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the 4th Sunday of Easter May 3rd, 2009 The Disciple Experience Spiritual Reflection: Boris Tyzuk This is my second attempt at the Disciple course. I was part of the first Disciple group in 1996. I lasted until Christmas and then got too busy. I must have done something to blot my copybook, because it took 12 years before I was invited back. Anne Clark, who was with me in that first group, suggested that I give it another try. I had read some books on the early church in the interim and had an interest in learning more about the Bible. That, coupled with knowing that Reverend Michelle was going to lead the course, was enough for me to try again; and I am very glad that I did. Before our first session last September, I was listening to the CBC in the car one afternoon and happened to hear an interview of Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh, about his book How to Read the Bible. He mentioned one key message – that the Bible is about relationships. I kept that thought of relationships in my mind during the Disciple program – the relationship between God and his creation, between God and his chosen people, the relationship between people, and between people and God. I would like to refer to a few examples of “Relationships” from the Old and New Testaments. Old Testament In Genesis, we have God creating Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. God lays out some rules for Adam (and Eve), in effect setting some parameters on their relationship. Specifically in Genesis 2:16 “You may eat freely of any tree in the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” We know that Adam and Eve, after being convinced by the serpent, did eat from the tree of knowledge and were found out by God. As a result they were banished from the Garden of Eden, and, in a sense, their relationship with God did die. But, as we know, God did not abandon them or their descendents. Later we have God establishing a covenant, a relationship, with Abraham in Genesis 17:4 “I make this covenant with you: I promise that you will be the ancestor of many nations.” But here too, God defines part of the relationship by requiring things of Abraham and his descendents in Genesis 17:19 “God said to Abraham you must also agree to keep covenant with me, both you and your descendents in future generations. You and your descendents must all agree to circumcise any male among you. While, to the best of my knowledge, that particular covenant has been kept by those of the Jewish faith; it is clear from Exodus and the trials of the Israelites in the desert after their escape from Egypt, that their relationship with God was out of kilter, especially concerning the worshiping of other gods and idols. This led God to set out some new rules for the Israelites, his chosen people, so as to redefine their relationship with God. He has Moses come down from the mountain in Exodus 20:1-3 saying: “God spoke and these were his words. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. Worship no God but me.” The rest of the 10 commandments follow; and the remainder of Exodus and Leviticus set out a plethora of laws – rules for the Israelites to follow if they are to be in harmony with God, in relationship with God. Much of the Old Testament, especially Prophets, describes the challenges of the Israelites in their attempts to be in harmony with God by obeying the laws, as well as the consequences of their failing to do so. For example, in Jeremiah 25: 8-9 we have the foretelling of the Babylonian conquest when Jeremiah says: “Therefore thus says the Lord of the hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words “I am going to send for all of the tribes of the north, says the Lord, even for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant. I am going to bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all nations around. I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace.” What followed is the period of exile in Babylon, however eventually the Jews did return to their homeland. New Testament In the New Testament, Jesus challenges the prevailing attitudes, and in some senses, the approach to the relationship with God. He emphasizes substance over form and he preaches to the poor and the meek. In Matthew 5:3, 5:5 - The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This preaching went against the prevailing view that those who were most pious would be those most blessed and most in harmony with God. Jesus also, in effect, simplifies the commandments. When asked by a scribe which is the first commandment of all, Jesus answers in Mark 12: 29-31 “Jesus answered, “The first is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Now there are two key relationships – one with God and one with your neighbour. Yet loving you neighbour is a way of being in harmony with God. This relationship with your neighbour is refined in Luke 6:31 by the saying familiar to most of us: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Later the relationship with God is expanded beyond the Jews, in Acts 11, Peter explains his vision to those of the Jerusalem Council when challenged because he has been among the unclean – the Gentiles. His audience responds in Acts 11:18 as follows: “And when they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God saying “Then God has given even the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” So it became acceptable to preach among the Gentiles, and this is a mission that Paul especially took on. The means by which one is in harmony with God, in relationship with God, also changed. The focus was not just obeying the law per se, as otherwise Gentiles, unless they converted to Judaism, could not be in relationship with God. Rather the focus became faith in Jesus Christ. Paul in his letter to the Romans says this in Romans 3: 21- 24 “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Finally this relationship with God is open to anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ – as is most eloquently set out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians – Galatians 3:26-28 “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” May it be so.
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