Spirit not rules

2 Aug

I apologise if you have heard this before but it is a tale from my own experience that I have treasured for ages.  After I had abandoned training for the priesthood at seminary for 6 years, I got a temporary job teaching because of the shortage of qualified teachers  – perhaps because the head of education in the local council knew me. Teaching proved to be an ability that I had and something I really enjoyed.  So I became a student on a teacher-training course.  There also was the young lady I was to marry.  As Christmas approached I intended to ask my ‘girl friend’ to the end of term dance.  However dancing was one thing seminary did not teach me, so I had to learn from books and what other help I could get.  Now at the dance as soon as a waltz was announced I took the floor with my girl friend.  —- I thought I was doing OK, carefully counting and doing the steps I had learnt; soon however, she said to me stop thinking so much, just hold me close and feel the music and the rhythm.  That’s how we all need to learn in this process of Christian living!

Grandparents and elderly

26 Jul

Yesterday was to celebrate the elderly and Grandparents. The elderly, when they talk to youngsters, are inclined to adapt what they say (and perhaps they should) to make some sense, even to teach something about life and how one should live. Some stories even for adults and for the elderly have something to tell us. This might make a good sermon; These would be my notes:

A young lady of an immigrant race  — became pregnant, but couldn’t keep the baby – it would be slaughtered.   So she put him in a basket and floated it down a stream to where a princess was cooling herself in the heat. Wow! she fell in love with this ‘gift’ but needed to get her parents to engage a nurse to look after him. So he was looked after by a nurse (actually his mother), and brought up in the royal palace.  As such he had a good position as a young adult but knew that he was of a different race and one day in defending someone from the same race he killed an ant-Jewish abuser.  Thence he had to flee into the desert and find work there (and found a wife too)

One day he encountered God in a burning bush – This god was Yahweh meaning “I am Who I am”,  and he learnt of the plight of his race back in the land of his birth, Egypt,

 and so returned there to miraculously lead his fellow Jews out of Egypt (the Exodus) into the desert. 

But once they had eaten the food they brought with them they complained to Moses (that was his name).  But he showed them the early morning edible Manna – which mean “what’s this?”

They prayed in their difficulties to other gods but Moses went up the mountain and received from Yahweh the ten commandments they should live by. 

And so this God has been in our lives too. We don’t really know Him or what it is He will want of us in the future – He is Who He is – Yahweh.

And we don’t always recognise what God provides for us or the challenges that turn up in our lives – we just wonder sometimes What’s this (Manna)! But looking back (and confident of His future with us) at least we can say or sing Alleluia – praise the Lord. Three Hebrew words to cheer us up!!

Christian Groups

19 Jul

People throughout time generally may be classed into groups according to religious or political attitudes, nationality or just social standing.  In the Roman empire around and after the time of Christ there was clearly a distinction between folk of Jewish descent and others in the Empire with various other religious beliefs.  Somewhat surprisingly the local Roman leaders in Palestine allowed some control to the Jewish religious authorities.  Jews generally believed that the only true God had selected them and given them the land of Palestine that was now within the Roman empire.  But among the Jews there were differing attitudes.

The priests who served in the Temple with the high priest co-operated with the Roman authorities there in order to retain their status in the Jewish homeland, and it was they who eventually arranged the capture and execution of Jesus.  But a fair number of Jews in Palestine differed from them, having serious antagonism (and even plots) against the Romans and also with those Jewish leaders co-operating with them.  It was these Jews who imagined Jesus to be in favour of their view and potentially able to lead their planned revolt against Roman occupation.  For instance the procession related in the gospels, of Jesus on a donkey with the crowds at Passover indicates this hope of theirs.  But it was most likely this lively scenario finally lead to His arrest and execution by crucifixion.  There were also a fair number of Jews less interested in the politics who would later become followers of a new emerging attitude to Jesus’ way of life which developed into Christianity – in Palestine and beyond.

There soon arose early Christian groups outside of Palestine, at first among Jews but then even among others.  Some Romans of various ethnicities (called Hellenists) formed small communities of believers and would gather to celebrate Jesus’ way of life, to learn more about it and for mutual support.  Paul, once he became a follower, moved around some of these communities and helped establish new ones keeping in touch through letters – some preserved to this day in the NT.  But there were differences especially between Jewish and Hellenist groups.  Such was the case in Ephesus, a letter to whose community was attributed to Paul and is now part of the Church’s scriptures – the letter to the Ephesians read in Christian services to this day.  It seems concerned about differences between different ‘Christian’ groups and wants to emphasise that Christ was an example for all of how a good human should live and behave.

