Saturday, 30 June 2018

Just Good Friends

The nature of our relationship with God lies at the heart of all religion. In the long history of organised religion this has been understood in a variety of ways. Those religions that have left the clearest mark on human history are those that have built the grandest monuments or ruled the largest empires. Those religions which have taken a lowlier path have left fewer clues for historians to note.
Christianity has certainly left its mark on the world since it joined forces with the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Western history is as thickly strewn with Christian empires as the western landscape is with Christian monuments. However, the central figure of Christianity - Jesus - does not fit this grand profile at all.
Jesus did not claim any land, rule any people, build any monuments, fight any battles or write any books. He seemed quite disinterested in politics, law and ritual. He lived a simple life, focusing on those things that leave their mark in the daily lives of ordinary people, not in physical or social landscape.
When it comes to the nature of relationship that Jesus sought to have with the people around him, he did not live an elevated or separated life. He simply lived among the people he taught, as their neighbour and their friend. Just hours before his death Jesus reminded his core followers: "I do not call you servants ... but I have called you friends.”
Friendship should rightly be the defining relationship of Christianity - friendship that spans different cultures, different beliefs and different lifestyles; friendship that unites people with their neighbours and also with their God. There is absolutely no place for hierarchy in the life and teaching of Jesus. The true mark of Christianity is good friendship.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Spiritual Refreshment

When we feel thirsty, for those of us who live in the towns or cities of the developed world, a refreshing drink of clean water is never far away. Walking to a well to fetch water is not a feature of our lives. It is piped directly to the rooms where we need it, and readily available in plastic bottles.
Jesus lived in a society for whom the daily trek to the well and back was an essential part of life. Whether it was for food, for washing or for watering crops, everyone knew the sheer hard work of hauling water out of the ground and then carrying back to the place where it was needed. Everyone know what it felt like to be thirsty and there not be a drink within easy reach.
This was the backdrop to Jesus’ statement, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who trusts me drink.” He wasn’t - of course - handing out bottles of spring water at the Feast of Tabernacles. He was referring to the availability of God.
The Temple in Jerusalem marketed itself as the only reliable source of pure spiritual water in the world. Jewish people were obliged to travel great distances at considerable expense to get the required spiritual refreshment offered by the Temple priests. Jesus consciously undermined that priestly monopoly. His message was that if people would only trust him, they would find the love of God piped directly to their own homes and immediately available.
In our day and age, there is no single outlet monopolising spiritual refreshment. There is an increasingly crowded marketplace of teachings, beliefs, spiritualities and practices - all offering us spiritual refreshment (often at a price).
While some of us cling onto the familiar practices of our earlier years, and others shop around in search of a fresh buzz, Jesus’ offer still stands. Jesus offers us a direct experience of God - no mumbo-jumbo, no complex or costly rituals, no rules and regulations, and no expense - just God’s love, ready and waiting for us wherever and whenever we need it.
Jesus invites us to his well, to drink, and to be refreshed. But the process doesn’t and mustn’t end there. Once we have refreshed ourselves there is one more essential task - we must fill up our containers and carry some refreshing water back to our homes and communities so others can also be refreshed.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Family Business

You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family - so the saying goes. I remember some teenage angst around that theme!
In Christian communities it is common for people to talk in terms of being a family of Christians. At baptisms, the newly baptised are welcomed ‘into the Lord’s family’. In some congregations it is normal for church members to refer to each other as ‘sister’ and ‘brother’. It reinforces the sense of common identity.
How does one get to be part of this Christian family?
St Paul, in his letters, consistently refered to his fellow believers as ‘brothers’, but he didn’t only address fellow Christians in that way. He called his fellow Jews brothers, whether or not they followed Jesus. He even used the term to address those members of the Jewish council who attacked him, attempted to kill him and then campaigned to have him executed. (See the opening sentences of Acts 23).
Paul used the word 'brothers' very broadly. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t use the term very often outside his own immediate family. On one notable occasion, however, he was teaching in a house when he was told that his mother and brothers were outside, waiting to see him. Pointing at the disciples seated around him, Jesus said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
The assumption of the baptism service is that people become part of God’s family by being baptised. But that’s not what Jesus said. The assumption of many Christian communities is that we become part of God’s family by virtue of our shared belief in Jesus. He didn’t say that either. What Jesus said was, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Membership of Jesus’ family comes from doing - not from rituals or beliefs, but from what we do. Anyone who does God’s will is in.
Jesus isn't asking us to talk like family, or to feel life family. Jesus wants us to be doing his family's business.