Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Psalms through the eyes of Jesus

They think it’s all over … but it isn’t!

There are three parts to the Old Testament in the Hebrew Scriptures Jesus knew.

The Law – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

The Prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
                        Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve

So when we reached Malachi and stood on the threshold of the New Testament, we were only two thirds of the way through the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is a challenging read.

For us as Christians our way into the Old Testament has been to use Jesus as our guide.

In doing that we have good precedence.

When John Barnes took time out to write notes outlining his instructions for his funeral service, drawing on the hymns and music he and Joan had had at their wedding, outlining not only biographical notes detailing the death from TB of his mother and two sisters by the time he was nine making him a life-long socialist, but also his philosophy of life built on the principle ‘I am my brother’s keeper’, he also pointed us to two readings.  One verses from Psalm 118 that included the words, This is the day which the Lord hath made I will rejoice and be glad in it.  And the other the story of the Two on the Road to Emmaus.

That story is not only a wonderful story of resurrection, the welcome of the stranger, and of Christ known in the breaking of bread … it is also a wonderful insight into the way we as Christians are to read the Hebrew Scriptures we think of as the Old Testament.

Faced with two distraught travelling companions at their wits end because the one they had hoped would redeem Israel had been cruelly killed, Jesus’ response was to despair and then to respond to the bit they had missed

‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Jesus is not in the business of seeking proof texts – those occasional passages where so-called predictions seem to be made that find their fulfilment in him.

He begins with Moses and the Law, and goes on to ‘all the prophets’, and interprets to them the things about himself in ‘all the scriptures’.

How wonderful to have eaves dropped on their conversation.

Later in the Upper Room when those two return filled with excitement Jesus appears again with those wonderful words ‘Peace be with you’.  We are not told how late into the night the conversation went but again it would have been wonderful to have been a fly on the wall.

Then he said to them,   ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 

While we do not have a record of his teaching, I believe in the Gospels and the Epistles we have the fruit of that teaching.  And we can see how the first Christians read their Old Testament in the light of the insights Jesus had shared with them.  Our task as Christian readers of the Old Testament, it seems to me, is to draw as much as we can from what the insights of those New  Testament writers, and in particular as much as we can from the way they imply that Jesus handled not just the Law and the Prophets but all the Scriptures too.

And so we turn to the third part of the Hebrew Scripture – the so-called Writings.  We are going to take a look at this miscellany of writings that for the most part is put together during the Exile and at the end of the period we have covered so far in the Law and the Prophets, in the order the books appear in the Hebrew Bible.

Psalms, Job and Proverbs are rich mix of poetry, prayer, praise, and wisdom writing that reflects on God’s way in the world often asking the very big question WHY?  Why should there be such suffering in the world of God’s creation.

Then come the five little scrolls of the Megilloth, each of which came to be associated after the time of Jesus with the great religious festivals of the Jewish calendar; Song of songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther

Then we’ll look at Daniel.  A book that stands with Revelation in the New Testatment as a book of Apocalyptic writing.

And we will finish with one last look at the story of Israel that is the backdrop for the story of Jesus in Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.

[I am indebted to this approach to the Writings to Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament – the Canon and Christian Imagination (Westminster, John Knox Press, 2003)]

And so we begin with the Book of Psalms … or rather with the Five Books of Psalms.  Can you spot anything significant about our Order of Service?

Each of our five hymns is based on a Psalm and followed with a doxology or words of blessing.  The first hymn is based on a psalm from the first book of Psalms, the second hymn is based on a psalm from the second and so on.  Each  hymn is followed by a doxology, words of blessing – and those are the final words of each of the books of Psalms.  If you are looking for a way of rounding off a service or you want a blessing from the Old Testament look for the last verse or verses of each of the books of Psalms.

Some people think of the Psalms as the hymn book of the Second Temple.  The superscriptions are added later but lots of them suggest the kind of music the psalms can be sung to and by whom.

To the choirmaster or the leader is a note attached to fifty-five psalms,  according to the hind of dawn, according to the lilies, according to the dove on far-off terebinths.     Psalm 45  To the leader, according to the lilies. Of the Korahites.  A Maskil.  A love song.

