Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Good News Garden: Isaiah 61's promise of Good News fufilled in Jesus (Isaiah 61, Luke 4:14-21)


Central to the passage we are looking at today is a metaphor, a mind picture…The metaphor of a healthy tree. I wonder what picture comes to mind for you when you heard that metaphor. Is there a specific tree or trees that come to mind?  Perhaps a childhood memory… my wife Kris thought of the plumb tree in her back yard, where she would sit to read a book, the branch where she sat worn smooth from hours of use… or somewhere special in your life, in the past or now.

For me when I think of Oaks, the tree mentioned in Isaiah 61 two pictures come to mind…So real  the sound of the wind rustling leaves plays through my head like a soundtrack. I envisage the oak trees at the Hunua Falls Camp: The one behind the cook house and the ones along the bank of the Hunua River. I even see Ralph Blair holding on to one of the trunks for support as he laughs so hard, at people falling into the water off some dastardly contraption he had made for group building games.

The other is the oak that provides the backdrop to McLaurin chapel’s reading room. In spring and summer it too fills the chapel with the sound of wind rustling through leaves, so much so that the ever present sound of central city traffic can be banished for a brief moment. It filters dappled light into the building. As autumn comes you have to be careful walking up the hill to the back of the chapel because you can easy roll your ankle on all the acorns it drops. It reminds me of beauty for ashes, as its branches criss-cross over each other in the middle, at some stage it was damaged and broken but it has been lovingly cared for and now is a wonderfully beautiful and healthy tree, that misshapenness accentuates its uniqueness.

The passage we had read out to us today in Isaiah 61 is a prophecy which has as a central metaphor trees…Oak trees that because they are healthy and strong produce good seeds that cause seedlings to grow up round them. They are the hope filled starting point of the recreation of a garden, of a reforestation of the nations. The trees that are mentioned are planted by the LORD and called into being by the ministry of one filled by the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD and anointed by God, a figure whose ministry Jesus says he fulfils: Jesus who pictures his life and death as a single seed falling to the ground and dying to produce new life.

We are working our way through the E100 essential Jesus Bible reading Challenge, and at the end of this week we’ll be a quarter of the way through. In fact by the end of this week we will have finished the Old Testament section.  My hope is that as we are doing this that it isn’t simply an exercise of leafing through a book, but that as we open ourselves up to the scripture narrative that there is that rustling of leaves sound as the spirit wind blows a fresh through us.

The use of the tree metaphor which seems to book end Isaiah reminds me of growing up in Titirangi. Way before my time the hills used to be covered by forests of mighty kauri trees. As a child I often went to a friend’s house to play. He lived on the slopes of Mt Atkinson and in the bush down the back of his section was a huge log of a kauri tree that we used to climb up and run along. It was massive and it seemed sad that there were no trees like this standing. Years later I got a holiday job doing some gardening for people who lived across the road from that house. Down their back boundary was a whole gully full of adolescent Kauri trees. It seems there as a fire there at the beginning of the twentieth century and the ultra-hard Kauri seeds germinated in the burned soil. There is hope that again the hills will be crowned by these majestic trees.

The first forty chapters of the book is a book of judgment, and deals with Judah and Jerusalem going into exile because they had continually and repeatedly refuse to live in a way that reflects their covenant relationship with God. Isaiah’s opening oracle finishes with the metaphor of an Oak tree, in Isaiah 1:30-31 the prophet says Judah is like an oak tree whose leaves had started to fade, that was in a garden without water. It is an unhealthy tree, in not paying attention to their relationship with God they had cut themselves off from the very thing that gave them life and vitality and while throughout the first part of Isaiah there is mention of God tending his garden there comes a time when the old tree needs to be taken out and burned to make way for something new and healthy. What does Kauri die back say about the health of the environment?  And you know that tree removal can be  a painful process.

In chapter 40 the tenure of the book changes so much so scholars wonder if this isn’t a different Isaiah writing, it becomes a book of comfort for the exiles a promise that God will restore and rebuild, bring back and renew. It’s a book that picks up the tree image and says that again God will plant his people like oaks that they will be a reason for praise and righteousness to rise up like seedlings from the nations.

But the new tree is not planted so much through spade work but voice work, it is proclaimed into life. The first three verses of Isaiah 61 are spoken in the first person. It is the voice of the person who is called to do the work of restoration. It’s a voice that seems out of place with the preceding chapter, some have thought that it is the prophet themselves speaking of their call to
ministry, but that does not totally fit the setting. In the second half of Isaiah there is a person who is referred to as the servant of the LORD, we know them from the servant songs like the suffering servant song in Isaiah 53, that we use of Jesus most Good Fridays. The servant of the LORD is the one who brings about the restoration of God’s people, and that fits what the voice is saying here. The speaker talks of God’ Spirit and anointing being on them to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom and release to the captives,  to comfort those who mourn, to give beauty for ashes and bring praise in the replace of despair. Their ministry is to bring about wholeness and newness for God’s people.

Wholeness and newness both on a personal level and also on a societal level. The year of the lord’s favour invokes the year of jubilee spoken of in Leviticus 25 and Ezekiel 46, a time when all debt will be forgiven and wealth redistributed so that there will be no needy in Israel. It is a picture of God restoring the righteous and just society that Israel was supposed to produce in response to God calling them to be his people. Such a different way of living that the nations would come and see that God is good and so worship him and be transformed as well. Those wondrous oaks that were so healthy they would spread seed and new trees into the nations. A new creation of God’s garden.

In verses 7-8 of Isaiah 61 we have God speaking, and proclaiming that this ministry and restoration and new life are a result of God’s character that God indeed indorses the speaker, that God will restore and release and comfort and bring back and make new because God loves justice and hates injustice. We often think of a just God in terms of punishment, but here it is about renewing and restoring, having to remove the diseased trees to make room for a healthy tree. While this passage can be seen to be fulfilled partially in the return of the people of Israel from exile, the scope of the hope of a new tree a new community that displays the righteousness of God seems to look for a future fulfilment.

In the narrative of Luke’s gospel right after Jesus baptism, where John the Baptist had seen the Spirit of God descend on Jesus and had heard him called “my beloved son” an affirmation of his being anointed as  heir, Luke tells us Jesus was invited to read the scripture at his home town synagogue, and he gets up and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. The very passage we had read to us today, and after Jesus had read the first three verses he sits down and says “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your sight.”

