Lectionary Sermon for 22 January 2017 on Matthew 4:12-23

Knowingly putting yourself at risk is not a typical response to known danger. But that is only half one point at issue in today’s reading. Putting the issue another way, there is considerable difference in the actions of the young man who amazed the tourists a few days ago when he boogie boarded down the raging waters of the Huka falls near Lake Taupo, and actions of the teenager recorded as running into the burning house to rescue a terrified child.

Remember back to that misguided African Pastor from North Nigeria who decided he was going to show his congregation that as with Daniel, God, he said, would affirm his faith by keeping him safe literally in a den of lions. According to N G Newspapers, despite the protests of the keepers at the local zoo (at Nibazon) , our modern day self appointed Daniel, the pastor, brushed past them telling them they were enemies of progress and before they could stop him he had opened the gate to the lions’ enclosure – and resplendent in his scarlet preaching robe – he stepped in to show how his faith would be rewarded. The lions were understandably grateful and did as lions are expected to do as they fell upon him, tearing him into bite-sized pieces.

While we might shake our heads at the pastor’s foolishness, we might also suspect that his was the wrong cause in the first place. A Pastor’s focus should be on the care for the interests of those he or she serves … and not on self promotion …for caring for others is what the essence of Jesus’ mission is always about …and if it comes to that, that reminder isn’t just for the pastor.

There are different ways of going about entering a lions’ den. And I guess if we are honest with ourselves, we would need a good reason to motivate us to attempt a stunt like that. So what then do we make of Jesus in today’s reading. Here he is having just heard his cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas – and what does Jesus do? – he heads straight for Capernaum right in the centre of Herod’s centre of control. Surely the lions’ den?

On the other hand we can probably understand that genuine feelings for others sometimes means putting one’s own safety to one side to do what needs to be done. In this case we find Jesus himself, in all probability outraged at the injustice that had befallen his friend John the Baptist, and regardless of the risk, he was in effect taking over where John had left off. Notice for Jesus going into the territory of the king who had imprisoned his cousin, this is not entering the lions’ den for the sake of being admired. This is accepting danger because the cause mattered more than personal safety.

From another angle, strategically choosing Capernaum as a base for Jesus new ministry made very good sense. As the biggest port on the Sea of Galilee, boats would set out, not just for fishing or trade, but also taking news with them. Jesus teaching, to have maximum impact needed to have access to some means of getting the message out there and Capernaum was ideally placed.

In his account of these events, Matthew was clearly editing as he went, no doubt well aware of those to whom his message was addressed. Notice he actually bends the accuracy of his report of Isaiah’s prophecy in order to underline a few points for his readers and listeners. Certainly he wants his audience to be under no delusion that Jesus in this action was acting by chance.

Rather, as far as Matthew was concerned, by going to Capernaum Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. However when he locates Capernaum “by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan….” he was being economic with the truth about what Isaiah had actually said. The sea Isaiah had referred to was actually the Mediterranean not the Sea of Galilee and although Capernaum could be considered to be the territory of Naphtali it was not as it happens, the territory of Zebulon.

If we take a wider focus we realise that Isaiah had said in effect that the Messiah was going to appear, not in the central power base of Israel but in the Northern fringe areas where there were larger proportions of the non-Jewish population. For Jesus to see such areas as worthy of his concern should also remind us that we too as his followers should be concerned for those who represent the gentiles in our equivalent situations.

Because Jesus addressed part of his subsequent message to Gentiles as well as Jews, Matthew also appears to be getting in early so to speak when he talks about Jesus fulfilling the mission to the gentiles. Stories such as Jesus encounter with the Caananite woman (which occurs in Ch 15 of Matthew’s gospel) or the other stories like Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, or for that matter his encounter with the Centurion, would demonstrate that his message was not intended exclusively for the Jews. Perhaps, in passing, it is also appropriate to reflect that those in our own age who give priority to the exclusive needs of their own faith are not exactly being true to the teaching and actions of Jesus of the gospels.

Although the next bit of the reading appears to underline Jesus’ role as a foreteller of end times, a quick reality check shows us that when Matthew reports Jesus as saying “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” either Jesus was not talking about end times or, if he was, he was mistaken in that two thousand years later end-times are yet to arrive.

We might also note that as it happens Matthew appears to be generally following Mark in his account of this same section (Mark 1: 14 -20) yet Mark had Jesus saying “The Kingdom of God is near” and Matthew apparently changes this to “the Kingdom of heaven….” and I will leave it for wiser minds than mine to explain the reason for the change. The only observation I would make is that since Jesus words appear virtually identical to John calling for repentance because as he too said the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of heaven is at hand, we should be asking if both Jesus and John had the same basic message in mind.

When it came to starting a band of followers it may well be that some of John’s disciples would have responded to the incarceration of their leader by shifting to join Jesus, but because John and Jesus were also somewhat different in style we can see why Jesus may have thought it necessary to do some of his own recruitment.

What should strike us as unusual is that when it comes to assembling a likely group of followers, Jesus sets about the task in a way that would raise very serious questions in a company board room today.

Frankly I don’t think Jesus would have lasted more than a day of two at most as a recruitment head-hunter for an HR office today. These days matching skill sets with even the most humble of positions would be the very least we would expect – and without references and a good CV there really isn’t anything worth doing in the job market. When it comes to modern religious leadership we are even more careful, and require evidence of a good standard of basic education, appropriate prior experience – and even then, there are virtually no leadership roles available, let alone the responsibility of taking over from the boss after a few months erratic unstructured “tag-along apprenticeship” without extensive interviews and several years training at an appropriate institution.

On the other hand there may be two significant aspects to learn from in Jesus calling of the common fishermen, presumably chosen almost at random. In the style of his call we see virtually the same approach as Jesus set for the location of his mission. Remember in his mission he was choosing to care about, and where necessary heal those who are normally overlooked on the fringes. This is only underlined by first finding room among his disciples for those who others would have passed over.

Since Jesus didn’t seem to discriminate between those who had the theoretical gifts of learning and leadership before choosing those capable of following, then by extrapolation, perhaps this teaches us that becoming deeply involved with the kingdom of God is within reach for virtually everyone.

