Intended for good and pursuing love

There are two strands, that I hope connect at least a little that I want to explore a little this evening. The first is about Joseph and his remarkable story.

He was a beloved son, adored by his father but hated by his brothers. They beat and abandon him in a ditch. He is sold into slavery.

He ends up in Egypt and becomes the trusted number 2 to Pharoah. He meets his brothers again who come to him for help. He is reconciled to them, and is reunited with the father who thought he was dead.

In the reading this evening Joseph is looking back over his life following the death of his father Jacob.

He reflects on his betrayal by his brothers who fear that once their father is dead he might seek retribution. But he says these remarkable words to them ‘even though you intended to do harm to me. God intended it for good.’

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Faith is…

‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’ These are words from the creed that we shall say in a few minutes.

I often dwell on these words for it’s encouraging to me that in the midst of words that seek to define and pin down something of what we believe about God there is still a space for the unknown.

‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’

The first sentence in our first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says something similar ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Here the writer of that letter wrestles with the nature of faith, and writes of a ‘conviction’ that the presence of God is pervasive, even in the ‘things not seen.’

So, both those who fashioned the creed and the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews knew that whilst they wanted to say something about God, that which is ‘seen’ they also needed to leave space for that which is unknown about God ‘the unseen’.

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Beatitudes, Wilberforce, Greed and Changing the World

On Thursday night over the last few weeks I’ve been leading a small group sharing in one of the Pilgrim course modules. We’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes and had some interesting discussions.

One of the most interesting things for me has been how I’ve carried those remarkable few verses from St. Matthew’s Gospel around with me over these last few weeks. I’m not quite sure why they’ve got so under my skin, but one reason might be because they set before us Jesus’ vision of a world transformed.

A world in which we are not slaves to our base instincts, needs and desires rather a world in which all have a place to flourish and grow.

Spending time with the Beatitudes has reminded me how often my life doesn’t reflect the challenge to transform the world contained in those few short verses

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Joseph – Jealousy, betrayal and us.

From our first reading Reuben said ‘So now there comes a reckoning for his blood’(1)Genesis 42.22.

Joseph’s brothers of which Reuben was one had seen ‘that their father loved him more than’ them so they ‘hated him(2)Genesis 37.4. This hatred once kindled likely grew over the years.

Then there comes an opportunity to rid themselves of this ‘dreamer’(3)Genesis 37.19. And though he survives, Joseph is beaten and thrown into a pit, sold to the Ishmaelites and taken to Egypt.

There in a strange land he forges a new life. He grows in favour with Pharoah who puts him ‘over his (my) house’, so that ‘all his (my) people shall order themselves as Joseph (you) commands’(4)Genesis 41.40.

It’s a remarkable reversal of fortune. But the story doesn’t end there. Joseph and the brothers who abandoned him are destined to be reunited.

And that’s where we pick up the story in our first reading this afternoon and in these my words, I want us to reflect a little on the emotions likely present in that reunion, and how they might speak to us today.

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References   [ + ]

1. Genesis 42.22
2. Genesis 37.4
3. Genesis 37.19
4. Genesis 41.40

Growing in our need of the one thing.

Mention the word growth to a group of Vicars, and you will see some whose hearts sink, and some whose ears prick up.

I have certainly been at the meetings when my heart sank, mainly because it tends to revolve around a rather narrow vision of what growth means at least in the church. But beyond the dear old C of E as an institution, what might be the signs of growth amongst us.

Waistlines, yes some of us can point to growth there. The number of tablets to be taken, yes that too is probably growing for some of us. The numbers of children and grandchildren, yep more signs of growth.

But what about knowing, loving and following Jesus? How many of us would say that this is an area of growth for us? What might we say if confronted with one of those dreadful multiple-choice questions? How are things with Jesus for you?

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The Patient Slow Burn of Love

At the risk of lowering the tone of Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer, as the rock band Queen once put it in a mantra for our time “I want it all and I want it now.”

These words familiar to a child, who cannot understand why they have to wait for the ice cream they have been promised are about desire. And what we do with those feelings often deceptive feelings around our perceived wants and needs.

It’s something we all must learn to navigate as we live our lives, some rather more successfully than others.

Like the only child who has to learn beyond the nuclear family that their needs are not the centre of everything.

I can’t help feel that Herodias, the young woman who as the second reading put had learnt to ‘please Herod’ and I think we know what that means, had learned how to manipulate desire.

She danced in such a way that Herod was seduced. He was beguiled into offering her whatever she wished. She and her mother wanted the head of John the Baptist.

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Easter Day

Of all the theology books I have read the one which has had the most profound influence on me is probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

When I first read it at the age of 7 I had no idea of the Christian allegory behind it. But even without that knowledge it was clear that the heart of the story was Aslan’s death and coming to life again on the stone table. And I was always intrigued and mystified by this famous passage:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offence was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property…”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it…Fall back, all of you,” said Aslan, “and I will talk to the Witch alone…”

Then we skip a couple of chapters forward. Aslan has been put to death and Lucy and Susan have kept watch with his dead body during the night.

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It Is Finished

Each of the four gospels gives us a different picture of Christ on the cross.

In Mark and Matthew, Jesus’ last words are dark and questioning: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

In Luke, his last words are confident and trusting: ‘Father, in your hands I commend my spirit.’ 

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ last saying is a single Greek word: ‘tetelestai’. In English it can mean either ‘It is finished’ – it’s all over. Or ‘it is accomplished’ – it is fulfilled.

And that is typical of John’s gospel. It is as though two perspectives of the same story are going on at the same time – the world’s perspective, and God’s perspective. In John’s gospel, Jesus talks about being ‘lifted up’. On the one hand this refers to the crucifixion, a terrible thing done to him through the wickedness of humanity. On the other hand, it refers to his glorification, a work of grace and salvation by God, by means of which we ourselves are drawn into communion: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth’ he said, ‘I will draw all people to myself.’(1)John 12.32; see also John 3.14

This is what is called literary irony. There are two levels of meaning. The characters in the story can only see one level, but the reader is invited to see another, deeper level of understanding.

So when Pilate says to him, ‘Behold your king’(2)John 19.14 and when the soldiers dress Jesus in a purple robe and place a crown of thorns on his head, they think they are mocking him – but we know their words and actions carry a much deeper truth than they realise. For we know he is not merely the king of the Jews but king of the universe.

So there are two levels of meaning to Jesus’ final words: It is finished – it is accomplished.  

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References   [ + ]

1. John 12.32; see also John 3.14
2. John 19.14