I wonder if we ever make rash promises or rash oaths. Certainly, Jesus warned against this by saying do not swear by anything but, rather, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. In the book of Judges, Jephthah made a rash promise with fatal consequences for his daughter. In the book of 1 Samuel, something similar almost happened with Saul’s son Jonathan. In the Gospel passage assigned to this week we have a similar story. King Herod respected John the Baptist and yet promised the daughter of Herodias anything she wanted after her dancing performance. After consulting with her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Although greatly distressed, King Herod had backed himself into a corner in front of his court and didn’t have the courage to spare the life of John. We should all be careful in what we promise others. Once again we should heed the words of our Lord: ‘Do not swear an oath at all!
STEVE’S DISCIPLESHIP BLOG
The Gospel reading for this week is Mark’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples with instructions for mission. Can we draw any parallels between then and now? Is there anything we can learn from Jesus’ words then, about how we carry out mission today? I think we can and we should. Jesus fully expected his disciples to meet apathy and even active opposition. He says: “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave.” Here Jesus seems to be saying that you should have nothing more to do with them. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says there will be judgement on that town worse than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah! What are the lessons for us? Firstly, Jesus places no restriction as to where the disciples should go – at least not in Mark’s account. The Gospel is to be preached everywhere and to everyone. Secondly however, if people reject it, don’t waste time on them but simply move on to someone else who will not reject it. For us, in 2018, the principle still holds. We preach the Gospel by our lives, words and example wherever we go. However, if people will not accept it, we should not ‘beat ourselves up’ and feel inadequate. We should simply move on to sharing the Gospel with someone else. It is a simple but powerful teaching. Let’s practise it this week.
The Bible reading for this week is the account of Jesus stopping to heal a woman with haemorrhaging whilst he was on his way to attend to Jairus’ daughter. A twelve year old is dying and yet Jesus stops to talk to a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. Why? Once again, we are struck by the fact that Jesus was not in a hurry. Like the account of Lazarus, Jesus does not rush around; even to get to a dying person. He is Lord of time and considers there to be something much more important to address than meeting deadlines. Jesus wanted to meet, engage with and heal broken relationships. The woman had been labelled as an ‘outcast’ for the past 12 years because of her medical condition. No doubt, she was referred to by a range of derogatory terms by the people who saw her. Jesus changes all of that. Jesus gives her a new name: ‘daughter’. For Jesus, the overriding concern was to restore people, all people, to full dignity in God. Similarly, he wants to do the same with us. He wants to restore all of us by giving us the title of ‘children of God’. To Him, this was much more important than rushing around meeting deadlines.
The Bible reading for this week is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Lake of Galilee. It is interesting that the words Jesus uses to calm the storm are the same as the words he uses to drive out demons. With the fall of creation, weather systems were also affected. The fact that Jesus, as a man, had authority over weather systems is a remarkable revelation but perhaps the main purpose of this passage is more symbolic and eternal, rather than a ‘one-off’ physical miracle. The point is that once the disciples knew that Jesus was with them, their fears subsided. As we voyage through life, to know the presence of God in our boat is to quell our fears. In a sense, it is not so much about the height of the waves, but who is standing alongside us. When sorrows inevitably descend upon our lives at some point, take heart, Jesus can stand next to us to help us overcome our worst worries.
The ‘Kingdom of God’ is mentioned no fewer than 126 times in the Gospels. It was one of Jesus’ central themes – perhaps the most vital. What does it mean? In the Bible reading for this week, we get a further glimpse. In the parable of the mustard seed, we learn that the Kingdom of God comes magnificently, unexpectedly and SLOWLY. The disciples looked for a swift and cataclysmic establishment of the Kingdom but Jesus teaches otherwise. The Kingdom of God starts from tiny beginnings and through slow pervasive growth it overtakes what is around it. From the mustard seed alone, it is impossible to ascertain what it will turn into; and yet its final form is a beautiful surprise. Of course, there is much more that Jesus teaches about God’s kingdom but this is enough to ponder upon for the moment because, like the disciples, there is only so much teaching that we can assimilate at one time.
In the village where we live, a group of local residents have organised a BBQ with a large screen to watch one of England’s World Cup games. To me, this is a great gesture of community spirit. However, of course, the modern-day notion of ‘community’ is multi-layered. We may be members of many ‘communities’: work, friends, family, sport, common interests and others besides. Some of the members of our communities may be in other countries of the world and connected by Skype. However, there is another type of community that has not yet been mentioned. This community is more important than any other. I am talking, of course, about our Christian community – the fellowship of believers. In the Bible passage assigned for this week, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the most important and special community is the one that seeks to do God’s will. This week, let us especially cherish and thank God for, our brothers and sisters in Christ – the Christian church.
One of the concerns of many Christians with regard to the modern-day church is its over reliance on man-made laws. Many Church leaders point to Paul’s teaching in Romans chapter 13 where he urges believers to “submit to the authorities”. However, this teaching flies in the face of the, more important, life and teaching of Jesus Himself. Jesus unashamedly broke the rules. This week, the Bible reading from Mark’s Gospel is one such example. Jesus allowed his followers to pick ears of corn on the Sabbath and then Jesus proceeded to heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Why? The answer is that the law, in itself, is only part of the solution to society’s ills. The complete solution is love. Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended out of love. Love will always trump legalism. As long as the Church uses legalism as its default position it will not be able to show grace; it will not be able to show love and it will not be fully the bride that Christ calls it to be.
In the liturgical year, this week is the first week after Pentecost or the week beginning with Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is often something of a stumbling block to people – perhaps particularly those outside the church. For some of these people, Christianity may be seen as some strange religion which worships three gods. This is quite wrong. Christianity is completely monotheistic. There always was and always will be, one God. Jesus himself said “I and the Father are ONE.” However, in order to understand the nature of God we need to see God as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Water can be in the form of ice, steam or liquid but it is still water. A woman can be a manager, mother and wife but she is still exactly the same person. So it is with God. God is Father, Son and Spirit but He is still one God.
I have spent most of my professional life in education leadership. One of the roles of the school leader is to give talks in assembly. How do you communicate to young people the transforming power of the Holy Spirit? I often used to take a plastic bottle of washing up liquid and a small plastic stick with a circular hole in it (children’s party bubbles). The young people would dip the stick in the liquid and blow through the circular hole to produce many bubbles. The question then was what had transformed this greasy, slimy liquid in the bottle into those beautiful spheroids, which, in sunlight, would refract all the colours of the rainbow? The answer is a puff of breath. The Old Testament word for Spirit is the same as ‘breath’. The Holy Spirit is the breath (or wind) of God which brings about change. Specifically, He changes the ordinary into something beautiful. This gives us an insight into the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who came in a special way to the believers on the day of Pentecost, is in the business of changing things for the better. He is also in the business of perfecting us into being fully the people God intended us to be. I hope and pray that the generations who heard my Pentecost assemblies captured something of this message.
How much do we throw ourselves into our lives in this world? How much do we value our careers, possessions, homes, entertainments and even our families? How sad would we be to give it all up and move to an existence somewhere completely different? Although we are all called to be ‘salt and light’ in our communities, the Gospel passage assigned to this week reminds us that our home is elsewhere. When Jesus prays for his disciples, he notes that, they are not ‘of this world’ any more than He is of this world. The question returns. Are we too much in love with this world? It is a lingering question, which should make us continually reflect.