The second point is that his calling may not have been dependent on prior significant formal training, yet it was a call for significant commitment. In effect dropping the nets to take on something new and unknown was risky then and the equivalent would be just as risky today.

There is a sentence at the end of this morning’s Gospel reading that we have probably heard so many times, we pass over its implications.

What was it Matthew said? “He went around the whole of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing whatever illness or infirmity there was among the people.” The point here surely is that Jesus was not just interested in delivering a message in words. He was interested in the situation of each of the people he met and was prepared to help where he could.

I freely admit I don’t pretend to understand the miracle part of Jesus ministry. On the other hand miracles are only one of a myriad of ways of extending help to those we encounter.

Of course we are not Jesus any more than we are a Martin Luther King or a Mother Teresa. On the other hand perhaps any day now it will come to us that our call to mission is not merely to admire Jesus or the disciples who followed. Certainly listening to stories about Jesus and the disciples has its own attractions but surely sooner or later we have to decide if we want to restrict our mission as a retelling of stories in the past. We may not be particularly good at mission – yet moving forwards and attempting to apply the principles of Christian living in a host of contemporary and unfolding situations has more to recommend it than passive and mute admiration of fragments of other peoples’ past memories.

Soren Kierkegaard, the theologian and philosopher spent most of his later career encouraging folk to risk testing their faith in a system he called existentialism. One of his statements is worth thinking about.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”
Are we up to that challenge?

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Lectionary sermon for 15 January 2017 (Epiphany 2 Year A ) on John 1: 29 -42

The comedian Flip Wilson had a standard stock reply to anyone who ever asked him about his religious affiliation. “I’m a Jehovah’s bystander” he would say proudly. “They asked me to become a Jehovah’s Witness, but I didn’t want to get involved.” When I first encountered this answer, although I laughed at the time, I have since come to realize that there is a sense in which Flip Wilson’s religion may yet turn out to be the biggest denomination of all.

Certainly if measured by size of congregation some individual Churches appear very successful indeed, but attendance as part of the crowd may have little or even nothing to do with participation in the principles of living that a particular Church claims to be teaching. In the same way attendance at a top sports event may indeed measure side-line popularity, but is a very poor indicator of how many among the spectators are actually players of the observed sport.

Some of the older members of the congregation may even remember a time back in the nation’s social history when Church attendance was almost taken as a given, because with no Sunday trading, no Sports events permitted on a Sunday and strong social expectations for Church attendance, Church in effect was the only game in town. Although Church members looking at dwindling congregations may look back with some nostalgia to those days, the theologian Marcus Borg has a different view. He looked at the decline in mainline churches over the previous forty years and said: I quote (and this from Borg’s book entitled: “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary” P303)………

The good news in this decline is that, very soon, the only people left in mainline congregations will be the ones that are there for intentional rather than conventional reasons. This creates the possibility for the Church once again to become an alternative community rather than a conventional community, living into a deepening relationship with a Lord rather than the Lords of Culture. This is exciting.”

In the events portrayed by the gospel writers at the start of the faith we now claim to follow, intention not convention was called upon at every step.

It is also appropriate to remember that this particular Sunday on the Church calendar is called the second Sunday in Epiphany. An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, (epiphaneia), literally translated as a manifestation or a striking appearance, is commonly used to refer to a sort of an “aha” moment when suddenly ideas seem to click into place. Although probably originally intended for new insights of a religious or philosophical variety, these days it often refers to a major scientific insight or in fact any re-organization of ideas which allows a situation or major puzzle to be understood from a radically new perspective.

Today’s reading is relatively straightforward and to the point. It lists a number of these aha situations, each centred on intention rather than convention. I doubt if the participants in the gospel writer John’s account knew why they had been affected to the point that it made a difference. However as Mark Twain, that master of homespun philosophy once put it: “You cannot rely on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”

John the Baptist had been anything but following convention when he accepted the task of telling the Jews that in order to show they were ready for the coming of the promised Messiah they would need to behave like gentiles converting to Judaism and have themselves baptized in the river Jordan. We can only imagine how annoyed the Priests and Pharisees became at when they saw Jews participating in John’s baptism. Each of those being baptized, were in effect stating, by their participation, that they were living in a time when the convention of their existing religion had not been true to its principles.

Notice too that the choice John offered was very different from our modern equivalent of confessing we have gone astray which is sometimes nothing more than inviting people to shut their eyes and say AMEN to someone else’s prayer. By contrast, the only way someone might have accepted John’s baptism was to undergo an undignified and very public intentional display of a kind which the participants would have known full well was unacceptable to conventional religious leadership.

Jesus himself not only reportedly made his own intentions abundantly clear with his own baptism, but did so in such a way that it was clear to his observers that he was setting himself outside convention. When John the Baptist pointed to him and called him the Lamb of God it may even be that John had suddenly realized by that stage, by Jesus’ acts and words, that here was a probable Messiah who was setting himself up as an eventual sacrifice to what he believed. An aha experience if ever there was one.

John the Baptist was so affected by his encounter with Jesus that according to the gospel writer, he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and found in this confirmation that, unlike his own Baptism offered with water, that Jesus would be the one to baptize in the Spirit.

Jesus also apparently recognized that gaining followers was not simply a matter of offering explanation in an intellectual sense. We cannot be certain what had been in his mind, but by requiring action instead of offering pat answers to their questions the net result was to give the disciples a new way of seeing.

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were so struck by John’s reaction to Jesus, their imagination was roused and they saw Jesus as a Rabbi and asked him where he was staying. Notice he didn’t answer directly but instead said come and see for yourselves.

This appeared to have given them an even clearer view of Jesus as someone really significant and they went off to fetch the man Peter who was eventually to become the leader of Jesus’ disciples. Whether or not Peter would have dropped everything to follow if Jesus had not quickened his imagination by renaming him Cephas (the rock) we can never know. What we do know is that Peter’s experience of Jesus changed him from being an observer, to that of an intentional participant. His imagination was awakened and he now saw things differently.

Now for the more difficult part….. Well strictly speaking it only becomes difficult if we accept the challenge to learn from this passage and then try to apply what we have learned for our own individual situations.

