Readings for Sunday 27th November 2022 1st Sunday in Advent
Matthew 24: 36-44, - The Day and Hour Unknown
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Romans 13: 11 – 14, - The Day Is Near
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Reflections on Matthew 24: 36-44, Romans 13: 11 – 14
Last Sunday Anne and I went to see Cloudbusting, a Kate Bush tribute band, at the Macmillan Theatre in Bridgwater. It’s the fourth time we have seen them and we both thought that it was their best performance yet. It was a new song list – some we didn’t know – and also included some iconic music: running up that hill, man with the child in his eyes, wuthering heights, babooshka. Mandy Watson, the lead singer was brilliant; the four musicians were fab as well. It was a really enjoyable evening, playing to a packed house. We booked the tickets back in July. We had to wait over 4 months for the show. Quite a lot of the time we didn’t remind each other that November 20th was getting closer. But just occasionally we’d say something like ‘Do you know what?’, ‘No. What?’ ‘November 20th is getting closer’. It was a wait, but the wait was worth it. Oh yes, definitely worth it!
What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for? Christmas, birthday, operation, holiday, birth?....
As Christans, we are all waiting for something, someone and it’s going to happen sometime.
As Christians, the something that we are waiting for is the second coming, the someone is Jesus and it will happen at sometime in the future. But, well, who knows when the time will be?
This is what Advent is all about. It’s a time of waiting and preparation. Not for Christmas, although it was only up until a couple of years ago that Anne put me straight on this. I always thought Advent was a time of preparation for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. No, the season of Advent is a time of preparation and waiting for Jesus’ second coming. It is a penitential season, like Lent, which is why the altar frontal (in Hutton) is changed to purple. It is a time for self reflection, maybe changing one’s actions and lifestyle, maybe taking up something new or developing an old pattern of life that has been forgotten, which can bring you closer to Jesus and Jesus closer to you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you into how she (the Holy Spirit has a feminine pronoun, so ladies, part of God is feminine) would like you to grow and develop in this Advent season.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, starts the paragraph by saying ‘And do this’. So there is an action to do something. To find out what this something is, we need to go back a few verses. Paul reminds us that we are to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ He says ‘love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.’ This is the law of grace, ‘we love, because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). We show God’s love to others as a reflection of the love that God has shown firstly to us. We don’t do it because we think we ought to do it, as if we are someone under compulsion, but we show God’s love to others as a natural response to God’s love for us. This is a wakeup call. It is a wakeup call to stop dozing and being oblivious to God and what he’s doing and going to do. Maybe we’ve lost our focus on God; maybe we’ve become lukewarm and forgotten out first love for God. Paul says wake up! Wake up! Does what we do and our lifestyle glorify God, do our actions show his love for us and our love for him? Or do we live one life in church and a different life at home? Paul writes that ‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.’ What does he mean by ‘The night?’ The night is the time before Jesus’ return when there is still evil and darkness about. One only has to view the news to know that there is evil about. Yes, we live in dark times, but don’t let that be an excuse to add to the darkness by our behaviour. Jesus is coming back, don’t know when, but it will happen. Paul thought that it was going to happen in his lifetime, which is why he writes that ‘our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.’ Yes, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. That’s true. So let’s throw off anything which is of the darkness in us, and put on the light of Christ, the armour of light. So what are the things which we should throw off? Well, anything which causes us to not ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Here I would ask that the Holy Spirit would show us anything that we need to confess to God, who forgives because he loves us and wants us to be whole and know life in all its fullness. Is there anything which is done in secret which is of darkness? Paul lists: carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery, dissension or jealousy. I did have to look up carousing and debauchery, and the definitions are ‘the activity of drinking alcohol and enjoying oneself with others in a noisy, lively way’ and ‘excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs.’
I’ll pause here, to give space for God by the power of the Holy Spirit to move and work. So we pray Lord, is there anything you would want us to confess and lay at the foot of the cross for which we need to ask forgiveness? Because as John writes in his letter (1 John 1:9) 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.'
That’s a bad list which Paul wrote, a dark list, a list which causes pain and suffering, to oneself and also to others. It’s not of the light, but of the darkness. So let’s throw it off. Throwing it off is one thing. This leaves a gap, a hole where the bad things were, now that these things have been discarded. Paul tells us to put on Christ. Put on Christ’s ways, his way of thinking, his way of working, so that you clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
To clothe oneself with Jesus takes time and effort. The best way to start is to do something that is specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time bound. For those of you who have been in management, you will possibly recognise these words as having the acronym SMART. You need to find something which works for you. Maybe its Bible reading notes and read them before you get up in the morning. Maybe it’s saying a morning office. I use the Northumbria Community form of Morning Prayer. Maybe its lectio divina, where a short Bible passage is read through slowly three times, seeing what words or phrases God wants you to hold onto during the day. Maybe it’s spend time in prayer. Maybe it’s reading a psalm a day, or read through the New Testament a chapter a day. Maybe set an alarm on your watch or phone, to go off at the same time each day, to remind you to stop and say the Lord’s Prayer to yourself. Maybe also when you go to bed at night practice the discipline of examine, where one thinks back over the day and reflects how God has worked in it and give thanks. It doesn’t matter what it is, but please do something and keep it up. This way you will slowly become more like Jesus, as you spend time with him regularly each day. As Paul writes in Romans 12:2 ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’
So I echo what Paul says ‘Wake Up!’ Put off the deeds of darkness, put on the armour of light and clothe yourselves with Jesus.
My final point is this; only Father God knows when his son Jesus is going to return. Life will be going on as normal, but suddenly and unexpectedly Jesus will return. Keep watch, be ready, keep short accounts with people and with God. Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today. Don’t delay in getting right with God. Be ready. The dawn of Jesus’ second coming will come.
So wake up, put off the deeds of darkness, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and keep watch. Use this Advent wisely and as people of the light may God bless you and those with whom you come into contact in this often dark world.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 30th October 2022
Luke 19: 1-10 - Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
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.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Reflections on Luke 19: 1 – 10
Sometimes I call on people unannounced. When I do I always ask if it is convenient to call. Often they say yes but please excuse the mess (especially if they have children) or they say – please ignore the washing up to be done or the pile of ironing. I then always say – I haven’t come to see your house, I’ve come to see you. When people do know that I am coming I suspect that they have a tidy up. When people come to stay we always have a big clean and tidy. If someone really important was coming you would want it immaculate. I wonder who the most important person is who has visited your house. Today’s reading from Luke is about someone visiting a home unexpectedly. It’s the story of Zacchaeus which we know so well and sing songs about as children. But let’s go beyond the familiar and see what’s really happening and what it says to us.
So we have this man called Zacchaeus. We know quite a bit about him – he is the chief tax collector – the head of the local tax department. Taxes were as controversial now as they are today. You keep it quiet if you work for HMRC. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have collected taxes for himself but would have employed others to do it. He had a very important role. He was also stinking rich because of it. BUT because of that he was very unpopular, hated and despised even and wouldn’t have had much of a social life or friends. He was rich in wealth but poor in love and friendship. He couldn’t have been very happy at all. A bit further back in Luke 18: 18 we have another account about a rich man - the rich young ruler coming to Jesus to ask about how he could inherit eternal life. He tells Jesus that he keeps all the laws but then Jesus says to him ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’ But the man becomes sad because he can’t do this. Then Jesus warns about it being hard for the rich to enter into God’s kingdom. It’s also interesting to note that at the end of chapter 18 we have the account of Jesus healing the blind poor man who said Lord I want to see and Jesus heals him. So here now with Zacchaeus we have a bit of a repeat. We have a rich man and we have a man who wants to see Jesus. Jesus is passing through Jericho not intending to stop. Word must have got out about this and like when royalty are due to go somewhere the crowds gather in the hope of getting a glimpse of Prince William or even the king. And I can relate to this being short – Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. I usually use my elbows to get to the front or just push but being who Zacchaeus was and not being liked, nobody would have given way. Zacchaeus didn’t just want to see Jesus, it says he wanted to see who he was. He’d heard about him and was curious and wants to see for himself. He wants to see physically and I also believe he wants to see spiritually. Maybe deep down he was very unhappy and he wanted his life to change. So not being able to see he runs on ahead and climbs a tree that was near the road – 10/10 for being resourceful.
So my first point is – we need to see Jesus. We need to know him, not just know about him. We shouldn’t rely on the faith of others but should seek to know Him for ourselves. Zacchaeus did all he could to get a glimpse – a grown man climbing a tree was undignified but he was intent on seeing him. I’m just finishing another Alpha group and it is always wonderful to watch people seeing Jesus – seeing him for the first time, seeing him in a new way, starting to see him again. We can’t climb trees but we can see who Jesus is through His word, through prayer and through other Christians. If you or those you know are wanting to see Jesus then come along to Alpha – in fact everyone should do it. No exceptions. So often people have a distorted view of Jesus – they are blind as it were. I remember vividly having glasses for the first time and the optician taking me to the door and putting on the glasses. I was shocked at the colours and the detail and also sad that I had thought my blurred world was normal. I often wondered why people thought I ignored them in the street and I was amazed I managed to get the right bus. Have you seen Jesus for who He really is? So Zacchaeus was expecting a glimpse but instead he got an encounter, a meeting. A bit like the King coming to speak to you and then saying I’m coming for tea! He must have been amazed and overjoyed. Then Jesus speaks to him – Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. Can you feel the urgency and the command? Not – can I come to your house please – but I must stay at your house. Come down immediately.
So my second point is – Jesus’ call is urgent. Jesus was only passing through but he saw the need and the opportunity and knew this man’s heart and he stopped and he called him. If we sense Jesus calling us, do we respond – because when Jesus speaks and calls it’s for now – not tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3: 15. And in 2 Corinthians 6: 2 Paul writes For God says, "In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.’ God’s time is now. It’s now for us and also we need to have an urgency in reaching out to others and being willing to seize the opportunity as we are passing through our day. So Jesus goes to Zacchaeus house – I wonder if he’d done the dishes! The people are cross because they believe that he is a sinner – and he is – and so are they. Jesus had met with Zacchaeus and he came into his house and then immediately Zacchaeus knows what he must do – sort his life out. He is a changed man. We are not saved through good works but when Jesus comes into our lives then things should not stay the same.
We become a new creation – my 3rd point – a new man or woman. Paul says ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Corinthians 5: 17 Zac knew what he had to put right – he had taken people’s money and cheated on them and would pay back more than the law said. He was putting right the sins of his past. Can you see the change in your life? Have you changed your old habits, have you asked forgiveness of people you have hurt, have you paid back anything you owe, have you got rid of all bitterness and malice and gossip, have you broken off your relationship with your addictions – money, drink, food, your phone, possessions, power – whatever it is that binds you? Are there things in your life that you keep putting off changing – because the time is now. If Jesus came to your home today you would clean and tidy – yet if Jesus has come into your life the result should be a clean- up and a throw out. Let’s ask ourselves what still needs sorting. Jesus brought salvation to Zacchaeus – he brought new life, new hope, friends probably, forgiveness and acceptance. Jesus says ‘Today salvation has come to this house. Because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.’ Jesus would soon go to the cross to bring that salvation and to deal with all our wrong and rubbish. Zacchaeus was rescued by Jesus and he became a son of Abraham – not in that he was a Jew but that he followed in the faith of Abraham. Jesus had brought fresh air to the house, and maybe to the whole family.
4. How has salvation come to your house – what difference does Jesus make to your family life, your single life, your married life and your relationship with your children. This is such a good news story – the whole community would have seen the change and have been affected. Jesus sought out Zac, he called him, he changed him and he brought him salvation. Do we know that for ourselves and do we feel the urgency to share this with others. My Tom loves a band called Foals – he has all their records, been to their concerts and met them. One of their albums is called ‘Everything not saved will be lost.’ They are not Christians but it speaks to me of the urgency to bring salvation to people. So have we seen Jesus, do we know that now is the time, have we allowed Him to change us and have we allowed him into our lives and our homes.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 23rd Oct 2022
Luke 18: 9-14 - The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Reflections on Luke 18: 9-14
A topical question: which people have you made judgements about in the last week or two? An intriguing question: what judgements have people made about you? A personal question: what judgements have you made about yourself? As Christians what have we learnt about judgement? Do we remember Jesus’ words in Luke 7:
"Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.’
Luke’s parable today continues the questions about judgment and justice raised by the persistent widow last week. We know that in our legal system there are trials by jury, but most civil cases are heard by a judge, who weighs up the cases presented and makes a judgement. In ancient Jewish law courts, all cases were like that. You had to bring a charge against the person who had wronged you and that person had to argue against your case and the judge decided, vindicating one party or another, deciding in their in favour. And so those listening to this parable of Jesus wouldn’t have been surprised at the Pharisee’s approach to his praying. He is listing the things he didn’t do things that others did: robbery; evil; adultery, and the things that he did as he should: fasting (actually doing it more often than he needed) and tithing. He is bringing to God’s attention the things that he felt he had got right and compares himself to those he felt were doing things wrong, exalting himself. ‘ God I thank you that I am not like other men… even this tax collector’.
Some of those listening to Jesus may well have thought that the Pharisee was justified in saying what he did. Didn’t Pharisees live exemplary, religious lives, trying to keep the law as perfectly as possible so as to the usher in the golden age when the Messiah would come to rule the world? We are so used to thinking the Pharisees were awful that we can miss the point that they were seen as pillars of their religious communities. But their approach could become an end rather than a means, a way of doing things rather than being. Listen again to the Pharisees words: he is talking to himself, rather than praying to God, justifying himself rather than asking for God’s justification, God’s forgiveness of his sins that he doesn’t even mention.
The other man however needs few words. His whole demeanour is one of humility, even shame. He has faced the truth about himself. He won’t look up to heaven, he beats his breast. All he says is ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ There is no list, there are no comparisons. There is the knowledge that God knows all of his life. The tax collectors of Jesus’ time were part of a group who squeezed as much as possible out of people so that they could pay the Romans and still have a profit left over, for they were not paid for their work. They were hated, ostracised. But they had a part to play in society. Earlier in Luke’s gospel some tax collectors had gone to John the Baptist asking to be baptised and they asked him, 'Teacher, what are we to do?' Don't collect more than is legal, he told them." And Jesus saw more than the tax collector role. In Luke 5 Jesus sees a tax collector sitting in his booth and calls to him: ‘Follow me’. Levi does and then throws a great banquet for Jesus. The Pharisees then challenge the decision. Jesus’ answer is “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And Levi became known as Matthew, one of the twelve disciples and the writer of the gospel. Jesus had seen what was really in Matthew.
The words of Jesus in today’s parable must have caused real offence to the respectable, pious people who heard him caricature the presumption of the Pharisee in the parable. Luke begins: ‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.’ In this little parable Jesus is once again challenging people’s perceptions and conceptions. The Pharisee’s ‘prayer’ shows his judgement of others and his spiritual pride; the tax collector’s prayer shows that he knows God knows everything about him, that he repents and that he seeks God’s mercy. There is no judgement of others in his mind. The outcome of the prayers of the two men was that the Pharisee, the icon of spirituality, left the same way that he came in, whilst the tax collector, the symbol of sin, left justified before God. In his mercy, God reckoned him to be righteous, forgiven. Jesus said: ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted’.
Jesus, the Son of God, who was judged by men, falsely convicted and died for us, who rose again to show his victory over sin, was and is exalted and is our example and our guide.
So how do we judge ourselves? Well I would suggest we have to face the truth of ourselves. In our prayers we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of the God in whom we trust. And sometimes, or often, the words ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’ are a good start! We approach God as forgiven sinners with the certain knowledge that we are loved and accepted by God’s grace alone. We have no claim on God’s mercy except for our need and our openness to receive it. And having received, we then to listen to what God wants us to do or to be in our lives. That is the truth of our faith, which Jesus showed us in his teachings, in his example, in his understanding of people and through his words in John’s gospel: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
And that love and mercy is to be celebrated and to be shared. No matter what life brings for each one of us, God will always be with us. The end of Paul’s letter to Timothy, where Paul views his approaching death as the pouring out of his life as an offering to Jesus Christ, shows us a person reflecting on his faith journey. Paul again uses the metaphors of a race, of a fight for his life as apostle. Paul has done his best for his faith, keeping his faith and guarding the faith too so it might continue to be spread. He looks forward to the ‘crown of righteousness’, the fulfilment of God’s promise to us all, because God is ‘the righteous judge.’ Paul further writes that he was judged unfairly in Acts 28 when he was first imprisoned but was strengthened and saved by God so that he, Paul, could continue his mission to bring the word to others. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” We may not face the same dangers and challenges that Paul encountered but we have the same God, who knows us and will be with if we open ourselves to Him, and to ourselves, and ask for his mercy, strength, guidance and love.
So do we leave church each time we come knowing that we have been truthful to ourselves and about ourselves as we have come before God, our righteous judge, in penitence and faith? In our prayers do we pray for his mercy because we know how much we need it? And then, having been forgiven, do we live to God’s praise and glory, with a deep awareness of his presence and his love for us and for all of his creation? Do we look for the good in others, for the needs of others, for the ways we can serve others, rather than judging others? Are our lives rooted in our faith, in our experiences of how God meets our needs?
Let our lives be full of praise for God, our righteous judge of all, knowing that He loves us, He will not fail us and He will always be with us.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 2nd October 2022
Luke 17: 5 – 10 - Faith
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Reflections on Luke 17: 5 – 10
This morning I want to talk about faith and obedience. Faith is an inherent part of being a human being. We exercise faith every day without really thinking about it. We have faith that the fuel we put into our car will make it work, we have faith that the food we buy is good for us and won’t poison us, we have faith that the medicine we are prescribed by the doctor will make us better and not worse. In fact if you didn’t have faith you would never leave your house, you would grow all your own veg and be self – sufficient and manage all on your own. You wouldn’t fare well after a while, would you?
Today’s reading centres around the disciples saying to Jesus ‘Increase our faith.’ We need to look at the verses before this and what brings them to say this. The disciples had seen amazing miracles and had been involved in them – they had seen healings, people fed, people raised from the dead, water into wine, people’s lives transformed immediately. Yet in all that, not one of them has said to Jesus ‘Increase our faith.’ So why are they saying it now? In the previous verses Jesus says ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So, watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying “I repent,” you must forgive them.’ So, Jesus is here talking to his disciples about when they sin or in other translations when they stumble. When they fall from God’s ways and mess up. Jesus warns against those who cause other people to sin – people who do things or say things that cause another person to sin, to spiritually fall over as it were. Jesus speaks very strongly about such people – woe to them – it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a weight on them – strong words indeed.
Yet it is all too easy isn’t it to say or do something that causes another person to sin. The biggest culprit is the tongue – one person starts to gossip to another and that becomes a chain reaction and before you know it dozens of people are speaking in an ungodly way. James 3: 6 ‘The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.’ It is far from Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:8‘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.’ Jesus warns them to watch themselves – that they don’t cause anyone to stumble or that they don’t be tripped themselves. Jesus then talks about forgiving others repeatedly. It seems that it is this that causes them to say ‘Increase our faith.’ In conversations with people and in groups people often share how they find it really difficult to forgive others – especially when real wrong has been done against them or a loved one. Yet we know that we must forgive if we are to be forgiven by God. We pray ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ When we hold a grudge or do not forgive then we are harming ourselves more than the person who sinned against us. A saying goes ‘Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.’ But it is hard and is an act of the will and an act of faith.
So, like the disciples you may be thinking ‘Increase my faith.’ Just briefly what do we mean by faith – it’s a huge subject. Often people say to me – I have faith – and then I ask them to tell me more – to which they often reply – I believe in God. Believing in God does not make you a Christian – it’s said that even the devil believes in God. Being a Christian is about believing in Jesus Christ – that He died for you and your sin – that He rose from the dead to show us that He has defeated death and sin, so that we can have a relationship with God the Father. It is because of Jesus dying for me that I can know Him in my life now and after I die, I will go to be with Him in eternal life – not because of anything I have done – but because I have asked Jesus into my life. Faith is not just about saying the creed – it is about living it out every day. James 2:16 ‘Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ We are not saved by our actions but they are an expression of our faith. I pray that every one of you has invited Christ into your life and is living out your faith every day. Maybe you feel that you have little faith or that others have greater faith than you. But Jesus is saying – it doesn’t matter – what matters is that you have faith at all – even if it is a little – like a mustard seed. A little faith can go a long way – it can do miracles. You don’t have to be a great saint or the Archbishop of Canterbury to do amazing things for God. Faith is like a muscle – it must be used though. In fact, the more we exercise our faith the more it will grow. It is good to have faith like a mustard seed, but seeds are meant to grow and they need tending to do so. Leaving the seeds in the packet will do nothing – they need to be planted, fed and watered and when they are a tree or a plant, they need pruning. I wonder what you are doing in your walk of faith to help grow your faith. How is your prayer life, are you reading your Bible every day, do you belong to a homegroup – which is the best way to grow and develop your faith.
In the New Year I am planning to hold an Alpha course here in church – this is a very good way to grow your faith, even if you have been a Christian for years. Somebody from Hutton currently on the course is going to share with us soon about how it has helped them. The next part of the reading – verses 7 – 10 is like a parable. It’s quite a tricky one too. It talks of a master who has a servant who works all day in the fields. When the servant comes back the master wouldn’t say get your meal, but instead would say get my supper and after you have waited on me, then you can eat and drink. Jesus here is talking about obedience. He is saying that we don’t have faith to serve ourselves and make ourselves look good – but that we have faith in order to serve our master Jesus. If we are obedient and serve Christ then He will meet our needs. Matthew 6: 33 ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ We do have enough faith but it must not be self- serving but instead we are to use it to serve others and to bring God’s kingdom to others.
So, my challenge to you today is to ask yourself – how is my faith, what do I believe, am I sure of my faith, what am I doing to grow it, how am I using it to serve others. As a church it really is time to change and to stop being self- serving and to become more others serving. It’s about them – those outside the church – and not us. If you want to see this church reach out, if you want to see growth, families and young people here in our church family, if you want to see people become Christians, if you want God to use you in this – remember a little faith is more than enough.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 25th August 2022
Deuteronomy 26 : 1 – 11 - Firstfruits and Tithes
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
Harvest Reflections on Deuteronomy 26 : 1 – 11
Harvest is a time to be thankful, to say ‘thank-you’ to God for all the good things he gives us. It’s a time not only for saying ‘thank-you’ but also showing our thanks in practical ways.
The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us of the history of the Israelites. God gave them laws and commands so that they would not be like the other nations who served other gods. They were to be different, they were to have the one true God high overall, the God of gods as their God. The Israelites were to be set apart from the other races, they were to live by better rules, to have higher morals and embedded care for each other as standard. They were to be an example to the other tribes of how to live.
One of their commands that God gave them was that of the firstfruits and offering some of them back to Him. God is a very practical God, a caring God and a thoughtful God. When he gave Moses the ten commandments and all these other commands, the Israelites were still wandering about in the desert, they had not yet crossed over the Jordan in to the promised land. They weren’t able to fulfil this command as they hadn’t settled down and started to farm and harvest on a regular basis.
By giving them this law, they knew what was expected of them. God says to them ‘When you have entered the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.’ God does not put heavy yokes on his people. This is something that they can easily do. God says ‘take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce’ God says ‘take some’ some, not a fixed amount, some, so that it is a willing offering, an offering from the heart of the good things that God has given.
What offerings can we give today? We are not an agrarian society, although, yes, some of us have allotments and gardens where we grow things. We can give things like time, through acts of service, using our ability, skills, gifts, which can be utilised within the church and also in the wider community as a witness of our love for God and of the good things that he has given us. We can give money, and as you have seen, there is a new contactless device where debit and credit cards can be used to give money to the church. Do give it a try, it’s an easy and painless way to give! But also we can give produce – buy a bit extra each week and leave it in the foodbank box at the entrance to church.
So what can we give back to God as a ‘thank you’ for all that he has given us? That’s my first point.
Secondly, so what happens next in the reading from Deuteronomy? The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean....’ then follows the people’s history of how the Hebrews went to Egypt, how they were oppressed and how God rescued them and brought them out in to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Brothers and sisters, telling one’s story of what God has done in your life is important. This is something I have learnt to do over the past few years. It felt awkward at first, but the more it is done, the easier it becomes! Write it down as a letter to a friend, read it out loud, share it with someone, make it feel comfortable and understandable, short and to the point. This is witnessing to the love and action of God in your life. Each person’s story will be different, unique to you. So what’s your story? How has God worked, or is working in your life? How can you tell your story to make others want to find out more about our God and their God?
These first and second points go together as forming a platform and structure for mission and evangelism. The first point is about service – what can I give back to God in helping others. The second point is about telling your story – how God has been at work in your lives. This is what is behind the strap line of Bath and Wells diocese, ‘Living the story, telling the story’. So as you go about your daily work, especially when you come into contact with people, look for opportunities to tell your story of God in your life. This is a powerful testimony because it is your story. Ask God to use you for his kingdom and to empower you by the Holy Spirit. Then come back and tell us how it went. Everyone loves a good story!
For the third point, let’s move to the New Testament and hear what Jesus says. The previous day he had just fed five thousand men, as well as women and children, walked on water during the night and crossed over the Sea of Galilee. Some of those he had fed found him, expectant of more miracles, or if not that, then more free food. Jesus saw the superficiality of their request. They wanted more instant satisfaction. They didn’t understand or realise that Jesus could do so much more for them, not just satisfy them for a day or so, but enable them to be part of something which could start now and would stretch onto eternity.
Food spoils. I know this: bread if not eaten quickly goes mouldy, fruit over ripens and is only fit for the compost heap and left overs from meals, if not frozen for another day, or eaten quickly, are only fit for the waste food bin.
Jesus says ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
Jesus came from God, is God and also human, and at his baptism was anointed by the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, which marked the start of his ministry here on earth, the ushering in of God’s Kingdom, his rule and reign. One of Jesus’ names is ‘The Son of Man’ he is representative of human kind here on earth, or God in the form of a human. Only through Jesus, as he has the Father’s seal of approval, can we receive the food that will endure to eternal life.
The crowd still thought that they had to do something to obtain this food which didn’t spoil and which didn’t last, as they asked Jesus ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’. Jesus replied ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ Brothers and sisters, this is the good news, there is no work to do to receive this food which doesn’t perish or spoil. Only believe in Jesus, the one whom the Father has sent to earth, as John wrote earlier: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
The crowd knew their history. In the past, when they were in the wilderness, God had given them manna from heaven, he had fed and sustained them, so was the bread Jesus talking about like that? No, this was different. The manna in the wilderness was like a type, or a foretelling of what was going to happen many many years later.
Jesus said in response to their talking about the manna in the wilderness ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
He has the crowd’s interest. By telling his story, the crowd want to know more, they want some of this bread, not just for today, but on a regular basis. They want it always.
Then Jesus replies with one of his famous ‘I am’ statements: ‘‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty....”
‘I am the bread of life’ Jesus says. The crowd wanted something physical to eat. Jesus offers something more, something different and something much much better. He offers the crowd Spiritual food and Spiritual drink. He offers to satisfy their hunger and thirst with food that lasts for ever, stretching on into eternal life. He still offers this today, the offer is still on the table for us all to accept. It’s a free gift. We don’t have to work for it, we just have to believe in the one, in Jesus, that God the Father has sent to earth, and in believing in Jesus, we will have life and life to the full, not only here on earth, but also we will be with God in heaven for all eternity.
So to sum up:
1 What can you offer back to God to say ‘thank-you’ for all the blessings he has given you?
2 What is your story of how God has worked, or is working, in your life? How can these two strands be moulded together in action and words? And finally
3 Jesus offers you the bread of life, spiritual nourishment lasting on into eternity. Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God and will you take the step of faith and accept his free gift?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Sunday18th September 2022
Service to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II
‘See, I am making all things new.’ We live in an imperfect world, where things become worn out and break, where things that used to be bright and shiny lose their sparkle and become rusty and tarnished, where people become older, wear out and sadly, eventually die. We live in a world where there is death, mourning , crying and pain. Pain from bodies wearing out, of relationships falling apart, of hope and ideas being dashed and our environment being damaged through over exploitation and misuse. But as Christians, we have a hope. God says ‘See, I am making all things new.’
We are here this morning to commemorate and remember the life of our departed queen, Elizabeth the second. Her death has brought has brought: mourning , crying and pain. The new Prince of Wales, William, the Queen’s grandson, said that walking down the Mall following the Queen’s coffin brought back memories of his mother’s funeral, Diana Princess of Wales, where, as a young child, he had also publically followed his mother’s funeral cortege. I don’t know what feelings and memories have been brought back to life following the death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth? For me, it was putting together the video for last week’s service and including Paddington Bear having tea with the Queen. This showed the Queen having fun, relating to the everyday world and being herself. In the video, of which I only showed a still picture, the last thing that Paddington said to the queen was ‘Thanks for everything, ma-am’. Looking back on the video, which was only made a few months ago, it was as if it was the beginning of the end. For me, those words also echoed back down through time, being the last words my mum said to me 35 years ago, before she died. Sad, yes, but as Christians, we have a hope. God says ‘See, I am making all things new.’
