grace-filled gift.  But they are silent.  They refuse to engage.  They are simply not interested in going there or having that conversation or opening themselves up to a real encounter.  I think that’s what actually angers him.  Jesus is angry that these religious people are so bent on having a confrontation about a petty interpretation of religious law in order to drag him down, that they miss the opportunity for a grace-filled encounter with the living God.

… fill in your own blanks about how this resonates with your own life (and don’t cast yourself as Jesus, here!)


Meanwhile, in America…


Eat that cake!

Mark 2:23-28 (CEB)

Scripture and the Sabbath

Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of wheat. The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?”

He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God’s house and ate the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him.” Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. This is why the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.
Whilst, on the surface, this is about fasting – actually it is about something bigger.  This is a relief, because I have tried fasting, and I haven’t found it to be an enriching spiritual experience.  It just makes me grumpy and not nice to live with (so what’s different, mutters the missus!)
 This is about breaking the Sabbath law…  but it’s also bigger than that.

Jesus is telling these particular Pharisees, “guys, you’ve got the whole thing posterior over mammary glands…”  You have made religion the Master that people must serve – you have made religion into a kind of tyrant- it doesn’t liberate people to live Christ-like lives, it traps them in a web of rules and regulations that they can never escape.

The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was about rest and space from work to enjoy creation and carve out space for contemplation and rest in God’s presence.  (or summat like that)  Yet – you’ve made it a burden, something to stress about.  Can I do this or that?  Am I allowed to…. Is someone watching?  Will I get into trouble if I…

You could replace the word “sabbath” with the word “church” and pretty much the same would be true.  Religion is only a tool – a framework for what’s actually important.  Yet too often we make it the Master, the tyrant over other peoples’ lives.

The Church was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Church.

Stag Night with Jesus…

Mark 2:18-20 (CEB)

When to fast

John’s disciples and the Pharisees had a habit of fasting. Some people asked Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but yours don’t?”

Jesus said, “The wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is with them, can they?
As long as they have the groom with them, they can’t fast.
But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.

 

Hey, Jesus – see those other disciples over there?  Why are they fasting and abstaining while your followers are partying and getting jiggy like rude-boys?  huh?

It must have been noticeable.  Jesus is accused of being a drunkard and a party animal and staying too late at parties with all the “wrong” people.  They say he’s a drunken glutton who hangs about with prostitutes and tax-collectors.

And here’s his answer…  “The wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is with them, can they?”

Other words for hanging out with the groom and partying while he is here would be – “enjoy the stag night while you’re out with the groom – it won’t last forever…”

Of course Jesus is being provocative here.  His whole life with his disciples is anything but one long party – though it does have its moments…  But Jesus is ace when he is being provocative – he’s daring them to think deeper and grasp a fundamental truth about life.  What characterises life in Christ if it is not fulness of life?  Life in Christ is not a half-life, a cautious life, a don’t-do-that life; it is not a po-faced life, a thou-shalt-not life, a keep-your-head-down life.  Life in Christ is full and passionate and energising and scary and daring; life in Christ isn’t fearful of getting it wrong for want of trying to get it right.

As Jesus said in the not-so-famous apocryphal book of Wenceslas…  “Hey, James, John, Peter – remember our trip to Prague?  I’m still buzzing!  Let’s do it again!”

 

He’s the one…

John 1:29-34 (CEB)

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’ Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”

 

Back to John and Jesus! (and credit to the Jesuits who wrote today’s PAYG prayer for the relationship analogy I am about to play with.) 

I imagine we have all known people who have had a string of relationships – all gone bad – and boldly announce about their latest heartthrob: “he’s the one“.  (or “she’s the one” – fill in the details yourself!)  And maybe you sigh to yourself having heard it so many times before, and brace yourself for the inevitable let-down and disappointment and tears over a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and a bottle of wine. (or maybe you look forward to that!)

 He’s “the one” proclaims John.  After years, decades, centuries, of looking for “the one” – and flirting with dozens of wannabee Messiahs, John points to this unlikely-looking young man strolling down towards the Jordan, and proclaims: “He’s THE ONE!”  This one is the real deal – our forever-bestie-messiah-friend, the one who will not let us down and will deliver.

