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So I was in a meeting the other day and I heard someone say (not for the first time!) that the book of Leviticus is boring! If you don’t know, the book of Leviticus is the third book of the Bible and it has a bit of a reputation for being the most dull book in the Bible. So when I heard this again I said, ‘Actually the book of Leviticus is awesome, I only wish we had time right now for me to explain why!” So please, my wonderful St. Anne’s Family, stick with me for a second as I try to convince you that Leviticus really is awesome!
Leviticus begins with extensive (ok, I’ll be honest – boring) instructions on how to offer 5 different sacrifices — the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace-offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Burnt, sin, guilt — is that a party waiting to happen or what?
To add to that, there’s verse after verse of instructions on what to do with the fat, the loins, the long lob of the liver,and the blood of the animal you’re offering. I mean there’s lots and lots of blood.
But … the book actually begins:
“The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you bring an offering to the LORD …” (Leviticus 1:1-2a)
The name LORD is the name of God, the God who had just rescued his people from Egypt. And you can bring an offering to this LORD. The word ‘offering’ is the Hebrew word ‘corban’ and it means ‘to draw near’. Draw near!!
Everyone at this time, everyone, knew that the gods were distant, detached, demanding and constantly needed to be kept on side and appeased. You could never know where you stood with these gods.
But the LORD, well you can draw near to this God! Now this was a revolutionary new idea. We’re only one verse into the book and we’re come across a revolutionary idea in the history of humanity. You can draw near to God. You can relate to this God.
Which is actually the point. For example, one of the offerings was called ‘the peace offering’. You present the offering and then (the instructions in Leviticus 7 are clear) you must eat the offering on the same day. In other words, you sit and have a meal with God to celebrate the peace between you! You can be in relationship with the LORD.
You see, you know where you stand with this God. At the time this was revolutionary. What if you suddenly realise that you did something wrong several days ago — how do you make things right? There was an offering for that. What if you did something unintentional that ended up harming someone but you only just now found out about it? There was an offering for that. What if you had a deep sense of anxiety in your conscience from something you felt guilty about? There was an app, I mean, an offering for that as well. (I hope someone got that joke!).
So why all the endless details?
The belief of that era was that the gods could smite you at any moment for an improper gesture or a sacrifice offered carelessly. That’s how people saw the gods. One mistake and you’re done. The details would have had a significant calming effect, reassuring you that you’re doing it correctly and not bringing unnecessary wrath on yourself.
Why all the repetition that makes it so hard to read through the book without dozing off?
Because the culture was primarily oral at this point. The repetition made it easier to memorize and then hand down to the next generation.
But why didn’t they just get rid of the sacrificial system all together?
Wouldn’t that be amazing! If someone announced that the final sacrifice has been offered and there’s no more need to do such things. If someone came along and declared that the temple is going to be torn down. If someone proclaimed ‘It is finished!’
BUT … someone has!!!
This month we have Easter, and at Easter we celebrate that someone did come along and declare that very thing. That the final, the ultimate sacrifice had been offered, and that it was all finished. We can all know exactly where we stand with God and we can all be in relationship with him. This is the radical, awesome message of Leviticus and it is brought to it’s climax in Jesus.
Now come on … how awesome is that!
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1).
Is there a more controversial chapter in the Bible? But I have no desire to talk about that – don’t let the stupid debates about the creation narratives in Genesis stop you from seeing the deep truths it tells us. One of which I’d like to think about. It comes from Genesis 2:7:
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Do you know that you are made up of about 7 billion, billion, billion atoms and that every atoms that makes up you is at least 1 billion years old? Atoms are small! In fact there are more atoms in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in all the oceans on the planet – Atoms are small!
The word atom, comes from the Greek word ‘atomos’, which means ‘indivisible’, literally ‘That which can not be cut any smaller.’ However, about 100 years ago sciences were able to work out how to split an atom even smaller. And then they split the particles they found even smaller. In fact they have now discovered over 150 subatomic particles.
When you get this small things get really, really weird! Some of these particles simply pop into existence, from nowhere! One particle can be in 2 places at the same time. One particle can be at point A, then disappear and arrive at point B, without travelling the distance in-between! But more than all of that they have discovered that these particles are, in essence, relationships of energy. So an atom, which is made up of these particles, is 99.9% empty space! So much so that if you were to take all the empty space out of all the atoms in the observable universe, then the observable universe would only be the size of a sugar cube! They call this area of science ‘quantum mechanics’.
If you’re mind isn’t blown by all this, then you haven’t understood it! The Nobel Prize winning Physicist Niels Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it.” Another time he said, “If you can fathom quantum mechanics without getting dizzy, you don’t get it!”