It is not only mourning, but is also a time of remembering and celebration for a life well lived. There have been lots of interviews in television with people who have met the queen, and there is one common thread that frequently comes through ‘She made me feel special, as if I was the only person there’. She took a genuine interest in people, she listened to people’s stories and she remembered them.
When Diana died, the queen made a speech to the nation, in it, she showed that she was human, she said ‘So what I say to you now, as your Queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart....’. She was not remote figure, but one who had feelings, enjoyed walkabouts and meeting people, shaking their hands and wishing them well.
The Queen ruled for longer than any other Monarch in British history, becoming a much loved and respected figure across the globe. Over the 70 years, Her Majesty was a dedicated Head of the Commonwealth, linking more than two billion people worldwide. She also had a special relationship with her Prime Ministers, meeting with them on a regular - usually weekly - basis. She was famously able to ‘encourage or warn’ whilst always remaining politically neutral. As Head of State, she also acted as diplomat and hostess, welcoming over 110 Presidents and Prime Ministers to the UK on official visits. Her Majesty had links - as Royal Patron or President - with over 500 charities and was Head of the Armed Forces. She also supported and encouraged achievement in many different ways where she conferred titles such as MBEs, OBEs and CBEs on people from all walks of life in public recognition of their merit, service or bravery. There were also Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyrood house, receptions and other awards given in her name. This allowed her to say ‘thank you’ to just some of those who had made a significant contribution to the life of the nation.
For most of her working life, The Queen was supported by The Duke of Edinburgh who accompanied her on visits in the UK and overseas. Her family were also important to her, but over all this was her faith, her faith in Jesus, which was a subject frequently mentioned during her annual Christmas Broadcasts. For her 2014 broadcast she spoke of what she had learnt from the teachings of Jesus, "For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none." As Christians, we have a hope. God says ‘See, I am making all things new.’
God can make things new here on earth, but this isn’t as good as it’s going to be, at the end of time things will be far better, unchangeably good, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, God will live with us, we will be his children, there will be no more crying, pain, mourning or death. God says ‘See, I am making all things new.’
This new life can start here and now, on earth. The reading we heard from the book of Revelation is about eternal life, which is living forever with God in his kingdom. Can we know some of that new life here today on earth? Yes we can, so that we can know that after death, like the Queen, there will be the certainty of eternal life and the joy of spending eternity with God in the new heaven and the new earth. How can we know? Very simply by asking Jesus for forgiveness for living life our way, inviting God’s Holy Spirit into our lives to change us and then also living to show and tell others about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Through this change of direction in your life, God will begin to make all things new in you.
As you leave, there are some books called Why Jesus? Please take one and read it and if you believe that God is calling you and wants to start making all things new in your life. In the middle of the book, there is a prayer in it that you can pray to start that journey now, which, like the Queen, will end in eternal life and being with God forever.
God says ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Which can start in you today! Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 7th August 2022
Philippians 4: 10 – 23 - The secret of contentment
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen..
Reflections on Philippians 4: 10 – 23
Do you remember all those years ago in the70’s a sitcom called The Good life? It was about two couples who were neighbours and who lived in Surbiton Surrey. Tom was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to escape the rat race, so and his wife Barbara became self – sufficient – growing their own fruit and veg and introduced chickens, pigs (pinky and perky) a goat called Geraldine and a cockerel called Lenin. They generated electricity from the animal waste and made their own clothes. Their neighbours Margot and Jerry Leadbetter were the complete opposite and were only interested with climbing the social ladder. They didn’t like what was going on with their neighbours. I loved this programme and in a strange way it is very relevant today as many people are trying to become self- sufficient and people are growing their own, having chickens and trying to lead simpler less materialistic lives. Today’s sermon – the last one in this series on Philippians – is called the secret of contentment. At the end of the letter Paul becomes autographical telling them about his life and the things he has been through – yet in all this he says ‘For I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances.’
So, what enabled Paul to have this attitude to life? 1. Christian generosity. As we read a few weeks ago the church at Philippi had sent Epaphroditus to Paul to see how he was doing, to help him and so in time he could go back and tell them of how Paul was doing – as they were anxious about him. Epaphroditus brought a gift of money with him and he too was a gift in how he helped Paul. My study at the moment looks like Christmas is coming because we have 7 birthdays before the end of August. I love giving gifts – it gives me incredible joy. Paul had a real need and the gift from the church in Philippi helped that need. We read in James 1: 17 that ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, ‘and in 2 Corinthians 8: 14 Paul writes ‘Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ The Philippian church for some reason could not help Paul – he says that they had no opportunity to show their concern in a practical way. They did have a spirit of generosity which they were now able to show to Paul. This giving will not only benefit him but will also benefit them too. In verse 17 he says ‘Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.’ This alludes to Jesus saying in Luke 12:33 ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted.’ We are not saved by giving money – but it is an expression of our love for God and others. When we are generous then it is like a fragrant offering to God. How generous are we – how do we respond when we see a need? Do we ignore it and hope someone else is generous or do we respond with love knowing that in doing so we are pleasing God, helping others and also doing ourselves some good?
2. Christian discipline helped Paul learn contentment. So firstly, contentment comes because God helps us through others. Now Paul says that it is our attitude to the things that happen in our lives that have enabled us to learn to be contented. The word enough is important here – when society, advertising and the people around us tell us that we need more or better. More clothes, nicer food, a better phone, car, house. But to know that as a Christian, you have enough gives us a restful contentment and is liberating. This was something that Paul had to learn. ‘For I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances.’ It is as if he is asking the Philippians and us – I have – have you? In verse 12 he says ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.’ For Paul this might have come instantly when he met Christ on the road to Damascus – but it also seems that he had to work at it as he faced trouble after trouble and at the same time it is a gift from God and is the mark of the mature believer.
Which leads to the final reason for his contentment – His trusting Christ. Paul went through an awful lot in his life – here he mentions when he was in need and when he had plenty, he has been well fed and hungry. Elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 11 we read of all is trials ‘I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’’ He hasn’t had an easy ride. Here we also read of his need and nothing was sent and also of churches who did not help him. Yet despite all this he gives glory to God. Paul was contented because God was trustworthy and to be glorified even when by worldly standards he seemed not to be. Paul says this wonderful verse, which is also Hutton School motto – ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ Verse 13. No circumstances can ever beat Paul because of his faith in Christ. Also, he has been given power - given to Him and in Him from God – the Holy Spirit. The word for power here is dynamis – it’s where we get the word dynamite from.
All Christians have the Holy Spirit in them and is there for when we need the power in difficult situations – what is why we can know contentment – we have no need to fear anything – ever! In other versions of verse 13 it says ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me.’ What does this mean? Well, if we think of when the Israelites were in Egypt and they put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to protect them, this could have been said that they were ‘in the lamb.’ They were sheltered by its blood and they fed upon its flesh. So, Paul was in Christ – he and us are sheltered by His blood and are fed by Him each day. The Psalmist wrote ‘Under his wings you will find refuge.’ So too we run to Christ for protection from danger, for security and to hide in Him. Paul’s experience of trusting in God can also be ours. We too can find the ability to do all things – to meet all circumstances with contentment, to know the power of the Holy Spirit in us, to be in Christ – to know His sheltering like a hen covers her chicks. Paul was not seeing this as his own personal experience as in verse 19 he writes ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ God in Jesus will meet our needs to the full and also use us to meet the needs of others. It is because of Jesus that you and I can know contentment. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 3rd July 2022
Philippians 2: 12 - 18 - Lights in the World
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Reflections on Philippians 2: 12 – 18
Do you know what I have on my head? It’s a very understated Laurel Wreath. To have produced one such as worn by Caesar or Nero would have been a bit pricey so apologies for it’s size, but I want to remind you briefly that back in the day, in Greece and Rome it was a very significant item. It represented honour and success, especially in athletics when the Pythian Games began and the awarding of the laurel wreath was the forerunner of today’s medal for success. The wreath also became a mark of rank and status and believe it or not achieved the belief that lightning would never strike a laurel tree. Hence it was worn on the head for protection ! But it’s the sense of achievement that the laurel wreath gave that I want to highlight this morning . Why, because it has given rise to a phrase that we may use from time to time to someone who we feel might becoming complacent or losing their determination to progress. So we say to them ‘ Don’t rest on your laurels’. In other words don’t be satisfied with what you have already achieved. Don’t be tempted to sit back and relax and avoid making further progress.
In our current series of looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians I feel that he is saying to them ‘Don’t rest on your laurels’. You have done well, there is much that is good about your lives and witness as Christians. This morning we heard chapter 2 v’s 12-18, but both there and earlier he is at pains to make mention of very positive aspects of their faith.
V4 I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.
V18 Yes, I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your prayers….what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
V27 Whether I come to see you or not, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit contending for the faith of the Gospel.
And he begins the section we heard this morning with ‘as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence…’
So Paul is very careful to point to many positives about this small but vibrant congregation surviving as a minority in this city of Philippi. For me, what comes next is the beginning of Paul saying, ‘But don’t rest on your laurels’. You have achieved so much. But please note that this is just the beginning ,because what follows on immediately in v12 are the words ….’Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’.
I wonder what they thought when they read that ? Continue to work out your salvation ? In fear and trembling ? How do we do that ? What did it mean to them and what does it mean to us ?
You see, It could be that Paul might have written to us in similar terms and might have been equally positive and complimentary, but I suspect there would also have been the ‘Continue to work out your salvation’. I would suggest that under the phrase ‘don’t rest on your laurels’ there is a principle coming through from Paul. It is this that whoever and wherever we are as either individual Christians or groups of Christians, we can never settle in being content. We need to resist the thought of having ‘arrived’ in our relationship with God. That is what Paul is saying to this group of Christians, and it is what Scripture says to us, however unsettling that may seem. What seems inevitable, is that we are all to be in a constant state of ‘continuing to work out our salvation’, and I think the more you explore the Bible, the more you realise how obvious that is. As individuals or churches,our role, our progress, our relationship with God, our hope of eternity with him is 100% because of the sacrifice of Jesus, of His willingness to submit to death. It is 100 % because of the humility described so beautifully in the opening section of this chapter. God made himself nothing, humility took him to the cross so that every tongue may confess that Jesus is Lord.
How do our achievements compare with that ? We come as sinners. It’s why we take communion today.
But let’s move on because Paul has some specific areas to bring to the attention of the Christians in Philippi. Within this general encouragement to go on working things out, he goes on to highlight one area which he suggests needs attention. I have a feeling that Paul must have heard some reports about the fellowship at Phillipi. As a result I feel certain that while the congregation were gathered together eager to listen to his letter being read out for the first time, that some of them would have begun to feel a little uncomfortable. His emphasis would appear to be, that a culture of complaining or arguing has developed amongst them. Why does iy seem like that ? Because in the verses that follow he points out that such an atmosphere of complaint or arguing is the very opposite of Christian fellowship. He wants their witness to be pure . He wants their witness to be a clear sign of their relationship with God to a world ,which he describes graphically as crooked and depraved. His idealism for their witness includes that they might shine like stars as they hold out the word of life.
Let me ask, is this relevant to us ? Is there a Christian fellowship where this is not relevant ? Not in my experience I have to admit. The simple reason is that humanly we all fail at times, no matter who we are, no matter what position we hold. We can all put our hands up to Pauls challenge. Disagreement doesn’t have to lead to complaining which leads to gossip and arguments, unhelpful words and attitudes of rejection. Paul’s response to all this is v16 the Word of Life where, as we know, love is the key promoting understanding, forgiveness and peace.
This fellowship at Philippi wouldn’t be the first to experience this outcome of their human frailty and it certainly won’t be the last. Remember that Paul said ‘Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.
Our personal and corporate relationship with God must not forget His power and authority. Our approach to him is not and cannot be one of confidence or self assurance. We approach God on our knees, even prostrate before his majesty ,yes knowing forgiveness through Jesus but also respecting his Glory. We come in fear and trembling . This is a real paradox to the fact of God’s love and forgiveness which he offers on the one hand, but at the same time never losing a sense of His perfection and judgment. Our worship must resist becoming too familiar.
As churches and people we may not always get it all right but the old adage holds that if you do find the perfect church, don’t join it because you will spoil it.
Resting on our laurels, is an easy temptation both as individuals and church communities because we do work hard and achieve things. As a result we can so easily be led to feeling satisfied and content with where we are in our faith and with the service we are offering to our communities which bring us into contact with folk in the area. There are many good things which Paul could highlight if he were writing to us but we need to resist the temptation to arrive at a point where we feel satisfied. Paul would still want to add the need for us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
I wonder how the folk at Philippi responded? Did they understand that his challenge was both to them as a church and as individual people? If we have any laurels that we are resting on, any elements of pride or accomplishments, we need to throw them away because they detract from our need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus with humility and grace. As we sang earlier
‘Only by grace can we enter, only be grace can we stand. Not by human endeavour but by the blood of the lamb.,
Coming up for communion this morning is an opportunity to ditch the pride and present ourselves to God in fear and trembling.
Rev Geoff HobdenReading for Sunday 26th June 2022
Philippians 2: 1 – 11 - Imitating Christ’s Humility
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Reflections on Philippians 2: 1 – 11
When I was at Sarum College in Salisbury recently, we were looking at the creation story. Jayme, who led the lecture, made a very interesting comment, which got me thinking. She said that one of the reasons that the creation story relates that Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was that they wanted to grow up and be like God.
Have you ever had children who, when they were little borrowed your lipstick and tried it on, or took your shoes and walked about in them pretending to be grown up?
So I wondered about my three kids – had they picked up any of my attributes? I think that the answer to this is yes! Roo does gardening at a community allotment and has a strong faith in Jesus, Josh is a member of the National Trust and has a calm personality and Lauren cooks at Cadbury House near Congresbury.
What about me? Yes, I can see that I have picked up things that my mum used to do: cooking, being artistic, Christian faith, machine sewing, ironing and other things!
You might be wondering what all this has to do with today’s reading.
This section of Paul’s letter to the brothers and sisters in Philippi is showing that, even though they are getting along well with each other, there are still some areas to improve upon. Paul encourages them to look and copy the life of Jesus as the supreme example of an excellent way of living.
Paul wants to encourage the Christians in Philippi and is saying to them ‘Look, you are getting on well’, ‘I am pleased with you’ or as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Paul wrote: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Paul, even though he is chained up in prison for his faith, wants to encourage the Christians in Philippi. He starts this chapter with a little word ‘if’. So he is saying that even though he thanks God for them and prays with joy because of their partnership in the gospel with him, there is more to do.
So Paul says in effect: if you are encouraged from being united with Christ, if you are strengthened by his love, if you are part of the community of people who have God’s Spirit living within them, if you are caring and have a heart which cares for people, Paul is saying if you’ve got this far, that is great, but there’s still more to do.
Paul wants the Christians in Philippi to add to what they’ve already got and are living out in their lives: he commends them for their relationship with and being in Christ, from which flows their community life and their caring attitudes to one another. This is good and Paul encourages them for this. They are going on the right lines. He’s given them joyful praise, encouragement and shows his love and care for them. Now comes the teaching springing from the word ‘if’. I’ll park this for a moment and pick it up again after telling you a story.
Accurate and informed encouragement is good. Last weekend I was at Sarum College in Salisbury. It was the turn of my tutor group to lead morning worship on Saturday morning at 7.30am. During the previous week there had been a flurry of whats app messages between us all arranging who was going to do what. Friday evening came and we had a run through, tweaked a few things and had much laughter. Saturday morning came and my alarm went off at 6.30am (early for me) and we met in the lecture room where I played on the keyboards before hand as people came in. Morning worship happened during which I read a tricky passage from Joshua and we thought the whole thing went off quite well. I didn’t really think much about it as I’d just been myself, but I was really touched by the comments received throughout the day about how well I’d read the Joshua reading, and one person said she was still humming the next day what I’d played! Encouragement is good and it provides a fertile ground for growth and development.
So brothers and sisters, I want to challenge you: when did you last encourage someone? When did you last thank somebody for what they had done, said or just by being themselves? But I also want to ask: When were you last encouraged by somebody? When were you last thanked for something you did? Encouraging people is an important ministry.
Right, back to Paul’s ‘if’ word. From reading his letter, we get the impression that things are good in the church at Philippi, but there are some areas that could be improved upon. Paul lists three:
1) Be like minded, have the same love, be one in spirit and of one mind. So oneness.
2) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather, in humility value others above yourselves. So lowliness of mind or disposition and
3) Look to the interests of others, or this could be described as helpfulness.
It is lovely when a group of people at, for example, a PCC meeting, are all united and pulling in the same direction. Things can get done; there is a lightness of spirit, a joy and a purpose. I can’t talk for Locking PCC, but often at Hutton there is a spirit of oneness and unity. I find this also at Sarum College. Even though we are a mixture of ordinands and Licensed Lay Ministers / Readers in training, there is a very real sense of oneness and unity.
Have you ever come across people who are just set on climbing up the career ladder and will do whatever it takes to progress themselves at the expense of others? It’s not good and leads to a bad working relationship within the department. Paul is saying that we should value others above ourselves. We should reflect on our motives. Are we doing such and such because we are trying to make ourselves look good? Are we empire building? Or are we serving Jesus through our love of others. Where there is genuine mutual regard and appreciation, then unity will result. It will grow and flourish, because the Christian love and care is in step with the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Pauls encourages the Christians in Philippi to look to the interests of others. He is saying to them not to be so self-centred that other brothers and sisters in Christ are ignored. As Jesus said in Matthew 19:19 Love your neighbour as yourself, or in John 13:34 A new commandment I give you – love one another as I have loved you. Paul also writes in Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Looking to the interests of others can be as simple as listening to people’s stories. Last Sunday, while at Sarum, we were split into seven groups and we all went to different churches. After the service at the one I went to, I was listening to someone’s story. I was putting them before myself in that I was listening, rather than talking. This encouraged both of us. I came away with knowing more about church life and history. I especially remember being told the story of the tablet falling off the wall and if the lady who was doing the refreshments after the service had been sitting in her seat, rather than organising the refreshments, she might quite easily have been seriously injured or killed! The lady talking to me apologised for talking so much, to which I said that it is important to hear people’s stories and she thanked me for listening.
So as it says in The Message Bible: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
So three points from what I have just said:
1) Encouraging people is an important ministry.
2) Are we serving Jesus through our love of others?
3) Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Paul continues: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
The Message Bible puts this passage really well, so I am going to read it to finish this sermon.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 19th June 2022
Philippians 1: 12 - 30 - Epistle of Joy
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. or it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Reflections on Philippians 1: 12 - 30
What words or situations come to mind when you hear the word joy? What does joy mean to you? Joy can often be thought of something as superficial – being smiley, laughing, being felt when things are good and all is going well in our lives. But true joy is much deeper than that and comes from a source that is not dependant on our own circumstances. The last two years have been rather lacking in joy, haven’t they? Those who are familiar with Harry Potter will understand this – but it’s like the world has been visited by the dementors sucking all joy from our lives. And locally there has been a lot of sadness and also illness too. So, let’s look at Paul’s letter to be inspired by him and hopefully to reconnect with the joy that Paul experiences.
This letter has been called ‘The Epistle of Excellent things’ as well as ‘The Epistle of Joy.’ So, let’s now dive into this letter and let’s start by looking at the background of it. Paul is writing to the church in Philippi which was a great commercial centre, founded in 368BC by Philip the father of Alexander the Great. It was situated on the road that ran from Europe to Asia. It was a Roman colony and was run as such – being like a little Rome. You can still go there today and visit the ruins there in Greece. We read how the church began there in Acts 16. Paul and his friends were on their 2nd missionary journey in about AD52. One night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia (where Philippi is) saying ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ So, they did and stayed there several days. It was there that they met 3 different people. On going to pray they met with some women, one of whom was Lydia, a rich businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth (the fashion of the day and a Jewish convert. After listening to Paul, she became a follower of Jesus and it was in her house that the church in Philippi met. Paul also met a slave girl who told fortunes. Paul prayed for her spiritual release and made her owners angry so that Paul and Silas ended up in jail after being beaten up. But were they disheartened – NO WAY. They sang and prayed – an earthquake happened and they and the other prisoners were released. The jailer was terrified crying out – what must I do to be saved? They told him about Jesus and he also became a follower of Jesus – he and his household. When it is realised that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens they are released. He goes back to Philippi on his third missionary journey.
So as Paul writes this letter he is once again in prison, probably in Rome and this time he is facing the death sentence. So, in all reality you would not expect a letter of joy. The church in Philippi sent a man called Epaphroditus to Paul to bring him a gift and to find out how he was and to tell him about the church in Philippi and how things were going. So, Paul is writing in response to this visit, probably sending the letter back with Epaphroditus. Paul is having a really rough time – he is in prison in chains and was there for 2 years awaiting a verdict. His letter could have so easily been like ‘I’m in a terrible state here in prison’ but it’s not – it’s full of joy. I don’t know how you respond when bad things happen to you – some people get very withdrawn, some cry, some get angry, some blame God or others, some people turn to alcohol. Paul had every reason to feel all these things. What and why made him so different? He knew that God was using this situation to spread the good news of Jesus. I am a firm believer in God using rotten situations. God doesn’t make them happen but he can take them and use them to change us and also to speak to other people. I always remember Jackie Williams writing a letter to me after all the horrible things that happened nearly 10 years ago – she was inspired in her faith somehow. For Paul blockages have become stepping stones. It is because he is in prison that people had heard about Jesus who hadn’t heard about Him before. The Roman guard would have watched Paul in rotation and so the word about Paul and what he said and how he behaved would have spread to all the others guards – a good sort of gossip! They noticed his patience, gentleness, courage and faithfulness to what he believed in and they were impressed. They would have heard him speak to visitors, his secretary, the judges and to God in prayer. They soon came to realise that Paul had not committed a crime but was in prison because of his commitment to Christ.
We read further on in 4: 22 that the guard’s families then heard and then finally Caesar’s household and then the people of Rome. He became the talk of the town. Not only that but because of his behaviour the Christians in Rome had become bolder to speak about Jesus. I wonder how bold and fearless we feel – we don’t face persecution or imprisonment – yet we still fear. In 2 Timothy 1: 7 Paul writes ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ In our anti- Christian society, we need to reclaim boldness to share about Jesus. Not everyone liked Paul – some people were jealous of him and wanted to make his life even more difficult – they preached the gospel for the wrong reasons – while others did it in love. But does Paul mind – not he doesn’t. He rejoices anyway because the gospel is being preached! Paul digs really deep – he really does. He finds strength and joy because the church in Philippi prays for him and also from the Holy Spirit. He has human and spiritual support. It is so important to pray for each other and for each of us to ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us. He prays for the church and they pray for him. Paul knows deep down that whatever happens to him he will be saved – he may not be acquitted – he may even be put to death – but either way he will be saved. He trusts in Christ and knows that He holds the future and all will be well whatever happens to him. He would prefer to die and be with Christ which is best. But if he lives then he can bear fruit and help the Philippians progress – grow more in love, obedience, knowledge, being fruitful. Paul knows that this is so important – to not progress means we don’t stand still, but we regress, go backwards. How have you progressed in your faith this past year? What are you doing to grow deeper in your faith?
The final section verses 27 – 30 reveals a little of the situation in the church there. The church is under pressure from false teachers and they are under persecution. Whether Paul is with them or not should make no difference. They should stand firm and exercise their heavenly citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel. In other words, whatever happens to you, if I am with you or not, live as true followers of Christ. Be united – be as one person – be the body of Christ that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians. As individuals live your lives as followers of Christ and be together as one ‘Contend as one man’ Paul writes – it’s a word used of gladiators fighting for life or death. It’s about being of one mind. The church was not united and needed to come together to fight against their foes and to come together to advance the gospel. They were not to be frightened by any opposition from inside or out. Today we face different challenges and the future of the church rests in our hands and in our responses. Like the Philippians we need to truly unite to deal with struggles we face and also unite to share the good news. Paul reassures them that he suffers and struggles as they do. Some teaching was in that church that there was no place for the Christian to suffer – that they were already raised and perfect. Paul shows them that suffering is integral to Christian witness. He is saying with Christ I can do this and so can you. I would encourage you to read this letter yourself and let God speak to you through Paul’s words – it speaks of joy, suffering, courage and faith – and we all need those.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 29th May 2022
John 17: 20 - 26 - Jesus Prays for All Believers
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Reflections on John 17: 20 - 26
Do you ever feel you need a hug? I think that hugs are really important: they can show joy, concern, affirmation, pride, empathy, reassurance. Hugs are to be used wisely: some people don’t like that much physical contact and anything that’s over-used becomes a cliché. But humans need affirmation and affection and hugs are one way of showing that.
In the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, we read about the about the power of physical contact. Jesus touched people when he healed them: the blind, the deaf, the lepers, Peter’s mother-in-law, Jairus’ daughter, the woman who was bent over, the soldier who had his ear cut off by Peter in Gethsemane. And there were people who touched him for healing: the woman who was bleeding; people in crowds who reached out ‘be cause power was coming from him and healing them all.’ When Jesus appeared to Thomas in the upper room he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. The gospel doesn’t tell us whether Thomas did or not but Jesus’ very offer shows us the importance that touch can have. And Mary, who anointed his feet with perfumed oils, got as close to touching Jesus as she could by using her hair to rub in the oil. Being able to touch someone, to get really close, to give or get receive reassurance is a human need, a human reaction and one we can all understand and often desire.
In our lifetimes we haven’t been able to have a physical meeting with Jesus. What would you do if Jesus walked in through that door now? What would you want to do? And after a while, when he’d talked to us, chatted with us, heard us and then said he was leaving, what would you want to do? Wave, offer a hand shake, a hug? Have there been times in ours lives when we have longed to see him close to us, to hear his voice, to reach out and touch him? Why doesn’t he come!
Well, why did he go? On this Sunday after Ascension, we remember that Jesus ascended to his father with the words: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’ Jesus had completed his mission ‘to give eternal life to all those you have given him.’ Jesus mission was to redeem a people through his perfect life, his sacrifice of atonement, and his victorious resurrection. His mission was to give his people eternal life through redemption by his blood. These redeemed people would know the only true God and Jesus Christ his Son. And in their turn they would work together to tell others, to bring unity. He left so they could fulfil their mission.
But he wasn’t going to leave them, or us, alone. In John 17, before his crucifixion, Jesus prays for protection for the disciples because: ‘As you sent me in to the world. I have sent them into the world.’ He prays that God will ‘protect them from the evil one’ and will ‘sanctify them by the truth: your word is truth’. And then he goes on to pray for all believers, for us. He prays that all believers will be one, will be united in their evangelism, ‘to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ He prays, ‘ Father, I want those you have given me to be with where I am’ and then ‘I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them.’
I don’t know about you, but every time I read that passage, it feels like a hug. It is Jesus, both human and divine, knowing what each one of us, his followers, needs, what the world needs. He knows that the mission, to proclaim the good news, to work together for the coming of the kingdom, to confront the evils of the day, will be challenging, will be joyous, will be hard. He prays: ‘May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ Jesus glorified God in his mission through his humility and service: that’s what he prays for, for all believers, for all humankind, unity in loving God, in receiving the good news. This prayer is a challenge, it’s a desire, it’s a promise. It’s an echo of Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
So, because Jesus is not with us physically every, where do we go for our guidance, our healing, our inspiration, our peace, our reminder of his love for us and his presence with us, for our heavenly hugs?
We mustn’t forget the joy of Easter, the promises at Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire us and guide us. We must carry that with us at all times.
We can go to the Bible. We all have our favourites pieces of scripture. For example Romans 8: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Galatians 3: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
John 20: Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’
And there are many more to find. The Bible, God’s words, has a way of meeting our needs when we read it.
We can learn from people in the Bible: Peter, the bleeding woman, the woman at the well. We learn from them, their faith, their questions, their determination.
We can go to each other, in unity, for support, for encouragement, for help.We can worship together regularly, to be fed, to be inspired, to sing our praises, to come closer to each other and to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We can pray regularly for ourselves, for others, for situations in the world, asking, listening, responding.
And we can do all this because we know Jesus will meet us where we are, he will meet our needs, he will reach out to us in so many different ways. He will be with us always. And then in our turn he will send out into the world to serve him and others, to reach out and touch others in a multitude of ways, where hugs, both literal and metaphorical, are so needed, taking the good news with us to a world that so needs to be united through God’s love.
So let’s pray for ourselves and for each other.
Almighty Father, who through your great love raised your Son into glory, help us to know we are not alone, to know we dwell in you and you in us, to know that the ascended Lord is with us always, and that your Spirit comes to guide, strengthen and unites us. Lord as we come before you, grant us a glimpse of your glory. Amen
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 22nd May 2022
Matthew 25: 1 – 13 - The Wise and foolish bridesmaids
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Reflections on Matthew 25: 1 – 13
Being shut out and excluded is a horrible feeling. I remember when I was fifteen and sitting exams at school being shut out of an exam by accident. It was music O level. There was the opportunity to skip a paper if one had passed grade five theory in music, which I had done. So this meant that I could sit one less paper at school. Anyway, I turned up at school in good time for one of the music papers I was sitting and horrors, the door to the exam room was shut and the exam had started. I remember knocking on the door asking to be let in whereon the invigilator said that they didn’t think I was sitting this paper so they had started early – there had been a mix up! I was let in and sat the exam. If you are wondering, I passed with a grade C, which to me was a bit of a miracle as my mocks for music were abysmal! But as I remember back to that time, it was a horrible feeling being shut out and excluded.
