Monthly Archives: July 2018

Walls fall

Compassionate Shepherd,
your love flows from the heart of God,
and touches us in our points of pain;
hearing your voice,
may we find healing in your word
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
Ephesians 2.11–22

 

Eliminating boundaries does not in itself create peace. Peace comes only by eliminating the hostility behind the dividing walls. God does not merely tear down walls, but unites people in the One who is our peace, creating one new humanity. — Karen Chakoian, in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, Kindle ed’n, loc. 9130

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There’s a saying: Good fences make good neighbours. And I can believe it.

But I’m not so sure about walls.

History is filled with stories of walls, and littered by the remains of walls. Perhaps the earliest walls we know about were around the city of Jericho. We know what happened to them.

Walls fall.

Or if they don’t fall, they are remnants of an earlier time. Perhaps you’ve walked along the top of the walls of York or Jerusalem, as I have. Or along the Great Wall of China, or Hadrian’s Wall across the North of England, as I’d like to. 

Once, these walls served to keep undesirable people out. They were walls of separation. They have a very different purpose now. They’re tourist traps, bringing the outsiders in rather than keeping them out.

Walls fall, whether literally or not.  

I don’t remember the Berlin Wall being built, but as a child I expected it to last forever. I recall watching tv news reports of people escaping over or under it to the West, or dying in the attempt.

But in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. 

Walls fall. 

 Walls may fall because their day is done, because they crumble to dust; but walls fall too because people cry out against them. We saw that very clearly in Berlin in 1989. The Wall could not withstand the weight of protest.

Walls may have their time, but that time ends.  

About 500 years before the birth of Christ, the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. When they returned to Jerusalem, one of the first things they did was build a wall and throw all the foreigners out. 

In an age of technological sophistication, walls are less useful.

But we still build them.

When I visited the Holy Land a few years ago, I was saddened to see the wall that separates Jerusalem  from Bethlehem. 

Wall at Bethlehem

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The Assembly’s Decision on Marriage – a personal reflection

An excellent word from Rev Graham Perry: via The Assembly’s Decision on Marriage – a personal reflection

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Monday, 16 July, 2018 · 21:46

Why read the Bible?

God our refuge and strength,
you call us to give ourselves to Christ,
whether life is long or brief;
ground us in your love
and anchor us in your grace,
that we may find peace and joy
in knowing you;
this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings
2 Samuel 6.1–5, 12b–19
Mark 6.14–29

 

The biblical scholars I love to read don’t go to the holy text looking for ammunition with which to win an argument or trite truisms with which to escape the day’s sorrows; they go looking for a blessing, a better way of engaging life and the world, and they don’t expect to escape that search unscathed. — Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Kindle Ed., p.28

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I want to ask a deceptively simple question today: 

Why do we read the Bible?

I’m reading a wonderful book by Rachel Held Evans, called Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again. In her book, Rachel speaks of her rediscovery of the Bible after losing her love for it for awhile. 

She was brought up in the American Bible Belt, which has a fairly intense relationship with the Bible. I have had a similar experience, and I know some of you have too.

You see, after I became a Christian in 1968 at a Billy Graham rally, my best friend at school invited me to his church. So I went. His church was a Brethren congregation, which I only found out once I got there. I’d heard bad news of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’, but I was assured my friend’s church was part of the ‘Open Brethren’. I soon settled in, because I was hungry for teaching. 

If you don’t know much about the Brethren, think of them as ‘Baptists on Steroids’. In particular, they are fundamentalists who generally believe the Bible is inerrant and that it cannot contradict itself. The Brethren are really heavy duty. Yet they helped me to gain an excellent Bible knowledge.

But why did I read the Bible?

Back then, my answer would be to gain knowledge. I would have said that the Bible is the only source of knowledge about God.

I soon learned that there were people who were in error, people like Anglicans and Catholics, not to mention Methodists and Presbyterians. So I read the Bible to marshal arguments against such people. The Bible became a ‘blunt instrument’ for me to whack them about the head with. I loved to win arguments against those who were just plain wrong. It could be very satisfying.

