Sunday, August 22, 2010

Faith, hope and love

What do you make of your mind?

Do you find sometimes that your mind is thinking about so many different things that it’s a bit like the spring in an old pocket watch – you wind it up to the point at which if it gets wound up any more it will reach its breaking point. You come to the point at which you are so wound up you need to unwind. That’s where taking a break, taking time out, a day to unwind. And that’s the value I have found over the years, not least this year of a good holiday. Time to unwind.

Change the analogy to a computer that has reached its capacity, and your mind is overloaded. It can’t take any more. Or maybe a racing analogy … and your mind is going to spin off.

It’s good to take time out, to clear out the cobwebs.

Then there comes a point when you need to gather up your thoughts.

There’s the time to get your mind into gear … and get it thinking straight.

Isn’t English full of vivid pictures?

Getting into gear, clearing out the cobwebs, wound up, unwind.

The mind mattered for Peter.

“Therefore, prepare your minds,” he writes in 1 Peter 1:13.

He was the kind of person who needed to get his mind around things. There was something about the figure of Jesus that had an immediate impact … Peter, or Simon as he was known among the fishermen on the northern shores of the sea of Galilee, left his nets and followed Jesus.

Jesus saw how important it was for Simon Peter and all the others to learn, to be ‘learners’, to be ‘disciples’. His teaching had an authority to it that impressed Simon Peter and the others – the stories he told, the way he explained things, the new way he opened up for them to follow. It made sense. The way you could wrap up all the law and the prophets in the one simple thought – do to others what you would have others do to you.

Peter thought he had got his mind round it when Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying he was, You are the Christ, the Messiah, the one we’ve been waiting for.

But Jesus knew Peter hadn’t got his mind round it enough – there were hard lessons to learn. Peter thought the Messiah would overturn the Roman power … Jesus came to open up a way through suffering for everyone to follow, a way that would take him to the cross, but beyond the cross to resurrection.

That was something Peter could not get his mind round.

Then three times he denied Jesus, and he wept bitterly.

What was going on? Too much for his mind to take.

And then back on the shore the risen Christ asked him three times, Do you love me?

The waiting over, that unseen yet very real power of God in Christ was felt by Peter – and then he got his mind into gear and rushing down the steps and on to the streets of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost Peter it was who made sense of all that was happening and could see what Jesus meant.

But he still needed his mind stretching even more – he couldn’t take it in that this love of God in Christ was actually for everyone – Roman as much as Jew … and it took a vivid vision he had and a remarkable encounter with a Roman centurion to change the way his mind saw things.

He was very conscious of the way the followers of Jesus had been scattered far and wide and he wanted to share his thoughts, his inspiration with them.

And so it was he took pen to paper and this letter addressed to the exiles of the dispersion. Some have thought it unlikely that Peter could write in Greek. But he was one who was able to use his mind. Galilee was occupied by the Romans, he was in a key industry that was supplying the occupation with the fish they needed for their lavish life-style. Greek was the common language of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. Peter not only spoke Aramaic, albeit with a north country Galilean accent, he could also read Hebrew as a devout Jew, and speak and indeed write in Greek. In all likelihood he would have got by in Latin as well.

He begins with that sweeping summing up of the faith that means the world to him.

And now he comes to that point at which he wants all who read what he has to say to ‘prepare their minds’.

The Greek he is writing in, no less than English, has its vivid way of speaking. And this is one moment when that vivid language comes into its own.

What he writes is this:

“Gird up the loins of your minds.”

Quite a vivid picture. A very basic, very physical image.

Gird up the loins of your minds.

What’s he getting at?

When you read what Peter has to say he has got his mind round who this Jesus is, what that means for his understanding of the world and of God. It’s taken Peter time … but I sense he wants us to get our minds round that too.

Through the teaching of Jesus, the love Jesus showed throughout his life, the death he shared and his resurrection Peter is convinced he has a window on to the God of creation.

