Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Two thing are necessary

We're reading through Luke and Acts at church, and in Luke 10:38-42 comes a clash between Martha and Jesus over Mary not helping out in the kitchen when Jesus' visits but instead sitting at Jesus' feet. An invitation, as my friend Joe preached recently, not to choose between busyness and contemplation, but to 'rest inwardly' on Jesus. How I need that!

Some further scribbles from my notebook...

What does Jesus talk to Mary about?
We know from chapter 10:22 that Jesus alone makes his Father known.
And given chapter 11:1-13 is an invite to speak to the Father I think we can conclude that's what Mary is hearing about. That's the necessary thing. Without this we have nothing else.

And so I need to be in the the sound of the gospel - whether as I read the Scriptures myself, as I read them with others and we apply the gospel together, under preaching, through baptism, the Lord's Supper and the prayer of the church family. By all and every means possible my dull heart needs the gospel of Christ to put to death my sin and turn to Christ.

But two more questions...

How can I know the Father?
Jesus makes him known, but Luke doesn't teach relationship without atonement. That's an error when The Father is cast as the father in the story of the sons. The father there is Jesus - who comes out to seek both sons... just as Jesus came into the world to seek us. That story and this incident occur on Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. His death alone makes it possible for me to know the Father through the Son.
"...one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42   
"Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke 24:26 
Two things are necessary - to listen to Jesus... and for Jesus to die. The word of the gospel puts these together articulating audibly the news of the Christ's cross.

Why would I want to know the Father?

  • Firstly, I wouldn't. In myself I disbelieve the gospel, I'm adverse to God and love myself above all else.
  • Secondly, as I hear the gospel I encounter  'the beloved son' (Luke 20) the cornerstone and crushing stone. In the gospel I see my opposition to the Son, our pursuit of his inheritance for ourselves, our self-justification (Lawyer in the good Samaritan story), our anxious labouring,  which sets me up against the Gift.... and I receive a call to another way.
  • Thirdly, what there is the treasure of the gospel. We can see the joy of the Father and the Son in the Spirit, in Luke 10:21, and if we call on the Father, in the name of the Son, we're promised the Spirit (Luke 11:13)

One person is necessary
Two things are necessary, my hearing from Jesus what he says of his Father who sent him, raised him and appointed him judge of all. The necessary is Christ. To welcome him, to receive his help in my helplessness (like the man by the road in the good Samaritan story) is both the end of me and my new beginning.

Monday, October 26, 2015

To end all wars

I listened to a revisited Radiolab episode at the weekend 'Update: New Normal'. It began with the question - will we ever stop going to war? The observation offered was that a 20+ years ago we were optimistic, but now 80-90% don't think we'll ever stop. What do you think?

A century ago the first world war was thought of as 'the war to end all wars' but this has plainly not proved to be the case. Wars have increased not decreased. One nation or cause attacks others, and their allies dive in to pursue justice. Just wars are responses to unjust action. Honorable people fight on our behalf - lest we forget. I breathe a sigh of relief not to live in an age where I'm called on to fight, and give thanks for those who have fought for our freedom and for others.

Can we change? 
The Radiolab episode tells the story of a company of Baboons, granted a plentiful supply of food they appeared to become less violent. It's said that the reason there are so many wars in the middle east is the lack of water... and we note that there's enough food in the world to feed everyone. Lack of resources leads to wars.... wars lead to lack of resources... chicken and egg.

The Baboons appeared to change for many years but life in a violent world crashes back in and the old habits are restored.

Can religion or faith have anything to say to this?
Many would say religion is one of the major causes of wars along with the resources question. Differences in worldview certainly appear to lead to war - more than necessarily belief in any particular god. We war because we see the world differently, we see the world differently because we war...

The thought might be had that faith would offer a pathway to change. Might a new religious idea enable us to live differently?

In the Athenian Areopagus the philosophers listened day after day to the latest ideas, the Twitterati of their day, seeking world changing wisdom, looking for each days Trends. A Messianic-Jew called Paul turns up in the nearby marketplace one day espousing 'Jesus and the Resurrection' - and attracts their attention. Paul's message is that human beings have ignorantly failed to know God. Now he calls people to turn to him
[31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 ESV)
Paul wasn't (probably) speaking about war and peace, but does speak in fairly expansive terms about life.

