We are Very Bold to say . . .

One of the prefaces to the Lord’s prayer in the Anglican tradition, says “As our Saviour Christ has both commanded and taught us, we are very bold to say . . .”

As Stanley Hauerwas noted, it is good that we say this – and I must admit that as I pray it, it is a prayer that finds us out – it exposes us

We pray ‘Our Father’ – we make the dangerous presumption of belonging to those called into familial relationship to the One who has brought all things into being.

And we pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” – We are so bold as to say to the one we call Father – ‘use the measure of forgiveness we use towards others, as you forgive us’.

Both the initial address and this call for forgiveness are intimately related. It is only in being like him in being vessels of Grace and mercy that the truth or otherwise of the initial address are revealed – that we are shown to be God’s children.

Jesus twice makes a similar point – “Blessed are the merciful, he says – They [the Greek is very strong at this point – THEY] will receive mercy” Forgive us, as we forgive

and again “the measure you use, will be the measure that is dealt to you” Forgive us as we forgive.

In my readings of Orthodox Christians, I am frequently utterly challenged by their frequent call to complete and utter forgiveness. Their understanding of theosis, that we are being renewed in the image of God, leads them inevitably to this point

Can I so forgive? Dare I pray that prayer?

‘ I don’t want to be a burden . . . ‘

These are perhaps the most desperately sad words I ever hear

I remember once rebuking my Grandmother for saying them. I rebuked her gently . . . but it was from the pulpit, at my mother’s memorial service . . .
[and I’m not bragging about it, I was a lot younger and a lot more insensitive than I am now, and those who know me well will indeed be saying ‘not possible’ . . .]

To be human is to be a burden to others

To be human is Not to be independent, but interdependent

Not to allow ourselves to be a burden, nay burdensome, is to deny that Life that is in us

The Father depends on the faithfulness of the Son, and the Life of the Spirit to save the world
We are made in the Image of that God

To say, I do not need you, is to say, ‘I don’t need God’

To say ‘I don’t want to be a burden’ is to deny Life itself

The Son of Man comes to serve

‘If I do not wash your feet, you have no fellowship with me’

Allow yourself to be loved

This is Life

Through the Bible in a Year – February 10

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 40-42; Acts 15:36- 16:40; Psalm 51

Yesterday we thought of ‘surrendering ourselves to the unfathomable mystery of the Love of God’ – that which sustains all life and upholds the universe and is its most profound meaning.

In the sure and certain confidence of such love we may pray Psalm 51. In the Orthodox liturgy it is said every day at morning prayer. It is an acknowledgment of who we are – and who God is. It is fundamentally honest with regard to ourselves and our relationship to God. ‘Against you only have I sinned’ Our sin of course always has consequences which hurt others. Every sin does this – we are I think hopelessly naive about how our lives are so woven together that every sin has consequences of which we cannot dream, and perhaps that is just as well. [There is I think, a helpful parallel in chaos theory – which famously suggests that the beat of a hummingbird’s wing in the Philippines leads to hurricanes over the Atlantic – thus it is with our sin]

But rather than hide this profound truth about ourselves, we live out of an even deeper truth – that we live our lives in even deeper weave with that of God, who is closer to us than our own heartbeat. And so we come with confidence before him, not parading our sins, but confident in his love and mercy, with broken and contrite hearts. All our efforts to please turned to dust – which is of course the raw material of life, from the dust of the earth we were made, and from dust God can and does remake us, in his tender Love and mercy.

We say with Job ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted – my eye has seen you and I repent in dust and ashes’

Job is commended for speaking the truth about God. To daily seek forgiveness in confidence and trust, is such truth speaking, and therein lies our great Hope.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 9

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-35; Psalm 50

‘Then God answered Job out of the whirlwind . . .’

