Jesus · Song for Today

Resurrection Morning On Robinswood Hill

It’s 8.20 am on Easter Day.
We’re not long back from our Easter Dawn gathering on Robinswood Hill.
Our practice over many years has been to wake before dawn on Easter Day to meet with other Christians and proclaim Christ’s Resurrection.

The traditional ‘Easter Shout’ says it all:
Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He has given us new life and hope
by raising Jesus from the dead.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We sang a song as the sun rose … Beautiful Things, by Gungor.

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things …
You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

Bible · Jesus · Political

Where Jesus Attends A Wedding

So, we have this group called BUNS – where we look at a Bible passage, play Uno and eat NibbleS ….

last time, we were looking at John chapter 2, where Jesus goes to a wedding and turns water into wine.
Whatever you think about the miracle as recorded, it’s important to think about the context, and ask if there might be something going on under the surface.

I think I read somewhere that ‘context is everything.’

Whether it’s everything or not, it’s definitely important, as is our own context.
I’m listening to a podcast at the moment called the Bartcast, specifically some talk by Ched Myers on the Gospel of Mark. He’s opening up some interesting lines of thought about what might be going on in the Gospel that is related to the social and policital setting at the time of Jesus. It’s got me thinking more about the possible sub texts in gospel passages, and I had some thoughts about the ‘water into wine’ incident.

In the account, they have run out of wine at the wedding – the bar has run dry. There’s a major panic, and Jesus’ mother tries to get him to do something. (What did she think he was going to do ….?).
He’s not keen intially, but his mother seems to have an inkling that he might do something, so she tells the servants to be prepared for action.

Jesus seems to change his mind and sees these water jars, six of them, each one holding over 100 litres of water. (The water is used for ceremonial washing). Jesus tells the servants to fill them right up to the brim and then draw some off to take to the master of ceremonies. Of course, it’s become wine, and the wedding party is saved.

Now I’ve heard quite a few sermons on this passage and preached on it a few times myself. But I’ve never had this thought before. Obviously everyone is very happy to drink the wine … but actually are they happy to drink it, or would some of them be a bit unsure if they knew where it had come from – holy water jars ?

Because these water jars aren’t just any old water jars. They’re used for a religious ceremony. And now they’re being used to help a party get into the swing again after and embarassing lull in the proceedings.

What if there’s something going on here that is a bit naughty. A bit of a dig at the people who control the religious side of life. And an encouragement to the general crowd to drink the holy water (that is now beaujolais, or equivalent). I think what Jesus has done is pretty subversive. He’s taken what is set aside for a religious purpose and made it common property. He’s punctured the sacred balloon. He’s driven a coach and horses through … sorry, I’m getting a bit carried away with metaphors here, but I hope you get the idea.

Religious people sometimes set up what we might call a sacred / secular divide, where a part of life is for religion (like Church on a Sunday) and the rest of the time, life is for living. But isn’t everything sacred, isn’t everything holy ?

In the subtext of Marks’ Gospel, there are things going on that are more about the political setting, probably to do with the plight of the poorest people, and who has the power, and how that dynamic needs to change. Maybe this incident in John’s Gospel is more about who has the power in the religious world, and Jesus taking an axe to that particular tree. I don’t know, I’m just asking.

Grace and peace anyway …

Bible · faith · God · Grace · Jesus · Prayer

So Much To Tell You

I’m told that to increase your readership, you need to blog often. Ah well.

There is so much to say, but sadly I’ve forgotten a lot of it. However, here’s one snippet, and it’s all about water.

But first, the plan. I have a plan for the year. A plan that is slimmed down from last year’s marathon of 4 scripture readings every day. So this year, I’m spending the first six months reading through the prophet Jeremiah at a very leisurely pace, just a few verses each day.

Alongside that, I’m reading just a few verses from Mark’s Gospel each week. The same few verses every day of the week. I’m also trying to build in 20 minutes of silence each day. It’s a simple diet.

I’ve got a couple of other books that I’m reading alongside the scripture readings – Running Over Rocks, by Ian Adams. 52 short chapters – one for each week of the year, each one focussing on a simple spiritual practice.

And finally, Sounding the Seasons, a book of sonnets by the poet Malcolm Guite, one sonnet each week.

It feels good so far.

Oh, and I forgot – of course a psalm each day.

