WISHY WASHY

“I thought you two would get on – you’re both wishy washy Christians”

A comment from a mutual friend of myself and another Christian minister whom I met recently.

 

I pondered this for some time. Slightly sad that my faith was seen as somehow, somewhat diluted or possibly ineffective? I did not pursue it as I know the individuals style tolerably well, it was her short hand way of saying that my faith, and the other persons, was not the same as hers. And she would struggle to accept that.

It illustrates the need for a generous orthodoxy or “diverse complementarities” as our Area Bishop has put it in respect of our parish. This is essential despite our different interpretations we Christians are too small a group to be seen disagreeing amongst ourselves.

It posed the more general question: why do some Christians display  judgemental tendencies? I am wondering does it come from a view of extreme right and extreme wrong? You are either “in” or “out” – no grey areas, a mutually exclusive saints or sinners approach. Personally I see faith as much more fluid. The corollary is that “if my belief is right, irrefutably right, then anything different is wrong”. Or is it “I am going to heaven because I believe a, b, c …” with an inference that others are on the one way ticket to eternal conscious torment?

I cannot accept that. Throughout the scriptures there is an evolving relationship with God, understanding varies with time and circumstance giving rise to multiple interpretations. Happily living together with the disagreements in tension with each other.

 

I have come across those who ridicule and shout down any who do not follow their very specific doctrine. Where is the love? They respond with the comment “Tough Love” but even that has to accept that we are not all the same?  What is it that they genuinely find so unacceptable about a multiple approach?

If someone says they are Christian but their experience is not yours – does it matter? We all rejoice together that they believe and trust in God and follow Jesus. I am then told that there is only one way to God – I agree but that way has a myriad paths running the route that bring each of us, from whatever background or faith position, into the prospect of a vital and viable relationship with God.

To be fair the mutual friend is not that judgemental as described above but I suspect she finds it hard to think of me as a “proper Christian’ in her belief system.

My faith is now evangelical in that I listen to others and hear their concerns, their stumbling blocks so I can share my own convictions and am willing to be known as Christian but does not accept the traditional Evangelical doctrine. I find my faith now more congruent and complete which makes me more confident about it. Surely the opposite of wishy washy?

Sunday after Easter

In the name of Creator God, Redeemer God and Sustainer God

Strange times.  Thinking of asking for a refund on my diary as everything in April has been cancelled! I have probably only cancelled about three things in the last 40 years so this wholesale change of plans is, for me, unusual.

This Sunday,  April 19th, I was on the rota to preach at All Saints but that will not happen.  Given my inability to get some of the new technology working on this computer I am likely to remain on the sidelines – observing.  However this means that I have been offered a rich choice of online material from many churches to view and hear.  A bonus is that I can replay those parts I have heard less well.

The readings for this Sunday include: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32, I Peter 1: 3-9 and for the gospel John 20: 19 – 31. The gospel tells us of the well known story of Thomas with some doubts about a risen Christ. Yet what I also notice is that they were together – a frightened, bewildered and unhappy community. Jumping ahead to the Acts reading we see something quite different. Peter standing up publicly being bold in his promulgation of the gospel message that Jesus was victorious over death. Interestingly this passage is one which we are told “must be read as one of the lessons at the principal service” so I guess that makes it important. The disciples were a changed community who collectively were sharing their faith, their understanding, their  hope that through Jesus the world might become a better place.

We are in a changed world. Will we revert to the old patterns once a vaccine is found, once immunity is established? Or are the changes so profound that life will never be quite the same again? I do not know. But right now we are all living with unprecedented change and for some that is difficult, depressing and demoralising,  whilst others relish the challenge and chances for creativity. So what does our bible reading have to say to us in our present situation?

We all need to be aware of the power that can be hidden within our faith in a resurrected Christ. Some people argue about whether some miracles actually happen as recorded and their are explanations that can explain many within the parameters of modern day physics quite satisfactorily – by which I mean they are not impossible occurrences but merely highly improbable. However if we deny the ultimate miracle – that of resurrection then we are chopping away at the very root and substance of our belief.  The power over death displayed by Christ.

