The Apostles Creed
...he descended to the dead…
1 Peter 3:18-20For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. Reflection This densely packed passage is a ‘proof-text’ of both conservatives and liberals to justify beliefs; whether it be evidence of Christ preaching to the dead on Holy Saturday or as conclusive evidence that Peter, writes of a spiritual, not a bodily, resurrection.
The tradition of Jesus descending to Hell has its basis in the 3rd Century Gospel of Nicodemus and the writings of Augustine. Likewise, to read this text as making a distinction between body and spirit is misunderstanding Peter’s use of ‘flesh’ (meaning this life/realm, not body) and ‘spirit’ (meaning the realms which we cannot see, not ‘soul’). Furthermore, ‘descended to Hell’ does not appear in Western Creeds to until the 700s. The parable of the Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16) suggests the dead should require no such ministry for they had the Law and the Prophets.
What then, to put it bluntly, was Peter on about?
Helpfully, the Letter gives some hints to context. Peter encourages the infant vulnerable and persecuted Church. The term ‘spirits’ (note he mentions neither the dead nor Hell) references the realms we can’t see, in comparison to ‘the flesh’ (not body) the realms we can see. In the context of the vulnerable Early Church he is setting up an argument for remaining steadfast in current travails, by having confidence in that which we cannot see. Peter is pointing to Jesus’ dominion over things unseen as well as seen.
Peter then links the Noah story, (someone who ‘saves’ the righteous through water) and the saving nature of the waters of baptism. A baptism which, in the first readers’ context, was in a very real sense the cause of both their persecution in ‘the flesh’, but reason for their hope of salvation ‘in the Spirit.’ The one in who they have put their faith is the Lord of all creation, both seen and unseen.
Being a baptized follower of Christ had its cost, but stay strong says Peter, and trust in Him.
PrayerGod of all, both seen and unseen,
may we place our trust in you;
for you speak truth
to powers we cannot see
and turn even the power of death to life.
The Apostles Creed
...suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died,
and was buried;...
St John 19: 13 - 23When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. Reflection In Philippians chapter 2 we read that Jesus ‘who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…. he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!’.
If we think for a moment what that might look like, it probably wouldn’t be long before we turn to the Passion narratives, and this passage from John’s gospel. Here we see that Jesus, who had all the standing in the universe to judge, was himself judged by Pilate. Here we see the King of kings and Lord of lords, being announced as king, only for the chief priests to declare they had no king but Caesar. Here we see the one who from his strength could make yokes easy and light, become weighed down with his own wooden cross that would make him stumble and fall. Here we see Jesus, who reigned over creation, now stripped naked with some soldiers dividing out the last of his earthly possessions. Here we see Jesus who having brought such healing and wholeness, has been flogged, whipped, and scourged, now with nails being driven through his hands and feet.
There is a possibility that this was just some sick story of irony; or this could be the most significant moment in the life of the universe since its creation, as the incarnate Son of God was stripped of everything, became nothing, all for love for us. This is the moment when we realise that Jesus would rather go through all this, he would rather suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, die and be buried in this most brutal way - he would rather do all that, than spend another day in the glorious heavenly realms as King of the universe without you. This is the cost of great love. The cost of a grace that forgives my sin.
By his wounds I am healed.
Thanks be to God.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that would be an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul,
(words from Isaac Watts, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’)
The Apostles Creed
...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,...
St Luke 1: 35The angel said to Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Reflection The Creed refers strangely to two participants in a drama we more usually encounter in wintry Advent rather than in July! Stranger yet is the faith required to believe, for, familiar as the terms ‘Holy Spirit’ and “Virgin Mary’ are, it is worth considering seriously for these terms challenge credibility.
God’s Spirit is widely invoked throughout the Hebrew Scriptures commencing even as early Genesis 1:2 when “a wind from God (or ‘the Spirit of God’) swept over the face of the waters,” and initiated an incredible act of creation. The Hebrew is ‘Ruach’ which confusingly, and delightfully, means both “Spirit’ and ‘Wind,” just as the Greek ‘Pneuma,’ used in the New Testament. Thus they imply a nebulous quality to God’s presence so that, despite our best efforts, we we will never be able to pin down and control the Spirit of God. It is tough, almost impossible even, to believe in such a vague and un-pin-down-able concept.
