Tagged: Romans

Definitions, dogma and doubts.

Signpost for Sunday 27 May, 2018, Trinity Sunday: Isa 6:1-8; Ps 29; Rom 8:12-17; John 3:1-17:

This is a special Sunday, when we commemorate the three-ness of God, and the best (and almost only) reference in the Bible that the makers of our lectionary can find appropriate, is the “Holy, Holy, Holy” shouted by a group of supernatural creatures in the vision of a holy man about 740 years before Jesus was born. The only other reference in the Bible is in the “sign-off” sentence for the second letter from Paul to the Corinthians.

The theory of a Trinity can be found implied in some other New Testament texts. But it wasn’t until the second century of our Era that the three classical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and the one called the creed of St. Athanasius, or Quicunque Vult) that The Trinity was defined. And belief in it became a necessity for acceptance into the fellowship of Church. That, with a few exceptions, remained the situation for the next eighteen centuries! It is amazing that those creeds survived, (translated but not unchanged), such upheavals as radical as the Reformation.

Towards the end of the 20th century various branches of the Anglican family of Churches (and other families I expect) started to accept the fact that language doesn’t stay still, and started to re-write their creeds. A good example is on page 481 of the New Zealand Prayer Book. We at St. Paul’s also had a collection of creeds on transparencies, and from time to time we chose one and put it on the overhead projector and recited it together. One of the better examples was written by a 15 year old school-boy.

Before I had to stop preaching, one of our lady enablers asked me to write my creed for her. I think she was afraid that I was getting a bit too heretical. I typed an example and presented it to her at my next interview. She took it away and never mentioned it again.

Most of the examples of creeds that I have come across pre-suppose that God is three-in-one, i.e. a Trinity. If we assert (and we do, every Sunday) that there must be some “Power” that causes to be: Time and space;  An uncountable number of galaxies existing in that time and space; Each galaxy consisting of an uncountable number of suns; Many of which will have a solar system like ours; Containing planets like ours, where living creatures could evolve like ours… is it not presumptuous to assert that we know that “Power” to consist of three “Persons” to which we can attach three labels?

If thoughts like that are too difficult for you to explain in words, join the club!

P.S. I forgot to mention that Athanasius was the first member of the club. Verse 9 of his creed goes: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible”. What do you think of that?

From the collected Signposts of Brye Blackhall


Crowd sourcing in Jerusalem.

Signpost for Sunday 25 March, 2018 (6th Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday): Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16; Ps 118:1-2,19-29

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, estimated that up to two and quarter million people visited Jerusalem during the Passover festival. Some scholars dispute that figure but most agree that at Passover the number of people in Jerusalem was four times its normal population.

When I came to this week’s well-known reading (Mark or John), those figures came to mind again. It made we wonder about whether or not we really know how this last week of Yeshua’s life on earth started, and what might be important about the actual events as far as we can work out two thousand years later.

Yeshua’s entry into Jerusalem is recounted in all four gospels. Mark, Matthew and Luke all tell the story of him telling a couple of his disciples that they will find a colt tethered and waiting, which adds to the drama. John merely writes ‘Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.’

Now have a look at what each of them says about the crowd that waived their palm leaves as Jesus road in:

John says the ‘great crowd that had come to the Passover… took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him’.

Matthew says, ‘A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road’.

Mark says ‘many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields’.

My guess is that many of us read this as if Jesus was welcomed by most of the people in Jerusalem at the time. And that would certainly have spooked the Roman occupying forces.

But I think he wouldn’t have been welcomed by most of the people in Jerusalem at the time. The crowd was mostly likely a small crowd, made up of his disciples and others who had begun to follow him in the provinces.

In fact, Luke’s version goes like this: ‘‘As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

It’s not the crowd shouting Jesus’s praises. The crowd don’t recognise him for who he is, messiah or rebel, and they’d have been pretty terrified if they had.

After all, there were two processions into Jerusalem at the time of Passover. Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from Bethany and Bethphage in the east. The Roman army was marching in from the west, to maintain order over a population that had suddenly grown fourfold, and was there to celebrate its liberation from a conquering power (Pharaoh in Egypt).

There’s no doubt then that the procession of the Roman army would have been pretty darn scary: thousands of soldiers marching, with Legionnaires on horseback, Roman eagles all over the show, armour clanking, and drums beating.

Symbolically, it’s often said that the Jesus came in peace and the Romans came in war. Symbolically that’s true. Horses versus donkeys and all that. But I suggest Jesus didn’t arrive in the city to be greeted as any kind of national rebel, nor was he ever mistaken for one. Not by the Romans or the Jews themselves.

Let’s remember what Yeshua did as soon as he hopped off his donkey. He went straight to the Temple, and that’s where the trouble started. It was people’s relationship with God that bothered Jesus, not their relationship with Rome.


P.S. Happy nearly end of Lent. Here comes the chocolate. But there are also some extra Signposts coming your way. Andrew has encouraged we Signposters to celebrate Easter by writing a Good Friday Signpost, an Easter Saturday Signpost and an Easter Day Signpost. So George will kick off on Good Friday, followed by Andrew and myself.

Dangers in the text.

Signpost for Sunday, July 30th, 2017: Gen 29: 15-28.  Ps 105: 1-11, 45b. Rom 8; 26-39.  Matt 13: 31-33, 44-52.

A couple of years ago, Marjorie and I inherited a few hundred books from her brother. I have been finding things in our library that I should have read years ago, and am catching up. The one I am on now is “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. It was filmed some time back and is now being issued as a TV series.

Laban asks what Jacob’s wages should be and he ends up married to the two sisters and gets a flock as a bonus. We have usually venerated Jacob as a Patriarch. But we know that Patriarchy is one of the greatest unresolved issues of our times. It is behind the oppression of women, and closely related to racism, colonialism and other oppressions.

We have also to remember that such passages as this from Genesis, and the Psalm which is its response today, are used to justify the last throes of European colonialism  –  Zionism. There was even a Hawke’s Bay Church that protested recently at New Zealand’s efforts in the UN to make Israel be fair to its Arab citizens!

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I was a Methodist from the age of eleven to twenty-five, so it is not surprising that my reaction to Romans 8; 29-30 is very Arminianist.  (I recently found that a nasty war took place in the Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century over this doctrine.)  Not even Karl Barth has reconciled me to the narrower Calvinism. So I have problems with those two verses. Verses 38 and 39 are the real heart of the matter.

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Then there are five parables and a comment. At least this selection avoids the tendency of the Gospel writers to make Parables into allegory. Jesus here is represented as part of the Rabbinic tradition of parable purveyors. We probably go too far if we claim that all the parables in the Gospels are original to Jesus, just as we would probably be wrong to attribute the allegories to him.

If I had to preach on these lections, I would centre on those two verses from Romans, but expand them with the Pearl of Great Price and the Net Full of Fish, symbol of all the nations of the world. The danger of the Romans text alone is to make our appreciation of the love of God self-centred.  “Us” cannot be restricted to  the in-group. The love of God is aimed at the whole world.