Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Uneducated & Ordinary - Sunday 30th May 2016

When Peter was interrogated by the chief priests in Jerusalem (for causing a stir in the Temple after healing a crippled man), the elite of the Jewish society were somewhat surprised to note that Peter was “uneducated and ordinary”.
Most of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated and ordinary when they met him, so this comment can easily be overlooked. But it is worth a second thought.
After three years of being Jesus’ disciple, Peter still came over as being ‘uneducated’. That’s interesting because discipleship was primarily an educational process. Clearly, Jesus did not teach the intellectual intricacies of their religion, or at least, not in a way that other intellectuals recognised.
In a similar vein, after three years of following Jesus - witnessing the extraordinary things he did, and doing some fairly extraordinary things himself - Peter still came across as being ordinary. Jesus wasn’t in the business of taking people away from their roots into a rarified sanctity. His message was that God’s kingdom could be found right where they were. After three years of Jesus' company, Peter was still ordinary.
The medieval church was obsessed with saints - extraordinarily holy people. The Church of England today expects its clergy to have a university degree. But God chooses to do his work using ordinary and uneducated people. Do you qualify?

Monday, 23 May 2016

Miracles & Strangers - Sunday 22nd May 2016

Miracles! Some people believe in them, some people do not - and there are a good many people somewhere in between. People of faith heartily endorse the miraculous, while people of no faith resist the idea. Both sides are perhaps a little over-keen to prop up their own presumptions. Truth and fact easily get lost behind the smoke of personal propaganda.
The New Testament accounts of miracles are not blatant propaganda. Jesus routinely asked those he healed not to tell anyone about it. He was not in the business of drawing attention to himself. He had a different agenda.
It is interesting to note that almost all the people who were miraculously healed by Jesus or his disciples were strangers to them. These events were not an outworking of faithful prayer for loved ones in difficult times. There was something quite different going on - something bigger and broader. Jesus was not introducing a heavenly health service, nor was he declaring war on sickness and suffering. These miraculous events were an outworking of God’s love for the people who were consistently rejected and ignored by polite, religious society.
Jesus’ example does not lead us to pray fervently that God will rescue those we love from suffering (though such prayer is a reasonable and appropriate expression of our love). Jesus’ example leads us to consider the plight of total strangers who are rejected and abandoned by our society, and to ask God what he expects us to do for them. And to do it. This is the work of the kingdom of God.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Wonderfully human - Sunday 15th May 2016

Christians generally assume that Jesus was able to do miraculous things because he was divine. But that is not how Jesus understood it. Jesus understood that he was able to do wonderful things because he was a human - a human who lived in excellent relationship with God.
This distinction is important. If Jesus only did what he did because he was the 'Son of God', then the moment of opportunity has passed and we are only left with a memory. But if Jesus did what he did because he was the ‘Son of Humanity’ (the term that he consistently used to describe himself), then the moment of opportunity remains open for as long as humanity remains - yourself included.
Jesus told his followers that they would do the same things he had done, and - indeed - they would do more wonderful things (John 14:12). All that was required was that they be human beings in good relationship with their heavenly father, just as he had been.
On Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, a miracle of communication - a moment when a bunch of Galilean fishermen were enabled to speak numerous unfamiliar languages in order to share the message of Jesus with visitors from foreign cities. It was a new miracle - not one they had seen in Jesus. It was just what was needed on that particular day.
If we live in good relationship with God, God will do amazing things through us - not because we are special, but because we are human, and because God loves to move and work amongst humanity.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Straight line thinking - Sunday 8th May 2016

When considering the best route is between two points (A and B) the obvious solution is a straight line. That, of course, is the shortest route, but it isn’t necessarily the best route. When we travel from one place to another, we may take the shortest route, but we might also choose a route that is faster though longer, or a more attractive route, or we may chose a route that takes us via certain friends or places of interest. The shortest route is not necessarily the best.
We humans like straight lines. Just look at a map. Whether it is railways, motorways or canals - wherever possible we opt for straight lines.
God, however, is not so given to straight lines. Think of a river: over the centuries and over the miles, rivers twist and turn with every obstacle they encounter. The wisdom of nature is that the shortest route is not necessarily the best one.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter’s first inclination was to replace Judas - a like for like substitution. Interestingly, we never hear of Matthias, the substitute Apostle, again. It was ‘straight line’ thinking. A few days after this little administrative fix, God’s Spirit came. Then Peter and his colleagues were led on a twisting turning journey, the likes of which they could never have imagined. That is God’s way of doing things.
In our daily lives, every time we meet an obstacle, our human inclination is to blast it out the way and continue along our predetermined straight line. But if we pause to see the moment through God’s eyes, we may well see it as an opportunity to change direction and do something new and unexpected. God is not a God of straight lines.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Unconfident - Sunday 1st June 2016

Most people feel unconfident. It is normal to feel unconfident. We feel unconfident about all sorts of things, particularly our relationships. So it is no great surprise that we feel unconfident about our relationship with God and about the things God calls us to do for him. And it is all too easy for us to look across at the few people who appear to be capable and confident, and let them do all the work. 
In the story of Peter, it was not his lack of confidence that was the problem - quite the opposite. Peter’s problem was that he was too confident. He wasn’t going to abandon Jesus. He wasn’t going to be afraid. He was going to stick by Jesus’ side to death and beyond.
“O really Peter?” was Jesus’ response. “I don’t think so."
Peter failed. He stated categorically, three times, that he didn’t even know who Jesus was. And he did it when Jesus was seated just a few feet away from him. But here’s the unexpected part: it seems that Peter needed to fail.
The next time Peter met with Jesus he was a lot less confident. And that was a good thing. Jesus didn’t mention what had happened. He didn’t criticise Peter in any way. He simply asked, three times: “Peter, do you love me?”
God is not primarily interested in our confidence or our capabilities; he is interested in our love. Most people feel unconfident. It is normal to feel unconfident. God does not expect us to be full of confidence. What he wants to know is: Do you love him?