Not Just a Martian Satellite

Did you notice, the UAE has just set a satellite in orbit around Mars!  The satellite’s name is Hope.

A reasonable name for a deep space explorer, surely; because Hope is so much more, and a deep human driver.

Hope lifts one’s view from hints of despair.  Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote that Jewish inmates of concentration camps who retained hope stood a far better chance of survival than those who didn’t.  Hope drives the student in an important exam; Hope sustains the frail patient going into a risky operation, and the woman undergoing yet another in vitro treatment; Hope attends the sailor making her way in fog; forlorn Hope drove the rebels in Les Miserables, and Hope hoists all other uprisings; Hope makes a man stand up again, who has fallen down many times.

Hope is the subject of a well known painting by GF Watts, in which Hope is shown as a blindfolded woman with a harp, on which all the strings are broken except one, and she is listening intently, longingly for its music.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_(painting).  Some critics suggested it showed Despair more than Hope, but Hope is the conqueror of Despair, and Watts explained, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord.”
Others, viewing the painting negatively, thought it showed the futility of Hope without accompanying Faith.  PT Forsyth, a Scottish theologian, wrote that the image illustrated that “a loss of faith places too great a burden on hope alone”.
He may be right.  What do you think?

Hope is more than expectation.  It is an apparently irrational song issuing from the depths of a forlorn heart, and it says, “Keep going”; without succumbing to that which opposes or portends.

Hope is the heart of the Prodigal Father, watching the horizon for signs of his son’s return. (Luke 15:20)

CS Lewis defined Christian Hope as the “continual looking forward to the eternal world”.

The Bible says “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain”, and, “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”  (Both from the book of Hebrews.)

What kind of Hope do you have, reader?

Ken F

‘Costly Love’ is his name

by Bruce Gilberd

(Based on Mark 1:29-39, I Cor 9:16-23, and Isa 40:21-31)

I will attempt to address three questions this morning.

  1. What kind of God is God?
  2. What kind of God is my God?
  3. What kind of God is your God?

A student training for the ordained ministry went to see his tutor in theology.
“I can’t go on,” the student said.  “I don’t believe in God any more.”
“Tell me,” said the tutor, “about the God you don’t believe in.”
The student explained his current understanding of God – who he thought God is and what he is like.
“Well,” said his tutor, “I don’t believe in that kind of God either.”

In a moment I will invite you to silently consider what noun, verb, adjective best describes how you experience God at present.  The possibilities are limitless, and can change over a lifetime.  What name or description of God is most meaningful to you today, from your own experience of the Divine, and your reflections, and from your journey of faith?

Who is God to you?

[Silence … 20 secs …]

So, are some of us willing to share our key understandings of the Divine at this time?

[Sharing …]

Today’s readings abound in images, descriptions and names for God:

Isaiah:


Psalm:



Corinthians:
Mark:

the creative
majestic
empowerer
the gracious
healing
Creator
[God is beyond us, yet intimate]
the sender
the compassionate one
healer
and empowerer (through prayer)
purposeful (Jesus ‘must go on to another town’)

All this shows us that whatever our deepest understanding of God is, we can always go still deeper, and go still wider – there is always more of God to experience, receive, name, and share with others …

This raises the question of spiritual growth, of quest, of journey – ever deepening quest into God and into life; and, harvesting meanings from all our day to day experiences, both the seemingly trivial and also the significant experiences and turning points of our lives.

In the twentieth century there was a rather eccentric yet deeply insightful Anglican Bishop of California – James Pike.  He wrote a very important book [Doing the Truth] in which he made these two points.  The first is that thankfulness is the core trigger for all ethical living – and he stresses truth and costly love as essential for personal holiness and community well-being.
The second is even more relevant to our theme this morning:

  1. what we value most,
  2. to whom or what are we most attached,
  3. what we long for most, and
  4. what we would miss most if taken from us …

that is, in fact, our God!  (Whatever else we may say!)
This is quite alarming really!

  • when we are told our health is the most important
  • or even family
  • or things
  • or lifestyle, and so on …
    NO! They are not.  They can, in fact, become idols.
    A dynamic and developing relationship with the living God is to be top loyalty – then, everything else falls into its right place.  Strange that!