So, last Monday, I had three readings that included these words:
From Psalm 93:
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!

and from Jeremiah 2:
My people have … forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

and from Mark 1:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  
And just as he was coming up out of the water,
saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.’

It’s interesting that all three readings are in some way about water.
Mighty waters
The fountain of living water
The waters of baptism
And as I thought more about the Gospel reading and the water of baptism, my mind went back to the very first words of the Bible, noticing three parallels between the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of Mark’s Gospel

Parallel 1 – Descending and Hovering

At the baptism of Jesus, is it the dove that is important, or the description of the dove descending ?
Maybe what’s happening here is answering the prayer of the prophet Isaiah – “O that you (God) would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1)

This descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove in Mark chapter 1 reminded me of something very similar in Genesis chapter 1:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Parallel 2 – Good and Pleasing

And, in Genesis chapter 1 we have the repeated refrain – and God saw that it was good, while in Mark chapter 1, we have God saying “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”

In Genesis 1 God sees what he has made, and it is good.
In Mark 1 God speaks a word of affirmation over the new thing that is coming in Jesus.

Parallel 3 – Thrown out and Tempted

Following the description of God’s work of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, the plot moves to the temptation of Adam and Eve, which results in them being thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

Following Jesus’ baptism, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drives (or throws, banishes) Jesus out into the wilderness where he is tempted.

It’s as if the wilderness place is where humanity is, and it’s where Jesus goes to begin his work of winning humanity back. He goes to the place where we have to deal with the compulsions that drive us apart from one another. The hungers that have gone from the natural healthy desires to something twisted and broken.

And it’s here, where we dwell, that Jesus confronts and overcomes those desires – and is able to hold on to the knowledge of being a beloved son of God.

And Finally

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice these parallels. (Indeed, maybe I read it somewhere and forgot it, but it stayed in my subconscious?) But I do find it amazing, wonderful, inspiring etc that the start of the Hebrew Bible begins with God’s work of creation, and the start of the Christian Gospel begins with God’s work of New Creation, in which, at last, God comes to be present with us to lead us … not back to the garden, but ultimately onwards …


(But that’s another story)

So may you know, deep within you, that (as one wise person has said)
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more,
and there’s nothing you could do that would make God love you less.

And Finally, Finally

Here’s the sonnet by Malcolm Guite on the Baptism of Christ:

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.

Grace and Peace.





Activism · Jesus · Political · Theology

Breaking Down Walls Of Hostility

On May 14th 1948 at midnight the British mandate of Palestine ended, and the State of Israel was proclaimed.
During this period, over 700,000 Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes.

To mark this period of time in the history of the Palestinian people, May 15th became a annual reminder of this forced expulsion, and was named Nakba Day. (Nakba means catastrophe)

My Bible readings today included a passage from Paul’s letter to the first century Christian community in Ephesus where he wrote:
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … were excluded from citizenship in Israel … But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near … 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility …

The context is this – the early church was made up of Jewish and Gentile groups who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
The Jewish followers of Jesus initially could not agree that the Gentile believers should be accepted on the same basis as the Jewish believers. Hence the phrase above … were excluded from citizenship in Israel. Paul was talking about both groups being fully a part of the emerging first century church, and idea which met with strong resistance from Jewish believers. I’m taking the Christian principle of inclusion described by St Paul, and applying it to the situation in Israel/Palestine by calling for Palestinians to have the same rights of citizenship as Israelis.

But what we actually have is a situation of apartheid, where one ethnic group – the Palestinian people – is treated differently.
Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines the Crime of apartheid as: “inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

This week we have seen the conflict flare up again with violence on both sides. Violence is never justified as a way of solving problems, but when injustice goes on and on and on, it’s understandable why people resort to violence.
This conflict will continue as long as Israel refuses to give justice to the Palestinian people.

Walter Brueggemann writes:
“Dominant culture is always tempted to exclude … naming those who have privilege and entitlement, and those who do not qualify for inclusion.”
The whole ideology of exclusiveness is countered by both St Paul and Jesus. Paul describes how Jesus has ‘broken down the dividing wall of hostility’ by giving equal access to both the ‘insider’ (Jew) and the ‘outsider’ (Gentile). In the same way, Jesus’ actions in the Gospel reading below violates all the norms of the day, cleansing the leper and making him acceptable. The outsider is welcomed. The heart of the passage is the moment when Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man – an outrageous, shocking thing to do.

