Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: children of God

Trinity 7A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Romans 8:12-25

12Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body and you will live. 14All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

© livingthelectionary

18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? 25If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Through his promotion of, and respect for, women in the churches he formed, Paul was clearly as inclusive of women as he could be in the very patriarchal society of the first century. It is thus appropriate, given that political correctness and the feminist movement now deny us the long-established use, in English, of male pronouns in a generic sense, that the Greek word αδελφοι (adelphoi) is translated in the NSRV as “brothers and sisters”. I have no doubt that Paul would have been including the women as well as the men.

Paul declares that we are debtors; but despite telling us what we are not debtors to, never tells us what he considers we are debtors to. Just like a good educator, leading people towards an answer but never giving it to them, he leaves it to those in the audience to ponder over, and to work out for themselves, where that debt lies.

We are made of body and spirit. The body, the flesh and blood of our mortal appearances, can lead us astray. We are tempted to seek and acquire things which are transient and please us, without consideration for others, and too often we succumb to those temptations, in the process separating ourselves from God. Paul’s reference to dying has nothing to do with the cessation of the processes which keep our bodies functioning, but to the death which comes from being separated from God. On the other hand, if we allow God’s Spirit, working within us, to direct us, then we will nurture that relationship with God who continues to feed and nourish us. Those who had become Christians in the early churches, and even some of us in 21st century churches, might feel as if we have bonded ourselves in slavery because of the rules and regulations which being part of a particular church might impose on us – you must dress like this; you must speak like this; you must address the priest like this; you must like music like this; children should be seen and not heard. The list goes on, but that is not what Paul wants his audience to think. Far from being forced into a restrictive relationship with “the owner”, becoming a Christian is like being adopted into an unconditionally loving family, with God as the head. Many of us have never experienced unconditional love; some even deny it is possible for humans because their own experiences are far from the love which God quite willingly gives us, but God is love, and loves all of us unconditionally.

Being adopted into God’s family allows us to call Him “Father”, and to share with Christ in the abundances which are offered, but it doesn’t give us the right to avoid temptation, or hurt, because of the evil which abounds where God’s love isn’t allowed to enter. Yes, we will suffer for the sake of the Good News, but not in the same way as Christ Himself suffered. Commenting on the restrictions which Covid-19 has required of us, a young male from Broadmeadows (in the north of Melbourne) revealed an appalling lack of appreciation and care for older people, as if they were dispensable because they were passed their “use by” date. People continue to suffer and to die because of the lack of concern for others displayed in such a comment. I’m sure that God is crying because this suffering and these deaths would, to a large extent, be avoided if people around the world stopped thinking of themselves more than others. Let’s turn that around and tell Satan to leave everyone alone.

Throughout our lives we strive to do ‘better’ and we tolerate suffering and pain when we can see the ‘better’ future. That is precisely what Paul is picking up on when he says that the sufferings of the present time pale into insignificance when compared with the glory in the life hereafter. Just as growing up from being a newborn baby through the toddler stage and on into spiritual adulthood our eyes are opened to the wonders of this world, what the Spirit foresees is our discovery of what it is like to be ‘children of God.’ Several respected commentators note Paul’s reference to labour pains. Why is that surprising? Not only are there many references in scripture to feminine images of God, but also Paul’s churches had a significant number of female leaders.

Have you ever yearned so much for something you expect to occur that you groan, outwardly or inwardly, in anticipation? That is what it was like for the early Christians, looking forward to the second coming of Christ, which they expected in the their own lifetimes. Just as last week’s reflection on the Parable of the Sower made a distinction between hearing and listening, so, here, Paul makes a distinction between hoping for something and anticipating it. Let us be patient in our hoping that we might return to a society where we are all concerned for each other.