The Christian faith doesn't say - we can learn to live in peace - more that we can't. But, that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness" - justice will be done. Wrongs will be put right. The Christian is pessimistic about the prospect of wars ending here and now, but persuaded that time will be called on all our fighting. Judgement day will come, not in Hollywood-apocalypse-style, but in the righting of all wrongs.

This will be "a great and magnificent day" (2:20).

The United Nations, the Hague, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions attempt to resolve conflicts but this will be by "a man whom he has appointed" (also 10:42). Who is this man to judge the world in righteousness? He is the crucified and risen one who has been appointed to the task by
[24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, [27] that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, [28] for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28 ESV)
And as his offspring we ought not to be ignorant...
"we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:29 ESV)"
This is a striking, even offensive, observation on humanity. We war but our greater problem is a warring against our maker. A twisted view of him which unravels everything else. He has fixed a day when this will be ended. And before that day invites us to turn to "a man" - this resurrected Jesus who laid his life down for those who fought against him, his image bearers and his world.

An end to wars is good but the good man is our greater need. He who alone can bring justice to the world.  Wouldn't deep justice be the end of me? Wouldn't I be convicted of my war crimes, for the violence of Dictators and Generals resides in my heart, misreading God I misread myself and my fellow human beings - overrating myself and underrating others and seeking advantage over others. I don't command armies against nations, but I command my heart against my neighbour, colleagues, family.

The Christian change in a warring world is a call to turn to the appointed man. In speaking of him, Paul is "preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36).  A peace I yearn for and yet in some sense don't really want... and a peace I cannot accomplish. This announcement of peace says that wars will one day cease... but that we cannot really change, though we might taste something of the peace that is to come.

Can wars ends wars... history suggests not for countless reasons. Can plenty end wars... history suggests greed triumphs and injustice remains. Paul says: As Christ ends our unjust war on him (with all its collatoral damage) by giving himself to us... Christ is the end of war. "He himself is our peace." And so we might pursue peace.

Some scoffed at Paul. Some wanted to explore more. Some believed.

See also:

Image - Creative Commons - Walt Jabsco

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Marmite Moment of Faith

I've come across these three observations lately on Christianity and Secularism. Food for thought.
  • Christianity and the University experience notes that evangelicalism, in Universities, seems to equally produce activism and drive people away in equal measure.
  "Evangelicalism... is a destabilising influence... triggering enthusiastic activism and disillusioned withdrawal in apparently equal measure."
  • Charles Taylor in A Secular Age says the desire to move from monastic seriousness and popular nominalism about faith to a reforming call for everyone to be serious and consistent and zealous about their faith has led to more secularism... this includes a shift from meaningful cosmos to silent universe, and the shifting of meaning from 'out there' to within me. Is nominal faith so bad? How much do I really understand of my faith? How consistent is my walk really?
  • Steve Bruce suggests that the charismatic renewal ought to be interpreted as sucess for secularism rather than a push back against it - intensifying some faith but furthering its withdrawal from society. [The charismatic renewal] "can be seen to facilitate rather than interrupt the secularisation process." (Steve Bruce/Michael Horton)
My conviction - the gospel is both utterly inclusive invitation and utterly offensive - so any growth and decline can be considered to be a fruit of that. For no reason in me I'm drawn to Christ, for countless reason in myself I would be turned away from him... in every generation and culture... Christ is the cornerstone and the stumbling block.

However, might there also be something in people being turned off from faith by our (my) approach, zeal, language, posture, piety, inwardness, emphases, adding an unnecessary offense and barrier? Have our changed (from 500 years ago) assumptions about the world, ourselves, religious expression, and society produced a distorted gospel? Is this a better day for the gospel or a worse one, or just a different one?

The only hope - to be thoroughly about The Christ - he who offends the self-righteous, and humbles them... he who welcomes the outsider and the failure and seems too good to be true for some... the scale of the church and the state of society must be given some attention and then we get to our business, holding up Christ for all.

Spread the Marmite, as it were, and let the taste tell. And, put it on good fresh buttered toast, not spread too thickly.. etc.

Image: Creative Commons - Celeste Hodges

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Knowledge of sin is a gift

One says "Church talks about sin too much. I don't like it."
Another "You don't talk about sin enough - I've been so unaware of my sin in recent months. You've failed me."
Another asks "What sin are you into at the moment?"*

Call it, as Spufford does, the HPTFTU. Call it the many names it's given in the Bible. Call it sin.

In an age ('human history') that trivialises sin, that sees it clearly in others... the knowledge of sin, my sin, is desperately needed.

