Monthly Archives: March 2017

Where are you bleedin’ from?


John 7:1-10, 25-30 (CEB)

Jesus goes to Jerusalem

After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He didn’t want to travel in Judea, because the Jewish authorities wanted to kill him. When it was almost time for the Jewish Festival of Booths, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee. Go to Judea so that your disciples can see the amazing works that you do. Those who want to be known publicly don’t do things secretly. Since you can do these things, show yourself to the world.” His brothers said this because even they didn’t believe in him.
Jesus replied, “For you, anytime is fine. But my time hasn’t come yet. The world can’t hate you. It hates me, though, because I testify that its works are evil. You go up to the festival. I’m not going to this one because my time hasn’t yet come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers left for the festival, he went too—not openly but in secret.

Some people from Jerusalem said, “Isn’t he the one they want to kill? Here he is, speaking in public, yet they aren’t saying anything to him. Could it be that our leaders actually think he is the Christ? We know where he is from, but when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he exclaimed, “You know me and where I am from. I haven’t come on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” So they wanted to seize Jesus, but they couldn’t because his time hadn’t yet come.

I love the idea of Jesus incognito sneaking off to a festival – but he seems to suck at it!  Surely the first rule for a preacher/teacher/rabbi who wants to sneak off to a festival incognito is NOT to go and preach/teach in public at that festival!  🙂

Ah well!

So he is rumbled…  and a dispute breaks out about where he’s from.  It sounds like a bit of a daft argument – “we know where he’s from, so he can’t be the Messiah because we won’t know where the Messiah is from!”  hmmm…  I’m certainly convinced…  NOT!

(It’s not entirely clear WHY they believed they would not know where the Messiah came from – and I could go into that – but it’s enough for this occasion to note that they clearly DID believe that.)

So, where WAS Jesus from?

an Essex girl is involved in a nasty car crash and is trapped and bleeding. The paramedics soon arrive on site…
medic: “its ok, I’m a paramedic and i’m going to ask you some questions. OK?”
girl: “OK
medic: “Whats your name?”
girl: “Sharon”
medic: “OK Sharon, is this your car?”
sharon: “Yes”
medic: “where are you bleeding from?”
sharon: “Romford, mate.”

Ok – I can never resist an opportunity to roll out my favourite Essex-girl joke – and I did live there for 13 years so I feel I have earned the right to tell it!

Jesus wasn’t from Romford.

He was clearly from the little town of Bethlehem – Nazareth.  Sometimes he is called “The Nazarene” – there is a church denomination called “The Nazarenes”.  People knew his parents – it seemed to them that knowing where Jesus was “from” and being able to go to  Asda and bump into Jesus’ parents by the cheese counter somehow made Jesus merely “ordinary” and thus very much NOT Messiah material.

It might be that this idea of not knowing where Jesus was “from” reflects the idea that the Messiah would have to have a mysterious and special arrival to set him apart from other mere mortals.  You might suddenly remember that he did – the whole virgin-birth/angel-filled Christmas-story saga told by Luke and Matthew…  You might then ask yourself whether that story was known at the time of this festival – if it was, then they’d have their special birth-story to slot into place and could believe he was Messiah…  If they didn’t know this miraculous birth story at the time of this festival – and they knew his family – then you might begin to ask yourself whether this whole birth-story thing was added later for theological rather than “historical” reasons…

far be it from me to plant such earth-shatteringly heretical thoughts in your head – I just said that you MIGHT begin to ask yourself those things!  😉

Anyway – it was the question “where are you (bleeding) from” that arrested me today.

Where IS Jesus from?

Where are YOU from, where am I from?  

The place I am technically “from” is one of the many the least unimportant things about me.  I am from Hythe, across Southampton Water – about as far south as you can get and still be born in England.  Yet I would NEVER describe myself as a Southerner!  (How could anyone ever believe I was the Messiah if I ever admitted that??  strewth!!)

