28th November Thoughts
Luke 1 v5-23, 57-66
The reading from Luke is very familiar to us, often read as part of the Advent season, it is part of the build up to the birth of Jesus. We read and hear this story so often we miss the detail. Zachariah and Elizabeth were both from priestly families.
Only priests from a particular line could serve in the temple, by the time of Jesus there was thought to be as many as 20,000 priests who could go into the temple to burn the incense. Who would serve and when was decided by lot, and this lot might fall to a priest only once in his lifetime.
When and if it did, particularly to someone like Zachariah, who was a righteous and Godly man, it would probably the biggest event of his life, a tremendous privilege, a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A time to go into God's presence, to serve God. The whole event was filled with enormous anticipation. Incense was offered to God every morning and evening. At the morning ceremony lots were cast to determine which priest would cleanse the altar, which would prepare the sacrifice and who would offer the incense. All three priests would enter together, the incense priest would approach the temple and he would strike a gong to signal the start of songs of worship by the assembled crowds led by the Levites. The two priests would perform their duties and then leave the incense priest alone in the holy place. The exit of the two priests signalled that the incense and prayers were being offered and everyone would pray along with the remaining priest as he offered prayers for the whole nation.
What did Zachariah pray for? Was if for the nation to be delivered from the Romans, was it for God to send his promised Messiah? Did he expect the answer to come so soon? As Zachariah finishes his prayer he sees Gabriel standing to the side, he is told that he and his wife would have a son, to be named John. We know his reaction and in human terms it is understandable, Zachariah and Elizabeth are both old, in all the years they have been married no child has been conceived and yet here is this angel predicting a son. What Zachariah has not taken into account is the fact that, an angel who stands in the presence of God, is telling him this information.
The people were starting to get nervous about how long Zachariah was in the temple, had something gone wrong? Had the priest offended God and been struck down.
I have wondered in the past how everyone knew he had been struck dumb, and why he had to make signs to them. When the priest came out of the temple he was supposed to bless the people with words from Numbers chapter 6.
Zachariah's doubt is sometimes contrasted with Mary's acceptance of the angel's message, but perhaps Mary didn't really accept what was going to happen until she met with Elizabeth and saw the truth in her pregnancy.
Is doubt wrong?
Mary asked how it would be possible for her to conceive, Abraham asked the same questions as Zachariah, so perhaps it is more to do with questioning process rather than intent.
What do you think?
21st November Thoughts
In normal times, pre -Covid, we would have been on a journey these past twelve months, we would have travelled through the Christian Church Year. We would have followed in the steps of Jesus as he was birthed in a stable, as he walked the dusty hillsides of Galilee, opened blind eyes and made the lame to walk again, as he taught the multitudes and the disciples, as he was crucified, and rose again. We would have celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, reflected on the mission of the Church, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The 21st is the last Sunday of that journey for this year. Next Sunday we begin celebrating Advent as we once again begin that journey to remind ourselves who we are and whose we are.
We do so knowing that the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought is a present reality in our lives. And yet we also know that there is a future Kingdom over which God will reign in Christ, a Kingdom in which the world will once again fully reflect its creator. Today we celebrate Christ as past, present, and future King over all the earth, at the same time that we express our hope and our faith in that coming Kingdom. In Communion we remember what Christ did for us in the past, by re enacting his last meal with his disciples and we look forward to the time when he will come again
So today we will look back at this past year’s journey with Jesus. But we are also looking forward to our journey this coming year, as we express each week our faith in the transforming power of God at work in our world, and in our Church, and in our lives to restore all of creation to his purposes.
The Sunday before Advent, the final Sunday of the Church's year, is sometimes celebrated by Protestant Churches as 'Christ the King' Sunday or Stir up Sunday.
The Sunday before Advent is chosen because Advent is a time to look forward to the second coming of Christ, at the end of time, when his kingdom will be fully established and recognised and so this day is a day to look back through the life of Jesus as the church has journeyed through it.
In celebrating the Reign of Christ the King, this Sunday also provides an appropriate bridge to the new Church Year that begins the following Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent with an emphasis on hope and expectation, the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God amid the darkness of a sinful world .
The idea of celebrating the Kingship of Christ on a particular day is a fairly recent concept, said to have originated with Pope Pius XI in 1925. It was instituted because there was a growing concern that the significance of Jesus as Christ the King was being lost both by the Church and by society as a whole.
A reminder was needed that for Christians their allegiance is to their spiritual ruler in heaven. It was to celebrate the full authority of Christ as King and Lord of the universe
The first hint of Jesus as a King is given in the nativity stories of the New Testament. Mary is told by Gabriel that the child she will bare will be given the throne of David to rule forever.
The wise men from the East brought three kinds of gifts, not necessarily three gifts. There was myrrh, frankincense and gold. The last gift was gold, gold a gift given for a King.
Jesus is King because he is one with God and God created all things and has dominion over all things. If Jesus is truly the Son of God he shares the nature of God and his Kingship.
Jesus is King because God bestowed upon Christ the nations of the world as His special possession and dominion. "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18).
But what is this kingship and where and what is this kingdom?
Jesus himself said in John 18(36) “My kingdom is not of this world “. We see throughout the New Testament that the Kingdom of God operates in a totally different way to any other, it has no physical boundaries, it operates in a topsy turvey way, the most important are those with the least status, it belongs to those with a childlike faith, not to sophisticated scholars, theologians or those considered wise. Its' laws are not based on power or might but on love, it's ethos is to put others and their well being first, to care for the poor and needy. The character of the Kingdom comes directly from its' King who is always on the side of the oppressed, the under dog, the victims.
Jesus is also our King because he redeemed us and made us part of his body, part of his kingdom. This is not a King to pay lip service to but a King who should rule over every part of who we are and what we do. He must reign in our minds, in our wills, in our bodies and in our hearts. The more he reigns in us the more we become like him, the more we see the world as he does, the more we will be able to love the world as he does, the more we truly become citizens of his Kingdom.
14th November Thoughts
Readings Psalm 46(1-3)(8-11) Micah 4(1-7)
Sunday the 14th November is Remembrance Sunday, a tradition that began after the First World War ended, nearly a hundred years ago. Then it was not a Sunday, just 11th November each year, the day the war ended. After the Second World War it was decided to remember and commemorate on the Sunday nearest to 11th November each year. We remember not just the dead of two world wars but also soldiers who have died in conflicts that are still happening.
