Thoughts for Tuesday 30th June 2020

Psalm 47; 1 Kings 18:36-39; 1 John 4:1-6


Tuesday 30 June - Rev.  Jerry Eve


With respect to today’s psalm, it can be surprising how controversial clapping can be. It’s been controversial for SNP MPs in Westminster to clap (rather than shout, ‘hear, hear,’ or bray), and it’s controversial in Church. I remember being ‘warned’ beforehand by the leader of a praise band and choir who were participating in a service that it would not be appropriate at any point for any of the congregation to clap. The focus of worship ought to be on God, we were told, and for people to applaud in appreciation of human ability would detract from that. Psalm 47, however, it seems to me, gives some license to those who do at times feel moved to put their hands together as we worship God.


Moving to our Old Testament reading, both this and our New Testament one are about the spiritual and religious distinction between orthodox and heretical faith. In 1 Kings Elijah manages to ‘prove’ that his God is mightier than their god i.e. Baal. Whenever I’ve read this, I’ve always wondered where Elijah managed to get all that water from in a time of drought, and why he wasn’t prevented from ‘wasting’ it when it would have been such a precious commodity – for drinking rather than dousing purposes. I’ve also wondered whether this wasn’t a conjuring trick rather than a miracle. Could Elijah have discovered paraffin? Or is it alcohol that’s been distilled rather than water?


Is this faithless of me, I wonder? I don’t doubt that Yahweh is a better god than Baal, but I do have serious misgivings about the way the 450 prophets of Baal (who can’t get their god to light a fire, even when it’s perfectly dry) are then put to death by Elijah. There were all sorts of political power struggles going on between Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah and Odadiah, the executions that ensued having far more to do with politics, I’m sure, than any religious faith.


Thankfully, in New Testament times, although John was critical of false teachers, he didn’t think to slay them. The heresy they preached was somewhat different. Baal was a sun, storm and fertility god, whereas those who were spreading false doctrine in John’s day were claiming that Christ wasn’t fully human. The broad term for this is Gnosticism, but this is just an umbrella term for a wide range of different heresies that sprang up in first century AD churches attesting to quite large numbers of Christians who at that time believed Jesus only appeared to be material as well as spiritual. Some of the names of these are Docetism, Cerinthianism, Valentinianism, Sethianism, Manichaeism, and Mandaeism.


Let us pray (a prayer of St Irenaeus (c.130-c.202 AD), who wrote Against Heresies):


It is not thou that shapest God
it is God that shapest thee.
If thou art the work of God
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him thy heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned thee.
Let thy clay be moist,
lest thou grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers, Amen.

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