Revd. Gaenor’s Reflections

Revd. Gaenor's Reflections

The reflections for your week

March 2022

God's generosity and our response

Sunday 27th March  Lent 4 Mothering Sunday 2022

 

Bible readings

2 Corinthians 9:6 – 15

Mark 12:38 – 44
 

The fourth Sunday in Lent is called Mothering Sunday. There are traditions associated with Mothering Sunday in England, which date back as long ago as the 16th century. It is told that this was the day when people were encouraged to return to worship in their ‘mother church where they had been baptised’. People who usually attended the local parish church, would make a longer journey to the ‘mother church’ or cathedral of the Diocese. Girls in domestic service would bake to show their mothers their new skills in the form of a gift, traditionally a simnel cake. On this day many girls who were in service were allowed time off from domestic chores to visit their mothers and their family.

Today Mothering Sunday is a popular day when Christians choose to use the occasion to think about all things which concern motherhood. We give thanks for the Church as Mother, the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus, we remember that God cares for us like a mother and last but not least we give thanks for our own mothers.
Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent and it is a time of special for thanksgiving. Sunday is the one day of joy in Lent, when people are allowed a time off from the penitential season. It is also known as Mid-Lent Sunday, Refreshment Sunday or Laetare Sunday. The Latin name of Laetare, means rejoice. In some churches it is celebrated as Holy Laughter Sunday.

God provides

God protects 

God comforts

As one mother to many mothers- and to those who aren’t mothers and who give care to others- this is for you this morning.

The Christian life is a two way process: we need to cultivate the art of receiving the parenting of God as well as giving it out to our children and others.

In the Biblical mothering stories of Hannah and Samuel and Mary and Jesus there is no attempt to sugar or sentimentalise what mothering involves- the pain and aching, the bewildered confusion and times of misunderstanding and grief as well as all the joy and affection, shared laughter and the delight in watching a human being develop and mature.

The Bible tells us about the real human condition and in all this mothering and being mothered we sense something of God’s mothering or parenting of us.

It is a two way process: we need to cultivate the art of receiving the parenting of God as well as giving it out to our children and others.

1. God provides

Love that extends to the letting go of your children but is in no way an abandoning or cutting off.

With Samuel he was the result of Hannah’s answered prayer and she did not forget this when better times came but kept faith with God which meant that the whole people of Israel benefited from a spiritual leader and adviser of remarkable integrity and wisdom. She let Samuel go to be with Eli and the other priests at Shiloh as she had promised to God, but her love and provision for him didn’t stop in practical ways.

Hannah’s abiding practical love reminds me of some Christian friends who worked in quite remote places as mission partners abroad and who were always delighted to receive parcels from home with favourite foods and magazines! 

One way we can practise the parenting of God is by recognising the practical need of our Christian brothers and sisters. This may be much closer to home than we think and doesn’t have to cost anything except our thoughtfulness.

2. God protects

In John’s Gospel we glimpse with the encounter between Mary and Jesus the tender reversal of roles as Jesus provides for his mother at the point of his death. As happens to many of us when as we get older, Instead of caring for our children, they have started to take care of us.

As we stand with the heartbroken Mary and realise that Jesus is both providing and comforting as well as protecting his mother.

Being the eldest son with responsibility for his mother in old age he is providing for her practical needs as well as her protection from social  isolation through the provision of his disciple to take on his role. 

When on the cross Jesus commits his grieving mother into the care of the disciple he loves (probably John Mark) we are also seeing a wonderful example of the way we are all given to one another to care for and look after.

Jesus protected his mother from the social stigma of being a widow (we assume by now that Mary is a widow) with no provision.

God is described as like a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. This wonderful image of God reminds us that whatever we may go through in life the constant presence of God, like widespread wings over us, will not fail. As we stand in the name of Christ we are aware that ‘he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world’. Nothing- or no-one can take away the loving presence of God away.

As we are aware of God’s protection of us, one way we can practise the parenting of God is to protect those who are vulnerable in society. 

  1. God comforts

As a mother comforts her children so I will comfort you. Isaiah 66:13

As human parents we bear a resemblance to God’s parenting but we are bound to let one another down sometimes. God’s arms are the ones that embrace all of us, holding us in those loving arms, mopping all our tears and setting us on our feet again.

We don’t have to pretend with God that there aren’t any troubles- and often family life can be the main source of troubles- or that we are managing very nicely thank you. God knows the heartaches and the conflicts. God knows that loving makes us vulnerable.

That’s why God is so well able to comfort us in our real situations and enable us to cope with the ordinary troubles of life without being overwhelmed by them. God gives us all that we need to deal with life.

On this final Sunday of our Generous Giving focus, we remember that 

God provides…we give thanks for God’s generosity

All things come from you and of your own to we give you… cf 1 Chron 29:14

Our response to give back to God what is God’s with generosity.

God doesn’t hold back from us as we have reflected on these past weeks. God doesn’t give to us in half measures, so we in turn should give to God much more than the leftovers of our time, money, prayers!

Please prayerfully review what your response to God’s generosity is.

How you use your time, money, prayers as a reflection of your thankfulness.

Please prayerfully review your current financial giving to church through the pledge section of the leaflet.

If you need to adjust your giving please let us know.

Thank you for all that you do give to the life of the church- both here at St Gregs and nationally.

May the Lord bless our giving, that we may be a blessing others and that they may give thanks to God.

 

Let us pray

Collect

God our Father, in love you are always giving to us;
you gave life in creation and hope to your people Israel; you have given us all things in Jesus and your presence among us
through the gift of your Holy Spirit.
Open our hearts to enjoy all you have given
and our hands to share generously of what is yours;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Generous Giving: Thanksgiving

Sunday 20th March Lent 3

Bible readings:

2 Chronicles 31:5-6

Luke 19:1-10

 

Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 

2 Corinthians 9:7-8

Today we reflect on both what God has given us in so many ways and God’s immense generosity to us if we just stop and realise it (like having the gratitude jar) and explore the effect of that generosity and grace to one person that encountered Jesus: the despised tax collector Zacchaeus.

We Can Be Made Pure – The Meaning of Zacchaeus’ Name

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them” (Luke 3:12-13).

The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t live up to his name. It was no secret that his wealth was gained on the backs of his neighbours and countrymen.

Yet, John the Baptist says that these tax collectors can make things right by simply being honest in their business. Zacchaeus does this after encountering Jesus:  “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

Just like Zacchaeus, Jesus must visit our house today. He has no requirements for us before he comes to visit. We don’t have to make all things right with all our dealings before letting him in. He already knows who we are and what shape our house is in. He wants to be there anyway.

His presence alone and his love for us will lead us to do things we never thought we could do: even admitting where we have been wrong and making things right. We can easily assume that Zacchaeus lived a different, fuller life after this encounter with Jesus. And we can have the same experience.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector of the city Jericho and learned that Jesus the prophet was passing through the city.  Since Zacchaeus was “short in stature,” he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up into a sycamore tree to have a better view of Jesus.  When Jesus arrived, he noticed Zacchaeus in the tree and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  This made Zacchaeus very joyful but the crowd “grumbled,” or murmured in a complaint that Jesus “has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 

Most of us who grew up in church know this little song, and any mention of Zacchaeus starts it playing in our brains. The story of Zacchaeus climbing a tree is fun to share with young children; especially because they are also ‘wee little’ people. Yet there is so much to learn about him beyond the fact that he was a short guy who hung out in trees, and Zacchaeus is someone that we adults can relate to as well.

Just Like Zacchaeus, We Are Also Sinful and Greedy

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

Besides his small stature, the thing that defined Zacchaeus was his career as the chief tax collector in Jericho. Those who collect taxes are not popular in any time period, but the dislike was even deeper in 1st century Jewish culture. Not only was Zacchaeus the IRS agent of his time, but he was also a traitor to his nation.

Even Jesus acknowledges the hatred people had for tax collectors: “If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

Excessive Roman taxes were a hot topic in Jesus’ day, and tax collectors were working directly for the Roman occupation. There were no laws protecting the hard-working taxpayers either. People were required to pay large amounts to a cruel, foreign government, and the tax collectors openly added extra for themselves.

Zacchaeus became rich by using his position to take as much as he wanted. This left the people overtaxed and resentful of this man who was stealing from them. And since he had the full support of the Roman authorities, the people were powerless to stop him.

Whether we realize it or not, just like Zacchaeus, our natural tendency is to ‘look out’ for ourselves and take whatever we can get away with. It can be difficult for us to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. Yet, as we will see, Zacchaeus had that potential and eventually embraced it.

We Don’t Have to Climb a Tree to See the Truth

We all want to see things that are going on around us. We check social media regularly to see what we’ve missed. We slow down and investigate when we see a crowd. Our nature is to wonder what people are looking at and talking about and to get involved ourselves.

This is the setting as Jesus walked through Jericho.  People were flocking around Jesus, and, like any of us, Zacchaeus wanted a look at what was going on.

How shocking it must have been when Jesus spoke directly to Zacchaeus in the midst of this large crowd.

Zacchaeus was not a tall man and had to climb a tree to see Jesus. Yet, in a certain respect, Zacchaeus already knew who Jesus was and that he was worth seeing. We too, through the word of God, have full access to the complete truth of who God is.

We tend to look high and low for every secret to life we may be afraid of missing out on. We search through self-help books, look for hidden messages, and seek out purpose and meaning in all the wrong places.

We can figuratively spend our days in trees.

But there is no need for us to go to extraordinary measures to find the truth that is written down for us on every page of Scripture. Jesus was the full human representation of truth, and we need look no further than him.

Jesus Comes to Our House Anyway

It is likely that people were jeering at Zacchaeus as he was climbing that tree. They surely didn’t want this type of man interrupting their chance to see Jesus and were likely frustrated he was even there. After all, Jesus had come to save them from people like Zacchaeus. Hadn’t he?

Yet, Jesus spots Zacchaeus up in that tree, and, “when Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (Luke 19:5-6).

Jesus shocks the crowd by addressing Zacchaeus and then saying that he must stay at his house.

Really? Jesus is going to stay with him?

It is as if Jesus had this in mind before he even got to Jericho. He does not plan to stay with the local pastor, the mayor, or anyone else respectable we might expect Jesus to stay with. He has a plan to stay with the guy that no one likes. In fact, he must stay there.

We Can Be Made Pure – The Meaning of Zacchaus’ Name

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them” (Luke 3:12-13).

The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t live up to his name. It was no secret that his wealth was gained on the backs of his neighbours and countrymen.

Yet, John the Baptist says that these tax collectors can make things right by simply being honest in their business. Zacchaeus does this after encountering Jesus:  “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

Just like Zacchaeus, Jesus must visit our house today. He has no requirements for us before he comes to visit. We don’t have to make all things right with all our dealings before letting him in. He already knows who we are and what shape our house is in. He wants to be there anyway.

His presence alone and his love for us will lead us to do things we never thought we could do: even admitting where we have been wrong and making things right. We can easily assume that Zacchaeus lived a different, fuller life after this encounter with Jesus. And we can have the same experience.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father,
your love for us is beyond measure
and you provide for our every need.
Help us to offer you in worship
a due proportion of our wealth,
for all we are and have is rightly yours.
We make our prayer in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour of creation. Amen.

God's generosity: Jesus the bread of life

Sunday 13th March  Lent 2 

Bible readings

Ephesians 3: 14-21

Mark 6: 30 – 44

What have you had for breakfast this morning? Cereal, porridge, eggs and bacon…toast? And what bread? White, brown, sourdough, wholemeal, gluten free..?

Bread itself can come in many different guises because it is a universal commodity.

Every country in the world has some basic form of bread and so whatever it is made of needs to be in abundance to feed the world…

Ukraine and Russia are major wheat wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil exporters, together accounting for about a third of world exports- almost all of which passes through the Black Sea and so the current and devastating war in Ukraine affects not just their own food production but in fact affects the world supply.

A Reuters report last week said:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens millions of tiny spring-time sprouts that should emerge from stalks of dormant winter wheat in the coming weeks. If the farmers can’t feed those crops soon, far fewer of the so-called tillers will spout, jeopardizing a national wheat harvest on which millions in the developing world depend.

But Ukrainian farmers – who produced a record grain crop last year – say they now are short of fertilizer, as well as pesticides and herbicides. And even if they had enough of those materials, they can’t get enough fuel to power their equipment, they add.

Some Ukrainian farmers told Reuters their wheat yields could be cut in half, and perhaps by more, which has implications far beyond Ukraine. Countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and others have come to rely on Ukrainian wheat in recent years. The war has already caused wheat prices to skyrocket – rising by 50% in the last month.

The Ukrainian farming crisis comes as food prices around the world already have been spiking for months amid global supply chain problems attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

World food prices hit a record high in February, and have risen over 24% in a year, the U.N. food agency said last week. Agriculture ministers from the world’s seven largest advanced economies were due Friday to discuss in a virtual meeting the impact of Russia’s invasion on global food security and how best to stabilize food markets.

International food and feed prices could rise by up to 20% as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, triggering a jump in global malnourishment, the United Nations food agency said on Friday 11th March.

Another shocking aspect to this war….So even the global bread supply is already threatened, and especially the poorest countries who can least afford a severe price hike, as well as farmers here in the UK dependent on fertilisers from Russia and food producers on Ukrainain grains… 

Could we pause to pray for this aspect of the war?……..

Back to bread.

Bread is usually associated with life, health, nourishment, and prosperity.

It is the staple of many diets and the breaking or sharing of bread is seen as a mark of hospitality in many cultures.

So when Jesus says of himself, “I am the bread of life” in John’s Gospel He is reclaiming bread for himself:  This is an exclusive claim. You can’t get this kind of bread anywhere else.

Why does he say this and how can we respond to him?

The background to this statement is the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.

The ‘feeding of the five thousand’ is the only miracle performed by Jesus which is recorded in all four gospels: Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:1-14. And although there are minor differences in the telling from gospel to gospel, they are all broadly similar on the detail:

The crowd have followed Jesus to hear him teach, preach and see him heal the sick. 

And they are now tired and hungry.

The little boy gave all he had to Jesus and Jesus broke the bread and gave to all who needed it…

Jesus was able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine with the simple gift of a packed lunch of bread and fish

5000 men, plus women and children, plus 12 baskets of leftovers – abundance is part and parcel of the Kingdom (life under God) 

At the end of this feeding miracle, the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king. Jesus had left them to go across Galilee.

They followed him and came to the other side.

Jesus accused them of following only to satisfy their empty bellies.

He then refocused the conversation upon more spiritual matters.

It is within this context that this statement is made.

ALSO this is a first in a series of lessons on what Jesus said about himself in the Gospel of John. These statements are known as the “I Am” statements.

These statements are significant because they give us an understanding of the relationship we need to have with Jesus.

So where does this bread come from?

It comes from out of heaven.

The people compare this bread to manna.

Manna was what God used to feed the children of Israel when wandering in the wilderness. We have record of it in Exodus 16:14-15

According to Jewish history, there was a long-standing tradition that when the Messiah came, he would restore the miracle of the manna.

So, the people compare the bread that Jesus is talking about to the manna. But he is talking about himself.

Why does Jesus talk about bread to describe HIMSELF?

Bread is nourishment for the body, but Jesus offers spiritual bread that feeds our spiritual lives. He brings our souls to life and offers the way to salvation. It’s why, during the Last Supper, Jesus took the unleavened bread and broke it to symbolize His broken body and His death on the cross on our behalf.

As one writer says:

There is a mystery to bread. Yeast is a living, single-celled organism, which remains in the fridge until fed with sugar and water, and then somehow comes to life.

Bread reminds us of all the things we don’t understand. How did a friend know to call you on a day when you were feeling blue? How did a bird know to show up in your garden and dunk himself in the bird bath just when you needed a laugh?

Only one food is mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer, and not surprisingly, it is bread. When Jesus appeared after the Resurrection to his friends on the road, they had no idea who he was. They recognized him later, in the breaking of the bread.

Making bread links us to the Father, who provides sunshine and water for the wheat. It connects us to Jesus, who called himself the Bread of Life, and who gave us Eucharistic bread as his body to sustain us.

So many times, we fail to learn what God is teaching us don’t we?!

Just like the crowds- Jesus had fed the people in a miraculous way and they still just wanted him to feed their stomachs, not feed their souls. 

Are we sometimes the same? Wanting to receive the good gifts from God but not wanting to know the Giver?

Like bread, Jesus is for every day of our lives. He is concerned with our ordinary lives..our work life, home life…as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Give us today our daily bread….

