Texts: Malachi 3:1-5; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2: 22-40
Thursday, 29 January 2015
Texts: Malachi 3:1-5; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2: 22-40
Wednesday, 21 January 2015
Thursday, 15 January 2015
January 18 NOTES FOR REFLECTION
Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Theme: An obvious choice would be "Called by Name", or some variation of that: a cheekier version might be "Who's Calling, Please?" Given the events in Paris, and the saturation coverage in the media, I'm tempted to go for something like "Christ the Fundamentalist", or even "Nous Sommes Christ".
Introduction. Once again St Paul wins the prize for topicality this week: he says it all in verse 12, doesn't he? Sadly, this lesson seems to have very little in common with the theme of the other two readings. We open with the dramatic, if rather worrying, story of the calling of the boy Samuel in the middle of the night; and we close with the daytime calling of Philip and Nathaniel.
Background. No doubt it is still far too soon for rational debate to follow the emotional outrage at the at the slaughter of members of the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo this week, but when the time is right for calm reflection there are surely many points to ponder.
One concerns language. This debate may be about the importance of freedom of expression, but it doesn't seem to have lead to any greater degree of clarity of expression. The rather predictable ODT editorial of 9th January on the subject is a classic case in point. Having condemned religious fundamentalism, it then engaged in classic secular fundamentalism, insisting: "Freedom of speech is not just a Western concept. It is the right of every human being – a basic human right". In the same edition, there was an article by Joanna Norris, Editor of The Press, in which she said the "cherished principles of freedom of expression, which in mature societies, including our own, include the right to offend."
However we express this right to self-expression, where does it come from? Is it any more than an assertion of opinion, as in "In my opinion every human being should be able to express his or her opinion without fear of consequence"? Some would say it is a right conferred by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that document did not create rights, it declared them to exist – it recognised them. The claim is, therefore, that every human being has certain innate rights by virtue of his or her humanity. We might (and often do) call them fundamental rights; and we might (and often do) assert that such rights are of fundamental importance in a democracy such as ours. So those of us who subscribe to such an argument are secular fundamentalists: but, of course, we would never use that term, and would be insulted if anyone tried to stick such a label on us.
The next thing is this. To imply that this right to free speech (self-expression) is and must be "unlimited" in this country has never been true, nor would most of us want it to be the case. We have laws against hate speech, against speech intended to induce a riot, or to cause rebellion against the State. On a more personal level, we are constantly trying to find ways to oppose cyber-bullying or verbal abuse in the home or workplace. And don't get me started on the laws against defamation! (Simply ask yourself, why can I take action against someone who injures my commercial reputation, but not against someone who ridicules my religious beliefs?)
Now try this test. Part 1. Nod your head if you agree with the following statement: in a democracy such as ours it is of fundament importance that everyone should have the right to criticise the Government of the day without fear of consequences. Part 2. Nod your head if you agree with the following statement: in a democracy such as ours it is of fundamental importance that everyone should have the right to ridicule anyone else without fear of consequences. Give yourself 3 points if you nodded on part 1 and a further 3 points if you nodded on part 2. According to the Barker Nodding Scale of Fundamentalism, if you scored 3 points you are a fundamentalist; if you scored 6 points you are an extreme fundamentalist (usually shortened in the press to "extremist").
Understandably, this whole tragedy has lead to many cartoon responses. Of those I have seen, my clear favourite shows a cartoonist lying dead on the ground with a heavily armed terrorist standing over him, and shouting over his shoulder "He drew first!" Not only does it strike me as clever and funny, but I also think it has a great depth (whether or not the cartoonist intended it to.) As I stayed with it an expression beloved of the US military floated into my mind – "asymmetrical warfare" – and I thought of other occasions on which that expression might be used (but usually isn't), such as drone attacks in the Middle East or nuclear attacks on Japanese cities. And I remembered the French attack on Greenpeace here in our own country. (How many marched in protest then?) And I remembered the extraordinary rush to abolish the so-called "defence of provocation" in the wake of the terrible Weatherston murder trial. Nothing, but nothing, must be allowed to provoke us into killing another human being – except, of course, "terrorism".
