2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

September 27th 2014: Acts 15:36-16:5

Read Acts 15:36-16:5 here

One of the things that many of us misunderstand at times about the issue of unity is that we equate unity with always agreeing with each other and reaching a consensus. Paul and Barnabas disagree here in a way which is so “sharp” that they (temporarily) sever ties with each other and go their separate ways. What is interesting here is that, according to Luke, our narrator, the good news of Jesus Christ continued to be spread. Both Paul and Barnabas had good intentions of telling people about Jesus, disagreeing about how they should progress with their projects. How often does this happen to us? We can be so worried about not agreeing with each other or supporting one another that we don’t do anything.

I am not suggesting hot-headed ministry. Nor am I suggesting that we all go off in our own directions, silos as it were, doing whatever we think is best. What I am suggesting is that, whatever our ideas of ministry might be, whether we have a clever strategy or not, the love of God cannot and will not be stopped. Ever since the beginning of the Church, Christians have been doing their best (not deliberately) to make it difficult for the message of God to come across. We make mistakes. We hurt one another. We damage those who disagree with us. And yet the love of God continues to spread. And so I’m left to wonder, would it make more sense for us to worry less about how we do things and make a commitment instead to enjoy the freedom and license to bless and serve people that we have been charged with?

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September 26th 2014: Acts 15:22-35

Read Acts 15:22-35 here

After the tumult for the disciples of coming to terms with the extension and inclusivity of their new faith and way of life, today’s reading shows the beauty of unity. Power and the disunity have been themes of readings in recent days, ┬ábut today, the strength and obedience of stepping towards unity is laid bare.

When we work for unity, for the love of God and for the love of the gospel, many of the things that we have held tightly on to, issues which we think are crucial and of central importance, fall away. If we’re not willing for them to fall away, then the problem is with us, not with the issues or questions that we face. What are some of the issues that you hold on to so tightly, in terms of Church, belief, practice, that were they to fall away, your faith would fall away with them?


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September 25th 2014: Acts 15:1-21

Read Acts 15:1-21 here

Wasn’t Church great when it was an exclusive club of people just like us; people who had no problems, people who behaved themselves, people who didn’t disagree, who only ever did what we all agreed we saw the Father doing, who understood everything there was to understand about the faith, who were careful to only allow in those who passed all our tests of intellect and understanding? Does this sound like your Church? Does this sound like anything in your heart or mind? Do you long for the days of purity? Do you wish that the people with alcohol problems, or body odour problems, or drug problems, or relational problems would leave your Church and not come back? Do you wish that we could all talk in an erudite fashion about mono-theistic religion and orate with panache on why we’ve found the answer to the question of the Trinity?

If yes, then you must have a different vision of Church, life, and hope than me. Perhaps yours is the right one (I’m usually wrong). I pretty strongly agree, though, with the disciples here, who at the end of a fierce debate about the entry requirements for Gentiles in to the faith (which is carried out for very legitimate reasons of tradition and practice) it is decided to not make it difficult for the Gentiles to enter. It’s a good job for us that this decision was taken. Especially for those of us who are men.

We’re not in the journey of faith to build an exclusive, elitist social club full of educated, well-to-do people. The disciples were far from this themselves. They got in to trouble in passages like today’s because they wanted to honour God, and their vision of what it was to honour God was being forcibly enlarged, almost by the minute. Is our vision of what it is to honour God open to the same enlargement? Personally I crave a Church where the only entry qualification is an interest in building a relationship with Jesus, going on with Him, and getting to know some of His people. I really do believe all the rest will follow, and that it isn’t ours to worry about.

I know, I’m naive.

2014 Lectionary Ramblings

September 24th 2014: Acts 14:8-28

Read Acts 14:8-28 here

We’re not Gods. If you spent any time with me it would be obvious that I’m not a God, but it’s easy for us to think that we are. We are given such power, such freedom, such authority by God that sometimes we feel we can do anything. Other times, we’re so crushed by our ineptitude, our sin, our everyday failures, that we could never think too much of ourselves.

