Through the Bible in a year – April 10

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Deut 14-16; Col 2; Psalm 119:81-96

‘See to it that no-one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit . . .’

How easy it is to be taken captive. Of course this is not a frontal assault. This is not as if someone has stormed into our house and taken us all hostage. No, such captivity is ‘welcomed’ – we are ‘captivated’, entranced is a good word. Ideas, images, take hold of our thinking. We who were just a few verses ago seemingly captivated by the one who ransoms us, who liberates us, are now pondering those things which are upon the earth. We find ourselves caught up in controversy, a mass of words and thoughts which draw us in and then we find that they do not give us life.

There is so much in the world that so captivates us – it is all too easy. There is but one remedy, to through patient meditation root our minds in the Truth that is The Living One. To be alert to our souls anchor in Christ. As Jesus says, Abide in me, as I Abide in you. To dwell in Christ, to be at home in him, to know ourselves aas at home in him as he is in us reveals the falsity of those gleaming things which so tempt us away from the Hearth of God’s hospitality, as was the Prodigal, as were all the lost sheep.

There is but one problem, that he comes to us in ‘distressing disguise’ – so trained are our minds that we mistake the passing glory of the world for the Eternal Glory of Christ. Once more we are called to meditate upon Christ and him Crucified – there is nothing ‘captivating’, or entrancing there. Nothing to delight our passions and desires, just the pure appeal of Love. There is nothing in Him for our senses, just His presence as Gift.

The Christian walk is a long apprenticeship in learning the truth that Christ Crucified has become for us Wisdom from God, to become true philosophers, that is ‘Lovers of Wisdom’, The Wisdom present through all eternity. All else has been nailed to that Cross.

Through the Bible in a Year – March 7


The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 12-13; 1 Cor 1; Psalm 83

For we Gentiles, the gospel is foolishness. Power revealed in weakness. In a culture where ‘might is right’ is implied at every turn – ‘he prevailed by the force of his argument’ – the gospel with its message of The Truth revealed in a crucifed man is of course utterly ridiculous.

Sadly the church, feeling the utter vulnerability of a naked faith, one which hangs on the one hanging from the cross, seeks to find more secure ground. So we become more or less skilled in apologetics – we fear having no answers to the questions people put to us. We fear being scorned for such a ridiculous message. And we resort to forms of power, denying the cross. (As of course was going on in Corinth with thinly disguised attempts to grasp power being veiled in partisan cries of being ‘bearers of truth’.)

One form that power takes is to try and have better arguments. We begin from the assumption that faith is utterly rational – it must be, surely??? We might understand this as the Conservative or Evangelical approach – the power of persuasion – of course that is fine ’til someone comes along with yet better arguments. It is in itself a form of ‘nuclear proliferation’. And in some respects we see this played out in the current debates with ‘the new atheists’ (although I am not sure that those debates are not actually dying out as the world as a whole has got bored and moved on.)

The other form of power is similar but subtly different – that is also to see human reason as the way to reveal the truth – and to change the message – to try and conform it to the thought and patterns of our the ‘cultured despisers’ of this age – to fashion a reasonable faith. The Liberal approach, for want of a signifier. In this respect also, the world is not interested, after all the person we are most invisible to is our self.

In both regards we play the world at it’s own game, ‘winning the argument’. We face the world with itself – and ignore the path we are called to – to face the World with Christ – that is to live as a community of people shaped by this message of vulnerable love. Not trying to ‘make sense’ of it for others, but rather to live the sense of it amongst ourselves.

Jesus is in Himself the Wisdom of God, the Truth of God. When Pilate demands to know ‘What is Truth?’ – there is no response, Jesus does not answer with finely honed arguments – he does not need to.  Truth is staring Pilate in the face. Christians assert that this dead Jew, broken on an instrument of cruel torture, two thousand years ago, is in fact the central meaning of the entire universe. No wonder we like to come up with something different – to deny the power of the Cross.

In our inability to express this Truth in words, we are facing up to the Truth. We can either live by it, or avoid it. By and large in the West, in churches which at least historically rich and powerful, in which we have thousands of books to back up our arguments, we have done the latter. It is hardly any surprise that the life is flowing out of us, and that the church is vibrant and healthy where our brothers and sisters have no rags to cover up the shameful reality of the poverty of the message of Life revealed to us at the Cross – the poverty which makes many rich.

Through the Bible in a Year – February 5th

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 27-29; Acts 11; Psalm 45

Job now comes to the close of his disputation. Having had to put up with the naive arguments of his friends – having wrestled with the utter injustice of his situation, whilst the wicked heap up silver like dust – his final speech begins by declaring not that he, but God will be vindicated in the end. That the wicked will perish and then speaks an ode to Wisdom.

