The early Christian message is not well summarised by saying that Jesus died so that we can go to heaven. That way of looking at the gospel and mission both shrinks and distorts what the Bible actually teaches. It ignores Jesus’s claim to be launching God’s kingdom “on earth as in heaven” and to be bringing that work to its climax precisely on the cross. It ignores the New Testament’s emphasis on the true human vocation, to be “image-bearers,” reflecting God’s glory into the world and the praises of creation back to God. Christian mission means implementing the victory that Jesus won on the cross. Everything else follows from this.
The “powers” gained their power because idolatrous humans sinned; when God deals with sins on the cross, he takes back from the powers their usurped authority. Sin matters, and forgiveness of sins matters, but they matter because sin, flowing from idolatry, corrupts, distorts, and disables the image-bearing vocation, which is much more than simply “getting ready for heaven.”
To say yes to Jesus’s resurrection is, by that very thought and deed, to say yes to the new world of forgiveness that was won on the cross, the world that was then launched into heaven-and-earth reality on Easter morning.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 mins)
Sunday 5, Lent, Year A. John 11 – the raising of Lazarus.
When Jesus knew that it was his time to go up to Jerusalem to face the passion and death – why did he choose the festival of Passover? Surely if his actions were going to bring about the ultimate covering over of sins, he would choose the great festival of expiation – the Day of Atonement? What does it mean to be atoned? And what was Jesus doing historically in offering his life in this way on the cross?
Recorded at St Paul’s (6pm & 8am)
Sunday 4, Lent, Year A (Laetare Sunday); John 9.
Paul is often accused of being dry and clinical in his writing – but sometimes he can open us to the most beautiful and stunning statements about the love and mercy of our God. The second reading today – from Romans 5 – provides us with such a statement. He tells us:
But this is how God demonstrates
his own love for us:
the Messiah died for us
while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8
We can look at a number of different scenarios to help unpack what this might mean for us. Each one involves two people walking along a muddy path beside a swollen river during weather like we are having right now. We will then journey with two other people – this time the two disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem towards the village of Emmaus which we find in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. These two people share with us many insights about the hopes and dreams of ordinary Jewish people in the mid-first century, and how Jesus who joins them along their journey addresses these questions about the significance of the cross and his whole life.
The hope of Israel was not for rescue from the world,
but a rescue plan where redeemed humanity
would once more play the role for which they were designed.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (13 mins)
Sunday 3, Season of Lent, Year A.
Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42.
When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to suffer and die, or as he does in today’s Gospel, tell them not to speak of the transfiguration vision until after he had been raised from the dead – what was the story that they had in their heads when they would later tell the story of the death of Jesus. Our biblical knowledge is often poor, and it is not usually helped by some of the imagery that Christians have produced over the centuries, especially during the medieval period. Some of that imagery suggests that Jesus does not die out of love, but because God so hated the world that Jesus is killed as a human sacrifice. This is so far from the authentic scriptural witness that we need to journey into the story more deeply to see how to make sense of this, and to discover what Paul meant when he said that Jesus died “in accordance with the scriptures.”
Recorded at Saint Paul’s, 8am (14 mins)
Sunday 2, Lent, Year A. Genesis 12:1-4; Matthew 17:1-9
As we enter into this new season of Lent, the Church offers us very evocative readings to guide our journey. But it seems that there is an even more fundamental truth that lies at the heart of the Christian faith – which is the question of “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” Although the early church tackled many fundamental questions in the first few centuries, such as the nature of the person of Jesus, grace and salvation, as well as looking at questions about Mary and the Holy Trinity, the question as to why Jesus died on the cross, and exactly how this was done “in accordance with the scriptures” as St Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15, and which Jesus himself tells the two disciples that join him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 – the church did not really begin to address this question until it was in the midst of the Protestant reformation. This has also led to strange results which continue to haunt the church today. This series will attempt to look more closely at the scriptures as well as what Jesus himself says about the cross in order to find the ongoing significance and place of the cross for our own lives, and why the church continues to say that by early evening on the first Good Friday, a revolution had begun.
Recorded at Saint Paul’s, 8am (16 mins)
Sunday 1, Lent, Year A.
The first question that Paul addresses today in I Corinthians 3 is whether he in fact is the founder of Christianity. It had been commonly claimed that Jesus only ever intended to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God by reforming Judaism, not to begin a new religion, and Paul is accused of being the actual founder of this new faith. In fact, Paul addresses this question by acknowledging that he was the founder of many different Christian communities, but in every instance all that he has done was to build on the work of Jesus the Messiah – using images of motherhood and farming to make his point. There can be no other foundation, other than his beloved Jesus.
