Sunday, March 29, 2009

I know that my Redeemer lives!

I don’t know about you but I like explanations.  I like to find out things – how did this come to  be, why did that happen.  I had thought winter was over and spring had arrived – it has really!  Why did the snow come, why are we having this cold spell.  The fascination for me about the weather forecast is not so much its prediction, unnervingly accurate as that has become but, the satellite imagery of cloud formations, highs and lows, the isobars and how the next set of lows is coming in off the Atlantic.


All things scientific fascinate me – spotting the space station in all its glory crossing the sky, and recalling the conversations we had with it at the World Scout Jamboree, hunting for fossils up on Cleeve Hill … and this week a wonderful privilege.  I was involved in the interviews for a new Assistant Head and Director of Science at Pittville – wonderful hearing seven Heads of Science departments in other schools up and down the country giving their presentations, great to see four youngsters from the School Council interviewing the 4 on the short list, and getting the two most able candidates.   Great to see how the person appointed engaged with those youngsters, enthusing him for the subject.  And then to appoint someone who by all accounts is an inspirational teacher but also with a Doctorate in Chemistry and having done post-graduate work in the USA as well as here – that’s really exciting.


Why study science?  Was one of the questions the youngsters asked … and great to see the enthusiasm in the response of the prospective teachers.  Because it has to do with everything.


I was itching to have different kinds of conversations.  It’s what also draws me to theology – asking questions about the faith that is important to me, investigating, weighing up different ways of understanding.  Discovering the best way to put into words an understanding of God and his ways.


It’s a great enterprise.  But …  some things go beyond the explanations.  There’s a chemistry in relationships.  You could see it happening as the best of those teachers engaged with those youngsters something was happening.  There was a sparkle there.  A spark of enthusiasm.  Relationshiips can be described – social scientists will have a field day.  But as relationships go further and become friendships there’s something there that defies explanation.  And as friendships go more deeply into love, words become more and more inadequate and the explanations less and less  satisfactory.


I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to go away from home and take my studying further.  Not unlike science, theology is about making sense of things, and making sense of God.  It involves the kind of study and analytical asking of questions that appeals to me.  Coming to the end of one course, planning to go into the ministry, I wanted to take it further to dig deeper to do research into the way the Bible has been explained over the years.  It’s all about trying to work things out, trying to find explanations, trying to find words that I can use to help other people understand as well.


Theology was known as the Queen of the Sciences – I feel a bit like those science teachers – and I still have the same kind of enthusiasm for explaining things, and explaining God, in the hope others will catch the enthusiasm.


But as I was digging deeper I belonged to Penrallt English Baptist church in Bangor.  One hymn became a favourite.  I haven’t sung it a great deal since.  But it is a hymn that has come to mean more and more to me.


It’s a hymn that uses as its refrain a Scripture verse from 2 Timothy 1 verse 12.  The older Paul is writing to the younger Timothy almost as if he is passing on the work, a work I feel has been passed on down through the gnerations a work passed on to me that I want to pass on too.  Timothy had received the faith from his grandmother, Lois, from his mother, Eunice. It was a faith Paul wanted him not only to value, but Paul wanted him to find the right words to explain that faith.  It was important to keep to the pattern of sound teaching, it was important to guard the good deposit that had been entrusted to Paul and to Lois and to Eunicce and to Timothy – it is important for us to engage in the same task.  But for Paul the essence of the matter went beyond explanations, it went beyond words.  It went deep down into a relationship, a very special relationship with God and a very special relationship with the living, risen Jesus Christ.


Listen to those words …


2 Timothy 1:1-7 and 11-12

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

 To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 

Paul does not say, I know what I have believed.


For Paul the thing that matters is that he is able to say, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him until that day.


Here’s the hymn.  Explanations go so far.  The truth of the relationship we have with Christ is what matters.


Hymn:  I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me has been given


1 I know not why God's wondrous grace

to me has been made known;

not why - unworthy as I am -

he claimed me for his own.

But 'I know whom I have believed;

and am persuaded that he is able

to keep that which I've committed

unto him against that day.'

2 I know not how this saving faith

to me he did impart;

nor how believing in his word

wrought peace within my heart.


3 I know not how the Spirit moves,

convincing men of Sin;

revealing Jesus through the word,

creating faith in him.

4 I know not what of good or ill

may be reserved for me -

of weary ways or golden days

before his face I see.

5 I know not when my Lord may come,

at night or noonday fair,

nor if I'll walk the vale with him,

or 'meet him in the air.'

D W Whittle (1840-1901) based on 2 Timothy 1:12

Explanations go so far.  The truth of the relationship we have with Christ is what matters.  And it does matter.


Since Christmas we have been circling around a particular theme.  With the war in Gaza and the growing financial crisis, I set my stall out after Christmas to address the issue – how do we cope in our Christian faith.  What do we do in response?


