Monday, 29 February 2016

Religious Rules - Sunday 28th February 2016

Religions define themselves by their rules. Specific requirements concerning dress, food, personal behaviour, intellectual belief and religious ritual are the defining features of every religion. If you want to be part of the religion, you have to keep the rules. And, to keep you on your toes, you are reminded that these are not random rules, they are God’s rules. Christianity, as a religion, is no different.
But Jesus rejected that approach. He didn’t dismiss the religious laws; he exceeded them. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’. But I say to you that if you are angry with someone, you will be liable to judgement.” Jesus quite deliberately set the qualifying mark so high that no-one could reach it. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a someone with lust has already committed adultery.”
Jesus calls us to to stop defining ourselves as being good enough, because we can never be good enough. Only perfect love is good enough, and none of us are perfectly loving.
This would be disastrous if God wields a divine clipboard on which all our faults and failings are minutely recorded. But that is not what God is like. God is perfectly loving, and, being perfectly loving, he loves us even with our imperfections. God knows what we are like and still loves us. And - better than that - the more we get into a mess and a muddle, the more God loves us. That is what perfect love is like.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Blessed - Sunday 21st February 2016

What do you want for your life, or for your children’s lives? Few people would disagree with a desire for health and happiness, with enough to eat and a secure home to live in. These are fundamentals we all aspire to.
Armed with these aspirations, we think of those who have enough to eat, and plenty to laugh about as people who are blessed. And we think of those who fall short of that standard as people who have either failed in life, or been failed by life.
In religious cultures God gets woven into these assumptions. Those whose needs are amply provided for have been blessed by God. Those who fall short of society’s basic standard are assumed to have incurred God’s displeasure.
Jesus turned that thinking on its head. “Blessed are you who are poor, or hungry, or grieving, or excluded; the Kingdom of God is yours.” Then comes the uncomfortable bit: “But woe to you who are rich, or well fed, or happy, or popular, for you have already received your consolation.” (Luke 6:20-26)
Jesus sees this world very differently from us. God is primarily at work among the very people who are routinely dismissed by polite society. If you want to see God at work, look among those who are poor, hungry, sad and excluded; they are the soil where the seeds of God’s Kingdom flourish.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Testing times - Sunday 14th February 2016

Temptation and testing are not the same thing. When we are tested, our weaknesses are explored. When we are tempted, they are exploited. When Jesus was led into the wilderness by God’s Spirit it was in order to be tested. It seems that before he could embark on his public ministry, Jesus needed to pass some tests.
He faced three tests: 1) would he use the power of God simply to serve his own needs, 2) would he take short cuts to achieve his goal, and 3) would he be more interested in impressing people, than in helping them? These are fairly fundamental tests that we all need to face in some way.
During Lent, it is customary for us to test ourselves. This is a good thing to do. The thing with tests is that the gain is not so much from passing them, as in learning from our failures. One of my sons is currently preparing for his GCSE exams. His school are giving him regular tests so that he can learn from his mistakes. That’s how tests work.
Jesus spent 40 days sitting the devil’s tests, and he had is pretty tough time. But that is what he went into the wilderness for.
During Lent we will gain from letting ourselves be tested. However, don’t choose a test you will easily pass. Choose something that will push your limits, that may well involve failures, that will help you to be a human being better.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Quietly does it - Sunday 7th January 2016

The day that 5000 people gate-crashed Jesus’ attempt to give his exhausted disciples some rest gives us some insight into Jesus’ priorities. The event occurred shortly after John the Baptist’s execution by King Herod (just a few miles away round the lake shore), and that vast crowd came to Jesus intent on overthrowing Herod and making Jesus king in his place.
It was a pivotal moment. Jesus could have gone with the crowd. He could have joined the revolution. It would probably have led to a blood bath, and we will never know how it would have ended. But he didn’t.
Jesus had a different plan. He talked to the people about God, using his usual mix of crazy and thought provoking stories. Then, after a few hours, when they were all tired and hungry, he fed them with a simple meal generated from one boy’s picnic. Then Jesus slipped quietly away.
The power of God, seen in Jesus, is not the political power of laws and armies, of influence and control. Jesus employs a much quieter and humbler power: the power to look after people’s basic needs.
Throughout history, Churches and Christians have often been seduced by offers of power and significance. It is a fundamental human weakness, but it is not the nature of God. As the season of Lent calls us to review our lives and our attitudes, we will do well to follow Jesus’ example, to discretely address people’s fundamental needs, and then slip quietly away.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Quiet Action - Sunday 31st January 2016

On one of his visits to Jerusalem, Jesus went to the pools of Bethesda, which were believed to have healing properties. There were a large number of sick and disabled people there, but Jesus only spoke to one of them - a man who had been disabled for nearly 40 years. As they talked, it emerged that this man was alone, and had no-one to help him when the opportunity for healing was presented by the volcanic waters being stirred. Jesus simply said to the man: “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” And he did.
There are three things worth noting:
1. Jesus did not attempt to cure everyone, but only this man who had no-one else to help him. We easily get overwhelmed by the scale of need in the world, but it seems that God does not expect us to sort it all out. He does, however, desire us to be attentive to those who have no-one else to help them.
2. The man cured promptly got into trouble with the religious authorities for carrying his mat on the Sabbath Day. Jesus was not inclined to let traditional religious law get in the way of the work of God. It is all too easy for us to use law and tradition as excuses for not doing God’s work. Caring for people in genuine need must always be a higher priority.
3. After healing the man, Jesus disappeared into the crowd, and the man had no idea who had healed him. This was typical of Jesus. He did not help people to draw attention to himself or to promote his message. He helped people because they needed help. We need to be wary of doing things because they will promote our faith or our church. If we follow Jesus, we will do what needs to be done and then melt into the crowd.