There have been many wars throughout history, some perhaps have been more skirmishes than battles, some have been civil wars, others invasions and defence. It is likely that in all cases the protagonists felt that their cause was just. There have only been two wars significant enough to have been deemed world wars, they have proved so far to be a deterrents to world war three.
Many people have and are losing their lives due to war, some on the front line, others as civilians, who are sometimes used as pawns, sometimes seen as collateral damage.
Some soldiers are conscripted, some sign up willingly for a cause they believe in.
On Remembrance day we remember those who gave their lives, who are still giving their lives for others. We remember, by the laying of poppies at memorials, by quoting the same words each year promising to remember the sacrifices made. As Churchill is quoted as saying on 20th August 1940
“"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few",
We remember partly to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated but wars go on people continue to make sacrifices.
Biblical history is not exempt from wars and battles, from invasions and exiles, from triumph and despair. The Bible tells us that there will always be wars and rumours of wars until the end of time. It also tells us that we are in a spiritual battle and that the war has already been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Communion too is a memorial. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made when he willingly laid down his life and was crucified, we remember and celebrate that he rose again, we remind ourselves that he has promised to come again. We recount the story and promise to remember the significance of that one perfect sacrifice in each act of Communion.
Soldiers in the wars it could be argued, had no choice but to lay down their lives, if they had turned away they would have been counted as cowards and deserters. In the National Memorial Arboretum there is a memorial called 'Shot at Dawn' which commemorates 300 soldiers who were shot for desertion and cowardice.
Jesus had a choice and he chose of his own free will to give his life, not just for the few but for all mankind. He had at his disposal the hosts of heaven to defend him and yet he chose to die.
He died for a cause he believed in you and me, humanity. He died because God loves each and everyone of us. He died to reconcile all things to himself, that is creation and humanity. He died because he was the only one who could put things right and he did it for you and for me.
As you wear your poppy this year remember not only the sacrifices made by the armed forces but remember the sacrifice Jesus made.
7th November Thoughts
Readings: 1 Kings 17 (8-16)
Mark 12 (38-44)
The readings from both the Old Testament and the New both feature widows. Women who because they were widows were both living in poverty and hardship.
The first widow, in the book of Kings, was reduced to a small jar of oil and a little flour, enough for one last meal for herself and her son, the second widow was reduced to a few small coins. In the case of the first widow she met Elijah, the prophet who had dried up the rains, and on his promise that the oil and flour wouldn't run out she provided for him, even giving him a room to stay in. She was generous in her provision, he asked her for a drink and a small loaf of bread, she gave him food for an extended period and a room.
She had very little but she shared all she had with him.
The passage from Mark comes at the very end of Jesus' public ministry and just before Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. It is in a sequence of events that began with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and includes incidents pointing to the corruption of the Temple and the growing opposition of the authorities against Jesus.
In the story from Mark's Gospel, Jesus was sat watching the people go by near the treasury and he watched as the people gave donations to the Temple. Jesus was a great watcher, not just of people but of all that was around him. And he often drew on what he saw to teach his followers about God’s kingdom. He would use something familiar, something that everyone could see if they cared to look, to talk about something unseen.
This incident follows on from a question asked of Jesus by the religious leaders towards the end of the previous chapter
'By what authority do you do these things?'
Jesus answered this question by a parable, the vineyard, where the owner's son was killed, then he was asked if taxes should be paid to Caesar, then about life after death, and finally in this section, 'Which is the greatest commandment?'
After all these questions Jesus warns his listeners about the scribes and about their self importance. He denounces their seeking of public acclaim, taking the best seats, their lengthy prayers but especially the way they exploit the poor including widows who were largely defenceless.
As a contrast to the wealthy, including the scribes, Jesus points out the widow who had very little and yet was generous in her giving. The wealthy or even well to do gave little thought to how much they gave as they had money to spare but she had to think carefully about how much she could afford. Jesus commended her behaviour.
People enjoy watching others and here's a thought, you never know when your life, your actions, will stir something in someone else. If that ‘someone’ was people watching you, would they see something to inspire them?
31st October Thoughts.
This Sunday is designated as Bible Sunday
We all know what the Bible is don't we?
It's a book, full of dry rules, regulations, Leviticus for example says Then the anointed priest is to take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord, in front of the veil of the sanctuary.
It is full of lists of so and so begat, there was a time when the tribes were counted or at least the men were and so the book of Numbers tells us that the tribe of Simeon numbered 59,300.
It's a library of 2 halves, New and Old Testament, 66 books in all, 39 in the Old and 27 in the New.
The Old Testament has 39 books, 17 books of history, 5 books of poetry and 17 books of prophecy
About 40 different human authors contributed to the Bible, which was written over a period of about 1500 years. The authors were kings, fishermen, priests, government officials, farmers, shepherds, and doctors.
The Old Testament describes the founding and preservation of the nation of Israel. God promised to use Israel to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:2-3). Once Israel was established as a nation, God raised up a family within that nation through whom the blessing would come: the family of David (Psalm 89:3-4). Then, from the family of David was promised one Man who would bring the promised blessing (Isaiah 11:1-10).
The Old Testament starts with the stories of creation, Malachi, the last book of the Bible, ends very differently than it began in the book of Genesis.
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This was a beautiful and perfect relationship with God.
Malachi 4:6, “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
There is a large contrast between the very first verse and the very last verse. The Old Testament begins with the magnificent power of God’s creation and ends with fear and separation from God and the need of a Saviour. The Old Testament closes with a sad dreary clunk... then there is a period of 400 years of silence, no prophecy no books written for this period, nothing.
Part 2 New Testament
The New Testament starts with the gospels, which means good news, a term borrowed from the Roman world, not just ordinary good news but world shattering good news.
4 gospels, 4 authors, 4 audiences, 4 points of view
Matthew, a Jew writing for a Jewish audience
Mark writing for a Roman audience
Luke a medical man writing for a Greek audience
John writing for the human race
From the gospel we have the sequel in Acts, the disciples were given their instructions in the gospels and then we are told what they did, how the early church started, how the good news was given to people other than the Jews.
