Acts 16:6-15, John 14:23-29
‘As one door closes, another door opens…’
To most of us, I imagine that’s a pretty well-known phrase.
Although it’s usually meant to reassure, for me this little proverb raises a number of difficult questions, such as:
Just who is it that is opening and closing those doors?
Are the main points of entry and exit in our lives controlled entirely by ourselves and other human beings?
Do they function randomly?
Or are they under the remote control of a supreme being;
Are our doors indirectly opened and closed for us by God?
Does God have ‘a plan’ just for people of faith, or for every human being,
And where is God when everything seems to be going wrong?
I’m aware that last question sounds more than a bit melodramatic,
And I can’t help recalling ‘ Where there’s life, there’s hope’ – another helpful proverb I learned at some point in my distant past.
Continue reading As One Door Closes …
Readings: Acts 11: 1-18
This section of Acts is significant because the early followers of Jesus saw ‘the way’ as a reform of Judaism and all their cultural conditioning would encourage them to keep it within Judaism. ‘Luke’, says William Barclay ‘sees this incident as a notable mile-stone on the road along which the Church was groping its way to the conception of a world for Christ’.
It seems to be a strong group building practise to limit diet, dress or behaviour as a distinguishing mark that encourages our ‘in group’, ‘out group’ instincts. But the early church seems to have overcome that tendency even though later sections introduced new sanctions.
John 13: 31-35
This passage begins immediately after Judas has left and is the beginning of Jesus’ farewell speech which repeats the theme of love several times, intensifying the love commitment each time. Raymond Brown writes that Jesus gives the disciples a command that, if obeyed, will keep the spirit of Jesus alive among them.
Love is more than a commandment; it is a gift from God.
Continue reading Inclusive Christianity
Introduction to the readings
This is clearly a reflection of Jesus raising Lazarus and the leader of the synagogue’s daughter. In his commentary on the passage William Barclay includes the previous section about Peter’s healing of a paralysed man. In that passage Peter says ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.’ Although we are not told what words Peter used in his prayer in the raising of Tabitha it is fair to assume, as Barclay does, that both healings were carried out by Peter ‘in the name of Jesus Christ so Peter is shown allowing Christ to work through him and not through any special power of Peter’s.
The passage follows a series of sheep and gate parables, and Raymond Brown writes that, in this place in John’s narrative, the demand that Jesus say plainly whether or not he is the messiah makes perfect sense. He has referred to himself as a shepherd, a metaphor which traditionally has been used of the Davidic kings and of the expected messiah. However, Jesus is always anxious to qualify what messiahship might mean because it had strong nationalistic and militaristic overtones. Jesus’ concept was entirely different, and he answers by giving examples of what he is doing, in his ‘fathers name.’ and in verse 30 that is summed up, as is common in John’s Gospel, in a theological statement ‘The Father and I are one’.
Jesus is the good shepherd but only his sheep recognise that, he is not going to force that recognition on others as a military messiah might be expected to do.  Continue reading Mission Now but Mission How
Our Gospel reading is challenging. First of all, it almost looks like an appendix – an afterthought. If you look at the ending of Chapter 20 in John’s Gospel it says: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Now that sounds like a final ending to me. So Chapter 21 is almost as if when the author – or maybe some other author –read out what was written to his community, someone said, “Oh, but you’ve left out a really important bit. You’ve simply got to put it in. Everyone needs to hear it”. So, if the writer agreed that it was important, let’s think about it a little.
The companions of Jesus found themselves in a totally new place of living. They reacted as we almost always react at first to dramatic change. They wanted to blank it out – to go back to what they were used to. Just as we do in these days of lockdowns and mandates and sudden changes in the way we communicate with our families and communities. The apostles probably wanted to be with family and friends in the place they had called ‘home’ for most of their lives. They wanted to find themselves doing familiar things. Possibly they may even have decided that before they made any radical changes, they needed to think things over; to weigh the risks. Also, of course, they wanted to remove themselves from a volatile danger zone. Back home in a small village was much safer than in Jerusalem. But – and this is always the result of change – they found that the challenge wasn’t going to let them alone. Jesus wasn’t going to let them alone. The changes followed them home. What had happened was going to change the landscape.
Continue reading Crossing the Line
We’ve heard a lot about resilience lately. Christchurch people are ‘resilient’. We were ‘resilient’ after the earthquakes – although as years go by and repairs are not finished and gathering spaces are not restored, that resilience has got a little frayed. We heard it after the mosque massacres. We were resilient. We moved in to help and support. We shared the love. Now we have the pandemic. Here we go again. Be resilient! But what, precisely do people mean when they say this? I think we’re expected to take it as a commendation – a pat on the back for being strong characters with good coping skills. I treat that understanding with a good deal of scepticism. I suspect it’s much more a way for those in power to paper over the cracks and find reasons to delay putting in much-needed resources. After the earthquakes our ‘resilience’ meant, for example, that no, we didn’t need any extra help for the mental health services. We were all right. We just got on with it. By now there’s more recognition of the need for mental health support after disasters, and for the length of time it will be needed. But it’s still not in place.
Coping skills don’t necessarily kick in automatically whenever there’s stress. Not everybody has the same skill in managing in difficult times. We know now that some of our emotional health depends on what happens in our early years. It is true – or so I learned once at a lecture given by Ken Strongman, Emeritus Professor of Psychology – that older persons often react less strongly to emotional stress – we’ve learnt from experience over the years. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel stress!
Continue reading Questions are OK!