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What’s your ‘fishing’?

Part 2 of a 3-part series reflecting on the ending(s) of John’s Gospel, ch20 & 21.

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Last week we began exploring the ending(s) to John’s gospel with its first ending (John 20:19-31). The disciples are gathered in a locked room together, surrounded by anxiety, fear and uncertainty, and into that space Jesus appears and offers them peace and breathes Spirit upon them, to encourage them and continue to teach them more of the story, to help sustain them as they keep on believing.

Now into chapter 21, the start of the second ending to the gospel, some of the disciples are gathered again, not in a room, but on the shore of Galilee. Peter says, ‘I’m going to fish’, and the others who are with him say they will come too.

Peter, and many of the others, were fisherman. So going to fish was familiar to them, and perhaps, after 3 years following Jesus, had become something of a past-time. Sometimes this moment can be described as the disciples going back to old ways, perhaps even turning their back on Jesus’ call to them to fish for people, and instead fishing for, well, fish.

Fishing: Life-giving fun

There can be merit for us in reflecting on that interpretation, but I’m not sure that’s the only way to hear the story. I wonder if Peter and his friends are not do much going back to old ways, but going off to spend time looking after their wellbeing. Why? Because I think we could quite equally read and hear the story as one about a group of friends going off to spend time doing something from their past that they love, enjoy and in the past found life-giving.

But yet, they have a bad night, this band of friends, and catch nothing.

As dawn comes, a voice comes from the shore – ‘children, you’ve not got anything to eat have you?’

‘No’, comes the reply.

cast on the right side of the boat’ says the stranger.

And so they do, and FISH! – the nets are bursting.

And Peter dives into the lake – for ‘It is the Lord’.

Once the rest of the disciples manged to drag the net of fish ashore, Jesus has a fire going, and says ‘bring your fish, let’s have breakfast together’.

and so they spend time together, in dawns morning light.

My Paraphrase, see John 21:1-14 for the full story
Fishing: A Children’s game

I love the fact Jesus, intially as a stranger to them, calls children to them. They weren’t children as we would see them, they were probably young adults by all accounts, but I love this image it leaves me with of someone standing on the shore, watching a group of friends playing around like children, having fun fishing together, despite the fact they’d not yet caught anything.

But then, with a bit of encouragement from this stranger, the disicples are blessed with nets a-bursting, and their fun and games bear fruit.

Fishing: Jesus in our everyday

I reckon this story demonstrates to us just how interested Jesus is in us, in our wellbeing, and our every day. Jesus blesses his friends with direction to get a bumper catch after a long and relaxing night as friends on the lake, doing something they love and enjoy.

Then what happens? Jesus invites them to bring what they have, and to share breakfast together. To enjoy the fruits of their leisure. There’s no teaching here, no lesson to learn, no parable told. Jesus just spends time with them, enjoying a meal together as the sun breaks on the shore.

For the disciples, their life-giving, enjoyable, fun-time-together activity was fishing, and Jesus was with them as they did so, enjoying its fruitfulness with them. What’s your ‘fishing’? What is life-giving for you? What fun is Jesus enjoying the fruitfulness of, with you?

Keep on believing

Part 1 of a 3-part series reflecting on the ending(s) of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21.

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Do you ever get stuck knowing how to end a letter or an email? I don’t write letters very often, but send many emails, and often pause as I end wondering what the most appropriate ending might be. ‘Every blessing’, ‘best wishes’, ‘regards’, ‘in Christ’. Since the pandemic began I often use ‘in peace and hope’.

I find it fascinating that 2 of the 4 gospels in the bible sort of have 2 endings. Mark has a shorter and longer ending in chapter 16 – depending on which original texts you look at. Often our bibles make this clear with headings and footnotes.

Headings and footnotes don’t usually appear in the same way in John – but it is also thought to have a first and second ending. When we read it, chapter 20 feels to have a natural end – but then, goes on with chapter 21. Many scholars think (though not all!) that chapter 21 was added to the text of John’s gospel at some stage after the first version of the gospel was created.

Stories

All the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are stories of persuasion and intrigue and encouragement. Stories of the life of Jesus, the impact he had on the communities he travelled through, and the lives he touched and transformed.

