Tag Archives: Gospel

A Word in Time: Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

Psalm: Psalm 74:13-23
Background

If Mark is the newspaper reporter of the Gospel writers – he writes in short, sharp sentences with a degree of urgency – then Peter could be the TV reporter.

He liked to capture the moment, either with an instant opinion or soundbite, and here he seemed to want to create an image to lock in their experience on the mountaintop. If they make three dwellings, or booths, then there will always be a place where he and others can come back and remember that Moses, Elijah and Jesus appeared together.

There may be difficult days to come but Peter’s dream was that these dwellings could provide them with a bolt-hole – somewhere to be able to recall this holy moment and sit together reminiscing.

What he failed to remember was his previous assertion that Jesus is “the Messiah of God” (Luke 9:20). So shortly after being certain that Jesus is the one for whom all Israel has longed, he now wants to create a memorial that would say something completely different.

To have three dwellings – or shelters as other versions of the Bible put it – suggests that Jesus is no different in status to Moses and Elijah. And Peter wanted to lock that in stone.

Then, almost as if it’s a rebuke, the voice of God reminded the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).

There are only three times in the Gospels when the voice of God speaks out loud – at Jesus’ Baptism (Luke 3:22), here at the Transfiguration and finally in John 12:27-28 after some Greeks ask to see Jesus. Each time God speaks it is to affirm Jesus as God’s beloved son.

Here it seems to make it clear that no one else stands in the same relationship: not even the heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah.

To Ponder

  • Do we make the mistake of trying to ‘lock in’ our experiences of God? If so, how might we prevent this?
  • Are there holy moments that still sustain you in dark times? If so, what are they?
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A Word in Time: Sunday

This week I am providing the Bible studies on the Methodist Church’s website. You can find it at A Word In Time. Each day this week I’ll post the daily study with the main reading.

Mark 2:23 – 3:6 (NRSVA)

Pronouncement about the Sabbath

 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

The Man with a Withered Hand

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

 

Psalm: Psalm 139
Background

Growing up as a ‘chapel kid’ in the Welsh Valleys in the 1960s, it was fascinating to see the range of approaches to Sunday – the Sabbath.

Some households were incredibly strict: no TV, the vegetables were prepped on Saturday, no gardening – just chapel. Others were much less strict and went out for meals; even, horror of horrors, going dancing!

If I want to claim any kind of sporting success I could say that I turned down a trial with Bristol Rovers as a teenager. The truth is that they invited the whole club I played for to Bristol for a mass run-out. I couldn’t go because it was a Sunday and my parents expected me to be at worship.

The two incidents in today’s passage – disciples picking heads of grain and the healing of a man – are part of Mark’s Gospel building up the opposition towards Jesus. Mark chapter 2 is a series of stories that show how Jesus’ actions persuaded his opponents they needed to act against him.

Both of today’s incidents are Sabbath stories. The Pharisees would have been hot on anything they could pin on him. While it’s the disciples who are at fault in the first story, Jesus is blamed for their actions. As their Rabbi, Jesus seems not just willing to accept that but positively eager to take on the Pharisees’ challenge and turn the story into a theological joust.

Suddenly it’s the Pharisees who are made to look out of step. It is as if Jesus is saying to them,  “Don’t you know our story? Don’t you remember what (King) David did? How can you be so petty?”

For the Pharisees, the Sabbath is something to be marked by obeying the rules. For Jesus, it was something joyful to bless people as they honoured God. It was a time for re-creation in the presence of their creator.

Then Jesus points to himself as Lord of the Sabbath, but do the Pharisees understand his enigmatic description of the Son of Man?

To Ponder

  • How can you honour the Sabbath in a 24/7 culture?
  • Is a Sabbath truly possible anymore? What do you think could be done to restore some sense of the Sabbath?
  • Should Christians push for Sunday to be a no-shopping day? Why?

A Word in Time: Sunday

This week I am providing the Bible study notes on the Methodist Church’s website at A Word in Time. The overall theme for the week is The Gospel of the Spirit and the studies link to the daily readings and prayers in the Methodist Prayer Handbook.

I will repost each day’s reading and reflection here as well.

John 20:19-31 (NRSVUK)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (v. 21)

Background

The work of mission doesn’t wait. Resurrection day hasn’t finished and the risen Jesus is already reminding the disciples that this new reality is not served by hiding away in their meeting room.

The writer uses that strange phrase “the doors of the house … were locked for fear of the Jews” (v. 19) when we know that those behind the locked doors were themselves Jews.

Who are they afraid of? The NIVUK Bible renders “fear of the Jews” as “fear of the Jewish leaders” which makes more sense. Mob rule stirred up by those who had engineered the crowd’s chorus of “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:11-15) would have frightened off most people.

But as they hide behind the locked doors the disciples encounter something even more scary. How do you handle a risen Jesus?

