Monday, 25 January 2016

Talking with Jesus - Sunday 24th January 2016

What would it be like to talk with Jesus?
Looking at the story of his encounter with a lone Samaritan woman beside her village well (John 4), we get an insight into what a conversation with Jesus might be like.
The first point to note is how free from prejudice he was. Asking this lone Samaritan woman to give him a drink crossed a number of established social, racial, moral and religious boundaries. Jesus appears unconcerned about such things.
Next, it is well worth noting the gentle way he engaged in the conversation. To begin with, Jesus worked with the subject immediately to hand - drinking water. He was neither dogmatic nor doctrinal, but subtly shifted the conversation from the physical to the spiritual, contrasting well-water with ‘living water’. It sparked a lively conversation. Then, when the woman changed the subject onto places of worship, Jesus went with her and took a similar approach. He engaged her with an intriguing and unexpected perspective on her chosen subject. He did something very similar with his disciples when they arrived and started talking about food.
Jesus did not attempt to control or dominate these conversations. He went with the flow and used the matters in hand as metaphors for spiritual realities. He didn’t change the subject; he raised the subject onto a different level.
Perhaps we should expect God to speak to us in a similar way, reflecting on the mundane things around us, and challenging us to see them as metaphors for more important matters.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Under the radar - Sunday 17th January 2016

Imagine you are at a birthday party and, when the moment comes to bring out the birthday cake, it is found, splattered over the floor, with the dog helping itself to the pieces. Disaster! After sharing the news with a few people, you walk into the kitchen to discover the largest, most splendid birthday cake you ever saw. The candles are lit, and duly blown out. And, as everyone tucks into their slice, there is universal agreement that the cake tastes just as amazing as it looked. But no-one knows where it came from. All the caterers can say is that one of the guests told them to look in a back room, and there it was, ready and waiting.
That - more or less - is what Jesus did at the wedding party in Cana.
There are two things to note: firstly that Jesus solved the crisis with remarkable quality and quantity (he produced a lot of very good wine); secondly, he did it very discreetly (only the servants knew what had happened). That was Jesus’ style, how he usually did things. And that, therefore, is God’s style. God does amazing things but does them amazingly discreetly. The Christmas story carries the same hallmark.
People of faith often like to make a big splash of God’s behalf. If God does something, they want everyone to know. But that isn’t God’s style. Jesus did God’s work without any fanfares, and only the servants knew. That - it seems - is how God tends to do things.

Monday, 11 January 2016

An Animal Perspective - Sunday 10th January 2016

When Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan, there were two animal references: the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a pigeon (most Bibles use the nicer sounding word “dove” but pigeons and doves are the same thing); and John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to some of his disciples saying, “here is the lamb of God”.
Pigeons and lambs are notably low status animals, which rest at the bottom end of the food chain. They were common creatures in that part of the world.
There is a long association of animals with deities in the history of religion. As a general rule, deities were associated with strong and powerful animals: lions, bulls, eagles etc. In the coming of Jesus, God was doing something quite different, and these two animal references express it. God does not come among us in power and strength; he comes among us in a lamb and pigeon sort of way - quietly, humbly, peacefully, gently and vulnerably. 
God chooses to meet us on at lower end of life’s pecking order.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Noticing the Star - Sunday 3rd January 2016

There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that the star which the Magi saw was particularly bright. Indeed, the fact that so few people seem to have noticed it would imply that it wasn’t particularly bright at all. God did an amazing thing, putting a new star in the sky, and yet only a handful of people seem to have noticed. The same pattern is there in the story of the shepherds: a whole host of angels appeared to announce Jesus’ birth, but only a handful of lowly shepherds saw them.
God was doing something amazing, but only a few people knew. (Possibly no more than 10.) Which raises a question: Why them?
Millions of people celebrate Christmas, and there a billions of people on our planet, but only a relatively small proportion take much interest in what God was actually doing in the birth of Jesus. Are we special? The shepherds weren’t. Perhaps, like the Magi, we are the ones who cared to look, and bothered to respond. But they weren’t necessarily the wisest of wise people, and neither are we.
As Christians, we may be a small minority. But if, by some accident of circumstances, we have become linked to Jesus’ story, then we have a part to play. The Magi and the shepherds got off their backsides and did something. So must we!