Tag Archives: Leviticus

10 February: Not through vainglory: a response to Virginia Woolf

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Saint Paul never tramped the byways of Palestine with Jesus, but he knew the Jewish Scriptures – to love the Lord your God with your whole being and your neighbour as yourself. He put it this way:

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

Philippians 2:1-4.

You don’t have to be a Christian believer to look to the things of others, to work towards being of one accord with your neighbours. In a diverse society such as the United Kingdom today, that should be obvious. But that sense of solidarity does not predominate in everybody. I feel that it was what Virginia Woolf missed by trying to live the illusion – her own word – that she was somehow superior to others. Vainglory sums it up precisely.

And realising that it was vainglory to affect such superiority – or so I read her ending – she filled her pockets with stones and waded into the river. Woolf was certainly struggling with despair in her last months. The Hamilton Star recently told how researchers from Canada and Brazil created word clouds from her writings in happier times and those last months.

In the cloud created from her final months, the words include: little, miss, war, nothing, never, can’t and don’t. The researchers write that these “negative words” may indicate Woolf’s “thoughts of lack of efficacy, self-criticism, worthlessness, nostalgia, melancholy and mainly hopelessness.”

This is not to deny the mental illness that blighted Virginia Woolf’s life, which surely contributed to her thoughts of melancholy and hopelessness, despite her many privileges. Nor is it possible to compare her suffering with Paul’s time in chains and prison, nor to deny the power of God’s grace to work in her heart. Suicide is an extreme form of repentance, and Woolf was aware, perhaps morbidly aware, of causing suffering to others, and as her last letter shows, she wanted to end that. Let us, for every one who takes their own life, 

be … confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6.

 

And let us remember, with thanks, that there is now formal and informal help for those in great distress that was not available to Virginia Woolf.

MMB.

 

 

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January 20: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY: WELCOMING THE STRANGER.

church unity week poster pic.

The memory of a liberated people, that they were once enslaved, should compel us to welcome the stranger in our midst. The experience of Biblical Israel resonates with the experiences of the peoples of the Caribbean region, the majority of whom were once slaves. We remember how God restores the dignity of God’s people and the churches of the region play an important role in reminding their society of the duty to welcome refugees and displaced persons.
Leviticus 19.33-34 You shall love the alien as yourself

Psalm 146 The Lord watches over the strangers

Hebrews 13.1-3 Some have entertained angels without knowing it

Matthew 25.31-46 I was a stranger and you welcomed me
REFLECTION We are good because we are loved, not loved because we are good. If it was up to each one of us to earn it, we might not be loved very much. Too much goat and not enough sheep. And yet loved we are, since God is in all things, even the bits we think are ugly and unmentionable. We are loved, but God wants us to give some love back, giving and receiving in a mutual relationship. Love makes us better holds us together reaching out to the other. Being in relationship with God means being with other people, doing some good. Looking after the creation and not seeing everything as being there for our enjoyment. It means being fair and not exploiting others. It means giving and not taking. It means being alongside not overpowering others. It even means welcoming and respecting the stranger in our midst since it may be the Christ unannounced.
QUESTIONS How have you experienced being a stranger? Have you visited another church (perhaps whilst on holiday)? How were you welcomed? How did you feel? How might being truly hospitable be challenging? What might hold us back from being genuinely hospitable?
PRAYER Barrier-breaking God, You embrace all cultures and lands, But keep a special place in your heart For the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Grant us the gift of your Spirit That we may become as You are, Welcoming all as brothers and sisters, Your cherished children, Citizens together in Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. Amen
GO AND DO (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) The Caribbean Council of Churches has been involved in advocacy to challenge those nations that are restricting or stripping Haitians of citizenship rights.
Visit Go and Do to read Milciades story about being denied his rights in the Dominican Republic.
Visit Go and Do to find inspiration and encouragement to keep helping those who have been forced from their homes across the world.

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April 19, Jerusalem III: The Temple and Sacrifice

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A few years ago a romantic young Jerusalem rabbi explained on television how he would restore the sacrificial ritual of the Temple, once his organisation had taken charge of the site, an event he was confident would occur soon. He was convinced that this was what God wanted.

Scripture seems far less certain about Temple sacrifice; there are plenty of passages like this one:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,

opened my ear;

you asked no holocaust or sacrifice for sin,

then I said, ‘Here I am! I am coming!’ (Psalm 40:6–7)

 

Yet the sacrificial dissection, burning and eating of animals by priest and people went on, day after day, year after year. Why? Mary Douglas suggested that sacrifice was a concrete form of telling the story of the Lord’s presence at the heart of the Temple and of his people. The body of the sacrificial animal ‘corresponding to the tabernacle in the holy nation’,[1] and its life and that of the people were  symbolically returned to God through the blood and vital parts offered at the altar, while the meat shared by priests and offerers expressed communion with God and each other.

The young rabbi’s plan is on hold for the foreseeable future. God wants neither elaborate ritual nor the innermost parts of animals; he wants faith (Hebrews 11); he wants the innermost parts of his servants to ascend to him in a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

We do not need to be in Jerusalem to make a morning offering!

MMB.

[1]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 134.

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April 18, Jerusalem II: No Tame God.

The prophets insisted that the Temple was the place of God’s presence, not just the national shrine of Israel or Judah. Before a stone could be laid upon a stone, Nathan was sent to forbid David from building a house for the Lord (2 Samuel 7). God wanted it clear that he was the one God, and not to be tamed like a Canaanite god by offering sacrifices to force blessings from his hand; nor was he open to trickery like Zeus, who was taken in by Prometheus’ theft of fire;[1] no, he was:

‘Exodus’ terrifying concept of unbearable beauty and power, God known in the thunderstorm on Mount Sinai, God who warns Aaron not to come within the Holy of Holies improperly dressed, lest he die.’[2]

 

            This God sustained a Covenant relationship with Israel. He it was who took the initiative and sent down fire upon the landmark sacrifices of Abraham’s vigil or Elijah’s watch on Mount Carmel (Genesis 15; 1Kings 18). He would do the same for his fledgling Church at Pentecost, when the disciples were transformed, not destroyed, by fire (Acts 2:3); a few years later the fire of the Spirit was passed to Paul’s ordinand, Timothy, bringing him into the eternal life of the Trinity (2Timothy 1:6–11) .

May our light burn brightly so that our lives may point those we love and those we meet to that eternal life.

           MMB.

[1]    Paul Cartledge: ‘Olympic Self-Sacrifice’, in  ‘History Today’, 50, 10; October 2000,
Paul Cartledge, Olympic Self Sacrifice .
[2]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 34.

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