Monthly Archives: October 2009

Blood Heals Sin

A law that I am reluctant to introduce on a Sunday when so many are here for the first time, that might confirm in you the thought that religion is for a bunch of morose, hyper-moralistic, fun-hating hypocrites

Is this

Blood heals sin.

Blood heals sin.

I want to take us through four Biblical scenes where this is at work.

Scene I – The Garden

The first goes back to the earliest ever sin, you know the story, the story of Adam and Eve who took from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil the garden of Eden

You don’t need to know the story, but you know that the story begins with Adam and Eve naked

And after taking the fruit of the tree they are ashamed, they are embarrassed.

This is about the fear we have of the damage that we can do to each other

The way that we can laugh at each other

Adam and Eve have no clothes because they trust each other,

And when the trust goes, they are embarrassed.

You see this in the development of young children

Very young children are happy to prance around in public without clothes, and are also quite trusting of strangers.

I don’t want to embarrass any of our children, but we have one child who is very happy to run away in supermarkets, and that child is very happy indeed to take all her clothes off in public beaches, and no doubt other places given the chance.

There is a link between being wary of other people and of our shame

And we have another child who will hold our hands in the supermarket

Who always insists that the car is locked when you go to pay for petrol

And that child will always insist on getting changed behind a bush or a sand dune whenever you are at the beach.

Because they have sinned, there is now a chasm between them

They are afraid.

And they have covered themselves in fig leaves.

But this is not enough.

They are still blaming each other.

God comes and says to the man – did you eat the fruit of the tree

And the man says “Yes” – no the man does not, the  man does what men do well, he blames the woman

“The woman whom you gave me took it and I ate”

And there is this war, this fear between them

And what God does is takes skins, from the first ever death

And these clothes deal with the animosity that has come through sin, partially at least the law is at work

Blood heals sin.

Scene II – The Desert

The people of God, the Israelites, have escaped from Egypt,

And they are about to start a new community in the desert – forty years in the desert, and then the promised land.

And in any community there is going to be sin

There is going to be jealousy, there is going to be gossip, there is going to be violence

There is going to be betrayal,

And what is going to be done with that poison that can wreck a community.

There is going to be a day, when this gets dealt with

In Hebrews the day is called Yom Kippur

In English, the Day of Atonement, or the Day of Wiping Away.

Once a year, the priest will take a bull

And you will take a ram

And you will take two goats

And some of that blood he has to sprinkle on himself

And some of the blood is for the people and all the things they have done

And the goat and the ram and the bull you will take and you will kill them

And the remaining goat

That goat  you will say all the sins of the people above it’s head,

And then you will send the goat into the desert

And that goat will be called a scapegoat.

And although we say this is an ancient practice

We still do this thing

Where sin deserves some kind of making right, some kind of retribution

It is not enough to sweep the thing under the carpet,

Even if someone who has done something terrible, and genuinely has remorse

There is something wrong if you simply say, “Well you seem to have changed

And it’s not like the punishment can take away the wrong,

But not to punish makes it even worse.

Blood heals sin

Or put another way, the only cure for sin is death.

Not just the public sins, but the ones that no one knows about

Not just the major sins, but also the small ones as well – every sin goes onto the head of the ram, the bull, the goat

When Al-Megrahi was released a couple of months ago, this law was at work, or rather being violated

Because people felt that if someone has been convicted of a crime, you can’t just let it go

The moral law of the universe demands a punishment.

And onto the head of the scapegoat.

What we do as society, is we like to find some really evil people

And blame them for all our problems, or round on them.

We did with Jade Goody, after celebrity Big Brother

We did it with the murderers of Baby P

We did with Nick Griffin,

And these people we want to crucify to cause maximum pain to

Because somehow it will make us better if they can be the ones who take the blame

For neglect of children

For racism

Or whatever other sins befall us.

