Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Inheritance

It was time. God had spoken and the hour had finally come when they would start walking into their inheritance. Yes, they would have to fight for it, but what should that matter if the Lord Himself was fighting for them? Victory was as certain as the rising and the setting of the sun each day, for, after all, it was the One who had set the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night, who had set the stars in their places and appointed times and seasons, it was this same God who had spoken to him and told him that he would lead these people to inherit the land. When god spoke, the world came into being; when God spoke the descendants of Abraham would inherit the land.

But tonight was a night for memories, for he knew that what he was about to do was part of a story that had started long before he was born and that would continue long after he was gone, which would include his children’s childrens’ children for untold generations. It had started when God had called out childless Father Abraham from the land of the pagans, called him out to be the father of a great nation (though his wife was barren) and to inherit a land which he had never seen. Eventually he had a child, Isaac, but the only portion of the land which he ever owned was the grave plot of his wife. Isaac, and, after him, his son Jacob, and then Jacob’s twelve sons had been sojourners in the land, until the famine had led to their relocation to Egypt, where Jacob’s son Joseph had been sent by God before them to prepare the way. And there the descendants of Abraham had flourished until Pharaoh grew so afraid of their numbers that he enslaved them, until the cries of their oppression went up to God, and in the fullness of time He sent them Moses, the Deliverer.

And this was where Joshua’s own story had begun. He had been one of that nation of liberated slaves who had followed Moses after the fatal night of the Passover, and experienced the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and stood at the foot of Sinai, where God called them to be a nation set apart, holy to Himself. He knew that God was the Almighty Redeemer of His people. So he had been thrilled when he was chosen as one of the twelve spies to go and find out about the land they had been promised.

That was when he discovered that most of his fellow spies (in fact all of them except faithful, courageous Caleb) still had the hearts of slaves. Their bodies may have been rescued from Egypt, but they still carried the oppressor’s yoke in their hearts, believing themselves helpless and refusing to take hold of the freedom God had given them. Where he and Caleb saw amazing richness, a land flowing with milk and honey, they saw only insurmountable difficulties. They were too afraid to take hold of the inheritance God was giving them.

And so the Lord waited forty years for a new generation to arise, a generation born in freedom and dependent on their God. These were the people Joshua was about to lead into the Promised Land, so that they might claim their inheritance at last.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Learning love

As the thirsty ground lies open to the rain,
So I stand, unclosed,
Vulnerable and willing
Offering my heart.

As I stretch my too-tight body
Against the cramps of life
So I relax into love
And the knotted places smooth.

As I sing to myself in the daily tasks of life
So may we sing together
Not harmony,
But counterpoint.

As my breath catches
At the world’s sharp beauty,
So I see your glory,
Amazed into gratitude.

As I learn to pray,
Halting between dust and wonder,
So I hold you fast

In the breathing of my soul.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Reflections on Luke: 1:1 - 4

This is the first post of a long-term project: I want to work my way through the whole of Luke's gospel, passage by passage, as a set of reflective poems -- not a theological commentary, per se, but as a set of personal responses. Some will be direct reflections on the text, others will be my own reactions to the text. Anyway, I will doubtless refine the project further in the writing of it!

So here is the first, based on the first 4 verses:

1: 1 - 4

Most excellent Theophilus, I write
A full account, most structured and most sound,
Of a particular man, a known place,
In a particular world, the world you know,
And it shall blow that world to smithereens.

You wanted facts? Dear Sir, I give you facts:
Of miracles, of wonder and of awe.
The lame that walk, the blind receive their sight,
The deaf now hear, the very lepers cleansed,
The broken and forgotten are set free,
And death, yes death itself, is overcome!

Is that enough? Then Sir, I give you more,
(And all checked out most very carefully):
And I will talk of angels and of songs,
And wisdom that did not come from this world,
And teaching that would melt a heart of stone,
If stones had ears, and, through these careful words,
A scholar’s words, the facts, Sir, just the facts,
I pray that you will see the face of God.

I pray that you will see what I have seen,
That you will see the glory that I know,
And taste, with tears, the wonder and the joy,
The mercy and the promise and the love:
See God Himself come down as mortal man
And make a way for man to come to God.

My dear Theophilus, meet Jesus Christ!

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Time to Die

He climbed slowly up the mountain, knowing it was the last mountain he would ever climb. And there had been so many, so much climbing. Long ago there had been the slight hills of Egypt, where one had stood to watch the slaves labouring away on Pharaoh’s latest crazy building project. There had been the steep places he had crossed when he fled Egypt, and the hill he had just come over when he saw, ahead of him, the bush that burned but was not consumed. He often pondered that bush, seeking to understand the mind of God through the symbols He used to communicate. Only now did he wonder if perhaps he himself was perhaps that bush – inhabited by the very glory of God, and driven by Him to actions he himself would never have imagined, nor thought himself able to accomplish, and yet, never eaten away by that inhabiting glory. He remained himself, whatever mighty wind the Lord breathed through him, and that, in itself was a marvel, utterly different from man-made explanations of the way gods worked.

