Through the Bible in a Year – March 6

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 10-11; Romans 15-16; Psalm 81-2

Paul, physician of the soul that he is, goes on in Chapter 15 to expose the underlying desire that prompts members of the community of faith to judge one another. ‘To please themselves’ Rather than judging the neighbour, as the pharisee did the tax collector, and thus justify or please ourselves, our aim should be to please our neighbour – to build him or her up in faith.

The walk of faith is hard enough without our judging one another, and anyone who does not realise this has not yet perceived the truth of what it is to be a disciple of Christ. Hard and narrow is the way – as believers we should not have the energy spare to judge one another, and knowing our own weakness and difficulty in following in obedience, every encounter with a brother and sister should be similar to that of the Samaritan and the man who fell amongst thieves – that of pity and helping them.

The root of the difficulty of following Christ in obedience is in a sense exposed in the strange incidents involving Aaron’s sons. Nadab and Abihu ‘play with fire’ – whether in ignorance or not we are not told – and they are consumed by fire. Later Moses, clearly struggling to see how he can lead this people in the way of a God, whose holiness seems so utterly Other that it is impossible to respond to faithfully, berates Aaron for allowing his sons to burn an offering which they should have consumed. Aaron however points out that the ways of God are so strange to him, that he acted as it were out of weakness. The parallels with the situation in the church in Rome are I think striking here.

Moses is confronted with Aaron’s struggle to walk in faith, to get it right. ‘Given all that has befallen me today’ Aaron says, ‘If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable to the LORD?’ And when Moses heard that he agreed.

Aaron is struggling, it is very early days in the walk of Israel with the LORD.

Here we see the principle of not judging the weaker brethren in action. Moses realises that it is not his role as the leader of the community to make what already seems an incredibly difficult path, even more so – that he should not lay heavy burdens on his brother.

If it is so hard – as it was for the disciples (Peter and the rest leap to mind) in the immediate presence of God and his Holy presence – do we not realise how difficult our walk is? And thus learn to be merciful? TO imitate the one who does not put out a smouldering wick, or break a bruised reed.

In the End, it is perfection in Love that will drive out Fear.

The ‘Jesus prayer’ is always the most appropriate for us – ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner . . . ‘, and on all my brothers and sisters in faith’

Through the Bible in a Year – February 24

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 29-30; Romans 2; Psalm 72

‘They themselves shall eat the food by which atonement is made, to ordain and consecrate them, but no one else shall eat of them, because they are holy’

All of the gospel and thus all of the life of the church is to be found in all of scripture – sometimes this is hidden from us, sometimes it comes to the surface.

We may well have read these verses from Exodus with great difficulty – so much blood. And yet perhaps we miss something, something which surrounds us. The Jewish prohibition against eating blood, for ‘the life is in the blood’ – the sacredness of life. This consecration required Blood, it required the All. It was truly sacrifice.

It seems most perverse that in an age when there is little if any sense of the Holy, the Sacred we are surrounded by such sacrifice and yet squirm with embarrassment over such supposedly primitive texts. When thousands upon thousands of lives are sacrificed on altars we have established in war – forgetting the many millions sacrificed upon the altar of the Economy, in our ‘advanced civilisation’ [how many of us have any sense at all especially those of us affluent enough to be able to afford the technology to read this post, of the many lives that are sacrificed to give us this luxury – not that of an illusory political freedom, one of our ‘high ideals’, but our Consumer freedom to have what we want when we want it without restraint]

The atoning sacrifice recognises the seriousness of Life, the costliness of ‘atonement’ of reconciliation – something which most of us have little sense of, never having troubled ourselves to be reconciled to our enemies. It is only by giving up our lives that we discover Life. There is no reconciliation without the laying down of life and this is revealed to us graphically in these sanguinary texts.

but also there is a warning – especially one for the church in terms of what we are doing Sunday by Sunday. There are many who speak of the priesthood of all believers – and rightly so – but few who read these texts as the elucidation of that term.

The early church knew the Holy – the Eucharist was behind closed doors – only for the priesthood of believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in modern times coined the term ‘Cheap Grace’. Is our approach, indeed perhaps even our carelessness with the sacramental life of the church an example of this? Are we in our Church Life, in our attempts to ‘make worship accessible’, peddling cheap grace?

Actually we have no business trying to make the life of the Church accessible. Christ is the door, he is the one who makes the way. We do not enter the life of faith by any door made by human hands.

Jesus warns us not to cast our pearls before swine or they will trample on them and turn on you and maul you.

Is it perhaps a cause of our current malaise, that even we in the church have lost our sense of the Holy?

