Monthly Archives: February 2017

39 wives, 94 children, 33 grandchildren – not even half what Jesus promises!


Mark 10:28-31 (CEB)

Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

The picture is Mr Ziona Chana.  He says: ‘Today I feel like God’s special child. He’s given me so many people to look after. ‘I consider myself a lucky man to be the husband of 39 women and head of the world’s largest family.’

The family is organised with almost military discipline, with the oldest wife Zathiangi organising her fellow partners to perform household chores such as cleaning, washing and preparing meals. 

One evening meal can see them pluck 30 chickens, peel 132lb of potatoes and boil up to 220lb of rice. Coincidentally, Mr Chana is also head of a sect that allows members to take as many wives as he wants. 

A more intimate shot of him and the missus-es

 
Jesus is doing what he does well – hyperbole!  If you have left your mother – you don’t want 100 mothers; if you have left your children – you don’t want 100 times the number of children you used to have – in this life OR the next!  The episode is a bit Job-esque – where the story seems to assume a happy ending because Job gets replacement wife (presumably more beautiful than the last) and more (better) children and a bigger house etc…

I think there is a danger here…  Peter says that the disciples have left everything and Jesus responds that it’ll be worth it because they will receive 100-fold in THIS life – specifically,. women, kids, houses, farms…  he can’t mean that, surely?  For one thing, that’s not what happened!

So what did he mean?

This might be a stretch – but go with it, it is working for me today!

Maybe Jesus is saying that if we sit light to these things, if we don’t idolise them, if we don’t make them out to be the things around our whole existence depends and revolves, if we are prepared to “let them go” – then we will find that we haven’t lost them at all, in fact they now shine all the brighter so that they seem 100times more valuable than they were before.

If we set these things in the context of our discipleship and our belonging in the Kingdom of God, then they become an even bigger source of joy than we ever imagined…  100-fold…

When I live my life as I should in the Kingdom of God – when I live my life as a disciple, then the quality of my life is such that I appreciate the priceless gift that my children are more than I ever did…

I’m not sure I have totally grasped this yet – but I think there is something to be prized out of that!  But it’s half past eleven now and it’s been a long day – so I’m off to bed!  Nighty-night!

Coming Home…

Sirach 17:24-29 (CEB)

However, for those who changed their hearts and minds, God granted a way back, and he encouraged those

who were abandoning hope. Turn back to the Lord and leave sin behind; offer prayers in his presence,
    and reduce your offense. Return to the Most High, and turn from injustice, and hate what he detests.
Who will praise the Most High in the grave instead of the living and those who give thanks?
From the dead thanksgiving has perished, since they are no longer alive;
    those who are alive and healthy will praise the Lord.
How great is the Lord’s mercy!  How quickly is he reconciled with those who turn back to him!

 And we’re back into the Wisdom of Sirach!

Turning back to God – coming home to God…  Jesus’ story about the Prodigal Son was perhaps more engaging and more memorable – but it’s basically the same message that we hear through the Old Testament – God longs to welcome his people home, God longs for her people to turn and run back into her arms…

Until recently I had always read these passages from the perspective of the one needing to run back to God.  But recently I have started to read from from the other perspective – the perspective of God who LOVES to see his children come home.

It’s probably because my kids have all been away at university and there have been MANY coming-home moments – and maybe it’s also because our oldest is about to fly the nest in a more permanent fashion – getting a job and setting up home independantly from us!

I have built up a fine collection of selfie’s taken with my kids as they come home.

Here’s Carys coming home at Christmas:


Here’s Hywel coming home from Miami:

Here’s Emrys and Carys coming home – round trip up to Teesside and back via Bradford:

I LOVE it when my kids come home.

I reckon God loves it just the same when you or I take a step back towards home…

SquareBob Judgepants.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (CEB)

Paul’s role as an apostle

So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and managers of God’s secrets. In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful. I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself. I’m not aware of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me innocent, because the Lord is the one who judges me. So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God.
It’s been a busy day – three engagements, but separated by quite a bit of mileage – Messy Church, the induction of Jacquey & Roger at Lynton URC and then a funeral visit…  The driving has given me quite a bit of thinking time – which is a luxury!

