The Methodist Church Tower Hamlets

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Notes on the Lent course 2018

 Lent Bible reflections
 Week 1 – Hagar and Ishmael banished
 Week 2 – Joseph is trafficked 
 Week 3 
– Paul and Phoebe
 Week 4 -  Abraham migrates
 Week 5 -  Philip and the Ethiopian
 Week 6 -  Jesus Accepted?

Week 1 - Hagar and Ishmael – Banished (Genesis 21:8-21)
The reality of family life supplies the backdrop to the story of how Hagar and Ishmael were banished into the desert by Abraham and Sarah, following the birth of Isaac. 

We talked about how uncomfortable this particular passage made us all feel - especially as this banishment was recorded as the command of God. 
We reflected on how migrating to another place or country is frequently not of peoples' choosing, but rather is something that they feel forced to do.

Week 2 - Joseph – Trafficked (Genesis 37)
The beginning of the story of Joseph; where he really annoys his brothers – to the extent that they conspire to get rid of him.  They decide to dispose of him in a deep pit.  Most of us agreed that we too would have found Joseph’s behaviour a challenge (although no-one in the groups advocated death!) The eldest, Reuben, pleads for Joseph's life. So Joseph is sold to passing merchants instead, and ends up in Egypt. His brothers concoct a story of Joseph being attacked by wild animals and show his multi-coloured coat soaked in blood, as proof of his demise.

Once again, the reality of family life (for some) forms the backdrop of this passage, although if you follow the story through the next few chapters you will see that there is reconciliation and redemption in the end.

The brothers' behaviour also highlights how cheaply life was valued in times gone by.  That led us to discuss modern day slavery and trafficking, where we learnt that more that 40 million people around the world are numbered in the trade. We noted how rare it would be to find anyone who publicly supported this today – however we might have contributed, or still be contributing, through the things we buy; palm oil products, cheaply produced clothing, hand car wash services. We noted that during Lent, although we were unlikely to solve the problem, we could make ourselves more aware of the problems, and look for ways to help where we can.


Week 3 used materials developed by Rev'd Cameron Kirkwood to think about Phoebe and how Paul commended her to the Christian community she was moving to. (Romans 16)
Phoebe came from a port city near Corinth, called Cenchrea.  She was probably the leader of a house church there, and the bearer of the letter Paul was writing to the church in Rome.  She had been very useful within the church and to Paul himself.  She was probably a preacher, from his description of her and the good works she had done.  The translators may have found it hard to find the right words to describe her position without appearing to ascribe too much to a woman!  Phoebe, 
an itinerant minister for Christ, is one of the few named women in the early church.


Week 4 -  The call of Abraham  (Genesis 12)
Abraham was born in Ur. His father, Terah, took him and his brothers and set out for Canaan.  But they stopped instead at the village of Haran and settled there (Genesis 11:31)
Terah died there at a great age; Abraham was himself already an old man when he was called by God to pack up his tents and set off for a "land that I will show you".  So Abraham and his family gathered everyone together, packed up and left the place they had known - for an unknown destination.

We were reminded of the many exiles and migrants nowadays, leaving the familiar, seeking a better life or fleeing the old one, without an end in sight.  We often forget that before the war or disaster they may have been well-to-do, respected; merchants; tradesmen; wealthy; perhaps well-educated professionals. We see dishevelled travellers in foreign garb and assume poverty and ignorance!  
We offer a small hand-out and a second-hand t-shirt and expect some gratitude!
We're none too pleased either if they make something of themselves and start up a thriving business in their adopted land while retaining their identity with their roots! There was some ironic sympathy for the indigenous Canaanites when Abraham left his marker on the land (expecting to claim it for his family and descendants) before travelling further.


Week 5 - Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:24)
This is a tale of INCLUSION, when Philip was bold enough to approach an important foreign official, on his way back to Ethiopia after worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Philip offers to explain the Jewish scripture of Isaiah which the official is studying but not understanding, and interprets it to show that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by the venerated prophet.

The scattering of the Apostles and their followers and converts by increased persecution had led to their dispersal over a wide area.  Obedience to the command to spread the Good News emboldened them to speak to many who would take the News even further afield.  Perhaps the Official, excited and exultant at what he had just learned, went on to be instrumental is founding the great Church in Ethiopia?

If we preach only to the converted, and stay cosily inside our church buildings, we ignore the generations around us who have had no exposure to the stories of Jesus, and who think God has died of old age!  Most of us are daunted at the thought of attempting theological debate and persuasion, but we could try harder just to demonstrate the Love of God in our lives, to others.


Week 6 - Jesus Accepted? (Luke 18:28)
We re-read the Palm Sunday text of Jesus riding down into Jerusalem on a young donkey.
We all had stories to share of new beginnings, changes and moves which had made us nervous and uncertain, or left us lost in a strange place! For us, there were happy endings, new friends and a rainbow.

Luke reports quite simply that those with Him coming down from the Mount of Olives, and those following, sang for joy and cried out, praising God. Luke quotes verses from the Psalms, which they may have sung.
Was He welcome in Jerusalem?  How many did not want Him?  Was it a vociferous (and powerful) few or the majority of the population?  Can we effectively query the position of those who shout loudest, but with an ill-founded argument? Can we recall our slight discomforts and offer kindness to those suffering major upheaval, rejection and even hatred?

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