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March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.

 

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March 2016

March 21st 2016: Luke 22:1-23

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

As we enter Holy Week once again, the challenge for the reader is not to understand and explain what and why things happened, but working out which elements of the story we should particularly focus on this particular year’s journey to the cross. The scale and scope of the narrative and its consequences are too great for us to comprehend its entire breadth at all times, or at least they are for me. Reading the story of Judas deciding to betray Jesus this morning, the eye is drawn to the question at the passage’s end. These people had lived with and followed Jesus for three years. How could any of them betray him?

All of us have experience of committing to a person, group or institution and ending up disappointed. As those who welcomed Jesus in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday felt let down by the lack of a strong and mighty saviour and disavowed him on Good Friday under pressure from the Jewish authorities, so it can be easy for us to decide that, as we haven’t got what we wanted from those we put our trust in, what we were promised, even, then we’re well within our rights, our entitlement, to go and find what we deserve elsewhere.

I often wonder about the emotional life of Jesus, about his feelings. We’re given small glimpses into it in the Gospels, but not on this particular occasion. Here’s one who has come to bring about a new covenant between God and his people, betrayed by those he loved, who he has taught, related to, lived his life with and for.

And yet for all our deal making and seeking to better ourselves without reference to him, or even perhaps whilst attempting to use him as a bargaining chip, Jesus went to the cross anyway. He chose to die, to lay down his life for his friends. That’s the call of the Christian life, to accept the gifts God gives us, and then to live in such a generous way that those gifts are shared as widely as possible. We are to lay down our lives, not seeking to protect ourselves or feather our own nests.

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March 2016

March 10th 2016: Hebrews 10:19-25

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

One of the primary points of this series of blogs is encapsulated in this passage. As we live the life of faith, as we wonder and question, as we doubt, let’s be people who are provoked to, and provokers of, love and good deeds. Love and good deeds are not the exclusive preserve of those who have a Christian faith, but as Christians, it seems logical that they should be something that flow from us as the joyful obedience of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the value we place on one another and ourselves as we are able to see people from the Spirit’s point of view.

And then, look at verse 25! Even in the days of the preparation of the New Testament, it seems that there were people who had designed that meeting together as Church wasn’t for them, for whatever reason. Some things never change. I’m increasingly convinced of the importance of gathering together as the family of faith, to eat, to worship, to pray, to have fellowship. We can’t be one as Jesus and the Father are one and not be together. People get hurt by Churches (usually people within Churches who take on the visage of representing the whole organisation). Churches are not perfect. They never will be. Recently I watched the film Spotlight. It’s a harrowing portrayal of an institution which failed in every conceivable way. The Church, with a big C, failed. It is no surprise that people want to have nothing to do with a Church that behaves this way, nor with the God that they purport to represent. Spotlight is an extreme example, but many of us have had things happen to us that might well justify us never darkening the doors of a Church again. There are days when the last place I would choose to be is in Church, honestly. While each person’s experience is their own, I do get why Church is a very difficult place for a lot of people to be in.

The closest I’ve come to seeing perfection enacted in a Church is watching people from virtually all walks of life and experiences gathered together around the table at Communion. It’s here that we remember that Jesus has broken every barrier down. Churches will fail. We will find reasons to leave. Sometimes they will be good, entirely understandable. And yet, ‘all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place’, as the song (repetititively) goes. We who are the Church have a huge job to do to make our families welcoming and accessible to all. Particularly so because any barriers that exist now are those which we have erected ourselves. God took them all away. Nothing should stand in the way of people coming together to worship him.

Don’t exclude yourself from one of the most important, and best, elements of being a follower of Jesus. Changing things from the inside is always more satisfying in the end anyway.

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March 2016

March 9th 2016: Hebrews 10:1-18

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more’

Today’s is one of the most amazing passages in the whole of Scripture (in my opinion). Jesus gave a single offering for all sin, which was sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. The law of love wins! All the offering and sacrificing we can do will not ever lead us to freedom, Jesus’s gift to us is the only thing that can do that.

