Saturday, December 25, 2010

Numbers 24: 17

The prophet Balaam said: ‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star will come forth out of Jacob, a comet will arise from Israel.’

The prophet seems to mix the present and the future. He sees someone who is not yet there. You might think that he is looking into the future. But it's not exactly that.

He sees the one he sees in the present, yet that one has still to come: Balaam is experiencing what science fiction fans might refer to as a time warp.

It's the kind of time warp we find throughout the Bible. Jesus said repeatedly that the Kingdom is with us and that it is not yet with us. He gave a whole series of examples to explain what this means.

His kingdom, he said, is like a treasure which we have already found, but still need to dig out of the ground. It is like a precious pearl which we would like to buy, but we will have to sell all we have to do so. It is like a yeast that has already been mixed in with the flour, water and salt, but still has to do its leavening work throughout the dough.

Jesus and his kingdom are present in our hearts and our minds, in our world. And at the same time (in that this world is not yet perfect – for none of us are perfect) the Kingdom of God is not fully present.

That tension between 'yes-it-already-is' and 'no-it-is-not-yet' is the reason we celebrate Christmas again and again.

Jesus was born among us. In a sense he was even born IN us.

Yet, at the same time he has still to be born. He is among us, and yet we have still to work out the effects of his presence in our lives and in the world in which we live.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Psalm 85

Have you finished all your Christmas preparations?

I know someone who usually starts his shopping on Christmas Eve – he says the shops are quieter then.

I, on the other hand, like to be prepared a bit earlier, so my presents are all bought and wrapped, cards are written, food is in the freezer.

Advent is a time for preparation: not only hectic preparation for Christmas parties, the exchanging of presents, and family reunions, but for spiritual preparation too.

Sadly, people think they’ve prepared everything, yet find they’re NOT ready to meet the Lord. It’s one thing being ready to be in Jesus’ presence at Christmas services, or to be close to Him in occasional acts of kindness; but are we ready to meet Him when we die?

In this Psalm, God’s people were in difficulty and pleaded for help. He’d helped them recover in the past and they’d learnt that he was ready to hear and answer their prayers. They cried out to the Lord before it was too late. They’d turned from wrongdoing to God’s love and he’d forgiven them (verses 2-3).

Please don’t think you’ve ticked everything off your Christmas list, unless you’ve taken time to do business with God. Spiritual things shouldn’t be left to the last minute.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hebrews 12: 1-3

Well, we’re moving now into the Summer Holiday season. All of us need a break from the routine of life, and a chance to re-charge our batteries, otherwise we can become weary with the unceasing demands of home and work, and all the things that life throws at us.

There comes a time, for most of us, I’m sure, when we long for some freedom, rest and peace.

So I'm relieved that the Bible recognises that we get weary, and invites us to do something about it.

Isaiah wrote ‘He gives strength to the weary... even young men grow tired and weary... but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength... they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.’

Jesus issued a similar invitation ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

The writer to the Hebrews, in the passage I suggest we read today, gives a similar invitation, to think about Jesus, so that we will not lose heart and grow faint. In Greek, this literally means ‘set your whole mind upon Him and be fully occupied with Him’.

This is an invitation we would be wise to accept each day, whether or not we need a holiday.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Philippians 4: 10-13

I read recently about 72 year-old Kamaruddin Mohammed, who married 51 times. The length of the marriages varied from 2 days to twenty years, but at the time of his last marriage he said: “I am not a playboy. I’ve never believed in marrying more than one woman at a time.”

The sense that there might be something better round the corner haunts many people, who in one way or another are unhappy with where they are. Even those who are moderately content sometimes wonder if, even so, they might be missing out.

During the general election campaign we have heard politicians talking a lot about a need for change. We may well find on Friday that everything has changed - or maybe it will all be exactly the same.

The drive to move ahead in life is important, and is often stimulated by curiosity. In the Bible, God regularly calls people into new ventures in their lives, and new ways of living. But the capacity to be content with whatever situation we are in is also seen as a valuable quality, as we see in the Bible passage shown in the heading to this post.

As we reflect on our Church, and ourselves, it may be that we are so concerned to move on to something new that we fail to see the value of our current situation.

Or maybe the way we are now may make us so content that we no longer look out for new possibilities. It’s always worth checking to see whether we have the balance right, and to be prepared to listen to what God may be calling us to do.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Romans 3: 19-24

It is Easter Day, the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and the promise of eternal life that brings for his followers.

The passage I have chosen for us to read, though, is not about Easter Day - if it relates at all to this time of year, then perhaps it speaks to us of the promise of the cross.

