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.
1 Samuel 17:32-49
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
For Euro 2020, happening in 2021, it is difficult to get everyone in the locality watching games together as it was during the 2018 world cup. In many senses Covid means we have lost community events, but what is community? 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 the internet. 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 Mark’s Gospel at the end of chapter 3, 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. Let us also remember and pray for the persecuted church which is suffering particularly during lockdown.
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 was being accused by the scribes (lawyers) of having a demon in him. This followed an incident earlier in the Gospel where 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 did Jesus break the religious rules and why did He allow his followers to break the religious rules? 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.
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.
Why do some people in our society accept the Gospel message while others do not? This was a great historical debate between, amongst others, John Wesley and George Whitefield. John Wesley was adamant that all people could be ‘saved’ while George Whitefield had different views. In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus seems to suggest there is some mileage in the latter’s views. Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you..” However, we need to consider other things that Jesus said. Jesus is on record as saying that ‘the harvest is plentiful’ and also ‘go into ALL nations baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. Whatever our views on predestination, what is clear is that God has not chosen to reveal to us those who are pre-destined. Therefore, we proceed to proclaim the Gospel by all the means that we can to all people that we can until told otherwise. Peter captures his Lord’s sentiment on this issue when he writes: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” It is our joy, calling and privilege to do nothing less!
1 John 5:1-6
How many wars or conflicts are caused by one group of people believing that they are different from others? In the Gospel reading assigned for today, Jesus addresses this whole issue of exclusivity. In Ancient Israel, many of the Jewish religious leaders believed that Israel was the only nation important to God. They believed that other nations were ultimately destined for destruction. Jesus made it clear that God’s sheep are not only from Judaism but also from the non-Jewish world. True, Jesus, for practical reasons, encouraged his followers to start with the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ but then made it clear that the Church’s mission was universal. Jesus stayed and taught in Samaria, praised the Roman centurion for his faith, told a story about a good Samaritan and declared that many from the North, South, East and West will sit down in the Kingdom of God. Lord forbid that we should ever think that our Christian faith is only for us and people like us.
1 John 3:16-24