This is what happened to five of the bridesmaids in today’s parable. A parable is a story with a message. They were shut out and excluded.
Imagine the scene; it had been a busy day, lots of excitement and preparations had taken place. Dresses had been made, decorations put up, tables laid and food and wine was there in abundance. The bride was in her finery waiting at home, along with the bridesmaids all ready with their lamps, which were like long poles with cloth wrapped around the end, so they would be held head high to light the way (there were no street lamps in those days), so were used in a joyful procession to welcome the bridegroom to the bride’s house. Everybody could see and cheer on the bridegroom as he made his grand entry. It had been a long day. Tiring, busy, exhausting and the bridesmaids were weary and sleepy. This was ok, nothing wrong with a nap, so that they were fresh for the next proceedings. So they went to sleep. I bet some of them snored as well! Time passed....All of a sudden there was a shout ‘Here he comes! The Bridegroom is approaching! Get ready girls, wakey wakey, light those lamps.’ Oh no! Panic, confusion, dismay. Five had oil to get their lamps burning, but five did not. Five were ready and equipped, five were definitely not ready and were in a panic! You can imagine it can’t you! If any of you had had to get your kids ready for school in the morning you’ll know what this is like, now multiply that by ten. Chaos. Confusion and probably tears. Five of the lamps burned brightly, but five were on the verge of going out, as they had no oil to sustain them. What’s to do? Come on; share some of your oil, five of the bridesmaids would have said. The others replied: no, there’s a 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner, pop down there and you can get some. If we share our oil, there won’t be enough for all of us, but look at it this way, at least five of us have got lit torches. So the bridesmaids hurry off in different directions: five to welcome the bridegroom and five to the 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner, to get some more supplies, in this case, olive oil.
So the bridegroom arrives and with the five ready bridesmaids go off into the wedding banquet, shutting the door behind them. That is very final. Shut, closed, locked.
I went to Sarum College in Salisbury a couple of weekends ago by train. The train has the carriage doors shut about 40 seconds before departing. Shut means shut. No jumping on at the last moment (although I have done that in the past as I nearly missed the train back from Paddington to Weston once – I wouldn’t recommend it!).
Anyway, back came the foolish bridesmaids. They were locked out. They bang on the door. Let us in! You know us, we only popped to a 24hour Tesco Express just down the road and round the corner to get some more olive oil for our lamps, and look how brightly they are burning! And the reply? Nope, I don’t know you. You are the weakest link. Goodbye!
This parable comes near the end of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has been teaching the disciples about things that were going to happen: the forthcoming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (which happened in AD70), persecutions of those who profess a faith in Jesus, false signs of Jesus’ return at the end of time along with a general wondering when all this is going to happen. Jesus also warned about judgement when he does come for a second time. All this is underlined with the repeated message of ‘watch and be ready’.
Jesus started this parable with the words ‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this’. This is what the coming Kingdom of Heaven will be like on Jesus return. Paul writes about Jesus’ second coming in 1 Thess 4: 17 ‘Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.’ So like the wise bridesmaids, people will go and meet Jesus as he returns to the new heavens and the new earth, being like a guard of honour for the glorious all powerful king, saviour and judge. Wonderful! Then they will be brought into the wedding banquet to be with Jesus forever.
How ready for unexpected events are we? What has happened recently where there were warnings? Think about Russia invading Ukraine. How ready were people for the invasion? Did they think it wouldn’t happen? When it did, there would probably be those on the front line, who, if they weren’t ready had no time left, as their time had come. What if they’d heard the message of Jesus’ salvation and not responded? Too late! Their door was shut into the Kingdom of God.
Now I wonder; who are you in the text? Who do you identify with? There are three main characters in this parable (apart from the bridegroom, who is Jesus and I would hope that no one here has messianic tendencies!):
Are you like the five well equipped bridesmaids who are invited into the wedding banquet?
Are you like the five foolish bridesmaids who because they are not ready get shut out of the wedding banquet? Or
Are you like the one that announces the coming of the bridegroom? This is the one who talks to others about the coming of God’s Kingdom and rule in people’s lives.
I’ll just pause here to let you think about this. Who do you identify with? ....
So what does this parable mean to us today, here in St Mary’s Hutton (St Augustine’s Locking)? I feel that there are three points to remember.
Firstly the imperative command to keep awake, watch and be ready because the day and the hour of Jesus return is not known. Only God the Father knows when this will happen. So keep awake, watch and be ready.
Secondly be ready and well equipped. Don’t be like the foolish bridesmaids, who, because of their lax attention to detail were then shut out of the wedding banquet. All the bridesmaids probably looked the same, but there were two different outcomes. One can’t say ‘I’ll be ok, my friend knows Jesus, and so I’ll get to heaven on the back of her faith’. No, this has to be a personally owned faith and decision to follow Jesus. So I want to ask you a question ‘Does Jesus know your name?’ Do you know Jesus as your saviour and Lord? (At the back) as you go out, there are some booklets ‘Why Jesus’ do take one and read it. There is a prayer in it which you can pray to ask Jesus into your life. If you do this, give Anne a ring as she’d love to know the outcome. Or sign up to the Alpha course that Anne is going to run next month here in Hutton (in Locking). It will be life changing and enable you to be ready and well equipped for life with Jesus and his return.
Thirdly Is God calling you to be an evangelist, pioneer, chaplain, lay pastoral assistant, lay worship assistant, become ordained or licensed as a reader (Licensed Lay Minister)? Is God calling you as one who tells people about God and his kingdom? Are you being called to play a bigger role in the church? Anne is chaplain for discerning calling, or CDC for short. Do contact her if you think that this is you. She would delight in starting an exploration of your calling.
So to sum up:
Firstly keep awake, watch and be ready because the day and the hour of Jesus return is not known.
Secondly be ready and well equipped. Does Jesus know your name?
Thirdly Is God calling you as one who tells people about God and his kingdom?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 1st May 2022
John 21: 1- 19 - Failure and Faith
Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore.
It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
Reflections on John 21: 1- 19
This morning I want to talk about failure and faith. I don’t know whether you have had a life full of failures or not. None of us like to fail do we? I have had some monumental baking failures – the Swiss roll that left the tin in sections (plop, plop, plop), the magic ingredient left out of the cake that would enable it to rise – it was as flat as a pancake. Or what about exam failures – did you ever get any F’s? Or what about learning to drive? I passed at my fifth attempt – my excuse was that the first 4 times I was trying to pass in London –it was tough to drive there. Once I had moved to Kent it was a doddle.
In this reading we have 2 different sorts of failure. Firstly we have the disciples by the Sea of Galilee and Simon Peter feels like doing what comes naturally – he wants to go fishing. It was his profession and also that of James and John - it was what came naturally and probably something that they enjoyed doing. They had gone through an amazing time of loss and bereavement and then overwhelming joy at meeting the risen Jesus. It was probably good to have a bit of normality in all this. So Thomas and Nathaniel go with them, they aren’t fishermen, but go along with them. And they try to fish all night and they don’t catch one single fish – not even a tiddler. The one thing that they are good at, the thing that is their job – they just can’t do, they just can’t succeed at.
I wonder if you have ever failed at something that you have previously been good at. It’s like that they had become de-skilled, lost their ability, lost their confidence even. This can sometimes happen when people retire or are made redundant. I don’t know why the disciples couldn’t catch any fish – but for whatever reason they were doing it wrong. Then the night of failure came to an end and a friend turns up – maybe he had been watching them for a while – and he asks them a question that he knew the answer to ‘Friends have you caught any fish.’ He must have known that they haven’t. No they answer. And then he tells them to throw the net on the right side. Nothing really much different for them to do – not change your nets, or give up and come to shore or go to different waters – no – just move the nets to the other side. Sometimes just changing one small thing can make all the difference – the important thing was that they did it Jesus’ way and not their way. They didn’t even ask Jesus for help – he intervened and told them what to do – the important thing was that they did it – they were obedient. They were tired of their failure to fish and so they did as they were told. As you read this passage you can’t help remembering another time when the disciples had a great catch of fish.
In Luke 5 we are again back in the Sea of Galilee – the disciples had again been out all night fishing and had caught nothing. They were back on the shore washing their nets – probably fed up. Jesus tells them to go out into deeper water and they do and there are so many fish their nets begin to tear. This is before they become disciples – Jesus says to them ‘Don’t be afraid! For now on you’ll be fishing for people.’ Can you see from this passage it’s a re-run of this event? Jesus used fishing to talk about mission – fishing for people. Jesus came to them in their failure and he tells them what to do and they succeed – they don’t just succeed but the result is amazing. Nets fit to bursting is what Jesus brought, abundance is what he brought. Do we honestly believe that he can do that with us – bring abundance? If Jesus is involved and we obey him and get stuck in then there will be success. We have our part to play though – Jesus didn’t stand on the shore and command the fish to jump into the nets – they still had to fish. They just did it where Jesus told them – in Luke it was deep waters, in John it was on the other side. We all have our part to play – Jesus says go to the deep waters, throw the net somewhere different – please reflect on that and ask what that means for us.
In the reading great joy comes as they realise who it is – that it is Jesus. Jesus never rebukes them – he is with them as their friend and they have breakfast together, which he has cooked. Wouldn’t you love to have breakfast with Jesus? Jesus arrives and helps them in their failure. The disciples respond with obedience and faith in the risen Jesus. Jesus will help us if we truly want to fish for people. In the second part of the reading we have Jesus coming again to failure. This time the failure is not a practical one but it is more personal and it is painful. Jesus comes personally to Simon Peter after breakfast and takes the initiative in putting it right. Simon had denied Jesus three times – three times he said that he hadn’t been a follower or even been with him. Imagine you knowing that someone you loved had said that they didn’t even know you – it would really hurt wouldn’t it? Maybe you wouldn’t even want to speak to that person again. Yet Jesus loves Simon Peter and although he has failed, Jesus again takes the initiative to put it right. In fact Jesus gives Simon the opportunity to put it right – 3 times messed up, 3 times to put it right. This is true healing for Simon. Jesus says ‘Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?’ By the third time Simon was feeling upset, but it was necessary for healing to happen. Simon had to have that healing because Jesus had a task for him – to feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my sheep. The task came only in response to Simon’s declaration of love. Christian ministry or service should only ever come out of our love for Jesus and the healing that we have received. So the good news is that Jesus was able to use Simon who had really failed Jesus in a deeply personal and painful way and take him and send him into the future as a successful follower. The risen Jesus came to the failed fishermen and made them into successful fishermen.
I wonder where we feel we have failed as individuals or as a church. It is OK to fail – it does not have to be the end if the risen Jesus is involved. The key is obedience and love – which seem to unlock success. Where do we need to be obedient in our lives? We don’t have Jesus here physically with us – if only – But we do have the Holy Spirit – that still small voice. It’s about prayer – it’s about starting the day the right way. It’s about love – how much do we love Jesus? Do we love him more than anything or anybody else? If the answer is yes then it will propel us to serve him – to love people, to want to reach out to people with Jesus love, to want others to know that love. And also to be prepared to do things differently and to go to new places – places and people where God is already at work. Failure and faith aren’t incompatible – Jesus was not afraid of failure. But what he did was to meet it, speak into it and to change it to success.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Easter Sunday 17th April 2022
John 20:11-23 - Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Reflections on John 20:11-23
As we all know today, Easter is a time for celebration. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus from death is the unique and fantastic fact assuring Christians that it is also our future. We also know that the way ahead for us must include death. This is the prerequisite to resurrection for us.
Facing death is something we have all faced at some time, usually the death of someone we have loved and invariably that later involves taking flowers to the site of a grave or ashes . These can be very emotional times with the shedding of tears and recollection of memories. Mary of Magdala felt drawn to visit the tomb of Jesus not really expecting anything other than to perhaps sit for a few moments. Embalming the body was a current practice but the large stone put paid to that notion.
I remember waiting in a cemetery at one point, waiting for the hearse and family to appear after the church service, and I was glancing at the headstones placed by the families over the years. There were the usual details of life span and names, but the one feature which appeared so often was R.I.P either as initials or rest in Peace. Those sentiments are clearly understandable as we have said goodbye to loved ones, but the thing that struck me forcibly was that RIP did not apply to Jesus. For him to Rest in Peace is not what the story of Easter is about. The death of Jesus was never going to end with him ‘Resting in Peace.’
So what I’m going to share with you are some alternative suggestions for those initials so that they can signify the essence of who Jesus was and how that influences us now. So getting a stonemason to inscribe RIP on the stone in front of Jesu’s tomb could mean, not Rest in Peace but rather ‘ RISEN IN POWER’. We can’t be in any doubt at all that the resurrection of Jesus is anything other than a display of God’s power. Not resting but Risen. Death could not hold him. Any power that satan had was and is, totally inferior to the power of God who gives life, that is the life we have now and the life we will have later. It is a marvellous thing that incredible though it is, the resurrection of Jesus carries with it the promise of God that the same can happen for us.
Paul spells it out in 1Cor 15, that we too will know victory over death. You know the passage….. v.42 The body which is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonour it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
So we too will know victory over death by the power of God. But that promise isn’t for everyone, it is for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and have turned to Christ as the only way of knowing God’s forgiveness and receiving the Holy Spirit. Easter brings all this into focus.. Being confident in God’s power is reserved for those who have responded in penitence now. So RIP is appropriate for a Christian grave not representing ‘Rest in Peace’ but rather ‘Risen in Power’
But there is another way of translating RIP for Jesus’s tomb because we know that in returning to Heaven Jesus is also ‘Reigning in Power’. So from Risen in Power, to now, reigning in Power. This is the present reality of Jesus. This is where he is now, reigning in power. Paul wrote to Timothy:-
2 Tim 2v11 ‘ Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; If we endure, we will also reign with him’
And John’s Revelation speaks in terms of our Lord reigning for ever and ever. So not only has Jesus gone back in power, he has also gone back to reign for ever, and for those who are his disciples there is the promise that we will reign with him. In the context of our world, as it always has been and still is, power corrupts and spoils being both selfish and unjust. To reign with Christ will be perfect because it will be power based on 100% love and justice.
Now there is one other suggestion I have for these initials RIP. I wonder if you can guess what it might be ? It concerns the bringing about of all the promises that God gives us about Jesus. We have explored being Raised in Power followed by then Reigning in Power, but in Acts 1 we find another promise.
Acts 1v.11 Why do you stand there looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken into Heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into Heaven.
Matthew 24 describes the event as “The Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” So RIP can also mean ‘Returning in Power’ That’s what we can look forward to. The return of the one who was raised in Power, who reigns in Power and then returns in Power to put an end to the rule of Satan. In Matt 24 we also readlhat when that day happens) all the na¬tions will see it. A real statement of God's power. Can you see the common de¬nominator in all of this? It's the word POWER, that is, God's power. Recognising the power is something we must not lose sight of or take for granted.
So how does all this affect us now? Does it mean that we can, Rest in Peace? That we can sit back and let it all happen because God has the power to sort it all out? That we can live our lives, just Simply aware that this all hap¬pened and showing our gratitude at Easter ??
I think you know the answer. We were created by God in His image, created to praise Him and rejoice in belonging to Him. Created to take delight in serving Him and following His law of Love. So for us, the fact of the resurrection means that while we wait, those initials RIP can mean different things for us. Firstly we can follow the example of the first disciples by Rejoicing in Praise. Easter is the central plank of the whole of our faith and is the most important festival of the Christian year. We can be unashamed as we Rejoice in Praise to the God who made it all happen.
For the disciples, as time went on, they began to remember, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the things that Jesus had said, the predictions he had made, and they soon recognised that everything Jesus had said was trustworthy, that the promises he gave to them could be depended upon, especially in the sending of God's gift of the Spirit. And so it can be for us as we 'Rejoice in the Promises'. The promises are dependable because they emanate from the God who has proved His love and power. It's good for us to take time to be reminded of those promises both to rejoice and anticipate our future after death.
When we remember on Good Friday that Jesus died, we read that the thick curtain in the temple was torn in half portraying the truth that God is now accessi¬ble to everyone. We can approach Him direct, talk to Him, share with Him. In Acts lv14 after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, Luke tells us that the disciples devoted themselves to prayer. So my third and final suggestion for living as a Christian with the initials RIP is 'Rejoice in Prayer'. We add that to 'Rejoice in Praise', 'Rejoice in the Promises' and now 'Rejoice in Prayer'. It is indeed a privilege to be able to approach God in prayer. Not something we deserve but which God allows and seeks. Prayer is the life force of our Christian lives and the disciples devoted themselves to prayer and we neglect it at a cost.
What wil be on your headstone? If it includes R.I.P ... Will it be a statement that you have Risen in Power, and that you are Reigning in Power? Will it also reflect that in your life you have Rejoiced in Praise, Rejoiced in the Promises and Rejoiced in Prayer? I hope so.
In the Resurrection we have the final piece of the puzzle as to who Jesus was and still is. Risen .. Reigning .. and Returning in Power.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 3rd April 2022
John 12: 1-11 - Jesus Anointed at Bethany
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
Reflections on John 12: 1-11
Would you say that you were a generous person? Are you extravagant with gifts for family and friends? Or do you feel that you can’t do that because you haven’t got a lot to give. I remember at school being only able to afford cheap chocolate bars to give to friends at Christmas because we had little money. There are so many facets to what you give to someone – how much can I afford, who is the gift for and how do I feel about them, how am I feeling on the day – if you are in a good mood then you may find you spend more. You might ask yourself – will it embarrass the person; will they feel that they have to give me back a similar generous gift. Will other people be jealous – I know people with lots of children and grandchildren have to make sure they each have the same amount spent on them. When you think about it giving to others is a real minefield.
Being generous is something that some of us find really difficult – especially if we have been brought up in an environment where there was little or if there was plenty but there was an environment where there was a spirit of meanness. Even if we are better off and even have plenty it is a mentality that is hard to change. I was thinking – what does it mean to be generous and I came to the conclusion it is giving over and above what I would normally give. It is not necessarily about a huge amount of money – but giving over and above what we can really afford. Think of the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21. ‘Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” That states it beautifully.
Anyway, back to the reading. Here we have Jesus at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I often wonder about this little family – they all seem single or maybe widowed and they all live together in the same house. Unusual for none of them to be married. It smacks of some Victorian household like the Brontes. Anyway, it seems that Jesus was very close to this family and that he used their home as a bit of a bolt hole – Somewhere he went to relax and eat and chill out. Jesus is almost like one of the family. In the reading we see that a special meal has been prepared in honour of Jesus. It is a meal of celebration and thanks. Celebration because Lazarus had died and had been dead for 4 days, but then Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb and he was alive again. That must have been such a shocking and very emotional moment. He was definitely dead – not just oh there is a heartbeat after all, we got it wrong – but he was buried in the tomb for 4 days. It seems that the news of this had got out – it would do – and Lazarus had become a bit of a celebrity – if there had been TV outside the house there would have been a host of cameras and journalists. It points forward to another death and being in a tomb for several days. Mary and Martha had their dearly loved brother back and they wanted to say thank you by doing what they did best – cooking him a meal. But it’s not just the 4 of them having a cosy dinner party as it seems that the other disciples are there too. As is her way Martha is serving – Martha the busy one, always doing and running around – like most of us really. As the food is being put out Mary – the one who we read before sat at Jesus’ feet – is at his feet again. Here we see the most beautiful and generous act towards Jesus. Mary has about half a litre of very expensive perfume – it would have cost a whole year’s wages. I do wonder how she got hold of it – maybe it was handed down to her. Maybe she had bought it to anoint Lazarus’ body but it was never needed. So Mary kneels down at Jesus’ feet and she pours half a litre of perfume onto Jesus’ feet and then letting down hair she wipes his feet. So what can we learn from Mary’s act?
1. Our giving must come out of our love. Usually we give the most to the people we love the most. Mary gave this much because she had received so much. Mary loves Jesus with all her heart – she did before Lazarus died. In our lives how do we show we love Jesus? How much do we love Jesus? Do we realise what he has done for us personally – that he died for us. Our motivation for giving and being generous is not about gaining Brownie points in heaven (that’s rubbish) or in making ourselves feel good or showing off to others. The only motivation should be love and thankfulness.
2. Mary’s act was actually an act of worship – it was a prophetic one in that it was pointing to his death which would happen in just over a week. Mary kneels in worship and she lets down her hair – she was risking her reputation as respectable women didn’t do that. Looking on she could have been seen as an eccentric and over emotional woman. Yet she was true to herself in her worship. I read this recently in some Bible notes. ‘Some of us may feel pressured to be perfect when we go to church so that people will think well of us. Metaphorically speaking, we work hard to make sure we have every hair in place. But a healthy church is a place where we can let down our hair and not hide our flaws behind a façade of perfection. In church, we should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong. Worship doesn’t involve behaving as if nothing is wrong; it’s making sure everything is right—right with God and with one another. When our greatest fear is letting down our hair, perhaps our greatest sin is keeping it up.’ I wonder if you have ever let down your hair in worship – perhaps naturally you are a demonstrative person like Mary. I like quiet but I also like to dance and raise my hands. We say actions speak louder than words – in worship this is also true.
3. Giving – either money or worship must be sacrificial. This perfume costs thousands of pounds. Love often expresses itself in self – sacrifice. Again this is pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. If an offering is to be meaningful it should cost us something. There is no room for rubbish, leftovers or the change in our pockets. Worship is always costly – in our time, pride, money, reputation.
4. The disciples thought that this money could have been better spent giving to the poor. Giving to the poor is a good thing – but here Mary was doing something better – giving it in worship. Giving to the poor can never be a substitute for worshipping Jesus.
What Mary did was a sacrifice, it was outrageous, it was beautiful, it was extravagant. It was a reflection of what God is like – God is an outrageous giver, he was willing to sacrifice his Son for us, He did it in action not just words. God the crazy and generous giver. We are called to be the same – in our worship, in our serving others, in our giving of money and time. As we start to focus on Holy Week which begins next Sunday let’s allow ourselves to be moved afresh to give in a new way.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 27th March 2022
Exodus 2:1-8 - The Birth of Moses
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket a for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water"
Reflections for Mothering Sunday on Exodus 2:1-8
Twenty years ago, a BBC broadcaster and journalist Kate Adie published a book, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. In it, she recalls her life as a BBC reporter, from war zones, disaster areas, political uprisings and other reportable events to which she and her camera crew were sent by the BBC. She meets and interviews lots of interesting characters and in so doing, is struck by the kindness shown to her by complete strangers, often in the most difficult circumstances. So the title of her autobiography is totally apt, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’.
‘The Kindness of Strangers’ could also be a good title for this morning’s reading from Exodus.
Many years previously, Joseph, who, with God’s guidance, was a good interpreter of dreams. He had risen in favour and status in Pharaoh’s court and had overseen the storing of grain in advance of a famine which had now struck the land. Joseph’s dad Jacob and his family had travelled to Egypt to escape the famine in the land of Israel, as they had heard that there was food in Egypt and they stayed there. Years passed and the Israelites had lots of babies and became a large people group within Egypt.
There was now a new Pharaoh who knew nothing of the history of the good that Joseph had done. He was worried. These Israelites, God’s people, were becoming extremely numerous and this new Pharaoh was concerned for national security, as in the previous chapter of Exodus, he says ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’ The modern day parallel to this was sadly shown happening back in February with Russia invading Ukraine to counter their fear of Ukraine joining NATO. So what does Pharaoh do? He puts the Israelites under forced labour, but they still continued to multiply, so Pharaoh worked them even harder. Then the king of Egypt came up with an idea. Get the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew boys when they are born and let the girls live. Sorted! Well, not quite. The Hebrew midwives were resourceful and caring, they let the Hebrew boys live, as they had a great respect for God and knew what they had been asked to do was wrong. So they got hauled up before the king of Egypt and asked to explain their actions. Hebrew women, they said, are strong and feisty, unlike Egyptian women, and have given birth before we arrive. So the Hebrew people, God’s chosen people, increase even more.
On hearing this, Pharaoh is even more incensed and ups the stakes. He orders all his people to throw the new born Hebrew baby boys into the river Nile. This is where we pick up the story this morning.
A boy has been born to a Levite couple, who are one of the clans of Israel. They see that he is different, that he is a fine child. They are living in fear that his cries will be heard and that he will subsequently be drowned in the Nile. After deciding that they can’t shield him any longer, his mum gets a reed basket, makes it waterproof and also dark, places the baby boy in it and puts it among the reeds in the river Nile. She is caring and resourceful. She also trusts in God that somehow something good will come out of this terrible situation. She sends the baby boy’s sister to watch from a distance to see what happens.
I suspect that what happened in the next few minutes, or it could have been hours, were beyond her wildest expectations. In the past, God had put Jacob into a position of influence in Pharaoh’s court and it looks like that God is at work again, that something unexpected is going to happen. Help has come from a completely unexpected quarter, Pharaoh’s daughter. God can work through people who don’t believe in him or even acknowledge him. Here is another caring woman, Pharaoh’s daughter, who has come to have a dip in the River Nile. She has her servants and slave girls with her, so it was an all woman group. Pharaoh’s daughter has seen the basket and probably heard the cries of the hungry baby. So she instructs her female slave to go and fish the basket out of the reeds. Here is another woman who shows love and care by retrieving the basket with its precious cargo. There are no men about to enforce Pharaoh’s orders to drown all the baby boys, so the baby is safe, although crying as the daylight has disturbed him and he is probably hungry. What to do? Another resourceful woman, the baby’s sister, appears and suggests that a Hebrew woman could nurse him, unbeknown to Pharaoh’s daughter, who is the baby’s mother and who is going to be paid for doing the job!
So the baby is safe, under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter and the family have an important income stream for the time being, straight from the court of the oppressor. Then eventually, when the child is older, he becomes Pharaoh’s daughter’s son, is named Moses and grows up learning the ways of the Egyptians, which will be put to good use later on in his life, but that’s another story.
Today is Mothering Sunday. This story from Exodus is one example of women showing: love, care and resourcefulness. It is the kindness of strangers. Men are often out to kill, destroy and get their own way. Women, on the whole are different. A quote came up on Facebook recently which I tend to agree with, by the actress Meryl Streep “I do honestly think that if women were running the world there would be more investment in peace, because basically as women we do not want to see our children killed. Maybe I am completely idealistic, but until we see women in equal positions of power in the world, I just think that we are doomed.” The world needs good women to keep it under control.
As humans, we are all made in God’s image, or in Latin, the Imago Dei. We often address God as ‘Our Father’ but going on the fact that we are all made in God’s image, God also has feminine qualities. Here are some verses from the Bible to reflect this: Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. Matthew 23:37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing.' Zephaniah 3:17 He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Ruth 2:12 May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’ Psalm 36:7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. In Proverbs Ch 4, The word wisdom, which is likened to the Holy Spirit, has a feminine ending in Hebrew. In William Paul Young’s book The Shack, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a big friendly woman of colour. The English Mystic, Julian of Norwich, in the late 1300s, after having a vision of God, wrote about God as mother. I have a good friend, who is a vicar’s wife and who used to head up reader training in a diocese up North once said that if people have a problem referring to God as Father, maybe from bad experiences with an earthly father, then refer to God as mother.
As a church, we want to reflect the positive feminine qualities of God as listed in Galatians Ch 5 : But the fruit of the Spirit (and remembering that the Spirit is feminine in the Hebrew language) is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. These are all good fruits to show and develop. As a church, there will be people who come to us looking for the love usually shown by a mother and which is lacking in their lives. As a church, we need to welcome these people as God would. We are the ambassadors of Christ here on earth that he uses to show his love to others. So by living out the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we are showing the abilities to be a mother church to those who need us.
To our earthly mothers, those women who showed us love and tenderness, compassion and patience, whether they were or are our biological mothers or those who adopted or fostered us, to all those mothers who brought us up, living or who have died and live on in our memories, we want to say ‘Thank you’.
I am also aware that the mother figure in your life might not have been all that you wished or hoped for and that there has been pain and suffering. Our prayer for you is that God the Holy Spirit will come and fill up for you all that you need, that over time, gently and lovingly, there will be wholeness, healing and peace.
So to sum up: God can use unexpected people to be our mothers, as Pharaoh’s daughter became Moses’ mother. God can also be seen as a mother to us. As a church, we can show God’s female qualities to others through the fruits of the Spirit. We want to say ‘Thank you‘ to our mothers but where a mother has caused pain and hurt, then we pray that the Holy Spirit will bring wholeness, healing and peace.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Readings for Sunday 27th February 2022
2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Luke 9: 28 – 36
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2 & Luke 9: 28 – 36: Pray !