I am “from” the North West in terms of my growing up (from the tender age of 2yrs)…  I define myself as a Northerner.

But does that really answer the question in any meaningful way?

Jesus comes back to the bickering crowd.  You want to know where I am from, eh?  I’ll tell you where I am from:

“You know me and where I am from. I haven’t come on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

Is there a sense in which we can all say that?  Is there a sense in which we can all claim to be “from” God – made by God – God’s children?  If so, then surely that would be a much more powerful way of answering the question: “Where are you (bleeding) from?”

God changes her mind…

Exodus 32:7-14 (CEB)

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.

CRIPES!!  This is serious stuff!  Some proper heavyweight theological thought might need to be deployed to deal with this!  Thankfully, that’s not the purpose of this blog – other proper heavyweight theological sources are available!

I have not set out to explain hard stuff to people – merely to note my own reflections on it and ramble on for a bit, so here goes!

At first glance it seems shocking that God quite clearly changes her mind.  She was going to do something violent and bloody – and Moses persuades her that this won’t look good, that there would be no way of spinning this so that God came out looking good in the eyes of the Egyptians.  Moses is acting as the first spin-doctor – advising God on how things might look…  (yes – literally!)

This is by no means the only time this happens in the Bible, it happens quite a few times, but I won’t bore you by listing them because it doesn’t really add to the issue!

It seems shocking for several reasons..

For one thing, we tend to think of God as “unchanging” – “immutable”.  But we can stop worrying about that because that really means that God’s essential nature is unchanging – namely, that God is love.  It doesn’t mean that God cannot choose to act and respond in ways that change according to the situation.

But what we have here does not sound very loving – it sounds like an angry God talked down from genocidal destruction by Moses.

I think there is a helpful way to think about this.  It is by no means a simple linear progression of increased understanding, but I think the Bible is (amongst other things) unfolding journey of human understanding about who God is.  Ideas are wrestled with, sometimes discarded, sometimes developed.  And God reveals herself through this struggle.

One dominant idea that has been wrestled with on and off for centuries is the idea that stuff can only happen if God has decided it will happen – if something happens than it is God’s will – it has to be – else it wouldn’t have happened.  If a rampaging army slaughters everyone then God was punishing them or God ordered it.  If someone is sick – then there is a reason…  you get the idea.

If the people of Israel abandonned God and made a golden calf and worshipped it and gave it credit for rescuing them from Egypt, then Moses might have expected God to be cross and destroy everyone, and this might have filled Moses with horror, and there was then only one way to explain why the People of Israel were not destroyed – that God had changed her mind.  (I imagine God might have been a bit cross about this – “Hey, Moses! I never intended to do that anyway – you projected it onto me!  So don’t go taking the credit for changing my mind..  oh…  too late!”)  It didn’t do Moses any harm to be seen as the one who could stop God killing them all…  think about it…

That all works for me – to a point.  If God is God, she doesn’t need Moses to teach her how to love or how to forgive.

(readers of a nervous disposition should read no further – you can stop here!)

But you could go further and suggest that all of this talk about God changing her mind is a bit anthropomorphic – it imagines that God is just a big version of us.  As I have got older I don’t view God so much in anthropomorphic terms.  I’m not startlingly new or radical in this – the Bible was there long before me…  “God is love”.  I’m not sure what it even means to argue about whether “love” has a “mind” – the kind of mind that can change….  I’m not sure what it means to argue about whether a force like “love” makes plans or intervenes in human affairs, yet God (as love) can change things – God (as love) moves and flows through everything and everyone – God (as love) is the one in whom we live and move and have our being…(Acts 17:28)  So – maybe this Exodus incident is only difficult if you are glued to a less-than-helpful idea of who God is…

If God is love – she never planned to slaughter everyone;
If God is love – she was always ahead of Moses;
If God is love – she journeyed every step of the way with those people and wept at all the death and destruction, and was grieved that she took the blame for some of it.  She didn’t just love them – more than that – she WAS and IS love itself.  It’s not that we have a loving God, it’s that we have a God who actually IS love!  But that’s a bigger story for a bigger blog! 

