Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

Mid-Week Service – Wednesday 3rd March (2nd week of Lent)

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

This is a summary of today’s service.

Call to worship:Psalm 27: 1-2

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Prayer of Adoration

Loving God, in Jesus you have stretched out your arms to us to bring us into your warm and tender embrace. In Jesus you announce to us a new life of joy in your presence, and peace in our hearts. Through your risen son we believe that every valley will be exalted and every mountain brought low, and every tear will be wiped away. We praise you and thank you for the wonderful and glorious future that you have promised us.

Prayer of Confession

But we are not there yet, our lives on earth are a time of transformation and of waiting, of waiting and of hard testing. We are not there yet, we are separated from you and from each other. We are held back by sad memories and weighed down with regrets. In Jesus we see perfection, and we know that we do not measure up to Him…

Declaration of forgiveness

And yet all we have to do is allow ourselves to be held by the loving arms that you have stretched out to us in your son, Jesus Christ. Your love for us is so great, so powerful, that we cannot cancel out your mercy. And so our sin, our separation, is cancelled out for us, you cast out all fear, all loneliness, all hopelessness, as you redeem us with a perfect love. Thank you Father for forgiving our sins and bringing us into your arms

Petition for the worship

We come before you now to bask in your light, to feel that sense of connection with you and with each other that is so precious. Help us to leave behind us all that is petty, all that is unworthy, be with us Lord so that in this time of worship that in amongst the words that we read and that we speak and hear we may somehow hear your word.  Pour out your Holy Spirit as we say the words Jesus taught us…
Our father…
 

 Readings: Psalm 27, Luke 9:28-36

 

Message

 

In Psalm 27 David evidently has reason to feel afraid but he declares that he will not be afraid, for God is with him. Experience must have taught him up to this point that being a Godly man does not make you invulnerable to weakness, failure or defeat yet he feels the security not just of God’s presence but of his protection and cries out “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

 

Around the world and at all times people who have every reason to feel anger and disappointment towards God instead praise him and express their faith in the good things to come. The words of Psalm 27 take on an added power when we think of them as being uttered by a vulnerable and sometimes tormented and suffering man. And such words are heard today in the joyful prayers of the body of Christ even though they are in the midst of suffering from the aftermath of natural disasters, from grinding poverty and from persecution.

 

I would like to simply put to us this question: how is it that people who undergo such suffering and loss can praise God? How can those for whom life has been one long lesson in disappointment express so much hope? Either they are deluded, cruelly mistaken in their faith, or they have cottoned on to a reality so vivid, so beautiful and so certain in its promise (see monday’s Bible study on Genesis 15) that the devestation and disappointment of this life becomes as nothing compared with the new life God has promised us in Jesus.

 

Luke 9: 28-36 has become known as the Transfiguration – the occasion when Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus to pray. While up there they see a change in Jesus’ appearance and his clothes become ‘dazzling white’. Not only this he is seen in conference with Moses and Elijah,  two of the biggest names in Judaism – prophets from the past with the very highest status, seen ‘in glory’ meaning reflections of the divine essence and presence.

 

I used to discuss this as propoganda intended for Jewish Christians – an invented fable to express the idea that Jesus’ is within the tradition of the prophets, yet surpassing them in greatness.  Clearly some of the miraculous happenings of the Gospels fall into this category, gospel authors did not consider themselves to be writing history in the modern sense of the world, rather they were putting together a narrative account of the whole meaning of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.  Doing this sometimes meant  going beyond the factual and straying into what we would nowadays describe as perhaps mythical, literary or poetic prose.

 

But some of the miraculous events of the Gospels are also referred to in the New Testament Epistles , letters written to individuals or churches without any of the literary flourish of the gospels -  and for this reason these miracles have to be looked at differently.

 

The resurrection is described with a writer’s skill in the Gospel but is also recalled in plain language in the Epistles. I decided that the Transfiguration must be based on a real event after realising that it, too, is referred to elsewhere in the New Testament in the plainest of language.

 

 The transfiguration, as described in Luke 9: 28-36 has all the hallmarks of an invented tradition. But in The second letter of Peter the same event is described in the following words:

 

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”   

 

Maybe it wasn’t exactly as described, maybe Peter, James and John had an inward spiritual experience which found expression in a more poetic tradition that makes it into Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels. But something very powerful happened, it may be described in flowery language but it isn’t just made up.

 

So if it’s more than just a story, then it’s pretty important that we think about what it means.

 

The word transfiguration comes from a greek word, metamorpho , which has slipped into English usage as metamorhposis to describe a particularly dramatic transformation in someone. Meta means change, morph means form. What is happening, then is that Jesus’ form seems to be changing.