This morning I want to bring two points. Both of which are taken from the Bible readings we have just heard.
In our second Bible reading we heard about Jesus taking some time out from his ministry. I’d like to ask you some questions: What does taking ‘time out’ mean for you? Do you go anywhere different or do anything special? Do you need time out or is your life manageable as it is?
For Jesus, taking time out meant getting away from the crowds, from everyday people, to spend time in prayer. He took with him his closest disciples: Peter, James and John. They went up a mountain to pray. This was a decisive act and had probably been planned a few days in advance as one doesn’t suddenly say ‘Come on, let’s climb a mountain’. It is a decisive act, deciding to spend time alone with God. It doesn’t just happen, but needs to be planned. We had a quiet day coming up this Saturday, but have postponed it for a few months due to lack of interest. When we announce the date again, and it is likely to be May / June time, I would encourage you, brothers and sisters, to sign up and come to spend time out with God. Details will be in Stay Connected.
OK, back to Jesus and the disciples. Prayer changes people. People who pray are people who are open to change. Spending time in God’s presence can be risky. There is a saying that God loves you just the way you are, you don’t need to change to be loved by him. But, the saying goes on to say that because God loves you, he wants you to be changed into the likeness of his son Jesus. One of the ways that this transformation can happen is through prayer. Look at Jesus, as he prayed, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Radiant, glorious, sparkling, magnificent, wonderful, pure, holy. Jesus was changed from glory into glory.
Many years ago, when I was in my late teens, I went on a Crusader New Year house party in St John’s College, Nottingham. As I was a young Christian, I wondered how I could best grow and learn more about God. I looked around me and even though I didn’t understand it at the time, there were some other people my own age there as well as some of the leaders, who looked different. Their faces sort of glowed. I wanted some of what they had. I know this to be true now as well. There are some people I meet who radiate God’s glory. All these people have one thing in common – they spend time with God. The result is that they are changed, or to use another word, transfigured. They are changed to be more like Jesus. Changed to be more like what God wants them to be, so that the image of God is reflected in them and this is seen by others.
In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul also writes about the glory of God and how it can be reflected in people’s faces. When Moses had received the Ten Commandments, which were written on tablets of stone, he had been in God’s presence and his face shone. Some of God’s glory was reflected in Moses’ face. But it faded. It didn’t remain. Moses covered his face, so the Hebrews didn’t see the glory fading. The glory of the old covenant, the rules that God would have his people live by, wasn’t lasting. It was engraved on stone. Even though it showed God’s love to his people, the Hebrews, it was like stone. Cold and hard. The Ten Commandments had the power to protect God’s people, because they were his chosen people and he had called them out to be different from the other surrounding races. God wanted a relationship with them because he loved them and didn’t want them to follow or worship other gods. So God gave them the law, the Ten Commandments, but it was not to last for ever. Paul writes that when this law is read, a veil is still there over the minds of those who read it. Their minds are hardened.
But good news! This all changed with Jesus. It changed with his death and glorious resurrection, his victory over sin and death. This changed everything. The veil was removed, forcibly and dramatically. When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. This was something done by God and not by man. The curtain was torn from top to bottom. The way into the holy of holies, or in other words into God’s presence, the place where the ark of the covenant was kept, which signifies God’s presence with his people, was now open to all, not just the high priest once a year. The veil was removed. God was now accessible to all. The law on the tablets of stone was superseded. God now writes his law on human hearts. This law is one of love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4 v19), or as Jesus said: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). We want to bring glory to God because he loves us and laid down his life for us. We want to worship God and say thank you for the freedom that new life in him brings. We want to worship him in prayer, and also worship him in service, doing good works so that people around see our good works and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5: 16). The result being that our faces reflect God’s glory. We will shine! Shine for God.
This is my first point: Spend time in prayer with God, it will change you and others will notice the difference.
Now for my second point. Let’s go back to Jesus’ transfiguration on top of the mountain. His face is changed and his clothes become shining white. He is not alone. Moses and Elijah turn up. Wow! Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. What a powerful combination. I would like to suggest that they were there to encourage Jesus as they were speaking about his departure and what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus knew that he was going to face the crucifixion, but also that he was going to rise again on the third day. We know this, as it is the previous Bible passage to Luke’s reading we heard this morning. At this point Peter, James and John are fully awake and Peter, being his usual impetuous self, speaking before he thinks, suggests making a shelter for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter wants to hold onto this moment, not wanting to move forward, as that would mean going back down the mountain and back into the world. He wants to keep the mountain top experience. Then something else happens. A cloud comes down and envelopes them. The disciples were terrified. They would probably have known their Old Testament and what happened when Solomon dedicated the temple, in that God’s glory filled the temple so much so that the priests couldn’t enter (2 Chron 7: 2) or when the Hebrews came out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, God’s presence went with them as a pillar of cloud by day (Ex 13). The disciples knew that this was God. So they were there with Jesus, Moses, Elijah and now God. Imagine how you would feel if you were there too! Probably like the disciples, terrified!
Then a voice from the cloud speaks. ‘This is my Son, my chosen one, listen to him’.
Imagine you have gone to a quiet place to pray and all this happens. Certainly memorable indeed!
God spoke then, and I believe that he still speaks today. Anne and I have a time of prayer before we get up in the morning and are currently reading the book ‘Jesus calling’. It is all about being expectant of hearing Jesus in our everyday lives. We read a number of set Bible verses and then the supporting passage. It is good and I would recommend it.
So how does God speak to us today? In many ways. Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. So one way is through reading the Bible. God speaks to us through other people: Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. God speaks to us through an audible voice: At Jesus baptism: Mat 3: 17 ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Or with the calling of Samuel, where Eli says to Samuel, when he hears the Lord speaking to him, to respond ‘‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ This is so important, be expectant for God to speak. God can speak in dreams: take the magi, after visiting Jesus, Matthew writes that they were ‘warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.’ God speaks through nature: Romans 1: 20 ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’ Do you look at the stars, or a beautiful sunset, or dramatic countryside and go ‘wow!?’ God can also speak to us through music and song – listen to some praise and worship songs, they can be used by God to speak to you.
So God speaks to us, do we listen? Do we expect him to speak? Do we obey? We are told to test the spirits, is what you have heard from God? Is it in line with his will? Does it bring him glory? If you are not sure, ask Anne or another mature Christian for their advice. Talk it through with a Spiritual Director.
This is my second point: God speaks, do we listen? And do we obey?
So to sum up: Firstly: Spend time in prayer with God, it will change you and others will notice the difference.
Wouldn’t it be great if people stopped us and said ‘What makes you different?’ and we could reply that it is because we spend time with God in prayer. Wow!
Secondly: God speaks, do we listen? And do we obey?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Readings for Sunday 20th February 2022
Genesis 2 Creation
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Revelation 4 The Throne in Heaven
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
Luke 8 22-25 Jesus Calms the Storm
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Reflections on Genesis 2 Revelation 4 Luke 8 22-25
What a few days we’ve had. After everything that’s been happening over the last couple of years we now have had the strongest winds in thirty years, causing more chaos. How apt that our attention is drawn to chaos in today’s readings.
How many examples of chaos/uncertainty/lack of direction/turbulence can we name that we have faced over the last few years? (Covid, the storms; routines, not seeing friends and family; the government; bereavement)
What questions have all of these raised? Why? Where’s God in all of this? How do we/ will we cope? Where is it taking us?
Today’s timely readings remind us of God’s purpose for his creation and his relationship with them. In Genesis 1 ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’ Out of that chaos God created the heavens and the earth and all in it. In the excerpt from Genesis 2 we can see how God made people, with love, care and attention, knowing their needs. God makes the living creatures but gives Adam the joy of naming them all. There is a closeness between Adam and God. But there’s also a hint of what is to come. In all of this lushness and plenty, there is one tree that Adam must leave alone: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God commands Adam not to eat of the fruit of that tree (which incidentally is before Eve is created, so it wasn’t all her fault!) She is created because God senses Adam’s loneliness: he needs a companion, even though he has such a close relationship with God. And so Eve comes to life and she and Adam live with God in Eden, for a while. But we know what happened soon after: the couple eat the fruit of the tree and because of their disobedience, their desire to know it all, they are cast out of Eden, creating an innate separation between God and his creation which become to be a huge rift, a rift that Jesus was sent to heal.
That was the beginning. At the end of the bible we move to the book of Revelation and chapter 4 gives us a vivid picture of God’s splendour in heaven and the worship of him that he deserves. John is invited by the spirit to witness ‘ a throne in heaven’. What is seen there must be described but in terms that show it beyond human imagining. And so we are given colours: ‘And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.’ There are golden crowns, flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, blazing lamps, a crystal sea, wondrous creatures and voices endlessly singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’
This is God, being worshipped from afar. The familiarity and ease of the relationship between him and the first humans has been replaced by awe and wonder. That unending worship of God brings heaven and earth together in recognising who He is and being thankful.
The prophecies in Revelation are given to John by Jesus Christ for the churches at the time, which were being persecuted. Once again Jesus was meeting the needs of his people, bridging the gap between God and humankind. In his earthly ministry Jesus brought God, his love, his power, his purpose closer to people, back to people. That is shown so clearly in Luke’s account of the calming of the storm. God incarnate sleeps in the boat – a blissful picture, a very human Jesus exhausted, wiped out, at peace. God incarnate, laying down his power, risking, trusting and placing himself in his disciples’ hands. Both God and man, Jesus trusts in God and man. Therefore, in faith we can trust in him.
Both Genesis 2 and Luke speak of intimacy, peace and trust, not chaos or devastation; the intimacy of the garden, a metaphor for the relationship with God that we long to come home to; the peace of the scene before the storm – a picture of trust, of Jesus who lays down everything to be with us.
But those elements of chaos and devastation are not far away and are woven into both. A storm rocks the peaceful boat trip, threatening their lives and revealing the chaos of deep doubt and lack of faith of the disciples: ‘Where is you faith?” Whilst in the garden the tree of good and evil suggests temptation, which will bring separation, storms and eventually a rift between God and his people. Our relationship with God and with the natural order is shot through with doubt and chaos. These echoes of turbulence and uncertainty are felt in our current life together in our lives, for all sorts of reasons.
Luke’s gospel encourages us to look at our own faith and how we are with God when we are in the rough, chaotic, uncertain, even dangerous place, not just when things are simple, life is going well and there is calm. As we prepare for Lent this week and next this might be a good place for us to reflect – on our own faith as it is uncovered in testing times. Like the disciples we might well find it wanting and Lent can be for us a time of strengthening and re-engaging with Jesus, who is with us in all things. Jesus comes to us, completely vulnerable, alongside us, suffering with us and in doing that holds open the place for us to know God and find ourselves in relationship with him in the stillness of his love and authority. For when we look upon the face of Jesus, standing in the boat on calm waters, we see the face of God. The one who commands the storm to still is the one who has the authority of the Heavenly Throne we heard about in Revelation 4. He is worshipped now as the one who lives for ever and ever, surrounded by the company of heaven who sing without ceasing. Living, dying and living, Jesus has eternally united us with God.
So whatever chaos is going on, around us, within us, because of us, let’s focus our eyes on Jesus, knowing he has shared in our vulnerability but he also is the way to a relationship with God. We trust him, we worship him and we travel with him along side us. We are never alone for we are loved.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Series of talks on the Psalms January / February 2022
Reading for Sunday 6th February 2022
Psalm 42 - A psalm of lament
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, or I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long ,‘Where is your God?’
Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.
Reflections on Psalm 42 - When we need to lament
Anyone here a fan of Winnie the Pooh? I love it so much and I love the fact each character has a very obvious personality that we see in real people. We have Tigger who bounces everywhere and is full of energy and enthusiasm. Piglet who is timid and always worried. Owl who thinks he is wise but isn’t really and spells his name WOL. Pooh who is cuddly, friendly and leads a simple life based on the next meal, Kanga is the motherly and calm type with baby Roo. Rabbit is bossy and likes things just so. Then we have dear Eeyore – the sad, downcast, depressed Eeyore – never seeing the positive in anything. "Don't worry about me. Go and enjoy yourself. I'll stay here and be miserable." I wonder what character you identify with most? Are you a bit of a Tigger or Owl or rabbit or maybe an Eeyore who is depressed? Lately it has become far easier for people to talk about their mental health and for men especially. It’s been helpful to hear the likes of Princes William and Harry talk about their own struggles and also even our own Archdeacon. Depression and mental health issues are no longer something to be ashamed of or to hide.
In the past Christians have felt guilty about feeling depressed or having mental health struggles – but it is clear from Psalm 42 that people of faith can be depressed. Put you hand up if you or someone in your family or someone you know has been depressed or has mental health issues – I have been and people in my family have been and I know that church members have been. Depression can come for 2 main reasons – firstly what I call reactive depression – when something happens to you – loss of a loved one, your job, getting into debt, some crisis or trauma, - it is a natural reaction to something outside of yourself that changes the way you feel and how you see life. Then there is chemical depression – something inside your mind and body that is out of sorts that will need medication to help rebalance things. The person who wrote this Psalm is suffering from reactive depression. Before I go on, I must say that Psalm 42 goes together and runs into Psalm 43 – they should be read together. The situation is not clear – maybe the person who wrote the Psalm is far from home in the north of Israel and far from Jerusalem and from the temple. Or it could be the people of God in exile or a king at a time of national crisis. The outer crisis creates the inner crisis. There are 3 stanzas or verses to these 2 Psalms –Psalm 42: 1 – 5, verses 6 – 11 and Psalm 43. Each of these parts follows the same pattern which I want us to look at now.
Lettting go, making oneself think and pulling oneself together. So, letting oneself go – in other words expressing how you feel and being really honest. We are often bad at this – especially us British with stiff upper lips, big boys don’t cry, be brave and all that. It’s not good and it’s not healthy. Feelings are like bubbles in a bottle - keep shaking them up and adding to them will cause the cork to explode at some point. It is so important to talk about our feelings. That’s why we need friends and our church family as they are safe places to share and take off our masks and be truly ourselves. I love Eeyore because he does not hide how he feels – but he still goes on adventures and stays with his supportive friends and they love him just as he is. The Psalmist isn’t afraid to show his feelings either. They can be summed up in 3 phrases – I’m parched, I’m overwhelmed and I’m misjudged or feeling dry, drowning and disheartened. I’m parched - ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God, My soul thirsts for God.’ Verse 1 – 2. We get excited about the sun and moan about too much rain but in Palestine the sun shines from May to September drying up the river beds. A deer would strain its head for the sound or smell of running water – it is pure torture. That is how it feels when we long for God and He feels distant. In the Bible God is spoken of as living water. The Psalmist longs to meet with God and the place where that happens for him is the temple. The Psalmist knows that God is accessed anywhere and is not confined to a building but still his need is for the temple which is not there for him. Sounds familiar doesn’t it – when we couldn’t come to the church building and couldn’t worship together.
The Psalmist is mocked ‘Where is your God,’ which is what he is feeling himself. Which leads to the next feeling – of feeling overwhelmed – like the winter rains that ran down the hillside of Mount Hermon crashing as waterfalls. In the Bible this is a symbol of chaos. Verse 7 ‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.’ I am drowning and I need something to hold onto. Feeling overwhelmed is a horrible feeling – overwhelmed with work, grief, burdens, worries – doesn’t matter what it is – it is scary and we long for a lifeline. In verse 9 he acknowledges that God is his rock yet he still questions why ‘Why have your forgotten me, why must I go about mourning.’ Then in Psalm 43 we see that he has been wrongly judged and he is disheartened. The Psalmist is feeling really depressed and desperate yet this does not stop him letting it all out in prayer – negative the emotions are, it doesn’t matter. Yet the Psalmist knows when enough is enough and then goes on to making himself think. In Romans 12:2 we read ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ He remembers going to the temple and the praise, joy and thanksgiving. He remembers God Himself – His love, His day and night experience of Him. He remembers being with others and his personal experience of God. God had been his life. There is hope that God may return to him and he to God. In verse 43: 4’ Then I will go to the altar of God, my God, my joy and my delight.’
We all have a story to tell of God working in our lives – how he helped us when in trouble, how he gave us strength in the past to get through. It is good to remember – if he did it, then he will do it again. Finally, the Psalmist pulls himself together. Which is not the thing to say to someone depressed ever! He has expressed his feelings, thought about the past and looked to the future. He is living present and future, present and past and there is a tension. So he pulls himself together with this refrain ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Saviour and my God.’ It’s said 3 times. He is waiting for what is round the corner. He knows that where there is hope there is life. Praise like before will be possible. John G ‘Faith bridges the gap between prayer and its answer and looks forward to praise.’ In fact, he starts to praise now even in the midst of his trouble. This is a truly wonderful Psalm that we can use when we need to cry out to God. It also gives us a model for when we are low and struggling – let go of your feelings- never underestimate the power of talking and of being listened to by others and God. Think and remember the times in your life when God has been present. Then decide to still praise Him holding onto the hope that God will answer and bring new life. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 23rd January 2022
Psalm 23 - Psalm of David The Lord is my shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Reflections on Psalm 23 – Trusting in the middle of darkness
For a moment or two, I'd like you think about the human being, or beings, that you most trust (or have trusted) in your life. What is thing that comes to mind, that is the core of that trust.
We trust people for all sorts of reasons: their reliability, their honesty, their generosity, their integrity, their love. Knowing that you can rely on someone for something is a wonderful gift, a joy, a comfort. And how does that trust build up? Through experience, through events, through relationships. For example, we have had to have a lot of trust in scientists over the last two years as they developed and rolled out the vaccine programme in record time. Why did we trust that they were doing the right thing? Because we have learnt to trust the NHS over the years. Our experiences have in the main been good and we are grateful to be living in a country where health care is so readily, if sometimes slowly, available. Our experience had built trust, even when things were frightening, the future seemed dark and the way forward unclear.
Psalm 23 has been described as ‘ a profession of joyful trust in the Lord as the good Shepherd-King’. And yet in many people’s minds it is the psalm that is associated with funerals, with the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. However, David makes a firm affirmation in the first verse: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want anything. How wonderful is that! The metaphor of the shepherd for kings and for the Lord as the shepherd of Israel is widely used in the Old Testament and here David, the king, acknowledges that the Lord is his Shepherd -King, explaining how and why through the psalm. This very personal: it’s my shepherd, leading him, David, who trusts implicitly in his Lord.
Consider the role of the shepherd in biblical times. A shepherd, going ahead, would always lead his flock to green pasture, to feed on the best there was, season by season, food that was fresh and free from dangerous weeds. Philip Keller (in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23) writes that sheep do not lie down easily and will not, unless four conditions are met. Because they are timid, they will not lie down if they are afraid. Because they are social animals, they will not lie down if there is friction among the sheep. If flies or parasites trouble them, they will not lie down. Finally, if sheep are anxious about food, they will not lie down. The shepherd knows their needs and meets them. Rest comes because the shepherd has dealt with fear, friction, flies and famine. In the same way, David’s Lord has provided what he needed, relief from his worries from his worries. Similarly a shepherd would find quiet waters: apparently sheep don’t like drinking from turbulent waters and so the shepherd would find smooth water or in exceptional circumstances dig out a pool. A shepherd would guide his flock along the right path, the paths that were the safest, most clear and paths that would lead them to good things. A shepherd would guide his flock through dangerous areas, where there was fear, bringing reassurance and protection, ensuring each one was safe, counting with his rod and protecting with his staff. The sheep didn’t need to know where the green pastures or still waters were; all they needed to know was where the shepherd was. Likewise, the Lord would guide David to what he needed.
David has complete trust in the Lord being with him at all times. Even when he walks ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ he fears no evil, because he is not alone: his shepherd is with him, protecting him and guiding him. Evil, suffering, pain are not eliminated but he is comforted by the presence of the Lord with him.
David then uses another image: the Shepherd King as his host. David is invited to a feast, a sign of the bond of friendship. His enemies still exist but he is bonded to his Lord. His head is anointed with oil, a sign of being an honoured guest (incidentally oil was used in other ways to heal and protect sheep). David’s cup, both literally and metaphorically, overflows thanks to his Lord’s goodness.
David finishes this psalm of joy by declaring that his Lord’s goodness and love/loving-kindness and mercy ‘will follow me all the days of my life’ and that he will be with the Lord for ever, both in this this life and beyond. There is a calm assurance in this statement: David knows from experience that his Shepherd, his Lord, has always been with him and is with him always. Psalm 23 is a psalm to be sung with joy, with affirmation with trust, for if the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want anything. He is with us, in the middle of darkness and in the brilliance of the light.
This trust in God in the Old Testament flows in to the trust we find in Jesus in the New. In John 10, Jesus says ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the father- and I lay down my life for the sheep.’ It’s remarkable that the Lord would call himself a shepherd, as a shepherd’s work was seen as the lowest of all works. But unlike the hired hand, Jesus is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. We heard that in the reading from Luke. In his humanity, Jesus asks his Father to take away the cup of suffering away from him but accedes to God’s will. Jesus’ trust in his father overcomes his fear of the suffering that is to come, knowing that his father will be with him. His relationship with his Father is grounded in prayer: throughout his mission we have seen Jesus draw to his Father through times of solitary prayer, through references to his word. He trusted his Father to be with him as he completes his mission, to guide him and to love him. He wakes his disciples, reproaching them for falling asleep and telling them to pray so they can be prepared for what is to come, just as he has being praying ‘fervently’.
I asked you earlier to think about people in whom you’ve had trust. Isn’t it a lovely feeling to know that there are people who will not fail you, who will have your best interests at heart. That trust is not easily won: it comes with experience, with time, with reliability. Once trust is lost, it’s not always easy to re-build: doubt creeps in. At the moment in this country’s political life there seems to be a lack of trust: who is to believed, who is to be trusted? But as Christian’s we are blessed: we know who to believe. We have learnt through the teachings in the Bible, through our prayers and worship, through our friends and families, through our own relationship with our Shepherd-King that he can be trusted to lead us through our lives in good times in bad, in sunshine and in darkness. In whatever faces us on our journey, He is always with us, ahead of, guiding and loving us. Jesus was prepared to die for us and then kept his promise to rise again. He has kept his promise to be with us always and in that we trust. And that blessing, that guidance, that love, needs to be shared with all we meet, through kindness, through empathy, through comforting, through generosity. We have to make clear the impact that the Lord’s goodness and mercy has on our lives, so that others can say with the joy that David had ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want anything.’
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 16th January 2022
Psalm 30 - Psalm of David for dedication of the Temple.
I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said ‘I shall never be shaken.’ LORD, when you favoured me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
To you, LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help.’
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you for ever.
Reflections on Psalm 30
How do you pray? What is the content of your prayers? Do you ever want to pray but don’t have the words to say? Recently I was thinking how unbalanced our prayers are – that too often we just come with a list of requests. Yet if that is how you communicated with a friend or family member like that you would think that something was very wrong. Prayer is very rich and varied. Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at the Psalms to help us in our prayer lives and especially for when we need the words to pray. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed for his faith in WW2 said that “the more deeply we grow into the Psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the simpler and richer will our prayer become.” In the Bible, God talks to us; in the Psalms we learn how to talk to God. The Psalms are very varied and cover a whole host of different feelings and situations. At college I had to take an exam on the Psalms and we had a way of remembering them – HLWPT – hot lips with painted toenails. History, literature, worship. Praise, Theology. There are more themes than those and in the next 5 weeks we are going to look at a particular Psalm each week to inspire us in our prayer life. This week we are thinking about Giving thanks when we have survived and using Psalm 30.
This time of year, I always remember the events in my life 7 years ago. How I went to my GP, he referred me for a scan, I went to see the specialist who offered some treatment, they took a biopsy and then I was recalled a week later to be told that I had cancer. You just never want to hear those words. I had surgery and then was told all was good and then heard that they had found another cancer and I needed chemo. It was 7 months before I came back to work very much as a survivor – a bit battle scared but a grateful, thankful survivor. If you look back at your life and you remember when bad things happened to you - how do you think of yourself – a victim or a survivor? How you see yourself affects how you behave and how you face the future.
Psalm 30 tells us the story of a person of faith going into trouble and then coming out of trouble. So, let’s look at the trouble parts – he was in the depths, he needed healing – maybe he was ill, he was close to death, he wailed, wore sackcloth for sorrow and regret. We don’t actually know what happened or what was wrong but it was clearly something that had affected his whole life – his mind, body and spirit. When bad things happen to us it affects the whole of us – a health issue affects our mind and spirits – having chemo made me very mentally low, a relationship problem or just worry can affect our health, the problem of guilt (a spiritual problem) can affect our mental and physical health.
These past 2 years many people have suffered trauma in different ways which will affect them in many ways. For the Psalmist he was a survivor and God intervened to bring him a new lease of life. We see this in verses 1 – 3 – verse 1 he is lifted out of the depths or another version says ‘You have drawn me up.’ The word used of drawing up is the word of drawing up a bucket from a well. (Joseph story) Verse 2 – you healed me, verse 3 – you brought me up from the grave and verse 3 you spared me. The Psalmist has gone from a Good Friday situation – one of death and despair to an Easter Sunday expedience of new life. So, what did the Psalmist do to help himself – verse 2 –I called to you for help, verse 8 To you O Lord I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy. Verse 10 Hear O Lord and be merciful to me, O Lord be my help.
Many people say to me that they feel that it is wrong to pray for themselves when others need prayers. BUT it is clear that God wants us to call upon Him, to ask for help, to pour out our hearts to Him. I would be very upset if I knew that one of my children was in real need and suffering but had never told me and asked for help. The Father longs to know what His children need. The Psalmist asks for mercy – for God’s help and healing – even though he knows He does not deserve it – God still answers because He is full of mercy. This Psalm is for those who have been in a place of pain and despair, like being stuck down a well and not knowing how you will get out on your own. It’s for those who can look back and know that it is God who has reached down and has offered a hand to pull us out.
The Psalmist is so full of joy that he is healed and has been rescued that he just wants to praise God. ‘I will exalt you O Lord.’ He doesn’t want to keep this praise to himself but sees it as a community experience – ‘Sing to the Lord you saints of his, praise his holy name.’ Do we ever share with others our answers to pray – do we ever praise and as a community praise and worship because of that answer to prayer? It is such a good thing when we tell others and the church that this was my situation and that I called to God for help and he lifted me up. It is good to bear witness in this way as it builds other people up and encourages them in their faith. The Psalmist experienced a real transformation – his night time tears are turned to rejoicing in the morning, his tears are turned to dancing, he took off his sackcloth (his despair and maybe guilt and shame) and put on the new clothes of joy. His praise was expressed in song and dance. This song was sung at the dedication of the temple and was said to be by David. David clearly wanted the praise not to go to him but to God. David testified to the fact that God was faithful and watched over him – but he also acknowledges that when he did not rely on God he was dismayed or troubled. David allowed God to be at work in His life and He relied on God to help and rescue Him.
We see this reflected in the account that we have of the 10 lepers who met Jesus – they were socially distanced as leprosy was contagious. Like David they cry out to Jesus for pity or mercy. Jesus heals them all and tells them to go to the priest to have it confirmed so that they can live in society again. Just one returns – a Samaritan and a double outcast as a foreigner. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet in thanks and worship. Where are the others – says Jesus? Then he tells this man that he is saved.
Coming to Jesus in our time of need with bring transformation. It might be sudden, it might take time – but Jesus is always in the business of bringing new life, change and restoration. Perhaps think this morning of times in your life that you have called out to Jesus and he has answered. Maybe this morning you feel that you are in the pit, down a well – then call out to Jesus and ask for Him to rescue you. Whatever your situation pray this Psalm to express praise and thanksgiving. When we come together to worship may it be an outpouring of praise ‘That my heart may sing to you and not be silent.’ May we sing, dance, be joyful – because Jesus has rescued us and will rescue us when we call. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 5th December
Luke 3: 1 - 6 - John the Baptist Prepares the Way
It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see he salvation sent from God.’”
Reflections on Luke 3: 1 - 6
Although my children are adults now, they are still asking – when are we putting the decorations up? I was looking at photos on my phone and last year they started going up on 30th November. I think we were all so fed up with the events of the year it was a way of lifting our spirits. I’m just as bad as the youngsters though as I totally love this time of year – especially now that my family has grown considerably. It’s a time of preparation, anticipation and getting ready.
For me it is a significant time – but not as important as the time that we are reading about in Luke. Don’t you just love Luke with all these historic details. He wants to date it accurately to make the reader see that it was at a time in history when things changed and the time for getting ready and action had begun. He mentioned secular rulers like Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate and Herod and religious rulers like Annas and Caiaphas the high priests. He is putting this event into a historic setting that everyone will recognise. So, this all probably took place about 27AD. The coming of John the Baptist with this message was really significant because he was coming as a prophet and the last prophet was Malachi who was about 400 years before. Luke wants the reader to make a link between John and the Old Testament prophets as he uses the term ‘the word of God came to John.’ This term isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament but we see it used of Abraham, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Jeremiah (Jer 1, 1,2) ‘The word of the Lord came to him.’
