Monday, 27 June 2016

Holy Muddle - Sunday 26th June 2016

Life does not always go to plan. We all know that. When Herod Antipas started arresting and executing Jesus’ disciples, we can only imagine the thoughts and feelings of those early Christians. Acts 12 gives an account of how Peter was miraculously sprung from prison by an angel. At first reading, it is a positive story, but - given a bit more thought - it raises some questions.
It is wonderful that God sent an angel to rescue Peter. But what about James? James was also one of Jesus’ inner group of three favoured disciples. But he was executed. Why didn’t God rescue him?
Why did God wait until the night before Peter’s scheduled execution before he effected the rescue? Peter had been in prison for at least a week. But then, this isn’t the only incident of God leaving things to the last moment. What does that show us about God?
And then, having successfully rescued Peter, the angel might have given him some instructions or advice. But it didn’t. It simply vanished, leaving Peter alone and confused in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night. What does that show us about God’s way of dealing with us?
This is not a neat and tidy story. And the muddle continued when Peter arrived at his chosen destination, only to be left in the street while those praying for his release failed to believe that their prayers could have been answered.
What we discover is that working within God’s plan can be a confusing experience from the human perspective. What God may see as perfect order, might well look and feel a lot like muddle to us. Be prepared!

Monday, 20 June 2016

A non-exclusive offer - Sunday 19th June 2016

Religions easily become exclusive, and like most exclusive offers the cost of exclusivity can be high. If you want the spiritual benefits, you have to join up and fit in. You are expected to keep the rules, take part in the rituals, and generally become like the other adherents.
The earliest Christians believed that the teaching of Jesus was a exclusive offer, only available to Jews. Jesus’ message had slashed the traditional cost of being part of God’s chosen people (in terms of laws and rituals), but his followers still maintained a ring of exclusivity. This bargain offer of God’s freely given love was only available to Jews.
But then God intervened. Acts 10 tells how God opened Peter’s mind to grasp that all human beings are God’s people, not just Jewish ones. Afterwards, Peter declared, 'I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’
Over the 20 centuries since, Christianity has gradually woven a web of exclusivity around itself which is similar in many ways to that of 1st century Judaism. Those who seek the spiritual and eternal benefits of the Gospel are expected to join up and fit in. There are moral rules to keep, and rituals to follow. People are expected to ‘become Christians’ in order for their salvation to be secured. Christianity has become exclusive.
However, Jesus' message was inclusive, not exclusive. He sought to remove the traditional barriers that kept people away from experiencing God’s love. Anyone who prayed to God, and supported those in need was counted in - even a centurion in the Roman army.
Our task as Jesus’ disciples is not to make people into Christians. It is to urge all people to love God, and love their neighbours - whatever their cultural background. That is all God requires.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

'the way that you do it' - Sunday 12th June 2016

The song goes: “It ain’t what you do, its the way that you do it”. It is a sentiment that resonates well with Jesus’ teaching. When Peter encountered a paralysed man called Aeneas, and was then called out after the death of a woman called Tabitha, he was very careful to do things the way that Jesus did. He told the, now cured, man to sort out his bed, and in Tabitha’s house, he copied what he had seen Jesus do after the death of Jairus’ young daughter. Peter was not just doing what Jesus did, he was consciously doing it how Jesus did.
Life throws us into all sorts of challenges, and it is not always easy to know what we should do. At such times, perhaps, the key thing is to do our best to do whatever we do in the way that Jesus did something similar. When Peter found himself surrounded by the grieving friends of a much loved and now-dead woman, he didn’t immediately know what to do. So he remembered how Jesus had handled a similar situation and followed his example.
We can’t achieve this armed with a few cherry-picked Bible verses. In order to follow Jesus’ style, we need to know what Jesus’ style was. And we can only know that by reading, reflecting on, and re-reading the stories in the four Gospels. It is time well spent. The more we understand Jesus, the more we follow his way of doing things, the more fruitful our lives will be.