Day 8: Thursday, 5 March – Adar 9 5780

Exodus 12:1-6, 8-11

Some time later the LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Tell the people of Israel that on the tenth day of this month the head of each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for his family to eat. If any family is too small to eat the whole animal, they must share it with their next-door neighbours. Choose either a sheep or a goat, but it must be a one-year-old male that has nothing wrong with it. And it must be large enough for everyone to have some of the meat. Each family must take care of its animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, when the animals are to be killed.

That night the animals are to be roasted and eaten, together with bitter herbs and thin bread made without yeast. Don't eat the meat raw or boiled. The entire animal, including its head, legs, and insides, must be roasted. Eat what you want that night, and the next morning burn whatever is left. When you eat the meal, be dressed and ready to travel. Have your sandals on, carry your walking stick in your hand, and eat quickly. This is the Passover Festival in honour of me, your LORD.

At last, Passover! God now sets out the plan for action. His promise to kill all the firstborn of Egypt will not be carried out immediately – God had even prepared a demonstration of miracles after Moses had delivered the ultimatum to the king, but these had not stirred the king’s heart.

On the night that the firstborn of Egypt will be killed the Israelites must be ready to move out. They are to prepare food that will be eaten quickly and no traces are to be left. Fast food. Food to go. Just Exodus. Deliver-us. The Big Takeout.

This event is so important and so significant in the life of his people that God even resets the calendar for it. There will be meticulous preparations – a young prime sheep or goat to be selected and cared for until the time for slaughter. There will be little butchering – the whole animal is to be roasted, including the insides, and as an accompaniment there must be bitter herbs and thin bread. The bitter herbs are not there to enhance the flavour of the meat, but to remind the Israelites of the bitterness of their suffering, as this meal will be repeated each year forever. Thin bread (unleavened bread) has no yeast – there will be no time to prepare bread with yeast.

Any remaining food must be burnt. The Israelites must be ready for a fast getaway, so there’ll be one hand on the food and one on the stick.

Strange and rushed as it is, this is the most significant ritual of the Jewish faith. It celebrates the God who freed his people from captivity, a motif that runs riot through the Old Testament and becomes the pattern and type of the Passover sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

What are the recurring festivals that we observe that celebrate our life and history in Christ?

Which of these do we celebrate as church family and with food? Could we do more?

Are there significant events in the history of your walk with Christ? Do you celebrate them?

Father God, you made strict rules for a ritual that celebrates your amazing power. Teach me to know and understand how in Christ Jesus you performed an even greater miracle that I may celebrate every day of my life. Amen.

 

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Advent Reflections 2019 – Hospitality

Our Advent 2019 reflections are available as a PDF download or viewable below. Our theme is hospitality.

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Advent: December 24

1 Peter 4:8-9

Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins. Welcome people into your home and don't grumble about it.

You’ll probably be busy today, so our last reflection will be a little shorter.

I like Peter’s, or at least the translator’s down-to-earth nature. Peter has been there, and done it, and now he expresses everything within the context of love. Show some love this Christmas, but remember that love is not just for Christmas.

Who could you invite to your home? Not sure? Then pray about it.

How will you celebrate Christ’s birth at home?

Father God, because of Jesus You now welcome me into your family as an adopted child, with all the riches of inheritance offered to me. Prompt me to share this amazing gift with those I meet. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

 

If you’d like to spend a little more time in reflection, then you may like to read the passage from the opening of John’s Gospel, verses 1 to 14. As you read, remember that this is an opening to a Gospel that is very different from the openings of the other three. Mark goes to John the Prophet, Luke and Matthew include Jesus’ birth.

Matthew considers it important to place Jesus’ earthly heritage on record, writing a long list of forebears, but John tells us of Jesus’ heavenly status, and gives us this wonderful passage.

You may know the old version of it if you’ve done a few Nine Lessons services over the years, but I would recommend reading it out of that context and in a different translation. Here are some links to versions as found on BibleGateway.com, and there are plenty of other translations to find there:

The Message Bible

Good News Bible

The Voice

The Passion Translation

New Living Translation

Paul

Advent: December 23

Revelation 19:6-10

Then I heard what seemed to be a large crowd that sounded like a roaring flood and loud thunder all mixed together. They were saying, "Praise the Lord! Our Lord God All-Powerful now rules as king. So we will be glad and happy and give him praise. The wedding day of the Lamb is here, and his bride is ready. She will be given a wedding dress made of pure and shining linen. This linen stands for the good things God's people have done."

