Matthew 11

#nofilter

Jesus is hard to understand because we have so many filters. That’s why children find it easier.

I think of this chapter as about the filters, and Jesus showing us how great love, grace and relationships are designed to be when the filters are stripped away.

Because God is relational. 3 in one. Here it’s like Jesus is constantly texting the father.

John the Baptist gets wind of Jesus’ ministry in prison. His disciples ask Jesus if he’s it, is there something else?

No hint of motives. Was John gently directing his disciples towards Jesus’? Was he disappointed? Was Jesus more low-key than he expected?

No hint either of whether John was satisfied by the answer. It makes no difference because Jesus knows what he is doing. He simply announces what has been described an extra beatitude:

Blessed are those who are not offended by me

John is the last and greatest prophet, but that way of knowing God is a filter. The commentary said it’s like the brightest night is still darker than the dullest day. With Jesus, a new day has come.

And Jesus let’s fly at those who try to build their own comprehension to suit themselves, on top of partial revelation. He calls it a violent raid on the kingdom of God.

When fuller revelation and understanding is freely available, religious practices and other theories of knowledge can perversely operate to obscure God.

I think.. it’s a tricky passage!

Jesus comments on the spin people put on him and John… That John was too hard and critical and Jesus is too lush and compromised by mixing with corrupt people. Watch this space, he says: “wisdom is proved right by its deeds”.

He gets really angry about the towns, including his home that saw lot of miracles but were indifferent.

That’s when he does a check-in with the father in prayer, and mollifies his anger by rejoicing at what a leveller god’s love is.

Some of the simplest people get it from the smallest hint, and some of the most sophisticated struggle to grasp it when it’s right under their noses. And that’s how God likes it to be. You’ve got to strip away the baggage and unlearn.

He talks about the open and filter-free relationship he has with the father. And then he invites us in.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

v 28-30

His anger with the indifferent towns is ultimately the frustration of compassion for them. The way of struggle and complexity, of reaching forward in the dark like the prophets, or following leaders who are as blind as you are, they are gone. We can come direct to Jesus. The “message” translation called it the unforced rhythms of grace.

There is work to be done, sure, but relatively Jesus’ work it’s like rest from the struggle of not knowing Jesus.

His claims are astonishing. If you want to regard him simply as a great teacher, he is preposterously arrogant. He claims to be gentle and lowly of heart, …and able to choose who will know God.

It only works if he is God. If so, yes, God is humble, gentle, inviting us in, freely sacrificing himself so we know simple, abundant love.

All kind of sad and wintry here. I applied for some jobs yesterday. Its all in God’s hands.

Matthew 4

The indigenous church within our church has gone digital with COVID, and has input from across Australia. We have wonderful free ranging discussions. Last week was on shame and honour.

Theirs is a shame and honour culture, morality is understood in relational rather than absolute and individualistic terms, such as guilt or righteousness.

In passing the pastor, uncle Ray, mentioned the white addictions: wealth, power and control. It was a fair cop, he was also being very open about the way shame culture can do a lot of damage within his community.

Jesus is tempted in this chapter with his God qualities after 40 days of starving his human body.

“Why? Why?” says the devil. “Make all the food you want! Throw yourself off a tower and watch the angels catch you. Rule the world”. Wealth, power and control.

I’m trying to stay calm, but on some level fear and sadness have gripped me as, months after being made redundant my income has actually finally reduced by half this pay cycle. At the end of July, it’s down to zero.

After this temptation Jesus starts public preaching and healing. He gets fame. People with needs come for healing, plus those with spiritual longing, presumably, to hear his “good news” of the kingdom of God.

Giving him a listen, taking advantage of the medical element, is a fairly low commitment, high potential benefit transaction for the crowds who come.

But between Jesus’ extraordinary voluntary commitment to his human condition and mission, and his initial surge of popularity we have the calling of the disciples.

Matthew makes almost no record of why they found Jesus so attractive. He said “I’ll make you fishers of men” and the just drop everything and follow.

I doubt it would have been enough for me. To end my addiction to my feeble portions of wealth, power and control.

But that is where I feel called and challenged now. To let go. To follow.

Going away this weekend. With a couple of friends. Myself and Kelly quite stressed. Hope it is relaxing.

Hope I have some time for mediation and contemplation.

Ezekiel 28

More about Tyre, into the third chapter, keeping with the tone of poignancy about how magnificent their civilisation was.

