Through the Bible in a Year – February 21

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 22-24; Acts 27; Psalm 68

Our readings today take us across boundaries – revealing that what we like to think of as ordinary life – is in fact played out against something profound and mysterious and glorious.

Paul as he is taken aboard ship is shown to act with great attentiveness to what is going on around him. The centurion in charge of the ship though pays less attention to Paul than the pilot and the ships owner. They perhaps driven by . . . driven by something, cast aside their attentiveness to that which they know so well, the sea, the tides, the seasons and the weather. Their eyes are elsewhere, ‘much time had been lost’ – there would be merchants to answer to. ‘Time’ in the worlds order of things is not redeemed – the pressure of the clock – the diabolic equation of Time and Mammon – drives them. Paul is attentive to the weather. He has not spent hours in prayer specifically for this revelation – it is clear. He is not driven by that which rules the hearts of those around him. His attentiveness is towards God, and thus he ‘sees’ that which is.

Contemplation is the essential posture of the faithful – through attentiveness to God, we see more clearly – we perceive what drives others, and like the watchman, we urge a different course.

So it is that as the Ten Words are given their extended commentary, there is little in a sense ‘otherworldly about them’ – as we read them we may indeed see many unusual things, but above all what is revealed is a simple justice – with at its heart the command to rest from labours, not only for the faithful, but also from the land. It is a limited freedom, a freedom that does not impinge on the freedom of others – especially the Land, the freedom of which makes little sense to us, to our increasing cost.

But as I said these are texts of Boundaries – Paul in his attentiveness to what Is, is also granted privileged counsel from the angel of the Lord. The Wise and Holy are not ‘clever’ in one dimension and ‘fools’ in another. They live lives of obedience attentive to God and so are ushered closer into his presence, to eat and drink with him.

Blessed are the pure in heart – those with the single eye – attentive to God and thus seeing all that is – and indeed seeing God.

Sermon for Epiphany 2 – Baptism of Christ



Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,  are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Last week we celebrated the Epiphany of Christ, and we are now in the season of the Epiphany which extends until the first Sunday in February when we shall celebrate Candlemas – the feast of the Presentation, albeit a day late, for that feast, falls on Saturday February 2nd.

This habit we have in the church of shifting festivals to the nearest Sunday is a symptom of something which I fear in the end will do us no good. Of making faith fit our lives, rather than making our lives fit our faith. Christmas is unusual, to an extent in that we still come to church on that day irrespective of whether or not it is Sunday, and some folk still come to worship through Holy week, but on the whole we have given up on the celebration of major festivals on the day they fall. We either transfer them to an adjoining Sunday, or ignore them altogether. When, I wonder was the last time we celebrated The Feast of the Transfiguration?  It strikes me that such a festival, with its theme of the Glory of Christ, falling as it does in August . . .??? Does anyone know the date? Well it is August 6th – a time when here in New Zealand we are stuck in the darkness of winter. What a wonderful idea to come to church in the darkness and find it ablaze with candles as we celebrate that feast.

Taking time out to worship according to the calendar might not seem much, but it is a simple discipline of ordering our lives to faith – and it is in the accumulation of such small things that our distinct Christian identity becomes more manifest – as we are conformed to the Life of the risen Christ in the church. The gift of the whole season of Epiphany is about the manifestation of the Glory of Christ. Four weeks to contemplate Him. Actually the church gives us half the year to contemplate Christ. From Advent, through Christmas and Epiphany, with perhaps a brief break, then into Lent, and then Easter, Pentecost and Trinity – the subject of our attention is not ‘how to live the Christian life – how to be relevant in the world – how to do mission’ – no. for half the year we are called to attend to the person and work of Christ and that is very necessary.
The crying problem of the church today is not the irrelevance of the church to the world – that church doesn’t fit the world we live in – it is not fitting our faith to our lives – no. It is that so often church does not fit the life of God revealed to us in Christ, and that I suggest is in no small part because we give insufficient time to the contemplation of his glory.
Epiphany especially is given to us for that contemplation. The Glory of Christ is revealed to us – the traditional readings are his revealing to us in the visit of the magi, in the changing of water of wine at Cana where he reveals his glory, the presentation at the temple where Simeon cries out ‘I have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the face of all people’, how he is revealed as the Servant of The Lord, the fulfillment of Scripture at Nazareth = and today – in his baptism – he is revealed as the Son of God – and Uniquely baptised with the Spirit. He is Clothed with the Spirit of God. The Spirit that had departed the Temple and caused the people to cry in dismay ‘Ichabod’ – the Glory has departed. He is clothed as were Adam and Eve at first, not in animal skins, but in the Glory of God. Having taken their life in their own hands, the glory departed.
Perhaps we do not notice this, because unlike the Israelites of old, like those first disciples at Cana, we have not seen his Glory – we do not see how our lives are so small in comparison with the Glorious majesty of God revealed in Christ – we seek too readily to move away from contemplation of his glory – his beauty, his majesty. We want something Practical – some hints and tips for Our everyday lives, not realising that he seeks to utterly transform the essential nature of those lives.