Then the angel told me, "Put this in writing. God will bless everyone who is invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb." The angel also said, "These things that God has said are true."

I knelt at the feet of the angel and began to worship him. But the angel said, "Don't do that! I am a servant, just like you and everyone else who tells about Jesus. Don't worship anyone but God. Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit."

So this is what heaven is like. No nooks, no quiet rooms, no denominations, no clubs (and you may as well forget the golf clubs, too!). I’m sure we have an ideal of what we’d like heaven to be. At a recent funeral I conducted the young grandsons told the assembled mourners that Grandad would be having a quiet cigarette and a whisky – to them that would be heaven.

The difficulty I have in describing heaven is that it is beyond my imagination, and certainly beyond words, as any reader of the Book of Revelation will confess. Think of something amazing – heaven will be better than that. Think of the best meal you’ve ever had, and Grandma’s apple pie – heaven will be better than that, and there’ll be no gluttony or indigestion. Think of the best loving relationships – the host will know us better than anyone has ever known us, and we’ll also know him better, and everyone else at the feast, too. Think of the best holiday experience you’ve had. Heaven beats any of them.

And so on, and so on, into eternity…

The marriage feast, the wedding supper of the Lamb is the best act of hospitality ever. God has prepared an eternal feast for his Son, Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God. It’s a wedding feast, better than that at Cana, better than the earthly feasts in Jesus’ parables which are all hinting at this feast to end all feasts. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and the Church is the Bride.

The Church is the gathering of all believers from across the world over the centuries. It consists of all those who have committed themselves to Christ as a bride does to her groom (and vice versa) on her wedding-day. We will come together to celebrate this union.

This is not a private function. All are invited. Remember, however, the parable of the bridesmaids. All were invited, but half of them had not prepared themselves. The door was shut to them.

How do I get tickets for my as yet uninvited friends?

Who will invite those who haven’t yet heard?

Will we remember in heaven the ones who did not make the feast?

How do I tell others about it?

Father God, I cannot get my created head around Your eternity. An eternal marriage supper is way beyond my comprehension, but You know that. Would You reveal through your Holy Spirit a better understanding of all these things and inspire in me a deep desire to see my family, my friends, my colleagues and those You bring me into contact with come into a true faith in Your love shown in Christ Jesus. In his name. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.


 

Paul

Advent: December 22

Luke 16:19-31

There was once a rich man who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food. But a poor beggar named Lazarus was brought to the gate of the rich man's house. He was happy just to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. His body was covered with sores, and dogs kept coming up to lick them. The poor man died, and angels took him to the place of honour next to Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried. He went to hell and was suffering terribly. When he looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side, he said to Abraham, "Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue. I'm suffering terribly in this fire."

Abraham answered, "My friend, remember that while you lived, you had everything good, and Lazarus had everything bad. Now he is happy, and you are in pain. And besides, there is a deep ditch between us, and no one from either side can cross over." But the rich man said, "Abraham, then please send Lazarus to my father's home. Let him warn my five brothers, so they won't come to this horrible place."

Abraham answered, "Your brothers can read what Moses and the prophets wrote. They should pay attention to that." Then the rich man said, "No, that's not enough! If only someone from the dead would go to them, they would listen and turn to God." So Abraham said, "If they won't pay attention to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even to someone who comes back from the dead."

The rich man showed no respect to the laws of hospitality – he may have feasted with those like him, or with his family, but he ignored the plight of the poor. The poor man Lazarus made no fuss, and presumably saw being able to eat some scraps that fell from the rich man’s table – perhaps it’s a form of gleaning. He even put up with the dogs.

Obviously, this is a story Jesus made up, though in our world there are millions like Lazarus and many like the rich man. We have to go back to Isaiah 58 to remember what God said about people in need:

I'll tell you what it really means to worship the LORD. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless.

The demands of this verse are great. Read each part and ask yourself if you are doing what God has told us we should do. We should feel uncomfortable if we do not respond in any way. God will not be ready to accept any hands or voices raised up in worship from those who care only about themselves. I do not want to turn up to a worship meeting and be all cosy with God when I’m ignoring injustice in the real world.