A handful of frightened people hiding in a room with a locked door become an army of disciples proclaiming a message across the world.
Churches were planted and then letters of encouragement were written and sent, read aloud in houses and groups, these are the letters we have to the churches at Corinth, at Thessalonian, at Ephesus and Rome.
What is the Bible?, a library of books, dealing with the story of Israel, of one man from Israel, what happened to him and his followers, of the movement that came from his life and teachings. The library starts with the beginning of the world in Genesis and ends with the ending of the world in Revelations.
BUT really is it just a book??
No, it is the Word of God, theologians have argued for many years over just what that means and different people will hold different understandings of that. But in some way the Bible is the word of God. In some way it is inspired and it is a living word.
Different times of reading it new things will stand out, different people will see different messages in it. The Bible is a love story, a love story between God and all his creation. In the beginning God created and everything was good and God was pleased, God created the world and put humans in to tend to the creation we supported the earth by looking after it and it in turn supported us by producing crops and food, but something went wrong, depicted in the story of Adam and Eve.
The Bible tells us how God put a plan into place to enable our original relationship with him to be restored, how he loved us all so much that he was willing to sacrifice himself so that we could know him again, so like Adam and Eve we could meet our God in the garden and walk and talk with him, he wants to enjoy our presence and wants us to enjoy his.
What is the Bible, it is a love story.
Find below thoughts from our minister, Rev Chris Watson.
24th October Thoughts
Reading Mark 10 (46-52)
On the 10th October we looked at the incident, recorded in this chapter, relating to the 'Rich Young Ruler'. The man had come to Jesus asking a question.
In the reading from verses 46-52 we read the story of a blind man, called Bartimaeus, who on hearing that Jesus was passing by called out to him, to have mercy on him.
Jesus and his disciples were travelling through Jericho, they had as usual collected a crowd of people eager to hear and see what he had to say, what he had to offer. Sat by the road, a blanket or cloak around his shoulders, sat the beggar Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.
This is the final miracle in Mark's Gospel, in the verses immediately before this the disciples want to be at the centre of everything. They want privilege and status. They don’t understand who Jesus really is, what he is really about. They are portrayed as being spiritually blind. Bartimaeus is physically blind but he appears to be much more aware of who Jesus is than the disciples are. The physical blindness of Bartimaeus is used as a contrast to the spiritual blindness of the disciples.
Bartimaeus because of his blindness had nothing, he was a beggar, he had a cloak which he would sit on, which he would sleep under, which he would use as a bowl for begging, it was his all. When Jesus called him he left even that behind. The rich ruler in contrast, from earlier in the chapter,had all he could want but would not relinquish any of it. The young man would have been at the height of society, accepted into all the best places, Bartimaeus was blind, an outcast, considered, like the woman with the hemorrhage, to be a person to be shunned and ignored.
Both of these people had to get themselves to Jesus, they had no friends to help them or to plead their cause, the woman manoeuvred her way through the crowd whilst Bartimaeus used his voice to get attention. The blind man was a nobody in that society, and yet Jesus hears him, and calls him, and heals him. He restores him to a place acceptable in society, for the woman Jesus restores her, by calling her Daughter.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus 'What do you want me to do? It is the same question that earlier had been posed to the disciples and they had wanted to be first in the Kingdom, Bartimaeus just wants to see. He is given physical sight but he then decides to be a disciple, he follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. He was given spiritual sight, his life was healed and transformed because he called to Jesus. He asked him for help, he knew he needed his help.
Bartimaeus knew what he wanted from Jesus, he wanted to see again. Jesus restores his sight, his place in the world.
This is what Jesus said he had come to do, to restore sight to the blind and to set the oppressed free.
That seems to lead onto the obvious questions for us, if Jesus were to ask you 'What do you want me to do for you?' what would your answer be, would it be for spiritual insight, would it be to see Jesus more clearly so that your life might be transformed, so that you could claim your place in God's Kingdom as his dearly beloved child?
Before Jesus spoke to him, Bartimaeus had already shouted, ‘Have mercy on me’. He recognised, he knew, his need. What he really needed first was for someone to listen to him, to have compassion for him. And that, Jesus did. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Who do we, the body of Christ in today’s world, need to listen to? Who do we need to ask, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Are we prepared to listen and then act?
What do we want (or need) Jesus to do for us? Are we prepared to be transformed and given a new direction?
October 17th Thoughts
Readings: Psalm 104:1,10–26 & Mark 4:1–10, 13–20
The 'Thoughts' are based on material provided by Tearfund's Reboot Campaign for Climate Sunday.
Our readings from Psalm 104 and Mark 4 show a great knowledge of creation.
The psalmist describes the beauty of creation, declaring, ‘O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all.’ The author understood how creation works. They knew where the birds nest, and where the mountain goats live, the great skill of a lion as it hunts its prey, and the vast array of creatures living in the water.
They must have spent time observing and learning how all things fit together, and they were inspired to worship as a result! In verse 31 of the psalm, just after the part you've read says God rejoices in his creation. The beauty and variety of all he’s made brings God joy!
In the reading from Mark, Jesus shows his own understanding of creation.
He describes the issues that can hinder the growth of crops: he knows how drought can cause plants to wither, or how rocky ground prevents the development of roots. Even though he was a carpenter by trade, he knew the importance of nutritious soil for a bountiful harvest. Jesus knows how creation works.
The Bible tells us how all things were created for Jesus and by Jesus. In him, all things hold together: he’s Lord of all creation. Jesus considers it important to observe the creation around us.
But Jesus shows us something else too. He teaches us that we can learn about our heavenly Father through creation. In his parables and teachings Jesus points to the Father and the way he works through creation.
From Genesis to the Revelations, we see the ways creation can reveal more of God’s character and lead us to worship, and we see how God delights and finds joy in all he’s made! Its been said that there are 2 books which reveal God, the scriptures and creation.
If you look around, hear the news, you can see how damaged creation is The ways that we live and work and consume have pushed creation to breaking point.
In Romans 8, we hear how creation is in bondage to decay, trapped in frustration and crying out for liberation.
Whether it’s plastic pollution littering seas and the poorest communities, or species going extinct at record rates, or the climate crisis making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and severe, we’ve misused and damaged this beautiful gift of God.
In the Bible Jesus tells us the most important commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbours.
