Teach us to pray…

The disciples ask their teacher how they should pray. They have seen their rabbi at prayer many times, they have lost him only to find him up a mountain deep in conversation with Yahweh, and they have attended synagogue with him regularly.

They are all good Jewish boys, and would have been taught the correct prayer life by their parents and in the basic schooling they received as young children. But they want more. How can they achieve the same level of devotion that Jesus has? They have seen how prayer can bring healing and release, and taken it out on their missions and experienced it for themselves. Some of them have even seen Jesus transfigured. Still they seek more.

Perhaps they feel that they are missing out? Perhaps word has come from John’s disciples about the prayer life they experienced with their rabbi? Andrew, it is believed, was a disciple of John prior to following Jesus, perhaps he felt that something was missing?

Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.

Luke 11:1

So how did John teach his disciples? We have no record of John’s relationship with his disciples, understandably, as the gospels focus on Jesus and John bows out shortly after Jesus’ baptism, and then of course he comes to a sticky end.

What we do know about John though, is that his way of life was more ascetic, perhaps more disciplined. John himself lived a very simple life, wearing animal skins and grazing for his own diet. His teaching was on repentance and the only ritual he held was that of baptism, of being cleansed in preparation for the one to come.

Perhaps John had given to his disciples a form of prayer that was an identifying mark to the group. We know his disciples fasted and prayed. It was not unusual for rabbis to teach specific prayers. Notice that the text treats prayer as a learned experience, not simply as a release of feelings. Discipline is clearly implied.

Fred B Craddock

What the disciples received and we have inherited is a formula for prayer that covers just about every aspect of life, but differs dramatically from the ascetic lifestyle of John. The first thing that the disciples are required to do is draw close to God, not keep him at a distance for fear that our earthliness will be an insult to God. Jesus tells them to call Yahweh ‘Daddy’.

The prayer begins surprisingly, by calling God ‘Abba’ – ‘Dear Father’.

The Jews have several names for God, and a hundred ways of avoiding his holy name. No one has ever presumed to call God ‘Daddy’. Jesus is inviting his friends to share his own intimate relationship with God. This is not like any prayer that has ever been before. This is love talk.

Andrew Knowles

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John had taught them, instead he teaches them a new intimacy with God. In what has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ there is no call to repent of our sorrows, but instead an invitation to come into the Father’s presence and to ask for what we need, with an assurance of the Father’s love and desire to give us all that is good for us.

Yes there are the words about seeking forgiveness, but they come with an assurance that sins will be forgiven, rather than a fear of not being good enough; and those words, along with a plea to be protected from temptation, come after the disciples have been invited to ask for their daily needs.

John teaches us to make ourselves ready to come into God’s presence, and Jesus welcomes us in.

The disciples asked to be taught to pray as John’s disciples had been taught, instead Jesus teaches us once more the power of love. To be accepted as worthy to be in God’s presence and to join the heavenly pursuits of love and forgiveness.

The disciples had asked the wrong question of Jesus. They wanted to be taught to pray as John’s disciples prayed, instead Jesus teaches them to pray as co-heirs of the kingdom.

Read it here.

Advertisements

Worried and Distracted

A friend posted this poem on their timeline today and I was reminded of Martha,

A blessing for the Exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,

Time takes on the strain until it breaks;

Then all the unattended stress falls in

On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.

Things you could take in your stride before

Now become laboursome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.

Gravity begins falling inside you,

Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.

And you are marooned on unsure ground.

Something within you has closed down;

And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.

The desire that drove you has relinquished.

There is nothing else to do now but rest

And patiently learn to receive the self

You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken

And sadness take over like listless weather.

The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have travelled too fast over false ground;

Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up

To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain

When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,

Taking time to open the well of colour

That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone

Until its calmness can claim you.

Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.

Learn to linger around someone of ease

Who feels they have all the time in the world.

John Donohue

Martha is busy in the kitchen preparing a meal for the guest of honour, while her sister, Mary, is doing nothing. It all seems so unfair, why should her sister get to lounge around ‘entertaining’ their guest whilst Mary does all the hard work? This is not a story of unfair workloads, although it may feel like that, rather of unnecessary burdens.

