Bin Laden and the Narrative of Scripture

Not long after President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, Twitter lit up. As you would expect, Christians have played their part, too. One particular way Christians tweeted was using Bible verses to proclaim their feelings on the matter. Christianity Today, the American Evangelical magazine, posted an article on their website that listed data from OpenBible.info that told us what were the most tweeted Bible verses 12 hours after President Obama announced bin Laden’s death.

I admit that I was glad to see that the number one verse was Proverbs 24:17, ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice’ (NIV). Of course there were other verses, too – ones that seem to be quite fine with the rejoicing that the enemy had indeed fallen, but 3 of the top 5 indicated that the death was not a celebration. Still, what does quoting one verse do?

Quoting Bible verses in my environment growing up was nearly a language all its own. It’s how you answered questions when people challenged what you thought and it was what you quoted to prove your case. Usually the surrounding context mattered little. It was easy that way. You could find your preferred texts and use them as an axe to cut down any argument that someone tried to make. They were little clues that formed a picture of your own making.

Since that time, I have learned that quoting verses does not always help, and if we read carefully in the New Testament, we see that Jesus and Paul nuanced how they used scripture. For Jesus, I can point to the gospels where he would begin by saying ‘you have heard it said’ before quoting some part of the Old Testament and then deepening its meaning. Paul could have used any number of scriptures that said eating food sacrificed to idols was wrong, but he takes a very long time to get there and in the end doesn’t exclude it all together! In both cases, Paul and Jesus wanted us to hear more than just what a single verse of scripture might say.

While I am not opposed to quoting scripture, and as a general practice I wish I knew more than I did so I could quote them, I think we also have to look at the full story of where scripture is going. It’s a little more difficult this way, and sometimes I have to give up my preferred verses. It also takes discussion and listening, as unlike quoting a verse it isn’t easily doled out in bite-sized portions. The overarching story of scripture has at it centre what Jesus did for a world that was opposed to him. He came to bring forgiveness, and did it amidst people who were cheering and celebrating his death. He even reached out to a terrorist and converted him so that he could take the gospel to the gentiles.

So, I do understand there are verses that would say it’s perfectly OK to gloat and brag that bin Laden is dead. But, there are other verses that say the opposite. I think we have to go to the overarching story for where the weight lies for those verses. If our central story is that of Jesus and his sacrifice, then I don’t see how we can celebrate the death of another.

Evangelicals don’t adhere to the teaching of Jesus?

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington links to a Huffington post article (Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus) that says that Evangelicals are least likely to have beliefs that follow Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

“The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Tea-Party-and-Religion.aspx) reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.”

As Witherington self-identifies as an evangelical in the United Methodist Church, this makes his post an interesting forum and there are already quite a few comments on his blog. Witherington, while generally quite conservative theologically, has more liberal political beliefs. Therefore, I wouldn’t put him in the normal Evangelical conservative camp, but because of his theology he attracts a fair amount of that camp to his blog. So read the discussion his blog as well as the article.

I imagine this concentrates on American Evangelicals because I have said a few times that Evangelicals in Britain seems to run more liberal/socialist politically over here.

Are the teachings of Jesus a ‘Good Guide’ to life? Not Really…

David Cameron, Conservative Party leader and for all intents and purposes our next prime minister, gave an interview about his faith, which was picked up by Christian Today. In the article he is quoted as saying:

I think that it’s perfectly possible to live a good life without having faith, by which I mean a positive and altruistic life, but I think the teachings of Jesus, just as the teachings of other religions are, a good guide to help us through.

I don’t want to make light of the faith Mr. Cameron has, nor doubt his sincerity. He mentions the death of his eldest son and the pain that caused, so the fact that he can talk about his faith positively at all I find encouraging. I hope it delves deeper.

The faith he describes, though, is the self-help variety, and is not found exclusively in the Church of England. Listening to many evangelicals, I hear similar messages, if perhaps laced with more bible verses. God and the teachings of Jesus help us to be better people and hence have a good life. I guess it depends on what kind of life you mean.