This is also seen in the epistle of 1 Peter. Writing in a time of persecution for their faith, things were hard for the young Christian community in a world where they stood out for reason of their faith. Our present concerns are not because of our faith but possibly our faith can make a difference in the world we live in.

This power is still there, this concept of a Messiah victorious over death, over sin and over the power of evil is a fundamental part of our faith. Faith which trusts God that it will not always be so dark and drear. It is so easy to be introspective at present rather than looking outward.

On a trivial example I am beginning to realise that I am missing wearing “proper” clothes! I am actually less comfortable continually in casual clothes! My routine and regular cycle of business meetings, workshops and trips by train with my community rail work and dementia awareness have all ceased for the time being. When they can resume I do not know: as I often have cold like symptoms I could be isolated for some time – not a virus but date back to a laboratory accident in 1970 which did no favours for my respiratory system. Yet there have been benefits: I have been able to do a lot in the house that would have taken many months with all the usual array of interactions. 

Some time ago my sisters set up a WhatsApp group to exchange messages and photographs on their Smartphones. What is apparent is that they are beginning to feel the effects of social distancing – not meeting people, and although able to see one another and their grandchildren via modern technology I am picking up that it is not the same as being able to be physically with them. The six of them on this group represent many more who are finding the restrictions becoming harder to endure.

Also I have begun to reflect more on my faith and realise that I do have a circle of people whom respond to my internet based Christian writing which has almost vanished over the last twelve months during my courtship, marriage and house move. 

Many individuals are in need of a word of faith that helps them develop their trust in God – a God who created, redeems and also sustains. As an example is a recent message asking for prayer for a daughter with a Covid-19 diagnosis, then followed by news that he is hospital being treated for Covid-19.

So a simple prayer: that we all trust God to help us to live with the changes we are experiencing, and sustain us in the current difficult times;  accepting that in some things we can not alter anything of ourselves but seek to be Christians living out our faith within the world. Christians, as I have stated before, should be prepared to be counter cultural – being different.  Often prayer does not of itself alter anything other than our understanding of the events and giving us a more balanced longer term view, a view more in line with God’s ways.  

May each of us live with the hope of the resurrected Christ within us.

Amen

Rest and restoration

The following is the text of my sermon at last Friday’s Shopper’s Service in Keighley. The reading was Leviticus 25: 1 – 24.

 

This morning’s reading from the lectionary is, I believe, an important message for us today. There are two aspects – a rest from activity every seven years and then later on (v9) something about a restoration in a year of jubilee.

The idea of a rest from activity on a periodic basis has its roots right back in the creation story when God made the world in six days and on the seventh tested. Again it is something enshrined in commandment number five out of ten that echoes that sentiment so the principle given here was not new. 

When I was a a schoolboy I recall being told about land lying fallow every third year in medieval times to allow it to recover the nutrients – often from being used for animal grazing, their manure thus assisting the process. Today with fertiliser and a degree of rotation of crops it is uncommon for land to lie fallow – thus ensuring greater output and higher economic benefit.

However 4000 years ago a different story and this process would allow the land to regain fertility.  There is the point made of trusting God – so that the lack of a harvest in year seven would be catered by a good supply the previous year. In fact on this basis I am told that effectively their harvest would not come in until year nine in the cycle although what self seeded could be used in the intervening period – but by anyone.  Such accidents of nature were available to all. There was no specific harvesting.  A parallel in the bible is the account of the provision of manna in the desert – when the sixth day’s supply would keep for the seventh day when none was supplied.

The second part of the reading talks about a year of Jubilee. 

There is a suggestion that buying land was essentially to be regarded as a leasehold transaction and everything returned to its original owners in the 50th year. No one remained perpetually poor or in slavery for ever. There was the chance of rescue.

It is this concept behind the international Jubilee 2000 campaign over 20 years ago that pressed for relief on debt repayments from the poorest nations – those whose annual payments did not even meet the interest charged on previous borrowing thus sinking them in increasing levels of debt.  As an approach it was successful in some areas and did create relief although not all its aim were met. 