I mentioned earlier one of my favourite quotes from Mark Twain. Here is another related quotation, this time from Henry Thoreau “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

If we were for example to think of ourselves as the modern equivalent of the disciple Andrew, whose main contribution appeared to have been as with today’s reading, namely that he was often the one who introduced people to Jesus, now days, straight away we come up against a small problem. Jesus is no longer present in the flesh.

So where is this Jesus we would like people to see? After all for those we bring – the only flesh and blood they will encounter is that of his modern day interpreters and followers. In short, they can only encounter Jesus as in nothing more or less than those like us. And that will inevitably mean encountering as many different manifestations as there are individuals attempting to follow Jesus.

We are by no means all John the Baptists, or a Peter the rock, or an Andrew the introducer. Yet for all of us, flawed as we are, whether or not others will see part of the Christ in us, will ultimately depend not we sing choruses or hymn of praise, nor on the conventions we follow, but rather on the areas of life into which our intentions take us.

Remember Thoreau. It is not what they look at (or, let’s be truthful…. rather….. not what we hope they will look at) which matters. It is what they actually see ….. in us! And unfortunately if they stick around it will not be simply meeting us in the controlled, safe and regulated environment of a Church setting – or a service of worship.

If the first disciples had to come and see Jesus in his own local setting, surely those who come to see his modern day representatives are going to have to settle for doing the same.

We may well prefer that the Church should post advertisements to invite people in to meet the minister who can then organize a meeting with Jesus by proxy through his or her sermons? But isn’t better to admit we probably all know that the poet Edgar Guest had it right all along when in one of his poems he wrote : “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

Like it or not, if we want to throw in our lot with Jesus, our lives are the sermons that will be seen. Since Jesus was able to summarize all that was important into two simple interrelated commandments, love God and Love your neighbour as yourself, perhaps the quality of our lived sermon will be discovered in how well we are able to live our love for neighbours – because in so doing we live our love of God.

We may not have been to theological college – but neither had John the Baptist, Andrew, Peter or even Jesus himself. By the law of averages we are unlikely to have the right characteristics to make us likely successful disciples. Even some of Jesus’ original bunch might not have scored too well in that department. But it is not our eloquence, or education we are measured by when it comes to discipleship. Perhaps it is simply the matter of getting our imagination into focus as we come to realize how Jesus might appear when we see him in that new way.

Today is the second Sunday in Epiphany. Can you identify that moment of Epiphany for you?

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Lectionary sermon for 8 January 2017 on Matthew 3:13-17

A few days ago, in Churches and religious gatherings around the world, congregations were singing lusty joyous carols. Joy to the world….. Or was it perhaps: While shepherds watched their flocks by night.…. ? The last verse to that one goes:

All glory be to God on high And to the Earth be peace Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men Begin and never cease.”

So how are we doing in the goodwill department now we have witnessed the dawning of a New Year? The Saudis are dropping illegal barrel bombs supplied by our allies on the Shia rebels in the towns and cities in Yemen. There was a mass killing at a night club in Istanbul. The Israelis want to continue their forced resettlement of Palestinians despite the protests of the UN.  The German people are trying to find a sensible response to the terrorists who seem to have mainly come in with the refugees fleeing Syria.  There was yet another ISIS attack in a market place in Baghdad and yet another breakdown of the peace negotiation in Aleppo. As the change-over date for Presidents in the US there are now threats of major disruption in New York.

What happened to Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men? After 2000 years waiting, in many places in the world the goodwill doesn’t seem to extend to women. So instead of enjoying the continuing goodwill begun that first Christmas and assuming it will never cease, here we are, reading about the record number of homeless in New Zealand, nervously waiting for the next act of mindless violence in the community or perhaps opening our news feeds on the computer, reflecting in sad despair at the burgeoning refugee camps and wondering when the next shooting at a shopping mall or school in the US is going to hit the headlines

Today the lectionary gospel reading finds us celebrating the Baptism of Jesus. I want to suggest that first, as with Christmas, we are fond of using over-blown statements about how the coming of Jesus and the start of his mission transforms the world without stopping to think whether or not we as individuals encourage his coming to continue to affect the everyday world. In the same manner I wonder if we are also often guilty of treating the topic of his baptism casually – assuming perhaps that since we got baptized as Jesus got baptized we are thereby transformed into Christians and everyone benefits. As with Christmas, could it be we are making assumptions that don’t necessarily fit reality?

It kind of reminds me of the well-known story about the little girl who started crying after she was baptized? The minister asked her why she was upset. “Because,” said the little girl, “you made my parents promise I would be raised in a Christian home. But I want to live with them!”

In a way it is entirely understandable we don’t necessarily understand what baptism is about. There have been many different types of baptism through the centuries and even the experts in Church doctrine have been divided about what it is intended to mean.

An additional problem was that for the early Church, baptism was being offered for different reasons. The Jews said that only the unclean gentiles needed Baptism when they were demonstrating they were renouncing their old ways to become Jews. John the Baptist told his listeners that even the Jews needed baptism that they too needed to renounce their old ways so that they in effect would be proper Jews, and hence ready for the Messiah.

It therefore followed that Matthew’s account had John telling Jesus he wouldn’t need baptism. In retrospect, Jesus’ insistence that he too needed baptism made a kind of sense even if he were only signaling the official start of his mission in faith. It has also been noted that part of the symbolism might also be that he totally identified with the others being baptized. Some have tentatively suggested their suspicion that Jesus was sufficiently human to consider himself to be a sinner in need of repentance. True this is not widely accepted, but we might at least acknowledge the possibility.

Although Matthew and the other gospel writers don’t say so, for those familiar with the customs and scriptures of the Jews, there is a further possible symbolism in that some of the priests and high priests were ceremonially washed and there were pools set aside in the Temple for that purpose. To the Jews this had a scriptural antecedent For example in Leviticus 8:6 we’re told that, in accordance with God’s instruction — “Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.” Then, later, during that ceremony Moses “poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” Leviticus 8:12

The early church offered several variants for Baptism, including sprinkling with water, the baptizing of whole families regardless of age, and usually associating this with initiation into the faith. About the only aspect of baptism which appeared common to all the forms of baptism is that it was intended to mark a new phase of life.

