Tag Archives: Bible

Bible in a year


One of the things I have been doing for a few years now is to read the Bible each year. There are many different reading plans designed to help you do this. You can even buy Bibles that are set up as daily readings (Bibles in a year.)

Some of these plans go from the beginning to the end. Some have a little bit of Old Testament, a Psalm, and some New Testament each day (Reading plan.) I found either plan to be an issue for me. Continuity was a problem with the mixed reading style, especially if I was travelling and wanted to read on my Kobo. The biggest issue, though, was that they all had a suggested reading for every day and I found I felt guilty if I missed a day and then there was the added pressure of trying to catch up. I don’t think this is meant to be the spirit with which we are meant to approach God’s word.

This year I decided to try my own way. I am into bullet journaling and use a dot grid book. First aI looked up the number of chapters in the Bible. I figured that if I read about three chapters/day I would finish in the year. The Old Testament was just a few chapters fewer than the squares on one page. I found a picture online which I liked and traced it onto one page. Then I marked the rest of the chapters on the next page. The plan was to just read and colour in the number of boxes/chapters I had read the night before.

 And so I began.
As the days went by, some days I would read three chapters and stop. Some nights where one chapter was particularly long, or I was super tired at night, I might just read one or two. On some, I was so caught up in what I was reading that I found I had read four or more chapters. The key for me was not worrying about reading “enough.” I noted the chapters on my phone each night when I out the Bible down and then again the next night.

What did I find with this? I looked forward to reading and it became second nature to reach for the Bible each night. Being a bit of a visual learner,it was great to be able to just look at the page to see my progress without dates or guilt. It is now the last day of August and I am into the prophets. I don’t know how I will approach it next year, but I really like this plan! If you think this would work for you Inencourage you to give it a try.

Other resources;

Bible app from Canadian Bible Society
App and email plan
The App Store

Google Play

The longest Psalm/ mindless repetition?


3631902258_3fab33242d_mI follow a reading plan through which, in 365 days, one reads the whole Bible. Most days there are 2-6 chapters to read each day. One day in June I came to a day that had only 1 chapter to read. Twelve columns later I had read the entire 119th Psalm in one sitting. The next day I looked for more information on the Psalm and read that it was intended to be read, like a devotional book in our day, rather than sung or recited. I continued thinking about this, the longest psalm, for days, weeks. I started thinking about the fact that we only ever encounter short sections of 119 in the lectionary cycle, and wondered how to include it all in one, or a series of services. So here we are!

This Psalm is different from other Psalms, not only because of its length, but because it was most likely written out rather than developed orally, and its focus is not on God’s acts and his rule over the world, but rather on his word or the Torah. This Psalm is a highly structured piece of poetry. There are 176 verses, 22 strophes or stanzas, each of which could stand alone with no problem!  The whole thing is an acrostic with each section beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I bet we have all been asked to write an acrostic poem at some point in our school years. “Write your name down a page and then have each line start with that letter.”

Every line of this poem has essentially the same message. How many of you have heard, or said, “You call that music!?! They just keep saying the same words over and over!” Much as people may complain over hearing the same thing over and over again, repetition is not always a bad thing. Think of music.  Composers work hard to keep a balance between repetitions, essential in order to hold the piece together as a single unit, and contrast to give variety. The first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is based entirely on one short rhythmic pattern and one interval; three eight notes and a half note, and a descending major third. It holds together so well, in fact, that even people with little or no music training could respond to the first pattern with the next.

With all 176 verses saying basically the same thing, the repetition is well in hand.  So where does the psalmist provide variety? First with vocabulary. In the Hebrew there are eight central words (seven when translated to English) used throughout the Psalm to give subtle tweak to the meaning of the one word, Torah, which could have been used in all cases. There are two different Hebrew words that translate as word, and then law, judgments, testimonies, commandments, statutes, and precepts. Rather than tell of God’s mighty acts, these highlight two aspects of God’s word, his directives for our lives, and his promises to us.

Second, variety comes from the form of each statement. Within this one Psalm you can find examples of all the types of Psalms; individual prayers for help, “94 I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts,” petitions, “116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope,” expressions of ones troubles, “95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your decrees,” assertions of trust, “103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” and vows of praise, “175 Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.

            In the Interpretation Series book Psalms, James L. Mays lists four key points about the psalmist’s single-minded focus on God’s word. The first is that “God’s instruction is important because it is God’s.” This is a fairly simple statement. Having already read all the other Psalms which talk of God’s power in creation, in redeeming his people time and again, and in his rule over all the nations, readers of this Psalm should be ready to consider God’s word first in everything. The fact that he had to continually redeem his people is testimony to the fact that people did not, in fact, put it first but got caught up in the words of man, in the statutes put in place by human rulers and the tempting statements of believers in other gods. The Psalmist knows well that God’s word is most important, and yet throughout 119 we read that even he struggled with this. Pick a random verse after verse 8 from this Psalm and find the word used for Torah. What word goes with it? These nouns are always prefaced with the word, “his,” or “your” in order to maintain the readers focus on God. In the introduction and conclusion sections it says things like, “the law of the Lord,” or, “his statutes.” He never said our laws, or the laws, or the commandments.

May’s second point is that “The word of God requires obedience and faith and does not accept legalism.” Obedience is not a strong suit for many of us, and we know that we will fail in being completely obedient, but God’s word calls us to obey anyway. With respect to legalism, it is all too easy to lose focus on God himself and start watching out for any little infraction to his law in order to judge and punish the person responsible. This became so prevalent that perhaps it is why, long after this Psalm was written, Jesus simplified things into the New Commandment, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34). Only God is to judge.

The third point is that, “God’s word is given but never possessed; we need to seek and study constantly and pray for teaching and learning.” So we read the Bible, at least in worship, and before we do so we ask that he reveal his message to us, that he use the word to teach us and that he help us to learn. I think of a part of Tevye’s song from Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were a rich man…If I were rich I’d have the time that I lack to shit in the synagogue and pray. Maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall. And I’d discuss the Holy books with the learned men seven hours every day. That would be the sweetest thing of all!” The usual connotation of the word rules would be of limits on freedom and on punishment. But, like Tevye, the writer of Psalm 119 clearly did not see the Torah as an onerous duty, but as a source of delight.