And there the reflections on this cartoon took a worrying turn. Suppose the cartoons ridiculed Jesus. Would we be outraged? Would we be hurt? Would we be distressed? Or wouldn't we be too fussed about it? Suppose the ODT published cartoons ridiculing Jesus? Would we do ANYTHING about it? Would I? Well, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't march to the Allied Press building and commit mass murder: more concerning, I'm not at all sure that I would bother to write a letter of protest to the editor, much less stop reading the paper or cancel our subscription. Why not?
If, as Christians, we refrain from any such retaliatory action because we believe Christ's teaching demands that we turn the other cheek, so be it (and welcome to the pacifist cause!) But is part of our difficulty in comprehending Moslem outrage at the offending cartoons simply because we are not used to people taking their religion that seriously? The ODT refers to the Islamists' view that their religious belief "matters enough to kill those who offend it". [It also records that the magazine has been convicted under anti-racism laws in the past: why does that not constitute an attack on freedom of expression?]
And that's the point I want to finish on. Je suis Christian! For me my faith is not primarily about what I believe, it is about who or what I am. Compared to that my ethnic identity and nationality are of minor importance, about as important to me as the fact that I am left-handed. Yet the law (and the Church!) is far more likely to rush to my aid if someone were to call me "a typical Cornish moron" than if they called me "a typical Christian moron". For if we really believe the Incarnation – and the teaching of St Paul (Galatians 2:20, etc.) – we will understand that it is Christ who is being insulted in that instance. Isn't it?
1 Samuel 3:1-10. This is one of those passages where a little background reading pays dividends. Read the first two chapters of this book, and you will see what I mean. There's real human drama here, echoing many of the themes from the great patriarchal narratives. As soon as we know that Elkanah has two wives, we know what to expect: one has children, the other is thought to be barren. The one with children constantly winds the other one up, and to add to the mix the "barren" woman is the husband's favourite. On the other side of the drama are Eli, a somewhat elderly priest, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, also priests. The latter are "scoundrels" (2:12), routinely helping themselves to meat offered in sacrifice, and generally showing contempt for the Lord. It doesn't appear that Eli is in on the racket, but his feeble efforts to bring his sons to heel have not pleased God. This is the environment into which poor little Samuel has been placed by his mother! And now God calls the little boy to give him a blunt message for Eli! We are told at the beginning of the passage that "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." It's hardly surprising that little Samuel does not yet know the Lord. The drama plays out like a Shakespearean farce. A translator or go-between is required: who else but old, discredited Eli?
Taking It Personally.
· There is so much in this story it's difficult to know where to start! Read it through slowly, treating it simply as a story. Then start again, looking for the underlying messages.
· Think about Jesus' remark, "Unless you become like little children..." Does this story help to "unpack" this remark for you?
· For all his faults, it is Eli who perceives that God is calling Samuel. Is there someone who has helped or is helping you to hear the word of the Lord to you? Do you now recognise the Lord's voice when he speaks to you?
· Spend some time in silence. "Lie down in the Temple." When you are ready say to the Lord, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." And listen.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Once again we are "hearing" one side only of a debate, but it is fairly clear from what St Paul is saying that some in Corinth are arguing that what we do physically no longer matters. We are no longer under the law, so anything goes: physical matter will go the way of all flesh (ha, ha!), and all that matters is our spiritual life in Christ. So everything from fornication through to eating food sacrificed to idols (doing a Hophni, as it were) and much else besides is allowable for Christians. Notice how St Paul responds: he doesn't create a new law code and insist it is binding on all "real Christians": he accepts the principle of their argument "all things are lawful for me", but adds a very important rider "not all things are beneficial". That is surely the point that ought to be at the very heart of our reflections on the Paris tragedy. Whether or not we have a lawful right to ridicule anyone, is it ever right (beneficial) to do so? To answer "no" might be entirely out of keeping with the spirit of the age, but it is surely entirely in keeping with the Spirit of God. (And if that comment makes me an extreme fundamentalist, so be it.)