While the varying layers of meaning associated with baptism offer different things to people at different stages of different faith journeys, this in itself is not a serious problem. Indeed discovering new dimensions of chosen symbols brings a faith to life and looking back with new perception on a chosen sacramental act has the power to open us to new meaning.

Where unfortunately it can and actually has gone wrong in the past is if we come to believe that there is only one permitted form for baptism and only one allowed meaning for the symbolic act. At its worst, what was intended as a public demonstration of a step forward at the beginning of a new journey can then become disciplinary dogma, used to confine actions which ensures little more than the establishment of power for those who wish to control others, particularly those who wish to act as arbiters for judgment on who is entitled to salvation.

To show just how lacking in compassion dogma can become we might remind ourselves that Anabaptists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were persecuted for daring to suggest that adult baptism was needed even for those who had been baptized when they were too young to have understood what was happening. Thousands of Anabaptists were executed at the decree of some traditional Church leaders, and by a cynical and cruel imposed irony, this was usually accomplished by drowning, which their judges insisted on calling a third baptism.

The other way baptism becomes inappropriate, is when it is presented as a ceremony disconnected with what follows. We might acknowledge for example the large number of Christening ceremonies carried out at the request of families who have virtually no other contact with Church teaching other than for the traditional hatches, matches and dispatches.

Jesus’ baptism was not a religious ceremony disconnected with the life that followed. Indeed if it had been, it would long since have faded into oblivion. Because his baptism marked the start of a relatively dramatic period in which ordinary people had their lives transformed, and because it also marked the start of new ways of challenging outworn conventions and nationalistic faith, we then find significance in the ceremony Jesus chose to begin his ministry. Had there been no mission, no concern for the nobodies of his society, no challenge to a close minded priesthood, no crucifixion and no new life for the Church as a consequence of the dimly understood event we now call the resurrection, why else would we be concerned about Jesus’ baptism?

Yet there is a caution here as well. His baptism is not our baptism. Indeed, if the truth be told, we have no way of knowing with certainty even which of the gospel accounts of his baptism was most accurate – nor indeed exactly what was in Jesus mind when he stepped into those waters.

We do know that our own Baptisms, if indeed they have already happened for all those present today, were almost certainly arranged for different motives. And not all Churches have a common view even today. But what we also know, is that baptism – or for that matter – whatever your preferred action you undertake to signal the start of your own faith journey – only takes on meaning if it is followed by steps in that journey.

This is the second Sunday in the New Year and yes – all is not well in the world. Yet we assemble with the intention of affirming the lead of the one we follow. Jesus taught a new way of relating to one another, our neighbours and even our enemies. Each of us has, however briefly, no doubt considered Jesus’ proscribed way – and through our baptism, or confirmation – or whatever our chosen symbolism may be – we may have already signaled our association with his teaching.

The only way baptism will eventually have meaning for ourselves and those we meet is first to start – and then continue to attempt to live his teaching.

Christian faith is not simply listing and affirming statements of belief as a superficial exercise of intellect. It is primarily about establishing relationships with God encountered in creation and in acts of love, forming and improving relationships with neighbours, living according to ethical standards and in serving others. Of course we cannot expect to transform the whole world, stop all conflicts and force others to live with peace and goodwill. What we can do is acknowledge we intend to make a start and realize that the nature of our journey, good or bad, will be our personal witness.

 

NOTE TO THE READER

A number of Church leaders have told me they are starting to use these sermons as a focus for House Group meetings and Bible studies. Because the sermons are designed partly to raise questions to take folk out of their comfort zones, any feedback from studies or group discussions (including corrections or obvious omissions) would probably be helpful to others and might spark further development of ideas. If you are using the posts as a starting point for discussion, you might like to check out the general posts on this web-site where topics like homosexuality, abortion, Bible literalism, bioethics, science and religion etc etc are introduced.

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A lectionary sermon for Christmas 1 A (New Year’s Day) 2017 on Matthew 2:13-23

You have to hand it to Matthew in the way he balances a sense of wonder for the coming of Jesus with the grimmer bits. Admittedly it is an otherworldly story of angels, the shepherds the wise men and of course a guiding star…a good story, filled with awe and wonder and even with a touch of magic.

Then suddenly Matthew switches the mood from pure wonder to pure horror. Herod is furious. Learning that he has been tricked by the wise men, who, despite their previous promise, evidently have no intention of coming back with information about a potential king being born in the area, Herod now in effect throws his toys. He flies into a rage and sends his soldiers to kill all young male infants in the neighborhood. Joseph and Mary are warned and flee with the baby Jesus to Egypt.

In this instance I think that many of the liberal scholars are talking sense when they claim Matthew’s story seems unlikely as literal history. In the first place it seems at odds with the parallel story in Luke which has no flight to Egypt, and in the second place, none of the detailed then contemporary histories of Herod record such an event. On the other hand, even if Matthew was recounting this story almost as if it were a parable about Jesus, it offers more than a mid-rash or pious legend. Don’t forget the grimmer bits matter if only because the real world is not all sweetness and light, even at Christmas.

Matthew’s version of Christmas is important because first it accurately depicts the time into which Jesus was born. The misfortunes which befell many of that time created more than enough refugees to have the commentators on the Bible passages finding parallels with contemporary ages.

Since Matthew was talking of a time where ruthless rulers or invading forces exacted terrible punishment on the population we cannot be certain that a small scale massacre of infants (some suggest maybe 20 or 30 for the then size of Bethlehem) would have made it into the histories of the day. Yet even if Matthew was only intending his story as parable, it is still plausible for the age.

The Romans’ occupation and the dark moods of those like King Herod can but only have exacerbated the vast number of refugees almost constantly on the move. The Jews in particular seemed to be singled out as easy targets and historians point to the large population of Jews scattered to the cities of neighboring countries. For example Alexandria in Egypt was said to be host to something like a million Jews at the time of Christ.