This passage merits a bit of thought.  Paul’s bold assertion chimes with what I tell people about myelf quite often:

“I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court.”

OK, so I may not use that language, but the SENSE of what Paul is saying is something that I THINK is true about me.  Paul is saying that he’s not hurt by human judgement.  Whatever people say about him is of little consequence.

There ARE people who are very conscious about what the world thinks of them – who are only too aware of the court of public opinion.

I like to tell people that I am not.  When I hear Paul saying the same thing, then I can offer Paul a virtual high-five.

BUT…  it’s not as simple as that.  I DO care about what a FEW people think of me and I DO care what they say about me.  It’s true, the rest, I’m not that bothered – but not for a virtuous reason!   If I think that others judge me harshly I simply decide that they are stoopid to understand the situation properly and that the fault is with them – it saves me from being bothered about it (or taking it seriously!)

I think we can all agree that’s not really a positive trait!

As with a lot of what Paul writes, there is a very fine line here between a kernal of truth and plain old-fashioned, pig-headed arrogance!

So what’s the kernal of truth?  Paul is saying that he can be released from worrying about how people judge him IF (and only if) he is paying proper attention to how God sees him – and recognising that in God’s eyes he is falling short – and then breathing in the refreshing, graceful gift of God’s forgiveness and renewal.

This is quite a long way from where I am!

I’m not totally convinced that this is exactly where Paul always was either – he quite often seems quite concerned about his reputation amongst people…  Maybe this is one of the “thorns” that he struggled with through his life?

What can I learn?  

1) It can be a strength not to be overly-concerned about the judgement of others;
2) It can be a weakness to dismiss all human judgement – sometimes they might be right…

Philly no-mates.

Sirach 6:5-17 (CEB)

Friendship

Pleasant speech gains more friends for itself, and a sweet-speaking tongue will multiply pleasant exchanges.
Let those who are at peace with you be many, but let only one in a thousand be your advisor.
If you make friends, test them thoroughly and don’t trust them quickly.
Some are friends when it is convenient, but they won’t stay around during hard times.
There are friends who turn into enemies, and they will reveal your disgraceful arguments.
There are friends who are companions at your table, but they won’t stay during hard times.
They will act as if your belongings are theirs, and they will be bold toward your household slaves.
If you are brought low, they will be against you, and they will abandon you.
Stay away from your enemies, and be careful with your friends.
Trustworthy friends are a strong shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Trustworthy friends have no price, and no one can estimate their worth.
Trustworthy friends are life’s medicine, and those who fear the Lord will find them.
Those who fear the Lord will direct their friendships well, because they will associate with people of like mind.
OK – first an apology to Bible Gateway for my comment yesterday that they did not have Ecclesiasticus – they do, they just have it under the name “Sirach”!  

It wasn’t a quick one-off visit – we are back in there for day 2!  Today – “friends”.
We’ve all had that friend who was a bit too bold towards our household slaves, haven’t we?
Seriously, though, I groaned when I heard this.
You see, I simply don’t have the kind of friends that this passage is describing.  I don’t have the ones that are described by more modern language – “soulmates”, “besties”, BFFs…  I have lots of accquaintances, I have mates, I have plenty of company, people know me, I’m never lonely, but I don’t “DO” the kind of friendship described here.
That feels like a big admission – as if it makes me some kind of a weird billy-no-mates social pariah, borderline psychopath – but I can only tell it as it is.
In many ways I am a lot like my dad.  
I could sit here and analyse this – I have been doing today as I cycled to Exeter and back, mowed the lawn, did some garden work and put up the bird boxes…  I know I am basically an Introvert – that’s not a disease or a confession of weakness – it’s just who I am!  I have moved about a lot – never being long in one place – maybe I have got used to not putting down roots – living an easy-come/easy-go life – if I don’t make strong attachments then it’s not that much of a wrench when I move on and leave them all behind.  There might be a thousand reasons… but I don’t really care that much!

Truth is, I am happy!  If you were starting to feel sad for me – then DON’T!  No – really – DON’T!  

This isn’t a national appeal – find a bestie for poor Phil!  (do NOT apply on a postcard!)