When Martha gets to breaking point and asks Jesus to intervene, his response is not what is expected. He doesn’t tell Mary that she’s needed in the kitchen and that he can do without her company, he instead speaks gently to Martha,

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…

Luke 10:41

Martha is burdened. She may well be burdened by a variety of pots bubbling away, of herbs and vegetables needing to be chopped, and sauces to be mixed. The amount of dirty pots and pans may be taking over the kitchen sides. The heat in the kitchen may just be too much.

Perhaps the burden isn’t the amount of work which she has set for herself, after all, Martha may enjoy cooking and baking and serving delicious food for people. Jesus says that Martha is worried by many things, so what is concerning her?

Well, for a start, there is a man in her house. For a single woman to entertain a man without a male chaperone just wasn’t done. If people were to find out aspersions would be cast, and their reputations would be ruined. Despite first appearances, Martha has stepped outside of her cultural comfort zone, but Mary has taken a step further. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Mary is taking on the role, and physical position, of a disciple, something else which women just didn’t do; and as the two single women are separated from each other by their chores, they can’t even be vaguely accountable for each other as chaperones. Martha isn’t simply annoyed, she is worried.

Jesus identifies this overwhelming concern of Martha’s which has been bubbling up in the kitchen alongside those pots and pans, and he sees that it is distracting her.

Martha it seems is distracted by so many things. Perhaps she is a ‘born worrier’, perhaps she struggles with anxiety, perhaps she is understandably shaken by this new relationship she and her sister have struck up with the rabbi who seems to b changing everything; who brings hope, but also danger?

Theologian Fred B. Craddock points out that Jesus has recognised that Martha’s concerns have become an ‘obstacle to learning’. Mary on the other hand, has a much simpler approach to life it seems, is able to shake off any cultural expectations of gender or hospitality and simply sits at Jesus’ feet soaking up everything Jesus has to say. Jesus not only allows this, but encourages it, and his response to Martha’s complaint is not to rebuke her sister, but to challenge her busyness. Mary has become

a woman so busy serving she does not hear the word

Fred B. Craddock

Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to pull her weight, he tells Martha to join them. She is encouraged to leave the chores behind, and to ‘sit down, listen, and learn’.

We live in a world which is full of ‘things to do’, life has become one long list. How often do we ask someone how they are and they either brush aside the question not expecting you to have the time to really listen, or, almost with a sense of pride tell you how busy they are. Even in, maybe especially in, church circles. Our lives are unbalanced and we forget that the burden Jesus promises us is a light one. Just as he invites Martha to leave her pinny behind and come and sit with him, he calls all those who are weary and burdened to come and rest in his presence.

There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment.

Andrew Knowles

The churches in which I serve are coming into a time of ‘interregnum’ – our Team Rector has retired and will not be replaced. There were 2.5 full time clergy, now there are 1.5. In addition there is a probability that we will be asked to take care of more churches whose vicar is moving on. The workload could easily make us weary, and with the burdens of the souls we carry we could soon become heavy laden. Not just the clergy, but lay ministers too, and everyone who has a role to play in the life of the church.

If we are to prevent this happening, we need to tune into that spiritual discernment of when to stop. When to risk tea being late or the pans boiling over, in order that we ourselves are refreshed by the Spirit and able to learn from the Lord.

We also need to remember to be kind. Kind to each other and kind to ourselves. When we don’t look after ourselves, our souls, we can easily allow our weariness to boil over into frustration at others, and end up adding to their burdens.

Let us be wary of becoming overburdened, too busy, worried and distracted by many things, and instead find time to sit at Jesus’ feet where we can not only rest, but listen and learn too.

Read Martha’s story here.

The Good Samaritan: A Holy Game of Would you Rather?

There’s a game, ‘Would you Rather’, which challenges it’s players to choose between two equally un-enticing options: Would you rather live without books or music?   Would you rather eat an egg with a half-formed chicken inside or eat ten cooked grasshoppers? Would you rather live in a cave or live in a tree house? Would you rather thirty butterflies instantly appear from nowhere every time you sneeze or one very angry squirrel appear from nowhere every time you cough?