92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my misery.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life. 

May’s fourth point is that, “The word comes from God, but must become a part of us, it requires a conversion of the heart.” This Psalm itself is an example to us of what that means. “The author had a theme that filled his soul, a theme as big as life, which ranged the length and breadth and height and depth of a person’s walk with God.”(John H. Stek) And so his Psalm is not some arbitrary exercise in acrostic poetry but a pouring out of his heart. It is not a lifeless, repetitive annoyingly long reading, unless we make it so.

By the end of the service today we will have heard, read, or sung, not quite the whole Psalm, but at least a part of every strophe. Remember that God’s word is important, that much is required of us, that we need to study and reflect on it, and that we need to allow it to seep in and become embedded in our hearts, a part of us.

 

Abingdon Press.,. New Interpreter’s Study Bible-NRSV. Abingdon Press, 2003. Print.

Barker, Kenneth L and Donald W Burdick. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995. Print.

Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994. Print.

 

Ahab/ king or cranky toddler?


          Phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space! This may not ring a bell for all of you, but it is one of the greatest lines from Disney’s Aladdin. It is part of Genie’s explanation of the highs and lows of the gig of being a genie. He also lists certain provisos and quid pro quos to the wishes he can grant. He can’t kill anybody, he can’t bring anyone back from the dead, and he can’t make anyone fall in love with someone else. Not only that, the only way for him to gain his freedom is for a person to use one of his 3 wishes to free him.

          In the discussion from Starters for Sunday Fourth Sunday after Pentecost from the Church of Scotland, there are five themes identified for this week. From Power, Justice, forgiveness, restoration and grace they draw the discussion to the key theme, woven through the story of Naboth’s vineyard, of the sovereignty of God.

            Today we read about King Ahab again. This time, though, he was being more of a petulant toddler than a king. The first people to read this scripture were probably the Israelites who were in exile and it is likely that it was written to explain to them why God had allowed their exile.

            Ahab and his wife Jezebel had gone to stay in their secondary palace. Apparently, he liked gardening but when he saw the vineyard of Naboth next door he wanted to buy it from him. Naboth refused to sell the land of his ancestors. Not only was this his “family farm” but the vineyard had been granted to his ancestors when the Israelites arrived in the promised land, and when God granted that land he made it clear that the land was for their use in perpetuity, but that it didn’t belong to them. They were told that it was never to be sold permanently. Naboth was being faithful to the will of God when he refused the Ahab. He was, unlike Ahab much of the time, being obedient to the real sovereign of Israel, God.

          When Ahab could not convince Naboth to sell him the land, nor trade it for even better land he was disconsolate. Most kings would not have even offered a purchase or trade, brutality was the norm for kings of the day. I don’t say that to justify Ahab in any way, but rather to highlight the difference with kings of Israel and Judah who did not rise to power through their own actions or by birth but through God’s anointing. There were a few provisos and quid pro quos. The king must not consider himself better…than any other Israelite and he must not use his position to accumulate wealth for himself (Deut 17:14-20). God made it clear that they were to live in accordance with his commandments, remain faithful to him, and imitate his heavenly rule.

          When he returned from the vineyard, Ahab moped, pouted, and refused to eat. Not only was he not getting his way, but as a king he had expected to be obeyed without delay and this made him feel powerless. When she noticed him moping around the palace more like a toddler than a king, Jezebel couldn’t take it. She asked what the problem was, told him to stop being such a baby and eat, and then set about to get him the vineyard.

            Unbothered by loyalty to God (she worshiped Baal) niceties or ethics, she arranged to have Naboth killed. Not only did she do such a vile thing, but so did all the people and advisors who went along with her plan. Naboth died at the hands of the townspeople for trumped up charges of cursing God and king. When he was dead the elders and nobles got word back to Jezebel that Naboth was dead and she, in turn, informed her husband and told him to go take possession of the vineyard. Problem solved!

          Ahab was Israel’s king. When God agreed to have a king anointed for Israel he warned them that life under a human king would not be a bed of roses. He knew, as do we through experience that powerful people and powerful institutions may start out working for the greater good, but too many turn to using their power for personal gain of one kind or another. Some want more and more power, today New Brunswick, tomorrow the world! Some use their power to belittle and diminish others like bullies on the school ground or in the workplace.

          After Ahab took possession of the vineyard, God sent Elijah to him to pronounce his judgement for this crime. He told Ahab and Jezebel that they would die horrible deaths. “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (v 19). Our reading stopped at that point, but the story continues. Ahab actually repents and lives a more godly life for a while, but in the end he and Jezebel are killed and their bodies are dumped in the vineyard they had stolen where they would be torn apart by wild animals.

A story

King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. “You are the greatest man that ever lived…You are the most powerful king of all…Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you.”

The king was a wise man and he grew tired such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

“So you say I am the greatest man in the world?” he asked them.

“O king,” they cried, “there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!”

“And you say all things obey me?” Canute asked.

“Yes sire” they said. “The world bows before you, and gives you honour.”

“I see,” the king answered. “In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water.”

The servants scrambled to carry Canute’s royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge.

The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. “I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?”

“Give the order, O great king, and it will obey,” cried his entourage

“Sea,” cried Canute, “I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!”

He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!”

In came another wave lapping at the king’s feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water.

Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

          Even some of greatest of Israel’s kings were, as are the rest of us, flawed. Regardless of who has earthly power over us, God is our sovereign, our true king to whom we owe our loyalty and obedience. Whether we find ourselves in positions of power or not, we are called to live out our lives in justice and love. This leaves us with two big questions. The notes on Church of Scotland starters for Sunday states them this way; “what does justice mean when we try to live it out relationally?” and, “what does it mean to live both justice and love in our lives?” As Presbyterians in Canada we have answer to that in our statement of faith, Living Faith section 8.4.

God is always calling the church to seek that justice in the world which reflects the divine righteousness revealed in the Bible. 

God’s justice is seen when we deal fairly with each other and strive to change customs and practices that oppress and enslave others. 

