Monday, 26 October 2015

Religious people - Sunday 25th October 2015

We tend to think of the Pharisees as the baddies of Jesus’ story - the people who attacked him, plotted against him and eventually killed him. But this is an unfairly biassed understanding. In fact, most of Jesus’ disciples were Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the good living, well intentioned, hard working, regularly worshipping, scripture reading, morally responsible people of their day. If the Pharisees were around today they would be the kind of people who read faith-related blogs. We are the Pharisees.
Jesus spent a lot of time with these people, discussing and debating faith, life and morality. In the end, the religious people got very frustrated with Jesus, because he appeared to undermine their traditions and their moral framework. In turn, Jesus got very frustrated with the religious people because although they talked a good faith, they were too slow to put it into practice.
Like the Pharisees, we tend to assume that our religion - in itself - serves God. Jesus, however, shows us that God is not interested in religion; he is interested in love, kindness, generosity and forgiveness.
If our religion helps us to be kind, generous and forgiving, it serves us well. But whenever it causes us to be unkind, condemning or unforgiving, there is a serious problem.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Sinners - Sunday 18th October 2015

Jesus had something of a reputation for fraternising with ‘sinners’. The gospel writers leave it to our imaginations who these people were; it isn’t difficult to imagine.
He lived in a culture where hospitality was taken very seriously. If you ate in someone’s home, you were accepting the bonds of friendship, and they were automatically welcome to come and eat (or stay) in your own home, at any time. So, when Jesus ate with ‘sinners’, he was not just spending a few hours with them, he was immersing himself in their social circle, and letting them know that they were equally welcome in his. This sent shivers down the spines of the ‘respectable’ people, but it was Jesus’ way.
These people were also loved by God. And Jesus showed them that by spending time with them in their homes, and eating with them.
Two millennia later, the Christian church has a habit or being too much like the 'Pharisees', and not enough like Jesus. We have acquired a reputation for being judgmental and rejecting where we should be welcoming and forgiving.
The whole point of God’s forgiveness is that it is for sinners. As followers of Jesus, we need to be as welcoming to ’sinners’ as he was.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Enjoy! - Sunday 11th October 2015

God is not a kill-joy!
If you look at the style and the teaching of Christian churches down the ages, you might think that God was out to spoil our fun at every turn. But that’s not the image of God that we see in the Bible, or in Jesus.
When it came to the annual Harvest Thanksgiving, God commanded his people - through Moses - to enjoy themselves: to eat whatever they fancied eating; to drink whatever they fancied drinking; and to eat and drink both abundantly and generously. (Deuteronomy 14:26-27).
God has provided us with more than enough to go round, so when we celebrate that provision, we can thoroughly enjoy ourselves at the same time as generously including those who don’t have enough.
As Christians, we are called to reflect God’s "joie-de-vivre”, as well as his loving generosity.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Healing - Sunday 4th October 2015

Jesus’ miracles were ‘signs’, according to John’s Gospel. They were more than just acts of kindness to people in intense need; they were a living demonstration of God’s kingdom.
However, there are different kinds of signs. When Jesus healed people, he wasn’t enacting a Las Vegas style neon sign, flashing, “Here is the Son of God” to everyone around him. Quite the opposite. Jesus went out of his way avoid drawing attention to himself. In Mark 7, he led the deaf man away from the crowd, and strongly urged him not to tell anyone what had happened. When Jesus healed people, he was not advertising himself. He was setting up signposts which pointed to where God was working.
In Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah: “[God] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind.” (Luke 4:18) These were the people he had come to reach. These people were routinely overlooked by traditional religion because their suffering was understood as a punishment from God. Jesus turned that theory on its head. These were the very people among whom God was working.
When Jesus healed the blind beggar, in Mark 10, he said to him, “your faith has cured you.” The sign was not pointing at Jesus, but away from him, to the wonderful faith of the beggar. The man’s healing demonstrated that God’s kingdom was alive and well among the people that polite society had rejected.
As we follow Jesus, we are not called to erect huge, flashing “Christians are Wonderful” signs. We are called to notice what God is going in the forgotten corners of our society.