Year of the Word – Bible Study

1)  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:105 (KJB) (some bibles as Psalm 118)

 Let’s see how this verse can open the bible for us by looking at the words; word, light and path.

 Word

God creates with words;

2) Gen 1:3 – God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. (JB)

The formula is repeated, God said, “Let….”, 7 more times culminating in;

3) Gen 1:26 – God said, “Let us make man in our own image”, (JB)

Jesus, the Living Word

4) John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the word was God. (JB)

5) John 1:9 – The Word was the true light that enlightens all men, and he was coming into the world. (JB)

6) John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and lived among us,… (NRSV)

7) 1 John 1:1 – Something which has existed from the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life- this is our subject. (CTSNCB)

The word of God achieves its purpose.

8) Isaiah 55:10-11 – Yes, as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what is was sent to do. (JB)

9) John 19:30 – After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, “It is accomplished”, and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. (JB)

10) Mark 10:45 – “For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (JB)

Jesus, our Blessed Lord, the Word made flesh, succeeds in what he was sent to do.

An active word;

11) Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. (JB)

12) Ephesians 6:17 …and receive the word of God from the Spirit to use as a sword. (JB)

13) Revelation 1:13&16 – I saw…. a figure like a Son of Man….out of his mouth there came a sharp sword, double edged, and his face was shining like the sun with all its force. (JB)

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:105 (KJB)

Light

We’ve already seen in Gen 1:2 that God created light, a supernatural one in verse 2 and then the natural ones, the sun, moon and stars, in verse 14-16.

14) John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows will me will not be walking in the dark, he will have the light of life.” (JB)

15) Isaiah 2:5 – O House of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (JB)

16) 1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (NIV)

17) Colossians 1:12-13 – thanking the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.  Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. (JB)

18) Isaiah 9:2 – The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. (JB)

19) Isaiah 9:6 – For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NRSV)

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:105 (KJB)

Path or Way or Walk

20) Psalm 23:3 – He restoreth my soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (KJB)

In the Bible there are a number of people who were said to have walked with God;

21) Gen 5:21-24 – When Enoch was sixty-five years old, he became the Father of Methuselah.  Enoch walked with God.  After the birth of Methuselah, he lived for three hundred years and he became the Father of other sons and daughters.  In all, Enoch lived for three hundred and sixty-five years, Enoch walked with God.  Then he vanished because God took him. (JB)

22) Gen 6:9 – Noah was a good man, a man of integrity amongst his contemporaries, and he walked with God. (JB)

23) Isaiah 30:21 – Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, “This is the way, follow it”. (JB)

24) John 14:6 – “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (JB)

25) Acts 9:2 – He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find. (JB)

26) Acts 11: 26 – …. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’. (JB)

27) Galatians 5:25 – If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (KJB)

28) Micah 6:8 – This is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. (JB)

Useful Exercise – Write the Bible reference on a strip of paper.  Find the reference in your bible and put the strip of paper in as a marker.  Your bible will have a decidedly hedgehog appearance as well as a visual show of how much of the bible you have looked at.

For further study;

Seven “I am” statements of Jesus

John 6:35 – “I am the bread of life.”

John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world.”

John 10:9 – “I am the door.”

John 10:11 – “I am the Good Shepherd.”

John 11:25 – “I am the resurrection and the life.”

John 14:6 – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

John 15:5 – “I am the vine.”

 

A bit more about Enoch.

Hebrews 11:5 – It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him.  This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. (JB)

Someone else who was taken up to heaven was Elijah.

2 Kings 2:1 – When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. (NLT)

2 Kings 2:11 – As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. (NLT)

As Catholics we believe, by sacred tradition, that our Blessed Lady was also taken up into heaven, though this is not mentioned in the bible there are precedents for it.

Abbreviations

KJB – King James Bible, JB – Jerusalem Bible,  

NRSV – New Revised Standard Version,

CTSNCB – Catholic Truth Society New Catholic Bible

NLT – New Living Translation, NIV – New International Version

 

Why are Catholics so fond of the word “Mystery”?

Mystery (notes from an RCIA course)

A Reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians Ch 3:2 – 3:5-6

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery.

This mystery has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ Jesus, through the gospel.

Definitions

Mystery – something beyond human understanding.

Mystery – something which is hidden until God chooses to reveal it.

Mystery – As used in Catholic theology, a mystery is a divinely revealed truth whose existence cannot be known without revelation by God and whose inner existence cannot be understood by the human mind even after revelation; for example, the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the Eucharist.   A mystery, in this sense, is said to be above reason but not contrary to reason; even though it cannot be fully understood, it can be understood to some degree, and for that reason the Church encourages all to reflect upon and study the mysteries God has revealed.  (The Essential Catholic Handbook)

A very Catholic word

Mystery is a very popular word with Catholics.  During mass we profess the Mystery of Faith.

  1. We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.
  2. When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death O Lord, until you come again.
  3. Save, us Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.

When I was looking up the use of the word mystery in the bible, my Young’s Concordance gave me the following references and they are all New Testament.mystery

As can be seen the use of the word mystery is particularly popular with St. Paul, from whom most of our theology comes, and is also used by Jesus and by St John in the Book of Revelation.