He also wants us to take action and feed the physically hungry…

Like bread, Jesus satisifies our hunger for hope, love, acceptance, peace- whatever we are hungry for Jesus can give it. But unlike bread, Jesus’ love for us is not going to have limitations: His love lasts forever!

So what can we give God?

Mother Teresa once said that:

“There is hunger for ordinary bread and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness, and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much”

Today we are challenged to pray both for ordinary bread to reach those who are hungry physically and for the safety of the farmers that supply the grain-especially in the Ukraine.

We are challenged to pray for those around the world that do not have enough to eat to sustain them in everyday life and for those whose physical hunger will now deepen even to starvation because of war, fuel shortages, climate change and 

We are also challenged to pray for those who are spiritually hungry too that they may find Christ who will satisfy their deepest spiritual hunger.

We are invited to continually eat of the Bread of Life- that is, to continually seek Christ himself for our sustenance in our daily lives and especially as we receive the gifts of bread and wine- that we may be nourished by the immense generosity of God so we may share that generosity to others…

As we humbly remember what Christ has done for us as we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist- his body broken for us, his blood shed for us- let us offer not only our momentary thankfulness for our salvation and God’s immense generosity to us today, but offer the thanksgiving of our whole lives- that the yeast of the Holy Spirit may grow in us and that we bring the life, hope and love of Christ to those around us.

As Christ has offered himself to us once and for all in order that we may have life not just now but for eternity, then surely we must respond and also offer ourselves to God ..

This may be to truly be thankful for the gift of life and to rededicate our lives to Christ today…

And to offer our prayer, gifts, time, money and skills to the ministry of the church both locally here at St Gregory’s and wider afield.

or may be to offer our talents to a Christian cause elsewhere.

Whatever God may be asking us to offer to him whether in our action, our lifestyle or our prayers…

Jesus was able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine with the simple gift of a packed lunch of bread and fish- so whatever we offer to God through Christ this morning,

 let us do it with grateful and thankful hearts and may He by his grace and mercy multiply what we offer to His glory!

Let us pray 

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
creator of all things,
we worship you and we kneel before you
in gratitude for your generous provision
of all that we need for life.
Grant to us your servants,
that ability to live our lives in dependence upon you and to see beyond ourselves and our wants,
that in all things we may have the
generosity of spirit that you have formed in us.

Amen. 

Generous giving Week 1 : Prayer

Sunday 6th March 2022  Lent 1

 

Bible Readings

Philippians 4:4-7

Matthew 7:7-12

 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Hebrews 4:16

Of any time to hear the call to prayer it is now as we watch with horror and disbelief the events rolling out of Ukraine at the moment.

If there is any time to draw near to the throne of grace, to fix our eyes upon God  and call upon the God of grace for Ukraine and for the whole of Europe it is now.

So I invite you to join me in silent prayer for a minute as we call upon God for His mercy and grace….

Today is the first of a 4 week focus on Generous Giving.This is a diocesan wide focus and parishes across the diocese have been engaged with this since last September. Our PCC chose to focus on it during 4 weeks in Lent this year.

Bishop Karen wrote that:

If we consider God’s good gifts to each of us, we have much to be thankful for [and we will be exploring further the theme of thanksgiving in 2 weeks.] In return there is a Biblical principle calling us to be generous stewards, giving back to God in response to what he had done for us.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess 5:16-18

The basis of this diocesan campaign is prayer, which I think is the best place to start with anything!

CS Lewis wrote once

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I am helpless, I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

Prayer can be defined simply as standing (or kneeling or sitting or walking) before God-opening our minds and hearts to Him. We don’t have to hide anything from God, we can be completely open with Him- if we are angry, if we are sad, if we are joyful…

The NT shows us that Jesus himself prayed frequently and set aside special times to pray. The Gospels tell us that he often woke early and went away to a quiet place to spend time alone with God. At other times Jesus would go to the synagogue to join in communal prayer and worship.

So the Christian practice of regular prayer and meeting in church for worship reflects Jesus’ life: whenever he had a big decision to make he prayed; when Jesus prays it is to do the Father’s will.

If we are to follow Christ then we too need to spend time listening to God- two ears and one mouth-so that we can listen twice as much as speak to God.

We need both private and public prayer and worship because we not only need to build up our individual relationship with God but as Christians we are part of the Body of Christ and we support and encourage one another by praying and worshipping together.

People I come across sometimes say to me “Oh I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” …

One response to such a statement is with this story: 

…Of a man who was invited to a meal by his friend who was a priest and after the meal they got talking about prayer and the man asked the priest where it was really necessary to pray and worship with other people.

Instead of replying with an argument the priest told the man to watch what he did. He leaned forward, picked up the fireside tongs and removed a red-hot coal from the burning fire. It gradually became dark and cool. Then he replaced it among the other lumps of coal in the fire. Quickly it became hot and bright again and the whole fire burned slightly brighter.

We need to be together to pray and worship if we are to burn slightly brighter and not lose our faith- there is strong evidence of this among Christians who even in recent years were severely persecuted for their faith- the underground church in China for example.

The most famous of Christian prayers, The Lord’s Prayer as recored in Matthew’s Gospel is set in the context of the Sermon on the Mount teaching of Jesus. It is part of the teaching of the disciples- not intended to stand alone.

And is a model/structure of how we should pray- not just what we should pray.

Order:

First three petitions to do with God and with the glory of God. i.e. God is given First Place- all prayer is attempt to submit our wills to the will of God.

Second three petitions have to do our needs and necessities: maintenance of life- ie, the present; forgiveness i.e. the past and help in temptation i.e. the future.

So we are taught to lay the present, past and future before the footstool of the grace of God..(Barclay)

We have lost the sense of privilege of calling God Father because we have lost the heritage of emphasising God’s transcendence and sovereignty.

Jesus use of ‘Abba’ or ‘my Father’ was adopted by the early Christians and was unique to Jesus

Through the prayer the reference is in plural i.e. its an example of a prayer to be prayed in fellowship with other disciples.

God is Father to the disciples- not to everyone.

The early church forbid non Christians from reciting this prayer as vigorously as they forbade them from joining with believers at the Lord’s Table.

Perhaps we need to remember again that this prayer is in the context of belonging and believing as part of the Body of Christ.

As well as being personal and caring as the real nature of fatherhood should be, then God is also in heaven- he is transcendent and sovereign.

Its less about how to speak to God than it is about the truth of who He is…

To pray hallowed be your name is not to pray that God may become (more) holy  but that He may be treated as holy and that his name should not be despised by those created in his image.

As God is eternally holy so he eternally reigns in absolute sovereignty- under which is life.

So praying hallowed be your name means ‘Enable us to give to you the unique place which your nature and character deserve and demand.’

To pray your kingdom come is to both ask that God’s saving rule be extended as people already bow in submission to him and taste the blessing of salvation and to cry for the consummation of the kingdom. The kingdom is breaking in under the ministry of Jesus Christ but it is not consummated until the end of the age.

Praying for God’s will cf  Rom. 12:2

  1. ON earth as its accomplished in heaven: will/ thelema includes both God’s righteous demands and his determination to bring about certain events in salvation history- for this to be done includes the Cross…
  2. That God’s will may be ultimately be as fully accomplished on earth as it now already accomplished in heaven.
  3. That God’s will be done on earth in the same way as it is in heaven.

So this is a prayer that God’s people will hallow his name; submit to his reign; do his will.

The last petitions request things for ourselves:

bread i.e. all food or all that we need in the physical realm.

The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds.

It is for one day at a time-today- reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many  first century workers who were paid one day at a time…

it is a precious petition to those who live from hand to mouth.

It presupposes that all good things even our ability to work and earn our food comes from the hand of God cf James 1:17.

THIS IS EASILY FORGOTTEN IN A WORLD OF WEALTH AND SELF SUFFICIENCY IS SEEN AS A VIRTUE..

The last three petitions are linked as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation.

Sins or debts (the actual Greek word in Matthew) – that is something owed to God- either through sins of commission (intentional) or sins of omission (unintentional).

It is God’s nature to forgive and even in the OT where is seems God will not relent we hear the voice of the prophets calling God’s people back to his mercy and love.

Is God’s forgiveness earned by our own forgiveness?

William Barclay:

However If we say I will never forgive so and so for he or she has done to me; if we say I will never forget what so and so did to me and then go and speak this out in the Lord’s Prayer, we are quite deliberately asking God not to forgive us.

None of us is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer so long as un-forgiveness has a hold of our hearts. If we have not put things right with our neighbours we cannot put things right with God.

Lead us not into temptation : temptation can come from outside of us but also within us.

The word used in the Lord’s Prayer means literally a test of our strength of faith, our loyalty to God and our ability to serve God.

Not only that but we pray to be delivered from the evil one- not an abstract force but an active personal power which acts in opposition to God- what the Bible calls Satan, or the devil, the slanderer against God.

Our greatest defence against temptation is the presence of Jesus.

What would you do if you suddenly found Christ standing beside you? How would you live, if Jesus was a guest in your house?

The whole point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is beside us and is the guest in every Christian home, so we must make all of our life fit for him to see…

So…we have reflected on the Lord’s Prayer as the model for our prayers.

And as we recognise that, if in our sinfulness we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give good things to those who ask Him.

This Lent I encourage us more than ever to spend some time each day in prayer. To give thanks to God for the blessings we receive daily, to offer our everyday lives to God and asking that we may live in the way God wants us to live- offering our gifts of time, talents and money to be transformed for the purposes of God.

I would like to finish with a prayer for ourselves, our church and our world:

Holy God, the compassionate “You” upon whom we call for help and guidance: Come near to us, O God, come near us now to hear and answer our prayers. We come to “You” today, because we have always depended on “You” – and “You” have never before let us down.
We come as individuals, and as a community, to call on our God’s unfailing love for all who ask for your aid, and with a deep longing to receive a response to help us in our special need. Great God of the impossible and possible, “You” alone are God, and “You” alone are able to turn around our situation; and to offer us a future hope within God’s great miracles of mercy, forgiveness and gracious love.
Lord of great mercy, all the nations will come and bow before you.

Comforting God, the generous “You” upon whom we can depend on for of stability in an uncertain world; and the “You” upon whom we call for signs from you that your favour still rests on us, and all faithful people who
always seek to worship and serve you. Because of the pressures on us, we have become despondent; so come near to us O God, to liberate us from all that threatens our commitment to our Listening God; and from all
that distorts your messages of love, hope, strength and encouragement.
O God of enduring comfort, all the nations will come and bow before you.

Almighty God, the trustworthy “You” upon whom we call for blessing and support: Come near to us, O God, so that the light of your unfailing love will shine brightly on us to give all of us hope. We come seeking your strength, help and protection, for you alone are able to guide us
through all that threatens and frightens us. We look to “You” – O God of all hope and transformation – to lift us out of our fog of despair and grieving, and to show us the way forward, because we are committed to the worship and honouring of your Holy Name. Be for us now, all that
you have always been – faithful, trustworthy, generous and forgiving.
O God of unfailing love, all the nations will come and bow before you. Amen

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Ash Wednesday 2022

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17

Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Today we are part of a global call to pray and fast for peace in Ukraine as we mark the beginning of the Lenten 40 day season of repentance.

For some occasional fasting is seen as a health option but today we care reminded to fast- a meal or 2- in order to focus our prayers on the deadly situation in Ukraine.

Why should we pray? As Archbishop Stephen Cottrell said last week : “We pray because we believe God’s grace has the final word, not the horrors of sin, not death”

“We also pray because that prayer will shape our will and will shape our resolve.”

Today is Ash Wednesday and we literally mark this day with ash.

Just a little ashes that’s all it is.  And what are ashes?  They are the product of burning something away.  They are what is left over after fire passes over or through something.  They are the waste after the heat and light are gone.

I remember when I was growing up and we had an open fire place.  It was my job to take the ashes out.  They were useless so we would dispose of them as rubbish- in the ash bin.  Now that I am much older and live in house with an open fire I find myself doing the same thing I did as child – taking out the ashes and throwing them away.

So why, do we put this (for lack of a better word) rubbish on our foreheads?  Where did this strange tradition come from and what does it mean? 

First of all these ashes are a reminder of who we are.  The Bible tells us that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return.  The first human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed life into that dust.  That is a powerful image.  One that is meant to remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are just like these ashes: lifeless.

These ashes are also a sign of repentance.  Lent is a time of mourning our sins.  It is a time when we are called to repent and change our ways.  In Bible times it was common for people who were mourning to dress in sackcloth and put ashes on their heads.  There are several stories in the Bible where the people come to God and sit before him “in sack cloth and ashes” to show their repentance and to seek God’s forgiveness.  

These ashes tonight are meant to be for us symbols of our repentance and signs that we truly seek to follow in God’s path.

We are marked by ashes because they are a reminder of how we are sealed for Christ. When a person is baptised I use chrism oil to mark the person with the sign of the cross.  This anointing with chrism oil, and the cross of ashes, are both reminders of the mark of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, as it is described in the Revelation of John.  The Book of Revelation tells of an angel marking the faithful before the tribulation.

The mark of the cross is a mark of ownership.  These ashes remind us that we are Christ’s – that he died so that we might live.

It is also significant that we use palm branches to make these ashes.  The palms are a symbol of victory.  By making the ashes from the palms of Palm Sunday we are reminded of how all our human victories are but ashes before the glory of God.  

We are also reminded of the events of Holy Week – and of how the victory of Jesus over sin was won for us on Good Friday.

So…these may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot.  They are a symbol of our deepest need for God- for God’s mercy, grace and love for we remember that we are nothing but dust and ashes apart from God.  

They are also a symbol of our repentance and mourning.  They are a way of showing on the outside what is happening on the inside.  That we are truly sorry and mournful for the evil and hurtful this we have done.  Our trust in our own powers and abilities have tarnished the image of Christ in us.

Yet in the midst of our repentance, we are forgiven and marked as Christ’s own.  The very burning away of our sin by the fire of God’s love makes us God’s own.  And as his own we are stamped and certified as children of God through the cross.

So as you come today to have the sign of the cross placed on your foreheads rend your hearts.  Repent of your self reliance and self-seeking.  And accept the grace and forgiveness that marks you as a redeemed and beloved child of God. 

Choose this day whom you will serve.

We will choose the living God

The road is narrow that leads to life

We will walk the way of Christ.

Faith is not our holding on

Faith is letting go

We offer more than words O Lord

We offer you our lives.

Lent and Easter readings from Iona.

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Seeing Jesus in a totally new light

27th February 2022   Sunday before Lent 

 

Have you ever had an experience which results in you never looking at things or a person or situation in the same way again?

You now see them ‘in a completely new light’ as people say.

“A microscope can transform a little speck of dirt [or minute insect] into a little world of pattern, colour and interest.

A telescope can transform an ordinary night sky into a world of awe and power.

A good actor can transform an apparently insignificant line into a profound and moving statement of beauty and truth.”

Jesus himself is the focus and means of transformation.

The transformation here comes in several forms:

The physical transformation of Jesus himself

The spiritual transformation of the situation revealing the true identity of Jesus

The transformation of the understanding of the kingdom of God

In extraordinary actions and puzzling but profound words he has unveiled for them what God is up to.  Those ‘outside’ look and look, but they never see; the disciples are having their eyes opened, so that they can see for the first time the inner reality of God’s kingdom, and the central truth that-even though he doesn’t look like what they might have expected!- Jesus really is the Messiah.

Quoting Tom Wright, p115

At such a time as this we may find ourselves asking :

Is the presence of God veiled from us?

How is the kingdom of God presenting itself to us today?

What is stopping us from speaking Jesus’s words of peace, hope and love to a hurting world?

Brother Anselm SSF sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration and Hiroshima Day (6 August):

The light of the transfiguration shines on the church, and in that light we can see many shadows – for the church follows the world so often, in that glory belongs not to selfless achievement, but to petty ambition- and the church on which falls the mantle of Christ’s authority is rent apart by conflicting authorities.

[Transfiguration Sunday] reminds us who are the church, how urgent is the task of prayer for the church- that we may learn what makes for true glory- a life of selfless love in obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On this day, we must go further and renew our world, God’s world, in the light of Christ’s transfiguration. On this day (6 August 1945) a blinding light shone on the city of Hiroshima, the light which accompanied the exposure of an unsuspecting population to shock and radiation from that first nuclear explosion. However the bomb may be justified strategically, politically- it has to be seen as a judgement not on its victims but on the rest of the human race- in its light we can see the worth of human values…

Reality – the deeper reality of Jesus’ ministry; not another wise prophet or healer or teacher but a new teaching about the kingdom e.g.  Matt 5 and his Messiahship

Identity of Jesus as the beloved Son of God to be listened to and obeyed- with humility.

