Signpost for Sunday 15 April 2018: Acts 3:12-19 Ps 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48.
The most amazing thing about this week’s reading from Luke is broiled fish. Then look at John 21:12; Jesus and the disciples have a fish breakfast. What on earth is going here? Is it true? Is the author of John’s gospel building on Luke’s version? It’s pretty certain that neither the author of Luke’s or John’s gospel was an eye witness. Yet these particular events have been enough to make some people become Christians.
To be honest, I can’t work out whether these two latest of the gospel writers are so smart they made this up because most of the disciples were fishermen or whether there is any truth in these accounts.
Because I am not a Bible literalist, I tend to credit Luke and John with adding a tangible fact to make their stories more credible. But I still love these stories. If Jesus really did appear to the disciples, I love that he wanted to eat with them. From that perspective, John’s breakfast story is my favourite.
But let’s get back to Luke. First, broiled fish what is that? These days apparently people have a broiler pan in their ovens. Not so here. Upside-down grilling is one way I’ve heard broiling described. OK, a sort of grilled fish. Yum.
On a slightly less culinary note, Luke seems to be a real historian at first glance (Luke 1:1-4). But is he really?. If indeed he was the physician who travelled with Paul (as some scholars have suggested), then, like Paul, he was no eye witness, and did he pick up most things from Paul himself? In which case, there is no way he would have been told about broiled fish.
All of which makes me see today’s reading as one that is not a deal-breaker for anyone who wants to follow Jesus’s instructions to us all about how we should spend our time on earth.
The other thing that struck me about this reading from Luke is how keen the author is to assure us that the entire canon of the Hebrew scriptures point directly to Jesus. He doesn’t quote any scripture to make the case though. Instead he has Jesus himself say so.
For us who have modern bibles, any connection between the Old and the New testaments is second nature. But some of the early Christians downplayed Jesus’ connection to Israel. Understandable really, as they were gentile converts. My guess is that Luke wants and needs to make it clear to his gentile friends and early followers of the way that there is only one way to understand the story of Christ.
And speaking of stories, if we read one verse on from those prescribed this week, we see what a good writer the author of Luke is. Luke 24: 49 reads “… but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” How’s that for a cliff-hanger of an ending to his first book. Can’t wait for this ‘Acts of the Apostles’ to be published now can we.
Signpost for Sunday 10th April 2018 (Second Sunday of Easter – Low Sunday): Acts 4; 32-35: Psalm 133: 1 John 1:1-2.2: John 20:19-31.
I have been delighted to read recently that the Pope stands accused of heresy. It appears that he has an old reporter friend with whom he chats. The friend does not record their talks but he reports the gist of them from memory. Pope Francis does not comment on these reports, but others do.
It seems that Francis rejects the idea of Hell as being inconsistent with his understanding of a loving God, but the more orthodox in the Vatican deplore this as a falling away from certain historical statements of faith.
A few Signposts back I shared a concern about the academic standards of exegesis in a PhD thesis. I can report that I am somewhat reassured by a discussion with a member of the Otago University Theology Department. In that conversation I suggested that what holds us together in the church is the love of God, and what divides us is that way we read the Bible.
Now that second generalisation is much too narrow; Authority in the Church, Tradition, styles of music etc, etc, have to take their place there too. But the first premise is upheld by the faith of Pope Francis and by our readings today. When the Psalmist celebrated the togetherness of the faithful; when John conflates Easter and Pentecost, and the disciples rejoice at his company; when the Books of Acts portrays the (idealised?) state of the early church we see the love of God at work in these communities of faith.
I have problems with the reading from 1 John, but am re-assured by reading on past the set lection to where chapter 2, verses 9 – 11 put the matter right. It is in loving one another that the light is visible. The same idea is found in the Liturgy which I hear the most, page 404 of the NZ Prayer Book. The new commandment, or the two most important commandments are about loving one another because God first loves us.
So what’s “Low” about that?
Signpost for Sunday 4 February, 2018: Isa 40:21-31; Ps 147:1-11,20c; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39.
It occurred to me that the verses from Isaiah, the Psalm and the verses from 1 Corinthians seem to form a frame around the pictures that Mark’s gospel presents us with this week. I see it this way: the frame is made up of God’s power to renew, to heal, to lift up, to not faint or grow weary, and Paul’s declaration that the gospel is not a so much a private gift as a public good.
In fact the reading from Mark starts off in a private home, but ends with Jesus going throughout Galilee preaching to as many people as he can. To the public at large, you might say.
This mother-in-law story, unlike many modern ones, is not remotely amusing, though. Instead it’s sets the scene for the way the larger story unfolds in Mark’s version.
Jesus has just left the synagogue and gone straight Jesus to Simon and Andrew’s house. He walks in and the first thing he does is take Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and immediately the fever leaves her. This isn’t just another miracle, it’s the first instance of Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath. When we read the story we focus on the mother- in-law getting better. But any first century Jew would spot that it’s still the Sabbath when this occurs. We don’t realise how serious a matter this is until Mark 3:1-7, when Jesus heals someone publicly on the Sabbath, which causes the Pharisees and Herodians to conspire against him.