In verse 20 he writes of Jesus Christ, He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for the sake of all Peter is writing to … us included. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

I believe it’s important to get your mind round such things. I find myself in awe of the wonder of the world, and I seek to make sense of it. I am drawn to the insights of cosmologists, evolutionists – and though no evidence can prove the existence of God, I am passionate that believing in God makes sense in the world we live in. It is believing. It is faith. But it is worthy of the best of minds and it makes sense.

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, President of the Royal Society, comes to the end of his fascinating account of the six equations that make sense of the universe and he concludes there are three positions that can reasonably held, that in his view ‘make sense’ It just happened that way, this universe is one of a multiplicity of universes, a multiverse, or that’s how it was created by God. What is important to me is not that Martin Rees should subscribe to that view, but that he respects it as a view that can be reasonably held and that makes sense of the world we see.

More than that I think it is important to make sense of what it is that Jesus opens up about God – in verses 18 and 19, Peter homes in on something remarkable that came across to him through the death of Jesus. It was somehow because Jesus came alongside humanity at its bleakest, at its most God-forsaken, on the cross – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and at that point brought forgiving love to the fore - ‘Father, forgive them …’ – that Jesus has become for Peter the one makes real in the lives of each of us the reality that the God of creation is the God of love who forgives and renews. Peter makes sense of that against the background of the world he knew of the Hebrew Scriptures and speaks of Jesus as that precious lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

This is the God of our faith – the God of immense, forgiving, love.

Then in verse 21 he moves beyond the death, to share the importance of resurrection. Christ comes alongside us and all of humanity, shares our suffering – so that at that point at which we are conscious of that suffering and feeling its pain ourselves, we know that we are not alone – God is there with us in the midst of it.

And the suffering, the pain, the death does not have the last word. Beyond is resurrection. It cannot be proved – but Peter knew its reality, and it is a reality we too can share – and so it is not only faith in God that we can have, but also hope.

Through Christ we can really come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that our faith are hope are set on God.

Gird up the loins of your mind. Get your mind around these things and share that faith, share that hope … and it makes a world of difference. That’s Peter’s conviction and that’s what I too want to share.

But there is one more thing in this phrase that we cannot lose sight of.

It is for Peter the most important thing.

Gird up the loins of your mind … and prepare your minds for action.

With your hope set firmly on that wonderful loving God disclosed by Christ, on the grace of Christ, discipline yourselves.

Haven’t the Robins got off to a good start! [I am writing this on Friday, so it may need amending by Sunday!!] Not only have they brought in some strikers who can score goals, but they have brought back the great Steve Book, Goalie in the Robins’ golden days of Wembley triumphs and promotion to the league. Coaching Steve Brown the current goalie he was quoted in the Echo this week as having full confidence in Scot Brown - but for Scot Brown it’s all in the mind. He needs more self-belief.

The headline says it all …

Steve Book: Scott Brown’s career could be a page-turner if he shows belief.

In sport it’s what’s in your mind that counts.

Prepare your mind for action.

Gird up the loins of your minds – discipline yourselves, obedience is called for – and the task is to model ourselves not on the values of the world around but on the love of God.

It is as if for Peter faith and hope as they point to God and to the truth that is at the very heart of the world from the beginning, have a cleansing, renewing thing that cleans us out from deep within, clears out all the cobwebs, and renews us … so that we can gird up our loins and prepare our minds for action … in what way – through what Peter describes as ‘genuine mutual love’.

What a wonderful turn of phrase.

That’s the action we need to take – inspired by a genuine mutual love, e are called upon to love one another deeply from the heart.

That means seeking out practical things to do – measuring what we do by the worth it gives not to us but to others – a particular person to see, tasks to be done that will make a difference to someone, maybe the Christian Aid appeal for the floods in Pakistan.

Let’s gird up the loins of our minds in faith, hope and above all in ‘genuine mutual love’, loving one another deeply from the heart.

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