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Showing posts from 2019

To be a peacock or not to be?

John 12.1-8 What do you think about the peacock? I don’t mean, what do you know about peacocks? Or even do you like peacocks? I mean what’s your gut reaction, your first thought, on seeing a peacock?
Someone once described peacocks as ‘the most beautiful birds in the world’. Alexander the Great certainly agreed. He was so impressed by peacocks that he made it a crime to disturb or kill one. Early Christians liked them too. Peacock feathers were believed to keep their colour forever so Christians saw them as a symbol of the resurrection. 
Is that the sort of thing you think when you look at this picture, that peacocks are magnificent, lovely birds? Do they give you a good vibe?
In contrast some Arab people believe the peacock isn’t a cause for wonder but a bad omen. Legend has it that peacocks are supposed to be good at killing snakes but, according to one story, the peacock let the side down by allowing the serpent to slither past him into paradise. The serpent confused him by wrapping it…

Whither Hope in the Age of Brexit & Climate Change?

John 12.1-8 In the ancient myth of Pandora a beautiful woman is sent to earth with a box full of gifts for a man called Epimetheus. Epimetheus was so delighted with Pandora that he married her and forgot all about the gifts.
This was a pity because his brother, Prometheus, had upset the gods and the box contained their revenge. On their instruction, Pandora opened the box and let the gifts out. But the gifts were all harmful things, designed by the gods to divide and upset people.
According to one version, when Pandora realised that the gifts were not meant to be a good thing, she quickly put the lid back on the box, trapping the last one inside. But in other versions she was too late and they all escaped.Either way, the last gift or curse left in the box, or the last to escape, was hope.
The ancients saw hope as a bad thing because it stops us from making the best of the way life is now. If we're constantly hoping for something better to turn up we won't confront the problems fac…

Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38–42 It’s easy to forget that ‘a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home’. It was Martha’s home and Jesus was her guest. And when it’s our home, we’re in charge and we expect our guests to be grateful for our hospitality.
Furthermore, when our guest is someone important like Jesus, we would probably put a lot of thought into how we would like the visit to go. We wouldn’t just have a tidy round; we would think carefully about the food we might serve and the seating arrangements.
This might require a special outing to the shops, or at least to the allotment, to get the ingredients we will need. In the sort of humble home that Martha could have lived in, we might need to call upon our neighbours to lend us some of their cooking pots and cutlery, or extra chairs, or even their dining table.
We haven’t actually had too many famous visitors to our house. One I do remember was the actor David Kossoff. He stopped acting a long time ago, to write and tell Bible stories on the radio …

Holding on to Memories

2 Peter 1:12-21 Whether the writer is the real Peter, or just someone writing from his point of view, he claims to  be the older Peter living in Rome just before he was put to death for following Jesus. People often say, as they get older, that time seems to fly by faster and become more precious. It’s not an original idea. It’s what the writer says here.
Memories become more important with age too. We have so many of them and they become ever more precious the further away in time they get. There is always the fear of losing our memories, or indeed of losing the ability to remember. For the original eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and work there was a desperate anxiety to pass on their memories of him and make sure they were cherished. 
It’s fashionable to say that the Christian story is a ‘clever made-up story’ only loosely based on the real life of Jesus. But this isn’t a new claim. The writer of 2 Peter talks about it here. He affirms that the Christian story is based on real memories, t…

Real Resurrection?

1 Corinthians 15.12-20
Years ago, when I was working in Birmingham, the Chair of the District read out a startling extract from a letter. It was from the wife of a Methodist minister in South Africa. He had stayed with the minister, his wife and twin daughters on a visit to their country. Just before the letter was written the twins had been killed in a car accident. Their mother wrote that she could no longer believe in the resurrection.
As long ago as the First Century, before any of the New Testament had been written down, some Christians were already thinking of Jesus' resurrection as  a purely spiritual event. They believed he was alive again, but only as a disembodied spirit, or perhaps because he lived on in the mind of God, and so God could still make Jesus known to his followers. 
But St Paul takes a different point of view. The writer David Kerrigan observes how, in this passage, Paul ‘[drives] home his conviction ‘that if there is no resurrection, then there is no gospel.’…

What sort of sports day would Jesus prefer?

Luke 6.20-26

When we went to my daughter's first sports day we got a surprise. We were expecting Jennifer to do her best and perhaps even win a race. What we didn't know was that she and her best friend had agreed that, in every race, they would both cross the finish line at exactly the same time. 
And they were as good as their word. In some races they even crossed the line holding hands, and whatever they were doing, the egg and spoon race, the bean bag race, the sprint, they kept looking at each other to make sure they were running side by side. Of course, they came last equal in everything, which made Sports Day extremely tedious.
Many years later I went to another athletics contest that Jennifer was taking part in. Her school was competing against a boarding school from Harrogate. The boarders included several tall, slender long-legged girls from Africa. They were built like gazelles and they could run every bit as fast.
The event was just as predictable as Jennifer's fir…

People are laughing at us!

Joel 2.1-17
The prophecy begins with the sounding of the alarm on the ram’s horn trumpet. Trouble is coming!
As in chapter 1, the reader is left to wonder whether the cause of the trouble is a real army or a swarm of locusts. Much depends on when Joel was prophesying. 
If it was before the Exile in Babylon, Joel could well be describing a real army. If it was afterwards, when Palestine was part of the Persian Empire, then it could be a vivid way of depicting a locust swarm, but apparently locusts seldom come from the north when they attack Israel. Normally they come from the south.
When Joel talks about ‘a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like blackness spread upon the mountains,’ he makes it sound as though the air is thick with locusts. But when he says, ‘Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns,’ it sounds more like a human army. 
Some commentators think farmers might have lit fires to ward off the locusts, but Joel could be describing a…

Seeing God

Exodus 24.9-18
Sometimes we say that people have their feet on the ground. It’s always a compliment. It implies that they’re down-to-earth, in touch with reality, imbued with practical experience. The opposite sort of person is said to have ‘their head in the clouds’ and that’s not a compliment. It implies that they’re out of touch, unrealistic, impractical - to the point of being no earthly use , more of a visionary than an organiser. 
Here in this short passage we find two contrasting encounters with God, so different in fact that they appear to belong to separate traditions, although they have been brought together here in a single narrative. In some ways they mirror those contrasting personality types. First, there is a group encounter with God. 71 people are privileged to see God face to face, although at a distance. Perhaps because he isn’t close enough, God doesn’t lay his hand on them - presumably in blessing.
The writer cannot describe what God looked like. That would be impossib…