Monday, 28 January 2019

Jesus is the Christ

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10. Knowledge of the Bible and God's purposes often fall into decline and get ignored. It was ever thus. Here the scribe Ezra confronts the Jewish people with the scriptures "with interpretation" to inspire the people again circa 6th century B.C. 
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a. Superb description of the universal church as "the body of Christ" with particular emphasis on the profound equality between the constituent members and their gifts.
Luke 4: 14-21. Jesus in effect testifies that He is the Messiah, by quoting the prophesy from Isaiah and boldly proclaiming that it refers to Himself!

People’s knowledge and acquaintance with the word of God in the Bible goes through phases of sometimes being well known and it sometimes becomes lost and discarded.
The scene in the 6th century BC described in the book of Nehemiah is one such scene after the exile when all the people were gathered together to hear not only the raw word of God but also an interpretation of it.
The Bible has always needed interpreting because although God’s word is unchanging, how it is interpreted and lived and believed, and applied changes continually.
In Western Europe as a whole we are living through a period again when the Bible has been largely discarded, little known, read or understood.
It is also subject to a lot of misinterpretation as well by fundamentalists.
Even within the church, people often only have a passing acquaintance with the main underlying themes of love and redemption and the kingdom of God.
We get by on knowing a few favourite stories that we learned as children and our faith runs the distinct risk that we lose our bearings quite easily when we get buffeted by the storms of life.
Mostly it is no-one’s fault as it is very difficult to get good instruction. It is an area I intend to work on over the coming years.
The central message that comes through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians spells out the nature of the church – the universal body of people who make up worldwide Christianity, of which we are a local example.
He uses the imagery of a human body to describe that we are all equal members within that body but with particular gifts and roles allotted to us.
Paul is very keen to assert that for example, my role as the preacher and interpreter of scripture, while necessary and having a distinct charism within the body of Christ,  I am not more loved or indeed necessary than the person who makes the tea after services, or serves at the altar, or gives out the books, or visits an ill person in hospital, or is involved in any of the hundreds of ministries that we get involved in.
We are all equally necessary and equally loved.
We are a community so close that we are likened to a body.
Because we are guided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are known not just as any old body but known as the “body of Christ”.
No-one can say to another church member “I have no need of you”
Don’t dismiss or disparage anyone for whom Jesus saw fit to die.
Of course, that sentiment is extended to all humanity because Jesus died on behalf of the entire world without exception.
Jesus was fully conscious of his identity and purpose. He read the scroll handed to Him in the Synagogue about an “anointed” one and applied that term to Himself.
In Hebrew anointed is translated as “Messiah”, and in Greek , “Christ”.
To fulfil the work He started, our mission is to preach good news to the poor in Spirit, release to those kept prisoner by fear, doubt, cynicism, suffering and the fear of death, and to free people from both mental and physical slavery.
As members of His body, that is our task, to bring in the kingdom of God where those things become realities.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Lif in all its fullness.

Isaiah 62: 1-5. A prophesy of the close indwelling of God within the church likened to a marriage, it is so close and personal. The perfect accompaniment to the gospel story concerning the marriage at Cana in John 2: 1-11 (see below)
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11. God is the source of all spiritual gifts that are distributed according to his will. There is no hierarchy of spiritual gifts, and the common denominator is that all who have the Spirit of God can affirm that "Jesus is Lord"   
John 2:1-11. This is the entire gospel in miniature! In John's gospel he doesn't use the word "miracle" but "signs". The turning of water into wine is a spiritual sign that with God in the equation, everything is lifted and renewed and life enhancing. The C.of E. lectionary misses out the four most important words in this story in the Bible - the first four words...."On the third day".
And we all know what happened on the third day I trust - the raising of Jesus from the dead!

