This blog is primarily aimed at those who preach and teach, also for those who prepare for Sunday by pondering the upcoming readings

May 5, 2011

This blog is primarily aimed at those who preach and teach. “The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work … [S]ome references hostile to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish relations long after the time of Jesus. To establish this is of capital importance if we wish to bring out the meaning of certain Gospel texts for Christians today.” Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “Notes,” IV, 21, A. 

Sociological studies of Christian prejudice strongly suggest that Christians learn anti-Jewish bigotry in church. Ap­parently pleas to “love the neighbor” fail to outweigh the incessant drum­’ beat of negative images of the neighbor proclaimed as the Word of God. Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); Rodney Stark, Bruce D. Foster, Charles Y. Glock, and Harold E. Quinley, Wayward Shepherds: Prejudice & the Protestant Clergy (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

Even those who trained for ministry quite recently are likely not to have been asked to consider the potential anti-Judaism lurking in New Testament texts because Christian-Jewish relations are absent from the syllabus of most seminaries. (CCJ conducts workshops at Theological Colleges and includes sessions looking at Christian antisemitism in liturgies and hymns. One student responded “(I learned)… that antisemitism, real and perceived is much more of an issue than I realised: the possibility that some CofE liturgy could still be interpreted as antisemitic!”

It would also be useful for study groups such as those who meet to study the forthcoming Sunday’s readings and for Christians and Jews studying texts together; indeed this book originated in a mixed group of the Council of Christians and Jews in Bristol, UK, led by me over three years, spanning the lectionary cycle. I am most grateful to the whole group, but especially to the Rev’d Dr. Paul Spilsbury, who offered many insights from a conservative perspective and challenged my occasionally sloppy thinking.

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the most famous and gifted preachers in the US, wrote: ‘a man in my congregation married a Jewish woman who sometimes came with him to church. When she did, I heard the slurs in familiar passages. I tasted the razor blades in beloved hymns. Before long, she had changed my sermons even when she was not there. If what I said did not sound like good news to her, I decided, then it was not the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ quoted in Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism – M. Salmon (Fortress 2006) p. 158

‘In an essay on Mel Gibson’s movie, Rabbi Michael Lerner observed that “if Christians have not confronted anti-Judaism as effectively as they have tackled other ‘isms,’ then that is because doing so requires them to question the historical truth of their own scriptures.”’ quoted in Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism – M. Salmon (Fortress 2006) p. 132

“Repentance of the misdeeds of the past is not by itself sufficient to enable us to come to terms with our different histories. Knowledge instead of ignorance of our common origins is the essential preliminary to greater mutual understanding.” Christian origins – C. Rowland (SPCK 1985) p. 5

I have been involved with interfaith work for forty years and am an Anglican lay Reader (aka licensed lay minister). I am keen that preachers and teachers avoid unintentional anti-Judaism.

If you do not use the lectionary but want to know how to find a comment on a particular passage, see this index.

Advertisements

Mark 5:21-43 Sermon for Proper 8/Ordinary 13 B

June 7, 2018

touching place

Sometimes I wonder if the miracle stories in the Bible do more harm than good.

 

it is hard to encounter them without wanting one of your own.

 

Every one of us knows someone who is suffering, who could use a miracle,

 

but miracles are hard to come by.

 

Not everyone who prays for one gets one,

not by a long shot. Bread of Angels – B. Brown-Taylor (Cowley 1987)  p. 136f

 

 

My former colleague John Hull went blind in his early 20s.

 

Yet he managed to teach.

 

His ‘women’ read books on to tapes

 

And he played them back at fast speed.

 

He came to welcome his blindness for the insight it gave him.

 

So much so that he resented miracles where Jesus healed blind men

 

And the way the Bible and hymns use blindness as a metaphor for ignorance.

 

 

 

Then there’s the hospital chaplain I know

 

Some patients complained that perfect strangers were coming into their rooms,

 

holding hands around their beds and praying for an increase in their clearly inadequate faith.

 

It turned out that a local church was doing this—uninvited—as a part of their healing ministry,

 

only it didn’t have a healing effect.

 

People who were already sick got a strong dose of guilt and shame to go along with their chemotherapy.

 

 

 

Then there’s the anti-semitism of the lectionary.

 

Most blatant in the 1980 Alternative Service Book

 

Which linked passages into themes

 

Like an Old Testament reading where they stone a woman to death for picking up firewood on a cold Sabbath

 

And Jesus healing and forgiving – on a Sabbath.

 

Legalistic Judaism; gracious Christianity

 

The choice of today’s readings assume the feminist argument that Jesus redeems women from Juda­ism

 

and eliminates Jewish “taboos” that create outcasts

 

For example, African Marguerite Fassinou: “Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ gave women their rightful place despite the heavy yoke of the Jewish culture weighing on them. For women in general and Jewish women in particular the coming of Jesus meant a revolution“Challenges for Feminist Theology in Francophone Africa:’

 

Phrases such as “the heavy yoke of Jewish culture” presume that for women Judaism was oppressive, repressive, suppressive.

 

But that isn’t from the Bible itself

 

The New Testament records numerous rights that Jewish women had in the first century:

 

home owner­ship, patronage positions, access to their own funds, the right to worship in synagogues and in the Temple, freedom of travel, and so forth.

 

Women did not join Jesus because “Judaism” treated them poorly; nor did they stop being Jews, any more than did Jesus himself, once they joined.

 

There is no reason why the woman would not be out in public;

 

there is no reason why she should not seek Jesus’s help.

 

No crowd parts before her with the cry, “Get away, get away, haemorrhaging woman!”

 

And there is no Law forbidding the woman to touch Jesus or him to touch her.

 

Unless we suppose that ordinary Galilean peasants knew and observed the more rigorous rules of the Essenes by the Dead Sea or anticipated the rules of the later Rabbis. The Misunderstood Jew – A. Levine New York (HarperOne 2006) p. 174f

 

Then, as now, the ancient regulations created time out for women, periods of separation away from their husbands and other male members of family and community.