Jesus didn’t come just to reconcile us with our Father in heaven, but to reconcile and restore ALL things – in heaven and on earth! That’s far more than just us. Jesus came to begin the restoration of the world to how God intended it to be. To make all things new.
Jesus values creation, he shows us how it reveals the love of the Father, and he brings restoration and healing – uniting everything back with God.
We can have hope. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, all things can be made new; everything sin has broken and corrupted is being restored and reconciled to God. And what’s more, we can be part of it. Jesus invites us to participate in his mission in this world.
The world is crying out, but God is at work and we’re invited to join him in a ministry of reconciliation – reconciling people to their Father, but also reconciling people to the creation we’ve been given to steward, and seeing it restored. This is the fullness of the gospel, not a side issue.
10th October Thoughts
Reading Mark 10.17-31
Mark packs a lot into this passage, divorce, the place of children in the Kingdom, riches and the Kingdom, the request of James and John to sit next to Jesus in his Kingdom, another prediction of Jesus about his death, and finally the healing of Bartimaeus.
The focus though of the 'Thoughts' today is the story known as The Rich Young Ruler. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that the man was either young or a ruler, we are just told that he was relatively speaking, wealthy. He came to Jesus, actually it says, he ran to Jesus and knelt in front of him to ask his question
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The impression is given that for him this was one of those burning questions, something he had puzzled over, dwelt on, something that he just couldn't quite work out. He had done all he could, he had kept all the rules and commandments but he didn't know if it was enough. He knew that he wanted eternal life, he knew it was relevant and important, he sensed there was some other step to take but could not see what it was.
Then along comes Jesus, the teacher of the day, whose reputation had preceded him, and perhaps the man felt that today he would have his answer, he would fulfil the requirements and go on his way content.
So he kneels in front of Jesus and asks his question. The first part of the answer is fine, he can tick that box, he has kept the commandments since he was young, but then Jesus says something which would have surprised the man and all who were listening,
“Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”
The surprise would have stemmed from the belief that wealth was a sign of God's favour and provision, this is echoed by the disciples later when they questioned Jesus about his response only to be told that it would be easier for a camel to grow through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God's Kingdom.
“Who then can be saved?” is their new perplexed question.
The story is not about the poor being more worthy than the rich, or about God always being on the side of the poor and outcasts, the man is not blamed or vilified for being rich. We could look at the story of the 'Rich Fool' , the farmer who congratulates himself on his harvests, so plentiful, that he has to build larger barns to accommodate all his wealth, he pats himself on the back and decides to take life easy, to enjoy his wealth. He is called a fool because of his attitude to his wealth, not because of his wealth, because he thinks he can rely on it and needs no one and nothing else.
Our 'rich young ruler' is told to sell all, not because there is something inherently wrong in wealth, but because it meant too much to him, he was too reliant on it. His wealth stood in the way of any relationship with God which would involve reliance on God's love and grace.
The message for us in this passage is not to sell everything, but to look at our lives and to see what prevents us from following Jesus in a closer way? Do we rely on something so that it stands in God's way? Is it an attitude, a habit, a belief, do we hold onto something, grief, bitterness, a grudge?
Perhaps we need to ask that same question, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
3rd October Thoughts
Reading: Genesis Chapter 2
In Genesis we are given a version of how the world began, how God made it, how God looked at all He had made and deemed it good. This seems an appropriate reading as we come to the COP 26 meeting, world leaders getting together to discuss the burning issue of climate change and what can be done, what they are willing to do to mitigate it.
In this chapter God hadn't yet sent rain and there was no one to work the ground, streams were coming up from the earth and were watering the surface of the ground. God made man from the dust of the ground, the same way he made all the wild animals, birds and trees. The difference way that he breathed into the nostrils of the man so he became a living being. So God made man, in the original it is not man but a being, which only becomes separated as a man and woman later, but that's another issue, he then made the Garden of Eden, placed the 'man' in it to till and keep it.
All the animals were paraded before the man for him to name, perhaps in that naming, the character, the nature of the animal was shown and none were deemed suitable as a partner or helper for the being. So God put the being to sleep, took a rib and made the woman as a companion. There's a saying that this was so the woman was not superior, or inferior but was placed at the side, in equality. The man from the outset was given two things, purpose and companionship. The purpose was to till the ground, to subdue it, we tend to think this means stomping on it, controlling to our will, doing as we like as we are in charge.
The word used means more to look after, to be stewards of the earth, to be shepherds of the earth. We all know that if a garden or land is left untended it grows wild, the plants end up fighting for space, for light , for nutrients, to the detriment of all, it need to be given some structure, some guide. Some plants need to be moved, split to enable them to produce more growth of fruit.
This is the kind of subduing we are meant to be doing.
We often get this the wrong way round, even as Christians, we think that God made human beings and gave us a planet to live and play on, for our enjoyment and pleasure, to a certain extent that is probably true. But our purpose has always been to be God's stewards and gardeners, to live in a relationship with the planet, we nurture it and it produces all we need to live, we need each other.
The Bible tells us that the whole of creation is groaning, salvation is not just an individual thing but the whole of creation is looking and waiting for the renewal which will come.
It is sometimes said that there are two books which tell us about God, not one.
There is the Bible and there is Creation, one without the other is like going to an art gallery, looking at a picture without any catalogue or words. We interpret the picture against our own knowledge and background. Or conversely it is like reading a catalogue without seeing the picture.
Perhaps we need to read the Bible and see the wonder of God's creation through it. Or we need to see the creation and relate our Bible reading to it.
If we only look at one book perhaps we miss something important?
26th September Thoughts
Reading: Luke 8.5-8
I recently went on a conference the theme of which was Creation and Creativity. During it we experienced a service of Forest Church. Basically a service outdoors celebrating all the gifts of nature. As part of the worship we were all given a mustard seed to throw into the air symbolising our commitment to follow Jesus where ever he would lead us. This led me to think about the reading in Luke, the story about the sower casting his seed to the wind.
Some fell on the path and the birds ate it, some fell on rocky ground or among the thorns, finally some fell on good ground. I am sure we have all heard this parable many times and the interpretation of it. It is usually explained in terms of how the hearer receives the Word of God, both in what God says but also how the person of Jesus as the Word of God is received and responded to.
