Through the Bible in a Year – March 2

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 1-3; Romans 10; Psalm 78 vs 1-31

‘Of the best that thou hast given, Earth and Heaven render thee’

First today, we note the Psalm. The neglect of the Psalms in the life of the church is a grievous omission. Nothing perhaps better exemplifies the narcissistic temperament of so much of contemporary Christianity than the neglect of the Psalms – for where else in all sacred scriptures are a people so unremittingly self critical. Where else are we so honest with God, most especially about our own faults than in the Psalms. Their place in the liturgy of God’s people down through the ages, the prayer book by which Christ so thoroughly identified himself with us, must be restored if we are to move more fully into the life that God wishes to offer us – a life free of dissimulation and conceits, a life of Honesty and Truthfulness. The Psalms, in rehearsing our sorry history, do not leave us with the hubristic satisfaction of saying, ‘look how far we have come’!

Viewed in such a light, thus our Salvation is very Great – as the writer to the Hebrews puts it ‘How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?’ A New and Living way opened for us. And at its heart is sacrifice. The Sacrificial system is marked out by the words, the best, the choice, the unblemished. As the various offerings are outlined in the opening chapters of Leviticus, this is a recurrent theme, and indeed later its failure to be heeded is the source of the sharpest denunciation of the prophets. These sacrifices are not propitiatory, they are Sacrifices of Praise – they are not to elicit Salvation, they are in response to it. Those who know they have been forgiven much, love much.

The Psalms keep us reminded of the scope of God’s salvation – all we can do is our reasonable act of worship – to offer our souls and bodies, as living sacrifices, in the pattern of the One who offered up himself.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 23

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 27-28; Romans 1; Psalm 70-71

As we read yesterday of the devotion of Paul’s life – so today our Psalm speaks of this lifelong devotion. The Psalms, much neglected in the contemporary church which has in many places lost any sense of continuity with the Communion of the Saints – the faithful upon another shore, amongst whom we worship if only we could see.

The mark of Secularism is the powerful tendency to live for the present moment. Whilst we are called to live in the present moment, this is not the same thing. To live for the present is to announce our own illusory triumph over time. To live In the present is to live with an apprehension of all that is past and all that is to come, Present to us now in the one who is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the End, in whom all things hold together.

So the Psalmist looks back and sees God – ‘O God, from my youth you have taught me’ into the present ‘and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds’ – and on into the future ‘so even to my old age and gray hairs do not forsake me’. God is his life.

It is this Eternal perspective in which past and future are apprehended, that Moses walks and talks with God upon Sinai, in the eternal symbols of Worship and Priesthood. Christ we are reminded is a High Priest forever – who Ever lives to make intercession for us. Our dimmed eyes only see wood and cloth – yet in this lying out of the design of the Tabernacle, we are called to look to the One who is the Tabernacle of God and who is also the Sacrifice . . . ‘It shall be a perpetual ordinance . . .’

It is this gospel which Paul announces – it is nothing new – it has been promised beforehand – prefigured in Everything that has gone before and in its scope embracing all of history – the gospel of Christ, descended [through many generations] from David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead – God’s judgement on History – and his renewal of all things.

[There is no art work with this post. Who can represent such things???]

Through the Bible in a Year – January 10

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 22-23; John 8:1-30; Psalm 15-16

Paradoxically it is here in the darkest of all texts, that Light is most clear. It is worth perhaps meditating on Isaiah 50:10-11 as a commentary on this story in Genesis.

As many many people have noted down the ages, this story of Abraham and the call to sacrifice ‘your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love’ is The Story of Faith. Abraham is confronted with the starkest of choices. Both ways seem to him to be ways of darkness. On the one hand he may say ‘Yes’ to God’s summons – and yet once more and now in the very starkest of terms he is confronted by the impossibility of Faith. For saying ‘Yes’ to the summons, Obeying, seems to do nothing more than contradict God’s Promise. The God who has said to him ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned’ – now calls him to sacrifice this son.

[In a sense here we face the essence of the struggle of our own walk – for we walk in obedience but rarely can we see what it will bring forth]

Yet the other choice is no less stark – Say ‘No’ to the God who has from the beginning summoned him forth? One way or the other he must say No to life. Of course God’s promise is Not that Isaac will live, it is that through Isaac will the descendents of Abraham be brought forth. The Promise goes way beyond what Abraham can see as he looks at his son. And thus is faith. We can choose to live by sight and trust our own judgement, obedient to ourselves, or live by faith, which is nothing more nor less than obedience to the one who has Promised to bring forth life through our obedience.

It is in darkness that faith comes Alive. When all we have to hold onto is the promise of God, Faith is most True, for it is All we have. It is in that discovery that we are set free – Abraham chooses to die, and trust the God will bring forth Life. He hears the word of one who was lifted up, who in his obedient dying bears much fruit and follows Him. Life revealed in and through Death. And thus, through faith Abraham does rejoice to see the day of the Living One. In the choice of faith in darkness, The Lamb of God is revealed, the Light of the World shines forth.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
¬†I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

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?

Through the Bible in a Year – January 4

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 8-9; John 4; Psalm 7

Two days ago I commented in passing on the habit of editing the Psalms to suit our sensibilities, swathed in cotton wool as many of us are, never thinking it possible we would find ourselves in a position where we might in desperate need call down curses on those who come against us. The Psalms are prayers for All of Life. Today’s though faces us with something which I suggest ought to be far more troubling to us. How in truth dare we pray ‘O Lord my God . . . if there is wrong in my hands . . . then let my enemy pursue, overtake me and trample my life to the ground and my soul to the dust . . .’ Strangely we have not excised this from our psalters

Praying the Psalms as with all prayer is not just about, or even not primarily about calling on God to change things, rather if we pray attentively we cannot but find that We must change. The Psalms throughout speak with searing clarity and not a hint of hypocrisy of The upright, The Just, Those of integrity. As with the serious grandeur which our Genesis readings confront us – these prayers call us to a fuller and deeper humanity and repentance.

A necessary repentance – for as we see, God has wiped the slate clean, but he still works with the same raw material of fallen humanity, whose ‘heart is inclined towards evil from youth’. We do not need Augustine to ‘devise’ original sin. It is there, in the new humanity as in the old. And humanities Choice, to Know Good and Evil is revealed to be terrible in its effects.

Noah is found naked and drunk – in the aftermath he takes the fullness of the divine image upon himself, to Bless, and to Curse – from one family, the people’s are divided.

Yet One comes who joins together in himself those so divided. The deadly enemies, Samaritans and Jews – those who pray these ancient prayers – are joined into one in the encounter of the woman at the well with the Lord of Life. Deep archetypes – Male and Female – Life giving. Look! The fields are ripe for harvesting!