No matter what we would prefer to believe about Matthew’s story of Herod, we have plenty of evidence to confirm to us that Herod was a dangerous neighbor. He may not be independently confirmed to have ordered the murder of the infants of Bethlehem but child murder was very much part of his character. For example he had three of his own children murdered on the grounds that they may have been plotting against him, and for good measure had one of his ten wives executed for adultery.

The Emperor Augustus is said to have observed about Herod that it would be safer to be Herod’s pig that to be one of his sons. As an aside we might note that since the Greek word for pig (hys) sounds very close to the Greek work for son (hyos) we might assume that this was intended as a pun to entertain the Roman nobility who spoke fluent Greek at the time.
Some scholars suspect that Matthew chose to stress the flight to Egypt because some of the prophecies that Matthew quoted drew a parallel between Jesus and Moses.

Remember:…..So Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt. – Exodus 4.20
This is very close to Matthew’s rephrasing for Joseph and his family flight to Egypt
And he (Joseph) rose and took the child and his mother, and went
to the land of Israel.

For Matthew’s readers, the image of Jesus as a new Moses returning to lead his people out of their bondage would be readily understood symbolism. After all here we had the infant Moses saved from almost certain death, and brought up in Egypt so that he might rescue his people…. and now in Matthew’s parallel story Jesus saved from almost certain death to be brought up in Egypt that he might rescue his people.

For Matthew’s readers listening to the words of this gospel at a time when once again the refugees were fleeing Israel this time from the wrath of the Romans after yet another Jewish rebellion had failed, there must have been those wondering if God had not only abandoned them but had deliberately set about destroying them. The claim that major set-backs are the consequence of offending God is revisited by the religiously credulous time after time in the aftermath of each new major disaster. Yet notice Matthew pulls back from this conclusion.

What Matthew appears to be trying to teach as an alternative is that when disaster threatens, for some who take wise action there may be a way through.

Given the current refugee crisis in Europe, today’s gospel narrative should remind us that Jesus’ coming is not an automatic panacea for some age old issues . This is why Matthew’s account provides contemporary challenge. Christmas with its tinsel, carols all adding to the Christmas shopping mall experience, not to mention piles of presents under the Christmas tree, all seemed designed to take us far from the challenges of the real world where many actually miss out. Christmas is a time of joy for those with our advantages – it is true – but don’t forget the joy is supposed to be that one has come with a message that can make a difference to the problems of the real world. We emerge from the Christmas celebrations where we rejoice at Jesus coming to address the world’s problems – yet over the next few weeks we should remind ourselves that as good part of this addressing of problems is through the actions of his followers.

We are hardly true to the message if we pretend that the problems are not there. Matthew does not shy away from that part of Christmas. Perhaps we might learn to do likewise.

Even our support for the actions of the West should be tempered by the reminder that if we avert our eyes when our side supplies illegal weapons like the chemical weapons used against the Kurds, the white phosphorous the US used in Iraq and more recently the barrel bombs used by Saudi Arabia in the Yemen, we should not pretend that the refugees fleeing the destruction have nothing to do with us.

Those grim TV clips of wounded and dying children and absolute destruction of once peaceful city streets show the horrors described by Matthew are still part of our world. It is all very well to rejoice in the coming of Jesus – but sooner or later we have to remind ourselves that same Jesus is not expected to remain in the manger. Surely a good part of our valuing of the Christ child was for the message he brought. Jesus may well have come as Messiah two thousand years ago but the joy at his coming would be interpreted as forced and artificial if it is not intended to make any difference to those who suffer today.

And if they do continue to suffer, there is not much point in blaming Jesus if at the same time we as his followers are not doing our best to be his eyes and his hands in a world where pain continues to be part. of the Christmas season. This of course should not be taken a judgement on all Christians today. In reality there are a good number who work tirelessly on behalf of those who suffer. On the other hand accepting responsibilities for doing something in response to the situations we encounter is individual in nature and just because someone in our immediate circle is doing something in response should not provide the excuse for total inaction on our behalf. We cannot be followers of the Christ child by proxy.

If we go back now to Matthew’s account of today’s gospel we might notice a strange twist at the end. We can certainly understand that the family of Jesus would have been reluctant to return to Bethlehem despite the death of Herod. By all accounts Herod’s son was every bit as ruthless as his father and it made perfect sense to settle further away in the little hillside town of Nazareth. The problem comes when Matthew, ever ready to find parallels for Jesus in the prophecies inserts the words: 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (or in a number of translations “Nazarene”)

The truth of the matter, as William Barclay points out is that there is actually no such prophecy – or at least not in the part of the scriptures often referred to as the Old Testament.

On the other hand as Barclay reminds us, the ancient writers often used puns and plays on words. Accordingly Barclay suggests that here Matthew may be intentionally playing on the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 11:1 : “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” The Hebrew word for branch is Nezer which in turn looks and sounds virtually identical to the Hebrew word for the word Nazarene which seems to have been Netser and which presumably means Matthew is saying for the scholars in his audience that at one and the same time that Jesus was from Nazareth (the Netser) while in another sense he was being Isaiah’s promised Branch or nezer from the stock of Jesse, the descendant of David, or if you like, the promised Anointed King of God.

It is an interesting metaphor which implies a question. If Jesus was indeed a branch from the stump of Jesse, how might we who wish to be part of his mission, become grafted into that same stump? Now that is a challenge for reflecting back on the Christmas season.

NOTE TO THE READER
A number of Church leaders have told me they are starting to use these sermons as a focus for House Group meetings and Bible studies. Because the sermons are designed partly to raise questions to take folk out of their comfort zones, any feedback from studies or group discussions (including corrections or obvious omissions) would probably be helpful to others and might spark further development of ideas. If you are using the posts as a starting point for discussion, you might like to check out the general posts on this web-site where topics like homosexuality, abortion, Bible literalism, bioethics, science and religion etc etc are introduced.

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Donald Trump, the Keeper of the Launch Codes

It is unfortunate that Donald Trump is not only inexperienced in international politics but apparently unable to source let alone understand readily available information.

In the second Presidential debate Trump made a silly claim about the US standing with nuclear weapons which suggests either he lacked informed advisors or alternately that he was unable to understand what they were saying.

