Vagaries

9 Dec

We seem always to use plurals for aspects or elements of time and space. From day to day the weather can change and even be different between here and there or east and west. In our lives we experience the vagaries of health and illness, children vary from being adorable to being unbearable. If you have ever been engaged in a project or process of doing something, it is the same. When cooking all can go well but sometimes you realise “Oh, I haven’t got any …. for this recipe!” When you are involved with some project that takes time there will be ups and downs – there are vagaries throughout our experience.

God in himself is free from this problem, but in His projects of creation and of making people into saints there are ups and downs, ebb and flow, perhaps even success and failure. The stories of our predecessors in the Old Testament experience what they see as God’s favour and punishment – they have highs and lows, reward and punishment etc. Christians even see something of this in the life and then death of Christ followed by (and finalised in) resurrection.   And the readings and feasts in our weekly services mirrors this pattern of vagaries. Advent, which we celebrate at this time is an approach to the joy of Christmas – it is the celebration of the beginning of a great highpoint in the history of humanity – the coming of God into our world as one of us. Let us prepare ourselves as best we can for this momentous celebration in the vagaries of God’s people -His creation.

Change

1 Dec

Metamorphosis is the title of a very famous novel by Kafka about a man who wakes to find he is an insect; it was also the title of a performance on the Edinburgh fringe last summer (2019); it is also the term for the process of change such as a grub becoming a butterfly. The word literally means ‘a change of form.’ We are all less than we could and should be – we need to change. I guess at death there will be a dramatic change of some sort, but what about here and now.

I could change for the better – only I know how.  If I stop to think about it, I could be much more saintly – more how I should be and how God wants me to be. The teaching of the gospels is for a conversion to being a follower of Jesus, but that means an ongoing change in our attitude to life – becoming more the person God wants us to be. Its not just a change of behaviour but, deeper than that, it is a change in attitude, in the way we think, plan and act.

So often in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and especially in Luke’s writings, we read or hear the word ‘repent.’ In English this is taken to mean be sorry for the faults that we have and for the wrongs we have done. But the original Greek (μετανοητε) has in it the ‘meta’ (as in metamorphosis) which means change, – and in the gospels it is linked with a word for mindset making it mean change attitude; so when we read ‘repent’ in our scriptures it means change the way you think about who you are and how you are with the world and its resources and all God’s creatures. Consequently, don’t so much regret your misdemeanours but refocus on the sort of person you want to be – into whom you plan to change – metaphose!

 

Carpe diem

25 Nov

I really am more interested in the end of my life than in the end of the world. I think of the word ‘end’ as meaning purpose – my purpose in life; whether I am young or old (in the opinion of others or in my own mind). There is a remarkable phrase known to us at least from the time of the poet Horace, and we might well know it in the Latin language he used – it is “carpe diem.” It means do it now – get on with it – seize the moment and don’t put it off. Advent is about coming – Christmas, Christ’s birth, holidays and celebrations; the future is constantly coming, so we must do now what we want and what we should. Yes, listen to the church readings for this day, yes, hear the news and the forecasts for the future, yes, have future plans for ourselves, but chiefly just get on with what we know we should be doing now!  Get on with what life is really about. You might like to watch a video of a lesson about this – about carpe diem –  here.

King of…

19 Nov

The meaning of words can change over time and in different contexts. The word king for many centuries referred to a man, a ruler of a country. It meant someone in power, someone to be respected and even celebrated. You might know some kings of England or Scotland. At the time of the Old Testament the Jews had their own Kings – you might have heard of Solomon and David. At that time other nations had Kings and rulers. Some were even called King of kings, like Ashurbanipal of Persia – this was to express the extent of his rule just like the word emperor so associated with the Romans. In the New Testament we can read of Herod who was king at that time. Jesus was nothing like such kings.

Nowadays like so many words king has additional meanings. It is used to refer to some individual who excels (and excites) in some area of popular culture. You will have heard it used of Michael Jackson as king of pop, or Elvis Presley; it was even used of Sony Liston as a boxer – you can probably think of other such uses. In this way it refers to someone to be admired in some way and even sometimes to be emulated.

Quite early in the growth of Christianity Jesus was referred to as king. But he is faultless unlike so many others who are called king in some way. Jesus is the greatest human ever; He is the ideal others should try to follow. His ruling comprises exemplifying, assisting, encouraging and enabling – all these in order to improve humanity – to help each individual to be human like Him as best they can. This universal role that He has is recognised by Christians and because of his perfection and universal concern He is rightly called king of kings.