Each gospel comes from a different perspective and was written for differing communities and audiences. Some repeat stories told in other gospels; others hold stories unique only to them. Few stories occur in all 4.

After telling its version of the story – John’s gospel comes to its first end as we read the last verses of John 20:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”     

John 20:30-31
Keep on believing

The phrase interpreted here as ‘may come to believe’ can equally be interpreted as may continue believing, or keep on believing.

Some scholars believe this second translation is in fact the one intended by John’s author. They argue that one of the key principles of John’s gospel is that it was written not only to persuade and encourage people to believe, but equally, if not primarily, to encourage and sustain the continuing believing of a persecuted and struggling community, who were not the original witnesses to its story.

The text we now call John’s gospel comes from, probably, around 70AD, 40 or so years on from Jesus’ ministry. The text therefore comes from a point in history where the Jesus-story was being passed on from the original witness to the next generation. This generation, who’s faith up to now had been sustained by the original witnesses, were now themselves the custodians of the story. These custodians needed encouragement to continue believing the story and sharing its life-giving power with others, despite the fact they were not original witnesses.

2000 years on, the story continues to be passed on, so I think we can say they did an ok job.

Promised Presence

Before we get to this first ending of the gospel, we have read another important story –Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disicples.

They are locked in a room together, grieving, fearful, lost. And into that room filled with uncertainty and fear Jesus appears and says, “peace be with you.” and breathes on them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

John’s gospel begins with the word that was with God and was God (1:1) – who comes to dwell among us (1:14). An echo of the story of origin that we find in Genesis 1. Now, as we reach a climax to John’s gospel the word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, now breathes the very presence of God upon us.

This promised presence flows throughout the story that is John’s gospel. In chapter 14 Jesus promises the comforter will come to remind what Jesus has taught them and continue teaching more of the story to the community. (John 14:26)

The story lives on

John’s gospel reminds us that what we read in scripture is not the whole story – that the gospel story lives on through the very presence of God – the Holy Spirit – living among us. There is more the be taught, more to be reminded, more to be said. [hence, perhaps, chapter 21 gets added in!]

If the story lives on among us and within us, that means our stories become part of the gospel story – the good news story – that is the transforming life and love of Jesus among us.

So while here in John we are told here is enough of the story that you can believe and keep on believing, by God’s presence with us and in us we too have our own stories to tell of how our human story and God’s story have entwined. Stories of our experince of our lives transformed by the transforming life of Christ.

These stories we can share remind us and witness to the truth that God’s presence is with us, and they encourage us and others to keep on believing.

So friends, what story are you going to tell today?

Easter Shockwave

Reflections on the shockwave that Jesus’ Resurrection brought to the world and continues to bring to us today.

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Happy Easter! We’ve journeyed through Lent, through Holy Week, and now we’re here. We can eat an Easter Egg – if you haven’t already that is and celebrate the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

Have you ever been treated for shock? Perhaps sat with a sugary tea after something that you have witnessed or has happened to you? I remember having to lie down in the woods after breaking my wrist in my teens and going into shock.

Well the story of the Resurrection begins with shock. After a tumultuous week where their leader had been taken from them and crucified, you can perhaps begin to imagine just how emotionally and spiritually vulnerable they were already. Some of the women had journeyed to the tomb that morning and found Jesus body gone, and an angel greeting them.

“Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, he is risen. Go tell the disicples that Jesus goes ahead of you to Galilee and you will see him there.”

(Paraphrase of Mark 16:5-8)

We might think the women would be filled with joy and celebration – Jesus is alive! But we are told, they are seized with amazement and terror – and so ‘they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ I think they were in shock. Needing some time to let the news sink in.  

Eventually the women do tell the disicples – and the disciples meet the risen Jesus and are filled with joy and wonder!

In very different circumstances, we have had a year that has shocked us and shaken us. But the truth of Easter remains the same. Jesus has risen – and that sends shockwaves around the world until the end of time.

God knew the world was a mess, God could see the mess. And so God sent Jesus, and while some of the reasoning is surrounded in mystery, and quite a lot of debate, somehow, through Jesus’ life, and death and resurrection, the deepest and strongest love that has ever existed is outpoured onto the world, and onto us. Friends – hear me today – share with you this shockwave that comes to the world, and to you – you are loved. You are forgiven. You can find freedom. Yes you.