Taking It Personally.
· Read slowly through this reading, understanding that St Paul is laying out a reasoned argument. Are you convinced?
· Focus on verse 17. Does it catch you by surprise? (In the context we might expect him to talk about the union between husband and wife.) Are you united to the Lord – one spirit with him?
· Reflect at some depth on verses 19 and 20. Give thanks to God for your body.
John 1:43-51. Another wonderful story (or collection of stories)! Andrew and Peter have just been called; but who would have expected Philip and Nathaniel to be next in line? Notice that these two stories are very similar; one person is called by Jesus directly, and that one then goes and brings someone else to Jesus. (Yes, there is a moral here!) Nathaniel might be "truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit", but he has his prejudices (for Nazareth read Auckland). The encounter takes on the tone of a street magic show (Dynamo the magician or perhaps Lisa Williams the medium). Nathaniel is convinced: "you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel". At any other time than this week we might think that in his response Jesus is mocking him a little – let's call it affectionate teasing. Verse 51 takes us back to the proper level. Heaven opened and angels ascending and descending are descriptions loaded with significance.
Taking It Personally.
· Notice that word "found" in verses 43 and 45. Jesus found Philip and Philip found Nathaniel. What are we to make of that?
· Notice how Philip responds to Nathaniel's disparaging remark about Nazareth: "come and see for yourself". What are we to make of that?
· Are you "following" Christ?
· Whom have you invited to "come and see" recently?
Thursday, 8 January 2015
January 11 NOTES FOR REFLECTION Baptism of the Lord
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Theme: The title of this feast is the obvious choice. Or something like "A New Beginning" might appeal, as it can embrace the idea of a new year, and, of course, link in with the first lesson.
Introduction. We begin at the beginning, with the creation of the world; and once again the focus is on light. We might more naturally associate this lesson with the Prologue to St John's Gospel, rather than the opening salvo from St Mark. For Mark "The beginning of the good news" started with Jesus' baptism, rather than his birth. Our second lesson reminds us that Jesus' baptism was not a one off event for his benefit alone: it has meaning only so far as we enter into it ourselves. Both the gospel account and this passage from Acts instruct us that the essence of baptism is union with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Background. Over the holiday period I have been reflecting on the story of Rachel Jacobs. She is the Australian woman who created the movement to walk alongside or ride with Moslems in the wake of the Sydney cafe siege. She started the whole thing by posting on Face Book that she was (or had been) on a commuter train during the siege; that like everyone else on the train, she was following the drama on her phone; and that a young woman sitting next to her quietly took off her head scarf which would have identified her as a Moslem. Rachel had gently urged her to put it back on, promising to "walk with you" to allay this young woman's fears of reprisal. Apparently, Rachel had meant this as a private posting for a particular friend; but the friend was so touched by this story that he re-posted it; and, as we technophiles say, "it went viral".
What doesn't seem to have gone quite so viral is Rachel's subsequent retraction, or, to use her own term, "confession". She had not been exactly accurate in her first account of her encounter with the young, frightened, Moslem woman. She had, she explained "editorialised" – equivalent, perhaps to Cameron Slater's revision of the comment he made appearing to implicate Judith Collins in a campaign against Adam Feeley ("I overcooked it"). Rachel was on the train, and there was a young woman on it, but seated well in front of her. She did remove her head covering, and Rachel did feel concerned about that. She did want to go over and say something to the young woman, but then logic, fear, or perhaps social protocols kicked in. Was Rachel not leaping to conclusions? Was the woman really a Moslem, removing her headscarf for fear of being abused, or was she simply a young woman removing a piece of clothing because she was too hot? And if she did approach the woman, would she be rebuffed – would she just make the whole thing worse?
As it happened, the young one got off the train at the same stop as Rachel, and for a moment they had eye contact. Did they exchange words? Did Rachel say anything to her? Even in her second, revised version that is not entirely clear one way or the other.