The problem is that Jesus’ teachings don’t promise the kind of life I think most of us look for when we seek out a guide. Most of the books in the self-help section that promise a guide to life show us how to make more money, how to move up in a job, or how to have a better family life. Even on the family life, Jesus sounds different than what most parenting books say. If you are looking to have a comfortable, easy life with plenty in your retirement savings and a life where you can have upward mobility, I doubt Jesus is who your looking for.

Jesus is looking for much more than being a self-help guru, but calls us to follow him. Following him means something very different to living simply a ‘good life’ (positive and altruistic, in Mr. Cameron’s definition). Jesus was looking to overturn the world and bring a new creation. The Old Testament lesson for this week (Hannah’s Song from 1 Samuel) gives us us the ‘party policy’ Jesus wants. And it’s not easy. It makes me squirm and want to turn to a self-help Jesus.

So here are a couple of Jesus’ statements from the ‘guide to life’ that I would like to see Mr. Cameron use as he enters office next summer:

  1. Love your enemies. How do you create a foreign policy based on that?
  2. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor. Will this be considered sound economic policy?

What are some teachings of Jesus (or the ‘good guide’)  you would like to see the Conservative Party use as the basis of their policies?

Jesus As You Haven’t Seen Him

Maggi Dawn posted a link for an excellent photographic exhibition by fashion photographer Michael Belk. They depict a traditionally imagined Jesus (think of any Jesus-inspired film or portrait you have seen) in 20th and 21st century situations. The results may jar your imaginations about Jesus. For instance, Jesus’ teaching on going the 2nd mile shows Jesus carrying the backpack and gun of a Nazi officer – and talking to him intently on the way!

Check out the gallery!

Biblical Conversations I Wish I Could Have Overheard

Nick Norelli responded to a meme naming five important books. One of his is the Gospel of Luke because of the influence of the Emmaus story and Jesus’ opening up the scriptures. That got me thinking about the places in the Bible where we are told of conversations, but aren’t given the text of what was said (as opposed to the stories of Jesus and Nicodemus and Jesus and the woman at the well).

So, here is my list of conversations where I wish I had been a ‘fly on the wall’:

  1. The Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35): Would there be anything better than a Bible Study with Jesus in which he goes through the Old Testament and shows where they point to him?
  2. Peter and Paul (Galatians 1:18): All it says is that Paul stayed with Peter for 15 days! Two of the New Testament Church’s greatest leaders bunking with each other and we get nothing. Come on, Paul, give us a hint of what you talked about!
  3. Jesus and his Disciples (Mark 4:33-34): We are told that Jesus would explain the parables he told to his disciples, and all we get in the gospels is the explanation of one of them (the Sower).
  4. Jesus’ Signs After His Resurrection (John 21:25): Not really a conversation. I realise the ‘other things’ would fill up volumes, but I wish he would have given us a few.

Those are the four off the top of my head. Are there any others that you wish you could have overheard?

Israel Trip Day Four: Coming to the Holy City!

Sorry for the lack of post last night. I couldn’t get the internet to work out. So, here is the report from yesterday. I am off to the Mount of Olives in just a few minutes!

Me and April stand in front of the Holy City of Jerusalem

Me and April stand in front of the Holy City of Jerusalem

After packing this morning we said goodbye to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Tiberias and to the Sea of Galilee. We made our way up to Mount Tabor, one of the two traditional sites of Jesus’ transfiguration. All I can say is that if he wasn’t transfigured here he should have been. The modern monastery sits among the ruins of previous monasteries dating back to the 4th century. We gathered outside for the reading of the story, but before he began a reader told a beautiful story about his father (which is his story, so I won’t publish it). It set the mood for our time there. We sang to hear the beautiful acoustics and saw through the floor the rock that Jesus is believed to have been transfigured.

The next two main stops were archaeological. The first, Megiddo, was much more impressive as the excavator have found the gates made by the Israelite Kings Solomon and Ahab. For some reason, I haven’t given much thought to Old Testament sites as I have the new. Whilst this was not a place of worship, knowing that we were walking where King Solomon had over 3000 year ago made it hit home the rich tradition of this country. The second site was the Roman city of Beth Sean. We did not spend much time here, but they had uncovered a beautiful amphitheatre.