Eggs and Scorpions…

Christ in the Wilderness: The Scorpion  (Stanley Spencer)

Something a bit different today.

We have been running a Lent series at Kingsteignton URC focussed on the “Christ in the Wilderness” paintings by Stanley Spencer.  Today we explored this one – possibly the one best known…

If you want a full and engaging (and accessible) exploration of some of these paintings – then I cannot recommend Stephen Cottrell’s little book highly enough:

Available on Amazon   (other bookshops may exist!)

I do want to say a couple of things about The Scorpion, though (and I have Stephen Cottrell and the fine folk of Kingsteignton URC to thank for helping stimulate these thoughts.)

Spencer worked from Scripture, but didn’t make it obvious!  There are two references to scorpions in the New Testament – both of them in Luke’s Gospel, so we can be confident he had one or both of these in mind as he painted this.

“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion?  
Luke 11:11-12 (CEB)    

The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you.                                                                                                                     Luke 10:17-19 (CEB)

Question: What kind of father would give his child a scorpion when that child was hungry for an egg?

Answer: Jesus’s heavenly Father.  Jesus was surely hungry – and he is given a scorpion.  He is also given stones instead of bread.

The associations are too strong to be ignored, Spencer is clearly saying something powerful here about Jesus accepting the pain that was to come – leaving behind his own desires and embracing the road that led to the cross…  Not my will – but yours be done.

Do you see both scorpions?  Yes – there is one by Jesus’ right foot.  Jesus has the power to crush that scorpion underfoot and not be hurt (just like the 70 disciples he sent out) – yet he chooses not to do that.

Instead he holds the scorpion – treasures it, almost.

You might say that Jesus is trying a harder path.  He is not eliminating the source of pain – he is loving it. 

Look closer at Jesus’ fingers – they are swollen.  Some have said they resemble plaited bread – and you couldn’t blame Jesus in his extreme hunger for having that vision of bread as he looks at his fingers – and he sees the bread he desires blurring in and out of focus with the scorpion he gets…

But, more obviously I think – these fingers look as if they have been stung by that scorpion.

This love that Jesus is going to model in his ministry is not gooey, mushy love that so captivates the scorpion that she renounces stinging and turns to a life of peaceful co-existence with human hands!  NO!  The scorpion remains a scorpion – it’s what she is – she stings – and it doesn’t stop Jesus loving, it doesn’t drive Jesus to hate.

I think Spencer is saying that this “love” Jesus has is not going to be easy for him – it is not going to eliminate the pain – it does not take away the cross – and this moment in the Wilderness shows Jesus finding peace in accepting that even though he might be stung and stung and stung again.  Wow!

 It is, if you like, a foretaste of that moment in Gethsemane.

Henri Nouwen tells about a man who meditated by the Ganges River. One morning he saw a scorpion floating on the water. When the scorpion drifted near the old man he reached to rescue it but was stung by the scorpion. A bit later he tried again and was stung again, the bite swelling his hand painfully and giving him much pain. A man passing by saw what was happening and yelled at the meditator, “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?” The old man calmly replied, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”

What’s the alternative?

Scorpion (Jo Shapcott)

I kill it because we cannot stay in the same room. 
I kill it because we cannot stay in the same room with me sleeping.
I kill it because I might look away and not see it there on the wall when I look back. 
I kill it because I might spend all night hunting it. 
I kill it because I am afraid to go near enough with glass and paper to carry it outside. 
I kill it because I have been told to. 
I kill it by slapping my shoe against the wall because I have been told to do it that way.
I kill it standing as far away as possible and stretching my hand holding the shoe towards it. 
I kill it because it has been making me shake out the bedclothes, look inside my shoes, scan the walls at night. 
I kill it because I can. 
I kill it because it cannot stop me. 
I kill it because I know it is there. 
I kill it so that its remains are on the heel of my shoe.
I kill it so that its outline with curved sting is on my wall. 
I kill it to feel sure I will live. 
I kill it to feel alive. 
I kill it because I am weaker than it is. 
I kill it because I do not understand it. 
I kill it without looking at it. 
I kill it because I am not good enough to let it live. 
I kill it out of the corner of my eye, remembering that it is black, vertical, stock still on the white wall. 
I kill it because it will not speak to me.

