24 October 2010

Bible Sunday - Scripture, Reason & Tradition

Sun 24 Oct 2010 Bible Sunday
Luke 4 16-24

[A bit of a thumbnail portrait, but in the hope of encouraging people to think a little more deeply.]

I have to admit that I was really pleased when I saw our reading for today – one of the readings set for Bible Sunday. It has to be one of my very favourite Bible passages! It’s a wonderful story – the sort of story we would recognise: Jesus going to the synagogue. And in his own home town too!

• It's interesting that though the Bible was written at least 2,000 years ago – and most of it much longer ago than that – it’s still important to us; it still speaks to us; we still learn things from it.

• Interesting too that there are so many different sorts of writing in the Bible:

[History; stories (parables); rules and instructions; letters; poetry; anything else?]

All different types of writing which help us to understand God better; which describe people getting to grips with God.

I want to think a little about how we use the Bible – how we hear it “speak”.

Throughout the history of the Church of England, people have recognised three ways of understanding God (sometimes called the 3-legged-stool)

• Scripture
• Reason, and
• Tradition

– the Bible – is a very important way in which we understand God: not least, of course, because of what it tells us about Jesus, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection.

But as we’ve seen, there is a lot in the Bible. And different parts of it often say different things.

It’s worth noticing that in our story of Jesus in the synagogue,

• although as Luke says, Jesus reads from scroll of the prophet Isaiah,

• he actually reads from 2 different parts (Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 42),

• and then goes on to teach from them.

By putting these 2 passages together, Jesus described more fully what his life and work were all about. He didn’t just pick one single passage or one single quote, but used different parts of the Bible to teach truths about himself, and about God.

We all have our own favourite passages and stories in the Bible, but especially on Bible Sunday, it’s good to remember that we can always learn from reading more and hearing more of the Bible – it’s an amazing book!

The second leg of the 3-legged-stool is Reason: the God-given ability to think and reflect about things – to grow in our own understanding.

Human beings are always learning more and finding out more! Our son [A] is studying Physics and Chemistry for A-level. Now, I’ve always been interested in science – and especially about anything to do with space [I grew up during the Apollo flights to the Moon]. But I’m learning so much more now. Whenever we watch a TV programme by Stephen Hawking or Brian Cox or Jim Al-Khalili, it always finishes up with [A] getting a pen and paper and trying to explain things to me in more detail! The trouble is, I’m sure I keep on asking him the same questions!

God gave us our minds – and he expects us to use them! And just as we can discover things about the world and the universe around us, we can discover more about the Bible:

when the different books were written,
what kind of people they were written to,
• and the sorts of things people thought and believed about God at the time.

Sometimes we have to read things in the Bible (say for instance about slavery or women)

• remembering the way the world was at the time,
• and most of all remembering what the whole of the Bible, and what Jesus himself shows us about God and his love for all people.

And we can’t expect the Bible to say anything directly about climate change, for example, but we can notice that in the stories in the Bible about creation – which have been told and re-told for thousands of years – people very clearly understood that God wants us to take care of the earth and of all he had created.

So, we’ve talked about the Bible and about our own intelligence as ways of knowing and understanding God better. The third leg of our stool is Tradition.

By tradition we don’t mean the types of seats we have in church or even the different hymns we sing! We mean the things that the Church and Christian people have come to believe and understand over the years about God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we remember our Christian tradition, we learn from people in the past – and also from those in different Christian churches today, in our own country and throughout the world. And we learn from different traditions within the Church of England.

• We remember that, though we ourselves are part of Christian tradition – we are only a part.

• We recognise that no one person, no one church or tradition can completely understand God

• We realise that we need each other and the insights we each can bring to have the fullest possible picture of God, and of God’s purposes for his creation.

As I said at the beginning, that story of Jesus reading from Isaiah is one of my favourite stories in the whole of the Bible.

It’s so wonderful that Jesus was reading and teaching about words which have been passed down, over thousands of years, to us, today.

It’s so dramatic when they all turn to him and he says, very simply, that Isaiah was speaking about him.

But most of all, it’s truly amazing that everything Jesus teaches us about God – both in his words and in his actions – speaks of love and freedom and fullness of life.

May our Lord Jesus help us to play our part, as the message of the Bible, the message of God’s love is fulfilled.


For Jesus’ use of Isaiah, see Sarah Dylan Breuer here.

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11 October 2010

The Costs of the UK's "wolf pack" media system

A very intersting and perceptive article from the LSE's British Politics and Policy Blog

As Ed Miliband builds his new Labour front bench team without his talented and experienced older brother, Bart Cammaerts wonders if David Miliband’s purdah is just the latest cost of the UK’s strong, national media system and its personality-driven coverage of political life.

Read the full article here

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05 October 2010

Norman Wisdom and the European Parliament

Sir Norman Wisdom has died. He is being described today as a "comic craftsman", and was reportedly (Sir) Charlie Chaplin's favourite clown.

