Revd. Gaenor’s Reflections

Revd. Gaenor's Reflections

The reflections for your week

TRINITY 6

Lord teach us to pray

Sunday 24th July 2022 Trinity 6 

Lord teach us to pray

Bible Readings 

Colossians 2:6-19

Luke 11:1-13

Last week we saw in the story of Mary and Martha that being faithful to

God involves more than doing things out of love – that an authentic doing

of the word arises out of hearing the word.

Jesus reminded Martha when she became anxious and upset as she prepared a

special meal for him that simply listening to him and talking with him is

a good thing – an important thing, a necessary thing – and that perhaps a

simple meal with a good conversation might be better than a fancy meal

with anger and upset…

It is in prayer – in conversation with God – that we best hear the word of

God and receive what we need in order to do the word -what we need to

live as the children of God.

 

Today’s Gospel reading continues on from the story of Mary and Martha by

showing Jesus a few days later – in prayer.   When he has finished praying,

one of his disciples says to him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught

his disciples to pray.”

Why would the disciples need to learn how to pray?

   

Surely each one – as good Jews do  – had learned to pray at the Sabbath

table?  Surely each one – as a child of Israel – would have recited the

prayers of Passover and called upon God during Yom Kippur and the Feast of

Tabernacles?

   

And again at home – each day – each meal – surely there was a table

blessing, a prayer to God of thanksgiving that the disciples, like alot

of us, learned to say.

So why?  Why this request to Jesus:   “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples to pray.”?

I think the answer lies in the simple fact that Jesus – like John the Baptist- but

only more so – had the appearance and the substance of God’s power within

him.  Who, after all, would you ask to teach you how to pray if it is not a person who is obviously very close to God?  A person who clearly is in touch with the power of God?

Prayers learned by heart, prayers taught to us by our tradition, and

prayers used in formal worship events are a good thing – but the prayers

that arise from the heart that is connected to God – and which help one to

connect with God – are another.

This is central to everything that follows – Jesus is the one, the only one, who can teach us to pray as we ought to pray.

Jesus answers the request of the disciple,

and shows his disciples with a model of prayer,

and with a parable 

and with an exhortation,

   what their prayers should be like,  

   and with what spirit prayer should be made,

   and finally, the faithfulness that God has to us when we pray.

The disciples clearly learned from him.

They went on from that learning to have lives that were filled with the Spirit, 

lives in which they shone with God’s presence

despite persecution and all kinds of difficulties,

– and despite too the mistakes they made from time to time 

in what they did and in how they did it.

The question is – do we know this way of prayer? Further more do we want to know this way of prayer that reflects the restoration of relationship between us and God in Jesus himself??

Many of us have hang ups about prayer.  Totally aside from the time that

is required to prayer, we have feelings and thoughts that keep us from

praying as Jesus taught us, 

   – feelings that keep us from asking God about the things that Jesus

   told us to ask about, 

   – and thoughts that and keep us too from asking in the way that he

   showed us.

1. I AM NOT NOT GOOD ENOUGH

   This is answered by the cross of Jesus – he died for us

   while we were yet sinners so that we might be put right with God – his

   sacrifice for us makes us good enough in God’s eyes.

   Jesus has given to each one of us a calling card by which we can call

   upon God – all communications with our Lord are placed on his

   unlimited account.

   God has made us be his children. To be like him.  That is why he put

   his image in us – male and female – and that is why Jesus teaches us

   in his model of prayer to call God “Father” or “Daddy”.

The writer Henri Nouwen asks the question in relation to the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

While God wants to restore me to the full dignity of sonship, I keep insisting that I will settle for being a hired servant. But do I truly want to be so totally forgiven that a completely new way of living becomes possible? …Do I want to break away from my deep-rooted rebellion against God and surrender myself so absolutely to God’s love that a new person can emerge> Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring and renewing.

God, like a good parent, wants all his children to come to him and to

   learn from him and be blessed by him.  And perhaps most especially, he

   wants those children who have strayed from his side to return to it. 

   He wants the prodigal to return and to be made whole.  He wants to

   shower us with forgiveness and help us to live as he created us to

   live.  God wants us all to come to him.

2.  BUT GOD IS BUSY WITH MORE IMPORTANT THINGS

The problem here is that the view these people have of God is not big

   enough.  Can not the creator of heaven and earth do more than a few

   things at a time?  Isn’t the one who has counted the hairs on our

   heads – and noted that some of them are disappearing – able and

   willing to deal with all things? 

   In today’s reading, with a certain sense of humour – Jesus teaches his

   disciples that even if God is busy doing something else – even if he,

   like a friend of ours, is in bed after midnight with all his children

   safely tucked in, he will get up and answer the door if we continue to

   bang on it – if only to get us to stop bothering him.

   There is no matter too small to bring to God.  And there is no time

   better than the present to talk to God.  This is what we teach our

   children about coming to us and speaking to us – and this what Jesus

   teaches us about our heavenly father.

   

3.   GIVE ME GIVE ME 

   Clearly some people’s whole prayer life consists of asking God for

   things for themselves.   I am not speaking about them or to them.  