The writer of the Gospel doesn’t give us any of the lead-in that Luke has in Acts 1. There the disciples are sent to wait in their room (Acts 1:4-8) for the gift of the Holy Spirit while Jesus ascends to heaven.

In John’s Gospel, the risen Christ appears on the evening of Resurrection Day, breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends (verse 22) and signals the start of the new outreach campaign: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21).

Yet again the battle between dark and light, which has been a constant theme throughout the Gospel, is prominent. The people of God can’t hide away when there’s work to be done.

The disciples are now a sent people: apostles. They are no longer locked away, but released with a new story to tell.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of something the Church needs releasing to do but feels ‘locked up’ about? What is it?
  • Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as the work of mission begins after the Resurrection. How can we show resurrection hope in our communities?

Death … interrupted

My Easter sermon for 2016.

Stop     … they found the stone rolled away, but they did not find the body

 Luke 24: 1-2

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.

The women expected things to be as it always was when someone died.

It wasn’t so much that life was carrying on as normal – death was carrying on as normal.

They had seen Jesus die. They had seen the body taken down and put in the tomb. The Sabbath then intervened but on Sunday morning they came back. What else could they do but anoint it for burial?

From then everything would go on in the same, slow, cold, dead way …

Except … they have to stop because death has been interrupted.

The two men in dazzling clothes had to begin the process of helping them to rewind through all that Jesus had taught them. How important it is to go back into Jesus’ story and recount it for ourselves: not to spend time in the place of death looking for the living words of Jesus.

 

Stand   … he is not here, but has risen. Remember!

Luke 24: 4b-6

two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember…

Life was pretty tough in first century Palestine so to be dazzled at a tomb wasn’t your everyday experience. These two men, certainly we are meant to understand them as angels from God, had terrified the women.

Don’t forget they had come in the dark to embalm a body and now it’s missing … or as they are beginning to remember, alive.

They stand there and the story begins to percolate in their hearts and bodies. Three lovely words from Luke: “then they remembered”. Imagine how that scene unfolded as they reminded each other of their shared experiences with Jesus.

They stood there holding unwanted spices for a dead man; perfumes to anoint a corpse. What do we do with these now? Throw them away?!?

They remembered! Jesus had told them it would be like this and, despite living alongside him for three years, it had not sunk into their hearts.

How often do we need to break out of what can become a sense of functional atheism? I’m in the church, I know about Jesus but will I let his death and resurrection become part of who I am.

 

Step out          … he commanded us to preach and to testify

Acts 10: 39-40, 42

39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen… 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify…

The women left the tomb told the eleven and, initially, no one believed them until Peter went to investigate. Our second reading is part of the story of Peter preaching to the Roman soldier Cornelius and his household – being a witness to the resurrection.

Peter had crossed a great gulf between the Jewish Christian church and the Gentiles. Why? Well he says he can’t do any other.

We are witnesses to all that he did…

[God] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify …

Peter is remembering his story. He stepped in to the tomb and saw that Jesus was no longer in it. Then he stepped out looking with new eyes.

Luke says he went home amazed at what had happened. We know from the Bible that very soon he met Jesus face to face.

IMG_0208.JPG Perhaps you need to meet Jesus this morning in a new way.

To stop at the tomb and know that Good Friday is not the end of the story …

… or to stand and hear the words ‘he is risen’ and know they are true for your life too …

… or to find the right way to step out and be a witness in the place where God has put you.

A hymn for Methodist Covenant services

This time of the year in the UK is when many Methodist churches hold their Covenant services: to celebrate God’s constant faithfulness and pledge their own lives in God’s service.

I wrote the following hymn some years ago and the words seem appropriate for the service.

It is best sung to the tune Morgenlied which was set in our 1932 hymnbook to the Harvest hymn Now the year is crowned with blessing.

Lord of ages past remembering
Lord of ages yet to be.
Hope of every generation,
yours the grace that sets us free.
Thorn and cross your battle tokens
symbols of a life laid down,
as the hope of all the nations
dies to claim us for his own.

So for this our generation
hear us as we bow the knee.
Shape our witness to our neighbour,
send your Spirit, set us free!

For the lives where hope lies bleeding,
for the homes where love has died,
for the victims of injustice,
raise, O Lord, a battle cry.
Bread and wine your passion’s tokens,
symbols still of hope restored.
In the sacrament we offer
we proclaim our dying Lord.

So for this our generation …

Make your Church a pilgrim people,
challenge our complacent ease.
Then, because your truth disturbs us,
Father, bring us to our knees.
Lives renewed your gospel tokens
symbols of the Spirit’s call.
As the world that you have ransomed
hears the truth: You died for all.

So for this our generation …

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG

John the Baptist and Dr Who

Peter-CapaldiFor the next week I am writing the Bible Study notes for the Methodist Church website, A Word in Time.