Then we made our way down south, making it through the Palestinian controlled area of the West Bank. Nothing unusual happened, so we made it through. Driving south took us toward the desert, and the actual site of Jesus’ baptism (as opposed to the Jordan River baptism site we went to yesterday). This was an actual desert. And it was HOT! Terribly hot and dry. How he managed 40 days… it’s amazing to even think about. I barely made it the half-hour I stood outside.

We did make a stop at an oasis, where April got to ride a camel. The guy running the camel place offered me 35 camels for April. Since April is priceless, I didn’t take him up on it. And we got to see our guide give the same camel a drink of coke. That was funny watching that camel down a coke on his own. After he finished, he would just spit the bottle out, without a care about recycling.

When we left the ‘oasis’, we were finally heading toward Jerusalem. I had no idea that it would affect me as I saw that golden dome for the first time. I knew I was really here, and it was just breathtaking, knowing I was in the same city that had seen so much, not least the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So, good night from Jerusalem. Tomorrow we got to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. Then on to Bethlehem.

Sermon: God’s Love and the Challenge it Brings

One verse in our gospel lesson today stands out.  Not necessarily because of what it says so much as it is likely the most well known verse in the Bible.  I haven’t seen it here, but in the United States, John 3:16 is everywhere.  A lot of times just that scripture reference.  For a long time there was a crazy guy in a rainbow wig who would be at all American football games on television.  Whenever there was a field goal – that’s when one team would kick the ball through the goalposts similar to what you have in rugby – he would be there to hold up the sign with ‘John 3:16’.  With that much use, it probably has been reduced to more of a cliché than anything with any power.  It is hard to brush off the familiarity of this ancient text and allow it to speak to us.  Many times I wonder if the church has forgotten what it means to speak of God’s love in giving Jesus and his offer of eternal life.

For three years now I have been asking my three churches what need they think they are fulfilling with an hour on Sunday morning and a ten-minute chat over some coffee and maybe a biscuit.  If one is really lucky, then an offer may come to serve on a committee, where conversations, like the one with Jesus and Nicodemus, can go late into the night.  Unlike this conversation with Jesus and Nicodemus, the church’s discussions seem more self-interested and talk about locks on doors and organs and pews.  Some people have challenged me on this and said, ‘Yes, this does provide a need for people who are looking for a quiet place to come where they can do as they always done.’  My responses have typically have had two parts.  The first, I usually ask this question in the context of evangelism.  Someone says, ‘We need more people to come to church,’ and I ask who is looking for what we have to offer?  The second part of my answer is, ‘Even if we are fulfilling a need for those who come, does that necessarily make it the need God wants to fulfil?’  What I’m asking is, is this the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus is promising to those who believe?  Is that all there is to it?

Let’s jump back to the beginning of the chapter – the part we didn’t read, but our short passage makes little sense outside of it. The second verse tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.  Remember, in John, staying in darkness is a bad thing.  The verse you likely read on Christmas morning was John 1.  What does it say about darkness?  ‘The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’  That’s an extraordinary statement about what Jesus came to do and in today’s passage, we find out why.  In verse 19 Jesus tells us ‘that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.’  So right there we read that Nicodemus wanted to stay in the dark.  It likely meant that as a leader of the ruling party, he could get into serious trouble by meeting with Jesus, by showing any interest in his message.  Jesus and his message were so dangerous that a religious leader was too scared to meet with Jesus in the open.  Jesus even foreshadows what it will mean for him in the near future.  He tells Nicodemus, ‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’  ‘Lifted up’ here means ‘lifted up on the cross’.  Jesus is telling the end result of his dangerous message – that he will be killed.  This offer of eternal life does not come easy or cheap.  It challenges and threatens, and for those who do not want to confront it they simply slump off into the darkness.  For those of us who will be confronted by Jesus, we have the offer of eternal life.