This is not as hard, however, as believing in the pregnancy of a young maiden whilst she manages to continue to maintain her virginity. And yet, that is precisely what the text implies (even if theologians with far higher academic qualifications that I shall ever gain do sometimes argue against such a reading). But that is how I read it - a young lady somehow with child not caused by her fiancé nor by a dalliance with one of the local village boys. To me it is not about the conception being ‘immaculate’ i.e. without stain or sin for surely none of us seriously consider our own ‘normal / natural’ conception to be as a result of an act of sin? It is surely much more about the miracle and the impossibility of this happening?
So an impossible concept of God and an impossible miracle summarised in twelve words? And yet, impossibly, we and countless Christians over the years have done and continue to believe it still!
who is God of the Impossible,
fill us this day with
your Spirit of wholeness
your Spirit of fullness
your Spirit of completeness,
and conceive in us the way to express
this day and every day.
The Apostles Creed
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord…
John 3: 16For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Reflection When we say the words ‘and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord’, we are using titles for Jesus rich in association and importance. The world ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah. To be anointed, that is, to have oil put on your skin in a special ceremony, was the sign, among the Israelites as among other people, of appointment to a position of importance in the community, such as that of king or priest. The word came to refer to a high calling, a particular vocation, a divine designation for a purpose of significance. However, the anointed one came as one who served.
‘His only son’ is a challenge, when the whole people of Israel had been described as the son of God (Hosea 11:1), but it comes with the personal devotion of Son to Father. Jesus, of course, was son of God in a way different from the way in which we are sons and daughters of our parents.
When we speak of Jesus as ‘our Lord’, we run some fairly important risks. One is the danger of possessiveness in ‘our’, for the remaking of Christ in our particular image is a constant temptation. Another risk is the removal from our devotion of the details the Gospels give us about Jesus, with the result that Jesus is nothing more or less than an alternative word for God, defined not by his life but by some vague notion of what a God should be like.
So, may Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord show us the closest that we can see of God, and remind us of how God spires to see the best of humanity.
PrayerJesus Christ, barrier-breaker,
lead us from our comfort zones.
We often want to surround ourselves with like-minded people;
help us to be open to those who are different.
Jesus Christ, risk-taker,
free us from our fear of all that is strange.
We are often afraid of what we don’t know and understand;
help us to see everyone’s in your plan.
Jesus Christ, hope-giver,
show us how to be like you.
We don’t always willingly embrace change,
or always welcome the stranger;
Help us to open our hearts and minds,
so that your kingdom may grow.
The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
Genesis 1: 1-5In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Reflection Has all of humanity, in every age, looked up at the blazing canopy of stars or out from the shore at the endless face of water – stilled in awe?
Has each child cried out in discoveries wonder at the snake in the garden, only to learn its true name - ‘worm’?
Have each of us had a moment of deeply knowing that we are – we simply are, by virtue of creation?
Have we, who read these reflections, had an instant of amazement when we recognise and truly know that day follows night and light illuminates the dark?
Have you been on the hill top, out in the meadow, heard Brian Cox talking about the universe or watched Blue Planet 2 and taken a breath full of wonder and worship?
At some point we rejoice to sing or say, dance or pray - ‘I believe in God…’
That moment. Those deep moments cause the unfolding glory of creation to burst into ordinary lives.
The writer of Genesis cries out for us to hear God’s gift in creation. This story is a best guess at creation’s beginning and even if inaccurate in fact, it’s success is in giving us words that express the amazement of life.
Even lives of disability, blindness, stigma, pain, exhaustion, depression, all that being human throws at us, cannot stop the wonder of creation from seeping into our experience. Some way and somehow, we will deeply know God’s boundless grace and gift of love.
And so rightly, the Creed’s simple statement of faith begins ‘I believe in God…’.
Father and Mother of Creation
as we read this reflection
aware of all that is going on for us today,
give us a moment to look around
and to look in,
and to know you again,
as creator still creating.
I pray will every fibre of my being;
I believe in God.