Another amazing thing to get your head round is this. The atoms that are part of you, right now, have not always been you! Before being you, these same atoms used to be other things and even other people. In fact, it is almost a Mathematical certainty that some of that atoms that currently make up you, used to be part of William Shakespeare! (or Genghis Khan, or pick your own historical figure). In fact, assuming you’re still alive in 10 years, then some of the atoms that currently make up me, now, while I type this, will in 10 years time be part of you!
In fact, every single atom in your body is replaced approximately every 7 years. Physically speaking there is not a single atom of you, that was you 7 years ago. You are, physically, a completely different person. Every minute roughly 300 million cells (which are made of atoms!) in your body die and are replaced by new cells. And yet you are still you!
In fact, at a physical level the atoms that make up you are the same as the atoms that make up everything else. Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Calcium, Sodium, Nitrogen, etc, etc. At the smallest level you are made of the same building blocks at everything else. We talk about looking after the environment as though it was something outside of ourselves, but we’re all made up of the same stuff.
We are formed from the dust of the ground!
We are made from dust, and to dust we will return (See Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20 etc)
And yet, you have just read that sentence, and now your thinking about it and reflecting on it. You are considering your own existence. You maybe made of atoms, and particles and skin and bones and toe nails and yet you have the ability to reflect upon your own existence.
You feel. You have moments of despair. And moments of joy. You analyse, and rationalise thing. You have a meal and wine with friends and say it was transcendent. You listen to a song and it makes your soul soar.
There are some things about you I can measure. Your height, your weight, your tax revenue, how much your insurance company charges you, your job etc. There are things about you I can put into a test tube and things I can put on a spreadsheet. For these things you need a scientist.
But you also have love, loss, longing, heartache, triumph, despair and betrayal. When you fall in love, you can’t put that in your pocket. When your heart has been broken, you can’t put that in a suit case. When you feel on top of the world, you can’t store that in the glove compartment of your car.
I could take you apart bit, by bit, atom by atom, electric impulse by electric impulse, but I would never find your thoughts on why you’re here. I would never find your joy. For the measurable things you need a scientist, for these things you need a poet.
Humans are made of dust, but they have also had the spirit of life breathed into them. You are made of dust and spirit. Soul and dirt.
Science does a fantastic job of telling me about atoms and subatomic particles, but it can’t tell me why I find it all so fascinating!
I’ve had people tell me “I’m not really a spiritual person!” Are you human? Well then, sorry, but too late! You can turn your back on the church, on religion, on ritual or whatever other word you want to call it. But you will still hunger for wonder and transcendence. You will still desire to understand your place in the world. You will still long to find meaning. Because, you are made of dust AND spirit.
Now isn’t that more interesting that arguing about whether the story means 6 literal periods of 24 hours!
As I write this, we are still in early January and my mind has been dwelling a great deal on the future.
As I’m sure most of you are aware, 2016 promises to be a big year for the Gerrard family. My time at St. Anne’s Church will come to an end, and I will become a vicar of my own parish elsewhere (this was always the plan, and part of the system that the Church of England uses). We, as a family, have no idea when we will move, or where we will move to. We have no idea what kind of challenges are ahead. I remember thinking in the early hours of New Years Day how unknown 2016 is for us. (Rest assured, as soon as we know something, I will share it with you)
During this process of unknowing one particular verse has stood out for me that I would like to share with you.
“Now to the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20
Paul is writing to a group of Christians and this verse is just a snippet from a much longer stream of thought. One of the reasons I love this verse is because it reveals one of the mysteries of the Christian life – that there is a force, a divine power at work in the world and it is on our side. And this God who is at work in the world, he wants you to thrive, he wants you to find joy, he wants to be present with us, even in loss and heartache and defeat. One of the devils great lies is that “This is as good as it gets”. It is a lie, because God is at work, God is on your side, and he is able to do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine.
By the way, the world “able” in the verse is the Greek word ‘Dynameno’, it’s were we get the word ‘dynamite’. So the verse tells us about the one who is able to bring some dynamite to whatever you could ask or imagine. This is a powerful, explosive, nuclear force.
At the heart of the prayer is the assumption that there is some sort of power at work in the universe. Have you been trying to do something in your own steam? Have you just kept pulling, just kept trying, and it’s not happening. Maybe you need to let go. You’ve given it everything you’ve got, and it didn’t become what you wanted. Maybe you just need to surrender it and open yourself up to forces and power way beyond you.
Do you have a specific situation that is driving you mental? It’s so frustrating, so depressing, so discouraging. Maybe you need to open yourself up and invite God into the situation.
Maybe you are facing, like me, your own unknown. I invite you to open up you hands (physically do this if it helps) and invite in the God who can do immeasurably more than all we ask our imagine according to his power that is at work within us.