The story of the turning of water into wine is my favourite story in the New Testament and I’ll tell you for why!
It is the entire gospel in miniature. The Spiritual message is that with God in Christ in your life you are transformed into something new.
The extraordinary thing about the lectionary reading is that it leaves out the first four words of the story, which are essential to understanding the true context and content of this first "sign" in John's gospel.
If you were to look up John 2: 1-11 in the Bible you’ll see that the story  doesn’t start “There was a wedding in Cana”
It actually starts “On the third day” and this is the key to understanding the full spiritual understanding of this story.
“On the third day” refers to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The victory of life over death. And on that day Heaven and earth are joined together forever as in a marriage.
On that day, Easter day, Jesus breathes the Spirit on his disciples. There is no wait for Pentecost in John’s gospel. The resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit both happen on Easter Sunday.
And John doesn’t use the word miracle ever in his gospel. He uses the term signs - Spiritual signs - and this sign is the first and most important sign, the keynote sign that all the other signs refer back to.
John is sometimes referred to as the “spiritual” gospel, which is a bit misleading as all the writings of the N.T. are spiritual in some way but you have to dig a bit deeper in John to discern the true meaning, to extract the Spiritual message from the story.

In the story, Mary represents old Israel and all its traditions and rituals. In Jesus’ rather brusque way of speaking to her he is firmly inferring that something new is about to happen to fulfill all those traditions and He is the source of that change.
The six stone water jars represent the imperfection, the un-fulfillment of Israelite religion because seven is the number that represents perfection in Hebrew numerology – a combination of 4 which always represents the world and 3 which represents God. The two married together, God and the world in a mystic union represents the perfection of creation
The water that is being transformed can be any situation or any bit of God’s creation. Let us say today that it is your life!
Your life will be transformed from something ordinary into something rich and intoxicating when God’s Spirit works in tandem with your life.
The outworking of what this means I outlined last week when I talked about the quality of our relationships and evidence and that we expect the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in our lives.
But the Spirit also bestows gifts on his children. That is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians.
There many different Spiritual gifts but only one giver – the Holy Spirit of God.
God is sovereign, so who gets which gifts and when are completely down to Him. They are all given for a purpose, which is to build up the people of God.
The main gift is that you can only say “Jesus is Lord” and mean it under the influence of the Spirit.
But the whole array of gifts, services and activities can be given to different people at different times for the common good of the church.
In a non-exhaustive list Paul talks about wisdom, a divine property itself, knowledge, faith, the gift of healing, miracle working, prophetic powers and insight, speaking in tongues and the discernment of tongues.
All these good gifts are given as a result of the marriage between heaven and earth that happened on the third day – the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Through that sign, Jesus revealed His glory – a way of saying his full worth – that He is the author and transformer of life.
"In Him you can have life in all its fullness" as John affirms later in his gospel (10:10)
Full in every sense of the word. It extends the boundaries of your life and very being to eternity. It increases your depth of love and compassion. It extends your sense of who you are, where you fit in, and your purpose in life.
We are children of God and our role is to radiate his glory on earth.
For us, every day is the third day. Every day we pray that the water of our lives is progressively turned to rich, quality wine.

Monday, 14 January 2019

With you I am well pleased.

Sunday: The Baptism of Christ
This story is the main Epiphany story in the Orthodox church and is very direct using these words attributed to God "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased".
Both Karen and I are at St. Peter's in the morning and the service time is changed to 11am. This is because at this service we say an official farewell to James McAdam and the service will lead into a celebratory meal. 
Isaiah 43: 1-7. This prophesy talks about gathering the people "from far away to the end of the earth", emphasising the universal significance and application of God's will. It also mentions fire. Significant because John the Baptist says Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and "fire". Fire is associated with refining and purging but as Isaiah says " you shall not be burned or consumed"
Acts 8:14-17. You cannot come to any coherent systematic doctrine of Baptism from reading the N.T. texts. Here people are baptised in the name of Jesus but had not received the Holy Spirit until hands were laid on them.
Sometimes it happens the other way around. 
Luke 3:15, 21-22. In Luke's version of the story there appears to be a time lag between Jesus' baptism and the Holy Spirit descending on him in bodily form, whereas in Mark and Matthew's version it is almost concurrent. Also, Luke retains Mark's wording which infers an inner conviction for Jesus alone ("You" are my son) while Matthew says ("This" is my son) a more public pronouncement for the ears of the crowd.