Despite his reluctance to meet Jesus in the daytime, I have to hand it to Nicodemus:  he sought Jesus out and wanted to talk about more than just the agenda for the next finance committee meeting.  Today, churches in the United Kingdom and the United States meet openly and proudly, but are we saying anything?  One of the reasons I pick on our Sunday morning gatherings is that during the service, it’s the preacher who does the talking.  The rest are looking straight ahead, leaving the preacher unable to gauge whether or not any of this is sinking in.  Then after the service, when we finally get a chance to talk about something, we keep it easy and distant.  Jesus seems to be like those who make for the door as soon as the final blessing is given – he isn’t spoken about.  There is a joke among preachers that as people come out and shake our hands, the normal comment is, ‘I liked the hymns’ or something general like that.  I can’t make out whether I was understood, boring, or listened to.  Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark out of fear but he wanted to talk about eternal life.  Is our message of eternal life so tamed that we feel that we can openly display loyalty to it, but not really have to think about it outside of that one hour?

Perhaps we feel we have tamed it to the point that eternal life is no longer worth talking about.  Maybe we feel that we have it all figured out.  But we get to listen in on this fantastic conversation in which one of Israel’s religious leaders gets nothing right in this conversation.  Jesus reduces him to sputtering questions that make him sound like an idiot.  Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again or born from above.  Nicodemus starts talking about getting back into his mother’s womb!  The message of eternal life is much deeper than we can fathom.  Yet, we start our faith conversations much like Nicodemus when he said, ‘We know…’  Jesus proves to Nicodemus, ‘You don’t know anything.’  To meet with Jesus, we have to put all that we think possible on the table so that Jesus can open us up to new possibilities.  This is more than can be done in a once a week service or even one conversation.  Nicodemus’ last words in this story is simply the question, ‘How are these things possible?’  It took him a while, but evidently he didn’t stop with this conversation.  We meet Nicodemus twice more in John.  Once when he timidly tried to get the other leaders to consider Jesus’ message and another when his loyalties came out in the open for real as he helped Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus.  The message of eternal life cannot be tamed, and it cannot be understood that once we reach 16 we can graduate Sunday school.

So it would seem that our message of eternal life is much more than a campaign slogan or even a feel good sentiment.  Eternal life comes when we meet Jesus.  And here again we find this contrast of light and dark.  Jesus is the light that exposes all things.  We don’t like talking about judgment, but we can’t get away from it here.  Maybe we try to tone down this part of Jesus’ message because… well, we don’t like to be judged so we don’t want to judge others.  The problem with this is that Jesus himself brings judgment by simply walking in the room.  I think it’s something like this:  if I ever met the queen of England, I would not have to hear her tell me that she is richer, more influential, or more royal than I.  It would be apparent in the meeting that there is a difference between the two of us.  When confronted with Jesus, we see ourselves for who we are and we can choose to say with him or continue to hide.  Jesus judges all, but the point is not how much we have done wrong – or even what we have done.  Jesus judges all that, but the final judgment comes down to our response to Jesus.  Do we stay with him or do we continue to stay in the darkness?  Do we change our life or do we want to stay as we are?  As I said, this isn’t a literal darkness as with Nicodemus, but out constant avoidance of any spiritual talk at any of our meetings, social gatherings, or even worship services.  We must stop locking up Jesus in a room somewhere like he is an unwanted family member.  Jesus will get out anyway – John tells us that darkness cannot overcome the light!