The Lawyer and the Priest in the story of the Good Samaritan are faced with a ‘Would you Rather?’ dilemma. They come across a person desperately in need of help, but if they do stop and help they will become spiritually unclean and unable to help others. Their duty to the injured man conflicts with their religious duties. They cannot do both. The story tells us that they choose to remain clean and carry out their ceremonial duties and ignore the injured man. In many ways it is a ‘no-brainer’ – by remaining clean they also remain safe. This is bandit country after all, and look what happened to the traveller?

The Samaritan though, doesn’t have to play this game of ‘Would you Rather’, because he is already unclean:

Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population occupying the land following the conquest by Assyria in 722BC. They opposed rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem and constructed their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim. Ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic, the Samaritan was the very opposite of the …priest and the Levite.

Fred B.Craddock

The Samaritan’s options were narrowed – should he help this fellow traveller? The human answer of course, is yes. And so he does.

Jesus tells this story in response to a lawyer who asked him

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Luke 10:25

Jesus asks him a question which refers to the religious laws at the heart of the Jewish faith, and the lawyer answers corrrectly:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

Luke 10:27

This is of course, the correct answer. The Legal answer, the religious answer. But the Lawyer is looking for more, he is looking to secure his place in heaven, his holy status, and so, ‘wanting to justify himself’, he asks Jesus who his neighbour is.

The Lawyer wants to narrow down the option to a manageable amount of loving others; Jesus opens it up and expands it.

Jesus has turned the question around. It is no longer ‘who is my neighbour?’ but, ‘to whom can I be a neighbour’

Andrew Knowles

This is all very clever of Jesus,and we have learned to be more humanitarian, to put others first, and that it pleases God to care for his creation more than it pleases him to care for rules and rituals. What strikes me, though, is the motives of the Lawyer who approaches Jesus in the first place. The man asks Jesus a question that he knows he can answer, with the expectation that he will be justified as a good and holy person. This is not necessarily the case, and if the lawyer is asking the question with ‘no intention of implementing answers’ (Craddock), he is placing himself in a very dangerous spiritual position. As are we.

If we come to church, or fellowship group, or even read out Bibles in our own study and prayer time, with no expectation to be challenged and to have to respond to these challenges, then our faith is spiritually hollow. If we attend ‘holy meetings’ in order to justify ourselves, we are actually placing ourselves in a dangerous position.

This morning, allow yourself to walk down the dangerous highway, one in which we may be accosted by bandits, but even more disturbingly, may come face to face with our own broken humanity. Would we rather face up to our own human inconsistencies and lose our social standing? Or would we rather keep to the religious rules and stay safe in our own little boxes?

Read the whole story here, or if you would rather, watch it here.

The Kingdom of God has come near!

How do we know when the kingdom of God has come near? Is it when we feel that lovely holy tingle? When our favourite hymn is sung and we can really bellow it out? Has the kingdom of God come near when everyone who is on a church rota turns up on ‘their’ Sunday, fully prepared? Has the Kingdom of God come near when there are (quiet) children in church and ‘grannies’ too? Has the Kingdom of God come near when someone asks if they can be baptised, or confirmed, or speak to you because they think God is calling them into ordained ministry?

Maybe.

How do we know when the Kingdom of God has come near? When we are prepared to move away from our safe spaces and venture out into the big bad world where there are ‘lions and tigers and bears – oh my’ (The Wizard of Oz).

Jesus sent his disciples out with this very message, but it wasn’t so much the words they used that delivered the message, but their very beings. Jesus sent his followers out unarmed, unprepared, unprotected, and warned them that they were being sent out like

lambs in the midst of wolves

Luke 10:3

They had no money to pay their way, but were to rely on the generosity of others. They had no money, but they did carry with them God’s blessing.

They blessed those who welcomed them into their homes, with peace, and they blessed towns that welcomed them into their market places with healing.

How do we know that the Kingdom of God has drawn near? When people who are usually too busy, too tired, too scared, are willing to carry the kingdom within them to new places.