Purpose of Jesus-to reveal the kingdom of God through his teaching, ministry and suffering on the cross and finally his resurrection: that all may be saved through him (John 3:16)

The disciples are faced with a different reality about Jesus and just as we may glimpse a new and different dimension on the world they surely see everything that Jesus says and does differently.

Revealing his presence- Mary couldn’t conceal his presence in her womb; God dazzled the shepherds, his power was revealed through the miracles, the calming of the storm; and even death couldn’t obscure his light but his resurrection brought his light for all to see

We are all called to do what the heavenly voice says: listen to Jesus because he is the beloved son of God 

Glory of God revealed

Cloud, voice, the patriarch Moses and prophet Elijah…

By saying ‘how good it is to be here’ Peter the leading disciple wants to secure the glory and the victory before they have been won.

Jesus is NOT on the same level as Moses or Elijah- like some may believe that Jesus is a great prophet or leader- but is the BELOVED SON OF GOD.

With his coming, the law and the prophets are fulfilled , the old covenant is superseded by the new.

Moses and Elijah will disappear back to heaven but Jesus and the word he brings remain- in fact Jesus hasn’t been raptured to heaven from the mountain but moves back down again to his earthly road to rejection, suffering and death (9: 9-13) 

THIS wasn’t the last moment of glory: for the Gospel writers, Jesus’ way was a way of suffering (9:12) to the cross that would lead to reveal his full glory.

Identity

True colours

 Jesus reveals his true identity as ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’, to quote Paul in Colossians (1.15). Jesus gives this revelation of his own volition, but interestingly only to his inner circle of apostles. 

Would this dazzling image overwhelm the general public? Maybe, but even the inner circle have not displayed a very developed understanding of the truth he proclaims and embodies.  Perhaps Jesus knew that appearing to the crowds in his transfigured form would lead to people getting wrong ideas about his messiahship, hailing him as a political leader to overthrow the Roman occupation. Whatever his reasons, Jesus is careful about how widely he shares his inmost self.  A good guidepost for the Facebook user?

It strikes me that as well as revealing his divine nature, the Transfiguration also reveals Jesus as the true and representative human being: the ‘Son of Man’. In the new heaven and new earth, will we all shine with a brightness no laundry could achieve? 

The best policy
In the verse before the Sunday’s New Testament reading, Paul claims ‘We have renounced the shameful things that one hides… but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves…’ (2 Corinthians 4.2). 

He seems to suggest that those who have nothing to hide have the least to fear. In the spectrum between secrecy and complete openness, Christians should probably err on the side of openness. 

Nevertheless Jesus commands us not only to be ‘innocent as doves’ but also ‘wise as serpents’ (Matthew 10.16). We certainly need serpentine wisdom when it comes to the complex ethics of dealing with war and terrorism, as we seek to protect the innocent without destroying the very moral base on which our free society rests.

Reality- the perception of reality is transformed

Identity- the understanding of their identity, their personality, is transformed

Purpose- the purpose and reason for their life is transformed

This Lent we are all called to do what the heavenly voice says: listen to Jesus because he is the beloved son of God. 

Let us pray

O Lord we beseech thee to deliver us from the fear of the unknown future; from fear of failure; from fear of poverty; from fear of bereavement; from fear of loneliness; from fear of sickness and pain; from fear of age; and from fear of death.

Help us O Father, by thy grace to love and fear thee only, fill our hearts with cheerful courage and loving trust in thee; through our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

From:  An African Prayer book Ed. Desmond Tutu

A piece of fine material worn by women to protect or conceal the face.
‘a white bridal veil’

More example sentencesSynonyms

1.1A piece of fabric forming part of a nun’s headdress, resting on the head and shoulders.
More example sentences

1.2(in Jewish antiquity) the piece of precious cloth separating the sanctuary from the body of the Temple or the Tabernacle.
‘And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.’

More example sentences

2
A thing that serves to cover, conceal, or disguise.
‘a veil of mist and snow lay over the landscape’

More example sentencesSynonyms

3
Botany 

Botany 

A membrane that is attached to the immature fruiting body of some toadstools and ruptures in the course of development, either (universal veil) enclosing the whole fruiting body or (partial veil) joining the edges of the cap to the stalk.

‘Extending from the stem to the margin of the cap, and covering the gills, is the partial veil – a membranaceous, white texture of varying thickness.’

beyond the veil


In a mysterious or hidden place or state, especially the unknown state of life after death.
‘Billy realized that his father had passed irrevocably beyond the veil’

More example sentences

draw a veil over


Avoid discussing or calling attention to (something embarrassing or unpleasant)
‘I will draw a veil over the cheerless days that followed’

More example sentences

take the veil


Become a nun.
‘As it happened, her friend and counselor there, Mother Dolores, was none other than former actress Dolores Hart, the fresh-faced beauty who had given Elvis Presley his first screen kiss in ‘Loving You ‘before taking the veil.’’

Form the Iona Community

We invite you to join in the prayers seeking peace rooted in justice

Leader: Caring God, Creator of all, we confess the times when we have looked away

ALL: FORGIVE US AND MELT OUR HEARTS

Leader: We confess the times when we have walked by

ALL: FORGIVE US AND MELT OUR HEARTS

Leader: We confess the times we have chosen wealth and power for us over freedom and dignity for all

ALL: FORGIVE US AND TURN OUR COLD HEARTS INTO HEARTS THAT BEAT IN SOLIDARITY AND IN COMPASSION. COMFORT AND SHIELD THOSE WHO SUFFER. GIVE US COURAGE AND WISDOM TO STAND UP AGAINST THE BULLIES AND THE DOERS OF VIOLENCE. TOUCH THEIR HEARTS AND MOVE THEM TO TURN AWAY FROM THEIR WRONG DOING.

A Universal Prayer for Peace

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.

Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.

Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.

Let peace fill our lives, our world, our universe.

Peace, peace, peace.

Amen

 

On finding peace in the storm

Sunday 20th Feb 2022

Finding peace

Phil 4:6-9

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Psalm 23 is a very personal and thoughtful prayer of praise to God. It focuses on the character of God, which is expressed through the commitment of a shepherd to his sheep.

It helps us to focus first on the things that God gives, which include rest, refreshment, peace, protection, safety, food, drink, kindness and love.

David recognises God’s gifts and presence in all circumstances, including the presence of enemies and the shadow of death.

And David uses his own profession as a shepherd as a launch pad to explore his ideas about God. 

There are times in our lives when perhaps we feel more like a lost sheep than being safely gathered in a flock, but the promise of God in Psalm 23 and the person of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd reminds us that even when we feel lost, we can depend on our shepherd to keep us safe, provided that we learn to follow and listen to his voice.

Listening to the voice of God in Christ means paying attention to that voice so we can recognise it and tell it apart from other, distracting or deluding voices.

This is the basis of prayer: attentiveness to the voice of God, placing all our concerns before our compassionate God and trusting his purposes.

St Paul understood this well and encouraged the early followers of Jesus in Philippi to do likewise in order to know the peace of God.

At times that test us, that are storms in our lives, we may well ask ourselves where is this peace found?

There is a story told about peace that may help answer that question.

 One day an artist was commissioned by a wealthy man

   to paint something that would  depict peace.  After a great deal of

   thought, the artist painted a beautiful  country scene. There were

   green fields with cows standing in them, birds were flying in the

   blue sky and a lovely little village lay in a distant valley.  The 

   artist gave the picture to the man, but there was a look of

   disappointment on the patron’s face.  The man said to the artist, “

   This isn’t a picture of true peace.  It isn’t right. Go back and

   try again.

   The artist went back to his studio, thought for several hours about

   peace, then  went to his canvas and began to paint.  When he was

   finished, there on the canvas  was a beautiful picture of a mother,

   holding a sleeping baby in her arms, smiling lovingly at the child. 

   He thought, surely, this is true peace, and hurried to give the

   picture to the wealthy man. But again, the wealthy man  refused the

   painting and asked the painter to try again.

   The artist returned again to his studio.  He was discouraged, he

   was tired and he was disappointed.  Anger swelled inside him, he

   felt the rejection of this wealthy man.  Again, he thought; he even

   prayed for inspiration to paint a picture of true peace.  Then, all

   of a sudden an idea came, he rushed to the canvas and began to

   paint as he had never painted before. When he finished, he hurried

   to the wealthy man.

  He gave the painting to the man.  He studied it carefully for

   several minutes.  The artist held his breath.  Then the wealthy man

   said, “Now this is a picture of true peace.” He accepted the

   painting, paid the artist and everyone was happy.

  And what was this picture of true peace??  The picture showed a

   stormy sea pounding against a cliff.  The artist had captured the

   fury of the wind as it  whipped black rain clouds which were laced

   with streaks of lightening.  The sea was roaring in turmoil, waves

   churning, the dark sky filled with the power of the furious

   thunderstorm.  And in the middle of the picture, under a cliff, the

   artist had painted a small bird, safe and dry in her nest snuggled

   safely in the rocks.  The bird was at peace midst the storm that

   raged about her.”

This seems to be something of the picture of peace that God gives:  

not a worldly understanding of peace:

   – the peace of a spot in nature – beautiful and serene

   – the peace of a mother and child – tender and gentle

   – the peace of an absence of conflict  – where there are no storms or

violent waves 

but rather a peace of knowing that in the midst of turmoil  there is a rock which can shelter us, a power that can spread its wings over us and keep us safe.

David knew and expressed this in Psalm 23

Even though I walk

    through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

    for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.

The famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor once said that 

It is in the valley of the shadow of death that solid, divine comforts are brought to light. But this is not all. The conflict terminates, the darkness passes away but the spoils are permanent and the gains are eternal. 

We are all exposed to shadows at different times and in different circumstances and the question this Psalm raises is how do we react to them? How do we go through them? How do we cope with them?

So many of us look for peace in this world.

We look for the safe places- where there is nothing that can disturb us.

We look for the quieting of our hearts – disturbed so often by fear.

We look for assurance – for hope – for joy.

And this is a good thing to do – for God does not want us to suffer

needlessly.

Many of us pray too about peace, about peace not only for us – inside our hearts – and inside our families- we pray for peace in the world;

for an end to armed conflicts, an end to war and terrorism

an end for the violence that nations and individuals do to one another

and this also is a good thing to do- to pray for peace.

We look for peace and we pray for peace, thinking of it as an end to those things that disturb us,

as an absence of fear

as an absence of conflict

as an absence of turmoil

and forget that the lack of peace in our hearts and in our world

is a consequence of other factors – rather than the actual problem we are

facing.

In Hebrew – peace – Shalom – is much more than the absence of things that disturb us.

Peace is rather linked to the concept of wholeness,

of being “at one” with God and with our neighbours – and ourselves,

of having not only an absence of war

   but of having the causes of war – greed, hate, fear, and their

   children – injustice, intolerance, and prejudices – eliminated, 

of having not only an absence of pain and distress but of having the disease that causes the pain and distress cured.

And that is what Jesus Christ was about when he calmed the storm, when he spoke peace to creation, when he walked among us

   and what he is about through his Spirit, from his place next to the Father

   above, as we await the new heaven and the new earth – that heaven and

   that earth to be inherited by those who keep faith with him,  to be

   inherited by those who claim the name of Christ and walk by the light he gives us.

Jesus said:

My peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you.  I do not give

to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and

do not let them be afraid.

His disciples knew the lake well, they knew that a squall could brew almost instantaneously  but they were still afraid. Their focus was on the storm not on Jesus.

In his earthly ministry Jesus doesn’t mask the symptoms of a world in turmoil but seeks to deal with the causes of the turmoil.

We have a new vision to guide our walking

and to provide assurance to us as we walk –

we have a destination and a goal,

a purpose and a plan.

But even more than a destination that provides us direction;

   more than a vision that provides us with hope;

more than a goal that keeps us busy;

we have the presence of God here and now 

   a presence that comforts us and helps us to know peace – and to share

   peace, today, a presence that reminds us that the Word of God is effective and that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, 

and that what it does is work towards wholeness.

He does not give as the world gives –

because what he gives is effective

what he gives is eternal

what he gives cannot and will not fail.

Christ gives us peace with God through his life and his death, and his resurrection, and he gives us a new world through his sharing with us the eternal plan of God.

And this goes even beyond the picture of the artist, the picture of the bird sitting safely on its nest in the midst of a violent storm.

Psalm 23 speaks of the Lord God being our Shepherd…the one who calls us by name, who knows all our foibles and strengths, who guides, assures, refreshes and heals us.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who goes ahead to lead the sheep not only through the darkest of times Ps 23:4 but even through death itself (Jn 10:17) and in him we may have peace because He has overcome the world. Jn 16:33

As one hymn puts it as it contemplates the storms of life 

  we have a anchor that will not move; 

   grounded firm and deep in the saviour’s love

With Christ the Good Shepherd leading us we can face these times and with his gracious Holy Spirit to guide us we can face them without fear:  of the importance of trusting in God who cares for us, to persist in prayer, to practice the presence of God in our everyday lives and to seek the Good Shepherd in every circumstance of life.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, come to us and bring your peace in the storms of life and your joy to our restlessness.

Give eternal peace to those whom we love but see no longer.

Come and bless all the ones we love; 

come with the gifts that never break; 

the knowledge that we are all loved and precious; 

the awareness that we belong and are valued; 

the realisation that we’re welcome and can welcome others.

Your coming has changed our history and given us a future and a hope and shown us how to love. 

may we continue to trust in your unfailing love and mercy.

Amen.

Christ Preaching. Rembrandt circa 1649

Go, heal and bring peace

Sunday 13th Feb 2022              3rd Sunday before Lent

 Bible readings

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-26

 

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured,  and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.            Luke 6: 17-19

This week I heard Professor Jim McManus, a national expert on Public Health as well as a practising Christian, talking about Resilience, Trauma and Pastoral Recovery in a post pandemic world.

He made some striking points for churches as we we seek to show Christ’s healing power in our society:COVID-19 is not a pandemic but a syndemic: a coming together of multiple impacts (loss, fear, isolation, financial impacts) which can combine and interact to create a “multiple whammy”. People may be able to withstand one or two impacts, but not the multiple combined impacts…This is known as multiple trauma. 

Churches and congregations have a natural interest in supporting people to grow in many ways: as persons, after trauma, in discipleship and friendship with Christ. And they have resources, traditions and capabilities which can help people. From the sacraments to providing safe space, from journeying with people to helping them through pastoral care and much more, responding to trauma, helping people grow beyond it and helping them be resilient can be an important way of living out the Church’s mission post-pandemic. 

https://gohealth.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/resilience-trauma-pastoral-recovery.pdf

It struck me of his confidence and hope in the Church as leading the way out of the collective and multiple trauma that our country (along with most other countries) has endured and that continues still, in the recognition of the very real need for healing and restoration.

Our Gospel passage today is preceded by a number of Jesus’ healing miracles- that of the leper (Luke 5:12-16); paralysed man (Luke 17-26) and the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:6-11) aswell as the healing of Simon Peter’s mother in law (Luke 4:38-39)

In Jesus’ day, as now, the work of healing and health was essential. Jesus heals people in thirteen episodes in the Gospel of Luke.

By doing so, he brings wellness to suffering people, as he announced he would do when he took on the mantle of king. In addition, the healings are actualizations of the coming kingdom of God, in which there will be no sickness (Revelation 21:4).

God not only commands people to work for others’ benefit, he empowers people to do so. God’s power is not restricted to Jesus himself, for in two passages, Jesus empowers his followers to heal people (Luke 9:1-6, 10:9).

Yet all the healings depend on God’s power. This is crucial whenever we speak of healing in the Christian context.

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann sums this up beautifully. “Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.”

They are a tangible sign that God is putting the world back to right.

But what about healing within the Church today? 

May be you have questions about healing? Maybe you have seen answered prayer for healing or may be you dismiss the idea of God healing today.

Over the centuries the place of healing within the mission and ministry of the Christian church has changed and today there can be misconceptions and scepticism about the place of healing within the life of a parish.

However in its comprehensive report on Christian healing, the Church England states that:

‘Healing, we might say, is what the Church’s mission is all about. Healing, wholeness, salvation – these words embrace what God has achieved for us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.’     A Time to Heal – Handbook.

JESUS’ MINISTRY SHOWS US THAT HEALING AND THE PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ARE INEXTRICABLY LINKED TOGETHER.

