Sermon for Sunday 23rd June – St John the Evangelist (transferred)

Sermon for Patronal Festival
St John the Evangelist, Roslyn

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 117
1 John 1
John 21:20-25

The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ

Years ago, whilst training for ordained ministry, I was struck by the opening of one of the books I read. Indeed I wasn’t so much struck by it as haunted by it – as it’s memory has stuck with me down through the years, and it seems that today as we celebrate our Patronal Festival (almost exactly 6months late 🙂 ) it is a good place to start our consideration of the scriptures.

The book, ‘Telling the Story’, by Andrew Walker, professor of theology and education at King’s College, London opens with these words

‘In 1983, Lesslie Newbigin’s first draft of his book, The Other side of 1984, was being discussed in the British Council of Churches by a distinguished group of churchmen and women, including bishops and leading theologians. The question arose: ‘Well, what is the gospel anyway?’ Only two of the people present were prepared to hazard a guess’

Walker continues ‘This is shocking, but it is not so surprising’.

One can readily imagining a church meeting – or indeed a sermon where the question is put – ‘What is the gospel, anyway?’ And we would all break into little groups and discuss it and possibly there would be scribes who would write down our answers. The conversation would I guess go something like this ‘Well, for me, the gospel is . . .’, and ‘For me, the gospel is . . .’ You may like to think about that question briefly? And I wonder how many of our definitions when carefully questioned would be devoid of any mention of Jesus Christ . . . but I pray that they would not, here of all places

On this our Patronal festival, it is first of all worthwhile remembering the full ascription of our church. To all and sundry we are known as St John’s, Roslyn. But our full ascription is ‘St John the Evangelist, Roslyn’ St John the Evangelist. St John the one who declares the Evangel, the Good News, the Gospel. We above all should know what the Gospel is

St John, the one commonly thought to be he who lay at the breast of Jesus at the last supper – close to the heart of Jesus – declares to us the very heart of the Gospel – and John’s message is simple. The Gospel John proclaims is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ Is the good news. He comes not to declare some message from God, he does not come to suggest to us the right way to live. Jesus does not come to announce the Gospel – He Is the gospel. It is His Life which is offered both to God and to the world.

What is it that John says in the opening to the first epistle, to which we have just listened?
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.

What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands – this Life.

Herein is one of the greatest challenges for us as the people of God in this age. In an age which is increasingly solipsistic, that is that lives in its heads, that thinks truth is a set of propositions about which we may agree or disagree over a dinner table yet still live together as we have always lived, and moreover which thus perhaps more than ever before, spiritualises the gospel that we may escape its concrete demands on our life, our challenge is this – that John, the one who is accused, and indeed in some of the early church writings lauded for writing a spiritual gospel – identifies the gospel with ‘Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth’. The Light of the World, The Bread of heaven, The Good shepherd of the sheep, The Way, The Truth, The Life. All these Wonderful ascriptions are no mere Ideas, they are not timeless truths, They are to be seen, heard and touched in Jesus. The Living Word of God is made Flesh.
John proclaims no vague ‘spiritual gospel’ No ‘message’ or ‘timeless spiritual truth’ His gospel is the flesh and blood and bone and breath material reality that is Jesus Christ

And that the Life is declared – the gospel is announced – so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is declared as the Life that comes from God, that we might share in the life Of God. ‘Now this is eternal life – that they might Know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’

We must wonder at those churchmen and theologians who could not put the gospel into words – who did not know What it was. We must wonder, ‘Did they not know Jesus Christ?’
For He is our Life – the entirety of it – as Jesus says to us ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ Might we suggest that the church is in the unhealthy state it is, because increasingly it has less and less to do with Jesus, her risen Lord and the entire content of her being? As St Paul says ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Christ Is our Life. Apart from Him we have no good thing

Do we know this? That Jesus Christ is our Life? As John puts it in Chapter 3vs16-17  ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.’ That there is Life only in the name of Jesus.