It is all too simple to think of Wisdom as great cleverness – or as something that only a few might aspire to. After all, says Job, you can dig up rubies and Gold and Sapphire far more readily than we can find Wisdom. But then wonder of wonders, he declares that Wisdom is attainable by all. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom – her gate is wide open – she welcomes all who would come to her – and to shun evil is understanding. Wisdom is the life oriented towards God in humble obedience and the rejection of all that is evil.

And so as St Paul remarks, ‘he has become for us Wisdom from God’. As always all the attributes of God’s life have to take on flesh, be incarnated. Jesus becomes Wisdom from God as he devotes his life to the will of his father.

So it is that this word of salvation spreads and spreads – ‘even the Gentiles have been given the gift of repentance – the Gift of Wisdom – the Gift of Life

Bible Study Notes – Sunday September 16th 2012

Bible Study notes for Sunday September 16th

Proverbs 1:20-23

Psalm 19

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Running through all this weeks readings is the theme of ‘Words’, so it would be good to begin this week by taking time to pray through our Psalm, 19, an expanded meditation on the speech of Creation and the Word of the Lord.

[When we say the daily office in church we ‘breathe’ the Psalms – that is we say the first half of the verse – give ourselves time to breathe, then say the second half. So much of our speech and prayer is ‘breathless’ – we need to give words space. Try saying the Psalm like this, together. It is a Good Discipline. It teaches us more of what it truly means to pray together (and how hard it is!)]

1The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them;

and nothing is hid from its heat.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.

13Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

  1. Now turn to the Gospel reading. Note that this is all about Speech – “Who do people say that I am?” – ““But who do you say that I am?”
    1. EVERYTHING hangs on our answer to that question. Why?
    2. What is Peter’s answer? What does it mean for Us, that he is “The Messiah (Christ)”
    3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in ‘Letters and papers from Prison’ says ‘’What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is , for us today.” How do You answer that question?
    4. The distinguished New Testament Scholar, Richard Bauckham says ‘in asking this question, Bonhoeffer presupposed the biblical account of who Jesus was and is, as well as the consonance of credal orthodoxy with that biblical account. Knowing who Jesus Christ is for us today requires us to rediscover his identity according to the Bible and the creeds in the context of our unavoidable immersion in our own here and now. Our task is not to create a Christ out of the needs and demands of our context, but to discern the relevance for our context of the Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday today and forever.’ Discuss
    5. Where in the Liturgy do we answer the question “Who is Jesus”? – what words do we use?
    6. Look up the Nicene Creed in your prayer book – p. 410. What do we the Church affirm about Jesus Christ?
  2. Now turn to the passage from James
    1. In the context of the passage, why does James suggest that those ‘who teach will be judged with greater strictness’?
    2. “Whenever we speak of Christ, we are to some extent acting as ‘teachers’”. Discuss
    3. Bearing in mind James teaching that we should all be ‘slow to speak’ 1:19 –
      1. what light does his teaching in this weeks passage throw on this?
      2. thinking back to the instructions on praying the Psalms, how much of our speech is ‘breathless’, or unthinking?
      3. What might me be wise to consider before ‘putting mouth into gear’? Is the Truthfulness of our speech the only thing to consider? Were those who thought Jesus to be ‘Elijah’, or ‘John the Baptist’, or ‘One of the prophets’, speaking truthfully? What is ‘Truthful speech’?
      4. In the passage we read a few weeks ago from Ephesians we read the phrase ‘speaking the truth in love’. Take a moment to share what you think that phrase means. now read the verse in its context, Ephesians 4:11-16. Note the significance of the teachers and doctrine in the verses leading up to ‘speaking the truth in love’. Now discuss again what you think the phrase might mean
      5. “Doctrinal truth is of far less significance in the contemporary church than it was in the early church in which the creeds were crafted’ Discuss. Does having weak doctrine affect our faith?
      6. ‘Speaking truthfully of Christ is a necessity if we are to live out the gospel’ – Discuss
  3. Finally read the passage from Proverbs in the context of this weeks study. Discuss.
    1. The Wise are contrasted here with the Simple, those who ‘hate knowledge’ How do we attain Wisdom?
    2. “ In paying more attention to the thoughts of others than the teaching of Scripture we become wise in our own eyes, puffed up with what is falsely called knowledge” In our lives as disciples of Jesus, how much are we shaped by his words – how much by the prevailing ‘wisdom of the world’?

[Note: Wisdom is personified as female in the Old Testament, especially in Proverbs. In Christian tradition, Wisdom is associated both with Christ and the Holy Spirit]