It’s beautiful poetry of regret over their arrogance.

God’s blessing on Tyre is emphasised with a vision blending heaven and Eden. A blessed creation, surrounded by glittering jewels, walking among God’s fiery stones, a guardian cherub.

This is the opposite of the malicious glee over the downfall of Jerusalem that they are judged for, this is deep lament. Jesus would say “love your enemies”.

God sees their eternal value in a way that they themselves, blinded by the arrogance of their own success, cannot.

There is also a judgment against Sidon, the neighbouring state of tyre.

I just read up on the history of it. Embarrassingly a few entries ago I said it was lost and gone. Well, not quite, it’s the fifth largest city in Lebanon.

It’s been quite a cultural centre, but struggling these days with a massive influx of refugees. There is a lot of poverty.

There was an island and a thriving mainland part of the city. The 13 year Babylonian siege pretty much obliterated the mainland part, ushu. The island withheld the siege. This was a sense in which this prophesy was fulfilled.

The special place in god’s heart may also be a reference to their prosperity in alliance with David and Solomon, Israel’s golden period. The king was close, the temple was constructed of building materials from Tyre.

There was reference to a religious fire ceremony focused on the king, which seems to be referenced here, when God talks about the sadness of expelling them from among the fiery stones for their arrogance, similar to Adam being expelled from Eden. It seems in this poem that God accepted this worship on some level, this expression of spirituality.

I’m reminded of the varying attitudes of churches to Australian aboriginal smoking ceremonies. It’s sometimes veiwed as evil because it’s from a non Christian religion. But a wise aboriginal pastor I heard on the subject quoted the verse “by their fruit you will know them”.

Look at the fruit. Here, it seems God does.

On a personal note, we go to the rural town of orange today for Christmas family celebrations. My sister lives there and the rest of my extended family are converging.

I pray for safe travel, and to relax. I’m very wound up. I’m looking forward to it. And my sister sounds very excited.

I think the spiritual word to remember from this chapter is lament.

Psalm 150

Psalms starts with the word “blessed” and flows like a rich nourishing river of God’s word until it ends with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord.

And a little like a river, following the course of it can get a bit repetitive, but coming across it can be the best part of your day.

This simple burst of praise is one of my faves. We praise God in his sanctuary, and out of it. With every musical instrument we can grab, but especially the cymbals, extra especially the loud ones. AKA come on, feel the noise! With dancing, singing, music.

I want to dance more. I’m a terrible dancer, but I would like to dance more!

Everything that has breath. In my mind I always add “while they have breath”, and imagine praising God with my last breaths, as my sister reports my mother did, singing about clinging to the old rugged cross.

And I imagine all the animals praising God and dancing, like those happy visions from Disney, snow white and the seven dwarfs.

But even without anthropomorphism, animals are praise of God’s creativity, they give us comfort, joy, awe, amazement and fascination.

I imagine the Israelites chanting this over and over to some wild beat, dancing away into the night. Uncle Rex, a classic old Aboriginal Christian leader talked about dancing and praise under the stars deep in Arnhem land, all night, from dusk til morning. Timeless. This psalm is about praising like that.

And for me each day, praising God in the sanctuary means in my heart, practising the presence of Christ, taking him with me everywhere, being alert to the spirit, seeking to obey, looking for the joy.

Hallelujah!

Psalm 144

This quite a personal prayer, David reflecting on God while preparing for war. He not on the run, he’s a king now. But he’s still the same guy, the sum of so many complex parts.

He returns to some of his favourite themes, ideas expressed over and over in his poetry. I felt like we are getting a lot of David in this psalm.

He calls God a rock, a solid basis for his preparation to fight, and a refuge, his safe fortress.

How often has he returned to calling God his refuge? God as a safe place to escape must be his number one image.

Such a helpful thought pattern to learn… Stressful times turn you closer to God, not further away. He learned as a fugitive in his youth to hide in God as he hid in caves.

He’s still the same David inside, though he’s a brave king and warrior on the outside, he does not do bravery in his own strength.

He talks about scale and perspective. Man is so insubstantial, like a breath, a shadow. Yet God thinks of him. He paints a grand picture of God’s heavens to contrast the teensiness of man, as he’s done many times.

And this time God will be active, splitting the clouds, reaching down in lightning and power to intervene in his war and scatter the enemies. But beyond God’s help or otherwise in the current fight, he’s thinking about God’s mindblowing capacity to care for mankind at all.