In the beginning of his travails, Job had sat in silence before God with his three friends for a week – as it were figure of creation groaning in expectation. In this his friends showed empathy for his great suffering and together they showed wisdom in not trying to explain the inexplicable. But the human mind is restless until it finds its rest in its maker and so the disputation begins as his three friends wheel out three of the ‘contemporary’ explanations – none of which is any comfort to Job, who knows that only God knows – yet it is not enough for him in his trouble and so he enters into the disputation. Continue reading “Through the Bible in a Year – February 9”

‘but they are like the Angels . . .’

Angel, coming into Being . . . ‘Now and not yet’ . . .

In the encounter of Jesus with the Saducees, He is told a story about a woman who had seven husbands, and then is asked,’at the resurrection of the dead, whose wife will she be?’.

Jesus tells them that they have no idea of the significance of the resurrection, or indeed marriage . . . but another time

What must be understood, is that the Kingdom IS amongst us. In and through the risen Christ it already is and also shall be, and that here and there we see signs of ‘heaven’. Put another way, there are those who live amongst us as angels – sometimes. That is, we may not know such people amongst us, and/or they live thus only for brief moments – their lives giving us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

What triggered this post is a story I have spoken about told in the Orthodox tradition. In it, a woman is in Hell. The Angels, whose every desire is to pull her out of Hell search the record of her life for just One act of love. Finally, they discover that once a passing stranger called at her door, hungry and asking her for food. She, rather grumpily it must be said, went to her cupboard, found an old onion and threw it to him, telling him to be gone.

There in that, the smallest of acts, with only the faintest echo of grace, the angels found their chance. And so took the onion which had a long stalk, and lowered it down into Hell, so to rescue the woman and save her . . . Well the rest of the rather sorry story can be found here

But what has come home to me these past days, is how Unlike the angels we are as yet. THEY anxiously seek for ONE flicker of light and life, ONE sign of Grace, ONE echo of the life of God and latch onto it. ‘Yes!’ they say ‘There!!’ There is a sign that the Goodness of God is present in that person, and so gently and carefully summon it further into Life, as they so carefully sought to draw the woman out of Hell.

So often we are NOT at all like the angels. Our view is So distorted that all we can see is their faults – to the point where we, utterly perversely Deny any goodness, any attempt to live in the Light. We see the splinter in the eye – it becomes our entire focus. We are not desperate that they should be drawn out of Hell. We are not like them, we are not searching anxiously for ONE sign of grace, however weak, however is comes from the wrong place. How unlike children of God, who will go to any length to save us.

He waits, He Watches, and he Runs for the Prodigal who has blown it all – who in human terms has no way back and he knows it – who comes crawling back because he is hungry, who is even now trying to manipulate the Father, who knowing this full well, doesn’t merely accede to his request to be a hired hand, he throws a party for him. In this the feeblest of returns home, the Grace of the Father is Overwhelming

Jesus, continually heals our sight, would we allow it. He teaches us to see as He sees, as the angels see, as the Father sees – constantly on the look out for signs of Life – anxious and ready to Save at the smallest flicker. Let us pray for that same grace, that we might truly be children of our heavenly father, ‘who desirest not the death of a sinner’. Let us be on the look out Night And Day for signs of Grace. And let us eagerly greet and encourage them, even the smallest Hint of Life, even from the very Worst of motives, like those angels with the woman, Like the Father with the child.

And let us pray that the Lord, who will not put out a smouldering wick, will also grant those around US, Grace to see us likewise.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain Mercy’


Through the Bible in a Year – February 8th

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 36-37; Acts 14; Psalm 49

This Good News of the forgiveness of sins continues to bear fruit as Paul and Barnabas continue on their missionary journey. We may well wonder why such a glorious message receives such opposition. Once again and in utter perversity ‘unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against them’.

Setting people free at the most fundamental level is not something which for now will be universally acknowledged as a good thing. We live in a world in multiple forms of slavery – economic, emotional to name but perhaps the greatest impersonal and personal prisons. There are idols we are told we Must serve, and live in fear of, all of them Good things that have been distorted, yet whether they are ‘out there’ or deep within our hearts, we fear to let them go and live in freedom.