There was the hill, too, where he had stood above the battle against the Amalekites with his hands raised in prayer, until he grew so weary that Aaron and Hur had to hold his hands up for him. And the Israelites, led by Joshua, had prevailed, because his prayers had prevailed. And now he felt the weariness of his approaching end, and with it a great peace. There would be no more battles, and no more mountains, it was Joshua’s turn now to lead the free children of slaves into the glory of the promise, to fight against all kinds of evil and teach them to follow the God who called them home. Once it had hurt him terribly to know that, by his presumption, he had forfeited his own right to enter the Promised Land, but now he no longer minded.  He had done his part, and it was enough, and now, once more, he could be alone with the God who had called him. The Promised Land was precious, but he had met with the One who gave the Promise, who was, in Himself, the fulfilment and meaning of every good promise that had ever been made. It was time to move from the symbols and the tokens into the True Reality, and, step by step, as he climbed, he felt as i9f his heart was making its own pilgrimage back home. It was time to be done with the busyness and clamour.

And he thought then, of the greatest mountain he had climbed, more times than he could now remember, Sinai, where, while the people below him trembled in terror, he had walked up into the very presence of God. Even now he had no words for that encounter, only a memory of such glory that all his tears were turned to rainbows, the sign of God’s mercy to man. He had walked with God, and in the tent of meeting he had talked with God face to face, as a man talks to his friend. And now there was no terror in the approach of death, it was no harder than walking to a friend’s house and accepting their hospitality contented gratitude. God would take care of the rest 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Something Missing

He didn’t need to recount them. There were only 99, and he only had to quickly scan back over them to know which one wasn’t there. He knew each one by name and he held each one in his heart, far more precious to him than any market value a stranger would assign. And it was the little one who had gone astray the jaunty, skittish one with one black leg and a black patch on his face that always gave him a cock-eyed look. The shepherd’s heart ached for his missing lamb. He knew just how much trouble waited out there for someone so small and defenceless: wild beasts that would lust for the taste of his flesh, treacherous paths where small feet could slip and stray in the uncertain moonlight, the perils of fear and loneliness pressing in upon him and overwhelming him with terror. There were steep hillsides and strongly flowing streams and an all-devouring wilderness to swallow up the tiny bleating of his despair.

Steeling himself to go out and face the bitter night that was fast closing in, and gazing anxiously at the storm clouds that were gathering even faster, the shepherd made his preparations. He made sure that the rest of the flock were secure, huddled together, wool against wool for warmth, with a strong stout fence around them that no predator could breach, then he left the ninety nine safely penned against his return, girded his loins, took up his crook, tightly fastened his cloak, and went forth into the darkness.

It was a terrible night. Humanly he thought of the warmth of a fire, and the comfort of having other men nearby. He knew how they would laugh at him, their scorn blunted only by a hint of awe at his stubbornness. None of them would do this. Why would a man who had 99 others put his life on the line for a mere sheep? It made no sense, it wore no logic; for love will always transcend logic, and make chaos of the heart’s account books. It is such a debt that the whole world’s wealth counts as nothing in the balance; and no hireling shepherd could ever understand. And holding such love up before him, like a lantern to mark his path, he turned away from all the temptations of warmth and laughter, and set his face towards the icy wind that raked its talons across him.

He never told the story of that night’s suffering: the stones that bruised his feet, the steep paths that mocked his exhaustion, the sharp coldness of the rising streams he crossed. Nor did he speak of the haunting fear that he might already be too late, or that even his keen hearing might miss the sound of cries while the storm beat its fury down upon him. But as the storms eventually blew over, and the first paleness before dawn touched the sky, he found his missing lamb, caught in a thornbush that leant over a terrible chasm. With infinite gentleness he soothed its struggles, for how do you explain to a feckless lamb that the very thorns that are hurting it are its only protection from a dreadful fall? There was blood on his hands and feet, and a gash upon his side by the time his lamb was safe. But there was no pain in his eyes as he lifted it tenderly to his shoulders, only a joy too bright too look upon, for the lost had been found, and his own was restored to him. And none who saw the gladness on his face as he returned had any need to ask if it was worth what it had cost. They only marvelled at his love!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Time to Dance

In the beginning they danced for the wonder and the joy of it all. The morning stars sang together, and the greater light and the lesser light danced in their orbits of wonder. Creation was wonderfully fair, and the love of the Creator shone out through every grass blade and blossoming twig. The waters danced in the streams and the rivers, and the great waters moved in harmony. The mighty beasts and the tiny ones woke into gladness. And it was very, very good.

