John's gospel is full of people who got confused. Nicodemus hadn't a clue what Jesus meant by being 'born again.' Some Pharisees thought that Jesus might be going to kill himself. A formerly blind man didn't know whether Jesus was a sinner or not.
Confusion is a vital stage in our journey of faith. If Jesus hasn't confused you , maybe you don't know him very well.
As we saw last week, John's gospel isn't simple. This gospel spends 20 chapters circling around two ideas, that Jesus is God's Son and that he gives eternal life to all who believe in him.
Confused? Well there are two non-confused sort of reactions. The first is to reject the claims that John makes. Surely a human being cannot be God's Son? Surely all this stuff about eternal life is a pipe-dream? The second is to believe it at face value. Yes it must be true because the Bible says it is. I prefer the second reaction to the first, but I don't think it is the best we can do.
Let's think about Jesus as God's Son. John's gospel uses this idea as a shorthand for something much more complicated. That's why this book has a strange opening about the Word of God that is God and is with God. If that opening line doesn't confuse you I don't know what will. But please grasp this: John doesn't want to leave us confused. He wants us to look at a whole list of signs and pictures so we grasp as far as humanly possible who Jesus is.
This gospel tells us twice that Jesus is the Light of the World. He brings us from darkness to light. Our first reaction might be confusion, but that is only the start ....
"I like to keep things simple. Don't give me all this complicated theology."
I know. I sort of understand. It's just that people say that sometimes when they don't want to think.
"Can't I just be a simple Bible believing Christian?"
Yes you can, but that means that you have to take on trust the scholarly work of your Bible translator. And he or she may be wrong.
"But isn't the message of the Bible simple?"
Not really. Have you read what the Apostle Peter wrote about the letters of Paul?
"But what the Bible says about XXX is crystal clear, isn't it?"
OK, let me tell you why it's not quite that simple ....
Jesus' disciples thought that the feeding of the 5000 was simple. It meant that Jesus was the new king who was going to lead them to victory. I suggest you read John 6 all the way through sometime. It's a sad story in which those who wanted to keep things simple found their hopes dashed, got completely confused, took offence at Jesus and walked away. The miracle was great but the words of Jesus sounded ridiculous.
I believe in a God who is so wonderful that he is beyond human explanation. I hope you do too.
XXX - insert whatever you are debating at the moment.
I've never been on a cruise. People tell me they are great but I haven't yet been persuaded to try it. I do remember being on the boat from Calais to Dover when the water got a bit choppy. I thought the rocking motion of the boat was quite pleasant. Others were running to the toilet ...
Christian songwriters love writing about storms ... 'all through the storm your love is the anchor' .... 'God is the lighthouse who will lead us through the storm' ... 'Christ is firm through the fiercest drought and storm' ... 'when oceans rise my heart will rest in your embrace.' These songs testify to God's presence in the storm even when we are being thrown about. It doesn't feel like it at the time but believers have long testified that it is true.
In John's gospel Jesus appears walking on the sea. He says 'It's me. Don't be afraid.' The disciples are more scared of Jesus than they are of the storm. But he's there and they eagerly take him into the boat.
The words 'it's me' could also be translated as 'I am' or 'I am real.'
I pray that you will find Jesus in an unexpected place today. Maybe you will find that he is real in the least likely place.
The book of Proverbs is wonderfully down to earth.
Like one who takes away someone's clothes on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Proverbs 25:20)
There's also warning that it is not a good idea to speak loudly first thing in the morning and another that it's not good to trick someone and then say you were only joking. As a morning person I find the first of those a challenge.
Proverbs has a lot to say about angry people. Rescue an angry person and you'll probably have to do it again. It's better to be long tempered than to be a warrior. There are several warnings about breaking confidences.
I guess peacemaking is about lots of small decisions.
I guess wisdom is about lots of small decisions.
It's about how I speak to the people I live with, how I am with my neighbours, what I do at work, how I treat those who are 'different' to me.
It's about giving good feedback and receiving bad feedback well.
It's about speaking directly but gently.
See if you can make some wise choices today. They may make more difference than you could imagine.
Some of us are prone to overwork. We work so hard that we might achieve more if we slowed down a bit.
If that's you, you don't need to read on. Please come back for next week's blog.
For the rest of us, the book of Proverbs has a lot to say about laziness. Some of the one-liners are there to make us laugh as well as think:
The door turns on its hinge; the lazy person turns on his bed.' (Proverbs 26:14).
My favourite is Proverbs 22:13:
The lazy person says, "There's a lion outside. I'll be killed if I go out."
Have you heard about the person who was so lazy they put their hand in the bowl but couldn't bring it back to his mouth?*
Here's Proverbs 18:9, which may get you thinking:
The one who is slack in his work is the brother of one who destroys.
Just in case there are people still reading after I told them not to, there is a verse in the Psalms about people who get up early and work until they go to bed late. People like that really do need to learn that sleep is a gift from God too.
Hope to see you Sunday.
