Friday, December 14, 2007

God bless the diocese of Chichester!

A nice woman from Church House in Hove phoned today to say that they had heard (I know not how) that we had had a new addition to the family and they were giving us a grant of £150 (from a "Welfare Fund", it turns out) which is jolly kind of them.

Glad the diocese is supporting the filling of the earth (Genesis 1:22), a commandment which as far as I'm aware has not been repealed.

I guess its good if prospective vicars can bring their own Sunday school with them. I wonder if my job prospects would improve if we invest in a labradore too?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The First Christmas Presents

I’m glad to say that the good people of Holy Trinity, Eastbourne seem quite happy with a bit of interpretative maximalism. No grammatical-historical reductionistic obsessions for us!

I spoke at the all age service yesterday on the significance of the “wise men”’s gift. Mrs Lloyd tells me that I inadvertently said there were 3 wise men, for which, of course, I apologise, since the Word of God doesn’t say so. I was trying hard not to call these philosopher / astrologer "magi" types kings too.

I suggested that gold implied that Jesus is a king (vv2, 6 and the star as a sign of a ruler in the Bible), frankincense (incense used in Old Testament temple worship) that Jesus is a priest and that myrrh points forward to his death. My points were further expounded in ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’.

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray'r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

I must admit that I’m not entirely sure that all those ideas were in Matthew’s mind and I fear there may have been a bit of “right doctrine, wrong text”. The gifts may just be choice Eastern products fit for a king, but I had published my title and we’d paid to download images of gold, incense and myrrh from iStockPhoto, and it seemed to make such a neat talk and....

Calvin is dismissive of the idea that each of the gifts has a special significance:

Their presents show whence they came: for there can be no doubt that they brought them as the choicest productions of their country…. Almost all the commentators indulge in speculation about those gifts, as denoting the kingdom, priesthood and burial of Christ…. I see no solid ground for such an opinion. It was customary, we know, among the Persians, when they offered homage to their kings, to bring a present (p137) in their hands. The Magi select those three for the produce of which Eastern countries are celebrated….” (Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke, pp137-138)

Nevertheless, the Magi no doubt would have thought long and hard about what to give Jesus and Matthew does bother to tell us what the gifts were. And anyway, given God’s sovereignty and the inspiration of Scripture, we need not limit our interpretation to the intentions of the human actors or authors.

Myrrh is mentioned in connection with the crucifixion (Mk. 15:23) and burial of Christ (Jn. 19:39) but it is also associated with kings (Ps. 45:8, where incense is also mentioned; Song 3:6, where King Solomon is in view) and France (Tyndale NT Comm.) says that in the Old Testament it is a symbol of joy and festivity (Pr. 7:17; Song 5:5).

Isaiah 60:6 prophecies that “all from Sheba will come bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD” and it is interesting to note that in 1 Kings 10:1-13 the Queen of Sheba gives gifts of gold and spices to Solomon the Davidic King.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jesus Our Castle

The youth group are having an indoor bouncy castle tonight. The text for the talk: "he [God] is my fortress" (Psalm 62:2).

(1) God is a "fortress" for his people (vv6-7) - a place of security and safety, defence, refuge (vv7,8), a (mighty) rock (vv2, 7) - strong, stable, "never be shaken" (vv2, 6) "salvation" (vv1-2), rest (v1) - ultimate salvation, eternal rest

(2) God "alone" is a dependable fortress (v2, v5, v6) - no one and nothing else can give us ultimate satisfaction / "rest" (v1, 5) - always dissatisfied till we find our satisfaction in God - people are weak and will die and sometimes let us down (v9) - riches cannot satisfy or save and are unreliable (v10) - God's strength and love and justice are the certainties in life (vv11-12)

(3) "So trust in God at all times;" (v8)

"pour out your heart to him" (v8) - you can bring any problem or situation to God. He understands and can cope with anything.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Red or white?

Calvin says it is a thing indifferent whether we use red or white wine in the Lord's Supper, which should be left to the church's discretion (Institutes IV.XVII.43, p1420).

I wonder if anyone has ever actually advocated using white wine?

The symbolism of red, the colour of blood, seems so natural and obvious that it would be a shame to miss it.

Half-baked thoughts

Presumably half-baked thoughts are better than no thoughts. But there are probably some foods I would rather have raw than half-baked. More thought needed. Perhaps a mid-morning snack first...