However the principle of helping the poor and destitute is one that still applies to all of us – not just large developed countries.  There should be a sense of justice and fairness in the use of wealth and the idea that individuals should not continually amass fortunes at the expense of others. Locally we have the example of Christians Against Poverty which helps those enslaved by debt.  Those for whom income payments does not even meet the interest charged on previous borrowing thus sinking them in increasing levels of debt.

I mentioned about letting land lie fallow hundreds of years ago and how it is not used today. Partly driven by a desire for increased use of capital, increased wealth and efficiency and economy. Thus it is in constant use but supported by artificial systems. The natural order is that we thrive best when we have rest. As some one once said – am I a human being or a human doing?  To let go there was this sense of trusting in God  for provision every seventh year – and there are records that indicate that this practice was in deed followed until a more urban life style took over.  

We need to be just and seek to follow in the way of Christ who took pity on the poor, the disadvantaged and those in need. He did not condemn but gave generously. Perhaps there is a message in this for all of us to follow – it was in the Hebrew scriptures (which Jesus would have know intimately) and still applies to us all. Perhaps the search for increased production and greater efficiency of our resources is driving us away from reliance upon a more spiritual approach to wealth and provision. A call to living more simply and sharing what we have. The concept of Jubilee also encompasses the thought that everything belonged to God and we are custodians of what we have for a time to use wisely and well. Many ideas flow from this – very pertinent to today’s world but change starts simply with each of us taking this example of the Old Testament to heart and trusting God more and less on just commercial and economic factors. May we know God’s guidance as we seek to be more generous in our faith.

Excitement at Epiphany

The text of the article submitted to Keighley News published on Thursday 9th January

Excitement at Epiphany

At the beginning of this week we celebrated the Epiphany  – the occasion when the Magi, or wise men, came and presented their gifts to Jesus.  Although occurring immediately after the birth account in the bible it  could have been up to two years later.

They had been prompted to do so, travelling probably from Persia – in modern day Iran – because their examination of the night skies gave them a sense that something spectacularly important was going to happen.

Epiphany can mean an enlightenment – and although the Magi were religious,  probably Zoroastrian, they were very different from the Jewish faith into which Jesus was born. However such was their understanding of this event which they saw in the stars they were convinced it was of prime importance. Some suggest that it might have been Jupiter and Saturn being very closely aligned in the sky.  Whatever it was they saw, it was something that made them excited?

They had seen something that altered the way they thought and so they took action to go and worship one whom they saw as King of the Jews. The Jews would have called them gentiles and it is an indication to us that the gospel of Jesus is for all people, all races, and cultures.

As we enter a new decade may we seek to be enlightened as we grapple with the complexities and struggles of our 21st century world. May we be able to understand more of the message of faith as presented by the words and actions of Jesus. May we be emboldened to make the Christian approach part of our lives,  seeking to understand more about Jesus Christ whether we think about him a lot, only a little or not at all. He is for all so we all can be excited just as the Magi were.

Social Injustice

My church has been following the Jesus Shaped People (JSP) programme and we were at week 14 on social injustice.

The bible passages were Isaiah 58: 6-12 and Matthew 25: 31- 46

Here our my notes for my sermon at All Saints Keighley that day.

Fairness in the world

‘snot fair! How many time has that been heard in school playground. How many time does a sense of injustice present itself as we read the news?

What examples can we think of? In the world;  in this country; locally?

Example: the average wage in Keighley is a lot less than the national figure. Expenditure per head on much infrastructure is not necessarily uniform across the country. While money is not everything it does help with essentials for living: shelter, warmth, clothing and food. 

Other examples?

We are in our final section of the JSP programme entitled prophetic action. The Old Testament prophets often saw social injustice as a vital component of the life God expected from his people. This is seen in the OT reading  from Isaiah. A suggestion that mere religiosity was not the key but a life of social action and concern for the poor, the ill and the needy. Have we got too concerned with our safe routine and systems?  Too bound up in our rituals? Too bound up in tradition not to be able to see the needs that we – as a people of faith – are expected to do something about?

Jesus’s priority in his time on earth?

