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Showing posts from April, 2017

Sargon II and the General Election

Isaiah 14.3-21 At first sight Isaiah’s bitter poem about the downfall of the king of Babylon doesn’t appear to have much resonance with us. It seems to be describing long ago events in a far away place. Until we realise that already, by the time of Isaiah himself, the poem is being recycled. It originally referred to the Assyrian King Sargon II, a man with a terrifying reputation who nonetheless managed to get himself killed while on campaign in a remote part of his empire. Sargon had just celebrated the pinnacle of his many achievements by completing a brand new capital city, but he didn’t get to enjoy it. Within months his army was defeated, in an apparently insignificant provincial rebellion. The fighting was so fierce that the body of the king couldn’t be recovered and had to be abandoned on the field of battle. Legend said that it couldn’t even be found by his enemies and had been left to rot or get eaten by dogs and wild animals. To have suffered such an inglorious fate it was ass…

The meaning of the resurrection

John 20.19-29, Romans 8.31-39
We often wonder what the story of Jesus’ resurrection is telling us about life after death. But there’s another question we should ask, what’s it telling us about life here and now? 

We believe that God became human in Jesus. That means God shared everything we experience, including birth and death. Yet the story of the resurrection reminds us that becoming human, and subject to human weakness and suffering, cannot diminish God. Even dying, while it's very final, cannot be the end of God. 

So rather than asking what God becoming human reveals about God’s nature, we can also ask what God becoming human, and dying and rising with us, reveals about human nature. I think it expands our horizons beyond this life and our understanding of what human existence can be like right now. 

First, God becoming human shows us that the human body can be infused with God’s presence. Incredible as it may seem, our bodies are capable of being God’s dwelling place or Temple. …

Meeting God Face to Face

Exodus 33.12-23, John 20.1-18 The writers of the material in the Book of Exodus are obsessed with the theme of encountering God. They return to it again and again. This shouldn’t surprise us because encountering God is what spirituality is all about. It’s the Holy Grail, if you like, which all believers are pursuing throughout this life and into the life beyond. Here Moses is told most emphatically that a full-on encounter with God is just not possible. It’s too scary. He will go mad or die. Only a partial revelation is safe. It’s a bit like the Greek myth of the Gorgon. Anyone who gazed upon her face was turned to stone. Even in death she retained this awesome power. Christians know, however, that God is not like the Gorgon. We can look upon his face and yet remain alive. If anything, this encounter can enrich our lives to the point where our old life seems trivial and incomplete by comparison. Of course, meeting God as Creator of the universe would doubtless still be immensely daunting. …

Thanking God in the Midst of Suffering

2 Corinthians 1.3-11
This is an unusual prayer because it is a celebration or thanksgiving, but not a celebration of all the good things we receive from God but a celebration of God’s goodness to us when bad things happen and when we are suffering. Paul says that God wants to ‘comfort us when we are in trouble.’ But God doesn’t just want to cheer us up and make our troubles more bearable, he wants to comfort us so that we can then go on to share the same sort of comfort and encouragement with other people who are in trouble too.All of this is built on the example of Jesus who, Paul says, endured ‘terrible sufferings’ - whipping and crucifixion - not for their own sake but in the hope of bringing comfort and strength to us when we are suffering. He came through his ordeal so that he could hold out a hand to us, to encourage and help us, in our troubles. And Paul says that, having been encouraged himself by the example of Jesus, he believes he has been able to share the same sort of comf…

Sharing in the Terrible Sufferings of Christ

Matthew 21.1-11 Giotto di Bondone was a medieval artist and architect who lived in the city of Florence at the end of the Thirteenth Century and the beginning of the Fourteenth. He was the son of a farmer and he was looking after his father’s sheep when a famous artist admired some drawings he’d made to pass the time. Tradition has it that he was drawing pictures on rocks in the fields because paper was so expensive at the time. Florence was a turbulent place to live. Giotto painted a famous portrait of the poet Dante, but Dante was then driven into exile. However, none of this is reflected in his picture of the Entry into Jerusalem, which doesn’t look the least bit like a demonstration. It’s a peaceful religious procession led by a priest like Jesus, his hand raised in blessing for the people of Jerusalem, some of whom are bowing to greet him. One has got down to place his cloak in the road. The crowd behind Jesus is made up of dignified saintly types and Jesus himself is the very ima…