Seeds of change…

February 12, 2011

 

Today’s chunk of Bible is the fabulous Mark 3-4. The gospels are fan-flipping-tastic aren’t they? I could write an extended post about each passage but, don’t worry, I won’t. I’ll pick a theme. And today’s theme is…seeds. That’s right; seeds!

Yes, in chapter 4 Jesus tells no less than three parables that mention seeds, and in each the seeds either represent the word of God or the kingdom of God. I’ve been struck by this seed-fest before. I mean, you’ve gotta admit JC liked the seeds. Whilst cycling home tonight I was thinking ‘what is it about seeds?’ I began listing in my head the different qualities of seeds; what are they like? As I did this I realised the many amazing and apt qualities of seeds. Unsurprisingly, Jesus chose his metaphors well. 

So here are a few observations about seeds and, perhaps, about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is like a seed (4:31). What are seeds like?

   They have a lot of potential.

          They need to be nurtured and nourished.

         We think they’re predictable, but we’re often surprised.

     They feed us.

         They are a renewable resource.

                They are natural.

                        They’re small and unassuming…at first.

                                  They are often self-propagating.

                                       We can plant them.

                         They need the right conditions but…

                  Sometimes they germinate despite of, not because of us.

                        In the cold and dark times they hide just beneath the surface;

                             They are patient.

Eventually, they bear fruit.

                                                           Amen.

 

Today’s photo on flickr.

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 I love Romans 15-16. It brings to an end the first letter from Paul that we read in the New Testament and though I have a bit of sense of achievement from getting through my first epistle, that’s not why I like it so much. Chapter 15 ends with promises of a trip to Rome and then in chapter 16 we get the personal greetings Paul sends to members of the Christian community as well as greetings sent by Christians in other places to the Romans. At first, like the many genealogies in the Bible, this can seem like an irrelevant list, something to be skim read so we can get on to the good stuff. But this is not true for the genealogies and neither is it true for these words of greeting.

I love this more personal, more specific ending of Paul’s letter because it reminds me that this was a real letter sent to real people who, like us, were grappling with the Big Questions and striving to live in Christ with each other. What’s more, we get a glimpse of Paul, not as some lofty orator whose voice bellows from the pages of a scripture, but as a real person, with relatives and friends and, dare I say it, favourites.

Let me pick out a few greetings that especially broadened my smile:

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Paul, often quite a lone figure in the New Testament, had relatives, had people whom he had suffered with and, more importantly for me, whom he looked up to. Paul’s writing can sound a little arrogant here and there, like in 15:1 when he says “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak “. (Alright mate, get over yourself!) This, among other things, can lead some to dismiss him out of hand, but I like that in chapter 16 I can see that Paul had people whose words were important to him, who were “in Christ before him”. Conversely, I think that’s also important to remember as sometimes Paul can be held up as the ‘ultimate Christian’, but he too held others in high esteem.

This is also highlighted in 16:13: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.” Anyone who’s seen Dogma will know why I especially like the mention of Rufus ‘chosen in the Lord’ (it’s just a joke, don’t get your knickers in a twist!). But I also like that there was a Christian woman who mothered Paul. Again this is because Paul doesn’t always read like someone who would let himself be mothered very much, but also because it reminds me that a church, the Church, is at its best when it’s a family.

And it’s worth mentioning that Junia and Rufus’ mother and also Pheobe who is a commended in 16:11 (I assume she delivered the letter?)  are all women (there are probably more, I’m not very good with guessing the gender of names). Horrah! It’s nice to see that whatever sweeping statements Paul occassionally makes about his sisters in Christ, he actually rates many of them very highly indeed.

But the reasons above are in way too complex (I know, they’re not very complex, but bear with me), because what I really love is that Paul ends his letter like so many of us would. “say hi to Rufus for me, remember me to his mum, say hi to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas and Hermas”. Okay, I’ve never written to anyone called Asyncritus or Phlegon either, but you get the picture. I just love to imagine this network of early Christians, who knew and loved each other and of whom Paul was a part. When I think of him this way he becomes more relatable and so does his writing.

And what writing it is, say what you like about the guy but he can sign off a letter like nobody’s business. So I’ll think I’ll leave this one to him:

25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Forgive me loyal blog readers! I come to you ashamed of my grave failure. A combination of uncooperative internet connection and non-existent inspiration means that there was a great gaping hole where yesterday’s blog post should have been. But fear not; I have returned!

Yesterday around this time I began to write about Joshua 11-15. If you’ve read my other posts on Joshua you know the deal by now. I made dry comments about the rather barbarous tone of this book but tried to restrain from another “what’s going on with all the killing??” rant. I then made a joke about not wanting to ever have to read them passages out in church. They’re full of long lists of unpronounceable names. Then I racked my brains for something more substantial to say…

It was difficult. I tried going down the ‘cultural context’ route; this text would have been important to those who it was written for, affirming their right to the land in which they lived and the faithfulness of their God. But I’ve said that before. When it came to bringing something out for myself, or even better for all of us, I was stumped. So I decided to think it over and finish later. And conveniently forgot.

The truth is I still haven’t thought of anything, nothing genuine. I’m sure Hebrew scholars could tease out a morsel, even a gem, from these chapters. Perhaps you can (please share) but I can’t. But that’s okay. I’m not writing this blog to feign wisdom. So I will share with you that there are parts of the Bible that simply don’t inspire them and even make them think “what is this crazy book?” as a friend of mine put it last week. And I think it’s okay to admit that there are parts of the Bible that leave you cold or confused…though somehow not finding inspiration here still feels like failure.

The poetry of the psalms is even more sublime when contrasted with the drawing of land boundaries and lists of victories in Joshua 11-15. I feel that just by reading Psalms 6-8 I hear the voice of God saying “see, it’s not all bad!”.

In these songs of supplication and praise, beds are drenched with tears, refuge is taken and God’s majesty is praised. Quite a rollercoaster. That such stark contrasts of emotion are established as scripture soothes my anxiety at my own varying responses to the words and promises of God. They show me that I don’t need to choose between showing weakness and confusion and affirming the strength and glory of God. Quite the opposite; in David’s vulnerable, impassioned cries I am exposed to a raw and direct relationship with God. The intimacy of these words beckon me closer, closer to the Beloved to whom they are addressed.

Perhaps this is the problem I have with book of Joshua. It describes the people of Israel when they are invulnerable. It is the story of an unrelenting victory. Though God and his promises are constantly mentioned there is little time for personal doubt,or even rejoicing. These people are on a mission, and they are winning. How can I empathise with that? How can I connect with that? I like my heroes flawed and my plot lines fraught. I like songs of salvation and supplication, not inventories of conquered territory. I doubt I’m alone in this.

And it’s okay. The book of the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament weren’t all written with one purpose. Why do i expect to get the same things from Joshua as I do Psalms? It almost seems arrogant for to expect to be granted a new revelation each day. The scripture is not my servant. I am God’s servant. I am reading the Bible and writing not to be served but to better serve.

So perhaps it is I who needs to move from the ridiculous to the sublime From an attitude of entitlement to God’s wisdom and an openess to God’s words and a willingness to be confused or comforted.

I’ve heard a preacher say that the Bible should read us, rather than us read the Bible. If it was reading me today I think I would be exposed as someone who wants to find something to say about everything, but who is truly blessed when rendered speechless.

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!”