The Easter shockwave does all that – with hope and with certainty.

But it doesn’t end there. Jesus invites us into a relationship, a partnership, a journey. To be partners in the shockwave of a story that is filled with mystery and wonder. Joy and celebration. Where we are loved, forgiven and free.

And just as we are a diverse human race, that journey looks different for all of us.

Ask anyone who has partnered with Jesus – and they will tell a different story of mystery and wonder and joy. But threaded through them all, is the truth that we are loved, forgiven and free.

Folks, today I invite you into the journey that is the shockwave of Easter.

If you want to know more, and I really hope you do, get in touch with me or your local church to share your story, and discover the threads of love, forgiveness and freedom that Jesus has already woven for you.

Happy Easter!

Playing Power, Playing God

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. You can read the story for yourself in all the gospels, including Luke 19:28-40.

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This week is Palm Sunday, so named after the palm branches people picked up from the ground or cut from trees to wave and shout with triumph as Jesus’ rode on a donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem.

But this week my mind has been as much on the Christmas story as it has been on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Why? Well, last Sunday was Census day here in England and Wales. And as I filled in my census, I was reminded that according to Luke’s gospel it was a census called by Emperor Augustus that led to Mary and Joseph taking a journey from Nazareth in the north, the Bethlehem in the south to register. (Luke 2)

There is no mention of a donkey in Luke’s gospel, but it is perhaps a faux-pas that is helpful for us today – linking these two journeys – Christmas and Palm Sunday – together for us.

You see, I was thinking about how the call for a census, in some way, can be seen as the people in power using that power to play God – by seeking to know who is who. For Joseph and Mary it was the first census, the first time people had been asked to ‘register’. By registering, the ruling powers now knew who was who, and perhaps even where they were – certainly, because the people had to go to their hometown, where they had come from was now known.

Living in 21st Century we’re quite used to other people having details about us. Type “Dan Balsdon” into a Google search and it will soon tell you much about me!

But up to this point in history to be known was not something that would be seen in the same way. You might be known by your local community, a few traders in other places perhaps, family if they lived elsewhere, and for the faithful – by God. The idea of being registered in a society or country was not normative.

The opening line of Psalm 139 hold much more significance when we recognise that to be known had a very different emphasis and meaning before that first census.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

And so I wonder, given all of time and space, why God chose this moment, when a census was to be taken that would make the unknown known, that would change the societal and economic map, that would have an impact on the dynamics of power for the future, as the time for the Word to be made flesh and dwell amongst us. (John 1)

30 or so years on, Jesus journeys on a Donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Depending on which gospel account you read there are palms waved (though not in Luke’s account) and cloaks laid on the ground (but not in John’s account). And it is commonly titled something along the lines of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But actually, it’s not the triumphal entry we might expect. The moment is once again a particular one, because as Jesus entered Jerusalem by the east gate, Pilate was entering by the west, in full military procession, with soldiers in armour and sword, probably horses and chariots.

Jesus’ entry is distinctive and different, almost to the point of comedy. Instead of swords there are tree branches. Instead of soldiers in clothed armour, people de-clothed and laid them down on the ground. Instead of horse and chariot, there are disorganised crowds and Jesus rides a donkey.

Jesus is playing with power by subverting expectations – saying ‘I’ll be king, I’ve be a Saviour, but not the king or Saviour anyone will expect – just you watch’.

Jesus had been challenging power in many ways for many months, and it finally comes to a head in Jerusalem, where Jesus is arrested, put on trial and crucified. But while Jesus can be said to be playing with power, he was not playing with God. Jesus was God.

For mere days later – what happens – well, spoiler alert – Jesus’ shows the true power of God – and is raised to life again. Much to the surprise of everyone!

While the sort of society we live in today is a far cry from that of Jesus day, Jesus’ call continues to us, to pick up our palms and challenge misuse of power, to challenge institutions and regimes that play God, and put our one true God who truly knows us for who we are, beautiful and wonderful beings made in God’s image, with capacity to love and do amazing things, at the centre of our very being.