Our message of eternal life with its consequence of judgment gives us an alternative.  Jesus offers us this new life because of the cross, resurrection, and ascension.  We are born again, but also born from above.  The original Greek word means both ‘again’ and ‘from above’, and we have to hear both.  Nicodemus only heard ‘again’ and not ‘from above’.  Being born from above means that this new life comes from God himself.  We live no longer human will, but by God’s will.  Eternal life isn’t in the future, but it begins now.  It is the power to no longer live in darkness trying to hide evil deeds, but a call to live in the light with the Holy Spirit-inspired good deeds that proclaim God’s love and not condemnation.  The work God does in us after this new birth will be a calling to others to come out of the darkness and step into the light.  We need to recapture John Wesley’s understanding of ‘new birth’.  ‘New birth’ is not simply forgiveness for our past sins.  It’s not just forgiveness of our future sins.  It is the start of a whole new life lived in the Spirit of God. We have the freedom not to sin.  The old life has died and Christ has given birth in us a new life in which we are powered by the work of the Holy Spirit.  This life is one that stands in stark contrast to the notion that being a Christian is about going to a service once a week.  It’s a faith that inspires us to see the world differently.  Rather than surface relationships, we dig deeper with Christ and with one another.  Where we see the darkness of injustice, we bring Christ’s light of justice.  Instead of simply accepting our lives for what they are, we continue to move on allowing the Holy Spirit to make us holy.  This is eternal life that begins now, and this is what Christ through us offers.  This is where eternal life gets exciting.

1776 is one of my favourite Broadway plays.  I imagine you can figure out what it is about.  The Continental Congress are deciding on whether or not to debate the issue of independence – not decide it, mind you, only debate it.  The colonies are tied at 6-6 when the representative from Rhode Island walks in.  He will cast the deciding vote so he says, ‘Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!’  Maybe the issue of eternal life is so dangerous that it needs to be talked about.  People everywhere are looking for answers and the question becomes, ‘Is Jesus’ offer of eternal life worth talking about?’  I’m not talking about saving our church buildings or getting more people here on Sunday morning.  I think those days are past us.  We need to focus on where people are and what we can do to show that more than meeting their needs, Jesus wants to change their life, give them new birth.  We cannot simply wait for them to come us, resting on what we have always known and think it is clear to them.

One final story, and it is another American illustration.  Each January there is an American college football game played between the two top teams.  This will decide who wins the national championship.  It is a game that was watched by over 24 million people.  The star of the game, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, is one of the games best.  Some say of him that the bogeyman looks under his bed for Tim Tebow and that Superman wears Tim Tebow pyjamas.  That night on his face he had written John 3:16.  It was his witness to the world.  But, the next day Google’s most searched for term was John 3:16.  Most Americans had no clue what ‘John 3:16’ was and had to look it up.  I don’t think their confusion was made any clearer.  We live in a world where our old assumptions are dying out – we cannot even reliably say that people know what John 3:16 says anymore, much less what it means.  So, we have to be able to show and talk about what Jesus’ gift of eternal life means.  This verse has power, but we have to dust off the familiarity and find ways to allow that power out.  And the church must remember the power those words have.  Will we simply hope that our offer of an hour on Sunday morning is enough?  Or will we decide it’s too dangerous that we have to talk about it?

Sermon: Jesus the New Temple

It’s Saturday morning at the end of the month at Mellor Methodist Church.  As usual, the church hosts it’s monthly coffee morning, complete with tea cakes and biscuits.  Then a man walks in.  He looks frustrated and agitated.  His anger boils up and finally he begins to shout.  He picks up the table with the money on it and turns it over.  The cakes and biscuits he hurls out the doors shouting, ‘Get these things out of here!’  He picks up some coffee cups and turns them into missiles for those sitting around the tables.  The man then rushes into the kitchen, opens the back door and shoves Shirley, Mollie, and Mary outside.  Astonished, those left can do little else but look on.

Of course, this scene never happened.  But I have heard this verse and the ones like it in the other three gospels used as support against these sorts of fundraisers going on in and around the church.  From youth car washes to dinner on the grounds to the endless flow of brick-a-brack stalls, I have been involved with all sorts of church fundraisers all my life.  And there have always been those who do not like it.  Many have transferred a particular kind of holiness associated with the temple to our church buildings that we do not find in the earliest Christian communities.  Maybe this isn’t surprising given those people in some Methodist churches who cannot separate the building with their faith, and continue to hang on making the ministry about maintaining the building.  Think back 20 years ago when you chose to tear down the old Victorian church to build this one.  Were there those who could not imagine what it would be like to leave that building?