I like my own company – I’m a great person to be with – so that makes sense!  I invest what I have in my small family, I have all the human company and closeness and love and dependence and feelings of being needed that I need and want.

So passages like this leave me thinking that I am very happy for everyone else who DOES enjoy this kind of friendship.  Maybe in the past it would have left me with a nagging sense of inadequacy – but not anymore.  I am comfortable with who I am and happy in my own skin!

there – I’ve said it!  So – if you have one – go and enjoy some time with your bestie, I’m off to trawl Netflix! 😉
(errrr…. what did I say???  STOPPIT – I can just TELL you are feeling sorry for me!  STOPPIT!  STOPPIT AT ONCE!)

Canon Fodder.

Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8


Do not put your confidence in your money or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’ for the Lord will certainly give you your deserts.
Do not say, ‘I have sinned, but what harm has befallen me?’ for the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great, he will forgive me my many sins’; for with him are both mercy and retribution, and his anger does not pass from sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord, do not put it off day after day; for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out, and on the day of punishment you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains, they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.
Sshhhh…  don’t tell anyone!  This all feels a bit rebellious.  Ecclesiasticus is not in my Bible – well not in the one I normally use – not in most of my shelf-bibles either.  I typed “Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8” into Biblegateway (the excellent online Bible that I normally use) and it came up with no results.  I typed it into Google (the excellent internet search engine I normally use) and this is what happened:

It takes a bit of extra effort to find Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8!

Ecclesiasticus is also known as The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach, and also known as Ben Sira amongst friends!

It’s not that anyone things its contents are bad or dangerous – it just didn’t make the cut into the most widely accepted “canons” of scripture.

The author, Joshua ben Sirach, or, according to the Greek text “Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem,” was a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem, may have authored the work in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. Ben Sirach is unique among all Old Testament and Apocryphal writers in that he signed his work.
He also owned a very fine hat:
  

Some people claim that there are several allusions to the Wisdom of Sirach in the New Testament. These include the Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:52 following Sirach 10:14; the description of the seed in Mark 4:5,16-17 following Sirach 40:15; the statement by Jesus in Matthew 7:16,20 following Sirach 27:6; and James 1:19 quoting Sirach 5:11.  The distinguished patristic scholar Henry Chadwick has claimed that in Matthew 11:28 Jesus was directly quoting Sirach 51:23, as well as comparing Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (KJV) with Sirach 28:2 “Forgive your neighbour a wrong, and then, when you petition, your sins will be pardoned.”

What’s in and what’s not was once a much hotter topic than it is today, it was all settled (with accepted differences) centuries ago.  The canons are closed.  But should they be?

The Bible is a collection of literary forms organised into books and chapters and verses that reflect in many forms our struggle to understand life and God and the relation between the two.  We can see in the Bible ideas about God emerging and developing – and some ideas being discarded and left behind as new experiences opened our eyes further.  It isn’t a linear progression of wisdom and understanding – we often imagine that we get cleverer as the centuries past – I’m not sure if that’s true, or how you’d even begin to measure it to prove it!

But the struggle and the questions and the experience of God continues.

Why could there NOT be a book added to the bible?

Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts describe an early church coming to terms with its place in the world and the impact of the Gospel on their lives.  Why could not a NEW set of letters to churches be accepted into the Biblical canon?  (The Book of Mormon and the Qur’an are both claimed to be later revelations than the Bible.)

To say that the canon is closed is to suggest that God’s revelation is finished – there is no more to come.  You might argue that this is true – that Jesus’ life and death and rising again WAS the last word – nothing more needed to be said…  except that we then included later stuff in the canon!

Has God’s revelation stopped?  Is there nothing more to say?

It would certainly be controversial to add some more books to the Bible (but they were added centuries ago – and removed! – Why not in the 21st Century?)

What is it that hymn says?  “The Lord hath yet more light and truth to shed froth from his Word.”

I think I’m going to start writing.  “Phil’s letter to the Devonites” has a certain ring…

Peter’s beanbag.

1 Peter 5:1-4 (CEV)

Helping Christian Leaders

Church leaders, I am writing to encourage you. I too am a leader, as well as a witness to Christ’s suffering, and I will share in his glory when it is shown to us.

Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money. Don’t be bossy to those people who are in your care, but set an example for them. Then when Christ the Chief Shepherd returns, you will be given a crown that will never lose its glory.

Totally distracted today by the announcement at the start of morning prayers that today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Now I can hear some of you protesting – “Surely that was on 18th January?”  Well, I’m sorry, but you are probably confusing the feast of St. Peter’s Rome Chair with the the feast of St. Peter’s Antioch Chair – the former used to be on 18th January but is now largely discontinued, though some traditional catholics continue to celebrate both as you cannot have too many feasts of peoples’ chairs, no!

In St Peter’s Basilica is a HUGE sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, designed to house a relic – a wooden throne that tradition claims the Apostle Saint Peter, the leader of the Early Christians in Rome and first Pope, used as Bishop of Rome.


 Bernini’s hideous edifice

the relic within


Pope’s used to insist that Peter did, indeed, sit on this “chair”, but, let’s face it, that’s nonsense!  Popes now put less emphasis on the archaeological authenticity of the chair than on its spiritual significance.
So what IS the spiritual significance?

Well, there has been an awful lot of guff spoken about Peter being the first Bishop and the first pope.  So the feast of St. Peter’s Chair has quite a bit of baggage attached to it about Pope-y things and the authority of Bishops – which doesn’t turn me on!

HOWEVER…

The reading above is set for this feast day and talks of those in authority being a living example to their “flock”.  

There are lots of things I am proud of about the URC – one of them is this – that our understanding of authority in the church is that is can only be built on a foundation of service.  You only have authority to lead in as much as you are prepared to serve.  Peter’s letter seems to be saying just that.  I don’t think Peter sat on a throne and I think he’d be appalled to see Bernini’s hideous carbuncle.  I am appalled to see the HUGE and ostentatious bishop’s throne in Exeter cathedral.  Jesus would NEVER have sat on it.

That said – in Kingsteignton URC there are chairs behind the communion table – and the middle one is where the minister is supposed to sit – and it is much huger and more ornate than the four chairs that the Elders are supposed to sit on…  so – stones and glass houses!

Lythan only has short legs, she struggles in most URC minister-communion chairs.  Here she is in action:




Top Trumps!

Mark 9:30-37 (CEV)

Jesus Again Speaks about His Death

Jesus left with his disciples and started through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know about it, because he was teaching the disciples that the Son of Man would be handed over to people who would kill him. But three days later he would rise to life. The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant, and they were afraid to ask.

Who Is the Greatest?

Jesus and his disciples went to his home in Capernaum. After they were inside the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” They had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest, and so they did not answer.

After Jesus sat down and told the twelve disciples to gather around him, he said, “If you want the place of honour, you must become a slave and serve others!”

Then Jesus had a child stand near him. He put his arm around the child and said, “When you welcome even a child because of me, you welcome me. And when you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me.”

Many years ago, usually at family gatherings designed for some kind of celebration (weddings, christmas dinner, birthday meals out, etc…) my inlaws would take the opportunity to check that we had understood that in the event of their deaths they wanted their bodies to be donated for the the advancement of medical science.  We had to look into it, so we knew what we would be dealing with, and if you click on the FAQ page it tells you what bits you might expect to get back one day and how many years after death this might happen…

As you might imagine, this didn’t always bring extra jollity to the proceedings (well, OK – sometimes we MAY have made tasteless jokes over returned body parts arriving unexpectedly in the post, but you get the picture!)

I guess that Jesus going on about his impending painful and bloody death would have had very much the same effect on the Disciples.  Mark tells us that they didn’t really grasp what Jesus was on about, and they were afraid to ask.

Afraid to ask? 

Why were they afraid to ask?

Were they afraid to ask because they just knew that their questions would set him off going on about it again, and they were (frankly) bored of him going on about it?  (We all know people in whose company it advisable never to raise particular subjects, don’t we?)

Were they afraid to ask because they thought Jesus would yell at them or attack them out of sheer frustration at their ongoing failure to grasp pretty much anything he ever said to them?

