Monday, 31 August 2015

Can't make it to church - 30 August 2015

So here we are heading rapidly towards the end of the 'Ordinary' time and we find ourselves in the Deuteronomy passage with Moses doing his 'law maker' bit. He knows that his journey is going to end before the promised land is reached and so he is setting up the benchmarks and drawing the lines for those he will eventually leave so that they might live rightly.

What is especially import (for me anyway) is the commend to not only keep the laws, which brings wisdom and understanding, but to keep them as they are. Moses tells the people:

'Don’t add to what I’m commanding you. 
Don’t subtract from it either. Instead, obey the commands of the Lord your God...'

These are words we should hang on to closely, but it seems that today (with many of the Christians I encounter) we have forgotten these words as people tell me that we need to, 'Re-interpret the Bible through a new lens' (which they say is love) or that we need to realise that, 'Being more intelligent and insightful than the primates of the Old Testament we need to rewrite the Bible for today and today's attitudes!'

Actually (and I'm sure this will be unpopular with some) I don't think we need to rewrite the Bible or reinterpret the words within the Old and New testament at all; what is needed is that make the decision to apply them sensibly and sensitively. I like the Church of England and its approach to the Bible for it says that we take the moral code within it and separate ourselves from that which is 'religious or ceremonial'. So circumcision and the eating of meat and milk and shellfish and the like all get noted as being something of, and for, the people then but not for those who are not Jews (although many of my Jewish friends appear to have dumped that bit - and the moral - too!).

So here we are - Moses doing some good management by setting the parameters and practices before the end point is reached and the organisation that is Israel has its doors open and the business of being begun. Some wise words to be found in this short passage.

Deuteronomy 4.1-2,6-9
Now, Israel, listen to the rules and laws I’m going to teach you. Obey them and you will live. You will go in and take over the land. The Lord was the God of your people of long ago. He’s giving you the land. Don’t add to what I’m commanding you. Don’t subtract from it either. Instead, obey the commands of the Lord your God that I’m giving you.

Be careful to keep them. That will show the nations how wise and understanding you are. They will hear about all these rules. They’ll say, “That great nation certainly has wise and understanding people.” 

The Lord our God is near us every time we pray to him. What other nation is great enough to have its gods that close to them? 

I’m giving you the laws of the Lord today. What other nation is great enough to have rules and laws as fair as these?

Don’t be careless. Instead, be very careful. 
Don’t forget the things your eyes have seen. As long as you live, don’t let them slip from your mind. Teach them to your children and their children after them.

And, as has been the practice where I am during ordinary time, we find ourselves with Paul and 1 Corinthians and the words each the thoughts of Moses as Paul calls us to 'stop thinking like children'. Paul and Moses are calling for a grown-up and joined-up faith. Keep the laws and act with stability and credibility - the focus of Paul's words being the way that we engage in spiritual gifts (something we've been considering for a few weeks now) but it is also drawing a line in the way we should be behaving, this time in our gatherings rather than in the land we occupy (of course 'occupy' might be a wrong term in the light of the goings on between Israel and Palestine!!!) ).

Both passages talk about doing things decently and in good order. It's interesting but the gift of tongues is, for me, one of the most misunderstood and misapplied things in the Church today. Often the only thing t bears witness to is an immaturity in the congregations who treasure it so much. The fact that speaks in tongues is not a sign of maturity in the speaker and it is not a badge of authority or of calling and yet so many in the charismatic (meaning exhibiting the gifts of the Spirit) camp have their 'tongues spot' where what often seems to happen is most definitely not God and has little order or meaning.

But when tongues come as an outworking of all that God is doing. When it comes about as a result or response to true worship and a submission to God is it something quite sublime.

Conversely, I have met many who engage in a, 'Thus saith the Lord' moment and the people they aim it at find in their words confirmation that the Church is a bunch of 'blinking nutters'. The reason for this being that those who recognise and know God also recognise and respond to His authentic voice when it comes into their lives. Paul is spot on when he tells us that prophecy is for the believer. Trouble is that, like tongues, we can end using prophecy as a vehicle for our own affirmation if we are not careful;.

So a caution to those who 'do' tongues or 'deliver' prophecies. 