Jesus uses this passage at the beginning of his ministry almost like a mission statement, he claims to be the anointed one which is what messiah means, filled by the spirit of God to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.  Jesus mission is to bring about that renew, that wholeness that Isaiah had talked about. To set free those who are held captive, not in this case by the Babylonians, but like the original tree in Isaiah by their brokenness and sin. To plant a new tree that would show the righteousness of God, that would see a new creation rise up in the nations.  

The passage in Isaiah finds in fulfilment in Jesus. In Jesus there is good news to the poor, both as in Matthews Sermon on the Mount, good news to the poor of spirit that theirs is the kingdom of God, and in Luke’s sermon on the plain that the poor are blessed theirs is the kingdom of God. It’s interesting that this Good News message has been spiritualised to mean Good News to the poor and marginalised that they can receive salvation and new life in Jesus. But in the Isaiah passage it also points to the fact that they should receive justice that it is a redistribution of wealth as well. The summary of the early church as a community filled by God’s spirit in Acts 2 emphasises that as it says they willingly shared what they had, they held all things in common, being prepared to sell possessions so it was said that none of them were in need. The wholeness and restoration Jesus brings is not just at a personal level but a societal one as well, we are called to live in the Kingdom of God, to show to the nations the righteousness of God.

What for us today from this passage.

First is the offer of newness and wholeness in Christ, there is Good News, there is comfort, there is restoration in Christ, there is new life, there is sight and hope. Some have thought that Jesus applying this passage only referred to his ministry of teaching and proclamation of the Kingdom of God. But in the midst of this oracle of God re-establishing a good news garden there is another tree. The one who proclaimed liberty and good news lived that out and made it possible for us to know this by dying on a tree, on the cross, in that we can have that wholeness and renewal. Today do you need to hear that and see the seed of that new life be planted in your lives. Where does God need to bring that new life, good news restoration comfort and liberty? 

Secondly, when we think of the good news as a means of bringing new life we hold in our minds the image of a seedling or a fresh sprout growing up out of the soil from the seed that has fallen to the ground and died. But the passage Jesus quoted finishes with the image of trees planted by the LORD. Not just fresh shoots but big mature strong and stable trees. The tree for the desert people was a symbol of life a symbol of a stable and steady water source, as in Psalm 1.The image behind me is of a st Jude pine, which starts it new growth with a cross just before Easter.. The Good News Jesus brings, the wholeness he speaks into our lives is not a one off rejuvenation but that process of growing to maturity. It is the life long process of growing following Jesus of trusting God through times of pruning and seasons of growth and fruit and also of barrenness and seeming no life. I wonder if today what ways is the wind of the spirit blowing through your leaves and calling you to continue and grow on that journey.

Thirdly, the tree in Isaiah 61 was to be a source of reflecting the righteousness of God: To show the splendour and justice of God.  Trees in the ancient near east were places of shade from the harsh life sapping sun, We use them as shelter belts from the buffeting storms. I wonder today where are you being invited to display the good new you’ve received… where are called to provide shelter, to be part of God planting new seeds?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Parables as a learning experience a quote from Leonard Sweets book 'Giving Blood'

I'm trying to be disciplined and reading a chapter of a couple of good solid books each morning. One which caught my eye was Leonard Sweet's new book on preaching called 'Giving Blood: A Fresh paradigm on Preaching'.  People who know me will tell you I am addicted to Leonard Sweet and as I look at my book shelf (and now Kindle for PC) I see a whole shelf (almost dedicated to his books). In my defence being a diabetic Leonard Sweet is about the only kind of Sweet I'm allowed to consume great amounts of. I appreciate his writing style and ability to communicate in ways that leave me pondering in new ways, appreciative of language, metaphor and examples drawn for a vast array of disciplines so a book by Sweet on preaching was a no-brainer. A problem when you've got a one click to buy buttons on your amazon account.

Sweet proposes the need for preachers to use Narraphors... a blend of narrative and metaphor to connect with people in the digital TGIF universe... that the interactive, internet universe of Twitter, Google, Instagram and Facebook not the party culture of Thank God It's Friday. Sweet maintains that our teaching/preaching needs to be EPIC (Encountering God, Participatory, Image soaked and Connected) and looks at Jesus parables as the prime example of such a communication style...

"To Get it the listener had to be active and willing participant in the story and in relationship with Jesus, to enter into the story and apply it personally, but also to enter into a relationship as a disciple with the Master.

In Jesus storytelling meaning is layered and "lessons" are conveyed in a kind of code. Deciphering these images and lessons takes time and commitment, and engagement with the Storyteller to delve into his deepest meanings. Some images are easier to decipher than others. They are not meant to thwart or throw off those who invest in their meaning. Rather they are designed to reveal the secrets of God and reward those who hunger for the truth enough to seek relationship with Christ. Jesus was not interested in going deeper with those who just "came for the food." With those who sought to follow him in discipleship, he spent time discussing and engaging with them in the deeper meanings of the stories (the metaphorical and spiritual meanings of the parables). No Matter what image, metaphor, or story Jesus used, the result was a lifting of the listener from the surface of the literal and a plunging of them into a surprise encounter with deep meaning and divine revelation. AS The parable was revealed, the listener-participant's heart was also revealed."

I can see that reading this book is going to be both helpful and challenging. Perhaps the response that came to mind is a quote from the other book I am reading at the moment 'selling water by the river ' by Shane Hipps... "you can choose safety or growth. Growth is rarely safe." Watch this space and we will see the impact this book has on me and my communication... Might benefit from an English grammar book more that this I hear some of you say!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) : A Review and Reflection

I had some time on Friday afternoon so I took myself to the movies. I really enjoyed the 'rise of the planet of the Apes movie so was looking forward to seeing this next instalment... The first movie in this remake series hadn't been that good but with the input of Weta Workshop and the development of live action animation the film production values had increased and despite the fact that the story telling has improved as well.

Before I get to the film let me make a couple of comments about the cinematic experience. I am amazed at how the price of going ton the movies has escalated over the past few years. I had my own 3 D glasses and it still cost $21 to go to the movies. My kids didn't want to come along this time, but the movie theatres need to realise they are pricing themselves out of the regular family entertainment market for large portions of society. While they push reward schemes for regular movie goers, they do not help themselves in the fight against other mediums for watching films and movies. HD TV, and increased low cost Internet access are changing the way people legally and yes illegally access movies and theatres need to realise that they can't simply make their advantage, actually going to the movies, a luxury item.