Paul and Barnabas face a similar issue here. They are preaching and acting inthe name of God, for His glory, but their actions are misconstrued. It would have been easy for them to enjoy the adulation, to go with the flow, to build their platform. A lot of life tells us that self-promotion and self-advancement is the way to go. Rather, here they show us the pattern for a fruitful, truly successful, God-honouring ministry. We live, love, work and minister for the glory of God alone. Not for money, not for adulation or love, not for recognition, not to please God, not to make ourselves feel worthwhile. We are given life, hope and a future so that God might be glorified and His purposes might be advanced. Paul and Barnabas understood this, and they were used mightily, perhaps partly at least, as a result of this understanding.

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September 23rd 2014: Acts 13:44-14:7

Read Acts 13:44-14:7 here

“I have made you a light to the Gentiles”

Where I studied theology, we were strongly discouraged from taking passages out of context, or appropriating individual verses for ourselves, or a set of circumstances we find ourselves in. Interestingly, here Paul and Barnabas seem to have no qualms about doing this. Come to think of it neither did Jesus. Intriguing isn’t it. In our day, the burden of proof, the need for scientific rigour and so on, on those of us who claim to hear the voice of God and act in His name is extremely high. When you see how some people use and manipulate the name of God, it is easy to see why this is so. However, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As Paul and Barnabas saw many people set free, and the opportunity to speak of the love and mercy of God increasing, so more and more people were drawn to them, and to God, by the integrity with which they lived and spoke.

We can easily get drawn in to the battle to prove our faith, the existence of God, the righteousness of our cause. God does not require this though. He merely invites us to accept the privilege of being a light to the Gentiles, those who do not yet know Him. We have been commissioned. Are we willing to live as lights in a murky and darkening world, or would we rather rant and rave as the ship sinks?

We have a hope that, rather than sinking in to the finality, the world will be renewed and all will be saved. If we really believe that salvation is possible for all, it is for us to live like we want others to receive it. More parties, less services. More celebration, less meetings. More joy, honest, real joy, less naval gazing. A growing picture of who God is, which is open to more and more revelation day by day, not a closed, finished canon of belief and practice. It’s exciting!

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September 22nd 2014: Acts 13:13-43

Read Acts 13:13-43 here

Today, Paul and Barnabas find themselves in Pisidian Antioch (fantastic name for a place, that). An intriguing aspect of this morning’s reading is that they are very obviously well-known, and popular, being as they are recognised upon entering the synagogue on the Sabbath. What had the community leaders and rabbis heard about then? What was their expectation about what would transpire as a result of asking Paul to speak? Was he asked because he had been trained by Gamiliel in the Jewish faith, or because the tales of the miraculous and of their teaching had preceded them?

We’ll never know truly, but what is clear is that Paul, in intimacy with God, was ready to speak when invited, and spoke a message that was directly what they needed to hear that day. Paul was trained in speaking and arguing, but he was also learning quickly what it was to be intimate with God and loving in obedience. When invited to speak, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, but it was God who did the mighty and wondrous work of salvation which followed.

It’s easy for us to be psyched out by the power and gravitas on show in stories like this, but we benefit from realising that, as God had raised up the people He called for His ministry in the New Testament, so He raises us up day by day to be His sons and daughters. We are to be ready to communicate the truth of the love of God when we have a chance, but most of all, we are to called to contentment in the arms of our Saviour, so that His reputation might precede us. Be content so that God might increase in your life today.

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September 20th 2014: Acts 13:1-12

Read Acts 13:1-12 here

“now, the hand of the Lord is against you”

Issues of power and control have been continuous themes in our recent reflections. Once again these elements of the life of faith are to the fore today. Many of us are uncomfortable with judgement and the idea of God being against us. We’re also uncomfortable, rightly in my view, with the concept of pronouncing judgement in the name of God. This kind of thing is so open to abuse and manipulation that it seems unlikely that it would be something Godly at all. And yet today, the (we’re told temporary) judgement and blinding of Elymas by Paul is used to bring the Proconsul Sergius Paulus to faith. So is judgement justified when it leads to salvation?