So, at last after 400 years God was speaking again through his prophet – who is now John. We read that God called him in the desert or the wilderness. It was a place where the soil was chalky and covered in broken stones and rocks with brushwood and snakes crawling about – which may have inspired his calling the crowds a brood of vipers. John came to bring a really important message and to usher in a new era. His message was a simple and profound one – it was about being baptised for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It was a baptism of conversion. Baptism itself was not a new idea as Gentiles who had converted to Judaism were baptised as they were seen as dirty and unclean. But now John is calling those of the Jewish faith to be baptised – he was saying that you too are filthy and need forgiving and changing. That even though you are children of Abraham and are God’s chosen people you still need to repent and turn from your old ways and be forgiven and change. They had been relying on inherited faith. It is wrong to rely on inherited faith.
It is easy for us to do this today – to think that we are on a firm footing because… we live in a Christian country, we went to Sunday School or a church school, we are Church of England, our parents went to church or were Christians, were baptised as a baby, we believe in Christian values – but that is not enough and the call to us today is still to repent and turn our lives around and follow Jesus. John was calling people to repent first and foremost – that is the first thing that must happen. It is so much more than saying sorry or even saying the prayer of confession – it is more than words. It is about a complete turnaround – a change of mind and heart and therefore a complete turnabout of life. It is radical. It is about sorrow for our sin and a desire to change and turn our backs on our old ways. John would not baptise anyone unless that had taken place. I know in the Church of England it is said that we can only have one baptism yet I am very understanding of those who become Christians as adults and want believers’ baptism. I suppose the second choice is the renewing of baptism vows which is a very powerful thing to do. So we have a life turned round – then baptism to seal that and then through this we have the forgiveness of our sins. It’s like an equation conversion plus baptism equals forgiveness of sins.
John had come to proclaim, herald, preach – that God was bringing good news and that someone was coming who would bring the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins means that the wrongs that we have done are sent to a place from which they can never be recovered – just like throwing out your rubbish – you don’t go running after the dustcart shouting – I want my old rubbish back do you? The people who heard John would have known about the scapegoat in Leviticus 16 whereby a live goat had hands laid on it’s head by Aaron the priest and all the sins of the Israelites were confessed over the goat and then the goat was sent off into the desert. This happened on Yom Kipper the Day of Atonement which Jews still keep but no goats are involved. John was telling people to get ready because forgiveness was on its way – sent by God in the form of a new scapegoat – the Son of God – Jesus. So, what does this say about baptism and forgiveness of sins. Baptism should come after conversion.
Maybe the C of E has got it all wrong. That we all need our sins forgiven. The Bible makes that very clear. Yet we often blame others and don’t take responsibility for our sins – he made me do it, it was because of the way I was brought up, it’s just the way I am. It is easy to become a victim when actually we had our part to play. And when we have been forgiven then we are forgiven and don’t need to keep dredging it up. God places that sin in the Sea of Forgetfulness where there is the sign NO Fishing. So John is shouting out this message in a real desert and talking about real things – valleys, mountains etc but this is also talking about us. The desert is the human heart and the call is to prepare the way – to get ready because someone is coming. It’s a quote from Isaiah 40– now it’s being fulfilled. When these words from Isaiah were given, they were to tell the people that God was coming to His people to lead them back from captivity to a place of liberation. Now John is telling the people that God is coming again to lead all people to a far greater liberation which is through Christ. It is only through Jesus that you and I will be set free. But we need to get ready.
The way we do that is through allowing Jesus to have ready access into our hearts and lives – making straight paths for him. What in our lives is preventing Jesus coming in? Do we keep him on the doorstep – just for Sundays or do we allow him into all the rooms of our life to change us – do we even want him to change us? Are we brave enough to remove the obstacles of thinking – yeah I’m OK, I’m a good person – I don’t need all that stuff? We read of the desert – the place where we wander spiritually and where all the streams are dry – when we feel alone and God feels far away and we feel lost – that is the desert where God is calling you. God called John in the desert and now God calls us in our deserts too. There is talk of valleys – the place of false humility – and mountains – the place of pride. These needs to be dealt with to receive Jesus. There is also talk of crooked roads – our darker side, our hidden selves – that needs to be dealt with urgently. This message it says ‘All people will see God’s salvation’. This was for everyone – because the problem of sin is in everyone – the solution is Jesus. You and I need him and so do the people of Hutton. Please this Advent – a time of getting ready – let’s prepare ourselves for Jesus and let’s let him in to every part of our lives. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 21st November
John 18:33-37 - My Kingdom Is Not of This World
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Reflections on John 18:33-37
If I was to ask you ‘Where are you from?’ I wonder how you would reply? I think to my shame I would say that I am from Essex. When couples come to get married one of the questions on the form is ‘What is your nationality’. Most people here say British, though some say English. There are some people who I think would really love to say Yorkshire or Cornish. Let me ask you another question – Where do you belong? Perhaps that’s more difficult to answer – anyone like to try to answer that one? It might even be the same answer that you gave to ‘where are you from?’ though it may well be very different. I thought about this one and I feel that I belong to Somerset – my dad’s side of the family were from South Petherton and then moved to London where my grandma was born – there are still loads of Vaggs living in South Petherton. When we moved here it felt like I was coming home and I didn’t know why – then I found out why when I discovered about my family.
We can’t do anything about where we come from, but we can do something about where we belong. In the reading from John Jesus is talking about where he is from and where he belongs and it the same place. I know that it’s Christmas day 5 weeks from yesterday but the account that we heard read from John is from the Easter story. Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane and he has been arrested by the Roman soldiers who have the Jewish officials with them. He is tossed from pillar to post – taken and questioned by Annas then taken to Caiaphas the high priest then to Pilate the Roman governor. A bit like when you ring BT or another company – you get the feeling they are saying ‘I don’t want to deal with you I’ll transfer you to the sales department, the customer service department, the out of hours department, the billing people.’ Yet what is happening to Jesus is a million times worse because his very life is at stake here. Pilate was in a very difficult place because he was being forced to do something he didn’t want to be part of – he didn’t want to judge him or deal with him. The Jews had no power to execute Jesus but the Romans did.
So Pilate questions him – Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus throws this back at Pilate ‘Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?’ Then Pilate asks him what has he done. And in this Jesus answers the first question ‘Are you the king of the Jews. For Jesus says ‘My kingdom is not of this world. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king then!’ says Pilate. Then Jesus says ‘For this reason I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’ So Jesus is a King and he has a kingdom– but it is not a kingdom with borders or parliaments, passports or a currency. He has no earthly throne or crown. The kingdom of God is completely different from the kingdoms of this world.
So to the answer where are you from, Jesus might say ‘I come from the Father in heaven’ and to where does he belong ‘ ‘he belongs with the Father in heaven. – same answer. But when Jesus came from that place to live on the earth he brought something with him – the kingdom of God. And it is such a different kingdom from ours – listen to what he says in Luke 4 ‘The Spirit of the lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ So God’s kingdom is about good news to the poor – those who have little and those who know that they have great need of God. It is possible to be rich but to be empty inside – to have a large bank balance but also to have huge worries about the future and about the big questions of life. He comes to bring release to prisoners and those who are in chains. Real prisoners and those people are bound by other things – addictions, certain behaviours, wrong and sin that they can’t escape from. His kingdom is about healing the body and the soul. It is about love not about domination. It is not about political power but the power of God’s spirit. It is about service and not about self- importance. It is so different from this world.
And Jesus is the king – because He is the bringer of this kingdom- the bringer of this good news. Soon after this meeting with Pilate Jesus is taken to the cross and killed. It seems that the authorities get what they want – or so they think. What they don’t know is that God’s power is greater than their power and on that first Easter day Jesus comes back from the dead and is alive. So Jesus is a king and his kingdom is not confined to the church – it is wherever the rule of Jesus is allowed to have its way – it is where the Holy Spirit is at work, it is where people are healed and set free, it is where there is new life and new birth – where people are becoming Christians. Christians have dual nationality as it were – we are citizens of the UK but also of the kingdom of God. As I said we can’t do anything about being UK citizens but we have to choose, to decide to be citizens of God’s kingdom – have we done that?
As Jesus stands before us as a king it poses us with a question – who do you serve, who is master of your life, who is in charge? Who or what rules your life? It might be yourself – you are the one in charge – I do what I like when I like. Or maybe your family rules your life – you do what they want and allow them to guide you and tell you what to do and when. Or maybe you are ruled by your work – it is what you live for and what you enjoy. Who or what is on the throne that is your life? If Jesus is your king, you are a Christian and you love and follow him maybe you have allowed other things of people to be in charge. If Jesus is your king is he King over all your life – what about your family, your finances, your friends, your hobbies, your shopping habits, the choices that you make each day. It is said ‘If he’s not Lord over all, he’s not Lord at all.’ Jesus is the king – yet he is not like our monarchy who you can’t really know – Jesus longs to be in relationship with us – a King who is our Lord, our Saviour ( he died for us) and our friend (he will never leave or forsake us.) Let’s welcome him as our king today.
Lord I know that you are the king and I invite you to come and live in me – to take charge of my life, to help me, to guide me, to direct me in the way I should go. Lord I am sorry that I have allowed other things or people to be king – please take your place on the throne that is my life. Lord I bow the knee and I say Come Lord Jesus and reign in me. Amen
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 24th October
Mark 10 : 46 – 52 - Blind Bartimaeus received his sight
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Reflections on Mark 10: 46 – 52
A week ago last Friday I was on a train journey to Salisbury. It was my first overnight at Sarum College, for Reader training. At one of the stations, a blind woman and her sighted companion got on. The guard showed them to their seats and all was well. At Bristol, they, and myself, had to change trains. I was standing behind her when alighting from the carriage, so I could see first hand the difficulty she was facing. Her companion had got off first, the guard was also on the platform and they were guiding her off the train. It was not easy. Her companion held one hand, her other was on the train door, which was also holding her guide stick. He then held both her hands and said that it was a big step onto the platform. Did she make it? Yes, but even I was holding my breath and was expecting to lend a hand. Being blind is not easy. It is a life limiting disability. I want you for a moment to shut your eyes tight. It’s dark, nothing can be seen. Well that’s what it is like being totally blind.
It was the same for Bartimaeus in today’s reading. He was blind. He wasn’t on a train going to Bristol, but was sitting by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho, begging. It doesn’t get any lower than that, begging, dependant on others for survival, marginalised, an outcast. As he was blind, I expect that his other senses were heightened, to make up for his disability. He was aware of the crowd of people and had probably asked them what was going on, either that, or they had tried to tidy him away out of sight, as Jesus was about to go past, and he was lowering the tone of the place.
Bartimaeus was made of strong stuff, well; he had to be, to survive. So he drew a deep breath and shouted ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’. You can feel the embarrassment of the crowd, what’s this blind beggar doing, shouting for Jesus. ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’. Many in the crowd rebuked him. ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Shut up, or else... ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’. Total embarrassment. Shut up.... no, says Bartimaeus! ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Jesus stopped..... He heard him..... He heard Bartimaeus’ cry for help over the noise of the crowd. I bet the crowd weren’t expecting the next bit though.
Jesus turned to the crowd, who had previously been telling Bartimaeus to shut up, and he said to them ‘Call him’. I wonder how the crowd felt now, as they had to interact with Bartimaeus, so they called him. ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Bartimaeus, whom just a few minutes previously was being shunned and whom they were trying to silence, was now the centre of attention. Jesus had heard his cry for help and acted on it.
Now it wasn’t like the lady on the train, where she had a helpful companion who was guiding her, no, the reading doesn’t say that they took Bartimaeus by the hand and lead him to Jesus, I feel that there was nothing kind and gentle about this crowd, no, there was no helping hand, Bartimaeus had to go to Jesus on his own. He might have been in a crowd, but in reality, he was on his own.
‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ With great joy, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. Brothers and sisters, this is a significant act. Bartimaeus’ cloak was his security; it was his security against the cold. It gave him protection. Without it, it was as if he was naked. He is saying to Jesus ‘I have thrown off my security, here I am now totally dependent on you and I know that I can trust you’.
I have a suspicion that the crowd, by this time, were silent, watching, waiting. What was Jesus going to do? They had tried to shoo this blind beggar away, as in their eyes he was worthless and just an encumbrance, but Jesus had told them to call him.
Jesus had invited blind Bartimaeus into his presence. Jesus had called him to himself. Has Jesus ever called you to himself? Invited you into his presence?
Jesus gave Bartimaeus worth and value as a human being. He gave him his identity (because I guess he called Bartimaeus by his name) and Jesus cared for him. Jesus loved him. He didn’t act like the crowd and push him away, but he drew him into his presence.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to vocalise his need and request Jesus to help him. ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight.
It was a simple as that. By hearing that Jesus was coming his way, by not letting the crowd squash him, by shouting persistently to Jesus for mercy, by being called by Jesus and responding, by making himself vulnerable throwing off his cloak, by coming into Jesus presence, by responding to Jesus question of ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus’ faith (and all these actions were because of Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus) resulted in him receiving his sight.
Bartimaeus didn’t ask for riches or fame, just his sight. So Jesus made him whole, he could see, he could work, he could get out of the gutter and support himself. He could play a part in society. He could flourish. He didn’t have to rely on peoples’ scraps and loose change but Bartimaeus could now live fully being himself, the person God made him to be.
‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Bartimaeus had gone from being blind and static, from sitting in one place, to being able to see and as a result, he followed Jesus down the road, and I bet that he wasn’t quiet either!
If you are happy to do this, I would like you to close your eyes. Now, I want to go back a bit in the story. I want you to imagine that you are like Bartimaeus. There is a part of your life that isn’t whole and you would love Jesus to sort it. You cry out to Jesus, but there is something, like the crowd, holding you back from responding to his call and coming into his presence. Jesus stops and says to you ‘Come’. You have now thrown off whatever it is holding you back and are standing in front of Jesus. He looks at you with a loving look, and says ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
What would you like Jesus to do for you? In your heart and mind, ask him silently.
I am going to spend a few moments in quiet and if you believe that Jesus is saying to you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ask him to do that thing that you desire.
Then hear Jesus say ‘Go, your faith has healed you.’
Let’s pray: Jesus, you say to those who know their need of you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Lord, we pray for wholeness and healing, of body, mind and spirit, so that we might go and follow you along the road. Come Holy Spirit. We ask this in your name Jesus. Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 17th October
Mark 10: 35 - 45 The Request of James and John
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Reflections on Mark 10: 35 - 45
Do you remember the song 'Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you. No you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't. Yes, I can, Yes, I can! Anything you can be, I can be greater. Sooner or later I'm greater than you.' ?
Being great is something that many people aspire to but very few really get to be. Some people become great by sheer hard work – like those who win medals at the Olympics or those who have worked to be great artists or musicians. I wonder who your top greatest person is? It is one thing to become great, which sometimes happens by accident, it is another to desire to be great, to have a need to be number one, at the top of the pile, a need to be better than others. None of us really like it when a person is trying to be top dog but at the same time we all have that trait in us. This is the problem that these brothers James and John had. The amazing thing is that these followers of Jesus spent so much time with him, saw his miracles, heard his teaching but still didn’t get it. Both Jesus and the disciples had ambition – but the disciples’ ambition was to be great, to sit on thrones of glory. Jesus’ ambition was so different – his kingdom totally different from the ways of human kingdoms. His ambition was to be a servant. Service not greatness was his driving force.
So let’s look at James and John. They are two of Jesus’ first disciples, both fishermen. They were invited along with Peter up a mountain with Jesus. It was up that mountain that they had the most amazing experience for they saw Jesus in all his glory, transfigured and they also saw Moses and Elijah. They were on top of the world – it was amazing. While all this was happening the other were trying to heal a mentally sick boy who kept throwing himself into the fire. Jesus came down and healed the boy and then told them off for their lack of faith. Shortly after they were walking home to Capernaum. It was a long walk and they chatted on the way – the disciples got into an argument as to who was the greatest. It was no wonder there was conflict – James and John and Peter had had this amazing experience, while the others had been unable to heal the boy. They felt superior no doubt. It was like sibling rivalry. When they arrived at the house Jesus asked them what they were arguing about. Needless to say they were a bit embarrassed – just like when someone quietly comes up behind you and catches you saying something you shouldn’t. You suddenly stop talking. Then there is this awkward silence because they know that what they have been arguing about is wrong. They were ashamed of their conversation. He says to them ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He then takes a child and says ‘Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
These words sound beautiful but to allow them to sink in they are very uncomfortable because Jesus is saying that we must change. We don’t want to be like children do we – and remember in Jesus’ time children were the lowest of the low. We don’t want to change and become bottom of the pile, we don’t want to rely on others, we don’t want to be vulnerable and trusting. Children don’t judge others but just accept them. I am always amazed to watch when a group of children get together who don’t know each other – immediately they start relating and chatting and playing together. There is no suspicion, weighing others up to see if they are their type – kids get on and love others without conditions and without all the hang ups that adults have. Children are more like Jesus than any adult is. Yet we want to be all grown up – to be in charge, to have power over others and control over them. We want to be seen to be strong and in charge. So James and John heard all this and was part of it and continued to follow Jesus but they still didn’t get it.
And so, we have today’s reading. They come to Jesus and basically ask him to do whatever they ask of him. That request betrays their heart – they are selfish and self – centred. So Jesus asks them what they want and what they want is amazing. They want to be next to Jesus in all his glory when he returns. Finally the truth is out – they want glory. Jesus asks them if they can share his baptism and drink his cup – and they casually say ‘yes we can. Not knowing that Jesus is talking about his suffering. It’s no wonder that the others are furious – it’s like ‘here they go again.’ Jesus tells them all that greatness comes through being a servant – a servant of others and a servant of God. For some people this is easier than others – but the inclination in us is to look important, to be in charge, to have what we want when we want, to put us and our needs first. Someone once said "Within our hearts are both humility and arrogance, respect for others and a desire to outshine them, a desire to serve and a craving to be served. The one you feed wins."
The Christian life is about dying to self and it is a battle. Jesus calls us to be servants – servants in our hearts and with our hands. We need to see the needs of others – but to stop there is not enough – like in the story of the Good Samaritan the priest and Levite saw the needs of the beaten up man but did nothing about it. Being moved is not enough. We need the hands to do the dirty work. We need to ask ourselves ‘Lord how might I be a servant to others around me – my church family, my own family, my neighbours, my friends, people at work.’ Jesus says that we must be the slave OF ALL – not just those who we like and get on with – but anyone whom God puts in our path. Those not just in our village or nation but in the whole world. Jesus says ‘Whoever is great among you MUST be a servant.’ Those in positions of authority in churches need to keep a regular check that they are truly serving and not doing their stuff to look great – that’s me, Bill, Jane, Geoff, the wardens, the PCC. But it’s also all of us. Why do you do what you do? So a follower of Christ MUST be a servant. If a follower of Christ is not a servant, he or she is not a disciple. So let’s take a check on our lives.
Are we like James and John – following Jesus but not getting it – wanting it our way, secretly wanting greatness and to look important? Do we think we are superior because of our gender, the colour of our skin, our upbringing – do we ever look down on others? Or are we like Jesus – serving others, loving them, reaching out to them, putting them first. It relates to so much of what the body of Christ is about – our pastoral care is about being a servant. Our worship is about being a servant – we are serving God and others – it’s not about us – it is about God and helping others to worship. Our mission – the gospel in word and deed. Jesus chose the way of a servant – out of love for us – He died for us so that we might have new life, a new start. How do we chose to respond?
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 3rd October
Mark 10: 2 -16
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
The Little Children and Jesus
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Reflections on Mark 10: 2-16; Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12
When I was teaching, one of the things I enjoyed the most was a Parents Evening. As a teacher of English I knew that I would see a lot of parents: sometimes the two hours that Parents Evening were allocated could stretch to three. But I was happy to do that because I like meeting people, talking to people, praising people for their efforts and trying to help overcome problems and to move forward. But there was also a bit of me that took pleasure in being on the teacher side of the table in the light of my experiences as a school girl, waiting in trepidation when my parents got back from their Parents Evenings about me. As well as praise, the words talkative, has potential but….., we know we’ve got her, could do better, were frequently used (and they were right) and often I had the subsequent uncomfortable conversation with my parents, particularly my dad, who were very supportive but knew they had to keep me focussed and on the right path. As a teacher, I hoped that my words would help parents understand what was good and what needed to improve and that together we could all make progress.
The authority given to me as a teacher in all aspects of my career was a privilege and a great responsibility because of the impact my words, actions and decisions could have on the lives of others. Definitions of authority include the moral or legal right or ability to control; the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. These definitions are not just confined to people’s jobs or elected office: these definitions apply to family life as well. And with authority comes responsibility: the responsibility to use authority fairly, for the good of individuals and of all. I am sure we have all been shaken, appalled and bemused by the circumstances of Sarah Everard’s murder by a serving police officer. The horror of her death is unimaginable: the betrayal of that authority given to that officer is unfathomable; the betrayal of his fellow officers throughout the country is sorrowful. Having authority does not mean that one will always get things right, but it should mean that authority is not abused, wrong decisions and acts are not deliberately made. Those with authority need to be trusted: to betray that trust is to bring awful consequences.
The Bible is full of people who betray God’s trust, from Adam and Eve, David, Jesus’ own disciples. In Mark 3, Jesus ‘appointed the twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.’ Those twelve, and the others who were following Jesus, knew exactly what they had to do, because they had the living, breathing example with them. For Jesus had authority over the elements, over illnesses, over death itself. They knew that he was following the path that God sent him to follow and that his role as servant king set an example for both those in authority and those without any power to follow. And yet, those disciples got it wrong over and over again! Jesus had to keep on showing the responsibility that having authority brings: the giving of self for others. He also showed that authority can liberate and bring joy, giving affirmation, opening up opportunities. Who would have thought that a fisherman would have been given the keys of heaven?
Jesus taught people through his actions and his words. He challenged preconceived, unfair practices. The first part of today’s reading from Mark’s gospel on divorce certainly can be seen as challenging, hard. Once again, the Pharisees were trying to trip Jesus up by asking the awkward questions. Jesus’s response is an affirmation of marriage and it is a condemnation of the practices of the time when men could write a certificate of divorce and send the wife away, with no further responsibility. From Jesus we know what are the best relationships to aspire to, that we need to work at relationships, to care for all, particularly the vulnerable. We know that’s what God wants. But we also know that we fall short and when we do, we have to try to make amends and to go forward in love. In the next part of Mark, Jesus makes it clear that everyone is welcome in the kingdom: the disciples, misusing their authority (again!), get short shrift when they try to stop the children getting to him. No-one has the authority to stop anyone from coming to Jesus.
Indeed it is the opposite. In Hebrews we read: “ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men and women holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” If we are Christians, followers of Jesus, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, we have the same authority to bring others to Him through our service to others. Remember Jesus’ Great Commission to the eleven disciples in Matthew: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.’ We are the disciples now: we have to take that responsibility seriously through our worship, our prayers, our actions and reaction, through looking outwards, through taking decisions after considering what Jesus would want us to do and think. And when we get it wrong, like those first disciples did, we turn to him for forgiveness and guidance and we try again. We have Jesus’ authority to go out but that authority is not about power: it is about responsibility, fairness, justice, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, serving, trust, liberation and joy. It is about showing love and care and good cheer to our neighbours; compassion for children, the poor, the marginalised, the lonely. It is about sharing what we have been given, our talents, our time, our money. It is about shoeboxes, about coffee mornings, about visiting, about services, it is about Messy Church, it is about the Foodbank, it is about worship opportunities. It is about travelling with Jesus wherever we may go. We have been given the authority: the challenge is how we respond and how we live and share the news of God’s love for all.
Twenty years ago this weekend, I was licensed as a Reader, something I never dreamt I would have become. Yesterday I was in Wells Cathedral, reaffirming my promise to God and his church and supporting those who were being licensed. The Bishop asked us: ‘When you were licensed, you accepted the responsibilities of a Reader in the church of God out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and his church. Will you support these new colleagues in their ministry?’ I thought about all those who inspired me and supported me in my journey to be being a Reader and in my ministry: all of you here and others who are not, past and present . All of those people have done what Jesus wanted them to do: encouraging, critiquing, comforting, enduring. I have received far more than I have even given and all that has come from Jesus.
On the day of our licensing, the eighteen of us who had trained together gathered for a worship and sang ‘Brother, Sister let me serve you’, which will sing shortly. My prayer is that together we continue to serve our communities, our families and our friends as we journey together, with Jesus’ authority and in Jesus’ love.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 26th September
Mark 9 38-end; James 5: 13-end
Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where“‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Everyone will be salted with fire. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.
The Prayer of Faith
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Reflections on Mark 9 38-end; James 5: 13-end
Yesterday morning, Mary Potter and I were in Wells Cathedral at Larissa’s ordination as Deacon. She was one of sixteen people being ordained, making declarations about what they believe and will do. The first declaration was ‘ Do you accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? to which they answered, ‘I do so accept them’. The following declarations covered their praying, their reading and studies, their bearing witness to the truth of the gospel, their allegiance to the church, their own lives being an example of the way of living according to the way of Christ, as servant, and their working with fellow servants in the gospel of the kingdom of God. These were challenging declarations and a great charge. Then the congregation were asked the following: Will you continually pray for them? (We will) Will you uphold and encourage them in their ministry? (We will). And then Bishop Ruth added: ‘You’d better!’
Sixteen people going forward on their journey of ministry and each of them will have as different a style as those to whom they minister. They have been given a great trust, the ministry of Christ himself and they will have to remember that those to whom they minister are all made in God’s image. It has been so ever since the time of Jesus’ ministry own ministry and in this morning’s gospel we heard about the early ministers having to learn that there is not just one way to minister or be a minister.
Jesus’ disciples were guilty of exclusivity: in the gospel we hear John boasting that they, the disciples, had stopped a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, because he was not ‘one of them.’ Perhaps the disciples thought they were doing right, protecting their reputation. Perhaps they were jealous: they had not always been able to cast out demons themselves. I wonder how shocked they were by Jesus’ response: ‘Do not stop him.’ Jesus’ view of discipleship was far more inclusive than the narrow one held by the disciples. Jesus knew that the believer who was working in His name was doing His work; it might not fit in with the view of his immediate disciples but it fitted in Jesus’ plan: ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’.
Unfortunately John’s attitude is one that has permeated the church for centuries. The church has had a history of rejecting those believers who did not conform to its rules and regulations. Wars have been fought between Christians for the ‘true’ church. And today it is still a symptom that affects the church. It is too easy for those ‘in’ the church to assume the church belongs to them. It is easy for people who prefer to worship and pray in a certain way or tradition to feel that it is the ‘proper way’. The church and its people can get so tied up in trying to control buildings and liturgy and worship that it forgets the one thing it cannot control: the Spirit. The Spirit is constantly at work all around us and we are called to recognise that and to respond to it. Those with faith and understanding should be nurturing those ‘little ones’ that Jesus speaks of; those whose faith is young in years or experience. As disciples that is what we are called to do, looking beyond our own groups, meeting the needs of others where they are. It is not just the ordained: it is the responsibility of all. We need to see others and other situations through Jesus’ eyes.
Jesus’ words to his disciples tell them what true discipleship means. It demands sacrifice, but not literally of body parts! Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point. If his disciples are true, then anything that gets in the way needs to be got rid of. And that can be painful but the alternative is more painful: being thrown into hell. As disciples we have to get rid of things that get in the way of God’s kingdom, things which might be leading us down a wrong path. It is a battle against evil, against being exclusive, about being complacent, about being scared.
The phrase ‘salted with fire’ reminds us that Jesus never pretended that things were going to be easy. There was going to be suffering, there is going to be suffering, but fire, like salt purifies. Jesus calls his people to be the salt of the earth; the purifiers, the ones who bring out the true taste of life. And to do that they must live in peace with each other, helping each other to help others, wherever and however they meet them.
One of the ways in which we can help is through prayer. In James’ letter we are reminded about how to help people through prayer. We should pray for ourselves when we are in trouble and also rejoice when we are happy. We should pray for those who are ill, for those who have sinned, for those who need help of any sort. James reminds us (as did Bishop Ruth) about the power of prayer, the need for prayer. Each one of us has our part to play in bringing others to know the love of God and to bring them to or back to that love and prayer is essential for that.
The world is certainly going through challenging times, in this country and across the world. We have to consider carefully and prayerfully how we each respond to those challenges, for ourselves and our families; for our community; for our country and for those in other countries and for the environment. We will be challenged to take risks; to change the way we think about people and issues; to do things differently; to do more, because doing nothing is not an option. And in all of this, we have to look to Jesus, his ministry, his teachings, his example. We have to encourage each other in the ministry that we are called to and we have to keep praying, for ourselves and each other. As the psalmist wrote: ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord who has made heaven and earth’. Larissa and the other fifteen who were ordained yesterday made their declarations will need His help, as do we all, working together recognising and encouraging in one another a common commitment to Jesus and the gospel. How will each one of us respond?