It has been encouraging to be sharing in doing together.  This last week a number of things that we are involved in ‘doing’ have come to the fore.    It was great a week last Wednesday to be part of the meeting planning to launch Street Pastors on to the streets of Cheltenham, and then at a church leaders meeting working on putting a chaplaincy into the town centre and bulding up our prayer for the town.  That needs to be coupled with real pastoral support and care. Great to be at the Visitors meeting and see how Joan and Olga are in a transition handing over the co-ordination of our visitors scheme to David and Betty Butcher and to Phil and Joyce Arnold.  Great to be reminded of the difference the visitors course has made and ways we intend to build up the strength of our communication.  The focus group working on community involvement is developing our response in the community.  This is all great encouragement.  And the best moment of all for me was as I was sitting in the staff room at Pittville as the candidates were beginning their presentation.  Pittville has a wonderfully quiet atmosphere to the school that is great to see as you go round the corridors.  As the presentations began, however, it sounded as if a herd of elephants were in the room above.  One of the senior teachers, director of performing arts, was quick to go and investigate.  She came back into the staff room with a smile on her face as the noise subsided to report it was the young Christian group doing an ice-breaker game.


I smiled – part of our commitment to the community has been to support schools work – there was I as Governor in the Staff Room, while Becky was upstairs not really causing havoc.  Actually there were 9 there in the group.  On a Wednesday she and Wes just walk the grounds of the school, having conversations with youngsters being a presence.


One element of our commitment to the community.  But a really important one.


Doing is one thing.  But how do you get your mind round things that are going on in the world. How can you keep your faith.  I have found myself since Christmas drawn to the Book of Job.


That’s a place where explanations are sought.  But the tragedy is that none of the explanations offered makes any difference.  Job faces the dilemma of the biggest question of all, why should the innocent suffer so much, and there is no way it is going to be resolved.


We have touched on three wonderful passages in Job 9, 28 and 38-41 where he is confronted with the awesome nature of God in all the glory of creation and while it does not give him any easy answers, it enables him to live with unanswered questions.


I want to draw to a close my dip into Job with another of those moments for Job.  It is a remarkable moment for Job when he has a sense not only of the reality of the God of all creation, but the reality of a much more personal presence of God with him.


Overwhelmed by the loss of all his possessions, the loss of his family, and the devastating loss of his own health, Job has found no comfort from the theological reasoning his friends have given as they have attempted an explanation of his plight.  No explanation is adequate.


You touch the lowest point almost in Job’s experience.


All my intimate friends detest me;

Those I love have turned against me,

I am nothing but skin and bones;

I have escaped by only the skin of my teeth.


Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,


And then comes that lowest moment.  He feels that even God has forsaken him.


For the hand of God has struck me.


Then it is that something dawns on him.


Then it is that he is conscious of something so very special.


Reading:  Job 19:23-27


‘O that my words were written down!
   O that they were inscribed in a book! 
O that with an iron pen and with lead
   they were engraved on a rock for ever! 
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
   and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
   then in my flesh I shall see God, 
whom I shall see on my side,
   and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
   My heart faints within me!

Nowhere is that caught more wonderfully than in Handel’s Messiah.  The 2nd part comes to a climax with the Hallelujah chorus.  There is a short break.


And then those wonderful words break in.


I know that my redeemer liveth.


No reasoning, no easy explanations,

no dotting of every ‘i’,

no crossing of every ‘t’

simply a deep down feeling,

that is more than a feeling.


I know ...


Not a creed, not an argument,

not a conclusive proof,

and yet a certainty,


I know that my Redeemer liveth,


for he has indeed

risen from the dead,

and he lives.

The Messiah who is My Redeemer.


I know that my Redeemer liveth.



We began after Christmas trying to figure things out.


We have addressed the things we should be doing, practical things, things that make a difference.


We have glimpsed ways of living with unanswered questions as we have sensed the glory of God in all creation.


But today is Passion Sunday, next Sunday is Palm Sunday, then Holy Week will lead us up to Easter. And once again we focus on Jesus Christ.


How?  We will tell the story using the wonderful BBC serialisation of the events of Holy Week, the BBC passion.  Much more, we will give space and time for prayer.


Becky will explain the way Holy Week will unfold.



We can only reach resurrection through Holy Week, the suffering and the death of Christ.


But as we reach resurrection we can echo those wonderful words of Job.


I know that my Redeemer lives.


Hymn:  I know that my redeemer lives

 1 I know that my redeemer lives-

what comfort this assurance gives!

he lives, he lives, who once was dead,

he lives, my everlasting Head.

2 He lives triumphant from the grave,

he lives, eternally to save;

he lives, to bless me with his love,

and intercedes for me above.

3 He lives to help in time of need,

he lives, my hungry soul to feed;

he lives, and grants me daily breath,

he lives, and I shall conquer death.

4 He lives, my kind, wise, constant friend,

who still will guard me to the end;

he lives, and while he lives I'll sing,

Jesus, my prophet, priest, and king.

5 He lives, my saviour, to prepare

a place in heaven, and lead me there;

he lives, all glory to his name,

Jesus, unchangeably the same.

Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

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