Do you want to get well?

John 5:1-3, 5-16 (CEB)

Sabbath healing

After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there.
A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him,  
“Do you want to get well?”
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”
Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
The Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It’s the Sabbath; you aren’t allowed to carry your mat.”
He answered, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
They inquired, “Who is this man who said to you, ‘Pick it up and walk’?” The man who had been cured didn’t know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away from the crowd gathered there.
Later Jesus found him in the temple and said, “See! You have been made well. Don’t sin anymore in case something worse happens to you.” The man went and proclaimed to the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the man who had made him well.
As a result, the Jewish leaders were harassing Jesus, since he had done these things on the Sabbath.

On the surface it is a daft question: “Do you want to get well?”

Today I sat in the dentist’s chair – a big filling had fallen out and I had been in considerable pain over the weekend.  The pain eased off through Monday and I was actually feeling better today.

The dentist took one quick look and declared that there was nothing that could be done for that tooth.  Extraction advised.

I have had a few teeth like this one, a few cracked from old rugby-playing days when gum-shields were not the norm.  They were filled years ago – but eventually the sides crack off leaving a brittle shard.  I have had one crowned (the dentist said today that the crownned tooth was “hanging on!”) and I have had a couple removed.  The last one to be removed had to be removed in hospital by a specialist with a hammer and chisel (yes – literally) – there was not enough of the tooth left above the surface to grip and pull!

So, I don’t know what I was expecting today – I thought, probably, there would have to be a temporary filling while an appointment was made to have the thing surgically removed – OR, that she’d recommend root-canal work in preparation for a crown.

I wasn’t prepared for her next question.

Do you want me to do it now?

The reading came back to me….  “do you want to get well?”

I genuinely thought about it…

I WAS feeling better – the pain HAD abated…  maybe I could struggle through and it would all right itself.

I KNEW it was likely to be painful – and I wondered if it might go wrong – that the top might break off leaving a stump that had to be dug out – or (worse) left in there until an appointment could be made in hospital!

Did I want to get well?  Was the familiar pain that I had been fending off with an assortment of old painkillers, clove oil and bonjela a BETTER prospect than the horror of what faced me now – vulnerable and unprepared in the hands of one of the brusquest dentists I have ever faced…

A genuine and totally NOT DAFT question, as it turned out!

I wonder if the same thoughts flashed through the mind of that man by the pool when Jesus asked.  30-odd years of coping with this pain, this disability, this illness (whatever it was) – and he’d learned to cope with it, he got by.  Do I dare swap the familiar pain for the unfamiliar? 

I knew that the tooth had to come out – and she took an x-ray to reassure me that she could actually do it – so I asked her to do it now.

She asked me to open my mouth and she put what I thought was a mirror into my mouth – presumably to get a closer look.  Except it wasn’t a mirror – it was a HUGE needle that she plunged deep into the roof of my mouth.  Naturally I flinched – and I may have made a grunt of some sort…

“You have to keep still” she replied!!  (I said she was brusque!)

She proceeded to find as many painful places as she could to plunge the needle – several stabs into the roof of my mouth and a few in my gums for good measure.
Less than a minute of small-talk later (in which I demanded a “brave boy” sticker) – she asked if I was ready.

How do I know???!!

She took that as a yes – and got busy with the pliers.  About a minute of tugging and rattling later it came out – in one clean piece.  Job done.

(She didn’t give me the tooth as a souvenir – presumably they get to keep the tooth-fairy money?)

I was shooed out.

