Thursday, 23 July 2015

A Radical Approach

The Pharisees set high standards.  Because of what we know about their relationship with Jesus, we are inclined to be fairly dismissive of their piety.  We see them as mere legalists.  It is entirely true that they had become over-concerned with minute details.  As Jesus himself once said – it’s recorded in Matthew 23:23 – You hypocrites!  You give to God a tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy and honesty.  Indeed, he went further in verse 24 – Blind guides!  You strain a fly out of your drink, but swallow a camel.  In saying that, Jesus was over-stating the case.  I don’t imagine there was ever a Pharisee who drank a liquidised camel.  But the point remains.  They thought that getting all the details right would ensure living in the way that God wanted.  Jesus recognised that it is not so simple.  He wants us to have the bigger picture as our guide.

Still today there are many, and many within the church, who would prefer things to be the way that the Pharisees set them out.  Many of these people don’t realise that to be what they are seeking; but they, explicitly, or sometimes more subtly, ask for a line to be drawn and it to be made clear where everything fits, on the forbidden side or on the permitted side.  Jesus recognises that life is far too complex for us to be able to list every possible and decision to be made and make it clear on which side of the line it sits.  Indeed, there are, I am sure, particular actions that can be right in one situation, but wrong in another.  Jesus is pursuing what we might describe as an enlargement agenda.  As one commentator puts it, referring as an example to the comments on murder and anger – “The verses on anger offer us an interpretation that enlarges the frame for understanding the prohibition against murder …. Clearly Jesus is not rescinding the prohibition against murder, but he does place murder on a continuum of outcomes related to anger.”[1]

If we approach this using a different concept, we can think about radicalisation.  Because of some of the things that have opened the past few years and the use of that term, not inappropriately, as a description of those, we have tended to see radicalisation in a negative light.  However, radicalisation can be positive, as it is here.  Sticking with the murder/anger case study, we may see that “Jesus radicalises the matter by insisting on going to the heart and addressing at that level the anger that can lead to a whole scale of insult and injury to others, of which murder would simply be an extreme outcome.”[2]

[1] Marcia Y Riggs – Feasting on the Word
[2] Brendan Byrne – “Lifting the Burden”

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

On a Journey

I have on my office wall a picture that I bought in the market in Harare on one of my trips to Zimbabwe.  It depicts a couple of people with a couple of animals, probably donkeys.  One of the donkeys has got a heaven burden, as has one of the people.  They are clearly on the move.  They are striding out.  The image of life as a journey is one that is common, and it is being played out in this scene.  We don't know where these people are going, what they are taking, or why they have so much to take.  But the picture conveys a clear sense of purposefulness.  Surely they know where they are going.  We are called to be People of the Way.  We are called to bear one another's burdens.  All that may seem like stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.  What is God saying to us about where we are going?  And what does God want us to take with us?

Monday, 20 July 2015

What God Has Done

In 2 Samuel 7 Nathan is reminded of how much God has done and he, in turn, is to remind David of that.  First, there is a reminder of the deliverance from slavery.  

Verse 6 – I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day.  Secondly, there is the reminder of how God called David himself away from his shepherding duties.  Verse 8 – I took you from the pasture and from following the flock.  Thirdly, there is that great promise, repeated by Jesus alongside what we often refer to as the Great Commission.  Here it is in verse 9 – I have been with you wherever you have gone.  And, fourthly, there is the promise of God’s continuing guidance.  Verse 10 – I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them.  And then, lastly, as we have noted, it is God, not David, who will be the builder and David the recipient – The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.  God’s love, God’s grace, God’s blessings are tremendous.  

Many of the scholars suggest that this is a pivotal passage in the story of David – and they say that because it starts with David saying what he is going to do for God, but it moves to focus on what God will do for David.  I would always want to encourage you to do what you can for God – but I would want to tell you that what matters most is what God will do for you.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Not All Who Wander

I have on my office wall a postcard-sized picture of some travelling caravans and, as a caption, a quotation from J R R Tolkien – ‘Not all those who wander are lost’.  I really like the idea of wandering, and I don’t get enough opportunities to do it.  We live in a culture and a society where we always seem to be in a rush.  We constantly seem to be in a hurry, and to need to get there - wherever 'there' is - quickly.  Interestingly, one or two people and groups are beginning to rediscover the value of what is sometimes called a ministry of loitering – and I see that as another word for wandering.  When we lived in Panama for three years, I actually stopped wearing a watch.  One reason was that, because of the climate, it reacted with my wrist.  But the other reason was a very different attitude to time.  Things happened when they happened.  Now it may be that we were too relaxed towards time in Panama.  But it is certainly true that we are too bound to time in the UK.  Let’s make space for the times of wandering.