A Valentine’s Verse.

February 13, 2011

love builds up

 Dear reader, today’s post is very short and, I hope, a little sweet. As you know, it’s valentines day tomorrow and so how apt that I should be reading Paul’s advice on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. However, I must admit, it’s not very romantic!

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ 2But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (7:1-3)

I can’t imagine any one having that read at their wedding! Now, of course, it’s taken out of context. Paul was actually encouraging the Corinthians, who’d convinced themselves to give up marriage, that the union was good in the eyes of God, that it was fine for them to be married. Though he, believing that Jesus would come again in his lifetime, erred on the side of caution advising those who weren’t married to stay that way.

No, you’ll not find much romance from this chapter of Paul. But don’t despair, I have a found us a verse about love, one to keep in hearts (our real hearts that is, not over-priced chocolate covered or stuffed velvet ones!). And I have found it in the less likely chapter 8, which is all about whether or not the Corinthians should eat food offered to idols. Nestled in the very specific advice, which can feel irrelevant to us now, is this wonderful phrase:

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (8:1b)

Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth to act from a place of love, rather than one of superior knowledge, and so he says Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (8:2-3). He asks them to act from a place of humility.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” I know in my own marriage this is a verse to remember. When we think we’re in the right, when we think the other person simply doesn’t understand; will I act from my ‘knowledge’ or in love (which is always God’s love)?

May tomorrow not be about cards and chocolates and flowers, which will fade so soon (and cost so much!!) but instead may it be about building each other up with a hundred little blessings; making a home of love.

Amen.

 

P.S. Just to prove I’m not blogging in a vacuum; how about Egypt huh?

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Wowza, how frikking amazing is Isaiah? I’m like ‘you go prophet-dude’ you tell them people how it is!’ In fact, you tell us people how it is! Though I have found parts of this book pretty dense and in need of some major contextualising, chapters 56-60 are just so bloomin rousing! Yesterday I wrote about our questions for God, here God throws some pretty tough ones at us!

Now, each raises its own questions. 56 about who we exclude, 57 about how we turn away from God. But for me it all centres around the wonderful Isaiah 58 (59 leads on from it pretty resoundingly). Have you read it? If not, or if you need a refresher then go and read it, definitely read it instead of my ramblings. What are you waiting for? Go! Now!

Great stuff, huh?

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Yes! This is amazing, and it really hits home doesn’t it? It couldn’t be clearer; God is not interested in you piety for its own sake (58:2-5), he asks us ,what are we doing for the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed, the persecuted? And you, know, I’m often at a loss to answer.

I’ve recently been using a book of blessings by John O’Donohue called Benedictus (it’s so wonderful, I highly recommend it). It’s blessings are mostly in the form of poetic prayers, but there is one called ‘At the end of the day: A mirror of questions’. These are questions to help you reflect on the day that God has given, and they really get to the heart of things. One of them reads ‘What did I do today for the poor and excluded?’. It’s a striking question, mostly because it implies that I should be doing something for the poor and excluded every day. Do you do that? I know I don’t, but since it’s has been in my mind it keeps asking and, I pray, it’s spurring me to change. I want to have answer for this question, every day. Not a big answer, not an impressive answer, but answer all the same. Because I really believe that this is a question from God.

It might be to talk to a homeless person rather than avert my eyes or just quickly slip them some change, it might be to give to charity, it might be to write to my MP, it might to volunteer somewhere, it might be to offer my support to someone who is lonely or in need, it might simply to pray. These are all little answers, some bigger than others. And I do believe that prayer is certainly doing something, though we also need to partner with God in answering our prayer; we can’t just pray for a nice world, we have to at least try to make one.

So, what have you done today for the poor and excluded? For the hungry? For the orphan? For the bereaved? For the naked? For the homeless? What have you done to ‘loose the chains of injustice’?

If we all had little answers for this everyday, perhaps it would change the world. 