Jesus' body & God's words - sacraments?

As it’s a Thursday I’m struggling away at Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper again – partly with a view to thinking about whether or not the Bible may usefully be called sacramental.

I’m not sure I really get all this but this little bit of Calvin’s interaction with Lombard has got me thinking:

But the foolish imagination, of which Lombard was the author, that eating Christ’s flesh is the sacrament, has perverted their minds. Here are his words: “The sacrament and not the thing are the forms of bread and wine; the sacrament and the thing are the flesh and blood of Christ; the thing and not the sacrament, his mystical flesh.” Again a little later: “The thing signified and contained is Christ’s proper flesh; signified and not contained, the mystical body.” I agree with his distinction between the flesh of Christ and the effective nourishment which inheres in it; but his pretending it [the flesh and blood of Christ?] to be a sacrament, and even one contained under bread, is an error not to be endured. (Institutes 4.17.33, p1406)

It seems to me that there’s an important question here about what constitutes the real “thing” and where it is to be found. There could be a problem about describing the sacrament in contrast to the thing. The sacrament broadly conceived surely involves a union of the thing signified (the real substance) and the signifier. The more narrow use of sacrament refers only to the outward sign making a distinction between the sacramental sign and the substance of which it speaks.

For example, could Jesus’ human body be called a sacrament? In a fairly weak sense that it is a created thing that somehow significantly mediates the divine, surely so. There is a union of the divine and the human in Jesus. But in the case of Jesus’ human body, what you see (the sign) is the real thing: the substance of the human body of the God-man Jesus. Lombard wrongly seems to imagine some third thing called “the mystical body”.

The case is very different in the case of the bread of the Lord’s Supper: it is the sign or sacrament (narrowly understood) of the body of Christ, not that physical body itself, which is now seated at the Right Hand in glory. Yet the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (broadly understood) offers the true Christ (including his body) to be received spirituallu by faith.

A problem with thinking about the words of the Bible as sacramental is that it might lead one to suppose that the real action is elsewhere: that these words only point towards the true Word of God which is somehow beyond these words. One can see why liberals would see this as an attractive way of downgrading the words while still retaining them (just as we use bread in the Supper but we don’t confuse it with Jesus’ body). Granted the written words are given to lead us to the Living Word, they are nevertheless themselves the real words of God, not just signs of those words.

I guess the issue is more complicated however when one speaks of Bible translations. They would seem to be pointers to the words of God, rather than his very words – secondary signs.

The ink markings on the pages of our Bibles could be said to be the form and not the thing of the words of God, rather as the bread is not the physical body of Christ.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Third Province Movement

I guess I should be a more faithful reader of the church newspapers that pad onto my doormat every week, but I'd not come across The Third Province Movement website until today. Bishop Wallace Benn and Roger Beckwith are patrons of it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Free Images for my sermons

Does anyone have any tips for good places to find free images on-line for use in talks?

I’m particularly interested in some gold, frankincense (or even just plain incense, whatever the difference is) and myrrh, if anyone can tell me how I can lay my hands on them in the next few days.

Though it may be better simply not to bother with the old power-point, I guess. I could always start decorating old cereal packets or something. The joy of giving all-age talks!

I’ve had a look at a few of the sites listed on the Wikipedia Public Domain Image Resources page, but I imagine this would be a great way to waste lots of time.

Two Little Boys

Here's a copy of my handout for a sermon preached yesterday on Zechariah's song from Luke 1:57-80 entitled A Song For Christmas: Two Little Boys - the boys in question being John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

A new born baby boy – a proud father

“What then is this child going to be?” (v66)

Significance (of John) in the light of the big picture of:

(1) What God is doing:

God Himself is coming (v68, v76, v78)

A Saviour from the line of King David (v69)

To redeem (v68), rescue (v74), save (v69, v71) and forgive (v77) his people

(2) Why God is doing it:

Mercy (v72, v78) – undeserved love

Fulfilling His promises (v70, vv72-73)

(3) How we (and John) fit in:

John the Baptist’s unique role: Are we ready? Be prepared! (v76)

Two Little Boys: John points us to Jesus

Accept what He offers: light, life, peace (vv78-79), security (v69, v71, v74), freedom (v68)

Serve Him without fear (v74)

Here are a few more jottings as a Word document.