Monthly Archives: August 2013

Who do you think you’re talking to?

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:27-29 NRSV)

Have you ever had it said to you? Have you ever said it? No doubt many of us have been tempted at times. “Don’t talk to me like that! Just who do you think you are talking to?” It’s a bit of a last gasp to retain some dignity when a heated argument appears to be going the wrong way. It always fails, and rightly so.

The attempt to put on airs and graces when reasoned discussion fails tends to reduce the argument to the level of farce.

Of one thing we can be sure. Jesus never sought to exalt himself at anyone’s expense.

In fact, although we rightly use the title “Lord Jesus Christ”, it is the last of those three words which really matters.

Impetuous but insightful Peter blurts out what at least some of his friends are thinking: “You are the Messiah.”

“Messiah” and “Christ” are two words which essentially mean the same thing – “God’s anointed one.” He is the one who will save the people. He is the new promised King, except that his kingdom will not be built on power, conflict and domination, but of love, justice and peace.

The name “Christ” is not his surname, but his vocation. Jesus Christ is the Saviour sent from God.

So we quite properly call him Lord and King, but he is in truth the King who comes as a servant, washing his disciples’ feet, dedicating long days to healing and teaching, dying on a cross to show that evil ultimately has no power over love.

The question is: Who do you say that he is?

The answer could significantly shape your life.

Jesus,
you are the Christ,
the Anointed One,
the Son of the living God.
Help me to understand the truth of that
and all that it means
deep within my heart and soul.
Amen.

Love to Die For

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NRSV)

“Love” is one of those words which can have a range of meanings in English. We make the one word serve a multiplicity of circumstances. For example, “I love my wife and I love my children” use the term in a different sense from “I love football” or “I just loved that holiday in Malta. There are many more instances we could use, and we understand the meaning of the word “love” by the way it is used.

But what do we mean when we apply the word to Jesus? The Bible uses “love” many times, especially in the New Testament stories of Jesus and his followers. We can think of Jesus as the one who came to show God’s love; but how are we to understand it?

Fortunately, we have a clue. The language in which the New Testament was written is quite specific in the way it speaks of love.

The love of God, and the love which Jesus calls us to live by, is a self-emptying, self-sacrificing love. It is a love which is not about “things” or “experiences” but about people: you and me. It is a love which puts the other person first, which forgives, which gives of itself whatever the cost.

It is the love of Jesus who, having given so many people their lives back through healing, teaching, forgiving and proclaiming his good news of salvation, finds himself cruelly beaten and hanging on a criminal’s cross, praying “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Can we really live by a love of that intensity?

It’s a tall order. Fortunately our failures to do so can be offered back to God in prayer, to be healed by his forgiving love.

Jesus,
thank you for giving yourself in love for all people,
for me.
Teach me to live that love more and more,
in the places I go
with the people I meet.
Amen.

The World Turned Upside Down

Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:2-9 NRSV)

There are those who have a mental picture of Jesus which depicts him as if he were some kind of Victorian philanthropist, who says “nice” things and only mixes in genteel company. They get a shock when they discover something of the real Jesus.

Certainly, Jesus was the living embodiment of God’s love, and he taught in ways which revealed God’s love, but he was also often deeply subversive in some of that teaching. The passage above is an example of that.

Jesus has gathered his disciples around him and he begins to teach them about the Kingdom he has come to establish, but he doesn’t start with kings and princes or others at the top of the social strata. He starts at the bottom, with those who are often ignored, or not valued, or abused.

He speaks of those who know their need of God, those who are burdened with grief, those who will not impose their will and who see the good in others; the powerless who want to see justice, those who will actively work for peace; those who are not duplicitous and scheming in their dealings with others.

In other words, he turns his back on the culture of “might is right” and the “winner takes all” mentality.

This is no revolutionary’s manifesto, but with these words Jesus announces the inauguration of a kingdom which has a two-line constitution. Whatever our station in life, whatever our role in community or society, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

How would this “constitution” work out in our own time?

Jesus,
you turn our values upside down
to bring us to your kingdom.
Open my eyes to your truth
and my heart to your commandment of love.
Amen

Can Anything Good Come . . . ?

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-46 NRSV)

The city where I grew up had been formed by the amalgamation of a number of towns, but even after very many years each of the towns within the city has maintained its distinctive identity. I remember that there was always a degree of friendly rivalry between the towns, and to this day there is a degree of debate about which town should be designated as the city centre.

Perhaps we see a hint of this rivalry in the words of Nathaniel, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip has just informed him that they have met Jesus, the one towards whom the ancient writings of the Old Testament point. On hearing this Nathaniel hastily dismisses the news on the grounds that Jesus obviously grew up on the wrong side of the tracks – how could he possibly the Saviour?