Dear reader, in yesterday’s post I let y’all know that I would be trying out a few different things this week. I want reading and thinking about the Bible to be a creative act. So in today’s experiment I’ll write a story. Now, I’m kind of cheating, as it’s a story you’ve probably heard before. Well, you’ve definitely heard it if you’ve read Genesis 40-43. My idea is to read those chapters and then write out in the story in my own words, without referring back to the text. Here’s the result:

 

Joseph, the betrayed brother, the beloved son of Jacob now found himself wrongly imprisoned in a foreign land. He had found favour with the prison warden, who gave him charge over other prisoners. But sometimes favour just feels like extra work though, doesn’t it? He still dreamed, still hoped in God, on the brighter days.

Now there came a time when employees of the Pharoah were thrown into jail, and Joseph was to wait on them. These men were nice enough, the wine-taster and the baker, and he got to know them a little, enough so that he noticed one morning when their expressions changed for the worse. The men had dreamt dreams, but who would interpret them?

Joseph knew, unlike others around, that it was not a special skill you needed to interpret dreams, but a touch of faith. So he told them that he, with God’s help, would reveal their dreams meanings, and somehow they believed him. So each in turn told their dream. The first of thee vines and a cup held by Pharoah himself, the second of three baskets and bread pecked by the birds. The first dreamer found joy in his interpretation, and this had made the second brave, but he would find despair. For one would live and one would die, and on the third day, like so many proofs after, it came to pass, just as Joseph had said.

“Remember me.” was Joseph’s simple request to the wine-taster, the living man, and for a while hope fluttered in his heart. Any day now he would be free by command of the Pharoah, his innocence would be known and, perhaps, he would return to his father. But the day was long in coming, and just as he had begun to forget his hope, his touch of faith paid off. He was called to his destiny, but first he needed a shave.

The Pharoah had dreamed dreams, dreams that  the fate of a nation, of a world. Seven sleek and fat cows being eaten by seven starved ones, seven healthy ears of corn devoured by seven hungry ones. No one knew what it meant, until Joseph was remembered, and called. Of course, he did not know either, but God did and he knew God.

There were to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of scarcity. The only way to survive was to plan; they would need to collect a fifth of all that was produced in the next seven years. Joseph knew this, he had always had a knack for organisation, with his father, with his former master, even in prison. Somehow the Pharoah saw this in him. Joseph, was, after all, the only one who could interpret his dream.

And then it seemed to happen all at once. From being prisoner Joseph was suddenly second in the land. This Hebrew boy was given a grand home and a chariot, power and authority, and a wife, a beautiful wife. He loved her, and she bore him two sons. He began to forget the pain of the brothers who had left him for dead; his family was here now. He wanted for nothing. But still, a part of him ached.

Perhaps he was not surprised when, in the time of famine when all were coming from near and far to find food, he saw the ten figures approaching. Men from the land of Canaan, Hebrews, he was told. But he knew already who they were, and he was overcome. With what? Anger. Grief. Perhaps worst of all, love.

There they were, his brothers. Bowing before him now, just as in his dream. The thought flickered across his mind that without the dream its prophecy wouldn’t have come to pass; it was that which pushed his brother’s jealousy over the edge, that made them abandon him.

He longed to be recognised, but when they looked up at his face they did not see. How could they? He was grown and he was alive. How would they see their brother’s ghost in the face of this Egyptian. His name and his language had changed, he wandered what part of him, the beloved son of Jacob, still remained.

It was then that he panicked. Where was Benjamin? His mother’s only other son was not among them, had they killed him? Or left him for dead too? He had to know, so he concocted some story; they were spies and to prove their story they would have to bring their brother back. But they should leave a brother as collateral.

He saw their fear of him, they called him themselves his servants, and then he heard them speak. He had not heard his mother tongue for many years, just the familiar tones brought tears to his eyes. And what they were saying; that this misfortune was a punishment for their mistreatment of their brother long ago. How true it was, yet they did not know and he could not tell them, not without Benjamin. He went away to weep, his control could stand no more.

When he returned he selected Simeon as their guarantee and sent them home, but not before he had ordered for their bags to be filled with wheat and their money returned to them. Of course, they could not know the reason for this. Yet.

And then Joseph waited. Meanwhile the brothers travelled home. Reuben repeated what he had been saying for many years. If only they had listened to him and cared for their little brother; God would not have punished them so. It was perhaps Reuben, the firstborn, who had carried the most guilt all these years; he could not stop it and now he watched his father wither away with grief, clinging unhealthy to Benjamin; the only son of his beloved Rachel left in this life.