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 12th September
James 3: 1-12 - Taming the Tongue
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Reflections on James 3: 1-12
Do you ever wonder how long it took God to plan what our bodies would look like and how they would function? I mean, could there have been some alternatives that we narrowly escaped? We can certainly see some alternatives in the rest of the animal kingdom. Eyes facing the front or on the side of the head or even on top of the head on stalks? You get the idea. Did he do some drawings and were there any areas that he particularly deliberated over? How about an extra arm or a crinkly forehead like that guy in Star Trek ? We do see on our screens sometimes some very imaginative ideas for alien creatures. Here’s a thought that I considered, thinking of the words in James chapter 3. I wonder if God at any point might have had second thoughts about giving us the ability to speak? Most of the other creatures have a tongue but none of them can use it to speak. James is very strong in his wording about the tongue. He uses the illustration of a small bit controlling a horse, a small rudder dictating the direction of a large ship and a tiny spark setting of a forest fire. In that context he says v6 the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell”. V8 also does not hold back “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.
So if it is as bad as that, and presumably God knew that it would have that potential, why did he still decide to include it as part of his perfect creation ? Well that question is no different at all to the question of why he created us at all knowing that sin would be the result, and we don’t have an answer to that, at least I don’t.
The fact is we have tongues, we are able to speak , and so contained in all of us is the potential for us both to cause damage and also to be damaged by it. As we hear from James the results can be disastrous and you can’t help thinking that James must have had some personal experience to feel so strongly about it. I would be very surprised if that is anyone here who hasn’t had some experience of hurtful words in the past. Things said in anger or thoughtless ness which have embedded themselves In our memories. Words lead to wars, divorce, mental breakdown, long term grudges, anguish and at times embarrassment and misunderstandings. Words said in jest that were too near the bone or caught you on a bad day. Words that come back to you during a sleepless session at night.
So James is right in his warnings to us because we all have the capacity to use words in bad ways causing pain or upset for others. So yes, these warnings are appropriate for all of us as Christians so that we may hopefully be more thoughtful, more ready to listen than to speak, more willing to say sorry if we offend, more ready to forgive. If you are writing a card or note to someone who has been bereaved it takes time to think about what to say but that approach needs to underline our words in every situation. Sometimes situations provoke us to say things we might regret.
A lady was finding it difficult to find a parking space in a carpark. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Well she saw a couple about to load shopping into their car so she stopped and set her indicator to take their place. Eventually the couple got in and the car began to exit the space. At that precise moment a car came up from behind and took the space! The lady was livid. She went straight across to the car and vented her feelings to the driver. Her relented and she got her place but afterwards was deeply ashamed with some of the words she had used. We are all at risk to different degrees and Jesus would warn us that thinking is as bad as saying it!
My original question was why God took the risk of giving us speech with all the potential for this negativity? The animals seem to manage ok with grunts, screams and body movements but that’s not very attractive is it? I think we need to take a positive approach. We have been reminded through the illustrations of bits and horses, rudders and ships of how something really small can have a huge effect. Think of how a small amount of yeast gives life to flour to produce bread. A tiny candle can give direction to folk stranded in a dark cave. So one Christian in a large office or company full of non -believers can be the yeast or small candle to bring life and hope to others. I heard this quote about size :-
“If you think that you are too small to have an impact or be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”
This is why we have a tongue. Yes it is very small but whilst it does have the potential to cause trouble, it also has a huge potential for good.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Sunday 12th September
3.00pm Memorial Service to those who have recently died
Today we remember and give thanks for the lives of these 5 men. We mourn their loss, we celebrate their lives, we entrust them to the Lord and we allow ourselves to be inspired by them. Each of them was totally unique.
I will remember them for many different things – as I am sure you all do too. I have a mental picture of Alex in his chef hat and how he loved to cook at Somewhere to go with whatever ingredients he was given. Then Tony I always picture with his hands open in prayer – he was indeed a man of prayer as well as a man of music and worship. I know that the song ‘I’m coming back to the heart of worship – it’s all about you Jesus’ meant a lot to him. Brian was always there ready to help and was passionate about sharing with others about Jesus. He did this in an Alpha course I was running and shared that it was through Alpha that He had come to know the Lord. The people who he was sharing with thought Brian was a plant, but we persuaded him that he wasn’t. Peter was a man of great faith and also with a dry sense of humour. He really scared me once – at a PCC social he came up to me with a deadpan face and said very slowly - never – never…… in all my years…… have I ever seen a vicar……look so chic. It was very funny but he had me worried. Then Dave – a man who got people together, raised money and was very community minded. He was always ready to stop for a chat. Losing all these 5 men has been really tough – we lost Brian and Tony within days and we couldn’t come together to mourn and to give thanks for them.
Over these past 18 months I think we have all come to appreciate that life is very fragile and that each person is very precious and that we should never take life or people for granted. I think we have learned to tell people how much we appreciate them and how much we love them. We have also been forced to think about death – that taboo that we all avoid – and to think about our own death and that of our loved ones. The words from the readings offer us truths to hold onto in all this. In Romans we read that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – not even death itself. So for those of us who are left we are still loved by God – despite the loss and sorrow. And for those who have died death has not stopped God loving them because they are experiencing that love now in a way that they couldn’t experience on earth. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes ‘Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’ Do you have hope and if so what for? The wonderful truth that we can hold onto is that we can have hope – not pie in the sky or wishful thinking or that we leave this earth to be angels or spirits in the sky. We can have real hope because it is based on something real. That Jesus died and rose again from the dead – with a body – not as a ghost – but a body that people touched, he ate, he appeared to 500 at one time. Jesus was resurrected that we too might be resurrected.
So we do not need to grieve without hope. As Christians we grieve with hope. It is not wrong to grieve – it is the cost of loving someone. But we grieve with hope – hope because we know what Jesus did to be true and that we have accepted it for ourselves. We do not know what life after death will be like exactly – but we do know that we will have new bodies, free from pain and suffering, that we will see the Lord face to face, that there will be worship like we have never experienced. So today yes let us be inspired by these men – let us say thank you for them, let us see each day of life as a gift from God and let us make sure that we have accepted Jesus into our lives that we may meet him there in eternity. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 29th August
Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23 That which defiles
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’
He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.’
‘For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’
Reflections on Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23
It seems somehow appropriate that the last of the reflections in Stay Connected on the gospels for the weeks during the Covid situation focuses on hand washing and what it meant in Jesus’ times. In our recent times, the onset of the pandemic placed an enormous emphasis on hand washing to keep ourselves and others safe. ‘Happy Birthday’ was heard even more often as it is was sung twice as a measure of how long to keep washing. It was a heightened awareness of the importance of hygiene and of our responsibility to and for each other.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees as to why his disciples, who were eating food, hadn’t washed their hands ‘according to the tradition of the elders’ and were therefore unclean. This washing of hands was nothing to do with hygiene. Only small amounts of water were poured over the hands as a sign of washing any defilement that had happened when they had been in locations like the market place where they would have been in contact with Gentiles or with Jews who did not observe the ceremonial law. This washing was a man-made ritual observed by the Pharisees, an outward show of their devotion to God and a marker between them and ‘the unclean’.
Jesus’ response to their challenge is immediate and based in history when he quotes Isaiah’s words. Their hypocrisy lies in their adherence to their rituals, rather than God’s commands, the improper elevation of human tradition to sacred status. Jesus goes on to explain that it’s not things that go into people that make them ‘unclean’ but the things that come out of them because their hearts are impure. Fellowship with God isn’t interrupted by unclean hands or food but by sin, by not following God’s commandments. The sins that Jesus lists are rooted in the Ten Commandments, in teachings in the Old Testament and in his teachings. He is pointing people back to scripture, away from human traditions. Jesus changes the emphasis from ritual behaviour to ethical behaviour, honouring God in actions in relationship to other people.
Hopefully, that will be one of the legacies of this Covid time that we have lived through and continue to live in. As well as being more aware of hygiene processes for the benefit of others, we must continue to be aware of the needs of others and to do our best to meet them. Coming together to worship, to read the gospel, to pray together is wonderful but then we need to respond, living in ways that Jesus showed us: with compassion, with empathy, with tolerance, with generosity, with acceptance. We must fight against the sins that lie within all of us, asking for help as we do so. Our faith must be at the centre of who we are and all we do. So as we continue to wash our hands for hygiene and protection reasons, we could sing another song, a verse from ‘O Jesus I have promised’:
O let me hear you speaking In accents clear and still, Above the storms of passion, The murmurs of self-will. O speak to reassure me, To hasten or control; O speak, and make me listen, The guardian of my soul.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 22nd August
John 6: 56 - 69 Many disciples desert Jesus
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.’ He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Reflections on John 6: 56 - 69
A few weeks ago I watched a 3 part TV drama called “Time”. It’s about a disgraced teacher, played by Sean Bean, imprisoned for killing a cyclist in a hit and run incident. There is a fascinating exchange between a Prison Officer (PO) and the Bean character (SB) as he is being “booked into” the prison –
PO “What religion are you?”
SB “Haven’t really got one, don’t go to church or anything…..”
PO “I’ll put you down as Anglican then”
SB “S’pose I’m more like a lapsed Catholic”
I can’t think of a better modern intro to our reflection on the final part of John 6 – which in essence asks a question…….. are we followers or drifters? Let me focus on just 3 sentences
1. FROM THIS TIME MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES TURNED BACK (v 66) Please note those who turned back were DISCIPLES, NOT members of the crowds following Jesus. Why would they turn back at this point? Well, probably for a variety of reasons; but if you read the whole of Ch 6, Jesus is taking his identity and words to a whole new level – feeding 5000 men (plus their families), walking on water, saying I AM the bread of life (I AM being the way God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush), saying He could give bread that was better than the manna the children of Israel ate in the wilderness (which touched the very core of the Jews national history), and finally that eternal life was only available to those who ate/drank His flesh/blood. They also knew that the crowds “intended to come and make Him King”(v 15). Warning bells would have been ringing – this is not the latest (and best so far) teacher-in-town, this is either a lunatic/dangerous revolutionary…….. or the Messiah promised throughout Jewish history! That was a HARD question to answer – remembering they didn’t have the Holy Spirit living within them to witness to Jesus truth – and many of them LAPSED – turned back and/or no longer followed. But what about us? Jesus DID say some hard things, DID say some counter-cultural things, DID urge people to believe things (such as Him being the only way to God) which no longer fit comfortably in the societal norms of UK 2021…….. a country where less than 10% of people are regular members of a church worshipping community.
2. TO WHOM SHALL WE GO (v 68)? Peters honest response to Jesus direct question as to whether the 12, the inner circle, were leaving as well. And as the UK has progressively, decade by decade since 1945, decided to turn back from actively following Jesus, this is arguably the question that each individual, each family has had to face. For some, the “answer” has been to duck the question by filling life with things/activities/people, until the inevitable day when all that is stripped away. But for more, let me quote from a recent article on pop astrology, written by a 30-something, Dolly Alderton, in the Times….. “our obsession with star signs is simply a desperation for a belief system. In the absence of organised religion, we have turned to …something inexplicable to give us a sense of rules, order and outcome in a world of unpredictable chaos.” It’s a desperation – which I see so often in people I know and love – which drives me to my knees to pray daily that they will come/come back to the Saviour of the World, who described Himself elsewhere as the one who leaves 99 sheep safely grazing, to seek the 1 who has wandered off……who has lapsed.
3. YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE (v 68) Peter’s answer to his own question. At this point in His ministry, what Jesus needed in disciples was AUTHENTICITY NOT NUMBERS. He promised in another conversation that, on the foundation of Peters expression of Faith, He would build His Church; the numbers would come as a result …… just read Acts Ch 2! There was a time not that long ago when, in the UK, the default position for more than half the UK population was “Christian/C of E” to the Religion question – we were a nation of “Cultural Christians” even if we went to church occasionally/never. Just like we are all “Cultural Football Fans” during the Euros, even if we never go. What our country needs now, after Covid, are groups of Jesus followers up and down the nation, who are authentic, prayerful and unafraid that He – and He only – has the Words of Life now and for eternity. Amen.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 15th August
John 6: 51 - 58 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.The the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Reflections on John 6: 51 - 58
As Christians, how much are you looking forward to eternity? How clear are you about this promise from Jesus of living forever? It seems to me that the notion of eternity is not such a strange desire as we may think by many in the population at large. I have in mind a film from 1965with Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins where the search for living forever resulted in them finding a flame that turned blue every thousand years or so, and when it did, to jump in was to become immortal. A young woman was also involved , and when she jumped into the flame she aged in seconds and crumpled to the floor. The internet shows a huge number of other films with an emphasis on gaining immortality.
There is it seems a certain fascination with staying young, of living beyond our normal lifespan. Cryonics for example where folk can pay to be deep frozen when they die and then brought back to life when their disease has by now been cured. Have you heard about James Bedford who died in 1967 and is still deep frozen ready for future experiments? Or, on a lesser scale, what about Botox and other surgeries to keep us looking young, and even some face creams make fantastic claims! I don’t think there are too many 90 year olds who want to live forever at least not in a physical sense.
What we are confronted with in Scripture is a very dynamic and supernatural promise. From John 6 and v. 51 Jesus says “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever”; In V.54 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” and v. 58 “He who feeds on this bread will live forever”. These are significant statements in the context of Jesus claiming that he is the Bread of life. V51 again He says “I am the living bread” and also “This bread is my flesh..”
Now Jesus is not just talking to the disciples in the whole of this long discourse, which covers vs 25-65, he is teaching a huge crowd and the Jews really didn’t know what to make of it all. So V52 “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” A literal translation of that would mean cannibalism, so of course they questioned and being honest, that is hardly surprising. These were ‘off the wall ‘concepts and we wouldn’t have been any the wiser than they were would we ? The question for us is, are we the wiser now?
Jesus then follows it up with some repetition and explaining also adding V53 “Drink my blood” and “unless you eat and drink you have no life in you”. He repeats this 3 times. Obeying Jesus is clearly the key to’ having life in us ‘and for ‘gaining eternal life’. This might all sound a bit ghoulish to folk outside the church. Remember from v 55 “this flesh is real food and this blood is real drink”. What are we to make of it and how do we explain it?
As Christians we are all so familiar with the truths which we revisit every time we take Holy Communion. But do we really grasp what it means or do we avoid thinking about it? We do need to be clear about one thing which is fairly obvious, that the promise Jesus gives us to live forever is not in the physical world in these bodies. In v 49 Jesus refers the Jews back in history to when God provided life giving Manna as food , to the Israelites in the desert But the fact is that they still died eventually. It was a purely physical miracle. What Jesus wants to do is lift their minds to a spiritual realm where living forever demands not manna but a different kind of food altogether, which is Jesus the bread of life who shed his blood on the cross. So physical food for physical life but spiritual food for eternity with new bodies. That spiritual food, Jesus is telling us, is the flesh and blood of Jesus himself. We need to remember that the people listening were besotted with the figure of Moses, whom they revered, but Jesus is pointing out that Manna was a physical preamble to what God now offers through Jesus. If we skip over to V.60 however, we see that the reaction of many was to find this teaching hard.
Their reaction should not be ours now. We have the benefit of understanding the words of the Lord’s Supper given to us in Scripture and the promises are repeated as we prepare to take the bread and wine as symbols of this teaching .From one of the Eucharistic prayers :-
Gather into one in your Kingdom all who share this one bread and one cup, so that we, in the company of all the saints, may praise and glorify you for ever through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We also have in the Bible the whole passion story leading to the death of Jesus. We have the Gospel story in full. We have a Jesus who gave his flesh and blood so that we might be forgiven and have life in all its fullness.
The symbolism at Communion is intense but at the same time taking care, as we must, to separate the physical from the spiritual with the elements being treated as purely physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot allow the notion of the bread or wine in any way changing from being simply bread and wine because that path leads to superstition and idolatry. The key to the act of us receiving bread and wine is the state of our hearts and how we receive them, in both humility and gratitude for God’s forgiveness and His promise of eternity.
So to draw towards a conclusion, what does Jesus really mean by asking us to eat his body and drink his blood? Is it simply taking Holy Communion ? Well, only partially, because I believe it also happens as we are obedient to his teaching in our daily lives. So the Eating and drinking (or partaking of Jesus) also happens when we pray, when we confess, when we read the scriptures, when we sacrifice our time and money in his service, when we take up our cross and follow him. It happens when we confront problems and stress by calling out to God for help looking for strength and comfort. It also happens when we approach the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ and reach for his hand. Without being obedient in all of these things the sacrifice of Jesus’ body will have been rendered utterly.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 8th August
John 6: 35, 41 - 51 Jesus the bread of life
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’
‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Reflections on John 6: 35, 41 - 51
It’s really hard isn’t it when people don’t understand what you are talking about? When they have one idea and you are talking about something completely different. Jesus had recently fed the 5,000 and that was still on people’s minds. The people are pursuing Jesus because they are after more of this food – like Jesus is some travelling meals on wheels or food cart giving out freebies. They are thinking of their stomachs and that Jesus can feed them. Jesus turns this conversation round and uses it to talk about something else – to talk about Himself and that He is the bread of life. It is clearly something that they don’t understand as they are remembering the time that God sent bread to the Israelites in the desert. They were thinking of literal food and bread – Jesus was talking about something very different.
Jesus says that He is the bread of life and that because of that then we never need to be hungry or thirsty again. He is not saying that we will never need to eat or drink, but He is talking about spiritual hunger and thirst. He is addressing that emptiness that we can feel as humans – maybe a sense of feeling lost, hopeless, scared, wanting something but we don’t know what, needing to feel loved, safe and secure, looking for meaning in life. This is spiritual hunger that we often try to fill with material things – cars, holidays, adventures, hobbies, food, clothes. Sometimes people fill that hunger with unhealthy things – gambling, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships. The whole advertising industry thrives on the fact that people are always wanting the next thing to make them feel better about themselves and about life in general. As we all know all these things are either dangerous or they are short – lived and they make us feel good for a time but that feeling soon wears off.
The bread of Jesus is so much different from any of these. Jesus fills that hunger that we have inside because that hunger is a hunger for God and to be in relationship with Him. The bread that Jesus offers is Himself – it is in knowing Jesus and being in relationship with Him that we will be satisfied. In that we will know who we belong to, who we are, that we are forgiven, that we are loved, that God has a plan for our lives, that we can know peace that the world can never give. Most importantly Jesus says ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever.’ Through Jesus we can know we have the gift of eternal life – not because we have obtained it ourselves or been good people, but that Jesus gave His life for us on the cross in our place.
So how do we receive this bread – who is Jesus. He says ‘He who believes has everlasting life.’ Jesus does in a sense give out free food and He gives of Himself freely. We must simply believe in Him, His death and resurrection and say yes to Him in our lives. If we come to Jesus every day to be filled, then we will no longer feel that unsettled feeling, that nagging emptiness that will never go away.
St Augustine said these famous words about this:-
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Here is a prayer for you to pray if you feel that hunger in your life.
Dear Jesus thank you that you are the bread of life. I come to you today feeling hungry and thirsty and needing you to fill me with your love. Lord help me to believe in you and to find in you new life for today and new life for after I die. Thank you that you died for me and rose again. I come to you now with open hands and asking you to fill me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 1st August
John 6: 24 - 35 Jesus the bread of life
Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Reflections on John 6: 24 - 35
I enjoy making bread. It can come in all shapes and sizes, sweet and savoury. I have had a bread maker for years, and it certainly takes the effort out of producing delightful dough. I usually make a run of the mill 70% wholemeal 30% plain. This turns out a pretty reliable loaf. If we’re having homemade burgers, then rolls are called for. If I have time and the inclination, Chelsea buns are the order of the day. In my mind, bread is an essential food.
It was also essential food in Jesus day too. The previous day, Jesus had fed five thousand men, along with women and children, with five loaves and two fish. It is now daytime the following day and the crowd have realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples are there.
The crowd must have seen the disciples leave in their boat the previous evening without Jesus. I believe that it’s Jesus they wanted, as they didn’t follow the disciples, as Jesus had just performed a miracle and fed them all – free food – and lots left over. They didn’t have to work for it, it just appeared. So they searched and found Jesus and I can hear them saying ‘How did YOU get here?’ We thought you’d gone up a mountain, but here you are, with your disciples on the other side of the lake!
They were mystified, perplexed and decidedly curious. Was there going to be a repeat performance? More bread, ’cos that’d be great! Well, no. Jesus saw straight through them and their motives. I’m not here just to fill your stomachs and relieve your day to day hunger, but now, I’m going to introduce you to my kingdom, the kingdom of God, not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom, where all your hungers will be satisfied. There is more to life than just bread and fishes, working and eating. I can come and give you much more than this.
Jesus now reveals something of his heavenly nature to them. He says ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ But they still don’t see it. Jesus has developed the conversation and led it on to a different plane. He is trying to get the people to raise their thoughts and vision above the ordinary hum-drum existence of working and eating to something else. Something that is much more long lasting and enduring. Something that Jesus, the Son of Man can give them. It’s something that Jesus can give. It’s a free gift, it’s there for the taking, for the unwrapping. It’s there as a present from God for You. It’s there with your name on. Just for you!
But the people miss the point; they think that they have to work for it, as they ask him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus replies very simply ‘the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ People, Jesus is saying, you only have to believe in me. But they want to work at it. No, Jesus says, ‘the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
The people still don’t get it. As they now hark back to their history and talk about when the Israelites were trudging round the wilderness and moaning at Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16 to give them something to eat. I feel that the people don’t see Jesus as the one sent by God. I think that their reaction is more one of ‘Well, this happened in the past, is it going to happen again?’ Is God going to send manna from heaven? Yes, says Jesus, God has sent manna from heaven... the true bread from heaven has been sent, he is standing right here in front of you today, now, It’s me! I give life to the world.
Life giving bread. Now this sounds good. Can we have some? Always.... please?
Jesus replies with one of his ‘I am’ sayings. He declares ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
What does that mean to you? Jesus says to you here today ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Do you know Jesus as the bread of life, satisfying hunger and thirst? If not, come to him and ask him into your life. If you want to know more, please email me for a ‘Why Jesus’ booklet and I will send you one.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 25th July
John 6: 16 – 21 Jesus walks on the water
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Reflections on John 6: 16 – 21
In the last few weeks readings boats have been cropping up. Boats are a mode of transport from A to B across the Sea of Galilee. But I think the boats were so much more than that – many of the disciples were fishermen and boats for them were their place of work. They would have been used to the delights and dangers of being in a boat on the water.
I wonder what boats you have been in in your life?
For the disciples and Jesus the boat acted as a sort of bolt hole – getting them away from the crowds with all their demands and needs. Giving them some peace and for Jesus a chance to rest and get some sleep.
The church is like a boat and as members of the church we are all in the same boat.
Like many of the other days we have heard about recently it has been another long and hard day – they had just fed 5,000 men plus women and children. Now it was evening and once again the disciples get into a boat and set off for Capernaum.
Notice 2 things – it is dark and Jesus is not with them.
Setting off on a journey in the dark is dangerous – especially on the water. So the disciples are not just in the dark, they are in the dark without Jesus.
I wonder if you have ever had times in your life when you are felt in the dark and without Jesus too. When you don’t know which way to go and you feel uncertain and maybe a bit scared and then just as you feel it can’t get worse it does.
It says that wind started to blow and the waters grew rough. Their reaction was not to panic but to keep calm and carry on and to keep rowing. They were in a dangerous situation. In the account of this in Matthew 14 we read though about where Jesus is - up a mountainside all by himself praying. He is there praying for them while all this is going on.
When we find ourselves in difficult situations that feel like being in the dark in a storm – and it feels like Jesus is not there with us – and we are working hard to get to the other side, to get through it – he is actually aware of the situation praying for us. Doesn’t that fill you with hope – he knows what you are going through and is praying for us. Remember that the next time when a storm hits and you are wondering – where are you Jesus? That he is there.
Despite all the rowing the boat was just in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus now turns up walking on the water. The disciples can’t make out who He is – they are very tired and it’s stormy – it says that they are terrified. Jesus knows and see their fear and reassures them ‘It is I, don’t be afraid.’
Jesus can’t come to us in person today, but I do believe that He sends people to us when we most need it. It is good not just to pray for someone but to also realise that we may be the answer to someone’s prayer. As the body of Christ, we can bring the reassurance of Jesus to another person.
Once the disciples realised that it was Jesus they allowed him into the boat. Once he was in the boat another miracle happened, as if walking on water wasn’t enough. When they saw Jesus the boat it was in the middle of the lake, now it was at it’s destination.
When we have allowed Jesus into our boat, then we will get where we are heading quickly and safely. We often have no control over the storms in our life but we do have control as to who is in our boat. Let us as individuals be willing to invite Jesus in – let us trust in Him and see Him for who He really is – Lord of all creation and Lord of our lives if we allow Him.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 18th July
Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56 Return of the Apostles
The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried those who were ill on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed those who were ill in the market-places. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Reflections on Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56
Frequently, when either Anne or I have been out, whether this be gardening for people, shopping, a funeral, interment, church service, a visit or whatever, when we get back together again, we’ll spend time sharing our experiences, showing the other what we have bought and talking about how we found it, which can range from good and exciting, to awful and wanting things to change!
It’s good and healthy to share experiences and feelings. The other person can learn from it and begin to understand what the person speaking has gone through and hopefully able to empathise with them as well. It also helps the person speaking – to be listened to is a gift. It helps sort out feelings and emotions, the best course of action to take and maybe even solve problems.
I wonder what it was like when the apostles came back to Jesus, after their first missionary foray into the surrounding areas without him. He had sent them out in pairs with authority. They preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them. It was good that they were in pairs, so they could support each other, share stories with each other, minister to people together, share the Kingdom of God with others together, talk together and probably cry together as well.
When they came back, the apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. I would love to have been able to eavesdrop on the conversations. Would they have been: happy, exhausted, jubilant, sad, excited, full of banter etc. I don’t know. But what we can read from this passage is that it was a very busy time. So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat. Jesus would know how they were feeling and what their needs were as he says ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ They have been out on mission for the first time without him and were probably exhausted. They needed time to refresh themselves and relax, share stories and learn from Jesus.
Our leaders today need to have time to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ I was on a CPAS webinar recently, where there was a poll taken as to how people were feeling. The majority were exhausted. As a church and as a nation we are entering a time of recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. It is a time when we can look back at what we have been through, take stock of where we are and then with prayer, listening to God and a time of reflection, decide where we want to go, as a church and as a nation. I would encourage you to pray for our leaders, both nationally (Boris Johnson and Sir Kier Starmer) and locally (John Penrose our MP and for Terry Porter and Mike Solomon our local councillors) but do pray not only for those in the secular world, but also for those in the church: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, our Bishop Ruth Worsley, Arch Deacon Adrian Youings, Area Dean Tom Yacomeni and Rector Anne. They all need our prayers and support and to hear the words of Jesus ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So what happened to the apostles and Jesus? Did they get away to a quiet place and get some rest? Well, it nearly happened, it was nearly a solitary place, but unfortunately, ‘many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.’ Have you ever had the experience of spotting a quiet park bench, or a nice spot on a beach, start to head for it and someone else get there before you? Or for that matter a parking space in a popular car park? Does this ring any bells? How do you feel? What do you say to yourself? Cross, frustrated, angry, put out? So I wonder what the disciples might have felt? Probably frustrated, that their rest had been snatched away from them at the last moment!
So to finish, could I ask that we pray for our leaders, that they will find a quiet place and get some rest, as well as an empty park bench and a car park space, should they need it!
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 11th July
Mark 6: 14 - 29 John the Baptist beheaded
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’
Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’
But when Herod heard this, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’
She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ ‘The head of John the Baptist,’ she answered.
At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: ‘I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a dish.’
The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a dish. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Reflections on Mark 6: 14 - 29
The Bible tells lots of wonderful stories. This story of John the Baptist being beheaded is not one of them! It seems a very sad story, an unjust and early end to the life of a man who had simply followed his calling to prepare the way for the Messiah. I don’t have an answer to the question of why God allowed that to happen. Of course we don’t have answers to many things that happen in life which we might think of as unfair to the people involved. There are regular catastrophes happening that affect the lives of sometimes hundreds of folk, like the recent collapse of a block of flats in Miami with over a hundred still unaccounted for. We cannot begin to find any justification for why that has happened, and importantly we have no basis for either blaming God or asking why He didn’t stop it. Hopefully we don’t have a vision of God as someone who organises and overrules all the details of human life on a daily basis. Everyone of us has the freedom given to us by God to make decisions, good or bad, which can and will affect others, sometimes in a very bad way. That is why we need to pray for our leaders regularly with the decisions they have to make.
Herod was such a leader who had the power to do good or evil. He was clearly afraid of this unusual man John and also nervous of the reaction of his subjects if anything happened to him. He loved to have a party and his birthday gave the opportunity to have one with invited guests. All would have eaten and drunk well, and the seductive dance of the daughter of Herodias led Herod to wield his power on an alcohol fuelled promise to the dancer. Gone is Herod’s fear of John and his fear of the public response, all swept away by the moment, and we know the result, that John was beheaded. That’s a clear warning to all of us about our decisions in life and their likely effect on others.