Just a week or so ago, many church folk were astir at the ‘once in a lifetime’ visit of the Dalai Lama to Dunedin. Understandably so in some respects. A man of international standing and widely admired . . . but, brothers and sisters, not once in a lifetime – but Every week we gather here to meet with Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, the one through whom ‘All things [have come] into being,’ The one without [whom] not one thing came into being.’ He comes to us – His is the life we share – It is His word we hear proclaimed – it is His body and blood upon which we feed. We sometimes speak about ‘Going to church’ as if it were somehow just another even in the week. Sometimes we enjoy it, sometimes we don’t, sometimes the choice of hymns suits our tastes, sometimes they don’t, sometimes the sermon is to long for us, sometimes we wished it were longer 🙂 But ALWAYS Jesus Christ is present amongst us – ALWAYS we receive forgiveness of our sins through his blood – ALWAYS The Lord is HERE!!! Think folk about that just for a moment. I was left wondering why there was so much excitement about the visit of the Dalai Lama, and seemingly so little Joy amongst the people of God Sunday by Sunday – when we meet with Jesus Christ our Life. We may want to ponder that for just a moment. Do we, the flock of Christ here in this place Know him?

John shows us unambiguously that we cannot flee to the vacuous subjectivity of ‘the spiritual’ – handily divorcing faith from the concrete commands of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth Is the gospel – and this is not just John – Jesus the Good News of God is the subject of all of scripture – that Gospel is proclaimed throughout all the pages of Scripture. Moses, it seems to me sees Christ far more clearly than we who bear his name often do.

As God in his mercy reveals a little of himself to Moses – Moses realises that the people cannot live apart from the presence of the Living One as he intercedes with God ‘Consider too that this nation is your people.’ The LORD said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I shall give you rest . . . And [Moses] said to [the LORD], ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? The disciples have to be told by Jesus that apart from Him they can do nothing, apart from Him they Are nothing, but Moses pleads in effect – Do not leave us In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ In this way, we shall be distinct . . . from every people on the face of the Earth.

The reduction of the Gospel to a spiritual message – carefully crafted to offend none – stripped of its true content, Jesus Christ – leaves Christians utterly indistinct from every people on the face of the earth. ‘Oh you are spiritual? So are we – how lovely!’ But how can we know what Spiritual means??? Apart from Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh. Apart from that core understanding that apart from the Life of the Living One in our midst we have nothing, we are nothing, we gain nothing. Yet knowing Him, we have Everything.
The words Follow Me – are addressed through Peter to the whole church – to live our live in and through and with Jesus Christ

Next year – 2014 – we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the first preaching of Christ upon these shores. As a diocese we will together be called to a corporate act of identification with Jesus Christ. Across the Diocese there will be a renewal of our baptismal vows – a reminder to us all that we have seen the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and we have died in baptism with him, and that our life is hid with Christ in God. Following that, the bishop will embark on a Diocesan wide Hikoi – proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the Otago and Southland.

When as it is to be hoped such proclamation of Jesus Christ stirs up our neighbours to ask of us ‘What is the gospel anyway?’ May we not be ashamed to bear the name of Jesus. May we not shy from naming him as our Life – May we not be left as those churchmen and theologians were embarrassedly struggling for words – especially here in the Church that bears the name of the one that has written these things that we might believe, and believing might have Life in and through Jesus Christ.


Through the Bible in a Year – June 23

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ki 7; Mat 7; Psalm 70-71

Perhaps it is in Matthew 7 that the sermon becomes its sharpest. Who for example even desires to avoid judging others? Jesus famous joke about the mote and the beam illustrates beautifully our human predicament. We are tuned to see the flaws in others whilst we are blind to our own faults and failings. We see someone choking on a gnat whilst we are trying to swallow the proverbial camel.

Jesus story tells us that we have far more work to do on our own hearts than any assistance we might usefully render to others. Truly it is a narrow gate, the gate of wholehearted obedience to the primary command of Jesus – follow me. Our lives are meant to bear fruit – to bear witness to the Life of Christ in us.

Jesus then closes out the sermon with the clearest expression of what we have been thinking on these past days. ‘Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of m father in heaven’. To Know Jesus is to be identified wholly with him – living as he lived purely for the Kingdom of God.

When we begin to grasp the fullness of that Kingdom, we will know that it is such a huge realm, that our lives are readily swallowed up in it. Perhaps our problem with disobedience is that we think so little of the Kingdom of God?

‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them . . .’

