Friday, April 20, 2007

Journeys in a Fallen World

Transport, motorways and tramlines/ Starting and then stopping/ Taking off and landing/ The emptiest of feelings/ Disappointed people clinging on to bottles/ And when it comes it's so so disappointing/ Let down and hanging around/ Crushed like a bug in the ground/ Let down and hanging around

Let Down, OK Computer; Radiohead

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The End of All Things

How about a nice quote from Wenham and Walton? At the end of their chapter on The Teaching and Aims of Jesus, they pick up some issues for today. Here's a good one...

Jesus' expectation that God would vindicate him is fulfilled in his resurrection and is yet to be fulfilled in the final renewal of creation at the End. The End of all things has barely featured in church history and Christian teaching and preaching, except at times of suffering and persecution. This lack calls for serious thought, for it suggests that Christian believers can easily become like the Sadducees, so comfortable in this world that they have no place in their thinking and living for its ultimate renewal at the End, and for understanding and living in the light of God's judgement to come on that day.
Exploring the NT, Vol 1, 185

If the church has preached about the End, it seems to me its overwhelming tendency has been to do so negatively, emphasising judgement and fear, rather than positively. I think Wenham and Walton have hit a nail, so to speak.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Escape Artist

Over the Easter break I read The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton. It's a book about cycling, about racing, but it's a book about life. Seaton traces his life through the lens of his relationship with bikes and with Ruth, who becomes his wife. While their two children are still small, Ruth dies. It's utterly sad and poignant, and the cycling that is so important to the author is brought into a sudden and new perspective. Two passages, standing either side of his wife's illness and death, stood out in stark contrast. In the first, Seaton recalls a conversation...
Defeat can be only in the mind, the Channel swimmer insisted, because there is nothing the body will not do, given the will to drive it. The body is a beautiful machine, he said, gazing away into the hazy distance...I knew exactly what he meant. Cycling had taught me to think of my body as a machine.
Then, afterwards...

I cycled more within myself. I would still ride the hills, but at a more gentle tempo. I did not want to hurt myself for some abstract ideal of fitness...Physical existence now appeared a relatively fragile fact, not to be relied upon; I would not abuse my body like an engine, a machine made only to be driven hard.

Seaton's discovery happened in a heartbreaking manner. We all tend to shut our eyes to our own weakness, and to a world of fragility and suffering. We need to make sure they are open.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Applications: Mustard Seed and Leaven

Stuff to take away from the Mustard Seed and Leaven looked a bit like this, in a brazil nutshell:

  1. We Must See Ourselves in the Story: We can respond to these parables by thinking 'yes, our work here is like a small seed and I long for days of power.' But, this is the wrong way to respond. The Bible is a story and the right way to respond is to see that it has and is being fulfilled around the world in an amazing way over the last 2000 years.
  2. We Must Have Confidence in God Alone: These parables warn us against (i) despondency (ii) headless-chicken activism. The power of God is the power of the Kingdom. Where the authentic Kingdom is, it will grow, even in the face of rejection. Faith is the attitude, authentic Kingdom life and work is the response: in love, hope, joy and proclamation.
  3. We Must Understand the End of the Story: The Kingdom will triumph. An inclusive salvation awaits; the Kingdom gives shelter to all. A holistic salvation awaits; pre-figured by the healing of the woman. Our proclamation should reflect these things.
  4. Are we in the Kingdom? Luke follows his account with Jesus' pleading with the people to enter into the Kingdom before their opportunity passes.

Explorations: Mustard Seed and Leaven

I posted a few days ago some thoughts on the parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven. Today I preached on the same and preparing gave me further time for meditation and reading. Here are a few explorations in a coconutshell:
  1. Striking Imagery: In rabbinical thought, the mustard seed used as a metaphor for smallness. The mustard plant was considered to be a weed. Leaven in Jewish thought represents corruption, something unholy. Jewish views of the Kingdom were grand, large and triumphant. The hearers would have been astounded by these reversals; Jesus challenges Jewish expectations with the Unexpected Newness of the Kingdom.
  2. Insignificant Beginnings: A mustard seed is small; leaven is common. Not only does the Kingdom consist of just Jesus and a few disciples, but it is opposed - Luke juxtaposes the parables with the opposition of the synagogue official.
  3. Inherent Power: This is Jesus' main point in Luke's version. A seed and leaven have inherent life. In Matthew and Mark the man plants the seed, here in Luke he throws it in his garden (check the Greek). Perhaps there is a picture of rejection here. But, it still grows. Pliny the Elder says: 'Mustard...grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once' (from Ben Witherington's Mark commentary). Jesus compares the Kingdom to a weed? Perhaps so! The weed is a threat to the established order. The leaven too is simply mixed into the meal, that's all. But it leavens the whole mass of dough.
  4. Future Greatness: A mustard plant grows to about 10ft. But this one becomes a tree - the hyperbolae links in the OT image of the kingdom of Israel as a tree providing shelter for the nations of the world. The woman is making rather a lot of bread - an overflowing mass! She has about 40 litres of meal - that's a lot of dough and even more bread! The small and surprising beginnings lead to greatness and abundance.
The power of the Kingdom in the face of opposition is reflected in the healing of the woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath and the response of the people; the account precedes the parables in Luke.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reflections of a Gaidhlig Poet

I have just re-stumbled across a superb article from SBET a few years back. I read this when I was in Wales and it, along with other stuff I was coming across, was a part of the milieu (or melee) that began broadening my theological horizons. If you are interested in culture, language and faith, I think you'll enjoy this: Creative Tensions:Personal Reflections of an Evangelical Christian and Gaelic Poet by Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh.

Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad

I actually said the above once to a guerilla-cyclist (he looked like one anyway - are you now thinking of a gorilla-cyclist because I am) in Cardiff after a close encounter with a car. I was on my modified Pashley Micro folder, which immediately marks you out as more of an activist than you might actually be. It's a dubious moral statement from a purely analytic standpoint - especially since Ezekiel's vision of God was marked by a proliferation of wheels. Anyway, I've been reading (by way of a change of scenery from theology books) Matt Seaton's book The Escape Artist, which describes his love affair with cycling. I've also been sitting in my study/bikehouse working on my essay next to said Pashley, my mountain and road bikes. And, to top it all, I recently read an article in Dec 2006s Third Way (still a few issues behind and trying to catch up - could someone slow down time please) entitled What Would Jesus Drive? After working as a Transport Consultant for about 13 years (unlucky for some), I thought I might go a-thinkin' and a-bloggin' on cycling, cars and transport from a theological perspective. Esoteric, but I think it was Rookmaaker who said that we must show that Christianity is true everywhere (could be paraphrasing a bit there). So, I will go a-thinkin'...