FOREIGNERS?

When we first start to read the pages of the bible we get the impression that God is dealing simply with the Hebrew nation. The early accounts tell us about the history of the Jews and how they were God’s promised people, living in a land given them when they were led from slavery. Not many other nations get much of a good press.

 But the middle section of the Book of Isaiah, written much later by a distant pupil of the original prophet, (and sometimes called Deutero or Second Isaiah) starts to show a realisation that God has other plans. And in today’s first reading we hear very plainly that foreigners will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. This was revolutionary and revolting to some Jewish ears.

The idea that God does not limit his promises to just certain categories of people is known as Universalism and we see it once more today when Jesus speaks to the Canaanite woman. It’s not where she comes from that matters, her nationality is irrelevant. Jesus praises her for the quality of her faith and then he cures her daughter.

 Nowhere in scripture can we find any evidence of God turning his back on someone just because they didn’t fit the bill. There is no support for a God who leaves people wanting when they call on him in good faith. In fact God exudes inclusiveness. God is a gatherer rather than a scatterer, an integrator rather than an excluder.

 On Sundays we profess our faith during the Creed in a Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. We may be a migrant community; we may be a settled suburban group worshipping in a parish that has been established for years and years; we maybe multi-racial; we may be all one colour or a rainbow of faces.

 But what unites us is that we are baptised members of a “catholic” Church. And catholic means nothing more than universal. The opposite of catholic is not Protestant. The opposite of catholic is exclusive. So if we’re ever tempted to feel that our congregations are becoming too varied, or to hive ourselves off into some sort of sub-group then we have lost a grip on our catholicity.

 I want “foreigners” to come and place their gift on the altar, says God through Isaiah today.

 And, of course, we are somebody else’s foreigner!

 

CATCHING A GLIMPSE

 

CATCHING A GLIMPSE

 

When preachers preach about the Transfiguration they usually follow a well-trodden path. They talk about the need for setting aside a quite time for prayer like Jesus and the disciples. They cash in on the fact that the Transfiguration gives us glimpse into the divine nature of Jesus.

They show that Jesus gave a boost to the disciples’ faith after predicting his own suffering and death. And then they speak about how Peter, James and John wanted to keep the moment going and not come down from the mountain. They usually finish off by pointing out that we all have to come back down to earth, to the real world where Christians still have plenty to do.

 There’s nothing wrong with any of this. But what about the actual experience itself that the three disciples had? Peter, James and John had a profound sense of the presence of God in Jesus. They felt good. So good that they didn’t want it to end.

 When did you last have a Transfiguration experience? What are the moments in your life when you’ve felt particularly close to God? There are certain times when we sense that God is really close and that we are lucky to be loved by him. Some people come across it when they fall in love with the one they’re about to share the rest of their life with. Others at the birth of their children. Many people seem to find God near them in the beauty of a country landscape, a mountain view or a coastal sunset.

 It’s easy to laugh at Peter who wanted to put up some tents where Jesus, Moses and Elijah could stay and where the three disciples could enjoy and savour the experience. But why should we? For those occasions when we gain a deeper sense of God, those defining moments, increase our faith and bring us great encouragement, not to mention joy. They’re worth keeping hold of.

 We can’t conjure up these special moments; they’re gifts from God. What a pity if we didn’t enjoy them when they come our way. For they’re God’s way of saying to us, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”