Author Archives: iseeitmyway

Trinity Sunday

Exodus is the second book of the Bible; it is based on and around the story of slaves escaping from their oppression in Egypt and travelling through the hostile desert under the leadership of Moses; and it was in this process that a relationship was built up between them and the one god who would be theirs from then on forever; it was the god with the mysterious name of Yahweh, meaning something like ‘I am who is.’ This basic oral account over time gained a great number of elaborations and additions before it settled into the written form in the Bible that has now been more or less unaltered for about two and a half thousand years. In our extract for today’s first reading we hear of this aloof and even fearful God condescending to meet with Moses the people’s leader on the heights of the sacred mount Sinai. This god then announces himself (always referred to in this personal way) as kind and forgiving, despite the unfaithfulness of the people whose god He is. Moses is encouraged by this revelation and feels enabled to respond on behalf of the people he leads, with worship and prayer for blessing and forgiveness. It is this threefold pattern in this section of the Exodus story that is seen by Christians to suit this day’s feast of the Trinity – the threefold pattern of God the aloof, the one who shows Himself and the one who enables an appropriate response.

In the second reading we have the ending of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. This ‘letter’ is most likely an amalgam of two or more previous letters written by Paul, gathered as one document. The end of the epistle which we hear today is very interesting. It could easily be taken as part of a Church service. As early as the 50s or 60s, Christians probably came together each Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to mutually support each other and to hear some teaching from their leader. If there was a letter from Paul, it would have been read out at this meeting, perhaps with an ending like we have in today’s reading. This ending encourages rejoicing and happiness, it suggests renewing one’s efforts to live good lives and it calls down peace and love upon the community. This would conclude the reading at their gathering, before the most sacred part of their celebration, when perhaps they had what we today might call ‘the peace,’. On this feast of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we particularly notice the Trinitarian wording in this blessing and it has become a common prayer used by Christians to this day and often referred to just as ‘the Grace.’

In the account of Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus at night (John 3:2), and finally being told that Jesus is the light (John 3:19) we seem to have a conversation carefully constructed for the Christians of the early Church in a Greek speaking context. Our gospel reading takes just a few verses from this account. In John, even more than in the other three gospels, we have a strong emphasis on the Spirit of God; the Holy Spirit is not only the instigation of the public ministry of Jesus at His baptism but also the future source of eternal life after His death and resurrection for others; this comes to them at baptism and at what we would call the Sacrament of the Eucharist., enabling and supporting a lived-out belief in Jesus, where the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel reminds readers that the flesh without spirit is useless. Our passage’s references to love should also make us think of the action of the Holy Spirit, especially this day as we celebrate the triple dynamism of God’s reality, its relationship to creation and its life within which we live.

see Jeffs Jottings – Not alone

Pentecost

The first reading is Luke’s account in Acts of the first Christian Pentecost. The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as an agricultural harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually (especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD) into a celebration of the reception of the Law from God as part of their covenant with Him. Jews from far away places would home in on Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The Greek word Pentecost refers to the fiftieth day, so this story is set about seven weeks after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for the Christian feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes of the disciples, the women and all the brethren – 120 people – gathering together. In the references to wind and fire there are echoes of accounts in the Old Testament of God’s contact with His covenant people, especially through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19f) for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Now it is to indicate the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, Luke says, “in different tongues.” Some believers in the church of Corinth had been ‘speaking in tongues’, called glossolalia, during worship gatherings according to 1 Cor 12, (as some charismatics do to this day) but Luke has different languages in mind because he wants to make the point that the Good News is for the whole known world, hence his long (traditional) list of different places and peoples. The word of God must be expressed so that all ordinary people might understand; this might be a sign of the reversal of the communal pride and godless aspirations in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis (Chapter 11) which the Jews often retold; and there could be a lesson there for our community or society today.
In the second reading Paul is addressing a problem in the Christian community in Corinth. Different people play different roles in the community arising from their gift from the Spirit of God; some had obviously wanted their own aggrandisement from these gifts without consideration for the community. In our reading, it is pointed out that the Spirit is differentiated for the good of the whole – like the different parts of a body, the body of Christ that the community is. Without the Spirit, he writes, “No one can say, Jesus is Lord.” But since anyone can actually make this statement, it must really mean that believing that Jesus is Lord is not about accepting a proposition but living in a particular way – living the way Jesus would have one live. This particular phrase, was most likely a very early statement of faith for those who became Christians. Nearly 200 years later the Creed that we have today was developed, and we must remember that believing it, is not saying the words, but determining to live how God would have us live.

