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2020 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings March 2020

March 17th 2020: Psalm 38 and Hebrews 6:13-20

As my ramble through some of the daily readings offered by the lectionary (the set readings many Churches use throughout the world for their daily prayers) you’re welcome to join along if you would like to. You can read today’s readings here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+38&version=NLT

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+6%3A13-20&version=NLT

18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.’

What a fantastic promise we’re given from the letter to the Hebrews today. God bound himself with an oath and he’ll never change his mind because it is impossible for him to lie.

It all feels very uncertain in our world today. I’ve been ‘isolating’ at home for three days already and it has to be said that the initial shine of having plenty of time to do all the things I’ve been meaning to do for ages hasn’t taken long to start wearing off. When times are scary, uncertain, or just very different from what we are used to, the easiest thing for us to do is to look to ourselves for the strength and the force of will to get through things, to make it out the other side of whatever issue we face – Covid 19 at the moment – and to think about how much we’ll congratulate ourselves when the troubles of this moment are over and things return to ‘normal’. The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realise that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ at the best of times, even less so now. This can send me into a spiral of doubt and uncertainty about what’s at the centre of my life. What am I about? What is this life for? What should I be aiming to do with the time I have? Of course there could be not much of it left, so how do I make the most of it? It’s tempting to flee, but if I was going to do that, the only place to flee to that truly makes any lasting, life-giving sense is to flee to God. He is firm and unchanging in uncertain times

I love Psalms. Songs, prayers and hymns from a time long ago, but a time when people seem to be just as disgruntled and discombobulated as we are often today. David writes the one that we have today and he is not happy. Everything is going wrong in his life and, a little bit like I do when I list my various entirely justified complaints to God, my wife, my family or anybody else, the majority of the song today is about how it’s all falling apart, but David is clinging on to God, clinging on to the hope that he believes will see him through. I wonder how many of us feel like we’re already clinging on. Or perhaps we feel like we’re rising above it all, but have a little note in the back of our minds that we might need some kind of safety net if it all eventually goes wrong.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews that the second reading up at the top of the post is from points to Jesus as the proof of the truth of God’s promise. His goodness, or holiness,  is astonishing enough, but the invitation that he extends to us to follow him, to take refuge in God and to invite others to take refuge in God too, that is all the more astounding. Who would give their whole life so that others could experience what it was like to be truly free, truly loved, truly the people that they were made to be? As we try and love and serve our families, our communities and ourselves in these testing times, perhaps there’s a moment or two available to us each day to ask the question what if? What if Jesus really is not just good, but Good? What if the hope and peace we’re all searching for is within touching distance? If it was, wouldn’t you want it? Wouldn’t you want it for all the people you are concerned and fearful for and about at the moment? I know I would.

Something to pray for

Pray for all people who are scared and fearful at the moment, that they would have the courage to ask God for help and peace.

Something to do

As you’ve been reading this, I’m fairly sure at least one person has crossed your mind. Phone or message that person and give them some of one of the most precious gifts you have to offer: your time and attention.

 

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April 2016

April 5th and 6th 2016: Colossians 1:15-2:15

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

So much of what makes knowing and following Jesus so exhilarating, so crucial, so necessary to human flourishing is encapsulated in the readings which we are looking at here. Continuing on from our jaunt in to Romans a couple of days ago, Paul is at pains to emphasise the sheer majesty and wonder of Jesus, and his total sufficiency. Not just in terms of what he has done, but in who he is. It isn’t just his action that makes him acceptable to God and able to present us holy and blameless to him. It is who he is. Similarly, the work of salvation Jesus has done for us doesn’t just render freedom where captivity once resided, it changes us at the very core of who we are. We are new people. We wear the skins we have always worn, but everything ultimately consequential about us has been made new because of this god-man, this second Adam who has won the victory and brought us to fullness of life. He is only able to do this because the fullness of God dwells in him, or to put it another way, because he is God.

We are full of life because God has made us full of life. Nothing we can do can make us more full of life. We are full as full can be already. Don’t be deceived by claims that you can have more, better, a closer relationship with God through a certain way of living, speaking, singing or anything else. You have fullness, closeness, full intimacy already. Accept no weak substitutions for intimacy with God. Instead, rejoice that you have the freedom that was meant for you. Freedom to know the Lord, to trust him, to give your life to him. That’s all this life is for. Everything else is a pale imitation of life, joy and the hope Jesus died and rose to make real.

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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

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

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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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.