If we accept the view that Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30, we can conclude that John was around 27. The similarities between them both are stark. The cause of John’s death was very similar to the cause of the death of Jesus, brought about by leaders who began to live in fear of this man because he taught with authority about God and they refused to let him live. Their anger may not have been fuelled by alcohol, but it was driven by their fear of losing their control of teaching and worship in the Temple. Theirs was a calculated and deceitful plan with the result that Jesus died on the cross.
There is one more similarity between them both, because they both told the TRUTH. John told the truth about how wrong it was that Herod married his brother’s wife Herodias, which is why he was in prison. Jesus told the truth about God’s love for us and our need to say sorry. Both men featured in prophesy in the Old Testament and both fulfilled their mission and died young.
The Bible encourages us always to “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4v15) and how many times did Jesus say “I tell you the truth”? I haven’t counted but there are loads of times. We are all personally responsible for our actions and words, because thy will influence others in a huge variety of ways. That gives us good reason to be close to God and start each day by submitting all our plans to Him in prayer. With the help of His Holy Spirit we can more effectively show love in all we do and say being disciples in the name of Jesus.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 27th June
Mark 5: 21 - end Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered round him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed round him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned round in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’
‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”’
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Reflections on Mark 5: 21 - end
During the pandemic, we have heard that the gap between rich and poor has widened. Some people have benefitted financially and their jobs and businesses are safer. These include supermarkets, flour producers and manufacturers of garden furniture and loungewear to name a few! Other people have lost their jobs or been furloughed and struggled with less money. Likewise, during the early stages of the pandemic, ethical conundrums arose as to whose needs should be prioritised. We asked who would get hospital beds and treatment in the face of ICUs becoming overwhelmed and there was a lot of discussion over whether vulnerable people should be prioritised for vaccines and grocery deliveries. Of course, there have been allegations over the awarding of government contracts… but I won’t pursue that line of enquiry.
These two passages sit together because the circumstances of the nameless woman and the young girl radically contrast with one another. Jairus and his daughter enjoy significant advantages, whereas the woman is amongst the most disadvantaged in society. It would have been very easy for Jesus to have ignored the woman and to have done Jairus’ bidding and then taken the credit. However, both individuals were loved by Jesus and his compassion did not allow him to prioritise the person who shouted the loudest. Having a personal relationship with Jesus, we realise how important we are to him – he has the whole world on his heart and he is well able to juggle everyone’s needs and concerns!
First, we have Jairus’s twelve year old daughter. Jairus was among the religious elite of the local area. Educated, well off, entitled. It would be interesting to know what Jairus thought about Jesus before his daughter became unwell. I speculate, that he may have considered Jesus a trouble-maker. But with his daughter’s failing health, he sought Jesus’ help, and Jesus agrees to accompany Jairus to his daughter’s bedside.
Second, we have the woman with the haemorrhage. The 21st century reader probably does not appreciate how vulnerable this woman is. This woman was considered ritually unclean and therefore was expected to separate herself from others so that they would not come in to contact with her. She was supposed to stay away from her family (if she had any) and was excluded from participating in worship. She was required to shout “unclean, unclean” when anyone approached, to warn them of her presence. Furthermore, being an unaccompanied woman, in a public space, broke the rules of propriety. She has been deprived hugs and conversation. In some respects, this woman has been self-isolating for 12 years, but without the lifelines of phone or Zoom! Her desperation has led her to put her faith in charlatan doctors who have taken all her money. The only possible livelihood available to her would have been in hovelling dung, or handling dead animals or human corpses. She lives in poverty, lonely, and her self-esteem must have been at rock bottom!
Jesus is on his way to visit Jairus’ daughter, when the woman creeps up behind him and touches his cloak. She appears to have full confidence that touching Jesus’ garment will heal her, but she is scared because the act of touching him will also make Jesus unclean. Jesus realises that power has left his body and looks around to see what has happened. In all this hurry, Jesus takes the time to hear this woman’s story, commends her faith and calls her “daughter” indicating that she may now re-enter mainstream Jewish community life.
While the task of visiting Jairus’ daughter was urgent, Jesus was not going to ignore the circumstances or needs of this homeless, disadvantaged woman – particularly when she showed bravery in approaching him. By prioritising this woman Jesus demonstrated that he was not the Messiah who would give precedence to the wealthy, the pious or the privileged.
One the other hand, it is very annoying when you are having a conversation and someone else interrupts and pushes you out. But Jairus had much more reason to be vexed. His frustration must have been painful! When his friends come to tell him his daughter is dead, he must have been so angry with Jesus and the woman. To top it off, after all that study at rabbi-school - Jesus tells him to have faith like that woman who’d been excluded from the synagogue for 12 years!!
Thankfully, we know the happy ending of Jairus’ daughter. She is brought back to life and all is well!
Both the women were associated with death. Jairus’ daughter because she literally died, and the woman because her condition was linked to a social death. Jesus is the solution - bringing eternal life and liberation from death. Those deemed to be social outcasts will have equal (and maybe priority) access to the Kingdom. This, therefore, places responsibilities on the church community to treat those in vulnerable situations as beloved “daughters” and sons of God.
In a few months, when I am ordained deacon, (that is the first year of being a curate) the Bishop will set out the Church’s expectation (a bit like a job description) and included in it is:
“They are to … search out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.” This is also the calling and task of the church. Please pray for me as I seek to be faithful to this calling, as I will continue to pray for you. Amen.
Larisssa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 20th June
Mark 4: 35 - 41 Jesus calms the storm
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Reflections on Mark 4: 35 - 41
One of the things I love about Bible passages is that when you read them – however well you know them – the Holy Spirit often highlights parts that you’d previously only thought of as supporting sentences to the main thrust of the narrative.
So when I started reading this passage from Mark 4, I thought “Oh yes, Jesus calms the seas and thus shows His mastery over the elements of nature.” But I was brought up short in my reading, because another verse stood out from the page as I read; it was the second half of v38……’ The disciples …..said to Him “Teacher, DON’T YOU CARE IF WE DROWN?”’
Now His disciples knew a fair bit about sudden bad weather on the Sea of Galilee – and a number of them were fishermen. All fishing communities have their stories of sudden bad weather which end in tragedy (we’ve just come back from Cornwall, and there are plenty such stories there), and for Jesus disciples – using their local knowledge – the sight of waves breaking over their boat was not a good sign.
AND YET THEY COULD SEE JESUS, APPARENTLY UNCONCERNED, FAST ASLEEP IN THE STERN – presumably with the spray drifting over Him.
A force of nature, apparently running riot and out of control, threatening lives, and Jesus apparently oblivious of it or unengaged.
Starting to ring any bells?
This event clearly had a massive impact on Simon Peter (who dictated his remembrance of Jesus life to Mark to compile his Gospel)……he even remembered Jesus was asleep on a cushion! This all probably happened on Peters boat, as he was the senior fisherman-disciple. So what might Peter and Jesus want us to take from the event, as we look to answer our own questions of where is Jesus? And what use is faith? as we face stormy episodes in life.
1. Jesus IS always with us in our “boat” when the storms suddenly hit, when we feel we are going to be overwhelmed …….. when he appears to be disengaged, and doesn’t appear to be answering our prayers. The disciples in the boat had 2 options. The first – and most natural for them as locals – was to look at the storm from their own natural perspective and think…..boy this one is bad even by Galilee standards; its going to be touch and go whether we make it. The second – not easy as this occurred quite early on in their journey as disciples – was to look at it from the perspective of having Jesus in the boat with them, and the fact that he appeared to be unperturbed and was fast asleep. He clearly thought that however stormy it was, they would make it through.
2. It’s ok to shout at God and say “Don’t you care”. Remember Jesus himself did it on the Cross, in the one moment that his perfect communication with God, his own Father, was cut off, as he offered himself to take the punishment appropriate for all the wrongdoing done by the human race past, present, and future.
3. Look for God’s response; thy will be one. What did the disciples actually expect Jesus to do in response to their cry of panic? Knowing Peter at this point of his faith journey, it would have been “All hands on deck and lend your strength to keeping the ship afloat “ – after all, Jesus was a manual labourer and in the prime of life and strength! But Jesus response clearly came as a massive shock; he just got up and told the elements to behave themselves and settle down, just like an authoritative teacher to an unruly class! The disciples were terrified! “Who is this?” they said. Notice that the passage suggests that Jesus didn’t answer this question …….. they would only realise the answer as they continued on with Jesus to Easter Sunday and beyond. But does the Bible as a whole suggest that EVERY time we experience the storms of life, God’s response to our prayers is for all things to suddenly become calm and resolved? Some times …. but not always. Read Paul's life story (including his shipwreck in Acts 27!), and the “Heroes of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11. What we CAN know, as His followers and children, is the inner reassurance by His presence through the Holy Spirit day in and day out, that we are not alone and that all things will pass.
Which brings us back to the pandemic …… in all its variants. If we want a spiritual perspective, lets see that from the dawn of Creation, Gods plan has always been that, together with Him, we care for and tend this earth and all humanity as His good stewards, part of which since the Fall has been dealing with the calamities which periodically afflict us. He has given us the tools of science AND faith, not BLIND faith, and not faith IN science ALONE. We are His hands and feet, whether praying or giving a jab.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 6th June
Mark 3: 20 - end Jesus accused by his family and by teachers of the law
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’
He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’
Reflections on Mark 3: 20 - end
Before Lockdown One, I had set up a new group called Board Games Galore, we met monthly on a Sunday afternoon in the church centre. One of the games that we played was called ‘Risk’. It was a game of strategy and luck. Players placed their armies on the countries they owned. How many armies that were to be placed on the countries was up to the player and involved a bit of strategic planning. The aim was to win opponents countries by the rolling of dice, but not to spread one’s armies too thinly to leave them vulnerable to attack and defeat. The game finished when there was world domination and one’s opponents were wiped out. United we stand, divided we fall.
Division leads to weakness and losing countries and ultimately losing the game, but if an army is united and strong it will ultimately win. As one army begins to take over, there is an edgyness, things change, it feels uncomfortable, the winning army can feel unstoppable and things are not as they were.
Change can bring an uncomfortable feeling to one’s life. There can be the desire to return to how things were. One’s frame of reference can be suddenly put out of focus and the ability to know where one is heading in one’s life put into doubt.
Two things are happening in this reading. I feel that the first thing is about change.
Jesus is changing people’s understanding of himself. They used to know him as Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, a carpenter by trade. But now, they seeing him as a healer, a teacher and someone who can forgive sin and this is upsetting their understanding of him. People are flocking around him, so much so, that in the reading Jesus is not even able to eat in the house where he was with his disciples! His family have decided to take control of the situation. This really is getting ridiculous and out of hand. Where is the quiet life we all used to know? When things were predictable and ordered? So Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive. Jesus was told this fact but he doesn’t stop what he is doing. He is focussed on something else – telling people about God’s kingdom and that there is a bigger family to belong to. This is a change of outlook and relationships.
What are the steps needed to be part of this family? Anne wrote about this last week about being born again. That is the first step into God’s family here on earth. It is not a family in which one can be passive and just an onlooker. Jesus looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’ What is God’s will? I guess the easiest answer is from Matthew 22: 37 where Jesus says ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The second theme in today’s reading is about being united and being divided. This is where the illustration of the game ‘Risk’ came in. The teachers of the law had arrived from Jerusalem and said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ I feel Jesus’ frustration in his reply. ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. United we stand, divided we fall. Of course, Jesus isn’t on Satan’s side. Jesus came to restore people’s relationship with God, bring wholeness and healing and reconciliation with one another and all of creation. Satan is quite the opposite, He is out to divide and destroy, bring darkness instead of light and despair as opposed to hope. He is the ‘strong man’. Only Jesus can tie up the strong man to be able to bring people from the chains of darkness in to the kingdom of light. Through Jesus, we can ask and be given forgiveness, but to those who continually reject God, there can be no forgiveness from God and they will remain in the strong man’s house for ever.
So to sum up the two themes in the reading: God’s kingdom brings a change in relationships as Jesus says: Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother and the second theme is one of strength in unity ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 30th May
John 3: 1 - 17 Jesus teaches Nicodemus
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Reflections on John 3: 1 - 17
I have rather a soft spot for this Sunday’s Gospel reading, as it was the theme of the first Anglican church service, I attended aged 14. I had recently decided to be confirmed and, somewhat unwillingly, started attending church!
Like Nicodemus, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with describing myself as “born again” which remains uncomfortably un-Anglican, but as we see in verse 3 “no-one will see the Kingdom of God unless he (or she) is born again”.
Nicodemus is an influential Pharisee and has come to discreetly meet with Jesus – and well might he be cautious of being seen with Jesus! The Pharisees regarded themselves as God’s gatekeepers - controversial figures like Jesus were treated with the utmost suspicion. The Pharisees kept themselves apart from others and did not eat with those outside their circle of equals. Hardly surprising that they gained a “holier than thou” reputation!
Despite the many reservations Nicodemus must have had, he saw meaning and promise in Jesus’ speech and works, probably considering the possibility that Jesus might be a prophet, or even the promised Messiah. However, Jesus is entirely un-flattered and unimpressed by Nicodemus’ hesitancy, dismissing the fact that Nicodemus has been quite brave in approaching him!
Jesus begins this riddle, to the irritation and bafflement of Nicodemus, specifying that he needs to be “born again” in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
“New birth” meant starting again; moving from an old way of life to a new one - this would have been quite a challenging thing for a Pharisee to hear. (His confusion is evident when Nicodemus, at first, thinks that Jesus is speaking literally!) This is the crux! Jesus was inviting Nicodemus to make a decision over whether or not to place his faith in Jesus, and commit himself to lifelong discipleship. Jesus was asking Nicodemus to step away from his peers and turn away from his high status. The Pharisees believed themselves to be the ultimate authority on God’s Kingdom, and so the idea that his spiritual practices needed revision and re-direction would have been shocking to Nicodemus.
This is also true today – we are also perturbed that God expects us to rethink our lifestyle and re-orient ourselves towards Jesus’ values. Like Nicodemus, we are being asked to look beyond our culture and to put our trust in Jesus. In baptism, we are called to love and trust Jesus, to pray, and to further the Kingdom as far we are able.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (3:16.) In his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished the salvation of humankind; when we die Jesus promises us eternal bliss spent in his company. This passage with Nicodemus is used on Trinity Sunday, because we acknowledge that following the coming of the Holy Spirit, commemorated last week at Pentecost, we also now have the spiritual support of the the third person of the Trinity. When we are baptised and reborn of water and Spirit, we can enjoy the spiritual fruit deriving from the Holy Spirit. (More details of these can be found in Galatians 5.)
So what of Nicodemus? At this point Nicodemus’ faith is lacking. He is leaning on his status and learning. Well, we can fairly safely say that he correctly identified Jesus in the end. At the end of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus is reported as preparing Jesus’ body for burial with myrrh and aloes, a burial that would have befitted Jesus the King. (John 19: 39-40.) This was a taboo thing for a Pharisee to do, due to the ritual purity laws. This suggests that Nicodemus had let go of his life as a Pharisee and accepted Jesus as the Son of God, embracing the personal and participative love that all Jesus’ disciples are offered: perfect parenting in God the Father, freedom through Jesus the Son and a fulfilled life through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 23rd May
Acts 2: 1 - 21 The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Peter addresses the crowd
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Reflections on Acts 2: 1 - 21
It strikes me that Pentecost was a day of liberation and freedom. For the Jewish nation Pentecost was known as Shavaot – the feast of weeks or the feast of harvest. It is really interesting that the coming of the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. What was a celebration of an actual harvest became a celebration of a spiritual harvest and of all the spiritual gifts that would come through the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Who or what came to change things and make this harvest take place? The disciples were in a place of captivity. In the last few weeks after the death of Jesus they had been captive to grief and to fear. They staying together in a room was somehow an indication of what was going on inside them. ‘The doors locked for fear of the Jews.’ Then Jesus returns from the dead and they leave that place and the meetings with him are outside. They are free from their grief.
Then at the beginning of Acts they are once again captive as Jesus ascends into heaven. After he ascends, they go back to a room in Jerusalem. It is here they prayed and waited. Something needs to happen to change them. They needed freeing, liberating, they need to be given power and confidence (not in themselves but in Jesus), they needed to learn to get on and do Jesus’ ministry for themselves. They needed to become bold – they needed supernatural power.
I wonder what we need to be liberated from? Whatever it is, Christians are people who are and who can be freed by the Holy Spirit. Today is a day of liberation. That power came in different ways. Firstly through wind – the sound of a violent wind came into the whole house. You can’t see the wind but we can see its effects. That is how we know. We can’t see the Holy Spirit but we can see its effects on people – people’s faces change, they feel peace or great love, some feel warmth or electricity. And in the day to day, we see change in people as they grow more and more fruits of the Spirit – it is evident. We need the wind of the Spirit like a boat needs to put the sails up and catch the wind. In the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans near the equator is a place they call the doldrums. It is a dangerous place because at times all wind ceases and boats go nowhere. We use the term to mean when we have stagnated or aren’t going anywhere. I wonder if you are in the doldrums and need to put up your sails and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you?
When the Spirit came there were also tongues of fire on them. The presence of fire in the Bible often means the presence of God. The last thing that happens is that they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. Notice the wind fills the whole house, ALL are filled, the promise is for all people – sons and daughters, young men, old men, servants, men and women. And when they are all filled they then all speak in other tongues. The important thing is that they all proclaimed in languages that others heard as their own. And what they spoke was the wonders of God.
The truth is that we all need this filling of the Holy Spirit if we are to tell others effectively about the good news of Jesus. The church by definition must be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to work. And remember that being filled resulted in a harvest of souls. That is why we are here – to bring people to Christ. On this day of Pentecost we say come Holy Spirit, come wind of God, come fire of God and liberate us to be the church. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 16th May
John 17: 6 - 19 Jesus prays for his disciples
‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Reflections on John 17: 6 - 19
After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed.’ John chapter 17 opens with these words. Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples and then turned in prayer to God, his father. Jesus knew the power of prayer. He prayed for guidance in places of quiet solitude: he often took himself off, into nature, away from others. He prayed in praise to God the Father. He prayed prayers of thanksgiving. He prayed for the children. He prayed with others. He was persistent in prayer: in the parable of the persistent widow in Luke, Jesus makes it clear that we should keep on praying. Jesus taught his followers how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus prayed in times of trouble and anguish, in Gethsemane and on the cross. Jesus prayed, knowing that his prayers would be answered in all kinds of ways. So when we read Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, for his followers, we know that Jesus is absolutely certain that God will respond to him.
This prayer in John 17 comes just as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, and although the context here is the crucifixion, it also encapsulates Jesus’ leaving the disciples at Ascension. At the heart of the prayer is Jesus’ love for the disciples, but also the certainty that the Father too loves these people who have accepted Jesus as the Son. Jesus prays for protection, not just personal protection, but protection ‘so that they may be one as we are one’. Jesus prays that they will share the same joy that Jesus has had in doing the Father’s will and spreading the kingdom of God.
Jesus prays that his disciples will be protected from ‘the evil one’ whose purpose is to destroy Christian unity and witness. He prays that the disciples will be protected while staying in a world that hates them, mocks them, ignores them as they work towards the kingdom. He prays that they will hold on to each other under all circumstances while witnessing to the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, never allowing the world’s scepticism or hostility to divide them, just as it did not divide Father and Son in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Jesus is praying that the disciples will bring witness to what he has done: bringing the active, loving, redeeming presence of God into the human situation. ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’ This is the pattern for all of Jesus’ followers, for us, to continue His mission, surrounded by his prayers.
Jesus’ wonderful prayers are an inspiration to us all. Between Ascension and Pentecost we should take time to pray for ourselves, for the world and specifically for five people who have yet to know the love offered to them through Jesus, using the resources ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ offers. Like Jesus, we pray in love, in faith and in trust, praying that He will help us to ‘transform, revive, and heal society’, knowing that He is always with us. Prayer is powerful: how will each one of us use that gift?
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 9th May
John 15: 9 - 17 The vine and the branches
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.
Reflections on John 15: 9 - 17
What a riveting and extraordinary passage this is! Yes, it’s Jesus speaking and that always adds an extra dimension to the text, but in this passage he includes a phrase which I don’t think that you will find anywhere else in the Bible. You may be ahead of me by now. It comes twice, firstly in v.12 and then v. 17. The phrase is the COMMAND to LOVE. So, “My command is this “Love each other as I have loved you” and “This is my COMMAND:LOVE each other”. As Christians we are commanded to love. Did you know that? Loving others as Jesus loved us (v9) is not it seems an option. Command is a strong word which we don’t usually associate with being followers of Jesus. And the meaning of the word ‘love’ both in a Christian context when we meet together but also as we cope with the world at large, rather illuminates the challenge of obeying the command to love. I want to briefly explore how great that challenge is but first need to point out that there is one huge benefit to following the command. It comes in v.14. which is another spectacular verse. Jesus says to us “You are my friends if you do what I command”. As a Christian I want to be counted as a friend of Jesus and hope you do too. We know how to achieve that don’t we? In practical terms how does loving others challenge us in a general sense when living in the world? Being a loving person remember, is not a weakness but a strength. You could come up with ideas the same as me. Loving means being slow to anger, an absence of criticism, willingness to forgive, offering support, sensitive to circumstances, plenty of humility, giving the benefit of the doubt, being a peacemaker. It’s having an attitude the same as Jesus had towards everyone. Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do”. Loving in a Christian context includes all the above plus Ephesians 4 v 15 Speaking the truth in love, in the context of growing in our faith. Loving includes delighting in worship and praying together. Loving avoids gossip but offers spiritual support. Loving, rules out selfishness or pride. There is no place for pretensions or superior attitudes.
Let me ask you this. Can any of us ever question our need to say sorry to God daily? The challenge of obeying that command to love is simply too great for us. Having said that I still want to be friends with Jesus and God’s love for us allows that to happen. You know the answer. It’s Repentance and receiving the gift of His Spirit to help us grow in our faith.
So we have a passage here which is full of wonderful words about love, which we can all agree with, but a passage which at the same time confronts us with a challenge we fail at every day. Yet the truth is that can still be friends with Jesus resulting in an absolute conviction of eternity with our Father for ever.
A riveting and extraordinary passage ? I think so and hope you do as well.
Jesus said,"This is my command: Love each other"
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 2nd May
John 15: 1 - 8 The vine and the branches
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Reflections on John 15: 1 - 8
As a lot of you know, I enjoy gardening. Last year during lock down one we did a lot of gardening at The Vicarage. Areas of brambles were cleared, buddleia, which were growing in the wrong place were cut down and weeds were pulled up. It was a good transformation.
Not only was dead stuff cleared away, but some of the living plants that remained were pruned and fed. This had quite an effect. The most stunning one was the rose which is growing over the bomb shelter; it flowered for the first time in ages. The camellia also responded by putting on a lovely flowering display this Spring.
Pruning is good. Pruning is necessary. Pruning brings unexpected benefits.
This week’s reading is about pruning. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches and the Father is the gardener. Branches need pruning. Is something not growing into fruitfulness? It is pruned and cut off. Is something fruitful, but maybe is growing out of shape or growing in the wrong direction? It is pruned and cut off. What is the result? It will be even more fruitful. So something in you or in your life might already be fruitful, but to make it more fruitful it might need to be pruned to increase the yield. Pruning leads to positive growth and fruitfulness.
This week’s reading is also about remaining. Jesus says ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ In this passage, the word ‘remain’ appears eight times. When Jesus repeats something, it is to emphasise its importance. So to repeat something eight times must be very important. ‘Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’
So the message is one word ‘Remain!’ Remain in Jesus. As pruning happens, remain in Jesus. We are dependent on Jesus. We need to remain in him. As a branch we can’t exist on our own. We can’t grow and bear fruit on our own separated from the vine. The vine can exist without the branches, but we can’t exist and grow when separated from the vine. We need to remain in Jesus and him in us.
What are the best ways to remain? There are four ways: Prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship and Fellowship. Or as Luke writes in Acts 2: 42 ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’
Let’s look at the four ways to remain:
● Prayer. What’s you prayer life like? Is it just coming to God with a shopping list? Is it more than this? There are different strands which can be used: Adoration – telling God we love Him, Confession – saying sorry for wrong thoughts, words or deeds, Thanksgiving – saying thank you to God for all the good things he gives us and finally Supplication – or asking. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication form the mnemonic ACTS, which is an easy word to remember.
● Bible reading – do you read the Bible daily with Bible reading notes or with a commentary? Anne and I use ‘Fresh from the Word’ which we would recommend.
● Corporate worship – coming to church each Sunday and finally
● Fellowship – meeting up with other Christians midweek – maybe at a homegroup via zoom, or meeting outside for a coffee and cake, or making a phonecall. Fellowship is important. It is getting to know one another.
If one doesn’t remain in Jesus and him in you, what happens? Jesus says ‘You are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.’ Well, that’s pretty clear, what has withered and is not part of the vine is cleared away and burned. Full stop. The End!
But what are the benefits of remaining in Jesus and him in you? Jesus says ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ What is the fruit which the Father is looking for? The list in Galatians 5: 22 – 23 is a good place to start ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’
The Father who prunes us sees the results in our increasing fruitfulness and this brings him glory. He hears us ask for things which are good and in line with producing fruit and loves to give them to us. Remaining in Jesus and him in us shows the world that we are disciples of the one true and living God. So let us remain in Jesus and him in us, allow the Father to prune us to be more fruitful and let us show the world that we are disciples of Jesus to the glory of the Father. Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 25th April
John 10: 11 - 18 The good shepherd and his sheep
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
Reflections on John 10: 11 - 18
Last week I was in deepest Somerset doing a day’s gardening for my cousin. It is idyllic where she lives. The cottage is on the South facing slope of the Mendip Hills, surrounded on two sides by green fields and the other two by woods. The woodpeckers were drumming and the buzzards were up circling on the thermals in the warm Spring sunshine.
Over all this peaceful loveliness came the sound of bleating sheep. The low pitched baaa of the ewes and the high pitched bleating of the baby lambs. Lambing was in full swing. At one point, the farmer arrived in his 4x4 mini farm vehicle and tooted his horn. The sheep came running to him for their food. The sheep knew the sound of his horn and what is signified. The farmer knows the sheep and the sheep know the farmer. There is trust and understanding. Likewise the mother sheep know their babies – their voices and their scent. There is a bond between them and this bond is life giving and life sustaining.
To be known by and to know someone is wonderful. It is life giving. It is healthy and lovely. Being loved and to love someone is strengthening and fulfilling. It is a mutual two way relationship that leads to flourishing and growth.
In this week’s reading, Jesus describes himself as ‘The Good Shepherd’. He is someone who can be trusted, who can be relied upon and who knows his sheep. Jesus is someone who would do anything for his sheep, even to laying down his life for them. Jesus is the opposite to ‘The Bad Shepherd’, who, as the reading says, would abandon the sheep and run away at the first hint of trouble, resulting in the sheep being attacked and scattering. So with the bad shepherd, there would be chaos and confusion at the first sign of a wolf, no care and consideration for the sheep under his care, with the sheep being isolated and vulnerable to more threats of predators because the bad shepherd had legged it.
If Jesus is the good shepherd, then who are the sheep? We are! We are known by Jesus intimately and lovingly. There is an interplay in the relationship, just as there is a similar relationship between Jesus and his Father in heaven. Does Jesus know us that well, and do we have the same opportunity to know Jesus in the same way as he knows his Father in heaven? Well, that’s what Jesus says, so it must be true! Nobody, and I feel not even a husband / wife relationship, can know each other as fully and intimately as this. This sort of relationship with Jesus is on a different level.
In the reading, Jesus says that there are other sheep, not of this sheepfold that need to be brought into the fold. The original sheep are the Jewish nation, we, the non-Jews or also known as gentiles are the other sheep. Jesus also longs for us to be brought into the fold. Jesus will call us into the fold, a place of safety, of being known, of being cared for and cherished, loved and wanted. One flock and one shepherd.
We all have the opportunity and invitation to come into Jesus’ fold and be part of his flock because he laid down his life for us, which is what we remember each Easter. In laying down his life for us, we have the opportunity to take his free offer of forgiveness of the things that we have done wrong and which cause a barrier between us and God. This ‘doing wrong’ or ‘sin’ puts us outside the sheepfold, outside a place of safety and of being known and loved by Jesus, it puts us on our own in what can sometimes be a cold and dark place, isolated and vulnerable to attack.
So this Easter time, where are you? Has Jesus called you to be in his sheepfold? Do you know his safety and protection, his love and care for you? Or are you outside, alone in the wilderness and vulnerable to attack and injury? Jesus calls you to be known by him and to be able to know him, he is waiting to welcome you into his sheepfold where he is the ultimate Good Shepherd. How will you respond?
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 18th April
Luke 24: 36 - 48 Jesus appears to the disciples
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Reflections on Luke 24: 36 - 48
Are you, like me, sometimes tempted to at least take a peak at the last chapter in a book, to see how it all works out? Well, as I looked at this week’s passage from Luke – which is of course the last chapter of his Gospel and packs in a summary of the whole time between Jesus resurrection and ascension – a different question came to mind….If this is the way he ends his account, what does Luke say AT THE START about the motivation for his writing?