 

Menstruating women themselves formed a community for the period – pun intended – they existed as people in their own right – not simply as wives and mothers.

 

 

 

Jesus’s touching a corpse is assumed to be breaking the Law. The Misunderstood Jew – A. Levine New York (HarperOne 2006) p. 172f

 

But there is no law forbidding Jesus to touch a corpse; on the contrary, the book of Tobit hails Tobit precisely because he buries corpses.

 

 

 

Jesus prayed for a miracle on the night before he died.

 

“For you all things are possible. Remove this cup from me.”

 

Only when he opened his eyes the cup was still there.

 

Did he lack faith?

 

I don’ think so.

 

The miracle was that he drank the cup, believing in the power of God more than he believed in his own.

 

It is always a miracle when we understand that God knows best.
 

 

So what can we take away from these stories?

 

To overprotective and possessive parents:

 

Jairus’s daughter was a girl on the verge of adulthood,

 

who needed to be freed from the grip of her parents’ obsessive care.

 

The girl was so stifled that she could not continue living.

 

‘Give her something to eat,’ Jesus says at the end of this story

 

let her grow and mature;

 

do not keep her small and dependent any longer. Dreams and Spirituality: A Handbook for Ministry, Spiritual Direction and Counselling Edited by Kate Adams Bart J. Koet and Barbara Koning

 

 

Then there’s social class – the honour scale of Roman society:

 

Jesus prioritises a poor woman over the synagogue leader.

 

His mission to “lay his hands on” Jairus’s daughter (5:23c) is interrupted by the “touch” of the poor woman,

 

A destitute woman from the bottom of the honour scale she intrudes upon an important mission of someone on the top of the honour scale

 

“My daughter,” proclaims Jesus,

 

This is the only instance when he ever used this term “daughter.”

 

She herself has become the “daughter” at the centre of the story!

 

Not Jairus’s daughter.

 

 

 

God’s priorities are different from ours:

 

Henri Nouwen said in the prime of his career that he became frustrated by the many interruptions to his work.

 

He was teaching at Notre Dame.

 

He had a heavy agenda each day and didn’t like to be disturbed.

 

Then one day it dawned on him that his interruptions were his work.

 

Someone has said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans!”

 

Often we find that the interruption is of greater consequence than what we were doing.

 

 

Then there’s spiritual death:

 

The women had been ill for twelve years.

 

Jairus’s girl was twelve.

 

Both represent the twelve tribes of Israel

 

What are the dead parts of you that God longs to bring back to life?

 

 

 

And what of us as a church?

 

Are some people more important than others?

 

Can we work at being a community where you don’t have to have it all together:

 

that accepts limitation and honours vulnerability.

 

A safe place

 

(That’s why we have today’s safeguarding training.)

 

a caring community where we can come as we are rather than keep pretending to be the person we think others want us to be.

 

 

What John Bell’s hymn calls ‘a touching place’

 

(Not inappropriate touch )

 

To the lost Christ shows his face;
to the unloved He gives His embrace;
to those who cry in pain or disgrace,
Christ, makes, with His friends, a touching place.

 

Feel for the people we most avoid.
Strange or bereaved or never employed;
Feel for the parents who lost their child,

 

Feel for the lives by life confused.
Riddled with doubt,

 

 

 

There’s a poem called “Touch in Church”:

What is all this touching in church?
I used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness
and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched.
Now I have to be nervous about what’s expected of me.
I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we’d both go home . . . strangers who have known each other
for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I’m worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman’s eyes.
Now I’m concerned,
because when the minister asks us to pass the peace,
The man next to me held my hand so tightly
I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I’m upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
Now I have to suffer when this community suffers.
Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I’d never know how much I’d touched his life.
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely.
Lord, I’m not big enough to touch and be touched!
The stretching scares me.
What if I disappoint somebody?
What if I’m too pushy?
What if I cling too much?
What if somebody ignores me?
“Pass the peace.”
“The peace of God be with you.” “And with you.”
And mean it.
Lord, I can’t resist meaning it!
I’m touched by it, I’m enveloped by it!
I find I do care about that person next to me!
I find I am involved!
And I’m scared.
O Lord, be here beside me.
You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
So that I can care and be cared for!
So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you!
All this touching in church — Lord, it’s changing me! Ann Weems in Reaching for Rainbows, 1980, Westminster Press

Return to the home page

Mark 5 21-43 Proper 8/Ordinary 13B

June 7, 2018

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’

Cf. Lev. 12:1—8 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean for seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days. When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt-offering, and a pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin-offering. He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt-offering and the other for a sin-offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.

Lev 15:19—30 When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening; whether it is the bed or anything upon which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. If any man lies with her, and her impurity falls on him, he shall be unclean for seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.  If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, for all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. If she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count seven days, and after that she shall be clean. On the eighth day she shall take two turtle-doves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priest shall offer one for a sin-offering and the other for a burnt-offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her unclean discharge.

  1. Niddab 7:4; Josephus, Antiquities 3.261 Such deprecation fails to respect practical wisdom and cultural difference. Blood carries many communicable diseases; quarantine embodied compassion for persons who might be affected but are not yet, and relieved infected persons from the burden of knowing they infected others. (Leviticus 13 speaks of diseases that can be contracted.) Furthermore, many Jews believed that blood contained the power of life (Lev. 17:10—16 If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. 11For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. 12Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood. 13And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. 16But if they do not wash themselves or bathe their body, they shall bear their guilt.

  Christians frequently imply that ancient Judaism was an inferior religion because, in its view, whereas the woman had a medical problem, the bleeding made her religiously unclean and the community isolated her. Are there good reasons for these rules?