And, of course, Jacob would not give up his youngest son to this unknown Egyptian, however hungry they were. His sons pleaded with him but it was only when the food ran out that he yielded. He was bereaved, he said, as he watched them leave again. Since the day they had returned with the torn cloak of his dreamer son he could not bear to watch his sons leave.

When they returned Joseph was waiting. He ordered them to come to his house. Now course, they were afraid and they began their interaction with him by offering gifts and explaining the mistake with the money; they had meant to pay for his grain. They were not thieves, they were his humbled servants. But they were surprised by his easy manner; he had received the money, they need not worry. They were to eat with him, and their brother, Simeon, was returned.

They joy that Joseph felt on seeing Benjamin seemed to blind him. When his brothers were seated around their table, ordered from oldest to youngest, he longed to take his place among them. But it was not yet time. Instead he made his excuses and rushed away, to weep again, like he had done these many weeks, waiting. He had been trying to stifle his hope, afraid that the brothers would never return. But they did not leave Simeon as they had once left him. Perhaps they had learned.

So Joseph took his place at the Egyptian table, but he sent portions to his brothers, and the biggest by far to the little one, whom he had once seen in his mothers arms and was now grown. He would spoil him for all those times that he had missed…

To be continued!!

 

Well, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed it. But was it a good experiment?

Yes, definitely, I feel like this story, which is very familiar to me, has been refreshed. Writing it out like that made me really connect with the emotions involved, especially for Joseph, but also for Reuben and Jacob. I also noticed that, for me, the dream interpretation and the getting all rich and stuff is not the remarkable part of the story; it’s the family stuff that really gets me. I got a sense of Joseph’s longing for home even through his great success. It also hit me how every misfortune led him to the amazing place he finally finds himself.

Wow, I’m actually raring to go now, can’t wait to read the next part, think I’ll probably use this exercise again. But there’s a whole week of wonder to come before then. And I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow with the Psalms…

A great set of Psalms today! 29 is pretty awesome, or at least it communicates God’s awesomeness very well. The NRSV entitles it “The Voice of God in a Great Storm.” Pretty big stuff. I shall, however, pretty much just write about the penultimate verse of Psalm 27, because it’s the one that’s going around in my head. This may be partly due to the fact that I know a Taize song that uses its words, but also because these words are gloriously hopeful.

 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
 in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

Other versions replace “I believe” with “I remain confident in this” (NIV) and “I’m sure” (The Message). The Taize song I love also uses ‘sure’. I like that.

The whole of Psalm 27 oozes confidence in God’s protection, love and justice. But this verse in particular has is something of such promise of it. When I have sung the song before I have almost thought of ‘the land of the living’ to mean the afterlife, but aren;t we in the land of the living?

Today I read these Psalms in the park I live near. The sun was setting on the frozen lake, families were walking and talking together. And this verse just seemed so perfect. Yes, I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I shall see his Grace and creativity and mercy here, now. Not in only some promised land, but in this tarnished world.

For those of you who don’t know Taize (get to know!), I wanted to share the song with you. There are a few youtube videos of it being sung in the taize commnity, but none are as joyous as the one below, which was filmed on the underground in Belgium! I see the goodness of God in this video, in the smiles and the “alleluia” shouted on this busy tube on this busy day. May you see it too, in this land of the living.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Great way to start a post hey? Well, I can’t take all (any) of the credit as a stole it from the beginning of 1 Corinthians, verse 3 to be precise.

The verse that ends today’s reading (chapters 1-2) is equally quotable: “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” The mind of Christ? Wowza. What does that even mean?

In these chapters Paul spends most of  his time contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.He writes that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to those who do not accept Jesus, or as Paul tactfully describes them “those who are perishing”. I am well aware of how foolish and strange many of the most familiar Christian beliefs are. In my work I have spoken with international students who come from places where little is known about Chriastianity and are perplexed to hear the details: “you believe God was a human?” “well, yes, but also no…” “so you believe God was crucified?” “well yes…”.