Will there be fire and suffering for the ungodly? All I know is this – there’s none where I’m going, and, rather than argue about what hell is like with those who think it’s a myth and a joke, I’m simply proclaiming the higher place. Accentuate the positive.

What should we, individually or through our churches and fellowships, be saying to our government regarding justice?

We are being made aware of the sexual abuse carried out by priests and others in churches. Should I care if it wasn’t in my denomination?

How do I respond to the (ever-present – Matthew 26:11) poor, the homeless, those unable to cope, the fatherless, the widows, the orphans, the abused, the prisoners, the oppressed? Where do I start? Do those “at home” deserve my charity more?

Father God, the door to heaven is open to all those who call on the Name of Jesus. I might now sit down and do nothing else, but You call me to be part of your work of salvation. Use me, Lord, for your purposes, as an ambassador of Christ Jesus in this fallen world. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Paul

Advent: December 21

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus also told them another story: Once a man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, "Give me my share of the property." So the father divided his property between his two sons. Not long after that, the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. He had spent everything, when a bad famine spread through that whole land. Soon he had nothing to eat. He went to work for a man in that country, and the man sent him out to take care of his pigs. He would have been glad to eat what the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing. Finally, he came to his senses and said, "My father's workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! I will go to my father and say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.' "

The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him. The son said, "Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son." But his father said to the servants, "Hurry and bring the best clothes and put them on him. Give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Get the best calf and prepare it, so we can eat and celebrate. This son of mine was dead, but has now come back to life. He was lost and has now been found."

This parable of Jesus’ is a masterpiece. It tells of Father’s ridiculous love for a wasteful wretch. We may be left feeling a little aggrieved at how the younger son’s wasteful behaviour has actually brought shame to his family, or how the other son’s inheritance (for Father has given away half of his property and possessions on the waster) is now being spent on the returned waster. We may even feel that the older son won’t have the same inheritance as his younger brother as there’d be nothing left.

If we feel this way then we are missing the meaning behind the parable, and are taking it too literally. For a start, our Father God has limitless resources. He is aware that we might waste them, or, like the older son, not even avail ourselves of them. After all, didn’t Apostle Paul say that if a man does not work he should not eat?! Does not that set the tone of our relationship with God?

Yes, we can be miserable if we want – if we ask for nothing we will get nothing, and that’s as good as God can give us. Nothing, even when blessed by being pressed down and filled to the brim, still amounts to nothing. What if we start asking for something that we think, in our misguided humility, is more than we deserve? What if we ask God to bless us, to favour us in our work, our leisure, our skills, our income? He’d love to do that, but could we ask?

Father God restores me when I have wasted my inheritance. It’s not automatic. I must return, like the younger son, and confess, knowing that my desire is to be back with the God I abandoned. While I at times may consider myself not to be God’s son because I’m not worthy, God himself does not know any relationship with me other than as Father. I really know that I am a child of God by adoption when I return to the One whose love, demonstrated to me through the blood of His Son Jesus, pulls me back with open arms though I deserve nothing. I cannot express in words how much my Father God loves me. Every time I repent of anything Father God sets out a feast.

Do you stand tall in your Father’s house?

Do you live in the inheritance of God’s riches?

Do you dare not ask God for things, for fear of being seen to be greedy?

Do you know complete forgiveness in God through Jesus’ blood?

Do you know how much it cost God to give you free forgiveness?

Do you keep repenting the same thing each week? Why?

What are you still concealing from God?

Father God, you are more generous that I could ever ask or imagine. Teach me that your most generous gift, rich beyond measure,  has already been poured out when Jesus died for me. Nothing compares with this. Thank you, Father. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Paul

Advent: December 20

Matthew 15:29-38

From there, Jesus went along Lake Galilee. Then he climbed a hill and sat down. Large crowds came and brought many people who were crippled or blind or lame or unable to talk. They placed them, and many others, in front of Jesus, and he healed them all. Everyone was amazed at what they saw and heard. People who had never spoken could now speak. The lame were healed, the crippled could walk, and the blind were able to see. Everyone was praising the God of Israel.

Jesus called his disciples together and told them, "I feel sorry for these people. They have been with me for three days, and they don't have anything to eat. I don't want to send them away hungry. They might faint on their way home." His disciples said, "This place is like a desert. Where can we find enough food to feed such a crowd?" Jesus asked them how much food they had. They replied, "Seven small loaves of bread and a few little fish."