The question here is one of intimacy. When the disciples are called to set aside Saul and Barnabas for the work God has for them, they are able to do so rightly because they are in intimate relationship with God and with one another. Certainly they didn’t get every decision right. Neither did Saul (Paul) and Barnabas, and it is dangerous for us to think otherwise. God’s call is an inexact science. God calls us to worship and adoration, to sacrifice and to mission, every moment of our lives, and more often than not we are not attentive enough to hear that call. The relationship, and the opportunity for living well, grows with commitment and time, and remembering thankfully the previous faithfulness of God. From here it is easier to know (although not foolproof!) when God is moving and to know how to follow.

It is easy for us to fall in to control and manipulation, but as we are called to lives of contrition, we need to ask for strength to fight the very human temptation to think it’s all about us. It’s all about God, and his glory. So if we’re all set to pronounce judgement, we better be sure that it is God asking us to do it, and not fear or culture, and we better be ready for the spotlight to be turned right back on to us. Tread with caution!

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September 19th 2014: Acts 12:18-25

Read Acts 12:18-25 here

In today’s reading, the final throes of the life of Herod are told in rather gruesome and some would say gleeful detail. As an encouragement to the persecuted Church in the first centuries of Christianity, stories like this, clearly laying out the supremacy and victory of God, must have been a great source of strength. It is easy to be jaded and cynical in the protected Western world as to how important the continued reminders of the supremacy of God are a matter of life and death to some, giving the courage to carry on when the pressure is on.

That said, there is another uncomfortable sense of “might is right” in these verses, a sense which has so pervaded the readings this week. It is not the might of man, but the might of God which is championed here. The problem though, is when we as people take the view that because “our God is greater” as the popular contemporary song goes, we are greater too, or we can subvert others to our will. This can work in all facets of life; in the family, the work place, in a Church, in politics local, national and international, theologically and everywhere else. Until we realise that we are no greater, and no lesser, than any other people or people group, we will never be able to ascribe any kind of glory to God, or love to Him, or to others.

For me these verses are a call to check ourselves. Do we secretly crave the moments of recognition and glory, or do we have integrity in placing the glory of God and the love of others before all other aims? I’m not even sure that Luke, writing Acts, could say for sure what his motives were, and neither can we much of the time. Let’s ask God to give us courage to take the path of humility and grace today.

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September 18th 2014: Acts 12:1-17

Read Acts 12:1-17 here

Just as King Herod turned against the followers of Christ, those who are frightened of the commitment, compassion and conviction of those who have felt called to follow Jesus have, throughout Christian history, attempted to silence, or even destroy them. The temptation for those of us who experience anything like this (not that we do often in the Western world) is to prove the righteous nature of our cause, and the truth of our beliefs, by “showing the strength of God’s arm”. We fight back. We argue, we rely on apologetics to diminish the thoughts and beliefs of others. We use military strength to prove that we are right by destroying others, and so much more besides.

God does not need or require us to do this. God asks of us that we turn the other cheek. We stand for justice, pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life, but if our confidence is truly in The Lord, our hope and our salvation, as scripture, and many songs we sing, encourage us, it is disingenuous for us, in the next breath, to use the things of the world to protect ourselves and justify the “right” of our position. What would the world look like if we as Christians truly chose to turn the other cheek in the face of injustice and persecution?

How can we be people that walk humbly with our God rather than walking arrogantly or in an entitled fashion? God has His glory. We don’t need any for ourselves.

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September 17th 2014: Acts 11:19-30

Read Acts 11:19-30 here

Today we find prophecy proved true. The Church is growing all over the displaced world. Famine is prophesied, famine comes. What intrigues me about this is that rather than revelling in the veracity of their truth claims, the disciples immediately seek to provide practical support to those who are in need.

We can spend a lot of time wanting to be right, and much time celebrating when it is proved that we are. It is easy to be seduced by the glittering image of perceived “success”, particularly in spiritual matters, and even more particularly when, in a difficult and hurting world, we are given something of a “leg-up”. This is human nature and something to be wary of, especially in the context of humbly lived out faith. While the glory and authority of God are important, they are His concerns, first and foremost. We are called to serve, to support, to meet needs and love and bless people. Let’s be people who live in a way which honours God, but never forgetting to serve practical needs.