Through the Bible in a Year – June 22

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ki 5-6; Mat 6; Psalm 69

As we have been exploring, there is a brand of what passes for Christianity, that pays little or no heed to the actual words of Jesus. To an extent we are all guilty of this. Certainly it is not too much to say that if the vast majority of Christians strove to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, the church would look somewhat different to how it looks.

Think for example about the exhortations to acts of piety done in private, and then consider the walls of so many churches festooned in plaques celebrating wealthy benefactors. ‘Truly I tell you, they have received their reward” How often do we make so much in public of such acts, showing that as a church we have the same mindset whether as donors or recipients.

And then of course, the command ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth!’ But do we as Christians disengage from the mania with acquisitiveness with which the world is being slowly destroyed? The accumulation of those things we can see, that tempt the eye and thus reveal the covetousness of our hearts and our lack of desire for God.

Take no thought for what you eat or wear . . . I could go on

So often it seems in the West in particular the Church is up in arms about people’s ‘lifestyles’, ften in regard about which our Lord says nothing – yet when it comes to the plain commands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) we merge into the background and become indistinguishable from our surroundings.

As we shall see, the consequences of disobedience are great – but we don’t seem to believe this.

Bible Reading Scheme for July – August

‘Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly digest’
For those who are following the scheme to read through the Scriptures in a year, here are the readings for July and August

Of course if you missed the beginning, there no reason why you can’t join in at any point. Please contact church if you need a copy of earlier readings.

Just a couple of tips – if you miss a day, do not worry, or try to catch up, this will just turn it into a chore! Start again with the reading set for the day. And if something grabs your attention, then stop, turn to God in prayer or praise or lament or in whatever way seems appropriate.

This scheme will take you through the whole Bible in a year and twice through some parts. It is adapted from a scheme supplied by the Christian Medical Fellowship. Some of the order of the readings in the Old Testament might strike you as a little odd. This order is intended to follow the chronology of events. So for example in these months readings from 2 Chronicles which refer to Solomon, are interspersed with readings from Ecclesiastes which is traditionally attributed to Solomon, as also are the Proverbs.

Of course you do not have to read All of the readings, you could perhaps just follow the Old Testament track, or the new – or just read a Psalm a day as set – all of it is a profitable discipline

May God bless us all in our studies


July 1    Prov 12-14; Matt 14; Psalm 78 vs 32-end
July 2 Prov 15-16; Matt 15; Psalm 79
July 3    Prov 17-19; Matt 16; Psalm 80
July 4 Prov 20-21; Matt 17; Psalm 81-82
July 5    Prov 22-23; Matt 18; Psalm 83
July 6 Prov 24-25; Matt 19; Psalm 84-85
July 7 Prov 26-27; Matt 20; Psalm 86
July 8 Prov 28-29; Matt 21; Psalm 87-88
July 9    Prov 30-31; Matt 22; Psalm 89:1-18
July 10 2 Ch 1-4; Matt 23; Psalm 89:19-end
July 11 2 Ch 5-6; Matt 24; Psalm 90
July 12 2 Ch 7-9; Matt 25; Psalm 91
July 13 Ecc 1-4; Matt 26:1-35; Psalm 92-93
July 14 Ecc 5-8; Matt 26:36-end; Psalm 94
July 15 Ecc 9-12; Matt 27; Psalm 95-96
July 16 SoS 1-4; Matt 28: Psalm 97-98
July 17 SoS 5-8; Acts 1; Psalm 99-101
July 18 1 Ki 12-13; Acts 2 Psalm 102
July 19  1 Ki 14-15; Acts 3; Psalm 103
July 20  1 Ki 16-17; Acts 4; Psalm 104
July 21 1 Ki 18-19; Acts 5; Psalm 105 vs 1-25
July 22 1 Ki 20-21; Acts 6:1-7-16; Psalm 105 vs 26-end
July 23 1 Ki 22; Acts 7:17-end; Psalm 106:1-23
July 24 2 Ch 10-12; Acts 8; Psalm 106:24-end
July 25 2 Ch 13-15; Acts 9; Psalm 107:1-22
July 26 2 Ch 16-18; Acts 10; Psalm 107:23-end
July 27 2 Ch 19-20; Acts 11; Psalm 108
July 28 2 Ki 1-3; Acts 12:1- 13:12; Psalm 109
July 29 2 Ki 4-5; Acts 13:13-end; Psalm 110-111
July 30 2 Ki 6-7; Acts 14; Psalm 112-113
July 31 2 Ki 8-9; Acts 15:1-35; Psalm 114-115