And before I get to the movie, I must comment on the fact that I sat in the cinema and watched twenty minutes of adverts before the film actually started. If I had been disorganised and running late or been stuck in a long queue as the movie theatre kept costs down by cutting staff numbers I would have been pleased, but despite the fact that some of them were trailers for up coming attractions that again the theatres were trying to ring every ounce of revenue they could from advertising and again impacting on the cinematic moment in a detrimental way. If I wanted to wade through twenty minutes of ads I'd wait and watch the movie on free to air.

Anyway after venting about all that now to the movie... Wow! what a great movie. Gripping and challenging, both hopeful even  in the face of post apocalyptic circumstances and at the same time stark and dark.

The movie starts off where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes finished' with the escape of the Apes from San Francisco over shadowed by the spread of the simian flu, which wipes out vast percentages of the worlds population. In the space of a few minutes told through a plague map which turns into a globe where the lights are going out and new casts fading to silence we see the spread of the disease and the demise of humanity.  We then meet the Ape population in Southern California which over that same time frame has grown numerically and in terms of social structure.

Without wanting to ad spoilers the two species now meet again. As people from the remaining colony in San Francisco head up into the hills to find power from a hydro electric dam. The needs of man and ape seem to clash as we find Apes now living off the resources in this area, it is their hunting grounds and home. The meeting does not go well, a nervous human fires his gun, and we meet once again Caesar, the leaders of the Apes, now a father, who shocks the humans by telling them to 'Go'.

The film develops from there with both sides offering aid and reconciliatory acts of kindness to each other, and expressing anger and mistrust as well. We are invited in the juxtaposition of the two peoples to see that both are very much alike despite their differences. Both are concerned about the survival of their species, both value family and friendships,  both have strong moral and ethical understandings that underpin who they are, both have wise and compassionate leaders, both also have influential members of their groupings who are broken and scared buy their pasts   and unable to forgive or be reconciled with the possibility of living alongside each other in peace.

Without giving the plot away the main characters of the story both Ape and human  are able to go beyond the conflict to genuinely care and be concerned and help each other but in the end the pull of the storyline and the already determined outcome of the film series, means that both sides are swept into conflict.

The movie is gripping as it draws you along on a story that oscillates between glimmers of hope and possibility and the darkness of hatred mistrust and despair. Amidst the crumbling infrastructure of the western world groups that have so much in common but at the same time are so different cannot seem to make living in peaceful co existence work. Their world views are so different, their is a history of mistrust and hatred and wrongdoing. I couldn't wonder if this wasn't so sort of premature epitaph for the western world multicultural experiment we are working through at the moment. A cautionary tale for humanity as we find ourselves wrestling with less and less resource and living now in a global village.

Anyway before I get to some of those kinds of reflections I want to make some brief mention of the artistry of this movie. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is again  a quantum step forward for the use of live capture animation. The artistry of that technique matures in this movie. It is prevalent and dominates screen time, without drawing attention to itself in a way that distracts from the story. Once again Andy Serkis shows his brilliance as an actor and his mastery of the live capture animation genre. He deserves an Oscar nomination for performance and if he does not win one he deserves a honorary Oscar or life time achievement one for his  pioneering of this new art form. I've seen him in so many movies and admired the role he has played and actually only really seen him in one movie. Toby Kebbell equally deserves a mention for his wonderful portrayal of the dark Koba. The actor not working behind the live action animation also do a great job. Keri Russell is able to portray both strength of conviction and also deep compassion. Jason Clarke acts as a great foil for Caesar in terms of leadership, showing compassion and openness as well as carrying in his appearance the stress and in the end brokenness of heart that goes with leadership, and Garry Oldman is a great foil for Koba.

The whole colouring, lighting and production value of the film works well and paints the darkness of the story which unfolds. The revisiting of Caesar's childhood home pick up both the  possibility of  hope and a different outcome but also the brokenness of the world that was, that just maybe such ideas of hope and co existence are a thing of the past that like this haven have crumbled.

When I look at this movie a couple of theological reflections come to mind. The first is that the movie is an awakening in both human and ape that creation is broken. Yes they are both capable of acts of kindness and compassion, love and care, both for those like themselves and the other. But as Caesar discovers there is not just bad humans and good apes but the possibility and reality of both good and evil in both. Caesar wrestles with those extremes in himself and within the genetically modified apes we see the impact of evil and hatred. Sadly in the end it seems that there is no way for the two species to coexist as equals.

The other is the really the idea of living with hope in a fixed and determined universe, or rather in a broken and determined universe. The filmic reality is caught really in that the end is known before the story is told, we are drawn into the storyline because we find ourselves asking the question how could this happen? and we are told how it did happen, despite the writers giving us glimpses of a possible alternative universe, we are set for humans at least on a grim path to decline and slavery. Apes and Humans are set for a climatic clash that will initiate the future and that future is about to dawn and be (if they stick to the same titles as the original movie series without the original story details) to a battle for the planet of the apes. The Christian faith calls us to live in the hope that a new world and a new creation will emerge or in actual fact has been inaugurated in the coming of Christ into the timeline of our world and its history. That a better age and the reign of peace and Justice is possible, and we are called even in the face of what seems a determined and often dark world to be people who live with the glimpse of hope of the possibility of a different world. Cesar does not have that hope he can only see the need for the survival of his people, in a separate path for development. We are called even in the face of darkness to trust in Christ and to work and look for a way forward, to be people of trust and compassion.

I don't believe in a fixed and determined universe, but I do believe in a determined God. In the end (not a spoiler) Caesar faces the future path he has chosen, his eyes steely set on that future, he walks forward into his people... My hope is in walking forward with eyes fixed on Christ... Who for the joy set before him endured the cross. Caesar welcomes the hands held out in servitude to him, I hope to hold my hand out in peace and friendship and openness.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Led by the good shepherd’s crook, not for the good of the crooked shepherds: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Jeremiah 23:1-9, John 10:11-18)


When I was ordained as a Minister, down in Napier, Alf Taylor preached at the service. AS part of his talk on ministry and leadership he gave me a few gifts. This is one of them ( see picture to right) … It’s a piece of drift wood he picked up off the waterfront at Ahuriri, its seasoned and worn smooth by the waves and the weather… it’s Not perfect while its smooth it’s got bumps and cracks. Both the weathering and the imperfections give it character. 