Justice involves protecting the rights of others. It protests against everything that destroys human dignity. 

Justice requires concern for the poor of the world. It seeks the best way to create well-being in every society. It is concerned about employment, education, and health, as well as rights and responsibilities. 

Justice seeks fairness in society. It involves the protection of human beings, concern for the victims of crime, as well as offenders. It requires fair laws justly administered, courts and penal institutions that are just and humane. 

Justice opposes prejudice in every form. It rejects discrimination on such grounds as race, sex, age, status, or handicap. Justice stands with our neighbours in their struggle for dignity and respect and demands the exercise of power for the common good.

Of Nightmares and Pardons


   Kingsclear-20110524-00031  If you asked a person what was their worst nightmare, children’s answers may include; scary animals or bugs, being abandoned, getting lost, kidnapped, or trapped. As we grow older the focus may change to include being unable to do anything to save a loved one. This isn’t something we usually talk about during worship. Who wants to think about nightmares? For many of the people from Fort McMurray they may have lived through their worst nightmares in the past month and I pray that those refugees who are crowding onto questionably seaworthy boats to flee real life nightmares have faced the worst already.

     In 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17, we read two parallel stories of women living their own worst nightmares. Situated in cities miles apart and some 690 years apart in history. Both women are widows who had only one son. They both came in contact with a strange man at the gate of the city and both stories end with sons being brought back to life and being returned to their mothers. In the end, both healers are hailed as prophets of God.

     There is some significance to the setting of the stories. Zarephath was a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia between Tyre and Sidon in what is known as Lebanon today. In this area people primarily worshiped Baal. This would have been enemy territory for Elijah. Nain was further south inland in Galilee, near Nazareth, where people primarily worshiped God. In theory, Elijah faced the greater challenge, bringing a Baal worshiper to believe in God, than did Jesus who was working in the very heart of the Land of the people of God.

     The women met Jesus and Elijah at the city gates. If this were a modern story with no walled cities and dozens of roads leading into the city, they might have met downtown, or in a city square. City gates served a number of purposes in the Middle East throughout Biblical times. The most obvious of these being an entrance to a walled city and thus, as a part of the defense of the city, they would be guarded.

     The woman in Zarephath was at her worst the day she met Elijah. God had sent Elijah to continue his hiding in a place that wouldn’t be expected. When he asked the woman for a drink and then something to eat he opened the floodgates to her story. She was a widow with only one young son. Due to the drought and her poor circumstances they were down to their last bit of flour and she was fully expecting that she and her son would die of starvation after they had eaten this last bit. Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel will not allow the jar of meal or the jug of oil to run out until the drought was over. What a relief she must have felt, pardon from a death sentence!

     She was relieved, but she was still uncomfortable having this man of God living with them. And then her son got sick and died. She was, perhaps, more grief stricken at this time than she would have been earlier. She had already come to accept that they would die, and was prepared. But now, coming as it did after the great relief of the pardon, she was angry and she lashed out at Elijah. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

      The second woman lived in a small, little-known town near Nazareth with her only son. We approach these city gates just after his death. A large group of mourners is coming out of the gate, possibly blocking the way. Her son is on a stretcher and the mother and other women follow crying and wailing. No one says anything to the large group of people waiting to enter the gate. No notice is taken of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus takes notice. He sees the woman, bereft and alone in the world now that her final provider has died. He feels compassion for her and, as we would be inclined to do, he says, “Don’t cry.” What else would he have said in that moment? Are there words that can take away the pain? 

            While Psalm 30 speaks of crying out to God, being heard, and being revived, neither woman asked for help. The woman in Zarephath, having already given up hope once, blamed Elijah for making God take her son from her. She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, let alone God! This woman was very much in the anger stage of grief. The woman at Nain was more likely in the depression stage. Her adult son, her sole provider, was dead and was about to be buried. All hope was lost, his death was the end for him, and for her as well.

            Despite the anger and depression; despite the hopelessness felt by both these women, God was not finished in their lives. In Zarephath, Elijah took the boy from his mother and took him upstairs. He cried out to the Lord! He asked that the child’s life be returned. God listened to Elijah and the boy revived. In Nain Jesus did something shocking. He reached out and touched the body on the stretcher. He told the man to get up, and he did. The man sat up and began to speak! Elijah took the boy back downstairs and, “gave him to his mother.” Jesus took the young man and, “gave him to his mother.”

            The reactions to these events were proclamation and praise. The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”(v24) The crowd around the city gate with Jesus were amazed and, “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!” (v16)

       By restoring these sons to life God did far more than heal one person. He brought life back to mothers and sons. Life, hope, and a future. God, through Elijah and Jesus, was with these women through their worst nightmares and brought healing and hope and he is with us also. We may not walk out of our nightmares with the kind of healing that happened in these stories, but we do have hope, and healing will come.

            “Burton-Edwards suggests in his notes on 1Kings 17:8-24 that the Lord God’s command to Elijah to “Go now to Zarephath” and live there with the widow in Sidon is basically a call to go and live with a vulnerable person. The command is not to go and do something FOR your neighbors who are vulnerable, but to go and BE WITH those persons. In other words, be in real relationship with them, which implies mutuality: spend time with them, love them, treat them as people from whom you have as much to learn as to teach, and from whom you need to be fed as much as you need to be feeding. (service planning notes GBod.com)

     In the words of a familiar hymn;      

             My hope is built on nothing less

             than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

             I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

             but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

             When darkness hides his lovely face,

             I rest on his unchanging grace;

             in every high and stormy gale

             my anchor holds within the veil.

God is that present hope in our worst nightmares, lean on him, and cry out to him! “May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we abound in hope!” (Living Faith 10.7)

Baptism of Christ: First ask why


3631902258_3fab33242d_mThoughts for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Read Luke 3:15-22

Think back to your own baptism if they were old enough at the time to remember it, or the last baptism you witnessed to. If you have not been baptized, fear not and read on.

The other day I attended the Presbytery workshop based on the book Your Church Can Thrive by Harold Percy. I was glad to be attending but it didn’t occur to me that I would be finding anything in that time which would find its way into my message for the next day, but there it was. One of the first major points Percy made was that it is important, before getting to how to make change, to ask why we do what we do. So that is what came to church with me this morning.