Then the image of himself playing a new song to God the deliverer on the 10 stringed lyre. The warrior, happiest playing music and singing.

The song will be of abundance and blessing.

It’s a bit of a greatest hits, we’ve done psalm 40 (he set my feet on a rock), psalm 8 (oh what is man, why do you think of him?) and ended where psalm 23 does (goodness and mercy will follow me all my days…)

Song of Songs 5

Classic rom com material here. When telling a story of love there has to be incident. Misunderstandings, mis-timings, love thwarted, gratification delayed.

Her beloved comes to her door as she lies in bed “asleep but with heart awake” and she has pause… Must she get up, put on robe and walk around getting dirty feet?

Something about him thrusting his fingers through the hole of the door latch however, makes her heart pound for him. We’re a few centuries before Freud, but even the usually reticent commentators observe that the original language has quite obvious double entendres at that point.

She gets up, but too late he’s gone. Queue yearning for love lost. She searches for him, and this time is assaulted, she beaten to the ground and her robe taken. Is it just me or echoes of Christ?

“What’s so special about this guy?” A chorus of friends asks. I visualise the “tell me more, tell me more…” refrain from Grease.

She responds with “hopelessly devoted to you”. A long section where she compares him with every wonderful thing on the planet. A phrase in that section “altogether lovely” got thrown into the middle of a classic Hillsong song “here I am to worship”.

It’s a cliche to mock overly romantic “Jesus is my boyfriend” Christian songs. I recently stumbled across a quiz where you had to guess whether phrases came from contemporary Christian songs or Fifty Shades of Grey. It was remarkably difficult.

The connection between romance, marriage, sex, and the love of God goes deep however, because I suppose God’s love is so great that every kind of love we experience is a glimpse, an aspect of it.

The description of marriage, two become one flesh, from Genesis is employed as an insight into the profound mystery of how Christ loved the church by St Paul. He plays with ideas of the separation of flesh and spirit within parts of Greek philosophy, but this older text, proudly taking it’s place in the canon of scripture begs to differ.

The desires of the flesh can enslave us, for sure, we see it everywhere. But God’s abundant blessing overflows to the pleasures of this life, and they are part of our experience of his love.

The yearning, the pounding hearts, the extravagant appreciation of another, the intensity of passion. It is all of, and from, God, and it’s wonderful. And I’ve lost quite a bit of it.

May I be mindful, may I be joyful, and appreciate the wonderful women I have to share my life with – couldn’t imagine someone better for me, that’s for real. We’re both surviving ATM. She’s under more pressure than me. The stoic times can chip away the joy. But when it ends, let it end, not become the normal.

50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics? A Quiz

Song of Songs 1

A supercut of us.

I’ve had a week off. Haven’t quite been able to face this book, though in abstract I’ve been looking forward to it.

I’m feeling somewhat burdened, old and unromantic, so the celebration of passionate young love is a poignant contrast to my mood. A little intimidating, to be honest.

I gather the book has no discernable structure. But neither does love, in the moment. I like Lorde’s song “supercut” for that, “in my mind, I see a supercut of us”. The highlights of love are recalled as a montage of flashing glory. If you edit out narratives of pain, boredom.

Chapter one sets the tone of focusing on the moments of delight, yearning and passion. It’s wild and uninhibited.

It has dialogue like a play: he, she and friends, but there is not debate, all are goading each other headlong towards an affair. The banter is rhetorical: why would you waste a passion such as this on timidity?

It seems like first love, but the girl is not a glashouse flower. She’s been a responsible family workhorse, tanned from the sun from tending the vineyards. It’s set up as a metaphor, now is time to tend her own vineyard, her time to harvest her own pleasure. A bit of ‘me’ time.

She is the pursuer, getting advice from the chorus of friends where to find her love. And she’s successful, if I understand the phrase “our bed is verdant” correctly.

Though could also be literal vegetation as well and the bed a metaphor, since it ends with the cedars and fir trees being their room.

God, apparently, will barely get a look in, by name. But the context, the Bible, forces it to be about the spirituality of passion and attraction.

God gave us all this. I’ve been reading my sister in law’s memoir of growing up and escaping her rule bound, relentlessly negative evangelical faith. This book wasn’t in her Bible, surely?

Has mine lost it too? What gave me pause?

