Bangladesh. Dhaka. Down town, early Sunday evening. A derelict factory in the middle of a five lane roundabout. It is the building where I am going to preach. I start making my way through the chaotic traffic. Continue reading
It surprises me how often I find Christians uncomfortable with the thought of dying. You’d think they did not know Jesus said: take up your cross daily and follow me.
The cross was a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. It was used to end its victims’ lives in humiliation, exposure and vulnerability. A person’s life ended in a pain-filled death.
Faith in Christ invites us to prepare to die. Continue reading
This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I follow it with some of my thoughts as I tried to compose it and some suggestions for reflection and prayer. We pick up the story of Mary, mother of Jesus sometime after his ascension as the disciples gather in the Upper Room. (Acts 1)
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary quietly left the room and made her way to the wall of the city where she could see Olivet. She sat down carefully and lent against one of the great stones left by the builders. The pinnacle of the temple soared above her and she watched the birds launching themselves into the wind as it swirled up from the valley below. She could smell the desert – heavy with heat.
So she would see him no more. He spoke of a return but she did not think it would be tomorrow. Where had the years gone?
I offer this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Jesus Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on the story of the shepherds appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.
Let us imagine that two shepherds who had gone to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger and wake up the next morning. We listen to their conversation …
I told you to let me sleep. All that running across the hills isn’t good for me at my age.
Well I don’t know how you could sleep after what we had seen. Angels. Mysterious voices. A baby in a manger. It was wonderful.
I know, pass the water I’m as dry as dry. So what? What does it all mean? It’s a miracle to me that the sheep are still here. They could have been half way to Jerusalem with all that noise and fuss. I expect we’ll have some still-borns later this season.
We’ll deal with that when it happens. You’re right though, what now?
We could ask the Rabbi.
Him! He would take so long to work it out the Messiah would be with us. In any case that’s what it all meant. The time of waiting is over; the exile is finishing. The Land is going to be ours again. No more working for others. No more stewards lining their pockets whilst the bosses are all down at the coast with the Romans. People didn’t need convincing last night. Once we told them what the angel said the party started.
Yes, but that was last night. You know what people are like. Last night’s party is today’s hangover. Can we really believe it all? After all it’s only a baby.
I am writing this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on Elizabeth appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.
The case of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist?
She had spread the washing on the rocks to dry. The wind was getting stronger. She had placed stones from the stream on the clothes to hold them down. The other women still kept her at a distance. It was time for a brief rest. Shading her eyes she looked up across the valley to see if he was in sight.
People used to tell her he was God’s blessing. She would smile but kept her thoughts to herself. Zechariah insisted they call him, John. She did not argue … much; but she would have chosen Aaron, an ancestor. John was always wandering to edge of the wilderness. He spent more time there than their house. It was as if it were his home. He had his ancestor’s blood in him.
She worried. She couldn’t relax until she heard him calling her name from the hillside.
This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I am imagining what a Teacher of the Law in Jerusalem might have thought about Herod sometime after the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. I follow it with suggestions for reflection and prayer.
Herod the Great
I turned my back on the Temple and made my way through the crowded streets. It would soon be the Sabbath and I wanted to be in my home long before it started. I had to struggle because there were still visitors gawping up at the Temple walls. I hated the look on their faces. Didn’t they know the cost in human life this building had exacted just because of one man’s desire?
Harold Kushner wrote a series of reflections on the experience of the Gatherer. He compares them to a point in our life when we move from asking: ‘what is the meaning of my life’ to ‘what will my life have meant’?
We might call this mid-life or the Second Journey but it comes with a haunting question:
Was there something else I was meant to do with my life whilst I was living it?
If you have read this series I hope you will feel that I am a fan of Ecclesiastes. I discovered the book when I was training to be a minister. It was a companion through the first of a number of faith-crises. I am glad it is in the Bible. I am drawn by its pragmatic wisdom and hard-won faith in God.
But it leaves me with a longing and an ache. I follow where the Gatherer takes me but then have to say: this is all well and good. But I’m left wondering is there anymore to say?
The Gatherer speaking from before scientific enquiry became the norm nevertheless respects and uses logic and the powers of a reasoning mind to explore life’s puzzling muddle. Yet, he is a person of faith. He does not deny the existence of God. He just finds the divine’s participation in the muddle of life confusing.
There is a book in the bible that should be read within sight and sound of falling leaves. It is Ecclesiastes. It is a good book to read as gardeners try to tidy up the year – but never with complete success.
I think of it as a spiritual journal rather like Markings by Dag Hammarskjold. It is serious about God and the search for meaning in our life. It has been left behind by a seriously honest person. His thoughts are not very well organised. He can be repetitive, alarmingly truthful and mournful. He chose to live on the distant edges of belief.
We do not know the name of the author but he was a collector of experiences. He inhabits the times he is living through and gathers them into his rather cheerless search for purpose and meaning. He is the Gatherer …