Through the Bible in a Year – March 27

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 21-22; Gal 3; Psalm 107:1-22

‘Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?’

St Paul’s letter to the Galatians is famously his least pastoral letter. There is no prayer for the congregation and Paul moves directly from his greeting to his astonishment at what is happening amongst the Galatian Christians.

Having believed and received new Life in Christ, they are now resorting to works of the Law, especially as we have seen the ritual purity laws directed towards preserving Jewish identity. We know that things have come to a terrible place for Peter has been refusing to eat with Gentile Christians. This is the primary meaning of ‘Works of the Law’ is indisputibly in this context.

Now, of course we may well say that we do not have the same sort of issues in our day, but of course a moments thought does perhaps give us pause, in that we might separate ourselves from our fellow believers for any number of reasons. I argue elsewhere that Schism is The sin against the Holy Spirit and it is interesting that Paul opens his argument in Chapter 3 in terms of reception of the Spirit, reception of the very life of God.

For a moment I just want to focus in on this . . . ‘Did you receive the Spirit . . .’ not as a question addressed to the reader, but rather a rememberance of the extraordinary nature of what is born in us as we believe in the name of Jesus. It is usually around this time of year that we approach Easter, and a question I have constantly laid before myself is – ‘What is the impact on my daily life of the Cross and the Ressurection of Jesus?’ Do I live my life in terms of the radical transformation of Reality brought about that first Holy Week and Easter? Do I live a life free from fear, free to serve, to obey, to go where I am called, knowing that Christ has paid the full price for me and now that the life that I live, I live by faith, Indeed that my Life now is His Life in me.

The Resurrection of Christ changes everything – it announces God’s New Creation – When I received the Holy Spirit, I became part of that Creation, the Life that is Eternal. After the initial glow of our conversion wears off, do we like the Gentiles go back to the old ways, as if nothing had happened?

The disciples of course do this, Jesus finds them back on the lake fishing.He calls them back to a life of total dependency on Him. He calls us also. Life beckons. Do we hear?

God Is Love – He Really IS!!!

The message of the cross, St Paul tells us is foolishness to those who are perishing . . .

The problem many of have as Christians is that it is foolishness to us also . . .

As we considered yesterday, ‘The key element . . . that sets Christian faith apart, is its understanding of God.
As The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Michael Ramsey said, God is Christlike, in God there is no unChristlikeness as all. So as we see Jesus, we must thus reshape our understanding of God.’

Those of us who deep down want a God worthy of us, a God who is little more than a projection of what we think to be our best attributes, our strength, our power, our Careful Love given to the deserving, our Intelligence etc etc – have to deal with the awkward fact of Jesus of Nazareth, and his complete and utter humiliation upon a Roman Cross.

There are two common tricks we employ to dodge Jesus, one is the ploy of ignoring the plain teaching of the church down through 2000 years and saying in effect, when we look at him we do not see his divinity. His humanity is as it were a mask – his divinity is hidden. This is an old heresy and one which we return to in one form or another every day.

We find it all but impossible to accept that the humanity of Jesus perfectly reveals his divinity, that there is NO contradiction – we wait for The Real Jesus to step out from behind the curtain, the ‘God’ we secretly longed for.

The second trick of course is to ignore the Jesus’ way of being – how he refuses to save the world by Good Works, by not resisting evil but by allowing himself to be given over into the hands of sinful humanity.

Both ‘tricks’ are of course ways of ignoring the call of this Galilean fisherman to follow him in the way of vulnerability, in the way of Love. The way of the Cross we will leave to Jesus, he can do the dying bit and then ‘Abracadabra’ we can enjoy Easter as the Real Jesus makes himself known

When we come to Good Friday – it is good to stop there as long as possible, hour after hour after hour – to hear deep within ourselves, ‘This is your God’ – bleeding and dying, giving himself for the Love of those who hung him there.

The rush to Resurrection is a sure sign that we haven’t yet accepted that what we see in Jesus’ humanity is the perfect expression of our Strange God, that he is a stranger to us, that the way of the Cross is foolishness to Us . . .

Through the Bible in a Year – March 26

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 19-20; Gal 1-2; Psalm 106:24-end

Once more we wonder at the unity of the Scriptures – sometimes not so clear, sometimes all too clear – as when Moses holds before the Israelites the brass serpent that they might be healed – so the Son of MAn must be lifted up, that all who believe in him may not die but have eternal life.

In Christ, in some strange way we see our own death, and thus are set free from death – his death is also paradoxically our healing. And here we have one of the deeper meanings of Sin and Death – and why Jesus links suffering and sin. That at heart we are Sin sick – the distortion of sin is not some mere breaking a moral code – rather it is a fundamental fracturing of the Good which God has declared in Creation.