So, God is the one we are to love with all our heart, and mind and soul and strength … and our neighbour as ourselves.
Why?  Because he has first loved us.  That is who God is and what God does – today, in this church, and in this village.

For me, Costly love is his name; Costly love is what he does; Costly love is our calling!
Amen.

Unsinkable Jean Brown

Last blog I mused about having friends.  See here.  We’re all keen to have friends, but what if there are no friends to be had?  And there are many reasons why we might be friendless, alone.

Google has plenty to say about this.  As did our friend, Jean Brown.

An internet search shows,

  • having no friends may be discouraging, but it doesn’t mean you’re fundamentally broken! Our worth isn’t solely determined by our number of friends. Plenty of jerks have large social circles. Plenty of good people have been lonely.
  • a lack of friends is almost never because our core personality is at fault. It can be due to many things: we’re not knowledgeable about the skills for making friends; we’re shy, socially anxious, or unconfident to pursue friendships; we don’t mind being alone, and so don’t have as much motivation to go out and meet people as someone who constantly craves company; our current situation (eg, we just moved to a new city, our old friends moved away, I work a lot of hours, live in the middle of nowhere); etc.  See https://www.succeedsocially.com/nofriendsworries.
  • you don’t need a good social life to have friends. There’s a lot you can do on your own, which will give you things to talk about and lead you into company with people with similar inclinations.
  • the term ‘loner’ may have taken on some negative connotations, but it doesn’t mean being one is a bad thing, by any means.  See https://bestlifeonline.com/loner-signs/.

Get the drift?

My wife, a rest home staffer, was planning a Scottish ‘event’.  As part of her preparation she wrote to a Scottish newspaper, asking for some useful contacts for the event.  There was only one reply, from a Jean Brown.

Jean Brown, now deceased, became my wife’s lifelong pen pal!  She was a spinster from a small Scottish town, who, we learnt as time went on, had no one she could call a friend.  But she proved to be inspirational as an irrepressible loner.  She used to describe, with joy and delight, nature documentaries she watched on TV – as if she’d been personally there (in the river with the hippos), often declaring, “Aren’t we so lucky to be able to see these things, without having to go there?”  She would go on all-day outings to museums, libraries, parks, beach promenades; studying flowers and birds and maps … and describe them to us in immaculate miniature hand-writing, any mistakes lovingly corrected with tiny bits of paper and rewritten over.  And would send us clippings from newspapers and museum brochures and TV guides, and explain to us why these clippings were important to her.

Jean Brown became, for us, the quintessence of a contented friendless person, and taught us just how overrated having friends can be!

If you feel like a loner sometime, take a leaf out of Jean Brown’s playbook.

… with real authority

by Barry Pollard

(Based on Mark 1:21-28, I Cor 13:1-8, and Ps 111)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority.”

Mark, in my view, is a gospeller who gets to the bottom of things quickly and doesn’t add any frills. The first chapter begins straight into the ministry of Jesus with our meeting John the Baptist, a direct pointer to the coming Messiah! When Jesus meets John the Baptist amazing things start to happen. At the point of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist witnesses the heavens opening and God’s voice proclaiming the authority of His Son!

Last week Pat spoke about the call from Jesus to the disciples and their willing and immediate response. Without any more than a summons – no explanation, no time period, no job description – they just dropped what they were doing and left, following this remarkable man.

And today we have heard that when Jesus began his teaching ministry the audience were amazed at what he had to say and the way he was saying it, recognising that he had a real authority – unlike other teachers! Such an authority that spirits moved at his command.

The man in the synagogue possessed by the evil spirit cried out, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Isn’t it interesting that the spirit named Jesus? Doesn’t that speak to the authority of our Lord? I have been pondering too the prophetic nature of the words the spirit used: Why are you interfering with us? Jesus certainly came to interfere with us. He came to put us back on the path of righteousness, to restore our relationship with God.