   Rather I am speaking about – and to – those people who are often

   diligent in the practice of prayer.  They intercede for others.  They

   pray often and with deep conviction.  But they almost never pray for

   themselves.

   This may arise because they feel, as in hang up number one – that they

   are not good enough to deserve God’s attention – or it may arise

   because they feel that it is selfish and uncaring to think of ones’

   own needs when so many people have far greater needs.

   What then should we say to Jesus when he instructs his disciples to

   pray saying things like – “Give us this day our daily bread”  “Forgive

   our sins”  “Lead us not into the time of trial – but deliver us from

   evil?”

   What is good to ask of God for others – is good to ask for ourselves.

   Remember the garden of Gethesame?  Remember all the trips that Jesus

   made to the quiet spots away from his disciples?  The master prayed

   for himself – and he has taught us to pray for ourselves.  To pray for

   our daily needs – to pray for forgiveness and a forgiving spirit – to

   pray even for an easier life – a life in which we are not tested as

   severely as we might be, a life in fact in which we are delivered from

   evil – just as Jabez was delivered from evil. 

   We can and should pray for others – as many of us do.   But we can and

   should pray for ourselves and our needs and our desires as well.  It

   pleases God to answer us – much as it pleases us to answer our

   children and to give them not only what they need – but, at times, to

   give them what they want.

4.  “ONCE SHOULD BE ENOUGH” 

   People with this idea about prayer often have made the assumption that once a

   person asks God for something that it displays lack of faith to

   continue to bother God about it.

   We pray for the Kingdom of God to come.  For justice and mercy in

   every nation.  For daily bread for ourselves and the hungry around the

   world.  For healing for the sick.   For peace.  For the oppressed. 

   For our children to be whole and happy.  For our work to be pleasing

   to God and to us.  As the Lord’s prayer and the parable that follows

   it shows us – these prayers are not meant to a be once and for all

   request that we make to God – but a dynamic part of our daily

   relationship with him. 

   “Make it happen please, Lord!  We are here again.  We are not letting go till

   you give us an answer!”

 5.    “I MIGHT ASK FOR THE WRONG THING”

Often we do not know what to pray for.  We are confused and frightened

   or we do not have the knowledge we think we need.

   Do not fear this.  God is not like a genie in a bottle – who upon

   being released grants his saviour three wishes – not matter what they

   are – and then leaves the person to deal with the consequences..  “I

   wish it would stop raining – I wish my neighbour would get lost – or

   whatever..”.

   Think of what Jesus says in verses 11-13 of today’s Gospel:

   “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will

   give a snake instead of a fish?  Or if the child asks for an egg

   will give a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give

   good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father

   give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

   Turn it around for a minute – “Is there anyone among you, if your

   child asks for a snake will give it to him?  Or if the child asks for

   a scorpion will deliver it?  

   The Apostle Paul understood that we often do not know what to pray for

   and says as much in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans,

   adding, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that

   words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind

   of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in

   accordance with God’s will.”

   Not sure what to pray for in a particular situation?  Just pray, “O

   Lord, bring healing, bring hope, bring what is right, help me, help

   the one I am praying for.”  

The wonder of prayer is not in the particular words we use in our prayer – nor even the particular things we pray about-but the relationship into which we enter when we pray to God in all things and about all things.

When we present everything that concerns us and everything that delights

us to God – we are sharing with God who we are and what we are – and that

builds between God and ourselves the intimacy that allows the new life

that God wants to give us and our world to come about.

Why bother to pray, then, if God’s will can be thwarted? Again we affirm what Scripture tells us, and particularly what Jesus tells us in this passage: that we are invited into relationship with a loving God who wants to give us life, and who continues to work tirelessly for our redemption and that of all creation. We dare to be shameless in our prayers, to keep bringing our needs and hopes to our heavenly Father, because Jesus tells us to do so, trusting in God’s loving purpose for us. Not everything that happens is God’s will. But we can affirm with St. Paul, “in all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)                E.Johnson

 

Mary and Martha by Maud Sumner

Driven by God, not distractions

Sunday 17th July 2022 Trinity 5

Driven by God, not by distractions

Bible Readings:

Colossians 1: 15-28

Luke 10:38-42

To do is to be- Voltaire; To be is to do- Sartre; Do be do be do be do- Frank Sinatra.- 

so says some graffiti on a university wall somewhere apparently!

Unwittingly Frank Sinatra got it right in that life as disciples of Jesus is a dual track: that both of being and doing, as we will discover today in our Gospel reading.

In the context of Luke’s Gospel and the position of the account as Jesus faces Jerusalem and all that is to come, Mary is upheld for sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say, taking it all in and simply being in His presence.

She is contrasted with her sister Martha who intent on primarily doing, bustling about, preparing for her guest, offering hospitality as a reason not to sit and listen to her friend and Lord.

As we look at the two I expect we relate more to one of the characters than to the other and I would like to explore both aspects of these women.

1.  Mary- being. 

Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus, whom according to the Gospel of  John chapter 11 was raised from the dead after four days and was the last miracle of Jesus before the crucifixion, live together in Bethany just outside Jerusalem and Jesus has been invited to stay with them by Martha.

