Through the Bible in a Year – January 31

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 15-17; Acts 6:1-7:16; Psalm 39

Although our reading scheme takes us through the Old Testament chronologically – [the book of Job is read after Genesis as it is impossible to date with surety, and many consider it to be amongst the oldest of writings] – reading a Psalm and the Old and New Testament together gradually alerts us to the ways in which all of Scripture refers back and forth to itself. It is all but impossible to pray Psalm 39, and not find ourselves praying with Job, who remained silent seven days but then burst forth in speech before God, who asks that the Lord withdraw his hand from him.

And to read of Job, who was righteous like no other, who seems to suffer through no fault of his own and therein also to see Stephen – one full of wisdom and the Spirit – also righteous, and also now suffering. Stephen then in his answer to his accusers draws us back into this story, all the time the text calling to us, ‘All of Life is here – here are words of Life.’

And Stephen himself, chosen to wait on tables, to see to the daily distribution of food. As a faithful disciple his very life directs us to the Living One. Once more, the word, this time enacted directs us to The Word – the one who is full of the Spirit and Wisdom – and who took the form of a servant and gave us the bread from heaven.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 30

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 13-14; Acts 5; Psalm 38

It is interesting to note that Acts 5, in particular the story of Ananias and Sapphira does not occur in any lectionary of the church I have ever used for Sunday worship. As we so foolishly excise those ‘difficult’ bits of readings, Sunday by Sunday, either by dictat of the lectionary, or by skating over them in preaching – we seem all too ready to avoid the dark passages. We just want light

But what is Light, if we have no concept of the Dark

The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes crashing into the narrative of Acts as the most unwelcome of intruders – it is almost as if some vandal has cut down a favourite tree, or defaced a beautiful painting. Up to this point in the narrative all is well. There has been no persecution of the believers – their common life is a thing of beauty, and then all of a sudden two members of the infant church are dead, over what may seem to us to be a very small thing. We are shocked.

Like Job and his friends we argue over the ways of God, which seem unfair to us, and so too it may well seem is the incident with Ananias and Sapphira. ‘But they only told a lie!’

We want Light without there being any Dark – we want the blessing of God, but without any suffering. The treatment of Ananias and Sapphira seems to us unjust. Yet this is because of our failure to see the Light – our failure to apprehend what is happening amongst the believers, the enormity of the Resurrection Life.

It is the very Life and Light of the Living God, which flows through the veins of the early church, in whom there is no darkness at all. The very life of the Triune God is evident in the common life of the community of faith – wherever the Apostles go, there Life springs forth and the church grows and grows.

In Him, there is no darkness at all. Deceit, that hiding which was the outcome of the first sin of our forebears, has no place in the light. Ananias and Sapphira, as Adam and Eve, cover up. We must not miss the echoes of the ancient story. Deceit is in a sense The Sin. It is the Covering up that stops the flow of life. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’

To Live in the light is to be honest about our own darkness, and so be healed – to cover up is the way of death. Ananias and Sapphira find the way to the Tree of Life is barred to them. There is no Life – and without Life the end is inevitable.

Confession is a Vital part of living in the Light

Through the Bible in a Year – January 29

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 10-12; Acts 4; Psalm 37:20-40

Over and over again we are staggered by the Life present in the church in Acts. I am privileged to be one of the founder members of a community which to this day sees such evidence of life. The disciples live without fear in the face of opposition to faith which is frankly unknown to most of us. But the opposition and the lack of fear have the same root, the presence of Christ amongst his people . . . something which we speak of, but which the quiet carefulness of our Christian lives, the agonized strategising of our church bodies denies.

Dare we with the apostles pray for boldness?

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish prophet of our age saw our problem only too well – that we are all engaged in idle reflection, rather than risky commitment. Our commitments are to ideas, not to Life. Would we know the life of Christ present among us? Would we know once more a church which turns the world upside down? Then we too must commit to one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Only in this radical interdependence is is Life known . . . ‘the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul . . . and great grace was upon them all’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 28

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 8-9; Acts 3; Psalm 37:1-19

From the unity of the fellowship of believers flows Life. How many of us in these days either dismiss these stories of healings in the church, or explain them away, as if they were only for the apostolic era. And yet to this day, where the people of God are one such things continue to happen, and Christ is glorified amongst them.

For us to speak as Peter does, ‘in the name of Jesus’, there must be unity, genuine fellowship which goes far far beyond the ‘social club’ mentality which passes for church in the West. Shared lives lead to the sharing of Life. ‘That which I have I give you’, says Peter. Do we have that to give? That Life? Would we see the lame healed, the deaf hear, the blind see and the dead raised? Would we see Life?