First, we ask, why?

Why was Jesus baptized? Really, think about it? Had he sinned? We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Son so it doesn’t really seem like he should need to be baptized. On one hand, the answer to this one is simple, he didn’t need to be baptized but he chose to be baptized! Christian writers over the years have been uncomfortable with the idea of the divine being baptized. In the 2nd century Ignatius stated that he was already pure and so the purpose was to purify the water. Justin Martyr explained that he was baptized “for the sake of humanity.” One might also say that it was a symbol or affirmation of his true humanity.

Why do we baptize? According to Living Faith we baptize as a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church. Through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to his service.

Secondly, we ask, what?

What was baptism in Jesus’ time? In the Old Testament immersion had been a form of returning to ritual cleanliness. In the New Testament, John announced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or purification of the body after the soul was cleansed by righteousness. Before immersion in a river John required prior repentance and performance of good deeds.  In Jesus’ day baptism was a radical, counter-cultural act. Luke highlights this with his mention of the fact that Herod was made so nervous by John baptizing people in the Jordan, and people questioning whether John may be the Messiah, that after John called him out on his marriage to Herodius he had him arrested, imprisoned and eventually killed.

Jesus was already an adult when he went to the river where John was baptizing. Since it was just a couple weeks ago that we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, it is sometimes hard to remember that there was no cute little white dress, or white suit, candles and Godparents.

Jesus’ baptism was public but with no big hoopla or special notice. In Luke’s account it is just slipped in. John explains to the people there that he is neither worthy to unlace the Messiah’s sandals, nor able to baptize with anything but water; while the one who was coming would baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The actual “story” of the baptism is no more than one line stating that the people and Jesus had been baptized and then it jumps to an undetermined time later when Jesus was praying. It is at this point that heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We are given no indication that anyone other than Jesus himself is witness to these signs and statements.

What is baptism in the Presbyterian Church in Canada? Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the Presbyterian Church. Living Faith 7.6.3 “By the power of the Holy Spirit God acts through Baptism. It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ. God’s grace and our response to it are not tied to the moment of Baptism, but continue and deepen throughout life. It is a sacrament meant for those who profess their faith and for their children. Together we are the family of God. 7.6.5 Baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Lastly, we ask, how?

How do we decide to be baptized? As Christian parents people make the decision to raise their children in the church and the first step in that is to have them baptized. One PCC document says that, “When people seek baptism later in life, it means that the Holy Spirit, as a guide and friend, has moved them to claim the grace and love of God in Christ, and faith in a new way. It is a courageous action.”

How are we baptized? Living Faith 7.6.2 “In Baptism, water is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water signifies the washing away of sin, the start of new life in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

How are we meant to live out our baptisms? 7.6.4 “Baptism is also an act of discipleship that requires commitment and looks towards growth in Christ. Those baptized in infancy are called in later years to make personal profession of Christ. What is born may die. What is grafted may wither. Congregations and those baptized must strive to nurture life in Christ.”

We begin when the Holy Spirit ignites a passion in us. We seek to discern our vocations, we seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the ways of Jesus, and we attempt to live in such a way that people see Christ in our lives.

The thing with seeking to answer the big questions is that more often than not we are left with a whole list of new questions. This can be very frustrating, especially if we want to leap right into the action phase of a project. Remember that we are not alone. We have our church family and most importantly we have God. Jesus said he would always be with us through the Holy Spirit. We can continue to have conversations with others and it is vital that we continue the conversation with God in prayer. When we face the next question in living out our baptisms go back to the beginning, start with why and listen for God’s answer.

 

Your Church Can Thrive: Making the Connections that build healthy congregations by Harold Percy, Abingdon Press 2003

Living Faith -https://www.google.com/url?q=http://presbyterian.ca/resources-od/&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwjuiavu-Z_KAhUkUKYKHX1TCjQQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFxxynHAbwDAa92okqQqlWM4Kj4SQ

 

Heroes of the Bible: Three Men and a Furnace


How many of you knew when you saw the title that I would be reflecting on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? One source I read called this story a farce, with everything so exaggerated as to make it ridiculous. As I was reading it I found myself almost laughing at the repetition of the whole list of different officials or the long list of instruments. Farces are fun, but as you are aware the best political cartoons while farcical are very telling. This story is certainly one of the saving power of God it is also a story about three heroes who stood up for what they believed despite potential dire consequences!

This story is from the time of the Babylonian exile. The king at the time was Nebuchadnezzar II. At that time the Babylonian empire had control of vast areas from modern day Iraq, some of Persia, the Holy Land, and , at its height, all of Egypt. It was impossible for one man to rule such a vast area so Nebuchadnezzar had scores of governors, and lesser officials each with their own authority and territory and one of them was Daniel. After having a dream interpreted by Daniel the king was very happy and granted Daniel’s request to appoint his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to high offices.

We pick up here with today’s story. The king had a sixty cubit tall idol constructed and made a decree that everyone must bow down to the idol when they heard certain music  (a long and specific list of instruments and the ensemble) and that anybody who failed to do so would be thrown “immediately” into the furnace.  With the king’s decree in place some of the Babylonian officials noticed some people not bowing down as ordered. This information was passed on to the king, that some Jews were not complying and naming Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who had recently been raised to positions of authority (presumably over Babylonians).

Despite the edict saying they would be immediately thrown into the furnace, the king had the men brought to him. They were questioned and then they were given a choice of following the decree or being thrown into the furnace. They answered first that they didn’t need to defend themselves to him and then that they would not bow to the idol. Just saying that they didn’t have to answer to the King was a major thing, and the they chose the furnace! Furious the king had them bound by his strongest men, the furnace heated to seven times its usual temperature (again an extreme unlikely to be possible), and had them thrown in.

The result was not what Nebuchadnezzar had expected. First his strong men who threw our friends into the furnace were themselves consumed by the fire. Then the king saw those three men, no longer bound and joined by another, walking around in the furnace. Taken aback he checked with others to confirm that he had indeed had three and not four men cast into the furnace. (the comic double take) Then he noticed that while the friends looked just as they had, the fourth man “had the look of a god”.