And so my question is this: does it matter? Does the power of this story depend on it being factually accurate, or does it lie in a deeper truth? It moved thousands of people, not just to click on the like button, but to actually start following what they thought was Rachel's example. They were moved to offer love and support to other Moslems, and support from all round the world flowed in. One previously disillusioned Aussie wrote from the USA saying that for the first time in many years she was proud to be an Australian! From this story came enormous good – it poured love into this dark and tragic siege – it illustrated the power (and, I would claim, the victory) of goodness over evil, of light refusing to yield to darkness.
What was going on here? I think Rachel was projecting the self she would like to be. She "reported" doing what she really wanted to do, but didn't. Her fears of "getting it wrong" overcame her desire to do what she knew to be right. We can all relate to that: St Paul describes it perfectly in Romans 7:14ff. In Christian terms we might say that Rachel's true Self –the Christ incarnate in her – was guiding her to take the course of compassion and love – but her natural self would not or could not surrender.
And that's about where my ponderings have got me so far. The story that was false at the superficial level has struck me as being utterly true at the deepest level. And that is why it burst forth from such a small seed, grew mightily and bore much splendid fruit. You just know that this is a story about the Kingdom of God, don't you?
This is a time in the Church Calendar rich with stories – those surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus, his Presentation in the Temple, the star and the Magi, and so on. Are they factually correct? If they have one thing in common, it is, for me, that at the superficial level, they all seem to have been "editorialised" or "overcooked". Yet all of them, through the passing centuries, have gone and remain "viral" – their power to capture our imagination, to impregnate our minds with the truth and divine purpose of the Incarnation, and to motivate us to lead the life to which we have been called and empowered through our baptism, remains undiminished.
And this week we have the crowning glory of this mini-series of stories, as we hear again St Mark's, somewhat brusque account of Jesus' baptism. Yes, it lacks the theological issues that St Matthew struggled with; and it lacks the dramatic prelude that St Luke gives us depicting John the Baptist as the most unlikely warm-up act in history; and it certainly lacks the mystical nuances we find in St John's account-that-isn't. But that to me is the whole point for St Mark. This is what happened! Face it. [I'm thinking Andrew Little's already famous remark here.]
But I do think there is one question that I would like an answer to. How come vast crowds submitted to baptism, a rite previously reserved for Gentiles wishing to "convert" to Judaism, with so little hesitation? What need did they experience that made them so responsive to the voice calling in their wilderness? How come John's message went viral?
Genesis 1:1-5. One of the many reasons why I find debates about evolution (including cosmology) and creation so tiresome is that both sides tend to miss the extraordinary truth that these wonderful verses convey. Before the earth formed it WAS formless, a swirling mass of gases. Stand back a little and ponder this creation hymn of praise in its entirety, and marvel at the insight it manifests: the heavens and the earth HAD a beginning. What is more, creation was not one instantaneous event, but occurred in stages (the Bible calls them days). And the first essential element for life to begin was light. Far from contradicting the scientific facts as they are presently understood, this passage is remarkably consistent with them. But those matters are just on the surface, at best balm for the troubled intellect. As I pondered this much-loved passage again, I suddenly saw the globe as the Eucharistic Host, held high in the hands of the Great High Priest, and I heard in a new way the words of the prayer of the epiclesis, "Send your Holy Spirit...", as a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. And I knew more clearly than ever before that the whole earth is consecrated to the Lord our God.
Taking It Personally.
· Take time to read and really savour this short passage: let it soak into your very being. Come back to it time and again during the next week. Recall it whenever you feel or hear the wind; if you have the opportunity, go to a beach and watch as the wind and the sea interact.
· At least once this week try to be awake as the first light of dawn starts overcoming the darkness of the night. Use this as a stimulus to pray for the world, particularly for the dark places that so often feature in our news.
