Posted by: mikebackup | January 2, 2010

The Journey of faith

This time of reflection will take us on a journey through scripture, personal meditation and prayer. Epiphany is the time we remember the wise men visiting Jesus and we recall their journey. At the start of a New Year it is good to take stock of where we are in our faith journey. How has the last year been for you, the family, church, community? Our spiritual journey is one that has good and difficult times and we must acknowledge that and be prepared to commit ourselves to Jesus again as we go forward into the year.

Psalm 72:1-7

1 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.

2 He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.

3 The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.

4 He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.

5 He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.

6 He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.

7 In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.

Psalm 72:10-14

10 The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts.

11 All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.

14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

These opening readings from the Psalms were adopted as special readings for Epiphany from an early period in Christianity and it can be seen why, they are full of messianic prophecy. It’s interesting to note the strong language of ‘crush’ , ‘defend’ and ‘judge’. It can be seen why so many Jews thought Jesus had come to be their deliverer from the Romans with a great show of force. Only post-resurrection Jewish followers finally realised that Jesus was victorious in apparent total defeat and powerlessness. There was no greater defeat than death on a cross, yet that death, the life that had lived before and the life that lived after Easter Sunday showed that Jesus had been the winner over evil from the most unlikely position. Apart from the associations with the wise men, epiphany means a sudden intuitive leap in understanding. The disciples had their epiphany in the time immediately after Easter Sunday. We sometimes need revelatory moments in our faith journey as it is very easy to compartmentalise God.

The thought of compartmentalising God got me thinking about something I noticed during December. I don’t know about you, but the perfume and aftershave adverts did my head in in the lead up to Christmas. They put together this elaborate and alluring vision of a lifestyle you can buy into if you buy this bottle of scent. As annoying as they were, it made me realise that Christianity has been very guilty of doing the same thing with God. ‘Parfum de God’ has been offered year on year, promising instant salvation and grace for your misdemeanour’s and the reward of everlasting life. The product hasn’t been selling too well in recent years and that’s because it’s forgetting the journey element of faith. Faith isn’t something you spray on and your life smells nice forevermore. It takes a great deal more than that. Even at the height of the Billy Graham crusades and Youth for Christ, it wasn’t as successful as many think. Millions attended events, a few hundred thousand people made a pledge, but six months and a year on, the percentage of dedicated new Christians was tiny. It was realised too late that to start a true journey of faith in Christ took more than an evening with Christians. The move to courses like Alpha has been far more successful, but again these are now seen to be past their best. Perhaps as some have suggested we need to move away from trying to convert people and instead intimately prepare people for a lifelong journey of faith. We often talk of sowing seeds, nurturing shoots and this is what we need to do. It means we have to be in it for the long haul, but we’ll know that we are offering people something genuine that prepares people for a journey that can truly reflect on the extremes of life.

Over Christmas Channel four showed a program called ‘Tsunami: Caught on Camera’, which can still be seen online. It was a very moving program with some quite remarkable footage taken by people who explained what happened to them. It’s the sort of program that leaves you aware of when you are swallowing those dry lumps in your throat and when you realise how rigid your body has become. It challenged my journey of faith, let alone those speaking in the program. It is where the we have to deeply reflect on the cataphatic (via positiva – what qualities we know of God) and the apophatic (via negativa – knowing God by what identifying what God is not). There was an English family who spoke of the glorious start to the holiday they had with their five year old daughter Isabella. As the tsunami began the mother recalled how Isabella was wrapped around her tightly. Somehow, she didn’t know when or how but Isabella was gone. They searched and hoped until the father went to a hospital to view a body. He said he was asked these questions, ‘Is this your daughter’, to which he replied ‘yes’, again ‘Is this your daughter’, to which he replied ‘yes’, and finally ‘Is this your daughter’, to which he replied ‘yes’. The family spoke how they try and cope and that they have set up a charity that is helping children of the tsunami and have since had a son. Journeys of faith have got to be so strong and genuine to be able to respond to people like this and for when we have desperate bereavements. That journey means we must be open to the love and mystery of God in all parts of our lives and be prepared at every turn to change, develop and grow in our walk with God. It means being committed to showing the love of God through mission, being part of the church family, prayer, meditation, reflection, wrestling with difficulties, reading and not just the Bible, listening to music, appreciating the journeying offered in art, seeking holiness in creation. Faith is so much more than saying ‘I believe in God’. Having a genuine journey means that scripture offers depths of revelation. So many Christians stay on the surface of the Bible thinking a literal understanding is the only understanding. But like the surface of the sea, it doesn’t tell the story of what is beneath.

Isaiah 60:1-6 (New International Version)

The Glory of Zion
1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.

5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.

Time to write down if you feel able the good and the difficult of 2009, followed by your hopes for 2010.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we kneel at your feet; the Christ, the anointed king, who rules by love and conquers by dying. We worship you.

We bring frankincense: and pray that our lives may be given as fragrant offerings.

We bring myrrh: our willingness daily to die to ourselves.

We bring gold: all that we have, which came from you and is available for your service.

Lord Jesus, we kneel at your feet; the Christ, the anointed king, who rules by love and conquers by dying. We worship you. Amen.


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