Week commencing 2nd August 2020
Time – Ending and Beginning (Study 4)
‘Then God Blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.’ (Genesis 2:3)
Opening up:- Are you someone who can easily multitask, or do you prefer to complete one task before moving on to the next? What are the pros and cons of these two approaches to daily life?
(Read Psalm 104:19-22, Genesis 1:2, Exodus 10:20-22)
There’s a lovely picture in Psalm 104 as it brings to mind the part of nature that is nocturnal, and uses the cover of darkness to find its food – the time when ‘the beasts of the forest prowl’, until the sun rises and it is the turn of the rest of created beings to find their food (with exceptions of course!)
The ‘moon’ in verse 19 represents the lunar calendar by which the seasons, the festival days of Israel, were determined.
We may or may not experience true darkness where we live, without the pollution of light from towns to diminish the beauty of a starlit night, but the people within our Bibles certainly would have, and ‘darkness’ as a word became quite an evocative word for its writers, whether it was a lack of light (Genesis 1:2), a blotting out of the sun by a dust storm, a darkness felt inside (Exodus 10:21,22) or the darkness of despair that Abram felt in his sleep as his faith was tested over the enormity of the task before him (Genesis 15:11-13).
William Henry says of this, ‘Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; the spirit of bondage makes way for the spirit of adoption. God wounds first and then heals; humbles first and then lifts up… ’
In the Bible, ‘darkness’ can refer to a person or nation that refuses or has yet to acknowledge God and ‘walk in darkness’ (Isaiah 9:2,3). It can also be a sign of God’s displeasure and judgement, something for the wise to think about (Jeremiah 13:16).
- Q) What first comes to your mind at the mention of darkness?
- Q) What is it about a lack of light that we fear, and can that speak into our faith?
- Q) Is it fair to say of those who are not believers that they walk in darkness, and if not, is there a better description that fits today’s culture?
(Read 1 Sam 3:2-10, Mark 14:37-38, Luke 2:36-38)
Night-time is that bit of our day where most of us spend several hours asleep, hopefully to awake refreshed in the morning. I mentioned earlier that sleep also includes a time of dreaming, and sometimes we can wake with a vivid memory of what we dreamed, even if pure fantasy.
Most of us will have suffered the occasional broken night’s sleep, though possibly not like Samuel, who kept waking because of the nagging voice of God calling his name. It was not a voice he recognised and took Eli’s wisdom to recognise what was happening.
Sometimes it is necessary to stay awake through the night; for those whose working hours are late, or maybe supporting someone who is ill. In Mark’s Gospel we find the story of Gethsemane, and a weary and confused group of disciples being brought to that place at a late hour and asked by Jesus to stay awake for a while as he prays. They love him dearly, but whilst the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak and in the darkness of that place they fell asleep.
There are those for whom any time of night or day is available for prayer. Luke’s lovely story of the prophet Anna who, widowed after seven years of marriage had dedicated the rest of her long life to prayer and fasting, and now was her reward, thanking God for the chance to see Mary and the Christ child in the temple. There are prayer warriors throughout the world who, mostly unacknowledged, pray daily for their hometown, and the families and individuals who live and work within its boundaries.
- Q) Have you ever woken with a logical sense of purpose for the day ahead and wondered if that might be God working through your dreams?
- Q) How mindful are you of those who, while you sleep, are in the middle of their working shift, in factory, warehouse, hospital, transport or the emergency services. Workers without whom our own lives would be harder or more dangerous? Can you think of others?
- Q) Is there space and quiet within your night-time to spend at least a few moments in prayer, and might that be a wonderful idea, to centre our thoughts before sleep sets in?
(Read Genesis 2:1-3, Mark 1:14-15, John 17:1-4)
In the beginning of Genesis 2, which covers the creation story, there is a genuine sense of completion on the seventh day. It is not so much that God ‘rested’ as God ‘ceased’ from his work.
That does not mean that God ceased to interact with humankind and the world in which they lived, but that the process of creation, the universe and more particularly for us the world, was as He wanted it – a thought echoed in the last verse of chapter one, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’
Jesus’ words in Mark’s Gospel also signify completeness, in that John the Baptist had completed his God-appointed task as the forerunner or messenger announcing the coming of the Messiah, which had landed him in prison, and now ‘The time has come’ (v.15) for Jesus to begin his witness to the kingdom of God, drawn near in the person of Jesus, but not yet fully revealed.
There is also a sense of completeness in Jesus’ words on the Cross, related to us through John’s Gospel. In Jesus’ ‘highpriestly’ prayer, he completes his time on earth and contemplates his work as High Priest entering, in spirit, the Holy Place, with the power to give eternal life.
- Q) Do you enjoy planning and tackling projects? Assuming a reasonably successful completion, how would you put into words that feeling is as you stand back and look at what you have done?
- Q) In the Gospel accounts there seems to be a sense of ‘this must happen’ before something else can begin. How as a Church do we reflect that sense of order in the way we plan mission and does impatience sometimes raise its head and interfere?
A New Beginning:-
(Read Genesis 9:8-17, Acts 1:6-11, Rev 21:1-5)
One day ends, another one begins. The concept of new beginnings is familiar in the Bible, often following sin, rejection or apathy by God’s people!
The story of Noah contains the beautiful image of the rainbow as a sign of the covenant between God and all life on earth, not just humanity, a beautiful expression of the grace of God. There is nothing in the Hebrew to suggest that the rainbow is something new, but maybe a new meaning given to it (Science had yet to explain how it appeared).
The reading from Acts reminds us of the disciples’ confusion over timing. Jesus tells them that this is not the time that God is coming in judgment on the nations and establishing a political reign, which is what they are inferring. The instruction is not to speculate about the day when God will establish his Kingdom in its full glory, but looking toward the day when the Holy Spirit will empower them to serve as witnesses of Christ. As witnesses, they will testify to Jesus as the Messiah and to his sacrificial death on the cross, his resurrection, and his offer of salvation to all who believe, throughout the entire world.
And forty days after his resurrection, it is the time for Jesus to ascend to his Father, as two angels appear and assure the disciples that Jesus will return.
Revelation brings us to not only a fresh beginning but ‘a new heaven and earth..’ where ‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’
We see the promise of better days in spring, with new life springing from the earth, increasing day length and the gradual increasing warmth of the sun. Inside our hearts we remember, even in the darker days of winter, that this is only for a while. The world may be full of pollution, inequality, lies and hate, but inside we know that this is not how it should be, or how we should be. Old Testament prophets dreamed of ‘that day’ when creation would see renewal, and the last chapters of Revelation bring a message that this is not a dream, that day will come.
- Q) What does a rainbow symbolise to you?
- Q) How important are ‘new beginnings’ in our own lives?
- Q) How does the passage from Revelation speak into your faith?
Further thought & prayer
Pray for those whose days seem particularly ‘dark’ today, for your local community, the street where you live, and your nearest neighbours. Pray for light in darkness, and new beginnings.
‘He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.’ (Victor Hugo)
‘How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? (Dr. Seuss)
‘I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.’ (Groucho Marx)