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.

Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus

Eating With Knives And Forks

So, I was in church this morning, and we had three readings … extracts below:

From the final words of the letter to the church in Ephesus, encouraging the community of believers to stand firm in their faith:
For our struggle is …. against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

From John’s Gospel, chapter 6, words of Jesus
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

And from the book of Joshua chapter 24, Joshua addressing the Israelite nation:
Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The thing that really struck me today was the way that God works through everyday living.

I was once in a class where we were asked this question by a visiting professor:
“What is the opposite of spiritual”

As we sat around waiting for one of us to be brave enough to respond, I think we were all asking ourselves – ‘Is this a trick question?’
Eventually someone piped up – ‘maybe the opposite of spiritual is physical ?’
The professor smiled, because someone had fallen into the trap he had laid.
No, no, no! He cried.
We waited. The rest of us who had been too cowardly to answer, feeling bad for the one who had stuck his head above the parapet, so to speak.

He looked at us intently. Clearly this was an important lesson that we needed to learn.
“The opposite of spiritual is unspiritual.”

Oh. Well yes, that seems logical. But what’s your point, we wondered.

Here I quote Eugene Peterson to explain the point that the professor made. “When we talk about something being spiritual, we are talking about something that God is doing.”

The mistake is to think of ‘spiritual things’ as things going on in the ether. Airy fairy. Things that don’t have any connection with life, but are more in the realm of ‘ideas about God.’

But if we take Eugene Peterson’s definition, then we’re talking about events, experiences and actions that are very much to do with real life.

In Christian Spirituality, there is an undestanding that the words and works of God are made apparent through the material stuff of our lives. In 21st century life, it’s sometimes hard to see this, since so much of our lives are lived in a bubble that removes us from the earthiness of life. We used to eat with our fingers, but now most of us use a knife and fork. There’s something about a connection with the basic essential of life – food that we have lost. I remember being invited to an Ethiopian friend for a meal, and being given no knife and fork, but quantities of ‘Injera’ – a soft sourdough type bread, slightly spongey, to gather up the food on my plate.

In his book ‘Run with the Horses.,’ Eugene Peterson describes that ‘earthy spirituality’ in this way:
“Biblical faith everywhere and always warns against siren voices that lead people away from specific and everyday engagements with weather and politics. Dogs and neighbors, shopping lists and job assignments. No true spiritual life can be distilled from or abstracted out of this world of chemicals and molecules, paying your bills and taking out the garbage. With the current interest in spirituality, we must be on guard not to revert to an other-worldly piety.”

To get back to the passages at the top of this post.
When Paul writes about contending with spiritual forces, we might picture among those forces the drive to make us want to produce more and more to satisfy our desire for aquisition and consumption. These forces are very real, and make themselves known in work places and board rooms. In lecture halls and classrooms. In shops and on T.V. and social media. In fact anywhere and everwhere you look.

When Jesus talks about the flesh being useless, he is talking about that side of our ‘fleshly’ human nature that is all about trying to be our own gods and goddesses – a seductive temptation that in the end leads nowhere.
He contrasts that kind of flesh with his own flesh – his physical body that he will give ‘for the life of the world.’

And in the third passage quoted, Joshua is challenging the people – not so much on what they believe, but how they will live. Again, moving the realm of the spiritual from ideas and beliefs to the lived life.

We had a wonderful example of that in our service this morning. Heather, our curate, was to be taking a baptism service after our morning communion service. She explained that at the moment of baptism, the minister pours the water of baptism using a scallop shell, which has long been a sign of baptism and the Christian journey. In recent months, as well as giving a baptism candle and a bible, we now give the baptised the shell that was used in their baptism.

What a powerful lesson to take away from this! Baptism is the beginning of a journey of faith, in which we are daily looking to see what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us – activity which is very real, whether it is made known in work places or board rooms. In lecture halls or classrooms. In shops or on T.V. and social media. In fact anywhere and everwhere you look. And in the life of the church – it is the everyday that speaks of God’s activity: water in baptism, bread and wine that we share around the table of reconciliation, and in the very beauty of creation all around us – all of life can speak to us of what God has done and is doing.

Grace and Peace.

Activism · Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus · Political

The River Runs Down Hill

Water is a prominent theme in both the First Testament, and the Second. I was listening earlier this week to a talk by Ched Myers, speaking about both the ecological and the theological significance of water.
Listen here. Roll Like A River

There’s a lot to digest there, but I’ll just refer to sonmething he said at the end. He’s made the point earlier that in his context in Southern California, the river Ventura that once flowed all year round is now seasonal. This is largely because the water is taken off by residential needs and industry futher up stream.
That has all sorts of ecological consequences to the environment, as well as affecting those who live down stream.

The situation is not unlike the Jordan Valley, where many people, (Palestinians in particular) have to contend with water shortages, as well as the land itself being impoverished.

Already, we are seeing water as a commodity being fought over, and who wins ? The rich. We are familiar with wars over other resources like oil, but we are now realising that the main building block of life – water – is getting scarcer in many areas, and a cause of conflict.

In Southern California and the Jordan Valley, it is the environment and the people downstream that are affected.

Ched Myers draws a parallel between the ecological and economic issues here, and the way that water is spoken of in scripture.

There are many passages that speak of the life giving properties of water – coupled with water as an image of our spiritual lives. In Psalm 1 water is a symbol of God’s way of living.

Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1 verses 1-3)

In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say these words:
Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John Chapter 4 verse 14

It’s clear that water is not only essential for our very material lives, but is also a kind of code for what we might call abundant life, where there are no winners and losers, but where everyone has their needs fully met.

The Prophet Amos says this:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos Chapter 5 verses 21-24

Water flows down hill … but by the time it reaches the communities where Ched Myers lives, or the Palestinian People in the Jordan Valley, there is not enough left for everyone.

In my last-but-one post, I said that the Christian life is about ‘Gift and Task.’ This post is definitely about ‘Task’. The task of every one of us to seek justice for those who are furthest away from the source of blessing. Those who are on the margins where the resources do not reach, as well as the land that is impoverished by lack of water.

Grace and Peace.