Outside the body, blood was a force no longer directed toward the purpose God intended. Uncontrolled blood had the capacity to threaten order. Hence, the community developed rites to contain such uncontrolled force. Cf. precautions around blood-spillage of people with HIV

Note that although her faith seems superstitious, Jesus rewards such faith from an ‘ordinary person’.

‘…if the issue were related to ritual impurity, it does not follow that all avoided her for fear of becoming unclean. In fact, according to the narrative, no one in the crowd seemed aware they maybe contacting impurity from this woman. .Contacting ritual impurity was simply part of life for Jews in the ancient world… E. P. Sanders observes that ‘All the Jews, including Pharisees, were impure more or less all the time….“all the holy scriptures render the hands unclean. The rabbis certainly did not refrain from contact with the Scriptures for fear of getting their hands dirty. … Christian interpreters do not need of ritual purity laws to avoid Using them superiority. We do need to remember that these laws, which seem to us strange and archaic, were not uncommon in the ancient world. It is anachronistic to suppose that Jesus dismissed them as irrelevant. Undoubtedly there was diversity with respect to attention to observance, some were more meticulous than others, and certainly there differences in Diaspora customs.’ Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism – M. Salmon (Fortress 2006)  pp. 100-101

The old Western feminist argument that Jesus redeems women from Juda­ism and eliminates Jewish “taboos” that create outcasts takes on a particu­larly ugly form in WCC publications. For example, in a 1995 essay, “Challenges for Feminist Theology in Francophone Africa:’ Marguerite Fassinou, the “President of the Union of Methodist Women of Benin and a member of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order,” states: “Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ gave women their rightful place despite the heavy yoke of the Jewish culture weighing on them. For women in general and Jewish women in particular the coming of Jesus meant a revolution?’ She goes on to insist that “being a Christian cannot mean relinquishing our culture; we must remain genuinely African while still being good Christian men and women.” Similarly, Ruth M. Besha, a professor of linguistics at the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, writes in “A Life of Endless Struggle: The Position of Women in Africa” that “Christ never compromised with injustice and acted and spoke against the oppression of women in traditional Jewish society.”‘ In a col­lection from 1986, New Eyes for Reading: Biblical and Theological Reflections by Women from the Third World, Grace Eneme, a Presbyterian and representative of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Cameroon, writes, “Christ was the only rabbi who did not discriminate against the women of his time.” And in this same volume, Bette Ekeya, a Kenyan Roman Catholic, states, “In his own relationship with women, he [Jesus] chose to ignore the traditional Jewish attitudes and instead treated women with compas­sion and complete acceptance:’

Phrases such as “the heavy yoke of Jewish culture” presume that for women Judaism was oppressive and repressive and suppressive. The argu­ment follows from the Western academy’s early feminist steps. It does not follow, however, from the Bible itself, in which the New Testament records numerous rights that Jewish women had in the first century: home owner­ship, patronage positions, access to their own funds, the right to worship in synagogues and in the Temple, freedom of travel, and so forth. Women did not join Jesus because “Judaism” treated them poorly; nor did they stop being Jews, any more than did Jesus himself, once they joined.

The most common Gospel text cited to prove Jesus’s anomalous views of women is the account of the hemorrhaging woman and the framing narrative of the dead girl, which appears in Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, and Luke 8:40. begins as Jesus is teaching

Jesus’s touching a corpse is assumed to be breaking the Law. The Misunderstood Jew – A. Levine New York (HarperOne 2006) p. 172f

New Testament scholars talk of the “woman’s courage in breaking taboos imposed on her so as to reach Jesus directly and integrated as a person with full rights.

The conclusion of this reading for the church today: “To continue to exclude women from ministries on the basis of outmoded Jewish taboos void the liberation that Jesus won for us.”

The term “taboo” is already loaded; “crippling cultural taboos” much so. Both are unwarranted. There is no reason why the woman would not be out in public; there is no reason why she should not seek Jesus’s help. No crowd parts before her with the cry, “Get away, get away, hemorrhag­ing woman!” No authorities restrict her to her house or require her to aim herself “Unclean, unclean?’ And, finally, Jesus abrogates no Laws concerning any “crippling cultural taboos,” for there is no Law forbidding the woman to touch him or him to touch her.

Concerning ritual-purity practices, John Meier correctly states: The purity Laws of the Pentateuch (Lev 15:25-50) do not explicitly state that a zaba [woman with a uterine or vaginal discharge] com­municates ritual impurity simply by touching someone—or, a fortiori, in the case of Jesus, someone’s clothing. Unless we suppose that ordinary Galilean peasants knew and observed the more rigorous rules of the Essenes or anticipated the halachab of the later Rabbis, there is no reason to think that either the woman or Jesus thought that impurity was being communicated by her touching his garment.’

Then, as now, the ancient regulations created time out for women, periods of separation away from their husbands and other male members of family and community. Menstruating women themselves formed a community for the period – they existed as people in their own right – not simply as wives and mothers.

Noting Jesus’s silence about corpse, menstrual, and ejaculatory impurity, Meier concludes that “Jesus was simply not interested in the questions of ritual purity that consumed the interests of many pious Jews of his time ”

There is no law forbidding Jesus to touch a corpse; on the contrary, book of Tobit, which is in the Eastern Orthodox canon, hails Tobit precisely because he buries corpses.