I may not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds my future – and he’s on my side. I pray that each of you would know the same.
1 Chronicles in 5 minutes (ish!)
As I write this, the Middle Eastern Refugee crisis is the biggest news in the papers and on the TV. Of course, by the time you read this, the news will probably have moved on, or the situation may have changed. However, I do believe that this is such an important, and morally charged, situation that I felt I should still write about it (after all, the news may have changed, but millions of people don’t just disappear!) . So I thought it would take time to point out a number of things the Bible says which are relevant to the issue.
- God is a refuge for refugees. God is regularly described as a refuge (e.g. Ps 61:3; Ps 143:9), which means God’s heart is for justice and help to those who are refugees:
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no brides. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are tp love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
2. God wants His people to offer refuge to refugees. Justice for the refugee was at the very heart of Old Testament teaching. Take this as one example:
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”
These kinds of commands come up again, and again, and again! They boil down, essentially to, you have received grace, so be gracious! For example, one of the key facts that was used to show that Job was a good righteous man was that he housed the refugee (Job 31:32) – could we say the same about the UK?
3. The Bible is full of refugees – and I really do mean FULL. I’ll just list a few: Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, all of Israel!, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David, Elijah, Esther, Mordecai, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. In the New Testament Mary, Joseph, Philip, Peter, Aquila, Priscilla and the whole of the Early Church! The were displaced through natural disasters, exploitation, people trafficking, war, famine, persecution and other things. Next time you look down or feel hostile towards to foreigner, remember that almost all the Biblical heroes were in the same boat! And that includes the greatest Biblical hero of them all …
4. Jesus was a refugee. When Jesus was born his family had to flee to a foreign country to escape death from a powerful ruler.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
Next time you see a desperate refugee parent clutching their small child, remember that 2000 years ago that was Jesus. (We really do have a saviour who knows and understands our sorrows and weaknesses!)
5. We ourselves were once aliens and strangers. Paul says that all those who are Christians were once aliens and strangers – not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. But we have, through God’s mercy, been redeemed and received refuge and citizenship in God’s kingdom:
“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Ephesians 2:12-13, 19
Peter says a similar thing in 1 Peter 2:9-10. But thanks be to God, we have been made members of his kingdom – we have been provided with citizenship.
6. We are still refugees, foreigners and exiles. Peter explains that, because we are now citizens with God, then we are now foreigners and exiles in this sinful world.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desire, which war against your soul.”
1 Peter 2:11
7. Hospitality is at the heart of being a Christian. At the centre of the Christian gospel is the story of a God who opens his home, his table and his heart to a rebellious people. He rescues us, restores us, redeems us, adopts us and grants us a share in Jesus’ inheritance. As such we’re called to show that same radical hospitality to all, here’s just a small selection of verses:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.”
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:8-10
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Whatever the response of the government is towards the refugee crisis (and it may have changed drastically by the time you read this) the only Christian response is compassion. We must be the ones who offer the loudest welcome to those who make it to Britain and we must be the ones to consistently call politicians towards openness and compassion. And we must be willing to pay the price this costs, as we have freely given, so we freely give. This shines God’s light into a dark world.
There are more things that could be said, and the situation may be vastly different by the time you read this, but as Christians we know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do to Jesus. So whatever you do, do something!
God bless you all,
2 Kings in 5 minutes (ish!)
I’m going through each book in the Bible – hope you enjoy!
I know everyone is now commenting on the refugee crisis (NOT immigrant crisis – important difference), and I know people will soon be overwhelmed by all the images, and videos going around. But, even if no-one reads it, I felt compelled to write something. I want history to show that I, with my little voice, at least did something, I at least tried to shout.
The trouble is I’m not sure what to say – when you see a child, no bigger than my own dear children, dead on a beach – what possible words can be brought to communicate the heart wrenching injustice of it?
I could talk about my own faith. I could talk about how the whole world is the Lord’s and that ALL people are made in his image. I could talk about the Biblical commands to offer the refugee a home (e.g. Deut 24:18-20), or how Jesus was a refugee when he was an infant (Matt 2:13-15). I could talk about the biblical mandate for hospitality (e.g Rom 12:12-13). I could even talk about the sheep and the goats and how we will be judged on how we welcome “the least of these” (Matt 25:31-46). But the trouble is, that if you’re not a Christian, these things won’t make any difference, and for me that won’t do.
You see, I don’t care who you are, or what you believe, THIS IS WRONG and we MUST help.