 

Who do you say that I am? (A mystery revealed)

Matthew 16:15-17 –  Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

When we come across things in the Old Testament which relate to Jesus, we find something hidden (secret) now revealed. E.G. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

Have a look at page 4-5 from the book How to Survive being married to a Catholic for more about mystery (MrE).

 

A Mystery is something to be entered into

The Church does not say “It’s a Mystery so don’t worry your little head about it”, though it can give this impression, for this would make God out to be a great patroniser.  The Church, rather, says “It’s a Mystery come and enter into it” even if we only get glimpses of these deeper and greater realities.  Mass becomes a window into the heavenlies.

“Further up and further in”, as C.S.Lewis says in his book The Last Battle.

By way of some light relief here’s Toyal singing “It’s a Mystery”.

 

A Little Christmas Bible Study

Christmas in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

Isaiah 1:3  The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib

Luke 2:6-7  While they (Mary and Joseph) were there (Bethlehem) the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.   Full passage – Luke 2:1-26

 

Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Luke 1:31-34  ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour.  Listen!  You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.                    Full passage Luke 1:26-38

 

Isaiah 9:5-7  For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.   Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end, for the throne of David and for his royal power, which he establishes and makes secure in justice and integrity.  From this time onwards and for ever.

2 Samuel 7:12  (God speaks through the prophet Nathan to King David)  ‘And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body and make his sovereignty secure.’  Verse 16 – ‘Your house and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me

 

Isaiah 11: 1-9  A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the Spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord……

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (after Joseph his guardian) – Mt 1:1-17.

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (after Mary his mother) – Luke 3:23-38

(Have a look for David and Jesse in these long lists of names.)

Mark 10:47  When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 

Isaiah 60:6 -Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the LORD.

Matthew 2:11  They (the wise men) saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.   Full passage Mt 2:1-12

 

We can also see John the Baptist in the book of Isaiah;

Isaiah 40:3  A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.’

Matthew 3:1-3  In due course John the Baptist appeared: he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’.  This was the man Isaiah spoke of when he said:  ‘A voice cries in the wilderness: prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

Luke 1:5-25 and 57-66 –  The birth of John the Baptist

 

We can also see Easter in the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 53: 5 – But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.    Full passage Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12.

 

To finish then, the Nativity story is given in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  John’s Gospel gives a very good Nativity summary when he says:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  John 1:14

The Book of Isaiah – One Isaiah or Several? The Thorny Problem of Authorship

The book of Isaiah opens with this verse;

The vision of Isaiah, son of Amos concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 

This gives us a good way to anchor Isaiah in time. The dates of the reigns of these kings were as follows;

Uzziah 781-740 BC

Jotham 740-736 BC

Ahaz 736-716 BC

Hezekiah 716 – 687 BC

Tradition has it that Isaiah was born about 765 BC and was martyred under the next King, Manasseh, who reigned from 687-642 BC, by being put inside a log and sawn in half.  This is alluded to in Hebrews 11:37;  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 

The scope of the prophesy, however, covers a much longer period, from the year of King Uzziah’s death of 740 BC, when Isaiah received his call (Isaiah ch 6), through the decline of the Assyrian empire and the loss of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the rise of the Babylonian empire, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 598 BC and 587 BC and the exile of the inhabitants of Judah and so the loss of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  Then to the return of the Jews from exile to Jerusalem after the decree of king Cyrus in 538 BC, who is named in Isaiah ch 44 vs 28.  This gives the book  an overall span of 202 years.  The book of Isaiah also has two distinct parts one from chapter 1 to 39 and the other from chapter 40 to the end.  There are differences of perspective; pre or post-exile, apocalyptic.  There are differences in style; poetic, lyrical, historical narrative.  All these things have led to speculation that the book of Isaiah is the work of more than one hand and you may come across mention of first or proto-Isaiah, second or deutero-Isaiah, third or trito-Isaiah and even a fourth editorial hand, knocking it all into shape, which I might call editorial Isaiah.  This is a theory rather than a fact and was rather slow to be embraced by the Catholic Church.  It has held sway till fairly recently when problems with it have been acknowledged and support for single authorship has re-emerged.  Which view you hold rather depends on your view of what a prophet is and whether or not they can function in the future prophetic.

I, myself, am of the view that there is only one author, Isaiah, acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit and, after all, this is the claim of the book as it says in the opening verse.

It also makes it much easier when, as a reader, I go to the lecturn and say “A reading from the Prophet Isaiah”.  It would be very awkward to have to add, “only it’s not really.”

I would add that the Jews were good at naming their prophets.

Also; when Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament, by Jesus and the Apostles, there is no suggestion that there is more than one.

So I am making a nod to the scholars, because you will come across this multiple authorship theory,  but my own position is single authorship.  I think it gives reading the book far more immediacy.

For a time it was even wondered if any parts had been added after Jesus because the passage Isaiah ch 52 vs 13 to ch 53 vs 12 is such a good fit to Jesus and we didn’t have a BC copy of Isaiah till the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  Among these was what is called the Great Isaiah Scroll  which confirms the accuracy of the book of Isaiah as we have it.  This was dated to about 200 BC and so confirms that the passage(s) relating to Jesus have not been added at a later AD date.

What then makes the book of Isaiah such a good and important  read?

It is like the bible in miniature.

You can find Christmas in it.

Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 1:3 – The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Isaiah 60:6 -Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the LORD.

You can find Easter in it.

Isaiah 53: 5 – But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

You can find John the Baptist in it.

Isaiah 40:3 – A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

You can find God as Father in it.

Isaiah  63: 16 – But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

You can find the foundation of ecology in it.

Isaiah 40: 6 – All flesh is grass.

You can find verses which speak to you on a personal level.

Isaiah 58: 7 – ..and not turn from your own kin.  (Think on that when you are glowering at each other over the Christmas turkey.)

Overall then, give it a read.  Parts of it will wash over you, but parts of it will leap out at you.  That’s what makes reading it fun.  You will also find parts that are very moving and parts which lend themselves to prayer very easily.  Enjoy!!

The Abominable Prawn

So far in looking at homosexuality in my previous two blogs I have cited various scriptures and the catechism, but have left out the most obvious and frequently quoted scripture.

It is this;

“Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.”  Leviticus 18: 20 (King James Version).  In other translations detestable is used instead of abomination.

I can recall, a few years back, Jeremy Hardy commenting on Radio 4’s News Quiz that people often quote the above scripture to say that homosexuality is an abomination.  He then pointed out that according to the bible so is eating prawns.

That is found in Leviticus chapter 11 which is about dietary laws.  It says;

“These shall you eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:  They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.    Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.”  Leviticus 11: 9-12

As prawns have neither fins nor scales they would come in the abomination category.  Mr Hardy was quoting this as a sort of argument stopper or trump card, and quite a successful one it has been.

But then I made this discovery.  I looked up the word ‘abomination’ in Strong’s exhaustive concordance of the bible and saw this;

P1020808(1)

P1020809(1)

Now James Strong gave each of the Hebrew words used in the bible a number, called a Strong’s number, so that they could be looked up in a Lexicon.  You will notice that the word abomination used in Lev 11: 10-12, and that used in Lev 18-22 have different Strong’s numbers.  That used in relation to diet being 8263 and that in relation to homosexual practice being 8441.  This means that these are two different Hebrew words which have been translated into English with the same word, abomination.

Here are the two different words from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon;

P1020811(1)

P1020810(1)

In transliteration the Hebrew word seqes/sheqets is used for the abominable prawn (Lev 11:9-12) and the Hebrew word to’eba is used in relation to homosexual practice.

Why use two different words?  Have a look back at the citings in the extract from Strong’s concordance.  There are occurrences of seqets ( Strong’s number 8263) with the phrase unto you, and occurrences of to’eba (Strong’s number 8441) with the phrase unto the Lord.  I would suggest that one word is a lesser abomination, the prawn one used in Leviticus chapter 11, and the other a greater abomination, the sexual one used in Leviticus chapter 18.

By way of emphasis here is an extract from another concordance, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible;

P1020816(1)

What then is the purpose of these dietary restrictions, lesser abominations, which we, who are non-Jews, no longer follow.

That is given in Leviticus 18: vs 1-5 which says:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them; “I am the Lord your God.  You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.  Do not follow these practices.  You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.  I am the Lord your God.  Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them.  I am the Lord.”  (New International Version)

The purpose then of these Old Testament Laws, for the Israelites and the Jews, is for them to be a people set apart and different from all others, to be an example and a blessing to others.

How do you go about overturning an Old Testament prohibition?

Look for anything that Jesus said or did which enables you to do that.

For instance, in relation to the dietary laws, the abominable prawn, we have Jesus saying this in Mark 7:14-23.

He (Jesus) called the people to him again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.”  When he had gone back into the house, away from the crowds, his disciples questioned him about the parable.  He said to them, “Do you not understand either?  Can you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean,  because it does not go into his heart but through his stomach and passes out into the sewer?”  (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)  And he went on, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.  For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.”  (Jerusalem Bible)

Here, we have a clear setting aside of the dietary laws and a reinforcement of the sexual laws, amongst others.

We also have Peter’s vision in Acts 10: 9 -16;

Next day, while they were still on their journey and had only a short distance to go before reaching Jaffa, Peter went to the housetop at about the sixth hour to pray.  He felt hungry and was looking forward to his meal, but before it was ready he fell into a trance and saw heaven thrown open and something like a big sheet being let down to earth by its four corners; it contained every possible sort of animal and bird, walking, crawling or flying ones.  A voice then said to him, “Now, Peter, kill and eat!”  Nut Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.”  Again, a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”.  This was repeated three times, and then suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again.  (Jerusalem Bible)

Here we have a definite move on the dietary laws in order to bring the message of salvation to the gentiles, non-Jews.

But remember that on things sexual Jesus emphasised that marriage was between a man and a woman and was for life.  Divorce had only been allowed, by Moses, because of the hardness of men’s hearts. (Matthew 19:1-9)

Jesus also took a much harsher approach to the matter of adultery saying that even to look at a woman lustfully was to commit adultery in one’s heart. (Matthew 5:28).

We have then, examples of the dietary laws being set aside or loosened and examples of the sexual laws being tightened.  This corresponds with the matter of a lesser and greater abomination which I have covered earlier in this blog.  The abominable prawn is not so abominable.  Though the wisdom of eating filter feeders if water quality is dubious is questionable.

How then should we regard the law?

