Vicar's Thoughts

Pentecost 2018

20 May 2018

I am constantly fascinated by the use of language in scripture: meaning and the interpretation of meaning. I confess, therefore, I find it really hard to understand why people seem to think you can take scripture absolutely literally. Just take the words off the page as it has been written – and, more importantly in the case of English – translated.

There is no question that we need to interpret scripture. It is clear in the record of the meeting of the two disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection that Jesus interpreted scripture for them. The scripture he interpreted was of course what we understand as our Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures. He explained what some passages really meant. To the people alongside him, they meant one thing. They still meant that one thing – but now, with an act of revelation producing clarity, they meant another thing also. The words and meaning remain the same – just the perspective changes and with it humanity’s comprehension; awareness of a greater truth grows.

So it is with the passage in the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles when it tells us about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I do not for one moment profess to be a scholar of ancient Greek. My ability in this area is very limited. But a simple look at individual words and a good dictionary provides for some really interesting developments. The words talk about tongues of fire or flames upon the heads of the Disciples. However, nowhere in the original Greek does it say that tongues of actual fire dance around their heads as they wait in that room at Pentecost.

The writer can only describe the event as a kind of fire sitting with or upon the disciples.  The word ‘sit’ being taken perhaps to mean abide, or dwell. Just as you can say that such and such a characteristic sits well with this or that person. And can’t we also say that this person was on fire as he or she addressed the meeting, or such-and-such a sportsman was on fire in the semi-final? Or – as the two disciples say to each other after having met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus – did our hearts not burn within us as he explained things?

One can of course, absolutely accept that tongues of flame rested upon each one of the disciples as they waited there in that room on the day of Pentecost. I am really not saying otherwise. Two thousand years of Christian history tells us that people can accept that interpretation and their whole lives can be lifted, transformed by accepting this. Human society has benefited from such transformation. So also today we can absolutely accept that; embrace God - and God’s loving embrace of us - through that self-same Holy Spirit, and move forward in our faith.

Often that simple acceptance – and I don’t mean simple in any negative way – is absolutely the most helpful way of getting on with our Christian lives. Often it’s the only right response.

However, for me in this passage, I find it more helpful to think about that idea of revelation, and inner comprehension; a deeper understanding, a re-imagining of scripture – a dawning of the truth of Christ in its whole mystery and majesty came upon those people. The word inspiration comes precisely from the idea of God’s Spirit inspiring us humans. Inspire coming from the Latin Inspiro breathing in. Understanding, comprehension, revelation.

And, we should remember, the expression that follows: that all those other people from other parts of the Ancient Near East – understood in their own languages. Understood in their own languages. Suddenly comprehended we might say.

For me, what happened on that day in that room to those disciples was, essentially a conversion experience. The fire of the mysterious Holy Spirit swept through the room. The penny drops. No less sent by the risen ascended Jesus, no less a phenomenal gift from heaven by God, no less the Spirit coming among us. And no less a mystery and a miracle that such a great gust of comprehension should sweep through all those people at exactly the same time. No less worthy of our need to give God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit - thanks and praise for all the grace and mercy and love shown us… we undeserving human beings… through such events. Thanks be to God. Amen

The Resurrection

15 April 2018

The resurrection - unbelievable? True? Let’s look at a few books, briefly.

First: The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? By FF Bruce. In this book we learn that there are literally thousands of virtually contemporary manuscripts of the Gospels and the other New Testament documents extant; many of them dating way back to almost the moment that the original was composed. The Gospel according to Mark going back to about 30 years after the Passion, while St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians dating back to just 18 years after it. Bruce compares this fact with other great works of classical antiquity written around the same time – and taken as authentic and reliable by scholars. For example Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which only around ten are considered to be ‘good’ and the oldest example dates back only to around 900 years after it was originally composed. Then there’s Livy’s Roman History; 35 examples - only one of which goes back as far as the fourth century.

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Easter 2018

25 March 2018

Jesus on the cross asks his Father to forgive us. Forgive what? Our inability, as humankind, to understand that the things we choose to do might hurt others. And hurt ourselves. Our inability to understand that, when others are hurt, we are damaged ourselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls it Ubuntu. What diminishes you diminishes me. Humankind is unable to understand that to a greater or lesser extent... we are all victims. Victims of the world we inhabit; the society and communities and peer groups to which we belong.

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The Wedding at Cana

21 January 2018

Most people will have heard of the Wedding at Cana, even if they aren't religious. It's the event recorded in the Gospels of when Jesus turns water into wine.

As it happens, the Wedding at Cana has traditionally been read aloud in churches at this time of year, in the Epiphany season, since the early days of the Christian Church. It was the Medieval Church that changed the emphasis to focus almost exclusively on the Magi/Wise Men/Kings. They being important to the history of the world as the first non-Hebrew people to be shown (i.e. the rest of humankind), and to understand, the truth of God's coming to dwell among us.

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Christmas Message 2017

December 2017

One thing perhaps we miss in the busyness of Christmas is something that happened in Bethlehem all those years ago: two people in need; weary, anxious, alone among strangers found a safe place. It wasn't much. Just a stable. But it was a roof, a shelter from the elements, and a place of welcome and rest.

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Comedy and Christianity

8 October 2017

(Written by Revd Martin Booth, this article first appeared in the Rochester Link Newspaper, October 2017, and is their copyright.)

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Prayer 2017

1 June 2017

We are currently in the Novena, those nine days of prayer to which the Archbishops have called us to from Ascension to Pentecost. And, we are engaged at St Mary’s on a number of initiatives related to this.

Prayer is very much a time where we talk to God and say sorry... seek to change... Ask for things... worry about things... tell God we’re frightened... lonely…

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Mary Magdalen - Easter 2017

2 April 2017

Mary Magdalene has a crucial role as witness to us about the Easter Miracle. She has been called 'The Apostle to the Apostles'. For it was she who first encountered the empty tomb. It was she who ran to find Peter and John to tell them. It was she who had the first encounter with the risen Christ. It is she we can use as a model for our own journey of faith and our own encounter with the living Christ.

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A Lenten Reflection

18 March 2017

Jesus is standing, even now, as he did before Pilate and Herod,
silent before the secular rulers of the world.
Jesus stands, silent, before the self-righteous religious people.
Those religious people who are so wrapped up in their own ways
and their own version of the Truth.

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Come and See

16 January 2017

‘Come and See.’ Such a simple phrase, and yet one of the most profound in all of scripture. This is God – the creator, the one in whom we all live move and have our being, extending to us a great and gracious invitation. Come and see…

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