Here we have on one level an all too familiar squabbling between siblings; She’s not pulling her weight, Lord and leaving me to get everything done says Martha resentfully. It was seen as culturally unhospitable to complain to a guest and bring them into a family dispute…

Mary says nothing in response but Jesus tells his friend that what Mary is doing is something that is even better than showing him hospitality and that is listening and learning from Jesus.

In the context of the time of Jesus, to sit at a religious teacher or rabbi’s feet was the domain of male disciples because they would be training to learn from their teacher in order to go out and teach others the same.

We easily forget the social and cultural context in which the Gospel was written because what is written in Luke’s Gospel is a radical departure from the contemporary social norms: in which Mary is not in her acceptable place doing, helping run the household with Martha, sitting separately from Jesus as a man but in close proximity at his feet listening. Mary is behaving as if she were a man so she has crossed an important social boundary within the house.

What’s more, Jesus affirms Mary’s right to do so.

Tom Wright in his commentary on this passage writes:

Jesus’ valuation of each human being is based not on abstract egalitarian ideals, but in the overflowing love of God  which, like a great river breaking its banks into a parched countryside, irrigates those parts of human society which until now had remained barren and unfruitful.

Mary stands for all those who when they hear Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God know that God is calling them to listen carefully so that they can speak of it too.

Jesus has something to teach each of us- and we need to be attentive and give Him space to hear what this is.

What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stop and stare??

When did we last have the time to stop and stare- at a sunset or watch an act of kindness between strangers or simply smell the sweetness of summer gardens?

Even today the Sabbath day, designed to give us much needed down-time, is now being eaten away by shopping, sport and a realm of other distractions.

How can we as Christians in today’s world find the time to have space in our days to switch off the TV or radio, put down our smartphones, switch off the computer- or whatever other things distract us, so that we can be still before God, to sit at His feet and learn from Him??

Or put another way why should we do this?

What difference will it make to our lives??

There will always be something to get done. But when that something starts to possess you, to leave you with no time for prayer or quiet, no time for the work of the Holy Spirit to lead, guide or prompt, then it has become an obsession and dangerously close to idolatry.

Stephen Cottrell,  Archbishop of York, brought out a book a number of years ago entitled ”Do nothing to change your life: discovering what happens when you stop.” He wrote about the importance of finding a few minutes each day to do nothing and that in these moments God can be found.

He writes of his experience in a secondary school where he was speaking at their assembly:

I just suggested that sitting still, being silently attentive to things deep within ourselves and things beyond ourselves, would make a difference. You didn’t need to call it prayer. You didn’t need to call it anything, because it would be in those moments of sedulous stillness that God could be discovered.

Bishop Stephen concludes: …I believe that people will either recover this way of living [that is, to stop, reflect and find God] and enjoying life, or they will perish. We urgently need to stop imagining everything is so urgent…

In our Gospel reading placed in Luke straight after the Good Samaritan story and the need to live by the spirit of the Law of Moses not just the letter of it , by loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbour as ourselves, we have this encounter of Jesus with his two friends Martha and Mary.

Within the story is the continuation of Luke’s exploration of what makes a Christian disciple or follower and we see in his response to Mary that Jesus affirms the her priority of listening to and learning from Him.

What is important to God as we see in this Gospel reading is that God is less concerned about when we come than that we DO come; that in our daily routines we are not ‘driven to distraction’ away from God but ‘driven by God’ within our routines. In fact it seems that when we give those moments (be it minutes or hours) our day still gets done. 

  1. Martha – doing.

Many people are compulsive do-ers; they can’t keep still; always on the move; always working through a list of jobs and some of us will be able to relate easily to Martha being distracted from Jesus by her many tasks.

For us today whether we are men or women, being distracted from God:

Through over busyness

Through tiredness

Through general demands of family, work, lifestyle.

…I call this Martha-ritis.

None of these things are wrong in and of themselves but when we allow them to completely DISTRACT US from God, then we could be rebuked with Martha who on this occasion needed to prioritise listening to Jesus rather than doing for Jesus.

You may be like me with a tendency to pragmatist and thinking that this is all well and good to be more like Mary but someone has to do the work! If we all stop then how shall the work (in what ever form it takes) get done? 

But the question is how will we know whether the work we are doing IS important  work or not if we have not taken any time to pray it through, if we haven’t taken time to talk with and listen to our Lord?

The danger with this passage is that we can easily see Mary and Martha s opposites, as models of the active and the contemplative styles of spirituality and action and contemplation are both important since without the first you wouldn’t eat and without the second you wouldn’t worship.

The basic message to Martha is ‘your priorities are the wrong way round’.

To help us understand how to move our priorities around there is this story of a simple approach to prayerfulness:

There was once a peasant whose perseverance in prayer inspired his parish priest.  Such was this man’s love for God that on his way to and from work each day, he would pause outside his village church, deposit his spade, his hoe and his pickaxe and slip into the building where he would simply sit and soak up God’s love. One day his priest asked him:”My good father, what do you say to our Lord in those long visits you pay him every day and many times a day?”

“I say nothing to Him,” the peasant replied. “I look at Him, and He looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other.”

When we pray doesn’t matter..what matters more is that we DO pray; that we do spend some moments in the day in stillness before God, prepared to listen to God, to hear His words of love and have an opportunity to respond.