Jesus said that only those who lose their lives will find it – he invited the rich young man to leave his possessions and join the band of disciples following him if he was to inherit the Kingdom of God. It is the same invitation he offers to us – to see that truly our greatest possession is our shared life in him, and to sell everything we have to take hold of it.

‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord and that he might send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 27

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 6-7; Acts 2; Psalm 36

As has often been pointed out, the events of the day of Pentecost reverse the effects of that old deep story of Babel [Genesis 10]. Now diversity of language is given to the apostles that with one voice they proclaim God’s deeds of power, that the many might be one . . . as He had prayed. And so it came to pass and from diverse nations a new people, born ‘not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of a man,’ but born of God. And as God is one so the people formed are one. ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common . . . day by day they spent much time together in the temple and broke bread at home’

As the Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us – so the Spirit dwells in this new community, the body of Christ. ‘And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved’

The greatest contradiction of the Gospel, the scandal of the modern church in the West, is that we have not repented of the radical individualism of Babel. We refuse to be one. This in the end, not our fragmented theological differences, is our Unbelief.

FOR FURTHER READING

Sermon for Epiphany 3 – Sunday 27th January 2013 – ‘We are the Body of Christ, in whom are fulfilled the Law and the Prophets’

Sermon for EPIPHANY 3

EPIPHANY 3 [click here to listen to the Sermon]

1 Cor 12:12-31
Luke 4:14-21

I want to begin this morning with a simple exercise – not of the physical type, but it has to do with the body.

I’m going to say a few things to you as a congregation and I I want you to respond appropriately – I’ll say a phrase and I’d like you to respond back to me

Now everyone is a little twitchy – this sounds difficult! – Don’t worry they are very familiar phases

Here goes

The peace of Christ be always with you
And also with you

There – that wasn’t too painful 🙂

Ok – a couple more

E to Whanau, we are the body of Christ
By one spirit we were baptised into one body

Keep the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Amen. We are bound by the love of Christ

Back in England, I used to say from time to time that I preached the same sermon every week and no-one listened – there I would say pretty much all we have just said ‘We are the body of Christ, in one spirit we were all baptised into one body, let us therefore pursue all that makes for peace and builds p our common life’ – It being the less democratic Church of England, I got to say it all 🙂 But here we say pretty much the same thing although to each other, which I like – but do we hear what we are saying?

As some of you have noticed, I preface the Lord’s prayer with the words ‘we are very bold to say’ – because it is outrageously Daring to address God as Father – to say we are dependent on him for daily bread, and to give him leave to use our forgiveness of others as the measure for his forgiveness of us – as Jesus says, the measure you give will be the measure you get . . . Daring words – Daring prayer – calling us to a largeness of Life.

Yet hardly less bold and daring, and certainly no less demanding are the words we’ve just rehearsed . . . By virtue of one baptism of the spirit . . . We are the body of Christ . . .

We Are the body of Christ. St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians as we know says this but he is not as it were struggling to find some metaphor for the church . . . ‘ermm let me think, the church, well I guess it is like Christ’s body!’ . . . as if this were just one of many possibilities – no Paul starts of saying this . . ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with’ . . the church? No. ‘So it is with Christ’ He goes on to describe the church ‘For in the one spirit we were all baptised into one body – but he is talking of Christ. His primary reference is not the church, ‘the church is like . . .’, no it is Christ.
Paul in describing the church understands the Church as Christ’s body – the identification of Christ with his Church as being total – and this is why for so many many years the idea of Schism in the church was unthinkable. When Martin Luther stuck his theses to the door of Wittemburg Church, he wasn’t thinking ‘Hah – that will show you, I’m off to form my own church!’ The idea would have been ludicrous to him. There is One Body – there can only be one church!’ But of course Luther lived also in an age where the spirit of the age, the philosophy of the world was driving heavily towards Individualism and fragmentation – the end of which we see in our own age.

No – for much of the history of the church and pretty definitively for the first thousand years the idea of there being more than one church was anathema – you could not divide the Church for Christ is One.

It strikes me that perhaps the greatest challenge the church faces in our age is this complete lack of sense of who we are – that we are the body of Christ

In the Church of England service, as I said the words before the Peace were slightly different and I think helpfully so – for the Priest would say – let us therefore pursue all that makes for peace – pursue peace – work for peace, amongst ourselves . . . and builds up our common life. Our common life . . . it is an interesting phrase – one worthy of meditation.