Well – how does John know?

How does anyone know?

Fortunately, the internet has the answer to all our questions – so I asked Jeeves…

 

 

Hey Jeeves, my good man, how would one go about de

 

And (as always) Jeeves has the answer.  According to Glamour magazine online there are 5 ways to tell that he’s the one (though most of them seem to be ways of telling that he is NOT the one).  He’s not the one if:

  1. he ogles other women (it shows he’s still “shopping around”);
  2. he makes you feel that you have to “play games”; (I don’t think they mean monopoly!)
  3. he makes you feel insecure;
  4. he doesn’t “get” you (he doesn’t really understand what makes you tick);
  5. he can’t say “I love you”.

hmmmm….

Jeeves also alerts me to an article by Today’s Christian Woman: “How Do I know He’s the One? Is there one person I am meant to marry, or should I just choose a good man?” article  (You can read that for yourself if you like – though my advice would be to give it a miss!)

Let’s give Jesus the Glamour Magazine “he’s not the one” test.

  1. Does Jesus ogle other women?  Hmm.. I wouldn’t use the word “ogle” – but Jesus is not exclusively yours – Jesus offers a radical “come to me ALL who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  There are always going to be other women and (indeed!) other men in Jesus’ life – in fact he wants everyone to be in his life.  so – FAIL!
  2. Does Jesus make you feel you have to play games?  No.  You can be real with Jesus – there’s nothing in your life that would scare him off – nothing in your behaviour or attitudes or in your past that would cause Jesus to abandon you.
  3. Does Jesus make you feel insecure?  If you were a hypocritical zealot piling needless burdens on the shoulders of the poor – then, yes, I guess Jesus might have made you feel insecure.  At the very least he’d have embarrassed you and made you feel uncomfortable.  But those least treasured by the world have always found refuge in Jesus – finding in him a dignity and a strength that the world never offered them.
  4. Does Jesus “get” you? errr…  YES!  You are made in his image…  because God’s Spirit is part of the fabric of your being (whether you recognise it or not) – Jesus knows you inside out… Jesus knows who you are – and (more importantly) who you COULD be…  what you were made to be.
  5. Can Jesus say “I love you”?  That’d be a yes too…  a big yes… you could say his whole life was “I love you” lived out to its fullest consequence…

So – is he the one?  I reckon so – but what do you think?

NB the writing of this blog has alerted me to the sad fact that Ask Jeeves is no more  #sadness 😦

    hic!

    Mark 2:1-12 (CEB)

    Healing and forgiveness

    After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a paralytic man. They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

    Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

    Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

    Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
    OK – let’s get the obvious thing out of the way right from the start – language changes and we now use the word “paralytic” primarily in a context where somebody is so drunk they cannot function.  That is not what this incident is about.  There.  Glad that’s cleared up!  Nobody lowered a staggeringly drunk man through a roof, though, come to think about it, that is just the kind of thing that a group of staggeringly drunk blokes might actually do…  we’ve all been there…

    I went to have a look on Google images this morning at paintings of this bible story.  I think that many of them are struggling to capture the full drama of what went on that day.  But what struck me most was that in all of them, Jesus looks totally unphased by what has just happened – his face shows no surprise at all, no animation, no shock, no humour, no nothing!  In most of the paintings he just looks faintly bored by the whole affair – or wholly (holy?) unruffled by what has just happened, as if this is something that happens all the time.  

    What did you do today, Jesus?
    ahhh – nothing much.
    Anything interesting happen?
    nahh – just did some preaching to a big crowd and some blokes dropped a drunk guy paralyzed man through the roof…  my life is so samey…

    I can’t draw.  No – I can’t.  And to all those people who are now repeating the mantra their school art teacher used to repeat “everyone can draw” – like the music teachers who always said “everyone can sing” – I have some news for you – they lied.  I can’t draw.