Last week we were considering prophetic action – living out truth in power. How did Jesus see this? In this passage he was saying it was not in supernatural acts but in simple unobtrusive actions, that could almost be described as mundane.  To do something supernatural might seem impossible but the acts of: 

Feeding the hungry and thirsty

Welcoming the stranger

Clothing those who are needy

Visiting the sick and the imprisoned

All within the capability of each of us.

End times

We are working to establish God’s kingdom now – as we follow the teaching of Jesus and resolve to live lives that reflect his values. There is still much to be done to establish a fairer society. There are plenty of people who have striven for such changes throughout history – abolition of slavery would be one example although it is clear that the problem has become more prevalent in recent years in other ways.

A more recent example would be some one like Mother Theresa in India seeing Jesus in the poorest of the poor and devoting her life’s work to their relief. There are many others which we may personally know about.

During my drive from home this morning to be here I heard the Radio 4 appeal for homelessness in association with St Martins-in-the-Fields. Apparently this is in its 93rd year which tells me despite all the activity and action by Christians the problem is still with us and the world still needs a great deal to be reformed.

Today we are entering the season of Advent – a time of preparation. Our thoughts are directed towards the second coming as well as looking forward to the coming of Jesus as a baby at Christmas time.

The second coming can be seen as that future time when the rule of Christ will be evident across the world and we will have a fair and just society living out gospel values – but that seems a long way off.

I believe God welcomes all and wants all to be with him. It would seem from reading this gospel account that the judgement between goats and sheep is not so much on what we have said or believed but what acts of charity we have done.

Action

Who do we know who fits into the categories included in the gospel reading?

Those who are marginalised, those suffering injustice and a lack of compassion and care.

Lot of this is linked to political power. How do we best pray for our leaders – both in the UK and globally – to heed God’s approach rather than seek their own personal position. 

Some resort to deceit and cunning, even downright falsehoods and questionable ethics to achieve their ends. Others have a more violent approach such as war or acts of terrorism to get their message and position across, forcing their ideas onto others. Once again we seem to have seen this approach a couple of days ago in London.

Some seem to have succumbed to the privilege of power and position that they have lost sight of the concept of serving. Last week we recall that Jesus was a servant King – a motif that many would find helpful.

We have to contrast a Jesus coming in peace with a message counter to the popular culture of his day.

A question that has to be asked: how can we get involved in changing things?

Keighley is a marginal seat and one that those trying to predict the outcome of the election will be following closely.  One thing we can all do is prayerfully consider how we will vote – I would not suggest which party or candidate. There are Christians right across the House of Commons and I believe some of them meet for prayer even though their political views clash. Your vote in the Keighley constituency will make a difference – use it prayerfully and wisely.

I have just moved house to a constituency where even if all who did not vote voted against the winning candidate there would no change – such is the enormous majority he has. So for me my personal vote may be less significant but there are other political actions that can be followed. It has to be recognised that some acts may bring opposition or persecution. Some Christians, for example, are ardent activists in the Extinction Rebellion Group as they see the damage being done to God’s good creation and believe that it is time for the corporate and political world to wake up to what they are doing.

Locally there are initiatives – Christians Against Poverty for example, INN churches as at St Marks and here as well as across the wider Bradford. district, food banks and work with asylum seekers and refugees. 

Global initiatives? I have recently been told about people in a church who made a difference in another country through their dedicated efforts in prayerful action. They wrote letters and did not give up but worked to bring about positive change because of their faith.

It may mean working with those whose faith view is different, those who have no faith: that should not be a problem as all are part of God’s creation and in his image. However I believe we should all live out our faith by actions and attitudes. Working together to a greater equality of opportunity, wealth and prosperity. 

The first advent candle lit today can be linked to the Old Testament prophets and their message is one of hope. May we act so that our lives help us to live out the hope we have that in Jesus all will be ultimately blessed and in the meantime strive to do what we can to foster such an approach. Amen

Being Bold

The following are my thoughts for the weekly Shopper’s Service held at Keighley Shared Church each Friday morning. I take a service there once every few weeks.

