29th January 2023 Thoughts "Covenants"
Reading: Genesis 9:1-17
One of the gifts Methodism gives to the Christian Church is the Covenant service. This was first held in 1755 and was introduced by John Wesley. It is an annual service held in all Methodist churches and chapels, a key element of it is the Covenant prayer which says
I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
The original idea was that there would be a series of meetings about the Covenant leading up to the service itself. There would be a day’s retreat for people to prepare themselves in prayer, fasting, reflection and self examination before joining in the service itself, which as well as containing the prayer would be centred around Communion, which in turn celebrated the New Covenant.
The Bible tells us about various covenants that God has made with his people and they are always initiated by God. There is the covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with David and finally the perpetual covenant made through Jesus.
The reading from Genesis chapter 9 tells us about the covenant with Noah. The chapter starts after Noah, his family and all the animals in the ark have been released from their lockdown. Noah has built an altar and has offered whole burnt offerings in thanks for their deliverance. God is pleased with Noah and makes a covenant with him, but not just him, it is also with his offspring and all the living creatures that were with him, birds, domestic animals and wild beasts. A lot of what is said to Noah is very similar to the words spoken to Adam ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have dominion over it’. Alongside this injunction to increase and multiply is the introduction of the importance of all life, there is the command not to eat meat which has blood in it. The blood equals life anyone who sheds blood must lose theirs. This seems somewhat harsh to us, eye for an eye etc. If each of us are made in the likeness and image of God then to kill one of us is a direct insult to God himself. Noah represents a second beginning, a second attempt at enabling human beings to have the kind of relationship with God that they were intended to have. As a reminder of this covenant God promised to put a bow in the sky so that he himself will remember the covenant he has made with all living flesh.
There are other covenants for us to look at, next time will be the covenant with Abraham.
22nd January 2023 Thoughts
The discussion group this month is looking at the Book of Ruth, so I thought I would share some thoughts which have arisen from that.
We are probably all familiar with the story of Ruth but I would encourage you to read this small book through in one sitting, only four chapters.
No one is sure who the author of this book was but the events in it happened in the time before there was a monarchy, in the time of the Judges.
The story starts in a large town called Bethlehem, usually this area produced plenty of food, in fact the name of the town means ' House of Bread', unusually there was a famine. Elimelech was from Ephrath so probably belonged to one of the chief families in Bethlehem and he decided to take his family, wife and two sons, to Moab which was on the opposite side of the Dead Sea and was a separate state. It was not somewhere that knew Yahweh.
Whilst the family were in Moab, Elimelech died, as did the two sons. Naomi was now without any man from her family to look after her, and she was in a foreign country with her two daughters in law. Naomi heard that the situation had improved in Judah, that God was providing again for his people so she decided to go back home. Ruth and Orpah both started the journey with her. She must have been a special Mother in Law. Orpah was persuaded to go back to her own people but Ruth proclaimed that she would adopt Naomi's ways, even her god.
Ruth and Naomi arrived at Bethlehem to be greeted by the townswomen who knew Naomi but were surprised at her appearance. Naomi explains that she left full and has returned empty, no longer did she want the name that meant her life was pleasant, but' Mara' because her life had become bitter.
But in all that she had suffered, Naomi did not stop believing God. She did not understand why her life was sad. She only knew that God was in command.
The story moves on. Ruth goes to glean in the fields, according to Leviticus 19 (9-10) when the harvest was gathered in those in need, the poor and alien, were allowed to gather grain left at the sides or dropped by the harvesters. It so happened that the strip of land Ruth went to was owned by Boaz, who it so happened was a relative of Elimelech. Coincidence or God 's direction?
There was another law laid down by God which said that if a man died his nearest male relative had the right of redemption of his lands and property so that the land God gave the tribes would not be lost. Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz and claimed his protection as a relative through marriage to Elimelech. Boaz knew of a closer relative that had to be given the right of refusal and although this man was happy to buy the land was not happy to take on Ruth as his wife. Perhaps, he already had a family, or because the first son they had would carry on the name of Ruth's deceased husband and he would own his land not the step father. (see Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son called Obed, but it is Naomi who is congratulated and adopts Obed as her son. In time Obed became the father of Jesse who was the father of David and the line descends to Joseph who was of the house and lineage of David.