The Apostles' Creed
Dear <<First Name>>
I hope you found our journey through Titus rewarding and that you feel you know this Epistle better than before.
Our next series looks, in detail, at the Apostles' Creed. The URC upholds, amongst others, the Apostles' Creed. We tend only to use it during baptismal services which is a shame. Other traditions recite it more often as part of Sunday worship.
The Creed is a basic statement of Christian belief. It is first mentioned in the year 390 and note is then made of it being old and venerable. It was once believed to have been composed by the Apostles themselves but that belief is unlikely. Instead, it seems to have come from the Early Church as a simple statement of Christian belief. In Calvin's Geneva this was one of the things that he ensured people learnt and he, and his pastors, expounded upon. It's not a bad discipline for us now. We will spend the next two weeks looking at each clause, the Scriptures behind it and reflect on it as a help for everyday discipleship.
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with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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St Bridget of SwedenBridget's father was governor of Uppland when she was born in about the year 1303. She married at the age of fourteen, had eight children and often attended the royal court, where she continued to experience the mystical revelations she had known since childhood. These increased in intensity after her husband's death and, three years later, she responded by founding a monastery for nuns and monks at Vadstena in 1346. Bridget's daughter Catherine was the first abbess of the so-called Brigettine Order, which became very influential in northern Europe. After travelling to Rome to obtain the pope's approval for her plans, Bridget never returned to Sweden but spent the rest of her life as a pilgrim, an adviser to rulers and church leaders, and a minister to all in need. Her Revelations were recorded by her confessors before her death, which occurred on this day in 1373.
Isaiah 61.10 – 62.5I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Reflection I have always been fascinated by the lives of the saints - not by sickly sweet hagiography but by the facts that slip through.
There seem to be two parts to Bridget’s life - marriage, whilst still - to our eyes - a child, her child rearing years and then bereavement. Freed from her life as a wife she was then free to found a monastic order and follow God’s call on her life. Her religious visions seem to have been constants in both parts of her life. The life of women in the 14th Century didn’t involve political power - yet for Bridget her visions confirmed her sanctity and so popes, bishops and kings listened to her - she became a highly influential woman in a very male dominated world. Like the writer in this part of Isaiah she couldn’t be silent but needed to proclaim her faith.
We live in a very different world to Bridget. We don’t need to separate out a calling to family life with a call to follow God into active ministry; women don’t need to rely on religious visions in order to have influence; religious experience is no longer seen as the norm. Yet, like Bridget, we are called to let our faith, which cannot be silent, to influence the world around us. We may live more integrated lives that Bridget was allowed to but we are also called to let our faith inform how we live and how we exercise power.
help us to use the faith we’ve found
to reshape the world around
so that you can answer prayer in us
and we in you.
(after John Bell)
Psalm 561 O my God, show mercy to me;
men would take my life away.
Hostile forces press upon me;
they pursue me all the day.
2 Slanderers are close behind me;
they pursue me all day long.
In their arrogance they hound me;
they are numerous and strong.
3 When I am afraid, I’ll trust you.
4 I will praise your faithful word;
I will trust and not be fearful.
What can man do to me, Lord?
5 All day long they plot to harm me,
twisting everything I say.
6 They conspire, they lurk, they trail me,
keen to take my life away.
7 Let them not escape your anger;
bring the nations down, O Lord.
8 In your book write my entreaties;
in your scroll my tears record.
9 When I call on you to help me,
then my foes will turn aside;
This is how I will be certain
that my God is on my side.
10 In the LORD, whose word I honour,
in my God—I praise his word—
11 I will trust and not be fearful.
What can man do to me, Lord?
12 I have taken vows before you;
to my God I will be true.
Sacrifices of thanksgiving
I will gladly give to you.
