Doctor doesn’t always know best.

Signpost for Sunday 18 March, 2018 (Fifth Sunday in Lent): Jer 31. 31-34; Ps 51. 1-12; (or Ps 119. 1-16); Heb 5. 5-10; Jn 12. 20-23.

The passage from Jeremiah is full of hope for the future, even as the prophet’s country is sliding into chaos. The ‘new covenant’ will replace the old one of law with an internal understanding of the will of God. We looked at “Covenant “a few weeks ago.

Psalm 51 is sub-titled “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It reminds us that the Law has much to do with sin and repentance. It also shows, in the part we do not read this Sunday, that restoration of the sinner to God is primarily a ritual matter, so that there might be worthy worship.

Psalm 119 features a type of poetry; each group consists of eight lines beginning with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 1 – 8 begin with aleph, verses 9 – 16 begin with beth; and so on to section 22  –  tau  –  at the end of the Psalm. Evidence of this is completely missing in my NRSV; fortunately I have kept an old AV out of antiquarian interest.

I came across Psalm 119 in peculiar circumstances recently. At my daughter’s graduation ceremony, one of the other people graduating was a Ph.D. and her thesis was summarised in the programme with the other Ph.D.’s. “A Christian reading of Psalm 119.  An exploration of Torah as God’s self-revelation using a Trinitarian hermeneutic.”  I don’t know anything about the circumstances of the origin of the Psalm, though I am confident that it was not written by David, but it was not a Christian document, and it was penned long before the church thought about what was meant by Trinitarian. For me this is false exegesis and does despite to the original intention of the Psalmist.

Melchizedek seems to be important to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever that was. He (she?) refers to Melchizedek by name eight times and discusses him extensively in chapters 5 to 7. The origin of this name is found in Genesis 14:18.

Surely the Gospel will be the reading on which most sermons will be preached this Sunday. (I am assuming that preaching is still mostly done on the basis of lections, even if exegesis is a dying art) I did preach on Jeremiah once in my first parish, but even then it could just as easily been on John. This Sunday is also called Passion Sunday, as John goes to the heart of the Gospel in speaking of the coming death of Jesus, and the way disciples are destined to follow him. But more on this subject in Holy Week.



It’s your choice.

Signpost for Sunday 18 March, 2018 (Fifth Sunday in Lent): Exodus 2:1-10 or 1 Samuel 1:20-28; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 or Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:33-35 or John 19:25-27

We can think of Lent as a time to give up something. Often, if we do this it could be a luxury:- chocolate, red wine: or do we think of these as absolute necessities? Perhaps we think in terms of a fast: but one of the important thing about a fast is that it comes to an end. One of the other possibilities in Lent is that we can make choices. I do not suppose that the creators of the lectionary had that in mind when they gave us the choices between the readings for this day, but nevertheless the readings from Exodus, Samuel, Luke and John are about significant choices that women made concerning their sons.

The mother of Moses chose to avoid the edict of the Pharaoh, which required all male children of the people of Israel to be killed, by placing him in a basket and leaving him beside the Nile. He was found and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. His mother, employed as his nurse, gave him the name Moses, and then he grew up in an environment which offered both education and responsibility. Eventually, he became the leader who took the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the person whose name was given to the laws given by God to the people. The first five books of the bible are often called the books of Moses.

Hannah prayed for a son, and promised to give him away to serve in the shrine at Shiloh. She chose to keep her promise, and her son Samuel became one of the great prophets of Israel. His name is given to two books, plainly not written by him but written about what he did.

Mary chose to agree to bear a son, not knowing the full consequences, and she saw her son crucified.

How should we think of these choices? Perhaps it is appropriate to think of them as decisions to relinquish all attempts to control the future of someone who was precious to them.

If we give up chocolate during Lent we can start using it again at Easter.

However, thinking about the women we read of, if we were to really give up something for Lent then perhaps we should be thinking in terms of relinquishing control over it for the sake of someone else. If we do that then we then have to ask ourselves if it is reasonable to make an attempt to regain control after Easter.


The whipping boy.

Signpost for 4 March, 2018, 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 20:1-17; Ps 19; 1 Cor 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

I often wish someone in church would point out the link between the readings as they are read out and not just leave dimwits like me to work it out, because of course I don’t work it out while I’m listening. So for my own benefit, if no-one else’s that’s usually where I start when it’s my turn to write a Signpost.

This week it’s easy. Exodus begins with YHWY reminding the Jews that he brought them out of slavery (The Passover) and then laying down God’s law, as it were. John shows Jesus at the feast of Passover ‘overthrowing man’s corruption of God’s law.