He called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the fire. They came out with no sign of having been anywhere near a fire. They didn’t even have that nice campfire smell. “Therefore (the king makes a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins…” Dan 3:29

Did these three men have a superpower that made them fire resistant? Of course not! Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, their Hebrew names, went by the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were exiles from Jerusalem, educated, thanks to the Babylonian schools, and friends of Daniel. Through that association they had been named as officials of the province of Babylon. With positions of power they were living well, and yet they were not free to go home to Judah. As God had instructed the exiles, they had built houses and planted crops and blended in with the population of the day. Unlike most of the Jews these three, and Daniel presumably, had not taken up worship of the gods of their Babylonian captors.

For the most part furnaces are used in metaphorical ways in the Bible to represent a variety of things such as; God’s judging and testing, a refining fire to strengthen or to reform the people of Israel, and to represent the presence of God. We also associate that kind of fire with condemnation, like the fires of hell. The type of furnace being referred to in the story is probably one for smelting and refining metals and would therefore be both large and very hot, though I doubt it could be heated to seven times its regular heat without it breaking down. Nor do I think it likely that they had a furnace so large that four grown men could walk around in it.

I don’t think that the idols and furnaces which we face in our own lives are very different from those in today’s story. We have lots of idols and furnaces don’t we? We are rarely ordered to bow down but rather encouraged by clever marketing etc. But there are people in our world today being forced to change religion. In some African and the Middle Eastern countries groups like Boko Haram are actively forcing people, through kidnapping and threats of death, to convert from Christianity and Judaism (or any other religion) to Islam. As Matthew warns in 10: 18, disciples, “you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.” He continues in verse 28 to say, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” For those who endure to the end will come through the furnace unscathed!”

So what was the superpower that these three men shared? What was it that made them heroes? Their superpower was the conviction of their faith. They chose the fire, not because they assumed that God would save them, but because they would not break faith, they would not deny the god of their ancestors. They were what some sources call catalyst heroes. In a way like mentors, they acted heroically but they didn’t change much themselves, rather they brought about change in others. In this story the other is Nebuchadnezzar who, though not giving up his gods, comes to acknowledge and respect the God of Abraham as the only god who could have delivered in this way (Dan 3:29).  In terms of the author’s purpose for this story it seems likely that the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was used as a catalyst to change the Jews to return them to the worship of the Almighty God.

While the steadfastness of our heroes’ was a catalyst to change, it was of course God himself who protected them from the fire in the furnace. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar God doesn’t really need us to worship him as without us he still has the whole of creation to praise him. As to his fiery furnace, we read in the Psalm this morning that God’s fire consumes his adversaries. Our heroes firmly stood on the ground of, and then were cast into the fire for the Almighty God not because they trusted that he would save them, but because they believed that he was the one true god. Nobody enjoys the furnace, the refining process. But when we find ourselves being coerced into worshiping other things let’s join Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in jumping from the frying pan to the fire!

Scripture refereces:

Daniel 3: 1-30

Psalm 97

Matthew 10: 16-33

Nel, Marius North-West University, (Potchefstroom) Daniel 3 as satirical comedy file:///C:/Users/Cathy/Downloads/263-791-1-PB.pdf

Types of Heroes (Adapted from Vogler, 1999, pp. 41–44) http://www.waunakee.k12.wi.us/faculty/lcarothers/ModernLiterature/LessonBeforeDying/Types%20of%20Heroes.pdf

Dancing in the Streets!


We recently had vacation Bible school at our church. The leaders and 20 children gathered in the evenings and opened and closed the sessions with singing, dancing and celebration. We did actions to the songs along with the accompaniment of recorded bands and it didn’t matter if we got the words wrong occasionally, came in at the wrong times or forgot the actions because we were rejoicing before God. Now think back to the last time that people in your services of worship jumped up and down, clapped along with the music, waved their arms in the air or acted out the loving embrace of God. Has this ever happened during your Sunday morning services? Has it even happened on special occasions?

In the OT dancing was a form of religious worship and community celebration. Dancing and singing and playing instruments were part of public rituals and festivals as part of communal worship. Dancing was the opposite of mourning, was a way of greeting warriors and victors home. Men danced, women danced, it was a way to worship God with your whole mind and body. Where did our dancing go?

In 2 Samuel 6 King David danced in the streets. In the OT several words are used to refer to dancing. The one used in our reading today was only used in this one place in the Bible and means “whirling.” Other words for dance referred to writhing, whirling, and skipping about. This is not the kind of practiced dancing that we see on such shows as So You Think You Can Dance. Anyone could whirl, and skip about. This speaks of a sort of primal movement, like that of children who are so excited at the arrival of a special guest that they cannot keep still. Is this not how we should be greeting God?

Why was David dancing in the first place? David had consolidated his rule and set his capitol in Jerusalem but it was not truly the center of Judah and Israel because the Ark of the Covenant of God was the center for their religion and it was not in Jerusalem. David decided that it was time to bring the Ark to the capitol. Our reading this morning had two sections separated by five verses. The move of the Ark of the Covenant did not go as smoothly as David would have liked. He gathered 30,000 men including the Levite priests and set off from Baale-judah. Things started out fine with the Ark on a new cart and being cared for by the Levites, but it ended up being left in the house of Obed-edom after Uzzah touched the Ark to steady it on the cart and was struck dead by God. David decided it was too dangerous to take into the city. After three months he was told that the household of Obed-edom had been richly blessed by the presence of the Ark and once again he set out to bring it home.       

On both stages of the journey there was dancing. From Beele-judah we read that David and the people of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might. On the second leg David left off his kingly robes and wore an ephod , probably over his tunic, and danced with all his might before the Lord. Imagine the scene. The king who had united all Israel, defeated the Philistines was not being carried on a litter, not riding a fine horse, not marching solemnly but skipping and whirling around on the streets in little more than his underclothes!

There has been a lot of speculation about the scene I just described. First there is an issue of exactly what he was wearing. The Bible says that, “David was girded with a linen ephod.” It does not say that David was naked except for the ephod. Some have speculated that he was basically naked, others that he was wearing a loin cloth of sorts, others that he was humbling himself and becoming as one with the people.