The story of Old Testament Israel can serve us in seeing this.

Twice Paul asks "What advantage in being a Jew?" in Romans 3:1 and 3:10.

Firstly, much advantage - because they had the oracles of God. Paul's approach is Biblical Theology as he retells the story of Israel in Romans 1-3, how they betrayed God, how he gave them over to their sin, how his arms were wide open to receive them in repentance but they received his kindness as freedom to harden their hearts further and store up wrath against themselves, how they failed to be a light to the Gentiles caused them to blaspheme instead of to worship (by and large).

Having the oracles of God is great and is a key plank in a New Testament theology of the Old Testament: God's word written. And their unfaithfulness doesn't make God's word a failure, rather it justly leads to condemnation. Exposure to the word of God is encounter with God but at times people harden their hearts.

And then in a necessary tension because not all questions are yes or no, some are both...

Secondly, no advantage at all. Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. A litany of Old Testament quotes proves what is already clear - the Jews are sinful to the core, as also are the Gentiles. The law God gave them should've been a diagnostic as well as a provocation - it should've bought knowledge of sin, and 'stopped every mouth' among them. No boasts. No defence. But rather, to proclaim the kindness of God to them... and so holding the whole world accountable to God for their response to his kindness...  and if they have rejected that kindness themselves and still seek to defend themselves, then 'their condemnation is just.'

God's design through Israel was to use them as a trophy of grace, a light to the whole world, shaped by his word, their hearts exposed by his word, called to repentance by his word, proclaiming his amazing grace to them. A deep knowledge of sin combined with open arms of kindness --- requiring an answer to the question: He justifies, but how can he do this justly? (Which is answered in 3:21-26)

Imagining there is no way I can be justly justified is one of the many reasons I might what to play down my sin and fake it to God and people that I'm really not so bad... because I suspect I might need to be able to make a defence for myself. How dark my heart, how slow to believe, how self-seeking...

In the gospel of Jesus, the knowledge of my sin is a gift to me.
In the gospel I am invited to repent of my sin.
In the gospel I can come to Christ as I am.
In the gsopel I can come as I am IN HIM on the basis of his crucifixion.

Knowledge of my sin is uncomfortable and yet I need knowledge of my sin. Without the word of God calling me I will not turn again to him. Knowledge of sin isn't about being picky. Nor judgemental. I might look down on Old Testament Jews for their sin but mine is no different. In the gospel community, one broken and betraying person speaks to another and says: let us go to together to the fountain and drink Christ.

And if when I've been dull to my sin - what a gift to realise for therein lies the opportunity to repent. I reach a fresh vista of grace. I am in fact always dull to my sin. At times I think I'm holy, but I'm not. Time and grace reveal my past ignorance. Tim Keller notes that we tend to look back on ourselves and see how foolish we were, so we might be well served to assume present folly as a starting point. At times I don't think I'm holy, in those moments: I might just be on the cusp of holiness. I'm more sinful than I could ever know, far more than I realise today - and in the days to come I might just begin to see a little more of that.
"There is no substitute for receiving love, grace and spiritual feeding from others in an environment of care." Honeysett. Fruitful Leaders.
In the company of friends over breakfast, Romans 3:1-20 has been part of that gift to give knowledge of sin this morning. Neal Plantinga's Not the way it's supposed to be has also served me well in this. I don't have to fake that I'm not sinful - I dare not. And we mustn't expect sinlessness of leaders in the church either. We are people in need of change helping people in need of change. And with God's word ringing in my ears let me embrace this knowledge as a gift, and much more the gift that is Christ who receives me.

* This question is lifted from an example in Fruitful Leaders by Marcus Honeysett
Image - Creative Commons, Nik.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Exodus is good news

Chapters 1-19 God hears, remembers and saves his people from their slavery to Egypt. They're broken spirited and unable to save themselves. Their salvation doesn't overcome their slavery to sin which becomes very evident as they begin to travel in the wilderness. The serpent out there is struck down, rescue from their serpentine heart will require an even greater salvation. What is pictured here will come to pass as the Father sends his Son to bring many adopted sons to glory...  with life from the true Lamb, the true Rock, the true Bread, the true Moses...

Chapters 20-24 God comes down and meets his people at the mountain - he rescued them for himself. As rescued people he calls them to reflect him to the world. "Be holy and I am holy." How? By providing for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you who can't provide for themselves. This is what the Triune God is like. He did this for his people. Could they now walk in his footsteps? God will meet his people again time and time again, and finally embody all that he is as he walks our streets, and gives his Spirit so we might be changed from within to reflect him to his world...