13 For you kept my feet from stumbling,
and from death you set me free,
So that I may walk before you
and the light of life may see.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this, from v3, here
PrayerPlease let it be so. Amen
Titus 3: 12-15When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Make every effort to send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way, and see that they lack nothing. And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with all of you Reflection Today we come to the conclusion of Paul's letter to Titus. This letter, together with the letter to Timothy are the last of his writings before Paul's death. He writes from Nicopolis in the Epirus region of Greece where he is staying for the Winter. If Titus was to join him, then he would have to move quickly as the sea crossing from Crete was stormy and dangerous during winter. Paul ends his letter with personal greetings. We know nothing about Artemus as this is the only reference to him in our Bibles and other than giving us his name there are no other details, but Tychicus on the other hand was one of Paul's trusted messengers. Paul is anxious that the pastoral work on the island continues. He wants the members of that congregation to feel supported.
For many years, the pastoral support of our local church has not been left to one person, the minister, but a group established to care for the wider community, both church attendees and the surrounding area including schools and organisations for the less able. As a group, they meet regularly with the minister to ensure he was/is aware of what is happening, even to people who use the building but are not worshippers. Equally, some friends have moved to other parts of the country, but contact has not been lost. From Essex those contacts spread from Mid Wales to Devon, Suffolk and the South Coast. The needs of individuals is important, and this was the intention of Paul!
Perhaps our emphasis should be moving from counting the numbers coming into church and replacing that with consideration as to how we as local churches can reach out into the local community. Many churches are now involved with the operation of local food banks, or perhaps play host to marginalised groups or individuals, so what is happening where you are?
so often we turn a blind eye
to what is going on both around us.
We see and hear of all sorts
of hatred and conflicts,
yet we do little or nothing.
Forgive us, Lord,
forgive us when our own comfort
and convenience becomes paramount.
Teach us your way
of not counting the cost,
but freely sharing Your love for us
with all whom we meet,
praying for guidance in Jesus' name.
SS Thomas More and John Fisher, Reformation MartyrsBorn in London in 1478, Thomas More studied classics and then the law, being called to the Bar at twenty-three years old. His clear honesty and integrity impressed Henry VIII and he appointed Thomas as his Chancellor. He supported the king in his efforts to reform the clergy but disagreed over Henry's disputes with the papacy, caused by the king's desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and to find another queen who might provide him with a male heir. Henry could stand no such act of defiance and imprisoned his chancellor in the hope that he would renege. Thomas refused to take the Oath on the Act of Succession, which declared the king to be the only protector and supreme head of the Church in England, and was executed for treason in July 1535, declaring that he died the king's good servant but God's first.
John Fisher was Thomas More's close friend and ally. A brilliant academic, he had substantially reformed the life of the University of Cambridge, through the wealth and influence of his patron, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. He was made Bishop of Rochester and proved himself to be a good pastor to his small diocese. As with Thomas, Henry VIII much admired him at first, but when he opposed the king their relationship deteriorated. Aged sixty-six and in indifferent health, he nevertheless endured the trauma of imprisonment in the Tower of London. He was executed just two weeks before Thomas in July 1535.
2 Corinthians 4. 7–15We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ — we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. Reflection It must have been lonely for More and Fisher as they defended their scholarly understanding and principles of their faith against a powerful king who had decided to go his own way, make his own rules and look after his own interests. Yet they resolutely stood against Henry – and paid the ultimate price.
Sometimes it might feel like that for churches struggling to bring new disciples to Christ. What price will we pay?
21st century culture can seem self-centred, and perhaps some people (like Henry 500 years earlier) go their own way, make their own rules and look after their own interests. It’s that ‘because I’m worth it’ culture. Can we live in 21st century consumerist Western world and still share Christ’s message of love?
Paul pulled no punches as he wrote his second letter to the Christians in Corinth when they were facing similar conflicts of interest. He pointed out that God chose to trust the powerful and life-giving gospel message to people who were like common ‘clay jars’ (used for everyday storage, and probably chipped or cracked – not for guests).
It’s an important lesson for today: God still trusts that powerful and life-giving gospel message to ordinary people, who can expect to be ‘afflicted in every way, but not crushed…’.
It’s God’s message, not ours, and it’s up to us - the ordinary people - to share it from within the culture of our time. With confidence we need to challenge what is wrong, and speak out for what is right, knowing our actions and words are true, because like More and Fisher, we’ve grasped opportunities to learn.
As our friends and companions begin to understand why we do what we do and say what we say, we embark on the path that will eventually bring new disciples to Christ.