    But if I could…  and if someone commissioned me to draw this scene, I think I’d want to put a whole lot of effort into getting Jesus’ face right.  I wonder if some of those old painters were worried by the idea that Jesus could even be surprised, as if that would somehow constitute a heretical denial of his divinity – he must always know what’s going to happen next… I guess that’s quite a big question!  I’m going to ride roughshod over it, though, and assert with confidence that OF COURSE Jesus was surprised!  How could you be fully human and lack the capacity to be surprised?

    So – this face I am drawing has surprise in it.  It has more than that.  It also has laughter and joy.  This has made his day.  These blokes are so sure that Jesus can fix their friend that they have climbed on the roof, bashed a hole in it and lowered him through it.  It’s a gloriously bonkers and faithful plan.  Jesus is preaching – probably about the Kingdom of God – to an interested but probably bemused crowd with some grumpy-looking Pharisees plotting in the corner – and then BAM! – right in the middle of it, with a shower of dust and bits of roof, four blokes demonstrate with Baldric-esque panache – exactly what faith IS.

    So this face has surprise, and joyful laughter and pride that someone gets what he is saying and what he is about.  Jesus roars with laughter – it makes his day – it gives him energy and hope for the Kingdom he is proclaiming – here it is among us!

    So – today, or this week – maybe you can surprise Jesus with something staggeringly unexpected that gives him joy and hope that YES! someone actually gets what the Kingdom is about…


    Don’t exhort yourself

    Hebrews 3:12-14 (CEB)

    Respond to Jesus’ voice now

    Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that none of you have an evil, unfaithful heart that abandons the living God. Instead, exhort each other every day, as long as it’s called “today,” so that none of you become insensitive to God because of sin’s deception. We are partners with Christ, but only if we hold on to the confidence we had in the beginning until the end.

    OK – slight confession – I like the CEB, but it doesn’t use the word “exhort” like some other versions – so I have doctored the CEB so that it does have the word “exhort”.  So sue me!
    If we are to avoid having unfaithful hearts that abandon the living God, then we need to exhort one another.  Not having unfaithful hearts that abandon the living God seems like a reasonable aspiration, but the “exhorting each other every day”, what’s that about?

    Yesterday I spoke to someone who told me that her husband is the kind of man who doesn’t need many people – he’s self-contained and self-sufficient.  She finds it difficult to get him to talk about his grief over a recent loss.  I kind-of know what she was getting at, because there are probably people who would describe me like that too.

    I was reflecting on that this morning as I read these verses, because “exhorting each other each day” kind-of assumes a mutually-encouraging community of people where Christians live – a place where they are accountable to one another and encourage one another and are intentionally NOT self-sufficient – the church?

    I might do quite a bit of exhorting – what is preaching if it is not “exhorting” – and these blog posts might be seen as exhorting, even if the initial intention is to exhort myself!

    These verses in Hebrews seem to suggest that you cannot be a self-sufficient Christian – it is not enough to exhort yourself – we need to exhort one another, and only in doing so can we really avoid having unfaithful hearts that abandon the living God…
    Maybe I need to be less self-contained and less self-sufficient, at least in the practice of my Christian faith.
    (yes – the picture – it’s exhaust…  but it sounds a bit like “exhort” and it’s what we actually end up doing to each other in ministry – we exhaust each other, don’t we?  Less exhausting, more exhorting!)

    NB – this is not an invitation for anyone to exhort me over the internet!

    A day in the life…


    Mark 1:29-39

    A day in the life of Jesus

    After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once.  He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.  That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.  The whole town gathered near the door.  He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.  Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.  Simon and those with him tracked him down.  When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”  He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.”  He traveled throughout Galilee preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons. (CEB) 

    Jesus had a busy day doing Kingdom and Discipleship things…  but – in my favour, my day has a longer list of things!  What might Jesus have to say about my typical day or, YOURS?