Some how in some sort of twisted way, we are applying the law that says “Blood heals sin”

But the book of Hebrews also says this

The effect of all the punishment and all the scapegoating is only partial

We can hate Nick Griffin, but Britain will still be a racist country

And we can punish Al-Megrahi but it does not deal with the pain of the Lockerbie families

And we can send to prison the parents of Baby P and we can hound from office the head of the Social Work department who was suppose to look after her

But it does not bring that child back

And it does not make us a society better at looking after children.

Blood heals sin

Scene III – Outside The City

The third scene happens when a new Scapegoat is driven out of the city

Out of the city of Jerusalem

And this scapegoat is also sacrificed on a cross.

It is the death of Jesus.

And the writers of the New Testament say, you can’t understand this moment unless you remember the law “Blood heals sin”

That somehow his death, unjust of a just man, hatred visited on someone who only ever loved, violence upon a man who was gentle, human failure on the perfection of God,

This death heals all sin.

26 Jesus, then, is the High Priest that meets our needs. He is holy; he has no fault or sin in him; he has been set apart from sinners and raised above the heavens. 27* He is not like other high priests; he does not need to offer sacrifices every day for his own sins first and then for the sins of the people. He offered one sacrifice, once and for all, when he offered himself. [1]

His Death heals all sin

Scene IV – Throne Of Heaven

The fourth scene is in heaven, and it also comes from this passage in Hebrews.

23 There is another difference: there were many of those other priests, because they died and could not continue their work. 24 But Jesus lives on forever, and his work as priest does not pass on to someone else. 25 And so he is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through him, because he lives forever to plead with God for them.

Jesus represents us to God

It is what he does now.

The Union Rep Who is also the boss’s son

Those of you who know the business of being  a Union Rep

Of representing employees, not so much who have done nothing wrong

But have done stupid things, and now they need a way out,

Which isn’t about getting what they deserve

But receiving compassion.

This is what Jesus is doing for us

He is the boss’s son, whose job is to look after us

Plead our case

Make it well for us

Communion

What we celebrate a communion is this, that Jesus gave his blood once and for all,

So that the punishment the death that was for our sin, was taken away

It is the death that heals.

This is the blood that is remembered in the cup,

This is the broken body remembered in the bread

This is the body and blood of Jesus, who died

As the sacrifice that dealt with our sin

Do you worry about your sins, do you have guilt that hangs around you,

Do you get bothered that your failings are repeated again and again, then let the blood of Jesus take these things away.

During the second world war.

When people gave blood for the use of the troops at the front, there was kind of odd thing that the name of the person who gave the blood was written on the bag,

So that when the bag reached the front, a soldier might know the name of the person whose blood had saved them.

The medics would scout around the battlefield during and after the battle

And they would find injured soldiers allied and sometimes German and they would give them this blood.

What American medics used to do

I don’t know if the British did this.

Was that they used to keep separate the blood that had come from Jewish donors.

And they would save that for the Germans.

It was a kind of irony – the people you hate, you cannot stand, are now saving you.

Occasionally you would get a Fanatical German soldier who was a Nazi, I guess often in the SS, and they would realise that this was going on, and they would protest, they would refuse to take the blood of a jew.

All because of a stupid pride, they wouldn’t accept the blood that would save them,

What the medics would do then was wait until the guy passed out, then give him the blood anyway.

There is a blood of a Jewish man which saves us all,

And we have to let down our pride and let this man be the one that saves us.

This is what we remember in this meal

A Jewish man, our high priest, died, took this law on that says stupidity sin deserves death

And died our death

That we might live.

The law of punishment and death has still been kept

But we are still alive, because of the priest who died to take away our sins.

AMEN


* 7:27: Lev 9:7.

[1]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

If you follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do.

If we are God’s creatures, it is in the first place because, like him, we exist (or should exist) purely for the pleasure of it.

There is good evidence, one is gratified to report, that the New Testament considers the family largely a waste of time.

Self-authorship is the bourgeois fantasy, par excellence.

