Monthly Archives: January 2018

A New Authority

Reading
Mark 1.21–28

…the unclean spirit recognises Jesus, yet the crowd’s reaction focusses instead on Jesus’ authority, not his demonically disclosed identity! Through this ‘secret’ readers are brought in on an insight that characters in the story fail to notice. The upshot is that neither the miraculous exorcism, nor even authoritative teaching, is sufficient for faith. This also underlines the fragility of the gospel promise that Jesus embodies. – David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), (Kindle Locations 973-975), Fortress Press, Kindle Edition.

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Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee, was where Jesus had made his home. It is in the synagogue of Capernaum that today’s story is set. My wife and I were standing there in the ruined synagogue almost five years ago, on a journey to Israel. From memory, the current structure dates from somewhere around the third century. However, you can see at its base a darker stone which dates from the first century. Jesus would have seen this same stone.

This is the very site at which

the people who heard [Jesus] were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.

The people in Capernaum were amazed. Gobsmacked. At the way Jesus taught, and at his authority over the demonic spirit.

But amazement was not enough. It wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.

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Jonah’s Backstory

Readings
Jonah 3.1–5, 10
Mark 1.14–20

The LORD is nothing if not persistent, always ready to begin again. But this time things should be different. For Jonah is not just starting over again; he has been given a new life out of the depths of Sheol, like Israel freed from exile in Babylon, like a man buried with Christ in baptism and raised to newness of life. The second half of the book of Jonah tells the story of one reborn from the dead. — Phillip Cary, Jonah (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) (Kindle Locations 2279-2282). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Often, I find when I’m at the funeral of an older person that they had a very interesting backstory over their long life. I think, I wish I’d known about that before. I would have loved to have heard more about that!

But it’s too late.

People are much more interesting when you know their backstory. All you have to do is ask questions! It’s a great way to get to know someone.

We have two stories of people called to God’s service today: Jonah the runaway prophet; and the disciples Simon and Andrew, James and John.

People sometimes try to invent a backstory for the four disciples, to explain why they followed Jesus so immediately. They must have met Jesus at some earlier time. But Mark gives us nothing.  Mark wants us to see that the power of Jesus’ call summons them away from their boats and their nets, and into a new life. It’s almost as if  the word of Jesus has recreated them.

But today, I want to look more at the main character, Jonah, and his backstory. Jonah is my all-time favourite book of the Bible. It’s only four chapters long, and only forty eight verses. Read it when you get home—it’s far more than a story about a prophet who had a whale of a time. No, the Book of Jonah is a hilarious satire on those who can’t keep up with God; specifically, God’s superabundant willingness to forgive and heal people.

We meet Jonah today in chapter 3 of the book, striding into Nineveh as an Old Testament hero. But Jonah wasn’t always like that. The Book of Jonah is the story of a very reluctant prophet, and not a hero at all.

Jonah flees to Tarshish when God calls him to speak out against Nineveh. Nineveh was the superpower of the time; it was a bit like God saying to me, ‘Ok Paul, I want you to go to North Korea and tell Kim Jong Un to change his ways’. I’d be off in a flash, somewhere the back of Bourke.

Tarshish was a ‘back of Bourke’ kind of place. We don’t know where it was, probably in the south of Spain, but it was as far away from Israel as Jonah could imagine. God can’t reach me there, he thought.

We all know how the story goes. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish, and after three days and three nights he is thrown up. While in the fish, he has time to sing a psalm.

After that, God calls him to go to Nineveh again. This is when we meet Jonah today, as he begins to cooperate with God.

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The Body is Basic

Reading
1 Corinthians 6.12–20

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.

Psalm 139.13–16

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I recall having a moment of conversion as a young man. Not conversion to Christ, that happened earlier when I was fourteen. This was another moment of conversion, one of several others.

This moment of conversion came about from reading the Bible. (If you want a safe, comfortable life, don’t read the Bible!). But it was too late for me. I was already reading it.

This moment of conversion was about what the word ‘you’ means.

You might wonder what I mean. You means you means you. But it doesn’t.

Sometimes, ‘you’ means one person. Sometimes, it means more than one person. Some Aussies say ‘youse’ when they mean more than one person. We say that it’s bad English. But it’s great communication. I wish it were good English—I’d love to use youse. So I think I shall. I hope youse won’t mind.

Let’s look at our 1 Corinthians reading with this in mind.

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Were they so wise?

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

 

What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise. — St Bernard of Clairvaux, from a sermon on the Epiphany

Today, we come to the bit about the three wise men.

Of course, that’s an unbiblical thing to say. We always think ‘three wise men’ because three gifts are mentioned.

I have another reason for not wanting to speak of three wise men.

I’m not sure they were all that wise.

Matthew doesn’t say they were wise, did you know that? Matthew’s word for them was magoi. That’s our word magi. So let’s call them magi.

We know that word magi, it’s where we get our words magic and magician from.

Nonbiblical sources reveal that magi were associated primarily with Persia, where they were members of a priestly class learned in astrology and other magical arts, including divination, dream interpretation, and the concoction of potions.

Magi were often lampooned as deceivers or fools, so Matthew may well mean to show God’s gracious revelation to Gentile ‘experts’ in nonsense.

So the magi follow a star which they believe heralds the birth of a new king. Where do you go to find a king? To the palace.

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Christmas is the beginning…

Readings
Galatians 4.4–7
Luke 2.22–40

 

Simeon’s Passion prophecy becomes quite specific…the contradiction against the Son is also directed against the mother and it cuts her to the heart. For her, the Cross of radical contradiction becomes the sword that pierces her soul. From Mary we can learn that what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the sufferings of others as one’s own. — Pope Benedict XVI

In 2015, my wife Karen and I went to Chile to visit our daughter E1 and her partner, P. They live in a little town about an hour’s drive out of Santiago, the capital of Chile.

After we booked our flights, E1 announced that she was pregnant. She’d be about halfway through her pregnancy by the time we arrived. So that added an extra dimension to our journey.

A few days after we arrived, we went into Santiago to meet P’s family. P stopped the car on a side street, a mixture of houses and small office buildings. E1 told us that they had some business there and invited us to come up to the first-floor office they were going to.

It didn’t take us long to realise that we were in a radiologist’s place, and that E1 was having an ultrasound. Fair enough, I thought—she’s killing two birds with one stone, fitting the family get-together and the ultrasound into the same visit. We’d wait.

When it came time for E1 to go in, she waved us to come in too. It was a total surprise. When we saw this little human inside our daughter, K and I just fell in love with her. Oh yes, and we learnt that day that E1 was having a girl. Her name would be E2.

That was over two years ago now, and now E2 is our Chilean–Australian granddaughter. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is growing up bilingual. She is learning Spanish and English words for things. In time, her brain will sort it all out and she’ll be fluent in both languages.

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