Hymn books are interesting.  It cannot be said for some collections of hymns like Mission Praise and Songs of Fellowship which nowadays are arranged alphabetically, but a hymn book is a good book to have.

We may not have hymns but we sing the theology of our church – and you can see that in the way our hymn book is structured.

Look at the contents of Congregational Praise.  The Eternal Father. The Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit.  The Trinity.  The holy Scriptures. The Church.  The life of Discipleship.  Social and National  Times and Seasons Special Occasions.

It has been said that a hymn book is for us in our tradition much as a prayer book is to those in another tradition.

That’s interesting, because of course you can see the Psalms not as hymns but as a collection of prayers.  There are different categories of prayer.

There are prayers of Celebration for all the people collectively and prayers of Celebration for individuals that are very personal.

There are prayers of protest and petition, communal laments for disasters that have befallen the people, and intensely personal laments for the ills that have befallen an individual.

Read the Psalms as a collection.

The begin in Psalm 1 with a choice – Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked but their delight is in the law of the Lord.

This is the choice we have encountered in the Law.  It is the choice worked out in all the former prophets.  It is the choice Jesus presents to us at the climax to the Sermon on the mount.  Choose the narrow gate, beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing.  Hear my words and act on them and be like the wise man who build his house on the rock, not the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

Like book-ends keeping books together. The whole collection of Psalms finishes with a sequence of wonderful celebrations of God in all his triumphant glory finishing with the greatest of all celebrations on the tambourine and drum in Psalm 150.

It’s not long, however, before the simplicities of that clear choice are brought into question.

Psalm 13 How long O Lord, will you forget me.

That’s a question that plagues Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross – and one that has come upon many a believer as the Dark night of the Soul.

How do you get from the agony of Psalm 22 verse 1 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.  To the confidence of Psalm 24 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it ?

You can only move from the agony to the glory through Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Look out for sequences, structures in the Psalm.

Whether hymns, or psalms, this is Poetry often at its finest.  What Neil Astley says of poetry in his fine anthology Staying Alive is as true of the Psalms as it is of the poetry of any language.

“The best contemporary poetry is life-affirming and directly relevant to all our lives.”  Staying Alive (Bloodaxe Press, 2002), 19.

He quotes some of the great poets on poetry – and what they say of poetry can be said of the psalms

Coleridge:  Poetry: the best words in the best order.

Make no mistake about it there is a craft about the poetry of the Psalms.  Look out for parallelism where the same thought is expressed in two consecutive lines but in different words.  Or where each line starts with the each letter of the alphabet in turn.

Yeats:  Poetry is truth seen with passion.

By the time we reach the end of the second book of Psalms in Psalm 72 we have encountered no end of Psalms linked with moments in David’s life.  Think of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband and then the impact of Nathan’s prophecy.  And hear the passion of Psalm 51

Have mercy on me O God according to your steadfast love.
According to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.

Into the third book you cannot help but feel that  the psalms make you think.

William Cowper, suffering as he did from depression at its worst knows the value of that prayer of lament in Psalm 77 and what it is like to face the clouds ye so much dread.  It is something to get your mind round.  And that prayer becomes the most wonderful of hymns in God moves in a mysterious way.

Moving into the fourth book there are Psalms of national celebration as kings are crowned in the third book of Psalms around the 90 to 100 mark.  Our God our help in ages past our hope for years to come – is a paraphrase by Isaac Watts of Psalm 90.

Into the fifth book and there are psalms of great praise and celebration, associated with the Passover and thought of as the great hallel psalms, the great hallelujah psalms – from Psalm 111 following.  The great acrostic Psalm 119 that is a celebration of God’s Word in Law and Prophets.

Then the psalms of pilgrimage from 121 to 133 as people together go up to Jerusalem and the temple.

And at the last in the last book of Psalms a sequence of Psalms in the 140’s that celebrate the great themes of the Law and the Prophets of Justice and Mercy.

