stewart cutler

… and the big story of God.  For example, when we celebrate communion I’m fairly sure that most people don’t know the wider context of that.  Can this week’s gospel (John talking more about blood and flesh) be understood without knowing about Passover and the Levitical laws and kosher practice?  But we are not Jews and because the canon closed 2,000 years ago do we see ourselves as separate from that story.  I wonder if most people really believe that God has said anything since John’s revelation?  How does that isolation from the story affect us?

Broken Rhythms

If the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with people then does our focus on the ancient part of the story help or hinder our sense of connection?

Once, when I was feeling brave, I scrapped the sermon and we talked about what we are doing when we celebrate communion instead.  Of course there are many answers to that question but what was evident was that there were no thoughts of the connection to anything further back than the last supper.

That’s not a surprise.  After all, in our liturgy we tell the story of the Last Supper from Paul’s point of view.  If that’s what you hear every time you gather for communion then why would you make connections beyond that?

Does that matter?

Well, the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with a group of people.  Jesus speaks about that relationship all the time so if we don’t know that story then we miss lots of the story.  The example at the beginning of this post about Jesus talking about how we should eat his flesh and drink his blood sounds strange.  That’s cannibalism.  That was one of the accusations made against the early Christians but it wasn’t what the Pharisees had a problem with.

Drinking blood wasn’t allowed and not just for health reasons.  They believed that blood contained the life-force of an animal.  That’s why kosher butchers drain the blood from animals.  But we don’t do that.

Lamb’s blood is also central to the Passover story.

Making these kind of links in the big story of God is really important but I often wonder how easy it is to see ourselves as part of that story?  We are viewing the events of the Bible from 2,000 years distance.  We are not Jews.  We don’t live in the Middle East.  We don’t follow Livitical laws or Jewish custom.

The Old Testament can seem so distant and difficult and messy and disconnected from us.  The New Testament isn’t much closer to us.  In some ways it might be easier to see ourselves in the story because Jesus because some of the Gospel writers and the authors of the Epistles focus on ‘outsiders’, people other than the Jews, but much of that focus on the external is through comparison with Jewish society so we still need to know what’s going on.

But that story doesn’t ends at Revelation, does it?

Well, I’m sure that for lots of people it did.

I sometimes wonder if by ‘preaching the Gospel’ every week we actually add to the sense that God is in the past?  The basis of our worship is always ‘this is what God did 2,000 years ago’ and then we apply that to today.

That’s fine, but what has God been saying since then?  And how do we reflect that ongoing relationship in our worship and in our communities?

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5 Responses to “disconnected from the big story?”
  1. David says:

    I think that one of the great tasks of the preacher is to try and bridge that gap with the help of the Holy Spirit.
    Almost time without number I struggle with that task Sunday by Sunday, but I also enjoy the grappling with the text. In the grappling I can find myself faciung uissues I’d rather not look at. Sometimes allowing the extention of the ‘beyond Revelation’ argument, it is a temptation to avoid the difficulties of the text.
    The Lectionary doesn’t cover the whole of Scripture. I know that it avoids some really contentious stuff, but it does give me a discipline to follow and it allows me to set aside my latest hobby horse.
    I have no doubt that God has been, and continues, speaking to the world. I fully accept that God will speak through avenues outside the church (we can see that in the Bible), but I worry slightly when i hear of a willingness to set aside the Bible as simply an ancient book. (Am I misreading what you are hinting at ?)
    That, for me, let’s the disconnectedness ‘win’.

  2. Stewart says:

    I’d agree David. I like the challenge and discipline of preaching the lectionary but it does jump about, particularly with Lent and Easter following so closely after Christmas. I wonder how that affects our understanding of where things sit in the timeline? This Advent Jesus is born, the next week he’s 12 then the week after is back to being a child again…

    I’m not suggesting we ditch the Bible at all, or even view it as simply an ancient book. It’s much more than that. I believe it contains God’s word, but ‘contain’ is a word i dislike using in that context because of its constraining meaning.

    We talk about a relationship with God and that God answers prayer and speaks to us and through us today so I’m just grappling with why we always begin with the equivalent of looking at our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents relationship with, and understanding of, God? There is something very connected about that but also something which perhaps disconnects us from God in the here and now?

  3. David says:

    I can see where the disconnect might come.
    That’s often where I struggle to get relevance from Lectionary material and I take your point about the non-linear nature of it. I simply find the discipline of it helpful. The opportunity we have as preachers is to do the education thing when it comes to the Bible timeline. It can mean a departure from the Lectionary when we have the 53rd after Pentcost run and just do a bit of background filling in for our congregations.
    As for having to start there… I usually try to find something of today that makes a connection before I launch into any Scriptural verse. A bit like Jesus and his ‘Look at the flowers..’
    Does that make sense ?

  4. Stewart says:

    Yes. That makes perfect sense.

    I wonder if, beyond the preparation of worship, if there are implications?

    Lots of people seem fascinated by their ancestry because knowing ‘where you came from’ is important. I wonder if we feel that same sense of connectedness to our spiritual ancestors? And I might even ask ‘Are the Israelites our spiritual ancestors?’ and what does that mean for us today?

  5. David says:

    Interesting questions.
    Being Gentiles I wonder if the Israelites can ever be our spiritual ancestors ? We need to understand their history because it becomes our spiritual history through Christ. The allusions to the Exodus narrative and Christ leading us out of darkness into light comes to mind.
    I feel more connected to the New Testament narratives, but need to appreciate some of the subtleties (and the not so subtle) of the Old Testament.
    Not sure I’m answering these questions, but it does give pause for thought.

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