The ephod was a piece of priestly clothing made of two rectangular pieces of linen which are held together at the shoulder with buckles. Priests would have worn this over their underclothes and tunics and for the high priest under a fantastic jewelled breast plate. This was priestly garb, worn exclusively by those who served as priests. For David to remove his fine robes and signs of his sovereignty was definitely humbling, but taking up the ephod may be seen as taking for himself also the role of a religious leader as well.

Significant as all that may be, I believe that the issue of his behaviour on this journey bears more attention. As I mentioned above, David was not behaving in what we would consider a respectable kingly manner. He was not riding a fine horse, he was not puffing himself up to appear important and be admired by bystanders. Does this sound familiar at all? This King David, from whose line Jesus would later be born, was more like Jesus in this march.

And David danced! With intention and also with abandon he danced to worship the Lord and to greet the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in the same way that people danced to welcome home victorious soldiers. Such a spectacle did he make of himself that his wife, Saul’s daughter Michal, saw it she was disgusted and turned away. If we continued to read to her greeting her husband home she rebuked him for “shamelessly uncovering himself before the eyes of his servants’ maids.” David defends his action by saying, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me prince over Israel, the people of the Lord that I have danced before the Lord.”

When did dancing change from being a primary act of worship to being something that some denominations actually consider a sin? Even by the time of the New Testament dancing is no longer associated with worship. It is still a celebratory act but more secular in nature. Even as the people of Israel were dancing to the Lord, those of the polytheistic religions were dancing to their gods. Perhaps the change began as a way of differentiating themselves from the polytheists. Over time dance, now a secular activity, took on other purposes. We know that the nature religions dance in ceremonies, that there are dances used to whip up fighting spirit before battle, that dance is used for seduction, for spectacle, for art. But we no longer dance.

I am not really suggesting that we need to be literally dancing in the streets in praise of God, nor am I suggesting that we need to clear dance space in our places of worship. But I do think that there is something of the being physically swept up in worship that has dried us out. Are we dancing in spirit? When we worship do we feel like skipping and whirling? When we leave church after a service do we feel light on our feet? When was the last time you felt so excited you just couldn’t be still?

There is a very popular quote from Mark Twain about dancing which seems to fit well here.

“Dance like nobody’s watching

Love like you’ve never been hurt

Sing like nobody’s listening

Live like it’s heaven on earth.”

If we are dancing with all our might before the Lord then it doesn’t matter who else sees us or what they think of our dancing skills. It doesn’t even matter if they think we are crazy for dancing! We really have something to sing about because, while this may not yet be heaven, we are already living the resurrection life.

2 Samuel 6: 1-19

Word of Mouth


Word of mouth

3631902258_3fab33242d_m

My family and I have a bathroom renovation project underway and when I was looking for someone to do the work I did as I usually do and asked Dad.  After that I asked my friends on Face Book for their opinions of and experiences with different contractors.  Similarly, when our washer died I put out a request for comments on top load washers versus front load models.  In fact on any given day you can find requests for advice on road conditions, where to go to get things, and whether or not a movie is worth seeing.  None of these things are likely to change our lives but are examples which show that we place greater value on the experience and opinion of our friends than on the advertisements which would have us believe that every product is better than all the other products which in-turn are also better… So what about spiritual questions, things that will change our lives?  What would you seek and whom would you follow?

 

In our Gospel reading today John must have been ‘wired for sound’! He had just experienced what he knew was the highest point of his ministry, he had fulfilled his destiny. It was not his own accomplishment, it wasn’t that he would be thinking what a great job he had done, but it was still a great day.  If it had happened today he might immediately get out his cell phone and tweet something like, “Best day of my life, baptized Son of God, heard God’s voice and saw the spirit, time to retire, can die happy!”

In the other Gospels this is where the baptism story ended and they moved away from the Baptist and the area around the Jordan, one immediately, to the temptation of Christ and the beginning of his ministry.  John chose instead to continue the narrative of Baptist’s activities.  In a sense the author gave him time to tweet and for people to respond to his news.  While the other Gospels gradually reveal Jesus’ identity, John front loads the story with details of Jesus’ true identity.  In very short order he identifies Christ by several of the titles which had been ascribed to him by the church over the years; Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.

 

Last week we read of the baptism itself and today, the actual baptism itself is not narrated in John, we take up the story on the next day. John the Baptist saw Jesus and told all who are in the area just what had happened and how important this man was!  In a tradition in which sacrifices were made for thanksgiving, for atonement of sin, etc. it would have caught people’s attention when the Baptist referred to Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  It may have brought out memories of the Passover lamb whose death and the painting of its blood protected the people in Egypt.  For us, and indeed for the early readers of John’s gospel, this speaks to his crucifixion and resurrection, his atonement for the sins of the whole world.  At the time of the Baptist, however, it may have brought to mind Abraham who said God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice.  At the least it would have indicated his purity but oddly would also carry a picture of weakness; important because of the role of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice, but weak because a lamb is helpless to defend itself from death on the altar.

 

The Baptist had been out in the wilderness preaching and calling people to repentance, but never taking credit or making himself out to be important.  In John’s gospel this event followed a scene in which the Baptist was questioned by religious authorities.  He had denied being Elijah, being The Prophet (Moses), and being the Messiah. He had in fact always been saying, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”  He had never made much of himself but pointed ahead to that man. He explained that he had been baptizing with water in order to reveal the man to Israel.  He related the sight of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remaining on Jesus, and that God had told them this would be the sign of the man who was coming. He made a statement worthy of a court trial, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 

It is likely that most people who heard him talking about Jesus considered it to be at least a bit far-fetched and perhaps attributed it to John’s strange ways.  “After all, he lives way out here away from people and doesn’t eat properly, he was probably delirious with hunger, or maybe he is going mad.  A spirit came and settled on a man and this is the big news? Hardly!”