    Jesus – a typical day

    Phil – a typical day

     

    Teaching and preaching in the synagogue

     

    Healing mother-in-law

     

    Having meal with mates

     

    Open-house healing session

     

    Confront evil

     

    Sneak off for some quiet time with god

     

    Make plans to do the same all across region

     

    Get up slightly later than intended

     

    Breakfast

     

    15mins morning prayer

     

    Fanny about on the internet for a while

     

    Realise that it is later than imagined

     

    Make coffee to focus the mind

     

    Catch up on what happened on internet while making the coffee

     

    Realise someone is wrong on the internet and spend a long time putting them straight and coffee has gone cold…

     

    Make another coffee to focus the mind

     

    Catch up on what happened on internet while making the coffee

     

    (repeat until lunch)

     

    Drive a long way for a meeting that probably, in the grand scheme of things won’t make much difference to anyone

     

    Decide that it’s about time I did some academic reading

     

    Delay this until after I have made the tea and been out for a bike ride

     

    Decide that my brain works better in the morning – so reschedule the academic reading

     

    Binge-watch Netflix

     

    Evening prayer

     

    Resolve that tomorrow will be better!

     

    Read book – fall asleep before getting very far…

     

    Wake up at 3am for the curse of the middle-aged man!

     

     

     

    Jesus has teeth!

    Mark 1:21-28

    Jesus visits the Synagogue and heals a man with an “unclean spirit”

     Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching.  The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”  “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!”  The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.  Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! (CEB)

    If you look up the word “authority” you will find suggested synonyms as follows: power, jurisdiction, command, control, mastery, charge, dominance, dominion, rule, sovereignty, ascendancy, supremacy, domination; influence, sway, the upper hand, leverage, hold, grip; (informal) clout, pull, muscle, teeth;

    You might make a case for some of those when applied to Jesus – I quite like “Jesus has teeth!” – but I think there are probably better ways of saying what they were getting at.

    I don’t often resort to Greek, but we’re all grown-ups, so here goes…  the Greek used here in Mark’s Gospel is “ἐξουσίαν”.  Greek scholars even wiser than me tell me that a good way of translating this in this context would be “being free from the need for external approval.”

    How do the synagogue attendees see this in Jesus?

    I’m going to have a guess…  well – two guesses:

    1. Because (as Jesus tells us elsewhere) he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – so he oozes it – it leaks out of his very being!  He also gives this oozing authority to his disciples (“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases – Luke 9:1)  Maybe this kind of “authority” – we might call it spiritual charisma? – comes from our closeness to the source of all authority, in other words, from the quality of our discipleship.
       
    2. Because Jesus’ words and preaching and teaching MATCH his living.  He is the real deal.  We might use words like “integrity”, “authenticity” and “genuine” to describe the same kind of attribute today.

    Despite the dramatic nature of this incident in Mark’s Gospel, I suspect that the kind of authority Jesus has – and the kind of authority we can speak with is not (like the synonym list) heavily weighted towards power and dominance, it could be a gently-spoken authority.  People who I consider to have this Jesus-flavoured “authority” are most often not dominant at all…  Jesus, after all, took a towel and washed their feet.

    The person who rarely pushes herself to the front to be heard, who says little – but when she does speak it’s because she has something worth saying… people stop to listen.

    The person who speaks gently and honestly and whose words have already been spoken 100 times in the way he lives his life and models the Gospel…

    so, yet again, the gospel challenges me – because that rarely describes me!

    Cousins in ministry

    Matthew 3:13-17

    John Baptises Jesus

    We are told they are cousins… two men in the same family with significant crowd-pulling ministries.  What was the nature of their relationship?
    Jesus submits to John’s baptism…
    John tells his disciples he is not fit to tie Jesus’ sandals…
    Jesus is distraught at John’s execution…
    John urges his own followers to leqve him and follow Jesus…
    How often, in ministry, if we are REALLY honest, is there a hidden undercurrent of competition?  I don’t really enjoy or celebrate her ministry because it is more successful than mine…  I very, very quietly and secretly rejoice a tiny bit that his ministry has hit the rocks because it makes me look better?  Not just in ministry, either – in any walk of life.
    Jesus and John seem genuinely to have accepted that each had a significant ministry – they were different – and one even seemed to be way more important than the other – how could John ever really compete?  Yet no shadow of jealousy or competition or malice or spite.
    What would it mean for me to really celebrate and support the ministry of others around me?  Can I take steps to do that better?
    And what about you?  In your walk of life?  Could you do better? Could you BE better?