We know that you call us
to make new disciples,
and know that no-one said it will be easy.
Help us to be confident
in talking about our faith.
Help us to work within our own culture.
Help us to accept that this
is your message.
Help us to feel that
you are with us at all times.
Give us strength when we feel afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down.
Gregory of Nyssa & his sister MacrinaGregory of Nyssa was born at Caesarea in what is now Turkey around the year 330 and died in the year 394. He was one of the three ‘Cappadocian Fathers’, along with his brother Basil and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus. He was introduced to the spiritual life by his elder sister Macrina who exercised a formative influence upon him, particularly in terms of her ascetic and Scriptural focus. It was she who, after the death of their father, converted the household into a monastery and convent on one of the family estates. The three siblings and their friend are now sometimes referred to as the ‘Cappadocian four’, giving an indication of the mutual influence that each one had in the development of the theological and spiritual life of their day. They shared a concern for the the Holy Trinity, raising up the role of the Holy Spirit in the threefold life of God, and thus in the life of the church and the Christian. In the year 379 both Gregory’s brother Basil and his sister Macrina died, and this deeply affected him; but out of this darkness emerged a profound spirituality. For Gregory, God is met not as an object to be understood, but as a mystery to be loved.
1 Corinthians 2. 9-13As it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" -- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Reflection The ‘Cappadocian Four’ – Gregory of Nyssa, his brother Basil, their sister Macrina and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, played a key role in the discussions about the nature of the Christian faith in the 4th Century. They connected the rational thinking about what might have seemed the abstract doctrine of the Holy Trinity with the lived-out experience of the Christian life, through the encounter with the Holy Spirit. Their thinking shaped the doctrinal discussions in the Church, and engaged with the philosophical issues of the day about the nature of God. Macrina helped to keep the group rooted in the daily living out of the spiritual life, with her development of the local monastic and convent community.
Two brothers, a sister and a friend wrestled together in the faith.
They entered into a dialogue with those within and outside the Church who held a range of different views. I give thanks for this wrestling and dialogue, rooted in the liveliness of the renewed inner spiritual life.
They point to the God who is both unchanging and yet present in different ways in different times and places.
I give thanks for the holy life that stays focussed on God in the midst of all the changes and turmoil of the world, yet doesn’t seek to duck out of wrestling with the world.
PrayerMysterious yet ever-present God,
as I give thanks for Gregory and Macrina,
help me to listen to the words of the wise,
in my brothers, sisters, and friends.
Renew in me the fruitfulness
of wrestling in prayer.
Keep me faithful
in theological engagement
with my contemporaries outside the faith.
Holy God, one in three and three in one,
You are both shrouded in mystery
And yet close to the human spirit.
Holy Spirit, draw near to my heart
That I may receive your wisdom
Live in your strength
And speak your words of truth. Amen
Titus 3: 9-11But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned. Reflection Being a parent teaches you some valuable lessons. Something I have learned is that you need to choose your ‘battles.’ Otherwise family life becomes one confrontation after another and there are never any winners. There are some issues which are so much more important than others but even these need to be dealt with constructively and not become a head-to-head clash. That’s a lesson to be learned in the church family too.
How many of us have been in meetings where there have been pointless controversies and arguments? Here’s a thought for those meetings. In addition to voting cards and the orange and blue cards for consensus decision making we could be issued with ‘red herring’ cards so that we can show that we are getting embroiled in pointless discussion. It would indicate that we want to move on to much more important matters. The challenge of course is that what seems trivial to me might be very important to others and vice versa.
We should examine ourselves and not be the cause of senseless arguments and especially avoid being the one who causes division which has serious consequences. It takes a great deal of grace to back down. Not that we can’t have differences. But our calling is to build up the body of Christ not divide it. We need to learn to disagree well. And of course we can celebrate what we have in common which is so much greater than what divides – Jesus and his kingdom.
PrayerLord, help us to major on the major.
We thank you that what is most important is to love you and love our neighbour.
When we get sucked into trivial arguments help us to hit the pause button
and focus once again
on where we should put our energies.
