Monday, 12 February 2018

This is my son. Listen to him!

2 kings 2: 1-12 (page 307 in our pew Bibles) The original "Chariots of fire!" when the prophet Elijah is taken up into heaven
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6 (page 965 in our pew Bibles) The light of the gospel is veiled from many people who can't see the glory of Jesus - particularly pertinent in modern Britain perhaps?
Mark 9: 2-9 (page 844 in our pew Bibles) The Transfiguration of Jesus might fit better in Epiphany you'd think, but also brings the tragedy of the impending crucifixion into sharper focus

There are two people in the old testament who apparently don’t die and they are Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah who was taken up into heaven on a fiery chariot.

Perhaps because of this, the tradition that Elijah would return to herald the messiah grew as we explored in Advent, Jesus saw John the Baptist fulfilling that role.

Elijah also came to symbolise the entire tradition of the prophets to the Israelites which is why he appears at the Transfiguration in our gospel story today.

As a side issue, when Elisha requests a double portion or double share of his Spirit that isn’t being greedy; what is meant by that is that he wants the two thirds share in the estate that is inherited by the eldest son from his father  (Deut 21:17). What this means is that Elisha wants to be Elijah’s successor, his heir to this pre-eminent prophetic role.
But today it is not the prophetic tradition or the law that is being focussed on, it is the glory of God shining out from the face of Jesus Christ.

When Paul and his gospel are being questioned or derided, he returns to that gospel with increased fervour. He says of his and his helpers’ ministry
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”

When Paul talks about the gospel being veiled from People let’s not forget he was talking out of his own experience. Paul or Saul as was known originally knew enough about Jesus to persecute the young church and it needed a tremendous religious experience or encounter with God to persuade him otherwise. The power and magnitude of that experience, forcing Paul to make a decision is what affected George Appleby and at his funeral on Friday Paul’s conversion story was read at his funeral.
Which brings us nicely to another mysterious but powerful God event known in the trade as a theophany.

In the transfiguration, the miracle happens to Jesus rather than being done by Him.

There are other places in Mark where three or four of the disciples are taken apart from the twelve for an event that reveals something about Jesus but what is being revealed here?

Who Jesus actually is in relation to God and the entire Jewish tradition is being revealed here.

Jesus is not one of three, Elijah representing prophesy and Moses the law, for whom Peter has to build three shelters; Jesus is greater than both of them.
His demeanour was dazzling white and then appeared a cloud, which is biblical code for the presence of God and out of the cloud comes the voice of God,
“This is my son, the beloved, listen to Him”

And to stress that point Moses and Elijah disappear leaving only Jesus.
There is a strong contrast being made.

Jesus exceeds all others and is not to be placed alongside any of them. – he is not one rabbi among many.

Faith in Jesus exceeds all other kind of faith in the limitlessness of its demands.


He will die for everybody and what he requires of his followers is the willingness to give him complete assent.

Monday, 5 February 2018

God's untiring care for his creation

Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31(page 532 in our pew Bibles) A beautiful description on the role of "Wisdom" alongside God in the act of creation described as a person just like "the word made flesh"
Colossians 1: 15-20 (page 983 in our pew Bibles) A wonderful counterpart to John's prologue written by Paul describing Jesus as "the firstborn of all creation" 
John 1:1-14 (page 886 in our pew Bibles) Jesus is the "word made flesh" the famous piece unambiguously ascribing divinity to Jesus. 

We start with a lovely light touch description of the creation with God and a female companion “Wisdom” working together to create the world.
The presence of wisdom and her delight in the human race ensure that the creation is far more than a machine that is left to run on its own once it has been made.
The figure of wisdom personifies God’s continual ongoing untiring care for his creation, including care for us, even though we can be so destructive of what God has made. It is this reason that Jews have connected Wisdom with the law (Torah) and why Christians have also connected it with the divine Logos in John’s gospel.
But before we go there I’d like to dwell a while on what Paul wrote in Colossians because this is also a colossal and profound piece of writing.
One of the main problems of the Colossian church, which Paul had heard about but never visited, was syncretism or blending Christianity with other religious beliefs and practices and so a major role of this letter was to explain the absolute comprehensive uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ. Nothing and no one else is needed.
Completeness is the goal of this piece with culminates in the all-encompassing universalist declaration;
“and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of Christ”
In this piece Paul asserts that “all things in heaven and earth were created” so you see how the word of God and Holy Wisdom are coming very close in function and meaning.
I always say at this point that the greatest church in all Christendom until it was overrun by the Muslims was the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul which I’m sure many of us here have visited.
It is dedicated to Jesus Christ the word made flesh and was called the Haghia Sophia which means the “Holy Wisdom”.
Jesus is God’s overwhelming concern and care for wayward humankind made flesh – like Wisdom in Proverbs “delighting in the human race” and “rejoicing in our world”.