Today we begin with the set Gospel reading, John 1:6-8, 19-28, which is about John the Baptist calling on the people to get ready for Jesus.

Somehow the BBC programme Dr Who manages to get into the notes, which you can read here.

I will post a link each day until next Sunday when another writer takes over the duties.

A heart of welcome at the heart of the Good News

Surf and fairly-traded coffee, Wesleyan history and cherry bakewells or a massive indoor skatepark with cans of drinks from a vending machine … I encountered three amazing ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus yesterday. On the face of it they were different, but their heart was identical.

I’ve had the privilege this week of being able to share some of Cornwall’s delights with Steve Swann, who’s coming to minister in the county in September. Yesterday was a day for travelling to three projects where the Methodist Church is leading the way.

The first stop was at The Tubestation in Polzeath. I’ve got to declare an interest as the “midwife”, I suppose you would say, who led the team which gave birth to this surf church. It’s always a joy to go back and relax in the chilled-out vibe of a place which I believe to be the most special church on the planet. As Steve, John (who came with us) and I chatted to Dave Matthews – the project’s spiritual director – I caught again the depth of love for community which underpins everything about Tubestation.

 

Ness_painting_right

The latest development is Zeath Gallery, with paintings by members of the church community and others (above is Right by Ness Lannen), and some astonishing woodwork, including a pine cone which weighs a ton and a table which you would need to build a home around!!

In sheer numbers Tubestation is an astonishing success. From a congregation of six in 2001 to an Easter service with 300 now is an amazing God-blessed journey, but it’s the constant search for new ways of blessing the community that is the hallmark of its mission: not “are you saved” but “come and rest”.

From there we went to the tiny hamlet of Trewint and Wesley’s Cottage where John Wesley and his preachers were offered hospitality by a poor stonemason and his wife in the 1740s and later. As a result they preached and kept coming back and sharing the Gospel. Digory and Elizabeth Isbell, the couple, were so impressed by Wesley, that they provided two extra rooms for him to stay and preach. The cottage has been restored and one room is believed to be the smallest Methodist preaching place in the world.

When we arrived, John Hogarth the warden began by offering tea and cakes and then told us the history of the cottage, the “prophet’s chamber” built for Wesley and his preachers, and of the increased visitor numbers. Wesley Cottage is one of the places in Cornwall where heritage is being used to enhance 21st Century mission rather than simply look back to what used to be.

The_unit

Our final visit was to an industrial estate at Launceston where the Methodist Circuit has backed The Unit, a massive indoor skatepark. We spoke to Sam and Simon, who live surrounded by noise and the chaos of skaters and bikers as they host this brilliant outreach initiative. The condition of use is that the youngsters have to stop for a 10-minute Bible study, delivered in down-to-earth language and using the Skater’s Bible – the New Testament in a modern translation. It was punchy, open and began with a clear welcome to everyone: we’re happy to have you here, God’s happy to see you here, enjoy being in this place.

As we drove home – thrilled with what we’d seen – the reflection wasn’t so much about the contemporary nature; though that was great at The Tubestation and The Unit. Because what held all three places together was the welcome they offered.

Surf and fairly-traded coffee, Wesleyan history and cherry bakewells or a massive indoor skatepark with cans of drinks from a vending machine … God is in the detail, his smile is in the handshake and the invitation to be yourself in his presence whether the place echoes with 250 years of preaching and prayer or a few months of acrylic paint and a hard hat.

Why is Jesus so difficult?

Jesus is so difficult to follow. The problem with him is that just when you want him to conveniently approve of something you do he says just the opposite.

So just as America – “one nation under God” – celebrates the death of Osama Bin Laden the words of Jesus, uttered on a middle-Eastern hillside and recorded in Luke’s Gospel in the Bible come back to haunt them.

27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
    29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
    30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
    31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.
    33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.
    34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full.
    35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

That’s just not in the US rhetoric now, at least not in the public rhetoric.Obama image

“Rot in hell,” says the he

adline.

“It’s a good day for America,” says President Obama.

“Obama 1, Osama 0,” said one banner.

But Jesus won’t let it go; the Bible won’t let it go. As Brian McLaren says on his blog: ‘Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?’

I remember reading Barack Obama’s first book with a rising sense of hope that here was a leader who would be different; who would be a man of moral purpose. Now as I hear him utter the same things previous world leaders have said – including past and present British Prime Ministers – my heart sinks.

Where is the change I hoped for, and would have voted for if I was American?

And then a little voice whispers in my ear as I sit comfortably in a British coffee shop – well, ironically an American coffee shop in Britain! ‘Do you remember what the church in Corinth was told?’