So why is this book in the Bible? It's a story about an ordainary family wh are living as members of God's family because they respect and obey him. It' s about resilience and trust in grief. Naomi in spite of all she loses never doubts God, she doesn't understand his actions but doesn't lose faith and in the end is rewarded and provided for.
15th January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: John 1:29-42
There is something special about a personal invitation to something it makes us feel special and valued, it makes us feel wanted. When someone invites you for coffee or a meal because they want your company it makes you feel special doesn't it, warm inside?
Invitations are important in the Bible as well and are extended by both God and Jesus. There are apparently 55 verses in the Bible which deal with an invitation of some kind. Psalm 34 reads “O taste and see that the Lord is good”. Seeing goes beyond physical sight it is more understanding why things are as they are,come and learn, understand.
The reading from John is at the start of Jesus ministry, the affirmation of his calling, embodied in the form of a dove. We know little or nothing about the childhood of Jesus. The reading opens with John the Baptist testifying to the people around him as to what he had seen. When Jesus was baptized by John, John saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove and remain on Jesus. This was a sign to John that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. The next day John sees Jesus and identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Two of John’s disciples hear this and follow Jesus and begin to ask him questions. Rather than have a long discussion with these disciples, Jesus issues a simple invitation, “Come and See.”come and experience it all for yourselves After a few hours with Jesus, the disciples were telling people that they had found the Messiah.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said to his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God. When John’s disciples followed Jesus, they expected to see the Messiah. The Pharisees, Sadducees and Chief Priests anticipated threats to their power. When they saw Jesus, they didn’t see the Messiah—but only a challenge to their power and authority.
Jesus asked the first disciples, “What do you want” or “What are you looking for?”
It is one of the fundamental questions of life.
What are the people who live in the homes surrounding this church building looking for? What do they want? Isn't it something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim their adoration and praise.
Are they not looking for challenge and purpose?
Are they not looking for God?
“Come and see” is how the disciples’ story begins.
This is an invitation to catch a glimpse of God, and if we catch a glimpse of God we will catch a glimpse of who we can be!
The people who follow Jesus end up doing many of the kinds of things that Jesus did.
They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the brokenhearted, bandage those who are wounded, and do more than is expected.
Jesus invites each one of us to come and see. Come and see what he can do in your life, come and see just what he is capable of and willing to do for you. Jesus invites you to a new life, a new understanding but you have to accept the invitation, you have to be willing to “Come and see”.
We are called to see what God sees when God looks at the world, to abide with God in the places where God lives, and to share that passion by being God’s presence in this world and bringing others to Jesus. Accepting Jesus’ invitation we follow him and in doing so we see, hear, touch, taste and smell what life, mission, and ministry are like with Jesus. We are immersed in the experience of God not of church. When we meet God when we go and learn, when we go and listen and understand our lives have to change, we have to become more Christlike the more time we spend with him the more he influences us.
There are occasions, though, when we look but do not see, and seek but do not find. We often blame God and say that God has left us or is not listening to us, when this happens. But actually our spiritual eyes are playing tricks on us.
We often see God in only the good things that happen. When we are comfortable, content, and secure we view ourselves as blessed by God and have no trouble seeing God. If our comfort, contentment, or security are taken from us, when we feel ourselves threatened, we frequently focus intently on the problem. We examine it so closely that we can see nothing else—not even Jesus. Pausing to step back and look around we may discover that Jesus was right by our side all the time.
8th January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Luke 2:1-21
The 8th day of January holds special meaning for myself and for my family. It is the day, our daughter was born. Like all mothers I remember it well. If you ask me where or what I was doing on a certain date I would have trouble telling you, but this day, along with dates such as my wedding day and the birthday of my son, I can recall with clarity.
Why am I telling you this?
The 8th of January falls soon after Christmas and there seems no time between Christmas and the celebrations for her birthday, presents have been bought for both events at the same time, sometimes excess Christmas presents have been re-wrapped as birthday presents.
I remember the Christmas before she was born, I was heavily pregnant and even celebrating Christmas Day was a real chore, but it did make me think more about Mary, and I really empathised with her that year more than any other before or since.
My bag was packed, I knew where I would give birth, I knew I would be in a warm building, with a bed, with professionals trained in aiding birth, with people who could help if there were problems. I even had the advantage of this birth being a second one……but Mary!
How different was her story, a young girl, a first birth and to a virgin. A birth that would come after a long journey (there is no mention of her riding on a donkey by the way) in a strange place. Did she really have to go with Joseph, or was that a way to protect her from the local gossips.