It is because cares and has always cared about us that Jesus was sent to save us.
And so we turn to that central and well known prologue of John’s gospel and the other central motif – that of light.
A light shining in the darkness, a light that enlightens everyone was sent into the world, but not sent as an Angel or a human King with orders for us to kneel before our God but as a  human being who shares all our frailties, is subject to the same temptations, hurts and suffers and can be grieved just like us, will die just as we will die, but was also born just as we are born.
The human face of God is what sets our religion apart from all others. God chose to identify totally with us which demonstrates how much he values and cares for us.
He identifies with us, suffers with us and dies with us, and the greatest gift that he could give us is that because this human being was raised, we will all be raised with Him.  



Monday, 29 January 2018

A sword will pierce your own soul also.

Malachi 3: 1-5 (page 802 in our pew Bibles) People desire God but are they ready to accept his judgement?
Hebrews 2: 14-end (page 1002 in our pew Bibles) Jesus needed to be fully human to identify with the suffering and death common to all human beings in order to save them
Luke 2: 22-40  (page 857 in our pew Bibles) What is being described here is both the presentation of Jesus and the "purification" of Mary. Simeon and Anna represent the patient Spirit-led people of Israel awaiting their Messiah.

Candlemas is the great turning point in our liturgical year. Up until now we have called the Sundays “of Epiphany” but after this Sunday we count the Sundays as “before Lent”.
From here we glance back at the whole Christmas and Epiphany season and now turn to face the cross, so Candlemas is a bitter sweet occasion.
Simeon and Anna are old and represent the faithful people of Israel who have been waiting their entire lives for the appearance of their Messiah and finally in that God given moment of insight and perception Jesus is recognised for who he really is.
It is the Holy Spirit that leads Simeon to recognise this child for who he is, and what he shall become.
But this recognition isn’t just a moment of unbridled joy and the revelation of light appearing in the darkness as recorded in Simeon’s words (that we now know as the Nunc Dimitis) , it is filled with portents of a darker nature.
Jesus will be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel, and he will invite great opposition, and a sword will pierce Mary’s soul also in a premonition of the cross.
Great thanks for the gift of the light of the world tinged with sadness at the rejection and death on the cross where his life will lead.
This general mood of a double edged sword is matched by  Malachi which is a Hebrew word meaning “My Messenger” when he writes predicting the coming of Jesus to the Temple,
The Lord you seek will suddenly come to his Temple, but who will be able to bear it? He will be a refiner, a purifier, and bring judgement on those who flout the Spirit of God.
He will bring Judgement against the "sorcerers, adulterers, the liars, and oppressors of the weak and defenceless." of which there seem to have been many in Malachi's day
The representatives of those worthy of sanctions will eventually, in Jesus's day, conspire to have him crucified and imagine that they had won the day, but their moment of victory would be fleeting.
When those conspiring against him do finally get their man and have him killed it is important to realise that Jesus’ suffering and death were real. He suffered terribly and he really died. Because he was human just like you and me.
There is nothing we can go through where God in Christ has not been there, walked the walk and experienced. He can identify with every one of us because he shared our fate and that was important. As Hebrews says,
“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
He didn’t come to help angels, he came to help us human beings and set us free from the fear of death.
For lest we need reminding the mortality rate for human beings is 100%.

We all die, but as many as can believe it we will also all be raised. 

Monday, 22 January 2018

Marital relations

Titus 2: 1-8, 11-14 (page 998 in our pew Bibles)A description of good and decent behaviour on behalf of followers of God.