That’s why Mark makes a point of telling us in verse 32 that a crowd of people brought sick people and possessed people to be healed in the evening, at sundown. Sundown is the end of the Sabbath day as far as the Jews were concerned. So the people know the rules, they wouldn’t expect Jesus to heal anyone on the Sabbath.
The next day what happens? Another crowd of locals with sick and crazy friends turns up and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. If you’d been one of the people in that crowd imagine how devastated you would be. We know the story too well to think about that these days. We all know Jesus is going to go off round Galilee and will eventually arrive in Jerusalem. But the people of Capernaum didn’t. The point seems to be though, that just as it has always been – the Gospel, the good news, can’t just apply to a few people. Otherwise it’s not quite such good news.
Signpost for Sunday 24th September 2017: Exod 16:2-15; Ps 105:1-6, 37-45; Phil 1:21-30; Matt 20: 1-16.
I have all sorts of difficulties with one thread of today’s readings. There is an assumption that God looks after (physically and materially) his chosen elite. There is a sense that prayer reinforces that. Yet we all know, for example, that in voting we are asked as Christians to consider what was good for the nation and especially the poorer among us rather that what was in it for us.
Even the Pauline consideration of the uncertainty of life has this feeling to it. I have a friend who is disillusioned with the church (I totally sympathise with the particular reasons) and is rather put off by church-going friends who urge, “Have hope!” and who either seem to be echoing Paul, or perhaps looking for a miracle cure.
Other Church-goers speak of a loved one being re-united with a life-partner. I am sure that God has more imagination than to subject my wife, loving as she is, to an eternity of me. All I know about what lies beyond this life is that God loves us all. Anything more is speculative and can be fun, as can any speculative theology. But it is fun on the level of Fantasy Fiction, not authoritative theology.
And if we live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ, then we too will be loving, and even, perhaps, a little fanciful.
I am also realising that I am having more to do with dying people than I used to. In Ministry I dealt much more often with the bereaved. I became adept at listening to them talk of the deceased, and (before the all-in modern funeral) projecting their love to the rest of the congregation.
Three years ago, in my notes for this week I wrote of the goodness of God; now I speak of the love of God. Paul does this from prison, not from a comfortable house. As the second hurricane inside a month bears down on Puerto Rico, we cannot speak of a God who makes all this safe, but only of a loving God who hurts with us.
We are to be like the vineyard owner, generous. We are to be like the late arrivals, grateful. We have the love of God; everything else is an extra.
Signpost for Sunday 18th June 2017 (11th in Ordinary Time): Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.
How good it is to get back to the Genesis narratives. Today we have the Yahwist’s account of the announcement of Isaac’s birth, which in some respects is similar to the Priestly writer’s version in chapter 17. Both emphasise the tension between God’s promise of an heir and its fulfilment, in that both Abraham and Sarah are well beyond the age for child-bearing.
Today Sarah overhears the promise made to Abraham and laughs. She laughs to herself but God is not too pleased and chides her (through Abraham, not directly) for not understanding that there is nothing too wonderful for the Lord.
In the preceding chapter it is Abraham who laughs. The incredibly learned 17th century commentator, Matthew Henry, has it that Abraham’s laughter arises from great humility (he falls on his face) and great joy, but Sarah’s laughter is from doubt and mistrust. Although God does not rebuke Abraham as he does Sarah, the context in each version seems to allow the presumption that both of them had their “Yeah, right!” moment. However, Paul, using Abraham as the example in his dissertation on righteousness through faith in Romans 4, tells us that “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead… No distrust made him waiver concerning the promise of God …”
Isaac, the second of the great patriarchs, is born and Sarah laughs again (21:6-7), this time in great joy and wonderment for herself and for “everyone who hears”. His name, given to him by God (17:19), means “He Laughs”. Joy is the proper response to the beginning of the creation of that great Nation of which we are now part.
Signpost for Sunday 26 June, 2016: 2 Kgs 2:1-2,6-14; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62.
The letter to the Galatians poses problems for some among us. Paul’s main point is the freedom of the Christian as against the slavery of the good faithful Jew, especially the Pharisee. He knows, because this is what happened to him. He was conquered by Christ and is now free. He finds himself in opposition to some in the early Church that we call the Judaisers. They want to have their cake and eat it.
But, as Paul sees it, the Spirit makes us Christians; the Law does not. We do not earn this by the works of the Law, but it is a free gift of God’s love. And in this passage he balances this main contention by adding that the other result of the presence of the Spirit is also love – the love that Christians have for one another and for God, and for their neighbour.
The Judaisers are still at work today in one way or another. Anything that replaces grace, the free gift of the love of God, by any sort of bargain is Judaising. If we think a pilgrimage is about getting close to God, or earning something, if we think that prayer and fasting bring results other than fostering our relationship with the love of God, if we insist that others must conform to our traditional way of living (marriage, same-sex relations, etc.) or if we demand a certain degree of commitment to giving, to worship, to study groups, then we are proclaiming that salvation can be, indeed must be earned, and the love of God is not really free after all.
We worship God because we love God and the company of God’s people. We study alone or together because this helps us in our free Christian life. We undertake spiritual exercises because they express our love to God and through them we feel the love of God more closely. None of them are undertaken in order to buy the grace of God. They all proceed freely from our experience of the free grace of God.