August 1 2 Ki 10-12; Acts 15:36-16:40; Psalm 116-117
August 2 2 Ch 21-24; Acts 17; Psalm 118
August 3 Joel 1-3; Acts 18; Psalm 119:1-16
August 4 Jonah 1-2; Acts 19; Psalm 119:17-32
August 5 Jonah 3-4; Acts 20; Psalm 119:33-48
August 6 2 Ki 13-14; Acts 21; Psalm 119:49-64
August 7 2 Ki 15-16; Acts 22; Psalm 119:65-80
August 8 2 Ki 17-18; Acts 23; Psalm 119:81-96
August 9 2 Ki 19-20 ; Acts 24; Psalm 119:97-112
August 10 2 Ch 25-27; Acts 25; Psalm 119:113-128
August 11 2 Ch 28-29; Acts 26; Psalm 119:129-144
August 12 2 Ch 30-32; Acts 27; Psalm 119:145-160
August 13 Is 1-2; Acts 28; Psalm 119:161-176
August 14 Is 3-4; 1 Thes 1-2:16; Psalm 120-122
August 15 Is 5-7; 1 Thes 2:17-4:12; Psalm 123-125
August 16 Is 8-10; 1 Thess 4:13-5:28; Psalm 126-128
August 17 Is 11-12; 2 Thes 1-2; Psalm 129-131
August 18 Is 13-14; 2 Thes 3; Psalm 132
August 19 Is 15-16; Gal 1-2; Psalm 133-135
August 20 Is 17-19; Gal 3; Psalm 136
August 21 Is 20-21; Gal 4; Psalm 137-138
August 22 Is 22-23; Gal 5; Psalm 140
August 23 Is 24-25; Gal 6; Psalm 141-142
August 24 Is 26-27; 1 Cor 1; Psalm 143-144
August 25 Is 28-29; 1 Cor 2-3; Psalm 145
August 26 Is 30-32; 1 Cor 4-5; Psalm 146-147
August 27 Is 33-35; 1 Cor 6; Psalm 150
August 28 Is 36-37; 1 Cor 7; Psalm 1-2
August 29 Is 38-39; 1 Cor 8-9; Psalm 3-4
August 30 Is 40-41; 1 Cor 10; Psalm 5-6
August 31 Is 42-43; 1 Cor 11: Psalm 7

‘Repentance is . . .’ NOT ‘saying sorry’

More and more these past years, I have wrestled with the obvious fact that the lives of Christians and non-Christians are all but indistinguishable.

In part this is no doubt down to the Solipsisitic nature of contemporary life. Rene Descartes has won out and we are our thoughts. Thus faith is just a matter of what we consider to be true.

I was going to say that ‘it hardly needs saying that this is so far away from the Biblical conception of the life lived in the light of God as to constitute something other than Christian life’. Except it does need to be said – for if it were utterly obvious, why are we not concerned about the gulf between the life of faith revealed to us in the pages of Scripture and our own lives??

At this point the answer usually trawled out is – ‘well we are all sinners . . . ‘ Yet again, this is not the picture that the New Testament paints of the people of God, rather that we are New creatures in Christ, the ascriptiion most commonly used is Saints. Yes we do sin, but this is now revealed as a terrible contradiction of who we have been made by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it will not do to say we are sinners, rather we are saints who from time to time grievously act in contradiction to our new nature.

Of course what the old saw about us ‘being sinners’ does is frees us from any sense that we ought to be live differently from those around us. Certainly it leads us to reduce those texts which speak of us being children of light in a dark world to the point of absurdity, where we in effect deny them whilst devising clever theological schemes so that we do not. The idea that to be ‘In Christ’ is be a fundamentally different order of being from those amongst whom we live, including friends and family . . . I need not go on

What is the root of this??

Well put plainly we haven’t repented and thus received the life of Christ. The church requires above all, to use another oft ignored phrase, to be converted.