The Spirit played an instigating part in the creation poem at the opening of the Bible, hovering over the disorder before the creative words are spoken (Gen 1:1-3). In Greek and in Hebrew the same word can mean spirit or wind, and it can be associated with breath. Today we celebrate a significant stage in the on-going process of creation. It was after the Word was sent by God into our world as Jesus to establish the ideal pattern for being human – from birth to fulfillment through death. Our gospel reading is from John: Good News for the 1st century disciples, but also for all who want to be successful humans – for us here today. The reading tells of the dawning of the realisation that Christ is risen – the one who now transcends earthly limitations – Sent by God. He identifies Himself showing the wounds of His life on earth. Then He sends us, who are now disciples, breathing in us the same creative Spirit. We have the task of communicating God’s forgiveness of sins; it is the really good news that we have to show to people by how we relate to them. But alas, some will hold on to their worldly and selfish pleasures and will not accept the gift we bring. Hence, though we have the joy of the Spirit, we too will suffer from the struggle, yet with deep immense joy, of working for the creation of the ideal world that God is creating.

see Jeffs Jottings – The Spirit

Easter 7

Thursday is the feast of the Ascension.  Its not that Jesus has left this world, but rather that He is everywhere and especially in all other human beings whom we meet!  But now to Sunday’s readings —-

The first reading is just after the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus’ last words to his disciples before His departure into heaven, are “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;” then as an outline for Luke’s story of the spread of early Christianity, He says, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8); this expansion of Christianity is the story Luke tells in Acts. Our reading today comes after the account of the Ascension, when we are given the impression that the disciples’ world seems to have been turned upside down: they are devastated; first of all Jesus died before establishing the Kingdom, and although He showed Himself to be alive after that, now He has gone and left them to get on with it and they feel abandoned. So what are we told they did? They prayed; and in this short account there is an important lesson for us! We don’t know what they prayed, but I think when one is at a really low ebb in life, one should pray to God about whatever one feels: let down, pointlessness, need for guidance etc. and maybe take a look at the second reading.

In the second reading it is Christians who are likely to be persecuted who are being addressed. We hear some sayings very hard to take about suffering and the recommended attitude towards it, as well as the hope of glory – but that’s in the future. We know that this approach was lived out in Christ’s life on earth. We learn from His prayer in Gethsemane in the Gospels that Jesus found it quite hard towards the end of His life, for He prayed “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And perhaps this incident and prayer is recorded there to help us when we suffer, and it is definitely suitable for the early, persecuted, Christians as well as for us today.

In the gospel, we have the final section of the long passages after the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. It uses the literary form of a Farewell speech. At first He speaks for the last time about glory; it has been a recurring theme in this Gospel – He showed it in so many recounted incidents in His life; He prays also about eternal life – the timeless life of the Godhead which He also shares in. References to the ‘hour’ have also been made in lots of the stories in John’s Gospel where it was something awaited, but now it has finally come. In addition Jesus prays about the disciples, indeed He prays for them! They will continue  Jesus’ task of revealing the glory of God in the world; but for now He is bidding them farewell; leaving them in the world. The world is the place where God is not yet revealed properly, so He prays for the disciples, because they have this task to do, in and for the world. This passage is sometimes called the priestly prayer, because it comes from one who calls down blessing, who supports belief, and does this for others who will do the actual work of revealing God’s glory in the (secular) world. It is you and I now who are those people tasked with this role, about whom this prayer is made; and Jesus is within the Godhead, and yet all that is His, is with us and working through us in this enormous but so important task.

see Jeffs Jottings – Gospel truth ?