And in Ch1 v3, we find the answer. ”I decided to write an orderly account for you, Theophilus (which translates as God-lover), SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THE CERTAINTY OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE BEEN TAUGHT.” Teaching speaks of things which are handed down to us by others as true and important; knowing the certainty, however, speaks of us PERSONALLY taking ownership of the things we have been taught. In terms of Christianity, therefore, there is no such thing as a second-hand faith – it is for you and me to be convinced of the truth of the Jesus story, and to surrender our lives to him to be “witnesses of these things”(v48). Our parents faith, or their parents faith, or our partners faith, will not do.
So what are some of the things that Luke writes in this passage, that he wishes us to know for certain?
JESUS SAYS PEACE BE WITH YOU. It’s the first thing he says to His troubled and anxious disciples. It’s the same thing he says to disciples like you and me, today, as we live through the easing of lockdown, the still-uncertain and still-unknown next few months. It’s the peace, the inner peace, that only He can give; totally different from the feeling after 2 jabs of vaccine! And notice something else in Jesus words. Luke records in Ch2 v14 the words that the angel host sang that first Christmas to the terrified shepherds “…on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” Jesus in CH24 didn’t need to say the words “on whom His favour rests”. However troubled Peter and the other disciples were, they WERE His disciples; and His favour rested on them. The same applies to us, whether we feel it or not.
JESUS SHOWS HE IS NOT A GHOST. He gives a glimpse of our life after death. We will NOT have some ethereal spirit bodies, floating around the cosmos. We will have bodies which are recognisably human, we will even enjoy a fish meal! But in other ways our bodies WILL be different. Remember that Mary at the empty tomb, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, recognised a man but not THE man Jesus ……… until He spoke and broke bread. He could be in a certain place and time, but then not be; he was no longer constrained by the things which constrain us. Most of all, he confirms that there is life after death for those of faith; something that all those of us who have lost loved ones in the last 18 months need to hear.
JESUS OPENS OUR MINDS TO THE SCRIPTURES. When I was an atheist, I dismissed the scriptures as irrelevant and meaningless – at best they contained some nice poetry and some nice stories. But when we bow the knee to Jesus, and choose to follow Him, something changes as we start to read and study the scriptures – both Old and New Testaments. It’s as if we enter a different way of seeing the world, its history, its future ……. and each of our places in it. It’s why the C.S. Lewis image of the children going through the wardrobe into Narnia is so powerful. The different books in the Bible address all the core questions about God and human meaning, purpose and identity. Want a good tool in your box to counter pandemic fear and weariness? A regular dose of scripture reading will do nicely. I’m reliably informed that the words “Do not fear” appear enough times to cover every day of the year (including a leap year!)
There is a modern worship song, which includes the refrain – You became a Man of Sorrows/That we might know joy/You have treasured every teardrop/And said that you’d restore; You will not forget your people/You will make all things new/Until you do/We choose to trust in You/ Until You do/We choose to worship you
PS. Our passage ends with a final certainty – JESUS PROMISES THE HOLY SPIRIT. To indwell and empower all we who believe in Jesus, day by day. But that reflection is for a few weeks time ………….
Cliff Dumbell (lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 11th April
John 20: 19 - end Jesus appears to his disciples
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’
Jesus appears to Thomas:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
The purpose of John’s gospel:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Reflections on John 20v 19-end Jesus appears to his disciples.
This is such a well known part of the story of Jesus. After His resurrection, he shows himself to his disciples in quite a dramatic way and we find Thomas missing out. He has unfortunately become known as ‘doubting Thomas’ but we need to be clear here because his doubting was not about Jesus, it was doubting what his friends had told him. His response to them was about what they said they had seen. V. 25 “Unless I see the nail marks and put my fingers where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” When you think about it, is that really something the other disciples would lie to him about? I wonder what Thomas really thought? Was it simply that he was feeling a bit miffed? Let’s be honest, it was a fantastic piece of news but I have no doubt that the disciples would have seemed very genuine as they told him. As a result of Jesus’ generosity however, Thomas was later able to say, ‘I have seen it with my own eyes’, which was probably going to be very helpful to all of them as they shared their testimonies in days to come. Believing what others say seems to me to be quite important bearing in mind that in v.29 Jesus said “Because you (Thomas) have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen (that’s us) and yet have believed”.
I would suggest that it’s very common for us to regularly take something said by others and believe it especially if we don’t have the chance to witness it ourselves. If I told you what New York looked like just a couple of weeks after 9/11 you would believe me I think because Hazel and I were there. What a friend tells you might be as simple as witnessing a brilliant sunset or perhaps something more serious, and you would believe them. When John wrote these things down, or Luke, Matthew, Mark or Paul and all the others , they had no reason to write it down unless it really happened. They had no reason to tell lies or make it up because it really happened. It’s there for us to accept and believe. The biblical writers, all of them, are our witnesses. They are our eyes and ears about how things were when they were alive. Scripture gives us the added reason to believe them by telling us that what has been written has been inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. (2Tim 3:16).
In the lives that we now lead in the 21st century, progress often depends on the experiences of the few being believed and taken up by the majority. It’s just not possible for all of us to experience the same things. We do need to believe and trust in experts to help us through something like the pandemic. Clearly there are times when it’s right to question the detail but overall we have to exercise trust.
In John chapter 20 we have the story of something that actually happened. Jesus did come back to life and spoke to his disciples, not just once but on many occasions. We can believe it because we can believe the disciples and as a consequence, that truth can lead us to believe the powerful message that Jesus died so that might know forgiveness and God’s promise of eternity with Him. Thomas was there and witnessed it at first hand and as John wrote in V.31 “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name”
Praise God that we have all these witnesses without whom, we would be totally lost and which give us every cause for hope and praise to God.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Easter Sunday 4th April
John 20: 1 - 18 The empty tomb
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’
'They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Reflections on John 20: 1 - 18
It always amazes me that you can read a well-known passage and then something new jumps out at you that you have never seen before. In John 20: 1 it says ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.’ If Mary went there when it was dark then it must have been very dark when Jesus rose from the tomb. For me this symbolises that Jesus rose when everyone was still in deep grief and sadness, the disciples (and I include the women in this) must have felt totally hopeless about the future and scared as to what was going to happen to them. Mary somehow epitomises those feelings in that she needs something to do and so goes to the tomb to anoint the body and to spend time just being near Jesus’ body. Maybe she is unable to sleep and feels restless. She goes there in the dark alone, not wanting to be seen and wanting to be private in her grief. So, in the night – time, when people were asleep, or awake tossing and turning, feeling scared, hopeless and lost – Jesus rises from the dead. They did not know that anything had happened, there was no earthquake or signs in the sky, for them it was just another night of sorrow.
This speaks to me of the fact that the risen Jesus still lives and walks amongst those who are grieving, hopeless, fearful and lost – which many people have been this past year. They may not know that Jesus has risen but it is our role to show them that.
Also, when Mary got to the tomb, she saw the stone rolled away and jumped to the logical conclusion that someone had come and stolen the body. She is already in grief, now that grief has been doubled and she is in tears. Often we can look at a situation and see it totally wrongly. We look at it with human eyes and fail to see that it might be God’s doing and that He is involved. The moved stone was not about the loss of a body but was instead about the rising of a new body. Easter Sunday means so many things – that Jesus rose again in the midst of grief and loss, that things might not be as they seem and that God might indeed be doing a new thing. Jesus rising from the dead brought healing to their pain and loss, he brought hope to the fear of the future, he brought them new vision. Mary wanted to hold onto Jesus but he told her that she must let go of him and go to the others and tell them the wonderful news.
And so for us Jesus is there, risen and alive in all our grief, bringing healing and peace. He is there to bring us hope for the future, especially when there is fear. As Christians we need to let go of the past and go forward with vision and the good news that must be shared. Spend time this Easter Sunday reading this passage and allow it to speak to you afresh. It is good news for our nation, it is good news in the sadness and it is good news for you and for your neighbour.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 28th March Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11 Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Reflections on Mark 11:1-11
I must admit that I am not very keen on cleaning windows inside our house. What can happen is that Hazel will ask “Any chance of cleaning the windows dear” to which I will always answer “Yes of course”. What can happen next is that my determination to fulfil the task is honestly quite weak and after a delay , the idea somehow gets lost. My procrastination doesn’t get me anywhere of course because Hazel will remember in the end. I don’t expect any of you ever do anything like that? Really! However, I am aware that when asked by God to do something it is all too easy to respond in a wide variety of ways. We might question why it needs to happen at all. We could, as I do, say yes and then delay. We can simply refuse or we can suggest that someone else does it. Does any of that ring bells to anyone?
The reason I am taking this line is because in the story we are so familiar with about Jesus entering Jerusalem, we are told about the preparation needed for Jesus to arrive includes two of the disciples being given some instructions by him about a donkey. The group are still some distance away from the city and Jesus spells out a task for these two men to carry out. “Go to the next village where you will find a colt which has never been ridden” How did he know that? He goes on “If anyone asks why you are doing this, you tell them Jesus needs it, and you will get it back”. Slightly strange instructions really and the two disciples may have wondered how it would work out. They may have wanted to ask him ‘Why’ or ‘how do you know’, but it simply tells us that they went and everything turned out as he had described. They went because they trusted him. Their journey with him over the last three years had shown them that he never said or did anything that wasn’t necessary or helpful. They went not knowing how important that day was going to be with the crowds greeting Jesus. Theirs’ was a small task as a prelude to the final days of Jesus being amongst them. Jesus asked them to find a colt and bring it to him which they did.
I wonder when Jesus last asked you to do something for him and what your response was. Of course it’s not always right to say yes to everything but we need to be sure that our response is for the right reason. The request may come from anyone, a neighbour perhaps or someone in the church. It may come from a challenge when reading the Bible or the prompting of the Holy Spirit after a conversation or even watching a T.V. programme. Do we just say no or more likely put it off and then forget it? Perhaps we feel inadequate for the task, but however we feel we need to consider that it may be a request from Jesus and lead us to pray.
However long or short our personal journey with Jesus has been we know that he can be trusted and we can, knowing God’s love for us, approach him for guidance in everything. The two disciples obeyed thinking “What if we can’t find the colt, what if the people there don’t want us to take it?” When we are humbly following directions we know that all will be well.
What was that Hazel? Yes I’ll do it now dear!
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 21st March
John 12: 20 - 33 Jesus predicts his death
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’
Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
Reflections on John 12: 20 - 33
The request from these friendly, faithful Greeks, marks a sea change in Jesus’ ministry and focus. We are familiar with Jesus telling his followers: “My hour has not yet come.” (Examples of this are John 2:4, 4:21-3, 7:30 and 8:20.) However, the arrival of these Greek, Gentiles who want to become disciples, indicates the final stage of Jesus’ ministry and culmination of his salvific work, “when I am lifted up” on the cross. (Verse 32.)
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus announced: “I am the Good Shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice.” (John 10:14-16.) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is determined to establish his claim to all those outside his sheepfold, including both his Jewish and non-Jewish followers. The scope of Jesus’ ministry needs to be wider to incorporate more people. The only way this can be achieved is for the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for all the sheep. The work of gathering all people, regardless of their background, into the sheepfold, will be accomplished on the cross. And the time has come for this.
In this passage about the kernel of wheat, Jesus re-consents to death to fulfil God’s work. The kernel of wheat must fall to the ground, be trampled and buried, its husk broken open to release the seeds within, that will regerminate other kernels of wheat. This is a necessary death and life cycle, that takes place within nature. Likewise, in spite of his trepidation, Jesus re-affirms that his death is necessary and asserts that it will result in the glorification of God (verse 28), producing “many seeds” (verse 24) for the benefit of all humanity.
Because Jesus has taken on human form, he dreads death and fears the pain he must endure. He wants to be delivered from death. But he knows his death cannot be avoided. In sacrificing his life, Jesus will enable forgiveness and a loving relationship between God and the whole of humanity.
The voice from heaven reinforces Jesus’ righteous authority. While Jesus contemplates his own destiny, he also solemnly reflects on the sacrifices that will have to be made by his followers; both his companions in his earthly ministry and those who will come to know him through the power of his Spirit.
He is comforted in the knowledge that those called to sacrifice their lives in his father’s service will be honoured; and they will be gathered to him in the Kingdom. (verses 26 and 32.) Like the kernels of wheat, their witness, and the sacrifices they make, will yield benefits for the whole world.
We don’t hear what happened to the Greek disciples after they approached Philip and whether they ever got to meet Jesus. Perhaps they had all the information and understanding they needed, when they heard the voice from Heaven. Or perhaps they made a swift exit on hearing what was expected of followers of Jesus. Who knows?
Like the Greeks we too have the choice over whether or not to serve and follow Jesus. We too need to be prepared to walk the path of service. If we make sacrifices, we too will participate in and partake of Jesus’ glory. “Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (Verse 26.) That’s Jesus’ promise to us. Let’s be like the kernels of wheat. Let us live for God’s service, in the sure and certain hope that we have life through Jesus’ death. Amen.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 14th March
2 Corinthians 1: 3 - 7 Praise to the God of all comfort
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Reflections on 2 Corinthians 1: 3 - 7
Last week I watched the conversation between Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, and Adrian Chiles at the launch of the Archbishop’s new book ‘Dear England: Finding Hope, Taking Heart and Changing the World’. The book, which I have on order, is written in the form of a letter, it, addressed to the country at this time of division and pandemic, asking the questions about what sort of world we want to live in and what it needs. In the conversation, Stephen (as he likes to be addressed) said that the Christian story is a way to live differently. The New Testament is a vision about how we inhabit the world, how we live with each other and how we bring hope to the world. The hardships of the pandemic and its consequences give the world the opportunity to reset its compass and the Christian story shows what life could look like. We all need to show love through our actions.
Similarly, Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Corinth at a time when they were struggling. There were divisions and and a lack of trust. It was a difficult time. Paul wrote to them to remind them that no matter how hard things were, God, the Father of compassion, would come alongside them, bringing comfort and healing. And having been comforted by God, they could then comfort others. Christ knew what it was like to suffer; He was there in their sufferings. Christ was also full of comfort, the comfort and hope that overflowed into Paul’s life and the life of the church in Corinth and it needed to be shared.
Paul’s letter continues to speak to Christians of today: ‘for just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our own lives, so also through Christ our comforts overflow.’ We know that Christ is with us in hard times, there to comfort and guide. Therefore we, in our turn, can come alongside others who are going through hard times. Christ’s comfort gives us ‘patient endurance’, a resolve to trust in Him and to bring that comfort, love and hope to others.
As I write, schools are re-opening to all pupils, the first part of the roadmap for lifting lockdown. There is hope that things will be getting ‘back to normal’. What is that ‘normal’ going to be? Throughout the pandemic period, we have become more aware of people who are lonely, who need help of some sort, who have suffered loss. In this time we have become more aware of parts of society who lack basic needs: the homeless and the hungry. We are more aware of how much we depend on the health service, on the caring sectors, on schools, on council employees. We are more aware of how we need to reverse the damage we are doing to our environment, to God’s creation. Will going back to ‘normal’ mean the same as it was before or, because of all we’ve faced and all we’ve learnt, that we will commit out ourselves to working towards a world in which love for each other means a fairer, more compassionate, less selfish society, just as Christ calls us to do?
This Sunday is Mothering Sunday, when we give thanks for our mother church, for our mothers and for all those who have mothered us. The way to show our thanks for what we have received is to come alongside others in good times and hard times. We have to be ready to bring God’s story, our story to others and to be the change we talk about. The Archbishop finished his conversation with these words: ‘You can find yourself and all that you long for, for yourself and your world, in Christ: have a look.’ Let us take that vision into a world that reflects Christ’s comfort, compassion, hope and love for all.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 7th March
John 2: 13 - 25 Jesus clears the temple courts
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Reflections on John 2: 13 - 25“Zeal for your house will consume me” (v17)
We don’t use the word “zeal” very much these days do we? Yet for me this is the pivotal sentence in our passage this week. So I looked to Mr Google for a DEFINITION OF ZEAL – “fervour”, “ardour” and “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective.”
What was Jesus “cause or objective”? To draw individuals back into connection with Father God and to enable them to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. And Jesus certainly pursued that cause with great energy! Remember that John the Gospel writer quite deliberately sets out his account to understand Jesus story as an unfolding one, and here straightaway in Ch2 we have “parables” of the two halves of Jesus objective …….. the CHANGING (or Conversion) of the water into wine, and the CLEANSING of the Temple in Jerusalem (the place where Gods presence with man dwelt for 1st Century Jews, and where the celebrations of Gods journeying with them were centred year after year). The Changing/Conversion occurred in a back room, with Jesus and the water jars – just as the Conversion experience of the majority of Christians takes place, quietly, between us and God; the Cleansing, however, took place very openly, before the devout and the merchants, Jews and Gentiles/non-Jews alike – just as the Cleansing/Clearing-out-of-the-rubbish in Christians lives, takes place in the midst of our everyday, in full view! Someone once summed up the process as “Jesus takes us JUST AS WE ARE, warts and all, but loves us too much to LEAVE US AS WE ARE”.
Notice that Jesus does this act of cleansing in the Temple Courts – the places where women and non-Jewish God-fearers were allowed ………and their opportunities to worship God were being minimised in the interests of commerce! It conveyed the suggestion that, however God-fearing, they weren’t in the same league as true-born Israelite men. With one – literal – crack of the whip, Jesus destroys that separation; He came that all would know we have equal access to God. (And remember by John Ch4 Jesus has taken it much further, by deliberately arranging an encounter with someone who would have definitely been given the thumbs down by true blue Jews – a despised Samaritan, with a dodgy personal life, and a woman. Yet Jesus changed her into his first evangelist!)
In modern popular culture Lent, if it is thought of at all, is a time (after “dry January”) to temporarily give something up …….. before having a food and drink binge at Easter. Superficial, ceremonial, and of no lasting effect. Just as Jesus, in the final days of his ministry on earth, had to clear out the merchants from the Temple Courts again – they had gone back to their old ways when they thought He wasn’t looking! For us as Jesus followers, however – particularly in lockdown – Lent gives us an opportunity to review, through prayer, reflection, reading, quietness (or whatever means you draw closest to God) the extent to which we are co-operating with Jesus in driving out of our lives (and keeping out) those things which hinder OUR true worship of God and our witness to a currently very frightened world, in which after the Covid Emergency will come the Climate Emergency.
Let me finish with another thought from this passage. It’s this …… where do people expect to find the Presence of God? For the Jews, it was the Temple; good, but only accessible at certain times and for certain people. During Jesus time on earth, it was fully in himself (as described in a modern worship song “The greatest love song, the greatest story/The King of Heaven poured into a man). A single life. And since Jesus ascended to Heaven? In His followers on earth, individually and together being changed into a reflection of Him by GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT – this “treasure in jars of clay” – for all the world to see, until Jesus returns.
And that’s why Jesus calls US to have the same zeal as Him this Lent and beyond. Maranatha!
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 28th February
Mark 8: 31-end Jesus predicts his death
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
The way of the cross
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
Reflections on Mark 8: 31-end
This section of the readings taking us through Lent is headed ‘Jesus predicts his death’. Lent is our annual opportunity to give particular thought to this basic truth about our faith, that Jesus died. This necessarily involves a personal honesty towards the truth that our sin has brought this about. So how are we supposed to feel during Lent? I would suggest that rather than feeling dour and full of guilt, we can in fact feel quite the opposite. Let me explain what I mean. Going back to the opening words in verse 31 we read “Jesus then began to teach them (his disciples) that…..” and he spells out the future of his suffering, his rejection, leading to his death and then importantly his resurrection. All in one verse! Let me introduce an illustration at this point. There are times when we are waiting for news from someone and when they return they might say “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” In this passage of scripture as Jesus and the disciples are in conversation with them asking him questions, he could have said “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Well, no matter what they might have answered Jesus begins with the bad news, and that is the right way round because the Good News needs to come at the end. The point I want to make here is that even the bad news is good news. The bad news is good news because the sin which makes the bad news necessary has a cure. The bad news is good news because Jesus had to go through this to give us a way out. It is good news because it reveals God’s great love, offering forgiveness and eternity to all who choose to say sorry. It is good news because Jesus chose, of his own free will, to take that journey on our behalf. The truth is that without the apparent bad news announced by Jesus in verse 31, all of us are utterly and unchangeably without hope.
So I suggest that everything about Lent is positive, even our awareness of our sinfulness because as Jesus was careful to include in verse 31, He would rise again. That, final wonderful truth completely renders everything negative inconsequential for the Christian. Now look at verse 32. Peter’s reaction to what Jesus has said is lacking in understanding and he refused to accept it, and speaking no doubt for all the disciples says “No, this cannot be” and he rebuked Jesus. Jesus needed to give him a strong reply. It seems clear that Peter’s response was in effect a temptation to Jesus not to let it happen, so “get behind me Satan”. Jesus also said to him” you don’t have the mind of God.” In truth this response by Jesus is a magnificent sign that he was determined to be on a collision course with the hold that Satan had over the human race. Nothing was going to change his mission, and for the whole human race that is the best news possible.
So Lent is a time, yes for repentance but especially also for praising God for His love and the Good news he holds before us . So for the Christian even the bad news is also Good news and reveals to us a book, the Bible which is positive at every turn. So Lent helps to prepare us for Easter when we will celebrate both the resurrection and the fact of forgiven sins. Hallelujah.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 21st February
Mark 1: 9 - 15 The baptism and testing of Jesustrong
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
Reflections on Mark 1: 9 - 15
This week at (virtual) college, my fellow students and I have been considering interfaith relationships and the role of Christian ministry in a multi-faith society. We are encouraged to offer friendship and hospitality to people of other faiths and none and to work in collaboration with other faith groups to serve our local communities. We are encouraged to dialogue as much as possible with people of other faiths, allowing their understanding of God to enrich our own faith and vice versa.
However, there is a need to hold this in tension with those things which are fundamental to our own faith. I would say it is crucial that we do not “water down” or apologise for how important Jesus is to our faith. We believe he was the Son of God, that he offers us the opportunity of a relationship with him through prayer, and that salvation was secured through his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism and is the focus of the first Sunday of Lent. It marks the transition from Epiphany to Lent. Epiphany establishes Jesus’ identity, Lent marks the beginning of his mission. The verse “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (v.11) consolidates this new focus. These words also direct us to Good Friday, and the similar words of the centurion attending Jesus’ crucifixion: “Surely this man was God’s son.” (Mark 15:39.)
You may ask: Why Jesus was baptised when he was without sin? Firstly, his baptism endorsed John’s practice of baptism and established the expectation of baptism for Christian followers. Secondly, Jesus demonstrated his commitment to us; his intention to sustain us with his Holy Spirit, to advocate for us and to secure our eternal life.
In spite of the splendour and transcendence of his baptism, the next destination of Jesus’ ministry was the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry included experiencing all the hardships of being human, including death; so that he could stand in full solidarity with humanity, and to be the best refuge for humanity in times of trouble and despair. Jesus’ baptism supported him for his future ministry, but it did not protect him from the injustice of the cross.
Likewise, at baptism we too are equipped. Our baptism establishes our identity and assures us of Jesus’ commitment to us. Baptism is a public witness to God’s adoption of us, claiming us as his children. We have accepted a unique one-to-one relationship with him that flavours everything we do.
One of the main things I have learned this week is how much people of other faiths value our theology about who Jesus is, even if they do not agree with it. ‘As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ (1:10-11.) Jesus’ baptism set him apart, God’s authority was confirmed in him. In living out his mission we believe that he brought heaven and earth closer. Understanding who Jesus is, is life-changing. While there may be a need for sensitivity or explanation, our faith in Jesus makes us who we are; this distinctiveness is something to be open about and to celebrate.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 14th February
Mark 9: 2 - 9 The transfiguration
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Reflections on Mark 9: 2 - 9
The phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ has been used a lot over the last few months. Sometimes it’s been proved to be a receding light, as lockdowns became longer and death rates from Covid rose. Then the light got brighter with the news of the vaccination programmes and the astounding numbers receiving their jabs. The lockdown at this time of year has been hard with dark days and poor weather. But now the days are getting longer and the spring flowers indicate the coming of the spring. We can start to look forward with a mixture of hope and some trepidation.
Approaching Lent can seem like that: forty days of being in the wilderness with Jesus and ‘with the wild animals’. We are invited to reflect, to read, to deny ourselves some of things that we enjoy, that make life easier, in order to focus our attention on what Jesus did, and does, for us. This year we are invited through #LiveLent to participate in God’s story and to make it part of our own stories. We, and all followers of Jesus, need constant help to understand more, even if that understanding is not complete and to learn how we can respond.
In Mark’s gospel for this week, we see Jesus offering his closest followers a glimpse of his glory. He takes them away from the hubbub of their lives and in the transfiguration they see Jesus dazzling in clothes ‘whiter than anyone in the world could beach them’. They see Moses and Elijah, who had both looked forward to a new state of relationship with God and his people and who were both expected to return before the coming of the Messiah. And they heard God’s voice saying: “This my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Peter, James and John were confused, were frightened: it was so much to take in. And then there was just the four of them on the mountain, making their way back to the hubbub. During that journey, Jesus told them what had to come before his coming to the glory that they had seen: that the Son of Man had to rise from the dead. Jesus was about to make his journey to Jerusalem where he would be executed and the disciples would be with him in that dangerous journey. As they listened to Jesus, this glimpse into the truth of who Jesus is was just what the disciples needed to have hope for this journey.
One of the things that Jesus told the disciples was not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the resurrection. His resurrection would be the completion of his work, showing his true and full character as the Messiah. Those first disciples and believers, who witnessed so much, did what they were told: to go and tell. They had travelled with Jesus, they had listened to him, they had seen what he did for all kinds of people and they had learnt from him. They took what they had learnt into their lives and they made a difference. During Lent we have that opportunity to read, to listen, to learn and then go forward into world, with its joys and its challenges, with the glory of Jesus in our lives, bringing it to others in whatever way we can.
The disciples’ experience at the transfiguration reminds us that no matter how powerful a spiritual experience is, the time comes when we have to come down off the mountain and rejoin our everyday life. But when we do so, we need to do it as changed people. So this Lent, as we look towards the light at the end of this tunnel we are in, let’s journey through it with the Light of the World to guide us, teach us, inspire us and change us so we emerge as Easter people, ready to serve God’s world as He calls each one of us by name to do so.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 7th February
John 1: 1 - 14 The Word became flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Reflections on John 1: 1 - 14
Good beginnings are so important, whether it is the start of a book, or the forming of a group to do some training, or meeting a new work client etc. I can remember being read to as a child, and hearing the start of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell “July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaded August sky. A sharp stinging drizzle fell....” or Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev W Awdry “Thomas was a tank engine who lived at a Big Station. He had six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome.” They are all beginnings which lead the reader to want to continue with the story and learn more. The imagination is fired and curiosity aroused.
It is the same with this Sunday’s Gospel reading. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. I don’t know about you, but with an introduction like that, I’m hooked and want to read more.
Some years ago, I went on a course where, among other things, these verses were studied. The leader said that another name for Jesus was the Greek word Logos, which means word or speech. We then replaced the word “word” with “Jesus”, so it reads “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. He was with God in the beginning...” It all made so much more sense to me. Jesus is the light of the world, which is one of his attributes which we celebrated last Sunday at Candlemas and of which he said about himself in John 8: 12 ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’
There are lots in this reading which I love and could write about, but the verse which I want to focus on is verse 12 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” When I made a decision at the age of 14 to ask Jesus into my life, I became a child of God. When anybody asks Jesus into their lives, they become children of God. This is amazing and awe inspiring. The light shines in the darkness of our lives, and the darkness has not overcome it. We have the light of Christ guiding and helping us. This light of Christ is the Holy Spirit, who brings light and life to us and is a deposit in us, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession (Ephesians 1:14) and is also a seal of ownership on us, with his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5). As children of God, this deposit of the Holy Spirit which God has put within us is not a static thing, but one that gives life and energy and fire within us. Paul gives a good description of the power available to us in Ephesians 1: 18 – 20 “I pray that .... you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”.
As dearly beloved children of God, how do we go out and show this love of God, which we have, to others? I have just finished reading “Scattered Servants” by Alan Scott. On p161, Alan writes about every believer in Jesus knowing their adoption, authority and assignment. So far, I have written about knowing our adoption, in that we are children of God. Our authority comes from Matthew 10: 1 “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness,” and our assignment in vv 7-8 “As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
So my prayer is that we all know who we are, who has commissioned us and the task he has set us to do. What will be the result? The light shines in the darkness, the Kingdom of Heaven advances and the blessing of God will come to those around us.
Drop me an email or call me (on 01934 823556) if I have fired your imagination and aroused your curiosity and you would like to read more about how to take Jesus to those who don’t know him, and be encouraged by Alan’s book “Scattered Servants”. I can lend it to you!