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.