Through the Bible in an Year – March 13

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 25; 1 Cor 10; Psalm 90

Moving on from yesterday’s argument about not living in such a way to cause offence to the weaker brethren, Paul addresses a further issue, that of licentiousness. “All things are lawful” – his intelocutors tell him – yes, he responds, “but not all things are beneficial. The Church in Corinth, unlike say that in Galatia, is rife with people hearing the message of freedom in Christ, yet in effect rejecting it, by not entering into the new life. Using it as an excuse Not to turn from wickedness.

Paul points them back to that prefiguring of salvation, the Exodus – and how the Israelites used their freedom to abase themselves. This Freedom we have in Christ is to grow into the fullness of the Image of God. We have been set free from all that kept s from being fully human. Paul argues strongly, do not allow your freedom either to be a stumbling block to others, OR a vehicle for a life of license.

He asks them to consider who they are, and his focus is the Eucharist – the centre of our shared life – ‘Are we not in this participating in the very life of Christ?’, Paul asks. How can we therefore at the same time live lives that continue to participate in the worship of things that are not? ‘You cannot participate in the life of God and of demons’

As there are those who use their ‘knowledge’ to offend their brethren, so there are others, or indeed the same people, who use their knowledge to live not to the Lord but to themselves. We are back in the garden – the temptation to be like God – to rule our own lives.

Through the Bible in a Year – March 12

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 23-24; 1 Cor 8-9; Psalm 89:19-end

“Knowledge puffs up, but Love builds up”

Paul here returns to a theme we encountered in Romans 14 – that of not allowing disputation over those things which are not fundamental to our shared life of discipleship, get in the way of that life. Once more it is over the matter of food sacrificed to idols, something which the Law and the Tradition abhors. Paul ‘knows’ that these restrictions are meaningless, but for some, who do not possess ‘knowledge’, they remain abhorrent and a stumbling block.

They are a stumbling block in that those who practise the behaviour, cause those who are not so ‘well informed’ to shun the fellowship of believers – and thus to withdraw from Life itself, which is only to be found in the community of faith, which is the body of Christ.

However morally acceptable before God it might be to eat food sacrificed to idols (which are nothing), it is unacceptable before God to do anything which would repel a fellow believer that they were caused to fall away, that is break from the Life Giving fellowship.

Paul’s concern is for the salvation of his brethren, which his Wisdom tells him is not primarily a matter of right ‘knowledge’, but sacrificial love. So Paul will lay down his Right to eat food sacrificed to idols, indeed he will not even go near it is it would offend his fellow saint for whom Christ died. Similarly he will not use his perfectly justifiable Rights to wages for his work – he is intent on not allowing his opponents to have a reason to judge him and thus themselves fall under condemnation.

What we see here is a revolutionary love for the brethren, that will go without for their sakes. It is part of the outcome of Paul’s way of life, his self discipline for the sake of the brethren. For he knows that if he puts a stumbling block in front of one of the least of the flock, it would be better for him to have a millstone put around his neck and be thrown into the sea, than face the consequences of his action.

Frankly in the contemporary church with so many issues being screamed about from the highest rooftops, it is sometimes hard to imagine what such a church would look like – but perhaps we ought at least to try and find out?

Through the Bible in a Year – February 20

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 20-21; Acts 26; Psalm 67

The Ten commandments, or rather ‘Ten Words’, point at once to the essence of faith and also its greatest perversion.

Faith and obedience are inextricably linked, but all too often an attempt is made to make of Christian faith a ‘morality’ – a way of living, divorced from the saving grace of God.

‘Then God spoke all these words . . .’ – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is no mute idol – he speaks, he addresses those he has set apart from himself to be a kingdom of priests . . . and obedience is only found in response to God. Human Life in its fullness is only ever life which is lived in utterly surrendered response to the One who speaks – whose word is Life, whose word is so life giving that Christ reveals the Truth of our human vocation in being fed on doing the will of the one who sent him.

This is made explicitly clear in the prologue to the Ten Words – ‘I am the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, our of the house of slavery’ . . . God establishes his relationship with his people. It is his gracious favour and mercy which is the foundation of everything – ‘you shall have no other gods before me’, is the utterly reasonable response. It is as though this revelation of the Mercy of God, must elicit these words from our mouths, ‘We shall have no other gods before us’

As Paul puts it ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship’ And so Paul, as he makes his defence before Agrippa, roots it in the saving acts of God. His accusation against his accusers is in effect ‘they have forgotten whose people they are’, the accusation of the prophets down through the ages. It is not Paul who has got tangled up in some new and strange teaching, this great salvation in Christ is prefigured in the Exodus. This is the God who saves, the God who has never ceased form making himself known and calling his people into a relationship of loving obedience. Indeed this is so Obvioud to Paul, as clear as that shining light on the Damascus road, that he makes what on the surface seems to be the utterly ludicrous statement, that he wishes his hearers were as him in every way, ‘except for these chains’. The man in chains as been set free in joyful loving obedience – those listening are still chained.

