21st May 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
People can be very different can't they? Everyone of us is different, everyone of us is unique, thank God for that.
Our reading features two men who came onto the religious scene, they were as different as chalk and cheese even though they could claim a family connection, one is John the Baptist, the other is Jesus. John lives in the wilderness dressed in sackcloth living on a diet of locusts and honey. He preaches a stern message of repentance and baptism, of giving up the good life of plenty. Some are attracted by his message and lifestyle but others are repelled.
John was austere, he was a preacher of fire and brimstone, repent mend your ways.
The second man is Jesus who was totally different to John. He is far more liberal, he doesn't obey the rules, he works on the Sabbath, he defends his followers when they don't fast at the expected times and when they break the rules. To compound his errors he associates with the wrong crowd, he eats and drinks with all the wrong people. John was known for his diet of locusts and wild honey, Jesus was known for his feasting, he was accused of being a glutton but more than that he would literally eat with anyone, and he didn't bother with all the rules of cleanliness.
If John was a religious fanatic Jesus was by comparison, a glutton and drunkard a serious accusation which, according to Deuteronomy 21, could lead to a violent and dishonourable death,
Two very different people both asking uncomfortable questions, repent and give up comfortable lives, follow and have all your assumptions turned upside down, both preaching the same message about the Kingdom of God, both rejected by their society.
Jesus despairs and likens his critics to children in the playground refusing to play either happy or sad games.
In the second part of the reading the example of children is carried on, this time a different aspect of children and childhood is cited.
It is to the children or to the childlike that God reveals himself not to the intellectual.
Knowing God, thankfully, does not require great learning or years of studying or qualifications in Theology. It is not head knowledge that is required but knowledge of the heart. We cannot know God other than what is revealed to us by God's Spirit. The more open and childlike, that is trusting and open, the easier we can learn. That learning is helped by our willingness to accept his yoke and to learn from him.
As so often a phrase that in the time and place it was written would have been fully understood for us it is not so clear.
Perhaps Jesus in his life and training as a carpenter made yokes. He would certainly have been familiar with their construction and use.
A yoke usually joins two oxen together to work as a team. Did you notice during the coverage of the coronation procession how one of the horses pulling the carriage was always pushing into it's partner, it made life difficult
When Jesus invites us to take his yoke and to learn from him, he is inviting us to join him in harness—to allow him to take the lead—to let him help us through difficult places—to give him the opportunity to show us how it is done.
His yoke is kindly and the burden light. Who better to be yoked with?
A well fitted yoke distributes the weight evenly and enables the oxen to do the job well, it is a helpful tool not a hindrance if the yoke is well fitted and light it means the burden is easier to carry.
The Jews of Jesus day were struggling under the additional man-made rules added onto God's law, that was their burden, our burdens may be very different but just as real, it could be isolation, loneliness, grief illness, financial worries, all the things that worry us Jesus still offers to help us with those burdens, to be alongside us in the yoke, to take the weight with us, to be by our side and to lead us on.
14th May 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Matthew 18:1-5
On the 6th May King Charles II was officially crowned and anointed in a very Christian service, I expect many of us were glued to the television. I expect a few could remember and compare the service to that of the coronation of Elizabeth 2nd. I wonder which were your favourite parts, the processions? The clothes? The coronations?
It was all very splendid, we as a nation know how to do pomp and ceremony, we are very good at it.
It is not that many weeks ago that we were talking about Jesus and his style of Kingship, something to do with a donkey, not a gold covered carriage, there was a procession for the entry of Jesus into his capital city it was composed of ordinary folk in peasant clothing throwing their cloaks down for the donkey to walk on. There was no special blue or gold carpet laid in the Temple, no throne.
The anointing of Jesus was not done privately behind specially made screens by the Archbishop of Canterbury, his anointing was in public by a woman of ill repute, it was for burial not kingship.
Did you notice all the different flags along the route and in the procession, flags from all the places that owe some sort of allegiance to King Charles? He is a King over a lot of the world, he had a vast Kingdom but it is a different sort of Kingdom to the one Jesus rules.
So what is different about the Kingdom Jesus rules, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven?
A lot of the teaching, the things Jesus said are about the Kingdom of God, this isn't so much a place, as a community, it isn't somewhere you can hop on a bus or train to get to.
The Kingdom Jesus spoke about is an upside-down kingdom or as a Christian author Malcolm Duncan puts it, a flipped Kingdom. It is flipped or upside down because the values of a normal kingdom are turned on their head or just don't fit.