Titus 3: 6-8This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. Reflection Wow, for just three short verses, there is an awful lot packed in, pretty much a summary of the Gospel – hope, justification by grace, heirs, eternal life, not to mention that old chestnut, good works.
But why do we do ‘good works’? Because it’s the right thing to do; we feel we ought to or because it will earn us a reward?
All of the above may be true, yet none of us can achieve acceptability before God on our own, it is all down to God and is purely and simply a gift of God’s grace and mercy. It is in no way dependent on what we do; indeed, there is nothing we can do to earn this.
That can be hard for us to understand when we live in a world which tells us if you work hard enough you’ll get your reward or, you don’t get anything in this life for free - yet it turns out we do!
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the loving kindness of God is poured out; we are transformed, and we respond, that is why we do good works; not to earn anything but as a response to what we have been given – they are if you like our thank you letters.
We may think what we do is not enough, not worthy of what God has done for us, yet as my old prep school teacher used to say, ‘God loves a trier’.
we offer you our thanks and praise
for your great gift of eternal life,
through Christ Jesus our Lord.
When the daily callings
and responsibilities of life
get on top of us;
when we aim for perfection and fall short;
when it often seems pointless
and we wonder why we bother.
Remind us, that although all we do
can never be enough to thank you,
in your eyes our very striving is enough. Amen
Titus 3: 3 - 5For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Reflection When I read through this reading I can’t help but hear an echo of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. (Luke 18: 9-14) The Pharisee taking centre-stage and, in a not so quiet voice, declaring ‘God, I thank you that I am righteousness and not foolish, disobedient, led astray, a slave to various passions and pleasures, prone to passing my days in malice and envy, being despicable, or hating others like those people.’ And then in a quiet dimly lit corner, facing the wall, the tax-collector mumbling ‘God, I give thanks for your loving-kindness and mercy, your free gift of rebirth and renewal, and the example of Christ to follow even though I keep stumbling along the way.’
The writer of this letter isn’t using this list in this way though. They are encouraging positive behaviour, not the humiliation of others. The writer is acknowledging that both they, and the recipients of the letter, had previously led very imperfect lives but that now, through no action of theirs and completely reliant on the grace of God, they are now saved from such lives.
They may well be saved, but you don’t bother writing a letter in the ancient world if everything is rosy. Probably the writer has heard that people within the community that Titus gathers together are behaving in such ways, or like the Pharisee in the parable. The letter is sent to encourage them that God is good, loving and merciful, and the opportunity to change is present within every moment. God has saved them and them being prudent, obedient, faithful, self-controlled, kind, generous, admirable, and loving is not a condition of that liberation but a loving response to it.
you place reminders
of your goodness
if we but look to see them.
Through the example of Jesus,
our fellow travellers on his Way,
and the actions of your Spirit in the world,
you encourage us to lead faithful
and loving lives.
Yet we still stumble
and need to be reminded of your goodness before we turn in on ourselves,
forgetting your invitation to renewal.
May Your goodness, mercy and love
be present this day. Amen
Psalm 55: 1-81 O God, please listen to my prayer;
do not ignore my plea.
2 My anxious thoughts make me distraught;
O hear and answer me.
3 I’m troubled by the voice of foes,
by their malicious stare;
For they bring suffering to me—
their hatred I must bear.
4 Within me anguish grips my heart;
death’s terrors have come near.
5 I tremble and am terrified;
I’m overwhelmed by fear.
6 “O that I, like a dove, had wings!
Then I would fly away
7 And be at rest; I’d flee from here
and in the desert stay.
8 “Then would I to my hiding-place
for refuge take my flight,
Far from the raging of the storm
and from the tempest’s might.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Flavian here. Reflection Ever felt bullied? I haven’t really, but at school I hated the teasing. They mocked my accent, straight back and treble solos in Assembly. Dad said it was character-forming, but I still loathe teasing. True bullying, though, is harrowing, undermining confidence, damaging self-esteem, eroding equilibrium, even making life seem worthless. It’s not uncommon – at school, at work, at home – and all the more insidious when in a passive aggressive disguise, masquerading as silence, over-politeness, or those surreptitious glances that can so disarm us.