Return to the home page

John 3:11 Trinity B

May 27, 2018

‘Basic to Johannine christology is the claim that Jesus is the light of the world (1:4; 8:12). The light challenges the darkness, which has tried to overcome it but has not succeeded (1:4). The light, that is, Jesus, came into the world in order that believers would not remain in darkness (12:46). Some, however, love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (3:19). Though “darkness” is an abstract metaphor, it is associated at several points with the Jews as a group and with individual Jewish characters. In 3:2, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews (3:1), is said to come to Jesus by night (3:2). In 8:12, Jesus promises the Jews that “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Their absolute rejection of Jesus, however, excludes them from this promise (12:37). A consequence as well as a cause of their being in darkness is their inability to see. Their blindness is contrasted with the new-found vision of the man born blind, who declares Jesus to be the Son of Man (9:39-41).’
‘Just as Jesus is the light, so is he also life (1:3; 8:12). Believing in Jesus assures the believer of eternal life (3:16; 10:28). The nonbeliever, on the other hand, “will not see life but will endure divine wrath” (3:36). The representatives of these nonbelievers are the Jews, who are destined to die in their sin (8:21). This is a destiny they share with their ancestors, who ate manna and died (6:49, 58), in contrast to believers, who eat the bread of life that is Jesus himself and live forever (6:27, 51, 53). Jesus and his followers who dwell in the light and experience eternal life are “from above” (1:1—18). Jews, on the other hand, are “from below” (8:23) and therefore are cut off from heavenly things. As Jesus tells Nicodemus, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” (3:12). Finally, those who are born “from above” are the children of God (1:13), who hear and abide by God’s words (8:47). The Jews, on the other hand, are children of the devil (8:44). Evidence for their lineage is their ongoing effort to kill Jesus (8:39) and their inability or unwillingness to understand and accept the words of Jesus and of God (8:42—44). The two contrasting states of being, while described in universal terms at certain points within the Gospel, are therefore also made concrete in the form of Jesus’ followers, on the one hand, and the Jews, on the other………’
‘According to the Prologue, the Word’s own people did not accept him, but those who did accept him became children of God and thereby received grace upon grace (1:11—12, 16). This contrast is reiterated and made more specific in 3:32, which declares that the one from heaven testifies to what he has seen and heard but no one accepts his testimony. John 3:11 identifies the people who do not accept Jesus as Jews; in this verse, Jesus tells Nicodemus and, with him, other Jews that “we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you [plural] do not receive our testimony.” Similarly, in 5:43—44, Jesus chides his Jewish listeners: “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?”’
‘Accepting Jesus demonstrates a love for God, Jesus, and fellow believers (15:12—17). Rejecting Jesus is tantamount to hating God. Jesus accuses the Jews of not having the love of God in them (8:42), and he tells the disciples that his enemies have seen and hated both him and his Father (15:23—24). Acceptance and rejection also become the measure of one’s deeds. According to 3:19—21, “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” The only violent acts in the Gospel are executed by the Jews, who bear responsibility even for Jesus’ death by crucifixion, a Roman form of execution. According to 5:16-18, the Jews began persecuting Jesus because he desecrated the Sabbath and called God his own Father and thereby made himself equal or similar to God. Their machinations against Jesus demonstrate that they are not Abraham’s children, nor God’s, but rather the devil’s (8:39—44). Not only Jesus but also his followers are in danger, as the chief priests’ plan to kill Lazarus demonstrates (12:10—11). Jesus warns his disciples that they too will face persecution (15:20), expulsion from the synagogue, and death (16:2)’

Return to the home page

Sermon for Easter 5 Evening Prayer

April 1, 2018

Three teenagers

 

That’s all they were.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

 

It was the year 587 B.C.

 

Conceited, neurotic King Nebuchadnezzar decided to erect a golden statue of himself

 

90 feet tall, by 9 feet wide

 

and declared that everyone in the kingdom must fall down and worship it.

 

 

 

 

Three truly committed teenagers from the small country of Israel

 

Who’d made good in the advanced country of Babylon.

 

Who failed to be impressed.

 

If you want to know how huge and impressive things were, go to Berlin’s Museum Island and see the Ishtar Gate and Pergamon altar Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism by John C. Lennox

 

 

 

If you see kids perform Benjamin Britten’s Burning Fiery Furnace, it’s a heart – warming experience.

 

But it was far more hot for the three teenagers.

 

About whom Martin Luther King preached:  these young men practiced civil disobedience…… the refusal to abide by an order of the state that your conscience tells you is unjust. Civil disobedience is ……obedient to …..a higher law. …..These men were saying “I must be disobedient to a king in order to be obedient to the King.” And those people who so often criticize ……never remember that even right here in America, in order to get free from the oppression …..of the British Empire, our nation practiced civil disobedience. ….the Boston Tea Party. And never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany (to the Jews ) was legal!. ……there are times when a man-made law is out of harmony with the moral law of the universe….. And when that happens, you have an obligation to break it….You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity …..calls upon you to stand up for some great principle…….and you refuse to do it because you are afraid …you will lose your job, …..or that you will lose your popularity somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90!

 

 

 

Nearly 60 million white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.

 

Now, many are engaging in or thinking about civil disobedience

 

There will be different trigger points.

 

Customs interrogation for anyone coming from an Islamic country into America

 

On the eve of Martin Luther King’s birthday they repealed Obamacare.

 

The “First Amendment Defense Act” allows anyone (including a business) who “believes…..that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” to “act in accordance” with that belief …without conse­quence.’

 

This would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ peo­ple

 

and anyone who has sex outside of marriage.

 

A company could fire an unmarried pregnant woman.

 

An emergency medic could refuse to treat a transgender person.

 

A landlord could refuse to rent an apartment to a legally married, same-sex couple.

 

 

 

In the Twentieth century, in Albania, Russia, China, and Cambodia, acknowledgment of the leader’s effectively divine status was mandatory.

 

It would be a lot easier for us if we had a real enemy like Nebuchadnezzar to say no to.

 

Instead, most of us face powers that are much more subtly a part of our lives.

 

Tony Blair spoke of’ singing from the same hymn sheet’

 

But sometimes the music has to stop.;

 

its time to change the record.

 

Because you don’t want to hear the words. I was hungry and you cut welfare. I was thirsty and you gave me brown water. I was a stranger and you signed an executive order to build a wall. Naked and shut down shelters. I was sick and you privatised the NHS. I was in prison and you to built more prisons to warehouse me.

 

 

Xxxx and I used to discuss how the balance of our jobs had changed since we started

 

About how we spent more and more time doing things we didn’t believe in and less on what we set out to do in the first place.