· If you have access to the New Zealand Prayer Book, read this passage, then the prayer of epiclesis on page 423, and then the prayer over the font in the baptismal liturgy on page 386. Reflect on their inter-connections.
· Give thanks.
Acts 19:1-7. There is a wonderful freshness about these new believers in Ephesus: when asked a direct question (St Paul, like Jesus, had a gift for asking direct questions!) they didn't fluff around or tell him not to be impertinent. They answered simply and honestly. Not only had they not received the Holy Spirit; they hadn't even heard of the Holy Spirit. Notice that they thought they had been baptised "into John's baptism". Seemingly that was sufficient for the forgiveness of sins – but that is only part of what baptism is about, and a very small (we might say, preliminary) part at that. It clears the decks, as it were – prepares the way for the Lord. The next bit raises a few difficulties that we in the Anglican Church seem incapable of resolving. These guys are baptised "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ", which seems to be the same thing as being baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Yet, it seems, even that was not sufficient: only when Paul laid hands on them did they receive the Holy Spirit. No wonder we struggle to accept that the rite of baptism is the complete and only thing necessary for admission into the Church and that Confirmation is not essential!
Taking It Personally.
· Place yourself in the group of Ephesian believers. Hear Paul's question as directed to you. What answer do you give him?
Mark 1:4-11. As already noted, St Mark gives us the essence of this story, stripped of any "unnecessary" side issues or theological spin. This is basically what he believed happened. Perhaps for that reason it strikes me far more powerfully than the other accounts. Notice how he starts with a description of the scene as anyone could have seen it: the unexpectedly large crowds, the strange figure of John and his enigmatic words about the one who was to come after him. There is no doubt that up to that point of the story it purports to be a straightforward eye-witness account. Verse 9 could also qualify as such an account. But in verses 10 and 11 an important change takes place. We are told what Jesus saw and heard: there is no claim here that John (or anyone else) saw the Spirit descending like a dove, or heard a voice from heaven. Only Jesus himself could be the source of this part of the story. As with our own baptism, John and the crowds could witness only the outward and visible signs: the inward and spiritual grace is for the baptised person only to witness (and testify to).
Taking It Personally.
· Spend time this week reflecting on your own baptism in the light of all three of this week's readings, but particularly in the light of this story.
· What do you know about your baptism? When was it? Where was it? Who conducted it? Whose idea was it to have you baptised? How were your godparents? Why were they chosen? What influence (if any) have they had on your spiritual growth? Do you celebrate it annually? Why not?
· In the privacy of your bathroom, look yourself in the eye and tell the yourself the true (as opposed to factually correct) story of your baptism. Tell yourself that at your baptism the Holy Spirit came upon you, and a voice from heaven said to you "you are my son/daughter, my beloved; with you I am well pleased." Repeat until you are convinced.
· Then live the rest of your life accordingly.
Thursday, 18 December 2014
December 21 NOTES FOR REFLECTION Fourth Sunday of Advent
Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Theme: Something about the Annunciation would be a good option. "The Lord's Servant", or "Assenting to God". The rather strange choice of the first lesson might invite a contrast between David's plan for God and God's plan for Mary – "Pride and Humility", or something along those lines. I can't think of anything that would capture our second lesson, except, perhaps, "The Sentence That Got Away" (from St Paul, that is). But with this week's ghastly events in mind I suggest that we borrow a phrase from the Premier of New South Wales – "We Are Being Tested"; or, from a similar source, the more contestable phrase "When Everything Changed for Ever".
Introduction. We start with King David at his complex best. Secure and comfortable in his family home, he decides to turn his attention to what he perceives to be the serious lack of good housing facing God; and the usually sharp-witted prophet Nathan seems convinced that the king is onto a winner here. Even by St Paul's record for overly-complex sentences this week's reading is a stunner! (The perils of dictation, and the absence of a good editor, have never been more obvious.) However, St Luke restores linguistic clarity to its rightful place, with his beautifully constructed story of the coming together of heaven and earth, of spirit and matter, as he gives us his rather more earthly take on the incarnation than the one St John gave us last week.
