Let me start with what appears to be a shocking statement: Christians have a problem with the Bible.

 

We can’t quite agree what it is, or even to this day what should be in it. I own, as you might expect, a number of bibles and none of them are quite the same. It’s not just the translations which are subtly different, but also the content. My NIV bible doesn’t for instance contain the Apocrypha, my Jerusalem Bible, a translation used mostly by the Roman Catholic Church, does. My ordination bible, the NRSV, includes the Apocrypha as an added extra; not giving it full biblical status but acknowledging that it includes words of Divine revelation.

Yet, despite having a problem with the Bible, one thing we can all surely agree on is that is our primary text, or source document? One of the things we can say about the Bible with confidence is simply this: ‘that it contains all that is necessary for salvation.’ This is one of the Church of England’s core beliefs, enshrined in the 39 articles of faith.

In fact the bible stresses that it contains all things necessary for salvation. The prophet Isaiah (45, 22&23) says: ‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other……..to me every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.’ St. Paul, in his epistle to the Philippians completes Isaiah’s prophesy with the words, ‘that Jesus Christ is Lord.’

 

So, what we can say, as Christians, with utter confidence, is that the Gospels are the heart beat of Scripture and that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savour of the World and, that he is the living word. The Old Testament points to the coming of Jesus, the epistles talk to the implications in terms of daily and communal living of faith in Jesus. As Rowan Williams has suggested one of the ways we can engage with the Bible is to approach the whole of Scripture ‘as if it were a parable about Jesus.’

One of the mistakes Christians can make when reading the Bible is to believe that it is simply a historical document. If we regard Scripture in this way it will be of little value to us, for as the letter to the Hebrews suggests ‘the word of God is alive and active.’ We must let Scripture be alive for us, we must let it shape and inform us, we must let it change us, and we can only do this if we read it slowly, prayerfully, carefully each and every day. As Rowan Williams has also written: ‘the bible is not intended to be a mere chronicle of past events, but a living communication from God.’

One of the earliest theologians Origen, who died in about 270, provided a really useful method for engaging with the Bible. He suggested that we need to read the Bible using three different sets of lenses: The lens of history, the lens of morality and the lens of spirituality.

 

The lens of history includes basic facts: Jesus Christ was born, Jesus Christ was crucified, Jesus Christ rose again and ascended into heaven; the sort of propositions we assent to in the creeds. The lens of morality is about ethics and virtues, the rule of love for instance. The lens of spirituality invites us into the world of allegory and contextualization, asking us to consider what do the readings mean for us, today?

Think of it this way, today’s Gospel reading alongside the creed, and it is interesting that the creed comes immediately after the word of God has been heard and preached from in Anglican liturgy, can be thought of as the ‘Bible in miniature.’

The creed provides us with a set of propositions describing the basis for our belief whilst today’s Gospel reading (Luke 4, 16-24), is a charter for Christian living,  giving real and spiritual life to these beliefs by describing the values we who follow in Jesus’ footsteps, should prize and, how we should then live our lives.

What does it mean for us today as God’s agents of love and grace in order to ‘bring good news to the poor,’ and ‘release to the captives,’ and ‘recovery of sight to the blind.’ What does it mean to be radically committed to ‘letting the oppressed go free.’

 

I would want to suggest that it means being committed to our 3 H’s: holiness, hospitality and healing. It means doing the slow and painful work of considering what these virtues mean in practice; it means, again in the words of Rowan Williams that we ‘must not jump to conclusions while the story is being told.’  It means letting Scripture so shape us that we will be able to do the ‘dirty work of Holiness,’ so that one day we will share in the greatest of all biblical stories. I am of course referring to the Resurrection; your destiny and mine. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Is anyone a fan of the radio programme ‘Just a Minute?’

I have to be honest I am an occasional listener rather than a devotee. But, when I do listen to it I enjoy it. Of course one of the things you mustn’t do, as a contestant, is to repeat a word or phrase.

If Jesus was telling the gospel story we have just listened to as a Just a Minute competitor he would have been eliminated fairly early on.

The gospel passage is just 8 verses and yet Jesus uses the words justice, and unjust, five times. The passage is most frequently used to demonstrate the importance of perseverance in prayer.  But, I would like to suggest that it invites a deeper question:

 

‘What should be the focus of our prayers?’

 

Is it too much to suggest that when we pray we should be radically committed to the notion of divine justice breaking into the world; after all that is what the woman wanted; justice. She wanted to be treated with dignity and given her dues. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? And, if we want it for ourselves surely we should desire it for others? Our humanity is intertwined for as Desmond Tutu stresses ‘my humanity is bound up in yours, we can only be human together.’

