Thursday, 24 October 2019

John's first letter : 1 John 1:1-2:11

John 1:1

We declare to you that what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the word of life. This is John, writing towards the end of his life, beginning his epistle by reminding his readers, (most probably the church at Ephesus) that he had been at Jesus’ side. Robert Browning’s poem “A death in the desert” speaks of JIhn being the last of the close disciples:

When my ashes scatter
There is left on earth
No one alive who knew (Consider this)
Saw with his own eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first the Word of life
How will it be when no more saith “I saw”?

I have asked before “what would we do if Jesus came in that door now, walked up this aisle”?
This letter of John tells us . “Consider this ..” JOhn did see and in his Gospel and three letters and the book of Revelation he proclaims the transformative power of being with Jesus. Firstly, John tells us that HE is light, there is no darkness at all, mot a single tiny speck. Jesus is in this respect unlike us for if we say that we have no sin in us we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us.

If Jesus is here, there in front of us now we would all see that. So blindingly that we would confess our sins. I am convinced there would be no stopping us,because as John says “the light is already shining”. Remember John was there, he saw it, this testimony of John’s lives so that we may have the fellowship that he John had with the Father and the Son. We would be irresistibly moved to expunge the darkness in our lives.

And we know the message of John - God is love and we must walk as he walked. Now this might seem far to high a target, we cannot reach this it is beyond our poor mortality to be as perfect as Christ was perfect. But “Consider this ..” if we could see and hear and touch we would be motivated beyond all previous driving force we may have experienced in our lives to be like HIM. We shall be so inspired to love our brother and sister that there would be no cause for stumbling and we would indeed love and be loved.


Be inspired not afraid

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The other day after a funeral I fell into conversation with two sisters : one was full of questions for me, to the extent that the other was moved to ask, “What is this, an interrogation?” to which the questioner/interrogator replied, “but I have never had a chance to ask a priest these things.” Well, how interesting. Paul writing to Timothy, who was in charge of the church at Ephesus says “I solemnly urge you to proclaim the message : be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” 

There was probably never a time more favourable, for my new friend had been moved by the funeral, was thinking about its significance even about hymns for her own service and here I was captive over the ham sandwiches. And for me, how lovely to have someone asking good questions and ready to listen.

It is not always like that. Certainly in my old life in the boardroom the ears were not itching to hear sound doctrine but rather preferred to hear teaching attuned to their desires. We have had a recent example maybe with the collapse of Thomas Cook and we may at least call into question who they were listening to and what their motives may have been - we shall see. Paul says “Do the work of an evangelist fully” , so what are we to do in a situation when things seem to be taking a wrong turn and the doors are not open?

We are not all Paul, not firebrands and we may be timorous in the face of likely hostility. Some years back I had an experience which changed my approach. I found myself in Cincinnati at a board meeting of a company where I had no right to speak, no power, no vote just sitting in a corner listening to a discussion about the future of a senior employee which I thought was unjust. I knew only one or two of the people in the room and their organisation was reputed to be tough and uncompromising.  But what they were proposing was unfair and so I remember saying a little arrow prayer before I opened my mouth to intervene. “This,” I said, “does not seem to me to be right ….. “ and I explained why. There was a silence that I expected to be filled with protest and “This has nothing to do with you,” but no - the hardest nosed of the people I knew, the Alan Sugar in the room said “Steve has a point, let us reconsider.”

Jesus said to his disciples, when you are put to the trial do not worry about what you will say, the Holy Spirit will give you the right words. It is a matter of faith, of trust which is much easier to imagine when in front of a friendly lady interrogator but look, it is always there. There is steel in the promise of the Holy Spirit so when you need to proclaim in unfavourable circumstances as I had to do that day, remember Paul’s words: “All scripture is useful, for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” Use your faith knowledge and understanding of the Bible to speak into truth. You may well be surprised.

Be not afraid but be inspired.


Monday, 14 October 2019

The Potter's Hand

Jeremiah 18:1-17

Edmund de Waal who wrote the best selling “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” which I have not read also wrote a history of porcelain. This begins with a trip to Jingdezhen a famous city for porcelain from ancient China. On an old road near an old farm with a wrecked car parked outside propped up on bricks he climbs a nearby hill and discovers under his feet a mountain of shards of broken pots dating back hundreds of years. He says “and the wares that went wrong wold have been thrown over the shoulder from the kiln mouth- so many many thousands of pots that haven’t worked. Fascinating,, really, that only a short plane ride away we can connect with Jeremiah’s words, with the words of the Lord. Of course Jeremiah is describing pots before they are fired but nonetheless the making of pots and the frequent need to rework the clay to reach the desired shape and properties is an ancient idea.

“So I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled - and he reworked it as seemed good to him.” (Jer 18:4)

Jeremiah is speaking to and about the nation of Israel: Look out the Lord may fashion punishment against you, turn now from your evil ways so I may instead once more build up your people. I have in mind the BBC black and white television “interlude” I think it was called; a little film between programmes showing a potter’s wheel and hands slowly raising a pot from a pool of clay.

There is a modern Hillsong worship song by Darlene Zschech (a favourite at Spring Harvest and similar gatherings). I am not to trouble you with the music but the lyrics of the chorus say this:

Take me, mould me
Use me, fill me
I give my life to the potter’s hands
Hold me, guide me
Lead me, walk beside me
I will give my life to the potter’s hand.

This is a difficult idea, we are not educated to rely on others, to trust, to work in other than our own ability - to fall back into the arms of another. We question even those trained to look our health, to protect us for example from disease. This is not new : verse 12 of our reading

“But they (Israel) say “it is no use we will follow our own plans and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.!”

The book of Jeremiah dates from more than 500 years before Christ - I love those moments when the Old Testament comes alive and is right up to date. We are still following our own plans for the world for in it there is inequality, poverty, war, avoidable illness, famine. Do you perhaps wake up some mornings and pray for the whole pot to be reworked into another vessel as would seem “Good to Him?”   

De Waal Edmund The White Road, A pilgrimage of sorts  London Chatto and Windus 2015