How many times has that happened? How many times has someone been dismissed, ignored or discriminated against because they don’t come from the right town, the right school, the right family or the right social circle?

And how many times have we done it to ourselves?

Fortunately, as Nathaniel soon discovers, Jesus is not interested in our status, our education or our social background. He calls us just as we are.

“But,” we say, “He couldn’t possibly be interested in me. I’m not good enough. I’m not holy. I don’t know anything about religion, there are too many things wrong with my life . . .” But still he replies, “Follow me.”

And as we pluck up the courage to take those first brave steps, we begin to discover that where Jesus is, there is acceptance, forgiveness, love and healing for us, whoever we are . . .

. . . and wherever we come from.

Jesus,
you call me to follow you
just as I am.
Help me to do so,
even despite myself,
because of your love for me.
Amen

The Face of God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.
(Colossians 1:15-16 NRSV)

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
(Colossians 2:9 NRSV)

Like many, I find the immensity of God difficult to take in. The more we learn, for example, about the vastness of the universe, or the possibility of multiple universes, or of the complexity of the natural laws of physics, chemistry and biology – the more difficult it becomes to picture the God who brought all this into being.

On the other hand, neither is it rational or reasonable to believe that all of this matter and energy, and all these physical laws, have sprung into existence spontaneously or have somehow always just been there.

That we live on a dynamic, evolving planet in a dynamic, evolving universe is without question. The more we think about it the more we should be in awe of our Creator God.

In ancient times people grappled with the same issue. They looked in wonder at the world around them and they were awe-struck at the thought of God’s power and majesty.

But the New Testament writers offered a fresh perspective. For a basic truth of the Christian Faith is that Jesus is not just a good man, not just a gifted teacher, not even a great healer and miracle-worker, not simply a prophet, preacher or philosopher: but God himself in human form.

Do you want to know about God? Look at Jesus. If you want to learn about God’s love and compassion for his creation, look at Jesus. Do you need to understand how God calls us into relationship with him and each other? Listen to Jesus’ teaching.

Finding direction in our complex and chaotic world is difficult. Fortunately we have a God who has shown himself, and his purposes for our lives, in the person of Jesus.

Jesus,
It can be hard to find a place
in this busy world.
Help me to hear your voice
guiding me in the ways of God
and revealing your purpose for my life.
Amen

Standing at the Door

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20 NRSV)

“An Englishman’s home is his castle!” they used to thunder; and even though the concept and even the phraseology are somewhat out of date, it does at least signify that most of us like to have some sort of boundary between our public and our private lives. Others who would cross that boundary must do so either by invitation or by force. I might invite my friends in to my home, and also enjoy sharing a meal with them, but the burglar must force his way in – an unwelcome intruder!

The sharing of a meal is not co-incidental. Gathering around a table and enjoying food and good conversation together is perhaps the single most important way that we cement and grow our relationships. At its best it is a most holy activity.

The little paragraph, above, from the very last book of the Bible (The Book of the Revelation to St John) shows us three important things about Jesus.

First, though it is perhaps easier for us to reflect on Jesus’ invitation for us to come to him, he will also come to us, if we allow it.

And that is the key point: “if we allow it.” Because the Son of God treats us with respect and courtesy. He does not storm his way across the threshold of our inner lives. He waits patiently at the door for us to invite him in. We may even hear him quietly announce his presence, but he waits until we are ready.

For he does not seek to force his attention on us like some kind of control freak, or emotionally-starved, attention-seeking celebrity. Rather, he wants us to grow into a relationship of faith, hope and love, with him and with others.

Jesus does not invite himself into our lives. He respectfully waits for us to prayerfully offer the invitation – but it is an invitation with life-changing possibilities.

Jesus,
thank you for the courtesy and respect
which you show to me.
Help me to open the door
and welcome you into my life,
so that I can know you better.
Amen.

Come and Learn from Me

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16 NRSV)

Have you ever thought about the bunch of characters which Jesus chose to be his closest disciples?

Among them was big, bold Simon Peter, full of enthusiasm, who sometimes acted first and thought afterwards. There were James and John, the “sons of thunder” – presumably because of their fiery personalities. And don’t forget Thomas, who had to see the risen Jesus for himself before he would believe.

Then there was Matthew, a former tax-collector and collaborator with the hated enemy, the Romans. Contrast him with that other Simon, a member of a group – the Zealots – fighting the Romans. And then, of course, there was Judas, the traitor.

Something of a motley crew, these disciples; a mixed bag of flawed individuals with different personalities, motivations, intellects and abilities. Normal people, in fact.

But what is a disciple? Often the term is used simply to denote someone who is a follower of Jesus, but the word has much more to do with the idea of someone who is a learner. If you look at how Jesus taught his disciples, and how they learned both from his words and his deeds – a sort of on-the-job training – then you might agree that the best way to describe them would be as “apprentices.”