Psalm 19 affirms that God is not in the Temple: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”  And the law of the Lord is perfect not the human version of the law of the Lord. (And by the way, Plus Psalm 19:14 ends with the words many preachers use to begin their sermons: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”)

Then Corinthians repeats the message that God isn’t in the least bit interested with what humans think is powerful and strong (e.g. The Temple, as far as today’s reading are concerned).

So there you have the links, neat and tidy, all ready for the Gospel to tell us John’s version of Jesus cleansing the Temple.

Except that John’s version of this episode (rather than Matthew 21:12 or Mark 11:15-18 or

Luke 19:45-48) is the most powerful and the least chronological. Yes, we’re all getting ready for Easter in a few weeks, and that’s exactly where Matthew, Mark and Luke place the story – just before Jesus arrest and trial. But the author of John makes this incident the second thing he tells us about Yeshua’s adventures – straight after the wedding at Cana.

Some scholars say that John is keen to show us that Jesus sets out to upset not just the tables but the whole idea of who’s in charge, from the beginning. And that seems to make sense.

Especially as last time I wrote anything about this episode I mentioned how it could be interpreted as Jesus having a real go at the first century version of what we would call ‘the big banks’ that caused the global financial crisis of 2008.

This week I discovered that a one day stay in Jerusalem during one of the three major festivals could cost the equivalent of somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 US dollars in today’s money*. And that Josephus estimated that up to 2.25 million people visited Jerusalem during Passover. Do the math, as they say, and that adds up to $7,875,000,000 according to my i-Calculator. And all that is before we talk about how inflated the prices were for a dove, a pigeon or any other ‘offering’. No wonder Yeshua made a whip out of cords and lashed out. No wonder he was in real trouble after that.



Goodbye and God bless, Brye.

For those of you who knew him, and those of you who may not realise how important he was to Signposts, Sheila has just let me know that Brye Blackhall died yesterday evening (Friday 23 February). Brye has been ill for the last few years, fighting Alzheimer’s mainly I think.

I personally owe Brye a great debt of gratitude because he didn’t so much introduce me to Signposts, as co-opt me in to writitng it with him in November 2012. That was the beginning of our friendship and I count Brye as a great friend. We met in person only twice in all that time but kept up a Signpost correspondence until Brye no longer felt able to use email.

For those of you who haven’t read it online, this is how Brye liked to explain to people what Signposts is all about: “We are not learned theologians, nor biblical scholars, so we leave that sort of work to others. We believe that the Bible we read was written by humans like us, whose background and world-view were very different from ours. The original material was spoken, with a few exceptions, and all copied by hand, with occasionally inevitable errors, of course, and many edited and put together from earlier documents, some skilfully and some not. So the best we can do is to tickle our readers with articles into thinking, “what on earth could he be talking about”, and read the portion again in the way people re-read who-dun-it stories (searching for hidden clues).”

Brye was an avid Signpost writer for over 20 years and his Signposts were so popular and thought-provoking that one of his readers collected them all into a bound book. Sadly I don’t have a copy, but maybe one of you has.

Brye told many stories in his Signposts, of his life as an engineer and stories that mentioned his beloved wife Margaret and their children (of whom I only know Stephen, his son personally). Maybe that’s why I felt I knew him quite well. He often titled his Signposts ‘more rubbish’ but of course nothing he ever wrote was remotely rubbish. I enjoyed Brye’s humour, knowledge and honesty greatly and I know he was very proud of having licensed as a lay reader way back when.

Brye wasn’t the founder of Signposts nor the first person to write one, but he was, I think, one of the the longest serving Signpost writers (if not the longest serving). Andrew who used to share Signposting with him may know more. I will miss Brye, as will many of you.

For now, I just wanted to pay my respects to Brye and offer my prayers for Margaret, Stephen and his sisters, and all the grandchildren.

I willl end as Brye always ended his emails to me with one word:



‘Come Together’ is not really a Beatles song

Signpost for 25 February, 2018, 2nd Sunday in Lent: Gen 17:1-7, 15-16; Ps 22:23-31; Rom 4:13-25; Mark 8: 31-38.

We sometimes speak of the new relationship that we have with God through Jesus as the New Covenant. This reflects the Old Covenant* that is a feature in our Old Testament reading today, the Covenant between God and Abraham.

The idea of a covenant has been important in a number of periods in the history of the Church.  Some of my ancestors in the Kirkudbright district of Scotland in the eighteenth century were “Covenanters”. When the reformation came to Scotland, thousands of the reformed believers signed the Solemn League and Covenant. They wanted to set up a nation under God where, in effect, the State would be secondary to the Church.

When the new Government was set up in Scotland, as it was in England, the reverse happened. The Church always had influence on the State, but the State always had a degree of control over the Church, as it has to this day in England, but no longer in Scotland.   The Covenanter Church continued quite strongly for a long time, the first dissenters from Presbyterian Orthodoxy.