Matthew chapter 8:
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Today, we mourn with the Palestinian people on Nakba Day.
We pray for the Palestinian people, and for peace in the Land of the Holy One.
We pray for those on both sides who work to break down barriers of hostility.
We pray for those who will engage in peaceful but outrageous acts of protest.

Read more about Nakba day 2021 in the joint statement issued by this group of charities
ABCD Bethlehem
Amnesty International UK
Amos Trust
Christian Aid
Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel – UK and Ireland (EAPPI)
Embrace the Middle East
Friends of Birzeit University (FOBZU)
Friends of Nablus and the Surrounding Areas FONSA)
Interpal
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR)
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
Quakers in Britain
Sabeel-Kairos UK
War On Want
Welfare Association

I tried to write a song about this a few months ago. It’s here – Catastrophe

Church · community · faith · Jesus · Worship

He Is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

It’s Easter Day. For me the most important day in the Christian Year. It’s a declaration that God is unwilling to take our ‘no’ for an answer. With Jesus, it is always yes. An unconditional ‘yes’ to be with us.

This morning we met with some friends and their two young children to walk up Robinswood Hill. The hill is just a mile or so from where we live, and from the top you gt a 360 degree view taking in the city of Gloucester and the surrounding countryside.

We had decided to get to the top in time for sunrise just after 6.30. We met in the car park, with the darkness already beginning to fade as the pre-dawn light became stronger.

It’s a 200 metre climb – quite a task for Steve with a two year old on his back, and pretty challenging for their five year old. But we made it in time for the sunrise, and got ready for a short act of worship for Easter Day. Another friend joined us at the last minute. He phoned us from the car park, 200 metres below us.
‘Where are you ?’
‘We’re at the top. We’ll see you in about 15 minutes’

So finally, we were all there, and shared a communion of croissants and hot chocolate, with a song and some prayers, and the familar Easter shout:
Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
He has given us new life and hope by raising Jesus from the dead
Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

As we started to sing ‘Thine be the Glory’ at the end of our short service, a couple who had just got to the top of the hill came and joined us. I don’t know what the dog walker and the few others who were there for the sunrise thought, but we gave it our best as we sang that great Easter hymn.

Over the last 35 years or so, we’ve nearly always done something similar. From a hill in North Yorkshire, to a nature reserve in Hertfordshire, via Beverley in East Yorkshire, where one year we had snow! There’s something very special about celebrating the resurrection as the sun comes up.


When we got home, I came across this song in one of my prayer books. It seemed to echo our early morning gathering, and sums up for me a lot of what our faith is all about. Here’s a translation below and a link to the song here

“Vamos todos al banquete “

Let us go now to the banquet, to the feast of the universe —
the table’s set and a place is waiting.

I will rise in the early morning; the community’s waiting for me.
With a spring in my step I’m walking with my friends and my family.

God invites all the poor and hungry to the banquet of justice and good —
where the harvest will not be hoarded so that no one will lack for food.

May we build a place among us where all people are equal in love —
For God has called us to work together and to share everything we have.

translated version of “Vamos Todos Al Banquete” written by Guillermo Cuéllar
and commissioned by Msgr. Oscar Romero for the Misa Popular Salvadoreña


Activism · Bible · faith · Following Jesus · Jesus · Political · World Affairs

In My Dream I Saw

I don’t remember my dreams very often, but I still have some snippets from a dream I had last night.
In my dream I saw a statue, standing up with something like a rod in its hand. The statue was a bit more than life size, maybe about 8 feet tall, and the rod was about 18 inches long and maybe 2 inches in diameter.

The next thing I saw was that the statue was lying down on its side, and the rod was held by two cupped hands of the statue. The hands were holding, rather than gripping the rod. Then someone was removing the rod from the cupped hands.

Then I found myself with a group of people in a room, all giving their different accounts of what the rod symbolised. Each one was describing a different angle on power

I can’t quite remember exactly what I said, but it was something to do with what happens when there’s a vacuum. There’s that saying – nature abhors a vacuum. When there’s a vacuum, something will rush in the fill that vacuum.