“Our nuclear program has fallen way behind. And [Russia has] gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good,” he told the audience “Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We are tired. We are exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Anyone who followed what the public statements on US current policy have been saying would know he was simply wrong. The Pentagon has made it clear that the government are actually well underway with modernizing all three dimensions of its nuclear triad.    In the sea U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), armed with Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) are being upgraded; the U.S. Air Force’s Cold-War era B-52 strategic bombers that carry the nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) are being replaced; and the Air Force’s land based intercontinental ballistic missiles are being modernized.

A few months ago Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, and high profile political talk show host on US television told of how Trump asked a foreign policy expert three times why the United States couldn’t use nuclear weapons if he becomes president. Mr Trump, the Republican nominee, was said to have posed the question during an hour-long briefing on foreign affairs. Now several months later Trump is still uninformed and is apparently so unaware of the recent history of nuclear weapons  he is continuing to argue that the US needs to expand its nuclear weaponry arsenal and has horrified the strategists by suggesting the US should encourage US friendly nations to gain their own nuclear weapons.

At an election campaign meeting moderated by CNN in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the world heard the Donald speak in defense of his claim that some pro US allies should develop nuclear capability. “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself.”

In case anyone shares Donald Trump’s naivety, just a few short years ago when the nuclear armory had reached the point of being out of control, there was an acknowledged genuine danger that terrorists were on the point of being able to access nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t enough at one stage the so called dirty bombs – ie ordinary bombs packed with nuclear waste were being deployed by Israel. In addition a low yield “suitcase” nuclear bomb was reportedly stolen from the Russians and the number of nuclear warheads being deployed had risen to the point where even the US could no longer guarantee that they would they were secure.    A small number of warheads were lost in accidents and the rest had the potential of being misfired or even stolen from silos or other launch platforms.   The US reduction to 4500 warheads and 1500 deployed warheads with a close match on the part of Russia represents a hard won reduction over at least two decades and the notion of returning to an uncontrolled arms race is a chilling prospect.

In any event, there has always been a serious weakness in that the manufacture of a primitive Hiroshima or Nagasaki type weapon is dependent on large quantities of Uranium ore as a starting material. The problem is that when the truck carrying the ore is checked in and weighed at that the processing plant, on the way out if the truck is carrying a small amount of smuggled weapons grade Plutonium it is such a small amount, and such a small fraction of the original load it is hard to be sure that no smuggling has taken place.

It may have escaped Trump’s notice that having access to nuclear weapons works both ways.  When North Korea took the hint and developed a small nuclear capability, the so called “Axis of Evil” not withstanding, even the belligerent George W Bush was cautious about dealing to North Korea as he had done to Iraq. If Donald Trump is correct that the US having nuclear weapons makes it hard for enemies, surely the converse is equally true.

The other problem which was already being addressed by President Obama was that it is currently easy for the President to make a snap decision to launch a nuclear attack in very short order. Obama quite correctly claimed this increases the possibility of reacting prematurely to false information and launch accidental nuclear war.   Could a President be misinformed?   Do you remember the Bay of Pigs?…JFK was quite cross about the misinformation on that one!  George W Bush was presumably inadequately briefed on Iraq’s   Weapons of Mass Destruction?…What sort of Twitter informed choices might a President make particularly if he or she were to boast that they didn’t even need daily intelligence briefings?

Hearing Donald Trump, who expects to have the right to press the button … and already claims he does not need daily intelligence briefings …. now boasting that he wants to be seen as unpredictable hardly fills me with confidence.  Perhaps we might reflect on the words of H R Haldeman in another context when he was quoted as saying:  “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube it is awfully hard to get it back in

The assumption Trump makes is that a powerful US will frighten potential enemies into submission by force if necessary. Let’s see now. Where has that been tried? Cuba…that was very close.    Vietnam? Afghanistan, Iraq? I thought it was generally agreed that invading Iraq using extreme force justified on the basis of poor information tripled world terrorist activity.

However the discussion is now open. Is Trump actually right or simply far right?

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Lectionary sermon for Advent 4a 18 December 2016 on Matthew 1:18-25

Is there Gospel Truth in Christmas?
The profound influence of Christianity in the shaping of belief systems over the last two millennia makes it inevitable that Jesus’ coming should have been celebrated in a wide variety of ways. Some of these have been bizarre in the extreme.

Some might admire the efforts of an Australian barrister, David Richards who decided to festoon his house with enough Christmas lights to reclaim the world record he had previously had to surrender to a New York couple. This was impressive if only because his display of a sea of half a million twinkling lights held in place with an estimated 47 km of string at least made his Canberra home a tourist curiosity.

I notice from a recent TV advertisement that a recent projector gizmo goes one step further and projects an ever changing laser generated picture light display on the walls of a building thereby doing away with the need to change bulbs and sort out the tangle from last year’s efforts. We might also note that the one up-man ship of installing Christmas lights sometimes takes a nasty turn in that there have been instances where neighbours have been known to pressurize newcomers in certain suburban areas to improve the decoration of their houses to conform to the necessary standards of the area .

Are we being cynical to wonder if we are allowed to ask whether or not such light displays are helpful to the Christian message or in any way relate to what the gospel writers were attempting to convey.

On the other hand we probably all feel at least slightly possessive of whatever personal customs and formula understandings of Christmas mean as part of our traditions – sometimes to the extent we will actively resist any attempts to improve our understanding.

Have you noticed Christmas tableaux and Christmas card illustrations typically place the manger in a stable, surround the scene with animals, and if wise men are called for, of course there must be three. Even the standard Christmas tree, again with absolutely no justification from the Bible, is now considered almost obligatory in many family homes. The fact that the gospels fail to confirm such detail does not stop the false memory becoming a key part of our tradition.

In some ways getting anything like a clear picture of exactly what happened that first Christmas is thwarted by the gospel writers themselves. The authors of the gospels were almost certainly handicapped by having little access to eyewitness accounts, and writing years after the events would have made it very difficult to sort out how much was hearsay and how much was accurate. The mismatch in detail between Luke and Matthew on such matters are probably largely due to the varying sources they were obliged to work with. The earliest gospel, that of Mark, leaves out the birth stories altogether, while John prefers to use a poetic – almost cosmic approach.