That’s all well and good for the 12 disciples – they had Jesus at hand to teach them and give them authority to cast out that which is not holy. These disciples were Saints with a capital S. We are so much less than they. But this is not a story about the Apostles, this is a story about 72 unnamed people who stepped out in faith. Who picked up the message and carried it wherever it would be received. These are ordinary people.These are saints (with a small s) just like you and me.

The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.

Luke 10:2

How do we know when the Kingdom of God is near? When ordinary people are filled with the courage to speak of God’s love even in places where it isn’t the done thing; when ordinary people are willing to risk rejection to speak of Jesus’ compassion for others; when ordinary people put their faith into action.

Is the Kingdom of Heaven near?

Read more here.

Sailing into the unknown

The story of ‘Legion’ or the Gerasene Demoniac is fairly well known: a man so haunted by demons that he cannot speak sensibly, act safely, or even keep clothes on his back, is released by the power of Jesus. There are a few cases of Jesus casting out demons within the Gospel narratives, and this one follows a similar pattern: the demons within the person recognise Jesus and are fearful, Jesus ‘casts them out’ of the troubled human, the human gives thanks and praise to Jesus. It’s pretty amazing stuff if we stop to think about it, but for those of us brought up on Sunday School stories, it all feels so ‘ordinary’. I read the passage through and thought, ‘what new thing can I say about this?’

Then a question came to me,

Why was Jesus in Gerasa in the first place?

Gerasa was a Roman city founded by Alexander the Great, thirty three miles from the sea of Galilee and located in the mountains of Gilead, a place of hippodromes, theatres and pagan temples: a place of gentiles. What was Jesus doing in a place of outsiders, when he had previously stated that his mission was primarily to God’s chosen people, the Jews?

Perhaps this was one of those occasions when Jesus wanted to take the disciples to a quiet place so that they could all rest, and he could give them his undivided attention and some quality time? Jesus had invited the disciples to ‘go across to the other side of the lake’ (Luke 8:22), but not given them any clues as to what they would be doing when they got there. To be fair, Jesus had fallen asleep pretty much as soon as they had got into the boat, which suggests that rest was his main concern, but then they’d had a little trouble with some wind and waves and Jesus had been called upon to calm the storm. Perhaps Jesus had some in depth, undisturbed teaching in mind for the twelve regarding their lack of faith. Perhaps the encounter with the demoniac was the teaching: a reminder that Jesus, creator, had authority over all of creation, including the demons under the waters and in our minds?

It could of course have been something completely different. Jesus could have headed towards Gerasa to claim Gentile territory as belonging to God too. This may have been the beginning of the mission which Peter and Paul would head up following Jesus’ ascension, as Christ’s church began to grow. The cleansing of the demoniac was symbolic of God’s love for everyone, and his healing power to cleanse and restore.

There are also future echoes here of the story of the Prodigal Son: the son who is profligate with his inheritance ends up feeding swine: dirty, unclean creatures according to Jewish teaching. Here Jesus sends the demons into the swine and rescues the destitute man.

Another possibility could simply be that the storm had blown them off course, and Jesus and co had originally been heading for a different shore.

Why was Jesus in Gerasa?

The other question that came to me was regarding the end of the tale. Jesus and his friends prepare to return back to Jewish territory; as they are getting into the boat the demoniac-no-more begs to be allowed to go with them. And who wouldn’t? This man had been hounded by demons and by neighbours alike: both had bound him, although the human chains could not hold him. His story was quite unbelievable and he would have to start his life all again with a rather unusual and distinctive reputation. However, Jesus denies him a new start in a new place, there is no witness relocation program for him. Instead Jesus challenges the man to become a missionary in his home town.

Return to your home town and declare how much God has done for you.

Luke 8:39

This is quite a big ask. A huge one. This man, now in his right mind, has previously been cast out and cast aside by family, friends and neighbours. Those who had formerly loved him had come to fear him. Now he was to approach them and tell them his story. Not just that, he was to tell people with a pagan faith (if any) what God – the Jewish God – had done for him. It’s a big ask, but this is what Jesus asks of him, so why does the Gerasene tell everyone about Jesus instead?

