Monday, 30 January 2017

Lessons from Pain - Sunday 29th January 2017

When our lives become difficult and painful, we tend to jump to the conclusion that things have gone wrong and departed from their God-intended script. Not necessarily.
The prophet Hosea had an undoubtedly difficult and painful life. His wife was a prostitute who was repeatedly unfaithful to him. In the course of their turbulent relationship she had three children who’s paternity was uncertain. Hosea even named the third child: Not-Mine. This was not a happy home, but, still, he loved his wife, Gomer.
In the midst of Hosea’s pain an anguish, he came to understand the heart and mind of God. He grasped that just as Gomer had been repeatedly unfaithful to him, so the nation of Israel was being repeatedly unfaithful to God. Just as his wife was 'sleeping' in too many men’s beds, so the nation of Israel was worshipping in too many sanctuaries. And Hosea realised that just as he continued to love his wife and children dearly, so God still deeply loved the Israelite people.
In and through all this, Hosea believed that God had called him to marry a prostitute, in order that he might have these struggles, in order that he might come to understand the heart of God.
So, when our lives become difficult and painful, before we jump to the conclusion that God has abandoned us, it would be wise to pause, and wonder whether God might be trying to show us something.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Amateur Prophet - Sunday 22nd January 2017

Do you see yourself as someone who might, at times, articulate the priorities of God to the people around you? It seems that as far back as the 8th century BCE this was generally seen as a job for the professionals.
When Amos popped up in the ancient city of Samaria, and announced the impending destruction of the city because of their lack of care for the poor, it was assumed that he was a professional prophet. Amaziah the priest told Amos to go and peddle his miserable message somewhere else. But Amos replied, “I am not a prophet, nor was my father. In fact, I’m a herdsman and a part time pruner of fruit trees. It was God who called me away from the sheep and sent me here to deliver his message.”
Over the centuries, the business of religion has consistently professionalised priesthood and prophecy. The underlying assumption is that the stuff of God is complicated and potentially dangerous, and so is best left to the experts. God, however, does not appear to subscribe to this idea. Amos, in today’s terms, was a man with no formal qualifications who worked for the minimum wage on a zero-hours contract performing a low status task. Yet he was the man that God chose to speak up for the plight of the poor in Israel.
Jesus, with his band of fishermen, took a similar path. He himself certainly wasn’t a paid priest and, as far as we can tell, had no formal education.
In the 21st century, with declining Sunday attendance, Christian churches still opt for professional ministers. I am one myself, with my high-brow degree in theology. But God, it seems, is more likely to speak though someone like Amos than someone like me. Do you see yourself as someone who might, at times, articulate the priorities of God to the people around you?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Be a Lamb - Sunday 16th January 2017

'Behold the Lamb of God’ - John the Baptist announced, when he saw Jesus walking towards him. I can’t read those words without my brain supplying a grand musical backing from Handel’s ‘Messiah’. Handel’s music presents the moment with a bold and monumental theme, but that is a long way from the sentiment that would have been in John the Baptist’s mind when he said those words.
There were many grand and monumental phrases that John might have used to announce arrival of the one he was waiting for: Behold the Son of David; the King of Israel; the Ancient of Days; the Messiah of God; the Creator of the Universe; the King of kings; the Lion of Judah. These would have been grand introductions, but John used a new phrase which holds no grandeur whatsoever - the Lamb of God.
There is nothing grand or dignified about a lamb. Lambs are small, weak and vulnerable creatures. John and Jesus lived in a society where sheep farming was one of the primary industries. Many families owned a flock of sheep. The sight of a lamb would have been utterly ordinary. Further to that, lambs - particularly male lambs - were useful for just two purposes: their meat and their hide. Then as today, the lifespan of a male lamb was brief. It was fed up until it reached optimum size and then slaughtered.
“Behold the Lamb of God” was a surprising commentary for the appearance of God’s Son.
Being called to follow Jesus, we are called to be lambs in the society around us. We are called to humility, weakness, harmlessness, ordinariness, and to willing self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. This is the way of Jesus. This is ’the Kingdom of God'. So go out into the world today, and be a lamb for God!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A Fresh Start - Sunday 8th January 2017

Do you know that feeling of climbing into bed and realising that the sheets really need washing? Or looking at your floor and knowing that the time has come to get out the broom or vacuum cleaner? We muddle along with our lives, one day after another, until a moment arrives when something nudges us to make a change.
Jesus was working on the flourishing building sites of Galilee in the year 29AD. He had followed his step-father into the building business in his early teens, and that had been his life for the following 17 years. But when rumour reached Galilee of a new teaching, which was emerging from the area of the River Jordan, Jesus realised that the time had come for a new start. He knew that he was called to teach people the truth about God. The appearance of John the Baptist was the cue he needed to leave the familiar graft of the building industry. He journeyed south to listen to John’s simple but powerful teaching. Then he insisted on being baptised to mark the fresh start in his life, becoming a rabbi/teacher and proclaimer of God’s love.
We all need a nudge from time to time, something that will prompt us to reappraise our familiar routines and consider a new start, following the call of God. Take a moment to put your ear to the proverbial ground of your spirit, and listen for the rumble of God’s call. Perhaps the moment has come for you to make a fresh start, and turn your attention to something different, that God has been gently calling you towards for some while. If you know that the time has come for you to make a fresh start, it may help to mark the moment in some tangible way, as Jesus did.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Not to Plan - Sunday 1st January 2017

What do you have planned for 2017? I don’t need to be a prophet to inform you that things probably won’t turn out as you expect. Whatever it is that you have planned, you are likely to run into frustrations and complications along the way. C’est la vie!
When Mary and Joseph had to pack up their things in the middle of the night and hot-foot it to Egypt, it was not the first time that one of God’s chosen servants had made an unwanted detour to the Kingdom of the Nile. Centuries earlier, Abraham had to leave the land that God had called him to, forced out by famine (Genesis 12). Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph, who had been born to inherit Abraham’s vast wealth, got unceremoniously bundled off to Egypt when his brothers sold him into slavery. Two centuries later, Moses escaped from Egypt, only for God to send him back there to engage in a long and frustrating tussle with Pharaoh.
In the Bible’s story, Egypt repeatedly stands out as a place of unwanted delay and frustration. When St Matthew recorded Jesus’ impromptu visit there as a young child, he paused to observe how appropriate it was that God’s son should suffer a similar frustration to his famous ancestors.
It is, it seems, quite normal for God’s people to suffer detours, delays and frustrations. So, if these things come your way during 2017, don’t overly panic, just remember that it may be your turn to take a trip to ‘Egypt’.