Saturday, 3 December 2016

Romans 15:4-13 (NRSV)

4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel for Jews and Gentiles Alike

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess
* you among the Gentiles,
   and sing praises to your name’;
10and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
11and again,
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
   and let all the peoples praise him’;
12and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
   the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Barclay points out that these verses reveal what Christian fellowship should be like.
In the first instance, fellowship should be marked by a study of Scripture. When one studies Scripture we receive the much needed encouragement because we are provided with two things: (i) we are given a record of how God had dealt with a nation in history and this shows that it is always better to be right with God and suffer than to be wrong with others to avoid trouble. The history of Israel revealed that ‘good’ wins out in the end. Scripture reveals that God’s ways are never easy, but in the end it is the only way that makes life worthwhile both here in time and also for eternity. (ii) The Scriptures also provide us with the promises of God and God never breaks His word. Barclay suggests that “... they are tremendous things to go out to meet life with. In these ways Scripture gives to the man who studies it comfort in his sorrow and encouragement in his struggle.”

Christian fellowship is also marked by steadfastness. Barclay once again uses one of his favourite words ‘fortitude’ which he defines as  “... an attitude of the heart to life ...” It is more than patience, and is rather a triumphant adequacy that can cope with life; it is the strength that not only accept things , transforms them into something good and wonderful.

This all leads to hope. While we should always be realists, we ought never to be pessimists. But our Christian hope is not a cheap hope, not is it an immature hope because it does not see difficulties because it has not encountered the difficulties of life. Barclay explains: “The Christian hope is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human endurance, in human achievement; the Christian hope is hope in the power of God.”

Christian fellowship should also be marked by harmony. No matter how beautiful a church or cathedral might be irrespective of how wonderful the music might be or how perfect the processions etc. or how generous the charitable giving Barclay suggests that ‘... it has lost the essential of a Christian fellowship if it has lost harmony.’ Of course there must be difference of opinion and argument and debate, but it is essential that, throughout all this those within the Church ‘... will have solved the problem of living together ...’ because the Christ that unites us is greater than the differences that divide us.

The whole essence of being Church should take its pattern and example from our Lord, Jesus Christ who did not seek to please himself, but chose to serve others and so he ‘... sets the pattern which everyone who seeks to be his follower must accept “6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “

 The people within the Church should be bound into one irrespective of anything: race, class, status; those strong in the faith and those who are week. Paul quotes from the Old Testament to give strength to his argument, most notably from his favourite books: Psalms (18:50 and 117:1); Deuteronomy (32:43) and Isaiah (11:10). When we look back to these passages we find that our translations of these passages vary. This is because our Old Testaments are based on the original Hebrew and Paul was using the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek translation.  But the message is the same. This makes me think that, while accuracy matters, it is more the essence of Scripture that is important and not too much emphasis on literal precision – another reason why fundamentalism is so ill-advised. When the Book of the Law was discovered on return from Exile, and Ezra read it from dawn to noon, the Levites gave’... the sense so that the people understood the meaning ...’ (Nehemiah 8:8)  When they understood the meaning they were united together and were blessed. Meaning is what matters and people today will be united together when they understand and share the meaning of the Gospel. Here the meaning is quite clear the Church of Christ must be an inclusive Church. It is such sadness that the Covenant between our Churches, signed in 2003, seems to be so little acted upon, and a new covenant has been deemed necessary to keep Anglicanism together. Have we lost the ‘sense’ of scripture and the Gospel?

What follows are Barclay’s reflections on verses 7-13: Paul continues to re-state the Gospel.

It is a Gospel of HOPE: There is something in Christian hope that nothing can kill ‘... and that something is the conviction that God is still alive. No person is hopeless so long as there is such a thing as the grace of Jesus Christ ...’

It is a Gospel of JOY: There is a big difference between pleasure and joy, but the world seems to have forgotten this important distinction. Christian joy is not dependent upon things outside a person, it is something that comes from within or as Barclay puts it: “... It comes from the consciousness of the living presence of the living Lord, the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Him.”

It is a Gospel of PEACE: Life is always going to be filled with challenges, difficulties and worries from time to time, so Christian peace is not an escape or an inoculation from any of these, so Barclay explains: “Things will happen that we cannot understand, but if we are sure enough of love, we can accept with serenity even those things which wound the heart and baffle the mind.

It is  Gospel of POWER: It is not as if we do not know what is good and right and beautiful, what we lack is the ability to do it and so Barclay concludes: “Only when the surge of the power of Christ fills the weakness of man can we master life as we ought to master it. By ourselves we can do nothing; but with God all things are possible.”

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)

The Necessity for Watchfulness:

36 ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,* but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day* your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Romans 13.11-end: (NRSV) An Urgent Appeal

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 

As is often the case, I am indebted to Barclay for his commentaries on Matthew and Romans for this homily.

My text this evening is written in Matthew 24:44

44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The Gospel for Advent Sunday echoes the theme of the Advent Hope coupled with the idea that Christ’s first Advent also comes with a promise of the Second Coming. I have to confess that I am never too concerned about the Second Coming and in my earlier more evangelical days even, I could not see the point of arguing if one was premill, postmill or amill! What matters more is the fact that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit and that we are charged with following him in love and obedience, where we have been placed, by his grace. I think our Lord was probably addressing this issue as reported here by Matthew for the same reasons, knowing that humans like to be side-tracked into displacement thinking that deflects them from the real task at hand. (I often find that I tidy my study when I should be marking countless essays!!!)