So, I find it highly unlikely that Jesus risked arrest on the spot to tell us that decades into the future what we cannot do in case we have buildings.  Rather, Jesus is trying to teach us something about himself.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke choose much more subtle means to teach us about who Jesus is.  John shouts at us who Jesus, and this story is one of those ways John does that.  First, though, we have to take into account the temple and the time of year.

The temple for the Jews was where God – Yahweh – was found on earth.  God lived in heaven, but his presence could be found in Jerusalem.  Because God’s presence was there, this is where the Jews found forgiveness and cleansing for their sins.  Some of the major feasts they celebrated required you to go to Jerusalem.  One of those feasts was Passover, when they celebrated their liberation from slavery in Egypt.  The temple symbolised all of this and much more, and when Jesus stepped into the temple that day, we must hold this in the background to what’s going on.  This is also why we can’t simply transfer what Jesus said about the temple and place it on our church buildings.  For reasons that Jesus makes clear, our buildings do not mean that sort of thing.  That isn’t to say we can’t ascribe to buildings and places holiness, but none of them can be said to hold the presence of God the way the temple did.

Over the centuries, the temple changed.  It had been sacked and looted and rebuilt only for it to happen again.  The quasi-Jewish King Herod built the temple Jesus walked into, but Herod because of his ancestry and his being Caesar’s puppet made this temple suspect, to say the least.  Some groups of Jews refused to acknowledge it at all and went and lived in the desert.  All groups of Jews were waiting for the messiah to come and restore the temple into the splendour it had when Solomon built it.  They longed for this time when true worship could take place there, without any taint of impurity. Even as far back as the prophet Zechariah, the Jews looked for the day when no traders – or those who do business – would be in the temple.

In walks Jesus with his holy house cleaning.  In a kind of action parable, he fulfils the hopes of Zechariah when he throws out the cattle, sheep, salespeople, and money traders.  A Jew who had little importance – no formal training, no elected representation, no right as far as Israel’s leaders were concerned – had just walked into the temple and attempts to change the way things are run.  So the Jews ask him for his clearance badge.  They want to know what authority he has to do this.  Jesus answers them with what could sound like a challenge, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’  In typical fashion, people misunderstand him.  They think the is talking about the temple they are standing in, but John lets us in on a little secret.  Jesus isn’t talking about that building, but his own body.

This is where Jesus changes everything.  I imagine that it’s something like this.  April and I have been watching the Atlantic Coast Conference’s basketball tournament this weekend.  As you might expect, Duke is playing in it.  Yesterday, the best team in the conference – the one that was expected to cruise through and easily win it all – the dreaded North Carolina Tarheels lost.  When the best team in the league loses, it opens up a whole new set of possibilities for the other teams to have a shot a winning the tournament.  I don’t know if that translates into what Jesus is doing, but since Jesus is a Duke fan, I think it will work.  Jesus will do all that Israel hopes the messiah will do, but it’s in a whole different way.  The temple is his body.  Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus will accomplish all the temple was intended to do.  Jesus is the where God’s presence on earth can be found.  Jesus is where we will find forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  It is in the death and resurrection where a new Passover will be found, and we celebrate this Passover when we gather around the communion table and hear the words ‘This is my body.’  Sin and death seemed to have such a stranglehold that it corrupted the temple in Jerusalem.  Sin and death seemed like it would cruise to victory, but in the cross and empty tomb, what appeared to be the best team was defeated.  With Jesus’ victory, we are open to a whole new set of possibilities.