For me I had a big shock when I had children. I had been used to spending some time in the day in silence, praying, listening to God…and this had been the basis of my relationship with God and now the time has disappeared.

With caring for young children my time was always spent with them  and I began to neglect even the small moments of quiet before God.

This had the effect of losing that close communication with God which helped daily living- daily decisions, daily awareness of God’s love and daily encouragement.

Then I came across a book called Barefoot in the Kitchen by Ali Stibbe, who writes about finding holy places in the home to simply be with God. She writes candidly about the spiritual wilderness that can come from being a mother of young children when there are so many distractions from any kind of prayer life or contemplation and she offers realistic ideas about how to keep your journey of faith on the move.

I recommend it to any young mums going through this at the moment.

It has got much easier as they have got older…but there are always other seemingly reasonable distractions…!

Conclusion:

So- Are we a Mary or a Martha?

I don’t think we are asked to make that choice, just as we are not told to be a certain kind of person.

Personality typing like Myers Briggs has its place among work teams but we can so easily be pigeon holed by being one thing or another.

I think that we are called to be both activist and contemplative.

To do or to be: Jesus calls us to both ways.

Jesus himself was an activist: he preached, he healed, he walked miles to preach the kingdom of God.

He was also someone who would spend days and nights in prayer, listening to his heavenly Father.

What our Gospel reminds us is that Jesus was concerned for both Mary and Martha; that he didn’t criticise Martha for being active and busy…but that he was concerned that her priorities had become momentarily distracted away and that she need to choose the ‘better part’: to focus again on him.

All of us need to be reminded about this from time to time and not least when the pressure is on from our workplace, our home life, our families and friends as well as from the media to fill every moment of every day with busyness. We even put pressure on ourselves to keep busy and feel guilty when we stop.

Jesus welcomes Mary stopping to listen to Him and Jesus will welcome us when we stop and listen today.

There are little ordinary ways in which we can be reminded to do this and there are many different ways we can put this into practice:

If you spend a lot of time on the computer, have a look at some prayer websites like the Jesuit daily prayer site www.pray-as-you-go.org 

If you spend a lot of time using your iPhone you can read a Bible passage with some thoughts to reflect with, on your iPhone like the New Daylight App.

If you drive a lot…look out for all the road signs or lights that say STOP and be reminded by them to stop and listen to God. You can tune into a Christian digital radio station like Premier, for worship and teaching.

If you write or read a lot….look out for the paragraph breaks or the end of the chapters and be reminded by them to stop and listen to God. If you don’t use them already, try out Bible reading notes from the Bible Reading Fellowship as a structure for Bible learning in a prayerful way.

If you care for children a lot…take note of the times they stop to look at or listen to something intriguing and be reminded to stop and listen to what Jesus has to say.You can get hold of some simple prayer books and Bible stories to read together with your children.

Whatever your daily life is filled with, ask God to help you find moments in the day to listen to Jesus and to learn from Him.

I am sure that as you make space for God, to be still before Him, that you will find as you make this more a priority, that the stress and over-busyness of life today will be put in its secondary place..

May we say with the Psalmist

 

Good Samaritan by Rembrandt

On having mercy

Sunday 10th  July 2022 Trinity 4

Readings 

Colossians 1:1-14 

Luke 10:25-37

On having mercy

Secret filming has shown that many people walk on the other side .Research using faked situations where a supposedly injured person is left lying on the ground, demonstrate responses….Even when passers by actually have to step over the body, an incredibly large proportion simply ignore the prostrate person and pass by looking the other way…

This famous parable of Jesus suffers from over exposure although it is as powerful now as when Jesus told it to answer the provocative question- so who is my neighbour??

Because familiarity can breed contempt we may think that we have plumbed the depths of this passage and that there is no more to be learnt.

But there always is more to be learnt about the ways of God…

Asking the question

So- the religious lawyer approaches Jesus and asks what must I do to have eternal life?

He earned his living by defining responsibilities and rights in clear and uncontested definitions- so how then could he cope with the unlimited., universal and unconditional character of the law of God?

Jesus affirms with him the primary commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18.  

But how could he ever be secure that he was to have eternal life with God?

And so he asks the second question-so who is my neighbour?

He is looking for a water tight definition on which he can live his life on, with what is expected of him and whether he can fulfil it.

(He should have known that he could never hope to justify himself before God- and no more can we. We don’t even have to try because justification is God’s work secured for us through the perfect life of Christ.)

And so Jesus responds with the devastating parable to Jewish ears- be like the despised Samaritan!! Samaritans were seen as half breeds- a mixed mood race resulting for the intermarriage of Israelites left behind when the people of the northern Kingdom are exiled and Gentiles brought into the land by the Assyrians – as we find in 2 Kings 17. This resulted in bitter hostility between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day.

This context is vital for us to realise the impact of Jesus’ parable on his hearers and also on the image of God’s mercy.

The parable

The parable is shot through with instances of vulnerability: the vulnerable traveller is prey to a gang and left for dead.

The route between Jerusalem and Jericho is a well known local hazard for attacks, robbery and even killings. It is treacherous territory.

