Fish on Friday: Living on the Edge

Every Friday, the wonderful Revd Helen Arnold (Lead Chaplain of Thames Valley Police) leads a short reflection on Teams for TVP Officers & staff. I get asked every so often to lead – this was my offering for yesterday…

I recently listened to a 3-part podcast from one of my favourite Christian speakers, Beth Moore, who is an American Bible teacher, writer, speaker. The podcast is called ‘On Edge’ which I felt was fitting for the times we are living in. However, it was into the second of the three podcasts when Beth mentioned about being with this particular audience, somewhere in New Hampshire in 2013. I had mistakenly thought this was a new podcast. Everything that she was speaking about at that time in 2013 was very relevant to today!

In the podcast, Beth was talking about different groups of people as well individuals who found themselves on the edge at various times and situations. One example was a group of people on the edge of moving into the a land that God had promised them. The other was about a woman who grabbed onto the hem of Jesus robe as he walked by her. Just for context!

What struck me about this and as I have thought about living on the edge more this week – is that a)people have often (throughout history as it turns out) found themselves living on the edge of something and b) if we are on the edge so much of the time – are we really ever on solid ground? How do we know?

Many people have found themselves living on the edge of something over the last year – as I also reflected on this in relation to the one year anniversary of lock down. The edge of sanity, breakdown, break up. The edge of health and illness, life and death. The edge of a job or relationship, financial security. The edge of decisions with potentially huge consequences both seen and unseen. We might even be on the edge of greatness, of break through, new opportunities. Edges everywhere you look!

We might wonder however we ended up on the edge of where we are as it seemed just to have happened. Edges are important though. At the end of the podcast, Beth Moore, talked about edges and hems are being necessary as without them everything falls apart. The hem on a garment keeps it from unravelling. Sometimes we are on the edge of something new to keep the rest of life from unravelling. We need an edge, it is the edge that can lead us to solid ground.

I heard this poem recently – I think it is fitting for those on the edge.

For Longing by John O’Donohue
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging—in love, creativity, and friendship—
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

Passiontide: Wanting to See Jesus

Lent 5 – 21/3/21

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Edward Vardanian, Crucifixion (2003)

How has Lent been treating you? Has it been a time of learning new things about yourself and God? At this point in Lent, I think that many people get tempted to give up on the whole thing! Others may think it doesn’t make much difference anyway and carry on as normal. Whichever way we are marking it (or not) this season is moving on – rather quickly. We began after Ash Wednesday with Jesus’ baptism as told by Mark; the next Sunday saw Jesus beginning to teach his disciples that he was to undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again in three days. The next thing we read was Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple with the reminder that he would be killed and rise again in three days. We lightened up a bit last week for Mothering Sunday.

This Sunday – the fifth Sunday of Lent begins the final push towards Easter as a ‘season within a season’: Passiontide runs these next two weeks until Easter Sunday. There is a turning in the Gospel reading this morning as Jesus narrows down the time frame with ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. In the previous Gospel readings there has been no time specified. This threw the disciples and the Jewish authorities into confusion over when things were to happen!

There is another confusing piece in the Gospel passage too. The festival was Passover, the great Jewish feast that required Jews from far and wide to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. So where did these worshipping Greeks come from?

Somewhere along the way, we can assume, they had heard about Jesus and now had a desire, a wish to see him. Are they curious about his message, his parables? Are they hoping to see a miracle-worker? Were they sceptics? Troublemakers? Wanting to pick a fight? We don’t know what the motives were and I am glad of this mystery as this brings up some rather interesting questions for us.

Do we wish to see Jesus? Maybe see the Jesus who does stuff for us, answers our prayers, heals people and helps the lonely, the lost and the least. But the Jesus who talks about his death and how hard it is going to be? The Jesus who wants us to give up our lives with little promise of comfort or reward?

I wonder what those Greeks made of what Jesus said next? Is this the Jesus they wanted to see as he launches into talk about death? Whoever serves me must follow me? Did they follow him after this?

Then there is the voice from heaven! The crowd heard it – some said it was thunder, others said it was an angel. Again, how much do we want to see Jesus and do we want to hear from him?

There are times when I really want to see Jesus. I want nothing more than to hear his voice – whether it is the still small one or thunder from the heavens. There are times when I would rather be deaf and blind to it all. Excuse signs and wonders as thunder and blend in with the crowd.

The question today is ‘do you wish to see Jesus?’ Does this question register with us all right now? From the essayist Debie Thomas, ‘If we say yes, which Jesus do we wish to see? The teacher? The healer? The peacemaker? The troublemaker? Why are we interested? Or, if we’re not asking and seeking, then the question shifts, and we have to ask it differently: why is Jesus not on our radars? Does ‘seeing’ him feel impossible right now? Uninteresting? Irrelevant? Has he become so familiar to us that he’s faded away entirely?’