There are 10 commandments given by God which were expanded into 613 laws for the Israelites to live by, through discussion between God and Moses, and now even though we are “not under law but under grace”  (Romans 6:14), Jesus gives us over 1100 imperatives in the New Testament about how we are to behave and all we are called to be.   Have a read of the Gospels and look for every time that Jesus gives an instruction which is essentially a command, an example would be “love your enemies” Luke 6:27.

This is the third blog I have done on this subject and it is a difficult one.  You may be asking the question – just where is he going with this?

The Church is under pressure to change its teaching on this issue in the name of fairness and inclusivity.  Unfortunately I can’t find a reason to do that in Scripture, looking across the whole bible, or in the Catechism.  I say unfortunately because the humanist in me, and some left wing politics, might make me want to be more liberal on this.

So, what to do?

I think I will follow the example of those nuns I can remember who worked in various parishes I have been in over the years.  They got alongside people, they did’t judge, they didn’t condemn, they didn’t condone, they ministered.

This weekend I found a good example from a Church within our diocese.  There was a little note in our bulletin.  Here’s what it said;

LGBT Mass – Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 2.00pm, at the Sacred Heart Church, 25 Mere Road, Leicester, LE5 3HS, to remember those who have been tortured, died and killed because of their gender/identity/sexuality.

In summary then I would see this as a matter of being true to Scripture, being true to the teachings of the Church and reaching out to others, irrespective of background, with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

 

Next Blog – The Book of Isaiah – The thorny problem of authorship

The Case of Sodom – Did God really destroy the city because of their homosexuality?

The first mention of Sodom is in Genesis 10:19 in a passage about the Sons of Ham, son of Noah.

The Canaanite border went from Sidon going toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and going toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Adamah, and Zeboiim as far as Lasha.

The location is generally taken as being near the Dead Sea.  The exact location is unknown.

The next mention is in Genesis 13: 10-13, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, choosing to settle in the fertile lands of the plain and Abram, later renamed by God as Abraham, in the more rugged hill country.  Abram had allowed Lot first dibs.

Lot looked and saw that the entire plain of the Jordan as far as Zoar was well watered everywhere like the Lord’s garden and the land of Egypt.  (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)  So Lot chose the entire plain of the Jordan for himself.  Then Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other.  Abram lived in the land of Canaan, but Lot lived in the cities on the plain and set up his tent near Sodom.  Now the men of Sodom were evil, sinning immensely against the Lord.

The exact nature of their evil is not given but the seriousness of it is stressed.

In Genesis 14 there is a battle in which Sodom and Gomorrah are pillaged and Lot is taken prisoner.  Verse 12 tells us – They also took Lot and his possessions, for he was living in Sodom,…  This raises the question:- Why was Lot living in Sodom?

Abram and a body of trained men then rescue Lot and recover all the pillaged goods.  Abraham gives one tenth of the booty to Melchisedek King of Salem and priest of God Most High.  The king of Sodom then wants to split the rest of the booty with Abram , he wants the people but Abram can have the goods, but Abram refuses to be enriched by the king of Sodom.  He gives up his share but speaks up on behalf of the men with him that they would have their share.  Thus Abram has a very low opinion of the king of Sodom.  This is in marked contrast with his very great respect for Melchisedek.

Abram receives the name Abraham from the Lord in Genesis 17: 5,  Your name will no longer be Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations.

Then we come to the biggy.  In Chapter 18 Abraham receives three visitors, the Lord in human form and two angels.  Abraham and Sarah are promised that they will have a son in a years time.  In verse 20 the Lord says to Abraham, The outcry against Sodom and Gomorroah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious.  I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to me.”

Abraham then has a discussion with the Lord and pleads for Sodom.  First of all he asks if fifty righteous men were found in the town, would he spare it?  The Lord says he would.  Abraham then continues to wrangle with the Lord until he gets the number down to ten.  If ten righteous men could be found in Sodom then the city would not be destroyed.

This tells us something very important about intercessory prayer and that is that God can change his mind.  This means that our prayers are not in vain.  In the words of a prayer from the Divine Mercy, “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.  Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Genesis Chapter 19 – The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The two angels entered Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in Sodom’s gateway.  When Lot saw them, he got up to meet them.  He bowed with  his face to the ground and said, “My lords, turn aside to your servants house, wash your feet, and spend the night.   Then you can get up early and go on your way.”  “No,” they said. “We would rather spend the night in the square.”  But he urged them so strongly that they followed him and went into his house.  He prepared a feast and baked unleavened bread for them, and they ate.

  Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house.  They called out to Lot and said, “Where are the men who came to you tonight?  Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!”  Lot went out to them at the entrance and shut the door behind him.  He said, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers.  Look, I’ve got two daughters who haven’t been intimate with a man.  I’ll bring them out to you, and you can do whatever you want to them.  However, don’t do anything to these men, because they have come under the protection of my roof.”  “Get out of the way!” they said, adding, “This one came here as an alien, but he’s acting like a judge!  Now we’ll do more harm to you than to them.”  They put pressure on Lot and came up to break down the door.  But the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.  They struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old with blindness so that they were unable to find the entrance.

 Then the angels said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here: a son-in-law, your sons and daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you?  Get them out of this place, for we are about to destroy this place because the outcry against its people is so great before the Lord, that the Lord has sent us to destroy it.”  So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were going to marry his daughters.  “Get up,” he said, “Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city!”  But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

At daybreak the angels urged Lot on: “Get up!  Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city”  But he hesitated.  Because of the Lord’s compassion for him, the men grabbed his hand, and the hands of his two daughters.  They brought him out and left him outside the city.  As soon as the angels got them outside, one of them said, “Run for your lives!  Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere on the plain!  Run to the mountains, or you will be swept away!”  But Lot said to them, “No, my lords – please.  your servant has indeed found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness by saving my life.  But I can’t run to the mountains; the disaster will overtake me and I will die.  Look, this town is close enough for me to flee to.  It is a small place.  Please let me run to it – it’s only a small place, isn’t it? – so that I can survive.  And he said to him, “All right, I’ll grant your request about this matter too and will not demolish the town you mentioned.  Hurry up!  Run to it, for I cannot do anything until you get there.”  Therefore the name of the city is Zoar.

The Sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar.  Then out of the sky the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah burning sulphur from the Lord.  He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground.  But Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

Early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before the Lord.  he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the land of the plain, and he saw that smoke was going up from the land like the smoke of a furnace.  So it was, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham and brought Lot out of the middle of the upheaval when he demolished the cities where Lot had lived.

 

What then do we make of Lot?  Is he a righteous man?  What is he doing in Sodom?  Is he trying to do good in a bad place?

What is for certain is that he is a man compromised by his association with Sodom?  He has a status within that town as a wise man, an official, within the gate where business was done.  When he meets the two men (angels) he knows that they are not safe in Sodom.  Note the two men are reluctant to lodge under the roof of this compromised man.  His offer of his daughters to the crowd show just how compromised he is in that he is prepared to cater to the crowds evil and appease it.  He even asks for a compromise on the angels’ instruction to flee to the mountains.  It is too far he says.  He doesn’t realise that those angels who have delivered him out of Sodom, without encountering any of it’s inhabitants, are also able to see him safely to the mountains.  Lot is a compromised man, a wordly man, a materialistic man.  Why then is he saved?  He is saved because of Abraham.  He gets a free ride.  We should remember this when we pray for our friends and relatives.

What then of Sodom?  The scripture says that’s it’s inhabitants were evil and their sin was extremely serious.  They even wanted to perform homosexual gang rape with violence on complete strangers.  They were more frustrated by being struck blind than fearful, for they couldn’t then find the door to have their way with the strangers.  There were not ten righteous men in Sodom, indeed Lot’s sons-in-law didn’t even constitute two righteous men.  We know this because all the men of Sodom had turned out to harm the strangers.

Ezekiel 16: 49-50 tells us this in likening Sodom to the fallen Jerusalem of his day – “Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, plenty of food and comfortable security but didn’t support the poor and the needy.  They were haughty and did detestable acts before me, so I removed them when I saw this.

Why then did God destroy Sodom?

  1.  Because of their great wickedness and immense sinning.
  2.  Because their hearts were hard and they refused to help the poor.
  3.  Because ten righteous men could not be found.
  4.  They did detestable acts and this included sexual ones.
  5.  All that they did was symptomatic of their wickedness.

 

How then do we apply this today?  Lets bring it from the time of Abraham, around 2000BC to the writings of Paul in the mid first century AD.

Romans 1:21-32  For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude.  Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.  therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.  For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions.  Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another.  Men committing shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.  And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right.  They are filled with unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness.  They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice.  They are slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.  Although they know God’s just sentence – that those who practice such things deserve to die – they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.

This passage both looks back to the time of Sodom, is relevant to Paul’s day and speaks to us now.  That the bad things people do are only symptomatic of a much bigger problem, that of sin and wickedness.  Or do we just write it off as Paul speaking with the prejudices of his day and if we do that, what do we do with all of his other writings.

1 Cor 6: 9-11 – Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And the solution is given in verse 11 (otherwise heaven would be empty)- And some of you used to be like this.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Tim 1:9-11 – We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the wholly and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for slave traders, liars, perjurers and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the Gospel concerning the blessed God, which was entrusted to me.

The Catechism cites Paul and acknowledges the symptomatic nature of sexual sin.

CCC2357 – Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex.  It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures.  Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.  Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (Gen 19:1-29, Rom 1:24-27,  1 Cor 6:10, 1 Tim 1:10), tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, CDF, Persona Humana 8.)  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.

 

So then finally,  Did God destroy the city of Sodom because of their homosexuality?  Yes, but this was only symptomatic of their sinfulness.  There was more to it than that, their wickedness was extreme in every way.  They were certainly disordered and depraved.

Why did God leave it so long?  Couldn’t he have acted sooner?

God gives everyone a chance to repent and accept the forgiveness he offers.  A forgiveness we receive now through Jesus Christ and the work of the cross.  What we were unable to do, God does for us.  The case of Sodom reminds us that this time to repent, to be saved, is finite and will come to an end.

 

Cautionary note – St Paul lists many things in the passages given above and it would be wrong to single out homosexuality as if it were the only sin.  Also in seeking to apply the lesson of Sodom and its destruction to modern times, there are difficulties in citing such an extreme, though true, example.  Indeed if I was talking to homosexuals, many of whom are the nicest and gentlest people you could possibly meet, they would probably point out that they had no interest in performing homosexual gang rape with violence on anyone, celestial being or no.

We can see, however, many other examples of grave depravity in our fallen world, particularly the use of rape as a weapon of war.  Again on looking through St Paul’s lists above we can see how the same evils continuously resurface.

How then to convict people of sin that they might repent and be saved?

Here is an example from the evangelist Ray Comfort.

 

ref) Scripture verses from the Christian Standard Bible (Rainbow Study Bible) publisher Holman 2017

Next blog – The Abominable Prawn

Christian Marriage, is it really Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve (or Eve and Sheila)?

I have been thinking of writing a blog on this topic for some time, but was kind of reluctant to do so.  It also seems that Christians in general tend to shy away from it, “Don’t touch that one with a barge pole.  It will result in you being called all kinds of names.  You will be regarded as old fashioned, out of touch, out of step, non-inclusive, bigoted, homophobic, unloving, etc, etc.”

I simply want to have a look at Scripture and the Catechism and see what it says.

A while back Pope Benedict XVI got into all sorts of trouble for saying that homosexual practice was “intrinsically disordered”.  In making this statement he was quoting the Catechism.  Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says;

CCC2357 – Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex.  It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures.  Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.  Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (Gen 19:1-29, Rom 1:24-27,      1 Cor 6:10, 1 Tim 1:10), tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, CDF, Persona Humana 8.)  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.

It is important to remember that the above comes from a much bigger section on the Sixth Commandment, You shall not commit adultery, CCC 2331 to CCC 2400 and covers much more than just homosexuality.

The above also does not seem to have any room for movement on the matter. It also raises the questions;  What does disordered mean?  What does ordered mean?  What is natural law?

Let’s have a look at the definition of marriage in the Catechism.

CCC 1601 – The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

This is followed by CCC 1602 on Marriage in God’s Plan and CCC 1603 – 1605 on Marriage in the Order of Creation.

CCC 1605 – Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Gen 2:18)  The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.  (Gen 2:18-25)  “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  (Gen 2:24)  The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”  (Mt 19:6)

So in terms of “order” then, this relationship, marriage between a man and a woman, is ordered by God and part of their created nature.  CCC 1606 – 1608 considers the impact of sin introducing “disorder” into this relationship.  Therefore “disorder” is not an exclusive characteristic of homosexuality.

So far then, the wording of the Catechism is such that there does not seen to be any leeway on the issue of homosexual acts being “disordered”.  I say acts because the Catholic Church distinguishes between the act and the inclination which it probably regards as it regards any temptation, as something we can overcome with the Grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit.

I came across a comment that suggested changing the expression “disordered” in the Cathechism in relation to homosexuality to “differently ordered”.  But this would raise the question ordered by whom and for what.

 

A consideration of Scripture

Next I want to look at Scripture and see if there is any case for becoming more liberal on this issue.  After all we no longer follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament and we can see this change in the New Testament.  Is there a Scriptural case for making a similar move on sexual laws?

Genesis 1:26-27 – Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.  So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of god he created them:  male and female he created them.

 

Genesis 2:18-24  – Then the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to alone.  I will make a helper who is just right for him.”  So the Lord god formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky.  He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.  He gave names to all the livestock , all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals.  But still there was no helper just right for him.  So the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep.  While the man slept, the Lord took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.

“At last!” the man exclaimed.  “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!  She will be called ‘woman’, because she was taken from man.”

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.

 

Matthew 19:1-6 – Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied.  “They record from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ ”  And he said, ”  ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the are united into one.’  Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

 

The quotes from Genesis show the foundational nature of marriage as between a man and a woman.  The ‘us‘ I put in italics is because this conversation happens within the trinity and therefore Jesus was present.  When the Pharisees put the question about divorce to Jesus, he reaffirms what marriage is, and the created order.  It is often said that Jesus did not say anything about homosexuality, but in saying what marriage is Jesus has also said what it isn’t.  Things do not always have to be stated in the negative.  So there are no grounds here for redefining marriage.

Essentially, at this point the opening question has been answered.

This puts us very much at odds with the society we live in and the law of the land.  The Church has always said that it is not that the Church is out of step with the world, but that the world is out of step with the Church.

 

What then to do with this teaching?  The wording of CCC2357 (above) is quite harsh and could lead to condemnation.  Condemnation can lead to despair and despair can lead to illness and even suicide.  We should aim for compassion rather than condemnation and yet preserve constancy of teaching.  There is an expression which was often used, in a wider context, about our relations with others, such as those who live contrary to the teachings of the Church, and that is to “Love them to life”.

“For God loved the world in this way.  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”  John 3:16-17

The wording of CCC2358 is far more compassionate. It says;-  The number of men and women with homosexual tendencies is not negligible.  They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial.  They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.  These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

 

What solution does the Church provide?  This is given in CCC2359 and in the words of Deep Thought, the computer in ‘Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’, “You’re not going to like it”.

This is what it says:- CCC2359 – Homosexual persons are called to chastity.  By the virtues of self mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

This may be a big ask in these hedonistic times.

 

Footnote – I can understand why people, including clergy, shy away from this topic.  It can too easily feed into a homophobic agenda.  Having some gay friends I find it somewhat difficult to see them as either ‘depraved’ or ‘disordered‘, but I cannot deny that that is what the Catechism says.  Even a softening of the language would not involve a softening of the teaching.  I can remember a priest being asked if homosexuals were welcome in his church.  He said that of course they were and they should expect to be challenged by what they hear in the same way that anyone else in the congregation is.  Church should challenge us and that applies to clergy too.

The section in the Catechism, CCC2331 to 2400 covers a wide range of sexual sin.  CCC2396 and CCC2400 give a summary of these.  This is important because homosexuality cannot be treated as if it is the only sin.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  (Luke 18:13)

Indeed we cannot come to the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament until we have said;

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Then Jesus presents us with a challenge;

“Sin no more!”  (John 8:11)

 

Next blog – The Case of Sodom – Did God really destroy the city because of their homosexuality?

 

The Perils of Isaiah 66 for the Lay Reader

On Sunday (7th July 2019) I went to evening mass and arranged a swap with the reader at that mass so he would do my reading on the 21st.  I then had a look at the readings for that evening in the Church bulletin and saw that it was from Isaiah 66, probably my least favourite reading as a lay-reader.

Here it is.

Isaiah 66; 10-14

Rejoice , Jerusalem, be glad for her, all you who love her!  Rejoice, rejoice for her all you who mourned her.

That you may be suckled, filled, from her consoling breast,  that you may savour with delight her glorious breasts.

For thus says the Lord:  Now towards her I send flowing peace, like a river, and like a stream in spate the glory of the nations.

At her breast will her nurslings be carried and fondled in her lap.  Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you.  And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.

At the sight your heart will rejoice, and your bones flourish like the grass.  To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.

 

Yes, it’s the reading with all the breasts.  So then how to read it.  Do I go for deadpan?  Do I try to avoid either undue emphasis by a rise in volume or a sense of embarrassment by going quiet on the problematic word?  I opt for a straight reading in the same manner to the way I always read with an emphasis on peace, like a river.

The Psalm was Psalm 65 with the response, Cry out to God all the earth and the second reading was from Galatians 6:14-18, The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…

I return to my seat with a sense of relief.  That won’t come around again for another three years and hopefully it won’t be my turn then.

The Gospel was from Luke 10:1-12,17-20 and about the sending out of the 72.  The sermon was preached on this and not, noticeably, the reading from Isaiah.  The study on the Word on the front page of bulletin was also about the sending out of the 72.

 

So what then to make of the reading from Isaiah 66.  Here, Jerusalem, the holy city whose very name means “City of Peace”, is personified as a women, a nursing mother from whom we receive comfort and nurture, rest and peace, teaching and instruction..  The name Jerusalem can also be expanded to mean God’s dwelling place from which peace flows.

This could take us to other scriptures such as Isaiah 2;3;

People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.

And Revelation 21:2-4

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

Then as we come to mass we see Jesus Christ, Emmanuel “God with us”, dwelling among us.  We receive him in the Blessed Sacrament and he is housed in the tabernacle.  Peace flowing like a river, from the Church out into the world just as the 72 took the message out into their world.

So there we are, Isaiah 66:10-14, a problematic reading no longer problematic.

Praise God!

 

Is Belief in the Resurrection Essential to be a Christian?

During Lent this question was raised in a discussion on Radio 4.   It led to me wonder if, in seeing people as being on a faith journey, we could accept as Christians those who did not believe in the resurrection on the basis that we hoped they would later.

This took me to St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15.  It is wonderfully clear and answers the question.  In my Jerusalem bible it has the heading “The fact of the resurrection”.

I Corinthians Chapter 15: 1-2 – Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.

Here it comes now, the Gospel of Paul.

verse 3-4 , Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures;

The terminology reminds me of the Creed….For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Then Paul gives the proof.

verse 5-8,  that he appeared first to Cephas (Peter), and secondly to the Twelve.  Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

Paul is saying, to the Corinthian church, there are people alive and among you who have seen the Risen Christ, including himself.  For Paul this was a transforming experience.

verse 9-11,  I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless.  On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.

Now we come to the nitty-gritty and it looks like people then were asking the same question about the resurrection which heads this blog.

verse 12-19,  Now if Christ raised from the dead is what has been preached, how can some of  you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless; indeed, we are shown up as witnesses who have committed perjury before God, because we swore in evidence before God that he had raised Christ to life.  For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins.  And what is more serious, all who have died in Christ have perished.  If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.

People have often said to me,  “Your faith must be a great comfort”, but if that is all it is then it is completely useless and I am seriously deluded.  This faith has to be founded on a fact, the fact of the resurrection.  Paul continues;

verse 20,  But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.

A first fruits offering is an offering in anticipation of a greater harvest.  Jesus has risen and because of this so will we.  Cue for some eschatology (end times stuff).

verse 21-28,  Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man.  Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ, but all of them in their proper order:  Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.  After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power.  For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.  Though when it is said that everything is subjected, this clearly cannot include the One who subjected everything to him.  And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.

So, to Paul then the fact of the resurrection is not negotiable, it is absolutely crucial.  The firm foundation of his Gospel and our faith.  For our faith is not in our faith but in a person, Jesus Christ, who died, was buried and rose again.

In answer to the opening question then, it is essential for a Christian to believe in the resurrection.  As we say in the mystery of faith during the Mass, “We proclaim your death oh Lord and profess your Resurrection until you come again” and “Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free”.

The Mash Potato Christians

Lenten Lunch – Holy Souls 19th March – An ecumenical soup and roll lunch with an act of worship for Churches in North Scunthorpe (CINS)

 Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12   By saying this scripture out loud we proclaim it to the world and into the heavenly realms.  (aside – We might consider who we are speaking it too, who we are speaking it with and who, or what, we are speaking it against.  This is spiritual warfare.)

52:13 See, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

14 As the crowds were appalled on seeing him – so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human-

15 So will the crowds be astonished at him, and kings stand speechless before him, for they shall see something never told and witness something never heard before.

53:1 ‘Who could believe what we have heard, and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

2 Like a sapling he grew up in front of us, like a root in arid ground.  Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes;

3 A thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces, he was despised and we took no account of him.

4 And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried.  But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God and brought low.

5 Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins.  On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.

6 We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us.

7 Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth.

8 By force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause?  Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living; for our faults struck down in death.

9 They gave him a grave with the wicked, a tomb with the rich, though he had done no wrong and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

10 The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.  If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

11 His soul’s anguish over he shall see the light and be content.  By his suffering shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.

12 Hence I shall grant whole hordes for his tribute, he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, for surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.

 

Brief Word

At the cross we see the great gift of salvation that Jesus has given to us and all that it cost him.  Once we receive this gift no-one can take it away from us, whatever the world might try to do or throw at us.  We have a new-found freedom in Christ.  How might we become better disciples of Jesus Christ?  Better “followers of the way” as those early Christians called themselves.

Here’s an extract from the book “Disciple” by Juan Carlos Ortiz a South American Pastor.  This is what he has to say about unity.

We are in many groups. We are Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals of many kinds, Nazarenes, Salvation Army, Episcopalians, Plymouth Brethren, Baptists of many kinds, and others as well.  (Catholics, Anglicans and Congregationalists)

God is regrouping us.  He has already begun.  He is not using our categories however, God has only two groups – those who love one another and those who don’t.

But listen – God is doing even more than regrouping his people.  He is uniting them.  I can illustrate this with potatoes.  Each potato plant in the garden has three, four or five potatoes under it.  Each individual potato belongs to one plant or another.

When the harvest comes, all the potatoes are dug up and put into one sack.  So they are regrouped.  But they are not yet united.  They may say, “Oh, praise the Lord!  Now we are all in the same sack.”  But they are not yet one.

They must be washed and peeled.  They think they are closer yet.  “How nice is this love among us!”  they say.

But that’s not all.  They must be cut in pieces and mixed.  They have now lost a lot of their individuality.  They really think they are ready for the Master now.

But what Jesus wants is mashed potatoes.  Not many potatoes – one mashed potato.  No potato can stand up and say, “Here I am!  I’m a potato.”  The word must be we.  That’s why the Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father….

 

What is my take on this?  Even within our separate denominations we can, and do, acknowledge each other as Christians – followers of the Way.  Mash potato Christians with mash potato love, a force for good in the world, in Christ.

 

Intercessions

Lord of Lent, come to your church and ask your hard questions. Are we proclaiming the Gospel faithfully? Are we showing in our life together the justice of your kingdom? Have we welcomed the weak and given help to the poor?

Come to our church to spring clean our ways. Point out the cobwebs and the dirt. Create in us a clean heart and a right spirit.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of Lent, come to our country and all the nations and challenge our idolatries. Spring clean the sordid cupboard of this world’s false gods. Sweep out the false pride, the self- seeking, the deceit, the corruption and lies. May the nations of this world seek justice, peace and the integrity of creation. May the rulers of this world be drawn to the common good as a lark to the dawn.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of Lent, help us to remember what you have taught us, that everyone needs good neighbours, especially those in broken homes, in scattered families, and those who are living alone. We pray with particular concern for the young and very young. Bring our youth to a hatred of knives and weapons of violence. Grant all young people a sense of being needed, being worthwhile and loved. If not by those around them then most certainly by you.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of lent, look upon the bereaved and the injured in Christchurch, New Zealand. Give them healing and peace. Change the hearts of all those who would carry out such dreadful acts of murder and disruption. We ask you to deliver this earth from bigotry and prejudice.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of Lent, in the face of these terrible things help us continue as faithful disciples, following the way of love and having forgiveness ready for all who ask for it.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of lent, turn your healing love towards those who are sick and in pain today.   We pray for Father Neil who is recovering from back surgery, may he be with us again soon.

May they all receive a healing touch from You.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of Lent, lord of compassion and source of all goodness, in the order of things we all must die. We remember those who have recently reached this stage in their pilgrimage.  Grant that they may join you in your eternal kingdom where there will be no more sorrow, or crying, nor any more pain. May they rejoice in your presence.

Lord, in Your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Lord of lent, we pray that you will renew our churches, renew our world and renew our hearts.

 

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.  Amen.        (From the Divine Mercy Chaplet of St Faustina).

 

Book ref) Disciple by Juan Carlos Ortiz, Publisher- Lakeland, Marshall Morgan and Scott 1978.  ISBN 0 551 00586 6