The priest and the Levite who pass by are characterised as lacking in compassion when perhaps they are more bound by religious rules and regulations so that they were vulnerable to transgressing the religious law of the day.

The Samaritan himself took a risk and made himself vulnerable: he wasn’t to know that this could be a trap.

The inn keeper too also became vulnerable by taking in this badly injured man; apart from any unease about dealing with the hated Samaritan rescuer the victims attackers might still have been pursuing him to the inn and the innkeeper had to trust the promise that all the expenses of the man’s care would be met.

Mercy and vulnerability

Hospitality and indeed compassion and mercy involves vulnerability.

You may be aware that many jurisdictions have so called Good Samaritan Laws compelling people to be helpers and not passers by. It is not intended to expose people to danger but to motivate responsibility and generosity and takes away some of the legal ramifications of helping others- this freeing them to help!

To care in a compassionate way is a risky business because carers are vulnerable to exploitation or rejection.

Christ gives himself as the ultimate example of this vulnerability when he died on the cross. This vulnerability to care for the whole world was not a weakness but came from the creator God who knows what is good…

If this parable is to be taken seriously such risks of caring are required for humanity to flourish and especially for the love of God to make a difference in our ever increasingly selfish and self-obsessed world.

We have seen this demonstrated so vividly during the lockdowns of the pandemic- the care and compassion for others, the basic neighbourliness that created friendships and support…let us not lose this as we get back to ‘normal’…

So the answer to the question who is my neighbour is…the one who needs our compassion and mercy, not our cynical or fearful indifference. We can’t try to justify our lack of love for some kinds of people but this parable of Jesus says there is no distinction of person in need or in need of our mercy.

“We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need – regardless of race, politics, class, and religion – is your neighbour. Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.”  Timothy Keller

Economic pressure and greater hardship is not an excuse for Christians to ignore our neighbour in their difficulties or dilemmas but the reason to be be more compassionate to our neighbour in such times.

Being the hands and feet of Christ

We are the equipment of God’s kingdom on earth: we are the vessels through which Christ will show his love, mercy and compassion.

NO-one else is going to do this job for us as the Body of Christ. 

So we ignore the calling of Jesus in this parable to show mercy, to express compassion and be involved in practical ways of love to our neighbour at our peril.

Walter Brueggemann, theologian writes:

The replacing of numbness with compassion that is the end of cynical indifference and the beginning of noticed pain signals a social revolution.

As Christians we need to be the visible signs of the kingdom of God.

Our lives need to reflect the life of Jesus and we are called to show the compassion and mercy of the Samaritan in this parable to those in need.

And he said, He that showed mercy on him – He could not for shame say otherwise, though he thereby condemned himself and overthrew his own false notion of the neighbour to whom our love is due. Go and do thou in like manner – Let us go and do likewise, regarding every man as our neighbour who needs our assistance. Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.

John Wesley Notes

We can no longer ignore, reason ourselves out, pass by or step over our neighbour’s pain or distress.

I am convinced, more than ever, that the question of the lawyer is the question of faith today. We need to ask it over and over again, and especially when we don’t want to. I never want to — but I have to. And I will because this story reminds me to trust in Jesus’ answer. An answer that forces me to answer for myself. And, in the end, that is what faith is supposed to be.        Prof Karoline Lewis, Lutheran theologian 

We are called to actively step out in compassionate action, to make ourselves vulnerable as we care for others knowing that this is the way we are to live as it was the way Jesus lived.

Christian faith is often a matter of geography. Being a neighbour is defined by space and time.Where we and those we have a capacity to assist.It’s being near, it’s staying where we are, rather than crossing over to be somewhere else, attending, loving, giving. 

(Roger Spiller)

 

 

 

Introducing Elijah

Abraham van Dijk

The Lord does not ask more than he promises to give.

Trinity 1  Sunday 19th June 2022

Bible Readings

1 Kings 17:8-end

Luke 7:11-17 

Introducing Elijah

Over the next four weeks we shall be exploring the life of Elijah one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.

Who was he?

Where did he live?

What did he do?

Why was he chosen by God?

The book of 1 Kings contains events of King Ahab’s time (9th century BC) that were written down at the tine of Josiah’s reforms in Jerusalem over 200 years later,.

They are intended as a warning to God’s people of the dangers of deserting their God….

Elijah was a prophet during the reign of King Ahab during the ninth century BC. Prophets like Elijah were advisers to the kings. Their primary relationship was to the kingdom of Israel after it came into existence as part of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah around 1050 BC.

So they had a specific role for a specific historical time period. 

We may think of the written biblical prophets like Isaiah or Ezekiel but there were many prophets including Elijah who never wrote a line of prophecy and they are called oral prophets.

The king of Israel was supposed to rule under the authority of God which meant that he was not supposed to act without determining first the will of God on the matter. The prophet was there for that purpose primarily.

At that time the roles of prophet, priest and king were seen as part of the way of discerning the will go God for the people.

Elijah appears suddenly in 1 Kings 17. Without any introduction we find Elijah the Tishbite saying to Ahab who is the King of Israel that there will be a drought for three years. 