When they arrived at their destination they couldn’t find anywhere to stay, just like many people today who are forced to flee their home lands, through war, droughts and famine. Where do you go in that circumstance.
Joseph and Mary had nowhere to go until they were allowed to shelter with the animals in an outhouse/ stable/cave.
We are spared the details of the birth, did God have pity on Mary and allow an easy quick birth or did she labour for hours, did Joseph find a local village woman to help Mary? Did Mary have any baby blues or postnatal depression? Or was she always as serene as our nativity stories and plays depict.
Mary gave birth and laid her baby in the feeding trough used by the animals.
I wonder how the animals felt about that!
Part of the process of welcoming a baby into the family is to choose a name for them, a name which is attached for life. The name our daughter was given means star. The name Mary's child, Jesus, was given means the Lord is Salvation, he was also called Immanuel, God with us.
God is with us through all aspects of our lives, the good and the bad and all between.
Mary's child has been born, history has been fulfilled and we can rejoice.
1st January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
The reading is taken from a book in the Old Testament which is in a group called the Wisdom Literature or Writings. The name of the author is uncertain although some attribute it to King Solomon, writing in his old age. One of the basic ideas in this book is that there is a time and a season for everything. Just as we expect certain weather and events in the seasons of the year so there are seasons in our lives.
When we were younger our peers all seemed to be getting married, then they all seemed to be having children, then grandchildren. We move from celebrating weddings to a period when all those around us are inviting us to funerals. One generation gives way to the next. We go from being children enjoying Christmas lunch cooked and prepared for us to the ones cooking for parents and then to having our children prepare the meal for us, just one example of seasons and tides.
Ecclesiastes encourages us to see that there are many different times ‘under heaven’, some of them very dark indeed.
We all have different experiences of the various times and seasons of life. Some of us have experienced the joy and trials of children, some of us have lived fruitful happy lives as independent self sufficient people. All our lives have come for different points, we all have different stories and experiences to share.
Ecclesiastes has a list of actions which are both positive and negative, in the last few years the experience we had with Covid taught us that embracing is not always appropriate. We have all had times in our lives which have been positive and negative, perhaps with an overlap but not always. Sometimes those periods have been short-lived sometimes they have lasted for longer. The experiences we have are all different and unique to each one of us, no one can fully understand how someone else is feeling, sometimes there are no words we can offer.
We can only be aware that others are in a different season to us.
Part of the list in the reading is ‘a time to build and a time to tear down’. There is challenge within the words ‘a time to build and a time to tear down’. And the new year seems a good opportunity to consider prayerfully where we are as a church community. Are there things we do that need to stop because they are not or no longer fruitful? Are there things such as the Tuesday Club or the Discussion Group that have been started but could and should grow, that need to be built up?
Are there other things we can do to support each other in the different seasons and chapters of life.
18th December 2022 Thoughts
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
Many times when we think of the characters in the nativity stories we see Joseph as being on the side lines, our attention is held by Mary and her obedience and her role as the mother of Jesus. However if Joseph hadn’t taken notice of his dreams the stories we all know could have been very different.
Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish readership and so they would have known the cultural rules and norms. Here we have Mary a young woman/girl, anything over the age of 12, who was pledged to be married to Joseph. The marriage would have been arranged by the parents of the bride and the groom or his parents. Mary, as a girl, as the prospective bride would have had little or no say in the matter. When the marriage was agreed a binding contract would have been signed which could only be set aside by the groom. If the pledged woman was found with anyone else it was regarded as adultery, the penalty for which was stoning.
Joseph according to Jewish law and traditions would have been within his rights, as the aggrieved party, to call for Mary to be set aside, shamed and her family disgraced, or he could have demanded that she be stoned for adultery.
But he had a dream.
11th December 2022 Thoughts
Reading: Matthew 11:2-11
Jesus calls the twelve disciples and sends them out to the surrounding areas with various instructions on what to take, how to act and warnings about the future. He then goes to Galilee to continue his teaching and healing.
At this time John was languishing in Herod’s prison, he was brought before Herod from time to time because, we are told Herod liked to hear him speak. This lasted until Herodias, through her daughter, gained the head of John on a platter.
In spite of being incarcerated John could still communicate with his own disciples and he sent them to Jesus to ask if he, Jesus, was the promised Messiah.
