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 . . .

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 25

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 31-32; Romans 3; Psalm 73

Continuing on with our theme of sacrifice – we come in Paul’s great Epistle to the third chapter and something largely hidden from our view, in large part because we do not look into the Old Testament when trying to interpret the New. The majestic salvation of God is expressed in those terms which we looked into yesterday – the Sacrifice of atonement [NRSV] – as St Paul has it in verse 25.

The word in the Greek rendered here ‘Sacrifice of atonement’ is better put – ‘place of atonement’ – and relates directly to the worship of the people of God in the Wilderness. The place of atonement – is the cover of the Ark of the Covenant – the place of the Atoning Sacrifice at the heart of the tabernacle, the very heart of the presence of God. Here is the profoundest of mysteries – that the Saving sacrifice of Christ is made as it were within the very heart of God. It is perhaps the very Zenith of Trinitarian theology – that God bore our sins in himself.

There is no boasting – there is only Holy Reverence and Awe.