There are different Christian denominations and groupings in the world today.   So what we read in Ephesians is still relevant.  “In Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ. … This was to create one single New Man in himself out of the two of them and by restoring peace through the cross, to unite them both in a single Body and reconcile them with God: in his own person he killed the hostility….

Secular but miraculous

12 Jul

We must remember that the gospels are good news for us humans, based on the life of Jesus – especially its impact on what it is to be human and to live seriously (even religiously) as good human beings. The Cana wedding story is unique to John’s gospel and quite unusual.  The event is not so much a religious ceremony (though the people there all are Jews) but rather a ‘secular party’ in someone’s house, celebrating the marriage and love of two people, with friends and relatives – all good company – and with the usual feasting and drinking.  Toy know the story of water into wine at the party.  It is only Mary and some servants, who realise what happened.  She noticed at some point that they were running out of wine (the regular drink).  Through her intervention and at her request Jesus, together with the obedience of the servants working there, restores the situation with water miraculously changing into wine. It saves this ‘secular’ party from being a downright disaster to being the great celebration it deserved to be, and all without most folk there knowing what he had done.  What does this tell us – what does John, the only one with this story, intend us to take from it?  Let me know what you think.

Meeting God

5 Jul

You can never properly know another person. You must listen to them; reveal something of yourself to them – time and time again. Both ways must proceed with caution, not assuming that you understand or are understood; speak of yourself discretely, little by little; you must even be prepared to be challenged – be changed; and you must be appreciative of the other.For Christians, their God is the pattern for inter-personal interaction – for this developing relationship. With the Christian God, there is the Self whose self-expression is complete in the person of the Word, and whose total response is Love – a divine ‘third person’ . And this is what is meant by the Christian doctrine of the Trinity – three in one God. The gospels try to express this at the baptism of Jesus with the presence of the Spirit and the voice of God declaring Jesus to be the Son. This process is the pattern for the growth in our relationship with others, with God and even with ourselves and the world. This relationship of an interpersonal nature is the paradigm for our knowledge of anything, our struggle for the truth in any area of knowledge or in the attainment of skill. We can never know completely, we can never master anything utterly, but this limitation gives us the confidence and the assurance of the supreme case of this knowing – the very God, the ultimate mystery.  We must admit something of our self to ourselves before God, and recognise something of God in any other we encounter we have – I must repeat that – recognise something of God in every other person and instance of reality.

God’s preferences

28 Jun

The translation of language must change to suit the time, the situation and the intended recipients of the ‘message.’  This is true in all usage of language and hence also of the translation of the Bible.  Paul dictated a letter to the Romans while his friend/servant wrote it down. In those early times of Christianity, its ideas required a quite dramatic change in thinking.  For example  the Old Testament tells the story of a particular race of people being chosen by God to be special, but in the  early days of Christianity when Paul, himself of Jewish descent, was dictating this letter in what we know as chapter 9 of Romans, he referred to the early Israelite ancestors and wrote about Rebecca who had conceived twins by Isaac.  Even before they had been born and had done anything good or bad … she was told the elder shall serve the younger, as it is written, I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. (see Romans 9:10-13).  I certainly don’t want to think of God hating any person or indeed any thing at all (except sin). We would get the true sense of this, I used to think, by saying “God seemed to prefer…”   But I now doubt that ‘prefer’ is correct.  I think God who is all the time creating and maintaining everything and everyone, has a good relationship of love with all He is creating and maintaining in existence, and I can’t imagine God preferring one more than another.  It’s just that God had a different role for Jacob from that of Esau – just as He has a special role in life for you and me – let’s try to be faithful to our roll!

Realise the truth

21 Jun

It’s all too easy to be satisfied with what we believe and to feel blessed with the special gift of being Christian.  But we shouldn’t be too self-assured.  I just love the story in the Acts (chapter 10).  It is so easy to think that it is only us Christians who know how to please God, only us who believe in Jesus or only church-goers – I could go on – only us who are right.  I have said this before (you can scroll down to “Don’t be too sure’).  Now the story of Peter’s ‘conversion’ from being too sure of himself as a Jew and follower of Jesus says it again.  We must learn to relate differently to others with other faiths or none, with different standards etc. After all we do believe that God loves everyone at all times and is only ‘disappointed’ with sin which we all practice at times but which we can not always see in ourselves – but we must realise the truth – God doesn’t just love me, or Christians He actually loves us all (and the whole of the universe) just as anyone loves their own creations!