My favourite question I’ve been asked is from a Muslim student here to do a PhD; “I’ve heard some Christians eat bread and drink wine and they believe that it symbolises Jesus’ body and blood, what kind of Christians are they? ” His tone implied that the thought it was some kind of sect, until I said “actually, we pretty much all do that, some more often than others, and some Christians believe that it’s actually the body and blood of Jesus.” Now that was an interesting conversation! The point here is not to imply that this guy was one of those worldly foolish types, but to show how alien and unintelligible Christian beliefs can be. This would also be a good point to mention that I have learned and will continue to learn much on my spiritual journey from other faiths and people of all faiths and none.

Paul’s writing can make it all seem pretty clear cut: those with human wisdom don’t understand the gospel, those with God’s wisdom do. But I worry about these conclusions; as I said in my last post, there’s nothing worse than a smug Christian. Okay, so Paul makes it clear that our boast should be in God, not in our own understanding (1:31), but we’re still affirming that we are the ones who have received God’s wisdom; we must be very very of some egos getting puffed up here.

Over this Christmas season (it’s not over until the 6th people!) it really struck me me how much I believe in Jesus; his birth and life, his death and resurrection and the saving grace that he has brought the world. How much I believe the doctrines preached by Christians (including Paul) for two millenia, even if I do shrink from a few of the add-ons. If I have any wisdom then it is through Christ Jesus and I feel it has been revealed to me by the Spirit, as Paul writes in 2:12-13. Believing these things that I do means that I disagree with others, not only with atheists, but with those of other faiths. And I must be true to this, because I would have no integrity if I simply pretended to agree with whoever I was with (though of course there is a time to speak and a time remain silent). But how do I do this with humility?

Perhaps if I never make these beliefs into beliefs about myself; about how I”m right, or I’m spiritual. It feels a bit scary to think about that; to toy with the idea of losing my identity in God’s. 

Though I find Paul’s binary languages about Christians and others (e.g. worldly wise and godly wise, spiritual and unspiritual) hard to accept, I do like how he describes his attempts to share God simply in Corinth;

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (2:1-2)

To know nothing except Jesus Christ. What a wonderful concept. Even as I write again I find the concept more than a little scary. “know nothing else? what about all that education I have? what about my theological musings? what about me?” This scared little voice is an unmistakably good sign; not about me, but about the idea.

To know nothing except Jesus. What would that look like? What would we know? Freedom, sacrifice, love, mercy, justice, peace, obedience, passion, forgiveness. What would we forget? Pride, arrogance, greed, money, materialism, selfishness, fear, sin.

Now wouldn’t that be something? Like to having the mind of Christ perhaps…

I must confess that I’ve spent my blogging time today sleeping and reading. The sleeping was necessary for brain function and the reading was mostly about Romans 13-14 (except a little Harry Potter indulgence) but it all makes for a very short post.

There are two things I want to mention. The first is that Romans 13:1-7 with its statement that “whoever resists authorities resists what God has appointed” could be used to say that Christians should not be involved in campaign and resistance to injustice…I mean it could be used like that, unless you’ve actually read the rest of the Bible! All of the prophets were directly criticising and challenging those in authority and as Isaiah tells us to speak out for those who can’t speak from themselves. 7 verses in Romans can’t change the sweep of the entire Bible. So there. In case you’re interested, I read this interesting article and about the context Paul was writing in, which I found through textweek.com; an amazing resource for preaching and bible study!

The second thing I’d like to say is that verses 8-10 pretty much sum it all up for me:

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 10Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’ how awesome is that? Actually awesome, not ‘oh my days I love your t-shirt, it’s awesome!’. Yes. Chapter 14 fills in some details of what this love may look like in action; not judging and thinking about how your behaviour affects others. And the details are useful, but the love is the thing that gives me hope. God’ s will is not fulfilled through governments and wars, but by love in action. Some call it cheesy; I call it true!

Paul has a lot to say in Romans 8-10; no change there then. If, like me, you have a sleepy brain it might  feel like a lot to get through this evening. It seems to me, though, that it’s all a variation on one quite beautiful theme though. He really wants to you to know that whoever wants to access God’s love through Jesus can. And there’s not much I can add to that. So instead I have picked two verses that I think we could all do with hearing, again and again and again;

38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:38-9)

Amen.