Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category

Bible Study – Monday 15th March (Fourth week in Lent)

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Tonight’s Bible Study looked briefly at Psalm 32 before focusing on the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15: 11b -32, as well as Luke 15: 1-3.

The three verses at the beginning of chapter fifteen are important because they remind us of the context in which the Parable is told. The Son in the story could well be intended to represent the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ referred to, and the older brother who is so angry and judgmental at the mercy being shown to his sibling has much in common with the pharisees who criticized Jesus for hanging out with such bad company.

But looking at this particular context should not excuse us from allowing the Parable to be addressed to us, and to ask who might we be in this story?

We could be both of the sons but perhaps we’re guilty of thinking we have nothing in common with either of them.  We like to think that we are saved – that is we have been brought into the right relationship with God – but perhaps we are more like the elder son about this. 

We all have a tendency to think that the wideness of God’s mercy is a jolly good thing for all those other  people whose lives are out of control. But actually the Lost or Prodigal Son represents all of us in our relationship with God.

The Biblical narrative states that all humanity was created as the children of God, rightful heirs of his divine blessings, but that we have become alienated or separated from God and we no longer have the right to call ourselves his children. Humanity has certainly lost its right to inherit new life and so finds itself in the same position as the Prodigal Son. But just like him we find a way back through the merciful love of our father.

If we want to be readmitted to God’s heavenly family we have to do what the prodigal son did, that is realise our position before throwing ourselves on our Father’s mercy. The Parable shows us how it is that we should approach God, what it is that is required of us to release in us the tidal wave of forgiveness that God has for us – we have to be repentant and humble.

This is a message that can be found throughout the New Testament, and at various places in the Old. We looked at these verses and considered how each applies to the Parable of the Lost Son. Click on each link to read and come to your own conclusions!

2 Peter 3:9, Romans 8: 14-17, Ephesians 1:5, Matthew 23:25-28, Matthew 7:1-5, 1 John 2:9-11, Romans 9:31-33, Romans 10: 3-4, Romans 9: 14-16.


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!