Going on: the spirit declares, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Another authoritative declaration about who Jesus was. And, interestingly, as he did on a number of other occasions in his early ministry, Jesus reprimanded the spirit, commanding silence, as if the truth the spirit was speaking was not ready to be heard.

But the audience was already overcome with amazement! “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” And so the news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Amazing! Miraculous! Authoritative!

Authoritative with a difference.

Let’s dwell now upon the Corinthians reading: In working through an issue that the early church was grappling with, Paul states that “we all have knowledge” about issues. And while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much, if they don’t share their knowledge with love. After all, God recognises the person who loves Him.

I think this is all about disposition. It isn’t so much what we do, it is how we do it. It isn’t so much what we say, it is how we say it. Paul is pointing out that the model, the amazing authoritative model Jesus gave us, is based on love. If our focus is on a loving God, and we are trying to live a life modelled on that of Jesus, then whatever we do will have a good chance of being done in love. Whatever we say will have a good chance of being said in love.

Consider these two situations:

How do you feel when someone tells you information as if it’s gospel-truth, they are the expert, you are the dozo, and that’s all there is to it?

I rail!

On the other hand how do you feel when someone tells you information in a manner that allows you to have input, to question, to feel that you are making sense out of it all?

I love it. That’s one of the reasons I come to this church!

In the first example, I suspect the focus of the knowledgeable one, the giver of the information, is them. In the second, the focus is the receiver of the information that is being shared. The first is done without consideration of its effect. The second is done with consideration of its effect. The first, without love. The second, with love.

Paul, to the Corinthians, concluded his explanation of the detrimental effect this first approach has on others, telling us that sharing this knowledge without a loving delivery could cause major harm to “weak believers”. “But you must be careful so that your freedom [actions and behaviour] does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” He referred to this as ‘sinning against others’. Verse 12: “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.”

So, the observers in the synagogue had detected a change in the way the teaching, the sharing of knowledge, was delivered. They recognised that Jesus had a new sort of authority. Nothing like they had experienced before. My understanding of the way the Pharisees and religious leaders behaved puts them very much in the ‘unloving’ model. On the other hand, Jesus, being the very epitome of love, could only teach in love.

I read an interesting thing about love in my devotional the other day. Every Day With Jesus has changed hands, so to speak, this year. Instead of the very sound teachings of Selwyn Hughes forming the bulk of the daily offerings, a new approach has been adopted by the new appointee to the role of writer, and we are now dealing with a shift away from reading Scripture to hearing his version of events and, as a self-confessed introvert who had a weird upbringing, this approach seems to be miles off course for the regular readers who have been clamouring for a return to what we all know and love. Anyway, Micah Jazz reported this from Psychology Today: ‘Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addenda, or codes. Like the Sun, love radiates independently of our fears and desires’.

This resonated well with the ‘epitome of love’ descriptor.

The love Jesus showed was radiated independently of us. It wasn’t conditional, didn’t come with rules, had no riders attached, and didn’t have to be deciphered. Jesus came loving us. We didn’t have to ask or desire. He came to give himself entirely for our benefit. This is a thing of beauty and wonder. It marks a very special sort of authority indeed.

Biblical commentators say the Gospel of Mark has a focus on the servanthood of Jesus. So His authoritative teaching is another example to us of the way He served others, by making them the focus – how He serves us, making us the focus.

And our Psalm (Ps 111) today reinforces that authority of Jesus:

In verse 3:      Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.

And verse 10:      Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

If everything He does reveals his glory and majesty, His teaching style is an example to us. The fact it stood out to those attending the synagogue should be no surprise.

When the Bible refers to the “fear of the Lord”, it means having a deep respect, reverence and awe for God’s power and authority. Rather than causing us to be afraid of God, a proper “fear of the Lord” leads us to love Him.

If we adopt this reverential disposition and follow in his way, then we will get the maximum benefits his Christian life offers. Although Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching that day, perhaps this was the point that Jesus was making in the synagogue, by word and action!

I close by repeating the Collect for today: Holy One of God, as healer and teacher of the faith, your words astound, and transform the lives of many. May we teach your word and be bold in our actions, so that your presence will be revealed. For you are alive and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.