… God has created us in his own image and likeness, since he himself is pure liberty. It follows that he is also the ground of our ability to reject him – which is to say that in a splendidly big-hearted gesture, he is the source of atheism as well as faith.

It was Christianity, not the French intelligensia, which invented the concept of everyday life.

From the viewpoint of Jewish tradition, a murdered Messiah is as much an outrageous anomaly or contradiction in terms as the sentence, ‘Ditchkins then humbly allowed that there was something to be said for the other side.

His (Jesus’) mission is to accept men and women’s frailty, not rub their noses in it.

The New Testament is a brutal destroyer of human illusions. If you follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do. The stark signifier of the human condition is one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.

There are rationalist myths as well as religious ones. Indeed many secular myths are de-gutted versions of sacred ones.

Jesus is remarkably laid back about sexuality, unlike those millions of his followers who can hardly think of anything else, and have that much in common with the pornographers they run out of town. In fact there is hardly anything about sexuality in the New Testament, which is no doubt one reason why the work is not taught in cultural studies courses.

Justice is thicker than blood.

One of the reasons Christianity has proved intuitively attractive to many people is that it places love at the centre of its vision of the world…. that love is the focal point of history…  (that) has a convincing enough ring about it in one sense. In another sense,  – however, it is a hard recognition – partly because in reality love is so palpably not the focal point of history, and partly because we live in an age in which it (love) has been effectively privatised, which is no doubt one reason among many why the Christian faith makes no sense to a great many men and women.

Left wing Christians are in dire need of dating agencies.

… critics of the most enduring form of popular cluture in human history have a moral obligation to confront the case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledegook.

The difference between science and theology, as i understand it, is one over whether you see the world as a gift or not.

Christian faith, as i understand it, is not primarily a matter of signing on for the proposition that there exists a Supreme Being, but the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love. The trouble with the Dawkinses of this world, however, is that they do not find themselves in a frightful situation at all (unless, like myself, one counts Oxford High Table in that category)…

The extraordinary surge of New Age religion… offers a refuge from the world, not a mission to transform it…. it does not understand that we could live spiritually in any authentic sense of the word only if we were to change materially.

Fundamentalism is otherworldly in the sense that its values spring from an earlier epoch of capitalism (industrial production), not just because it dreams of pie in the sky. It is less the sigh of the oppressed creature than the ousted one. Fundamentalists are for the most part those whom capitalism has left behind. It has broken faith with them, as it will break faith with anyone and anything that no longer yeilds a profit.

Christianity believes that a great deal of human wickedness is historically caused, and can be tackled by political action.

Christian faith is absurdly, outrageously more hopeful than liberal rationalism.

An atheist who has more than a primitive (one might say Satanic) understanding of theology is as rare as an American who has not been abducted by aliens.

Dennett defines religions as ‘social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought’ which as far as Christianity goes is like beginning the history of a potato by defining it as a rare species of rattlesnake.

… commits the Ditchkins-like blunder of believing religion is a botched attempt to explain the world, which is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.

Unanswered Prayer – God’s Will

We shall come one day to a heaven where we shall gratefully know that God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answers to our truest prayers- P.T. Forsythe in The Soul Of Prayer page 164

Sometimes we have to admit that God really does know the best for our livfes. Annie reminds me that God is, by definition, bigger than my understaning and desires.  He is big enough to think up the entire univferse whle maintaining personal knowledge of more than six billion people simultaneously.  This is a very serious level of multitasking.  Every second, five babies are born into the world, and God is there tracking each choice they will make every second of every day of their lives.  In that same second two people will die, and we believe that He knows them too.  page 168

I’ve got a theory that this is why the wives of so many world leaders get into astrology and all sort os weird New Age stuff.  Maybe it’s just bethe media, but many intelligetn , powerful and otherwise rational women have been discoveed consulting the startos or clutching crystals or tracing th enrgy lines of their governmental abode. 