In order to correct His being thought of as grandiose, dominant or flaunting, Christians like to recall that His exemplary life on earth which they try to emulate, ended with crucifixion and a crowning with thorns. So Christ the king is unlike any earthly ruler – even unlike anyone else – but one Whom we should all try to be a little like, in His humble, caring and daring humanity.

A work in progess

12 Nov

I like to think of God’s creating like this. Children can have an idea to create a picture. They work at it, introducing different ideas, some of which are more important than others and some look unsuitable. Along the way, at some stage it becomes almost clear what the picture is aiming to be. During the process/activity there are mistakes but they can be deleted or even incorporated towards the final ideal that is forming. A stage might come when an adult thinks it is finished, but the creative child might carry on with further touches and improvements until there is satisfaction and then completion.

This is much how, from our standpoint, creating is going on. The life of Jesus was an important stage in the process of God’s creating. It eventually showed how a human should be and should relate to others and to the rest of creation. The Jews and Christians had developed some idea of God as creator – or rather creating. Like the child, at a ceartain point God seemed to intervene trying to keep the process on track. God tries to interact/correct mistakes and keep progress in the direction of actual progress.

So it was after the life of Christ on earth in Jesus the idea arose that the end/completion was at hand or very nearly so. The temptation arose to relax from any activity and just wait for it. But actually there was and still today is a lot more to be done to the ‘picture.’ And this although the vision has been set in the life (and death) of Jesus. The end is not nigh, and we have more to do.

Life in Heaven

5 Nov

We spend a lot of our time doing things – working, cooking, cleaning, talking and even eating and texting. Hopefully there are at least moments for us when we just relax. These may be if there is music to be heard in the background, an enchanting view before us to distract, or even a blank mind when we are at some routine occupation that needs no concentration at all. Sometimes people speak of an out of the body experience, but all these moments though they are sensory are remote from the bodily goings on that normally crowd our lives. We don’t have to always be eating, drinking, chatting, working or concentrating on doing anything. Apart from these, I suppose, are moments that are most like the heavenly experience of life after death with God – like heaven.

Most Christians, I think, believe in the resurrection of the body, and there are not a few who report extraordinary experiences of visions, of angels or of people in heaven (saints). Christians believe in our resurrection because of their belief in that of Jesus based on the appearances related in the gospels. But there are at least two accounts of His appearances that are my favourites, that I think make another point.

One account is when Mary in the grounds where Jesus was buried sees the gardener and speaks to him – but then realises that she is seeing Jesus. Also when two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus are joined by a very ordinary person (who even seems ignorant of what has been going on in Jerusalem), and they invite him to join them for a meal and then realise they are in the presence of Jesus – fleetingly. To me this says that Jesus is present in our world, in the people in it. If we could only see folks as creations of God, albeit in process we would realise the beyond is here and now.

I can’t tell you what life in heaven is like, but I hope you have some realisation of spiritual presence even in this life, and that it is closer to heaven than any earthly or passionate experience which makes you think or exclaim ‘that was heavenly!’

Why, why, why

29 Oct

You must know or remember that children at first just accept Father Christmas and tooth fairies, and are not too bothered by the rituals of mealtimes or of our worship services, but who later (we might think too soon) grow out of their unquestioning acceptance and want to know why. They might seem constantly and annoyingly to persist with this “why, why, why.” We don’t always have any answer that satisfies them, we don’t always want to tell them and often we can’t really think of suitable explanations ourselves. Eventually they acquiesce in our unwillingness or our ignorance but, hopefully, still grow in understanding how things are and how things work; and hopefully will start a process of lifelong learning. This takes time for individuals but also for societies as a whole.

The early writings of the Bible show no realisation of life after death. The exceptions perhaps are Moses (who just goes off the scene) and Elijah who is swept off his feet with an heavenly chariot. But this did change over time (over a long time) and this is particularly noticeable in the later writings like the books of Maccabees and Wisdom. And this development was helped by the culture and beliefs of the ‘pagans’ among whom they were living.

This is true of our own lives as well. We should not only be willing to ask why about things and customs or rules, but also question our own practices, habits and preferences. Be always prepared to develop, to learn more, to understand more; and always try to live better and to improve.