I finished reading the Gospel of Luke yesterday and started on John this morning, maybe my favourite and most often prayed verse in the whole Bible ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.’
What a first line! Boom! Take that! Sock it to ‘em, John!
I wonder if we can see a hint about the personalities of the writers in the way they begin their accounts of the life of Christ? Matthew has the most exact and dutiful beginning to his history – a beginning that reveals the genealogy of Jesus, painstakingly proving who Jesus was before anything else at all! I can imagine him thinking ‘This might be a bit boring – but hard cheddar – they need to know!’ I think he might have been an exact sort of person, a book-keeper, someone who would catalogue a library, weed a flowerbed, iron a towel. And then there’s Mark who sets the whole thing off with a reminder that Jesus’ coming was already foretold, and that John the Baptist was his herald. I think Mark was an engineer at heart, satisfied when a machine worked as it should, contented when a process was complete, and so delighted that Jesus was the perfect fulfilment of prophesy – showing it clearly in those first few words, staking a claim to Jesus as the promised One. Both Matthew and Mark make their first statement a declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. Strong, eh?
On we go into Luke who kicks the story off with quite a long explanation of who John the Baptist was and why he’s important to the understanding of everything that followed. Maybe Luke was a teacher at heart, wanting to do more than just tell a story, to lay the foundations for that story, to cement it into a context before anything else, so that his pupils would not just have a vague ‘kinda-knowledge’ of Jesus, but a complete understanding. A bit like hearing a sermon in the middle of a sermon-series, when the sermon starts with a re-cap of what we’ve discovered so far, and a summary of what we’re going to look into today. Clarity.
And then we get to John’s Gospel with the most wonderful opening of any story ever. I think John was a single minded, dedicated, focussed, determined, probably quite scarily intellectual, sort of thunderer. I quite like John. I get him. Or I get who I think he might have been. A solitary soul maybe, not great at small talk, the sort to speak the truth bluntly. No pussy-footing around. I can imagine the others thoughtfully working out where their audience (us) would need to join the story, and John not even having to give it a thought. Bang! Take that! Straight in! Of course John, too, goes on to tell the story of John the Baptist, acknowledging by its inclusion its importance but first he goes straight to the power and glory and the magnificence of God. I love that! Spot on, John – first the praise. In the beginning was the Word. Jesus, the Word. He was in the beginning. That’s the start of the story.
When the Cosmos was breathed into being, Jesus. When our small Universe was spun out of space, Jesus. When the world was created, Jesus. Before he was conceived in Mary, Jesus.
Each one of the Gospels begins long long before they all begin. Out of time. The story of Jesus begins before there was a beginning. John, thank you, I get it.
And now from the sublime to the ridiculous – I have a lovely pink fridge. It’s one the simple things that makes me smile. Here it is:
When visitors see it for the first time they either wince (mostly the blokes) or they are amused, or they say “I want one!’
I do love it! But when I move house I have to leave it behind so yesterday I cleaned it. Oh, boy! Talk about judging a book by its cover and all that. Inside, when I’d taken out all the food and bottles and jars, it was shocking! I was very glad I was cleaning it on my own because I would have been mortified for anyone else to see the grubby innards. And as I sprayed and washed and wiped and struggled to get the damn glass shelves back in (there’s a knack, and I am knack-less) I remembered that phrase from Jesus to the Pharisees ‘whitened sepulchres’. I think my fridge was a pink sepulchre. I wondered if that’s what life is… looking one thing and being another thing entirely.
My house isn’t clinically clean, and I’m not house proud, but it’s… you know… OK. But still, when it went on the market I somehow knew there were jobs to be done… wash this and wipe that and clear out the rammel, and tidy the odds and sods and extend the feather duster to reach up into the high high ceilings, and hose down the tiny courtyard, and… and… and… I realised that my home always looked cleaner and tidier than it really was. Like me.
Hah! Good job God loves me. Good job he can see all my grubby messy corners and loves me anyway. Good job we can come as we are. That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? It’s not from the Bible, but it’s been adopted by churches all over the world. This is a photo I used in a magazine I used to edit….
But ‘Come as you are’ can be misunderstood. That’s why I love the phrase underneath that image ‘Real people, real God, real life change.’ (although I think the God bit should come before the people bit, just to be picky)
God brings change. We come to him as we are, and then he works his wonderful miracle, and bit by tiny teeny bit, we learn what it is to be Jesus. We don’t transform. He transforms us. No bleach required! No scrubbing. Just God.
Imagine what a mess I would make of it if I had to transform myself. Actually, I don’t have to imagine. I look back and see what a mess I was without Jesus. Week by week I scrubbed away in the confessional, I bleached with Rosary beads, I scoured and scrubbed. And all I ever needed was Jesus.
‘Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28
Oh! Hang on! Listen, no – really, listen. It’s just occurred to me to include this; I long to pray with other people, but I find it very difficult. I long to praise God and to just share my great happiness, but there’s no one to do that with, and I just find the inability to speak out his praise frustrating! Really really frustrating. I can’t do it to a church and I live alone… so what will I do? Well, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about Luke (yep, reading the book three times in three weeks has an effect!) and one incident keeps coming to mind – we find it Luke 19, verses 39-40
When Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
And thinking about what Jesus meant when he used those words, I came to the conclusion that as he was going down into Jerusalem, towards his death, Jesus was telling us that this is the story that cannot be unspoken. It’s a truth that can’t be silenced. It’s the greatest and only truth we need to know and all his creation declares it. Two thousand years later, here we are still telling that truth, still shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Or we should be. I should be. And I know now that I can’t be silent. I’m still not sure what the next step is, but until I find it, I’m inviting you to join me in prayers on a YouTube channel. It’s not fancy, I’ve given up trying to cope with iMovie editing after two weeks of trying, so it’s just a simple prayer, a couple of minutes long, maybe once or twice a week, or as God leads. I want to joyfully praise God. Nothing clever. Just the sky and the sea and a few words. You can find me and join me on
But even if you never join me, I have to praise my God. I have to speak those words into the world, and if only the sea hears me, or the sky, I still have to praise him. Or I’ll burst. And no one wants that.