The person who is truly set free no longer participates in these fear laden idolatries, and their lives are difficult to comprehend. They forgive ‘the unforgiveable’, they are at work liberating the oppressed and welcoming them into the community of faith, where God is the one to be feared, the God who forgives sins. Indeed, entering into this Way, set free from captivity, their lives seem to be of a radically different order, and so Paul and Barnabas have to fight to prevent the people worshipping them as Gods. They so reveal the life of God in themselves, that those who have not yet received the message cannot see the difference.

This message of liberation is opposed. The powers that be have their slaves, who live in fear of the idols. There are others who continue to control others by withholding liberating forgiveness. To set the prisoner free will arouse opposition, the jailers have invested their being in their control over others. And so as with Christ, so with the Church.  “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God”

As an aside, when we talk of the persecution of the church in this age, does this persecution have its roots in setting the prisoners free through the forgiveness of sins?

The few : make this your life’s work, for it is to co-operate with the work of Life in you

‘ In this lifetime, only a few will be saved. Only a few will live a life of self-emptying love. Only a few will endure the humiliation of honesty. Only a few will face the despair of hell and give thanks. Only a few will forgive everyone for everything.’ Fr. Stephen Freeman


Through the Bible in a Year – February 7th

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 33-35; Acts 13:13-52; Psalm 48

‘With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared’ Ps 130 vs 4

What sets the God and Father of our Lord Jesus apart is the forgiveness of sins. And Christ when he comes, announcing the reign of God does so by forgiving sins. (We may be in awe of making a paralytic walk, but remember that Jesus only does this to reveal his even more breathtaking authority, to forgive sins)

Thus we may well say with the Psalmist, ‘Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised’ – that the dwelling place of God is a place of wonder and beauty.

So also, Paul, when he is called to speak in the synagogue in Antioch, when he comes to the culmination of his message says ‘Let it be known to you therefore my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses’

And here is a small clue as to how we announce the gospel in our own day. Paul begins by rehearsing the story of Israel – and it is a story fundamentally of how they are trapped by their past. In many respects the Pharisees whom Jesus encounters embody this slavery to what has gone before, as they seek to reaffirm their national identity in the face of many challenges, they are clinging to a history of rebellion agains God.

All around us we are surrounded by people similarly trapped by their past. Let us be clear, our past is all we know for sure. For so many that past weighs heavy. Shame and guilt often threaten to overwhelm and so we hide. The Gospel of Christ is an invitation to step out into the light that we might be healed – set free from our past – given a new life.

But this life is no mere, new start. Those who know this forgiveness become themselves forgiving. The wonder of that release means that they want others to know it. If we do not forgive we as yet have not come to know Christ, we as yet have not known the true liberation he brings – we have not ourselves yet heard the gospel, the Good news of the forgiveness of sins.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 6th

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 30-32; Acts 12:1- 13:12; Psalm 46-47

The church continues to grow despite at times fierce persecution – and in the midst of it there is a powerful sense of the community of the believers, powerfully engaged together in the mission of God.

James, one of the Boanerges is put to the sword. Herod seeing it gains him kudos with some of the people throws Peter into prison for good measure. And we read of how the church prays fervently for him. But their prayers are shown to be rooted not in some deluded sense that they have as it were found the key – as if prayer was magic. When miraculously Peter is released from prison [A contemporary story of God’s acting thus can be found in this book], the church do not believe it can be true – yet all the same they have been praying fervently. So their joy is multiplied.

What is clear is that we do not see the whole picture – that we pray for the Good but it is not always forthcoming. The point is not that we try to figure this out, as if prayer was a formula, but that together we pray.

They are given direction by the Spirit, but still enter fully into the work through fasting and prayer, and the work flourishes. When as the people of God we act as we are, the body of Christ, fasting and praying, worshipping and mourning, Together, we touch the edge of his hem. For most of us however in the modern western church, our questions about unanswered prayers are rarely those of the whole body. Our faith has become radically individualised.