Through the Bible in a Year – July 30

The scheme for July – August can be found here

2 Ki 6-7; Acts 14; Psalm 112-113

Yesterday we thought briefly how the source of the Life that was in Elisha was his absorption in the life of God. So devoted was he to God that he did not even rise to answer the door when Naaman came to call. [Of course we find this very hard to accept – witness the many sermons on Martha and Mary that sympathise with Martha, or that say ‘we need Marthas and Marys’ – completely ignoring the words of Jesus]

To be so absorbed in God is to see that there is no division between the Earthly and the Heavenly – only the heavy shroud of our own self obsession keeps us from seeing the chariots and horsemen of Israel.

This perception is of course what the scriptures enjoin us to over and over again. The Fear of God, which means we have no fear even if our city is surrounded by opposing forces, let alone the many minor fears which beset us.

Once more we are enjoined to pray the Psalms – to let go of our self obsession, that is the blindness of Sin.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 29

The scheme for July – August can be found here

2 Ki 4-5; Acts 13:13-end; Psalm 110-111

Our readings follow the ‘career’ of Elisha, the prophet who came after Elijah and yet whose work far outstripped that of his predecessor.

In the incident of the healing of the Shunemite’s son – there are of course parallels with the works of Jesus. But here I would stop to consider the means of healing Elisha employs. In the church we have absorbed much of the spirit body duallism of our forebears and this incident seems to some almost distasteful. But in this healing Elisha does not stand at a distance, or even at the bedside and prounce healing. His body is the vessel of the Spirit – it is the vessel of Life. The intimate contact reveals this. Jesus almost always heals by touch. In the church we have Sacraments – the Life is in the Material, the Spirit is in the fleshly.

Perhaps most clearly we see this in Confirmation and Ordination neither of which can take place without the laying on of hands – the Spirit cannot be passed on except through the flesh. The Word becomes flesh.

Later we see Elisha so absorbed in God, that he doesn’t even come to the door for Naaman. Whilst Elisha is the vessel for the life of God, it is only because his life is consciously devoted to God. He portrays the Great commandment – in loving God with all he has and is, he becomes Love for the neighbour.

To the world, the one who is God’s servant will always seem unduly preoccupied with God, but that is only because for most of us, we are preoccupied with anything but the Life and Love of God.

And no, it is not a matter of balance. Love the Lord your God with All you have and All you are.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 28

The scheme for July and August can be found here

2 Ki 1-3; Acts 12:1- 13:12; Psalm 109

Yesterday we considered how the praying the Psalms not only places us before God in a way that perhaps no other portion of scripture can. What is more we thought of  how they freed us from our obsession with ourselves, most especially if we pray them sequentially as the tradition has taught us these past 200 years.

Today we read of the succession of Elijah by Elisha. The two form an interesting pair and comparing them one can see how Jesus is understood as the one who is preceded by Elijah, in the person of John the Baptist.

Elisha is determined to followed his mentor, but his request is a bold one – ‘a double portion of your spirit’. We pray for many many things, how much do our prayers echo this prayer of Elisha, so powerfully and vividly answered?

Jesus teaches us that without Him we can do nothing. Although we tend to think of this in terms of his presence, alongside, encouraging etc. we should I think think of it more in terms of his Life, his Spirit. In John’s gospel Jesus declares that those who follow him will do greater things (cf the words of the Baptist re Jesus) – perhaps we might learn from Elisha’s hunger for the Spirit?

However, before we do, we would do well to consider that which we ask for. Once more, one will search in vain for paintings of Elijah’s ascent from earlier generations. It is only our modern world which thinks it a small thing to represent those things that angels shield their eyes from.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 27

The scheme for July and August can be found here

2 Ch 19-20; Acts 11; Psalm 108

Nowadays much is made, and justifiably so, of the lack of lament in the liturgy of the church [although this accusation may not be levelled at the Orthodox church whose liturgy encompasses much lament according to the season].

Yet we may well ask – whilst the liturgy of the church shies away from lament and towards Praise – do not our own personal lives of prayer exhibit the reverse tendency? How long is it since you last exalted and worshipped God – praising him for his Glory in your private devotions?

Here again the Psalms come to our aid. Praying Psalm 108 is a great antidote for our self obsessed prayer lives.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 26th

The scheme for July and August can be found here

2 Ch 16-18; Acts 10; Psalm 107:23-end

The ‘conversion’ of Cornelius draws our attention for the very good reason that this message of salvation is received by the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This marks a key point inthe life of the infant church. but there is more, much more. this narrative calls into question so much of what we have been taught to think about ‘conversion’

As the conversion of Paul challenges our self centered religion – leaving Paul with the question ‘What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?’ (as he recounts on the two occasions when he tells the tale to others) – so today’s reading reminds us that this whole business of becoming Christian is not what so many of us have been told.

Cornelius lives a repentant life – he is turned towards God, and others. He prays continually and his life exhibits the generosity of God. There are many who have bought modern conceptions of ‘becoming a Christian’ who do not exhibit these outward signs of repentance towards God, signs which are looked for in The judgement.

The ‘Conversion’ of Cornelius reminds us that to become a Christian is nothing less that the reception of God’s very Life, the baptism of the Holy Spirit which Jesus’ death and resurrection have made possible.

If we read the accounts of john the Baptist and his description of his ministry with regard to Jesus, we see this plainly. John comes preaching a baptism of repentace towards God. Cornelius is already repentant towards God, and thus is judged worthy of the Life of God – the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 24

The scheme for July – August can be found here

2 Ch 10-12; Acts 8; Psalm 106:24-end

One of the grave errors of the contemporary church has been its abandonment of Psalmody as a regular part of the liturgy.

While we are reading through the scriptures I have included the Psalms on a regular cycle by which we pray through them in their entirety 3 times in the year.

Until recent times, such an approach to the Psalms was common place. In the Patristic era many people would pray through them on a daily basis – giving us pause for thought regarding our busy lives in which we say we have ‘no time to pray’. The monastic communities generally prayed [and pray] through them monthly. Of all our habits with regard to Scripture, it could be argued that this regular recitation of the Psalms is the most important.

For, to paraphrase Thomas Merton, alone in the Psalms ‘we have at once God’s word to human beings and the speech of human beings towards God’. Of no other part of Scripture can this be so truthfully said.

Put another way, praying the psalms places us before God in a way no other part of Scripture can do.

Perhaps this is why, in an age when the narcissistic spirit is rife, and humans place themselves without shame at the centre of the story, even that of faith, we so strenuously avoid the Psalms.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 17

The scheme for July and August can be found here

SoS 5-8; Acts 1; Psalm 99-101

[Some readers may well wish for more comments regarding the Old Testament passages – It is my hope that next year I will rework much of this years material to include commentary on the Old Testament texts]

Yesterday I wrote a little about the Resurrection perspective and how it is missing from our faith today. The focus on the Cross as being of significance for this life and the Resurrection for the life to come, is so familiar to us, we rarely if ever think we may be wrong. But we are. We have a Resurrection faith and are to be informed by a far richer perspective than we might have imagined possible.

As we come once more to the Book of Acts – we encounter the disciples obediently awaiting the new birth which Christ has promised. But while they do this, we note that whilst we are trained into thinking of the boundary between life and life beyond death as a radical discontinuity – this is not there perspective. Indeed, as Jesus has already announced that he does not come to do away with the Law and the Prophets, so also the disciples noting the lack of Judas from the number of the Apostles (witnesses to the resurrection!!), again emphasise continuity with God’s historic people. As there were twleves tribes, so there are to be twelve apostles.

The Resurrection of Jesus announces a radical transformation of life as is, not its dissolution.