Is Psalm 55 about bullying? Some think it is David feeling tormented by his son or his predecessor. Who knows? But in the writer’s dis-ease, ‘anguish grips my heart’. As if being hounded by a hawk, the Psalmist longs for the wings of a dove, to fly away to hiding and rest.
Mendelssohn set verse six to a haunting melody. Ironically, I had to sing it in Assembly. Looking straight at those who ragged me, I sang, ‘far away would I roam’. It’s sheer poetry – a prayer to God for help - and the singing of it was enough to strengthen and encourage me, so that I need not fly away, but find in God’s faithful presence all I needed to hang in there until teasers became friends, which some of them remain. When we really are bullied, though, we may need to get out of the way; it would be folly not to do so. All the more reason then prayerfully to open ourselves to God, perhaps with St Teresa of Avila:
PrayerNothing distress you,
nothing affright you,
God will abide.
Love in due measure
run to Love’s call!
Faith burning brightly
be your soul’s shelter;
who hopes, believing,
(Rejoice & Sing 548)
Titus 3: 1-2Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. Reflection One of the ‘spine-tingling’ moments of the Statement concerning the Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church, used in our services of ordination and induction, has always been, for me, the assertion that ‘In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.’
We stand in a long line of those who chose not to conform to the church established by law – including those who walked away (at immense personal costs) from their livings – to stand up for their belief in a Church that was free of state interference. Importantly, this wasn’t (and isn’t!) anti-government (or even anti-monarchy) but was a statement that obedience to God required freedom from the trappings of a state religion, recognising that it is the role of civil authorities to serve ‘God's will of justice and peace for all humankind’.
Our obedience, then, is not towards the ‘rulers and authorities’ – although we are to be subject to them – but to follow the commands of God in our dealings with the world. In a letter of commands for faithful living, Titus gives us some things that would help us in our obedience to God, as we live out our lives as honest disciples in the civic society. We may believe that civil authorities are to serve God’s ‘justice and peace’, but Titus reminds us that justice, courtesy, gentleness and peace are also for us to observe.
Each time we think about making changes to our Church – not to step away from state interference, but to our local worship, synod policies, or denominational structures – we find ourselves in quarrels, disputes and conflicts, and yet we do so, apparently, to be in ever closer obedience to God. Is this a contradiction we can ever resolve?
PrayerIn our obedience to you,
help us to respond
not with schism and quarrel
but in gentleness and courtesy.
In our obedience to you,
help us not to be blinkered
by our own view
but open to the richness
of the world around.
In our obedience to you,
help us as we seek
to be renewed by your Spirit,
to live out your commands,
and to be transformed as faithful disciples,
walking your way. Amen.
Titus 2: 11-15For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you. Reflection The writer encourages his reader to live a counter-cultural life. A direct assault on the power structures of Empire would have been doomed. Instead the writer focuses on inner attitudes which would, if exhibited, subvert empire and transform the world. In a culture where the elite, at least, had unimaginable luxury and every whim, and vice, could be indulged from the enslavement of others the virtue of self-control would have been counter-cultural indeed. In a culture where values had to bend with the political reality of the current emperor - some of whom were out of control - the virtue of living an upright life would have been counter-cultural indeed. In an age where lip service was paid to the imperial cut but where many of the elite were functionally atheist the virtue of a godly life would have been counter cultural indeed.
Christian values eventually played their part in the fall of the Roman Empire - an economy based on slavery won’t last when people insist there is no different between slave and free. Several early bishops of Rome were, themselves, slaves - so the social order was subverted.
Looking back and seeing how things were, and how they were subverted, is much easier than analysing our own world and seeing how God may be calling us to be counter-cultural. Maybe the writer’s advice is still useful - self control in an age of excess still speaks of the One who calls us to live more simply so that others may simply live. Political expediency still seems the order of the day - which in part explains why politicians who seem upright - sincere are given a fair hearing wherever they are on the left-right spectrum. Genuine godliness is still attractive in an age where all truths are deemed equal.
We won’t challenge our world order directly but, like those early Christians, we can embody the values of the Kingdom of Go which subvert the powers and principalities of our own age.
you overturned the tables,
upset the religious,
and threatened the powerful,
help us to live self controlled,
upright and Godly lives,
that we may play our part
in changing our world
as we long
for the coming of your Kingdom.