Imagine, if you will, being hooked up to a lie detector, and asked if you had kept every detail of every law.

I wonder how many of us could say ‘yes’?

Even, I, for instance, may have inadvertently allowed my car to stray slightly above the speed limit on a couple of occasions.

The thought that God knows all about our failures terrifies some people. If I were to die now, they think, and had to answer for how I have lived, I would be found guilty on so many counts. How could I hope to be acquitted by God?

Religion seems to say we must keep God’s law in order to stay on the right side of him, but we are constantly breaking the law, so we have no chance of being at peace with him, or being acceptable to him.

But that’s not what Christianity says. The good news of Easter is that God isn’t like that at all. He is not the God of law, but the God of grace.

His way is not about what we do, but about what we believe. God is not waiting to trip us and judge us, but to forgive us and accept us. And, as Paul explains, it took Jesus to make this clear.

So we can start this Easter Day, as we can start every day, with a clean sheet when we turn to the God who waits to forgive and accept us.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

John 13: 3-11

It's Maundy Thursday today, which is when that passage from John's Gospel is set.

I used to play cricket. The scene in our changing rooms after a cricket match wasn’t something for delicate eyes. Eleven sweaty blokes aren’t exactly a fragrant sight. But I expect this is the sort of thing that God sees regularly. He must look on humanity sometimes and wonder what on earth his children are like.

Judas was included in the foot washing, and Jesus made reference to him, because he already knew it was this particular man who would betray him. He explained to the disciples that even if they'd had a bath and were clean from head to toe, what he was really concerned about was inner holiness.

Someone once said that receiving blessings and love from on high, is like being in a shower and being completely saturated by the Holy Spirit of God; turning your face towards heaven and soaking up the living waters; being drenched in love and forgiveness; being inundated with thoughts of praise and worship.

But for many people this never happens, because they get into the shower with an umbrella which they firmly put up! All the out-pouring, overflowing love of God bounces off the umbrella and washes away down the drain. What a waste!

God doesn’t just call us to get our feet wet. He wants us to let down our barriers and receive all his blessings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Matthew 5: 38 - 48

I went to school during the days when children learned grammar ­– things like the declensions of nouns and the conjugation of verbs. So the word ‘perfect’ reminds me that there is a difference between the ‘perfect tense’, and the ‘imperfect tense’ – but I must admit, I can’t remember what the difference is!

However I've looked it up: the perfect tense means that something has been completed, and the imperfect tense indicates a continuing action.

I also understand that one layer of the meaning of ‘sin’ in Jesus’ native Aramaic is the sense of ‘unripeness’.

This passage from Matthew reminds us that what Jesus expects his people to be like seems utterly unreasonable to common sense: ‘there must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly father’s goodness knows no bounds.’

We are all called into a fullness and completeness, but we are still a long way off – but by God’s grace, and through the actions of his Holy Spirit, we can grow to be more like him.

I’ve got a t-shirt which says on the front, in big letters: ‘Perfect Man’. Underneath, in small letters, it says ‘under construction’.

God hasn’t finished with any of us yet. We are still far from perfect. But we can respond to the call to completeness by asking for the grace to grow. Perhaps that is something we might like to meditate on, this Lent.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1 Corinthians 11: 23-25

I visited The Sacred Made Real exhibition at the National Gallery last week.

In 17th-century Spain, a new kind of realism in art emerged. In order to revitalise the Catholic Church, painters and sculptors worked together in an attempt to make the sacred as realistic and accessible as possible.

Venerating/praying to painted statues is not really my religious cup of tea, but I could see something of the potential power of them. After all, is one not, in a communion service, attempting also to make the sacred real and accessible?

I don't mean in the sense of transubstantiation (for that's not my cup of tea - or bread and wine - either), or even in the attempting to remind folk of the actions of Christ in lifting a chalice, or breaking bread - although that is partly what I have in mind.

I'm not making myself clear, even to myself. A sacred mystery here which I'm only clouding. And that's not what I want to do, for Christ is present, in and through and with his people, perhaps especially real and remembered when we share together in bread and wine.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Jeremiah 31: 31-34

I took a Covenant Service yesterday (the first I've led since retiring early due to ill-health, as they are normally taken by the minister of the church). Methodists traditionally have an annual Covenant Service at the start of the year, to renew their commitment to God and his people.

Although I hope that by this time next year I may be well enough to at least be working part-time in a church, nevertheless the words Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; had particular resonance for me.

The entire covenant promise:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done
when I am valued and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am
to serve you, as and where you choose.