What makes us do the right thing? Is it fear of punishment from breaking God’s rules or is it a thirst for God’s righteousness? In our current situation, do we ‘socially distance’ because that is the Government rule or because we don’t want to transmit the disease to someone else? Of course, the answer is probably both and, in any case, the two are not mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, this is precisely the dilemma that the Apostle Paul deals with in the book of Romans in our assigned reading for this week. The early Christians were unable to break from an obsession with the Jewish law, but Paul suggests there is something better – God’s grace! All that the law can do is highlight sin. In this sense, focusing only on the law makes you a slave to sin. In contrast, Paul says you are no longer subject to the law, instead you are set free by God’s grace, and slaves to righteousness.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus spells out the positive nature of discipleship. It is not about abstaining from certain types of behaviour but, rather, demonstrating grace to everyone we come across: “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” In the Old Testament, the classic example of a man living by righteousness and not by the law was Abraham. Abraham never lived by the law because the law didn’t exist at that time and yet Abraham’s faith in being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac was credited to him as righteousness. The psalmist acknowledges the source of this grace. It is God’s unfailing love, demonstrated through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension which replaces everything that the law could ever be. Don’t misunderstand me, the law is not bad; the law is good, but God’s free gift of grace through Jesus Christ is so much better. This is what should spur us on to do the right thing.
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 22:1-14
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 10:40-42
Epistle reading for this week: Romans 6:12-23
Psalm for this week: Psalm 13
What is real discipleship? It is true that, by God’s grace, once we are ‘saved’, this gift of God cannot be taken away from us but that doesn’t mean that some of our actions can’t be fully secular in nature. Often, without realising it, many Christians are living an atheistic lifestyle and may even be engaging in idolatry on a regular basis. What then does it mean to be a real disciple? In the Gospel passage assigned for this week, Jesus doesn’t mix his words. Jesus cannot be accused of being dishonest about what it means to be a Christian disciple. In essence, he says that unless you devote your whole life and every aspect of it to God, you cannot be a disciple. Jesus goes on to spell out what this means in practice, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine.” The book of Genesis is a book of beginnings which follows a family but even here there are family splits such as the time when Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. God’s purposes, however, are still fulfilled, through Isaac.
There is no such thing as a part-time Christian or a Christian on a zero-hours contract. C S Lewis noted that either Christianity is a lie and should be rejected as worthless, or it is true and, if true, it is so remarkable that it should absorb our every conscious moment. What is clear is that it cannot be only of partial interest and elicit only partial devotion. David captures the all-consuming love of God in his psalm, “Be merciful, O Lord, for I am calling on you CONSTANTLY. Give me happiness, O Lord, for my LIFE DEPENDS ON YOU. In the Epistle reading assigned to this week, the Apostle Paul notes the end of our previous life of sin. He writes, “We are NO LONGER SLAVES TO SIN….we are DEAD TO SIN and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.” Our entire past life is subjugated to our new life in Christ which fills every part of our being. This is real discipleship.
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 21:8-21
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 10:24-39
Epistle reading for this week: Romans 6:1-11
Psalm for this week: Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
What do we mean by endurance? In a world of digital communication, we have become accustomed to instant responses. Sometimes, if we have to wait more than 24 hours, we feel that the response is too slow. In many senses this has spilled over into our church lives as well. We expect immediate replies. We may even come to expect immediate answers to our prayers. Undoubtedly God can act quickly, and sometimes does, but most times He does not. God sometimes wants to teach us endurance. The Gospel reading this week is the story of Jesus sending out the twelve Apostles. They were told to announce to the people that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. They were told not to take any money or any other possessions. No doubt they would have been met with opposition, particularly from the religious leaders of the day. Imagine doing this today in Guildford, it would not always be easy. Perhaps one of the greatest qualities that they (and we) would need is endurance. Just keep going from house to house receiving rejection after rejection until one hospitable home is found.
The ability to endure is one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith. In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah had to wait until old age before they could have a son. That did not stop Abraham from being positive and hospitable to the three men at Mamre. Little did he know that these three men, perhaps representing the Trinity, would inform him that within a year Sarah would have a son. The psalmist writing Psalm 116 knows about endurance when he writes of his troubles and how he will keep praying as long as he draws breath. In Romans, the Apostle Paul explains why God’s plan to teach us endurance is good. Endurance, he writes, develops strength of character. As a result of waiting, Abraham and Sarah greatly cherished God’s gift of Isaac. As a result of enduring rejection from some people, the early Apostles came to rely on God and so grow in their faith. As a result of enduring, we will not be disappointed by God who will use the experience to strengthen our confidence in His plan of salvation for us.
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 18:1-15
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 9:35-10:8
Epistle reading for this week: Romans 5:1-8
Psalm for this week: Psalm 116:1-19
What is Trinity Sunday? In his last words to his disciples as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus admonishes them to go into the world and do three things: to make disciples, to baptize and to teach. Interestingly, in terms of baptism, Jesus introduces something special, something new and something vital. Jesus says baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ‘name’ that we are all to share is the new ‘name’ of the living God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Up to this point Jesus had mentioned his relationship to ‘the Father’ and he had acknowledged being specially equipped for his task by ‘the Holy Spirit’. Now, here, Jesus brings them all together. That is the name of God we are to now use in baptism. This is the first time Jesus does this and he sets the scene for the centuries to come where the nature of God would be pored over before the beautiful and brilliant doctrine of the Trinity emerged in the Christian creeds after 300AD. We cannot plumb the depths of meaning here but, perhaps as a start, we can see God as relational, God as community, God as fellowship.
Today is Trinity Sunday when we reflect on all these great mysteries. In books on theology we know that God the Father is creator and sustainer of the universe. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at the start of the book of Genesis. Psalm 8 is equally wonderful in grasping this eternal truth. God the Son is Saviour and God the Spirit is our guide, our teacher and our source of wisdom. Yet even this is too rigid and doesn’t capture the complementarity of the Godhead, the Trinity. What then is Trinity Sunday all about? Perhaps we should close with the words of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth. Here Paul tries to explain the Trinity in a succinct and helpful way: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.”
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 28:16-20
Epistle reading for this week: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Psalm for this week: Psalm 8
Who is the Holy Spirit? For those doing a GCSE in religious studies, he is the third part (or person) of the Trinity. For those of us brought up in the Anglican church, we may be able to recite the Nicene creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost (or Spirit), the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.” Beautiful language, but what does it mean? In the Gospel reading assigned for this day, Jesus makes it more intelligible. Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is as simple as the breath of God. In the book of Genesis, we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The psalmist writes, “when you take away their (all living things) breath, they die and turn again to dust.” We are creatures of the Creator but because of God’s infinite Grace, he breathes (eternal) life into us. This is what the Holy Spirit is, the breath of life.
However, there is much more that could be said about Him. In the Book of Acts, we read about the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church in power. The writer talks about the Spirit of God as wind (or breath), fire and different languages. He is the one who speaks all the languages of the world and so can communicate with all people everywhere. This aspect of communication dovetails with the creed in terms of speaking through the prophets. Finally, in the Epistle reading for today, we learn of the different gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. The writer of 1 Corinthians mentions the spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment, tongues and interpretation. It is the Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts to each one of us.
Today is the day of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into the Church to enable the Church to be and do God’s will on earth. Let’s be thankful, rejoice and rise to the challenge at this time by breathing life into a troubled world.
New Testament reading for this week: Acts 2:1-21
Gospel reading for this week: John 20:19-23
Epistle reading for this week: 1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Psalm for this week: 104:24-35