Sunday, 26 November 2017
Sermon for Christ the King 2017
Perhaps today more of a meditation or collection of thoughts instead of Sermon!
Last week I shyed away from the Gospel reading because I felt I was that slave who had buried the treasure without even gaining interest on it before handing it back. I was the slave cast out into the place of gnashing teeth. This was a scary pace to be in, so I avoided going there.
This week I am faced with the decision whether I am a sheep or a goat? Needless to say if I am found to be a goat I head once again to the place of gnashing teeth and torment.
Yet I am also aware that Jesus always calls and always accepts us as who we are.
We have got so used to thinking and behaving as if God was somewhere else… out there… beyond, and have forgotten the image of God we all carry within us. As Richard Rohr said this week our best access to God is to realize that he is a lot closer than we had given credit for.. he is within. Our transformation comes from realizing our union with God is right before our eyes… God is right here right now.
The king stands before all the nations (all the world) he stands before us and we look around and recognize that there are people alongside us who we think do not belong before the king…. (Not of our club) He then tells us “come you are blessed”
Behaving in simple human terms to one another, if you like reacting to the image of God in others, means we are blessed.
When we think of God as “beyond”, when we put God “out there” it is all too easy to see “failure “ in ourselves. We do not meet the mark, we do not make the grade, …. The sad thing is we never will because we are measuring in human terms.
The parable of the talents last week was not about money or investment, nor was it in human terms about reward and punishment. The two slaves were received equally, the growth in talents were given back to the master, the slaves enjoyed the success of the master. They remained slave and master.
Today is the feast of Christ the King.
We see this portrayed more often than not as Jesus reigning from the cross. Our crucified Lord is our King. The one who came alongside us through incarnation, becomes our King. We hail him as king.
The king before whom we stand pronounces a blessing on us as we become accepted.
In order to more successfully illustrate this point we need to head to Golgotha. The place of the cross.
What do we see as we gaze on the “Green hill”
Three crosses, not one. Jesus our King is there, the one we have followed and listened to despite our weak humanity.
What do we hear as we gaze on the crosses?
We hear Jesus talking to that good for nothing thief, that criminal, the scum we did not even think was worthy of anything… and we hear Jesus our King saying…. To him of all people….
Today you will be with me in paradise.
No gnashing of teeth here, just wonderful love and blessings.
Christ is our King… O friends rejoice!
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
Today we call Bible Sunday, a day in the year when we especially give thought and reflect on the importance and meaning to what we call “The Bible”
If we were to ask ourselves “what is the Bible” we may get a variety of answers. Furthermore if we were to ask people outside the church we would get another set of answers.
For us it usually comes in the form of a book, though for many today it may be on line or other digital form.
If we were able to ask the early Christians what was the Bible they would give a very different answer to us. For Jewish Christians growing up in the 1st century (Jesus own day and beyond) the Bible as we know it simply did not exist! Strange to think this I know.
Scriptures did exist and the scrolls were regularly read publically yet as we hear in Nehemiah they were always read … with interpretation. The Word of God was never restricted to what was written on the page the Word of God included “the interpretation”.
The Jewish collection of books (what we might describe loosely as “Old Testament” or Tenakh in Hebrew, was not fixed until well into the second century. There are just 5 Torah Book, 13 Prophet books and 4 collections of hymns. (22 books all told)
The New Testament as we know it was argued about for years and consensus was hard to come by and it was not until the end of the fourth century that something was decided and in fact a further deliberation came in the late 16th century that a decision was finally made on the New Testament Canon.
This also excludes the situation that some even today think the Apocrypha is or is not acceptable!! So we cannot even reach a conclusion today!
It may seem strange to us who have been so used to thinking of the New Testament that early Christians did not grow up with what we now simply take for granted. Even the thought that you did not know the gospel of Luke for example might make a huge difference to how we would approach Christmas! And many Christians did indeed not know Luke, and others who may have known Luke would not have known Matthew etc… everything was much more localized.
Perhaps one way of illustrating this for our minds today is how some churches use one hymn book, and others a different one…. Think how attached we become to hymn books!? (perhaps a poor example)
Furthermore we also have that key to scripture as Nehemiah witnessed and also the Ethiopian Eunuch…. Interpretation…. How can we understand without interpretation? This has always been key to scripture throughout Judaism and Christianity.
It goes without saying that Martin Luther’s battle cry “Sola Scriptura” Scripture alone was actually worked out with very rigorous teaching and interpretation…. Even if only to cope with clear contradictions and anomalies we come across in the differing texts.
Biblical Scholarship particularly from the 19th century onwards has opened the pages of scripture even further, and new ancient texts have been discovered since then too. Our current Bible is sourced from hundreds if not thousands of different textual sources, words have been poured over for years now to bring fresh understanding to a text we many have believed to be set in stone.
Whoever wrote the epistle we call, to the Hebrews was probably correct when they wrote:
“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Bear in mind of course that even this was written before a word of the Gospels as we know them had been penned.
I do indeed believe in the strength and wisdom of what we may call the Word of God….. indeed I feel this more today than I did in the 1980’s and 1990s. The Bible is truly fascinating and gripping, but it only so for me because of study and learning about its intricacies. The more I read and learn the more I am able to inwardly digest what is expressed and said. It certainly takes patience too!
The Bible has forever been a text formulated and interpreted by countless believers in countless situations. It is amazing how this is. It is a lifeless thing to me without the people who read it and live through it. The Bible this way does indeed become living and active.
The Bible without a believer is empty… as illustrated by that interesting film called the Book of Eli.. the blind man who learnt by heart the words and in this way was able to save the text from destruction.
And, as has been wonderfully expressed elsewhere
“Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”
On this Bible Sunday let us give thanks for God’s word living and breathing through us. The text is nothing without the believer.