Through the Bible in a Year – March 4

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 6-7; Romans 12-13; Psalm 79

We move from the Sacrifice of Leviticus – to the response to God’s mercy – that we present our bodies as living Sacrifices – holy and acceptable to God – which is your ‘Reasonable’ or ‘Spiritual’ act of worship.

The Greek word here can be translated either way. Of course in view of God’s mercy – it is Entirely reasonable – were it not for the fact that sacrificing ourselves goes against everything the world tells us to do. In the twisted understanding of wider culture – self sacrifice is at times pathologised – we feel sorry for those who live their lives for others and not for themselves.

We say they have missed out on so much – and the siren voices warn us against such ‘reasonable’ acts of worship. Thus our churches are by and large comfortable clubs for the religiously inclined – rather than communities which in their mutual love and service one for the other cause the passer by to shake their heads and pity us for such ‘sad behaviour’

The Risen Christ says ‘unless you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple’. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it – when Christ bids a man come, he bids him come and die.’ It is that dying, that is not the end of our discipleship – but its beginning. the Christian Life begins with the surrender of our lives – this is our reasonable act of worship. It is only then that we begin the long hard work of the battle with sin – indeed, without that response to Christ, to die and so live, we will not embark on that battle.

Unfortunately . . . no, that is far to weak . . . Tragically, we have substituted religious formulas, intellectual assents to doctrines for the obedience to Christ’s call. The New Life is Christ is unknown to us, for we are content with a religious version of our old life.

Paul towards the end of chapter 12 of Romans unpacks what such a life looks like. There is no ‘sitting around’ enjoying the presence of ‘god’ about it. There is nothing about having the correct doctrines – rather it is embodied obedience – the Body has been offered to God – so Love is the hallmark, indeed we are to compete with one another in this – challenging one another to love more and more – we give and give – contributing to the needs of our brothers and sisters, giving hospitality, not to our friends, but to strangers – we feed our hungry enemies, we overcome evil with Good. Thus in our Living we enter into the Triumph of the one who by laying down his life overcame the final enemy, death, itself.

The Christian walk has not begun until this sacrifice has been made.

Of course, it is hard to stomach in an age so full of itself, but our forebears knew and lived better . . .

What are we afraid of?

I very clearly remember my father’s 40th birthday

I remember how old he seemed

I also vividly remember an incident from his 51st year, when he was just a few months younger than I am now. It was a family holiday and, as was our custom, we’d spent a week in a caravan on the coast of North Wales. One day, I guess the weather was clement, we decided to climb Yr Wydffa [Snowdon to the uninitiates – the highest mountain in England and Wales, and yes it is a mountain – Edmund Hillary trained there for his ascent of Everest, and I’ve sat several times in the bar where he and the rest of the team relaxed after a day testing themselves on the ice clad cliffs of Cloggy]

My memory was of how my dad stopped at the Gladstone Rock, not because he was pausing, he just couldn’t go any further.

The other week, I ‘celebrated’ my 51st birthday by climbing Ben Lomond above Queenstown: as straightforward a climb as it’s namesake just north of Glasgow; as much climbing as ‘The Ben’; and with views from the summit every bit as good as the latter. I whipped up and down in 5 hrs and remembered my dad, and thought of how I’d been trained to stay alive longer. (My father died at 63 from advanced heart disease. Of course we weren’t as alert to, (or troubled by??), such things in those days, we just thought he couldn’t get up the hill because he was old . . . as did he)

It strikes me that by and large the people of my dads generation were the last that weren’t obsessed with ‘keeping fit’, ‘cardiac health’, etc. The last that were in some sense accepting of ‘three score and ten’. They were also in my experience the last generation for whom Christian life was in some sense ‘the norm’

Even at 51, I’m a bit of an anomaly in seeking to be a disciple of Jesus, my children may as well be from Mars.

It also strikes me that these two facts are not unrelated.

Jesus calls us to an act of profound self forgetfulness, to live as though dead. Put another way, to get our dying out of the way ahead of time, to put aside our desires to live forever, in order that we might Live.