A few weeks ago I saw a rather sad Facebook post – it said ‘Of course if it had been three wise women who came to the tomb, they would have brought something Far more practical, like a supply of nappies and a blanket!’ And it struck me as very sad that someone would use what is a story of immense mystery – something which Mary ponders in her heart – was used to make cheap political gain from. I wanted to say “can you not see?” Can we not see His glory? Have we not been held captive by it? That these gifts tell us here is a child like no other . . . like no other. He comes to be one with us – but he is like no other. He embraces fully our humanity . . . but he is like no other

Jesus comes with the crowds – they are All coming for baptism – he is in the crowds that are all asking if John the Baptist is the Messiah – their Messiah stands among them – they do not see his glory. They do not recognise their Messiah. They look as anyone else would look – John in his own way is impressive – he stands out, certainly! ‘Perhaps he Is the one’, they are all thinking. But they are wrong. They do not See.

So Jesus comes to be baptised . . . and his baptism sets him apart. 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” His baptism is like no other – he alone is baptised with the Holy Spirit. He alone is declared to be the beloved of God. Just this week I was reading about perhaps the cardinal sin – that of Envy. It is said that Jesus was crucified because of the Envy of the Pharisees – he was like no other – there was something about him that set him apart. He was a tall poppy – and we know what we do with tall poppies! The Life of God is Too Big for us – let’s cut him down to size.

And we also try to cut him down to size. ‘Let’s think on something practical – lets not contemplate the mystery, the gold of kingship, the frankincense of the one who ever lives to intercede for us – the Myrrh – his death’. A death foreshadowed in his humbly going down into the water of baptism.  How readily we turn from thinking about Christ to thinking about ourselves. How often do we think of our baptism, how infrequently, even on this Sunday, about His.

This setting apart of Christ at his baptism is I suggest an offense to our modern predilection for not wanting to know of anything more beyond the scope of Our lives. As I meditated upon this earlier in the week, I was reminded of a story – a story with which this ‘cutting down the tall poppy’ was thrown into a horrible irony and contrast.

It is said there was an old woman, who was in hell. The angels of God as they are wont to do sought desperately to find a way to bring her out of hell, and discovered that Once in her life, she had committed a kind act. A passing stranger had asked her for food, and the woman had thrown him an onion. Well it wasn’t a Huge thing – but the angels saw in that a hint of goodness and thought that this might draw her out of hell. So they lowered an onion on a long stalk down into hell and called on the woman to take hold. And as she did – they began to draw her out of the lake of fire. But others seeing that she was being drawn out clung to her clothes, and miraculously many people were being drawn out of hell – until the woman realised what was happening and spat and screamed at them – get off! this is My onion!! and at once the onion stalk broke and they all fell back into the fire.

Well, what we might ask is the parallel between that sad story and our thoughts on Jesus – on our discomfort with him being set apart – like no other . . . well it is simply this – that it is precisely because he is not like us, that He is able to draw us out, to draw us upwards – to draw us into His life – and our cutting him down is like the cutting of the onion stalk. We are saying to Him – don’t be different!! We can’t attain to you – stay down here with us. But he says, why would you stay down there – no you cannot attain to me – so I will come down – to draw you up.

Christ does not come to us to leave us where we are. All our attempts to deny his otherness – that he is like no other – prevent him from doing what he comes to do – to draw us up into the fulness of his life. A life for which we have very little feeling because I suggest we have given little time to contemplating his glory – we are not thirsty for the Life he brings.

Until His Life is released into the world at Pentecost He alone is baptised of the Spirit – perhaps those who had not yet received the Holy Spirit in our reading from Acts were those whom Jesus disciples had baptised before his Passion as John recounts in his gospel. He passes through death, to be raised to new Life – so that we might follow him – so that we might ourselves follow that path – so that we might know His Life, as he baptises us with the Holy Spirit – with His Life.