Jesus says that no-one knows when it will happen – even he did not know – only the Father. I know it is an oversimplification, but that does it for me. If no one knows, just get on with what we can know. William Barclay is much more forceful and states that ‘... speculation regarding the time of the Second Coming is nothing less than blasphemy, for the man who so speculates is seeking to wrest from God secrets which belong to God alone.’ I do not believe it is our place to speculate; rather it is our duty to be faithful to what we have been called to do.

These verses also tell us that then time will come with ‘shattering suddenness’ especially for those who are immersed in material things. Noah prepared himself and so was ready while the rest of humanity was immersed in their eating and drinking and marrying, and they were caught completely unawares. Barclay comments: “These verses are a warning never to become immersed in time that we forget eternity ...”

We are also told in these verses that the coming of Christ will be a time of separation and judgement, when Jesus will gather to himself those who are his own, Barclay concludes: “Beyond these things we cannot go – for God has kept the ultimate knowledge to Himself and to his wisdom.”

If we do not know the time when this will all happen, then we need to be prepared – in fact all our life should be a constant preparation for that coming. Jesus will return like a thief in the night in the sense that a thief does not send a letter on ahead to warn the owner of the house he intends to rob, because his principle weapon is the element of surprise. The owner of a house that contains precious things must be on their guard. But our watching is different in the sense that we are not afraid; our watching is an eager expectation for the coming of the glory and joy that will mark meeting our Lord face to face.

Being prepared is a wonderful challenge. We cannot tell the time or the place of many things. I well remember when I was struck with a pancreatic tumour, there was no warning, just sudden soaring pain – and for some time – death seemed imminent.

What will we be found doing if our Lord were to return suddenly? I believe the challenge is to be doing what he has called us to do, by being faithful to our calling wherever we find ourselves.

Martin, the Cobbler, is Leo Tolstoy's story about a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Christ will come to visit his shop. The next day Martin rises early, gets his shop ready, prepares a meal and waits. The only one who showed up in the morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest. Martin gave him a room he had prepared for his divine guest. The only one to show up in the afternoon was an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She was hungry and asked for food. He gave her the food he had prepared for his divine guest. As evening came, a lost boy wandered by. Martin took him home, afraid all the while he would miss the Christ. That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, "Where were You? I waited all day for You."

The Lord said to Martin:
"Three times I came to your friendly door,
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was a beggar with bruised feet.
I was the woman you gave to eat.
I was the homeless child on the street."

Watch out! Christ may be closer than you can imagine.

This same theme is picked up in the Epistle appointed for today.

It was these verses that brought St Augustine of Hippo to faith. After years of living it up, denying himself no pleasure of the world, he heard a little girl reciting these verses and the Holy Spirit used them to convict him of his sinful ways, and brought him to faith. I love this story, because it so graphically shows us how God uses the Scriptures to touch our lives at their very core. As Coleridge observed, the Bible is inspired, not so much in every word contained in it is perfect (for we know this is not true), but because ‘It finds me.’ God’s Word finds the human heart.

When we prayerfully read Scripture, we often find that they wake us up from a sort of sleep; we see things different, afresh, anew, as we have never seen them before, and we become aware of what is happening. The imminence of our salvation is not chronological, a matter of time, it is theological, something that happens to us at the core of our being. The image of ‘putting on’ is nothing new. Isaiah used it (11.5) as did the Psalmist (132.9) as did Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5, Galatians 3.27 and Ephesians 6.13-18 speaks of putting on the whole armour of God.

In this Advent season, we encounter the lovely imagery of darkness and light – and it is the season of light shining in the darkness and the darkness never putting it out. This armour of light that we put on symbolises the virtues that we can have to, ‘... protect us from the assault of evil ...’ In effect we need to put of the Lord Jesus. We should not linger in sin, but show every seriousness by living lives of righteousness and goodness. God’s way of righting wrong has been revealed, and so there is some urgency: are we going to respond in faith or not? Our lives are short, and so there is not much time for us to serve Christ.

There is a sense that we live in the new age, but at the same time we await its full coming, and while we wait, we need to display the behaviour of the new age, and so attract others to it. Best explains: “In wearing Jesus Christ the Christian puts on the character and ways of Jesus.” Christians are “... now called to let the world see the clothes they have already been given ...”

Simply put, the most effective way of showing Christ to the world is to live differently. Paul explains in verse 13:

13let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.

We should avoid revelry – the Greek word komos – which refers to the sort of revelling that lowers a person’s sense of self and is a disturbance and nuisance to others. This is obviously linked to drunkenness which is shameful and disgraceful. Immorality – where one shows no sense of self-control, but takes pleasure when and where one can. Shamefulness is an interesting one in our present times. Don’t you feel so sorry for the way in which some young people no longer seem to feel any shame, as they stumble through our streets, half naked and out of control. Gone is the sense of shame, where people are not bothered anymore by what others think!

Our whole economy seems to rest on contention what some refer to as jealousy. We are told that we should not be unhappy with what we have because wanting and greed are good for the economy. This has been translated into a modern virtue where competition is seen as always good and the desire for place, power and prestige are praised; where people are taught to hate being surpassed and that second place is no good. This envy is what drives things on.

Living in the light is living differently, is being dignified, living for others and not ourselves alone, reaching out in love and forgiveness, and being content with what we have. It is living in the light, it is being like Jesus, clothed with him, living his life where we are. This is what brings light and this is what brings hope to ourselves and to the world we live in. This is what Paul believed is ‘... putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.Jesus put it this way:

44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.