So friends, what palm are you going to pick up and wave today?

My Soul is…

A reflection based on John 12:20-33.

Reflect: how does your experience of ‘feeling’ through the pandemic echo with or conflict with what you believe or know to be true of God?

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In John 12, after being approached by Andrew, who has been approach by Phillip, who has been approach by Greeks wanting to come to the Passover festival (are you still with me!?), Jesus begins to talk about his coming death. Or at least, we know that he was talking about his coming death. The author of the gospel of John knew. The disciples, the Greeks, the crowd? Perhaps not so much.

In a moment which, in the text, takes us from a conversation with those around him to a conversation with his Father, Jesus says ‘Now my soul is troubled’. (John 12:27)

Though troubled is perhaps an understatement and under-interpretation of the truth of Jesus’ feeling here. A more literal interpretation of the Greek might be agitated, or more crudely, in shock, turmoil or distress.

Jesus wasn’t troubled in a trite and simplistic way. it wasn’t simply that the shopping delivery had arrived and they had swapped your beloved smokey bacon for your less favoured unsmoked.

Jesus was feeling turmoil and anguish in the depths of his soul because of what was looming on the very near horizon. He was soon to be glorified – which to the Author of the gospel, Jesus’ being glorified was the being ‘lifted up’ – the cross.

As Christians we talk of glory, often, as a good thing – ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’ goes the popular hymn. But Jesus was not feeling good – despite knowing what was to be gained through this moment.

Jesus has already talked about how useless a single grain is unless it falls into the earth and dies, to then come forth and bear much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus seems to know here, what needs to happen – but his feeling – his feeling was pain. His feeling was turmoil. His feeling was fear. His feeling was urging him to say to his Father ‘save me from this hour, this time that I know is at hand’ John 12:27.

In a moment of pain and fear, Jesus was honest with God about how he felt, despite what he knew was to come.

Friends, when was the last time you told God how you feel? How you really feel? Asked ‘where are you God?’ when you’re struggling to feel God with you, despite knowing that God is there?

Jesus’ experience shows us that it is ok to be feeling something that is contrary to what we know, or think we should be feeling. We can’t deny the truth. Can’t suppress the reality of our feeling – if we do, we start to be dishonest with God, and dishonest with ourselves.

Friends, be honest with God today, just as Jesus was, because through being honest with God about how we feel, we are honest with ourselves.

Socks, Shirts and Skirts

Each of us, daily, clothe ourselves. At least, I think we all do!

What we wear each day is often influenced by the activity of the day, though over the last 12 months that fact has likely been diluted for many of us!

In ‘normal’ times we might put smarter clothes on if we were going to a party or the theatre; more casual clothes if we’re catching up with a friend; older, more worn out clothes if we’re gardening or decorating; more comfy clothes if we’re relaxing with a book of in front of the TV.

With the daily ritual of clothing ourselves, comes the purpose we are clothing ourselves for.

In Colossians, we read words that encourage us to clothe ourselves, not in socks, shirts and skirts, but virtues that help us to live fruitful lives which nurture and build us and each other up.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:12-15

The Hebrew verb that can occasionally be understood to mean a change of clothes is more commonly translated as renew. I wonder, when these words in Colossians were written in Greek, if this Hebrew word play was also in mind.

These virtues were alternative and subversive in the militaristic society where power and dominance were seen as the signs of success.

But the call to live in the fruitfulness of these virtues was because of a new activity and purpose – one that would lead to a renewed and transformed way of living that was disticntive and alternative, and intrinsically intentional.

These virtues are not simply about niceness, the niceness and goodness that perhaps comes somewhat naturally and passively. They are about real, intentional discipleship. Being committed and disciplined to clothing our character around the life and character of Jesus – with the ever-present help of God’s Spirit.

And through that renewing of ourself, the constant attentiveness to how we clothe ourselves in light of the renewing Spirit of God in us, we bear fruit which nurtures and build us and each other up.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

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Faith in the fog

Faith in the Fog
I drew away this morning, thinking I was going to a quiet place.
When I got there I could see only a few metres, the wind was howling, the rain soaking in.
Where was God in all this?

