Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Thoughts from Augustine

I have been reading Augustine's Confessions - in the Benignus O'Rourke translation.  Needless to say, I have been struck by a number of things - but let me mention three.

One is where he says, "'Tomorrow', I kept saying ..... "  Augustine was aware of his tendency to put stuff off, particularly to delay putting his life right as he wanted to keep enjoying 'sin' for the moment.  Is there a lesson there?

Second, another brief comment is: "Wherever we taste the truth, God is there."  It is always good to remember that God represents truth.  There are times when we want to avoid the truth.  That is not the way of God.

Thirdly, he recognises how much we need to place God at the centre of things.  We can get involved in all sorts of amazing stuff - but God tops it all: "A person with faith, who may know nothing of the gyrations of the Great Bear, is without doubt better off than the one who tracks the stars, counts them, and measures the elements, yet leaves you out of his (sic) reckoning."

Saturday, 19 April 2014


I have just been reading a few pages from Paulo Coelho's Manuscript Found in Accra (HarperCollins, 2012) and was really struck by a little passage about how things change and the wonders of transformation.

"Therefore respect the time between sowing and harvesting.  Await the miracle of the transformation.  Until the wheat is in the oven, it cannot be called bread.  Until the words are spoken, they cannot be called a poem.  Until the threads are woven together by the hands of the person working them, they cannot be called cloth."  (p. 130/1)

Transformation is very possible.  It happens - but it doesn't 'just' happen.  Sometimes we need to do a bit of waiting.  Sometimes we need a catalyst, a change-maker.  Certainly we need the right things in the right place.

There are lots of things that can be done with these ideas - but, today, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, perhaps it is enough to emphasise those words of encouragement to "await the miracle of the transformation."

Monday, 14 April 2014

Palm Sunday

Yesterday was Palm Sunday.

The question that surely was being asked that first Palm Sunday was the question: who is this?  Matthew, for his part, has a very clear answer.  That’s why he got so over-excited that he offers the ridiculous picture of Jesus riding two different animals.  There’s a lot of truth, of course, in Matthew’s perspective.  I don’t want to suggest that Matthew wasn’t right.  He was - but the question always has – it always has had and it always will have – huge hidden depths of vital meaning. 

When the crowds on this day, so many years ago, shouted ‘Hosanna!’ to Jesus, they were certainly expecting great things politically, and perhaps militarily, from his arrival on the scene.  They were buying in to the notion that empire can and will offer a good solution.  They knew Rome wasn’t delivering, not for them, but they sought an alternative on the same model.  The people were looking for someone who would lead them into the establishment of a new empire, one that would put them on the top of the pile.

If Jesus had been arriving in the conventional way to do the conventional thing, there are two things that, almost certainly, would have happened – and, because that wasn’t so, they didn’t.  I am convinced that both are significant.  In the first place, he would have received some words of welcome from local dignitaries.  That is what happens when somebody special is on tour.  They are given the appropriate local welcome.  (We have seen that reported this past week as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been visiting New Zealand.) 

Nobody came out to greet Jesus in that kind of way.  Instead we are told that the whole city was stirred – and, instead of a word of welcome, there was a confrontational question: who is this?  But actually that is spot on – because that is exactly the question we have to answer when we encounter Jesus.  Who do we think that Jesus is?  How are we going to respond to him?  What are we going to say about him?  We are told that the answer came from the crowds – this is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.  Presumably those particular crowds were what we might describe as the Galilee lot.  They were the ones who, I guess, had been cheering him in.  They were the ones who knew who he was, who had seen his preaching and teaching and healing, who were looking for something pretty big. 

One commentator, Leith Fisher, notes that this story is essentially a story of two distinct crowds.  “The crowd which greets Jesus enthusiastically, laying cloaks and spreading festal palm branches before him, is composed of the pilgrim peasants who have journeyed in gathering numbers from the suspect region of Galilee.  The Jerusalem crowd, with metropolitan world weariness, is interested but far from convinced by the man at the centre of this disturbance.”  And we note the uncertainty behind the question of this second crowd: who is he?

The second thing that, almost certainly, would have happened in the context of the times is that someone entering the city like this would have gone to the place of worship to offer a sacrifice.  Such would be a recognition of God’s part in things.  That, of course, doesn’t fit well with our context and culture which tends to take a very secular view of such things.  However, things were very different in Jesus’ time.  Jesus does go to the temple, but he doesn’t go there to worship or offer a sacrifice.  Instead, he causes mayhem.  We have that recorded in the incident that we sometimes call the cleansing of the temple.  Jesus disrupts the temple’s trading arm and challenges the people to a proper view of God’s house as a house of prayer.  I wonder – what are the things that we are doing that God wants to disrupt?  And are we ready to be disrupted?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Listening to the Bible

Our Reformed tradition places a good and positive emphasis on the Bible and yet we are always ready to see new light that God may shed on how we are and should be.

As Lawrence Moore puts it in his contribution to "Renewing Reformed Theology" - "
"The Bible was not dictated by God; it is the record of the faith of those who experienced God speaking.  That faith grows, develops and changes as God continues to speak.  The challenge of being God's people - the People of Yahweh and the Church - is continually to listen and to hear when God says something new (and possibly different) from the past."

Are we listening for what God is saying to us?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Celebrating Who and What We Are

One of the things I discover as I travel round in the course of my job is that there are many good things happening in the Name of God.  Of course, there are places where the Church is struggling.  We should not ignore that fact - but nor should we over-state it.

I have been reading "Renewing Reformed Theology", a collection of papers from a 2010 conference at Westminster College, Cambridge.  I was struck by a comment made by Roberta Rominger, which supports this view.

She says: "The theology I would like to recover for the URC is an unapologetic celebration that God is around and God is using us, the love of Christ is finding expression in things we do and lives are being transformed.  We're not pseudo Christians praying that nobody finds us out, we are the Body of Christ.  This is it.  We're not off the map, we're on it.  God is willing to do business with us.  But because of our inability to own and claim personal and corporate experience of a living, immanent God, we cower around apologetically instead of standing tall and presenting ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ."

Let's celebrate what God is doing with us - and let's get on with keeping on doing it!