Easter 6

The first reading is from the point in Acts where Luke tells of the extension of Christianity beyond the confines of Judea and the limits of the Jewish religion. Christianity is spread by Philip, one of the ‘deacons’ appointed to help the Hellenists in Jerusalem (see last week’s first reading). He goes to the Samaritans, who had become separated from the Jewish faith when they intermarried with non-Jews centuries earlier, and who were despised by the Jews. We have mixed reports about them in the Gospels: Jesus sent the chosen twelve out saying “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matthew10:2-6); Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25ff); and in John’s Gospel (Chapter 4), Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman and many Samaritans come to believe in him through her testimony. Philip had been commissioned through the laying on of hands by the Apostles specifically to pastor the Hellenists in Jerusalem, but now we see him as a missionary (sometime translated as an evangelist – one who preaches the Good News) to the Samaritans. He is successful Luke tells us, because of his words and the miracles attributed to him; many of them are baptised; we recall that Peter had told the Jews, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38f). Peter’s words imply that baptism brings the gift of the Holy Spirit and is open to “whomever God will call.” But when the Apostles in Jerusalem hear of this they send Peter and John to lay their hands on the Samaritans for them to receive the Spirit. Behind this we might detect some edginess between the ‘mother’ church’s leaders and the successful evangelist, Philip, though it is not made explicit, for Luke when he was travelling with Paul stayed with Philip at his house in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-10). We learn from this reading about the growth of the Church both as a community of the Spirit and as an organised body (of Christ); the process will always be difficult and is still going on in the worldwide context of the Church to this day – we all play a part in this.

The second reading from the First letter of Peter takes up this very theme from the first reading, of finding things difficult. However the writer has more aggressive antagonism and from persecutors of Christians – this is common to the early Christians addressed. Suffering can be expected, and Christians must be prepared for it. If it is verbal aggressive criticism, we must be ready with some explanation of our Christian beliefs and practices; but we must never be antagonistic in reply. If we share in the life of Christ then we must expect suffering as we live out our Christian calling. The pattern of Christ’s life is suffering for doing good, and this very suffering brought goodness into our world and our lives.

The Gospel is a continuation of the long discourse of last week’s gospel reading, and continues with the mystery that life is as a follower of Christ. The focus of this section is love. Usually Christians are though of as those who believe in Jesus, but here, Jesus is trying to say something about the life for Christians after His death. Added to love is the need to keep His commandments. And then Jesus says that He will ask the Father to send them another Advocate – a word sometimes translated Paraclete. The questions that they will have without Jesus there to respond to them, can be dealt with by the Paraclete, Who is the Spirit of truth. But they will not really be without Jesus anyway, for in the love that they live out as Christians, He and the Father will be present to them, though not present in this way to others. We see in this passage the early emergence of the formulation of the Trinity – forever a mystery, but one in which we can be involved when we keep the commandment of love!

see Jeffs Jottings – mass on the world

Easter 5

In the reading from Acts (Acts 6:1-7) we have an example of the early development of the institutional aspect of the Church. The instigation for this was the increase in the number of Christians from among the Hellenists – Jews who lived in the Diaspora, that is, outside of the Jewish homeland. The need for development resulted from a complaint from these Hellenists that the pastoral care of the members of their community was not being met because of a shortage of staff who might provide this. There was a general meeting and the Twelve leaders said that their particular responsibility was for prayer and preaching the word of God, and so they suggested that seven other people should be selected for the pastoral work that was needed. Those selected should have the appropriate qualities: good reputation, wisdom, and a life with God’s Spirit. They were selected by the people, and the Eleven laid their hands on them to commission them for this task. The passage concludes with Luke again telling us of the increase in numbers – the growth and development of the Christian communities was the main instigation for the writing of the Acts of the Apostles. We learn from this that the Church needs to develop and adapt to the different needs and circumstances that arise; this is much more complex and yet also more urgent now, for the church as we know it now is not only broken into different denominations but also is spread worldwide and the most numerous of all religions.

The second reading  is again from the First letter of Peter. It is still part of the address about the meaning and responsibilities of being Christian – an instruction for those newly baptised. As all new-born babies and even young children, the instinct for survival is basically selfish, and those who have newly joined the Christian community, like all of us, can sometimes focus on our own spiritual growth rather than on the community in which we live. The aim of the Christian is to become more like Christ, and our passage begins, “But as you come to him…” But after this introduction, it draws on an image familiar to those who know the Old testament well – this may well not be any of us. The passage tells us that the community that Christians should be is like the temple, the house of God, and in any worthwhile building there is an important foundation stone upon which the rest depends; but there must be other stones as well, connected to this key stone and to each other. It is like this for Christians, Christ is the basis, and the Christians must work together on this foundation to build up a good spirit of community where, like priests in a temple, honour and glory and praise are given to God. We are this community and must try to live up to this ideal. There are a number of quotations from the Old Testament, but the passage concludes that we are God’s choice people, worshipping Him as priests and like a national group who support each other but also must praise God in what we do and how we live, so as to strengthen and maintain the community.

The gospel is part of a farewell speech from John’s gospel. It reads as an attempt to explain to the disciples the deeper significance of the forthcoming events: arrest, execution and resurrection. But it is also a message for us – the gospels are good news – helping us to enter into the mystery of what it is to be a follower of Jesus and of Who Jesus is. Like much of John’s gospel it has a deep meaning which is not easy to grasp. Jesus is always in close union with God the Father, and the Father is always with Him in all that He does, even as a human being. By facing His death He completes His life here on earth and from His place within the godhead He is there waiting for the rest of us to join Him. We must trust in Him and in the Father: believe that as we live now we should be getting closer to our life with Him, with God. And God is with us in our lives whenever we are living as we should. Chapters 15-17 in John are also in this same vein, and different sections may have been used in the early church as Sunday lessons according to the number of weeks before Easter, which is still for us a moveable feast set by the lunar calendar.

see Jeffs Jottings – who are you

 

 

Easter 4

The first reading repeats the introduction from last week so as to make sense, for there follows a continuation of the previous words spoken to the crowd by Peter. The people have been moved by the accusation of putting Jesus to death, and they want to know what they can do. Peter calls upon them to be baptised. As John the Baptist seems to have preached to his listeners, Peter begins with the need for repentance and the need for baptism. You could feel sorry for the past but this repentance means ‘change your attitude to life.’ Baptism is a washing symbolic of starting with a clean sheet; here it is for starting a new life caught up in the life of the risen Christ. In his life our past is transformed; those baptised will have the forgiveness of past sins. The words translated ‘forgiveness of’ could equally well be translated as ‘release from,’ meaning a freedom from the debilitating affects of past sins. Those baptised will share in the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God. God wants people of all kinds to come into this communion with Him.

The First letter of Peter is written in good Greek and unlikely to come from the pen of Peter himself, but whether or no it is a work inspired by God written in the first century and accepted into the Christian Bible. It has a great deal to say to us.  Our reading presents us with food for thought, a high ideal and an enormous challenge. It tells us that when we undergo suffering even though we are doing good deeds, this shows God’s favour for us. Indeed this is actually what being a Christian involves – following Christ’s example, who Himself suffered for our benefit and as an example for us to follow. The writer has in mind a prophetic poem (maybe of the 4th century BC) from the book of Isaiah (chapter 53). The suffering of Christ has often been seen as a sacrifice to appease God for sin and folk’s falling short of expectations, and this imagery was drawn ultimately from the Jewish sacrifices and sin-offerings, for it is not at all easy to find ways of making some sense of Christ’s suffering (and even of any innocent’s misfortune). But God is not like a human self-opinionated superior person, who requires compensation when offended in any way; not like us when we seek what can only be called revenge for any damage done to us or even to our belongings or property!  Jesus came to show us a better way to live our lives, a very challenging way reported in Matthew’s account of the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:38-48): we shouldn’t be wanting “an eye for an eye,” for revenge and treating evil with force doesn’t bring freedom and joy to the world. As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from death, after a painful and totally unjust execution, we need to learn that the way to the higher life, to sharing in the life of Christ, is not so much a bed of roses, as of thorns. There is a deep and inner joy in following the difficult path of the life of Christ, which we should and could take part in. And at this time we celebrate this joy of the new and higher way of living.

