I doubt that there has ever been a society in which being a tax collector was a profession which would make you automatically popular amongst your peers. Even in a stable democracy like Australia, in which we have a say in the government that spends our tax dollars, and in which, for all the genuine disagreements in our political system, there is actually broad agreement on the vast majority of our spending, most people still resent paying tax, and would choose to pay less if they had that choice.
Chapter 15 of John’s gospel begins with the image of the vine – “I am the vine,” Jesus declares, you are the branches; abide in me and I will abide in you, and then you will bear much fruit.
Here, in the second half of that saying, Jesus takes that phrase, “abide in me”, and gives it meaning. He’s used the word ‘abide’ 8 times in the first few verses of the chapter; “abide in me, abide in my love” over and again, until finally, as if in answer to the unspoken question, he tells us what he means.
If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love
Psalm 46:1-5 | Isaiah 40:28-31
When I was a kid, I lived in what I thought at the time was a small village in England, a long way away from the city. Well, it was in England, so I got that bit right, and technically it was a village, although Woodstock was big enough to have a primary school of two or three hundred children and its own high school. And that distant city was only eight miles down the road – a long walk, but easy on a bike or fifteen minutes in the car.
Right back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel the author gives us a one sentence summary of Jesus’ preaching: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”. When you read through Mark’s gospel there’s a sense in which the whole thing is just an exposition of those words: the time is now; the Kingdom is near; repent and believe.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to Timothy gave me the perfect excuse to indulge in one of my favourite sermon-procrastinating pastimes – searching the internet for interesting quotes.
Don’t you just love it when Jesus praises dishonest behaviour?
I particularly like the way that many Bibles, choose to spin this as the ‘parable of the shrewd manager’. Yeah, ok, the guy acted shrewdly, but I wonder what you would call a man who, afraid he was going to be sacked for squandering resources, used his final day at work to abuse his position, and rip off his boss in order to buy himself friends for the future? Shrewd? Maybe. Dishonest crook, more likely.
Don’t you just love this parable? This image of God as the Shepherd who cares about the individual sheep, who seeks out the lost, who celebrates over the return of the wanderer.
Exodus 12:1-13 | Luke 22:14-20
So welcome to an episode of “what on earth are we going to do with this story”.
A story in which we are told of God committing an act of terrorism. Systematically killing the firstborn of every family in an entire nation, in order to get the political leadership to change their direction.
This week Sureka I celebrated our twenty second wedding anniversary. Now while many of the details of the preparations for the wedding have faded into the midst of time (actually, I managed to avoid much of the planning by still being in England when decisions had to be taken), one thing that does stick in my mind was the incredible process of making a seating plan for the reception.
Jeremiah 1:4-10 | Acts 2:14-18
I love the call of Jeremiah. Not for those famous opening words – “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” – with which God declares that Jeremiah was set aside for great things; nor for the way that God puts the words into Jeremiah’s mouth, appointing him to pluck up and to tear down, to build and to plant, to destroy and overthrow – just with words.
No, I love the call of Jeremiah because of his response.
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the nature of the invitation that we have received, and in whatever way, responded to, in our own lives, the invitation that we have to share with the world around us.
Psalm 85 | Luke 11:1-13
Prayer is complicated. There is probably no part of the Christian faith that is at the same time so universally valued and respected, and at the same time so diversely understood, or openly not understood.
As we explore, over these next few weeks, this idea of the invitation, the invitation that we have received, from God, the invitation that we have to offer to the world around us, the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good, to experience the love and welcome of Jesus Christ, we’re going to spend a bit of time just reflecting on what it is that we have ourselves received, what this ‘good news’ is that we have to share.
Hosea 11:1-11 | Luke 12:22-32
Hosea, along with the so-called minor prophets, is probably one of the less frequently explored books of the Bible. And that’s probably understandable – the minor prophets do have their odd characteristics, their strange characters speaking to situations which are very different from our, frequently using imagery which is very alien.
So two weeks ago in our reading from the letter to the Galatian Church we explored how Paul exhorted the followers of Jesus in Galatia to take seriously the freedom that Christ had won for them and the Spirit had gifted to them: freedom from the guardianship of the Law, that had existed to protect and guide God’s people until the day that they were set free to live according to the freedom of the Spirit – the freedom in which, he gloriously declared, releases us from those shackles of male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free.