Perhaps my birthday ascent of Ben Lomond wasn’t the feat I’d so complimented myself on. I realised I’d been taught by the world that the real thing was to avoid death, thus making discipleship impossible.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 22

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 25-26; Acts 28; Psalm 69

To our mind – attuned to neat endings, with a sharp desire to Know, and an ultimately deadly curiosity, the end of the book of Acts is most unsatisfactory. Indeed both of our readings in a sense leave us unsatisfied. We want to know what Paul did next! And why oh why does the book of Exodus go into such detail over what seem to our eyes to be nothing more than the religious ephemera which ‘we all know’ are meant to be destroyed – to be replaced by the ‘true worship of God’?

Both readings I suggest challenge this demand for closure. We are not told what Paul did next – all we know is that for two years he continues in the ministry that he has been given – life goes on for him – we are presented in the form of the text something which perhaps we might read as the fruition of the words of Jesus – ‘whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die’. There is a real sense that the Christian Life can be expressed as walking with Jesus, until such time as we Are walking with Him. If it is Life then it never dies . . . and so Paul’s physical death, his onward journey is perfectly expressed in this continuation, the End is hidden in the Present moment.

As for Exodus – again we might perhaps think of Paul, or at least the man of whom he boasts – who is caught up ‘whether in the body or not, I do not know’ – to see things which cannot be expressed.

Moses has moved beyond the boundary. He is in the presence of the Living God upon Sinai – we forget. We lack any sense of the Holy, of Awe, of the numinous. He has sat down with the elders of Israel and eaten and drunk in the presence of God and Lived. Then he ascends further up the mountain and is shown things. How can we begin to imagine that these are mere ‘religious trappings’ – is he not rather shown in terms he can understand and translate into physical form that which somehow expressed the Life that is the worship of the Living God? That in worship there is a need to be shown how – that it is not a form of our untrammelled self expression, but rather that it is the Self shaped by the experience of the Holy communicated through Lampstand and tabernacle – as we are shaped walking in obedience with the One who Tabernacles amongst us, til in his grace ‘we are no more . . .’

Through the Bible in a Year – February 11

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 1-3; Acts 17; Psalm 52

As our narrative resumes in Egypt we find an echo of the deeper story of the Creation, of the vocation of the children of God. The Israelites have been ‘fruitful’ and ‘multiplied’, ‘so that the land was filled with them’. The Narrative of Life that was in the beginning [Genesis 1:28] – but they have left The Garden, they have not come to the Land of Promise – and another Narrative is at work, a Narrative of harsh labour and of pain through childbirth. Yet those in the midst who fear God, still live out of the Primal story and Life continues to spring forth.

For Pharaoh and all those who know not the first story, this ‘New Thing’ is a terrible force of which they have no comprehension – indeed it is related to him in miraculous terms ‘the Hebrew women are vigourous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ – and Pharaoh tries to stamp it out, as much later they would try to stamp out the Life of the Church as we have been reading in Acts. This message of Life is ‘turning the world upside down!’ – the people of the city are disturbed – but Life continues to spring forth – ‘Many of them therefore believed’

The Gospel is The Narrative of Life – wherever it is revealed in God’s people, it reveals the Narrative of Death, it exposes it. It reveals ‘ordinary life’ for what it is, no life at all. The carefully planned world in which we would all feel secure is shown to be a terrible hoax.

Wherever there is Life this is so. It is the churches in those places where the Death narrative is obvious which flourish. Those such as ours in the ‘West’ shrivel – we have confused the two Narratives, and have put our lives in the hands of Pharaoh and called it Good. We would not dream of acting in a way that turns the world upside down, it suits us too well.

Perhaps this is most evident in our loss of the sense of ‘The Holy’ – ‘The Fear of Israel’. We no longer approach our God with our feet bared. We have little sense ourselves of ‘the Power that is at work amongst us, like the working of His great power when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead’, that in Christ, Death is no more. There is no fear of God before our eyes, merely the fear of our own demise – we believe the Narrative of Death.