The secretary then relieved me of £53.90 and sent me on my way with a long list of instructions.

I felt nothing!  bliss!  Except that then I did!

Trolleying up the M5 on the motorbike at 70MPH gives a certain wind-chill factor at this time of year – and if you blow 70MPH of cold air onto a new gum-hole as the anaesthetic wears of (very quickly!) you notice it!  Actually I could feel two kinds of pain: the dull, but insistant, gnawing ache of a tooth violently ripped from my jaw; and the sharper top-note of pain from the chuffing big needle holes she had visited upon the roof of my mouth which I don’t think was designed with sharp, plunging needles in mind.

Do you want to get well?

Well – in a word, no!  Not if this is what it feels like!

It’s not a daft question.  Sometimes being healed, being made well, is a serious commitment – and not one to be accepted lightly.

Of course, I’m not just talking about toothache – I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow!  But I know you can fill in the blanks for yourself, especially if I finish by asking you – “Do YOU really want Jesus to make you well?”  (If you do – be prepared for some pain and some change…)

Prayer furnace

Song of the Three Young Men (RSV)

The Prayer of Azariah in the Furnace

And they walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. Then Azari′ah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever. For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our fathers, for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins.

For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee, and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments; we have not observed them or done them, as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us.

So all that thou hast brought upon us, and all that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment. Thou hast given us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful rebels, and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world. And now we cannot open our mouths; shame and disgrace have befallen thy servants and worshipers. For thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly, and do not break thy covenant, and do not withdraw thy mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham thy beloved and for the sake of Isaac thy servant and Israel thy holy one, to whom thou didst promise to make their descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the shore of the sea.

For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy.  Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee.

And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in thy forbearance and in thy abundant mercy.

Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord!

Let all who do harm to thy servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion, and let their strength be broken. Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world.”
Azariah’s prayer…

This is totally new to me. This passage has been excised from the bibles I am familiar with, It is there in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles. For the avoidance of doubt, Azariah is Abednego!

Don’t forget where he is – he is in the process of being burned to death in a furnace!

I was staggered to hear the sheer matter-of-factness of this prayer! Azariah is walking around in a fiery furnace being executed. You might expect him to pray, but you’d expect the prayer to sound more like…

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Heeeeeeeelllllp! Get me out of here God! Noooowwwwwww!

But, no. This is a long, calm, considered and contrite prayer.

Azaraiah is confessing to God that their current perilous position is probably their own fault because they have fallen short in their religious devotion and rightly been punished by God by this captivity to a foreign power – and now this foreign power has thrown them in a furnace.  And this is not sarcasm – “sorry God that you have seen fit to  punish us by putting us under the heel of foreigners who have now thrown us in this furnace…” – this is absolutely genuine!

That, to me, is simply amazing. It is the prayer of a man who, despite massive evidence to the contrary (he is standing a chuffing furnace!), that God will vindicate him, that the is nothing in all of creation – not even the furnace flames around his feet, that can separate him from the love of God.

So how dare I ever claim that something stupidly trivial has been a barrier to my believing absolutely in God’s grace and mercy.

Christmas is back!!

Matthew 1:18-21 (CEB)

Birth of Jesus

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 


Oh – weird!!!  It’s Christmas again!  I guess this reading is set because it is the Feast Day of St. Joseph.  (Not as widely or wildly celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Patrick – but, hey! them’s the breaks!)

Actually – it’s not true that the Feast Day of St Joseph is not marked, in some places it is a big day: Move over St. Patrick – St Joseph’s day is here!

It is kind of odd to be reading these verses in March, but also a little bit refreshing – allowing us to savour the words without the christmas trappings that can befuddle our tiny minds!

Here we have Joseph making a HUGE decision about the future of his life – to marry a woman whose reputation has been ruined and who drags a shadow of scandal around with her – a shadow that would surely also taint Joseph.  he makes this decision based on a dream, though whether it is a dream as you or I know it is unclear.  