During the Nineteenth Century revival in England, the Evangelical wing of the Church of England held firmly to the idea of covenant, and they were often very influential in the government of the day. They were in control when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and the support of the missionaries for the Treaty was often expressed in covenant terms. So we cannot do justice to our own history without some awareness of the importance of covenant ideas. It still echoes in discussions of the Treaty today.

Returning to our readings; while we speak of a New Covenant in Jesus, it would be better to see his actions in the Gospel for today as an expression of the first Covenant.

In the Old Testament story, Abram and Sarai were surprised when they were told they would have a child, but they rejoiced and became faithful when that actually happened to them.  Paul comments on this in the Epistle. He is rather idealistic; he ignores Abraham and Sarah’s times of failure to be faithful. He also gives more importance to Abraham than to Sarah, though the covenant is to them as a couple, rather than to the man and then to the woman as subsidiary to her.

Jesus is faithful to the Covenant in a way that would have surprised many of his co-religionists. He expresses it through his willingness to brave danger for the sake of the message he bears. And it is in the suffering that follows that we believe we see the New Covenant.

What has this to say about Lent; perhaps Lent is about giving up the risk-free life rather than minor indulgences. I hope our worship on Sunday features the hymn “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”  by John L Bell and Graham Maule, to the traditional Scottish tune, “Kelvingrove”, and that we sing it at a reckless speed!


*the word covenant comes from the Latin ‘con venir’ – coming together.

Just add water.

Signpost For Sunday 18th. February, 2018 (First Sunday in Lent): Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15.

There is in inter-generational story in my family which may provide a little amusement, so I will start off with it. My grandfather was a deputy mine manager of a large coal mine in the West Midlands of England. He told me that one day the mine manager gave instructions that there should be “only a few men down the mine”. Later, when he asked how many men were actually underground my grandfather’s answer was that there were two hundred men in the mine, which was significantly less than the usual number. The manager said, “You should know better than that. It’s in the Scriptures: first Peter.” This was a reference to a phrase in our reading from the epistle reading: few, that is eight.

There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather was perfectly aware of the biblical reference, and also that he would never have used it himself in that particularly literal manner, especially since it comes from a passage dealing with symbols. In his typical fashion he told this story about himself in order to make me think.

But why would Peter be writing about Noah in the context of a discussion of suffering, both of Christ himself and, earlier, of Christians? He was describing baptism as being a statement that the person baptised was publicly making an appeal to God for a clear conscience. The baptism itself was also a symbol of death and resurrection, with a new start. Noah was in the position that a catastrophe, in which he lost his home, his friends, but not the family which accompanied him, were given a new beginning, a new covenant with God. They were given the new start as a consequence both of faith and of loss, but the new start obviously involved a new life, in a changed environment.

If we use this idea as a symbol of baptism we can see that commitment to Christ does not allow us to avoid suffering and loss, but it does allow us to ride it out, with a new covenant and a new way of life.



It’s all a bit touchy-feely, when you think about it.

Signpost for Sunday 11 February, 2018: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Ps 30; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45.*

Here we go with that sneaky old lectionary trick: an Old Testament story that mirrors the Gospel reading. Yes, this week it’s old school leper healing and leper healing with a difference.

Once again it’s not really the miracle that matters so much as how these two writers tell their stories of healing. And it’s not the similarities that are important, it’s the differences. It’s not always the obvious differences either. Naaman is rich and powerful; the leper in Mark’s story is a complete unknown. Doesn’t matter. What seems to me to matter is the way Elisha and Yeshua go about healing their respective lepers.

 “Elisha sent a messenger to him [Naaman], saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10)

“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…” (Mark 1:40)

Spot the difference? Jesus reaches out and actually touches the leper. Elisha doesn’t even  come out of his tent. He doesn’t even speak to Naaman himself. I don’t think this is about the difference in character between a compassionate Yeshua and a rather stern and standoffish Elisha. I think it’s Mark showing us two things.

The first is that the audience for both stories would know that a leper’s touch would cause both Elisha and Jesus to become ‘unclean’ themselves.

The second is that it is Yeshua’s touch that makes the leper clean, and that’s a big deal (not just from the miracle/healing point of view) but because Yeshua is doing something no one would have dared do in the past. When the leper himself says, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” the last thing he expects Yeshua to do is reach out and actually touch him. That leper would have known that Elisha had healed a leper without moving a muscle. Who on earth in those days wasn’t afraid to touch a leper? No wonder this the ex-leper can’t help but disobey Yeshua’s stern warning to tell no-one about what’s happened.

I reckon that leper must have felt just like the psalmist, whoever he was, when he wrote Psalm 30:1112: You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.”


* Apologies to any northern hemisphere readers. I think your lectionary readings this week may be totally different from ours down-under.