I remembered a story from former MEP Richard Corbett, which tells of an unexpected moment of humour in the European Parliament:

One classic story is about a debate when a member from Normandy came up with just the right compromise at the right time. One of the French MEPs, using an old French expression, said that this was thanks to "la sagesse normande" (the wisdom of people from Normandy). The English interpretation rendered this as being "all thanks to Norman Wisdom". No one of any other nationality could quite understand why the British and Irish members were in stitches!

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02 October 2010

Faith as big as a mustard seed?

This sermon is based very heavily on one by Lesley Fellows - see http://bernwodeblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/faith-size-of-mustard-seed.html

But since Lesley herself was kind enough to encourage me to blog it, here goes ...

3 Oct 2010 18th Sunday after Trinity CW Proper 22
Faith – as big as a mustard seed?
Luke 17 5-10 & 2 Timothy 1 1-14

The Frenchman Jean François Gravelet was better known as The Great Blondin. He was a tight-rope walker and acrobat who achieved his greatest fame in 1859, when he became the first person to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope! Blondin walked the 335 metres across the Falls in just a few minutes.

On other occasions, he did the walk in different ways – I suppose just to show it wasn’t a fluke! He crossed the canyon on stilts, on a bicycle, and blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow!

He was obviously a showman with a sense of humour. When he reached the other side with his wheelbarrow, Blondin asked the crowd: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”

Well, the crowd had seen his wonderful achievement and they knew his reputation – the greatest tight-rope walker ever – so they had no doubt: “Yes, of course! You can do anything!”

“OK”, said Blondin, “Who’s getting in?”

And nobody moved!

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Make our faith greater.’” (Luke 17 v5 GNB)

Well, faith is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Nothing on earth (or, I suspect, in heaven) would ever have made me get into that wheelbarrow! You’ll remember that when my wife and son went abseiling a few years ago, I stayed with my feet very firmly on the ground! But as the Letter from James reminds us, faith is more than just theoretical – it shows itself in actions.

The disciples spent all their time with Jesus – and yet they knew that their faith could be greater. It’s a common hang-up, isn’t it?

• How often do people say “I wish I had your faith”.
• How often do we ourselves wish for more faith?

A common hang-up, and a common misunderstanding. We imagine that faith is something we call up within ourselves – something we generate by effort of will: “psych-ing ourselves up! And yet the Bible tells us different.

We read in the Letter to the Ephesians

“For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.”
(Eph 2 vv8-9 GNB)

• The truth is that faith is a gift from God.

• And what’s more, according to Jesus, we don’t even need that much of it!

He answers his disciples’ question in a remarkable way:

“If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17 v6 GNB)

Mustard seeds, I understand, are very small – and mulberry trees rather bigger, and not very mobile!

This understanding of faith as a gift from God is borne out in our reading from 2 Timothy. Paul remembers Timothy’s sincere faith; recognises too that it has been nurtured in him by his mother and grandmother. But he urges him above all to hold firm, to remain in that faith in union with Jesus himself.

I suspect we all have our ups and downs – times when we feel our faith is firm, and others where we wonder if we have any faith at all. But it’s very difficult to hold on to faith on our own.

Saint Paul was by any definition a man full of faith. But he constantly asked for the prayers and support of his fellow Christians. And he was honest enough to admit that his “thorn in the flesh” made him feel desperately weak at times.

He was Saint Paul, for goodness sake! And we’ve already heard about the disciples!

We know that we must remain united to Jesus. It’s a good theory, but in actual fact we need help – the help, encouragement and support of one another when (for whatever reason) holding on to him is difficult; when faith seems too much like a tightrope. That’s why God has called us together as his Church – we need each other.

Paul goes on to give Timothy some specific instructions –

• to keep alive the gift that God has given him;
• to witness to, and hold firm to, the truth of the gospel.

Again, faith is expressed in actions.

• But this is done within the context of the Church,
• with the support of other believers.
• Timothy is not left to sustain or to express his faith on his own.

Sadly, it’s all too easy for us to feel guilty when it comes to faith. We would all say, with the disciples “Make our faith greater”. And we would all admit, as someone else who came to Jesus said: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9 v24b NRSV)

But Jesus tells us we only need faith the size of a mustard seed. I think on most days, in most situations, we could all manage that much!

And the truth is that – in faith – we can all make a difference. We can all play our part in fulfilling God’s purposes – in carrying forward the Kingdom of God.

• It’s not fashionable to believe it these days, but ordinary people can do extraordinary things together – and particularly together with God.

• Sometimes faith just involves recognising that truth and acting upon it; refusing to take on board the negativity and cynicism that so often surround us.

Taking up the image Jesus uses in the second part of our gospel reading, Revd Lesley Fellows writes this about Christian service:

“We just need to see it as something ordinary, that we are like servants, put on this earth to do our bit. And whether that bit is at work, or in the home, or in the community, or in the nation; whether it is to do with spiritual things or material things, all of it is part of our calling.”

• Like Timothy, we have all been given gifts by God.

• Like Timothy we are called to keep alive those gifts – including the gift of faith – and to use them in the service of God and of our neighbour.

May your faith and mine – small as it is – make God’s world a better place for everyone, as we

“remain in the faith and love that are ours in union with Christ Jesus”.
(2 Tim 1 v13b GNB)


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