If you want to read the reflection on Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43 see

Trinity 3A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 10:24-39

24‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master. 25It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26‘Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30Even the hairs of your head are all counted, 31so do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32‘Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,
35for I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

©Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

In the context of the opening verse of chapter 10, in which Jesus empowers the disciples to cure the sick and to drive out unclean spirits, the opening of this scriptural passage brings us into the reality that, though we have been given powers which we would otherwise not have, we are only as capable as Christ Himself. Furthermore, we are likely to be subject to the same rejection as He was, from the same sorts of people. Let’s not forget that Jesus was unable to heal in His home town, and He was rejected by members of His own family because He kept challenging them to accept a new way of life. Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to think that they will be better than Him. What horrors befall Christ will be unavoidable for a true follower. There is no escaping that truth, and it extends to today’s world, though, depending on where we are in the world, we might face other forms of horror. To the people of the time, “Beelzebul” (or Beelzebub) meant “prince of demons”, so being associated with, and following, Beelzebul wasn’t the best place for followers of Christ. The religious authorities of the time made every effort to label Christ as Beelzebul, but thankfully others sawy through their efforts. As Christians we are to reject evil and constantly ask ourselves “what would Christ do in this situation?”

There are many ways in which we might encounter evil behaviour in our lives, and the churches are not exempt. The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Institutions showed how bad an example of following Christ was set by many who should have known better, and whose very authority should reflect a different approach. Verses 26-28 tell us to not be afraid of speaking up. Those who have been part of a Rostrum group will know the promise that is made to “not be silent when I ought to speak”. All too often we act out of fear, but “the truth will set us free”. God knows everything, and would like us to spread the word about things which ought not to be, so that they can be addressed properly. Sometimes that requires us to work “behind the scenes” so that issues can be addressed before they get out of hand. We have a copy of “Blood on the Rosary” at home at the moment. It tells of the harrowing story of twins, one who became a nun, the other a priest, and the sexual abuse of children which was swept under the carpet for far too long, partly from loyalty to family and partly to avoid scandal in the church. It’s hard to stand up against family. Speaking up made a difference, despite the fact that it took a long time, and a lot of effort, to be heard. Will we learn lessons from such experiences? I doubt it. In no way do I wish to reduce the significance of any sexual abuse, but it’s not the only way in which we are mistreated by those who have some authority. I have just been told about someone who has been threatened with a loss of work for refusing to do something which would put lives at risk. Last year I dealt with a case of a casual worker who was dropped from an overworked, understaffed, situation for no apparent reason other than management wouldn’t talk. Proclaiming such issues from the rooftops may not get desirable results because it’s an all-too-familiar story, but failing to speak up wouldn’t get any improvement.

Scripture tells us that we are ALL children of God. The devoted Father loves all His children unconditionally, but He doesn’t love the sins we commit. Unlike us, He has no problem separating the two. It doesn’t matter how many birds of whatever species we count, we are still more valuable to God than they are.

In verse 32 Jesus tells us to acknowledge Him, not only in church, but in our daily lives. Let it be known – proclaim it from the rooftops – that we are dedicated to Christ, and He will be a witness of our dedication with God, but if we deny Him the respect He deserves then He will not be able to be a witness for us. It sounds Deuteronomistic – do the right thing and be blessed, do the wrong thing and be cursed – but this has to do with our allegiances, not to the love which God has for us.

Verses 34 to 39 seem so cruel, and so much against the idea of the unconditional love which God has for us, but let’s revisit that book I mentioned earlier. The message which Christ brought to us was to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves. In that context family members are neighbours – just think of Christ’s response to the question “Who is my neighbour?” When any form of abuse gets in the way of being a united family, and when we try to hide evil ways and keep people silent, we are going to divide families, friends, communities, … and churches. Where is our allegiance? Do we ask ourselves, often enough, what Jesus would do in our situation, here and now? Do we fight for the devil, or for God? Are we prepared to continue to raise concerns until those with authority acknowledge the concern and do something about it? The more I ask those questions the more I realise that I am not doing as well as I should be. How about you?

21st May 2017

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

1 Peter 3:8‑2238-repay-no-one-evil-for-evil1

8All of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil, or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called — that you might inherit a blessing. 10For
     ‘Those who desire life
     and desire to see good days,
     let them keep their tongues from evil
     and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
     let them seek peace and pursue it,
12for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
     and His ears are open to their prayer,
     but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

13Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14Even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame, 17for it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order to bring us to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also He went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, 20who 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. 21Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to Him.

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.