This passage of scripture is not a blueprint to tell us what we can and cannot do in the church.  Maybe God knew that The Methodist Church would create CPD to do that for us.  This passage shows us who Jesus is and what he will do.  It didn’t make sense to the Jerusalem leaders.  It probably didn’t make sense to the disciples, either, at the time.  But, we are given new eyes with resurrection.  It enables us to see God in a new way. We can find God when we look at Jesus, who in the first chapter of John, we are told that Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – pitched his tent among us.  There was a song in the 1990s by Alanis Morissette that asked the question, ‘What if God was one of us?’  John answers the question that God is indeed one of us, and Lent calls us to reflect on what that means.  We live on this side of the resurrection, the event that proclaims Jesus’ defeat over sin and death through the cross.  The resurrection gave the disciples new eyes to see what Jesus was doing in the temple that day.  Like the first disciples, we must look at everything through the eyes of the resurrection.  What kind of possibilities does that open up for us?  I am happy to say that at Mellor this is already going on.  Given a legacy that enables us to be financially stable, we have not decided that we need to do no more.  Instead, we have been thinking about how we can free up money from our weekly collections to be used for ministry!  We could as we have done, use the money from the coffee morning and give it to the youth work in Mellor.  This is the kind of thinking that happens when viewed through the resurrection.  Spending money only on ourselves makes sense in a world where we are told that we must make ourselves happy.  Spending money for others is thinking that comes only when seen through Jesus.

I don’t say all that to give us a pat on the back.  I use it to give examples of what it means to think in light of the resurrection.  Remember, this is a scripture passage in which Jesus challenges the religious establishment to change.  We need to constantly see who we are in light of what Jesus did.  The sin and death that tainted the temple can taint our thinking and drag us back down to focusing on ourselves.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Paul, years after this event, calls the community of believers ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’.  Jesus is the new temple, but when he sent his Spirit to us, we then carry Christ to the world.  Anywhere we are, we bring Christ to the world.  Anyone we meet can meet Christ through us.  We are the temple of God in Mellor.  Not because of the building, but because Jesus said where two or three are gathered, I am there among them.  People can come here Sunday morning or Saturday at the coffee morning and meet the loving presence of God, find forgiveness and healing.  We don’t keep God here and then go home leaving God here – we take Christ’s resurrection presence into the world.

Jesus and the Honour of the High Priest (Read Through ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’)

Tonight at our Bible Study on Hebrews, we were reflecting on Hebrews 5, the passage that talks about Jesus as the great high preist. One passage in particular brought out an interesting thought from my friend Tim. The verse is:

And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’… (Hebrews 5.4-5, NRSV).

Tim compared this understanding of Jesus to the way the universe chooses it’s president in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, the president has no power because anyone who actually wants the job has no business having the power.

One can only take analogies so far of course, but this seems like a great way to begin to think about the relationship Jesus has with power. He did not seek after the glory, but was given it by God who chose him. What kind of power is usually wielded by those who seek to glorify themselves? Should they be given power? What does it mean for us that Jesus chose to go through the wildernes and calvary before the resurrection and ascension to act as our constant high preist at God’s right hand?

Jesus as Superman? The Sinless Son of God and Temptation

Our House Group is studying the book of Hebrews and this week, we were on chapter two. One of the author’s major themes throughout the book is that Jesus became what we are and experienced what we did. Hebrews 2 closes with ‘Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested,’ (Heb. 2:17-18, NRSV).

The conversation turned, as it usually does with this verse, how much can Jesus be like if he didn’t sin? We focused on v. 18, what did it mean to be ‘tested’ or ‘tempted’? One person in our group said he didn’t have a problem with thoughts that Jesus was sinless, but thought that the temptations be attractive. In other words, for him to be truly like us then there must have been a part of him that wanted to sin (he admitted that this may not be the best possible way of saying it).

With the First Sunday in Lent just over a month away with the Lectionary reading giving us Jesus’ temptation in the desert, it might be good to think about what Jesus experienced. To be truly human, the temptations must have presented two true alternatives to Jesus. There must have been a moment when Jesus had to decide which way to go (whether in the desert or in Gethsemane) and he could have chosen either way, but chose to follow the plan God set out for him. If there was never a true choice, then Jesus would have been a superman who deflected temptations like Superman deflects bullets.

I remember watching a movie in which grandpa was encouraging his grandson and he said, ‘[Superman] isn’t brave… Superman is indestructible, and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.’ Superman, as the story tells us, isn’t human. I think in the same way, for Jesus to truly be human, he had to experience the choice given him and make a decision. 

So, how do you express this paradox without going toward a too high christology or too low christology?