John announces that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The gospel is good news but Luke makes it sound, at first reading, like anything but good news for most people with talk of winnowing forks, threshing floors and chaff being burned with unquenchable fire.

There is a natural sifting of course based on the result of people’s reaction to Jesus – his word and ministry.

Some are naturally drawn to Him while others reject Him so a sifting happens as a result of our reaction to Jesus. There is a sorting out according to how we respond to the gospel.

Now I confess I didn’t really know what winnowing was, or what a winnowing fork was so I had to look it up.

Winnowing is the ancient agricultural practice or throwing both grain and the chaff up in the air so that the chaff is blown away, and the grain falls back into your basket.
A winnowing fork is like a shovel used for throwing the grain and chaff up into the air.

In this analogy, people are the grain and chaff and Jesus throws us all up in the air that separates the responders from the non-responders.

The ones that are left are the useful grain who are then baptised with the Holy Spirit and “with fire”

John the Baptist adds this new addition – baptised with fire! What does the fire indicate?

Well, in the new testament fire is associated with refining and purging, the making pure of something or someone – who has impurities.

But the fire doesn’t destroy, as Isaiah affirms – it purifies.

When you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is working within you and you are being changed; growing into the likeness of Christ.

It is our own chaff that is being separated from the good grain, in an internal sifting.

Being touched by the Spirit of God is not a completely comfortable experience.

If we take the life of Jesus Himself, after He had this life changing experience of being baptised, it was the Holy Spirit that led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by evil

Having the Spirit of God in your life entails a process, where through our lived experience and spiritual practice, we become ever more Christ-like in our attitudes, our lives and our actions.

You can’t get a systematic doctrine of Baptism and its relationship with the Holy Spirit from the Bible either.

Sometimes Baptism comes first and the Spirit afterwards like in the story from Acts today. Sometimes the Spirit comes first and then people are Baptised because of it like when Peter encounters the gentiles in Cornelius’ house and sometimes it happens at the same time.

For me, evidence of the Spirit’s presence isn’t speaking in tongues or words of wisdom, the evidence is expressed in terms of the quality of our relationships to God and each other and the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Some of that fruit is named by Paul in his letter to the Galatians – love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Purging all the spite, cynicism, aggression, self-centredness, wantonness, that we harbour within us is a longer-term process and can be uncomfortable.  

In Baptism you are baptised into Christ and are brought into a relationship to God through Jesus Christ, but you are also baptised into a community. Baptism has both a vertical and horizontal relational dimension and when those two things are expressed, then you know the Spirit is working.

In the Baptism of Jesus His relationship with the Father is expressed in the words;
“You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”.

Those words heard by Jesus were both a comfort and a blessing to Jesus and bolstered by that blessing He was propelled into His earthly ministry by God’s Spirit.

One of the tragedies of the world is that so many people never feel so affirmed and blessed.
No-one has ever taken delight in them in a non-exploitative way. They have never known the love and affirmation that God offers to all people.

I firmly believe that Christians never fully realise their potential or grow in their discipleship until they have heard those words said to us and take them to our heart.

“Martin, Louise, Iris, Alison, John, Clifton, Paul, Eileen, David……say your own name;

“You are my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.

Then go and flourish and reach your full potential in the knowledge and strength and everlasting presence of God in your life. Amen   

Monday, 7 January 2019

The truth will set you free

Sunday 6th January we celebrate the Epiphany

Isaiah 60: 1-6. "Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice" The poetry of Isaiah articulates the feeling one has when the truth of the gospel becomes a personally owned truth. 
Ephesians 3: 1-12. Paul writes how that knowledge of the gospel was made known to him by revelation. By this revelation Paul came to perceive more of the mystery of Christ in whom there are "boundless riches" 
Matthew 2: 1-12. The story of the visit of the Magi. Magi stands out as the sole foreign word amongst all the Greek. These were Persian Zoroastrian priests who were also expecting a messiah to be born of a virgin with their own religion.

