First Sunday after Trinity Sunday 10.6.12 Mark 3.20-end

29 05 2012

Satan’s Slippery Slope

This passage starts off as a very  human kind of story – domestic even. But it is soon in the tricky territory of name-calling and then descends almost immediately into a very dark and conflicted place.  This is classic Mark.  Just a few words but a tension is built which is riveting – and profoundly relevant to us all.

Mark 3.20-end

The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Reflections and Questions

‘he has gone out of his mind’ v21 This sounds innocuous. A throw away remark we might easily make about someone we find really difficult. But read in context we see this as the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to the unforgivable sin

Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) this of someone only to be embarrassed later when you realise that the person was speaking a deep but difficult truth?  Has anyone ever said this of you?

‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’ v23 It is a rhetorical question… but Jesus goes on to answer it.   It is interesting and important that Jesus names the enemy, ‘Satan’.  We know when we hear that word that we are in serious territory. There is a fight going on, but it is not the one that the Pharisees identify.

What do you make of the word, ‘Satan’?

‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness’ v29  This is a phrase that can  make people anxious. They worry  that they might commit the unforgivable sin by mistake. Relax. You  cannot . This is the deliberate sin of alienating yourself from God’s spirit, God’s grace, God’s inspiration. The sin is unforgivable not because God does not offer mercy to all but because God allows us to decline his mercy, That is the only thing that makes us unforgivable.

How can you address the anxiety that some (many) people have that they are unforgivable, even by God?

‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ v35 Jesus defines his family as those who do his will. As we discover later in the gospel, Jesus’ task is not to do his own will but the will of his Abba – whom he wrestles with in Gethsemane. The family here, then, is the family of people who seek to discern and do God’s will.

Does that include you? Do you actively seek God’s will – not for the details of  life but for the really big things?

Trinity Sunday 3.6.12 John 3.1-17

27 05 2012

Father, Son and Spirit

This dramatic story from near the beginning of John’s gospel gives some hints about the ways in which God’s love is shared with human beings. It also puts the individual’s relationship with God in the context of God’s great purposes for ‘the world’.

John 3.1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Giovanni Angelo Del Maino, "Statue of Nic...

Giovanni Angelo Del Maino, “Statue of Nicodemus” (detail), wood, ca. 1518, Collections of applied arts, Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Reflections and Questions

‘He came to Jesus by night’ v 1 The word night, and the image of darkness are powerful in John’s gospel. This man was coming under cover of darkness. He was a leader and did not want to be seen.

But might the imagery also speak of Nicodemus’ benightedness? Might it suggest that if he was enlightened he would also walk in daylight, confident in the truth? If you agree, what are implications for our own confidence in faith?

‘no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit..’ v 5. This is powerful talk and not easy to understand fully. It is important to give due weight to water as well as to Spirit.

What do you mean by ‘water’ here? What do you mean by ‘Spirit’?

‘Do not be astonished…’ v7  Strong words again. We might want to imagine the face that Nicodemus had been pulling to elicit this response.  But at least Nicodemus was astonished.

What, if anything, do you find astonishing in this? What, if anything, has astonished you in the life of faith?

‘God.. sent the Son son… in order that  the world might be saved though him’ v8 Notice that it is ‘the world’ that is to be saved.

What do you take the word ‘world’ to mean here?  And what about the word ‘saved’?  What does it mean for the world to be saved?

Fifth Sunday of Easter 6.5.12 John 15.1-8

26 04 2012

Abide in Me

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is deceptively simple. It raises questions of theological identity, divine judgement and consequences.

Notice the repeated use of the word ‘abide’. In the AV it was also found in the Emmaus Road story, ‘Abide with us because it is toward evening, and the day is far spent’  (Luke 24.29)  And from there it inspired the great hymn, ‘Abide with me’. It is a deep and poetic word. A word worth time.

grapes or vine

John 15.1-8

Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Reflections and Questions

‘my father is the vine-grower’ v 15 I wonder whether we sometimes overlook this because of the power of the previous image of Jesus as the vine.

Why does God work for the growth of the vine? What does reflection about this do to your understanding of the meaning of ‘growth’?

‘Abide in me as I in you.’ v 4. It is interesting that the translators have kept this slightly archaic but deeply poetic and resonant word.   

Might repetition of ‘abide’ work well in the rhetoric of a sermon on this passage?

‘My father is glorified’ v8  This is the heart of things. This is what matters. But the word ‘glory’ is not quite as simple to understand as we might hope, not least because John insists on connecting glory with the cross.

How do you connect the cross and the vine?

‘you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ v8 

Bearing fruit and discipleship seem to be joined at the hip.

Does that surprise you? 

Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain. F...