1 Corinthians 10

Warnings From Israel’s History
 1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
    2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
    3 They all ate the same spiritual food
    4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
    5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
    6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
    7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.
    8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did— and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
    9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes.
    10 And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel.
    11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
    12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

It can be so easy to point the finger from the comfort of my coffee. I am still uneasy – more than uneasy, I am deeply disturbed by the kind of triumphal scenes being paraded at the death of Bin Laden.

I also know, however, that it’s too easy to point a finger and claim to be prophetic and at the same time be on the brink of an equally-catastrophic failure of my own. I may not have ordered anyone’s killing but I don’t have the weight of the Western world on my shoulders each day.

It is the duty of every follower of Christ to speak out against injustice and to remind the world that the crucified carpenter would not let violence be the answer. But we also have to guard our own hearts. As someone used to remind me – every time we point our finger at someone, three others point back at ourselves.

Sunday sun shrine

A Sunday on the French Riviera and what to do? Our friendly neighbours told us that there was a morning market in Port Grimaud – just a 10-minute walk from the campsite – so we headed off to take a look.

Certainly no sign of anyone heading off to church although there had been some Twitter chat about appropriate hymns for the England team’s failure to beat America in the World Cup. How about “Draw me close to you” especially after goalkeeper Robert Green’s unfortunate Hand of Clod episode – the next line is “never let me go”.

Anyway, soccer musings aside, we walked into the millionaire’s playground to see how people spent a sunny morning here. Port Grimaud is like Venice – once you get past the security barriers. In fairness they only keep out unsavoury drivers; almost anyone can walk in, including us!!

Crossing the first bridge takes you into a square which is transformed into a market, slightly upmarket as you would expect. It was the first French market I’ve ever been to, for example, without a single Morrocan selling Bob Marley towels.

The next bridge, deeper into Port Grimaud, reveals the first glimpse of the boats and yachts to come and then another square of stalls. If you look closely you can see something of the Med’s past. One or two of the stallholders have that permanently-glazed look from the flower power days, one still had her hair held in place by a bootlace-thin strand of leather; another wrapped what looked suspiciously like a kaftan round her.

On to the harbour where some of the super yachts waited at the sort of shrine that’s reserved for the very few – the very, very rich. The kind who can afford to click a couple of fingers and send someone out to buy whatever they want whenever they feel like it. As we gawped, four Dutch girls persuaded someone else to take their photo posing alongside a yacht called Chocolat registered in London. As they studied the digital image they looked at each other, shrieked something in Dutch which had one recognisable phrase: “something from Sex and the City”.

The irony was that these extraordinary displays of super-wealth, six yachts backed up against the harbour like some defensive wall of overpaid footballers anticipating a thunderous free kick from out in the bay, were no more than 10 feet from the doors of the community’s ecumenical church.

The building that represents a man who had nothing but the clothes he stood up in opens its doors in defiant welcome to the obscenely rich and the desperately poor. In that place Jesus says to them ‘however you arrived here, and however much you carried with you, makes no difference.’

At this Sunday sun shrine, where we couldn’t even have bought the inflatable boat that sat on the top of the super yacht – see Joy’s optimistic posing next to it! – there was that wonderfully disruptive invasion of the Gospel that said: ‘I’m still here and I’m not going away.’

Reality on the menu please

LPO street party 1

The sun has reappeared after 24 hours of rain – God’s timing spot on as always because the blue skies returned just in time for Sunday lunchtime’s street party here at Le Pas Opton in the Vendee.

It’s something of a tradition now at Spring Harvest Holidays for the main entrance to be blocked off by tables and chairs and a bank of red-hot barbecues as families join in with their picnics. You see the people who have cooked pasta or made salads sitting next to those who have shot into the site’s shop and bought a pack of saucissons – and those who’ve just brought along a baguette!

But the great thing is that people who’ve never before spoken to each other sit side by side and chat like long-lost friends. As a former minister of mine used to say “well if I’m going to spend eternity with you I ought to find out something about you.”

Food was really important to Jesus, of course. He made sure the disciples caught enough fish after a fruitless night at sea because they needed to be able to feed themselves and sell some to make money; he feed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with a packed lunch; he enjoyed parties – especially with the wrong kind of people; he loved the conversations that came out of sitting at a meal with people.

And of course, on the night before he died – the night people were plotting to do away with him – he took bread and wine and turned a simple meal into a profound encounter. He took bread and broke it and declared it to be his body. He lifted up the wine and said it was his blood – a new covenant for the world for the forgiveness of sins.

As church we need to learn to a

ppreciate food for its own sake; that it’s good just to eat and be together. You don’t need an ulterior motive – ooh, perhaps if I make a really good cassoulet it may convince my next door neighbour that they ought to try Family Service on Sunday. Or perhaps they may just get to like you a bit!

Of course we want people to come to faith and discover Jesus for themselves but surely because they realise that the people who are in the church are Good News people in every way?