In the second world war Jews fled Europe. We now, rightly, celebrate those who helped. I am convinced that Europe is facing a similar moral moment – will we (like our Prime Minister) say we can’t help, we have to tackle the root cause (like saying, we can’t take any Jews, we’re busy fighting Hitler!). Will we, like the media (until today, see here, what a difference a day makes!) talk about the scroungers after our jobs and benefits, or will we stand up and do the right thing for these desperate people? No parent put’s their child in this danger – unless it’s the only chance to stay alive!
My word’s aren’t new, and they aren’t particularly eloquent, but when history looks back I want the world to know that I stood up, and in my own little voice, did what I could to demand that we do the right things.
David Cameron – I don’t want one more child to drown without me doing what I could to help! Find your heart, and act.
If you want to help – so that no more tragedies like this happen:
You can write to your MP here: http://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/248
You can sign a petition to encourage the government to accept more refugees here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991
And you can find different ways of donating, or volunteering here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/5-practical-ways-you-can-help-refugees-trying-to-find-safety-in-europe-10482902.html
If you live in Wigan, you can sign a petition to say we welcome refugees in Wigan here: https://www.change.org/p/rt-hon-david-cameron-mp-refugees-welcome-in-wigan-9063cb4a-ed58-4286-9f23-4cd890ddbd82?recruiter=378300276&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive
The other week a reading came up in the lectionary that I’m sure you’re all familiar with – Jesus calming the storm. In Mark’s Gospel it’s told like this:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked was other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
The first interesting point is how “out of character” this is for Jesus! I think that in the minds of many Christians Jesus is some sort of “superman”! (although they’d never word it like that!) But if you read the Gospels it’s simply not the case. Of course, Jesus did perform miracles, but the Gospel’s down play them. Jesus will often even ask those who had seen a miracle not to tell anyone else. Some miracles, such as the transfiguration or the raising of the twelve-year-old girl, he only allows his closest disciples to witness. If someone asked for healing, he always responded, but he always refused requests to demonstrate his powers and amaze the crowds.
As well as this, almost all of Jesus miracles are born out of compassion. He heals the sick, comforts the grieving by raising the dead and exorcises the demon possessed. Only a small number of his miracles are what theologians call “nature miracles” (e.g. walking on water, multiplying the loaves and the fish, changing the water into wine). If, like me, you believe the Jesus is God incarnate, the all-powerful creator of the universe and the one for whom and in whom all things exist, then what is truly remarkable about Jesus’ life is not his miracles, but his restraint!
In this light it’s worth seeing that when Jesus does perform these types of miracles (and healing and exorcisms for that matter) he’s not just pulling an impressive party trick. No, he’s very clever and wants to communicate an important message to his disciples, and to us.
Whenever I heard the storm of Jesus stilling the storm in church it’s normally followed by a sermon about how Jesus can still the storm’s in our own lives – that if we’re going through difficulties God can still bring peace. I agree with this (in fact I preached it myself during lent!). It’s an important point, and a true one.
But it is far from the only thing going on here.
Fewer will make the point that this shows Jesus is God – that he was the one who spoke the creation into being in the first place. I agree Jesus is God – but Moses parted the Red Sea and Elijah stopped it raining – but they weren’t God!
Instead, the point comes in understanding the implications that stilling the storm would have had for the people of the time.
Jesus stills the ‘waves’, or the ‘sea’ (another possible translation from the Greek). The sea in Jewish thought stood for the forces of darkness and chaos.
In Genesis 1 the sea is the primordial chaos that God orders into creation. The earth starts formless and void with darkness covering the face of the deep. Then the Spirit of God sweeps over the face of the waters. Then God brings his order to the chaos.
The sea is the home of the ancient sea monsters, called Leviathan (Ps 74:14; 74:13-14; Job 41:1-34) and Rahab (Ps 89:9-10; Isa 51:9-10). In the exodus Moses, or more accurately God, parts the sea so that the people of God can escape the evil of Pharaoh.
In the Old Testament God is praised because he is the master over the sea. In other words he is the master over the evil and chaos of the sea (Ps 95:5; Job 38:8-11; Ps 107:26-30).
In Daniel 7 the four great beasts, which represent the evil empires of the world, come out of the sea. This is the same language with John uses in the book of Revelation, chapter 13 and why, when John describes the final restored new heaven and new earth he tells us there is no longer any sea (Rev 21:1).
All this is the background when Jesus calms the sea. Jesus, in his actions, is telling the disciples that, not only can he control the weather, or bring calm to your life (although both those things are true), but that he is the one who can, and has, and will, defeat the forces of evil and chaos in our world.
The forces of evil in our world cannot last, because Jesus is King. He can still the storm and, as you read on in Mark’s Gospel, the forces of darkness can throw everything they’ve got at him, nailing him to the cross. But Jesus can control the storm, Jesus can conquer death.
The waves are stilled, the tomb is empty.
God bless you all,