Father, help me find passion and joy around me

Psalm 116

This psalm contains the first verse ever preached on Australian soil, by Rev Richard Johnson, fresh off the first fleet of convicts to arrive in Australia.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

I’m not sure what the convicts made of the reference to God’s goodness, criminals on the other side of the world permanently separated from all they knew. At least they were alive, they had survived the trip.

At the conference on treaty last week at our church, pastor uncle Ray Minniecon told us to think carefully about the verse and read this psalm, in the context of the interest we had expressed in hearing about the cause of treaty.

Johnson was apparently a sensitive man. I don’t know much about him. He and his wife were friendly to the natives – they gave their daughter an Aboriginal name, Milbah. It was however the start of great trauma that nearly wiped out the Aboriginal race and smashed their elaborate and astoundingly ancient culture.

230 years later, shamefully, there is still no formal agreement over the land. They are now at least counted and vote as humans, not just part of the flora and fauna (since 1967) and the courts have recognised their original ownership of the land (Mabo decision, 1984). But they are asking us for a treaty, and so far we’ve said no.

The title to all our Christian churches still goes back to the moment when, without the inhabitant’s consent, Captain Cook planted the union Jack and claimed Australia for the King. It’s land taken without consent, still, and the practical effects of the trauma significantly impacts Aboriginal lives.

The narrative of the psalm starts with praise of God’s rescue from crisis. From impending death; from tears, trouble and sorrow.

I think back on my own hard times, and the Lord has been there. Through deaths of family members, lost jobs, financial strains, times I felt brought very low. Not as low as the psalmist I’m guessing, but low. Sometimes I’ve felt active guidance, at other times, comfort and peace.

Then comes the verse I quoted, about what I can give back. And the first thing you can give God when you accept he has been guiding your life is to receive more from him: salvation.

The commentators remind us to recall that Jesus probably sang this directly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, and praying that if there was any way, he’d rather not drink the cup of salvation. But that God’s will should be done.

Then the psalm goes on to talk of a life of grace and obedience in response to God’s saving presence, keeping your vows, accepting that you are God’s child, not his servant, valuing your life and death as much as God does.

What we give to God in gratitude for his redemption is to receive the revelation of his mind, trust his promises and act on them. Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.

And it’s critical to a treaty between the first and later possessors of this land. Us, the later being truthful, and humble, accepting from the first the land we already took, and accepting forgiveness for taking it. We’re finding it harder than it sounds like it should be, given what a passive service it is to render.

Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

Psalm 104

A Psalm praising God the creator. It follows the order of genesis, so it’s like a response in song.

It’s also reminiscent of Job – it even mentions his mythical scary water-dwelling beast, symbol of how much less we are in control than God: leviathan.

I was a bit “yada yada” despite the glorious imagery of the Lord clothing himself in light and creating the verdant earth out of the chaos of moving waters, having recently read Job which, at 40 chapters has a more powerful cumulative poetic effect and similar imagery.

But this Psalm is to be cherished as a quick access to such a relatable image of god’s glory. It reminded me somewhat of the song “how great thou art”, where the singer wanders the forest glades and can’t help bursting into praise of God.

They read it every day in Jewish services, according to Wikipedia. Apparently Bob Marley used to cite it as supporting marijuana use, which I can’t 100% see… But I was struck by the praise of God for making “wine that gladdens the heart” so I suppose it’s recognising mood altering substances as a legitimate good part of god’s creation.

That’s a bit of an issue at work because the salvation army are tea totallers. I really don’t want to do that, and I’m under no pressure to in my private life, though fair enough no drink during work hours.

It’s a legitimate life choice like vegetarianism, and I think it is part of the trust people have in the salvos, the thought of a tipsy officer is shocking to me now. Plus it makes it a safe place for recovering alcoholics.

I live a very urban life quite disconnected from nature. Though I delight in birds, my dog, and parks. Possums too.

This Psalm reserves a special place for animals, it’s a theology of them. They are evidence of god’s ongoing creation. Wild animals live and die, provided for by God, and we never see them. The sea, teeming with creatures, some vast in size, gives insight into the mind-blowing detail and scale of god’s abundant, joyous creativity..

They eat because of God, their fears and satisfaction are at his whim, they die in his time. Their existence flows from his spirit and they are sustained, renewed by his provision.

Gosh, I’ll praise God myself in a minute! Lord of life, I am because of you, you are truly amazing!