Monthly Archives: January 2013

Coining it in…

Jesus loved to tell stories. We come up lots of convoluted ways of reading and analysing them as if he said them with one eye on a guy writing them down for posterity. But really he told them in order to connect with his listener. Sometimes they seem straightforward and sometimes they seem baffling. Regardless, it is down to the listener to take it away and let it take root in their heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these stories and how we use them. For the following year I am using the story of the Prodigal Son as my template for understanding my relationship with God, how we recover and are restored from sin and disappointment and generally as a foundation stone for Jesus’ call to us to follow him.

But before we get to that story Jesus tells some quickie warm ups about other lost things: coins and sheep.

I was pondering his story about a woman and her lost coin this morning:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Luke 15

The muttering is always irritating to Jesus. When provoked he answers the muttering with a story:

…suppose a woman has ten silver coinsand loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Who has a purse full of coins but spends all day looking for the one that has slipped out and then throws a party when they find it? Well, if we take Jesus at face value, apparently God does.

It’s a weird story but then the idea of God taking time out from all the important almighty stuff he does to pay attention to the least things is kind of weird too. Unless, of course, you’re Jesus who seems to think this is what God spends most of his time doing.

There is a powerful, deep seated truth at the heart of this story. The coin had value before it was lost. It didn’t gain value in being found.  It was searched for because it was valuable in its own right.

I don’t know about you but I often feel like a coin that has fallen out of someone’s pocket. I make mistakes and wrong choices and hurt others and dig myself into holes I can’t get out of. I often feel that God has lots of coins and won’t miss me. The longer I stay out of that pocket or purse the more I feel that if I am found I will no longer be legal tender.

But, before I lapse into some great despair, I read that parable again. It’s not a one off. That person with full pockets is looking for me. They don’t feel they have enough without me. They aren’t just content with those other coins.  I’m just a penny, but he is still looking for me.

What I love about the lost and found parables in Luke is that they are open ended. These valuable things are vulnerable to being lost again and again and God searches for them again and again. Not because he owes it to us but because he is determined not to lose us.

Say Cheese!

When photographer Henri Cartier Bresson looked through his lens, he wanted to capture the  “Decisive Moment”.  His aim was to thrust the viewer into a situation which forced them to respond and make sense of that situation from the inside. In doing this he invented photojournalism where photos are used in the same way as words to make sense of the world.

We rarely have the opportunity to stand outside, reflect and then enter. More often than not we have to make sense of the world from inside circumstances we find ourselves in but don’t always have control over.

Scripture works like this too. When we read it as wisdom or as a set of instructions that will shape our world in exactly the way God intended, we don’t often succeed. The decisive moments of the journey with God are identified only when we are in the midst of them. it is hard to plan for them. Inside those moments we discover  our there is a big gulf between being called to be a new creation and actually being one.

In recent arguments about sexuality and gender in the Church of England we have come at the issues with carefully prepared poses and set pieces rather than working out if being a new creation means living in a different way than prescribed or understood in the past. Frankly, it’s been embarrassing since all anyone outside the church has heard is that we really aren’t interested in how wide the gates of kingdom can open but rather in how tightly we can shut them.

As I’ve aged and tried to take a bit more time to read situations more deeply, I’ve found that I’ve needed a better scriptural way of interpreting those situations for what they are. I miss the decisive moments when I just go for my list of dos and don’ts.  I’ve needed a better lens through which to view the world in real time and with real people.

Over the last year, there are three passages which have formed a foundational lenses for me:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Each passage leads us deeper into being participants in the story rather than observers of it. God seeks to save us through Jesus rather than condemn us. The heart of that “saved” life has two  commandments which, if followed, will lead us to attempt to do the right things with other people and with God.  That obedience  erodes the divisions we like to make between each other. These scriptures form  a  foundation underlying my on-going discernment of the stuff of the world ranging from relationships to business practices.

When we live by the scraps of scripture, the ones we trot out to tell others they are wrong or right,  it is more like viewing a series of annual Christmas photos a family sends out. Details in the photos will change: hair styles, fashion, signs of wealth, new locations.  Those photos don’t tell us about life or instinctively invite us to learn about living from them. They just capture a picture of what life was like at that moment and tell us that over the years, life doesn’t stand still.

Christians are called to live in the decisive moments of a dynamic living God. Life makes a lot more sense that way.