After the service my kids couldn’t help but do Gandalf impersonations with it… you know plant it in the the magic… it is meant to be a representation of a shepherds crook. A symbol that in Christian terms says leadership is about being a shepherd, one entrusted by the chief shepherd with the care and wellbeing of a flock. It’s been used as a crook occasionally, not out on a farm, and no…not as a walking stick as I’ve got older…but in Children’s Christmas pageants. Mainly it acts as a reminder… it sits in my office to remind me of both the call to care for God’s people as a servant and also of Jesus the Good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. It’s a reminder of a radically different kind of leadership, that God has in mind…

At Church at the moment we are doing the E100 Essential Jesus Bible Reading Challenge… Looking at who is Jesus and how he fits into the whole narrative sweep of scripture.  After the initial week where we looked at what five new testament writers had come to believe about Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-4) , we’ve been looking at how the Scriptures of the Old Testament, look and point towards Jesus.  We’ve seen the need for a saviour in what the narrative says about the human condition,( Isaiah 59)  and how events and symbols in the Old Testament were used by Jesus to explain who he was and his mission(Numbers 21:1-9). Last week we saw how Jesus life and ministry were reflected in some of the Psalms, the songs and prayers of God’s people (Psalm 69). This week we are looking at how some of the books of prophecy in the Old Testament not only apply God’s word to the situations the prophet spoke into but also point to and have an ultimate fulfilment in the person of Jesus. 

What we are looking at today is a passage from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a prophet who is writing in the sixth century BC. He is ministering during the time that Judah and Jerusalem are facing the demise of Egypt as a world power and Babylon becoming the dominant power in the ancient near east. He had started his ministry when Josiah was King and was a proponent of Josiah’s religious reforms. Then also ministers under the short reigns of Josiah’s successors, who didn’t appreciate his ministry and he spent a lot of that time imprisoned by them. In 605bc Jerusalem is captured by Nebuchadnezzar and the best and brightest are taken into exile, amongst them Daniel, and his friends.  Jeremiah stays in Jerusalem and is there when the Babylonians come back and put down a rebellion and take Jerusalem in 586 BC. The majority of the population head into exile, Jeremiah an old man by then is taken with a group who seek refuge in Egypt.

The passage we had read out to us this morning and which we are going to look at… comes as the end of a section in chapters 21-22 where Jeremiah has been critiquing and condemning the kings of Judah, and various priests, both the religious and civil leadership of Judah. It acts as a spark of hope in what is a rather dark series of words from Jeremiah because after this section he moves on to critique and condemn the false prophets, who had continually told Judah and Israel that there was nothing wrong that everything was alright, when it was far from the case.

The passage acts as a summary of what Jeremiah had said before because he uses the metaphor of a shepherd to lump all the leaders who had let down God’s people together and says that they have caused the people to be scattered, because they were more concerned about themselves than they were about caring for the people.  The shepherd was a metaphor for Israel’s leaders, I guess they would look back to their ideal for a king and leader in David, whose training to be King was as a shepherd.  It was a metaphor that the people of Israel used of their God as well… ‘from that most well-known of Psalms…”The LORD is my shepherd’.

 Jeremiah says that the people have gone into exile because they have been let down by their leaders who though more of themselves than their people.  The role of a shepherd is to take care of the sheep, to find them food and safe pasture, to keep them from being scattered where they can be picked off by wild animals and thieves.  We tend to see the book of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament as history books, but in the Hebrew scriptures they are seen as prophecy as much as the written prophets, because they are not an objective history of Israel and Judah, but rather show that with noticeable exceptions and despite God’s guidance and correction, that successive generations of Kings have done what was wrong in the sight of the LORD. They defend the fact that God was justified in taking the people into exile.

This section is a challenge to all who would take up leadership. In society, and in an election year we find people offering themselves up to be our leaders. This is a challenge for them, is it about service or status, power and prestige or care and concern, Justice or just in it for me? It’s a challenge for Church leadership as well. 

But I said before that this is not only a summary of what Jeremiah has been saying it’s a spark of hope as well. Because as well as condemning the previous kings it contains three promises. Three declarations from God, about the future… and central to that is a promise of God providing a good and righteous shepherd for his people.

In verse 3-4. God declares that as the shepherds have not bestowed care on the flock, and thus driven them away, that God will bestow judgement on them. It is a play on words, very much in English “because you didn’t take care for them… well am I going to take care of you…They are going to reap what they sow. The flip side to that is that people who have been scattered will again be gathered together from all the nations they have been scattered to. You may note that in the beginning of this passage we see Israels shepherd had caused them to be scattered but here it says that God has scattered them, you almost get he picture of God bringing them out from under the leadership that has been bad for the people so he can gather them together again. WE may look at the causes and effects of things in history as being of the things that we as humans do, but this passage shows us that God is ultimately in control and sovereign, and will bring about his purposes and plans… for our good and not for our harm, as Jeremiah as probably most well-known for telling us in chapter 33.

The promise is that he will then set shepherd over them who will tend for them who will care and be concerned.  In a picture that reflects the Genesis story of the garden, he says they will be fruitful and multiply. If we are looking, as we do,  with the eyes from beyond the cross and resurrection, here we could see it as a promise of a new creation. They are promised security and that none of them will be lost. Maybe when you hear those words Jesus parable of the lost sheep comes to mind, because in this first promise there is a pointing towards Jesus as a fulfilment.

The second promise is in verse 5and 6. It is the promise that God will raise up a righteous ruler from out of the Davidic line. Even though it seems that this linage of Kings has let God down, God is keeping his promise that a descendant of David will sit on the throne of Israel forever. More than that that this king would rule justly and rightly…It’s at the centre of Israel’s hope for a messiah, God’s saviour who would herald in a just and righteous kingdom.