And not only that, as the quote at the top of this post says, God promises that he will put sins and lawless deeds out of his mind. He will not remember them. This seems entirely contrary. I keep a record of my own wrongs, even though I shouldn’t. More than this, I am bad at keeping a record of the wrongs of others. Am I loving them? When we find ourselves living in times when injustice is meted out to the poor on an institutional scale and every reading of a news article’s ‘under the line’ comments section indicates a national hardening of heart towards those who are in need, there is a rising within me of a desire for justice (which I think is good) as well as a desire for the restoration for balance (still good, I think) and finally a desire for some kind of redress (this is where it gets bad, I think). We are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. If, at any point I find myself claiming that I am less in need of the grace and mercy of God than those who vote for or implement unjust laws, those whose opinions I disagree with, however strongly, claiming that those things are more sinful and in need of mercy than I am, then I deceive myself.

We live in times when it is all too easy to be fearful. Just look at the political leadership situations in most of the most powerful nations of the world. But God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? We have a God who could remember our sins and lawless deeds, who could count them against us, who could do anything he likes at any moment. He chooses grace and mercy. Let’s do the same today.

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March 2016

March 8th 2016: Hebrews 9:15-28

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

There’s something about knowing people are praying for you. Whatever you think prayer is, or whatever you think prayer does, it’s impossible, it seems to me, not to at least be touched by knowing that someone is praying for you. It does us some good to realise that we’re being remembered and thought of by others, that they consider us worth lifting before God, whatever we’re going through. I have real trouble fathoming the mechanics of prayer, beyond the idea that it’s an ongoing conversation between God and the person that is praying to him. On that basis, I try hard not to present a shopping list of demands, and instead to get to a place where I don’t hide from God (what a waste of time that is anyway), and, if I am to understand what he is saying to me, that I’ve given myself the best chanceSo, how astonishing is it that, when he entered into heaven after his ascension, Jesus took as one of his primary tasks continuing exactly this conversation with God on behalf of people, on behalf of you and me. We’re so valuable to him that he keeps bringing us to God’s attention, day and night, night and day. We are never forgotten.

So, how astonishing is it that, when he entered into heaven after his ascension, Jesus took as one of his primary tasks continuing exactly this conversation with God on behalf of people, on behalf of you and me. We’re so valuable to him that he keeps bringing us to God’s attention, day and night, night and day. We are never forgotten, never alone.

It’s seemingly bonkers. But then isn’t most of the gospel of Jesus Christ? We, us humans, are all of irreplaceable value to God. Think about that when you’re down on yourself, or other people today. The good news of Jesus is that he brought glory to God in how he lived, died, resurrected and ascended, and he did it all so that we could be with God.

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March 2016

March 7th 2016: Hebrews 9:1-14

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

There’s only one sacrifice that works, or is worth giving, and it’s already been given. Jesus did all that was needed, all that could possibly be done, to give us every kind of freedom with which to worship God and live lives with him as the cornerstone. That’s all there is to it. Any other kind of sacrifice, to any other kind of god, be it a deity, or a human institution, will not achieve what the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus did at a stroke. We are new creations, reconciled to God so that we can be people who exercise a ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is to show people that God has done the work of bringing us back together with him. We’re to be openers of hearts and minds to the glorious truth of freedom, of hope, of possibility.

Sounds alright, doesn’t it.

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March 2016

March 4th 2016: Hebrews 7:11-28

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘…accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant’.

The Christian life can be so hard, a series of tests and challenges, one after another. We can, if we’re not careful, spend a very large portion of our faith-lives seeking to ensure that the deposit God made in us with the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to fruition. If we just do this, do that, say this, say that, all will be well.

But then we fail and fall, we think the wrong things, say the wrong things, do the wrong things. Again, and again, and again and blasted again, and we know that the deposit is being wasted. Or worse, we essay along in blissful ignorance of what we’re doing, its consequences and the impact we are having on ourselves and others. We’ve all been there at times, I would wager.