Chapters 25-40 God pitches his tent with his people, a place of atonement at the heart of the camp, and O how they need it as their almost immediate adulterous betrayal shows, yet in his jealous love God moves into their neighbourhood rather than ending them. And the script rolls on into Leviticus to explore how atonement leads to the dwelling of God with humanity. One day the true High Priest will go on behalf of his people into the true Tabernacle and offer true Atonement for all time and the true Curtain will be torn open, and the broken and the betrayer will come with their names written on His heart and be seated with Him there.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Gift and the Galatian Problem in my Heart

Paul writes to his friends in Galatia and in verses 1-10 offers a substantial opening to the letter.

1-5 Paul, the Galatians and his gospel
First century letters begin with the sender, then introduce the audience.

Paul is an apostle - sent by God to people with the gospel.
The gospel concerns
  • Jesus who gave himself for our sins
  • Jesus whose death was to deliver us from the present evil age (whatever that might be)
  • Jesus who was raised by his Father
  • That this was the Father's will.
  • That this is for the Father's glory
  • That this is grace. Gift.
6-10 An astonishing situation
Paul observes that his friends have turned from the Father who called them in Christ. They have deserted God. A desertion, forsaking, betrayal, a relational abandonment. The evangelical who looks picky about doctrine might be that, but really their goal is to ensure that we are true to God the Father of Jesus. We can be lacking in some knowledge and still be knowing the same person, poorly. But there comes a point when our knowledge cannot truly be said to be of the same person at all. In Galatia the knowledge of God is being lost... all too easily for me.

This serves to
  • Distort the gospel - smashing its face almost beyond recognition (the mechanics of which become clearer later in the letter - a dramatic fall from grace into exclusive practices.)
  • Disturb the church - who were otherwise at peace in Christ.
  • Damn the preacher - for the crime and for believing their own false message.
  • Delight the world - who dislike the gospel but love the ego massage of alternatives.
(as someone else has alliterated)

Paul's letter is a call for repentance. They've turned their faces from God and he wants them to come back.

And I need that too. But for the call of the Father in the gospel I won't
  • Believe Jesus' death was for my sins, nor needed to be. And I'll want it to be something more sanitised.
  • Believe that my old life was evil, nor that I needed to be delivered from it. Indeed I'll take offense at the notion than evil is anything other than something out there.
  • Believe that Jesus was raised, nor needed to be. What first century naivity, surely?
  • That the Father's will matters, not least ahead of my own. Don't I know best?
  • That the Father's glory matters, not least ahead of my own. Don't I matter most?
  • That the Father is good and gracious. 
I kid myself that I'm inclined to believe but all this is gift, all this is grace. And all I have in Christ is from Christ. The Scriptures are written to show Christ to me once again, to bring him before my eyes that I might truly and increasingly know his Father. I know him but I am fickle. I know him and I need those outside me, preachers and friends to sound the message again to my ears, to placard and paint this news before my short-sighted eyes.

The gospel of Jesus is good news, the very last thing I expect to hear from anyone, not least from God. But nonetheless in Christ all my expectations are confounded and confronted and arms held wide open to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Wilderness of Mirrors

I received a review copy of A Wilderness of Mirrors from Mark Meynell and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

It's obvious in reading the book that Mark Meynell loves words and culture and people. It's a well written, accessible look around our world that gets under the skin of our cynical age. Mark helps us to see how the Christian faith then speaks to the issues he explores. A keen observer who, as his subtitle implies, wants us to trust again.

This video gives a feel.

One of the observations that particularly struck me was the contemporary love of conspiracy theories - because these give the opportunity to find significance in otherwise meaningless tragic events. As we suspect there is significance in life, but where to find that is important, A Wilderness of Mirrors helps us find better answers.

I've read and appreciated James Smith's How (not) to be secular and Charles Taylor's A Secular Age recently. A Wilderness of Mirrors is more accessible and more engaging.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sharing your faith at University

Evangelism, or proselytising, sounds spooky, weird, and manipulative, and the kind thing you’d do to people you don’t like. Our society hates the idea of imposing your beliefs on others, though have you ever tried that? Like getting your flatmates to do the washing up?

