1st Sunday of Christmas 30.12.12 Luke 2.41-end

23 12 2012

Anxiety and Astonishment in the Temple

This is a shocking story for any parent to read, and it is easy to get stuck at the emotional level of response. Yet maybe it teaches us that growth in wisdom often begins in something which astonishes some and causes great anxiety to others.

Luke 2.41-end

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ 49He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.


To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

‘Head Questions’

  1. Read through Luke’s gospel quickly, picking out all Jesus’ encounters with the Temple. What story emerges?
  2. Jesus listened and asked questions. Good boy. Questioning makes for better listening. What’s your question about his questions?
  3. Jesus was obedient to his parents after this. What are the implications of that?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How did his parents feel when they noticed Jesus was not among the group going home?
  2. How do you feel about Jesus’ single-minded pursuit of wisdom?
  3. Notice the word ‘astonished’ when his parents found him. This is an important word in the gospels. What astonishes you? How does that feel?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. This passage is framed by the observance of tradition. Is that something you value highly enough? How might you be challenged to be more traditional?
  2. How are you going to become a wiser person in the course of 2013?
  3. His mother ‘treasured’ all this. That was a mature response. How can you learn to treasure more challenging and anxiety-generating experiences?


These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

2nd Sunday before Advent 18.11.12 Mark 13.1-8

10 11 2012

Big Stones – Scary Future

This passage really needs to be read as an introduction to the whole of Mark 13 – so the other verses are appended below.  It is not about ‘when’ things end – but ‘how’.

Mark 13.1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.


To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What was Jesus saying about the temple?
  2. Why is that such an important truth to convey to the disciples?
  3. Why does Jesus not answer the ‘when’ question?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. How do you feel when you come up close to a great and ancient building?
  2. What feeling lay behind the disciples’ question?
  3. What images do the verse 8 put in your mind – and how do you feel when you reflect on them?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. To what extent do you put your trust in things that are not really going to endure?
  2. What can you do to wake people up to the realities the future has in store?
  3. Are you the sort of person who responds to disaster appeals or do you tend to think it is someone else’s problem to sort it out and bring relief?


These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

The rest of Mark 13

‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

3rd Sunday of Lent 11.3.12. John 2.13-22

29 02 2012

Making a Mess of the Temple

Jesus does not waste any time in Jerusalem.  Nor does he pull his punches. There is violence here, in the whip of cords, in the action and in the words. Things are not looking good. People are getting hurt and it is going to get worse. But there is also fulfillment.

John 2.13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Reflections and Questions

‘Passover… Jews… Jerusalem’ v13.  The point comes across powerfully through the rhetoric of this first sentence. What point, exactly?

‘the temple’ v14. If ever there was an iconic building, this was it. The centre of religion. The centre of power. The house of God. The place overflowing with the glory and presence of  God.  But look! It is differently full today. Sheep and cattle, doves and money-changers fill it up. The sight of it all, the chaos of it all, brought out the prophet in Jesus. What does it bring out in you?

‘what sign can you show us?’ v18  Good question. Jesus has attacked the ultimate sign. He has set about deconstructing the most powerful symbol ever created.  He must have something pretty spectacular to replace it with. And yet, all he can come up with is his body.  What sort of religion is this, that replaces a temple with a body?

‘his disciples remembered’ v22  We often forget that the gospels were written a long time after the event. The stories are so vivid, and the teaching so compelling, that we experience them as ‘live’.  Notice here, however, that the believing comes not at the time but when they look back – through the lens of the resurrection. How does this passage come to life – or not – when you look at it from beyond the empty tomb?