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!

Through the Bible in a Year – January 3

Genesis 5-7; John 3; Psalm 5-6

Our readings in Genesis continue in the mythical world of the first 11 chapters. In it deep and mysterious foundations are laid. Ancient Archtypes set forth – male and female – evil and good – pastoral life vs that of the city and more.  In these ‘times’ human life is long – always in Scripture a sign of blessing – and the lives described are large in every sense – from Nimrod, to Noah, from Methuselah to the Nephilim, there is a sense of the serious grandeur of human existence.

Such serious grandeur and deep themes we choose to largely live unconscious of, indeed modern life often seems designed to obliterate these deep characteristics of the human story – along with any story about a God whose ways are not ours in one form or another. This is not a game solely for atheists or indifferent agnostics – Christians are all too fond of taming ‘God’ and living out of synch with such Reality. A God who refuses to live by a simple code, or at least one known to us, and who expresses regret that he ever conceived of humans . . . yet one catches his eye, through whom he considers a new beginning might be made

As we come to John, we find Nicodemus out of his depth – in a Genesis 6 darkness. The teacher of Israel is blind – and faced with One who demands the impossible of him – that he is born a second time. ‘I had no say in my birth – how can one be born a second time?’ Jesus calls Nicodemus to the full seriousness of Life – something Other, Older yet ever new.

As of old God wiped the slate clean, to start afresh, now also in Christ a New beginning is heralded, but with a twist – not that the world might be condemned, but Astonishingly, that the world might be saved through him. And like Noah was mocked, so too ‘He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony’

The world of Genesis 1-11, might be strange, but surely no stranger than our own. Take time to dwell upon Archetype – Myth – the Seriousness and Grandeur of Life, and one who says we ‘must be born again’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 2

Genesis 3-4; John 2; Psalm 3-4

From our first readings – with the declaration that ‘it was very good’ – our reading from Genesis enters highly ambiguous territory.

The Choice is made to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. There are many ways that this can be understood, but in part it becomes clear that living in a world of ‘freedom of choice’ is not all we are constantly taught it is nowadays.

Through Choice, the Man and the Woman  find themselves in a world where nothing is at all easy, plain sailing, happy. The ground will only yield its fruit through toil and sweat, new birth will be accompanied by pain, and there will be war between the offspring of the serpent and the Woman

But even in the midst of the Worst that this choice brings forth, the murder of Abel – it becomes evident that God will continue to work, and in mysterious ways. Life is not simple and God’s actions in the protection of Cain suggest that for all our choices look like either Good or Evil – God is at work to transform the outcome of even the worst of human choices.

So one comes who will transform the worst that humankind can do into the finest wine. We hear an echo in these readings of Josephs words to his brothers. We cannot see a way though, a way of hope in the darkness we often choose, yet ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good’

We are not the Great players on the Stage we believe we are, indeed the stage itself is impossibly being rebuilt in and through Christ, The Player . . .

The Psalms throughout are prayers in the midst of this ambiguity and adversity – and we should be very very slow to take from them by prissy editing as some are wont to do, lest in the midst of this ambiguity we have nothing to pray

Psalm 4 is one of the evening Psalms – in the midst of it all, in the midst of all or flawed, ambiguous and even evil choices, we remember that this story is not ours, but Gods

‘I will lay me down to sleep and take my rest, for it is thou Lord only that makest us dwell in safety’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 1

Genesis 1-2; John 1; Psalm 1-2

Our opening readings are about ‘Beginnings’, so very appropriate for today, and So very appropriate they are. For they set the foundation for everything that is to come, and indeed encourage us to open our eyes to all that Is.

John opens his gospel deliberately to announce the New Creation that is in Christ, or perhaps better, that Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient Genesis text. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being’ [NRSV]
A reminder for us that New Life in Christ is All encompassing.

These things are literally ‘too wonderful for us’. There are only two ways we can respond truthfully to this Glory. Initially we Must give up on trying to ‘get our head round these words – then either despair, or turn to God in trust. We can either flee from that which comes to us, or choose rather to stay put – to sink our roots into the bank of the streams of life giving water, these Deep Origins which are all at once past, present and future. Meditate on this Word. Allow it to come to birth in us . . . and so develop a hunger for more.

Psalm 1 sets our heart straight, that we might receive life. It is the necessary precursor to all Scriptural reading. We Pray – then we Read – then we Meditate on our reading, and then it brings forth the fruit of praise