reflecting my eclectic (and sometimes erratic) life
Author: John Ager
Salvation Army Officer (in retirement) who likes technology, Radiohead and F1. Married to Naomi with three young children. Christian with an open heart and mind. Left of centre. Freedom, justice, and equality. Feminism. LGBTQ ally. Interfaith dialogue with all faiths and none. Runner. European. Geek.
No new Sunday devotional today, but I’d like to point you to a series I wrote and published in January 2021. There are links to the other posts in the series at the end of this one. The Letter of Paul to the Philippians in the Bible is characterised by joy, something often in short supply.
As well as being the letter of joy, Philippians contains one of the most profound passages in the New Testament (Philippians 2:5-11) which may be an early Christian hymn, although Paul uses it as an illustration. His purpose is not just to teach theology, but to call the church to unity on the basis of the humility and servanthood of Jesus.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Paul probably wrote the letter while under house arrest in Rome, with the likely year being 61-62. See Philippians 1:13-14: As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Paul’s main reason for writing was to thank the Philippian church for the gift they sent when they learnt of his detention in Rome. He uses the opportunity to report on his own experiences, to encourage them to stand firm in the face of persecution and whatever their circumstances, and to develop humility and grow in unity (amongst other things).
If the government’s Rwanda immigration policy is shown to be illegal by the courts it will be because it’s illegal, not because of ‘left-wing lawyers’. We need to protect the independence of institutions central to our democracy, and resist political propaganda and Daily Mail distortion.
The Crucifixion must have traumatised Jesus’ disciples and followers, even though he’d tried to prepare them for it, not just once but repeatedly. They failed to realise the full significance of his words and so ‘the penny didn’t drop!’
The bottom had fallen out of their world; they were defeated and downcast, devastated and discouraged.
Significantly, the Risen Jesus came alongside two followers walking on the road to Emmaus. But they were kept from recognising him. The original Greek here uses what’s known as a ‘divine passive’, with God as the implied subject. It’s as if God intentionally blinded their eyes until the moment of revelation, that moment when Jesus broke bread with them. He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.
No wonder they were surprised that someone hadn’t heard. The Romans conducted crucifixions at major public crossroads to make examples of their victims and warn others against revolt. It really was quite unthinkable to these disciples that a Passover pilgrim wouldn’t have heard about Jesus’ crucifixion.
All their expectations had been dashed, even if they misunderstood or hadn’t fully comprehended the nature of Jesus’ purpose and ministry. The phrase ‘we had hoped’ speaks volumes about their feelings, but it’s also a Messianic reference; his coming to save Israel, the message of Palm Sunday hadn’t taken root in their hearts. One version says they stopped short, sadness written across their faces.
And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.
These verses help us to understand their confusion and disorientation; they were struggling to make sense of it. Wanting to believe the reports, yet doubting in their hearts.
He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Just imagine what it must have been like to have Jesus himself explain the scriptures? But ultimately the road TO Emmaus is the road of confusion, doubt, and weakness.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
Then comes the moment of insight, the moment of clarity, the moment of recognition; here is such a wonderful moment of recognition and insight: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
Suddenly they received new energy from somewhere: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’
They initially failed to recognize him, but as he stayed and broke bread with them the truth dawned, and they realised they would never ‘walk alone’ again.
The disciples were changed from being defeated and downcast, devastated and discouraged, to being confident in their Saviour and Lord. They faced the future with hope and returned to Jerusalem with a new spring in their step because they were not walking alone.
Good Friday and Easter prove that he knows the worst about us, yet still loves us, enough to die for us, and he’s with us forever in the journey of life. Moments we share with each other in worship, fellowship and eating are so important. The Last Supper in the upper room was a highly significant occasion, as well as being a tremendously poignant one.