In the dream, the vacuum was created when the rod was removed from the hands. Suddenly, the person, or organisation that was holding the power is no longer in charge. At that point, other forces are quick to come and seize power.

In my dream, I went on to say that what was needed was an understanding of what the purpose of holding that power should be. The power should be exercised for the benefit of all. That means that everyone needs to have a say, no one should be left out.

At that point, I finished, and everyone applauded. I was surprised, but pleased that what I had said seemed to ring a bell with everyone present.

Here endeth the dream

So – a couple of reflections on the dream. We’re watching a series on Netflix at the moment called Godless. It’s set just after the American Civil war, and I think that may have been on my mind, and that somewhere deep in my unconscious is a memory of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from November 19th 1863, in the middle of the Amercian Civil War. In that speech, he famously said ‘That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ The exact wording of the speech is uncertain, and Lincoln wasn’t the first to use that idea …. of the people, by the people, for the people.

My little speech in the dream seemed to be along the same lines …

The second thought is that today – March 28th 2021 – is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday recalls how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. As he entered the Holy City, the crowds acclaimed him as king shouting – ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Hosanna means ‘save,’ and is probably used here as a special cry of joy for the one who has come to save, to rescue.

Here’s the prophetic passage from the First Testament book of Zechariah that is clearly seen in the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

Zechariah chapter 9 verses 9 – 10.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.His rule will extend from sea to seaand from the River to the ends of the earth.

In my dream, someone came and took the rod representing power from the statue. Whatever part of my subconscious that dream came from, the removal of the rod of power is something to do with a non-violent expression of a different quality of power to the oppressive displays of power that dominate our world.

For example, I’m thinking today of the non-violent demonstrations in Myanmar at the brute force and violence shown by the army.

I’m thinking of the non-violent demonstrations in our own city of Bristol, sadly hijacked by violent protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful protests against violence done to women after the murder of Sarah Everard, that ironically resulted in a police over reaction and more violence shown to the mostly women protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful civil disobedience of the protests of Extinction Rebellion back in 2019.

And I’m thinking of Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse, to announce God’s kingdom of peace. Jesus comes to demonstrate his power, that is so different to the power of the elite in Jerusalem, and to the imperial might of Rome. He comes to challenge the powers of his day. From the backwater of Galilee, Jesus now enters as it were, the Lion’s Den.

As I imagine the picture of Jesus on a donkey, I see that event as an act of non-violent resistance. The words of the ancient prophets are brought to life, and their words still speak today.

The words of Zechariah conjure up a vision not far from my dream in which I saw the symbol of power taken from the statue – I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken.

It is a vision of peace that comes against all kinds of oppression – through the economy, through race, gender and sexuality.
Wherever such protests are made, the forces of power will rise to try and silence the voices of peace.

A prayer for today

God of ancient prophets, we thank you for your timeless utterances of truthfulness. Give us good ears to hear the reverberation of those old words as new voices ring out in our day. In his name. Amen.

Prayer by Walter Brueggemann (slightly altered)

Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus · Jesus · Theology

New Light On St Paul

OK. It’s been a while. I’ve had so many ideas but never got round to getting it down. Here’s a few thoughts from Tom Wright, otherwise known as N.T. Wright. He was Bishop of Durham for a while, but is best known as an academic whose whole adult life has been spent studying the life and writings of St Paul.

He wrote a book about the life of St Paul that came out three years ago. I haven’t read it, but heard him talk about it on the Nomad Podacst.

To start with, his name is originally Saul. He comes from a conservative tradition in Judaism, and as the book of Acts describes, will do anything to protect Judaism from what he sees as unhealthy, misguided influences. One of those ‘way out’ movements is of course, what he would see as the cult of Jesus. Saul is basically a fundamentalist, and will track down followers of Jesus, and condone killing them for the cause of religious purity. Hence the stoning of Stephen, one of the prominent members of what we would call the early church. Saul is at this point a violent man, determined to put a stop to this abberation of the faith that he treasures.

But to call it the early church is slightly misleading – at this early point in the evolution of the Jesus movement, we’re talking about a community that is mostly made up of Jews before the word Christian has even been uttered. When we read the word ‘church’ in our English translations, the original Greek word is better translated by ‘gathering,’ ‘assembly, ‘ or ‘company.’