1. Go- heal the sick

Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Luke 10:9

St Paul refers to Luke as a the beloved physician (Colossians1:2) a Greek and therefore Gentile Christian doctor,  probably originally from Antioch in ancient Syria, often concerned for accurate sources and details of Jesus’ ministry. 

Luke is attributed to have written the Book of Acts which continues some of the themes of the Gospel- especially in regard to the disciples continuing the ministry of Jesus with His power and authority- including the healing of the sick.

As Jesus makes his final journey towards Jerusalem, he stops to minister in different towns and villages and the disciples are going ahead of him before Jesus visits those places- with a real sense of urgency because he will not pass this way again. (Luke 10:1)

Not only are the disciples to go into the harvest field (a common biblical analogy for mission and the end time) but are called to be free from self sufficiency, rather depending on God for their sustenance through the hospitality of others (Luke 10:7-8). They are to travel light and speak peace to their hosts- the good news message of God’s kingdom and to bring God’s healing to others.

2.Go – bring peace

At the heart of Jesus’ call and the commissioning of the disciples here in Luke was the message of peace…in Hebrew the word for peace is SHALOM- which means wholeness, restoration, completeness.

The Greek word for peace is EIRENE from the verb EIRO which means to join or bind together that which has been broken, divided or separated. Eirene is the root of our English word “serene” (free of storms or disturbance, marked by utter calm). EIRENE literally pictures the binding or joining together again of that which has been separated, the result being that the separated parts are set at one again.  

This wonderful message of salvation and restoration to God was to be spoken to the people- but not everyone received it- or even received it well. But this was Jesus’ message of the Kingdom. 

Tom Wright comments:

Jesus understanding of the Kingdom grew directly out of his knowledge and love of Israel’s God as the God of generous grace and astonishing powerful healing love. This was the God whose life-giving power flowed through him to heal; this was the God to whose kingdom he was committed…

Wright: Luke for Everyone

Jesus healed people of many different sicknesses and disabilities in many different situations. His healing is sometimes attributed to his words and at other times to his touch.

At other times people received healing who touched Jesus or his clothes. Wherever he went these healing acts were in the context of his mission to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God and he makes this clear to the disciples:

Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Luke 10:9

The healing of the sick was and is an act of compassion, but it also draws attention to the message that the kingdom of God has come near. 

This combination of compassion and proclamation—deed and word—serves as powerful witness even today. The hungry person who is fed—the homeless person who is housed—the sick person who is healed—the injured person whose wounds are treated—these people will find themselves drawn to the person who has met their needs—and to that person’s faith. 

We see this message of hope in our Gospel reading today.

It is important, whenever we serve, to let recipients know that we love and serve them because of our love for Jesus, who first loved us. 

Otherwise, they will fail to make the connection between the help that they have received and the Christ who motivated us to give it. Our larger purpose, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, will be lost.

3. Go- do it

Healing of others is done within the context of preaching and the mission of the kingdom of God. It is part of the package of the kingdom life as we see in Jesus’ own ministry and in the commissioned ministry of the 12 disciples in Luke 9 and the 72 disciples of Luke 10.

Healing, reconciliation and restoration are integral to the good news of Jesus Christ. For this reason prayer for individuals, focused through laying on of hands or anointing with oil, has a proper place within the public prayer of the Church. God’s gracious activity of healing is to be seen both as part of the proclaiming of the good news and as an outworking of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Church.     Celebration of Wholeness and Healing

There are different modes of the Church’s ministry of healing- from individual to corporate, from private confession to public worship- and they can be used within the variety of traditions of the Church of England. There needs to be pastoral sensitivity and skill, as well as humility and total dependence upon the healing love of God and not on ourselves- that is, travelling light in prayer.

Surely for such a time as this we need to really recognise and fully embrace the healing ministry of the Church within its mission to preach the Gospel just as the disciples did.

We surely recognise that that despite all the wonderful advances in medicine we all need healing as much today as did the people who encountered Jesus 2000 years ago. 

The healing acts of Jesus evidenced in the Gospels were themselves the message that he had come to set people free. (Luke 4:18-21 cf Isaiah 61:13 ). — they weren’t just to prove his message was true…and his disciples were sent to bring healing and freedom in the name of Christ. 

Healing, reconciliation and restoration are integral to the good news of Jesus Christ. For this reason prayer for individuals, focused through laying on of hands or anointing with oil, has a proper place within the public prayer of the Church. God’s gracious activity of healing is to be seen both as part of the proclaiming of the good news and as an outworking of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Church.

Prayer for healing needs to take seriously the way in which individual sickness and vulnerability are often the result of injustice and social oppression. Equally importantly such prayer should not imply that the restoration of physical wholeness is the only way in which Christ meets human need. 

(From Celebration of Wholeness and Healing, Church House Press)

Today is Racial Justice Sunday: An opportunity for all churches to focus on the three ‘R’s of ‘Remembering’, ‘Reflecting’ and ‘Responding’:

• Remembering the importance of racial justice.

• Reflecting on human diversity and thanking God for it.

• Responding by working to end injustice, racism and ignorance through prayer and action.

In the context of today’s reading we seek justice as part of demonstrating the good news of Christ and pray for the Church seeking to bring healing to broken communities and lives:

Healing has always to be seen against the background of the continuing anguish of an alienated world and the hidden work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s new order to birth. It is a way of partaking in God’s new life that will not be complete until it includes the whole creation and the destruction of death itself.

The Christian church has always offered a place of health and healing. Indeed, our modern medical hospital system has its roots in the hospitality and care of early monastic communities.

Today, when we are lucky enough to be able to access hospitals and mental health care, some might question the role of churches.

However, churches can offer a place where our mental, physical and spiritual health can be cared for. Science has shown that our spiritual health is part of our overall health, and indeed that our physical and mental health can be improved when we engage in community activities, spend time in prayer and contemplation and seek meaning. (op cit)

In our Gospel reading today within the context of healing many, Jesus then gives the disciples clear orders as to how his vision of God’s work would go forward…like Israel’s great scriptural codes which formed part of the covenant between God and Israel.

Here Jesus is presenting his version of the same thing…It is an upside down code, or perhaps (Jesus might have said) a right way up code instead of the upside down ones people had been following.God is doing something quite new…he is fulfilling his promises at last and this will mean good news for the people who haven’t had any for a long time…where injustice is reigning, the world will have to be turned once more the right way up for God;’s justice and kingdom to come to birth.

(Tom Wright)

4. G0- be the good news

The Church is called to preach the good news of salvation through Christ and if necessary use words!

The healing ministry through its many forms is part of that expression.

Christ’s commission to go and heal, restore, bring peace to body, mind and soul is as true today as it was in the first century, within the wider mission of the Church to proclaim the kingdom of God, and surely we need to see Christ’s healing, restoration and peace in our world, in our nation, in our communities and in our lives more than ever?

So this morning I invite us to consider how can we be part of the post pandemic recovery at St Greg’s in the coming months and years?

How can we continue to be a welcoming and safe space for people who have been traumatised by their pandemic experience?

How can we develop our pastoral care and concern in the coming years?

How can we be a community of hope?

We will be considering these questions more in the coming months.

Let us pray…

 

 

Prayers for the healing ministry of the Church

 

Eternal God,

whose Son went among the crowds

and brought healing with his touch:

help us to show his love,

in your Church as we gather together,

and by our lives as they are transformed

into the image of Christ our Lord.

Amen.

(Collect for 3rd Sunday before Lent)

 

 

Loving God,

your Son Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly;

pour out your blessing upon our nation;

where there is illness,

bring your healing touch;

where there is fear,

strengthen us with the knowledge of your presence;

where there is uncertainty,

build us up in faith;

where there is denial,

lead us into truth;

where there is discord,

may we know the harmony of your love;

this we ask in Jesus’ name.

Amen

 

God, heal the dullness of our hearts,

 that we may listen and hear,

look and indeed perceive.

Use your power to restore our world.

Let all people know your healing touch.

May the least and the greatest experience your healing.

Bless us always with someone to care.

Send us anew to proclaim your kingdom

with authority and power to heal.

Open our eyes and soften our hearts,

that understanding and healing will be ours.

Take away, God, our hardness of hearing,

our blindness that cannot see,

Gift us with listening, understanding hearts.

Let us turn to you and be healed.

Amen. 

 (Gunstone (2004) Healed, restored, forgiven. Norwich: Canterbury Press.)

 

 

The almighty Lord,

who is a strong tower for all who put their trust in him,

whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth obey,

be now and evermore your defence.

May you believe and trust that the only name under heaven

given for health and salvation

is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All.  Amen.

 

John Swanson: Great catch of fish

Caught, called and Christ-shaped

Sunday 6th Feb 2022 4th Sunday before Lent

 

Bible readings

Isaiah 6

Psalm 138

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Luke 5:1-11

 

In the tempestuous world of politics on a national and world scale and being bombarded with daily news that seems far from good, where do we place ourselves and the Church as the Body of Christ? Do we regard ourselves as good news for the world- just as Jesus claimed the words of the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor..(cf Luke 4:16-21)

Being ‘Good News’ is what the Church should be about!  

Simon Allaby in an article “What is the future of the Church?” wrote:

“As has always been the case, the Church will grow where it is real and relevant and authentic, where people see the love, holiness and power of Christ changing lives. Where it isn’t, it will die. The local church should be like the corner shop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a foretaste of something unimaginably wonderful, where heaven and earth meet. A Church community should be characterised by extravagant love, the pursuit of holiness and a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”

Being ‘Good News’ is what Christians should be about!  St Paul in chapter 12 of his letter to the early Church in Rome says “Place your life before God”… he then goes on to say:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life, your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life, and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity.”    (Romans 12:1-2 from The Message translation)

The word Gospel itself means Good News and today’s reading from Luke 5 reminds us of why and how it is Good News, not just for individuals but for the whole of humanity.

Jesus calls the first disciples

Luke’s story of Jesus calling the first disciples is unique among the synoptic Gospels.

While Mark and Matthew speak of Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee and abruptly calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20), only Luke tells the story of a miraculous catch of fish preceding the call.

Luke’s story shares common elements with John’s post-resurrection story of Jesus meeting his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. 

As in John 21:1-10, we see a futile night of fishing, Jesus offering some unsolicited fishing advice, an overwhelming catch of fish, and a recognition of Jesus’ identity that focuses especially on the response of Simon Peter.

In Luke’s Gospel, this is not Simon’s first encounter with Jesus. Jesus has already been to Simon’s home in Capernaum and has healed his mother-in-law (4:38-39). Perhaps that explains Simon’s willingness to let Jesus use his fishing boat as a floating pulpit.

Simon had been fishing all night with no success, then working from the early morning hours cleaning his nets. Most likely he was exhausted and looking forward to going home and getting some sleep. So it must have seemed a bit of an imposition when Jesus got into Simon’s boat and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Nevertheless, Simon did what Jesus asked (5:1-3) just as the stewards at the wedding in Cana did as Jesus told them to…

Luke does not tell us what exactly Jesus taught the crowds that morning. The focus is on what follows. Jesus tells Simon to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Simon obviously believes this will be a futile exercise. He is the professional fisherman, after all. We can almost hear the exasperation in his voice when he responds, “Master, we have worked all night but have caught nothing.” But then he continues; “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” (5:4-5).

Here is obedience.

Caught by Surprise
And we know what happens next — nets so full of fish that they begin to break, boats so full of fish that they begin to sink. The miracle of fish.

Seeing what is happening, Simon is overwhelmed with fear and wonder, sensing that he is in the presence of divine power. He responds by falling down at Jesus’ knees and begging him, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (5:6-8)

Simon is caught by surprise. In the midst of his ordinary daily grind, and in fact, after a particularly lousy night at work, he is encountered by one who changes everything. 

Amazed by the power of God displayed in the abundant catch of fish, Simon is immediately aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness. He sees the overwhelming disparity between God’s power manifest in Jesus and his own mortal, compromised life.

We find this disparity echoed in our reading from Isaiah today: Woe is me for I am a man with unclean lips…

Jesus responds to Simon by saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (5:10). 

The Greek word for “catching” used here (zogron) is rare in the New Testament, but means “to catch alive.” 

Of course, fishing with nets was a matter of catching fish alive, but ordinarily those live fish would soon be dead and ready to be eaten. 

Here Jesus calls Simon and his partners to a new vocation of catching people so that they might live, a life-giving vocation of being caught up in God’s mission of salvation for all as we see experessed by Simeon in the great song Nunc Dimittis- my own eyes have see the salvation of the Lord….

Although they have just brought in the greatest catch of their fishing careers, Simon Peter, James, and John leave those boatloads of fish behind and follow Jesus (1:11). Their encounter with Jesus has completely reoriented their lives.

Catching People
Our Gospel today offers rich possibilities for us to reflect on how God calls ordinary people to discipleship and mission.

 After all, there is nothing the slightest bit extraordinary about Simon Peter and his fishing partners. They are simple fishermen, and they are simply doing what they did every day. They are minding their own business, cleaning their nets after a long, particularly discouraging night of work, when Jesus comes along, enters into their utterly normal, mundane lives and changes everything.

Jesus calls Simon and his partners as they are. Simon is acutely aware of his unworthiness, but Jesus is not put off by this in the slightest. Jesus does not ask Simon to get his act together, his resume prepared, and then come back for an interview. Rather, Jesus encounters him as he is, tells him not to be afraid, and calls him to a new mission of catching people.

Throughout Scripture we see that human sin, failure, and inadequacy are no obstacles to God’s call. God calls imperfect people to do God’s work, people who are aware of their unworthiness and are often doubting and resistant to God’s call (see, for example, Exodus 3:10-12; Isaiah 6:1-6; Jeremiah 1:6-8.) God doesn’t wait for them to shape up. God calls them as they are and then works on shaping them into faithful servants.

Simon Peter’s resistance to Jesus stems not only from his sense of unworthiness. He initially protests Jesus’ instructions to go out into the deep waters and let down the nets because he is convinced that the fish are not biting. They have worked all night and caught nothing. We can hardly blame him for his skepticism.

How often do we resist Jesus’ claim on our lives because what he is calling us to do seems too crazy, too impractical? How often do we avoid putting out into the deep waters of following and bearing witness to Jesus because we are convinced that we will not see any results? What might it mean for us to go deep-sea fishing with Jesus — to trust and follow him outside our comfort zones, to let go of our certainties, to have our lives radically reoriented?

For most of us, this will not mean leaving our current professions behind (although we cannot rule out that possibility). We all are called by virtue of our baptism to participate in God’s mission to the world in Jesus Christ. We all are called daily to reorient our priorities to align with God’s priorities, to use the gifts God has given us in service to others, to share the good news of Christ in word and deed.

Jesus’ mission does not wait until we think we are ready. The need for the gospel in this broken world is far too urgent. We are called right now — even in spite of our frailty, failures, and doubts, even in the midst of our ordinary, busy, complicated lives. 

Christ-shaped life

Today we mark the extraordinary 70th year of HM The Queen’s accession to the throne and the beginning of her Platinum year.This is the first time for a British monarch to reach such a length of years.

The Queen has more recently overtly expressed her deep Christian faith (in a life far form ordinary!) especially in her televised Christmas Day speech. 

In 2002 she said that :

I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God…I draw strength form the message of hope in the Christian gospel.

Her remarkable life of service to national and Commonwealth has made her one of the most admired people in the world and the source of her inspiration comes from her commitment to God and her trust in Jesus Christ shaping her life and work.

Jesus’ word to Simon Peter at the shore of the lake is also a word to us: “Do not be afraid.” This is Jesus’ mission, (not ours) and we trust that he will keep working with us and through us, “catching” others as he has caught us — in the deep, wide net of God’s mercy and love. 

We trust, finally, that the catch is in God’s hands, and that God’s desire is for the nets to be bursting and the boats full.

Let us pray:

God the Sender, send us.

God the Sent, come with us.

God the Strengthener of those who go, 

empower us,

That we may go with you

And find those who will call you

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

( A prayer from CMS Wales)

.

Candlemas bells

Wednesday 2nd Feb   The Presentation of Christ in the Temple  

Bible readings

Malachi 3:1-4

Psalm 84

Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40

Blessed are you, O Christ child, that your cradle was so low that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthly people, could yet kneel beside you, and look, level-eyed, into the face of God. 

(A Ugandan Prayer)

Today we mark the last feast day in the Christian year before Easter and it concludes the end of the season of Epiphany- the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It is forty days since Christmas Day and like many Christians we have kept our Nativity Crib in church and also in the porch until today. 

