Matthew 5: 1-12

There is a lovely story that comes out of the Hassidic tradition of Judaism.  It concerns three rabbis, who one day were complaining to God.  Now, these three weren’t just having a whinge; they were literally giving God both barrels, demanding what did God think God was doing, requiring the people to suffer so much, and endure so many troubles and torments.  Surely, they demanded, it was time for God to cut the people some slack and give them some relief from all the ills by which they were assailed.  Suddenly, one of the rabbis realised the hour for prayer was approaching.  He told the other two; and immediately all three ceased their complaints, donned their prayer shawls, and bowed down before the inscrutable mystery of the divine. Continue reading “Matthew 5: 1-12”

Matthew 4: 12-23

There was once a philosophy student at Oxford University who was sitting their final examination, an exam which would determine whether or not they would be awarded their degree.  The exam itself consisted of a single question – “What is risk?” – to which the student was required to give an appropriately philosophical answer.  The student considered the question for a moment, then simply wrote “This is”, and submitted these two short words as their answer. Continue reading “Matthew 4: 12-23”

“Letters to New Pastors” by Michael Jinkins: A Review

Michael Jinkins is both a professor of pastoral theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and an ordained Presbyterian minister with an extensive history of pastoral ministry in the congregational setting.  Over the course of his ministerial and academic life, Jinkins has maintained an extensive correspondence with students, colleagues, family, and friends, dealing with the multiplicity of issues by which he and others have been confronted with respect to ministry and its many challenges.  It is this experience of epistolary conversation that forms the basis of Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006). Continue reading ““Letters to New Pastors” by Michael Jinkins: A Review”

John 1: 29-42

Familiarity breeds contempt.

We’ve all heard that old saying, and I think most of us understand its meaning: that even the closest and most intimate of relationships need “breathing space” in order to endure, lest the participants grow weary of one another, and their company a source of irritation instead of pleasure.  As that other old saying runs: absence makes the heart grow fonder.  There’s always an “I” that does not participate in the “we” of relationship, that needs its own time in order to appreciate the blessings and benefits of engagement with others.  And such are the contradictions of human nature that we need this “downtime” of solitude in order to be social beings.  Too much society can make us weary and jaded, even contemptuous of others. Continue reading “John 1: 29-42”

Matthew 3: 13-17

Expect the unexpected.

We are all aware of this common saying.  And, given life’s apparently infinite capacity to surprise us, we are also aware that this saying carries a measure of truth.  But I also suspect that most of us realise the impossibility of living up to this saying; because to expect the unexpected is to live in a state of contradiction.  Human beings can only expect what they expect; as soon as we imagine or anticipate anything, we move it from the realm of the unexpected into the realm of the expected.  And even if we live with a general expectation of being surprised, we can never anticipate the precise nature of that surprise.  Indeed, the very fact that we know we are going to be surprised tells us how impossible it is to actually expect the unexpected.  Because if we were able to expect the unexpected, then it wouldn’t be unexpected and it wouldn’t surprise us; but it is, and it does. Continue reading “Matthew 3: 13-17”