Thursday, July 11, 2024

Guff

I had hoped to wrap up some Jude thoughts but unfortunately a 'flesh is weak' episode has grounded me this last week and pain has somewhat befogged my mind.  Last Thursday early morning I asked our surgery (by email) for help about my painful left knee.  Called in for a face-to-face appointment (a golden chance) I was told it was probably osteoarthritis etc. etc. Walking back to the central Cambridge car park with some effort, I crossed a road only for my left leg to lose power and catapult me into railings by the pavement.  The knee had decided enough was enough.

With an heroic struggle (!) I drove home prepared to lose the rest of the day in emergency care in hospital. Which is exactly what happened.  As I retold the story 7 times to a stream of enquirers I explained there was no fall, no sudden twisting, no apparent cause. The knee just gave way.   Xrays followed as did the ill-fitting of a very uncomfortable splint. Paracetamol is supposed to give relief. Supposed to. 

Today the damage was diagnosed as anterior dislocation of the knee requiring several weeks of healing and physio.  The latter is scheduled for 'sometime' in the future. 

I know some kind friends are praying for me - how I value your care.  I'll try to fit in finishing off Jude shortly having worked hard on that last sermon.  I want a post with some meat in it, not just personal guff. Sorry, this was personal guff.  Is that a word...guff?

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Tough humility

I admit my last post on FAMILY was loosely hung on the text.  That's true of my second point too! When Jude describes himself as a Jesus' slave and a brother of James he does not appear to be pumped up with self-importance. I don’t want to push the evidence of one phrase but it seems that Jude is saying it really doesn’t matter who I am.  Whether he was a truly humble person or not, his self-introduction gives opportunity to sound out one of the most difficult challenges of Christian behaviour: HUMILITY 

That’s a staggering attitude for human beings to take. In humility consider others better than yourself. Each of us should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil 4:3). As Message  puts it: Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  THINK ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE SAME WAY JESUS DID. Of course ego is important. You need to know you have a purpose, you're not a wall flower. Yes, you are loved and special to |God but in God's sight you are not more special than others.  He makes you count more than ever before but never more than any other of his family. 

Honestly, we do tend to place ourselves in a ranking with some people more important above us and plenty of people who aren’t as important below us.  Wrong. So wrong. In humility consider others better than yourself   What a powerful contrasting way for Christians to live together Those with prime gifts are not more significant in the body of Christ than others.  

John Wesley set a high bar when he warned: Oh beware! Do not seek to be something! Let me be nothing and Christ be all in all.  A friend sent a message this week:  He wrote: 'I think this is true'. And underneath he copied a T.S. Eliot quote:  Most of the trouble in this world is cause by people wanting to be important.  I think that's true too. How many rampant egos have destroyed relationships and organizations? 

A story is told in the early church when Emperor Domitian ordered that any remaining physical members of Jesus' family should be rounded up. He wanted no future centre for rebellion  They found Jude's grandsons, arrested them and brought them to court only to find that they were such ordinary people - hardworking, unimportant peasants. They dismissed them as totally harmless and of no consequence.  It’s true that our local churches must appear to comprise such ordinary people who can be dismissed as harmless.  But when people live like Jesus in humility, counting others better than themselves, they are living a revolution which Scripture calls 'new creation'. And that cannot be dismissed, can it? 

Sunday, June 30, 2024

On the way with Jude

 As was evident in my last post my covid illness has hung around and I wondered about whether Jude would get a hearing today in Bluntisham Baptist Church. But the good Lord gave me stuttering improvement through this week. The eventual sermon emerged as different themes hit me in preparation. Some have looser connection with the text than others. Let me give you a couple of examples. First, I highlighted FAMILY

Thinking of James and Jude makes you think. How we wish we had mote detail. However, we do have that family list, as people began responding to Jesus' ministry. In Matt. 13:54 some people who clearly knew his family say: Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas.  That last name gained a certain reputation (wonder why?) so the abbreviation Jude could easily be our writer. . 

All this raises questions about how Jesus' family behaved towards him.  All families have dynamics and sometimes dysfunction.  We wonder about that moment when part of the family group appears to treat Jesus negatively.  As Jesus gains popularity they arrive to take him away. They seem to use pretty unsupportive language: 'He's out of his mind (Mark 3:21).  Who knows the motive. Perhaps they were worried about his safety. Maybe they thought he needed psychiatric help!  Who knows what feelings of sibling rivalry might there have been? It really looks like his family is  having a hard time believing that big brother is all that these people are saying.  