In this Kingdom the King is a servant, the people we would think are important are at the back of the line. The important folk are those who are poor, who are shunned and ignored, are those who have nothing, no standing, no importance. This Kingdom belongs to the oppressed, this kingdom's values are justice, equality, fairness, no bullying, no oppression. Love for the King and each other are the most important principles, self and ego are not important.
The King is Jesus himself who as the Son of God put all that aside and became a human being, he was willing to put himself into the care of human parents, to be dependent on their love and nurture.
In the days this book of Matthew was written down, women and children had few if any rights, they were deemed unimportant. Some of the followers of Jesus came to him to ask who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Can you imagine their surprise and bewilderment when Jesus took a child, probably a toddler, and said that whoever becomes like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, he didn't say someone who is rich, well connected, popular, clever, educated, someone who is well read, someone who can talk and argue their case, he didn't say someone who is male, white, middle class , he didn't even say a wise, mature person.
No, he said someone like a child.
So, what did he mean?
Perhaps Jesus is simply referring to their innocence, their wish to please, perhaps even to that well known phase of asking 'why' all the time so they can learn, or perhaps the reference is to the trusting, loving nature of children.
To enter the Kingdom, we need to trust the King we need to give him all we have and are, trusting that we will be in safe hands. To become citizens of this Kingdom we first must accept it's King as the King of our lives.
There are many differences between the Kingdom Jesus rules and the Kingdom Charles rules but the good thing is that King Charles knows this.
My favourite part of the whole proceedings was this conversation
“Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings”.
And the reply
“In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve”.
7th May 2023 Thoughts
Reading: John 14:1-14
The above passage is one of the suggested readings for this week. It is from the Gospel of John and in it Jesus offers his disciples comfort and reassurance. The first four verses are quite often used in funeral services, as a way of giving reassurance to mourners, that their loved ones have indeed gone home, to the mansion prepared for them by Jesus himself.
We find comfort in the thought that they are safe, looked after until we can join them.
In verse five Thomas asks a very sensible question, remember this is before the crucifixion,'We don't know where you are going so how can we know how to get there?' Jesus replies in his normal, somewhat cryptic style 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'.
The Church calls people to become followers of Jesus because the Church believes that he is the way the truth and the life, no other body in history has made such an audacious claim for it's leader.
Jesus claims I am the way.
The way to where? A way is related to a destination to say something is a way to, means it is a route, a method to get to a destination, a way must have a destination, an end point beyond itself. Jesus as the way, is related to a particular end, to a particular goal. If your purpose is to do God's will, to enjoy fellowship with God, to develop the kind of character that we see in Jesus, to enter the Kingdom, then Jesus is the way. He will lead us, he will teach us and he will help us.
Jesus also says that he is the only way to the Father, this claim or rather statement has been the basis for many an argument and discussion since the dawn of Christianity, if it is true where does that leave other world religions?
Jesus does not say 'No one comes to God except by me' he says 'No one comes to the Father except through me' the only way to know God as our Father is through the relationship Jesus had with God as his Father.
Jesus claims I am the truth.
Jesus can to reveal the truth about God, he came to answer the question, 'What is God like?'
He is the son of God in the sense of 'like Father, like son. We can look at one and see the characteristics of the other, we often say that so and so is just like their parent, same character, same mannerisms, some even are physically alike.
Jesus came though as the truth and sometimes truth can be a challenging thing.
He challenged the Scribes and Pharisees on a number of occasions, he shone the light of God's truth on the religious practices of his day and continues to do that on our practices and beliefs. He had no time for empty words and revealed and reveals them for what they are.
Is this part of the reason the religious leaders were so keen to get rid of Jesus? His truth showed up their faults and failings.
If we allow the truth of Jesus to look at our lives his truth can change our lives and can give us freedom to live as God intends us to live.
Jesus claims 'I am the life'
Life is more than existence, it is more than waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. In the opening paragraph of this Gospel we are told that in him was life, that is God's own life.
The New Testament is the book about life; not merely, or in the first place, life in heaven but life here and now. Jesus is the giver of new life, he gave new life to the man possessed by demons, he gave new life to the Samaritan Woman, to the lepers, to Zaccheus, to the criminal crucified with him.
He gives new life to us, life in all its' fullness and joy, life to be lived everyday with all its' moments filled with God's presence.
Archived Minister's Thoughts
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