Were they afraid to ask because none of them wanted to be the one to ask for fear that all the other disciples might know and they would risk looking stupid in front of the others?

no, no and, indeed, no.  (or perhaps no, no and maybe a bit?)

So, why were they afraid to ask?

Here’s what I think FWIW.  We don’t really know to what extent the disciples left EVERYTHING to follow Jesus – they didn’t “burn their boats” completely – indeed, after Jesus’ death we read that they went back to fishing and they still had access to boats as they ferried Jesus across the sea of Galilee!  But whatever the extent of that dropping of nets, they had certainly staked a lot on this journey.

People often fancifully say that they were all overexcited by the prospect of Jesus overthrowing Rome and delivering the People of Israel to the kind of liberation that they had all read about in the Exodus from Egypt.  I think sometimes we are prone to exaggerating just to what extent people really believed Jesus was going to achieve that.  I’m not saying the hope wasn’t still alive, just that I doubt it filled them with imminent expectation every day they got up and got on the road with Jesus.

So they had staked a lot on an uncertain future and now Jesus is talking about it all ending soon with his violent death.  I think they were afraid to ask because that’s not what they wanted to hear.  Not that they were bored of hearing it, or worried they might not understand it – but afraid of hearing what they already knew in their hearts spelled out in words – as if Jesus saying it out loud forced them to accept what this journey they were on was all about and what it would cost them.

It is often said that people won’t visit the doctor because they are afraid that the doctor will tell them what they already know – but the doctor saying it out loud will somehow make it more real and they won’t be able to pretend it isn’t happening anymore…  I think that’s what’s going on here.

This is serious stuff.  No wonder they get into stupid, childish, top-trumps arguments about who the best disciple is…  anything to move the conversation to something lighter, something less demanding of their commitment…  and aren’t churches prone to exactly the same thing?


PS for those who are interested in top-trump disciple games, there was a thing once upon a time called “bibliocards” – which was exactly that – top trumps with biblical characters.  One of the characters was God and one was Jesus – you’ve got to be confident of a win with them in your hand!  (Satan was in there too IIRC!)

here they are!


Now, in a minute!


Mark 9:14-29 (CEV)

Jesus Heals a Boy

When Jesus and his three disciples came back down, they saw a large crowd around the other disciples. The teachers of the Law of Moses were arguing with them.

The crowd was really surprised to see Jesus, and everyone hurried over to greet him.

Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about?”

Someone from the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. A demon keeps him from talking. Whenever the demon attacks my son, it throws him to the ground and makes him foam at the mouth and grit his teeth in pain. Then he becomes stiff. I asked your disciples to force out the demon, but they couldn’t do it.”

Jesus said, “You people don’t have any faith! How much longer must I be with you? Why do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

They brought the boy, and as soon as the demon saw Jesus, it made the boy shake all over. He fell down and began rolling on the ground and foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
The man answered, “Ever since he was a child. The demon has often tried to kill him by throwing him into a fire or into water. Please have pity and help us if you can!”

Jesus replied, “Why do you say ‘if you can’? Anything is possible for someone who has faith!”

Right away the boy’s father shouted, “I believe.  Help my unbelief.

When Jesus saw that a crowd was gathering fast, he spoke sternly to the evil spirit that had kept the boy from speaking or hearing. He said, “I order you to come out of the boy! Don’t ever bother him again.”

The spirit screamed and made the boy shake all over. Then it went out of him. The boy looked dead, and almost everyone said he was. But Jesus took hold of his hand and helped him stand up.

After Jesus and the disciples had gone back home and were alone, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we force out that demon?”

Jesus answered, “Only prayer can force out that kind of demon.”
Yes, there is lots of stuff in there – but, oddly, I am not distracted by any of it.  I can look at that package of densely packed stuff and mutter to myself, “meh – none of that is distracting me today.  On another day, maybe, but not today.”
Why?  Well – because one phrase leapt out at me and has been rolling around my mind all day.
 “I believe.  Help my unbelief.
It’s an odd phrase!  But have you ever been struck by a phrase and felt it chime so completely with you that you can say “YES!  YES!  YES!” even though you are not totally sure what it means?
That’s how I have felt today.
I had a look at the Greek – cos that’s the way I roll – but I didn’t find it helped that much! Why would it?
I had a quick squizz on the interweb – but that’s almost always a mistake when trying to find out puzzling things about the Bible.  The Christian Interweb is totally owned by people who seem petrified that if we cannot always explain the Bible in such a way that we can make it simple and consistent – shackled to a pretty narrow view of who God is and what Scripture is then the sky will actually fall in!  I am sure God is grateful for their unerring (but spectacularly un-necessary) defence, but – strewth – give yourselves a day off!