At the heart of it is a lived apprehension of the One who is Alive for evermore. Any attempt to live in denial of this, to obey apart from faith only ends in us hearing the words – ‘Away from me you evil doers – I never knew you’. True obedience is never more and never less than moment by moment attentiveness and response to the One who speaks. Whose Command is Life to those who know him.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 19

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 17-19; Acts 25; Psalm 66

There is the powerful theme of patience woven into today’s readings. On the one hand the tremendous patience of Paul, who seems to have been all but forgotten as the world continues to turn. Two years he has spent imprisoned waiting for a hearing, the governor Felix has been and gone and now Festus is the governor. But Paul continues is his faithful obedience, although seemingly invisible to those around him

On the other hand we see the impatience of the children of Israel and the foreshadowing of a deadly impatience in Moses. Moses is such a clearly written character in the Exodus narrative – fearful and fretful in front of Pharaoh and indeed the LORD himself – now frustrated at turns with the Israelites and with the LORD. On the surface much anxiety, little faith. This impatience is contrasted with the Patience of the LORD, who despite everything sees this people as his treasured possession and a priestly kingdom, a holy nation.

To our eyes this makes little or no sense, even if we did not know where the story was heading, the children of Israel surely have proved themselves to be in no way worthy of such treatment. They promise “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do . . .” and yet we know that they are utterly double minded

Yet there is something here we do not see for Moses is later revealed as a hero of faith. Nowhere in the Exodus narrative is this shown – but the book of Hebrews includes him as an example of faith – one ‘who persevered as though he saw him who is invisible’

A deeper story is at play that we tossed around in the flotsam and jetsam of life can only guess at. Things happen for which there is no accounting. Amidst Moses anxiety – trying to hold the show together, comes his father in law, Jethro. Moses had obviously, somewhat like Joseph would many years later, to put his wife away. But she who has been sworn to him as a bridegroom of blood is returned along with his sons. God’s salvation is worked out in strange and wonderful ways and we see the life of God being fed back into the community by the outsider Jethro, who acknowledges the LORD and teaches Moses how better to administer his people.

Oft times our anxiety is rooted in the apprehension that we see all that is and yet something far more profound is going on. Discerning that this is the case we too are called to patience, a waiting on God. If he leaves us for two years in prison, so?? His ways are past working out – we are called to perseverance – which is at the last as we see in the book of Revelation, the hallmark of those called by God.

Our judgement of what is happening is so very dulled

The Salvation of God is such outrageous Grace that we can see no way to it – he works with that that is nothing in our eyes – the unseen, humble, the meek, the mourners and merciful – the undiscerned – embodied in faithless Israel – a nation  almost invisible in the annals of history – hidden away – God is working his purposes out, year after year. And so outrageous is God’s Final answer to humanity, that many will refuse to believe

 

 

Through the Bible in a Year – February 16

Exodus 12; Acts 22; Psalm 60-61

Reading the Exodus narrative – one is struck by the sheer force of what is happening – that this Exodus is only brought about through immense cost, a cost that must perpetually be remembered in the redeeming of the first born.

Through the history of Israel, this night is to be remembered, for it is the night on which God said to them conclusively, ‘You are mine’, with everything that that means. As the prophets will remind the people many many years later, it is not through any goodness of their own tat God has done this, it is not a matter for pride. They do not choose Yahweh for their God. He chooses them, as at first he had called Abraham.

Over and over again in our faith, we make far far to much of our response to God’s call. Here in this Exodus passage it is laid bare – frail Moses, and doubting people are rescued. God creates a people for himself – as many many years later he will do conclusively in Christ.

As Israel was commanded to retell the story, so also Paul we note tells over and over again the story of his ‘conversion’. It is something which he had nothing to do with. It is the profound archetype of ‘becoming Christian’ – it has nothing to do with us – it has everything to do with God, and what is more it lays upon us now a duty, to live as dearly loved children.

Becoming Christian is not our choice – perversely we try to make it thus, but it is not – the only choice we have is whether or not we will live into the fullness of that calling

Through the Bible in a Year – February 14

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 8-9; Acts 20; Psalm 56-57

Two hearts are revealed in our readings today.

There is the heart of Pharaoh – which we are told continually is hardened towards God’s people, and thus of course to God, himself. Pharaoh is outwardly utterly secure – all the wealth of Egypt belongs to him, and even his magicians seem to be able to control the natural world, to manipulate it, if rather perversely, towards the judgement of God. Externally strong, internally hard.

Then there is the heart of the Psalmist – exposed to the destroying storms, trampled on by his foes, lying down amongst lions that greedily devour human prey. Externally weak,  and yet whose heart is steadfast, turned continually to God that in the midst of adversities, he sings and makes melody – he so rejoices as to awake the dawn.

In the eyes of the world, Pharaoh symbolises life, but his heart is dead. In the eyes of the world the Psalmist symbolises death, but his heart is Alive!

We see this summed up in Paul, in the difficulties he faces, and yet living as though he sees him who is invisible. And from this heart of Life, Life comes forth. Constantly breaking bread with the disciples, the bread of life sustains him and is a fountain of life even to those who have died. What is more his heart for his young churches leads him into the sacrificial life, pouring out his life for them, preaching through the night, never ‘shrinking from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching publicly from house to house’ – ‘for tree years, night and day, I did not cease to warn you.’

His heart is open to the one who Is Life – he follows him in obedience towards Jerusalem – the story of his Lord cannot have been far from his mind at anytime. His heart is open, Alive – Captive to the Spirit. May it be also for us who hear these words.