As I said last week – our faith is not a set of ideas – a moral scheme for living better – a set of ideologies – it is not even About Jesus – it is Christ – His Life is our Faith The more our lives are turned to him, shaped around him, the more we will find the Life he offers us – and to go back to that story of the sad woman – the more, seeing that we are being drawn up to Life in him, others will want to hang onto our coat tails and be drawn up also.

So let us not be quick to turn from the contemplation of his glory, for as St Paul tells us that is key to the transformation of our lives, as we ‘contemplating the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;’


Bible Study notes for All Saints Sunday, 2012 – Year B

Bible Study Notes for Sunday November 4th


Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

Psalm 24

Revelation 21:1-6

John 11:32-44

The first reading comes from what we in the Western tradition call ‘The Apocrypha’. The church in the West does not have the high regard for these writings that the Orthodox church has, perhaps to our loss? Certainly these scriptures contain wonderful treasure and reading them throws light on some of the more elusive passages in the New Testament.

For the benefit of those whose Bibles do not contain these writings, here is the Wisdom of Solomon text for Sunday

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,

and no torment will ever touch them.

2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,

and their departure was thought to be a disaster,

3 and their going from us to be their destruction;

but they are at peace.

4 For though in the sight of others they were punished,

their hope is full of immortality.

5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,

because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;

6 like gold in the furnace he tried them,

and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.

7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,

and will run like sparks through the stubble.

8 They will govern nations and rule over peoples,

and the Lord will reign over them for ever.

9 Those who trust in him will understand truth,

and the faithful will abide with him in love,

because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,

and he watches over his elect.

The texts this week are for the feast of All Saints. A day in the churches calendar which has a double apprehension – we consider those who have gone before and now dwell in the presence of God, gazing upon his face (Psalm 24:6), and in that light also consider that we who by virtue of our baptism have been brought form death to life are also ‘called to be saints’ (Romans 1:7)

That feature of gazing upon the face of God, finds a parallel in our lives as we engage in the Spiritual Discipline of Contemplation. We tend to understand contemplation from our side – that we are the ones as it were gazing upon God with the eye of our heart (Matthew 5:8), but the deepest form of contemplation in practice comes about with the understanding that we dwell under the loving gaze of God. [This is one special reason why ikons are so important]

Take time this week to contemplate the word. Read the passages set – Meditate on the word [think about what you hear, what catches your attention, what God is saying to you] – pray in response to what you are shown – Rest in the loving Gaze of God. [This is the fourfold pattern of meditative reading we know as Lectio Divina: Lectio; Meditatio; Oratio; Contemplatio]

All the readings are immeasurably rich and deep, and here we are reminded (as we should be All the time), that we do not study the Scriptures as we would study any other book – we do not ‘murder to dissect’ in the memorable phrase of William Wordsworth (a constant tendency in our technological culture, and all too often in church)[1]. Rather we study as one should enjoy a fine meal with company – savouring, receiving, paying attention to what we are being given in so many different dimensions.

If you are meeting in a group – share some of what you are given from our readings

Here are some brief questions to ponder

  1. From the Wisdom of Solomon – briefly read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 : the reading uses similar imagery (we remember from our recent readings in Hebrews that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered[2]) –
    1. Suffering is part and parcel of life. How might we use that which comes to us as a means of Grace?
    2. What promises does the scripture hold for those who learn from such discipline? (vs 7-9)
    3. How important has Spiritual growth and formation been in our own lives? Do we pay it sufficient attention in the church?
    4. Think once more about Bartimaeus last week – do we also ‘Want to See?’ – do we want to see Jesus? What is the place of such discipline in learning to See?
    5. Through the ages the church has taught the significance of ascetic practices. By and large these have fallen out of favour in a culture where ‘we have all we need’. Fasting has traditionally been seen as a necessary discipline for spiritual growth. In the light of our reading and our thoughts thus far, what role might it have to play in sharpening our appetite for God?
  2. From the Revelation of St John
    1. The gift of the life of heaven is to the thirsty – see John 7:37-8. Discuss
    2. How does this make sense of Jesus’ words ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you’?
  3. From the gospel
    1. First re read and sit in silence before what has happened
    2. We live in an age which refuses to pay any attention to the Fact of death. Jesus is not interested in ‘keeping us from dying’ vs 37 – Discuss
    3. Why is Jesus not interested in keeping us from dying?

[1] Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

 Our meddling intellect

 Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–

 We murder to dissect.  From ‘The Tables Turned’, by William Wordsworth. (I was first apprehended of this phrase in a lecture by Eugene Peterson)

[2] Hebrews 5:8