Monday, 27 March 2017

Universal Motherhood - Sunday 26th March 2017

Everyone has (or had) a mum. But it’s not just us humans who are blessed by motherhood, every animal on this planet has (or had) a mother, and, without exception, those mothers go to remarkable lengths to ensure the best future for their offspring.
And that is only the beginning. Motherhood is not just a biological status. It is a way of living. You don’t need to have biologically reproduced in order to express motherhood; you don’t even need to be female (look up sea horse reproduction!).
In the ancient Jewish story of Ruth, the role of motherhood changes hands several times. To begin with, Naomi mothers her two sons. Then she extends her mothering to their wives. After the death of her sons, Naomi continues to seek what is best for her two daughters-in-law. And then the tables turn: Ruth, recognising her ageing mother-in-law’s need, begins to mother Naomi. She commits herself to caring for Naomi, travelling with her, living with her, and providing for her. Naomi wasn’t the only person to appreciate Ruth’s love; Boaz noted it too. Seeing this, Naomi took the opportunity to mother Ruth, arranging her long term security in marriage. At the end of the story, motherhood opens into a new generation with the birth of Ruth and Boaz’s son, Obed, and Naomi begins the adventure of grand-motherhood. The story is a glorious celebration of motherhood in its broader sense.
But I mustn’t stop there. Motherhood is not even limited to the residents of Planet Earth. Far beyond whatever life may thrive in other parts of the universe, the fundamental theme of motherhood leads to God - the source of all love and life, and therefore of motherhood.
Jesus, frustrated at the ineptness of his nation’s religious leaders, expressed the love of God saying: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!’
God is a mother too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Not Fake News - Sunday 19th March 2017

How much can we trust the Bible? Fake News is big news at present, with stories of prominent people making unsubstantiated claims to suit their political agendas. Many of the people around us - I don’t doubt - generally assume that most of the Bible is similarly fake news, cooked up to support an ancient religious agenda.
I came into active Christian faith through a tradition that presented the Bible as ‘The Word of God’, insisting that every sentence was true, whether or not it fitted with the discoveries of science. But it seemed to me that the people who called the Bible ‘The Word of God’ were making a claim that neither the Bible nor any of its key characters supported. Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is something different.
Years of study and investigation have shown me that the Bible does not need us to puff it up with inflated claims; it stands firmly on its own. Picking a random story from the Old Testament last week, I researched the Battle of Mediggo in which King Josiah of Jerusalem died, as recorded in 2 Kings 23. Within an hour I had confirmed that Mediggo definitely existed, that Pharaoh Neco (Necho II in Egyptian records) had indeed marched north in 609BCE to support the ailing Assyrian Empire which was under pressure from the expansionist Babylonian king, Nabopolassar, (who’s son, Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned over 50 times in the Bible. The dates, the names and the places all match up as Israel’s account dovetails in with those of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. I was even able to see what Nabopolassar and Necho looked like.
The Bible is not fake news. Neither is it a collection of other-worldly fables or far-fetched myths. What impresses me is that the people who wrote the different parts of the Bible took great care to get it right. They researched their story using official records, and double checked their sources. As Saint Luke expressed it at the outset of his Gospel, "I decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account” based on the testimony of "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses”.
We can trust the Bible, not because it is the result of some undefined miraculous process, but because the people who wrote it worked hard to get their story straight.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A Life Compass - Sunday 12th March 2017

If you ask someone to list the 10 Commandments (you may like to try this yourself before reading any further), more often than not, they remember the ‘Do Nots’ first. It seems that we think of God’s commands as if they were a map laying out ‘No Entry’ zones. The underlying feeling is that if you stray into these forbidden areas you are in trouble.
The 10 Commandments, however, are much too brief to serve as any kind of map. The ancient Israelites had grown up under Egyptian rule which had a sophisticated legal system, some of which we still follow today. By giving just ten commands, God was offering something very much simpler. This is not so much a map as a compass.
A compass cannot tell you where you are, but it can help you to work out which way to go. Like the 10 Commandments, a compass needle points in two directions: one end points in the direction you do want to be going, while the other end points to where you do not want to be going. In the same way, the 10 commandments indicate both positive and negative directions.
When following a compass bearing, there are always obstacles that cause you to change direction. The vital part that the compass plays is to inform you when you are going the wrong way and to help you to select a suitable path forwards. If the landscape didn’t have such obstacles, you wouldn’t need a compass. Similarly, God gave us the 10 Commandments because he knows we need them.
The 10 Commandments were the first part of the Bible to be written down. They are there to inform us when we are heading in an unhelpful direction, and to guide us back to a better path. They do not lay out God’s punishment programme; there are no punishments mentioned. They are a simple to use compass to help us navigate the inevitable distractions and difficulties of life - a life compass.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Face to Face - Sunday 5th March 2017

Most of the knowledge and insight that guides our lives does not come from books. Almost all the important stuff comes to us by word of mouth from people we know and trust. Western society outwardly places a high value on literacy, but the reality is that even in the age of the internet, face to face communication reigns supreme.
2000 years ago, Jesus lived in a society in which literacy was highly valued (among men, at least). Religious teaching was routinely done with a scroll at the ready, and handwritten messages were carried by a highly efficient, international communications network. Jesus himself was fully literate - probably in at least two languages. However, when he set about sharing his message of God’s forgiving love, he did not write down a word of it. Remarkable!
Jesus could easily have written his message down and posted it to every city in the vast and expanding Roman Empire. But he didn’t. He chose to do all his teaching in person - face to face - voice to ear. Why?
Jesus’ message to the world was not an idea or a philosophy, neither was it a set of principles or laws. His message was about relationships: our relationships with one another, and our relationship with God. Good relationship relies on loving, personal encounter.
The truth of God can never be satisfactorily expressed in writing; it requires the direct experience of being known, and loved, and forgiven.
Most of the Bible was passed on by word of mouth before it was ever committed to paper. Our literacy-obsessed perspective tends to distrust that part of the process. But the truth is that written ‘scriptures’ can never be more than an architect’s monochrome plan. The full message of God’s love can only be communicated in the 3D technicolour of real relationship.