* Proverbs 19:24
Suppose God cares ... about the hungry bring fed ... about the state of the environment ... about fair trade ... about our safety ... about racial justice ... about honesty ... about poverty ... about domestic violence ... about prejudice ... about greed ...
Be sure of this: the wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free. (Proverbs 11:21, NIV.)
The book of Proverbs* calls us to an unflappable optimism, that there is everything to gain if we try to please God. It's always worth pushing through to build a relationship with God. It's good to care about the things he cares about. It gets results.
The desire of the righteous ends only in good. (Proverbs 11:23, NIV.)
I think there is a couple of challenges here. The first is to line up with the optimism when it's easy to be cynical and to get tired of doing good. The second is to work out God's priorities.
The first verse of Proverbs 11 says that God hates dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favour with him. So there's one of God's priorities: don't cheat. Honesty is not just the best policy; it's the way to God's heart.
More on Sunday ...
* It's the 20th book of the Bible.
The Book of Proverbs has some good advice for people who want to look wise.
Here it is ...
Sometimes it's best to hold your tongue, or at least to wait a bit before you say anything.
Here's some wise advice from the book of Proverbs:
* if you speak before you listen it's your stupidity
* it's better to keep your cool and hold back your words
* if you guard your words you preserve your life
* a stupid person expresses all their feelings; the wise person holds back
Like all proverbs you can take this too far. A word correctly spoken is like a golden apricot in a silver setting. I'm not quite sure what that means, but it sounds good.
Let's practice wisdom this week. Try holding back your words a little. Check you've understood before you speak. Keep quiet until your anger dies down. Ask for time to think if you need it.
You may find it takes you closer to God.
Anyone fancy a driverless car?
I'm told that with new technology they will be safer than today's cars. I'd like to believe that.
My problem is that today's technology sometimes gets it wrong. From time to time my satnav sends me the wrong way up a one way street or down a barely passable dirt track. Rarely, but enough that I know that I need to keep my brain awake. Then there's that series of mini-roundabouts in Swindon which come so fast that my satnav can't keep up.
Most of the time I trust the satnav. Sometimes I overrule what it says and then plunge into a traffic jam. But I wouldn't trust it to navigate a driverless car. I guess the day will come when I do.
Proverbs 3 tells us to trust in the Lord and he will direct our paths. We are not driverless cars; we are told to listen to the heavenly satnav.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV)
Sounds good, doesn't it?
Proverbs 3 says that trust in the Lord is about love and faithfulness. It's about binding them to ourselves so they become part of us. Hold on to love. Hold on to faithfulness. This is God's character. This is the direction of the heavenly satnav.
If you'd like some more practical instructions ... do good to people ... don't put it off if you can do it now ... don't plot harm against people ... don't make false accusations ... don't be envious ... don't be violent. This is what trust in the Lord looks like in practice. Every time we do these things we are trusting in him. We are letting him lead us. This is the route to intimacy with God.
Some cars drive past our church at ridiculous speeds. If it's you, please stop.
I'd like to say that I am talking about skilful drivers but a couple of recent accidents suggest otherwise.
If I could, I'd like to give these people just a little bit of fear, not enough to stop them from driving, just enough to persuade them to drive a bit more carefully.
The ancient scriptures say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Without a healthy fear of God we will be like the people who career down Mills Hill Road. There's a lot more to wisdom than fear, but fear is the healthy starting point.
The Bible is full of frightening stories: terror at an empty tomb, someone hiding his face because he was afraid to look at God, someone else talking gibberish because he was so frightened. The list of examples seems almost endless. These people move quickly through the fear but they are changed in the process. They learn to listen to God. They become wiser.
The book of Proverbs tells us to search for wisdom so that we will understand the fear of the Lord. This means that we focus on Jesus Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The one who delighted in the fear of the Lord.
More on Sunday ....
I heard about a church whose new building project was about to be opened by a member of the royal family. The minister of the church thought it was great, as it seemed that everyone in the church was inspired to take action. The building was cleaned. Weeds were removed. Rooms were painted. Minor repairs that had been waiting for years suddenly mattered. There's an old joke that the Queen thinks every building in the land smells of paint, because they are all redecorated just before she arrives.
Two thousand years ago, baptism was something like that. The King is coming. Get cleaned up. Show that you meet his standards. Prepare the way for the Lord. Give him a clear road.
The royal in our story did not stop at the shower room and say she needed to be cleaned up. We'd be astonished if she did. Get that picture in your head and you'll see why John was astonished. Jesus had come to be baptised. It didn't make sense. Jesus doesn't explain himself; he politely tells John that it is right to go ahead.
And when he does ... the Spirit comes down upon him, and a voice from heaven tells him that he is God's beloved son. God is pleased with him.
This Sunday we will celebrate the baptism of a believer. We pray that as people are baptised God will fill them with his Spirit, that they will know that they are God's deeply-loved children. There's no better place to be than that. Yes we do need to be cleaned up. we do need to think about the way we live. But the great news today is that God welcomes us as he welcomes Jesus.
We are his children and we are deeply loved. Like Jesus is.