Of course most of us, if we have ‘come to faith’ later in life may well think – ‘Well I have repented! I said sorry to God. I changed my mind about Him. I acknowledged I was wrong in my thinking about Him. I changed my mind. Therefore I am converted!’

But the picture of repentance, that it is ‘saying sorry’, that it is fundamentally to have a new set of beliefs about spiritual matters – is in itself just plain wrong. As St Paul tells us, sorrow is not repentance – it leads to Repentance. It leads to changes in our behaviour which make it possible for us to receive the Life of Christ.

Put this way, to most of us this will sound very strange – but after much thought these past years, I believe it to be true.

Let us for a moment consider the forerunner, the Elijah, who comes before the LORD to prepare his way – to turn the hearts of the people of God to God. John the Baptist is just that! He is not the Life. We tend to think that John has little to do with us – yet the work he comes to do, must be done in us before we too can receive the life of Christ. Repentance is a precursor to the Life of God. We first have to turn to God, THEN we can receive his life – this new nature that he promises, that sets us apart as that which we are meant to be ‘Light of the world’.

Joseph Ratzinger – later to be Pope Benedict XVI puts it thus : As for the contents of new evangelization, first of all we must keep in mind the inseparability of the Old and the New Testaments. The fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the message by John the Baptist: metanoeìte—Convert! There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching Jesus without answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus took up the message of John in the synthesis of his own preaching: metanoeìte kaì pisteúete èn tù eùaggelíu

Repentance precedes the Life of Christ. The Baptist comes first preaching repentance – only those who respond to his message are prepared – the way made straight – to receive the Baptism of fire – of Life in Christ.

Of course we may thus so far assent – or we may not – but, we must ask, what is the content of this repentance which John preaches? Here we find no warrant for ‘saying sorry’, for a mere changing of our lives – we are called to change our lives – to bear fruit worthy of repentance. This is no mere change of mind – the Baptist puts this repentance in the clearest possible terms, and it is expressed with regard to our life with our neighbour. [Anthony of Egypt puts it thus ‘Our life and death are with our neighbour’]

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

That is the preparation for the Life that Christ brings – it is the opening of the door of our hearts to the other, to our neighbour. In its essence it is this, to live as humans with humans. When we have much and others go without, we are to supply their need. There is nothing ‘legalistic’ about this, it is not even ‘kindness’ – it should in no way be extraordinary. People starve = you have more than enough to eat. People are naked – You have more than enough clothes to wear. People are lonely – your house is full of the warmth and light of friendship. People are impoverished – you live way beyond the simple necessities of life. Love the other! Feed, clothe, invite them to your house, share your abundance with all and sundry.

There should be nothing extraordinary in this – but there is. If Christians took it upon themselves, merely to respond to the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, that would cause such a stir throughout the world. Who can conceive of such a thing? Yet it is no more than simple care – the basic requirement for being human.

When those simple things are done, the active love of neighbour that sees need and responds out of our wealth, then the door is opened to the ‘one who comes after me’ And without those simple things, our hearts are closed to Christ. As Cardinal Ratzinger put it ‘There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist” Repentance.

The one who lies at the breast of Christ – the beloved disciple to whom the heart of the Good News is revealed puts it thus : How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Love your neighbour, as yourself. Do you look to your own needs? Do so to others.

At the last when Jesus comes he expresses it in the most powerful of terms in the blessings and woes in Luke 6, and in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.

The gulf between the Rich man and Lazarus could easily have been crossed in life, but that which existed after the death of the rich man could not. We can only wonder at how what we must presume to have been a religious man [he calls Abraham his father] might have not seen to the needs of the man who lay at his gate? As Abraham gently tells him, his brothers have Moses and the prophets – what other warning do they need? If they do not respond to these basic needs of their brothers and sisters, knowing what simple humanity requires, how might we expect them to, even if one rises from the dead?

This gulf is exemplified in the minds of contemporary Christians who reduce faith to a thing of the mind, or indeed ‘the heart’ where that is no more than a code for the emotional life. The question is, is this gulf fixed? Have we heard the call to repentance? Are we even ready to receive the Life that comes from above?

May God grant to us all as we have need, Godly sorrow which leads to Repentance, which opens the door to Life.