The reading, from the lectionary was Esther chapter 8

 

Background

Esther’s story  is quite well known – with the evil Haman and the Jewish Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai in Persia at the time of the exile of the Israelites around 500 BC. (473)  Haman had plotted to kill Mordecai and through Esther’s bravery – she successfully pleaded their case and Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. One of Haman’s issues was he hated the Jews.

So we pick up the story in chapter 8

Esther 8

At one time many people buying houses were frustrated by the other party giving “back word”. It seems quite common in some political circles too – stories and ideas changed to suit the current situation. One of the principles of the Persians was that once one of their laws had been passed it could not be changed. No rewriting the rules or changing stances.

Haman had persuaded the King by guile to pass a law that said on the next March 7th (in our calendar) all the Jews were allowed to be slaughtered. And this law could not be undone.

Mordecai although he was now the number one person in the country was a Jew and he and Queen Esther were at risk.

It is noted that there is no direct mention of God in this book, something that made some question its inclusion in the sacred Hebrew writings however there are abundant hints. When the evil Haman was first promulgating his scheme it is said that the Jews fasted and prayed. 

However we read of the ingenuity – God given inspiration? – that allowed a new law to be set up that provided for them to retaliate. 

What is also noticeable is the extent of the empire. From India across to Ethiopia and the resources needed to convey the message. Also there was a time scale – would have been June or July when this new edict was issued (a couple of months after the original one from Haman).  

And if we read on, after the reading set in the lectionary, we find that they were indeed successful. Some 76,000 of the Jews enemies were slaughtered and this suggests that not everyone took advantage of the original rule to attempt to kill the Jews.

An interesting sidelight on the history of the Jews but what can we learn from it for ourselves?

Application for today

Being bold.  It would take a great deal of courage for Esther to approach the King – you normally waited until the King beckoned you. The holding out the royal sceptre was a sign of approval and this was not the first time Esther had done this.

She could have been dismissed and beheaded – favourite queen or not.

Are there situations where we need to bold in our lives? Where we need to be bold about our faith, our belief? We may not be subject to persecution or rules proposing our extinction but are we prepared to take a risk to be true to what we believe? The Jews seemed to be hated because their belief in one God was so counter cultural and so different that they just did not fit in, nor was their approach to being a ‘separate’ people entirely acceptable and many just did not want to accept them.

Also do we need to use our imagination and be creative in working through solutions. God has given us brains – I think he meant us to use them and sometimes we need to be ready to go out on a limb.

Each of us will know what that means  for us.

The story is important to the Jews because it tells of their rescue from what might have been a holocaust some 2415 years before the one in the second world war. It is read in its entirety at the Feast of Purim each year and  I have been present at a gathering of Messianic Jews in Leeds where this was done. Everyone boos and hisses every time the name Haman is mentioned. After the reading of the book there is a feast to celebrate one of the great deliverances of the Jews in their history (one of the others being the Passover when they left Egypt).

As said no direct mention of God but is a tale of romance, intrigue and changes of fortune and I would recommend you find a time to read it through in its entirety in one go – will take about 20 minutes os so – and if you want to  boo and hiss at Haman – do so!

So may we read and learn and be prepared to be bold and imaginative in our approach to problems.

 

Amen.

Cowardice to conviction

Sunday 28 April 2019  the readings were Acts 5: 27 -32 and  John 20: 19 – 31

My thoughts were as follows …

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit …

THE DISCIPLES – WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THEM?

I get the feeling they were a mixed bunch not always depicted as good role models in the gospels. For example:

Ran away – when the going got difficuly

Fell asleep at crucial moments

Missing the point repeatedly when listening to Jesus

Not understanding

Complaining

Jewish mother looking for special favours for James and John

Denying they even knew Jesus with oaths

 

And that is just among the twelve we have names for. Some barely mentioned in the accounts we have – just their names and the briefest of biographical details are there. Some are totally un-named as we read that 70 were sent out at one time so that is 58 totally unknown to us.

Note there are also a number of women, often called Mary, who did follow.