 

The next day, then two days after Christ’s baptism, two of the Baptist’s followers were there when again he saw Jesus.  Again he identified Jesus and he testified that he was the Lamb of God.  These two men then left John, up until now their spiritual leader, and followed Jesus. Jesus asked them what they were seeking and told them to come and see.  Before he had taught them anything they called him Rabbi which means teacher. They went to where he was staying and spent the day with him.  Only one of the two is named in this account, Andrew the brother of the man known to us as Simon Peter.  Andrew ran off to find his brother and passed on the exciting news, “We have found the Messiah.”  When they got back Jesus identified him by name and says he will be called Cephas’ or Peter.

 

So following the line of information

  1. God tells John of his mission

  2. God tells John how to recognize the one to come after

  3. John witnesses the sign Lamb of God

  4. John tells all who are around Lamb of God

  5. John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God

  6. One of the followers, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Messiah

If we were to continue this line it would lead us all the way to this place and thousands like it where the Word is being proclaimed today.

 

The three readings I chose to use this morning are very different in form, the Psalm being a poem or song, 1 Corinthians being a letter, and John being a story.  They are all about saving help, God’s faithfulness, Christ’s salvation, steadfast love, mercy, and evangelism.

 

 

In the Psalm we read a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from dire personal circumstances as well as the pattern of God’s works of salvation for the people of Israel over the ages.  The author does what most of us would do after being rescued; he gives thanks and praises his deliverer.  He doesn’t do this in private, but in the congregation, he tells everyone! In the 11 verses we read we go back and forth between the personal story and praise to God for his faithfulness, and the communal stories of the past and expectations of the future.  The other feature of the Psalm is that it expresses God’s desire for a relationship with us rather than sacrifices. God doesn’t want the rites of religion, he wants our seeking and having his laws written on our heart.

 

Much of the writing of Paul that is included in the Christian cannon is in the form of letters.  There was a very ordered format for letters in his time and he certainly followed it.  First you introduce yourself, then identify the recipient, give thanks, and then you move on to the content.  Our reading this morning was the introduction to a much longer letter which would address some pretty major issues with the church in Corinth.  Without reading further, however, one would be unlikely to realize there was any problem or concern. The focus here was on their unity in that they were all called by Christ, that they were all empowered by the Spirit, that they all shared the same testimony to the grace of Christ and the faithfulness and steadfastness of God. Paul gives thanks for the congregation which was equipped with the tools they needed to continue this testimony, to pass on the word.

 

So, we have established that word-of-mouth is the most effective way of getting information out to people. Given this it is hard to imagine why do we rely so heavily on the Bible itself to get the Christian message out?  How can we offer Christ and invite people to come and see what a life of following Jesus might be like. (Daniel Ogel…GBod)?

 

People are only willing to inquire about faith and follow if they are themselves open to it. It is spiritual hunger which compels people to search for new possibilities. It is their dissatisfaction with where they are in their lives and in their spiritual life which forces them to go in search of something new.(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com0 John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus, “don’t focus on me or the trappings of the church or liturgy, look to Jesus himself and be open to a relationship with him.  Jesus invited the first two disciples to, “come and see” where he was staying, to actually walk in his ways.  Both of these approaches to seekers are models of evangelism.  “Instead of beating people over the head or intimidating them to confess their faith, John and Jesus point to what God is doing and invite people to check it out. It’s a pretty compelling strategy for faith-sharing and evangelism.”(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com) and far less awkward than starting a conversation with a person by asking them if they know Jesus, or if they are a Christian and then launching into a “sales campaign.”

 

So, what did you post on Face Book this morning before leaving for church?  Did you post that you were going to church? Great! When we share our lives as Christians with people, just as that, our lives, we open a door. If we get out the bat, quote scripture and tell people how they should live and what they should believe, we are more likely to scare them away. What will you post later in the day?  Whether we have good days or bad what people will notice is our patience and hopefulness in God and maybe that will be enough to make them ask where we get that patience and hopefulness and then we can invite them to come and see.

 

 The readings for this sermon were; 1 Cor 1:1-9, Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:19-42

The World In A Cart: The World In The Word


When I was thinking of a topic for a post today I was thinking about the future, the repitition of semesters here at work and the changes I make over the years in teaching the same courses.  It came to the fore yesterday when I was looking all over my classroom for 6 envelopes with little slips of paper in them.  This is a partenting activity that I have been doing for years and it is still one of the best activities we do.

Together these thoughts led me to look back at what I posted on this blog two years ago today.  That is what you will be reading below.  Enjoy.

When I was in high school (can’t believe I just wrote that) if I wanted information about the world I would dig out an atlas or the encyclopedia.  There was lots of information there, but it was not necessarily up to date.  Today I wheeled the world into my classroom in one of the school’s Mac-carts.

Ideally the students would all have a netbook or laptop all the time.  This isn’t the case yet at my school but still there is a huge change.  Today in my class I had students in contact with community agencies in several cities, looking up how to make tied baby blankets, researching statistics on childhood obesity in Canada, writing project proposals, designing websites, designing stickers to go along with a calendar they are making and more.  In some other classrooms and schools children are using programs like Skype to talk with students and teachers in other countries and even working on group projects with kids all over.

Has it made things better, this globalization in our education system?  It has to be more useful for kids to be planning projects for the community and or with people in other countries than drawing and colouring maps.  Does it matter if I know the GDP of a country from three years ago when I can find out the economic reports from last month?  The internet lets us keep up with a quickly changing world.

There are some things that don’t change.  God doesn’t change, the Bible doesn’t change, although it is are easier to hunt for particular sections and quotes using the computer.    When you open an atlas there is information about a lot of places but it is not the world.  When we open the Bible and read God’s word that really is the world!

 

In A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves?


A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves

Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to events or circumstances which may; excite, frighten, endanger, thrill, be tragic or joyful etc.  The body literally prepares itself to fight for, or run for, your life!  “Tell us something we don’t know!” you are probably thinking.  We are all too familiar with the negative effects of stress in our lives.  Everyone is affected differently; different triggers, different types of reactions, different defense mechanisms.

