Bridging the Gap

Genesis 12:1-3 | Acts 10:9-16, 24-36 The Christian Church began as a Jewish sect. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it’s really just a fact of history. Jesus was a Jew. The initial disciples were all Jewish. The vast majority of those who heard Jesus speak were Jewish. Even the non-Jews who are mentioned were Jewish sympathisers, god-fearers, or at very least, “righteous men”, as Cornelius is named. The multitude of nations represented at Pentecost were Jews and God-fearing people from around the ancient world. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, who came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the people of Israel. But within one generation, or perhaps two, Jews would be a minority within the Church. The followers of Jesus broke beyond the walls of their nation, their people, in a way that countless other Jewish sects and movements, before and after, didn’t. And today’s gospel reading takes us to the crux, the turning point, where something Jewish becomes something universal. For this was far from a foregone conclusion. If you read the different gospels, you find very different attitudes to the Jewish-Gentile divide. Read Matthew, and the emphasis is very strongly on Jesus the good, righteous Jew, the culmination of the tradition of the prophets. He comes to stand for the spirit and heart of Judaism, to overthrow the religious corruption of the day, and call the people of God back to right worship of the one true God. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus doesn’t go the homes of foreigners – those foreigners he interacts with come to him on Jewish terms: the Syrophoenician woman (you remember, the whole, ‘dogs under the table’ story) approaches him with the words “Son of David” – she, a foreigner, approaches him with a Jewish title. She comes on Jewish terms. It’s probably safe to say that for the Jerusalem Church, the birthplace of the Church, being a follower of Jesus was about being authentically Jewish. And to change this perspective fell to one of their leaders, Peter. The rock. The impulsive, enthusiastic, often slow to get the point, solidly Jewish disciple. Read More


Thanks to everyone who came along or helped out in any way for the celebration of Amanda's commissioning service this afternoon - it was a wonderful celebration, certainly unlike any other commissioning service I've ever been part of :). Read More


John 19:38-42 | John 21:4-14 I’d like you to believe that I planned it this way – soon after Easter, when I was working out the dates of the E100 readings, when we would start, what breaks we would take, I said to myself “Of course, we must have the stories of the death and resurrection on a communion Sunday”. I’d like you to believe that, that it wasn’t just the way it happened to turn out… For this week our readings and our sacraments take us to the unique, defining core of the Christian faith. The very earliest records we have of Christian practice and belief revolve around this simple phrase “Christ is risen”. In the early days of the persecution of the Church it appears even to have become a sort of password – like in the spy movies, where one agent would say “it’s colder now than it was last week” and the other would reply “but it is even colder in Vladivostok” : Christians would identify one another with the words “he is risen” and the reply “he is risen indeed”. In the late 1980s there was a great fuss within the Church of England over some words in an Easter service – probably badly misreported words – in which the Bishop of Durham was said to have referred to the idea of a physical resurrection of Jesus’ body as “a conjuring trick with bones”. While Bishop Jenkins was most likely misrepresented, and did go to great lengths to say that he was not denying the physical resurrection, these words represent a powerful idea often heard within the Christian faith: that it is the spiritual truth of the resurrection that really matters. I have to say I think that would have come as a surprise to the early Church, who made “he is risen” their password, and “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” their first declaration of faith. Their declaration was that something entirely new, unique, and universe changing had occurred. Read More


Isaiah 29:17-21 | John 9:1-16 The man was blind from birth – and this was a real problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day. Or at least, for some of them. Generations before, it wouldn’t have been so hard. Any form of infirmity or sickness simply came from God – for, as we saw over and again reading through the Old Testament stories in the first half of E100, the critical Hebrew contribution, the insight of the patriarchs of the Jewish people, was their radical monotheism. In a world populated by a multitude of regional gods and family gods and gods of the weather and the sun and moon – in a world where a plethora of gods, each working their own ends was assumed, the Hebrews insisted “there is but one God, and that God is supreme over all”. And it’s not much of a stretch to say that almost all of the passages in the Old Testament that we find hard to fit with the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ come from an emphasis – over-emphasis, perhaps - on this one vital insight. For if God is the only God, and is truly sovereign, then everything that happens must be from God. That’s the starting point. And in the Old Testament tradition, the idea of God punishing people by afflicting their children or their children’s children, is not alien. In the book of Exodus: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” [Exodus 20:5]. King David, in perhaps the best known example, lost a child for his sin. So in the case of a child born blind the answer, for a particular worldview, was simple: the parents’ sin had brought this to be. Read More


Isaiah 55:6-11 | Matthew 13:1-9 The thing about this sower, he just doesn’t seem to have been very good at his job. Now I’m not claiming to know a great deal about farming; I’m definitely a city boy. Last time I spoke about an agricultural subject I had several people take me aside afterwards to set me straight about sheep. Apparently they aren’t as stupid as they look. Who’d have thought? Anyway, I don’t know a lot about the art and science of sowing seed. But I’m fairly sure you aren’t supposed to throw it on the path in front of a flock of hungry birds, or toss it into unprepared soil, full of rocks, or amongst the weeds. And I’m fairly sure that this isn’t just a failure of cultural translation either. There’s something we miss when we take the words of Jesus too seriously – no, that’s not quite the right word – too solemnly. When we read them with a straight face, rather than a smile. Actually, when you think about it, lots of Jesus’ parables have this element of the ridiculous about them. The merchant who sells everything he has to purchase a single pearl. The shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the field – in danger – to hunt for the missing one. The employer who pays a full days wage to workers who only did an hours work. The woman who throws a party because she finds a coin she had lost. The good Samaritan – only a fool would stop in a place of danger to give aid to an enemy. Feigning injury was a common enough ruse amongst thieves, to take generous travellers off their guard. Those who walked by on the other side were the wise ones. Of course part of this might be a simple style of rhetoric; humour, exaggeration; hyperbole used to make a point. But there’s more to it than that. The medium might not be the message, but it certainly gives it shape, colour, texture. And as an orator, Jesus surely chose his medium with care. The presence of so many foolish actors in his parables has something to tell us. There is something deeply foolish about the gospel. The choice to love and care is foolish. Read More