A few comments to begin with.
  • You're not selling Jesus. I've worked in sales, it can be a dirty business though there's nothing inherently bad about selling things. But Jesus isn't a product for sale - he's a person to meet. It's different.
  • Calling people ‘non-Christians’ is plain rude. No one self-identifies that way in our society, so it’s lazy and a power play to define others by not being like you. Christians are 1-2% of the population at best, defining people as "not us" is arrogant. And counterproductive if you want people to explore faith and change who they follow.
  • Having a ‘mission week’ sounds colonial and oppressive. Would you want to be on the other end of someone's mission?
  • Though I’m 100% for culturally appropriate events where the good news of Jesus can be explain and heralded. A talk at a pub quiz is just strange though.
  • But, whatever people say, it really is ok to talk about money, religion and politics.
  • Especially at University. More interesting conversation takes away the awkwardness - if you never get past football punditry then evangelism can feel like "And Hart saved... hey, y'know Jesus sav..." Just don't go there. Ever. Ever.
  • When people don't listen it's horrible. If you've ever had a salesperson or a politician or a JW come to your door you'll know what that's like. Don't be the rude evangelical who throws doctrine at people. I've been there. People tolerate a lot of weirdness in life, Christians epecially, but that's no excuse for being weird (and this comes in many varieties including in our society being overly intense, overstated).
  • Research suggests that people become more religious at University not less.
  • Inviting others to consider Jesus is not inherently weird or evil.
 [5] For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. [6] Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. [7] But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. [8] So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. [9] For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thess 2:5-9)

  • Flattery
  • Greed
  • Glory-seeking
  • Burdening others
  • Being gentle
  • Being motherly
  • Being affectionate
  • Sharing your life and the gospel.
Paul makes ten references to ‘the gospel’, ‘the word’ or ‘the gospel of God’ in the first chapter and a half of his letter – as that message which brings people to be ‘loved by God’ (1:4), turned from idols to the Father awaiting the return of his risen Son who will deliver those receive the gospel word for the day of wrath. A cosmic event has occurred and another is to come and God’s means of communicating to his world is through people gentle, motherly (and fatherly as he later says), affectionately sharing their changed lives and the gospel word with other people.

If you follow Christ, you're loved. So then love.

People say that preacher Francis of Assisi once said “preach the gospel always and if necessary use words.” He didn’t. And if he did, he would’ve been wrong. In the end words are always eventually necessary, one way or another.

But, you don’t automatically have the right to be heard by anyone… “I’ve read and heard almost every missional strategy out there. In the end, love people and be available” Jon Tyson (Trinity Grace Church, New York)
  • Invest in friendships without an agenda. You, me, all of us – are made for community. 
  • Take responsibility for your budget and budget for a generous social life. 
  • Take responsibility for the people in your life. Learn to cook. 
  • Do what you do, and do it with others. Which doesn’t mean invite 9 Christian friends around and one person you can all gang up on. That's intimidating. That’s just weird. But shop, eat, play, open-door, have Netflix and a big enough screen, be a hub for people…
  • Listen, be interested in others, because people and this world are really interesting. Be interesting by being interested in others. Podcast www.radiolab.org 
  • Share the gospel of God –take responsibility for your words – it’s not enough to just parrot a gospel outline if what’s heard isn’t what you meant. How do people think/feel about the ‘Christians’ or ‘Evangelicals’? Do you know? 
  • Who you live with next year is basically decided by the end of October - the decision isn't explicitly made but the people you've got deep friendship with by then you'll probably live with. And if you only hang out with the CU people you'll have to live with Christians. If you want to live with a Christian then one day in the distant future I suggest you marry one. Christians can really be quite annoying so until you have to live with one, don't. (Yes, I'm overstating my case...)
Dr. Daniel Strange, says gospel communication is subversive fulfilment.
FULFILLMENT - The gospel fulfils right desires that human beings in the image of God have. We look for the right things in the wrong places. What we really want is Jesus. He calls us to himself.
SUBVERSION - The gospel subverts the wrong desires that ruined and rebellious human beings have. We look for the wrong things in wrong and right places. Jesus says no, and calls us to himself. 
Be patient! When asked him what he'd say if he had one hour to share his faith, founder of L’Abri, Francis Schaeffer replied, "I’d listen for 59 minutes and talk for one."

Develop emotional intelligence – which as it happens will also make you a whole lot more employable and a better friend. More curious, more self-aware, harder to offend, quicker to empathise.

Use UNCOVER. Do what the first CU members used to call "personal work" - you, a friend and a Bible.