This man who has encountered Jesus and the healing and restoration that Jesus delivered, tells everyone about him. Jesus always directs us to God, he doesn’t demand worship or praise for himself, but always gives the glory to God in Heaven; but because God is in heaven, and Jesus is here on earth, tangibly making a difference to his life, the man from Gerasa tells everyone, throughout the city, about what Jesus has done. And in a sense, he is doing what he has been told, because, as Jesus is to declare later, the Father and the Son are one.

Alongside these two questions, there is a challenge for us here: are we to get back in the boat and hide away with Jesus and his holy huddle, or are we going to have the courage to tell everyone (let’s start with someone, anyone) about what Jesus has done for us? Our story may not be as dramatic as the man from Gerasa, but it is our story, and it is precious , and it will speak to others. From sharing our encounters with Jesus, no matter how small we may think they are, others will come to know God. Maybe not everyone, but I bet someone will be touched by the love that Jesus has shown you and seek that out for themselves too. And if not, well, they will have come to know something more about you, and your friendship will deepen because of it.

Read the full story here.

Delighting in the Human Race

It rarely seems as if there is anything to be delighted about, when we look to news coverage and social media. ‘Jokes’ about acid attacks and rape, bickering politicians, homophobic attacks in public places….. but still God delights in the human race.

Let’s get this straight, God doesn’t delight in the bickering, the verbal and physical abuse, God doesn’t delight in the narrow minded approaches to gender and sexuality, or to bigoted ideals of purity. I think it breaks God’s heart to see what is supposed to be the crown of creation, humanity made in God’s own image, acting in such ungodly ways.

But broken, arrogant, wayward humanity is still God’s delight, and on Father’s day let us celebrate that.

Father’s Day, a day to be thankful for the father figures in our lives, to encourage and nurture men in their parenting roles and as role models: John speaks of the special relationship between Father and Son (although fathers and daughters can also have a special bond). For God the Father/Son relationship was that between himself and Jesus. As we read through the gospels we see Jesus, time and again, going off to spend some special alone time with his Father.

One to one time is precious for any parent and child. A time to be alone to share what really matters and to get to know each other as individuals. It is a time to be loved and valued and identified. Jesus took that time and we need to be able to take that time too, whether with our own fathers, or with our children.

We also read of Jesus, especially in John, telling his disciples that he and the Father are one. The bond between these two is more than that of a parent/child relationship, Jesus is more than just a chip off the old block, he and the block are one!

It is almost impossible for us to get our heads around, indeed Jesus tells his disciples

I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now.

John 16:12

Jesus promises that the Spirit of Truth will come to help them, and us, to understand. This is interesting because the Spirit of Truth, has been given many titles over the millennia, we know her best by the title of Holy Spirit, and we also know her best as male (!). Yet in Proverbs, which predates any New Testament writing, the Holy Spirit was known as Wisdom (in Greek Sophia) and was female.

Does not Wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

Proverbs 8:1

We also learn that Wisdom, Sophia, the Spirit of Truth, was part of creation, there before the beginning of the earth, there when God established the heavens, beside him like a master worker. It is Wisdom who speaks of delight, of being God’s delight, and also delighting in not just the works of creation, but specifically in the human race.

Trinity Sunday, as today is also known, is a day in which we are invited to become a part of the delighting. We may not fully understand the ability of God to be one and yet three (after all we are mere mortals), but it is because of the mutual delight and rejoicing and love of Father, Jesus and Wisdom, that we were called into being in the first place. Humanity was loved into being, rejoiced into our own creation, and delighted into existence. When we look at it that way is it any surprise that our own act of creation stems in what can be the most loving, joyful and delightful experience of sexual union?

Today, whether we are parents or not, male or other, we are called into this joyful celebration of loving each other, of rejoicing in the very being of our friends and neighbours, of delighting with God in humanity. Perhaps we are also called to become more delightful to each other too, and fully embrace our identity as children of God, as chips off the old block?

Read the Bible passages in full here.