How can we look at the innocence of the Crib scene in the light of human devastation from the global pandemic, from war and conflict, starvation and chronic poverty- whether humanly perpetrated, or otherwise? What has the baby in the manger, with the shepherds and the wise men got to do with 21st century global crises?

We are forced to reflect on our fragile world and our vulnerability as humanity, as we gaze on the infant Jesus, the love of God incarnate, Immanuel.  As we “look level-eyed into the face of God” we are reminded again of God with us, God alongside us and God leading us, just as He led Simeon and Anna and that Christ came to redeem the world to bring us back into relationship with God. 

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ came to be known as Candlemas after the words of Simeon recorded in Luke 2:22-40 when the old man took the baby Jesus in his arms and recognised him as “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”.

It became a custom to light a central candle in a church to represent the light of Christ, marking the mid point between the shortest day in winter and the spring equinox with the blessing of candles, praying that all who saw that outward and visible light would remember and be blessed by the inner light of Christ.

It is also the time for Candlemas Bells, otherwise known as snowdrops, to appear bringing their purity of colour and light to the dark bare winter soil, reminding us through creation of the constant work of God to bring light into the darkness.

So this time is one of transition, both looking back and looking forward, taking note of the season we are currently in-not just the gardening season, but the ‘season’ in our individual lives-and a time of looking for God in our midst, being aware of and responding to the nudges of God in a busy and chaotic world…

The Presentation

Following the birth of a son, the mother had to wait 40 days before going to the Temple to offer sacrifice for her purification, according to Jewish levitical law- a tradition which developed in the Christian church called the ‘churching of women’- similarly a re-dedication of the new mother. (Today something of this service remains in today’s Thanksgiving of the birth of a child). 

So Mary and Joseph approach the vast Temple area after walking from Bethlehem to Jerusalem- a journey of about five miles, bringing their offerings to the Temple as part of the ritual presentation of Jesus, their first born son. If the mother could not afford a lamb then two pigeons or doves would be acceptable (Lev 12:2-8 cf. Lev 5:11). So as we see here in Luke, the offering of doves instead of a lamb shows that Christ was born into a humble poor family.

It was customary that the first born of both humans and animals were to be dedicated to the Lord (Luke 2: 23 cf. Ex 13:12-13.) and in order for Jesus to be ‘given back’ to the family, Joseph had to redeem his son with a sacrifice and expected that the first born would serve God throughout their lives.

Indeed as we will see in the Gospels and New Testament, this first born son, recognised by Simeon and proclaimed by Anna is indeed the first born of all creation (Colossians 1:5) and will be the first born from the dead (Revelation 1:5)

Song of Simeon

God nudges the old and faithful Simeon through the Holy Spirit to be in the Temple at exactly the right time to witness to God’s Son being presented in God’s dwelling place. Simeon praises God as he holds the infant Jesus in his arms and he is ready to be dismissed from the world in death because he has seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon has been promised to see the Messiah before he dies.He has waited faithfully and prayerfully for the promise to be fulfilled. His trust in God is such that he will not be thrown by anything unexpected, and as soon as he sees this unremarkable little family walking in to the Temple courts with their new baby he knows beyond all doubt that this is the child he has been waiting all his life to see. Simeon has seen the salvation of God- Jesus own name means ‘God saves’ and for Luke, to see Jesus is to see salvation embodied in him.

And in spite of what they already know about their son,  Joseph and Mary are amazed (v33) at Simeon’s Song , known as Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin for “now dismissed” at the beginning of the prayer.

Simeon’s song is full of praise of the faithfulness of God and fulfilment of His promises; but it also contains the sombre note that many in Israel (v34) would be brought to moral decision- some to a point of collapse or falling and others to what can be called a resurrection or rising. Simeon looks to a new future which brings salvation to all people-both Jew and Gentile.

But there will be a cost to Jesus because he is The Sign, the visible affirmation of God’s declared intentions and so he will be vulnerable to the hostility of unbelievers, those who reject not just Jesus himself but the whole of God’s revelation cf. John 5:45-4.

Simeon sees the person of Jesus, the babe in arms and he is looking level-eyed into the face of God.

Are our eyes open like Simeon’s to see the salvation of God in the person of Jesus- rather than in a collection of religious thinking or philosophies?

Prayerful Anna

Anna the prophetess and a widow for many years, faithful in prayer as well as serving others in the Temple, is also expectant to see the long-promised for Messiah. She too knows that the baby brought by this humble couple is the fulfilment of the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures. 

Anna looks to a new future which includes the redemption of Jerusalem and sees it fulfilled in this child, having waited over sixty years for this moment.

Anna lived in a stormy time of fear with the Romans invading her country. She kept praying, hoping and trusting God. Her hope was an anchor trusting in the love of God. In the Bible ‘hope’ is a confident expectation and anticipation of good. To hope means that we are trusting God. Indeed ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1).

Anna worshipped day and night, fasting and praying, open to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit.

Are our lives similarly soaked with prayer, so that we are attentive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit- or do we feel like we are drowning in our worries? 

Are we willing to be a prophet, speaking out what we prayerfully know that God is wanting to say through us??

Learning from Simeon and Anna

Just as the wise men worshipping Jesus were representative of all non-Jews, all Gentiles, so Simeon and Anna are representative of the faithful remnant of Israel, watching and waiting with Godly living and a hopeful heart to worship the Messiah.

From a place of belonging to the Old Covenant, both Simeon and Anna bear witness to the New Covenant in Christ and which the early church rejoices to proclaim: that there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female- but ONE salvation and ONE people in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28) where those factors in society that created division and conflict have now been removed. This good news that was declared in Jerusalem could then travel to the heart of the Roman Empire and to ends of the earth…

Both Simeon and Anna’s immediate response was to praise God and gave thanks for what they had witnessed at this ‘divine appointment’ with the Son of God in the Temple.

For Simeon in his encounter with Christ he gained peace and for Anna she gained joy.

What is your prayer today?

Candlemas Bells

Jesus came into our world to be the Light of the whole world and we are called to reflect His light in the darkness, just as the snowdrops are bright and white in the dark soil, as we seek God’s presence, in prayer and worship.

We listen and stand with over 5 million families worldwide who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, as we remember that each person is precious to God and as we pray to know God’s mercy, love and light in these dark times.

The hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness reminds us that God gives us ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’. In these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic let us ‘set our hope’ (2 Corinthians 1:10) in God to help us through difficult times. 

Like Simeon and Anna, we too can trust in God’s love and faithfulness as we keep close to God in every season of our lives and especially in the closing seasons.

When we have struggled all our lives to grow into the maturity into which God calls us, it can be painful to face the finite nature of our bodies and the decay that awaits us. The aged Simeon had grown old in the service of his Lord and now embraced with joy the accomplishing of his earthly service. Could you do the same?  Pray that God may give us each grace to out grow the problem of letting go and embrace change with that quiet confidence which characterised the righteous and devout prayer of Simeon: Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.

Exploring Luke’s Gospel: Francis and Akins

So, when you see snowdrops, may they be Candlemas Bells, ringing with hope for you: hope in the wonderful love and faithfulness of the Lord while you trust ‘that in all things God works for the good of those who love him’. (Romans 8:28) and may you know God’s peace in believing-now and always                                                                       

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite: Sonnet for Candlemas

Let us pray

Simeon called Jesus a light to bring light to the Gentiles. 

We pray that the light of your love, which shone from the life of your Son, may bring light to every nation. 

Anna worshipped faithfully in the Temple day by day. 

We pray that the life of your church may be centred on faithful worship.

In the company of his parents Jesus grew, became strong, and was filled with wisdom. 

We pray that all families may be places of nurture, where young and old can grow together in wisdom, and in love. 

We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

Jesus the Teacher

Sunday 23rd January    Epiphany 3

Bible readings

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Luke 4:14-21

I know we have a few current and former teachers amongst us! How many here have been teachers of any kind over the years?

How many have met those you’ve taught in later years?

Did they seem to have learnt from you? Was there anything about them that made you realise that you had made an impression on them?

As children we are very observant of our teachers and I know my sister Liz who is an infant teacher often hears her own phrases and comments echoing back to her at play time when the children are playing together!!
Some teachers make a really big impression on us and we know we are different people because of them.

I have had a number of teachers at school, university and theological college who have had a very positive influence on my thinking and even approach to life.

But what about Jesus the Teacher??

What influence has his teaching had on your life and is it reflected in what you think, do and say?

And what time do we spend listening to the still small voice of God each day??

Over the past few weeks we have seen the three- fold revelation of Jesus as the Son of God at the Epiphany, his Baptism and the miracle of Cana. 

Today our Gospel reminds us that Jesus is both the teacher and the subject matter –or to put it another way, he is both the author and the contents of the book. He is the Word of God made flesh.

Although God knows all about us, he often reveals the thoughts and intentions of our hearts through our response to Him in time of trial.

In Luke chapter 3, after being baptised and filled with Holy Spirit Jesus then spends time in the wilderness. 

Here Jesus was allowed by God to be tested in the wilderness, but his response to the Devils’ temptations (and the example of dealing with our own temptations and trials) were to remain in faithful dependence on God; to be obedient to his word and not to provoke God by making inappropriate demands for a sign of God’s intervention.

Jesus has given us his example in the time of testing which of course was to be pushed to the ultimate end at the cross and here in Luke 4 he give us his supreme example of embodying and living out what he says. 

To any sceptics out there, surely anyone who can truly walk the talk as Jesus did needs to be listened to??

When we do listen to the word of God we need to be aware of its power and challenging nature:

The writer to the Hebrews says: the word of God is like a double edged sword Hebrews 4:12

We are reminded in our readings today that the word of God that is read, heard, interpreted, satisfying the basic intentions for human life, challenging to the point of provoking rage and creating a community of diversity is what the people of God live by and in hearing and obeying it there is great consequence.

One biblical commentator writes:

In Luke 4 we are reminded that the word of God can also bring rejection and rage as well as delight. As Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth the initial response of the hearers is amazement at the gracious words he speaks. However when he interprets the text and explains that the promise of liberation is for the non-Jew as well as the Jew, he is met with hostility and threatened violence.       

In what ways does Jesus’ teaching and ministry to those both within and from outside the immediate people of God find its expression in the Church today?

How open are we to enable others who may be very different from us to hear and experience the Good News of Jesus??

Life is kinder than we let it be, for there are so many occasions for love, if we don’t let fear overpower us. So many opportunities for healing, for wholeness, and all of them signs of the grace of God that desires to go on loving us and healing us and calling us home to ourselves and to each other. But without the facing of fear, even stumbling, even trembling, even sick to the pit of our stomachs, without these abandonments of jumping off the cliff into the arms of God, then we can only armour, repeat, retrench, self-protect, and whine at anyone who is different from us. And face lives without passion, without sap, without grace.

Kathy Galloway, writer 

As we enter the Gospel scene we are aware that the people first of all thought Jesus was wonderful and then they turned against him- why was that? Why were they putting up barriers against the truth??

Perhaps they swung between pride in a local hero, in “Joseph’s son” and faith in God; perhaps because they craved for signs and wonders, perhaps visible proof that He was from God instead of craving for goodness and truth..

Perhaps they wanted to control Jesus and keep him in check- familiarity breeds contempt…

Perhaps it was because he made the point that the Gentiles were also the recipients of God’s grace- an outrage to those in his hearing who wanted the promised Messiah to overthrow the pagan power-holders and restore the people of God.

To reiterate the point of the good news of Jesus being for all people, it is not insignificant that Luke places this event earlier than Mark (6:1-6) as a bold statement of intent as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee and that this good news for the wider Gentile world is also reflected in Luke’s account in the Book of Acts.

So in Luke 4 we find Jesus is stating his mission and ministry: his manifesto:

As Son of God He is the bearer of the Holy Spirit

As prophet He is the proclaimer of the good news.

As Messiah he is the one who saves, who brings release to all those who are oppressed

As prophet and Messiah, he will minister to the social outcasts and needy, including Gentiles, in the power of the Spirit.

As Luke demonstrates the reaction of the people in the local synagogue at Nazareth listening to Jesus was changeable and they would only allow God to reveal himself as far as they were ready to listen.

What about us??

Are we allowing God to reveal himself to us but on our own terms? Maybe there are barriers of fear, pride, worldly distraction, even piety and religiousness that are in the way of truly listening carefully to God?

Has God been trying to get through to you.. but these things are getting in the way from you hearing his still, small voice??

We are all just as guilty as those who heard Jesus’ first  teaching to allow barriers to be put up against the truth that he speaks and embodies, so that we are not so ready to really listen.

What does God have to do to get us to listen to Him??

There is a story of a business man who flies every week and his frequent air miles are now in the millions.  How often has he and his fellow passengers heard the emergency instructions by the cabin crew just before takeoff?  How much attention do any of us who have flown more than once, pay to the instructions?  Recently he goes on a flight.  Just before landing, the pilot interrupted the routine to tell the passengers that they possibly had landing gear trouble. The businessman looked out at the approaching airport to see the fire engines assembled alongside the runway.  They had to circle, dump fuel and listen to emergency procedures again, but this time even the most seasoned passengers paid intense attention.  As the man said, “As if our lives depended on our getting them right -because they did!”

There’s a parallel to us gathering here in the midst of whatever journey we may be on each week.  

We come together to worship, to pause to hear God’s Word and hope to hear  God’s ”landing instructions”.  

The people of Israel in our first reading, and Jesus by his example today in the gospel reading, call us today to pay attention to the God who addresses us 

– it really means the difference between a life of exile or a life of

meaning and community.   

– it means the difference between being fed spiritually and not being fed.

(By the way, the plane arrived safely!!)

Today the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing as well.

Christ is here, here in our church, on our Sabbath Day

to bring to our poor good news 

to proclaim freedom to those of us who are enslaved

to bring sight to those of us who are blind

and to release those of us who are oppressed

– those of us – and those in the world around us.

You came today to church- and praise God for that!

Tomorrow is a new day- let’s start it at the feet of our Lord Jesus, our Teacher and our Saviour and spend a few minutes reading the Bible and simply stilling ourselves to listen.

In the kitchen, tending the garden, waiting for an appointment, driving in the car- ask God to still your mind, take away any external or internal barriers from your heart and mind and allow God to speak. 

And if God is asking you to act- then have courage, have faith to act and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you truly walk the talk.

At Jesus’ baptism: This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased- listen to him…

At Cana:  Do what ever he tells you…

But for now, listen for what God might want to tell you.. 

And make your prayer to God and join with me in prayer now:

We thank you God for this time when we can stop and listen together…

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ thank you that you are always as good as your word, and that in your life your actions spoke as loud as your words. May we always do the same and act as you did.

Lord Jesus, help us to speak out for the poor, the outcasts and those who our society writes off. Help us to work towards release for those who are held captive by their way of life.

Lord Jesus, help us to notice the needs of others and respond with the compassion and love you showed so many and help us be brave enough to speak out when one group oppresses another.

We pray for those here today who seek more intently the landing instructions that you give – those here today who have concerns for themselves – or for the people in their lives – or for those in the larger world that we are all a part of.  

Help us always to reflect your love for all people in the way we speak and in the way we live.

Amen

Saving the best until last

Sunday 16th January  Epiphany 2 

Bible readings

Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36:5-10

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

 

Are you a hoarder or someone who throws things away quite quickly? This time just after the festivities of Christmas can often reveal these two aspects of human nature- like ‘what to do with all the Christmas cards’??!

There have been a number of lifestyle programmes on television which take a critical glance of someone’s clutter-filled house and tries to clear out and organise the house and the person. The latest being Sort your life out in 7 days.

(I have to say I have a thing for this sort of programme!)

What often comes out with extreme hoarders is a reluctance to let go of past memories that seem to be holding that person back in some way.

In life we also can hoard not just our possessions, but our time, our money and even our affections. We can be so caught up in our own concerns that we forget the needs of others and beyond that, forget to see the unimaginable generosity of God.

And this story, placed almost at the beginning of the Gospel of John, reminds us at the beginning of a new year, that God’s love for us is more generous, more gracious, more merciful and more joy-giving than we can ever imagine and put our earthly possessions into pale insignificance…

Back to the story- Jesus was invited to a marriage. It is assumed he knew at least one of the couple and his mother was with him. It was an ordinary wedding in an ordinary village yet, as John implies, Jesus revealed something very special about himself in that ordinary context  because in this particular marriage feast, John uses this very ordinary situation to demonstrate the true glory of Christ.