But sorrow came with sin, and there was grief and pain and horror, and Death, who immobilises all dancing, made his terrible presence felt. Ruin and decay appeared, step by grief-filled step, and all things under the sun fell away from glory. And the deepest ruin was in the heart of man, where Death had set up his throne, and ruled all things towards a grim and bitter misery. And dancing was rare, except for the frantic gyrations with which the flesh would try to forget, for a few moments, its grinding mortality. But here and there, where the hints of a better Springtime broke through, where the smile of the Father, who had not forgotten his world, was still reflected in the sunshine and the blessed rain, and the soft light of the stars in the evening, hearts would lift in praise, and, for a faltering footstep or two, they would stumble in and out of the everlasting dance.

And the ages passed, and the hearts of men grew weary, and death had dominion. But in the darkest shadows a promise danced, and the time came for the promise to be fulfilled. And so he came down from heaven, God himself, and his love danced through every word and action, power and redemption and mercy dancing out a story so glorious that those who had eyes to see were overcome with wonder. And he danced, with feet weighed down with every dreadful burden of our mortality, into confrontation with Death. And Death, who not abide the dance or the promise, pinned him down with dreadful nails, to finish the dance and silence the music of heaven once and for all.

But it could not be. For Life broke Death, sin was accounted for, and, on that glorious Resurrection morning, he danced out of the tomb, bringing glory and fulfilment with him, and invited all of humanity to join in the new dance with him. And they danced their way through hardship and persecution, through discouragement and loss, and the world was not worthy of them. And still they dance to the music of heaven, the love-song of the Father, though they stumble and falter in their human clumsiness, for they have seen the beauty of their Christ, and they would seek to dance his steps all the days of their lives.

And they dance in hope, for they know that one day all things will be restored, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth fresh from the hand of the Creator. And the morning stars will sing again, and there will be no need of sun and moon, for God himself will be their light, and by that light, enthralled by the revelation of his beauty, they shall dance out his praise for all eternity.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A time to mourn

They expected him to be glad, because they hadn’t understood. Wasn’t it in the nature of things for a man to rejoice when his enemy was cast down? Didn’t a man lift up his heart at the destruction of one who had harassed him for years, and pursued him with a personal malice that went far beyond the limits of sanity, a malice that harried him into the desert wastelands, threw spears at him, took away his wife, and did everything that the king of a small country could possibly do to get rid of him? Everyone knew that it was only by some miracle of divine preservation that David was still alive. Saul had used every last, stretched atom of his bitter, twisted powers to destroy him, surely it was only normal that David would be glad to hear that he was gone?

The man who brought the news certainly thought so. Worn with the effort of trying to be the first with the news, fully expecting to be rewarded, he arrived torn and dishevelled, and prostrated himself at David’s feet, eager to honour the apparent new king. At David’s urging he repeated his story in full, telling how Jonathan and his brothers had been killed by the Philistines, and how, in the face of total defeat, Saul had despaired of his own life and looked for death. Then, eager to ingratiate himself with the new king, he embroidered the story of Saul’s final moments, claiming that he, himself, at Saul’s urging, had struck the fatal blow!

It was a fatal mistake. David was outraged at his temerity, that he, an Amalekite, an outsider, a member of an accursed race, had dared to strike down the king Israel, the anointed of God! Saul, in his torment and confusion had been a bitter enemy, but that was not how David perceived him. To David, Saul was the chosen of God, the first King of Israel, anointed and uniquely set apart. If his end had been ignominious, his beginning had been glorious: he had led Israel to victory and had sought to follow the Lord, even when he had totally misunderstood what God required. He had never renounced the Lord, or fallen into the desperate idolatry that was the besetting sin of his countrymen. And he had been the father of David’s dearest friend. There was no way he could allow the self-confessed murderer of Saul to survive.

Instead, mourning deeply, David wrote a lament for the fallen king. “Your glory, Oh Israel, lies slain on the heights. How the mighty have fallen!” He could not despise his enemy or rejoice over his defeat. Although Saul had made his life so difficult, he did not see this as a reason to despise or fear him; why should he when he had already had the Lord’s sure promise that one day he would be king in Saul’s place? The kingship was a gift and honour given by God, a sacred thing which no one should lay rough hands upon. Had they not seen, had they not known, that even when Saul was in his power, David would not raise his hand against him? The death of Saul was not a time of rejoicing, but a time to mourn.