 

Or rather it is being revealed.  Jesus, it is believed, has two natures – he is both fully human and fully divine. The point is that the human nature was there for all to see, the divine nature had to be revealed. Like all the miracles of the gospels the transfiguration was a sneak preview of the heavenly transformation that is promised us in the Kingdom of God.

 

In the transfiguration Peter, James and John witness a sneak preview of the risen Jesus – the point at which his holiness is there for all to see. And the resurrection is itself a sneak preview of something that we hope will happen to us too.

 

And that brings us finally to Lent. During this time of fasting, preparation and prayer, we are focused on a transformation that we wish to see happen in us. We want our human, sinful nature to become a bit less obvious; and we want something divine to shine through instead – not something that comes from within us, but a divinity that we become attached to through Jesus.

 

If we spend the next few weeks trying to become holy then we will not have a very fruitful Easter. But if we give up the search for divinity within us we will be well on our way. For it is only when we abandon the idea of holiness in within us that we gain access to holiness without – Jesus’ holiness can be ours as long as we recognise that it is a gift, a loan, not a right or a possession of ours.

 

But Jesus’ holiness is a permanent loan with permanent effects.  Lets make use of it over the next few weeks, lets stop trying to become holy ourselves. This Lent lets give up trying to cure our own bad habits and start give him a chance to get to work on our behalf. Let us stop searching for a holy light within, it isn’t there. Then we will start to change, because he will change us if we let him. We can be changed now, we can be transfigured with holy light shining from us for all to see, revealing the new life in us as a present and future reality, and a symbol of that time when the light will abolish all darkness.

 

Father we pray for all who are suffering in Haiti and Chile, we thank you that they continue to praise your name and to live in hope. For ourselves we ask for just a drop of the ocean of faith that is found in your people who are suffering natural disasters, cruel persecution and unjust poverty.

And in this time of Lent we ask that we might be changed,

that your light may be kindled within us,

that your light should overcome our darkness.

Teach us to accept your love, help us to let you in.

Make us accept what we cannot change, so that you might take over and begin in us a most wonderful transfiguration.

May your light shine from all of us, may your goodness be reflected in our lives, and may our spiritual union with Christ be revealed in us so that others might be drawn nearer to you.

May your truth shine on us, and from us all the way  to Easter and beyond, by the power of your Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ,

Amen

Bible Study – Monday 1st March (2nd week of Lent)

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Last night’s Bible Study looked at Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-21, this is one of the Lectionary  readings and Alan Hindmarch had spoken about these verses on Sunday.

This is the section of Genesis where Abraham receives God’s promise – Here’s a summary of the main points from the discussion:

Abraham is a truly significant Biblical figure because the promise that he receives from God in Genesis 15 is the beginning of a chain of events that run through the whole Bible 

These events are the path through which Jesus comes into the world and the Kingdom of God is brought into being: the birth of Isaac who is the father of Jacob – who is the father of twelve sons who represent the twelve tribes of Israel, one of whom is taken into captivity (Joseph surely represents a whole people in captivity). The Israelites are led out of Egypt through God’s intervention and Moses’ leadership – they move into the wilderness for forty years before ‘taking possession’ of the land that was promised to Abraham in the pre-history of Genesis 15. 

In this land they become a great but flawed nation under David, a great but flawed man. They are continually challenged by prophets who demand faithfulness to God and justice for the poor, but they do not listen and are once again estranged from the ‘promised land’  – this time in exile in Babylon. God does not abandon them though and many Israelites return.  The prophets continue to challenge the people and they talk of a Messiah who will come and usher in God’s Kingdom. From among Abraham’s descendants, in the land promised to him in Genesis 15 emerges Jesus – the answer to all our problems and the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham.  Through Jesus we are given fellowship with God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

All this starts in Genesis 15 when God promises the childless and homeless Abraham that he will have a son, and his descendants will settle in a land of their own.  Abraham knows nothing of what this will lead to… the thing that he is promised must seem in itself wonderful, maybe impossible, but compared to God’s masterplan that it is part of  it is trivial.

God’s promise has not been earned by Abraham but he believes that God can and will do what he has promised. This is what’s known as ‘righteousness by faith’.  God’s promise, which is the substance of this passage, is the theme of the Bible and of our universe. Humanity’s response (or rather what humanity’s response should be)  is summed up in verse 6: And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned to him as righteousness. (NRSV)

This is the idea that allows Paul to truly understand what has happened in Jesus, and in the sixteenth century Luther and Calvin fasten onto in Paul’s writings (Romans 6: 4, Galatians 3: 6-9) and this leads to the reformation. Which leads in turn to Congregationalism. So last night we reflected on the fact that a verse right at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 15 (probably written while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon) leads to the church that we were sitting in as we read it.