Background. As this Season of Advent ticks rather rapidly away the contrast between what has been happening in our churches and what has been happening outside them could hardly be more stark. One by one the Candles of Advent have been lit, and we have reflected on, and prayed for, hope, peace, joy and now love. And day by day we have witnessed through our news media horror and brutality of a kind that seems to be getting nearer home, more deadly, and more common throughout the world. From a coffee bar in Sydney to an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistan, evil takes centre stage, but with a backdrop stretching from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, through to Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Meanwhile the struggle in parts of Africa with Ebola continues unabated; the suffering of the people caught up in the power play between Russia and the Ukraine shows no sign of ending well or soon; and all our political leaders around the world resort to ever more desperate rhetoric to hide their powerlessness from one another, their nations, and perhaps even themselves.
We are being tested.
What do our Candles of Advent mean in a world that seems to be getting darker by the day? How can we speak the words of hope, peace, joy and love without choking on them? How, as we prepare to echo the message that Samuel Marsden first brought to this land 200 years ago, can we continue to believe that, because a young Palestinian girl called Mary said yes to God, we do have Good News to proclaim to this world – that there are grounds for hope, that peace is possible, that all people can rejoice, and that love is more powerful than any bomb? We start by reminding ourselves that, however many times we have to re-light our Advent Candles, the Christ Light is already lit and will never be extinguished. And we take strength from the fact that in every place of darkness there is a flicker of light born by someone who, like Mary, says yes to God. In the blackness of the death camps women comforted children even as they entered the gas chambers, and men like Fr Max Kolbe followed their Master's supreme example.
When we contemplate the utter horror of the massacre of the Pakistani schoolchildren, we may draw strength from Malala Yousafzai, who shows us so clearly that the way to defeat the Taliban does not involve the sort of massive military response the Pakistan government is already promising (or should that be threatening?). When we stare into the wreckage of the Lindt Cafe in Sydney let us see the light of heroism shining back at us from a man who tried to disarm the gunman, and the woman who died sheltering a pregnant friend. And let us draw strength from the words and actions of one woman on a train who said to a frightened stranger, "Do not be afraid: I will ride with you."
We are being tested.
In this Advent Season we are being tested on our understanding of the coming of God in Christ. Do we yet understand that the Divine Advent is not some historical event that we celebrate annually (if at all); nor is it some far-off Future Event in which we profess to believe but privately do not, or at least neither expect it to happen, nor want it to happen, in our lifetime or that of our children or grandchildren? Rather the Divine Advent began about 2,000 years ago, and has been continuing ever since. Isaiah (who else!) gives us the words that describe it best: "I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" Through the incarnation God is doing a new thing, and our challenge is to perceive it. The Light is coming into the world, can we not see it?
As I prepare these notes I have on my desk the latest edition of Time Magazine. On the cover is a striking photograph of the head of an African man: only his eyes are visible as he looks straight at the camera through a large, purple-framed visor. His mouth and nose are covered by a white mask, and his head is covered by the hood of white protective overalls. His name is Dr Jerry Brown: he is a 46-yerar-old Liberian surgeon, and he is just one of those whom the magazine has collectively called "The Ebola Fighters" and has honoured with its award of "Person of the Year. The stories of Dr Brown, and many of the others involved in the fight against Ebola, are told in the magazine. They are all volunteers, and they all know the great risks they are running. Many have already lost friends and colleagues to this terrible disease. Some have been ostracised by those who are overcome by fear. But the candles of their humanity continue to shine, beacons of hope, peace, joy and love n the midst of a darkness that will not overcome them.
This morning, for the first time in a while, the 7.am radio news opened on a good note. President Obama had just announced that he was ending the madness of his country's Cuban policy, which dated back to 1961. It is time, he said, for a new beginning. Another candle has been lit. Alleluia!