As Christians meet together in worship, fellowship and yes, feasting, we’re sharing something divine. The Risen Christ comes and blesses us with his presence: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
What incredible moments these must have been as they gathered in the presence of the Risen Lord; such moments of collective insight and clarity, everything falling into place, especially after Jesus opened up the Hebrew Scriptures to them.
In contrast to the road TO Emmaus, the Road FROM Emmaus is the road of clarity, insight, energy, and peace. It’s the way of peace and the presence of Jesus.
Those disciples must have been so weary after their long journey, travelling home always seems longer and harder when the heart and emotions are burdened. But they were still able to offer hospitality though, and I’m sure it was genuine.
How important it is for us to come alongside others on their journey through life and offer love, support and hospitality. None of us fully know what the other person is feeling or going through, the pain and the daily struggles.
Brother, sister, let me serve you, Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
It can be very moving when we dedicate ourselves to being with each other on life’s sometimes difficult journey, but also sharing the joys as well. Walking with each other and walking with Jesus.
I know thee who thou art, And what thy healing name; For when my fainting heart The burden nigh o’ercame, I saw thy footprints on my road Where lately passed the Son of God.
Thy name is joined with mine By every human tie, And my new name is thine, A child of God am I; And never more alone, since thou Art on the road beside me now.
Beside thee as I walk, I will delight in thee, In sweet communion talk Of all thou art to me; The beauty of thy face behold And know thy mercies manifold.
Let nothing draw me back Or turn my heart from thee, But by the Calvary track Bring me at last to see The courts of God, that city fair, And find my name is written there.
For International Jazz Day I give you this classic album.
Kind of Blue (1959) is the top jazz album on most ‘best-of’ lists and is cited as jazz’s biggest-seller.The Miles Davis classic has reached the kind of mainstream popularity that sees it included in the record collections of non-jazz fans as their token jazz record. But its legendary status is very much warranted: Kind of Blue is surely some of the greatest, most atmospheric and influential music every recorded.
Davis was a relentless innovator who refused to stand still: his music would change drastically over the following years, taking in freer forms and jazz fusion, but Kind of Blue, for many, remains his definitive artistic statement and certainly a great starting point when it comes to jazz for beginners.Source
My devotional for the Sunday after Easter is based on Revelation 1:4-8 (one of Lectionary readings for this Sunday). Revelation is a much-misunderstood book, but that’s possibly the subject for a post sometime in the future.
The book opens with three introductions, of which Revelation 1:4-8 is the second (in the style of a Greek letter). You can read it below, but to see it in context of the whole chapter click here.
John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’
The seven churches represent all the churches (not a specific number) in the Roman province of Asia, in what is now western Turkey. The order of grace and peace (in his typical Christian greeting) suggests that peace follows from God’s grace. John gives three descriptions of Jesus, and then describes him as the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; they signify that God’s actions are all-encompassing. God is fully in control.
The death (18 April 2022) has been announced of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of my musical heroes. I’ve always admired composers and musicians who push the boundaries of what is acceptable and possible, who are uncompromising in their musical output. In the realm of rock music, you have The Fall and Radiohead for example, in orchestral music you have Harrison Birtwistle.
My favourite memory, apart from the music obviously, is when I attended a premiere of one of his pieces at the Royal Festival Hall (London) in the 1970s. The orchestra were dressed in their formal attire, Birtwistle came onto the stage to acknowledge the applause in a scruffy t-shirt, jeans, and trainers. A composer who moved from the edge to the centre of the musical establishment.
As a passionate European, I’d be grateful if Brexit voters could answer three questions:
Can you explain to my three young children why they no longer have the freedom to live, find love, study, work, and retire in the EU because of Brexit? The first four of which were enjoyed by my grown-up daughter in Italy.
Can you explain what the UK government is doing to support long-established British businesses and farmers who are going out of business because they no longer have easy and economic access to their markets in the EU?
Do you think the promised £350m/week to the NHS (instead of giving it to the EU) was a lie? If not, please help me to understand how the NHS is benefiting from the extra money.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.John 2:13-22
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