Through the Bible in a Year – June 21

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ki 3-4; Mat 5; Psalm 68

Yesterday we thought about how the humanity of Jesus is revelaed in his being tempted, but better understood as his being a child of God.

Now we enter the territory of the Sermon on the Mount. Contrary to many, we need to realise, this is meant to be lived. We are to be poor in spirit – humble – mourners (how can we be otherwise as we see the world in which we live?) – to be meek (gentle in the strength that comes from above) – hungry for God’s Life – merciful – pure in heart – peacemakers – and thus persecuted.

The last beatitude is the one which really makes such an impression on our mind. To be frank why would anyone persecute a Christian. Yes we see how our brethren are actively persecuted in so many parts of the world – but in the West as Christians we long ago made our peace with the surrounding culture. And in the West we have largely sought to avoid concrete obedience to the teaching of Jesus. We have separated our lives out – the spiritual, a sort of message, or a set of feelings -and the material, where we live lives that are no different to those amongst whom we live and a thousand miles away from the life revealed to us in the Sermon.

Ultimately this disconnect is an abandonment of Christ. He is our teacher – we are told to follow him. The Sermon is nothing less than the description of the life of a disciple, but we have chosen the easy course and so books abound on how we must not take the Sermon seriously. It is we are told ‘about the age to come’. BUT in Christ the age to come has dawned. The call to truly repentant lives has been proclaimed – the highway has been made straight. It is not complicated, obedience to Jesus. It is tough, but not complicated. We have created a false gospel, which requires no response on our part, it is a thing that is almost impossible to communicate to others, for it is so complex. But it is much much easier than obedience to Jesus.

From Ghandi, to many indigenous people’s to whom the gospel came – the disconnect between our lives and the teaching of Jesus is plain. We struggle to know how to communicate the gospel?? The answer Jesus gives us is plain – Live it. Of course then that final Beatitude may well become true for you also – but as Jesus says, that is a matter for rejoicing, no?

Through the Bible in a Year – June 20

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ki 2; Mat 4; Psalm 67

In the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus is revealed in his full humanity to us. Tempted as we are in every way. What holds him through all that he endures is his understanding of who he is. Whilst we rightly make much of how Jesus responds to the Satan with words of Scripture – we perhaps miss the significance of his baptism – that his identity is secure in God his Father and he is enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

Each of the temptations is in essence to deny who he is, and each challenges us about our apprehension of our identity in Christ as sons and daughters of God.

First he is tempted to provide for himself. Of course much of bourgeois Christianity does exactly this. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ we are told and a thousand and other little lies. We are taught to take our lives into our own hands. In many ways it is the greatest failing of the western church, that throughout 1700 years of Christendom, we have become entwined in the world’s way of thinking about material things. How are our lives any different from those around us in regard to the physical provision of God. Do we know His provision of the stuff of life?

Next Jesus is called upon to deny his Father in terms of trusting him to work his good purposes out. Again the temptation is ‘to take his life into his own hands’, ironically in a way by risking his life. In an age where more than ever before we vaunt the spectacular, the large scale [think how much effort we put into ‘good communication’ re ‘EVENTS’ coming up in our churches] – in our own way we throw ourselves down from the temple many many times . . . to no effect. God reveals his Glory in His way. Ultimately, the ‘spectacle’ of God’s glory is revealed not in pyrotechinics but in the dead body of Jesus on the cross. That is His way of manifesting himself. We need to allow That to influence our efforts at what is effectively ‘self’ promotion.

Finally it all comes to a head – ‘Bow down and worship me and you will have everything you desire’. It is perhaps barely necessary that we have perhaps unwittingly, but certainly in culpable ignorance sold out to Satan in our worship of Mammon in the contemporary church.

Again, I say we see Jesus here in his humanity. In his overcoming temptation he sets a path for us to follow. Being His entails learning from Him (being his disciple). It is not primarily learning the Scriptures, although they have their not insignificant place. Primarily it is coming to our senses as Children of the most high God, realising that these temptations assail our very being, and learning like Jesus to refute them – secure in our identity as those he is not ashamed to call brothers and sisters – following Him.