Whenever a phrase “Be submissive to your husbands” is heard you can hear the howls of many people both within and without the church screaming that the church is out of date and out of step with society and modern culture. It is the same when we talk about the centrality and sanctity of marriage.
When we married three years ago Louise desired to say “love, honour and obey” as did Queen Elizabeth the most powerful woman in the country and supreme governor of the C of E. when she married. She didn’t have to but insisted on saying that she would obey Prince Philip within the marriage.
Marriage is a lifelong covenant relationship and the security this brings to both parties allows both of them to flourish.
We the church might in turn also point to the increasing instability, breakdown of families and enormous hurt caused to everyone caused by our increasing liberality. The headmaster of our state school in Budleigh Salterton, in our look around the school spoke to us about the growing problem of children arriving at school unable to use a toilet, speak properly and with a mountain of emotional and behavioural problems as a result of the breakdown of families which is putting increasing  strain on an already creaking system in terms of finance and time. At the very least we can say that we discount these supposedly out of date attitudes at our peril.
The fact is the relationship between a husband and wife, lived according to Christian principles is very much misunderstood, even by very many Christians.
The wife needs to be “obedient to her husband” says Paul but this is a two way street and Paul (who wrote this letter) also says in Ephesians that “husbands must love their wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.
The example for both husband and wife is Christ who served people and never considered his own self- interest. There is a mutual self-giving between husband and wife, a covenant of love in which they grow and mature, knocking off all the rough edges in the process.
This mutuality, this complementarity, between the sexes, in a lovely phrase means that “One completes the other” as God created humanity (men and women) in God’s own image. “Male and female he created them”.(genesis 1:27)
In a marriage there are only two votes so how can a stalemate ever be broken if there is a dispute? According to Christian principles, each will try to give each other his or her pleasure. The wife will try and respect her husband’s headship and he will try and please his wife. In this dynamic, overruling will be rare indeed. In the unlikely case of an impasse both are called to submit to their God given role.
As ever the role model is Jesus who submitted to his Father by saying “Yet not my will but yours”
And in the sometimes fraught relations in many marriages, remember taking authority is just as hard as ceding authority.
There are certain principles that govern the marital arrangements.
1)    The husband’s authority (like the son’s over us) is never used to please himself but only to serve the interests of his wife.
2)    A wife is never to be merely compliant but is to use her resourses to empower. Husband and wife will be their most trusted friend and councillor. They complete each other and this takes a lot of give and take. To complement each other means they need to hear each other out and make their arguments. He as a wise manager much  know when to allow her superior experience to trump his own
3)    No Christian is called to give anyone their unconditional obedience, and this goes for a wife in a marriage. For example if a man hits his wife the loving thing to do is to forgive him and have him arrested.

This set of principles for the regulation of marital relationships is based on our relationship to God. We are all of us under authority and in the image of the final consummation being a wedding feast as we heard this morning, our human marriages are governed by the nature of our relationship with God, and between Father and Son in the Godhead

Turn my water into wine

Genesis 14: 17-20 (page 10 in our pew Bibles) In Genesis we meet the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, the priest king of Salem (Jerusalem). An important figure for the writer of the book of Hebrews
Revelation 19:6-10 (page 1039 in our pew Bibles) The images come thick and fast but the centrepiece is a marriage in heaven between the lamb and the saints as the culmination of the Christian story. 
John 2: 1-11 (page 987 in our pew Bibles) The wedding at Cana is the first and keynote sign of John's gospel. This beautiful story is the gospel in miniature.

We have an embarrassment of riches this morning as two of my favourite and most significant stories in the Bible are both brought to us on the same day.

Melchizadek the priest king of Salem, and the wedding at Cana.

Melchizadek only appears once in the whole history of the Old Testament. And it is here in just four verses in Genesis. He appears from nowhere and disappears just as suddenly. But from these four verses we have what is considered a pre-figuring of Jesus Christ right at the heart of the Abrahamic revelation.

Melchizadek, whose name means “the king of righteousness” was also the King of Salem, the early name for Jerusalem and Salem means peace, so Melchizadek was King of righteousness and King of peace. The story also tells us that he was priest of God most high.

Abraham (Abram at the time), the friend of God, was blessed by him and Abraham paid him a tithe, a tithe is paid to God, and in response Melchizadek gives Abraham bread and wine.

The symbols fall over one another, and in one special book of the New Testament, the letter to the Hebrews , explains Jesus’  eternal priesthood in relation to Melchizadek.