I hope that for those of us who have grown up in the faith have not lost the scandal and shock of Jesus’ death. I pray that as we continue through this Lenten journey we can all recapture something of the deep mystery of the crucifixion. With new eyes we see what happened on Good Friday.

If we want to see Jesus, we have to be willing to look at the cross. It is the cross that makes true sight possible. It is, as Jesus said, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

Debie Thomas, ‘In the end, what this week’s Gospel reading teaches me is that I don’t have to strive and strain to see Jesus. As he told those Gentile seekers two thousand years ago, he is the one who draws and gathers all people to himself. He is the one who allows himself to be lifted up, so that what is murky or overwhelming or frightening — God in his indecipherable Otherness — comes close and becomes visible.

As we continue our journey through Lent, I hope you will want to see and hear Jesus in new ways. Jesus loves whether we do or not. Jesus wants to see to me, you, all of us – regardless of our desire to or not – far more urgently than we will ever want to see him. We love because he first loved us. The cross draws us towards love with a power that is compelling and completely mysterious. Jesus draws us together in love. Let us watch for the signs with seeing eyes, listening ears and hearts that burn for more of Him.

Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple

Lent 3 – 7/3/21

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Pieter Aertsen (1508-1575) ‘Jesus Cleanses the Temple’

This past week in the Lent Course ‘Come and See’ we looked at the person of Jesus in relation to the Apostles Creed ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.’ As part of the discussion, Sue M asked each group member to share a little about their favourite story or parable of Jesus. No one mentioned Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. We liked The Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the woman who grabs the bottom of his robe, Jesus walking on water, the feeding of the 5000. Nice Jesus, doing good Jesus. Last week we looked at Jesus’ first prediction of his death, this week, table turning Jesus in the Temple. No more Jesus meek and mild here! These stories do tell us something of his character, his priority, his message and what it is to live out of the heart.

This story of Jesus cleansing the temple gives us a vivid account of how he acted out of his heart. So much so, that each Gospel writer has included this event in their respective books. Matthew, Mark and Luke have placed this event right after Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on the donkey; in the last week of his life as palms and cloaks were being laid down on the road.

Intriguingly, John places this story right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John’s narrative has Jesus attending the wedding at Cana, then going to Jerusalem, right into the temple and causing havoc!

As we stand on this side of resurrection history it is easy to miss the significance of this event. The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It wasn’t just a church on a street corner or in the middle of a village. It was the centre of worship, music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning. Think of St Paul’s Cathedral as somewhat of a parallel.

The Temple was also the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. Now this unknown prophet from Galilee breaks in and turns everything upside down! What was so wrong with the Temple? Why did Jesus do what he did?

John has this event happening at the time of the Jewish Passover. John had already told us that Jesus is the new Passover Lamb – the new sacrifice. He wants us to understand that what Jesus did in the Temple at Passover is hinting at the new meaning he is giving to Passover.

The new meaning that Jesus brings: is liberation, freedom and rescue from slavery. The is what the Jews celebrate at Passover. Jesus brings liberation, freedom and rescue from sin.

It also hints at what Jesus thinks of the Temple itself – he regards it as corrupt and under God’s judgement. Interestingly, those who were selling the animals for sacrifice and the money-changers did need to be there as Jewish law required the right sacrifices be offered. But those doing the selling had corrupted the Temple by their dodgy practices.

This is what Jesus rages against as he overturns their tables and boots them out. I am sure it would have been completely shocking to those who were there, minding their stalls, selling the animals and changing money. They were getting on with life, business – supporting the wife and kids at home. But they had become corrupt – to cheat people, their own people was unthinkable.

We too can become corrupt in our hearts. We pick up things along the way – thought-patterns, judgements toward others, attitudes and prejudices that can become embedded in our hearts and minds. We can go about our everyday business and from the outside it all looks fine. We can even think we are right! But our lives on the inside can be a mess.

It wouldn’t be Lent, as far as I am concerned, without a public reading of the Ten Commandments. I hope you let them wash over you again. They are timeless in their instruction, they are a solid foundation one which to examine ourselves, our thoughts and our conduction. Get rid of any corruption that has taken hold. Sometimes we too need the tables turned over in our hearts and those things that corrupt driven out. Above all else, guard your heart, from everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

We need – I think sometimes – to have a clean out of our hearts. Heart surgery is required to remove those things that have built up in them. We can trust Jesus to do this for us and with us. He wants to be the Temple in our lives. The place where we go to worship, take our prayers, our worries and anxieties. The place where we can be forgiven and know the great love of God for ourselves.

That is what he is saying to the Jews in his actions and his remark about the destroyed Temple rising up in three days – he was talking about himself. Jesus is the true temple, he is the Word made flesh.

If we see and believe the signs of what Jesus is doing, then we need to trust him to bring it to completion. Believe in him and his works. Trust him to do the work in our hearts that needs doing – even if the removal and cleaning is painful.