Through the Bible in a Year – June 19

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ki 1; Mat 3; Psalm 66

One of the key titles for Jesus in Matthew is ‘Son of David’. We find the angel also addresses Joseph thus – so it of course at one level means ‘in the lineage of David’. But at another it expresses Israel’s Messianic hope – the ‘annointed one’ – the Christ – that is the King.

Of course ‘King’ ‘covers a multitude of sins’. Anyone aware of human history knows that those who lead are every bit as flawed as those who are led. So the story of David ends in 1 Kings, not in a blaze of glory, but with an enfeebled king dying and being manipulated by those around him. This is unpacked over the first two chapters as Solomon accedes to the throne – but we see David now enacting revenge that for some reason in his strength he had refused to be associated with.

Perhaps it is here we see David in Truth? Certainly it is instructive that our scriptures do not engage in hagiography – at least the Samuel/Kings account does not.

But now another King steps onto the stage – Jesus embarks on his public ministry – heralded by the abrasive character of the Baptist – who preaches repentance in readiness to meet with the coming one, the one who will baptise with fire – and with the very life of God.

Yet Jesus himself sees how important it is that everything be fulfilled – so he too is baptised. In so doing Identifying fully with repentant Israel, and more broadly all those who repent and turn to God. And in this he is annointed with the Spirit which he will pass on to those who follow him, and is declared the beloved Son of God.

The identification of Jesus with his own is I think worthy of much meditation – we are found ‘in Christ’ to use Paul’s phrase.

Through the Bible in a Year – June 18

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 27-29; Mat 2; Psalm 64-65

Matthew’s great theme is ‘Fulfillment’ We shall see this over and again in many ways. Immediately the Christ child finds himself as it were driven from amongst his people – to that place of ancient threat – Egypt. Abraham of course also sojourned in Egypt, but unlike Abraham, and indeed the children of Jacob, we know nothing of the time the Holy Family spent there, except that ‘it was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophets’.

In the coming of Jesus we see all God’s purposes and plans coming to Fulfillment – and it is worthwhile asking ourselves, can we hold this to be true? Or are we waiting for another??

Through the Bible in a Year – June 17

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 25-26; Mat 1; Psalm 62-63

Our scheme sadly does not take us through all four gospels twice. So we need to pay close attention now to Matthew which we open today. In orthodox churches, there is Always a reading from one of the four gospels. Many of us belong to churches where we stand as the gospelis read – often from amongst the people – to remind us that we are hearing the words of of our Lord.

Jesus as we shall see over the next few days, places great emphasis on listening to his words and doing them. In a sense this is the heart of the Scriptures. These words do not come to us through human agency, except that of the Word made flesh. They are the very words of the Second person of the Trinity. These words are life to us.

And Matthew is at pains to point this out – we begin with one of two genealogies of Jesus – this one dates points us back to Abraham – the one who is the father of the faithful – and also includes the Royal line in the initial inscription. He is ‘Jesus, the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’

Unlike Luke, Matthew focuses on Joseph in the story of Jesus’ birth – ‘Joseph the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born’. All the way through the genealogy, Matthew draws in seemingly peripheral figures, or outsiders, and in a sense this is true also of Joseph. His role is portrayed as simply obedience – an overshadowing of Mary.

In Catholic tradition, Mary is sometimes understood in terms of the Ark of the Covenant – the God bearer. Perhaps we might understand Joseph as the cherubim that overshadow the ark?

Also of course we have the famous text from Isaiah. ‘Behold – a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’. Matthew, one who writes in Greek takes his text from the Septuagint, the Greek text, rather than the Hebrew, or at least the Hebrew as we have it. Actually the Greek is the oldest extant text – our earliest copies of the Hebrew text date from much much later. The Hebrew text has ‘a young woman shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14). It is possible but not proven, that in an effort to quieten the Christian apologists, the Hebrew text was changed, and that in the original it did say virgin.

Finally it is important to note that ‘God is with us’ – in the Isaiah text is freighted with threat as well as promise. When God comes to his people to be amongst them, it is as King, as Judge. Joseph knows the One who commands and goes about His business promptly. However much contemporary tellings of this story make of ‘what it must have been like for Joseph’ -the scriptures only reveal a faithful child of Abraham, who like father Abraham goes in response to his Word (cf Genesis 12:1-3)