Certainly Matthew and Luke tell stories describing what they suggest happened, but since their accounts include inescapable contradictions even to the extent of providing different genealogies – this should make us suspect that they are each telling their version of the story to highlight different understandings as to what the birth meant.

There are also problems in trying to reconcile birth details with other measures of reality. A massacre of children may seem in character from what we know of Herod, yet it does seem strange that contemporary historians of the time who noted many other details of his reign should have missed such a dramatic event. Similarly the nearest census which gives us a date for the birth apparently did not happen while Herod was still alive.

For modern scholars who try to reconcile modern understandings of conception and birth with the Bible accounts, Virgin birth seems to them to be highly implausible. Certainly a good number of followers of traditional forms of Christianity are still apparently committed to the Virgin birth story, yet a growing number of religious leaders are now talking of symbolic rather than literal meaning. Nevertheless it should be stressed that the ancient creeds are firmly in place and somewhat to the bewilderment of those familiar with the scientific explanations for conception, whole branches of the Christian church hold to what many critics say is out-dated superstition.

If nothing else this is a good reminder that knowledge in religion is often more than factual description, and that tradition, poetry and a sense of wonder and mystery overlay and shape our realities.

When it comes to Matthew and Luke on the topic of the Virgin birth, rather than laughing at the gospel writers for their apparent naivety, it is also worth reminding ourselves, that to those in that age who had no way of knowing any different, not only was Virgin birth a plausible happening for the arrival of special people, there were even written histories of the day confirming that it had happened in a number of other instances.

Some histories of the time claimed virgin birth for both Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great, both of whom were assumed to have the god, Jupiter as progenitor. We might also note in passing that both of them as well as a number of the Greek Kings had been also described with the title of Saviour of the World. We also know that there was an additional reason why Matthew would favour the notion of Mary being a Virgin.

Matthew – clearly a Greek scholar, would presumably refer to his text of Isaiah which for him would be the then two hundred year old Greek translation which had changed the original Hebrew which said Almah….. meaning young girl to the Greek word Parthenos …..meaning Virgin. We have no way of knowing in this instance if Matthew was treating this as symbolism to show that Jesus was special and at least the equivalent of Caesar Augustus or whether he was genuinely unaware that the original Hebrew quotation gave a rather more prosaic meaning.

Some of the scholars here today may remember that when a group of modern scholars were tasked with coming up with a more exact translation it so happens that they decided to correct the Isaiah quotation in Matthew and turn the Virgin back to young girl. When their final offering of what they called the Revised Standard Version was circulated in 1951 and 1952, it horrified traditional Church folk and both the Catholics and the Anglicans insisted that the offending phrase be changed back to Virgin. The translators reluctantly gave in and the mistranslation was reinstated.

One Baptist minister took a rather more direct and dramatic course of action by incinerating the RSV with a blow torch in front of his Sunday congregation. (We might note in passing that this spectacular act did not have quite the desired effect in that members of his congregation were reportedly so intrigued that they promptly went out and bought their own copies to see what the fuss was all about).

It is not my place to challenge the findings of the translators or arbitrate on the protests of the critics of the translation. While I am quite happy to admit a personal view that Mary was most unlikely to have been a Virgin in a literal sense, my immediate concern is that we have the grace to listen to one another before leaping to judgment.

I also want to suggest that if instead of focusing on the so called facts that that draw the fire of the critics with apparent contradictions and historical puzzles, if instead, we were to look at the symbolism we suddenly start to notice points we might otherwise miss. While we can delight in stumbling across weaknesses in the Bible records ultimately it is not what Luke or Matthew makes of Jesus and his coming that will matter, it is what we ourselves might notice that will set the stage for our reactions to Christmas.

For example if we were to notice that Matthew is entering the male dominated traditional exclusive Jewish belief by setting out a genealogy for Jesus which, counter to custom, includes not only four female names, but also some known to be gentiles, we might start realizing we are faced with a Jesus who may not be the exclusive preserve of Judaism. Further if we notice the extreme respect Matthew attributes to Mary’s status, he is underlining an attitude which Jesus will later make an essential part of his teaching. Even if Protestants don’t echo this respect by according her the status of Virgin, can I suggest they should at least come up with an alternative to show they respect the female role?

Don’t forget that when it comes to Joseph, Matthew shows a man who is prepared to put compassion for his betrothed wife ahead of the rather brutal and unforgiving laws in Deuteronomy. Is this the same compassion that will guide our attitudes to those whom society would judge?

Matthew, despite his violent and harsh setting for his story of the coming child amid righteous rigid laws, facing the cruelty of a brutal ruler and having a humble and uncertain start in life, manages to inject just enough mystery and magic into his story line to remind us that Jesus is about to start a life in which true value will be found. To argue over which of his statements of mystery are justified by translation is to miss his purpose.

And yes, this Christmas again there has been over-use of tinsel, and supermarket jingles…. and twinkling lights in the night. But above all we might remember that the show of Christmas is not where the real relevance lies. Certainly it is a birth we will celebrate but the child of promise should not stay as a child. The reality we face in the coming weeks and months ahead calls for a child who will grow up to an adult Jesus, just as we too will need to take the starting principles he offers and find what it will mean to have them live in the complexities and even the dangers of our adult lives.

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Lectionary sermon 11 December 2016 (Advent 3 A) on Matthew 11:2-11

To me the biggest contrast between modern Christians and the earliest stories of followers of Jesus is that all too often these days the emphasis has become centred on what happens in acts of Church worship. This seems far removed from what was highlighted back in the gospel stories. Today’s singing and affirming religious words of admiration for God and Jesus may seem impressive but is very different from those earlier followers who apparently saw their main response to what Jesus meant coming in terms of action in the everyday world.

To take an early example, if I were looking for a single word to describe John the Baptist, the word would not be “religious”.

John was very much a straight talker – and from the Gospel record, sometimes almost inappropriately so. Last week we encountered John berating those who had come for baptism because he saw them as hypocrites. As background to today’s Gospel, we might need reminding the reason why John was now in prison was not so much that he was a religious prophet as it was that he believed in telling it as he saw it and in the process didn’t seem to soften his challenges just because in the process there might be those he offended.