King Ahab ruled from 874-853 BC and was the son of King Omri who arranged a marriage between Ahab and Jezebel, daughter of the King of Tyre to secure good relations between Israel and Phoenicia. He was King of Israel, the northern kingdom, after it had divided from Judah in 930 BC.

Ahab is considered by the Biblical historian of 1 Kings to be the most evil king of Israel (e.g. 1 Kings 16:30; 21:25), primarily because he allowed Jezebel to vigorously promote the worship of Baal, the agricultural and fertility god and Asherah the mother goddess alongside the worship of Yahweh in Israel.But in reality the presence of Baal worship in all its forms came to dominate the region through Jezebel’s influence.

If you recall the Ten commandments the primary commandments were to worship God alone and not to worship any other gods.

So the divine judgement on Israel for its syncretistic worship of Baal encouraged during Ahab’s reign is the backdrop to the prophetic words of Elijah.

We find in 1 Kings 18 Elijah being sent by God into the middle of Baal-worship country- that is Zarephath- and facing the huge numbers and huge influence of the prophets of Baal but praying with the power of God.

We find Elijah complaining about his loneliness to have courage and faithfulness in the face of such opposition. 

We also find however that as we learn about Elijah, that he has confidence that God will not abandon him and that God will be true to his own commitments: that is, to be the saving presence in the life of his people.

We also find that the miraculous power of God is at work through Elijah; such as the account in today’s reading of the feeding of the widow and the raising of her son and we hear echoes of the future miracles in the earthly ministry of  Jesus.

Indeed when John the Baptist called people to repentance he was likened to Elijah and it was Elijah who was seen with Moses talking with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Elijah is significant to the whole of God’s story of salvation for several reasons according to one commentator: 

God responds to this challenge of these two beleaguered individuals by revealing God’s true self. In these stories of deprivation, one finds the wonderful image of a God who Heals, who in conjunction with the God who Feeds in the previous pericopes bring life in a most precarious situation. So God is portrayed in 1 King 17:22 as listening to Elijah’s prayer for the son that the NRSV translates beautifully as “the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Elijah gives back a son who is alive to his mother, which causes her to recognize the acts of a Living God who brings life in situations of death.

The widow’s belief in a life-giving Deliverer God is clearly seen in the confession of the widow in 1 King 17:24: “Now I know that you are a man of God.” The God who is proclaimed in this pericope is indeed a God who transforms despair and mourning into laughter and hope.

But the widow’s confession, “You are a man of God,” also suggests that to actively work for ways in which to resist and counter those forces that impede life is to embody the work of God. So it is significant to keep in mind that Elijah himself is in an exceedingly desperate situation, fleeing for his life with no food and no shelter. Nevertheless, he is still able to act as God’s hands and feet on earth when he, as well as the widow and her son who are in equally dire straits, end up caring for one another.      (Juliana Claasens)

What we begin to learn about Elijah, as one commentator writes, is that 

Elijah risks everything and God responds to that risk. To be sure, there is little personal reward for Elijah…But the God in whom he trusted has acted in ways that affirm his trust.

Elijah is an outsider who acts in a remarkable way.

He prays and turns the problems he faces to the reality of God.

He opens the problem of death to the life giving power of God.

What is it today in your life that needs the life giving power of God?

Is there a fear or worry? Is there a situation that is seeming too difficult for you to sort out or overcome?

As we remember Refugee Week and pray for millions of people displaced from their homes we are reminded of this situation of despair and deprivation,. How can we begin to pray, act or give. Look at some resources prepared for churches to explore the theme of Refugees, Migration and Sanctuary. 

https://ctbi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/3507-CS-SFAR-Migration-Worship-A5-BOOKLET.pdf

Or a different question: In what areas do we find trusting God difficult??

Are we sometimes overwhelmed by the spiritual opposition that faces us when we make a point of praying during the week or coming to church on a Sunday?

What the example of this prophet Elijah reminds us today is that we can have confidence that God will not abandon us and that God will be true to his own commitment of bringing His life-giving power into a world that continues to choose to be distracted by the cultic gods of our age.

We are also reminded that God can use us to reflect something of the character of the God who we trust as we reach out acknowledging our own frailty and need of God to our broken, frightened world with the healing compassion of Christ- if we allow him to both minister to us and to lead us.

The Lord does not ask more than he promises to give.


Pentecost

Day of Pentecost 2022

Bible Readings

Acts 2:1-21; 

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 (25-27)

As Christians worldwide celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church we realise again that it is both an end and a beginning. The leaving behind of what is past and and launching forward into the future with the presence and power of God in our lives. But what difference can the Holy Spirit make in our lives and especially at this profoundly difficult time in global human history? 

Four things:

  1. Unity
  2. Uniqueness
  3. Communication
  4. Transformation

1. The Holy Spirit unites

The Holy Spirit makes the power of Jesus Christ both personal and universal and this remains the case even in today’s world. 

Over the time of the global covid-19 pandemic the world-wide Church has had to worship at home and in new ways via the internet. I recall in early weeks of the first lockdown watching a video of bishop in Kenya leading prayer from his garden and who can forget the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrating Easter Day in his kitchen?!