At the end of verse 6 we are told that the name of this righteous shepherd will be “the LORD our righteous Saviour.” We don’t pick it up in the English but it is a play on words. Nebuchadnezzar set  up Mattaniah a son of Josiah as a puppet king over Jerusalem and changes his name to Zedikiah, which means ‘YWHW  (the LORD) is righteous” and some people have seen this prophecy coming from the time of his coronation. I wonder if Jeremiah hasn’t taken the name and the words spoken by Nebuchadnezzar in making this appointment and tweaked them, not to show Nebuchadnezzar’s choice as a good one, but to assert that Israel’s God will make the right choice… Not as Jeremiah’s approval of the new king but rather looking forward to a different king… Who would be righteous and who would make his people righteous as well.

Jesus picks this promise up in the passage we had read out in John this morning by saying that he is the Good Shepherd that God has sent. In the genealogies of Jesus and the birth narratives it is important to show that Jesus is of royal linage.  Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise. He differs from the shepherd of Israel in the past because he’s not in it for himself, but rather he is the good shepherd because he lays down his life for his sheep.  He care and concern for them is beyond his own personal safety or wellbeing. Therefore he can be trusted to lead  and to guide and to keep us safe.

In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul a devout Jew who had come to follow Jesus and saw in him the fulfilment of the hope of Israel, says that he is the wisdom of God has become our righteousness. Because of his sacrifice we have been declared righteous before God. Looking back we see how Jesus fulfils this word from Jeremiah.

The third promise is in verse 7 and 8. It talks of God doing a new thing. So new that it will be just as fundamental and important to the history of God’s people as the exodus was for the people of Israel.  That God would draw his people from all over the world back to him… We can see that in the restoration after the exile, in the Old Testament narrative, but beyond the cross and the resurrection, Christian’s see it as a affirmation that in Jesus God has done something new, and established a new covenant with humanity: A new relationship through Christ’s death and resurrection…through the Good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

There is a lot of explanation in today’s message, and I’ve tried to sum it up in keeping with the fact that Jeremiah uses quite a few plays on words… “Jeremiah goes crook at the shepherds and this leads to good, God promises we will be led by the good shepherd’s crook, not for the good of the crooked shepherds.”

What does it say to us today. .. two things

AS I’ve mentioned before there is the challenge to all who would exercise leadership… Integrity, morality and attitude matter.  God cares for his people, his flock, for humanity and one of the responsibilities of leadership is to express and live that out. And sadly to be honest J Andrew Dearman is correct when he says ‘the history of the church is replete with examples of both good and bad leadership” The great example for us of leadership is Jesus and his willingness to give up his own life for his sheep: That it is sacrifice and compassion, it’s all in… not for what we get out of it.

Secondly,. Jesus is not only the example of good leadership he is the one who we are able to trust to lead us and guide us through life, because he gave his life for his sheep. Put your trust in Jesus.. Our response is to live out the sentiments of Psalm 23 to live with the LORD as our shepherd.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How Old Do you Look?

I am always amazing at the amount of adverts there are offering potions and products that will help you look younger. Equally I'm amazed at how much money is spent on those products and potions, schemes and systems as a result. All to make us look younger... I say us when to tell you the truth I don't spend much time or money on trying to look young.

I've noticed that I must be looking older actually because recently I've had young people, usually young Asian women, stand up on the bus to make room for the old man who has gotten on the bus.  I appreciate the cultural respect for age... but I'm not sure I appreciate being seen as in the senior citizen, or even worse old and decrepit category unable to stand up on the bus. I did find it rather interesting that when I was trying to plant StudentSoul at Auckland University I found it rather hard, and charming at the same time that the Korean Students referred to me as "Kind Old Man".

Of course part of not trying to look younger maybe that as a male people tell me that my grey hair does not make me look older it makes me look rather distinguished. Although I have to admit at the end of long days when I look in the mirror  I feel more extinguished than distinguished.

But, I have come to realise that its not really about how old you look, but how old you look... no that's not a typo... its a play on words. People in our western material world are being convinced that its important to look younger than you are, that its about appearance, but I actually think its about how you perceive things. How we see the world rather than how the world sees us.

When I turned forty my eyes decided they would start to change, and my eye sight deteriorated. I couldn't see as far as I used to, and the horizon got a bit more fuzzy. I needed glasses. I discovered that when I went to overtake a truck and cars coming the other way had to swerve to avoid me...

A expensive discovery as the police officer who pulled me over and gave me a well deserved ticket  asked me "didn't you see those cars coming." There was nothing wrong with eyesight as he picked up that my licence had expired the month before as well. of course as I went for my licence and failed it because of my eyesight.

 I realised that the answer to the policeman's question was "No, No I hadn't seen them coming". My eyes had grown older and the lens had changed shape. I now look with older eyes, through glass lenses. and I usually look twice before over taking.

But I find that I know look at the world in different ways. I sometimes look at the world with young eyes. Full of wonder of the things around me, full of possibility about possibilities and chances for change and transformation. looking to the future with hope.

Sometimes I find myself look with old eyes. World weary and often cynical, hopefully with a bit more wisdom and hopefully still with hope that things can change.

AS I pondered on this word play I thought God invites us to look with both young eyes and old eyes and see the possibility of God's preferred future, by his spirit. Joel 2 quoted by Peter says at Pentecost says that God promised to pour out his holy spirit and your young men would see visions and your old men would dream dreams... I'm not sure which category I fit into but I desire to see the possibility of new things and kingdom of God possibilities as I look at the world and the challenges that we face.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Even In The Deep Waters... Jesus (Psalm 69: John 16:33)


Psalm 69 is a cry for help from the deep water…We don’t know the exact situation that caused the writing of Psalm 69. It gives us no clues, it’s lost in the mists of history, but the variety of vivid images it uses combine to give us a universal picture of human suffering that comes from  facing situations beyond our own resources to deal with, where we need to cry out to God…“save us”. It’s called a psalm of David, and fits many of the situations we know he faced, some scholars want to ascribe it to Jeremiah, writing in the style of David, lamenting about being shunned by his people facing being abandoned in a used well, where the remaining water threatened to end his life and you couldn’t find a footing in the accumulated sludge beneath it. It’s place in the book of psalms shows that the exiles in Babylon valued it as it reflect their plight, their plea and their hope so well.