There is debate among biblical scholars why John has this story just after the Prologue and whether it is historically true or symbolic or even a parable.

For me, the purpose of this story is to demonstrate the love of God in Christ and it demands a response from its hearers as the first recorded miracle of Jesus: are you going to spend your life making rational explanations of the world around you or are you going to place your life into the hands of God and be open to see God work in unimaginable ways???

At this village wedding Jesus sees a need and does not just meet it simply but MORE than meets it. The best wine is saved until last and this was because of Jesus which expresses the overwhelming generosity, love, grace and mercy of God.

Jesus has found his calling and Mary points him to it- do whatever he tells you- she says to the wedding stewards.

St Paul in the Corinthians reading is talking about all the spiritual gifts and at the one Holy Spirit inspiring them.

Everyone has at least one gift and ministry in which they can use that gift to reveal the Spirit and for the benefit of the common good..

We need others to help us discern our calling and equally we need to encourage others to sue their gifts for the benefit of the wider church community.

The overwhelming generosity of Jesus’ miracle and sign of his divine glory in both quantity and quality is used by John as a sign of the grace of God as being equally overwhemingly generous: that there is enough grace for the whole of humanity.

Just as Jesus is concerned for the individual and meets the wedding couple at their point of need so He meets us and reaches out to us as we are and at our point of need.

Maybe I’m so drawn to Mary this week because it’s a hard business, holding the promise of God’s abundance up against the agony of scarcity, loss, and need.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the miracle itself, and all that it signifies.  But I’m more acquainted with water than I am with wine.  Many of us are, if we’re honest.  It doesn’t matter what the particulars look like — chronic illness, physical pain, financial trouble, systemic injustice.  Regardless of how we rewrite Mary’s line to match our circumstances, it rings true for all of us, in some guise or another.  They have no wine.  

So what do we do?  What can our place be in a miracle of plenty?

Maybe we can be like Mary.  Maybe we can notice, name, persist, and trust.  No matter how profound the scarcity, no matter how impossible the situation, we can elbow our way in, pull Jesus aside, ask earnestly for help, and ready ourselves for action.  We can tell God hard truths, even when we’re supposed to be celebrating. We can keep human need squarely before our eyes, even and especially when denial, apathy, or distraction are easier options.  And finally, we can invite others to obey the miraculous wine-maker we have come to know and trust.  

“They have no wine.”  “Do whatever he tells you.”  We live in the tension between these two lines.  Let’s live there well, confident of the one whose help we seek.  Because he is good.  He is generous.  He is Love.

(writer Debie Grant

God’s love is generous beyond our imagining, as we are shown in this the first of the signs or miracles of Jesus which are shown throughout the Gospel of John:

One commentator writes:

The gifts of Jesus extend well beyond meeting the needs of the moment for health or safety or food. In this story, those gifts encompass the celebration of life itself. That is to say, the sheer abundance of the gifts Jesus brings to humankind extends beyond what any human being can ask or think or comprehend.

God’s love as Paul describes, transforms our ordinary lives into something not just more useful within His purposes, but more beautiful, more holy and more God-like through the power of the Holy Spirit within us as baptised believers.

As we allow God’s Spirit to re-order our lives, so we may be surprised at the growing differences within, we may shock others by the changes, but the best is being created as we offer ourselves to God.

At the beginning of a new year, let’s allow God to de-clutter our lives from all that is unhelpful (we call it confession in Anglicanism!) and ask God to transform us so that we can mature in the spiritual gifts God has already given us-just like that vintage wine!

Let us pray:

We pray for all those who would love to believe, but cannot yet trust in the living God.

We pray for those who have rejected God because of the unloving behaviour of his followers.

We pray for those whose lives feel empty and lacking real meaning.

We pray for those whose frailty, pain or illness makes it difficult to pray.

We thank you for all the joys of loving relationships, all the friendships we share and the love we are enabled to give.

Fill us Lord:

Fill us to the brim.

Amen

Called by name: The Baptism of Jesus

Sunday 9th January 2022

Bible readings

Isaiah 43.1-7
Luke 3.15-17, 21-22     

We have been given a new name: child of God

We are on a new journey: journey of faith in Christ

We are on the journey together: living as the community of the baptised

1. A new name: child of God

Did you know that in 2015 over 85,000 people in Britain changed their name by deed poll and the number is rising each year?

The new names included Bacon Double Cheeseburger, Penelope Pitstop – after the cartoon character from the Wacky Races – and Mr and Mrs Amazing, The Times reported. Funky McFunkmaster was also one as was Noneoftheabove.

Some of the new names are bizarre to say the least – for example the Deed Poll organisation states that in regard to new middle names, one of the most names added is Danger, inspiration for which comes from the film Austin Powers, International Man Of Mystery where the character Austin Powers, upon being being released from custody, tells a guard “Danger is my middle name.”  

They say: “Every week, we issue at least one Deed Poll to someone who makes Danger their middle name.”

But what makes people change their names by deed poll?

There seem to be many reasons for wanting to change a name, including:

if you get married- and these days there is a small trend for ‘meshing’ or combining  surnames;

because you dislike your current name; 

to separate yourself from a particular person or a time or event in your life; 

to feel more part of a new family, for example a step-family. 

Or simply to have an unusual and funny name!

It’s interesting that the number of official name changes through deed poll has gone up in the past few years because it reveals that self-identity can be altered. In some cases people are re-inventing themselves, what they stand for, what their characteristics are through the change of a name.

Because what we give names to, then affect our understanding and appreciation of another person or situation.

There is power in a name as any parent knows when they are choosing the name of a newborn. It’s an important job and one which most family members are more than happy to help with. Using one another’s names in conversation is an important way of emphasising our concern for one another as unique and precious.

To lovers, the name of the beloved is deeply emotive.

To be known by name indicates a closeness of relationship which as human beings we all value.

When Mary Magdalene heard her name spoken at the Garden she realised that she was in the presence of the risen Jesus.

There is also power in a name given negatively- a nickname may seem harmless on the school playground but if it is given with the intent on causing hurt and pain then it can stick right into adulthood and affect the core of a person’s self belief and esteem.The adage “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names they never hurt you” is not simply not true, as any psychologist would tell you.

God knows the power of the name

What we find in the Isaiah passage today is that God knows the power of the name.

In the ancient world of the Old Testament, generally a name was not simply a combination of sounds by which a person, place or thing could be identified. A name expressed something of the fundamental traits, the nature or destiny of that to which the name belonged.

In the Bible the name might include some feature considered fundamental: for example the name Esau meaning ‘hairy’ is quite fitting for the firstborn son of Rebekah and Isaac because what was most noticeable about him physically was his hairy body (Genesis 22:25).

The personal name may also be centred on the circumstances of a child’s birth: for example, in Genesis 25:26 Jacob comes out of the womb gripping his older brother’s heel and the name Jacob means ‘heel-grabber’. In this case the birth circumstances and the name foreshadow the adult character of the person as we see Jacob steal his brother’s birthright and trick his father-in-law Laban.

In the Old Testament the name is also connected with the more general situation of the community into which the child has been born. For example in Hosea 1:6  when the prophet Hosea names his daughter Lo-rahama, which means ‘not pitied’ it is done in order to signify the lack of pity that Yahweh now has towards the northern kingdom of Israel.

The other way in which the connection is made between the name and the person who is given the name is focussed on the future destiny of the person:

Moses’ name had dual purpose: it means ‘draw out’ which may relate to him being drawn out of the River Nile and saved from Pharoahs’s annihilation of Hebrew baby boys (Exodus 2:1-10) and alludes also to his future task of drawing his people out from Egypt towards the Promised Land.

The disciple Peter’s name means ‘Rock’ which clearly alludes to his foundational role in the future establishment of the Christian church.

The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’ which means ‘saviour or Yahweh is salvation’.

In an earlier part of Luke’s gospel (1:31) this name is understood as demonstrating the future task of the child as saving his people from their sins.

God the name-giver in Isaiah

So when we read the passage in Isaiah which expresses the Lord’s relationship to his people as their creator and name-giver, we find that being called by name is indicative of the relationship which has its basis of love.

For us who have the perspective of both Old and New Testaments this may not be surprising, since we learn from writers like John that God is love. But for those who have heard about the fire of judgement of the Lord in chapter 42 we find the Lord’s promise that the fire will not burn them because of His love for them.

Even in this context of covenant relationship with his people and the curses of the covenant as well as the blessings, the Lord remains with his people, he is faithful to what he has promised and he is intimately involved with every circumstance of life.

Furthermore this intimacy is expressed in the word ‘redeemed’ which means that he has taken on the needs of his helpless ‘relative’ as his own and crowned with the naming – because to call by name means that there is a direct and personal relationship which involved a plan and a place for the one being named.

In this passage we see that whatever trial may happen, whether general – water, fire- or specific- rivers, flame- God’s people can lean on the changeless reality that he is with them and will protect them, that there is a sense of ‘thus far and no further’…

In verse 4 there are words that speak of the value that the Lord sees in his people- that they have been and still are precious, honoured and loved and this relationship of love itself is part of the unchanging nature of God.

So what we find in this passage in Isaiah is both the expression of God’s relationship with his people based on his unchanging love and the promise to deliver his people and we find the full reality of his deliverance and salvation in the person named Jesus.

 So the voice from heaven in Luke 3 giving Jesus the additional names and titles of ‘Son’ and ‘Beloved’ commission him for a special vocation that particularly express his future destiny.

2.  Journey of faith in Christ

Those who have been saved by God have also been claimed by God.

For those who are baptised into Jesus, we are both called by name and also given a new name- for we are a new creation. In baptism we are given the name ‘child of God’ because baptism is the acknowledgment of one’s belonging to God.

In some cultures a child is given on baptism a distinct Christian name as well as a first name in their language and the family name. 

As we find in Luke and in the Acts reading appointed for today, Baptism is not to be confused with an initiating ceremony for joining a social club or society, a  bit of ritual as a rite of passage, because as with Christ himself Christian baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit belong together.

As baptised believers we join in the work of God in the world, marked by the water and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that brings change into our lives, that brings more holiness, that brings out the gifts and fruit that belong to the Spirit, that enables us to live out our baptismal promises.

In Luke the Spirit has already been exceedingly active in the early chapters of the Gospel:

Announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (1:15)

The message of the angel to Mary (1:35)

The praise of Mary by Elizabeth (1:41-42)

The visit of Simeon to the Temple (2:27)

John’s prophetic announcement about the one who will follow him includes a reference to a future baptism with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16) and Jesus’ own baptism is marked by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the physical form of a dove (Luke 3:22).

However in this passage John describes baptism as ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’. This is followed by judgement language: chaff burnt with unquenchable fire…(Luke 3:17)

Which reminds us that the coming of Jesus does not, in one commentator’s words “baptise the status quo; rather, it overthrows every power and undermines all that seems certain in the world’s eyes. Many among Jesus’ hearers will find this most unwelcome news.

Texts for preaching, p101

But we as we hear the words from Isaiah we are reminded that for those who are called by name, for those who are the children of God, there may be fire but it won’t burn up.

Fire was an ancient symbol of judgement, refinement and purification and so to relate it to the concepts of the Spirit together with the water of baptism we see that the Holy Spirit was understood here in Luke as being active in saving and judging like fire and active in washing and refreshing like water. 

When John called people to repentance he also preached the good news showing that the grace of God (as we saw in the Isaiah passage) accompanies the warning to run from God’s judgement.

Most importantly in this account in Luke ,when Jesus was baptised it was not because he was a sinner in need of repentance but as a way of identifying with those he came to save, the fulfilment of the redeeming love of God expressed in Isaiah 43.

The second reference to the Spirit connects Jesus both with the Spirit and with God. For Luke this seals Jesus’ identity as being the Son of God and his ministry deriving from the Holy Spirit.

God calls us by name

Today- are we expecting the fresh energy of the Spirit and the quiet voice which reminds us of God’s amazing affirming love and of the path of vocation which lies ahead???

Are we hearing God’s voice calling our name and also calling us with his own name as children of God??

Our baptism involves:

Separation from this world, which is alienated from God;

Reception into a universal community centred on God, within which his children can

Grow into the fullness of the pattern of Christ and

Be part of a community whose mission is to serve God’s Spirit in redeeming the world.       [From Connecting with Baptism]

We can see that the church is the community of the baptised.

All who are baptised are called- by name- to minister in one way or another and the ministry to which all the baptised are called will include the responsibility for sharing our faith with others. [Connecting with Baptism]

The biblical pictures of turning around on life’s journey, of new creation and new birth (James 3:3ff, 1 Peter 1:12; James 1:18) imply new goals, new outlooks, new friends, new purposes. If this change in direction is to mean anything, it must at least involve a longing for to others to make the same journey and for accompanying them on it.

When Martin Luther was tempted he said ‘baptizatus sum’ –I am baptised.

To sin willingly was unthinkable for someone who was in Christ and for him [Luther] there was no better way to sum up the fact that he was in Christ than to think of himself as a baptised person. [Connecting with Baptism]

We have been given a new name: child of God

We are on a new journey through baptism: our journey of faith in Christ and 

We are on the journey together: living as the community of the baptised

We are not alone on this journey of faith- we are part of a worldwide community of baptised believers. Let us encourage one another with the name that God has called us by.

Let us affirm the value and worth that God places on each of us.

Let us affirm the promise of God’s faithfulness to us, affirm the Lordship of Christ in our lives and affirm that the Spirit’s presence in our lives will not fail.

Let us truly live out the name by which God has called us and take the journey of faith together as a community of the baptised.

 

[Sometimes during life, we end up with a new name – we take the name for ourselves – or others give it to us for some reason.  In the Bible – Simon became known as Peter, and Saul became known as Paul to indicate that they were new people.  

Names are special, because they tell us something about who we are.  

When Jesus was baptized by John, he was called, by a voice from heaven – “God’s beloved Son “.   That is a very special thing and each of you, today, like Jesus, is also called by God “his beloved child”.  You are a part of his family – and each of the people here, are your brothers and sisters.    

Now I would like all of you to think about your primary name and place it within these words…

  ” __________, you are God’s beloved child.”]

 

Let us pray….

Lord, we go from here, not just knowing that you know our name, 

but also that we carry your name, Lord Jesus.

May your Spirit go with us

and always make us worthy of that name.

Amen.

Presents that last

Christmas Day 2021

Bible readings

Isaiah 52:7-10

Hebrews 1:1-12

John 1:1-14

Children- bring presents to show!

I wonder what difference the Christmas presents you receive make to you throughout the year?

Some presents give us a genuine continuing pleasure- like a funny mug with a message or a fridge magnet or DVD.

Sometimes though we receive a gift of a different quality altogether, something hat touches us on a deeper level.

Like a book that moves us profoundly or a piece of clothing that we would never have thought of buying for ourselves but it makes us feel good…

If you watch The Repair Shop on TV you may have seen the recent episode where the amazing craftspeople had a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange.

It was when the furniture restorer Will received the unlikely present of a hand knitted scarf from the the metal worker Dominic- his reaction was one of tearful and speechless gratitude!

So it may have been an unexpected gift that left you speechless!

But perhaps it has actually been a person- like when we say it was the best Christmas present ever when a beloved mother comes out of hospital or a father returns home from the army or a child speaks their first words?

Or it might be a newborn baby who really does change your life?

(Who here is a Christmas baby?)

And one particular new born baby is the gift that God offers to us all today.

Listen to the words of John’s Prologue at the beginning of the Gospel.

The Word of God has taken human flesh and come to settle alongside us.

The light that is the guide of ALL people , however dimly we perceive it, has come into the world.

Today we have an opportunity to receive this most personal gif God in a fresh new way as the bread and wine, signs of Jesus’ self giving rare held out to us and we take them with thankful trust, with the songs of the ages in our ears and the wonder of his mysterious birth in our minds.

And what difference will HE make?

John wrote- To all who received him, who BELIEVED in his name gave power to become children of God.

Sometimes these words can be misunderstood.

Sometimes being baptised as a child, or having a single exciting experience of God as an adult, is taken as a kind of insurance policy, a certificate of recognition by God.

‘Im OK I have been done’.

It can be possible to treat Jesus as someone who will just sign your passport application- someone to be used and then forgotten about…

But of course God does not force his gift on us, and nor can we force it on anyone else.

So what does it mean to accept or receive Jesus?

Simply to welcome him.

True welcome is something we do without preconditions.

When we invite someone to our house, one of the signs of true welcome is that normally we leave it to our guest to decide when to leave.

Jesus is a guest who doesn’t want to leave at all, but to become a resident. You cant tell in advance what adjustments to your life this will call for.

But we hear also the implied enticement; this is a guest whom you wont want to leave, once you have welcomed him.

Because those who welcome him receive the power to become God’s children, to relate to God as he relates to him, to exercise the right kind of human authority in the world as he did.

At Christmas there might be one or two presents that in truth aren’t really wanted and may happen to find their way to the charity shop in January…

Are we like this with Jesus?

Sometimes we too decide that God’s gift of Jesus doesn’t need to be kept beyond Christmas, even thought we might be happy for other pope to have it.

Maybe there just isn’t room in our lives already overflowing with things and people…

We might not have realised however what a transformation he can make to everything.

But the wonderful news is that God goes on offering Jesus to us year after year, century after century, day after day, whether we have welcome him fo as long as we can remember or if our welcome has been as intermittent as the faulty tree lights.

Or perhaps we have never discovered before that God has even given us such a priceless preset.

Jesus is God’s gift of his very own- Light of his own Light, Self of his own Self.

May we not put Christ in the corner like a rejected present as he was when he first came but receive him and know the difference he makes each day as he gives us the power to become the children of God.

 

Let a weary world rejoice!

Christmas Eve 2021

Midnight HC

Bible readings

Isaiah 9:2-7

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-20

At a school nativity play, all was going well until the angel appeared and told the little girl playing Mary that she was going to have a baby.

“But how can this be,” said Mary, “since I am a Viking?”

But do the details matter about what exactly happened on the first Christmas? How do we approach the very familiar story as rational, intelligent human beings? 

And what about the whole area of Christian faith which is rekindled through the Christmas story?

Is your vision of God narrowing or fading as you get older?

Or are you fearing that life is lacking purpose in your youth?

If you are saying yes to these questions then look at Luke’s account of the First Christmas. Luke the physician, the doctor, who is concerned with the realities of life, the details of humanity and an understanding of God who is: 

Rich in purpose

Broad in perspective

Dynamic in power and 

Utterly down to earth in the ways God meets ordinary human beings-men, women and children…

And none more ordinary than shepherds working on exposed hills of the countryside at all hours, sleeping in the cold overnight, constantly ready to protect their herd from predators- a job few would want and many disregarded…

So the message to such as these reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all the people and for all time…

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Luke 2:10

Let the world rejoice is the message we hear through the angel- the messenger of God_ to the shepherds.

But how can we rejoice in a weary world that is blighted by a pandemic war, disease and suffering?

How can we still believe that God is at work in our world?

CS Lewis noted that Joy is the serious business of heaven so we need to take the message  to the shepherds to heart: 

1.   Let a weary world rejoice

Luke 2.1-14 (15-20)
‘In those days’ – not just any days, those days. We may argue with the scholars about dates and times but the theological point that Luke makes is that just as the God of the Exodus allows himself to be tabernacled in the Temple in Jerusalem (that is, God dwelling in a specific place), so Jesus comes to dwell with humanity at a specific place and time. 

In so doing he is able to redeem all of time and all of space.

We have watched the hopes of believers both in the Old and New Testaments and we know how important hope is to human beings and as well as hope, we glimpse with the shepherds the joy of those who walked in darkness when they see the light- and this hope and joy is promised not just to God’s people Israel but to the whole world- Gentiles included!

The apostle Paul realised this profound reality as he wrote of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus being for both Jew and Gentile, for example in Romans 15:10  

                  Rejoice O Gentiles, with his people…

The birth of Jesus is the fulfilment of the whole world’s hope, but he is ultimately rejected and pushed to the margins of human society to the point of death as a common criminal. However, God’s plans for the salvation are not limited by execution and as with the birth of Jesus so the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s horizons still extend beyond ours. 

2. Let a weary world rejoice

For many people life can be a struggle at times. At its worst it is a struggle to survive and at its best it is a struggle to become totally true to ourselves.

Life is messy but as we celebrate God made flesh- God with us-Emmanuel- we need to realise again that our human nature is taken into the Godhead. That is, in Jesus, God raises up our humanity to the heights of his throne. 

God raises up the mess in our lives, our human frailties and suffering as well as our best human qualities and place them in the manger so that everything is redeemed, everything is transformed by the immense love of God.  As we place our human messiness and fragility in the manger, we begin to make the journey of the reorientation of our lives.

So- as you are surrounded by the mess of unwrapped Christmas presents later today, don’t clean it up too quickly- but spend a quiet moment reflecting on the mess and place Christ in the centre, find a way in the manger.

[PAUSE]

To find the joy of the shepherds means placing our weariness into the hands of God.

Jesus himself said:

Mt11:28  Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

The gift of joy is in itself the victory over defeat, for in that joy-filled moment we have risen above the struggle and entered into the victory of God- over suffering and ultimately death- the same joy that the disciples knew as they saw their risen Lord is anticipated here in the angel’s song and experienced by the shepherds.

As the OT prophet Zephaniah wrote in Zeph. 3:17    

The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love.

Joy combines with hope to assure us that there will most certainly be victory and that we have a taste of it now even if we are in the midst of some form of suffering.

What joy seems to do is to establish us so securely in God that when we live in remembrance of its presence, we can cope with whatever life has to throw at us.

 

3.     Let a weary world rejoice

“… The joy of the Lord makes you strong.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIRV

When you hear the word “joy,” what comes to mind?

Most people define joy as a feeling of happiness when you are smiling and laughing a lot. And, they think that happiness comes from “good happenings.” Good happenings mean everything is going your way, turning out right. You have lots of money and are healthy and are very successful in work or school.

But, what happens if things are not so good? Your family is stressed financially. You may be struggling in work or school. Your relationships are fraying. You or someone close to you is very sick. Can you really have joy then?

In the Bible, joy is a deep inner gladness regardless of circumstances going on around you. That means whether you are rich or poor, sick or healthy, successful or struggling, you can still have a feeling of gladness or pleasure deep down inside. Now, you may not feel like smiling on the outside, but you can still smile on the inside. Have you ever felt that way?

This kind of joy that I am describing is supernatural. It is part of the character of God and comes to us only from a relationship with Him through knowing Jesus Christ.

Have you ever looked out of a window somewhere and just been almost dumb-struck with awe and wonder by the distant world ahead- its colours, its terrain, its possibilities, its richness- and its reality?

The experience of joy leaves behind it an awareness of our personal freedom. 

We have a window opened out to a vision that we cannot will into existence but having experienced pure joy we know does exist.

So even if our own world seems like a cramped room-cluttered with demands and responsibilities, with expectations and ideals- after experiencing the joy of the Lord, like looking through a window onto a magnificent vista, we no longer feel imprisoned because we have experienced something greater than our circumstances.

To live in the joy of God means keeping the window open, to keep glimpsing something greater than ourselves, something which has liberating power- something that continues to give us freedom: freedom in our relationship with God; freedom in our human relationships; freedom in our behaviour and our lifestyle which enables us to grow in faith, to be recreated in the image and the ways of God.

As our reading in Titus reminds us, living differently is a characteristic of living in hope and expectation for the coming of Jesus to reveal the totality of God’s glory; a glory that was heralded at his birth, demonstrated in his earthly life and ministry and revealed in his death and resurrection.

Titus reminds us that the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, into humanity is both the focus for our joy as it was for the shepherds, and Christ remains the source of our joy.

And all this- the joy, the hope, the faith- is a gracious gift from God. We do not deserve it but we are given it for our salvation, that by our lives and actions we might be faithful, giving praise to the God who has both created and is recreating us in Christ.

We are saved, rescued, delivered, from the alienation that our sins-present, past or future- and our human weaknesses would inevitably bring because we are not holy as our God is holy.

We do not deserve a relationship with God, God doesn’t deal in meritocracy- but deals with us in terms of grace, mercy and forgiveness. We can do nothing to earn his love for us but to simply, profoundly, and personally accept the gift of Jesus Christ.

Margaret Silf writes:

We wrap our gifts in glittering paper and adorn them with ribbon, hoping to make what is really very ordinary look like something special. God’s gift to us, His incarnate Word, comes barely wrapped at all. God gives us that which is utterly special, but God wraps it in ordinariness, so that we won’t be afraid to receive it. 

What window has God opened up to you, to help you realise that he is far greater than any situation that you are facing at the moment?

How is God speaking to you about a deep, lasting joy that will last beyond the next bottle of wine, or the holiday memories, or see you through the dark times?? 

Joy is strength said Mother Teresa

Joy is something that God has. But, it’s also something that God gives. He is the source of joy, just as He is the source of love and grace as we have already studied. Jesus told His disciples they would have great joy coming from Him.

Some people think that when you are a Christian, you give up anything that gives you pleasure. That is not what the Bible says. It is not wrong for a Christian to have pleasure or to seek pleasure; it is only wrong to seek pleasure in the things that are selfish.

Christians filled with God’s joy should find many reasons to laugh and delight in life. 

We can serve God with delight. 

We can praise God and sing worship songs with delight. 

We can love our families and friends with delight.

And, our joy will be even greater in heaven when we are with Jesus Christ and can have the delight of seeing Him with our own eyes.

Conclusion

So now that all the preparations are done, let us be still…

As we take stock of what we really want from life, let us ask where we will really find the direction, affirmation and purpose to life that we seek…

As God comes to us in the vulnerability of a child, let us come as we are to him, let us become part of the story…And as we become part of the story, pray that God would speak to the weariness of the world through you…

And let a weary world rejoice!

Amen. 

Count me in

Sunday 18th December 2021 Advent 4

Bible readings

Micah 5:2-5

Psalm 80:1-8

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-55

 

Count me in

Has there ever been a time when you really wanted to join with something that was either happening or about to happen?

Perhaps to join a football or cricket team that was having a good season?

Or to take part in an event that was going to have a famous person joining it?

Or simply to come along and enjoy the atmosphere of a friend’s birthday party?

Remember how that felt- how determined and single minded you were to take part in the team or the event – or whatever it was…

Last week we were thinking of John the Baptist challenging people to repent, to change and sort out their lives and giving them practical advice about how to do that. 

Those who went away and did as John suggested, found that once they had started to cooperate willingly with God, their lives took on a new perspective and freshness that many had lost.

Those of us who took last week’s teaching to heart and started to look seriously at what needed changing in our lives may also be here this morning with a similar lightness in our step and a more positive aspect in our lives because cooperating with God is exhilarating and liberating. 

Working together with God sets us free because we are back in tune with our creator God, as we have been designed to be.

To cooperate with God willingly sometimes means that we might be called to set aside something precious to us in order that a greater good may happen.

We see this in Jesus as he lay aside his glory in order to show the true meaning of love. This is the gift of giving- willingly and without expectation of anything in return.

When we find Mary willing to lay aside so much- social and religious expectations especially- laid aside in obedience to God’s call and out of love for Him- we are watching the most real and beautiful aspect of human nature: that is, God and humanity co-operating together for the good of the world.

Mary was one who had said to God a determined ‘count me in’ to what God was doing. And this meant that God could use her- and he did!

It was through Mary co-operating with God that Jesus could come in to the world, could be born, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone and yet fully and completely God.

Mary was not alone in this experience as her cousin Elizabeth had also agreed to co-operate with God’s purposes and was expecting her son John and they stayed together for three months, to encourage and support one another in their respective callings.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen expressed this way: 

Neither Mary nor Elizabeth had to wait in isolation. They could wait together and this deepen in each other their faith in God, for whom nothing is impossible. Thus, God’s most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community.

The story of the Visitation teaches me the meaning of friendship and community. How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it and strengthen it?

We cannot live this new life alone. God does not want us to isolate us by his grace. On the contrary, he wants us to form new friendships and a new community- holy places where his grace can grow in fullness and bear fruit.

In her book Music of Eternity which we have been studying during Advent, Robyn Wrigley Carr describes Mary’s permission giving to God in relation to her pregnancy:

Mary is our archetype for Advent as we watch and wait.Her capacity for God-‘full of grace’ as emptied of self- enables her to play her part in our Lord’s coming.In the silence of  Advent waiting, we can attend to God and like Mary in her pregnancy, we will find ourselves enlarged in the waiting…The true work of repeater, self-conquest and suffering, is to increase our latent capacity for God and our self-obvious response.

This is interesting that God provided Elizabeth for Mary and Mary for Elizabeth as it sets a precedent for the followers of Jesus and the purposes of God- that we do not follow in isolation but together in faith, in order to encourage and support one another in what God is doing in our lives.

How are we as a church here seeking to build this faith-affirming, faith- deepening, faith-strengthening community?

How could we do more to ensure that no-one who is following Jesus is in isolation??

In Mary and in Elizabeth we see God come among his people so intimately, so closely that we can experience with them the excitement and anticipation of what God was about to do.

Having agreed to co-operate with God they found themselves being used for such an extraordinary and important job that they could hardly believe it!

What’s more- they weren’t rich or socially powerful and they probably weren’t even that well-educated!

Mary willingness to say to God ‘count me in with what you are doing’ meant that God took her up on her offer. And this can be the same for us, especially when we begin to understand the love of God that is drawing us out of darkness into His marvellous light and love.

If we could even begin to comprehend the depth of the love of God for us; if we could catch but a glimpse of the pain and suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf because of that love, we would be infinitely more inclined to love Him back. Paul says in Romans 5:8; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Mary was to ponder on her willingness to trust God’s message to her and its consequences but her heart was full of praise.

She was to be later told by Simeon that her soul would be pierced by the child (Luke 2:35) but her heart was full of treasured memories (Luke 2:51)

As we prayerfully consider the cost of discipleship, of opening up our lives to say yes to God let us also consider the cost of Christ himself-the total self abandonment on the cross. 

If we don’t opt out as soon as he asks us of things that we may not want to give or give up; if we have the courage to trust in God, then God will take us up on our offer and will be able to work with us in our lives to do amazing things and we will be able to echo Mary’s words that ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 1:37). 

Imagine if every one of us here- of whatever age-decided today to trust God and courageously work with God, to say to God ‘count me in with whatever you are doing today’?

Then God could get us making waves in our parish and beyond that would completely transform both our lives and the lives of those around us…

Let us pray…

O God our deliverer

You cast down the mighty 

And lift up those of no account;

As Elizabeth and Mary embraced

With songs of liberation,

So may we also be pregnant with your Spirit.

And affirm one another in hope for the world.

Amen.

A prayer by Janet Morley in All Desires Known

Ikon of St John the Baptist. Source unknown

John the Baptist, St. Francis and change

Advent 3 Sunday 12th December 2021

Bible readings

Zephaniah 3:14-end

Psalm 146:4-end

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18 

     

There is nothing permanent except change 

Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!    St Paul  2 Corinthians 5:17

Change is something we are all used to. Some of us relish change. Others loathe it.

People make careers out of change management in business.And we also know who or what we think should be changing…

But the challenge to us today especially from our Gospel reading about John the Baptist is- are we willing to be changed by God?

At the Family Pet Service in October, we learnt about St Francis of Assisi and especially his particular love and extraordinary understanding of God’s creation as part of his Christian faith. He challenged people to change their views and one of the stories attached to him is ”How St. Francis Taught The People of Gubbio To Feed Their Wolf.” 

It is a strangely humorous story with layers of meaning:

In a nutshell, the people of the Umbrian city of Gubbio have a problem.  

It is around 1220 and the bloody remains firstly of animals and then of some of their own townsfolk start showing up on the streets of their beautiful city when people wake in the morning.  

Since the people of Gubbio are a very proud people, they are convinced that “a stranger” passing through must be responsible for the terrible crime. 

Nevertheless, they begin to lock their doors at night.  When more deaths follow, the same denial “that no one in Gubbio could be responsible for such a thing” is expressed over and over again.

And then, someone sees a wolf wandering the streets of Gubbio one night

after everyone has retired; and the people of Gubbio realize that there is

a wolf living in the dark woods on one side of Gubbio.  Of course, this

could not be ‘their’ wolf; because they never asked this wolf to come to

Gubbio.  Immediately, they begin to find ways to dispatch this wolf.

After a number of futile attempts, the people get desperate enough to

approach Francis, the holy man who has a reputation for being able to

talk to animals.  

St. Francis speaks peace to the wolf which submits to his mercy and Francis then gives the people what appears to be some strange and, not entirely, welcome advice.  

He tells the people of Gubbio that they must feed their wolf.  

At the first, the people are not impressed with this suggestion and begin

to wonder why they ever approached the holy man in the first place.  And then, something miraculous happens.  Bit by bit, people begin to leave food out for the wolf as he prowls the streets of Gubbio.  The violent deaths cease because the wolf is no longer hungry and it is not long before every man, woman and child has learned how to feed their wolf.  