Live as best you can

14 Jun

In our thoughtful human lives we attempt to control and make sense of our environment and of our experience.  But our sciences, for example, always have an admixture of confidence and  uncertainty; we live with this duo of order and the surprising, we make use of logic but also make guesses, we do what is sensible but also have daring and take risks; the best and least of us conform to expectations and convention but also enjoy and benefit fromdoing something unexpected of us at times and this can be something surprisingly good.  So how should we live?  It’s simple but challenging – we should live always as God wants us to – as good examples of His creativity!  Each person has to work out the details of this in her own way and for her own way of life!  These are my thoughts after reading ‘De docta ignorantia’  (in English “learnt ignorance”) written by Nicolas of Cusa in the 15th century.

Creatures are ‘contractions ‘ (like small models) of the Creator; in fact all created reality is everything that isn’t God’s self, – a creature is a limited instance of the reality that God is completely.  From our point of view God is actually beyond our understanding –  God is a ‘maximum’ of all that is beautiful, good and true in a limited way in the whole of our universe, in us and in our experience.  Our experience is of a world that is both unpredictable but also well-ordered – we try to make sense of it but our knowledge is very limited.  Sometimes it can seem that all creation is chaotic, unpredictable and surprising; much of what we experience is unexpected, sometimes just not what we thought would be the case, sometimes pleasantly surprising but, alas, at times it can be painfully disappointing.  And yet on the other hand, we can see order and often what we expect things to be like.  This is our experience to some extent of the natural world around us and even sometimes of the environment we humans have created (and still are changing); many of us generally have an ordered pattern to our own lives, though sometimes the orderliness of events is more or less imposed upon us.

You might like to read about the story of Job which I wrote some time ago

Things can change

7 Jun

We humans can change what things are by the use we make of them.  The gift which you received from a friend at Christmas or for your birthday, was not a gift when in the shop but an item for sale; it was when it was bought and wrapped and given that it changed into a gift. And even a gift can sometimes take on a different reality if it is used as a bribe or a token of thanks (a thanksgiving). The plain and simple realities of the world can be used in such a way that they change – becoming something different according to use being made of them.  In this sense Jesus’ way of life should become an inspiration for us, which might even be called a blessing or doctrinally ‘grace.’ Our Christian teaching has held on to a way of thinking – about things and their appearance (substance and accidents) – which was part of the philosophical view centuries ago but is not now current thinking. The act of translating the ideas of the past has to find a current way of expression for what was expressed appropriately in the past.  Could this tell us anything about what Christians call the Real Presence of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist (the Lord’s supper)?  Is it the way we use and treat the bread in the Eucharist that makes it the real presence of Christ for us.

Trinity sermon

30 May

The idea of there being three in God only emerged gradually, until about the 4th century when the doctrine was defined.  Jesus, like the Jews among whom He lived, believed in one God.  This was different from nearly all the other nations around – who had a variety of gods.  The Jews – and Jesus was a Jew – saw God as a heavenly father, as in the original patriarchal and nomadic structure of their society.  Jesus, in His little village grew up as a faithful Jew.  But as an adult He was critical of the corruptions that had developed in this society.  There were the priests, many of whom liked to think of themselves as important leaders in their religious society.  There were also the Sadducees and Pharisees who also had ‘inappropriate’ ideas of their religion and their nation.  Even among the ordinary folk there were some who thought their God should free them from Roman domination and restore them as a nation again – free from foreign dominance.

Jesus was separate from all of these groups; He was in Himself and somewhat in the eyes of His supporters, an almost new and ideal Jew – loving all – like a true son of their patriarchal origins.  He seemed most comfortable with simple folk and even with those often classed as sinners or who were sufferers of some illness or disability.  He also showed concern for those seen as lepers, and for non-Jewish folk such as Samaritans and Romans.  These aspects of Jesus’ life and His enthusiasm were significant and important to his close followers and even to those who became His followers after His death.   The first Christians, as we would call them, saw in Jesus’ life that He was like a true son of God, in His way of life and regard for others.

It was this way of life, that the first followers tried to take on themselves, that was viewed by the early Christians as expressing the very Spirit of God .  And this was a dynamism of spirit that they needed in order to survive in the Roman society and when they were persecuted for their beliefs and attitudes – rejecting the Roman tolerance of all sorts of gods and ways of life.It was throughout these circumstances and trials that the notions of God expanded to not just seeing God as their father, but seeing Jesus as His very Son and the motivation of their religious lives as the Spirit of God seen in the life of Jesus.  From these ideas evolved the notion of the Trinity – of the patriarchal Father, of the devoted sonship of Jesus’ life, and of the vitality and enthusiasm of His Spirit.  We, believers in all this, must seek to live in the world as Jesus would, with the dynamism of the Spirit and acknowledging the patriarchal overview of the Father.