Vivid images…In Deep water, in over your head, wave after wave threatening to drag you under, going down for the last time, caught in miry clay unable to find sure footing, going down into the pit. I don’t know about you but on a personal level they evoke memories of situations and struggles, pain and suffering.  … and I was reminded as I reflected on it…of a very concrete example of being nine and crossing a deep stream with my sister on a winters day at bethels beach and in one step going from ankle deep water to over our heads, being weighed down by winter clothes sturdy shoes, woollen socks, long pants, jumpers and jackets and fighting for breath, and trying to keep my head above the water. Then at the last moment my feet touching a rock and hauling myself and my sister up on the other side. My mum going for help and finding the only other person on the beach, a fisherman, who calmly lead us down stream to where the river was widest and shallowest, so we could cross back safely. That’s the day I learned that survival tip cross a stream where its widest.

  On a societal level, like with those exiles, it does justice to the suffering of people who face oppression and indifference. We struggle with the language of retribution the psalmist uses of those who oppress him, but the perspectives of an oppressed people are likely to be different than ours and as Walt Whitman said “the attitude of the great poets is to cheer up the slaves and horrify despots”.  

We are working our way through the E100 essential Bible reading challenge, looking at Jesus and who he is and how he fits in to the whole sweep of the narrative of scripture. We started with five reading from New Testament writers which summed up who they had come to understand Jesus as( we looked at Hebrews 1:1-4 in our service) . We looked at the need for a savior, how our wrongdoing had broken our relationship with God and with each other and the created world ( Isaiah 59). Then last week we looked at five types in the Old Testament, events or things that acted like previews of Jesus in the New Testament( Numbers 21: 4-9) . This week we are looking at what are called messianic Psalms, the songs and prayers of God’s people that look for God’s savior and find their fulfilment in Christ. Psalm 69 is one of those psalms; in fact it is the second most often quoted Psalm in the New Testament behind Psalm 22. Jesus used it, The early Church writers applied it to Jesus and used it to express both their understanding of God’s judgment and the hope of God establishing his Kingdom. More than that in the vivid images of its protests and pleas and possibility of redemption it paints a picture of Jesus…Jesus in the deep water, Jesus identifying with the depth of human suffering, Jesus with us even in the deep waters and Jesus as the way through. Our brief New Testament reading is the summery of the passage where Jesus had quoted this psalm… “in life there will be trouble… there will deep waters, mirey clay, the pits… but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Even in the deep water Jesus.

Even though we are looking at the Psalm through the lens of what it says about Jesus we need to look at what the original writer was saying. It’s a lament…  a pouring out of sorrow and hope. The psalmist finds themselves in a position of suffering and oppression and cries out to God to save him. He expresses his sorrow and suffering in those vivid images. Like with a lot of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament the Psalmist is struggling with why innocent people suffer. In v 4 he says they hate me without cause, like with Job it seems all he has to do is admit he is guilty and it will be all right, but he is not guilty. The Bible does not draw a direct link between a person sinning and suffering, it’s not that simple. Scholars see verse 5 as being ironic, not an admission of sin and guilt but rather that only God knows if he has done wrong, not his accusers and enemies. In fact he is shunned and ostracised and criticized and in deep water because of his devotion to God, his zeal for the house of the LORD. He suffers because he wants to see transformation and change not because he has done wrong. His suffering is made worse by the scorn and mocking of his enemies, he looks for comfort and fellowship, but receives none. The words talk of table fellowship, companionship to provide some relief and solace for his suffering, but they simply give him gall and vinegar.  He responds it three ways he pleads with God to save him, he calls for justice, that his enemies might reap what they sow (v22-28), and you know, what kind of God would we have if he was dispassionate about those who cause suffering and injustice? But then the psalmist stops and has hope in God, in verse 30 he turns and praises God that God is a savior, we don’t know if God answers his personal plea, but in praising God, he is able in the last few lines of this psalm, to look to a brighter future, where God will restore his favour to his people. This is why this was such a powerful psalm for the exiles, because it looked forward to a return to Jerusalem, a new start, God setting things right.  Its why its powerful for all people. Even in the deep water Jesus…

Ok how did Jesus use this Psalm… Well he refers to it in John 15:25 talking about the fact that just as the world had hated him for no reason, for the same reason’s as are in the Psalm, that they would also hate those who would follow him. That suffering and misunderstanding and being ostracised and persecuted were part of the lot of his followers. It shows us that Jesus identified with the sentiments of this Psalm; its record of innocent suffering echoed his own life, on that night he was betrayed and would echo down through the millennia of all people who sort to follow him, who looked to make change for the good.

This identification with the Psalm, lead the gospel writers to use it in making sense of things that Jesus did. It is quoted in John 2:17 to explain Jesus cleansing of the temple, making a whip and driving out the money changers, he was filled with zeal for the house of the LORD.

That event and attitude leads to Jesus suffering, when it’s mentioned in the other gospels it happens in the week leading up to his death. It leads to the religious authorities being opposed to Jesus and to his being crucified. we are told in all four gospels, that they gave him sour wine, or vinegar, echoing both Psalm 22 and 69 ‘They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar to drink”.

More than that we hear echoes of those words, “scorned and disgraced and shamed, and “no sympathy” in the words and actions of the religious authorities and the taunt filled crowd gathered around the cross. Even in the deep water Jesus experienced the deep water.

It’s also quoted in Acts 1:16,20, as Peter sees the reality of “may their place be deserted, let there  be no one to dwell in their tents’ being fulfilled in the field bought with the money judas betrayed Jesus with and where he died being known as the field of blood.

We are not that comfortable thinking of God’s judgment and the rather strident language the psalmist uses. In Romans eleven Paul quotes this psalm as he wrestles with why Israel rejected Jesus, he acknowledges that they became blind as they were blind to who Christ was, and just as they did not offer table fellowship to Jesus so they have found that it has become a trap for them. They reaped what they sow. His hope is that there is a remnant who have found grace in Jesus Christ and this psalm gives hope as it finishes with the restoration of God’s People. At the cross we do not find Jesus voicing the words of this psalm but rather as a glimpse of that possible restoration uttering the words “father forgive them they no not what they do.” You may reap what you sow, but the offer from Jesus is grace and restoration.

The Psalm and the New Testament share the same hope as well. Both Psalm 69 and the Book of Revelation look to a New Jerusalem and a new creation as their hope. After the suffering and the trials God indeed sets all things straight.

What for us from this Psalm.

