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Laying down weapons… in God’s name September 28, 2007

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.
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Psalm 46 is a daring psalm. Change in the created world, change in what seems so permanent and unchangeable (like the avalanche of the mountains into the sea or the heaving of  the vast waters), even the very worst on earth of what nature can do, even chaos and calamity, will strike no ultimate fear into the heart of the faithful believer. Security is to be found in God alone – the only unshakeable reality – rather than in the ground beneath our feet.

The verse that says ‘Be still and know that I am God’ is particularly interesting. I used to think this referred to the desire to rest in God’s presence, to intentionally spend time away from the strains and stresses of life, to look for God in the quiet places and carve out some time to meditate on who God is and what He has done. But although this is a worthy desire and there’s plenty of biblical precedent for it, it’s not the most accurate translation of this particular verse.

‘Be still’ (Hebrew: raphah) means ‘to slacken’. We might say ‘to stop striving, to abandon’. It pictures a soldier who puts down his weapons, stops fighting and lets down his defences because the danger has passed. And so therefore ‘Be still’ might more appropriately be translated as calling for an end to warfare altogether.

All of which makes me wonder whether I should stand up on Sunday and announce to the congregation that we will now sing ‘Cease fire, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here’.


Grumpy old men and tight-rope walking September 23, 2007

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.

I preached on the Bethesda healing this morning (John 5:1-15) and made the point that Jesus intentionally went to heal the man who had suffered for 38 years. But why didn’t he stop to heal others from the hoardes who had also waited for the stirring of the waters? Wouldn’t it have advanced his message quicker? Was this a wasted opportunity? It made me wonder why sometimes we hear of healings taking place and at other times struggle to understand why others continue to be at dis-ease. I made the point that physical healing is only one aspect of wholeness and that we are living in the tension and overlap of seeing the kingdom in part – already, but not yet – and that it won’t be perfected until Christ returns. Living in the overlap isn’t always an easy place to be. On the one hand Christ himself warned against an overdependence on ‘signs and wonders’ and resisted performing miracles as some kind of spectator sport. On the other, Scripture tells us time and again that God is compassionate, tender and full of loving-kindness and desires to lead us into wholeness.

Meantime, perhaps we have to recognise that healing has its implications. A beggar often made a good living from the streets and wouldn’t necessarily have the same opportunities once they were healed. They’d have to count the cost and recognise the implications of being ‘made well/whole’. The grumpy old man in today’s story didn’t acknowledge his benefactor and according to one commentator his attitude to Jesus could be described as ‘the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man’.

Tom Smail’s recent article called ‘Healing, Cross and Resurrection’ explores the matter further. On the relationship between sickness and sin he comments,

Not of course, as is often imagined by sick people, that all disease is a punishment for sin, although in some cases it may be its consequence. That is all too simplistic and one-sided and on at least two occasions Jesus repudiated any one-to-one relationship between an individual’s disability and his sin.

But sin and disease are much more generally and randomly related as two manifestations of the forces of destructiveness and opposition to God’s purposes that have been let loose in the world. We live in a world that is on the one hand God’s good creation and on the other has fallen into wrong relationship with its creator. In our complicity with that we lay ourselves open to the attacks of destructiveness on physical, mental and spiritual levels that will get a hold on us wherever they can, quite apart from all questions of individual merit or deserving. ‘It is not fair’, people often say, when good people fall ill. Of course it is not – it is of the essence of evil that it is not fair and it respects nothing and nobody that it might destroy.

When it comes to the tough question of why some remain un-healed, he adds:

From Jesus’ cross and resurrection we can see that God’s purpose is not always achieved by taking us out of what is hurting and threatening to destroy us. On the contrary his deepest purposes are achieved by taking us through the worst and making what is in itself a road to death, a road to new quality of life on the other side of death. C S Lewis once said that miracles are for beginners. In the immature phases of our discipleship, which are not confined to early days but can keep recurring, God can and does show himself as our gracious rescuer from what is afflicting us. But there will come times when we are fashioned into maturity by finding with Paul that our thorn in the flesh, whatever it may be, is not removed even in response to our most fervent and persistent beseeching.

He concludes by suggesting that, theologically, we have to engage in some tight-rope walking:

In other words we have to walk with care and discernment a very narrow and precarious tightrope between a deferred eschatology that pushes all hope of healing into the post-mortem future and a triumphalistic realised eschatology that says that if the conditions are fulfilled it can all happen here and now for everybody.

New blog September 22, 2007

Posted by Andy in Recent Sermons.

I’ve had fun blogging since April 2004  over at andyandshona.blogs.com and that will continue to run as a family blog with photos and news. But I’ve been wondering for a while about streamlining and so have now brought to birth this new blog dedicated to more theological matters. So, here we go. Time will tell whether this becomes a place of dialogue with others, but initially this new blog will provide the benefit of giving me ‘space’ to write about: what it’s like being a newly ordained minister and reflections from my ongoing probationary studies; theological books, reviews; issues of particular interest; and recent sermons.