Jesus Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchizadek says Hebrews quoting Psakm 110 verse 4, a verse which appears in the psalm which begins
“The Lord says to my Lord. Sit at me right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”

The symbolism collides in a glorious collision that cements the high priesthood of Christ in a way that is unmistakable.

Wine appears in that early story and is also the main symbol used in the first sign that appears in John’s gospel.
The first point to make is that there are no miracles in John’s gospel. He doesn’t use the word, there are only signs.

Signs point you in a definite direction and we are definitely being shown the way here.

This sign is the first one in this most spiritual of gospels, because it is the most important sign, the keynote sign to which all other signs in John refer back to.

The first four words of the story provide the key. They are “On the third day”. This is a story about the resurrection and the effect that Jesus’ spirit has on human beings.

It is nothing less than what the gospel means for people in a beautiful story form. It is the gospel in miniature.

The six stone jars of water used in this sign are the water used for ceremonial washing and therefore represent the old order, the old covenant.
In the brusque way Jesus talks to his mother has also been said that she too represents the old order here.

The water actually represents us, our lives, the water of our lives. In this sign it is your life in those jars.

With the Spirit of Jesus involved,”on the third day”, our lives are transformed from base water into the most marvellous wine.

And let us not forget that in John’s gospel the Holy Spirit was breathed on the disciples “on the third day” on Easter Sunday. There was no waiting for Pentecost if we follow John’s gospel.

The marriage at Cana reflects the joining of your soul and the soul of Jesus in the final marriage feast written about in Revelation

The wedding at Cana and the marriage of Jesus with his saints is the same marriage.

The angel tells John “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage feast of the lamb. And then he said to me. “These are the true words of God”.

The marriage feast is also sometimes portrayed as the great banquet and of course the Eucharist is a foretaste of that – a taste of things to come  - communion with God and each other through the medium of Jesus Christ.
The bride here today is the true church. All people who through faith have put their trust in Jesus.

John lived and wrote in troubled times and the church was terribly persecuted and Revelation is an attempt to explain the present and envision a glorious future.

That vision, this prophesy was anchored in a sound understanding of the work of Jesus Christ. Unless the prophesy was anchored in the work of Jesus Christ it was false prophesy.

As John himself writes in chapter 22:18 there is no room for other interpretation. There is no new revelation in Christianity that could supplant that basic understanding of the work of Jesus. Anything that tries to do so is heretical.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)   


Monday, 8 January 2018

Who is this man?

Isaiah 60: 1-6 (page 619 in our pew Bibles) "Arise, shine for your light has come". The Spirit of revelation, which is the theme of Epiphany is announced by Isaiah, together with gifts of Gold and Frankincense.
Ephesians 3:1-12 (page 977 in our pew Bibles) The mystery of God's will has been revealed to Paul and he is a steward and minister of this revelation
Matthew 2: 1-12 (page 807 in our pew Bibles) It never says how many Magi there were, only that there were three gifts, each with a special meaning. They included the Gold and Frankincense prophesied by Isaiah, and one other, Myrrh which would attest to the special meaning of Jesus' death.

In Ephesians Paul writes about “the mystery that has been made known to me by revelation”

Having things made known to us, which we couldn’t have known any other way except by direct revelation by God is the essence of Epiphany.

The main story that fulfils that brief about the identity of Christ is Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John and while that is the secondary story used in the West it is the main one in the East.

Nothing could be clearer. Jesus is baptised, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends bodily as a dove and remains with Him accompanied by the voice of God saying “This is my son, the beloved, with Him I am well pleased”
The identity of Jesus is confirmed.

Our main Epiphany story in the West has been as we heard this morning “The visit of the Magi” from the East. Here Jesus’ identity is assumed and the gifts of Gold Frankincense and Myrrh carry symbolic significance about the functions that this Son of God will fulfil.

But the very fact that foreigners visit Jesus and offer him gifts also carries huge significance. These men were not Jews, but recognise the significance of Jesus, so carry with them the universal aspect of God’s (Yahweh’s) place as the God of the whole world.