 

IF education is training on how to work for someone else, and make them rich, it’s time to stop the music.

 

If you belong to churches where all they want to do is sing sing sing,

 

about my blessing, my breakthrough, name it and claim it, pull it down,

 

when ministers are too afraid to call a spade a spade then it time to stop this music.

 

When churches prey on the pockets of poor people, but yet have no services to help alleviate poverty it’s time to stop the music..

 

When call centres get bank details from elderly people and siphon off their pensions, it’s time to stop the music.

 

 

Sodom in the Old Testament is often interpreted in terms of sexual immorality.

 

Yet the rabbis always spoke of Sodomy as inhospitality to strangers, asylum seekers

 

Today’s equivalent of the people of Sodom live in well-to-do gated com­munities that makes sure no beggars disturb their luxury and peace. FAITH AND RESISTANCE IN THE AGE OF TRUMP – ed. Miguel A. De La Torre

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis does not mince words when he writes about failed economic policy: Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” Evangelii gaudium paragraph 53

 

 

 

The teenagers sang in the furnace.

 

If you’re old enough to remember choral Mattins, you may have sung their song during Lent – the Benedicite.

 

The slaves knew the power of song to remind them of who they truly were and to keep their sights on God.

 

What song sustains us under pressure and restores our perspective?
Victor Hugo  wrote: Let us be like a bird for a moment perched on a frail branch when he sings; though he feels it bend, yet he sings his song, knowing that he has wings. —

 

German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis at the very end of the Second World War

 

He wrote from prison of “a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint. … where the ground bass is firm and clear, there is nothing to stop the counterpoint from being developed to the utmost of its limits. … only a polyphony of this kind can give life a wholeness, and assure us that nothing can go wrong so long as the cantus firmus is kept going. … put your faith in the cantus firmus.’ Letters and Papers from Prison
Etty Hillesum was a young Dutch Jew, transported to Auschwitz from a transit camp where she’d voluntarily helped others.

 

This secular young woman discovered depths in herself that led her towards God and compassionate service of other suffering people.

 

Early in her wartime diaries she wrote, “I still lack a basic tune, a steady undercurrent; the inner source that keeps me from drying up.”

 

Over time, through psychotherapy and falling in love, she began to discover that basic tune,

 

that inner source

 

She began to appreciate the beauty of creation and her surroundings,

 

whether a rose, a cloud in the sky,

 

a pretty blouse or a cup of coffee which she drank with reverence lest it be her last.

And, like the three young men, her newly found song sustained her

 

and, through her, others.

 

She wrote how “those psalms, which have become part of my daily life were excellent fare on an empty stomach. … We shared the beginning of the day together and that was lovely.”

 

Finally, on the train to Auschwitz she threw a postcard out of the truck

 

It read, “We left the camp singing.”

 

She had found her song and it sustained her.

 

 

Whose tune are you dancing to?

Return to the home page

Sermon for Lent 5B with baptism

April 1, 2018

‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’;
 

Words from our second reading

 

In the name…

 

 

 

My dad had many prejudices

 

One was that only manual workers should wear jeans

 

Another – people with tattoos are common.

 

Now tattoos have gone mainstream

 

I wonder how many people sitting here have a tattoo.

 

 

 

I wonder how it feels to get one.

 

It “hurt like hell” said one bloke

 

Now I am “branded for life.”

 

Tattoos are more or less permanent.

 

To get rid of a tattoo involves painful surgery that leaves a scar.

 

It can only be removed through costly laser surgery.

 

Potential customers are warned to be sure that they want the mark they are getting and to consider it permanent.

 

 

 

Pain, indelibility, identity.

 

If it didn’t involve pain, it wouldn’t be indelible:

 

marks that don’t hurt are the ones that wash off.

 

If it were not indelible, what it revealed about a person’s identity wouldn’t be so critical.

 

Tattoo your arm with “Roseanne” in your 20s, and you better still be married to her 30 years later.

 

 

 

Pain, indelibility and identity are also the hallmarks of God writing the covenant on the heart of the people.

 

God is invading the heart.

 

It will make them God’s people, but it will also mean a death of the self,

 

and a radical transfer of allegiance from all systems and claims.

 

 

 

 

God inscribes the law on the hearts of the people, collectively and individually.

 

It seeps into, directs, and redeems us

 

 

This is “open heart surgery” performed by God.

 

Open heart surgery is survivable now and often effective at extending life for many years,

 

provided that the changes made by the surgery are not quickly reversed by the patient resuming patterns of life that damaged the heart in the first place.

 

Those who have had the surgery are told they need to change their way of life,

 

but also that they are unlikely to be able to make those changes stick without support from families, friends, and often other survivors holding them accountable.

 

The choice facing these persons is clear and stark: change, or die sooner. Get help to change, or you likely won’t change.

 

This is as permanent as any tattoo

 

Whereas laws written in stone can be broken and put aside,

 

God’s covenant in hearts is more enduring.

 

God’s hold on us cannot be erased without cutting out a part of ourselves.

 

The covenant brands us as “God’s people.”

 

It is an internal identity that will be evidenced by external behaviour.

 

We will live God’s law not because we are obliged to but because we want to,

 

because our hearts are shaped that way.

 

The capacity to be faithful and obedient will spring from the inside.

 

 

 

This isn’t a new covenant at all but a deepening of the old covenant.

 

A  REnewed covenant.

 

There is no mention of a “new covenant” anywhere else in the Old Testament other than in our reading

 

But it does occur in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

 

And it’s taken up in the New Testament

 

 

 

So Jeremiah revives and deepens the older covenant traditions.

 

something that had to come from within.

 

everyone will know God directly.

 

And it won’t just be the  “house of Judah”:

 

this renewed covenant extends to the entire people, gentiles as well as Jews.

 

 

 

Like Jesus, all the baptised can claim that God tells them:

 

‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’;
 

 

God declares to us simply that we belong to God.