John’s undoing in this instance was that he believed Herod Antipas the Tetrarch had done something quite immoral, and despite knowing Herod Antipas’ unpleasant reputation, told him so. Herod Antipas had been named as king by Caesar Augustus on the death of his father King Herod the Great, but the Romans had decided his power should be limited and only gave him a quarter share of his father’s territory.

Antipas set about trying to win back more power by building the city of Tiberius in honour of his current patron the Emperor Tiberius. The immoral action which had offended John was that Antipas also fancied his brother’s wife, Herodias, so he divorced his own wife and married Herodias. Well it is one thing to believe the king had done wrong, but telling him so was quite another. It is understatement to say upsetting a ruthless king from a ruthless family by calling him immoral was not a wise career move and it was probably no surprise to any of his contemporaries that John was now imprisoned, and, according to the historian Josephus, in the forbidding fortress Machaerus.

Remember now the reason why John had been offering Baptism in the first place was to prepare the faithful for the appearance of the Messiah. Now as the stories of Jesus teaching and healing in Galilee began to circulate, John appears to be a bit uncertain as to whether Jesus was in fact the expected Messiah. He somehow manages to send a message to Jesus from his cell. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Jesus’ indirect answer, referring to deeds rather than any claim he might make, shows perfect sense. After all there were others at the same time apparently claiming to be the Messiah, and such claims can only be substantiated with evidence.

We should note in passing, that even today there are many claiming to be modern day prophets, and I understand most large psychiatric units have had at least one patient believing themselves to be Jesus reincarnated. Others are convinced that they are chosen by God to pass on a message, including those who have wrongly predicted the date for the end of the world. Almost invariably their behaviour is not consistent with their message and accordingly we would be wise to be extremely cautious about such claims. We would not for example be very much inclined to accept that Jim Jones was the prophet he claimed to be particularly after he is known to have made his followers commit mass suicide, any more than we would wish to follow a Church leader who absconded with Church funds or seek moral guidance from one who was known to interfere sexually with children.

When Jesus describes John as more than a prophet or says that he is not one who would bend with the wind like a reed, he is doing no more than relating what would be public knowledge. The Old Testament prophets were probably better known for their ability to stand up against kings and religious leaders than they were for their piety and John was certainly in that mould. John was a servant of the truth he had discovered and was going to speak that truth no matter how inconvenient this might have been for his personal welfare. Small wonder if some assumed that John was Elijah returned.

And yet this is where the commentary gets puzzling. Certainly we can admire John the Baptist, a man who gave everything – even ultimately his life – to express his understanding of truth and right and wrong. Regardless of his uncertainty about Jesus, we can also acknowledge him as a prophet – not so much in the modern sense of foretelling the future – but particularly in the Old Testament sense, when a prophet would describe the current state of affairs and the direction it appeared to be leading, regardless of who might be upset by the analysis.

But the tricky part comes in realising that this Sunday, when we remember this exchange between the imprisoned John the Baptist and Jesus, apart from being Advent 3, the third Sunday of the Advent season, is also known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word meaning “to rejoice”

The problem is really a question. Did John really have much to rejoice about given his impending execution? And the more serious question. What of the rest of us in the first part of the 21st Century?

Clearly we need to be honest. Jesus’ coming did not solve all problems. For example there are still those who live in grinding poverty, there are still areas of the world where personal safety is threatened, places where there are refugees facing a grim and pitiless future and cities where the air is acrid and poisonous, and the water polluted.

Remember $1.25 per person per day threshold for extreme poverty is currently the standard adopted by the World Bank and other international organizations to reflect the minimum consumption and income level needed to meet a person’s basic needs. That means people who fall under that poverty line can be identified — and according to the international surveys, that turns out to be about 1/6 of the world’s population, in other words 1.4 billion people who lack the ability to fulfil basic needs, whether it means eating only one bowl of rice a day or forgoing health care when it’s needed most. At the same time some of us live in great luxury. What does Gaudete Sunday mean in that context?

Perhaps it is just as well that John the Baptist now has his story associated with this Sunday because if the cause for rejoicing has any meaning at all it is that when times were grim someone cared enough to speak up. Since there is widespread agreement that Jesus’ coming brought thought provoking teaching and an attitude of compassion which is a source of hope, we may need reminding that there is an urgent need for those prepared to act in his name. The alternative of leaving this teaching and set of attitudes within the walls of the Church would hardly be good news for those on the outside.

I have heard it said that the real reason why Church attendance is now smaller than it was one hundred years ago, is that for many it is now the most boring hour of the week. Certainly if the only call for response is to expect us to drone fatuous words of praise without for one moment considering that the praise should affect any of our consequent decisions during the week, then it is both boring and irrelevant. If that was indeed the case, the sooner the Church closes its doors the better we might all be.

If on the other hand the call is to use the teachings of Jesus and example of the prophets like John the Baptist to seize on the injustices of our time and insist on a change of priorities, then there may be genuine cause for rejoicing.

I suggested at the outset that John the Baptist does not come across as being particularly religious. I even wonder if Jesus himself cared much for formalised religion. This does not mean that there is no purpose served by coming to Church. Where else might we be likely to encounter the stories of practical people of faith and reflect on the thought provoking teachings of Jesus.

But surely the real cause for rejoicing is that we too have the potential to respond to those teachings, not in history, but in the here and now. Perhaps then hopefully, inspired by those like John the Baptist, we can go out from our worship with the determination that what we learn as history will help reshape our future and the future of those like the folk for whom Jesus and John the Baptist first came.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who risked his very life for what he knew to be right in his speaking up against Hitler. He is quoted as writing “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Clearly we are unlikely to be called to speak up against evil as an everyday occurrence , yet as we move towards Christmas we still need to ask ourselves if Jesus coming, and perhaps if the example of John the Baptist or those like Dietrich Bonhoeffer should also challenge us to speak up for what we know to be true.

It seems to me that if we only find the gospel in the deeds of those in the past then we will never find the gospel of our present. Now that is a challenge, and a gospel discovered in the here and now may even be a real reason for rejoicing.

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