The Lord sets the prisoners free; 
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
   the Lord loves the righteous. 
The Lord watches over the strangers;
   he upholds the orphan and the widow,
   but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 

The Lord will reign for ever,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

The whole of Jesus’s story is seen in the Psalms.  These are words that lived in him and he drew on in prayer, these are words he sang in the worship of temple and synagogue.

How important it is to read these words through the eyes of Jesus.  We need to heed his sermon on the mount when we come to hateful things uttered in the Psalms.  And anoint these words with the love of Christ.

We are going to finish with John Milton’s paraphrase of Psalm 136.

There is a recurring refrain.

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures for ever

Hymn 44 Let us with a gladsome mind Praise the Lord for he is kind.
For his mercies ay endure, ever faithful ever sure.

And as we come to the end of that fifth book of Psalms there is only one Psalm we can use – Psalm 150!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

At the end a new beginning - Malachi's story

Jesus was adamant.

There were no two ways about it.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

There’s much more to Jesus than at first meets the eye.  Put to one side that very limiting view that prophecy amounts to prediction.  Not a bit of it the prophets of old were in the business of analysing the ills of the world around them, working out under God’s guidance, what had resulted in the mess their nation all too often found itself in … and setting out a route map to set things right.

The story of the prophets of old is told in the great books of the prophets of what we think of as the Old Testament – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the wonderfully named, Book of the Twelve.

As the people settled in the Promised land early on they wanted to depart from the kingship of God and appoint a king over them – and one of the very first prophets emerges with a parable to tell – Jotham’s parable warns that the only one of the trees of the forest to be prepared to be king would be the bramble.

Samuel is very much a prophetic figure who looks at all that is wrong in the world of his day and is convinced the people’s desire for a king will not make matters better, but instead will result in things getting much worse.

As Saul became King how right he proved to be.

And so it was the least likely of all the sons of Jesse became King.  You might have though a wonderful hero figure.  But no, he shamed himself, his people and his God when he not only made the wife of one of his commanders pregnant, but when he realised what had happened, arranged for the commander to be killed in battle so that he could take the woman to be his wife.

He thought he had got away with it and then Nathan told another parable – about a poverty stricken man abused by a tyrant who stole the sheep of his flocks.  David was appalled at the story and even more devastated when Nathan the prophet turned on him and said, you are the man!

Then came the first of the great Prophets to have their story told at any length.  A good part of I Kings tells the story of Elijah and the stand he took against injustice in the land – the mantle of Elijah fell on Elisha and Elisha carried on where Elijah had left off.  In pointed teaching, in acted miracle too God’s sovereignty was their message and a powerful appeal for justice and faithfulness to the ways of God.

Then as the story of the betrayal of the nation by all but a handful of the kings of the Northern Kingdom and of the Southern Kingdom is told, we being to encounter prophets whose writings have helped to shape books that to this day bear their name.  The names of so many of those kings have been forgotten.  The names of the prophets are still household words.

The great 8th Century Prophets, Isaiah with  Amos, Hosea and Micah.

The great Prophet of Jersualem and its imminent collapse and destruction Jeremiah, with Nahum, favourite of mine, Habakkuk and Zephaniah .

And arguably one of the greatest prophets of old who prompted the great reforms of King Josiah that resulted in the preservation of the books of the Law, Huldah – whose story gives the lie to those who would claim women cannot speak the word of God.  With her husband looking after the wardrobe she spoke fiercely to all those in power.  And they listened.  And they changed their ways.

Though the fig tree fail and the flocks be scattered, yet I will trust in God my saviour.  What a wonderful poem of praise filed with passion in the face of destructive forces Habakkuk shares.

The great Prophet of the exile in Babylon Ezekiel with those prophets associated with the return, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

And then those three prophets who cannot be located in a specific time frame and yet whose words speak down the ages to every age facing calamity.  Joel, Obadiah and Jonah.

These prophets speak truth to power, hold kings to account.  There is in their writings a rhythm.  They confront people with the reality that consequences follow upon the abandonment of God’s ways.  Disobey God and take the consequences – ill will follow.