Exercise both with caution and care - be sure the words you are using are from God because bringing something to someone and claiming it is from God is great - if it is - and destructive if it isn't. Tongues are something special and are a response to the move of God's Holy Spirit not a badge to be worn as mark of being something special: That mark is the cross.

1 Corinthians 14.20-33
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. Be like babies as far as evil is concerned. But be grown up in your thinking. In the law it is written, “With unfamiliar languages and through the lips of outsiders I will speak to these people. But even then they will not listen to me.”  That is what the Lord says.

So speaking in other languages is a sign for those who don’t believe. It is not a sign for those who do believe. But prophecy is not for those who don’t believe. It is for those who believe.

Suppose the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in other languages. And suppose visitors or unbelievers come in. Won’t they say you are out of your minds? But suppose unbelievers or visitors come in while everyone is prophesying. Then they will feel guilty about their sin. They will be judged by all. The secrets of their hearts will be brought out into the open. They will fall down and worship God. They will exclaim, “God is really here among you!”

Brothers and sisters, what should we say then? 

When you come together, each of you brings something. 

You bring a hymn or a teaching or a message from God. 
You bring a message in another language or explain what was said in that language. 
Everything must be done to build up the church. 

No more than two or three people should speak in another language. And they should speak one at a time. Then someone must explain what was said. If there is no one to explain, the person speaking should keep quiet in the church. They can speak to themselves and to God.

Only two or three prophets are supposed to speak. Others should decide if what is being said is true. 
What if a message from God comes to someone else who is sitting there? Then the one who is speaking should stop. Those who prophesy can all take turns. In that way, everyone can be taught and be given hope. Those who prophesy should control their speaking. 
God is not a God of disorder. He is a God of peace, just as in all the churches of the Lord’s people.

And our Gospel, places a cherry neatly on the cake we have baked today as Jesus calls us to examine our hearts. It is easy to say we are Christians but the real proof of that lies not in our words but in the way that we live. being Christian means that we 'keep God's laws; neither adding or subtracting from them'.

It's natural to want to be popular but when the price of popularity is to excuse wrong actions, thoughts and intents then all we do is make ourselves as wrong as those we excuse.

It's easy to wear a cross, dove or fish on your lapel but is it hard to speak the words of life to one who lives a life or error; especially when that error is proclaimed by the society in which you live as right living. It is easy to honour God with our lips as we profess that we are Christian but if we encourage, permit or condone things which divide, destroy and come against God and deny His call on our lives, do not be confused - our hearts are being led far from God.

Hard words - but, I fear, true words.

When we see someone caught in sinful activity we are called to engage with them and lead them to a place of right thinking and action (we used to call this orthodoxy - not a popular word these days anywhere it seems) BUT we need to do it without condemning them or wounding them. Trouble is, no one (me included) likes being told that they are wrong = do they?

So three nicely linked passage that call us to live think and act rightly.

How are you doing because I know I struggle with stuff covered by this. Perhaps the Collect helps us to start our prayers today:

The Collect
Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 7.1-8,14,15,21-23
The Pharisees gathered around Jesus. So did some of the teachers of the law. All of them had come from Jerusalem. They saw some of his disciples eating food with “unclean” hands. That means they were not washed. The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands to make them “clean.” That’s what the elders teach. When they come from the market, they do not eat unless they wash. And they follow many other teachings. For example, they wash cups, pitchers, and kettles in a special way.So the Pharisees and the teachers of the law questioned Jesus. “Why don’t your disciples live by what the elders teach?” they asked. “Why do they eat their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right. He prophesied about you people who pretend to be good. He said,“ ‘These people honour me by what they say. But their hearts are far away from me. Their worship doesn’t mean anything to me. They teach nothing but human rules.’ You have let go of God’s commands. And you are holding on to teachings that people have made up.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him.  
He said, “Listen to me, everyone. Understand this. Nothing outside of a person can make them ‘unclean’ by going into them. It is what comes out of them that makes them ‘unclean.’ ” 
Evil thoughts come from the inside, from a person’s heart. 
So do sexual sins, stealing and murder. Adultery, greed, hate and cheating come from a person’s heart too. 
So do desires that are not pure, and wanting what belongs to others.
 And so do telling lies about others and being proud and being foolish. 
All these evil things come from inside a person and make them ‘unclean.’ ”

Post Communion Prayer
God our creator, you feed your children with the true manna, the living bread from heaven:
let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage until we come to that place where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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