My theory is this:  These women are terrorised, subconsciously, by the notion that world peace lies in the hands of a many who can’t remmeber the neame of the cat and pases wind in his sleep.  Their own sense of security necessitates the belief that there is a higher intelligence puling the strings of power than that of the man struggling to put together flat-pack furniture from IKEA in the garage. page 168-169

Reason For Unanswered Prayer – God wants the best for us

God withholds answers to prayer because he wants his best for us

Tells the story of his friend Matt who had to wait ages for a job, and the frustration and debt that that caused.  But also, when he got the job his wife said “BUt the children are really going to miss having Matt around.”  Perhaps the will of God was for Matt to be at home with his children.

Reasons For Unanswered Prayer – Our Motivation Is Wrong

Tells story of James O. Fraser who had to wait for years for a breakthrough due to his work in China.  During that time, he learned that “Unanswered prayers have taught me to seek the Lord’s will instead of my own.”

James 4:13 – You have not received because you have not asked for the right reasons

Reasons For Unanswered Prayer – God’s Will is Relationship

An Old Hasidic Story

There is a king who has two sons.  Each of them comes to receive his gift from the royal table.  The first son appears at his father’s doorway and as soon as he is seen, his request is granted.  The father holds this son in low esteeem, and is annoyed by his presence.  The king orders that the gifts be handed to his son at the door so that he wil not approach the table.  Then the king’s beloved son appears. The Father takes great pleasure in this son’s arrival and does not want him to leave too quickly.  For this reason, the king delays granting his request, hoping that the son will then draw near to him. The son comes closer, he feels the father’s love so deeply that he does not hesitate to stretch forth his own hand to the royal table.

It is important that we abide in him – John 15

Experience testifies that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship but troubles rouse our spirits, and constrain us to call upon the Lord in good earnest, when we feel a need of that help which we only can have from him. John Newton

The outer need kindles the inner, and we find that the complete answer to prayer is the Answerer. P.T. Forsyth

When we decide that we want Him more than we want his stuff – the most amazing things happen – page 176

God’s will versus Free will

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free will involves, and you find that you have excluded life itself.

C.S. Lewis – page 178

God could, be definition, enforce His agenda but he has chosen instead to allow his creatures ‘the dignity of causality’ (Blaise Pascal)

– page 180

Earth-shattering sin came into the world through that simple choice of our forefathers and as we have seen, it took another simple yet cataclysmic choice – this time from Jesus, praying, ‘not my will but yours’ – to bring about salvation.  And how do we enter into that salvation today?  By making our own simple choice to believe!  We stand between two trees.  In the Garden of Eden grows the tree of aspiration and acquisition that promises knowledge yet produces death.  And in the Garden of Gethsemane grows the tree of self-sacrifice that promises death yet produces life.  No one will suicidally eat the fruit that promises death unless first they trust that the one who says ‘ when you eat of it you will surely die’ (Gen 2:17) is also ‘the resurrection and the life,’ –


Stopping Children Driving You Apart

6. Recognises how physically shattered many womer are with the sheer effort of looking after a small baby.

7. If sex is not top of the agenda for a while, make sure this is not confused with rejection, and try to show intimacy in other ways.

8. Don’t lose touch with your friends.

9. Don’t refuse to let anyone else look after your child for a few hours.  Some parents wouldn’t allow Mary Poppins to baby-sit.

10. As the child grows, keep a ssense of moderation in terms of the activities your child is involved in.


The Illusions Of Marriage

Illusion Number Two – Life Would Be So Different With Another Person

James Dobson “The other man’s grass might be greener – but it still needs mowing.”

Illusion Number Three – Real Love Is Just A Feeling

It is impossible for love to be sustained by feelings alone.  Every marriage goes thorugh a time when at least on of the partners does not feel in love.  At such a time very thing screams out , “Let’s go, it’s over” But if we do let go the first time that happnes, we will never find a love that lasts.