Eugene Peterson “There are no experts in the company of Jesus. We are all beginners.” 

Sit alongside people and let Jesus do the talking. Let him walk off the page. You, me, anyone – get born again by the word of God. Love people and love them enough to invite them to consider Jesus.

[13] …when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thess 2:13) 

Don't be afraid to open a Bible. This is a living word. This is where people can meet Jesus. And as you do it, always pursue honest answers to honest questions. Keep your L-Plates on. Have the humility to get help from those ahead of you who can guide your reading to develop a thoughtful mind and a large heart.

Get to CU. Get to church.
Get to www.labri-ideas-library.org
Think hard like Terrence Malick. Love deeply.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

God present. God absent.

I'm chewing on Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection in Luke 24:13-27.

The presence of God in his absence
Jesus draws near to Cleopas and his friend as they walk home from Jerusalem after that Passover weekend. They've done this before, year after year, no doubt. But this time is different. They're going in the absence of Jesus - he might never have walked this road with them before but now they feel themselves without him. Derelict.

Reflecting on Jane Dorn's photography:
Emanating from Dorn’s photographs is a disquieting sense of impermanence as one beholds these derelict structures once erected as assurances of permanence... Dorn writes: "...through the camera, I see not what is present, but what is missing. I see evidence of absence through the presence of what remains."
They're despondent. Derelict from the absence of Jesus. Absence is grief.

They'd hoped in Jesus but now he's gone. The reader knows better than they do - Luke's reportage builds the suspense and gets us pleading for their eyes to be opened. But the only know his absence.

We feel absence strangely. The friend no longer there. The good old days. Once vibrant and now lifeless. Easy to wish never to have had than to have had and then lost, if the having hadn't been so sweet.

Cleopas, derelict.

God is largely absent from our society, but church steeples still lift our eyes to the heavens. Echoes of what was once here. We are still, slightly, "God-haunted." We still, as Barnes puts it, "miss God."

These friends of Jesus have long expected salvation. Everything in them wants to believe but all the evidence they've seen says their hopes are dashed. Was this not the time after all?

They had hoped but he is gone.
The women had gone to the tomb, but he is gone.
He has walked our streets but now we cannot see him.
All the dreams, all the late night conversation, all the footsteps along the road to Jerusalem.

In their encounter the only place they see Jesus is in the Scriptures (though it is he who is teaching them) as he shows how the suffering and resurrection and glory of the Christ were necessary - a boldly public claim in our age of private religion.

The victory of God in his defeat
And what did he show them? Not that the Bible is "basic instructions before leaving earth " more the Bible's message is the story of the renewal of God's world.

That far from "we had hoped he would redeem Israel but they crucified him" rather "he was crucified to redeem Israel." "Death and all of its friends" are disarmed. The enemy of all is overthrown by the self-giving glory of the risen Christ. Death got its grubby hands on the Son fill this world with the Father's glory.

Sad brightness and bright sadness, Cleopas.

And now He prepares them for his physical absence. From here on, until the final day, he will dwell with them in the word (and beyond this passage, by his Spirit).

Indwelling, present and absent.

And in the age of his having returned to his Father, and the outpouring of the Spirit - this is the time of the beginnings of the redemption of Israel and of the glory of the Messiah.

As Wright puts it "welcome to God's new world",
Welcome, as Tyson says, to "the renewal of all things."

Not less than Zechariah prophesied in chapter 1, not less than forgiveness proclaimed to all the peoples of the world in the Spirit's empowering (as at the end of chapter 24). Sunrise in our darkness. Warmth in the coldness.

A new week. A new world.

Welcome to the presence of God in his church, in his word, by his Spirit. Welcome to the absence of the king who is always present.

"In literature, much of the meaning of a text comes from what is left unsaid, what is outside the text but faintly present, what is alluded to and so forth."
And so in the ordinary. In the exile. In the days like those of Esther. God is conspicuous by his absence, more present than we know.

This is the story of resurrection. The impossible made possible. The reversal of expectations. A  seismic shift in the cosmos. The necessary events of God's unfolding story.

As Lewis says: "now at last they were at the begining, Chapter One of the Great Story" though they hardly know it.

Broken people will populate the streets of God's new world, people longing and yearning. waiting, expectant, despondent, derelict, bewildered as they were, later they would reflect: "did not our hearts burn within us..." though they didn't know it at the time.

Image: Chris Guy