We have had our eyes opened to the myriad ways in which people are ‘being the Church’…

But over the past 2 years we have had a fresh taste of the immense variety of cultures worshipping God that was experienced at Pentecost as described in Acts 2 at the click of a computer mouse…

So, if nothing else, it is timely for us to give thanks for the wonderful array of languages, cultures and people that make up God’s world and to pray for dialogue and development in each and embrace the differences. 

At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the experience of the disciples and crowd is a bringing together of nationalities, languages and dialects in their praise of God’s glory- reflecting Jesus’ words in John 17:11: Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…so that they may be one, Father as we are one..

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the most empowering Christian festival of them all for the followers of Jesus. We have re-lived the cycle of Christ’s life in our church calendar- his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, but we are at best detached admirers of Jesus without the promised Spirit of God in our own lives.

Archbishop WilliamTemple put it like this:

It is no good given me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it. I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, I could live a life like that.

People of different regions with different languages are brought together at Pentecost. Communication would have been broken between them without interpreters – no Google translate back then! 

But more than that, Pentecost reverses the confusion that ensued when the Tower of Babel was built which was a human vanity project that caused division and misunderstanding rather than unity and cooperation.

When people pursue their own agenda and are deaf to others, even if they know and speak the same language, then communication is broken. This is true in daily relationships and it is true in the Church. 

But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit opens up the channels of communication again between people of different regions, countries, cultures and languages so that they recognise in each other what God is doing.

We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:11

2. The Holy Spirit affirms our uniqueness

The coming of the Spirit was not some kind of supernatural wizardry to marvel at, but was the same Spirit who was moving through the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:2), through whom Mary conceived Jesus (Matthew 1: 18,20) who was the Spirit of truth promised by Jesus (John 14: 17) and the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. As St Paul writes:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.  Romans 8:11

The coming of the Spirit was among all of them  (Acts 2: 1, 4 cf Acts 1: 13-15)- women and men- and they were gathered in one place and the sound of the wind of the Spirit drew others to them ( Acts 2:5,6)

And not only by languages, but by gifting does the Holy Spirit emphasise both the diversity of language spoken at Pentecost and enables communication between the followers of Jesus as they seek God together, but the Spirit also enables them to see one another’s uniqueness.

The Spirit is indeed unpredictable. But for all that the Spirit works unpredictable, he also works gently with us; uncovering our real selves, he intensifies our individualities. The Spirit differentiates us from each other [not by age, social or work status, gender or language] by his gifts…The diversity of languages on the day of Pentecost wasn’t set aside. It was affirmed when people of many languages heard the good news in their own language. Roger Spiller

In our social media age where our individuality and uniqueness is being harnessed by the likes of Facebook and Google in order to advertise tailor made products and services, there is a danger that our humanity is being reduced to being a commodity for the sake of business profit.

How does the Spirit today help us as part of the worldwide Church to affirm our individual uniqueness and shout, against the spirit of the age, to say that we are wonderfully and fearfully made in the image of God?

May be you have seen how God is using all different kinds of people, environments, and opportunities over this time of pandemic that show the good news of Christ spoken and expressed in languages- both linguistic and cultural- that the world might understand better??

3. The Holy Spirit helps us communicate

This is such a challenge to us today when we are try to communicate the reason for our faith to those around us and we need the Spirit to guide and help us.

When the girls were little we had a picture book they loved called What do you say? (by Mandy Stanley). It was great book about making animal sounds and had a funny ending (sorry no spoilers) and its simple premise was that it was good to be try to communicate with familiar animals with their own sounds- and fun too!

But this has implications for the Church today. How can we communicate the good news of Jesus with people from other generations, cultures and languages if we don’t begin to hear, understand and respond to theirs?

WH Auden commented that the on the day of Pentecost we are given the gift of ears.

Whether tongues or ears, the Spirit is the communicative as well as creative activity of God.

I would add that we are also given the promised gift of life cf John 10:10 , because the Holy Spirit enhances our God-given potential as individuals and as a church community.

The Holy Spirit, as part of the Godhead, enables us to be all the we can be and can take us to new and better places within ourselves, our church and our community life.

Just as the Spirit affirms our God-given uniqueness, so the Spirit enables us 

to seek unity…barriers broken down, prejudices challenged, fears and anxieties relieved…Unity, building bridges and working for reconciliation will be passions for us. Where the Spirit of God is at work, the Church isn’t content with being cosy, but takes risks and is outward looking, always ready to take faith to another level.    Roger Spiller

For the first time Parthians, Medes, Elamites and strangers from Rome, Jews and proselytes were able to listen and understand when a foreigner was speaking to them. 

4. The Holy Spirit brings transformation

Pentecost celebrates the possibility of transformation and communication through the power of God. 

Every time we say ‘ I believe in the Holy Spirit’, we mean that we believe there is a living God, able and willing to enter human personality and change it. JB Phillips

God’s Spirit is the power of the new life within us and this new life is to be shared through the fruits and gifts of the same Spirit.

This year we celebrate the Queen’s incredible 70 year reign across Britain and the Commonwealth.An extraordinary legacy of steadfastness, constancy and duty that has been present for over 7 decades of British history and life. 

As we reflect here at St Gregory’s during our wonderful Flower Festival, what has sustained her legacy has been her Christian faith and trust in God to enable her to do all that she has done.