Titus 2: 9-10Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Saviour. Reflection
I was horrified to learn that in 1791, when a bill to abolish the slave trade lost in the House of Commons, Church bells rang out in celebration. This piece of Scripture is a real challenge.
At the time that it was written, perhaps, a third of people in the Roman world were slaves. Many were born into slavery – members of an underclass who were often treated more as animals than as people. Yet this letter to Titus seems to tell them to accept their lot.
Perhaps it helps to hear in these verses an echo of Romans 12: 1 “..present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God..”. Just as the Christian lives to serve God, so the Christian slave lives to serve others, but always as a child of God, with choice and dignity.
Maybe the best we can do is to see these verses as a reminder that what is true for those slaves is true for all of us. “You might be the only Jesus someone ever sees” may seem like a faded old preacher’s phrase, but how those of us who call ourselves ‘Christian’ behave can have a lasting impact on the people around us.
This is a verse of its time, not our time. Perhaps that is all we need to say.
And yet how to defeat evil and how to be good surely belong together. As we fight against the horrors of injustice, we do well to remember both that our behaviour should bring glory to God, and that those for whom we fight are worthy of being treated with dignity and not merely as those to be helped by us.
We need to fight against slavery and all injustice in our world. We also need to act as those whose lives glorify God.
PrayerGod of justice,
Give us eyes to see the needs of our world
and courage to fight where there is evil.
Yet give us, too, grace to serve others
as we would serve you,
and to treat each person
as your beloved child,
as Jesus did
Titus 2: 6-8Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. Reflection When Dr Billy Graham died, full of years, the news was full of his integrity in his relationships and in his care in the way he used money. He understood that the message had to be modelled by the messenger. He answered every letter, even when it was from those who disagreed with his ministry. He faced disagreement with dignity. He made mistakes of course, but apologised for them. His intention was to avoid the Gospel being brought into disrepute by his words or actions.
This section of the letter to Titus concerns itself with pastoral advice on how to live as a community of Christ’s people. The rashness of young men is known to the writer and therefore he counsels self control. Thus healthy community rests on each section of the community having concern for the others, rather than simply giving way to the impulse of the moment.
In Jesus we see the Word centred life.
May our words and actions
point beyond ourselves.
Deliver us from hasty speech
and shallow judgements.
By your spirit, grant us wisdom,
Enable us to face opponents with grace
And model good works unselfconsciously,
For your name’s sake,
Titus 2: 3-5Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behaviour, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. Reflection The writer of this ‘instruction leaflet’ is certainly going through a long list of who should do what and how, so that Titus, as leader of the new and struggling Christian community in Crete has definite guidelines on how Christians could stand out in the community in which they live and work.
Having told the old men how to behave, it is now the turn of older women. I am an ‘older woman’– though it comes as a shock to think of myself in that way and I’m usually in denial! Nevertheless, I want to ask how we ‘older women’ feel about the instructions given for our behaviour? Is it relevant for us today?
I’m not sure about reverent behaviour – in fact I tend to agree with Jennie Joseph who wrote: ‘When I am old I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me….and I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves…...I shall run my stick along the public railings and make up for the sobriety of my youth…..’
But one of the things we women need is a good chat. To have a gossip. It’s good to share news and views but there’s a thin line between gossiping with someone and about someone else. Oh dear, I know I fall short on that one…. What about you?
The one that gets me at the core of my being is the exhortation to encourage the young women. As a grandmother, I would love to be able to encourage young parents how to deal more appropriately with their children and how my daughters-in-law should care for my sons! I know, however, such wisdom would not be appreciated, welcomed or appropriate.
Perhaps more apt advice to us older women could be: have fun, keep friends and love the next generations just as God loves us.
PrayerThank you for the wisdom
that comes with age
the freedom to play and rest
and the choice of how to spend time.
Thank you for the wisdom
of younger people
who grow and develop new approaches
and teach us older ones a thing or two!
Forgive us when we fail
to live up to the standards set for us
and help us to be gracious
and accepting of difference.