But there is also a hope and promise.  On the one hand the story of the nation suggests that obedience to God will lead to things going well – and ultimately the promise of God will hold.

Most significant of all the Prophets are not just negative about  those kings who were like the worst kind of shepherds neglecting their sheep.  So many of them spelled out what it would take to be a king worthy of God’s kingdom.  Occasionally kings heeded their vision.  But their vision was never fully fulfilled.

And following on from the return of the people to Jerusalem the kingdom was never fully established.

In subjection to Cyrus’s Persia, to Alexander the Great’s Greece, to the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Syrian kings, the people were in subjugation.  Momentarily they broke free under Judas Maccabaeus and a kingdom of sorts flourished built on violence.  But it too foundered with growing power of the Roman republic.  And with Caesar the subjugation of the peoples once more.  And as the Roman Empire dawned most cruel of all the kings King Herod reigned with an iron rod content to build temples to the Roman Son of God Augustus and rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem to monstrous proportions.

The injustices of his reign cried out for a voice.

And the voice of the prophets was reawakened.

And one emerged in the wilderness.

See I am sending my messenger before me to prepare the way before me.

You recognise it don’t you.  Out there in the wilderness.  Wearing such basic clothes.  Baptising.  And what a powerful message.

It’s John the Baptist.

Or is it?

The words I have just quoted come from the Book of the Prophet whose book stands as the last of the Book of the Twelve.

In our Bibles it is the Book of the Prophet who stands at the very end of the Old Testament.

It is as if we arrive at the end of the story of the Prophets only to find that we are at the beginning of something very much bigger.  And yet the end takes us back to the beginning and forward to a new beginning.

Malachi simply means messenger of the Lord.

As his book opens it is full of foreboding as he confronts people with the consequences of the wrong doing of the people and their rulers.

But the foreboding gives way to promise as he looks to the day when things will be restored.

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to theLord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
What will this messenger be like?

As we reach the final chapter of Malachi it is as if we are taken back almost to the very beginning of the story of the prophets.  Malachi looks to the time when arguably the first of the great prophets will come once again.

 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

That’s how the Old Testament ends.

On the threshold of the New.

What we call the beginning is often the end,
And to make an end is to make a beginning,
The end is where we start from…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

And John the Baptist comes and he is a new Elijah.

He acts like an Elijah.  He speaks like an Elijah.

Something is on the move.

And he is arrested.  Silenced.

But not quite.

The last thing he does before he is arrested is to take Jesus down into the Jordan and then back up out of the Jordan.

It’s just like that moment when Elijah passes on the mantle to Elisha.

The mantle of the prophets speaking out God’s word and speaking truth to power has passed from Elijah to Elisha to Isaiah to Hulda to Jeremiah to Ezekiel to the twelve to Malachi to John the Baptist and now to Jesus.

He teaches challengingly just like the prophets of old.  He carries out healings just like Elijah and Elisha.  Parables and signs all have the feel of the ancient prophets about them.

And the crowds know it.

He is John the Baptist, they say, he is Elijah they say.  He is Jeremiah they say.  He is one of the prophets they say.

And he is pleased to be called such.  He calls himself prophet on no end of occasions.

But he is prophet and more than a prophet.

Because he also is bringing in the kingdom, the kingdom of God that has been looked to by all those prophets in the promise they sensed.  And more than that he has what it takes to be King in the Kingdom.  He models all he stands for and all he does on those great messianic prophecies of all.

You are the Christ – the anointed one, the Messiah – the Hebrew word for the king.

You are the Son of God – the Hebrew and the Roman title for the King.

But not an all-conquering king like the Maccabees and like the Zealots dreamed of.  A suffering servant messiah king who through suffering would open up a new way for his people to follow.

And there on the mountain top the closest of his inner circle of friends Peter, James and John see it.

There is the glow of the divine about Jesus – and they know the Kingdom of God has come.

And notice how Mark reports it.

And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 

There in this wonderful symbolic moment it is as if all the law and the prophets find their fulfilment as Jesus is deep in conversation with Moses who stands for the law and Elijah who stands for the prophets.