 

When the apostles got back together with Jesus after their mission of healing and teaching they were wired for sound!  They were so excited that they were able to actually heal some people, drive out some demons, and that people actually wanted to hear them speak!  It was thrilling to suddenly be in demand, to be popular.  They probably felt like they could continue on this track forever, after all, the adrenaline kick to their system was continually being fired by the people crowding around them.  They had more energy, could sense the world more keenly, were stronger.  What a high!

 

The other thing that the body does when faced with stressors, whether positive or negative, is to shut down some of the less vital body functions.  With limited resources, it can hardly add the extra without taking something away.  It shuts down the digestive system until you are safe again; it turns off the immune system.  If you might die (what the body assumes when stressed) what difference will it make if you digested your lunch or catch a cold?  When we deal with one stressor after another over a period of time our body will suffer, the heightened alert state can only go on for so long before a crash!

 

Jesus knew that the apostles were headed for a crash if they didn’t get a rest, some mental and physical down time, a chance to eat and digest a meal, to sleep a bit.  When they were alone together he often took the chance to teach them and explain some of his parables to them more clearly.  All of this would enrich their ministry and enable them to continue.  He was concerned for their wellbeing even when they weren’t aware of any risk.

 

There is so much in this one set of bookend stories today about which I could speak.  I say bookends because, as I’m sure you noticed, they are the stories immediately before and after the great stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.  In fact several sources I looked at suggested ignoring the fact that the lectionary skipped that section of the story and preach about it anyway.  The two things I’m going to look at this time are Jesus’ compassion (for his apostles and the crowds) and their faith in his healing power.

 

Busyness followed them despite their attempt to get some time to themselves.  They headed off in boats to find a quiet place away from the crowd and it didn’t work because the crowd found them.  The fact that Mark tells us that the crowd got to the isolated location first is used to indicate their great need and the fact that they were now with Jesus in a deserted place rather than out in the public eye where there was risk to his life.  It is also important to note that it really shows that they didn’t even have a moment to get settled before being back on-the-job.  

 

 I would say that few, if any, of us have crowds of fans following us around and trying to guess where we will be in order to line up for a chance to see us.  This is reserved for the Queen, teen heartthrobs and the like.  What crowds do we have following us?  What busyness presses in on our time apart?  We have work, and family, and church, and kid’s activities etc.  Our cell phones, our laptops, smart technology all allow us to be available to the world 24/7.  We can have real-time online chats with people around the globe, which may well mean in the middle of the night for one of us.  We may be in the middle of handling a situation and be interrupted at any moment by someone else’s crisis; one of the kids forgot gym clothes, a telemarketer wanting us to add services on our phones, a friend in trouble.  Neither the original situation, nor the new one gets the focused attention we may want to give.  So long as we have these items with us and turned on, they will beat us to our quiet time.  We may be in a deserted place, but not alone.   The world is there with us, just like the crowds who managed to found Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.

 

I expect you may remember, from other posts, me mentioning my friend The Rev. Charles Deogratias, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Canadian Forces.  Charles and his wife Hyasinter grew up in a refugee camp after their families had fled the genocide in Rwanda. They live in Canada now but have never lost touch with their own country, their own people.  As Charles gets nearer to retirement they have started a project called The Heartprints Community Center.  They have purchased a piece of land in Rwanda and are raising funds to build and operate a community center on the property.  The concept is really interesting.  Aware of the great potential and desire to learn and improve in Rwanda, and the wealth of knowledge and experience here in Canada which, especially after retirement, often goes untapped; the plan is to have the Rwandese government to identify the expertise they need for their projects and for the center to assist with finding the people.  Volunteers would be cared for there at the center, with meals and accommodations etc. and each day they would be picked up and taken to where their help is needed.  This is different from a typical mission trip where people from here try to identify a specific project or need and go into an area to carry out the short or long term work.   Just as Jesus showed the apostles, one thing that Charles agrees will be very important is that at the end of the work term (3 weeks, 6 months or whatever a person is able to give) volunteers will have a break and a chance to enjoy the country, to go on a safari, to rest from the needs of others and care for their own needs.

 

After their unsuccessful attempt to get away on their own Jesus sent the apostles to go ahead of him to Bethsaida, a community on the North Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The next thing today’s story tells us is that they were barely out of the boat at Ganeseret before people recognized them and were begging to touch Jesus’ cloak fringe for healing.  Did you catch that?  What were they doing in Ganeseret, North Western shore, when they were headed to Bethsaida?  Whether due to confusion during the storm(see the story of Jesus walking on water), a lack of confidence on the part of the disciples, or coincidence they did not arrive where they had headed. They were, as it turns out, in the wrong place – at the right time! 

 

People were begging to touch even a fringe, bringing sick from all the surrounding area for healing.  In contrast to the issue of lack of miracles in his home town, due to lack of faith, here there was great faith that Jesus would heal them.  One commentary I read stated that this faith in a touch of Jesus’ coat was nothing more than superstition, after-all these people had never met Jesus, never heard his message of repentance.  This is an interesting point, but the people who did know him the best, at home, didn’t believe at all and the apostles, who were now even partners in the teaching and healing, still had doubts.  The people in Ganeseret had needs, and they had faith that they would be met through Jesus Christ.

 

Do you remember the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar?  One line in the song Everything’s Alright is sung by Jesus in response to Judas’ outrage at wasting expensive oil which could have been sold and the money given to the poor,

“Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Pathetically struggling
Look at the good things you’ve got!”

“There will be poor always,” is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John; three of the four Gospels.  Some might take this as a rather callous statement; it might seem that he is suggesting we just forget about them because we cannot solve the problem of poverty and suffering.  We know, however, that it wasn’t meant that way.  As the song continues Jesus indicates that they should be taking advantage of the time they have with him, to hear him teach.  We are able to see, in stories like today’s, that Jesus had compassion on crowds wherever he went.  Up until this set of stories his compassion had been for specific people who were sick but here this compassion is extended to include the whole crowd, a whole flock of lost sheep.  He healed them and he taught them even when he had been trying to get a break.  But we are not Jesus.  Time apart, by ourselves, to be healed and to hear Jesus’ teaching is an important part of our ministry as Christians. There will always be people to help whether we take time to look after ourselves or not, but we will not always be able to help unless we do take that time.  Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice.