Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from November, 2017

What is God like?

In some ways it’s an impossible question, because when we talk about God we’re trying to describe someone who is greater than all the universes in the cosmos and yet whose spirit is also able to come and dwell inside each one of us. Baptism is about welcoming God’s Spirit into our lives and the life of our family, and asking God to shape the way we live and care for another, following the example of Jesus who also showed us what God is like. But apart from talking about the spirit of God and looking at the life, and death, and new life of Jesus, to see what he teaches us about God, is there anything else we can say about what God is like? The Bible says there is. It has lots of suggestions and one of them, which I thought might be interesting for a few minutes, is to look at some animals and birds and see what they might be able to show us about what God is like. An eagle  So the Bible says that God is sometimes a bit like an eagle. Really? With those fierce talons and that sharp beak? A…

Absolute Allegiance

Deuteronomy 6 Deuteronomy 6is a call for absolute obedience. Moses tells the people of Israel, 'You and your children, and your children’s children, [must] fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.’ Hear, O Israel,’ he continues portentously, ‘The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.’ He goes on to say that they must love the Lord their God with all their heart, and soul, and might. Compare this with the commandment of the Assyrian emperor Ashurbanipal: ‘You shall love Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, as you love yourselves… You shall instruct your sons who will live in the future… you shall not set over yourselves another king, another lord.’* Israel was fairly unique, in the ancient Middle East at any rate, in giving absolute loyalty not to the state, nor to a ruler, but to God. No wonder, then, that there was so much resistance in Israel to the idea of kingship. Here everyone wa…

In The Wilderness

Genesis21.9-21, Luke 5.15-16 Understandably, the Bible tends to see the wilderness as a harsh and arid place. 'Remember,’ says the writer of Deuteronomy, 'How God led you in that huge and frightening desert where snakes and scorpions live.’ Warming to his theme, he says, 'The Lord discovered you in a barren desert filled with howling winds.’ But the wilderness is also a place of encounter where, to our surprise, God is waiting to meet us, to strengthen and encourage us. 'In the desert God became your fortress, protecting you,’ the writer says. And when ‘there was no water’ in the desert, the Lord 'split open a rock, and water poured out so you could drink.’ That means we're never alone during the wilderness moments in our lives. Life can seem pretty daunting in these moments, but God is always there with us, doing surprising things. And so it was for Hagar. Someone has said, 'Cast out into the desert with her young son, she finds a landscape in which her life i…

The Burning Bush

Exodus 3.1-17 The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote these words about the burning bush, Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries. What did Moses see in the desert? Was it actually a bush, set on fire by lightning or by the sun's intense heat, and yet not being consumed by the flames? Or was it something which other less discerning people would have passed, scarcely noticing anything unusual? I’m reminded of a walk through  the Alps with Helen and our teenage children. It was  a very hot day. As the  sun beat down on us our elder son asked, ‘Why are  you making us trek through this barren wilderness?’ regardless of the fact that we were in an Alpine meadow and surrounded by millions of flowers. Much later he returned to the Alps with his own wife and waxed lyrical about exactly the same kind of scenery. Earth is indeed crammed with heaven and every bush and meadow afire wi…

Walking the Plank

Exodus 33.18-34.8, Romans 8.31-39 Moses asked to see God in all his glory. God granted his request but said that, unfortunately, it would be fatal to look upon his face. 'You will see my back,’ he promised, ‘[But] you will not see my face.’ Christians can sometimes be a bit condescending about this. Unlike Moses we do get to see God face to face, at least in the face of Jesus. But there again, do we actually know what Jesus looked like? The Methodist Prayer Handbook this year has the face of Jesus on the front cover, but it isn't just a picture of one face; instead it’s a composite of four very different faces of Jesus. He’s at once both familiar, with a face like ours, and impossible to know. The Welsh poet R S Thomas, who was a priest in the Church in Wales, said that God is very difficult to see. ‘We never catch him at work,’ Thomas said. It's always as if he’s just left the room. In the film 'Whistle Down the Wind’ some children walk to an isolated farm to see Jesus, w…

Jacob's Dream

Genesis 28.10-22 This an interesting passage because so much of it can be read either in a rather negative way or in a really positive way. In the dream God says to Jacob, 'I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go… I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ On the face of it this is a wonderful promise. Jacob is a penniless fugitive without a friend in the world, but God will be with him, watching over him, ensuring that he will prosper. On my 19th birthday my wife gave me a little book. It finished with the words, 'Let’s be friends for ever and a day.' But God's promise to Jacob isn't ‘for ever and a day.’ God says, ‘I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ It's not just a promise, it's a deal. To use management jargon for a moment, it's activity based. While they're engaged in the project together, God will be there for him. But what if the project ended? What if the goal was reached? Is that …

Singing Trees

Isaiah 55.6-13 In the Bible briars and thorns are a sign of God's judgement. They're the harvest we reap for being irresponsible and careless about the way we manage the Earth. Trees that sing and clap are a sign of plenty and recovery, showing that the Earth is being well managed and is becoming fertile again. The trees celebrate and join in our praise to God whenever all is being put right with the world after a time of war or devastation. We live in a society where most people are out of touch with nature. Many children don't know the names even of the most common trees, and many of us grown-ups wouldn't recognise most of them in the field if we looked at their shape or their leaves. The idea of trees singing and clapping seems strange to us, but not to those who really know their trees. John Muir, an American conservationist who helped to set up America’s first national parks, said that as he listened to the sound of the wind in the tree canopies each one spoke to him …

Overcoming Chaos

Isaiah 27 Can chaos be undone? The legend of Leviathan is an ancient story which pre-dates the Bible. It was first written down in the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria, at least 1,000 years before the prophecies of Isaiah were assembled. It tells how God, or in the Ugarit version one of the gods, slew the chaos monster Leviathan, who lived in the primordial sea, so that the earth and the oceans could be separated and an ordered creation set in motion. Isaiah imagines a world where the chaos monster got away somehow. It wasn’t slain after all, it only went into hiding, lurking in the depths, waiting for a chance to re-emerge. And re-emerge it did, which is why the prophet thinks the world is in such chaos now. That’s why the ancient kingdom of Israel was broken up and its people dispersed. Chaos was at work. But a day will come when chaos will at last be banished. ‘The sea monster will squirm and try to escape, but the Lord will kill him.’ Isaiah uses another ancient story, in which Israel …