TELLING IT AS IT IS

FAITH IN FOCUS: TELLING IT AS IT IS

Lazy preachers use religious words. It’s easier than getting down to the nitty-gritty but it doesn’t help people to connect their faith with their lives. So whenever you hear a sermon that is peppered with words like salvation, ecclesial, redemption, Christological, justification, metanoia, eschatology, sanctifying grace or beatific vision, then you know that the preacher is using shorthand.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these words; they are theological ways of expressing our faith and the work of God in our lives. But they remain on a cerebral level. They engage the mind but more often than not don’t reach the heart. They are not geared to connecting faith with life in a way that most people readily understand.

When the Jewish religious teachers preached they appear to have fallen into the same trap. What they said was right, but it was stale. People found it hard to become enthusiastic when they heard them preach.

Then Jesus came along. People related to what he said because they could see that it had meaning for the way they were trying to live. It connected with their struggles, their fears and their hopes. When they described his teaching, people said that he taught ‘with authority’. By this they did not mean that he took an official stance or that he talked down to people as if they were ignorant. It meant that they could see that his teaching was going to have a beneficial effect on their lives. It made sense and they could grasp its significance.

Authority meant that his words had clout. The word authority comes from a Latin word that at its root means to increase or grow. To speak with authority meant that what Jesus was saying to them would make them grow, cause them to develop, to fulfil their potential. Unlike the scribes who simply told people all the rules that they had to obey, Jesus’ teaching was a liberating experience that spoke about the value and worth of the human person before God. It encouraged people, offered them hope, gave them confidence and made them want to be part of the message and to tell others about it. It was more than just words. And it still is today.

 

REPENTANCE

FAITH IN FOCUS: REPENTANCE

The very first words of Jesus recorded by St Mark are ‘The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News’.

Jesus’ whole life would turn out to be an invitation to enter God’s kingdom through repentance. And the Good News was precisely that: we have a God who does not want to lose us but wants us to be happy with him now and forever.

Our first problem is usually in believing that God really means what he says. We live in a society that encourages litigation. We are urged on to get our rightful due, to press for what we are entitled to and to live in a compensation world. Yet God laughs in the face of this. Who could claim the all-time record payout when it comes to compensation? God, of course! Yet God’s time is not spent getting his own back but looking of ways to forgive.

But God’s forgiveness is not automatic; it demands repentance. Repentance originally meant regret. But it’s not enough to regret our sins; we need also to take action to ensure that they don’t happen again. In the Old Testament, repentance included a physical action. The Hebrew word ‘shuv⒝ means to turn.

Repentance for the Jewish people was like doing a U-turn and deciding to go in a different direction. In the New Testament, the Greek word used is ‘metanoia’ which means having a change of mind and deciding that we have to start looking with a fresh outlook on the way we behave. Later the Romans would use the Latin word ‘conversio’ from which we get our word conversion. But conversion wasn’t just a religious word. It meant to turn around, to transform and to return.

Whatever way we choose to think about repentance, it is at the heart of the Christian gospel and it forms the basis of Christ’s preaching. Repentance means changing our mind about the way we behave and turning our lives around. If, like the people of Nineveh in the days of Jonah, we want to experience God’s forgiveness then we need to repent. For repentance is the hallmark of being a Christian.

It’s something that never ends. We need to show it now. And tomorrow. And the next day.

 

JUST A QUICK NOTE

FAITH IN FOCUS: JUST A QUICK NOTE

Dear Mother

You’re probably wondering where I’ve got to over the past month or so. A few weeks ago when I was out listening to John the Baptist a rabbi passed by and John pointed him out as something really special. When I heard what he had to say I was amazed. I asked him where he lived and he invited me to come and see. I stayed with him and now I just want to be around him and hear him speak.

He’s not like the other religious leaders. You really get the impression he’s sent by God. He’s not full of himself and his teaching is so straightforward that you wonder why you never thought of it first. He cuts through all the red tape by saying that we should make sure we love God and look after our neighbours in the same way as we would like to be treated by them.

When you see him in action you soon realise that it’s the ordinary people he warms to quickly. Poor people, children, widows, sick people and those whom others look down on. He has time for everyone although he’s not slow to condemn hypocrisy.

His fame as a preacher is spreading because he has the knack of making you feel that there’s more to life than just getting and having, more important things than what others think of you. It’s as if he has the secret to living life to the full and he really makes you think.

Each time he works a miracle he doesn’t wait for applause but says it’s his Father in heaven that gives him this power, and he says that these miracles will seem like nothing compared with what life will be like for those who follow him. Apparently this new type of life will even last after death.

Simon has joined me along with one or two of the other fishermen, and people from every walk of life are turning up each day to listen to him. Everyone wants to be part of it. They say that if it carries on like this there’ll be thousands of supporters before long. Next month he’ll be back in Capernaum and I can’t wait for you to meet him. What he’s got to offer is too good to be missed, so make sure you don’t lose out!

Your loving son

Andrew

 

EPIPHANY PEOPLE

FAITH IN FOCUS: EPIPHANY PEOPLE

To follow the star and become Epiphany people we have to be aware of three important challenges.

Epiphany people have first to be people of faith. Imagine setting out on a journey like the wise men and not actually knowing where you are going, following only where a star leads you. Yet this is what faith demands. To be a person of faith means that we trust in God so much that we are prepared to be led, wherever God decides to take us. Being people of faith doesn’t mean having all the answers; it simply requires us to be open to God’s promptings and prepared to act when others think we are mad to do so. Faith and trust cannot be prised apart.

A second characteristic of Epiphany people is that their faith makes them want to worship. The wise men brought their gifts and worshipped the Lord. Just knowing our God should be reason enough for worship. We bring our gold (the best we can be), our frankincense (our contribution to making the world a more beautiful place) and our myrrh (our pains and our tears as well as the comforting presence we extend to others), and with these gifts of our lives we fall on our knees before the God that our faith journey leads us ever closer to.

And finally Epiphany people are people of change. The wise men didn’t simply spend the rest of their lives fawning at the crib. They left enriched by what they had seen and heard and they headed off to tell others what they had experienced. But they heeded the warning of their dream and decided to change their plans and go back home by a different route. Every encounter with our God-made-man challenges us to change. God never wants us to stay where we are; our job is to follow the star.

Epiphany reveals Jesus to all nations. His glory is seen by people from all over the known world. And these Epiphany people are people of faith, people of worship and people of change.