The text says: As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”  In other words, Joseph is not in a state of unconscious surrender to a night-time dream – he is in a state of contemplation and reflection on a decision he has to make.  We think of dreams as something entirely beyond our conscious control that invade our sleep.  I don’t think that’s what these verses are describing.  Joseph is a conscious part of it.

Times such as this – times when we need to make big life-changing decisions are rarely the times that are conducive to making good decisions!  We are stressed and anxious, thoughts and ideas assail us from all angles (angels?!), we are bedevilled by conflicting advice and when we look for “signs” they point in opposite directions!

How does Joseph manage this?

I think his secret is this: that he is so used to listening for the voice of God on the ordinary days that he is able to hear and recognise the voice of God in the tumult of an extraordinary day.  It sounds simple – it IS simple – but it is profound wisdom, I think.

If the first time you call out to God is when life is falling apart – how can you possibly hope to recognise his answering voice?

Get used to hearing God’s voice morning-by-morning, evening-by-evening, day-by-day, week-by-week.  Then when the anxious chaos of an impossible decision arrives – you will recognise God’s voice in the storm, just as Joseph did.

Tidal church.

Luke 10:1-12, 17-20(CEB)
Seventy-two sent out

After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’ I assure you that Sodom will be better off on Judgment Day than that city.

The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you. Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

It’s not something I imagine Jesus doing much – but this is a picture of him organising a fairly sizeable Mission – sending 72 workers out into the Mission field and then gathering them back for a feedback session!

You can almost hear the pride in Jesus voice – I always imagine him sounding like a proud loving father congratulating his toddler – I saw Satan himself fall from the sky! – well done son, you sure did run faster than a rocket! But it’s not mocking, it’s not sarcasm, it’s proud and humourous back-slapping – joining in the high-spirits of the returning missioners who all have tales to tell.

It struck me today for the first time that this is exactly what Church should be – a sending out and a gathering together. Like the rhythm of the tides we are sent out into the world to travel light and proclaim that God’s Kingdom is near – then week-by-week we gather back together in the company of Jesus with tales of the road to share – and Jesus is so delighted to hear them…. then we are sent back out.

Maybe we should read verses 1-10 at the end of every church gathering – and read verses 17-20 at the beginning of every church gathering?

If only we could find a way of being church that looks and feels like that.

posted from Bloggeroid

putting down roots

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (CEB)

The Lord proclaims:
Cursed are those who trust in mere humans, who depend on human strength
    and turn their hearts from the Lord 
They will be like a desert shrub that doesn’t know when relief comes.
They will live in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in a barren land where no one survives.
Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who rely on the Lord.
They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water.
They won’t fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green.
They won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit.
A desert shrub is used to living in the desert – it’s not dead, it withstands the harsh conditions.  The closest thing in my childhood memory bank are the trees on exposed sides of the Pennine moors.  They are thin and haggard, one sided where they have shrunk back from the harsh wind.  They cling to life.  They don’t thrive, they certainly don’t flourish, they are not fruitful, all of their energy is taken by mere survival.  They exist, but they don’t really “live”.

By contrast – the tree planted by a stream stretching its roots deep into the well-watered soil, swelling with life…  well – you can draw your own mental picture.

Of course this isn’t really about trees, Jeremiah was no amateur dendrologist…
It’s about you and me having deep roots into a deep wellspring of God’s love.  And Jeremiah has done a pretty good job of describing the outcome.

Sitting on Jesus’ hand? that sounds kinda wrong…

Matthew 20:20-28 (CEB)

Request from James and John’s mother

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus along with her sons. Bowing before him, she asked a favour of him.  “What do you want?” he asked.
She responded, “Say that these two sons of mine will sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink from the cup that I’m about to drink from?”  They said to him, “We can.”
He said to them, “You will drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom my Father prepared it.”
Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

It’s funny how we read things differently at different life-stages.  This is clearly a passage I have read and heard many times, but today was the first time I became fixated on the mother.  