In time, I became a little tired of this, especially as I began to see how much I could hurt people. But I didn’t know what else to do. 

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Jesus, failure?

Jesus, friend and Lord,
we limit you by our notions;
help us to go wherever your Spirit leads,
knowing that your power alone
keeps us on the road of faith
now and for ever. Amen.

Readings
2 Corinthians 12.2–10
Mark 6.1–13

When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, (SCM Classics), Kindle ed’n, loc. 4577

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Success is important, right?

The soccer World Cup is being held in Russia at the moment, and millions throughout the world have been feverishly wishing and praying for their team to win. 

It was heart-wrenching to see Australia dip out in the first round of the World Cup without winning a game, though I was happy to see England get into the quarter finals. Maybe one day they’ll learn how to play the game they invented. 

Success is rewarded. Failure, not so much.

Paul spent a lot of time reflecting on success and failure. He had many critics—it wasn’t all plain sailing for him. The critics said things like 

Paul’s letters are severe and strong, but when he is with us in person, he is weak, and his words are nothing! (2 Corinthians 10.10)

Paul’s critics boasted about their successes. They looked down on others they thought were not as spiritually mature as them. They included the Apostle Paul among that number. They boasted of their wonderful spiritual gifts and they would order other believers about. 

Paul had successes, but he didn’t boast about them. He could not boast and proclaim Christ crucified. In 1 Corinthians 2.2, he writes

while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross.

That’s the Good News Bible, a slightly unmemorable reading; the New Revised Standard Version has

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

That wording is much more memorable, but I think the Revised English Bible is much more descriptive:

I resolved that while I was with you I would not claim to know anything but Jesus Christ—Christ nailed to the cross.

Paul had one message for the Corinthians: Christ crucified, Christ nailed to the cross. 

This message is incompatible with boasting, incompatible with gathering lots of money as a Christian worker, and incompatible with abuse or manipulation of any kind.

However, the message ‘Christ and him crucified’ can live with a lack of success. It can even live with failure.

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Clean/unclean

Jesus, hope of the hopeless,
give us abundant confidence in you
that we may find comfort at all times,
relief from our burdens,
and healing where it is your will;
until that day when we see you face to face,
and know you as you are for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings
2 Corinthians 8.7–15
Mark 5.21–43

 

 

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ — Jesus, Matthew 9.13b

[H]ow are we to draw the boundaries of exclusion and inclusion in the life of the church? Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the ‘clean’ and expelling the ‘unclean’. Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries. — Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Kindle edition, p.2

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I want to talk today about things that are ‘clean’ and those that are ‘unclean’.

It’s important to know about if we are going to really hear this Gospel passage.

Years ago, I was working on a Sunday morning in the Casualty area of a hospital when a man came in. He’d gone on a scout camp with his son as an interested dad. He’d picked some mushrooms to fry up for Sunday breakfast. No one else wanted any, so he scoffed the lot.

But they were ‘magic’ mushrooms and he was hallucinating madly, seeing frightening things that weren’t there.

It took him about 36 hours to fully recover. 

Some mushroomy-looking things are ok to eat. In biblical language, they are ‘clean’. Other mushroomy-looking things are ‘unclean’. You’ve got to know the difference if you’re going to pick your own. 

We read about unclean foods in the bible, like pork, and we wonder why it should be so. (It’s about pigs having a divided hoof but not chewing the cud, but you might still wonder if that’s a good enough reason.)

We have unclean foods too. If I invited you to my place for a succulent roast horse dinner with all the trimmings, would you come or would you be busy that night? We don’t eat horses, but they do in some European countries like Italy and the Netherlands.

We don’t use the word ‘unclean’, but for us the horse is ‘unclean’. Why? It just is. (I could say that nothing could make me eat horseflesh, but my mum tells me she ate it in England during the Second World War.)

So some things are clean all the time, others are unclean all the time. But we’d probably eat some unclean things in an extreme situation.

Now, there are things that are only unclean in certain situations. Hang on, the next bit is a little gross.

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