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Showing posts from January, 2010

Dynamic Worship

Psalm 19, Nehemiah 8:1-10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Luke 4:14-21

At the end of the Exile in Babylon the Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem underwent a religious revival. There had been a similar revival before the Exodus, during the reign of the young king Josiah, when the Book of Deuteronomy was suddenly 'discovered', hidden away and neglected in the Temple. The reform in Josiah's reign had prompted the closure of all the hill shrines in Judah and the centralisation of worship in the Temple. The new religious revival expanded the Law of Moses to include new books which seem to have been gathered together from earlier traditions during and immediately after the Exile, when scholars were striving to protect and preserve what was important in the Jewish heritage.
The people who returned from exile certainly took Bible study seriously. They spent six hours listening attentively to the reading of the Law, that is from sunrise to midday. When Ezra blessed the Torah they stoo…


Isaiah 60.1-6, Psalm 72.1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3.1-12, Matthew 2.1-12
The beginning of Isaiah chapter 60 is the origin of a lot of the myth and fable surrounding the story of the magi, astrologers or wise men. Isaiah is probably talking about a spotlight shining on the renewed nation of Israel, lighting up the darkness of sin and ignorance around her and making her a beacon of God's glory for the whole world to see, to which peoples and their rulers will naturally be drawn like moths to a flame. But it was a rather optimistic view, wasn't it, and Christians have naturally seen the passage's true fulfilment in Jesus.
Once he becomes the focus of the prophecy everything falls into place and the origins of Matthew's famous birth narrative become clear. When Jesus is born the light of the Lord God will arise over the place where Jesus lies in his mother's arms and God's glory will appear over him. Nations and kings will journey towards his radiant light from faraway…


Isaiah 43.1-2, Luke 3.15-17, 21-22, Acts 8.14-17
Unlike our other lectionary readings, the beginning of Isaiah chapter 43 is not a passage that is directly about baptism, but it is redolent with themes that are linked to baptism. It talks about the idea that we belong to God, and are called by name to be part of his people. It talks about the idea that God redeems, or sets us free, from all that would hold us captive or enthralled and which would prevent us from realising our true potential. And it talks about us passing through rivers without being overwhelmed and fires without being scorched or consumed. This part of the passage has, perhaps, less to do with baptism and more to do with God being with us in times of hardship, suffering and adventure. But, of course, the mention of waters and rivers immediately conjures up baptismal imagery. And fire and flame might remind us of the Holy Spirit.
More significantly, perhaps, the image of passing through deep waters is often associated i…

The Lavish Gift of God's Covenant

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1.3-14, John 1.10-18
These passages are about the nature of God's covenant. The covenant is not a promise to protect people from harm. It's not a magic bubble in which we can take refuge. But it is a promise that God will never forget his servants and that he will save them in spite of disaster.

To whom is Jeremiah's promise addressed? Mention is made in verses 6 and 9 of Ephraim, one of the sons of Joseph and the ancestor of the most significant of the ten tribes which made up the northern kingdom of Israel before her people were defeated and exiled by the Assyrians, more than a hundred years before Jeremiah is prophesying. Is the promise meant for the descendants of those earlier exiles as well as for the people of the two southern tribes of Judah, who were now about to be defeated and exiled by the Babylonians?

Repeated mention is also made of Jacob, the common ancestor of all the tribes, both from the north and the south. Legend had it that wha…