Apprentices often make mistakes, get things wrong, try to run before they can walk, think they know more than they do. But they learn from their mistakes and try again, and again if necessary. Apprentices are people who are growing through their experiences.

And that’s what Jesus calls each of us to be – an apprentice, learning from the Master.

Jesus,
Thank you that you call me to be your disciple, your apprentice.
When I take my eyes off you,
when I mess things up,
Guide me back to your way of doing things.
Amen

Let the Children Come

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 NRSV)

Picture the scene. As so often when Jesus was out and about, a crowd had started to gather. His friends thought that they would do him a favour by keeping the children out of the way so that the grown-ups could get through to see and hear Jesus.

When he saw what was happening Jesus was “indignant” because he knew something about children which is often overlooked, even to this day.

Little children cannot help but be themselves. They are trusting, open and filled with a sense of awe and wonder; and are naturally spiritual. And if allowed, they will express all those virtues quite naturally. Children have no difficulty accepting the things of God’s Kingdom.

This is the irony of the subversive nature of Jesus’ teaching. Parents spend a great deal of time teaching children to be more like adults. Jesus stands this notion completely on its head. So far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, we adults need to learn to be more like our children. We need those child-like (not childish) virtues for ourselves, or we will struggle to understand Jesus’ teachings and his purpose for our lives.

As adults we have a great responsibility to our children. Our task is to nurture their God-given spirituality so that they can fully express it as they grow. Those who say that they will leave “religious” matters until the children are old enough to decide for themselves need to think again. One of the greatest joys is to see children grow in faith, hope and love as they grow into mature adults.

Let the children come; the Kingdom of God belongs to them – and to us when we re-learn to enter it with a child-like heart.

Jesus,
thank you for welcoming the children into your kingdom with a blessing.
Bless also, with your gift of love, all those who care for children;
and bless me with a child-like heart
so that I, too, may grow in faith, hope and love.
Amen.

Come to Me

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV)

The problem with religion is that it puts most people off.

The very word conjures up pictures of rules, regulations and practices which must be observed, sometimes with an apparent quite alarming lack of reason. Sadly, history has provided sufficient examples of strange, irrational and even wicked religious practices to give some support to the notion that religion is for the unenlightened.

But, believe it or not, Jesus did not come to found a new religion. He came to invite us into a relationship.

That relationship is founded on faith, hope and love: faith in him and all that he came to represent, hope for our lives based on our relationship with him, and love for God and our fellow men, women and children.

Jesus came to inaugurate a kingdom and to draw us into a family. Members of that family will usually want to express their love of God and for each other by meeting together for worship, and by serving their neighbours.

But those who define faith in God by rules and regulations are missing the point. Such practices as we adopt come as a result of our understanding of God’s love, already shown to us in Jesus. They are not the means by which we earn it.

First and foremost Jesus invites us into a loving relationship with him. The consequences of that relationship will be expressed in many different ways: but they will always be ways of love. If they are not of love, then they are not of Jesus.

Many people carry heavy burdens through life. Jesus offers not another heavy load, but rest for our weary souls.

Loving Lord,
you did not come to add to my burdens,
but to draw me into a relationship of love.
When I am weighed down by life
I know that I may turn to you for rest.
Thank you.
Amen.

Come and See

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. (John 1:38-39 NRSV)

An odd beginning for what would turn out to be a life-changing adventure.

John the Baptist has given Jesus the greatest of introductions to his own followers and two of them are curious, so they wander off after Jesus.

It’s quite an amusing scene. Jesus turns and sees the two strangers following him, perhaps at a distance, checking him out. He turns and asks a seemingly innocuous question, “What are you looking for?”

I imagine the two men, suddenly realising that they have been caught trailing him, embarrassed and lost for words, blurting out, “er, um . . . we were just, er, well, er, sort of wondering where you were staying!”

Jesus’ reply, “Come and see,” is more than an invitation to tea (though it was possibly that as well!). It is a gentle, open invitation to come and find out more, and to be amazed at what they discover. Of course, the two men don’t know that yet, but they soon will.

Jesus does not force his attention on them. Rather, he responds to their curiosity (“What are you looking for?”) and invites them to discover. What they do discover will change their lives and alter the course of history, but Jesus simply invites them to Come and See.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus says to us over the shoulders of those two men and out of the pages of the Bible; and in response to our often inarticulate “ums” and “ers” and occasional protestations, he offers us the same invitation: Come and See; come as you are; come and find out for yourself. Come and see – and make up your own mind.

Jesus,
I don’t always know what I am looking for,
but I see that you invite me to come and see who you are
and what faith in you might mean.
As you led your friends on that journey of discovery,
so may I also discover the truth of your purpose for my life.
Amen.