Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Turning over the tables in our hearts

In our Bible study group we are studying the prophesy of Zechariah which was written after the exile of the Jews to Babylon and was a book that encouraged the re-building of the Jerusalem Temple, a building that represented the meeting place of heaven and earth in the Holy of Holies at the very centre of the Temple.
This building, the Jerusalem Temple, in Jewish religion is where God and humanity meet and where once a year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 
The Temple, in the same way as the Jewish people themselves were to be a light to the gentiles – something that attracted. Something that was compelling.
It was a monument to something other – something spiritual. Something to do with the Holiness of God, as I say, just like the people.
In its dishevelled broken state in Zechariah’s time (about 500 years before Christ) it had become a metaphor for the state of the Jewish people themselves and by the first century AD, in Jesus’ time it had again become a metaphor for the corrupt state of the Jewish religion.
Jesus’ righteous anger about the state of the Temple, which had become a compromised market place which had accommodated itself to secular power and values was a reflection of the state of the Jewish people in his time.
The people needed cleaning up, repentance and renewal  and the turning over of the tables of the money changers is a kind of acted parable.
Remember the whole thrust of Jesus’ preaching was “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”
If the Temple and people were corrupt and no different from secular society then there is nothing there to attract anyone. The light to the gentiles had gone out.
Is there a lesson today for the church?
Well Jesus did warn us. He told us that we are to be salt and light. But as he said if salt loses its flavour it is useless. Its whole raison d’etre is removed. It is good for nothing and fit just to be thrown out.
Is perilously close to just being a reflection of secular society? If we share the same values and the same concerns and reflect almost exactly the same views on money, sex and power and every other issue with society at large, the only difference we are left with is that we spend our Sunday mornings in a medieval building.  We become the spiritual wing of English heritage.
If we are not different, and have nothing about us to attract people, people will not come because well why would they? 
This is why a clear Christian vision needs to be articulated afresh to each generation. Proverbs 29:18 says “without a vision the people perish”, but this isn’t a cue to write a new vision statement. In its context, the vision the writer of Proverbs was referring to was a return to observing the Law. He is saying that apart from the word of God a people can very quickly fall into moral chaos.
For us, that translates as a return to the living word, and a life of seeking God’s will for our lives and guidance for our actions.
Where is our Holy of Holies today – the place where heaven and earth meets? It was first and foremost in the person of Jesus of course. As he is recorded saying at the time, “destroy this temple and I will raise it up on the third day. At the time people did not know what he was talking about but later the disciples understood, that he was speaking of his own body.
And by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the place where heaven and earth meets is in the human heart of every Christian.

Do the tables in our own hearts need turning over and cleansing to be the people we are called to be?   

Monday, 2 March 2015

Take up your cross and follow me.

Well let me start by saying that what I have to say today overlaps with something that Bishop Paul said in his talk last Thursday. He pointed out that when Jesus said to Peter after his famous confession “You are the Christ” that this was the rock on which the church shall be built; The rock was Peter personally (as the catholics would say) rather than the rock being “faith” as protestants usually say and that this therefore conferred personal authority though he was careful to say not in a Papal sense. The Bishop was using Matthew but in Mark’s gospel, the place where Matthew took this event this occurred in verse 29.
Well of course far be it for me to contradict the Bishop so let’s take that as so. But If that is so, what are we to make of the fact that by verse 33, just four verses later Peter is called “Satan” by Jesus. If both are true surely this must convey the fact that even those vested with authority must be held to account, challenged and if need be, opposed because they are fallible human beings just like us, and they must be held account by the gathering of Christians called the church. Peter was both a rock and satan within the same incident.
This raises a whole host of questions about the nature of authority in the church.
Ultimately, as Christians we have one pre-eminent revealed authority and that is Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of Hebrew scripture.
Secondly we have those Hebrew scriptures themselves which were used and therefore counted authoritative by Jesus supplemented by the written revelation about Jesus, the New Testament. Keeping faithful to Christ as revealed in the Bible is our collective task. The Bishop did actually go on to point out that the church also had the power to bind and loose.
So if all authority is vested in Christ as revealed in the scriptures what is Jesus saying to us this morning?
So moving on to verse 34 we have this saying “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me”
In common English speech “Taking up your cross” has become “This is the cross I have to bear” referring to some generalised suffering that is afflicting someone, but that isn’t just what Jesus meant or even primarily what Jesus meant.
The cross was capital punishment for a very specific crime. Sedition against the Roman state. The charge for which Jesus was executed  is well known as it was nailed to the cross with him. The charge was “The king of the Jews”, a political agitator who maintained that real power and authority is vested not in the powers that rule on earth but in God and His Kingdom
Opposition to the state, setting up a rival authority to Caesar, who proclaimed himself divine and claiming the loyalty of people to a higher authority was the reason Jesus was crucified.
In trying to dodge that very issue, to get Jesus to calm down, and avoid a confrontation with those who wielded earthly authority, to acquiesce and fit in and say the right things was a denial of his entire ministry.
Satan is known as the Father of lies, a deceiver, the accuser, and in this episode Peter became Satan. In the temptations in the wilderness which is the template for the season of Lent Jesus was tempted to adopt a different kind of ministry, a different path to the one God had chosen for him. In Luke’s version of those temptations they end in chapter 4: 13 with these words. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” 
Just after the penny had dropped and Peter made that famous statement “You are the Christ”, that  Jesus was actually the promised Messiah, that, it seems to me was the opportune time for the devil to try his luck once more. Satan knew that Jesus was scared. That later became apparent when he prayed blood in the Garden of Gethsemene and prayed the cup might be taken from him yet “Not my will but yours be done”. And Jesus took up his cross in loyalty to his Father. 
Loyalty to the authority of the Kingdom of God rather than any earthly kingdom or authority takes priority for any follower of Jesus. We are to know where our final authority lies. We are to know and proclaim where our loyalties are. Through prayer and immersing ourselves in the Bible and worship we are to learn to trust God, to put our faith in Him.
A man cannot serve two masters.

So let us take this opportunity this morning to turn afresh to God, to pray for renewed trust and to not be ashamed of Him in public.