As with many other passages on which I have reflected, here we have evidence of how the members of the fledgling Christian community to which the author of this letter writes have been behaving in ways which suggest a lack of commitment to their faith. Though the heading says ‘1 Peter’, and the book opens with a Pauline style greeting, there is no certainty that Peter was the author. It could have been written as much as seventy years after the first Easter, with Christians doubting their faith more and more, and struggling to keep the vital link in the face of what they thought was a lack of evidence in support. The people to whom this was directed were clearly struggling with a lack of unity in their approach to God, a concern for their own well-being, and a willingness to claim that they were better than some of their fellow Christians. When I look around at groups which profess the Christian faith today what do I see but a lack of unity, concern for selves, and an “I’m better than you” attitude.

Because the timing of the passage is not clear it is also not clear whether the people originally targeted by the author were being ridiculed by unbelievers or were suffering greater persecution at the hands of the authorities who deemed that this Christian movement should be shut down as quickly as possible. Either way, those amongst whom these people were living were hostile to the message being portrayed. We think that, in an Australian society which is still predominantly Christian, we do not face the same problems, but we are ridiculed on a regular basis, and many of the laws which have kept our society civilised are challenged by those who do not understand the message. Is that because we show the world a divided and argumentative face, and display the same behavioural patterns as those outside the church? “They will know we are Christians by our love” – or will they? If we Christians are not persecuted in our own way in the 21st century then why are we so reluctant to stand up for our faith and proclaim the Good News? Jesus said “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say ‘love your enemy’. We are called to repay evil with good – and I know that’s difficult in many circumstances – but if we desire life and good days then we must steer away from evil, injustice, and unkind words. God sees our every action and hears all our thoughts, but He doesn’t use a big stick to punish us when we stray. That’s a human way, and it deals evil for evil. Mahatma Ghandi once said that if we apply the biblical rule of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ literally then we will quickly descend into a blind and toothless society.

By way of contrast, this reading is about hope: hope for a future in the presence of God without the persecutions of the day. We know that there are people around us who are opposed to our message, some of them by turning their backs on it, others, like Saul before his conversion and the so-called Islamic State today, engaging in violence to intimidate us into submission. In between are those who do all they can to tear down our thinking by the use of words, deliberately scheduling sport at the same time as church services, or demanding that shops are open all day every day. Whatever the approach of those who would have us silenced we mustn’t return the ill-will, and, and here’s the biggest challenge, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and profess our faith. Leaving to God any future treatment of those who oppose us isn’t always easy, but we can be strengthened by Christ’s own words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” When we look to the future, what happens to those who stood in our way in the past will pale into insignificance.

If Christ suffered, even though He did no evil and said nothing other than to start the movement which spread the Good News, then we should not be surprised to suffer at the hands of those around us. When we connect with the Easter messages of hope and the help of the Holy Spirit, rather than consider what happened 2000 years ago as historical events, then we can be empowered to spread the News with confidence and effectiveness. After just one sermon from Peter, 3000 were added to the Christian community in a society which was more hostile to the Christian message than ours is today. How we respond to suffering among good people might not benefit us in the immediate future, or even in our current life, but if it benefits the Christian message then we should celebrate.

As children of God we can expect to move from our earthly existence to a spiritual one, along with Christ, but who are the ‘imprisoned’ spirits mentioned in this letter? It’s an unusual description, an intriguing one, and one for which scholars have yet to find a single possible explanation. Since Christ has dominion over the dead, as well as those who live, was He freeing the spirits of those who had died before Him so they, too, could be resurrected? Were those spirits among the angels who fell short of the glory of God and were banished from heaven, along with Satan? Were they the resistence movement of the time of Noah, since he was mentioned by the author? Does that also mean that those who die today without any knowledge or experience of Christ in their lives are saved by Christ’s action in ministering to the dead? Paul told us not to take advantage of God’s grace when we sin and ask for forgiveness but to do the right thing to start, so are we going to show them that we are Christians by our love?

12th February 2017

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

© Revd Nadine Drayton-Keen

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1My dear fellow children of God, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. As long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4for when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? We are servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. 9We are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English Edition) alt, used with permission.