The Prime of Paracletia

Maths is not my strong point. I actually handed in some accounting which totalled twenty pence pieces at £6.85 and didn’t even notice.

An apostrophe in the wrong place I can spot at a mile and it makes my teeth grind, but numbers, just don’t equate! Thankfully there are others who live and breathe numbers, signs and co-signs, but even for them there are some mathematical dilemmas which are just unsolvable.

IMDB / Imagine Entertainment

In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced the Millennium Prize problems. These were a collection of seven of the most important maths problems that remain unsolved. One of these was solved in 2006, but there are still six problems waiting to be solved, and a million dollar prize to be claimed. Famously, Grigori Perelman, the mathematician par excellence, turned down the prize after solving the Poincare Conjecture.

One of the problems still unsolved is the Riemann Hypothesis, which focuses on Prime Numbers.

Riemann Hypothesis

Some numbers have the special property that they cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller numbers, e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, etc. Such numbers are called prime numbers, and they play an important role, both in pure mathematics and its applications. The distribution of such prime numbers among all natural numbers does not follow any regular pattern.  However, the German mathematician G.F.B. Riemann (1826 – 1866) observed that the frequency of prime numbers is very closely related to the behavior of an elaborate function

    ζ(s) = 1 + 1/2s + 1/3s + 1/4s + …

called the Riemann Zeta function. The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all interesting solutions of the equation

    ζ(s) = 0

lie on a certain vertical straight line.

This has been checked for the first 10,000,000,000,000 solutions. A proof that it is true for every interesting solution would shed light on many of the mysteries surrounding the distribution of prime numbers.

This problem is: 

Unsolved

The disciples and the early church are about to face a mathematical dilemma that will change their world: the way they understand God and the way they live their lives as followers of ‘The Way’. And it has a lot to do with Prime Numbers.

A prime number is, if I have got this right, a number which can only be divided by 1 and itself, eg 3,5,7.

The Jewish faith is a monotheist faith, there is one God. That’s simple enough.

But then Jesus comes along and says that he and the Father are one. This is complicated, but somehow the disciples, on a good day, have begun to comprehend that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore also God.

Now though, Jesus tells the disciples about a third person, who is also God. With me? Remember those prime numbers: a number that can only be divided by 1 and itself.

There is one God, the Father, the Almighty, Yahweh from the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. Jesus and the Father are One. Jesus is the Son of God, but was also there at the beginning of creation and will be there at the end, at the Re-creation of the world. The Holy Spirit is One, She is the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth who will abide in the disciples and in each who follow in The Way.

Three who are One, the ultimate Prime Number.

And here is the evidence:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

Acts 2:1-12

When the Holy Spirit (Paracletia) came upon the disciples, She gave them superhuman, holy abilities. When She breathed upon them they could speak and prophesy in languages formerly unknown to them. When She placed her power upon them, they had courage to speak out to thousands, and three thousand of them were baptised as believers on that day.

In the beginning, it was ‘a wind from God’ who swept over the waters.

When Jesus was baptised, Yahweh spoke love from heaven and the Paracletia perched upon him in the form of a dove.

When Jesus returned to heaven, to Yahweh, Paracletia took her place residing alongside and within any disciple of Jesus open to God.

There are many stories of bizarre happenings when people are under the spell of, or visited by the Holy Spirit, but we are not to fear her. Paracletia comes to bring truth, to help us build our relationships with Yahweh and Jesus, and to give us the courage to help others see the truth of God’s love for them too.

Love is the answer.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Shortly before Jesus is arrested and taken to his death, shortly as in a few short hours beforehand, Jesus talks about love. Not fear, or revenge, or counterattacks or even escape, but love. Jesus doesn’t speak about his martyrdom as a means of glory and an example for others, he speaks about love.

Love is the answer and you know that for sure…

John Lennon

The disciples, just like the children he has just likened them to, have spent much of their time with Jesus bickering, ‘who is the greatest?’ ‘which disciple is Jesus’ favourite’ ‘who will Jesus choose to be the leader’ ‘others are copying us’ ‘are we almost there yet’….