Back in the Middle Ages, when Christendom seemed to sit astride Western Europe – the great theologian Thomas Aquinas applied his mind to what he called, ‘The Common Good’ – that which is good for all. And our own Andrew Bradstock is busy doing some work on this at the moment I know.

Well in one way or another we are all Thomists, or at least his thinking about society took deep root. But his conception was of a whole people Under God – the Church was everywhere – it held all but supreme power – to speak of the common good was in a sense to speak of the good of the church – what else was there? There were a few heretics – but generally you hounded them away or burnt them 🙂

But of course those days are long gone although their perception still holds sway – so now when we speak of working for peace – we do Not primarily think of that amongst ourselves, but rather of working for peace in society, ironically from a deeply fractured and fragmented church. Of course we can think of this in terms of the witness of a church of many denominations – but it is more true of the local church which is Always where people either do, or do not encounter Christ.

Our common Life – it is an interesting question. Do we have a common life? When people encounter us as a body do they find that our Common life, our Life Together (to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase) speaks to them of Christ. In what sense apart from this hour or so on a Sunday do We have a common life, or is the Individualism which so thoroughly infects our society also infect us? St Paul says ‘the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ Is there a member (good word) of this church whom we say in effect we could do without? Do we recognise deep down that we Do Need each other, that we cannot be the church without each other – and if we answer Yes to that, then how is that expressed?

Through Lent I will be running a series of studies into the life of the church and I do hope that we can express some of that common life in coming together around the Word of God for a time each week – however we are still in Epiphany, and as I have said, Epiphany is for meditating on the manifestation of Christ. Paul let us not forget says, as the members are one body, So it is With Christ – he would have us looking to Christ. And so he is manifested – in the adoration of the magi – in his baptism – his Glory revealed at the Wedding at Cana when the bridegroom comes for his bride, his people – and this week he is manifested as the one who fulfills the Law and the prophets.

Imagine the dramatic scene – he comes to those who were his own – to Nazareth where he was brought up He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

He Is the Messianic servant long foretold – but his words are staggering and like the words of the Lord’s prayer, like the words of the peace, I think we miss their import. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” Has been fulfilled. Not I have come to announce a great new project that I want you all to get in on – there’s work to be done folk – no – Today, this scripture has been fulfilled. Christ is the fulfillment of the words of the prophet – In Christ is where they are fulfilled. And the world makes its judgement. For the people of NAzareth it was quite clear they wanted none of it – they went to throw him off the cliff. Why do you throw a man off a cliff for announcing a project of good works? You don’t. He had had the temerity to say that in HIm ‘It is finished’ – ‘It is fulfilled’ In him!

But we look around at the world and say – we can’t see it – but we are looking in the wrong place – it is fulfilled in Christ – in his very being, in himself, in his body . . . where should we see good news for the poor? In his body, in the church – ‘there were no poor amongst them’ – Where should we see people set free from all that binds them? In Christ, In his body, in the church. Where should the blind see? In Christ this is fulfilled – in his body – in the church – ‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see’

And we look around and say ‘are you serious?’ How can this be? And the world may well ask the same questions. How can this be? ‘Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee . . .’ When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. how can it be? It can be, if we are once more filled with power from on high – it is the Life of Christ that makes us the body of Christ. It is His Life that is Our Common Life

Glory be to God for all things

Let us pray
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Amen

Through the Bible in a Year – January 26

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 4-5; Acts 1; Psalm 35

As modern readers, that is those who read texts primarily for their usefulness to us, the book of Job is a profound disappointment. We think that the text is there to answer our proud questions – but rather it exists to question us, to call our very existence into question and cause us to call out in faith ‘Save us!’

In our unbelief many of us it seems are consumed by the question of theodicy, that is ‘How can a God who is omnipotent and loving allow suffering?’. [Although moral philosophers have shown quite clearly that there is no contradiction and moved on] Job is not interested in answering this question for us. Rather here we see a suffering man for whom the one undeniable reality is God. Job will not curse God and die. He realises that there is far more at stake here than the answer to philosophical, for him his suffering is real, but as we read through the dialogue with his friends, we realise that for Job, God is far more real.

In a deep sense, the theme of the book of Job is not suffering at all, but the primacy of God, and of Worship as the fundamental disposition of the soul, in and through everything. It is not a text which gives us answers, rather it is one that redirects our gaze. As we have recently read in John, Jesus does not answer Pilate, rather he confronts him with the Truth in his very being. So God does not give us answers, rather he redirects our gaze from ourselves to Him. In Worship and Adoration our lives find their true meaning – everything else is secondary.