As a result, the people of Gubbio are transformed. They become more easy-going, less arrogant human beings and many are convinced that it is a miracle from God.

St Francis has brought peace to the troubled city and according to tradition, Gubbio gave the wolf an honourable burial and later built the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace at the site. During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a large wolf, apparently several centuries old, was found under a slab near the church wall and reburied inside…

People who hear this story for the first time have a variety of reactions to it.   

Some are immediately amused by the story and may identify with the proud people of Gubbio.  They recognize that haughtiness that has to “blame it on strangers” when something goes wrong.  

The denial and avoidance of the townsfolk are all too familiar.  In laughing at the people of Gubbio as they come to terms with their wolf, they realize that they themselves can find healing and freedom by embracing the negative aspects of themselves, their community and their church, that part of the story that is symbolized by the wonderfully vague image of “the wolf.”

Other people, however, just don’t get it.  Or worse, they are offended by the suggestion of a self-identity that incorporates rather than excludes “their” wolf.  They decline the invitation to befriend and feed that which they fear most in themselves and each other and miss the opportunity to come to a new and healthier understanding of themselves.

Indeed in 1913, the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío published Los motivos del lobo (The motives of the wolf), concluding that human desires are darker than those of the beast.

On this third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Gaudete or Joy Sunday, the church asks us to consider some equally strange advice from scripture. 

On the one hand Paul tells the people at Philippi to

   Rejoice in the Lord always.  I say it again – rejoice!

And Zephaniah’s message is similar:

   Be glad and rejoice with all your heart

 That sounds like what the upcoming season of Christmas is supposed to be about -being of good cheer and holiday exuberance and all that goes with it…

But, then when we get to the Gospel for this week, once again we hear about John the Baptist, and John, carrying on from the message of last Sunday’s gospel reading, is doing what he does best- challenging his hearers:

   “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees”; he cries out,

   “every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John points out that failing to live fairly, failing in loving care of their neighbour and failing to bear good fruit is part of failing in mercy and justice. 

John’s uncomfortable message demands change- a change of heart and a change of attitude that reflect in a change of action.

The Greek term used is metanoia- the journey to changing ones heart, mind, self or way of life. We call this repentance.

And once again we are reminded that the God who is coming is not a Santa Claus figure “who knows whether you are naughty or nice”,  but Jesus Christ, God with us, Immanuel, the one who calls to us to turn around and follow him- so that we may know a peace that passes all understanding and have life in all its fullness (John 10:10).

As we listen to Scripture we realise that there is wisdom that is so different from the wisdom of our world.

And as we note the lives of Christian saints like St Francis we realise that God’s transformation of one person can bring transformation to many others.

Instead of finding joy through a positive psychological assessment of ourselves or in the mindless advice to “Be Happy” no matter what is happening, we are told that joy is what happens when we respond to that which God demands of us; and what God demands, in the words of John the Baptist, is repentance or a change of heart.  

What the Gospel is trying to do for you today is release you from the counterfeit joy that we are sold by advertisers…

Real joy is what happens when we confront our sin, face up to what keeps us unhappy, and turn towards God’s redeeming love. 

This joy is not dependent upon our feelings since it is a state of reconciliation with God through Christ.

The poet W. H. Auden once wrote “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”

   Follow, poet, follow right

   To the bottom of the night,

   With your unconstraining voice

   Still persuade us to rejoice;

   With the farming of a verse

   Make a vineyard of the curse,

   Sing of human unsuccess

   In a rapture of distress

   In the deserts of the heart

   Let the healing fountain start,

   In the prison of our days

   Teach the free man how to praise.

       

The Good News of Advent – the joyful news – is that God is coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, not to destroy us, but to refine us, to help us to become what we were meant to be through ‘the Love that wilt not let us go’…

Christ is God’s greatest gift to us: to own up to what we have been and done, to express our sorrow and be relieved of the terrible burden of having to think that we are right all of the time.   

So may we be filled with the freedom of knowing that we are not right all of the time – and the joy of knowing that we don’t have to be!  

Indeed Christ has come to set us free.  To forgive us and to show us God’s love.  

And may our freedom found in Christ alone being us to a place of true praise that is outworked through our worship and in our lives.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, come and bring your joy to our lives this Christmas.  

Come and bless the ones we love; come with the gifts that never break; the knowledge that we are loved and precious; the awareness that we belong and are valued; the realisation that we’re welcome and can welcome others.

Your coming has changed our history and given us a future and a hope and shown us how to love. 

Help us to celebrate this Advent and Christmas Season whole-heartedly and open-handedly as we receive again the gift of Christ and share Him with others.

Amen.

What are you expecting?

Sunday 5th December 2021 Advent 2

 

Bible readings

Malachi 3:1-4

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

 

In the classic TV comedy Fawlty Towers John Cleese as Basil Fawlty asks

May I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains of Africa??

…When an elderly guest complains that the view from her room is not quite what she had in mind!

His question is taken to extremes but it takes us to the heart of Advent: 

WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING?

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”       Luke 1:78

After his son, John, was born, Zechariah “was filled with the Holy Spirit” and uttered a “prophecy” (1:67). 

His prophecy is often called the Benedictus because of how it begins in Latin: benedictus Deus Israhel (Blessed be the God of Israel). 

Zechariah praised God for sending a Saviour, whose way would be prepared by John. 

Finally, God would fulfil his promises through the ancient prophets (1:70).

Zechariah’s prophecy concludes by celebrating what God is about to do through the birth of Jesus: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us in the path of peace” (1:78-79). 

The light of God would overcome the darkness of the human condition, even breaking the power of the shadow of death. Through God’s light, new life would be born that brings the opportunity to live in God’s peace.

Notice what motivates God to send forth his saving light: his “tender mercy.” 

The Greek original of this phrase uses two words, eleos and splanchna. Eleos is the standard Greek term for mercy. It suggests showing exceptional kindness to someone in need. Splanchna refers literally to the inner organs of the body. But Greek speakers used this word much as we would use the English word “heart.” Splanchna was the location of strong feelings of compassion and care. 

So Zechariah intensifies and tenderizes God’s mercy. God will reveal his saving light because of his heartfelt mercy. He senses our desperate need. He knows we are lost without his help and feels for us much as a parent for a beloved and hurting child.

The Benedictus encourages us not only with the good news of God’s salvation through Christ but also with the staggering truth that God feels deeply for us. His compassion for you and for me is passionate, profound, and permanent. It gives us hope every day, especially in the season of Advent.

Just as Advent calls us to look ahead to Christmas and prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ, it also calls us to remember the expectation felt by the people of Israel as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as fulfilment of the ancient words of prophecy- this expectation summed up in the Benedictus of John’s father, the priest Zechariah. Above all though it calls us to anticipate the return of Christ in glory to establish God’s kingdom once and for all.

As the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and his subsequent ministry remind us, many people were taken by surprise by the sort of Messiah he proved to be, 

So the question to us this morning is what are WE expecting this Advent- and are we open to what God has done, is doing and has yet to do

God’s ways are not our ways…Jesus wasn’t the political redeemer the Jews of his day were expecting; Jesus mixed with socially unacceptable people which the religious leaders did not expect; Jesus died a death of a criminal which is not what even his closest friends were expecting.

God cannot be tied down to narrow human horizons and limited expectations

God will continually reveal his nature to us in ways we don’t expect- calling us to avenues of service we never contemplated.

John the Baptist was called to be a prophet preparing the way for the king- making the path smooth and straight (as opposed to rough and bumpy which was the norm in John’s time). 

His message wasn’t unique to the faithful Jew hearing him- the message of repentance and forgiveness, the call to righteousness were familiar-  but the way in which after nearly 400 years God chooses this man living a life of asceticism in the wilderness, to be the forerunner of the Messiah with his powerful rebuke of both the legalism and religiosity of the Pharisees and the rational traditionalism among the Sadducees and their claim of heritage with Abraham, meant that he was preparing for a very different understanding of the kingdom of God.

So this Advent what do we expect of the kingdom of God?

Do we think of it as God having a vague overview of the world but letting us get on with our own lives?

Do we think of the kingdom as some benign presence in the world but not making any challenges to how we live?

Or do we think in John’s terms of kingdom as prophesied by his father- a place of God’s power through the Spirit- like a fire with its power of illumination, purification and warmth and like the breath of life, a powerful wind, the work of creation and bringing God’s truth into our lives?

John’s message was simple: think out of the box, let God change your life so that you are more and more open to the God who loves you and wants you to belong to him fully.

So if there is one thing I would like you remember this Advent is: Think out of the Box- be prepared to let God surprise you, let your preconceptions and expectations be turned on their head as you allow God to work in your life…

Are you open to the God of the unexpected?

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: 

Do you ever think of God having tender, heartfelt mercy for you? 

How does the good news of God’s “tender mercy” impact the way you think and feel? How might it impact the way you live and work each day? 

How might it shape your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers?

Let us pray

Praise be to you, Lord God of Israel, because you have visited and redeemed us. You have sent a Saviour to deliver us. You have shown us, not just mercy, but heartfelt mercy. You have shined your light upon us, illuminating our darkness and chasing away the shadow of death.

May I be prepared to be surprised by your love.

May I live in the reality of your tender mercy. 

May your compassion for me move me to love you more, honouring you with every part of my life. 

As your mercy animates me, may I show heartfelt mercy to others.

All praise, glory, and honour be to you, mighty and merciful God. Amen.

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Advent Sunday

28th November 2021

Bible readings

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25:1-9

1 Thessalonians 3:9-end

Luke 21:25-36

Looking Forward In Hope

 

In an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip – this conversation takes place. In

the first frame Calvin speaks to Hobbes and says:   

   “Live for the moment is my motto.  You never know how long you got”.

In the second frame he explains 

   “You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a

   cement truck!  Then you’d be sorry you put off your pleasures. 

   That’s what I say – live for the moment.”

And then he asks Hobbes:    “What’s your motto?”

Hobbes replies:             “My motto is – Look down the road.”

Living for and in the present moment is a very current philosophy that can lead us to selfishness, fatalism, hedonism but being aware of the future…

The word Advent means ‘to come’ and on this first day of the church’s year we are called to wait for what is to come.

So- today- what are we waiting for today??

We are waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise.

Today’s scripture readings are 

about what is coming down the road towards us,

they are about the promise God has made to us,

the promise made when he said,

   “The days are coming, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the

   house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that I

   will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he will

   execute righteousness in the Land.”  Jeremiah 33: 14-15

What does it mean to us now, this promise of God?  What does it mean too

when Jesus says to us that there is a day coming when the Son of Man will

come to us in a cloud with power and great glory?

What do these promises mean now in the midst of a busy life, 

a hectic life?

What do these promises about the future mean when we are caught up in

trying to do all we can do right here and now in the present – what do they

mean when we are struggling to live one day at a time  – when we are trying

to be all things to many people?

What do they mean when we watch the news or read the paper and discover

that senseless horrors continue throughout the world; that crime and

starvation and terrorism and war and earthquakes and floods abound and

indeed seen to be increasing?

They mean that I should rejoice and that I should stand up and watch and pray that I may be able to stand before The Son of Man when he comes.

They mean that our God is an interventionist God.

Of Luke 22

With its warning about the day that may catch you unexpectedly like a trap, this Gospel reading could seem painfully appropriate for Christians who know that the first Sunday of Advent carries in its wake the customary if much lamented December frenzy. 

Brugemann

What is the connection between the anticipated birth of one tiny infant and the shaking of the powers of the heavens?

May be the language is difficult for us- too dramatic perhaps?

But as we look through Scripture this language is nothing new as in Isaiah 24 :19 or Psalm 89..

This passage in Luke conjures up an expectation about divine intervention into the way the world is rather than some specific event that can be predicted and described.

Brugemann

Do we believe that God generally does intervene in human life??

Surely the basis of our faith is that God has already intervened in the person of Jesus Christ and that this passage reminds us of our attitude to the promised intervention that will come in the future.

Just as we reflected lat week on the kingship of Christ so Jesus’ words here indicate that the kingdom of God lies close at hand- much like the new leaves on a tree indicate that summer will soon be at hand…

In verses 32-33 there are solemn assurances of the faithfulness of Jesus’ promise and our first response is to TRUST in Jesus and in his words.

We are to be alert, prayerful, strong in faith.. so that we will be able to stand before the Son of man (v36)

In all the consumer frenzy (that have begun even earlier this year because of commercial pressure) we are reminded to wait and watch and not be distracted.

May be we wont be overcome with dissipation and drunkenness (I hope not anyway!) but we may find ourselves preoccupied with the worries of this life.

Certainly the covid pandemic among may other more personal things can take our attention, time, energy  and prayer away from the promises of Jesus.

Let us not let these concerns so cloud our vision that the impending kingdom of God remains out of our sight.

Let us look beyond the here and now to the larger picture, the bigger scenario where God’s kingdom, all that is good and holy and peaceable and merciful and righteous and redeemptive is found.

May we be watchful, prayerful, hopeful and patient as we walk in the ways of the Kingdom and may we wait for the PROMISE to be fulfilled.

What is the promise?

The promise of God – the promise of Christ – is that the future is not

going to be like the present.  It is that those things that I see that are 

wrong in this world will perish away, and that a new heaven and a new earth will come upon us – a heaven and earth of everlasting peace and justice, joy and love. 

HOW can we be ready for what has been promised?

1. We can be prepared.

   “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with

   dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that

   day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.  For it will come upon all

   who live on the face of the whole earth.  Be alert at all times,

   praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things

   that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

How often do you feel rushed off your feet and distracted and unable to

appreciate what is really happening around you??.

 What one thing or couple of things do you tend to be so focussed on that you kind of lose your context and miss some of the joys of life and what God is actually doing around you?   

Do you ever feel lost in today?

      – lost in the moment -and the concerns that this moment brings?

Has your life been taken over by one thing or another 

      so that you can’t appreciate what else is going on?  

   What else is happening?

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading not to be so distracted by the big

issues: like a pandemic warfare, floods, famine, when creation seeming to fall apart.  But rather to see them as signs of what is to take place.

But he is also telling us about the personal things that can be even more

distracting It’s those personal events that are so distracting, because they are subtle.  We don’t realise what is happening until it is too late.  All

of a sudden we’re trapped, feeling sorry for ourselves, working so hard,

being so focussed on one thing, that we miss the bigger picture.  

That’s why Jesus tells us to be alert. To watch.  To not get so caught up

in the everyday things or the big tragedies that we lose sight of the

larger scheme, that we fail to look down the road, that we fail to see the

presence of the Kingdom looming towards us with all its hope – all its

promise.We need to be PREPARED and ready.

  1. We can persevere.

In the Gospel reading Jesus urges his followers to be strong in faith. Why? Because the world will distract us, it will tire us and wear us out unless we stand firm.

When the pressure is on to question our faith, whether from friends or family or from a social media bombardment- we are called again to persevere and stand firm in our faith through prayer and worship, through meeting together in fellowship, through regular study of the Bible…all these things will help us to stand firm.

  1. We need patience as we wait.

We are all aware of the impatience of the world around us- ‘I have to have it and have it now’ goes a mantra of the shopping world.

Jesus is warning us against the distractions of the worries and concerns of the world around us and telling us to have different attitude- as well as preparing and perseverance, Jesus calls us to have patience while we wait for the promise to be fulfilled.

Patience is a gift of the Spirit therefore it has to be part of a life lived in the Spirit of God. To persevere in our faith- not just keeping going- but keeping GROWING IN FAITH- we need patience. Coming closer to God will mean that we are more open to the Spirit

So what is the attitude of Advent?.  Being alert to what is going on

around us.  Of readying ourselves by prayer, worship, witness and hope.

Jesus does not tell us about the signs of the end and the coming time of

judgement to frighten us, but rather to assure us – to have us understand

that God is keeping his promise – and that the time of his rule is at hand.

He tells us about the signs of the coming of the kingdom so that we might

ready ourselves for it.

So this Advent we are reminded to look down the road, to walk the road towards the approaching Kingdom in prayer and in hope, in righteousness and in love, knowing that as so many of promises of God were fulfilled at the birth of Christ, so the rest will be fulfilled – to his praise and his glory.   

 

Post Communion Prayer for Advent Sunday

O Lord our God,

make us watchful and keep us faithful

as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;

that, when he shall appear,

he may not find us sleeping in sin

but active in his service

and joyful in his praise;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.