As with all good stories there is more than one way of understanding it and it is important to look at the background and the time this story was written.
A farmer sowing seed in this way would have been a common sight, one which the people listening to Jesus would have been familiar with and they would have understood the method of sowing, would have been familiar with the seeming waste of it. What meaning though would they have taken from it?
One theologian, a William Herzog, suggests that there is another way of reading this story taking into account the real sense of oppression from the Romans, through their puppet Herodian rulers. Taxes were imposed which were high enough to cause real poverty and hardship. Perhaps this parable is more subversive than we might first think, perhaps Jesus was more radical than we think. Herzog suggests that this is about domination, the sower sows the seed but the birds come and take it away, in biblical times 'birds' was a code for gentiles, for all non Jews, so perhaps Jesus is suggesting something far more down to earth than a spiritual response to him or his words. Perhaps he is suggesting that the ordinary people sowed seed to try and eke out a living, and that means of living was being taken from them through land seizure and taxation by the Romans and their supporters.
There are parallels today where resources needed for life in poor countries have been or are being taken by the developed world for their own uses. Aid that has been given to provide water for poor people is being diverted into the hands of multi-nationals.
Some of the seed fell among weeds which choked it. As the farmers gathered the crops Herod's men would be at the threshing floor ready to take their cut, their tribute, their taxes.
What does this say about issues of Fair Trade for us, producers, workers are exploited, often for our benefit, clothes and goods are produced cheaply because the workers are paid a pittance or not given a fair price for goods grown or produced.
Finally the parable talks about some seed falling on good ground and producing a good crop.
This understanding of the parable, suggested by Herzog in his book 'Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God' says that if the exploitation is not taking place: if land (or water) is not being monopolised: if poor people are not having to pay out unreasonable taxes so finance can’t be ploughed back into the land, then the land can produce sufficient for all. The parable therefore is about justice, justice for the poor and an ecological justice.
If we read the story like this what implications does it have for us and the way we live, the way we treat others? The way we treat the planet?
19th September Thoughts
Reading Mark 9 (30-37)
The first 8 chapters of Marks Gospel is about the public ministry of Jesus but chapter 9 onwards is about the private teachings and explanations given to the disciples, it's about events and predictions leading to the crucifixion.
In chapter 8 Jesus told his followers that he would suffer and die and be raised after 3 days, Peter had rebuked him and been rebuked in turn. So now at the end of the public ministry Jesus turns towards Jerusalem with just his disciples.
Jesus and his disciples are on the road travelling towards Jerusalem. This is a physical journey towards the city but also a journey towards the death and crucifixion. Jesus has started to try and ready his disciples for the forthcoming events but they don't want to know and are in denial.
On the road as they follow Jesus, (again multiple meanings) they argue about who is the greatest among them. I wonder what their criteria was, perhaps it was how closely they had been involved in the actions of Jesus, who had been with him when he met Elijah and Moses, who had had the most success in healing and casting out demons, perhaps Peter felt he was the greatest, after all Jesus had commended his insight, he been there at all the major events, he was one of the inner circle.....
For the people of Jesus' world greatness was a bigger issue than it is for us, we all know that greatness is fleeting, we talk of having 15 minutes of fame for a reason.
Yes, some like fame and fortune, but for Judaism it was about the seating plan in paradise, especially who would sit nearer the throne of God. On earth, the seating order at meals, in worship, in the community and in the interactions with inferiors and superiors was a constant preoccupation with them because they were thought to be preparation for the kingdom to come. No wonder people were surprised when Jesus advocated waiting to be seated rather than assume your place at the table.
It was thought that the way to greatness was to fight your way to the top of the hill, even killing and slaughtering along the way if necessary, to become the most powerful, the most feared, the most exalted, the most dominant, the greatest.
So this was the context of the conversation, who was the greatest, who would sit nearer the throne in the Kingdom when Jesus was King?
When Jesus asks the disciple about their conversation they are quiet, perhaps trying to put it into words makes them realise the foolishness of the subject.
Jesus pronounces one of his sayings which turns their world literally upside down
"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
This is not the usual view of greatness and then he goes further. He takes a small child, one who would be deemed unimportant, with no rights or standing, and says that to welcome such a child you are ultimately welcoming God himself.
He said that the true standard of greatness is not in exalting yourself and pushing everyone aside to get to the top of the ladder, but the opposite of that to be the last of all and the servant of all. What Jesus taught was one of the most counterintuitive, countercultural, and radical shifts in thinking in all of history. The word used for servant in this text means someone who has a willingness to serve others, even those from the lowest station, rather than try to be in a place of importance over them.
So if greatness is not that important to us today how do we feel about being servants, about serving others, putting their needs first, about serving the people society would cast aside, the humblest?
12th September Thoughts
Reading: Mark 8.27-38
Who do you say I am?
This passage comes after Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida and just before he heals blind Bartimaeus, at Jericho. Mark has placed it here to make a point about spiritual blindness and the lack of insight shown by the disciples.
They have spent time with Jesus, they have seen what he can do, they have listened to his teachings and now is the time to come to some understanding, this passage is a turning point. In the previous chapters of Mark's Gospel who Jesus is has been a bit of secret, the demons are told to be quiet, others are told not to tell anyone what has happened, its all been a bit of a mystery story with no spoilers allowed. Now though is the time to start putting together the clues. He has been based mainly in the more friendly Galilee area but now it is time to head towards Jerusalem and the climax of the story.
Jesus and his disciples head towards the villages of Caesarea Phillippi named in honour of Phillip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great, on the way Jesus asks the question, 'Who do people say I am?'
He wanted to know what people were saying, what was the gossip about him, it's the kind of answer sought by politicians in polls, what message are people getting?
The disciples found this question easy to answer because it was hearsay, someone else’s opinion was being sought. So they answered with John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.
The people see Jesus as a great teacher, as a prophet, even as Elijah, their greatest prophet, they don't see him as the Messiah. The Pharisees thought Jesus was a trouble maker with ideas above his station, a blasphemer.
Then Jesus makes it personal and puts his followers on the spot, ' Who do you say I am?'
Peter answers with you are the Messiah, but what does that mean? We only know Messiah as a title we have heard from the Bible used about Jesus. The Messiah was the one anointed by God, sent by God, chosen by God but for what purpose? For Peter and his fellow Jews, the Messiah was the one who would send the Romans packing, would liberate from their rule and become a ruler on a par with King David, ruling from Jerusalem in power and might.
