- January Bible Study by Matt Barton January 7, 2013
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11
“In your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Reading this verse in the psalm – a song of trust and security in God – reminded me of the words of Screwtape in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. There, the demon Screwtape works himself into a rage over just these words, informing his nephew Wormwood that,
“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 118
Screwtape has picked up on one of the more popular myths about Christianity, one which was bandied about as much during Lewis’ time as it is today. This is the myth that Christianity is fun-hating – that Christian discipleship is an interminable parade of fasts, vigils, stakes, and crosses; of denying oneself bodily pleasures and intellectual stimulation alike; of greyness, dullness, and silence.
Well, the fasts, vigils, and crosses are there (I’m not so sure about the stakes, unless Dracula turns out to be more historical than fantastical). But the fundamental truth at the heart of Christianity – the truth that in Christ, love has triumphed over law – means that none of them are there ‘just because’. Fasts and vigils, like all the practices of discipline involved in being a disciple (such as temperance, an important part of Methodist history), are there for a reason.
This reason lies in our calling, as Christians, to live virtuous lives and to live for each other. If we are greedy, and so never fast, we are consuming more than we need and are therefore denying food to those who really need it. If we are lazy, and so never participate in vigils, we will not be inclined to give of our time and are therefore letting down those who might benefit from our presence. If we let our passions rule our mind, and so place too great a value on our own experiences, we will struggle to nurture relationships that mirror those of Christ, the Incarnate God in whose image we were made.
To serve Christ, we need to love and serve and relate to our brothers and sisters in the church and the world. When we live like this – and when we try to do so, whatever our failures along the way – we live in relationship with God. We are all imperfect, and sometimes selfish, individuals: we all have greedy moments, lazy moments, envious moments… even, like Screwtape, angry moments. It’s because of our imperfections that discipleship involves fasts, vigils, and crosses; not because Christianity is a fun-hating religion, but because spiritual discipline frees us to live in relationship with God. And out in God’s sea, at God’s right hand, “are pleasures for evermore.”
By Matt BartonBible study contributors needed! Interested? Get in touch.
- December Bible Study by Colin Barrett December 11, 2012
“Arise, shine for your light has come!” These are words we can pick straight off the page of our bibles on Christmas Day. After all the waiting and preparation and excited anticipation the day has dawned at last. Jesus, the Christ, the Light of the World, has come. Born in the manger, announced by angels, greeted by shepherds, worshipped by kings, God is with us. And we do shine – with smiles of joy and happiness as we celebrate this wonderful sacred day.
For Isaiah and his people it is actually the promise of restoration they are celebrating so joyfully. Their time of exile in Babylon is over, their sin has been paid for, their punishment is complete – and they are going home. God has come and saved them. However no-one will blame us for reading into these words the promise of the Messiah. After all, the God who did save, does save and will save. He is our light and salvation too.
I have been used to working with Luther’s translation of the Bible in recent years and in the German Methodist hymn book this text has been made into a round which is often sung at Advent; “Mache dich auf und werde Licht!”1 - “Arise, shine!” Somehow the German version seems less poetic but, at the same time it feels more urgent and challenging. “Your light has come to you, THEREFORE get up and be a light for others” is the sense of it. And the implication of that is more clearly spelled out 2 chapters earlier in Isaiah2 where we read: “ … loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke .. set the oppressed free … share your food with the hungry … provide the poor wanderer with shelter … clothe the naked … “ THAT’S HOW you will be a light for others. That’s how you will turn their winter into Christmas.
Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.
Christ be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.3