The story is asking us, through prayer, to align ourselves with God’s values, with kingdom values; to strive for all that leads to justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Justice is one of God’s values.

We need as people of God to identify injustice and then pray into, even against, it week by week. That is why I always pray for those who are made to feel less than fully human. To be on the receiving end of injustice diminishes us all; this is Desmond Tutu’s point. I suggest that we all know this from our own experience.

As a Christian leader I have been inspired by those who have fought for justice, often sadly, having to go into battle with people of faith who have used, or do I mean abused, the Scriptures to validate all sorts of wrongdoings.

People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who refused to cooperate with Hitler’s regime and paid for it with his life or, William Wilberforce who stood hand to toe with those who sought to justify the slave trade and who wrote his petition on the altar of Holy Trinity Clapham, so sacred was his task and, Desmond Tutu who campaigned consistently and with dignity against the atrocity of apartheid. All of these characters understood the words of St. Paul to Timothy:

 

‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.’

 

Today’s readings challenge us to identify the sources of injustice in our communities and around the world, to pray that justice will be restored and, to commit ourselves to be agents of justice, for God is just, and it is God who we serve, for as Desmond Tutu has reflected:

 

‘if you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

 

It is thought provoking stuff, isn’t it? Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

20th Sunday of Trinity: Jeremiah 29, 1 & 4-7, 2 Timothy 2, 8-15 & Luke 17, 11-19

 

I don’t know if it has ever happened to you? I am talking about that light bulb moment when suddenly it makes sense, the moment when you get something that has hitherto been a bit of a struggle. Teachers certainly report this happening in the classroom and it’s good to know that perseverance is frequently rewarded.

 

For me the reading we have heard from Jeremiah was a lightbulb moment; it came at a time when I was trying to work out what it really means to be a person of faith. Hearing the reading and listening to a sermon about it, changed my whole faith perspective. Previously I had thought of faith as a system of personal beliefs, albeit beliefs shared with others, reinforced through church attendance and worship. Of course this is an important and foundational aspect of faith. But, what I have come to believe is that to be a person of faith must mean transcending personal beliefs, however strongly held. Faith is not just about me, or even a small group of folk who happen to believe pretty similar things to me; it is also about how we relate to the wider community. The central question is: ‘are we as a faith community a blessing for others; even those who don’t hold the same set of beliefs?’ This is the question Jeremiah is asking? Are the Israelites in exile to be a blessing to the people of Babylon, or are they going to retreat into themselves and become ever more inward looking? These, I would want to suggest, aren’t just historical biblical questions, but also contemporary biblically inspired questions. They are also questions of Holiness, for holiness is an outward facing characteristic.

Jeremiah suggests to the Israelites that they need to commit themselves to the wider community for the common, good. They are also told to pray for the welfare of the city; ‘for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’  I would like to suggest that in Winslow’s welfare we, at St. Laurence, find our own welfare, security and wellbeing. Serving the community prayerfully and materially is part of our DNA but we must always look for new ways to relate, engage and serve. It’s something we need to think about. This week’s pew sheet offers two opportunities for service: helping at the school and prison visiting.

The Church must always also be a placing of healing; that is the message of the gospel reading. Healing is of course, one of our three aspirations. Our hope is that through this church lives can be patched back together and affirmed. That those who feel unclean will feel cleansed. Our challenge is to welcome the unclean, odd, ill and plain different. This is what it means to be hospitable.

 

This brings me back to another question: has anyone ever said to you ‘after all I have done for you?’ Or have you ever said it? If you haven’t said it have you thought it?

I suspect that Jesus was tempted to ask this question of the nine lepers who didn’t come back to say thank you. Interestingly the one man who came back to say thank you was doubly unclean. There were two reasons why he was an outcaste. First, he was a leper. Secondly, he was a Samaritan. Jesus, under the Jewish codes of exclusion, really had no business engaging with lepers and he certainly shouldn’t have bothered healing, affirming and including a Samaritan Leper. But he did. Jesus was, and is, inclusive. It is interesting isn’t it? The ultimate outcast – as prescribed by a human and religiously inspired system of ranking - expressed his gratitude and remained a member of Jesus’ new faith community. The others? Well, they received what they thought they were entitled to. And, it may well be that as we seek to widen our net of engagement and inclusion we will be constantly surprised by those who choose to say thank you and stick with us, as faithful members of our, St Laurence, community. Amen.

 

Rev Andrew Lightbown