At Christmas 1952 a few months before her Coronation, the Queen said this: Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.

Her focus was prayer and service to God.

Pentecost reminds us about the nature of Christ’s Church: that it is not about human organisation, structures or buildings but about God’s grace and power given to humanity, each person unique and beloved, that bring us together to declare the wonders and praises of God.  And HM The Queen realised that the source of her strength was God.

As St Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 3:17,18

We have enjoyed the earthly glory of the amazing national celebrations of HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee- and indeed the celebrations will continue beyond this weekend. 

But we also have a heavenly glory gifted by the Holy Spirit that enables us to be transformed to become more like Christ.

Pentecost reminds us of our need to pray daily for the refreshing love and life of God, especially in the tough times,; that we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another and it reminds us of the transformational and missional purpose of the followers of Jesus to show the world the love of God in a language that others will hear, understand and respond to, as Jesus prayed:

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:23

So at the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, we celebrate God’s ongoing revelation to the world, we listen for God’s voice in the clamour of the world around us, we anticipate the cleansing and refining power of God’s love in our lives and in the Church and we receive again the promise of life that death cannot quench, which our hurting world is hungry to receive- that the glory of God may be shown.

And so we pray…Come Holy Spirit.


A prayer for Pentecost by Jan Berry 

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Bursting with brightness of flame

Into the coldness of our lives

To warm us with a passion for justice and beauty

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Sweeping us out of the dusty corners of our apathy 

To breathe vitality into our struggles for change

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Speaking words that leap over barriers of mistrust 

To convey messages of truth and new understanding

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Flame

Wind 

Speech,

Burn, breathe, speak in us;

Fill your world with justice and joy.

I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.

Thursday 26th May Ascension Day 2022 

Bible readings

Acts 1:1-11

Luke 24:44-end

I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.

There is a very old legend concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven after his Ascension: 

It is said that the angel Gabriel met him at the gates of the city.

Lord this is a great salvation that you have brought about said the angel.

But the Lord Jesus only said yes.

What plans have you made for carrying on the work? How are all to know what you have done? Asked Gabriel.

I left Peter and James and John and Martha and Mary to tell their friends, their friends to tell their friends, till all the world should know.

But Lord Jesus said Gabriel, suppose Peter is too busy with the nets or Martha with the housework, or the friends they tell are too occupied and forget to tell their friends- what then?

The Lord Jesus did not answer at once; then he said in his quiet wonderful voice

I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.

The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ appearances on earth and his physical, historical ministry. It is also a beginning because the moving away from the confining qualities of time and place means that Jesus will be present everywhere and always.

It also means that the humanity of Jesus is now within the nature of the wholeness of God.

Our God has scarred hands and feet and knows what it is like to be severely tempted, acclaimed and despised.

In one way it is at the Ascension that the value of all the risk and suffering involved in the Incarnation of Jesus becomes apparent. 

The saving victim takes his rightful place in the glory of heaven and only that can enable God’s Holy Spirit to be poured out in wave upon wave of loving power that stretches to all people in all generations.

Amazingly our own parish, our own congregation is part of this glorious celebration with its far reaching effects and is part of the answer to the question where is Jesus?

Each of us living squashed into a particular time frame lasting merely a human lifetime can be drenched in the power of that Spirit and caught up in the energising nature of it.

I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.

One writer puts it this way:

The Risen Christ commissions the apostles to make disciples of all nations. 

God’s salvation in other words opens up like a horseshoe and extends until the whole of creation is within its embrace. It is of universal significance and application. But how is this to be communicated in a way which triggers peoples’ imagination and claims their hearts and minds? What exactly is to be proclaimed and how might we live it out? 

The answer to these questions might be found in an unlikely source, a well known children’s nursery rhyme:

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

I’ve been up to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, Pussy cat, what did you there?

I frightened a little mouse under the chair!

The implication of this rhyme is that the cat despite his adventurous excursion remains preoccupied with the usual cat routines of life and so failed to glimpse the light of majestic glory which was the object of his journey.

Unlike the cat in this rhyme who failed to see above the skirting board, Christians are invited at Ascension tide to raise their sights above their daily preoccupations to see the whole picture and then to regard everything else in its light. 

Ascension tide with its imagery of the glorified Christ seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty  in heaven (Hebrews 8:1) summons Christians to raise their sights, to cast off the blinkers of prejudice and to contemplate the final scene, the full picture of our human flesh borne and presented by Christ to the Father.

So where are we looking to find the answers to life? Where are we looking for peace in our minds and hope in our hearts?

Are we looking up to Christ in glory who has given us his very own Holy Spirit to guide, counsel and lead us in our daily lives?

Or are we looking to other human beings-however wise- to give or indeed to be the answers to our deepest questions?? 

So where is Jesus? He is where He belongs in glory but He is also present within us now by His Spirit.

Where is Jesus in the world? He is shown through our lives whose eyes have been raised to see the whole picture and live accordingly.

I have not made any other plans. I am counting on them.

Let us pray….

O God, the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven.
Do not leave us comfortless,
but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,
and exalt us to that place where our Saviour Christ has gone before, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.