November 2011

I start these pieces by cutting and pasting the previous month’s, then I select all the text and replace it with one question mark – to keep the same font.

The program Columbo (from which the title of these articles is taken) always starts with a huge question mark as well. You see various characters but don’t know who will murder who! However, over the next hour or so we can rest assured that Columbo, our very own Graham Garner (please pray for him as he travels to the other side of the world to meet up with Mark and Jamie. In fact; pray for Jamie!), will solve the case and lead us to a final still-frame and firm conclusion.

Mark, the earliest and shortest gospel, is the exact opposite. It starts with Mark firmly telling us in no uncertain terms that John the Baptist is preparing the way for the Lord. Jesus in then baptised and goes into the desert to have a cosmic battle with Satan. Coming out victorious Jesus then calls the first disciples, drives out evil spirits, heals many, preaches, drives out demons and heals a man with leprosy. All this in the first chapter!

But Mark ends, if you take the view that 16:9-20 were added later, with a question mark. It ends with the only people who stayed with Jesus, the women, fleeing from the empty tomb trembling and bewildered.

“Textbook rat droppings” is the phrase I heard this afternoon when I went back to the church after my minister’s Cluster. Not a phrase I’ve ever heard before in church. It caught me by surprise! If you want to know, Charlie and I heard a rat above my study. Tim Galley called the Council. They sent a man who, with Ian Tandy’s help, laid down poison for it. Emma Trim just sat at the computer typing; I’m not sure if it was even on!

The end of Mark’s gospel kind of takes you by surprise as well. Where’s the triumph? Where’s the victory of Jesus?

And yet maybe, just maybe this ending reflects our lives at times. We know the tomb is empty and that Jesus is alive but we still tremble when we see the economic climate around us. We are bewildered by some things that happen. And sometimes we just keep quiet and don’t say anything about Jesus to anyone because we’re afraid.

Can I ask you to do something? I’m even going to use a “pretty please”. Can you pretty please read Mark’s gospel over the Christmas period ready for 2012. Why? Because our sermon series for the next one and a half years is going to be based on it.

Some might read that last sentence and think: “Gosh, that’s a lot of time on a book of the Bible that I can read in one and half hours!”

Having thought about it I think it would be healthy for us to go back to our source, Jesus, for a sustained period of time and become really familiar with his story for the first or umpteenth time. I’d love it if you could use it as the basis for your small groups and PODs as well (pretty, pretty please).

Dallas Willard, a leading figure on Christian discipleship, recommends that when somebody starts following Jesus they spend the first two years in the gospels to get really familiar with the story of Jesus. My fear is that maybe we “graduate” from Jesus to Paul too quickly. So we’re going back.

If you’d like to know of any good books about Jesus to read alongside this sermon series, just ask. Charlie and I would be happy to lend them to you.

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

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