 

This is not always the story we tell ourselves.

 

Most of us have another story that runs in our head.

 

Sometimes we call this storyteller the inner critic,

 

that one who reminds us just what a failure we are or how people may only be pretending to like us;

 

but if they really knew us, they would run away,

 

or how we are not attractive enough or talented enough or clever enough or intelligent

 

no matter what we do or no matter how hard we try, we’re just not measuring up.

 

 

 

Which is why we need to tell the baptism story over and over again

 

to counter the story of the inner critic

 

to counter the story the world often tells

 

that you have to possess something: money, house, good looks, power.

 

We tell this baptism story over and over to counter the story that you don’t measure up or that you don’t belong.

 

 

The story of baptism is not only a story that we belong to God

 

it is a story that we belong to each other,

 

that we are a part of a larger story of God’s presence in the world.

 

 

 

When we put that invisible tattoo on a baby or a young child,

 

that is the parents saying that this child is God’s

 

that we belong to each other,

 

that we are a part of a larger story of God’s presence in the world.

 

 

 

Members of a gang might get the same tattoo.

 

I belong to this group.

 

Our gang is the best.

 

With baptism, we are in this gang  called the Church.

 

A gang that stretches all over the world, and all the way  back through time.

 

 

God’s image is on every single one of us!

 

So when you get the Jesus tattoo you are in a gang that reminds people that there is just one gang,

 

the human  gang, all created and sustained and redeemed by God.

 

 

 

In our gospel reading, Jesus explained that we have to lose our life in order to find it.

 

We enact that in baptism.

 

In total immersion, someone would go under the water and rise up to new life.

 

X will doubtless undergo many deaths in his lifetime

 

Leaving a small school to go to the big school

 

Perhaps leaving home to study

 

Perhaps leaving the single state to marry

 

Parts of us are dying all the time.

 

You probably just lost half a million or so cells just listening to this sermon.

 

We all lose about 100,000 cells per second.

 

Fortunately, just a many cells are being reproduced in a healthy body.

 

Healthy bodies have this constant cycle of dying cells and rebirth of new ones.

 

Some scientists say that we are regenerated every seven years.

 

 

 

And during our growing and changing, Jeremiah’s promises apply to us too:

 

They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

X, like the rest of us will make mistakes

But: I will remember their sins no more

 

And God’ everlasting love is unconditional

 

To all his people, to X and to us, God says: I will watch over them to build and to plant.

 

You are my son

 

So you are brother to all human beings

 

Indeed, to all created things

 

 

 

One more thing.

 

God has a tattoo of X and of the rest of us too.

 

For Isaiah says: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. 49:16

Return to the home page

John 2:1-11 Epiphany 2/ Ordinary 2B and C

November 20, 2017

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

How has this story been interpreted in an anti-Jewish way?

It has been suggested that the Jewish purification rites are empty and that  supercessionism (or progression?) is shown as Jesus fills them up with something better. For Jews, the Torah is seen as the water of life.

If Jesus was anti-Jewish how might be have made such a point more effectively?

He could have smashed the pots or not used them

What precedents are there for “What concern is that to you and to me?” (v. 4)

cf Judges 11:12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, ‘What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?’

1 Kings 17:18. She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’

Smiga says that these suggest a mild puzzlement: What is it that you really want of me?

Cf. 2 Kings 3:13 Elisha said to the king of Israel, ‘What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.’ But the king of Israel said to him, ‘No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’

Hosea 14:8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?

Smiga says that these are more neutral: Is this matter really my business?

‘The ambiguity of the expression is used by Jesus to suggest that the problem at hand is not simply his own to solve. John portrayed Jesus as one whose mission is received from God, rather than being self-determined.’

‘The laws regulating impurity in Leviticus 11 to 15 prescribe that a clay jar that has been used for holding water must be broken if it were to be contaminated under the prescriptions of the Law (Lev 11:29—33). Stone jars, however, do not carry this burden, for they could not be made unclean” in the same sense and were, as a result, much preferred,’ according to Mishnah, Betzah 2.3

‘The most ordinary purification of Jewish houseguests was probably indicated by the presence of these jars: the washing of feet after a journey, as well as the washing of hands before eating (cf. Mark 7:1—6).’

Why did John portray the water for purification as the stuff of Jesus’ own messianic” wine?

 Note Jesus’s command, Fill the jars with water’” ‘Up to that point in the story, at least, the jars were empty. They held nothing needing to be filled, if used at all. Jesus, then, is not transforming what is already in use at a Jewish wedding.’

Cf Esther 1:1—8. Esther Rabbah 2—4 says that ‘the surprise for all the guests is that the last day of the feast is like the first: excellent in all its food and drink, contrary to custom. For the rabbis, the idea that the last day was as good as the first was a sign of the messianic banquet, whose abundance would know no end.’ The Gospel of John Set Free: Preaching without anti-Judaism – G. Smiga (Stimulus Foundation 2008) pp. 131-132

 Cf. Isaiah 54:4-6 “Do no fear, for you will not be ashamed. . . . The disgrace of your widow-I hood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel is you Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife.” At stake here is the union of God and God’s people, the joining of humankind with God.

 A Galilean wedding was a rough-and-ready affair. It usually went on for eight days and included an orgy of eating and drinking and celebrating.

In those days, a father prepared himself for his daugh­ter’s wedding the day she was  born. Each year when he was fermenting his family’s batch of wine, the father would draw out an- extra barrel for his young daughter’s wedding day. As girls were usually married off at around the age of sixteen, most fathers would have had sixteen barrels of superbly aged wine stashed away in the cellar. It was the custom to bring out the wine in order of maturity so that the best wine, which had been sitting way back down in the corner of the cellar for sixteen yimrs, was brought out first. The new wine was brought out when everyone was too under the weather to notice. Jesus the Fool – M. Frost Albatross 1994) p.42f

Return to the home page

 

 

Colossians 1:15-28 Proper 10/Ordinary 15 Year C

October 31, 2017

An example of a wisdom hymn or saying in Judaism regarding Woman, Wisdom reads, “She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wis. 7:26); and Wisdom herself claims, “Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me” (Sir. 24:9). Verses 15-20 of today’s reading quote a Christ hymn that was devel­oped from the Wisdom tradition of Israel in its hymns to Woman Wis­dom, Sophia. The church expressed its faith in the language of Israel’s Scriptures….