Yes, yes.. all of this is very familiar vague and woolly Phil-speak, but this is a GEM and it just HAS to be as it is.

 “I believe.  Help my unbelief.

How many of us have not FELT this many, many times?  It speaks to the glorious truth that we have the capacity at the same time to act with stunningly bold and spontaneous faith and yet at the same time to be frail and shallow and faithless humans.

It’s like that gloriously true and yet apparently contradictory Welsh response:  “I’ll do it now, in a minute.”

 



 

Tombstone heavy.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 (CEV)

Moral and Religious Laws

The Lord told Moses to say to the community of Israel:
I am the Lord your God. I am holy, and you must be holy too!

Don’t hold grudges. On the other hand, it’s wrong not to correct someone who needs correcting. Stop being angry and don’t try to take revenge. I am the Lord, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself.

Leviticus gets a bit of a bad press!  People often stumble across it when they have resolved to read through the whole Bible.  Naturally they start at page 1 in Genesis, and that’s quite interesting, then eagerly move into Exodus where there is lots of exciting stuff about escaping Egypt and adventures in the wilderness.  But then they hit Leviticus like a well-aimed egg and Paul Nuttall…

Reading comes to a grinding stop and more often than not the whole “I’m gonna read through the whole Bible” project is over.

Yet…  “I command you to love others as you love yourself.”

Sound familiar?

Jesus gets many (if not most!) of his best lines from the Old Testament.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this – after all, it’s the same God trying to get through to his people.  There isn’t an angry “Old Testament God” and a cuddly “New Testament God”!

There is little that is shockingly new in what Jesus says – God has already said it in many and various ways.

On the way back from Bradford today we listened to an assortment of old R4 plays – there are some really weird plays on R4.  One of them, though – which was a very weird play about a hand that appears through a hedge – had a REALLY fascinating line…

“The words were tombstone-heavy.”

I like that phrase.  There are words that are “heavy” – so heavy that they drop through time – pushing their way through – appearing in every generation.

These are such words – tombstone-heavy words.  They appear here in Leviticus – and then they push their way down through the pages of the Bible again and again in different guises and on different lips until they find themselves spoken in Jesus’ voice..


              “I command you to love others as you love yourself.”


Jesus blows it…

Mark 8:34-9:1Common English Bible (CEB)

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Jesus continued, “I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom arrive in power.”

Jesus has built up quite a good reputation – with the healings and miracles and championing of the poor. He has street-cred, he is a believable, followable crowd-puller. Where he goes, the crowd goes – he has them in the palm of his hand.

But then he goes and blows it! If you really want to call yourself my follower, then you risk painful death.

As we follow the gospels through, the crowds melt away. Even that palm sunday crowd melts away pretty quickly as the procession passes the Antonia garrison.

At the end, Jesus is pretty much alone.

Too much church talk hides a secret desire for the crowds and an unspoken judgement that crowds validate a ministry.

Equally, though, I am irritated by expressions of christianity that are so bland that they have no attractional value at all and yet seem to look down their noses at anything else that even begins to look successful.

It’s a very circly circle to have to square!

Jesus didn’t seem to care whether he attracted huge crowds (and he did) or whether the uncompromising force of his preaching put people off and turned them away (and it did!)

Maybe the truth is that a faithful telling of the gospel will be both attractive AND repellant! And maybe the truth is that we shouldn’t really obsess about measuring whether we are to be judged “successful” in human terms. Maybe the truth is that we should simply get on with faithfully living the gospel and give people credit that they don’t need the Gospel to be soft-pedalled, that they might actually need the hard-core version – even the one that might scare them off!

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