Some Biblical Reflections
The following reflections were contributed by members of MCC Manchester to the Inner Manchester Mission Network Lenten Booklet 2012 - I am the water of life
The bible texts on which these reflections are based are shown in the right-hand sidebar.
Lent is a time for reflection, with a view to become better.
This section of Jeremiah deals with Judah's wrongdoing, which led to the downfall of their kingdom and subsequent exile, losing all that they had, including control over their own destiny. This excerpt deals with three themes: curses, blessings and the gateway to both.
"Cursed" is a word we seldom use in 2012; we say "unfortunate" or "unlucky": we observe that the lives of some seem more beset with problems than others. We no longer call down curses, as once was common-place. However, Jeremiah is clear that the greatest curse is turning from God, and this stems from pride, as our "[hearts] turn away from the Lord" (v5).
This Lent, can we identify parts of our lives where we in our pride turn from God?
"Blessing" is a word we use more frequently in 2012, but do we mean the same as "fortunate" or "lucky"? Again, we often comment that the lives of others are seemingly more easy-going, even "charmed". We say "Bless you'" and we receive the "blessing" at the end of our services; however, the prophet teaches that blessing is not a passive action, something which is done to us; moreover, we need to choose actively to go God's way, in order to receive blessing.
This Lent, can we identify part of our lives where we need actively to accept God's blessing?
This excerpt finishes by giving us advice on how we can change (vlO), the key to blessing. If we are open and allow God to "search the heart and examine the mind", we can return from the exile away from God's blessing.
Reflection: imagine your return from a "cursed exile" to a land of "blessing". What is the first step on your journey?
The parable of the wicket tenants is one that we might easily gloss over, it doesn't have an especially uplifting message, and the parable story is a nasty one which appears to be about bad people getting away with murder.
The audience at the time would have spotted the situation that Jesus alluded to, that the Vineyard was the land of Israel, Jesus was the Landowner, the tenants were the nation's religious leaders and the servants were the prophets. They neglected their obligations, spurned the message of the prophets and eventually killed the son.
For us we can consider that each of us is entrusted with a Vineyard, a space to look after. We have to hold our leaders to account lest we end up being held responsible for their mistakes in their stewardship. When the Son comes to inspect his Vineyard, are we ready to say we've done our best?
Lord you entrust each of us with a Vineyard, be it the child and their bedroom to tidy or the family with a house to maintain. You give us all a world to look after; the environment around us needs our care.
Help us to listen to your prophets telling us what we need to do and not spurn their message.
Help us to hold our leaders to account and to consider your guidance when we are asked for our opinions and votes.
Give us the encouragement when we need it, that our example may also inspire others.
Help us to be the best stewards of this world that we can be.
Luke 15:1-3, 11-end
People think this job is all tea and biscuits. But after 33 years that's about as far from the truth as you can get.
I've been ignored, abused, thrown out of restaurants, off buses and had dogs chase after me down the street. And I earn just over the minimum wage so clearly it's not done for money. Love neither. I do it to keep a roof over my head and the bread basket full. Well at least not empty.
I expected more abuse to be honest when I heard about this new Jewish preacher on the block. Maybe he'd start on me, get all his mates to hound me off the streets. Nothing could surprise me anymore. Once your reputation's been trashed it's best to keep your head under the parapet.
That's what I was about to do, for safety's sake, but this Jesus bloke turned up unexpectedly and spoke to me - well, more than that, he welcomed me, invited me round for tea, said he'd even supply the biscuits.
'Course the religious crowd didn't like it. No pleasing some folk. But he understood you see. He could read me, could see my faults, the paths I'd taken by necessity or in error and what's more he really didn't care. Whatever stupid mistakes I'd made were behind me. It's never too late for a fresh start, a fair start and as I poured the tea and he ripped open the digestives I knew, finally, that I was home.
The writer of this piece knew great difficulty in his world and life, and sings a song of praise for the action of God in his life.
We too know that our world is full of things that can make us fearful; we worry about natural disasters, war and violence within our communities; situations that seem beyond our control, and we may wonder where to turn to. We too wish we could share in the writer's triumphant song.
Lord, when we despair and doubt you, help us to sense you by our side; at work through the hands of others:
- In the faces of strangers, working side by side to clear the streets after rioting.
- In the actions of aid workers helping to relieve the effects of earthquakes.
- In the actions of ordinary families, with their own economic problems but still finding the time and money to donate to charity and fundraise.
- In the actions of the police, helping people find justice.
- For those who help the most vulnerable people in our shores, who help those who are fleeing persecution in the hope of a new start and a second chance at life.
- The teacher who helps a bullied child and the friends who are prepared to stand up for them.
- In community groups that aim to help people coping with difference and change in their lives.
- In the random acts of kindness from strangers.
Lord you are by our side always, help us to become more aware of you with each passing day and challenge us to become your hands to help others; as we are blessed by your presence, help us to become a source of blessing to others.
From heart and mind, and through his own experience,
The prophet speaks a vision of perfection for his people.
Oneness with their God and unity among themselves shall be
The hallmarks of renewal when their present bondage ends.
Purity of faith and clarity of belief will bring rewards
Of peace and love from One who claims them as His own.
A pipe-dream, or a holy insight into what can be made real?
An everlasting covenant? Whose dwelling-place is here among us now?
How does the prophet's vision shine beyond
The life and death and rising of a Nazarene?
Where for us now are unity and oneness part of life's reality?
And who makes peace the aim of all their dreams?
Perhaps we should allow our minds to touch God's truth
Whether it's found in Gospel, prophecy, life or love.
Is understanding bound in testaments defined by time,
Or shall we open up our spirits to an everlasting voice?
Sometimes a prophet speaks beyond the context of his age
And shares a truth which never fades nor sheds its power.
Today we wait.
The women waited until the Sabbath was over so they could clean Jesus' body and prepare it for a proper burial. They would have been numb with shock and anger at the events of the previous few days but today were unable to do anything - the Sabbath laws had to be obeyed and so they waited.
It's hard to wait in a society where gratification is immediate. We get into debt so that we can have the consumer goods that we are told we need. If we don't have the type of body we want, then money will buy us a so-called "perfect body". No dieting- just a bit of liposuction and we shall be fulfilled. We can use technology to communicate with our friends all over the world - no more waiting for the post we just go online and instantaneously connect.
Yet around the world we see people having to wait.
Tyrants were pushed from their thrones last year but were often replaced by more shadowy figures who still deny justice. People are made to wait for freedom as tyrants cling to power like drunks to bottles - aided by the Western democracies who value oil over freedom. People wait for an end to poverty, a cure for AIDS, and for a world to be fair to all instead of some.
Waiting is part of life. Mothers wait for 9 months for a baby to be born. We wait for:
- growth and maturity;
- study and qualifications;
- results of job interviews;
- news from our friends;
- answers to prayer.
We wait with those:
- who are ill;
- who yearn for freedom;
- and who are dying.
We wait with the knowledge that resurrection will come. We wait with the women at the tomb and yearn for better days to come.