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 Second Sunday in Lent/Year A

October 25, 2017

Abraham functioned in postbiblical Jewish literature as the “first pros­elyte,” a Gentile who turned his back on idolatry in favor of worship of the one God (Jub. 11: 16-17

And he began to pray to the Creator of all things that He might save him from the errors of the children of men, and that his portion should not fall into error after uncleanness and vileness. And the seed time came for the sowing of seed upon the land, and they all went forth together to protect their seed against the ravens, and Abram went forth with those that went, and the child was a lad of fourteen years, Josephus, Ant. 1.154-57).

Sermon for Proper 19/Ordinary 24 Year A Joseph

September 17, 2017

`You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.’ –words from our first reading

 

In the name…..

 

In the days before Religious Education was multi-faith

 

We did Bible stories.

 

Joseph was fun.

 

We spent 40 minutes singing along with Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

 

OFSTED would probably disapprove – spoilsports.

 

 

Then we did a chart called ‘Joseph’s Ups and Downs.

 

Born – dad’s favourite – up

 

Given special coat – up

 

Dreams of greatness – up

 

His brothers loathe him and throw him down a pit – down

 

He is rescued – up

 

Sold as a slave, he works for a high-ranking official in Egypt –up

 

He’s accused of rape and thrown in jail – down

 

He gets to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes prime minister – up

 

 

 

Then the kids drew a chart of the ups and downs in their own lives.

 

One 11-year-old told me he’d been born with a hole in his heart and would face major surgery when he was older.

 

 

 

Many years later I watched Songs of Praise.

 

Not a programme I like but this one was from Holmfirth

 

– home of dirty seaside postcards and where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine;

 

more significantly for me in the catchment of area of my first teaching post.

 

 

 

 

They interviewed a young man who spoke of how he coped with heart surgery.

 

He recalled had a teacher years before who did a lesson on life’s ups and downs.

 

He’d gone into the operation confident that this down would be followed by an up.

 

 

 

Being a hoarder, I still have my records.

 

Sure enough, 1975, his name – note that he’d told me about his heart problem.

 

 

 

We all reflect on our lives’ ups and downs

 

So this story appeals

 

And it’s the life we know.

 

No angel appears, no sea is divided, no voice of God speaks publicly.

 

And there’s another version:

 

An Egyptian papyrus from about 1225 BCE tells of a young man who was much wronged.

 

His name was Bata, and he worked for his elder brother,

 

making him clothes, herding his cattle, and harvesting his fields.

 

One day when both brothers were out sowing, they ran short of seed.

 

Bata was sent home to fetch more.

 

He found his brother’s wife doing her hair

 

and asked her to give him the seed without delay, as his brother was waiting.

 

‘Do not interrupt me in the middle of my hair­dressing,’ she retorted. ‘Open the bin and take what you want.’

 

As he loaded himself with five sacks, the woman began to speak admiringly of his strength.

 

Suddenly she took hold of him, pressed herself upon him and promised to make him fine clothes.

 

Bata resisted.

 

But she convinced her husband that he had attacked her and demanded he kill him.

 

The elder brother sharpened his spear and waited behind the stable door.

 

Bata looked under the door and saw the waiting feet and fled for his life.

 

The story continues with many marvels and mythical turns, until Bata becomes ruler of Egypt.

 

His elder brother is brought to him and Bata appoints him his deputy and heir. Interpreted by love – J. Eaton (BRF 1994) p.41

 

 

 

But the Bible’s version has symbolism:

 

Young Joseph had been given a special garment which was the envy of his brothers.

 

Later, Potiphar’s wife grabs his garment in her attempt to seduce him.

 

The ‘garment’ is referred to no less than five times.

 

Is the garment something to do with Joseph’s public image,

 

his armour of detachment?

 

Perhaps, in a limited way, some chink is made in his defences.

 

 

 

When Joseph is appointed to be governor ‘over all the land of Egypt’ the text describes garments in great detail

 

Pharaoh gives him the royal signet ring,

 

arrays him in ‘garments of fine linen’

 

and puts a gold chain around his neck.

 

The moment of coming before Pharaoh is perhaps a watershed in Joseph’s life,

 

a point at which he makes a critical decision about his future.

 

garments discarded ; garments put on,

 

symbolically confirming the break with his past.

 

taking on the Egyptian style of dress and identity.

 

 

 

But Joseph gives his sons Hebrew names.

 

Manasseh ‘For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’

 

and Ephraim ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’.

 

In the Hebrew names of his sons he expresses both his joys and his sorrows, his ups and downs.

 

In the midst of his determination to forget his father’s house and all his hardships, they are ever present;

 

Joseph has travelled far.

 

The untried youth of seventeen has become a great man.

 

but a deep affliction remains Soul Searching: Psychotheraphy & Judaism – ed. H. Cooper (SCM 1988) p.194f

 

 

 

God’s favour did not spare him suffering.

 

He had been thrown down a well and later committed to the royal dungeons.

 

Plenty of time for reflection then.

 

But he was not beyond the reach of God’s faithful love.

 

The prison governor came to rely on Joseph as Potiphar had done earlier and as Pharaoh would later.

 

 

 

Then along come his brothers, desperate for food.

 

And Joseph said to them, Do not fear………While you meant evil against me, God meant it for good, to ensure that many people be kept alive as they are this day.

 

He says it three times so they do’nt miss the point vv. 5,  7,  8

 

 

 

It was not you who sent me here, but God.