The moment passes the cloud descends and overshadows them and from the cloud there came a voice.  This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”

That’s it

That’s what been expected of all the prophets of old.  That people would listen to them and hear the word of God.

Now as we look to Jesus Prophet but so much more than a Prophet, Son of God we are to listen to him.  But listening is not enough.  We must listen and put his words into action.

Fanciful telling of the story.  No – Jesus confirms it.  These are the days of Elijah – these are the days of fulfilment.  It’s happening – the kingdom of God is upon us.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’

As we come to the end of the Prophets of the Old Testament we have a big question to ask each one of us.

Are we going to listen.

And listening are we going to act on that word of God we hear.

For Christ calls us to be doers of the word and not hearers only!

I love those words from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets

What we call the beginning is often the end,
And to make an end is to make a beginning,
The end is where we start from…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

He goes on to say one thing more …

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Jonah and Jesus think the unthinkable

Thinking the unthinkable.

Changing the unchangeable.

An impossible dream!

Or is it?

At Hy-Way on Wednesday I found myself sharing my recollections of teachers who had made a difference in my life.  I think back and know how much I owe to inspirational teachers.  I have many vivid memories of school days.

Some are quite vivid.

And still disturbing.

The kind of memories that send a shiver down your spine.

I would be ten.  I can picture myself in the playground at Mayflower Junior School in Leicester when the conversation was of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I would have been 9 at the time.   We seemed to be standing on the brink of a third world war and this time it would be nuclear.  A moment’s memory.

Eight years later I found myself in the sixth form – I can picture it now walking home along the London Road, past Duke’s Drive, late in the evening after a showing of a film banned from broadcast on the BBC – the War Game.  We lived in the shadow of the nuclear bomb.

To end the cold was thinking the unthinkable, it would involve changing the unchangeable.

Then the Berlin Wall came down.  And the unthinkable happened, the unchangeable changed.

The death of Basil D’Olivera recently brought back to me memories of the Anti-apartheid campaign, stop the seventies tour in the wake of the D’olivera affair when the apartheid regime in South Africa insisted D’olivera be dropped from the  England side.

The end of apartheid was thinking the unthinkable, changing the unchangeable.

Then that moment when Nelson Mandela walked free.  And the day of the first elections in South Africa.  The unthinkable was happening before our very eyes, the unchangeable was changing before our very eyes.

Jesus was in the business of raising our horizons, of getting us to think the unthinkable and change the unchangeable.

And the world he lived in was just as troublesome.  The massive thing for Jesus and his people was the massive might of the Roman Empire – the power that ground down the Jewish people and so many peoples the world over.

How the people longed for the Kingdom of God to break in.  For the kingdom of heaven to come.  For God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.  But that was to think the unthinkable it would involve changing the unchangeable and that was not happen.

Yet, that was the message of Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come near – repent and believe the Good News.

Tough.  Because it was not very evident.

That’s the message that runs through the Gospel accounts of Jesus.

By Luke 11 Jesus is very much on the road to Jerusalem.  As he travels sharing that good news in word and deed he prays.  He teaches his disciples about prayer.

Your kingdom come – that’s the prayer – your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Not possible.  Unthinkable.  Keep on prayer he says – a story of the friend at midnight who keeps on asking, and then the wonderful rhythms

Ask and it will be given you
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened for you.
Ask seek knock.

Keep at it.

And it is a struggle.

Jesus recognises the problem.  It seems as if people are in thrall to powers that are beyond their control.  There is a very real sense of evil around. And that gets a hold of people.

Jesus in the business of breaking the power of the demons that get a hold of people.

When you read about demons, Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.  Don’t think personal devils, don’t think people who now we would think of as ill.

Instead think people who are trapped by powers beyond their control that are so destructive it seems unthinkable that their power could ever be broken.

And Jesus confronts those powers, jesus overcomes those powers.  And the message of Jesus breaks even those unbreakable bonds.

There’s talk here of breaking the bonds of the strong man.  Setting people free.