This was not the Messiah that Jesus embodied but rather that of a suffering servant.
Peter would have none of Jesus teaching about the suffering Messiah and tries to lead Jesus down a different route to glory, he tries to lead and not follow. He is blind to the cost and suffering of following this Messiah.
The questions Jesus asks in this passage are still relevant today, 'Who do people say I am? Do we know what people think about Jesus?
Even more relevant though is the second question
' Who do you say I am?'
Who is Jesus to you?
It is a question we should constantly be asking ourselves, the answer will change over time as we get to know him more, as we grow in faith and understanding.
If someone were to ask you the question, what would your answer be?
5th September 21
Readings : James 2 (1-10) (14-17) and Mark 7 (24-37)
Our first reading is from the letter of James. It is generally thought to have been written by James the brother of Jesus and is a piece of early Christian writing deeply rooted in Jewish faith and practice.
Chapter 2 of the letter is about favouritism, it’s about who do we chose to love and respect. For the people James was addressing there was a problem about discrimination, about those who were welcomed into their meetings and those who were not made to feel welcomed. The warmth of their welcome depended on their apparent wealth and position in society.
The questions James asks his audience including us is;
Who do we chose to welcome, to love.
James refers to two groups rich or poor, this was the main distinction for his readers, but it can be much more diverse, beautiful, or ugly, young or old, those of the same ethnic background, disabled and able bodied, gay or straight.
Who do you choose to love?
We are very selective, but God calls us to love all people to welcome all people. Love your neighbour as yourself.
But do we?
James says that we should not show favouritism to people by loving and welcoming some and not others nor should we show favouritism to God's law, cannot obey some parts and not others for all are equally as important.
In the reading from Marks Gospel Jesus heals the daughter of a Syro Phoenician woman, a Gentile, and the Deaf and Dumb man from the same area may well have been a Gentile.
Jesus extends God's love to the Gentiles, to the strangers as well as to the Jews. There had just been a long discourse between Jesus and religious leaders about what made a person impure or unclean. Jesus had said that the impurity came from within not without, that it was about motivation not birth, not status not washing and eating in certain ways. He then ventures into lands and areas where different non-Jewish people lived and this is where he met the Syro Phoenician woman and the deaf mute, this is where he touched an unclean Gentile and cured him and where he talked to a woman alone. These people were not considered suitable for God's kingdom, not the right sort, their faces, their lifestyle did not fit.
We all want to be included, how many times have you felt hurt, upset over something which has happened at church, or in a church meeting and nobody had thought to tell you, maybe you were away or ill but for whatever reason you weren't in the know. We all want to belong, to be a part of something but we often feel left out, not part of the group, not in the know.
God invites us all to be a part of his kingdom. He is no respect er of status, of wealth, of position. He doesn't care what you have or have not done in the past, he doesn't care if you are young or old, sprightly, or infirm. Ethnic origins mean even less. All he wants is for us to obey his commands
“Love the Lord your God with all your and love your neighbour as yourself.”
29th August 2021
Reading Mark Chapter 7
Wash your hands more often, wash for 20 minutes, keep your distance, avoid contact. Sound familiar?
These are all things we have become used to hearing, sayings and advice that have kept us safe during this time of the pandemic. We have all had to learn to do things differently, to follow new rules some have been easier than others, some we have objected to and others we have followed reluctantly. Washing hands more often and for longer has become part of our everyday life.
For the society Jesus lived in this was also an important part of everyday life but for religious reasons not necessarily hygienic ones.
In the reading from Mark the Pharisees ask Jesus why he allowed his disciples to neglect ritual washing before eating, a practice taught in all the synagogues. It is a valid question because ritual purity was a way of setting the Jewish community apart from their neighbours. The Pharisees argued that all Jewish people were called to be holy, the question that occupied them was what did that mean and how was it accomplished. As an attempt to achieve this state for individuals as well as the nation they took the laws given by Moses and ring fenced them with more detailed laws and practices. These were the Oral Law or “the tradition of the elders” written down as the Talmud.
For them, the purpose of the oral law was to prevent the unwitting breaking of God's Law thus allowing impurity to gain a foothold. So their question is why would a religious teacher, like Jesus, allow his followers to undermine something which is there to protect the religious laws?
The difference was that Jesus obeyed the Torah, the Laws given by God but largely ignored the extra details and practices imposed by the Pharisees. He obeyed the Spirit of the law whilst the Pharisees were consumed by the letter of the law, sometimes imposing their reading and understanding over and above what was originally intended.
The arguments between Jesus and the religious parties were quite often founded on the different understandings of the Law, ritualistic washing was just one aspect of it.
For the Pharisees what went into a person was the means of impurity, for Jesus it was what was in the heart that mattered and he saw that although the Pharisees obeyed all their rules, it was all ritual which didn't touch their souls, all outward show.
We are all just as guilty as the Pharisees, we have our rituals, we say the right things but think something else, we do the right thing but sometimes it is just an act.
Interestingly the word Hypocrite originally referred to Greeks who were paid to pretend, to act, to entertain.
Sometimes we do it without knowing, we say we trust in God, but then touch wood, or read our horoscopes, or wish someone good luck.
It is not enough to say the right words, be in the right place, be churchly! We have to mean it, we have to live it, it has to be in our hearts, minds and souls.
What God wants is for us to be honest, to come to Him with open hands and hearts ready to learn, ready to follow, not lip service but sincerity is the requirement.
22nd August 21 Thoughts
Readings Joshua 24(1-2), (14-18) and John 6 (56-69)
A lot happens in this chapter from John. We have read about Jesus feeding the 5,000, walking on the lake, the people asking for a sign, to Jesus declaring that he was the bread of life and his claim that by ingesting his flesh and blood eternal life was achievable.
Jesus was in a synagogue teaching and his assertion was that as the manna from heaven had sustained the people all those years ago, so too his flesh, as the true bread from heaven, would also sustain the people. The difference was that this bread would not decay or be short term but would last for eternity. His was spiritual food, not physical.
For his disciples this teaching was radical and hard to understand so some of them turned away from Jesus and stopped following him.