An Epiphany is a great or sudden realization that something is “true” and having had that realization, it changes you.

Because truth only has the power of truth when it becomes true for you and is personally owned.

You see things differently and understand life differently after one of these sudden realizations. There is a before and after.

My first epiphany came in my mid-thirties when the existence of God Himself became a personally accepted fact.

I’d been aware of the concept of God all my life, but I remember well accepting that fact and realising that I believed it very well. I was a labourer on the night shift in a cold store when it suddenly hit me that

“I believe in God!!” and I kept rolling that phrase around in my mind and just revelling in this new unexpected turn of events.
“I believe in God” and weakly trying afterwards to work out what this meant for my life.

I wasn’t a Christian. I had moved from agnostic to theist overnight. What the existence of God meant to me and what kind of God did I believe in came later.

Jesus' brother James in the NT writes (2: 19-21)
“You believe in God. You do well but even the demons believe in God!”

Belief in God only becomes truly effective when you discover what and who this God is. What is He like and what does He want?

It may be harder to convince someone that Jesus is the Son of God when you are not even fully convinced about the existence of God in the first place.

But as Christians our monumental task is to do both at the same time and it is made easier by the fact that Jesus' life deeds and words are exactly what you'd expect God's word made flesh to be like!

In Jesus we have a first-hand insight – a revelation – of what God is truly like.

It is an entirely positive insight into the mind, the purposes, the nature, and the will of God.
The glory – the true worth and being- of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

The reason we know that God is love, that God wills our healing and salvation, that God wants to give us eternal life, that God is with us always through thick and thin is because of Jesus.

I think it was a past Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey who once said. “God is as Jesus is”.

In Jesus we have revealed that that God the Father has a plan for humanity and there is a rationale and purpose to the universe. Therefore He has a plan and purpose for your life and all our lives.

The three gifts brought in homage to Jesus by the Magi – Zoroastrian priests from Persia – have always been understood as a revelation about the true identity of Jesus and His significance for the world.

Gold as for a king or Lord. The significance for all of us of that gift is; have we accepted Jesus as king or Lord of your life? Is He Your mentor, your confidante, your confessor, your exemplar, the one you give your ultimate allegiance to, transcending all other claims on your allegiance that comes from state or culture or race or religion, friends or family.

Apparently Jesus says “follow me” 87 times in the Bible.

Frankincense reveals the priestly and divine nature of Jesus. He is your direct access to God and His grace. No other intermediary is necessary. In and through Christ you see, feel, and hear the voice of God.

The entire Eucharistic prayer is a prayer directed to the Father through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Myrrh was used to dress corpses in the first century. Myrrh indicates that Jesus’ death will have universal significance.

The healing and salvation of the whole world would be indicated, effected, by the sacrificial death of Jesus. Not a wasted death. A death like any other death, yes, but a death on behalf of all creation to bring us all back into a loving relationship with God – to bring us back to the centre and source of all things by forgiving all our shortcomings and failings.

And through that death, on the third day, the loving, life filled purposes of God for His son and all creation would be revealed in His resurrection.
He wills that you enjoy eternal life.

In Jesus we have had God revealed to us. He is the final revelation of God and as Christians everything, including the Bible must be interpreted through the lens of Jesus.

We see everything through Jesus tinted spectacles.

It is through Jesus that we understand that God loves the world, that God wants to save the world, and is willing to sacrifice Himself to do so in the ultimate mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection.

This is the good news for all people that we are commissioned to tell the world about.

This is the Christian Epiphany. That Jesus is the self-revelation of God. God is as Jesus is.

Point people towards Jesus and you have pointed someone to God and His fullness and glory.