After Jesus had told the people to sit down, he took the seven loaves of bread and the fish and gave thanks. He then broke them and handed them to his disciples, who passed them around to the crowds. Everyone ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets. There were four thousand men who ate, not counting the women and children.

We are familiar with the story of the five thousand hungry people. This is another one. What was the miracle? That four thousand people have been fed? There’s a far greater thing going on – large crowds had brought many people who were crippled, blind, lame or dumb. Jesus healed every single one of them. People were restored to mobility, blind eyes could see and deaf ears were opened.

Food was probably not on the minds of the crowds. They had seen this amazing man Jesus heal a son, a father, a mother, a friend. They had seen crippled limbs return to full functionality. Blind people were seeing. Deaf people were beginning to figure out what language and speech are all about. They were all praising God.

Jesus expresses concern about the people’s welfare. They would be getting hungry. The disciples have some rations. I’m not sure I’d want to eat fish or bread that has been in a bag for three days in a desert place. Both would be rather dry. You wouldn’t see a miracle like this today if food safety officers had turned up on the scene. From these meagre rations Jesus provided food enough to feed four thousand men and their wives and families. A lesser miracle than feeding five thousand? I’d rejoice if I could feed twenty people from those rations!

Jesus takes rough and tired elements and turns them into a feast. Again we see Jesus’ extravagance and lavish hospitality as seven baskets of leftover pieces are collected – I’d love to know what they were going to do with those basketfuls!

As to the question I posed yesterday: Lord, don’t you care that we’re going to drown? (Mark4:38)

Could we see this miracle today?

Would you climb a hill to see Jesus?

Would you stay three days (that’s longer than Mary stayed with Jesus)?

Would you dare to take a disabled person with you, with an expectation of healing?

Father God, teach me how to trust in your abundant, extravagant and lavish provision for me and those I love. For too long I have held back, refusing any more than my imperfect human mind and my weak faith considers to be sufficient and not wasteful. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Paul

Advent: December 19

Luke 10:38-42

The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done.

Finally, she went to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!" The Lord answered, "Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her."

We all know this story, perhaps so well that we may forget to dwell on it. If your response to hearing or reading a passage of scripture is to say, “I’ve already heard that one”, then you are in danger of seriously missing out. The Holy Spirit releases truth as we delve into scripture, reading it, reciting it, hearing it. The more we do these things, the more the Holy Spirit reveals the truth that lies behind the words. At first reading it may seem that Mary’s good, and Martha’s the wrong ‘un, but we will still feel a little uneasy about it because we’re probably on Martha’s side!

Perhaps we accept that Martha may have stepped out of line, and that we should all be sitting at Jesus’ feet, because Jesus told Martha that Mary had done the better thing. But the question still remains: can a potato peel itself?

Martha knew the ancient law of hospitality. It wasn’t only Jesus who turned up that day – his disciples were there, too. I don’t suppose they’d brought any food with them, or stopped off at the take-away on the way over. Here was a crowd that needed feeding, and over in the kitchen (in the possibly one-roomed house!) was Martha doing what she knew was the right and proper thing.

She was overwhelmed. I don’t think she was overwhelmed with anger with her sister or with Jesus, but she was being swallowed up in the waves of duty, trying to do the work of two. She may be feeling a little self-righteous – she addresses Jesus and not her sister. (Where else do we hear people speaking like this to Jesus?) If Mary had walked away from her duty of hospitality, why not speak to her directly? It’s never a good idea to address Jesus from the position of your own self-righteousness.

Jesus speaks kindly to her – he would never abuse his host, and he simply tells Martha the truth – Mary has done the better thing.

Many Christians will describe themselves as a Martha, identifying with the pull of duty and the shame of failing to provide, rather than as a Mary. Anyone presenting as a Mary in your fellowship may not be universally accepted by the Martha faction. Can the church flowers arrange themselves?

What would have happened if both sisters came to Jesus’ feet?

What would have happened if both sisters got on with the cooking?

Was Mary the one who knew better in all things?

What is the one thing that Jesus says is necessary?

Father God, so often I chose the busy thing, the duty thing, or in fact anything that will keep me from coming into your presence and sitting at your feet. Warm my heart, Lord. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Paul