Why would he do this? John had already acknowledged Jesus as the one who was to come, the one whose sandals he was not worthy to undo, the one who would, baptise with the Spirit and with fire why is he now asking this question? John’s whole life, even before he was born, was geared towards him being the fore runner of the Messiah, his calling was to lead people to repentance, to prepare the way for God’s chosen one.
John had been faithful to his calling, he had preached to all the people, sinners and Pharisees alike, about the need to repent and change their lives, he had baptised all those who requested it as a sign of repentance, he had done all that was asked of him but now he finds himself in a cell at the mercy of Herod. Perhaps he wondered if he had been wrong all along, perhaps he too thought of the Messiah as God’s avenging servant, his soldier come to set the people free, come to evict the Roman Empire. Perhaps John, like the rest of the Israelite people hadn’t understood the bigger picture.
John, like all of us had his doubts, had times when his faith failed him or was simply not strong enough to withstand his circumstances. Notice though the reaction of Jesus to the question, he doesn’t berate John for his lack of faith, for his doubt but rather points to what is happening around him. Jesus points out that God is at work, that people are being healed, the lame were walking, the blind seeing.
There were people in the Bible who had doubts, it is not unusual, look at Elijah, he defeated the prophets of Baal, ran away, sat under a tree feeling sorry for himself, thinking he was the only person left true to Yahweh.
We are in good company, but what should we do when doubts come, when our faith seems inadequate?
Perhaps we should look around us and see what God is doing, look for the signs of his kingdom. Perhaps we should look at our own lives and trace where God has been working behind the scenes at time and at the fore front at others.
Remember that God is always faithful, he is always there sometimes we just don’t feel him and that is when we must trust and have faith.
4th December 2022 Thoughts
When I was a child I remember being taught at home and school how to tell the time, do you remember big hand and little hand. Big hand on 12 for the hour, little hand tells the minutes. Nowadays a lot of clocks are digital, just numbers.
No matter which type of clock we use I can guarantee that we all look at a clock or watch many times in a day for various reasons. Sometimes it is because we are bored, in a hurry, excited about an event due to happen at a certain time. Have you noticed how sometimes time slows down at other times it speeds up and how the older we get the faster time goes. Has the year really had the right number of months, I feel sometimes that I must have missed one or two.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. As you know Advent is a time when we look forward to the coming of Christ, not only as a baby born in Bethlehem but also as a coming King. It is a time given to think about the Christmas story but also about the Second Coming. The first time Jesus came, humbly born to poor people, laid in a manger, weak, helpless dependent on his parents. He was betrayed, condemned, whipped, mocked, crowned with thorns and crucified between two thieves. The second time will be entirely different, there will be no hiding, no fleeing to Egypt. The second time he will come in all of heaven's glory, he will come in power and majesty as the king of all the earth. Not in obscurity this time but witnessed by all.
Matthew's Gospel was written for a Jewish readership who lived in the expectation that Jesus would return sooner rather than later, he was expected at any time. The Church has now been waiting for 2,000 years and we have, become complacent, even cynical or perhaps we simply no longer believe in the 2nd coming anymore. As humans we tire of watching and waiting we get impatient if someone is a little late for an appointment.
We are not always alert, we have all been caught out, visitors come unexpectedly, birthdays, anniversaries are forgotten. Some of us are planners hoping to cover every eventuality others have a more laid back attitude of "it'll be alright on the night"
We make plans for the future, we plan for Christmas, where and with whom will we spend it, we plan for the near future
but how much thought do we give to our future beyond death.
We know that life is precarious, Covid has certainly taught us that, jobs end, relationships, health, security may break down but we expect it to happen to someone else not us.
We must prepare, so that while living ordinary lives, in our hearts we are living as God want us to with him, as his friend.
Jesus taught us that as we don't know when he will come again we have to live in a state of readiness. He could come at anytime.
So how would you feel if instead of thinking about the coming of Jesus as a baby this Christmas he actually came again as the Bible tells us he will. If he were to come now, would you be ready? What would you say to him?
Would you regret something. Would you wish you had done something or not done something this week? Just how ready are you.?
During this period of Advent we must prepare ourselves not only to celebrate that first advent with the associated stories, and presents but also to prepare ourselves for the 2nd Advent when Jesus will come again in power and majesty.
Archived Minister's Thoughts
Thoughts are archived after around three months and can be found on the pages linked below.