Archive for the ‘guidance’ Tag

Saturday 3 December 2011 – “Jesus trusts us”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were Isaiah 30: 19-21, 23-26 and Matthew 9:35 – 10:1, 6-8.

The story from Matthew is one of various accounts in the Gospels where Jesus sends out his disciples, “on a mission”. In his account it is just his closest 12 disciples but the sending out of the 72 in Luke 10: 1-24 is worthy of note. The notes in the booklet these Advent reflections come from paints a very good picture of this situation, and rang true to my recollection of such things, so I quote it here:

Jesus risks sending out his disciples on mission. You wonder how well they represented him and his teaching, how well they understood him, how well they related to one another. What formation did they have? Were they persuasive public speakers? Did they have good communications skills? How well did they manage?
[Your Journey to Christmas, Redemptorist Publications, 2011, p.10]

I am sure those questions will raise smiles of recollection for anyone who has been involved in some form of church mission, well any team activity in human endeavour. The pictures recalled for me from these questions were the most dominant part of my thinking in this morning’s meditation.

The point drawn out in the notes was that Jesus entrusts his followers to represent him. “He risks his glorious message in their fragility” [same source as quote above].

In many ways that statement sums up the whole history of the church. God entrusting his message to the world, revealed in Jesus, to a very flawed human organisation. And how well has it done?

Taking for me the key question from above and applying it to the whole church:

  • How well has The Church represented Jesus?

I am sure many books could be, and probably have been, written addressing that question. I will just draw out two points, one from my personal journey and one from my thinking and reading of theology (more strictly ecclesiology perhaps).

  1. Conflicts between observed behaviour in and of the church and the teachings of Jesus heard there.From when I was a young child, certainly by the time I was 6 or 7, I begun noticing things (probable just little things) going on in the church that did not ring true with or seem to follow what I was being taught there.One example that still impacts on me today. Sundays were church focussed days when I was brought up (and there is a lot I value from the way we treated Sunday that is lost today). I would be told to put on my “Sunday best” and I would go to at least 1 service, normally 2 and a Sunday School or some form that changed as I grew older. Like many boys of that age I did not like dressing up smart, it was uncomfortable and often meant constrained behaviours so as not to spoil it. So for self-interested reasons I would ask: why do we have to dress up smart for church? Then I can very clearly remember a Sunday School lesson about the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the temple to pray [Luke 18:10-14]. The point made by the Sunday school teacher (even if it was not the most obvious point in the story) that God does not look on the outside but on the inside; what was in our hearts. Why then I asked did we all dress-up smart for church?


    The above example is trivial, but it illustrates the thing that seems to most offends those outside the church about the church: its apparent hypocrisy. There was a clear example of this in the recent protests against the excesses of capitalism outside St Paul’s Cathedral. As much as I might admire the beauty of the art and architecture, for example, I personally find it hard to square the teachings of Jesus on wealth with the vast material riches in some parts of the church and the prevalence of extreme poverty throughout the world. [E.g. Mark 10: 17-31]

  2. The question is does the Church more closely reflect the teachings of St Paul than those of Jesus?
    This is a question I think I first met in the writings and TV presentations of Karen Armstrong. She published a personal memoir that left an impression on me [Through the Narrow Gate (1982)] of her period leading up to, and when being a Roman Catholic nun then subsequently leaving the order. She is now a leading author, teacher and speaker on comparative religion.The key point is Jesus left behind him no organisational structure. He said to Peter: “on this rock I will build my church” [Matthew 16:18]. Then in the account in the Acts of the Apostles Peter became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. However it was Paul that was key in spreading the Church throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and it is his writings that came to dominate the New Testament when the cannon was collected centuries later.I am not going to expand on any particular issue here but I do find it useful when thinking through difficult areas to ask the question: is this based on Jesus’ teaching or St Paul’s? A key example would be gender issues and the role of women in the church but there are many more.

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I am not going to blog about the brief thoughts I had in reading the passage from Isaiah (mainly because I have run out of time and family duties call) however I will close by quoting the verse that stood out for me as I read in this mornings meditations.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
[Isaiah 30:21 NIV]

May God guide you in your path.

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