And so to that other potent phrase that came across the Tasman this week – "Everything has changed for ever." Hyperbole, of course, however understandable, in the limited context of the cafe assault. But applied to the Divine Advent – applied to the Incarnation? Only the tense needs changing. Our message to a dark and frightened world (and to ourselves) is this: "Fear Not: God is coming into the world and changing it for ever."
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16. I have considerable sympathy for King David in this episode of his somewhat chequered early career. In the space of a fairly short time he has been anointed as king, established Jerusalem as his capital city, moved into a new, rather swanky house built for him from the finest of materials, taken to himself quite a few trophy wives and trophy concubines, fought off the marauding Philistines, and recovered and brought back to Jerusalem the sacred ark of the covenant. It would be hard to remain humble with a list of achievements like that. Stillness, silence and Sudoku were not his thing, so once he had caught up with his washing and so on he needed another project to get his teeth into. His thoughts turned to building a suitable house for God to live in. He ran his idea past the prophet Nathan, who encouraged him to go for it. Neither, it seems, recognised that the King was getting ideas above his station – they probably didn't recognise there was anywhere or anything (including ideas) above the king's station. God disabused the king of his presumption.
Taking It Personally.
- How do you feel about King David's plan? Are you surprised by God's response?
- Can you recall a time when you wanted to "do something for God" – perhaps in response to something God had done for you? How did that work out?
- When was the last time you did something for someone else, otherwise than in response to that person asking for help? What was your motivation? Have you ever had your help rebuffed in that sort of situation?
- How do you respond to unsolicited offers of help from others? Why?
Romans 16:25-27. No doubt these verses vary from one translation to another; but in the NSRV they do not make sense! St Paul twice diverts himself from what he is trying to say, without ever quite saying it. Yes he does! Try re-writing it in short, clear statements. Then try this question: in verse 27 to whom is the glory for ever, God or Jesus Christ? And if your answer is Jesus Christ, then what has St Paul been trying to give to God from the beginning of verse 25?
Taking It Personally.
- Help Paul out here. Remember this is doxology – it does not have to be strictly logical. Offer your own doxology to God. Praise God for changing the world for ever!
Luke 1: 26-38. I have often wondered why the gospel writers worried about Jesus' birth – at least, why Matthew and Luke worried about Jesus' birth. It never bothered Mark or John, so what was at stake for those other two? Why not follow Mark's example and take up Jesus' story from his baptism at the age of 30? The more I ponder Luke's birth narratives the more I suspect that Luke is responding to the need in the infant church to establish Jesus' credentials over against those of John the Baptist. Suppose that the story recounted by Luke concerning the birth of John (including its foretelling by an angel to Zechariah) was already well-established. Even today, much of that story does not seem too far-fetched. Elizabeth is said to be "getting on in years" and was thought to be barren. But such cases of sudden childbirth are not unknown, and there is no suggestion that Elizabeth conceived otherwise than through intercourse with Zechariah. A shock to the system, no doubt, but not beyond the bounds of possibility. Was it then necessary to find an even more impressive conception and birth story for Jesus? It certainly seems possible that this is what Luke was trying to do with his parallel accounts in the first chapter and a half of his gospel. The distinction between Zechariah's response and Mary's, for example, is the sort that gets lawyers and Jesuits a bad name, yet look at the theology that has grown out of it! Today, perhaps, the main focus of the passage set for this week may be said to have shifted from Jesus' biological origins to God's choice of Mary to be his mother, and her response to that choice.
Taking It Personally.
- What would be lost, in your view, if we had no birth narratives relating to Jesus? Is Mark's gospel diminished by commencing with the Lord's baptism?
- Have you ever experienced an angelic visitation? Do you know of anyone who has done so? If you had such an experience, would you tell anyone about it? Would you like to have such an experience?
- Pray with your imagination over this scene. What does Mary look like? What does she sound like? Does she strike you as a typical teenager, or does she seem measured and mature for her age? How would you describe her reaction to Gabriel?
- What do you make of Gabriel? How tall is he, relative to Mary? How would you describe his stature, manner, and bearing? Are you afraid of him? Is there anything you would like to ask him?