So giving Thomas the soubriquet “doubting Thomas” seems a little unfair. All the others, apart from Judas Iscariot the betrayer, have no qualifier to their name. Why not denial Peter or sleepy James and Sleepy John? Why has that tag stuck?  Why has poor old Thomas got that epithet?

Yet this was the first time Jesus was addressed as God in the recorded events – so such a negative view of Thomas is in my view decidedly unfair? It is pointed out, if we take the view that chapter 21 was a later addition, that this is neatly towards the end of John. The gospel started with an acclamation that the Word – or Christ – was with God at the beginning and here is doubting Thomas at the end being given the words to round off the whole book. Another point is that Thomas was a very modern sort of person who wanted proof and once he got it he was totally convinced. We look for physical proof.

So why not Believing Thomas? He needs a makeover.

 

Was he one of those there, even in the background in the Acts 5 story? It was their custom to meet at Solomon’s Portico and although only Peter is mentioned by name he was obviously not alone. We had not read the whole account but they had been preaching there and been put in prison and somehow had miraculously escaped and carried on preaching about Jesus in the temple when our passage began.

 

They had gone from craven cowardice to courageous convection.

Quite a reversal of attitude in the disciples in Acts compared to the gospels.

They were in the temple and being subversive as far as the council or Sanhedrin were concerned.. The things they were saying were so similar to what Jesus had said that they were at risk of following in his path to execution. However a couple of points I note: there seems a note of concern in the council’s questions in that they may be held responsible for helping bring about the death of Jesus and this may not have been their best move. It is also worth noting a little earlier in the passage that the authorities were worried about clamping down on the disicples as it might have been unpopular with the crowd who it seems had taken very much to the message of Jesus.

Certainly we read that Joseph of Arimathea (in the Luke account) was a respected member of the council and he was the one who buried Jesus so they were not without followers in that august body.

It is also interesting to note that the Jewish Christians continued to meet in the temple right up to 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Romans. What we might these days term Messianic Jews – know of a number in Leeds who retain their Jewish culture allied to a faith in Yeshua as Messiah they call Jesus.

So how can we apply our reading of these two passages  to ourselves here in Keighley nearly 2000 years later?

The disciples had gone from timidity and fright to boldness and almost fearlessness. Almost seemingly oblivious for their own safety or well-being. Such was the power of what had been revealed to them. So what made the difference?

We know that there had also been Pentecost prior to the events of Acts 5 but let us not underestimate the impact the resurrection made on them.

Because they had realised that Jesus was resurrected and victorious over the power of death and evil.  We celebrated the resurrection last week and week by week by remind ourselves of our belief in our affirmation of faith – the creed. But does it really make it any easier to be bold about our faith? We who have not seen Jesus unlike Thomas.

 

Want to mention a word that is being used a lot these days in pronouncements from diocesan HQ – evangelisation. Some people have a reaction to this word as it has the same root – a particular approach to theology known as evangelicalism often known as evangelical. This places more emphasis on a personal conversion experience and the Bible as the sole basis of faith, and often appears to have an exclusive approach to faith that separates individuals into either “in” or “out” amongst others – an approach that dates back only as far as the early 18th century. Some evangelicals are more literalistic in their interpretation.  However such an approach was not there at the beginning of the Christian story: an older view of the word would be about being concerned about demonstrating the good news in our lives and the way we conduct ourselves. I am not a Greek scholar but I understand, and no doubt such individuals will correct me if I am wrong, that evangel is the Greek word Ευαγγέλιο meaning good news, from which we derive evangelism and also evangelical.

So in the sense that I am prepared to be known as a Christian and ready to argue my position and state what I believe openly I could be described as evangelical in my commitment to spreading the good news (evangel) of Jesus but not in my theology.

 

HOW MIGHT WE SPREAD THE GOODS NEWS?

Although I am reminded of the statement attributed to Saint Francis about spreading the gospel – “use words in necessary”. It is living out our faith making a difference where we are. But what stops us from being bold?

Why might I be reticent?

Naturally shy and retiring

Fear of upsetting people

Frightened of the reaction

Fearful of attack or other reprisal (less likely in UK but the experience of those from other countries might well be very different. Let us consider the Easter Massacre in Sri Lanka as an example where Christians are in a minority.)