Perhaps if the people of God turned and recaptured that sense, the world may wake up to what it is doing.

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.

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.

Through the Bible in a year – January 7

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 15-17; John 6:41-71; Psalm 10

“Does this offend you?”

In the story of Abram, there is much to offend our modern sensibilities – just as the words of Jesus offended those of his own time. Abram hears the promise of God but does not receive the gift of the promise. The promise is too far fetched he thinks for this strange God who has called him to put into effect. Sarai casts around for a way in which her lord might be spared the ignominy of Faith, of which the Psalmist often reminds us. Her eye lands on her Egyptian slave-girl Hagar and no good comes of it – yet once more, as in the story of Cain, God intervenes in the messy and ambiguous outcome, not staying removed.

The dark scene of the sacrifice feels prehistoric to us – yet it speaks of something profound of which we have lost sight. The Power of Word – or Promise – or Oath – that we are taken with immense seriousness. If the Word of God endures forever, does not that of the human made in his image? The divided animals were potent reminders of the significance of the human word – that it was a Bond. ‘Thus be it to me as it is to these animals if I do not keep my word’ [Thus do not swear . . . let your yes be yes, your no, no] Words are the creative power of life, and the destructive power of death. As Noah creates division enmity in blessing and cursing, so oaths have deep power. Yet here one party is taken out of the picture. Abram falls into a deep sleep – who walks between the pieces, with whom does the LORD make this covenant, but with himself. Abram as we see cannot be trusted [‘he knew what was in a man’] – Abram will try to do it for himself – he will not be a covenant partner. God swears by himself  – and when man fails – God pays the price

Anyone who does not see that the entire world is built for better or worse upon human sacrifice is blind to Reality. The offensiveness of the words of Christ are two fold – we think we have moved on from these deep primitive archetypes and metaphors – we think his words are nonsense, for we do not treat words with seriousness, And we like Abram and Sarai still believe that we can have life that is not Promised. The Gift that comes in the Creative Word – made flesh and blood – that is offered to us as real food and real drink – that we might have life within us.

Through the Bible in a year – January 6

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 12-14; John 6:1-40; Psalm 9

So now a crucial step is made in the text of Genesis, from the world of the mythical archetypes – the foundations from since the beginning of the world – into those stories of people who are in some regards much more familiar to us. Textured portraits presented to us in narrative form. And so as we with our own life narratives read along we are drawn into the lives of these others, in whose lives the Creator is at work.

And immediately we are confronted by divine Call – that which summons us forth. And as the Divine Word called forth the good Creation from the inchoate waters in Genesis one – so we see that call does not come to that which is as it were pre-existent. Abram appears in the text in his own right only as one Called, as do Peter, James, John and the rest – note how the gospel narratives never names those called who do not follow – the Call is the beginning of personal creation.

So it is the question of Jesus which evokes faith ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ The Word precedes human response. Call is always first. The Spirit once more hovers over the crowd questioning seeking for response from that which is formless and hungry, empty and void, and out of this impossible nothingness, 5000 are fed with the bread of heaven.

‘I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart : I will tell of all your Wonder Full deeds’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 5

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 10-11; John 5; Psalm 8

Our Psalm today is one of the great Psalms of contemplation ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him – yet you have made him a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour’

Sometimes we hear that we now know so much more of the Wonders and scale of the universe that we have a far better grasp on our finitude than those of old – yet most of us have grown up under light polluted skies and have little sense of the carpet of life of the desert sky. We may see photographs from the Hubble space telescope in the comfort of our living rooms, but it is a far cry from the Glory of the sky when the cold bites our bones.

The Psalmist is full of wonder at the place God has assigned to human beings – yet our Genesis text finds the human trying to define himself over and against God – trying as it were to conquer the heavens, to make a name for himself. Not content with the glory and honour with which the Creator would crown him.

‘Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord’ is a text full of ambiguity. It is all too easy to read of this man who has made a name for himself and built cities – great in the eyes of his fellow humans no doubt is the one who built cities. He gets honour and glory from men and we too might fete and honour such a one – but the Lord crowns with glory and Honour those whom he chooses.

Nimrod’s kingdom begins with Babel – the centre of the biblical rebellion against God – of those who build a name for themselves – and it is from Babel that we are scattered like ashes across the face of the earth. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return

Nimrod’s process of unification is shown to be one that is anti-God – as all such human plans are.

So it is that The Human, The One comes – the one who gives life to those He chooses – the one who does not accept honour from men, but only seeks and accepts the Glory that comes from above and so fulfils the human vocation to dwell in the space between the heavens and the Earth. But who will believe Him? Who will trust in the one who does not seek his own Glory?