We tend to think that before the crucifixion Jesus had a large and faithful following, that the people hung on his every word, that he was always popular but here the people including some disciples turned away.
They all heard the same words, had the same experiences, but some made the decision to stay with Jesus and some made the decision to leave. Jesus said that the people could only come to him and stay because God made them want to come, but they could still decide to turn away.
The reading from the book of Joshua comes at the end of Joshua's life. You will remember that Joshua took over from Moses and was the one who actually led the people of Israel into the promised land.
He gathers all the people, he reminds them of all that God has done for them because now is decision time, will they follow God or will they go their own way. He declares his choice and the people declare they will also follow Yahweh, that they would serve him.
So Joshua makes a covenant with the people and wrote the words in the book of the law of God.
Is this the book discovered in 2 Kings 22 (8-11) which led to a reformation of the Jewish religion and a return to Yahwism?
There have been many times in the Bible where the people have been told that they must choose again which path they will take, from Moses to Jeremiah covenants have come, been broken and renewed. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant written on hearts, Jesus speaks of this new covenant sealed by his broken body and spilt blood. Taking Communion unites us with Jesus and the rest of his body as we eat and drink his symbolic body, this through the actions of the Holy Spirit leads us to eternal life just as Jesus in the Gospel of John said it would.
15th August Thoughts
Reading John 6.51-58
In this chapter of John's Gospel we have seen Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus the unnumbered women and children, we have read the subsequent claim of Jesus to be the bread of life. Today's reading seeks to unpack what it means for Jesus to be the bread of life, for his followers then and for us now.
Jesus talks a lot about bread, he taught us to pray for our daily bread, was this physical bread, enough to live on and not fear starvation? does it also mean a daily dose of strength and grace to get through a day living in the image of God?
Then there are the events of the night he was betrayed, where he took bread, ordinary bread, broke it and claimed it was his body and commanded that we do likewise to remember him.
Jesus refers to himself as the living bread and his hearers, without any benefit of hindsight or Christian theology, wonder what Jesus means, is he advocating some form of cannibalism?
For people coming into a Communion service for the first time this could still be a valid question. We talk about eating his flesh, drinking his blood to become part of his body. What is meant is that it is a way of allowing Jesus to be as close to us as food is, to be as close to us as blood is, to allow us to be one with him, to allow ourselves to be fed with all we need for our spiritual life. Ordinary bread feeds our bodies, the Living Bread feeds our souls.
In the time of Jesus bread was the staple of life, it was essential in a way we do not recognise now, however food is still essential to us. We eat for different reasons, some good some not so good, and gain different things from our food. So what do we gain, what do we want from our food? Comfort? Nourishment? Value for money? Our relationship with food is personal and different from each others, we have different likes, we have different appetites. Jesus says he is living bread, what is our relationship with him? Again it is a personal and different from each others, our needs and appetites are different. If Jesus is the bread of life what do we want from him? What do we expect when we worship him, comfort? nourishment? value for money? We know that to be healthy we need a mixed diet we know that if we eat the same meals boredom would soon set in yet we still tend to approach worship and our spiritual life the same way all the time.
When was the last time you tried a different way of reading the Bible or even just a different version. We also know from experience that living on snacks rather than meals is not healthy we need nourishing meals, for our bodies and spirits. We need to dwell, reflect on God's Word so it seeps into our very beings. Jesus is the very bread of life, he promises that if we take this bread, daily, we will not hunger or thirst for anything else.
Will you take this bread?
8th August Thoughts
Reading Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
The first part of this chapter, (which I suggest you read) is about Paul telling the followers in Ephesus to live life differently and now Paul goes on to explain what he means or what that entails.
So a bit of background..........
Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus (Turkey to you and me) it is a general letter not focussed on any particular problem the church is facing but is about unity in the church, how to live together as a community. In Paul's day communities were made of up households some parts of which would have followed Christ others would not, some would be of higher status, head of household, with lots of people attached to a household, we think of a household as a family unit, but this is more like a great house of the past with servants attached, with a Lord of the manor, people in the kitchens, in the stables all forming part of the household.
When the followers of Jesus met it was where they lived and worked, not a separate building specially built or set aside for worship. Their gathering, their believing impacted directly on every aspect of life, not just the Sabbath, how it should impact was at the core of the letters from Paul, how to live together in this new kingdom, which had a habit of turning social norms and ways of live upside down.
According to Paul in his letter to Ephesus this includes being angry, it is ok to be angry (V 26) for the right reasons. We tend to think that being angry means losing control, it is frowned on, but Jesus, our role model, was not the meek and mild version we often see portrayed. In the Old Testament God shows his anger, just look at the prophets, Hosea, Amos, Micah and Jeremiah, in the NT Jesus shows his anger, in the cleansing of the Temple, with the Pharisees and Scribes but this anger is always about injustice and the way people are treated.
We need to get angry about injustice, ill treatment, so long as it leads to positive action. Paul doesn’t give us a list of things we can and can’t do in our anger; he only says, “Do not sin. Paul says don't let the sun go down on anger, don't bear grudges, advice which is often given to newly weds, followed by the words in 1 Corinthians: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Part of this loving is how we treat each other and people outside the church. It is about respecting each other enough to be truthful, to speak the truth to each other in love, it's not about gossiping or complaining to each other, about sowing discord but about speaking the truth, not hiding behind a desire maintain the status quo, but speaking the truth in love to build each other and the church up. Perhaps it is about caring enough to speak in church meetings, to speak the truth openly, in love.
We are to be kind to each other and forgiving as God in Christ has forgiven us. We are to be imitators of God, the way children imitate their parents. Babies first facial expressions are attempts to imitate their parents smiles. Toddlers and young children copy their parents actions, they can only do this by paying close attention to the actions of their role models. To enter the kingdom of God we have to be childlike, is this what it means?
Thoughts 1st August 21
Readings: Exodus 16(2-4,9-15) and John 6(24-35)
Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 (NIV)
We see signs all around us every day. Wherever you go there are signs telling us where to go what to do or not do. We have become used to seeing signs about keeping our distance, about where to walk, where to sit, about what we should do. Our reading from John is about signs of a different kind. It is a story about some people who were looking for a sign that would prove to them that Jesus had been sent from God. Just before this passage we have the story of Jesus feeding five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That made Jesus very popular with the people, so when the crowd realized that Jesus and his disciples had left, they went looking for him. They found him way over on the other side of the lake.