(I couldn’t help but see in Psalm 69 the process of bringing change and transformation, that both the psalmist and Jesus went through. The suffering of being misunderstood of seeing the possibilities of what could be and them clashing with the powers to be, the dominant mid set, people saying you’ve got it all wrong… In the end the only thing that gets one through is that vision of the new, the vision of that could be, in Christ, the realisation that God also dreams and looks to make thing new. In Hebrews11 it talks of the heroes and heroines of the faith being what God had for them and being willing to endure for the sake of that hope. Most dying without seeing it come to fruition. In Hebrews 12 It says that for the Joy set before him Jesus endured the cross; That we too should run the race fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and the one who prefects of our faith. For those in that struggle remember…even in the deep waters Jesus)*


In Christ we see an answer to the cry Save us O God… in Jesus close identification with the suffering and sorrow of this psalm in his own life and his own death, we see God reaching down to answer to save and to provide a way through. If the cross stands in the middle of human history, as the ultimate act of God’s love and grace to us all then the cross stands in the middle of this psalm between the suffering and the call for justice which finish at verse 29 and the affirmation of the goodness and hope of Gods restoration and care in verse 30. In meeting and knowing Jesus we can know that in our lives. We can be lifted from the deep water and placed on a hill. In Jesus there is the hope of God’s answer. EM Blaiklock says in these last eight verses ‘the humble, the poor and the sorrowful are upheld before God as the beatitudes, Jesus gracious invitation into his kingdom,  similarly uphold them, and us.

But that is not some sort of passport to a blissful untroubled existence. If we do that say “come to Jesus and it’s all going to be alright, hunky dory, some blissful wonderful paradise, all beer and lamingtons” then you all know that it is the words of a dishonest salesman, wanting to flog off a faulty product to us. In this life says Jesus there will be troubles, like the psalmist if we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will find ourselves at odds with the world around us, and let’s face it life has it fares share of deep water,  But the hope is that in the end that Christ has overcome the world. There is a bright future, a bright hope and even in the deep waters Christ.

I’ve used this image before. It’s very vivid and evocative. It’s A shadow on a wall forming the shape of a cross. It was taken in the 9th ward of New Orleans just after the flooding caused by cyclone Katrina, as aid workers were preparing to move out into the city. Perhaps it is an omen of what they will find in the city… death, but also it is the promise of the presence of Christ as the workers go off into the deep water….And Jesus does invite us to go into deep waters… As we’ve seen Jesus relate to this psalm of the deep waters we know that even in the deep waters Jesus has been there before us and has made a way through… even in the deep waters Jesus is able to hear and to hold… even in the deep waters… Jesus has not withdrawn his fellowship… he invites us to his table today to meet with him and be strengthened by his presence. Even if you find yourself in the deep water…Jesus.

*This paragraph was not originally in the sermon I preached but as I come to reflect further is, in my humble opinion, an application that needs to be drawn.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Snakes On A Plain: A preview...(Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21)


 
 
Hopefully that short video clip got your attention… It was probably packed with good reasons why you wouldn’t want to watch the movie ‘snakes on a plane’…  it’s definitely a B grade movie, in fact someone said, ”It’s so bad that it’s good.” Another reviewer said that “from the title and the trailer you know exactly what you are going to get…snakes on a plane, don’t come to this movie looking for good dialogue, character development, insight on the issues perplexing society today, the producers have just bought together two things people are afraid of Snakes and flying and are inviting you to relax sit back and enjoy the fright.

I know it may be a bit silly but I couldn’t help but think of this movie preview as I reflected on the passage from Numbers we are looking at today. They have things in common… In the movie it’s snakes on a plane, 30000 feet in the air flying between Hawaii and LA.  In Numbers, it’s snakes on a plain as the people of Israel in their exodus journey march around Edom on their way to the Promised Land.  In both People are being terrorised and killed by snakes. In both The people turn  to someone to save them. In the movie it’s Samuel L Jackson, who mobilises the assets of the FBI. In the scriptures they turn to Moses, who prays, and receives an answer. In both people are saved, I’m not going to do a spoiler for the movie, who knows you might want to watch it,  in scripture God invites them to look to a copper snake statue on a pole:  A statue that Jesus uses, in a conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, to convey the nature of his mission. “ Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” We are going to focus on that not the movie.

We are working our way through the E100 essential Jesus Bible challenge.  We started with five readings from New Testament writers that expressed what they understood about Jesus (We chose Hebrews 1:1-4 for our service)  then last week we looked at five passages that showed why humanity needed a saviour (We looked at Isaiah 59).  This week the readings focus on significant symbols in the Old Testament;  The Passover lamb, the manna from heaven, the temple, the Jonah story and the bronze or copper snake. Whitney Kuniholm says “just like movie trailers promote a coming attraction, and give us a pretty good idea of what’s coming, these passages give us fascinating previews of what is coming in the scripture.” They are called biblical Types… a person, or event or thing in the Old Testament that points toward Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It can be overdone, people try and view the whole Old testament that way,  but the ones that are in the Bible reading challenge this week are there because they are ones that Jesus uses of himself  to communicate the truth of who he is to people  steeped in the scriptures of the Old Testament.   I’ve chosen snakes on a plain out of those five. (Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21)

So let’s look at the narrative in numbers…The People of Israel had just won a military victory over one of the Canaanite kings, and instead of this heralding the beginning of their occupation of the land God had promised them, they embark on a long arduous detour round the nation of Edom. They move through territory that Millennia later Lawrence of Arabia would pass through and describe as ‘sinister, full of forbidding and actively evil, with only salt water, barren palms and bush’s which served neither for grazing or firewood. That it was snake devoted: the valley floor simply creeping with horn vipers, puff adders, cobra and black snakes. The people of Israel in this environment begin to grumble and complain, it’s like a broken record, they ask” why did we leave Egypt?”, they complain about the food God has provided, the manna from heaven, it’s not as good as the fluffy white bread and bottled water you could whip down the dairy for.  We talked about sin last week and find here that in their hardship they turn against God and are ungrateful for all that God had done for them. R Dennis Cole sums it up like this  “When a person’s heart is intent on rebellion and beset by discomfort, even the best of Gifts from the Lord can lose their savour; nothing will fully satisfy until the heart is made right.”