We talked about our own church, how it began with people meeting to worship and existed for many years before finding a physical home.  This is a bit like the Abraham and his descendants with their beginning in the wilderness, with just the promise of a home some time in the future.  Our church started with the determination among one or two people that ‘cottage meetings’ should take place, this happened in 1853, and it wasn’t until 1913 that the present church building was opened, that’s a long time living through a feeling of God’s promise.

Since then the church has had many ups and downs, and at times it has been close to closing – at those times the dream was simply survival.

But each dream that the church has had has surely been sustained by the feeling that God has something in store for us, and that in pursuing our goal we are living through God’s promise.  The promise that Abraham was aware of was actually part of a much greater plan, and so it is for us.

Within the goal of the cottage meetings in 1853 was the promise of the church building in 1913. And within the goal of survival during the tough times has been the revivals that we have also enjoyed.  At each stage we only see the part of God’s plan that is in front of us – we don’t know where it will lead but God does. We talked about our dreams for the church in the near future and we reflected that the things we strive for now, when we feel God’s promise upon us, are not ends in themselves but part of a much greater plan.

Like Abraham we must have faith in God’s promise, faith that if our short term goals are within God’s plan for our future that they can and will be fulfilled. And above all faith that our tiny efforts are part of something huge, and that in fulfilling God’s promise in our own limited way, we  are taking part in something so vast and wonderful that it cannot be understood – only believed in.

Sunday Worship – Sunday February 28th

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The service was led by the Reverend Alan Hindmarch.  The readings followed the lectionary and were Genesis 15: 1-12 and Luke 13: 31-35.

Ash Wednesday

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

A handful of us gathered at church last night to start Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. It’s tradition in many churches for the pastor to make a small cross out on the forehead of worshippers out of ash, while saying the words that God says to Adam in Genesis  ’Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.’  It’s a severe message in that it’s meant to concentrate our minds on the reality of physical death – but seen within the context of the whole Easter message it’s a joyful pronouncement too.

Traditionally the ash comes from burning the palm crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service but last night we did things a bit differently. We wrote on small scraps of paper those things that are holding us back and we want to be set free from – perhaps bad habits, sad memories or personal weaknesses – and burned them in a pot on the steps of the church early on in the service. We then used the ash from these private notes from us to God, to make the sign of the cross  on each of us in front of the communion table  as we contemplated our own mortality.

It was a short service and I, for one, found it a moving experience. Death casts a murky shadow over our lives all the time that we try to shut it out – but when we manage to look at it squarely something wonderful usually happens, along with all the sad emotions this brings up in us there’s a release into joy. We often observe this in people who know they don’t have long to live – a focus, a lightness and a delight in life that we’d all love to share. Last night’s service was intended to help us to be a little bit more like that.

The readings, which were taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (which is slightly unusual for us as a Congregational church!) were Joel 2: 1-2 (for our call to worship) then Joel 2:12-17 and Matthew 6: 1-6 and 16-21.

The reading from Joel is all about the return to God of a contrite people, hoping once again to be in God’s favour.  From our Christ centred perspective the Old Testament idea of ‘returning to God’ can seem a bit crude in that it is focused on the immediate, practical results of being in God’s good books. In Joel’s message the prize of walking with God is that there will be military success, peace, security health and prosperity. These things are not to be sniffed at but as Christians we should believe that the ‘return to God’ has a much wider and deeper meaning than how we fare materially in the coming months.  Ultimately Jesus shows us that the return to God is for individuals  about our final resting place in God’s presence, and collectively about the triumph of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Reading Joel from this perspective we can see that this deepr spiritual, cosmic idea of the ‘return to God’ is present alongside the more day to day message, but it’s there in a slightly obscure, enigmatic way. It’s one of those scriptures that Jesus unlocks for us, showing us a deeper level on which to understand it.

So this Lent we are mixing the practical and the day to day – such as losing weight, cutting down on alcohol, taking up exercise – with the spiritual.  There’s a kind of death that we embrace – because the new life in Christ can’t come to us any other way.

The reading from Matthew is a timely reminder that our Lent journey is private and intimate between us and God. In mixing the ashes of our private messages we acknowledge that we are drawing support from each other by all going through this as one – the body of Christ – but we all struggle in our own individual way, and ultimately this can only be dealt with in a one to one between us and God.

It also prompts us to be cheerful during this time and quite rightly so. If we’ve given up certain ‘pleasures’ at this time then it’s a wonderful opportunity to discover all the other pleasures we’ve been denying ourselves. There are lots of ways to relax but we tend to get into a rut in how we do this – for example always needing a glass of booze in our hand at the end of a long day. Giving this up for the next 46 days forces us to start taking pleasure elsewhere – drinking fine speciality teas, listening to radio plays, going swimming, reading a book, watching a DVD, taking up yoga…. I could go on (and often do!) There are a million ways to unwind, how exciting to spend the next few weeks exploring them!

Frank