It is wrong to turn the Cross into some mere transaction, in the Cross we see the healing of all of Creation – all that is needed is that we turn to face it and believe.

Thus Peter and Paul find themselves at loggerheads and Paul challenges Peter – for one of the Key fractures of Sin is that between Jew and Gentile. The Galatians are primarily rebuked because they have succumbed to the message of some of the early Jewish converts, that life was to be found in the moral purity of not associating with Gentiles. Jesus in his ministry and in welcoming the thief upon the cross into Paradise broke down this wall of hostility. It is this which Paul addresses in Galatians as they try once more to be ‘pure’ by acts of separation from the Gentiles as Peter displays by withdrawing from table fellowship, an action which Paul challenges as antithetical to the gospel – and undoing of the work of the Cross, by which the two have become one in Christ.

In all our refusals to associate, for whatever reason, we do the same

The Lord has need of it

One of, if not The key elements that sets Christian faith apart, is its understanding of God.
As The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Michael Ramsey said, God is Christlike, in God there is no unChristlikeness as all. So as we see Jesus, we must thus reshape our understanding of God.

In Holy Week we are faced with this Incarnation of the radical undoing of any idea of God that is a projection of our wish fulfilment, ultimately upon the Cross, the God who is Crucified, the God who dies.

Throughout the week there are markers of this strange God revealed to us in Christ.

Firstly at Palm Sunday, we are reminded that we worship a God who makes himself dependent upon us. Throughout the gospels we are confronted with the needy God, the one for whom there is no room in the inn, the one who must ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, the one who has nowhere to lay his head, the one who has no coin, the one has need even of a lowly beast of burden, the one who thirsts, the one who in the end will lie in a borrowed tomb.

He sends his disciples to find the colt, and the words he gives them is The Lord has need of it.

This is how this strange God comes into the world, not in fullness and power, but in emptiness and need. Challenging all our preconceived ideas about God, and continuing to challenge those ideas about God which even after 2000 years we refuse to lay down. Challenging our ideas also about Mission.

Our ideas about Mission tend to start with our Power, our Resource, and the need of others. Yet when God comes into the world, all he offers is himself, he even relies on others to feed him.

Rowlands Williams in an address to the Benedictine community at Monte Cassino, spoke of how Emgland was converted by Augustine’s monks, that the people were won over by their poverty and prayer, that like the disciples of old they took nothing with them and were entirely dependent upon the people to whom they went. How different to our perceptions about church and mission.

Our ideas if both are based on fullness and power, we ‘need’ our own money, education programmes, paid staff, etc etc etc. Yet, if Christ lives in us, why do we need all these extras? If . . .

Jesus comes as one entirely dependent upon those to whom he comes, there is Nothing that stands in the way of his message, He Is the Good News.

‘With Jesus our only possession . . . ‘ goes the words of a song. Dare we, like Christ be dependent on those to whom we go?

Through the Bible in a Year – March 25

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 17-18; 2 Cor 12-13; Psalm 106:1-23

Paul goes further to elucidate the mystery of the triumph of the way of weakness – that in weakness the Power of Christ may more fully reside.

Again we are confronted with our own emphases on our talents and gifts and abilities. It is hardly surprising we pray so poorly in the church in the West, we are so talented and gifted, there is no need!

Hard as it is for us to hear – it is in our need, our emptiness, our weakness that Christ deigns to dwell – as he himself is revealed as the one who triumphs through the ‘weak’ way of Love – the one who empties himself for our sake – the one who comes to us to seek somewhere to lay his head.

Paul’s boasting in werakness, is in fact nothing more than his identification with Christ

Through the Bible in a Year – March 24

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 16; 2 Cor 11; Psalm 105 vs 26-end

‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’

Paul as we know is not interested in glorifying himself – there is no whisper of ‘my ministry’ here. In doing so he sets an example of humility which is perhaps the cardinal virtue of faith.

But boasting in weakness is a wonderful gospel ploy – for if we boast of that which is nothing, then all that can be seen must be of God – that Christ may be all, in all

Also it is interesting to note that we do not take Paul’s example all that seriously in the contemporary church, with our eyes all too often set on the glittering array of seminary qualifications – all the things which Paul has put behind him. What is more Paul speaks not of his glittering acheivements in his faithfulness to the gospel, all he will speak of is his afflictions.

He himself has known little comfort in the world – he has known little but tribulation, but finds his peace in the one who himself, ‘made himself nothing’, the one who has overcome the world.

Paul, like the Lord he serves knows in his flesh that the way of Life is the Cross.