If you’ve been looking at the NRSV translation and comparing it with my version of the text you will see a significant difference at the beginning of this passage. Paul is addressing the people in the church in Corinth. It’s one of those churches which Paul helped set up, and he has a particularly personal connection to it, so when he addresses the gathered Christian community he does so as one of the family. The Greek word adelphoi is generally translated, by those who want to honour the original language, as brothers or brethren; the NRSV tries to be politically correct by using “brothers and sisters”; the Revised English Bible put it as “my friends”; but in the context it is quite reasonable to translate the word in terms of family members, with Paul one of many in the group of ‘children of God.’ There are good study bibles – those which are as true to the original text as they can be – and good reading bibles – those which translate the meaning but cannot be tied to a parallel with the Greek or Hebrew text. The publishers of the NRSV tried to give us both in one bible, but that is unfortunately impossible.

Unlike some commentators, I like Paul’s analogy of infants growing up on milk, though I appreciate that some readers or listeners might take offence, until they are willing to grasp the importance of what Paul is saying. When we first encounter the Christian faith we are without understanding of what it involves, and what the challenges are that it sets before us. A new-born child is incapable of processing solid foods because its body is not ready for such nutrition. As the child grows through its first few months it is able to eat first soft, semi-fluid food, then more solid, but still soft, items, and finally the food we commonly eat. Each of those stages requires the body to have developed to allow for the changes, and if that development doesn’t occur then the more solid food will be rejected. As spiritual infants, our first food of the Christian faith must be in the form of milk. We are fed with the basics: some stories about Christ, His birth, His temptations, His teaching of the people, and His death and resurrection in terms of the people around Him not seeing the message He brought, or not being willing to give up their own ways. We learn what the Bible says, and we take those passages literally, because we know no different way of hearing the text. Just as with a baby growing up, as we get to understand more of what Jesus is on about we prepare for more substantial spiritual food, and so we learn more about what Jesus was meaning when He spoke to the people, to His disciples, and even to the religious leaders of the day. We can realise that some scriptural passages are meant to be taken figuratively, instead of literally, and others need some appreciation of time frames which are not written into the text. The wise men who visited Christ shortly after His birth would not have arrived the same night as the shepherds from the fields, or even twelve days later, at The Epiphany, though there is some suggestion of a time frame from the reference to Herod having boys of two years or less slaughtered. If we don’t move on from a simple and literal reading of the text we run the risk of seeing the message only as that text is presented, and not as one which should be related to the culture and thinking of other times. Deuteronomy 22:28-30 tells us that a woman who is raped should marry the rapist and have no right of divorce. That does not fit in with the thinking after Christ, and certainly not in times and places when and where women are respected and violence against women is seen as abhorrent, but it does show the danger of not allowing scripture to speak into different times. Christian ways of thinking and acting have permeated even societies where Christians are persecuted, and so it is now normal in many cultures for greater respect of others; but there are still cultures which depend on a spiritual milk translation of their ancient scriptures for laws which we find horrifying today.

What we often get in churches is a limitation of spiritual food to the milk form, designed for those who have only started on the Christian journey, but provided as if it were the only form required. Some churches do provide us with opportunities to engage in a more staple diet, with some real solid food. We don’t have to go to university and study theology to enjoy the benefits of critical thinking and discussion about scripture because there are courses available if churches want to provide for them. Alpha, for those wanting to take early steps away from spiritual milk, and Education for Ministry for those who want the taste of a good steak, are two which come to mind. I’m all in favour of sharing study programmes across denominations, gaining insights from how other people approach the Bible and avoiding the incestuous complications when all study is done from within a single group. That’s precisely what Paul was complaining about when chastising the Corinthians for groups aligned to Paul, and Apollos, yet it’s so evident today with some churches claiming that if you don’t think our way you aren’t Christian, that we’re better than you, or that we are the one and only real Christian church. If we listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians we will set aside that quarrelling and one-up-manship, we will recognise that we are all human and on a journey of faith towards God, and we will accept that our road is not the only one, just as not all seeds which the gardener plants will produce the same crop.

Paul quite rightly points out that he might have planted the seed of faith in the community, and that Apollos came along and watered the ground, but it is God who gives the growth. I might plant the seed of faith in someone reading this reflection, and that person may go, hopefully will go, to a church and be fed spiritually, but it is neither me nor those who provide that food who should take the credit for that person enjoying the fruits of the Spirit. That credit belongs to God.

How do we fare? Are we still taking spiritual milk or have we moved onto more substantial food? I remember one sermon I preached some years ago where I described the readings set for the day as providing a four-course banquet. That’s what some of us should be eating.