Tom Wright reminds us how important it is to understand the first century context of the words that we read. Another example of where we might have been reading this wrongly is to do with what we might have called the ‘conversion’ of Saul. Growing up, I had the impression that on the road to Damascus, when Saul has his experience of Jesus, it is at that point that he ‘becomes a Christian.’
(You can read the account in Acts chapter 9)

But at that point in time, there was no such thing as a Christian. There was no separate religion called Christianity. Saul was a Jew who had such a profound and mystical experience of the risen Christ, that he suddenly sees that he has been mistaken, and that Jesus is in fact, the Messiah of God. He doesn’t stop being a faithful Jew, and would in all likelihood continue in exactly the same way as he had done before regarding his religious observance, but now seeing that the promised Messiah has in fact come – in the person of Jesus Christ.

After this life changing encounter, at some point early on, Saul disappears off to Arabia for three years. It’s not clear exactly where he went or what he did during these three years, but Tom Wright has a theory … first a bit of background:

Back in the First Testament, * the prophet Elijah is at a turning point in his life. He had just defeated the 400 prophets of Baal, and was on the run from king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. At this time of great stress in his life, where does he go ? To mount Horeb. Mount Horeb is essentially the same as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. So Elijah is going back to the place where it all started. The place where God made it clear that the children of Israel were a ‘set apart people.’ They had a call to be God’s people for the nations. At Mount Horeb, God meets with Elijah and he gets the commissioning and strength that he needs for the next phase in his ministry. God tells Elijah that he is to ‘Go back the way you came, to Damascus.’ Once there, he was to anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel.

Tom Wright’s theory is that Arabia was the region that included Mount Sinai. Where would Saul go to think through the experience that he had on the road to Damascus ? Maybe back to where it all started – to Mount Sinai. Saul’s roots are in the ancient story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery; the journeying through the wilderness; the call to live as the people of God. So Saul goes to Sinai, to learn what this new call to follow Jesus will mean. And at the end of those three years, where does he go ? Back the way he came, to Damascus. And once there he will share the news that a new king has been anointed – Jesus. And that this good news of Jesus is for all people, both Jew and Greek, men and women, slave and free. And that this new community will be different from any community previously known, because it will not be according to your ethnic group, or whether you were a man or a woman, or a slave or a free person. This new community will break all the rules and be for all.

I feel like I should read the book !

And, as I was pondering on this alternative, radical new community that we see in the book of Acts, it made me think about my own experience of the church, and to what extent the churches I have been a part of have been ethnically diverse, with men and women both accepted fully, with class, background, education and social status not being an issue. Sadly, it seems that churches by default become fairly monocultural, not at all the vision that Paul had … 2000 years later it’s still a work in progress. Additionally, there are movements within the church that see the growth of the church being most effective when this mono approach is used – because like attracts like. This is in sharp contrast to the kingdom vision of a diverse community, which although it is often a more challenging environment, has within it the possibility of fully enacting the principles of love. Such a Christian community is truly a thing of great beauty.

* Christians have generally called the first part of the Bible ‘The Old Testament.’ But there are dangers in that. It might lead us to think that we can leave all of that behind. Now we have the New, we don’t need the Old. The New Testament gives us everything we need. In a sense that is true, but we are greatly impoverished in our undertanding of Jesus if we do not understand his roots, which lie in the work of God through Israel. If we only know the New Testament, we don’t know the New Testament! There is so much richness in the books of Moses, the history books, the wisdom and the prophets that we need to attend to. There has been a move to call these writings ‘The Hebrew Bible,’ but others are more inclined to use the phrase ‘First Testament,’ which gives those writings a more exalted place than ‘Old Testament,’ and unlike the phrase Hebrew Bible gives them their righful place within the whole revelation of God’s love and purposes.

Grace and Peace

faith · God · Jesus · Song for Today

The Canticle Of The Turning

The message of Advent and Christmas is that God is doing something new.

As this song declares – The world is about to turn.

May you know the new thing that God will bring to birth in you.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas

youtube.com/watch

1 My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
and my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
so from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

Refrain
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

2 Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
and your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
you will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn. Refrain

3 From the halls of pow’r to the fortress tow’r,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
there are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn. Refrain

4 Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around. 

