4 before Lent - Evening Service
have been enjoying an audiobook written by Rowan Williams the
former ABC (it's great when one is dog walking!). Now you may
think that would be quite heavy - and it does contain some really
meaty theology, but Rowan has the ability to communicate really
well and clearly when he wishes - and this book, Being Christian,
is about the four basic elements of what it means to be a Christian
- Baptism, Bible, Eucharist and Prayer, and is written to be
accessible to almost anyone....
In writing about the Bible, Rowan says some things that are very
dear to my heart.
Rather than taking the Bible as the literal word of God, he advises
us to always read any part of the Bible with a view to the overarching
purpose of the whole work. And as Christians especially, to do
so in the light of what we know and understand of Christ and
his teaching. The Bible, he says is God's great gift to us that
says "this is my story. This is how human beings have responded
in the past to what I have tried to tell them. Read and learn
from them. Use the gifts of intellect and understanding I gave
you. And just as Jesus used parables to teach greater truths
to the people around him, so too the whole Bible may be understood
as a parable that demands of us to work out where in the story
we see ourselves. How do we understand our actions in the light
of what God has to say to us?
Just because something is written in the Bible does not imply
that God automatically approves of some of the more extreme reactions
we read about - especially in the Old Testament. For example,
for hundreds of years slavery was thought of as a natural ordering
of society - so the Bible contains many references to it without
any suggestion that slavery is of itself wrong - although slaves
are urged to respect their masters and masters urged to treat
their slaves with compassion and justice.
As the history of the world has moved on, more and more people
came to question whether the concept of one human being owning
another could possibly be just! The whole concept has come to
be thought of as deeply flawed and against the will of God -
irreconcilable with a loving and compassionate God. So while,
sadly, slavery does still exist in the world, it is no longer
considered acceptable in civilised society. Modes of behaviour
change as we come to better understand the over-arching command
to love one another as God loves us - freely and without compulsion.
Tonight's readings throw our developing understanding into some
contrast and relief.
In the passage from the Old Testament, we are left in no doubt
that God will wreak a terrible punishment on those who displease
him or go against his laws. This is a very black and white justice.
Hard-hearted and unforgiving. Even the strongest will not be
able to stand against God's anger and justice. Righteous anger
to be sure, but still anger.
But in the
New Testament Passage we have something much more nuanced. Hardness
of heart is something to be avoided. There is still no licence
to go against the divine will and the Laws God has given us for
our own good, but we are bidden to be kind to one another; "put
away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander,
together with all malice" Forgive one another as I forgive
This is perhaps the hardest commandment to hear and act on isn't
it. Righteous indignation and anger is something we find much
easier to deal with.... we can do that very well.
But compassion and kindness? Even to those who do us harm? That
is another matter entirely!
And yet we know too don't we? That to harbour bitterness in our
hearts and feelings of revenge while we may get a short-term
buzz of adrenaline, ultimately begins to eat away at our very
soul .... Who suffers in the long term?
Whereas if we can find it in ourselves and in our souls to forgive
someone for the perceived insult or injustice - maybe not to
forget, but to forgive, and let go of the destructive emotions
we feel - well, in the end, that may well be much healthier for
our peace of mind and even physical well-being.
So where do you see yourselves in our readings this evening?
Are you stuck with the picture of God in the OT? Meting out retribution
and punishment against all who do you wrong? - of course you
may be the one who is the transgressor too!
Or can you place yourself in the NT with Jesus, forgiving those
who sin or trespass against you, just as you yourself are forgiven
by God. We remind ourselves of this each time we pray the Lord's
Prayer - do you really hear the words you recite? Do you believe
them? And how will that affect your actions and your conversations
in the week ahead?