 

No doubt the brothers in their guilt must have thought, “No, we sent you here, because we hated you and we feared you.”

 

No doubt Joseph answered his brothers, “I thought that too. But then I became aware that a larger purpose was at work, transcending these petty quarrels, looking far into the future, and I became aware that my life was more than the sum of my little fears, my lit­tle hates, and my little loves. My life is larger than I imagined, and I decided to embrace that largeness that is God’s gift for my life. I acted differently because I acted in ways befitting God’s odd way with my life.”

 

 

 

A larger purpose.

 

providence.

 

It means that God sees before (pro-video),

 

that God knows well ahead of us and takes the lead in our lives.

 

I don’t mean “fate,”

 

Nor that God deliberately sends suffering.

 

Rather that he lures something good to come out of it.

 

 

 

And isn’t there a parallel with Jesus?

What the world intended for evil, to crucify the son of God,

God intended for good,

the salvation of many lives.

“As for you, you meant (hasab—planned) evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

The brothers’ purpose was evil, but God took their evil act and brought something good out of it

God transforms evil into good – a common theme throughout the scriptures.

The cross is the most obvious example.

Where has God been working in the ups and downs of your life?

Return to the home page

Sermon for Lent 3 A; Proper 21A continuous track Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the rock

August 16, 2017

porous rockThe water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life- words of Jesus in John’s gospel.

 

In the name…

 

 

 

It’s good to be back here

 

Since the last time, I had a stroke and spent nearly three months in hospital.

 

I can’t help looking back

 

Last time I could walk unaided.

 

I could sing.

 

Now I can’t.

 

My voice reduced to a growl.

 

 

 

Most of us in this chapel have got more years behind us than ahead of us

 

And I’m sure most of us look back.

 

 

 

The good old days.

 

 

I recently read an article lamenting how modern day life was rife with chemicals, and unsafe artificial food additives

 

and how much purer and cleaner it must have been 100 years ago.

 

They seemed to forget that the life expectancy back then was about 55

 

as people died from smallpox, polio,

 

and any number of illnesses that these evil chemicals can now cure.

 

 

 

In our first reading, the Israelites look back on the supposedly good old days.

 

If only we hadn’t left Egypt.

 

Like us they tended to glorify the past.

 

“There we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.”

 

Life was much better back then.

 

We had all we needed to eat: meat and bread.

 

But they don’t mention the slave drivers who controlled their every waking moment.

 

They don’t mention the execution of every male child who was born to them.

 

 

 

The real danger with looking back on the past like this is that it poisons the possibilities of the future.

 

The people grumble against Moses and Aaron and say “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

 

No hope, no future, only death.

 

 

 

The people want water.

 

the book of Exodus abounds in water imagery.

 

Most important is the River Nile.

 

It flows a thousand miles from deep in the heart of Africa,

 

90 miles long, its delta fans out to drain into the Mediterranean across 150 miles of coastland.

 

Inside that area is some of the most fertile territory on earth due to the annual inundation which replenishes the soil and which made Egypt the breadbasket of antiquity.

 

 

The baby Moses is placed in water

 

from water he is drawn out.

 

Several of the plagues had their origin in water,

 

water turning to blood

 

frogs coming forth from water.

 

The climax is the miracle at the Red Sea

 

God pushes back and piles up the waters so that the children of Israel can cross safely onto dry land,

 

and then unleashes the watery chaos onto the army of the ancient world’s greatest superpower.

 

 

 

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote—“water, water, everywhere; but not a drop to drink”.

 

 

 

My father spent most of his war service in Egypt.

 

An engineer servicing RAF planes.

 

Although he was a life-long atheist he was interested in the Bible.

 

I have some of his black and white photos of the Sinai desert of our reading.

 

Including porous rocks.

 

 

 

He’d met a local who knew all kinds of places to find water that no one else would think of

 

 

If you look at the waves in the sand, you can detect what were rivers

 

With banks, and clefts in the rock for tributary streams,

 

and at times even rushes and shrubs fringing their course”

 

signs of “water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink.”

 

The desert rocks are like sponges.

 

The water is very rich with calcium

 

as the water runs over the rocks a calcium deposit forms trapping water inside.

 

Later when the dry season comes the stream dries up

 

But you can burst the deposit and the water will come forth.

 

 

 

Whether water from the rock was a miracle or from natural causes,

 

The point is that God had provided it.

 

He was ahead of his children and had got it all ready for them.

 

 

 

Jewish feminist scholar Ilona Pardes sees Exodus as a “national biography” in which Israel is born, nursed, fed and reared

 

in preparation for maturity in the new reality of the Promised Land.

 

She reads our episode as a tale of Israel beating on God’s rock-hard breast before drinking therefrom.

 

just as Israel had to learn absolute dependence,

 

so too must we.

 

a relationship with this God requires a movement into a zone of aridity and barrenness,

 

becoming absolutely dependent on the one who will meet even our most basic needs

 

the narrative does not flinch from the perils of that life in such an environment

 

moving between fountains and feasts, famine and thirst

 

 

 

We live in a world that promises all kinds of things to fulfil our desires, our thirsts, our needs.

 

But it’s a dry place when the job dries up.

 

It’s a dry place when your health which once flowed like a mighty stream now is just a trickle.

 

We are, all of us, “the thirsty ones.”

 

 

 

Water in the desert is very hard.

 

The mineral deposit in “hard water.” plays havoc with the pipes and sinks.

 

left unattended, the mineral deposits need to be chipped away manually or with the use of acid.

 

When we become hard and brittle. Christ can chip away our hardness so that we might have life and become life-giving to others.

 

 

The Israelites are presented with the sure sign of God’s presence, and they can go on for another day.

 

So can we.

 

 

 

Paul saw the rock as an allegory for Christ.1. Cor.10:4.

 

His rocklike strength and dependability

 

He gives the water that will truly satisfy, gushing up into eternal life.

Return to the home page