How we wish we know more.  How the relationships develop as momentum grows in Jesus' ministry.  When the utter blackness of the cross seems to be the end there is terror and brokenness for his mother who is there. Maybe other family members are present too.  And in the glory of the resurrection when everything changes for the better it is wonderful to read about Jesus appears to James and to 500 people in 1 Cor 15. Within this family story its members have moved from puzzlement to conviction.  Transformed by the risen Jesus, James and his younger brother Jude seem overwhelmed in love as they throw themselves utterly into following Jesus as Lord and Saviour. In AD 61 James will be martyred. 

Reflecting on family dynamics, rivalries, relationship breakdowns going tragically wrong, how wonderful to see Jesus' physical family apparently coming together so well.  Mentioning physical families challenged me about my own brother - and how the relationship is. How is it with your brothers and sisters? How good it is when relationships come together well in our physical families!    


Saturday, June 22, 2024

Everything's an effort

Thank you to friends who have checked in about our covid recovery.  Having tested negative a week ago we have now entered the 'everything's an effort' stage. Energy bursts turn out to be trickles. Surges of activity (born out of half glass full optimism) are followed by fading and jading. Several times Carol and I have felt we have turned a corner to discover there's another corner backwards round the corner.

Frustratingly appointments have had to be cancelled and I wonder when I can go firmly with my next commitments.  In particular I am concerned about my next preach on June 30th.  I have the task of preaching on Jude in the Bluntisham series on Overlooked Books of the Bible.  It's not an easy task. Read it through and you realize why it's overlooked! Working out who Jude was requires some guess work and when you see some of his words, quoting books not included in the Old Testament there is much that is odd. Like the story (verse 9) about archangel Michael disputing with the devil over Moses' body  (in a book called the Assumption of Moses). Or his references to Enoch (verses 14,15) from the Book of Enoch.  In verse 18 he quotes the apostles though there is no record of them saying that.  So, why give over time to preach on Jude?   

I saw a headline two weeks ago: THE AGE OF JUDE.  Inside there was a double page spread about Jude Bellingham. A dense biography of this 20 year old footballer as he makes impact in the Euros. (As I write, not as much impact as the nation hoped...but there's time!) There was so much detail about his life - perhaps more than I needed. The thing about the NT book of Jude is that we only have one sentence. One sentence as a clue to who he might be.  And frankly it raises questions, involving a great deal of guesswork. 1 sentence only: v1 Jude. A servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.  

A servant of Jesus Christ opens up wide possibilities. Someone who belongs body, mind and soul in the service of Jesus. The servant word is close to slave.  But what about the second part? That is more specific: a brother of James. James was a popular name but there is one James more than any other who becomes leader of the church in Jerusalem and is the key figure in the early church. See  his role in Acts 15. We have his letter which is not one of the overlooked books of the Bible. Later he's known as James the Just. And what is the most distinctive thing about this James?  He is brother of Jesus. When Paul visits Jerusalem to meet Peter he describes how he met one apostle: Gal 1:19  James the Lord’s brother.  And that means that if Jude is a brother of James he also is a brother of Jesus. Now most early readers would know of James. So it makes sense for Jude to describe himself like this.

But being a brother to Jesus - WOW.  I guess this is why they had to include this letter in the canon. 

 


Sunday, June 16, 2024

Covid hits

Two Sundays ago I was merrily in fellowship with shared responsibility for a busy prayer corner after the morning service and a good healthy feeling about life. But, later that same day I was hit hard by flu like symptoms with sore throat, head ache, coughing, nausea and exhaustion.  Unaware of having been in any unhealthy places, I struggled the next couple of days to wade through the symptoms, hoping Carol would stay free. Alas, on Wednesday she succumbed!  It then dawned on me that this was a heavier issue than a cold/flu.

I dug out the boxes of Covid tests that were left over from the height of the pandemic 18 months ago.  One large box had dried out completely.  The other expired last September but a couple of test tubes still had some liquid in them. When I tested myself I was unsurprised that the two bars shone positively and instantly.  No doubting this was the real deal!  Neighbours bought some up to date tests to use for Carol.  The same positive result emerged instantly.  In spite of me having all the covid injections on offer somehow the latest variant has sneaked through the defences.  And it is utterly miserable.  I have slept large slabs of time since which at least is a good escape mechanism.  But it's taking its toll.

We tested again with the same positive results three days ago but I have just emerged into negative territory.  Carol has been behind in recovery but is at last making progress.  I know that so many others have been through these suffering cycles - perhaps including you. It has interrupted several plans and appointments but how we deal with interruptions is an indication of our maturity and patience ( or lack of them!)  Seeking to be mature and patient!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A last Hurrah!

