Streams in the desert

2014 lb cover 400

On Wednesday 5 March, the season of Lent begins. Churches working together in Didsbury have again published a booklet of Bible reading notes for the season. Copies are available from Christ Church West Didsbury, Didsbury Community Church, Didsbury Methodist Church, Didsbury United Reformed Church, East Didsbury Methodist Church, St Christopher’s Withington, St James and Emmanuel, the Welsh Presbyterian Church and, of course, from us at Didsbury Baptist Church. Help yourself to a copy and read the Bible with us through Lent.

Mark’s Holy Week

We are reading the Gospel of Mark together at DBC this year. It tells a strange and wonderful story of the life of Jesus and devotes a full 6 of its 16 chapters to the final week of Jesus’ life. It presents the events of the passion of Jesus as occurring over specific days of the week. This, of course, provides a useful plan of readings for Holy Week. I know, if you start now you have a bit of catching up to do (and today’s reading is the really long one). Still, you might be interested in reading with us through the rest of the week so here are the readings: Sunday: Mark 11.1-11; Monday: Mark 11.12-19; Tuesday: Mark 11.20 – 13.37; Wednesday: Mark 14.1-11; Thursday: Mark 14.12-72; Friday: Mark 15.1-47; Sunday: Mark 16.1-8a. If you click on the reference you will be able to read the passage online. Some of the passages are quite long but you get Saturday off (and the final chapter is tiny) so why not give it a try?

Bible-Reading in Lent

Churches Working Together in Didsbury have produced a new booklet of Lenten devotional readings for 2011. People from Didsbury Baptist Church, Christ Church and St Christopher, Didsbury Community Church, Didsbury United Reformed Church, Didsbury and East Didsbury Methodist Churches, and Didsbury Welsh Chapel have provided articles. You can download your own copy by clicking here.

The individual reflections will be posted daily on the web at least for the first few days of Lent. Check them out from Ash Wednesday (9 March) at the Churches Working Together in Didsbury website.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!

The Bible readings for Christmas Day are Isaiah 52.7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1-4. John 1.1-14.

There is surely no better thing to do on Christmas morning than to gather with followers of Jesus and hear John 1.1-14 read. Happy Christmas everybody!

One greater than the temple is here

The Bible readings for today are 2 Sam 7.1-5, 8-11, 16; Psalm 85; Luke 1.67-79.

Actually, these are the readings for the morning. Tonight, in our carol service, we will hear the traditional Christmas Eve readings. There we will concentrate on Matthew’s version of the nativity story (Matthew 1) which seems to me to be darker than Luke’s. No Magnificat, no songs of praise, fewer angels but a mixed-up world into which Jesus is born, ‘God with us’. Matthew clearly presents Jesus as Messiah and ‘Son of David’ but also, perhaps, as the embodiment of the temple David had wished to build. The baby born in Bethlehem would represent God to people and would draw both Jews and Gentiles (starting with the magi from the east) to worship the living God. And if he would be a kind of walking temple, he would also represent the sacrifices offered in the temple. Jesus would save the people from their sins. This, Jesus continues to do for all who will seek and follow him.

Fearful wonder

Today’s Bible readings are Malachi 3.1-4; 4.1-6; Psalm 25.3-9; Luke 1.57-66.

I am interested in the relationship of fear and joy. There is a kind of fear, it seems to me, that has nothing at all to do with joy; this is the fear associated with terror. It is the sort we experience when we are in peril. Such fear robs its victims of joy and ruins lives. Its only positive aspect is that it might spark a ‘fight or flight’ response by which a person may escape the clutches of one who intended their harm.

The fear of the Lord is an altogether different thing. This is the fear we associate with reverence and awe. It is the kind we experience when we are confronted by something (or someone) completely beyond our control or comprehension. This is humility before God; it is wonder, amazement or astonishment and it issues in joy, sheer joy. Notice the connection in Malachi 4.2: ‘But for you who revere [fear] my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.’ It is there too in the Gospel reading at the naming of John the Baptist and the restoration of Zechariah’s speech: ‘And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him (Luke 1.63b-66)’. The fear that came upon the neighbours did not silence them, it did not terrorize them but rather provoked them to talk excitedly about what was happening and to reflect on its significance.

We need more of this kind of fear, the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. If our eyes are open we might experience it as we approach Christmas and reflect again on the mystery of the Incarnation.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver, ‘Mysteries, Yes’ in Evidence, (2009, Bloodaxe Books).

Promised beforehand?

The Bible readings for today are Isaiah 7.10–16; Psalm 80.1-8, 18-20; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25.

Some of my Jewish friends object to the way that Christian interpretation seems to play fast-and-loose with the promises of the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament seems willing to take any verse as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7 is a case in point. Isaiah was certainly not anticipating a virgin birth (the Hebrew can mean simply ‘young woman’, as the NRSV makes plain) nor was he thinking of events that would occur many years into the future. I take him to mean that by the time a pregnant woman gives birth and begins to teach her child, the national powers that threatened Israel would themselves be facing defeat. Whatever it is he anticipates, Isaiah thinks it will happen soon, within a few years at most. Still, Matthew feels free to adopt these verses and apply them to the birth of Jesus. In so doing, he demonstrates a kind of playfulness in his use of Scripture.

Matthew is not alone in taking up fragments of Scripture and using them for his own ends. In fact, much of Scripture, both Jewish and Christian, does the same thing. It constantly interprets and reinterprets what was written earlier, incorporating its understanding of the old into its own unfolding vision. What is objectionable though is when Christians refuse to accept that a passage like Isaiah 7 can refer to something other than the birth of Jesus. For me, it is not a case of either/or but of both/and.

If there is playfulness in Scripture’s interpretation of Scripture, there seems to be some too in relation to its presentation of obedience to prophetic commands. According to Matthew, an angel of the Lord told Joseph that Mary will ‘bear a son and they will call him Emmanuel’ (God with us), so Joseph ‘named him Jesus’! Whether or not we like the way Scripture interprets and reinterprets Scripture, the fact is that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, fulfilled the dreams and expectations of generations. Ultimately, it is the resurrection that proclaims Jesus as Messiah and Lord (Rom 1.4).

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