The Gospel is helpful after the challenge of the second reading. For we easily and often fall short of the ideal and go astray.  But we need to think of God as a shepherd.  In those days the shepherd would spend most of his life with his flock, leading them to good pasture, gathering them into a safe place and staying with them throughout the night for their protection. This image of God has been deservedly very popular over the last two and a half millennia; many people know and love the psalm and hymn that we had for our responsorial psalm after the first reading; in John’s gospel this image is expanded and Jesus is God the shepherd, and it is through Him, as through a gate, that we can not only share His way of life, but benefit from his help and protection.

see Jeffs Jottings – Listen to Judas

Easter 3

In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading is the first sermon from Peter after the resurrection. The literary style is not that of a Galilean Jew, but the content is believable as a very early expression of the initial preaching about Jesus.  In this first century account of the beginnings of Christianity, Peter is a key figure in the growth of the early church, together with Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles. It is significant that it is a Jewish audience in Jerusalem that Peter is addressing.  Jesus is referred to as the Nazarean and there is uncertainty whether this means a man from Nazareth or one specially dedicated to God, as for example, Samson in the Old Testament, called a Nazirite. The understanding of Christian beliefs develops over time, so Peter speaks about God working through Jesus where we might be clear that Jesus is Himself God; but he does see Jesus as the fulfilment of the hopes of the Old Testament and quotes Psalm 16 verses 8 to 11, which was a song originally about someone faithful to the Lord, maybe king David, being looked after by Him; (it is used for the responsorial psalm this day). In the sermon Peter accuses the Jews of engineering the death of Jesus in an anti-Semitic way; this attitude was decried by the Church most noticeably in the 20th century in the Second Vatican Council initiated by Pope, Saint John XXIII, with the words: “Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any person, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”  (The Church and non-Christian religions, Nostra aetate, Oct. 1962).   But for us the positive message from Peter’s sermon is that the Spirit of God is now poured out into creation because of the resurrection of Jesus destroying the deadliness of death and the power of evil in our lives.
The second reading is part of an address to early Christians, probably Gentile converts. It is about what it means to be a Christian, noting that it is brought about by Christ – the writer uses the word ‘ransomed’, but no words can really capture the mystery of it. The mystery is that the final age has been initiated thanks to the work of God in Christ, through His life and death. The imagery of the sacrificial lamb which is used is derived from the bloody sacrifices of the Jewish Temple which at the time of this letter had been destroyed. And those addressed are living like people in exile and are urged to conduct themselves reverently in this situation; this reflects how the Jews were when they were in exile in Babylon, they had to work at it to keep themselves true to their calling. So, though we are elevated in our being through the work of God in Christ, we are for the time being in this world and must live here in a way becoming of our status.

I love the story at the end of Luke meaning that you cannot be human without other humans and to be Christian is to belong to a community.  Relationships between people is often supported and sometimes begun over a meal – sometimes just a drink and a chat. Just as this encourages us in our lives so does talking and listening – learning the way others live and so working out how to better ourselves, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  Even in our modern times there seems to be need for lots of coffee shops, eating places and other social media – people need people. So the early Christians at once developed the practice of meeting regularly in someone’s house. There they heard about the life of Jesus and the meaning of so much of the Bible; at these times also they shared a meal – it included the ritual of breaking and sharing bread. At times like this the life of Christ was with them and increased in them through these significant meetings where they remembered the Last Supper and strengthened the presence of the risen life of Christ within them.  So Luke at the end of his Good News tells this delightful story of two broken-hearted travelers meeting with a new person, discussing their situation, hearing of the meaning of God’s plan from the Bible and sharing a meal: today’s gospel reading.

See Jeffs Jottings – It’s a vacuum