He then talks about the different kinds of building materials that might be used, listing six types in two groups of three. The first three – gold, silver and precious stones – are what adorned the temple in Jerusalem and these will survive the pending fire; the second three – wood, grass and straw – are clearly much more inferior and will not survive any kind of fire. His encouragement is to build worthily on the great foundation that has been given to us by the Lord, striving for something that will endure.
He brings this section that began in chapter 1 to a conclusion by reminding the community in Corinth that they are already the Temple of God – indeed, “God’s spirit lives in you!” Lest we attempt to read this through overly individualised western 21st century eyes, Paul uses the plural for you throughout this section – reminding us that it is only together that this is at all true. So let no one boast in this. Indeed, ‘It isn’t a matter of knowing that you’ve got it all together; you haven’t. It’s a matter of knowing that somewhere it is all together—and that you’re part of it.’
Paul then concludes this section by repeating this quite incredible declaration: “For everything belongs to you…” providing a list that is absolutely and completely inclusive of time and space and then concluding with the declaration and invitation: “And you belong to the Messiah;
and the Messiah belongs to God.”
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (12mins)
Sunday 07, Year A. 1 Corinthians 3:16-23.
Although it may seem that St Paul is having an each-way bet today, he is not. He says that although the Cross is foolishness for the wise and a stumbling block for the Jewish people, there is still a wisdom that is at work here – but it is not a wisdom that is available to everyone. He says that the wisdom (sophia) that the Greeks in general and the Corinthians in particular love so much does still exist – but only for those who are spiritually mature (teleioi), not for those who are infants who haven’t struggled deeply enough with these mysteries. This remains a challenge for us in the church today – when people are used to having everything shared readily pre-prepared and pre-packaged for easy digestion.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (7 mins)
When pondering the nature of God, Paul could have spoken about the various ways that God had been revealed across the centuries, the different qualities of God, the effects of God, or the ways to encounter God, based on philosophy or rhetoric – common in Greek culture. Instead Paul focuses on one basic element – the cross of Jesus. He wants us to continue to understand that the cross is everything – until we focus on the cross and allow it to make sense of our lives, nothing else is going to make sense.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Sunday 5, Year A. Matthew 5:13-16; I Cor 2:1-5
The liturgy presents us with the final section (26-31) of chapter one of First Corinthians today, which means we have jumped over verses 18-25 which provides the essential context of the passage. Paul speaks in a powerful rhetoric about the cross – ironically telling us that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. It is a little like the scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Marc Antony attempts – as a friend of the recently assassinated Caesar to speak without the rhetoric of Marcus Brutus – when Antony actually speaks in beautiful and compelling poetry in comparison to the pedestrian and uninspired prose of Brutus. Paul uses some of his finest rhetoric in this passage to convince us of the power and wisdom of the cross. None of this makes any sense according to the human wisdom that was so highly regarded by Corinthian society (as in our own) but God can transform what is weak and foolish into that which will shame the strong and the wise.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (12 mins)
Sunday 4, Year A. I Corinthians 1:26-31.
Corinth was located at the end of a neck of land attaching the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece and having a port facing east (Cenchreae) and another with access to the west (Lechaion), Corinth was geographically predestined to be a corridor of commerce and a potpourri of cultures. Ships could be hauled across the isthmus on chariots on the 6km paved railroad-like diolkos, whose grooves can still be seen on a surviving strip. This saved mariners sailing 300km from Athens to the Adriatic, and 160km to Naples or Rome. It also spared them sailing around Cape Maleae, proverbially treacherous for seafaring.
Ships with cargo too heavy for the diolkos would unload at one port and either haul the empty boat over the diolkos or load the cargo into a different boat at the other port. For various reasons, much cargo passed through Corinth itself. Being able to excise duty on the shipping, and celebrated for its shipbuilding and its production of bronze, ceramics, and textiles, Corinth was a wealthy city. It was also one of the ancient world’s largest. Its 10km encircling wall locked into the Acrocorinth, a rocky hill rising to a height of 600m like an impregnable fortress.
It also had a reputation of being one of the most sensual cities of the ancient world.
Montague, First Corinthians (2011, p15).
Paul first went to Corinth as part of his second missionary journey, travelling there after an unsuccessful visit to the nearby city of Athens, arriving there around the year 50. Given the melting pot that Corinth was, having been re-established and re-built as a city by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE with people from all over the world, with the top of the Acrocorinth crowned by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite that was served by one thousand sacred temple prostitutes (known as Corinthian ladies) – it would not seem to be a natural setting for a thriving Christian community. Yet this becomes Paul’s home for the next eighteen months (Acts 18). It was not without its problems, which so much of this letter is dedicated to after Paul hears from Chloe about some of the problems that have unfolded.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 mins)
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