Then I realised. My life is a bit like that at the moment. I can’t see where I’m going.
This blowing at me from all directions.
Yet I hear the Lord say ‘have faith in the fog’.

So I will. I will have faith in you Lord. I believe.
I believe you will provide for me. I believe you have a plan for me.
I believe you hold my life in your hands.

So I stand in the cold.
The wet, the wind, the fog and say here I am. I am listening.
I will have faith in the fog.

Out of the Way

In the gospels we read the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard.  Perhaps the closest we get in the gospels to seeing Jesus express his frustration in a physical way.

It was coming to the festival of Passover, when Jews would remember how God passed over the land of Egypt and led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

It was an important festival, and Jesus heads to the temple – where he finds a menagerie of traders. And what does Jesus do? He overturns the tables; he drives the animals and traders out of the temple and declares ‘stop making my father’s house a market place’.

Why does he do this? Why does he make such a scene?

The trading that was happening in the temple courtyard had become a distraction from worship, and for some even a barrier to worship.

People were having to buy animals in the courtyard to then go to make their sacrifices, and to buy the animals they must get temple currency – like me as a Brit going to China and trying to use Pound Sterling to buy my dinner – I wouldn’t get what I needed.

The temple traders which may well have begun as a practice to enable those who didn’t have access to animals for sacrifices to be able to access them, have become part of a system of injustice.

Reflection on this gospel story might poses for us various quesitons about worship, economics, justice and injustice, anger and frustration…

But today I want us to briefly reflect on the words of Jesus: ‘Stop making my father’s house a marketplace’. Get this stuff out of the way, it is distracting us, distracting you, from God.

As Christians we have a different relationship with buildings than Jews did with the temple in Jerusalem. Church buildings are a gathering place, and can become sacred space to us, through our encountering God through worship and through lives of others. But we also know that God is no more present in these buildings than all the world. Yet buildings have a significance and value for many.

In the last 12 months as Christians, we have been faced with learning to have a different relationship with buildings that we have done before. When we have gathered in them, we have done so under restrictions which restrain us from singing and even talking with one another. For much of the time they have not been gathering places at all.

For me personally, the restrictions and particularly the responsibility of leading worship within them when I have done, has distracted, and limited me from being able to encounter God through worship and interaction with God’s community.

I encourage you to reflect today – what distracts you from worship and encountering God? What can you do to overcome those distractions?

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Habits

What habits do you have?
Habits can be both good and bad – and sometimes that’s different for different people…

For me, in the last year because I’m working from home more I’ve definitely got into an unhealthy habit of snacking, but I have spent more time reading and walking, which is, I think, a good habit for me.

The important thing when it comes to habits, is are we in control of it, or is the habit controlling us?  

I was reading information on a study this week that suggested adults look at their phone every 6 and ½ minutes. I made me aware how often I look at my phone, and made me wonder whether I’m in control of the habit, or if the habit is controlling me.

In Mark 8 Jesus says to his disciples and the crowd around them:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Mark 8:34b-36

This call to deny ourselves initially might feel like Jesus is saying ignore your own thoughts and desires they don’t matter when you follow me. But I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is saying. Actually, I think Jesus is saying we do matter, and it’s because we matter, that Jesus wants to help us to keep our desires and habits in check and under control – and guided by the life that Jesus lived on earth – that becomes a blueprint for how he calls us to live.

To deny ourselves is not about us not mattering, quite the opposite – it’s about ensuring we develop healthy habits that benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

During lent we sometime stalk about giving something up – chocolate is common – but that’s not really what Lent is about. The period of Lent is really about self-discipline, and reflection – asking ourselves are we developing and living in healthy habits that help our physical and spiritual wellbeing, and asking God to help us.

Jesus goes on to ask what benefit there is to have the whole world, but forfeit life. In his worship song, Tim Hughes words it “What good is it to gain the whole world, But lose your soul?”.

If we don’t work to ensure we develop healthy habits, we can fall into a hole of building up our earthly, worldly kingdoms – healthy bank accounts, homes filled with treasures, but loose sight the Kingdom of God – which trades not in cash and material possessions – but in justice and love.

Pray today, and ask God to help you reflect on what healthy habits to nurture and developed to benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

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