But taking notice of the disciples statement to the council – we obey God?

 

A lot of individuals I talk to have a sense of the spiritual in life and are genuinely unsure about faith but very few are so definite there is no God.  Even those who self identify as atheist I still have a sense that for most (but not all) that there is some recognition of the possibility of the spiritual aspects of life. I sense in many a hunger for spiritual matters and we can all share how we see our faith helps us make sense of the world we are in. I admit I do not have all the answers and have to trust in God for things to be sorted out but tell them in my understanding and experience the Christian approach is the best fit I have seen to understanding life, the universe and everything …

May each of us be willing to be obedient to God and live out our Christian lives with conviction so others may see the Kingdom of God being established. Amen.

Walking on water John 6:16 -27

The text of my comments at a recent Shopper’s Service held in Keighley Shared Church on Friday 15th March. It is a twenty minute service and I am on the rota of ministers to take this. I have altered the first paragraph to put it in the past tense rather than the present which it was at the time of delivery.

 

Gareth was much in evidence a few weeks ago.. Storm Gareth. Some of you know I work with the railway company and on the Tuesday of that week the railway line was impassable at Clapham and Hellifield up the line towards Lancaster with flood water above the rail. Storms are wild, unpredictable and can be devastating in their progress.

Just as we have read in the reading today with a storm on the sea of Galilee. For many of the Jews the water is a place of fear and chaos, a place where monsters live. Even today there is a belief in the Middle East that you cannot be resurrected from the sea only dry land such is their abhorrence of the sea.

 

This account of walking on the water – showing complete rule over the supposed powers of the deep – in Mathew and Mark as well as John and straight after another miracle: the feeding of the 5000. And in this account there is a further miracle – one I have only personally noticed recently – once Jesus got into the boat it immediately went from half way across the Sea of Galilee to their destination Capernaum, 3 – 4 miles.

 

Notice how the crowd wanted to know how Jesus got there? They had seen the only boat depart and he was still on the eastern side – HOW did he get there before them after they had walked all the way round the edge of the lake? They were asking the questions because they were mystified yet really missing the point. Much better question is WHY?

These miracles illustrate the divine nature of Jesus and his relationship with God. They serve to point out eternal truths that are key to our understanding.

Some struggle with miracles and ask HOW they happened when really we have to remember that in writing down the activities of Jesus the evangelists were not creating an historical account of Jesus as we understand it which is factually true and accurate in chronology but a proclamation of whom Jesus really was. The concept was for the reader to discover the theological meaning by reflecting on what had been written, within the context of the Old Testament.

 

The miracles are presented to illustrate the sort of person Jesus was. In his time according to contemporary writers such as Jospehus there were a number of people of whom is said they performed miracles – things that could not be readily explained by known learning at the time but Jesus by far, had the most credited to his name.

The bible is not intended to be read literally but should take account of the probing examination of scholars (midrash) – looking for interpretations that are not immediately obvious and thus the gospel writers are likely to have been of this tradition.

And Hasidum (devout Jews of the time of Jesus who studied the scriptures) when discussing such matters would say “anyone who believes all the miracles actually happened is a fool but if they say they could not happen then they are an unbeliever?

 

Miracles are, by definition, not an everyday occurrence and in this time of Lent we recall particularly the temptation or trial of Jesus in the wilderness when he refused to do anything miraculous.

For some miracles may seem very difficult to accept but unless we accept the greatest one – that of resurrection – then our faith is built on nothing.  People can argue whether they really took place or not – wrong question.

For example I have read of those who doubt the numbers in the feeding of the 5000 as such a large crowd would have immediately alerted the Roman authorities and Pontius Pilate would have been sending out an expeditionary force to investigate as the Galileans were known to be a rebellious lot.

 

“Science observes what normally happens, the Christian case is that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens (N T Wright)

 

Let us take them as evidence that Jesus was the son of God had come to bring salvation, securing our redemption. We have to exercise faith to accept this and the presence of Jesus brought physical relief to the disciples in the boat but following his words, his ideas would bring them and us salvation for ever. Amen.