Some have tried to pour scorn on the story as just a little bit of creative writing by Matthew, but this ignores the historicity of the fact that Matthew calls them “Magi”. They are not kings or wise men they are something much more specific. “Magi” are priests within the Zoroastrian religion that still exists in Iran as a persecuted minority.  Iran, in relation to Israel is of course in the East. The Zoroastrians also believed that a saviour would be born of a virgin, and they were also skilled in reading the stars – a kind of cross between Astronomers and Astrologers. Matthew is recording historical fact.

There is also no mention of how many of them there were – only that there were three gifts and it is thegifts that have symbolic value in this story and tell us about what kind of person Jesus would be and what function he would perform.

Gold represents his kingship. Jesus is King of the Jews who were to be the light for the whole world. His universal kingship here is proclaimed, underlined by the fact that these gifts were brought by foreigners.

Frankincence represents the fact that he is a priest. A priest forever after the order of Melchizadek as Hebrews tells us. Jesus is an eternal priest of God most high. What is a priest and what does he do? A priest is a mediator between God and man. The retm for "High priest" in the new testament is only used to refer to Jesus Christ himself. Christians have one mediator, one high priest, and that is Jesus whose Spirit lives within you. You have no need of my or anyone elses mediation. All Christians have direct access to God in Christ.

So he is King and High Priest. What does the Myrrh represent?

Myrrh is used for anointing dead bodies and so refers to the very special and pivotal importance of his death.
Jesus won forgiveness of all our sins and made us Holy in God’s eyes as a atoning sacrifice which is why we proclaim that Jesus “died for our sins”.
This is a mystery that has been revealed to us by Jesus and proclaimed ever since by the church as an article of faith.

Jesus is both King and High Priest and has made us one with God through his atoning sacrifice. This is the faith of the church – proclaimed then, now and forever.



Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Children of God

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3 (page 621 in our pew Bibles) An expression of pure joy in what God has done and the need to show the world. This piece exudes happiness and contentment in what God has done and hope in what he will do,
Galatians 4: 4-7 (Page 974 in our pew Bibles) Paul rarely mentions the birth of Jesus but here he does in order to emphasise that Jesus was born just like every other human and just like every other Jew born under the law and had therefore been circumcised.
Luke 2: 15-21 ( page 857 in our pew Bibles)The great revelation of Jesus’ identity was given to the ordinary working people of Israel – the shepherds and they reflect the joy that Isaiah describes.
If both Isaiah and the Lukan story want to convey the huge excitement that people felt over what was doing we turn to Paul in Galatians to get a handle on what it was that people were supposed to be getting excited about!
Jesus was born an ordinary Jew in very lowly circumstances which was heralded mainly by shepherds who were also socially of very low estate.
But he was being heralded because Jesus  had another identity and role as well. And in fulfilling that role, as redeemer, he would win something wonderful for all people.
In this first Sunday after the Christmas story was announced and celebrated we now discover what it meant for every one of us on a personal level.
First of all Jesus was born as one of us so that he could redeem all of us. It would have been no good if Jesus was just a demi-God who God raised from the dead – He had to be fully human to make clear that resurrection is the gift that all other human beings have in store for them as well. The message is clear;
God the Father raised a human being from the dead. This means that;
God the Father can raise you, a fellow human being, from the dead.
This is personal and intensely relational.
In this life we are all members of a biological family; we are Mothers or Fathers, sons or daughters, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces. How well those families function is another matter but we are all as human beings members of a biological family.
The incredible message of Christianity is that we are all potentially members of another Family – a much bigger family.
We all become children of God when we believe that Jesus is the Son of the most high, and Jesus in his humanity is also our brother.
Jesus is our brother alongside all other Christians who become our brothers and sisters in this world-wide family.
When we believe God sends his Spirit into our hearts, the same Spirit that Jesus had in his heart and leads us to call God “our Father”.
We are no longer slaves to death or sin or any other human construction – we are alive in God. We know true freedom when we know God as our Father.
This is the one truly liberating message of the Christian faith that underpins everything else.
Identity is a truly hot topic in modern society. And in society our identities are based in things like class, gender and sexuality.
But Christianity beat society to the punch 2000 years ago. When we became Christians We assumed a new identity. I am a child of God.
I am clear about my identity that cuts through all of society’s transient efforts to classify me.

I am first and foremost a child of God. That is who I am and that is who we all are when we accept and believe.