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Showing posts from November, 2007

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Genesis 1.1-5
Revelation 22.1-5


These two passages deal with the twin themes of creation and light. They are both about creation because the first passage, from Genesis, describes the origin of the universe and the second passage, from Revelation, describes its recreation. They are both about light because the writers of Genesis envisage the nothingness before the universe began as infinite darkness, and the writer of Revelation imagines the new creation as infinite light.

Whether this is a description of the physical reality in the time before creation and in the the new creation surely doesn't matter. It is a poetic description, which sums up our most basic hopes and fears.

Perhaps, like me, you hated the darkness when you were a child. When I was asleep in bed I always had to have the bedroom door ajar and a light shining on the landing. It symbolised order and security. If the light was on, and even if the narrow strip of light shining through the gap between the door and its fra…

True Leadership

Luke 23.33-43
This passage is filled with irony. Jesus behaves with the graciousness and greatness of a true leader, thinking of others even at the moment when he himself is being put to death and is enduring terrible pain. But no one recognises his qualities They are too busy casting lots for his clothes or scoffing at him. If he is the good shepherd, the true king who is capable of rescuing and safeguarding the nation from harm, why can't he also save himself?

Even one of the criminals joins in the mockery, but the other springs to Jesus' defence. Perhaps he is just clutching at straws. After all, what has he got to lose? As well as being executed, he is about to come under the judgement of God for his misdeeds. By throwing himself upon Jesus' mercy he just might escape eternal punishment for his crimes. Or is there more to it than this? Does he recognise that the ironic thing about true leadership is the willingness of the leader to endure suffering and make self-sacrifi…

The Meaning of The Light

Colossians 1:11-20
As we approach Christmas Christians have much to be joyful about, for - like hostages rescued from captivity and emerging blinking into the daylight - we are people who have been transferred from the power of darkness into the inheritance of the saints who dwell in the light. And what is this light of which Paul speaks so eloquently in this beautiful poem? It is the light shed upon the world by the arrival in human history of someone who is the image of the invisible God, in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. The astounding claim made by Paul is that Jesus, the child born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, is the person in, through and for whom all things were created. In other words, he is the being in whom all things hold together, none other than God himself. But this incredible and wonderful news is tinged with pathos, for God only became human in order to reconcile all things to himself by dying on a cross. The good news of Christmas is also an…

No More Spin!

Jeremiah 23:1-6
The shepherds of the nation in Jeremiah's time were the kings of Judah, who were both the spiritual and political leaders of their people. They had not only failed to protect their flock through negligence or weakness. They had done active harm by destroying and scattering it, which implies that their policies were wicked and reckless. Their conduct brought God's judgement down upon their heads.

Why does Jeremiah go on to say that God drove the people into exile? Was this for their own protection, to save them from further harm? Or was God angry with the people for putting up with such poor leadership? Who are the leaders of the nation today? In a democratic country, and a democratic church, is it we - the people - who have failed to show proper vision and obedience, or can we still blame other people, politicians and church leaders, for our problems?

One of the concerns which people had when democracy was first introduced was that people would make ill-informed a…

The Whole of Human History in One-and-a-Half Chapters

Luke 21:5-19
Many people, beginning with the first disciples, have interpreted this passage as a prophecy about the end of the world and what it will be like. But maybe that is to misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Perhaps it is better to see these words as a prophecy about the whole of human history from the time of Jesus until the present.

Times will always be hard for believers. Each generation will face new risks and challenges. In every age many will be led astray by false ideas and false teachers. There will always be wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues. And people will also see dreadful portents of future disaster. When Christians stick fearlessly to the proclamation of the Gospel, they will always face persecution and betrayal, and they will need the guidance of Jesus' Spirit to know how to deal with these challenges. Endurance and faithfulness have been the name of the game for true Christians throughout history.

But maybe there is also something especial…

The Protestant Work Ethic

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
This passage is the foundation of what academics now call 'The Protestant Work Ethic' – the idea that idleness is ungodly and wicked, that Christians are called to work quietly and earn their own living, and that anyone who is unwilling to work doesn't really deserve to eat. What's more, Paul says that we should never be weary in doing what is right. I don't think he means that it's right to work 24/7 but, if working diligently to earn our own living is godly and Christ-like, it's easy to take the further step of arguing that earning as much as we can, for as long as we can, is also the right thing to do.