I guess it’s because my kids are all at the age where they have just or are about to spread their wings – and I want them to have the opportunities to fly and be the people they want to be – I want them to get the breaks they need…

I am not bothered about them achieving great status or fame or even great wealth – I just want them to find the opportunities they need to follow their dreams (however limited!)

So I have sympathy with the mother and am ALMOST tempted to suggest to Jesus that as he didn’t have children, maybe he doesn’t understand where this woman is coming from!

Yes, clearly she is painted in a rather grasping light – wanting them to sit on Jesus’ left and right hand…  but behind that is surely just the natural parent’s longing for her kids to thrive and flourish in whatever it is they have chosen to do.

In my night-time Examen prayers I am invited every night to bring my cry unto Jesus – what are my deepest longings?  And most nights it is simply that my kids find those opportunities they need to thrive – those really ARE my deepest longings.

So – yeah – I am ever so much like this woman – and I can’t bring myself to believe that this is wrong.  I kinda hope Jesus will understand!

Does my philactery look wide in this?

Matthew 23:1-12 (CEB)

Ways of the legal experts and the Pharisees

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples, “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide phylacteries for their arms and long tassels for their clothes. They love to sit in places of honour at banquets and in the synagogues. They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

“But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.

The crowds came to listen to Jesus – it must have been something of a popular spectator sport.  If some kind of miracle wasn’t happening – then the Scribes and the Pharisees were getting a bashing – and that was always fun to watch.  Many must have listened gleefully and cheered him on, adding their own choice insults and less-than-polite gestures to the embattled religious bigwigs.

I have to say that it does make me a little uncomfortable to read the multiple passages where Jesus bashes the scribes and the pharisees.  Maybe they did deserve it, maybe not – who am I to judge… but when the same group is regularly bashed and a crowd is pleased, it makes me nervous.

Recently it’s Muslims, immigrants, asylum seekers…  bashing them is a real crowd-pleaser.

Tonight in Cranbrook it is a group of Travellers who have set up on the station car park.

Playing to a crowd mentality, a mob-culture makes me nervous.

Is that what Jesus was doing?  

I suspect not.

I think Jesus was playing quite a subtle game.  Fuelled by genuine anger at what was being done in God’s name – he lets fly at the Scribes and the Pharisees, and maybe he DOES encourage the crowds to join in – but for a reason.  For once the crowds have joined in, and Jesus rails on about hypocricy and pride and seeking places of honour, suddenly the crowds are trapped – they are trapped into condemning themselves.

It’s what Isaiah did with his masterful song of the vineyard:

Let me sing for my loved one
    a love song for his vineyard.
My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
He dug it,
    cleared away its stones,
    planted it with excellent vines,
    built a tower inside it,
    and dug out a wine vat in it.
He expected it to grow good grapes—
    but it grew rotten grapes.
So now, you who live in Jerusalem, you people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I haven’t done for it?
When I expected it to grow good grapes,
    why did it grow rotten grapes?
Now let me tell you what I’m doing to my vineyard.
I’m removing its hedge,
    so it will be destroyed.
I’m breaking down its walls,
    so it will be trampled.
I’ll turn it into a ruin;
    it won’t be pruned or hoed,
    and thorns and thistles will grow up.
I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
The vineyard of the Lord of heavenly forces is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah are the plantings in which God delighted.
God expected justice, but there was bloodshed;
    righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!

(Isaiah chapter 5:1-7)                                   

The crowd are booing the vineyard – knock it down – burn it!!!  Then they realise THEY are the vineyard and it is too late – they have condemned themselves.

Jesus has adopted Isaiah’s trick (The very same trick that Nathan plays on David in 2 Samuel 12).  We are drawn into booing someone else – Pharisees and Scribes – and then it is too late, for we realise that WE are the Pharisees and Scribes… and it is too late – Jesus has helped us see ourselves as we really are – and we don’t like it…  do we?