Does Jesus have in mind here the powers that hold people down.  There’s no other way of describing them – they are demonic.  But he breaks those bonds.

Olga was telling me how lovely it was to receive that long service certificate last week because it was the eleventh anniversary of her mother’s death.

In some ways that seems like yesterday.

In some ways it seems another age.

As we approached the millennium we had such high hopes with the ending of the cold war, the ending of apartheid, even the down-sizing of GCHQ.

Then came 9/11.  The Afghan war now in its eleventh year, and showing little signs of resolution, the Iraq war.  The rise in terrorism.  All that’s happening to Christians and many others  in Iraq, Egypt, the middle East.  The hope of new-found freedoms or the opening of Pandora’s box.

The financial crisis.

It feels as we are in the grip of forces beyond our control.

At the heart of our Christian faith is that not even the most unthinkable, unchangeable of forces for ill can defeat the goodness of God.  That’s to hold on to.  That’s the conviction.

Jesus drives his point home with two illustrations to a restless crowd.

It’s not possible to change the situation the people are in with the Roman powers that be.  It’s unthinkable.

Just as he had done in that sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, so here Jesus turns to two stories from the prophets that tell of Gentiles who so it would seem could never be changed … yet who are changed.

The first story comes from the former prophets and is told in I Kings 10 and it is about the Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon and being changed.  The unthinkable happens.

The second story is much more difficult to date.

How sad that we trivialise the story of Jonah to debates about a whale.

AS far as Jesus was concerned the story of the whale is in many ways incidental to the story of Jonah.

Unique among the prophets in containing a single story, complete with prayer.  Jonah has a timelessness about it that speaks into any situation when people are in the grip of monstrous, unshakeable powers.

The monstrous unshakeable power is Nineveh.  The story is a larger than life story.  Nineveh is the massive power that is massively destructive.  It destroys anything to do with God and God’s people.  And it’s quite understandable that Jonah flees in the opposite direction.

There are indications that this is a larger than life story, the like of which Jesus revelled in.  Three days in the belly of the biggest fish the world has ever seen.

Then when Jonah eventually gets to Nineveh it is the biggest city the world has ever seen.  It takes three days to walk from one side of the city to the other.  Think of it. Say four miles an hour, ten hours of walking each day, that’s 120 miles across from side to side.  You are talking a city three times the size of London.  This is a monstrous, larger than life utterly impossible to destroy city.

And Jonah warns the people of the wrath of God.

And the story is told wonderfully.  The people listen.  And they change their ways.  And God changes his mind.

And that makes Jonah incensed.  He had wanted God to destroy the city – instead God has mercy on the city of Nineveh.

This is a truly shocking story.

And it is the shocking nature of the story that Jesus picks up on.

Never mind Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – in Jesus there was someone far greater than Solomon  who could make the unthinkable happen, and change the unchangeable.

Never mind Jonah and the way the people of Ninveh changed, in Jesus was one far greater who could change the unchangeable and make things happen that even to think about was simply unthinkable.

There are powers that be around at all sorts of level that seem to be unvanquiahable.

We look to the victory of Christ.

Let’s hold on to that.

With that big picture in mind – then we can do the little things.  And each little thing that is in accord with that big picture will make a difference.

It’s great to see Maurice back in church after being in hospital.  Maurice had spent the day in hospital watching TV.  The news.  And there were pretty grim things happening.  That day it had been the deaths at a football match in Egypt – horrific in their own right but somehow symptomatic of the powers that can be unleashed in our dark world.

We sat reflecting on the world and the fact that we cannot make a difference.  But wait a moment we can make a difference.

Think where you are in that hospital bed.  The hospital system is stretched, some say almost to breaking point.  Nurses we were hearing this week are worked off their feet.  Your attitude with the nurses can make a difference – it you are awkward that absorbs time from the nurses.  If you share a smile with them, help them, what a difference that makes.

Interesting thoughts to share.  The difference each of us can make, no matter how small the thing we do.

We do it because we are not going to be defeated by the powers that be for we look to one who wins the victory.

Let’s see that bigger picture and echo the words of Paul …

in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.