Jesus, because of his obedience to God and the call that was placed on his life, has GUARANTEED a better covenant, a better relational contract, between God and his people. It isn’t a might or a maybe. It is a done deal. It is God’s promise, as our eternal pursuer that this new relational status, won for us by Jesus, will be honoured. We can live forgiven and free, spending our whole lives working out what that actually means, every time we come to a conclusion realising there is more forgiveness and more freedom to be had, all because of Jesus. I can’t do it alone, earn it alone, or satisfy the right demands of it all alone. Jesus has done it all. All glory to him.

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March 2016

March 3rd 2016: Hebrews 7:1-10

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

A King of Peace and a King of Righteousness. Sound familiar? Melchizedek is a ‘type’, or a forerunner of Jesus, just as earlier in Hebrews (6:20) we are told that Jesus is our forerunner, entering in on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews is at pains to show us that Jesus follows after Melchizedek, is the only one to surpass his righteousness, and is therefore worthy of all the glory, honour and praise that is and should be given to him.

As we are in Christ, it is possible that we, too, can be people of peace and righteousness. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ for Jesus, In turn Jesus accomplished all that he did for us and showed us the way, the pattern for the life of faith. So we are to seek to honour God, love one another in the way that we love ourselves and take seriously our roles as forerunners pointing the way to Jesus and his life and love.

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March 2016

March 2nd 2016: Hebrews 6:13-20

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘…a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’.

Time and time again with these pieces, I find myself drawn to the unchangeable truths of the promises of God found in scripture as opposed to the entirely changeable nature of my feelings and emotional responses to them. Again we find ourselves here today. The truth of the good news of Jesus Christ is that his victory enables him to be ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’. If I am find in and with him, I am surely and steadfastly in the place I need to be, and I can live from there. If I do not accept that Jesus is a sure and steadfast anchor, because of things that happen, how I feel about them, mistakes I make, thoughts I have which are more refined and evolved than those expressed in scripture, then I am not stepping beyond God. Instead, I am making my life, and the life of faith, more complicated than it actually is, was meant to be, or ever should be. We all need something, or someone to hold on to. Jesus is that something and that someone. It is simple. It is not complicated. He is sure and steadfast. I have never found anything else that is. And I’ve looked. Hard.

My anchor will hold in the storms of life, because my anchor is not me, it is Jesus. He can be yours too. Just ask him. Do it. Today

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March 2016

March 1st 2016: Hebrews 5:11-6:12

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Writing about Hebrews these last few days has been something of a challenge. The language is so direct, so stark. The warnings are dire. And yet it is shot through with such grace and hope. As Christians, we should focus on the hope of a passage such as yesterday’s, without ever losing sight of the battle that we are engaged in, that is being waged around us, over us and within us. Even as Jesus has won the greatest victory, evil is all around us, trying to devour us, divert us from the path of following the way of the King.

We are hidden with Christ in God. This has become a powerful truth for me this year. On the (many) days when I have doubted myself, my calling, my abilities, whether my body or my mind are able to sustain what is required of me to be this person and do these things, I’ve returned again and again to this. All around, battles rage. In society, between nations, war is waged on the poor and needy, the elderly, the infirm, the widow and the orphan. At all these, and the many other wars that are seen and unseen, it appears that it is the hope of the enemy to distract, divert and devour, but we can stand firm on the truth of the love of God, the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. But we shouldn’t just stand firm, prim and proper in splendid isolation. Everyone needs this. It’s not just for us who are aware that God loves us, it’s for everyone.

So don’t fall away. Don’t leave the path. Even if you’re stumbling, crawling along today, keep going. Let someone else carry you for a few steps if need be, but keep going, and keep your eyes, your heart, your mind, the core of what makes you you, focused on God. Being alive, right now, following Jesus, that’s what this is all about.