Of course, the work ethic was around in Christianity before Protestantism came along. Perhaps we should call it 'The Pauline Work Ethic', but later observers have noticed that Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian teachers never seemed to push the work ethic as far as some Protestant teachers were prepared to do. In fact, until…

The New Creation

Isaiah 65:17-25This passage describes the world as God intends it to be – a new creation where suffering, tragedy, sadness and disappointment will be banished and where there will only be peace, plenty, joy and delight. This is a vision towards which all believers are called to commit themselves, in prayer and action.But the passage raises some interesting questions. First, it talks about the imminence of this new creation, where as we know that it has yet to be established. Is this because – from God's perspective – a thousand years is but the blinking of an eye? Or is God's plan for a new and better world constantly frustrated by human disobedience?Second, isn't the passage denying the created order, which Genesis tells us is already good? It's one thing for God to banish to sort of injustice and misuse of the world's resources which leads some children to die, needlessly, when they are only a few days old and some workers to toil for rewards which someone else …

Life Beyond Death

Luke 20:27-38
This is one of a number of 'controversy' stories in which Jesus' opponents appear to be trying to trap him. The Sadducees were a group of Jewish leaders who did not believe in the idea of life beyond death. They saw this, quite rightly, as a new idea imported into the Jewish religion from other world faiths. But, of course, that doesn't make it a wrong idea.

It rather depends what we mean by 'resurrection'. If we think it means rising to a new life just like the old one, in which we all live in little thatched cottages with roses round the door and get to be married to beautiful people, then we are in for a big disappointment. Such will be the fate of the ignorant men and women who become suicide bombers in the hope of a life of this-worldly bliss in Paradise. Jesus scotches this idea with his abrupt reply to the Sadduccees: 'The dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.'

But just because we can't take the idea of resurrection as lite…

Idle Speculation

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
Paul seems to be warning his readers here that they mustn't be preoccupied with the 'Advent' theme of God's promised new dawn for creation. It will come one day, but no one knows the time nor the hour and so it is foolish to speculate about it.

However, he is only human, and immediately Paul begins to indulge in some speculation of his own. The End Time will be clearly flagged, he says, because before that time there will be rebellion and lawlessness and the Anti-Christ will take over God's Temple.

This is almost certainly a reference to earlier prophecies that the reign of King Antioches Epiphanes – who installed a statue of himself in the Temple and declared himself to be God – would mark the end of the world. The prophecy turned out to be untrue, but that didn't stop later readers – including Paul – from reinterpreting it and applying it to their own situation. As recently as the 1970s I heard a lecture in which someone reinterpreted othe…

Silver and Gold for Good Causes

Haggai 1.15b—2.9
This is one of the Bible's great 'Advent' passages. The outlook may seem bleak, says the Prophet, but it's time to start singing a happy song for 'Things can only get better!' And, indeed, they are going to get better.

Sometimes people talk about wanting to take a silent collection at a meeting or service. They mean, of course, that they don't want the congregation, or the members of the meeting, to put coins into the offertory plate – even one and two pound coins. Instead of the chink of loose change, they want to hear only silence as people put five, ten and twenty pound notes into the collection.

Well, in this prophecy, God goes one better! The collection is going to be a noisy one, but not the careless noise of loose change being discarded. This is going to be the very deliberate noise of treasure clattering into the Temple vaults as God shakes the heavens, and the earth, and all the nations, to empty out their gold and silver.

It would be …

Reflecting On This Week's Bible Readings

Habbakuk1.1-4, 2.1-4
The Prophet reflects that his readers, or hearers, are living in dangerous and violent times. The righteous feel surrounded by wickedness. Justice doesn't seem to be done. He could be describing our world - the war on terrorism, global warming, violent crime, a legal system that many people cannot afford to resort to when things go wrong.

But, lest we're attempted to abandon hope, the Prophet says that God still has a vision for a better world which we are called to share and hold on to. It will be realised at the appointed time and if it seems a long while coming that is no reason to despair. We must be patient. For, whereas people who have no problems - and seem to be enjoying life - are often living just for the moment, the righteous - that is those who are right with God - live by faith. They share a vision which keeps them faithful and trusting, even when things get really tough They are always on the lookout for something better.

Are we obviously '…