Advice: this a deffo a “cuppa AND two biscuits” kind of post this morning
Todays’ verses are from John 1:45-51 – Nathaniel under a fig tree and the one-liner: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Just who is Nathaniel? And why this caustic put-down?
As I meandered from hither to thither this morning, I bumped into some other verses.
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Luke 4: 16-30
And that film, “The Life Of Brian” came to mind. The film that good Christians avoid. The film that pokes fun at Jesus. The film that offends good Christians. The film that – if we are seen to enjoy it – causes us difficult questions from “non-believers” (and “believers”)! Films (and subject matter) like that are best avoided. It’s safer that way.
(Thank God Jesus didn’t!)
There are so many “difficult subject matters” good Christians should avoid. It is always safer to avoid than to embrace. And if we must get involved – if we are cornered and must offer an opinion (or look silly) – just remember that it is always easier to condemn biblically than to embrace lovingly. Of course we wrap up our condemnation in soothing tones, reluctant condemnation … we will love the sinner but not their sinning … we will slice and dice our love and condemnation according to the sensitivity (and possible repercussions) of the difficult issue. And we, the church, will seek consultation. We will set up a steering-committee. We will offer up a formal proposal for a formal vote. We will seek consensus. And if we cannot find it, we will continue “tappy-lapping” around the edges. Always fearful of upsetting too many apples carts along the way.
(Thank Jesus God doesn’t!)
And for those who do offer a critical thought about the status-quo and church – then the response is almost always: “But we are all one in the Love of God – confrontation is not the way – let’s all pray on this and see how God guides.” And in so doing – never admit that IS “soft” confrontation – that is telling those who already see “God’s hand at work” – “You are wrong – God is not speaking – God is not guiding – if He was – we would ALL agree!” (and if that is not “confrontation”, I do not know what is).
The verses in Luke.
“YAY! Jesus of Nazareth! The local boy done good! Now let them say – “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” – come on Jesus of Nazareth – do the magic – do the cures – do the right thing!”
“BOO! Jesus of Nazareth! How dare you point the finger! You are one of us – you know us and we know you – how dare you let us down – how dare you not do your stuff – how dare you tell us we are out of order! To the cliffs – and everyone buy a few stones along the way! Holy punishment – righteous killing … and NOBODY is to start until I blow the whistle!”
This morning I wonder. Enjoying films like The Life of Brian – does that make us too much like “them”? The ones who don’t love God … who haven’t been saved … who don’t serve God … who don’t sacrifice all the good stuff for God … who don’t carry a burden for God … ? Does that come too close to “looking in the mirror” – the one in which we are totally naked before a totally naked God? The one in which we ARE exactly the same as those we think of as unclean?
(Thank God Jesus didn’t!)
The one in which our totally naked God loves ALL equally (and invites us to do the same)? And elicits our usual response “ … NOBODY is to start until I blow the whistle!”
And we wonder why the pews are emptying. Why “the temples” are in decay. Why the unclean see “us” as being irrelevant. Not even something to challenge, just … irrelevant. Maybe a great place for a wedding – less and less for a funeral – and as for christenings … not even my mum and dad had me christened. We invent more and more ways to be relevant. To engage with the disenfranchised. To make God palatable to the masses. To hope some of them (any of them!) will come through the doors on a Sunday and convince us that we ARE relevant. And if we can get a ”young family” to come along that is a real WAHOO!!
(sounds vaguely like a very lazy McDonalds’ marketing strategy)
Young families (or “family” more often): we tell ourselves “Imagine all those years of attendance … !” And then when they walk away I have yet to hear something other than “Their family circumstances changed.” It is never – ever – “us”.
So just where is the hope – why this tale of doom and gloom?
For me “the hope” is right here and right now. “The hope” is within each of us.
If … we forget we are saved, different, holy, righteous and religious. If … we do not carry burden and sacrifice, tithe and teeth (gritted – but “smiling” – usually). If … we can look in the mirror and laugh at a film like the Life of Brian because we ARE saved. Can laugh at ourselves because we ARE saved. Can be free because we ARE saved.
(Thank God Jesus DOES!)
Free from the bondage of should and must and can and cannot. Free from the bondage of burden and sacrifice, of clean on the outside and (sod it – this isn’t meant to happen – I am saved!) dirty and sinful on the inside …
Because how can we EVER be “relevant” when we are so determined to be better than them? How can they ever see us as relevant when we never even realise that to them we ARE The Life of Brian?
And that is my hope. God Soft Hands Jesus is my hope. The totally naked GSHJ who desires the totally naked me. The totally naked me who is happy to be happy with where I am, who I am and who I will become. The me who sees others as sacred and scared. Scared to get naked. Fearful of blemishes. Fearful of being “the same”. Fearful of being not good enough.
And as each of us is on our own journey – there is nothing wrong with that reticence. It has taken me years to be able to write this stuff. But let me ask you this –
When you tell others how great this life of being saved is … why going to church is what we should all do … why reading the bible and praying is so fulfilling .. about how great Jesus is … about how misrepresented God has been and is … If you will not look in the mirror without seeing ugly …
If your “freedom in Christ” means fear of being the real you … fear of chuckling at the Life of Brian … the fear that means spending decades agonising over whether it is okay to “admit” others not like us (obviously comfortably biblically married and accepted) … the fear of avoiding the tough questions about supporting expensive church buildings because our aging congregations do not want change (and why should they we say – they are “old”) … the complacency about stopping being on a journey as soon as you are saved (because you have reached your destination) … the decisions not to “invest in” youth work because we are unlikely to ever see “them” come to church …. AND being guardians – the self-appointed gatekeepers – of God … keeping Him safe from others faiths (which aren’t God at all – not the real God) … and anything else which might be a sin (maybe – but probably – nah … make that “definitely is sin”) … all of that and more …
Which “the masses” have presented to them week after week – not just by the secular media (obviously biased so we can be in denial there as well) – but by our silence – by our invisibility – by our absence of chuckling with others – embracing others – being with others ….
Just why would anyone want to emulate that … ?
(Thank God Jesus doesn’t!)