Monday, 26 June 2017

Sorted! - Sunday 25th June 2017

Jesus’ judgement-related parables do not make comfortable reading for a 21st century audience. There was a time when the fear and threat of divine judgement was the staple diet of western Christianity, but in recent decades churches have tended to shy away from the theme.
What makes us feel uncomfortable is the mental image of God as a high court judge, condemning and sentencing the guilty. However, that is not the image that Jesus was trying to convey. They didn’t have that kind of judge in his day. A judge’s task was to settle disputes and resolve muddle.
One of Jesus’ parables presents a fishing net, full of all kinds of fish. The part that God’s kingdom plays is to sort out the catch, putting the good fish into baskets and getting rid of the bycatch. In another parable he talks in terms of wheat and weeds, but the message is the same. When the right time comes, God will sort it all out. The good grain will be preserved, and the weeds disposed of.
Jesus’ message is - as always - down to earth. What is kept is everything that is fitting, real and genuine. What is thrown out is anything which is tedious, painful or grievous. (This is the true meaning of the words usually translated as ‘righteous’ and ‘evil’)
Putting aside the unhelpful image of a vengeful judge, it would be better to see God as a loving and concerned parent, tidying up their child’s messy room. When the time is right, God will tidy up this world. He will put all the useful stuff in its rightful place, and will deal appropriately with all the rubbish, the dirty washing and the mouldy sandwiches.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Silently effective - Sunday 18th June 2017

One of my domestic pleasures is baking my own bread. I maintain a small blue pot containing a live yeast culture. All I have to do, each day, is to mix half of my yeast culture into some flour and water, add a little salt, knead it all together, and leave the dough to slowly rise until the loaf is light and fluffy and ready for baking. This is the very same method for baking bread that was used in the ancient world.
Jesus said that God’s work is like yeast, which when mixed into flour, silently leavens the dough.
Christians often make the mistake of muddling up the church and the kingdom of God, assuming that Jesus’ parable is about the growth of the church (their own church in particular). It is not. Jesus parables about God’s kingdom are not about the church as an organisation, but give us insight into how God is working in this world, day by day, community by community.
God’s kingdom is not showy or attention seeking; it does not draw attention to itself in any way. It works silently and unseen to bring life, love and forgiveness to the world.
When I carefully shape my daily bread into a loaf, I cannot see the yeast, or hear it, and it’s effect on the dough is so slow that I cannot see the change taking place. But as long as the yeast is there, doing it’s discreet work, I know my bread will rise and - come lunchtime - I will have a lovely crusty loaf.
We do not need to announce to the world what we are doing in God’s name. We simply need to mix ourselves into our communities and make a godly difference.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Buried Treasure - Sunday 11th June 2017

I’m guessing that you have at some point in your life indulged in a fantasy about discovering buried treasure, which solves all your financial worries for life. It's a common human daydream and one that goes back a very long way. People had similar fantasies in Jesus’ day, so Jesus composed two parables on the subject.
In his first treasure story, God’s kingdom is likened to treasure buried in a field. Someone discovers it, and pools all their financial resources in order to buy the field and claim the treasure. Like all Jesus’ parables, there are numerous strands to pull on.
The stuff of God is treasure, but it is not ostentatious, showy treasure. God’s treasure is buried; it's hard to notice. Most people don't ever realise it's there. If we are going to notice the things that God treasures, we will need to look very carefully, and we will need to understand what it is that we are looking for: not the things that humans treasure, but the things that God treasures.
In his second treasure parable, Jesus turns the image around. This time God’s kingdom is not like the treasure but like the treasure hunter - a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he finds one of great value, he sells everything he has in order to buy it.
God is a treasure hunter too! God has a fantasy of discovering an unmatchable treasure among the human race. But he isn’t looking for something that will ease his financial anxiety - quite the opposite: God would give up everything to obtain such a treasure.
What is it that God is looking for? Who is it that God is looking for? Perhaps it’s you.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Small and Plain - Sunday 4th June 2017

How do you imagine the Kingdom of God? You may not have a specific visual image for it, but take a moment to consider what images the idea of the Kingdom of God brings up in your mind.
Now picture a seed - not a massive seed like a coconut, nor a beautifully feathered one like a dandelion, nor a tasty one like a sunflower - just an ordinary little brown seed that you might plant in a garden.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a seed - not a grand or beautiful one - but like a mustard seed, which was the smallest seed commonly used in farming in his day. It is a deliberately anti-heroic image. The kingdom of God is like a small, plain, brown thing - but a small, plain, brown thing that grows.
It is a common error to imagine the things of God as being bright and spectacular. Ancient philosophers spoke of God as being greater than the greatest being imaginable. But remember the story of Elijah: there was a great wind, and an earthquake and a fire, but God wasn’t in any of these; then there came a gentle whisper, and Elijah heard the voice of God. Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed recalibrates our perspective on God. The kingdom of God is like a tiny seed.
Like all of Jesus’ parables, this parable can lead our imaginations down numerous intriguing paths. Here is one of them: the work of God in this world is made up of tiny opportunities - opportunities to love, to care and to forgive. The work of God is not made up of grand gestures, and ecstatic visions, but of the small and plain moments when we choose to do the godly thing. These barely noticeable incedents of godliness are like seeds; they grow and they bear fruit, and they change the world.
Consider yourself going out into God’s world equipped with a pocketful of small, plain seeds. Keep on the lookout for opportunities to plant them in the everyday needs and struggles of the world around you. This is the kingdom of God.