Now as Jesus prepares to take his last mortal breaths he tells the disciples that they are to love each other. Not bear with each other or put up with one another, but to actively love each other.

And how should they love each other? Not grudgingly, brotherly, rough and ready if I have to, love, but with the same love shown in the same way that Jesus has loved them. Jesus has shared everything he has with the disciples, he has taught them, corrected them, been patient with them, forgiven them time and again. He has been humble with them and honest with them, they will see him cry and sweat and bleed. They have witnessed him kneel at their stinking feet and wash them. This is how the disciples need to love each other: with everything they have.

The disciples have grown up with the knowledge that it is right to love God and neighbour: these were commandments handed down from Moses. Until now, though they haven’t been taught how to love.

If we are to believe what others tell us, to love someone means to shower them with gifts, to wine and dine them, to take them out and then take them home…. love is passionate, lustful, damaging to the credit card.

But if we are to believe Jesus, we learn that love is humble, sacrificial, and gives of ourselves, to enable others to live better.

And this isn’t just a rather lovely addition to our faith or our lives. Love isn’t a romantic or even spiritual fluffy cloud we suddenly find ourselves in when the worship and praise is particularly to our liking: love is a commandment that we commit to. We love even when we feel unloved or unlovely. We love when the recipient is having a particularly ugly day, when the recipient is rude, thankless, filthy…. because that is how Jesus loves us.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus

This is not how we want to love, this is not how we have experienced love, this is not how we are expected to love. It is counter-cultural and challenging and often brings no rewards. Love is a gift for others, not an investment for ourselves.

This is how God loves us.

And this is how God wants us to love others.

baaaaaa!

Even if Jesus had answered the Jews who had been asking him, they would not have believed him. If Jesus had stood up and said ‘I am the Messiah’ it is more likely that he would have been told that he was a ‘very naughty boy’ than he would have been worshipped as the Son of God.

The Jewish people had been so desperate for a messiah to come and save them, yet they didn’t recognise the anointed one when they saw him; well perhaps they did, but they couldn’t quite trust themselves to believe that it could be true. Jesus, after all was the carpenter’s son.

The only way for people to fully trust and believe was to experience Jesus first hand. To truly hear his voice and not just the words that he spoke, to find the truth in his healing presence and the hope in his loving actions.

As Jesus had spent three years proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God, some had indeed done so. They had given up their day jobs, the comfort of their homes, maybe even the respect of friends and family to follow him. They had recognised something special in his voice.

Peter in particular had heard something true. Peter, like the other 11 had given up his day job, fishing, and had left behind his home, even his wife who seems to have gone back to live with her own mother in Peter’s absence. When Jesus asks his 12 closest allies, who they think he is, it is Peter who proclaims

[You are] the Messiah of God.

Luke 9:20

When Jesus meets with Peter and the crew during that resurrection period before he returns to heaven, he takes Peter to one side and asks him three times if he loves him. When Peter answers ‘yes’, reversing the thrice-fold denial of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus asks him to take care of his sheep;

feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep

John 21:15-19

Jesus is shortly to return to heaven, leaving his flocks unattended. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not only does he know and love his sheep, but he knows that they need someone to follow, someone who will take time to get to know them, to understand the nuances of their own language, and will teach them to listen to his. This new shepherd will also need to be someone who has known the Good Shepherd and who will continue to listen to his voice and not give up when the going gets tough. He is asking Peter, the rock upon whom his church will be built, to shepherd his sheep.

Peter the disciple who first recognised Jesus as the messiah; Peter who followed Jesus when the other disciples ran and hid after his arrest, but also Peter who Jesus once likened to Satan (get thee behind me), and who was too scared to even admit to knowing him.

Being a shepherd isn’t about being perfect, it is about being faithful to the sheep. Likewise being a Christian isn’t about getting everything right, but about knowing when we are wrong and being prepared to do something about it. Being a vicar, a minister, a pastor, isn’t about being super holy, but about spending time listening, to God (the Good Shepherd) and to the sheep, and helping to keep the lines of communication open so that everyone can not just hear about God’s love, but experience it first hand.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

Read more here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