Bible · faith · Following Jesus · God · Jesus · Worship

All You Who Are Thirsty

Alongside my daily reading of the psalms and the Gospel of John, I have been reading Isaiah. Today I got to chapter 55. More about that shortly.

But first, I must mention the novel that I’ve just finished. ‘In the Beginning’ by Chaim Potok. The story concerns David, who is only a small boy at the start of the novel. His family, orthodox Jews, have arrived in New York in the 1920’s from Poland. Like other novels by Potok, you get an insight into the daily life and religious observance of orthodox Jews, which I found fascinating. It impressed on me how little I know of Judaism, past and present, and prompted me to read some Jewish commentaries on the Bible (Old Testament).

In Synagogue worship, the reading of Torah – The Law of Moses – (The first five books of the Bible) is central, and in the course of a year, the whole of the Torah will be read in the Sabbath morning worship. (In some traditions there is a three year cycle of Torah readings). The reading of Torah is followed by a Havtarah, a reading from another part of the Old Testament that is thematically linked to the Torah reading for the day. The Havtarah reading completes the Bible readings for that day.

So to Isaiah 55. The following verses are part of the Havtarah reading on the Sabbath called Noach, when the story of Noah is read as the Torah reading.

1 “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You without money, come, buy, and eat!
Yes, come! Buy wine and milk
without money — it’s free!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
your wages for what doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well,
you will enjoy the fat of the land.
Open your ears, and come to me;
listen well, and you will live —
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
the grace I assured David.

These verses are an invitation to come to God, the source of all that is good, and lifegiving. The significance of water is clearly to do with the necessity of water for life. This is understood also to tell us of the necessity of God’s law for us to live fully. So water is a symbol of Torah, and like water, we need Torah’s influence in our lives continually.

In the account of the Israelites’ journey after the Exodus, it tells us that they travelled for three days in the desert without finding any water. After three days, they found water, but it was bitter. When the people complained and asked, “Moses, what are we going to drink?” Moses asked the Lord for help and the Lord told him to throw a piece of wood into the water. Moses did so, and the water became fit to drink.

So as the people could not go more than three days without water, and water is a symbol of Torah, we must not go more than three days without a public reading of Torah. It became the custom not to let more than three days pass without a public reading of Torah. So readings from the Torah are read on Monday and Thursday, as well as on the Sabbath.

And for me as a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, I see these verses from Isaiah as an invitation to come to Jesus, God’s promised one. In John’s Gospel chapter 4, Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and in the course of the conversation, Jesus says these words “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

For me, the whole of Torah is fulfilled in Jesus, who came to do God’s perfect will, and to lead us to the Father.

Grace and Peace.

Bible · faith · God · Jesus

Make Our Home With Them

I’m still reading part of a psalm and a few verses of John’s Gospel each day.
Today was Psalm 132, with the idea of ‘A resting place, or dwelling for God’

In the psalm, king David makes a vow to ‘find a dwelling for the Lord’
Part of this was to do with the Ark of the Covenant – the chest that contained the Ten Commandments. It signified God’s presence with his people.
The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines in battle, but then returned to Israel. It ended up at a place called Kiriath-Jearim, where it was forgotten for 20 years. Then we read in the First book of Chronicles chapter 13 how David brings the Ark back to Jerusalem. In the psalm this event is recalled in these words:

“Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.” Psalm 132 verse 8

In the Old Testament, places are really important. The Ark and the Temple are both material signs of God’s presence with his people. Psalm 132 is part of a collection of psalms that would be sung as people made their way to Jerusalem for festivals. They would sing as they made their journey to meet with God in the holy city. We see the same idea through history in the importance of pilgrimage to holy sites in different religions. Mecca, The River Granges, Rome etc.

Set alongside that is my other reading from John Chapter 14 verse 23
‘Jesus said “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

What Jesus brings to Israel is a new and very challenging insight. God does not reside in buildings and shrines, but in people. Jesus may have taught in the temple, but most of what we read in the Gospels seems to show Jesus meeting people where they are, in their everyday lives. And that is the promise to us today. God is with us. Not through special places, (although they may have their ‘place’) and not through priests as intermediaries, but directly as we open ourselves to God’s presence with us and in us – this promise is not restricted, but is for anyone, at anytime, in any place.

In the end, our destination, our home, is to be with God.
And at the same time, God’s destination, God’s home, is to be with us.

Grace and peace.