 

Bono – God is under the rubble

This is Bono, I think about three-four years ago (the Vertigo tour is mentioned at one point).  He talks about Jesus inaugurating the era of grace, and then these words:

God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill, I hope so

He may well be with us in all manner of controversial stuff, maybe, maybe not,

But the one thing that we can all agree, all faiths, all ideologies

Is that God is with the vulnerable and the poor,

God is in the slums and the cardboard boxes where the poor play house

God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives

God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war

God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives

And God is with us

If we are with them.



Happy Birthday

Dreading the hours of uncertainty, I left the hospital and ended up, as if in some parallel reality, sitting in a TGI Friday’s restaurant.  There I waited for the surgeon;s call and watched waitresses serving people ice cream sundaes and cocktails with glittery umbrellas.  There was Saturday afternoon football on the television and, at regular intervals, a gaggle of waitresses would erupt from the kitchen crarrying a cake covered in sparklers to sing ‘ Happy Brithday’ to a weid-0eyed child or a mortified teenager.

This, I concluded, is the absurd world we leave behind when we die.  It’s not like the movies where people die magnificently at the opera, or in a high-sopeed car-chgase or even with a particularly profound last word on their lips.  Instead, on my final day, checkout girls will still be swiping groceries, bleeping in time with the osptial monitos on the other side of town and someone, somewhere, will probably be blowing out candles on a cake in TGI Friday’s.

At last, the call came through from the hospital.  It was a man with an Irish accent: ‘Hello? Mr. Greig?”  Ag girl walked past carrying a strawberry daiquiri and side of ribs.

‘Yes,’ I said, rising inexplicably to attention, ‘This is me’

‘Are you doing okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes, not too bad, thanks‘ I lied.  In the background the waiters were beginning to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’

‘Samantha’s come through the procedure very well.  There was enormous pressure in her skill, but you’ll be galad to hear that we got th tumour out.’

‘She seems,’ the surgeon continued, ‘to have full mobility, but it’ll be a while before w know if her speech is intact.’

I sat down, realising that I hadn’t breathed since the start of the call.’  But she’s definitely … erm .. alive?’ I spluttered, wishing I knew a more medical way of asking the ultimate question.

‘Oh yes,’ came the voice, ‘Your wife’s going to be just fine.’

‘Thank you,’ I said.  ‘Thank you.’  Waves of relief and gratitude were sweeping around the room.  The place was buzzing and swirling like a candy-striped fairground.  ‘Thank you, Mr. Gray.’

‘Goodbye, Mr. Greig.’

The call had taken almost exactly as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’

Honest Lament

Long before Gethsemane, Jesus Himself had pronounced those who mourn blessed (Matt 5:4) ‘Implicit in this statement’, notes Walter Brueggemann, ‘is that those who do not mourn will not be comforted and those who do not face the endings will not receive the beginnings.’  Honest lament can express a vibrant faith; one that has learned to embrace life’s hardships as well as its joy and to lift everything – everything – to the Father in prayer.  As the author Richard Foster says of the Lament Psalms ‘They give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into lament the next.”

To pray is to confess not the abundance, but the exhaustion of one’s verbal, intellectual, and spiritual resources.  It is surrender… – Alan Lewis

(page 102-103)

Discernment

As we all know, it can be incredibly difficult to discern what God wants in any given situation.  Embarrassingly, I would probably have prayed passionately against the plot to crucify Jesus. (page 118)

Glorifying Those Who Suffer

We are quick to describe such people as heroic. We consider them deep.  We frequently declare them saints simply for having suffered.  Our subconscious motive in doing this is, perhaps to, distance ourselves from the dreadful possibility that it really could be us in that wheelchair, or caught by that tsunami, or in danger of losing that baby.  Of course, many saints do suffer, but in my experience there is nothing glorious – and far less that is glamorous – in the soul’s response to profound trauma.  Lying half-naked and vomiting with fear in an MRI scanner does not automatically grant you a hotline to heaven. (page 44)