Denuded of my preaching library and with fewer outlets for research, I pondered whether I could offer any words of value to this volume. But then a thought struck me! In 2014 the US seminary where I was teaching was chosen by the Lily Foundation to contribute research to its national project titled: ‘Strengthening the Quality of Preaching.’ I seized the opportunity to design a response called ‘A New Kind of Preacher (NKP)’ which resulted in conferences, peer learning groups, two books and shared fieldwork influencing a few hundred pastors. However, owing to a change of seminary personnel, the books were never published and, sadly, the programme lost momentum with my work disappearing.  I wondered whether a compressed essay in this festschrift might give this lost work one last Hurrah!  

I admit my thinking was absurdly ambitious. Instead of concentrating on the task of preaching and the act of sermon making, I dared to question the role of sermon makers, probing theological questions about who preachers are in relationship to God, to their congregations, and to the surrounding culture. Not so much about what they preach as to how and why they preach. On the persons of preachers.

To encapsulate the project’s concept as well as its structure I proposed this definition. The Preacher thinks and feels deeply about God, has self-knowledge, and is called by God to pastor the congregation as a lead worshipper, proclaimer, collaborator, community builder and missionary.

 It begins theologically, with concern that preachers have a lively understanding of Trinitarian dynamics not only for seeing more of how God works in the world but experiencing how he is involved with them in the preaching act. Pivotal for integrating five roles, I use the term pastor to express the foundational relationship with a congregation.  The five roles define dimensions of the preacher’s ministry. Not all hold equal significance. Lead-worshipper, Proclaimer and Missionary are prime roles with Collaborator and Community Builder playing indispensable supplementary roles. Whenever any one of these roles is diminished so is preaching. 

A range of preaching genres is closely connected with these roles. Traditionally, sermon preparation concentrated mainly on words (focus) in order to retell a passage’s meaning with appropriate application.  However, more recently a revolution has occurred in biblical interpretation about how God encounters us in Scripture. He not only says words in messages but also does things (function) by those messages. Rhetorical studies of Scripture have shown how different genres move us to varying responses. Some are well known such as evangelistic, prophetic, pastoral and doctrinal.  To these I add: celebratory, liturgical (recognizing that ‘liturgy’ applies to any order of worship from highly formal to wildly informal), salvation history, and missional. Together, these eight complement each other in the five dimensions of the preacher’s ministry.

So, dear Stephen's festschrift gave me one last chance for this preaching vision to see the light of day before I ride off into the sunset.  Thank you for the opportunity Stephen!

 


Friday, June 7, 2024

Honouring a friend

When notable academic colleagues retire one special way of marking their contribution is to publish a festschrift (from German celebration and writing) in their honour.  Rev. Dr. Stephen Wright - a noted New Testament and Homiletics scholar - recently finished at Spurgeon's College after beginning there in 1998. He started as Director of the College of Preachers but was to continue as a vital leader of the Spurgeon's community. For over 25 years he has been such a wise, gentle, humble, gifted teacher, educator, pastor, author and friends to so many of us. So, a very worthy candidate for a festschrift.

When the editor asked me to contribute a chapter I wanted to say 'Yes'. I have contributed to others' celebration writing and since I was involved in Stephen's appointment I particularly would have liked to chip in a word. However, all my academic books had already been shipped out and familiar academic props were missing.  I felt academically bereft!  Therefore I declined to take part.

However, the Editor came back to me.  His second ask was insistent. Didn't I have special responsibility at Stephen's beginning?  Surely something could emerge!  Reluctantly, with mixed results, something did emerge and I'll post about it next. But the wonderful aspect of presenting any final publication like this is that, at its best, the whole exercise has been conducted in utmost secrecy.  When the presentation is eventually made on a public occasion, the book should be a total surprise. A shock of the best kind. 

Last week the presentation ceremony was scheduled at Spurgeon's College Chapel. It was too early for me to attend in person but fortunately it was streamed (and what a gift online service gives us)!  Though we were ready for the start at 10:30 am and the camera showed friends gathered in the chapel, Stephen was absent and blissfully unaware. He arrived some 10 minutes later and was utterly stunned .  By his wife and daughter, who had been involved in the planning, yet who had somewhat misled him about their commitments that morning! And by the group of friends and colleagues.  Beginning with lively worship and prayer we came to the moment when Stephen was handed his own festschrift.  You could see the genuine surprise and delight as he held it and as video tributes and written greetings followed.  It was a shock of the best kind.

What a great way to honour a deserving scholar. To top it all he was told that in the afternoon he would be at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop who had written the book's foreword.  It's worthily called: Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant.