|Pen and Ink Reflections||
One of my grandchildren was particularly fascinated when I was in England in December. She was trying to grasp how it was night with me when it was daytime in Australia, and how it was so warm here and so cold where I was. One day, she had it sorted. Speaking to Penny on the phone, she loudly proclaimed ‘GranJo is upside down!’ I am not sure whether she thought that I was standing or walking on my head. However, in more than one sense, she was right - not least spiritually. After all, as Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 reminds us, like other early Christians, Paul and Silas were accused of ‘turning the world upside down’. It remains part of our Christian calling and sits well with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, otherwise known as the feast of Candlemas, which we mark today. Wherever, or whoever, we are in the world, we are all called to ‘live upside down’ in spiritual terms…
Listening to one or two people speak during last weekend’s Synod events, I was struck again by the tricky challenges of how we use both Scripture and history to illuminate our faith and lives. For both Scripture and history can be sources and mediums of Christian assurance and hope. Yet they can also be means of unhealthy myth-making and even misdirection. In secular politics, we frequently experience the same thing: when, for example, this or that dictator is ssid to be ‘just like Hitler’, or when events are said to be repeating themselves. There are sometimes varying degrees of truth in such statements. However, the reality is that noone is ever ‘just like’ someone else, never mind like Hitler. Events do not simply repeat themselves. Even Herod, in our Gospel reading, realised that: hence his perplexity about who Jesus was. Whether we use Scripture and/or historical allusions, we have to be discerning and judicious. There is much to be drawn for example from allusions, similarities, and questions, which arise from our knowledge of the early Church and the European Reformations. That is why we study them, and why, in teaching them, I actively encourage such reflection. For, in that sense, though different, like Scripture, history is not a mere record of what has been. It is an invitation to understanding ourselves, our world, and God, afresh. It is about dynamic encounter. As with some mentioned in our Gospel reading today, is inevitable that some will seek to re-run the past or think it is simply coming alive again. Yet drawing straight lines from one era to another is not only intellectually problematic but spiritually dangerous. Christians, for example, will never, ever, quite live again in the early Church or Reformation, or any other era. Our contexts and horizons will always be significantly different, not least because we are products of that history not mere participants in its re-running. All of which brings us to the challenges and wisdom of Haggai…
Today's passages invite us to use our imagination. To imagine what it would be like to have had everything we thought was important reduced to rubble. To imagine what God might do to transform our world. To imagine the temple that Jesus and his friends saw, and what it was like for that temple also to be destroyed. For these passages teach us that life is always being rebuilt, and that God is always doing something new. Our job is to be alert to what God is doing, and to make choices that help God transform the world...
If we were police detectives trying to work out why someone had died, we would try to retrace that person’s last steps, wouldn't we? We would work out where they had been, what they were doing, and, crucially, who they were with. For this would, very likely, help give us a picture of why that person had died. Yes? So what happens, do you think, if we look at the last steps of Jesus? Where was Jesus in his last days? What was he doing? And with whom was he associating? The answers are illuminating. In Mark’s Gospel particularly, they are all connected with justice…