So the Lord sends snakes, from Lawrence’s description they didn’t have to come far. While it challenges us to consider God’s role in natural disasters, Lawrence had talked of the need to walk carefully with a stick bashing every bush in this land and you can imagine a group of grumpy disillusioned Israelites simply stomping and trudging through the same land easily falling victim to snake attack. It sobers them up real quick they realise what they have done and go to Moses who they had just being maligning and ask him to intercede on their behalf. We often think of disasters and difficulties being God’s judgement rather than being a time when God wakes us up to our need for him. 

Moses prays and God answers, he tells Moses to make a snake statue out of copper and place it on a  pole and all who look at the snake would be healed, and that is what happens. Jesus uses this symbol to talk about his own mission and his being lifted up, which refers to his crucifixion, and Raymond Brown sees many dimensions of divine mercy in this incident that point us to Christ…

The first is that salvation and healing were ‘Uniquely provided”  there could be no doubt it was Israel’s God who delivered them.  While two snakes on a pole has become a symbol for healing and medicine in our culture, there is nothing intrinsic in that symbol itself that provided healing for snake poison. It had to be God.

It was an ‘expression of God’s Power’. There is much debate over why God told Moses to make a copper snake on a pole. The Egyptian’s used to wear copper snake jewellery to protect them against snakes, and the snake and pole were both symbols of Egyptian religion. John Currid calls it a scene of polemical beauty” that this symbol of Egyptian power should be used to show the omnipotence of YHWH alone. It’s interesting that the cross was a symbol of the power of Rome, to deal with rebellion and crush it totally, in Jesus being lifted it it becomes the symbol of God’s power to forgive and to free and to give life.

It was a ‘sign of God’s Wisdom’, the Lord chose this unusual means by which the people would be saved. It seems ridiculous and absurd but as John Calvin points out “that absurdity made the grace of God even more conspicuous”. It wasn’t their own cleverness or ability, they were totally indebted to the goodness and grace of God.  Likewise Paul talks of the foolishness of God shaming the wise, that God should save us from sin and give us new life through a man dying on a cross. It does not make sense except in the grace of God.

I
t was “totally undeserved” Raymond Brown Eloquently puts it like this

“Their Salvation did not come from devotion, moral achievement or spiritual excellence. The vivid story is an uncomplicated parable of God’s astonishing grace. He presents his gift of salvation to undeserving rebels who have despised his provision, spurned his mercy, rejected his word and slandered his name.”

Not that we love God, says John, but that God first loved us and sent his son to be a sacrifice for our sins. “Blessed are the poor of spirit” said Jesus “for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

It was “urgently necessary”. It was a matter of life and death for the people of Israel. You can image it getting more and more out of hand as panic set in and people ran this way and that in a landscape creeping with snakes. Often its only in our dire need that we are open to God’s voice. It’s why many people turn to Christ in time of need. But we can forget that as we saw last week we are in a dire situation because of sin, it is a life and death situation, the wages of sin is death. Diabetes is an insidious disease, and I don’t often talk about my wrestle with it, but it is easy because the symptoms and the damage it does take time to have an impact, that you can think you are don’t have to make lifestyle changes or you are free to give them up, or as I euphemistically call it ‘go on a holiday from Diabetes for a while, but you can’t, because while you don’t feel it right off the damage is being done. Sin is kind of like that its consequences are not always so obvious, but it leads to death…  God’s salvation is urgently necessary.

God’s grace had to be “earnestly sought”. In the story that is a two-step process. Firstly in verse 7 they repented of their sin, they realised they had done wrong and they came to Moses and confessed it. Secondly to be saved they needed to look at the copper snake. The word for look here is more than a glance it has the same idea as believe in John chapter 3. It means to look to something putting our trust in that.

It was “Graciously mediated”, Moses who had every reason to be angry with the people didn’t go off, like he had in the past, it tells us that he willing prayed for the people. AS we saw last week as we looked at the beginning of the book of Hebrews in Christ we have a better mediator than Moses, who not only prays for us, but willing gave himself as a sacrifice for us.

It was “divinely guaranteed” as we’ve said before the efficacy of this miracle wasn’t in sign or the symbol, but rather in the promise of God, God’s word. God spoke and said that if people looked to the statue they would be healed.  For our resting image today we’ve been using a statue called the serpentine cross the serpentine cross statue on Mt Nebo by Italian artist Giovanni Fantonion Mt Nebo made by Italian Artist Giovanni Fantoni, no one has been healed bey looking at this symbol, as Raymond brown says the Reason for healing lay in the command from God and the promise of deliverance. We have Jesus word that those who look to him will have eternal life in him.

In the narrative God’s grace was “widely available” there was no preferential treatment the promise of salvation was to all ‘anyone who looked at the snake would be healed.” Jesus also says that it was for all who would believe in him that it was open to all people regardless of race, gender, achievements, status or experience. It is a universal offer.

But it also has to be “personally appropriated” they still had to look with faith at the copper snake.  The simplicity of this may really have been a barrier to people doing this. Naaman the leper is an example of how people can be affronted by the simplicity of God’s grace. He was told to go and wash in the Jordan river seven times, and almost missed out on God’s gracious healing because he actually thought it was beneath him to do something so silly and ordinary. People respond in the same way  to Jesus salvation on the cross, it seems so paradoxical to think as Gordon Wenham puts it ‘Men dying in sin are saved by a man suspended on a cross.” But we have to accept the gracious gift that God offers to us.” Salvation is a gift we have to accept.


Finally it was “Immediately effective” the moment they looked at the snake with faith it tells us that they became well. There was no delay between looking and living. It’s interesting to note that this is the last time in the scriptures that the people of Israel grumbled about the food or expressed a desire to go back to Egypt, in understanding the seriousness of their sin and encountering the grace of God they changed their ways. So the same is with Christ, John 6:40 says “everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”... there is no delay between the Looking and living.

 ‘Snakes on a plane’ is not a movie I can recommend… I’ve seen it. I’ll never gt that time back again…I can recommend Snakes on the plain because it gives us not only a picture of God’s grace and mercy to his rebellious people in their desert wanderings, it give us a wonderful rich preview of the grace of God shown to all in Jesus Christ. But more than that I want to finish with the recommendation of Raymond Brown whose analysis we’ve been following… he finishes by simply echoing John the Baptist …. saying that we should look to Jesus “Behold the lamb of God. Who takes away the sins of the world”.