For the author of John's Gospel signs and symbols were very important, they are events that point to who Jesus is, directional signs if you like.
The people had been fed by Jesus with 5 rolls and two fish. Questions were now being asked of him, was he the Messiah?. The context of this is that Jesus lived at a time when the land was under Roman rule, there was a constant expectation that a Messiah would come, a Messiah who would rid the nation of the Roman rule, a Messiah who would rally everyone around him, who would rule as the King, a Messiah who would fulfil all that was promised from the House of David. There where constant rumours of ,this person or that, being the promised Messiah. The Messiah would be greater than Moses. Moses was revered as the Saviour of the people from slavery in Egypt, he it was said had fed the people for 40 years in the desert on manna and quails.
On leaving Egypt the people had complained about the lack of food, they had gone to Moses and he in turn had gone to God. The result was that each morning a substance was found on the ground, this was called Manna, which means “What is it?”. This was their food along with quails, for all the time they were in the desert. Moses managed to get them fed for forty years and now they were asking Jesus to prove he was better than Moses, what party trick could he do which would surpass Moses?. Which would make him better than Moses, which would prove he was the Messiah. The provision under Moses of the bread was seen as a symbol of God's love and compassion.
We take bread for granted but when Jesus was around, when this event was recorded bread was essential, bread kept you alive, it was a major part of life. Jesus said "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty". Bread was needed to maintain life and here Jesus is saying that he is needed to maintain life. There is a subtle change here, a meaning within simple words. Jesus is saying that firstly he is the actual bread, that will give and maintain life and that his bread is for all people for all time. The bread we take at communion is symbolic of Jesus as this eternal bread, the bread which gives us life, which nourishes us spiritually.
In the Old Testament God's provision could be seen in the provision of the manna, the peoples needs were met. God in the past has met your needs, both personally and as a church. In the New Testament God's provision changed, from physical bread which decayed to spiritual bread, a new provision. God provided in the past, he provides in the present and he will provide in the future. He is the one constant in our lives.
25th July 21 Thoughts
Readings: John 6 ( 1-15) and Ephesians 3 (13-21)
Our first reading was from John's Gospel and is about the feeding of 5,000 men plus women and children. It is the only miracle apart from the Resurrection that is actually recounted in all four gospels, so it must have been a well-known story.
We all know how it goes, lots of hungry people, no shops, no supermarkets, no money, and a boy with 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish. The people are organised and sit down in rows and the food is handed out and there is enough for all the people, but more than that there is enough left to fill 12 baskets.
Jesus didn't provide just sufficient amounts but generous amounts so that the people were full to overflowing and could eat no more. We have a powerful and generous God.
The prophecies about the Messiah in the Jewish tradition said he would be a prophet like Moses and here was Jesus feeding the people in the wilderness just as Moses did. When the people had left Egypt, they accused Moses of leading them from Egypt to starvation in the wilderness. Moses prayed and as a result each day manna and quails were provided for the people to eat. It was a diet that sustained them physically for 40 years whilst they travelled to the promised land. It was bread from heaven in every sense of the word.
Again in John's gospel one of the familiar ‘I Am’ sayings is “I am the bread of life “
Because the people recognised that Jesus had fed them in a similar way to the prophet Moses, they wanted to crown Jesus as their king and Messiah so Jesus left.
Our second reading was from Ephesians chapter 3.
Ephesians is generally thought to have been written by Paul whilst he was in prison in Rome. Unlike many of his letters it was not written just to Ephesus to address a particular problem or heresy but rather it was a circular meant to be read in churches in the Asia Minor or Turkish area. It was meant to be passed around and so is not addressed to any church or person in particular. It could be and is addressed to us as easily as it is addressed to the Saints in Ephesus.
So why was this circular written?
Its purpose was to expand the horizons of those who read or heard it, to open their minds and hearts, to enable them and us to have some inkling, some glimmer, of the size and expanse of God's love and purpose for His church. Paul is trying to use words to describe something which is totally beyond our understanding. He knows it is important for us all to realise that God's purpose is to bring all things in the universe together under the rule of Jesus Christ and that as his body, his church we have a role to play in achieving this. We are part of the master plan. We have been brought into the church not just for our benefit but to bring praise and glory to God. Paul wants us to understand that God has reconciled us to himself through the death of Jesus, through an act of grace, it was nothing we had earnt or deserved. He has given gifts to different people to help build the church up to nurture each other.
One of the first things that Paul says in verse 13 is;
"I ask you therefore not to be discouraged”
Paul as we saw earlier was writing this, or rather it was being written for him, whilst he was in prison, possibly chained to a guard either side of him. Yet he can still say this in spite of his circumstances. Paul prays that his audience will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit on the inside, the inner person, so they can fulfill God's will for them.
We are so easily discouraged, we easily feel that circumstances are too much for us, that life is too much for us. Here though is a man in much worse circumstances, who like Job in the Old Testament, refused to give in to despair and refused to doubt God. He knew that God was in control and more than that he knew that God had a plan, a plan that involved his people. He also knew that God loves us, he wanted his readers to know about the” height, the width, the breadth and the depth of Christ's love for us.”
Our reading draws to a close by focussing on Gods' abilities or rather our lack of comprehension concerning those abilities. God can do far more than we can even dream of and that applies to church as well as on a personal level. Over the years we have seen God at work in our churches, we have seen his hand at work through us in the communities, we have seen many different things, but I am here to tell you God can and will do more.
We haven't scratched the surface of what God can do and is willing to do for and through us.
Revd Chris Watson
18th July Thoughts
Reading Mark 6.30-34,53-56
The reading from Mark is a selection of verses that are often overlooked because they are the connecting verses between the death of John the Baptist, the Feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. The events take place around the Sea of Galilee which is an inland sea surrounded by hilly ground, easy to cross from one side to the other but also easy to see people making that crossing. Jesus and disciples set off to find a quiet place but the crowds worked out where they were going and got there first. Jesus was at the height of his popularity with the people, the tensions with the religious authorities were starting to rear their heads but it hadn't got to the point of open confrontation so wherever Jesus went the crowds followed leaving little time to rest or to have time off or to have time for himself or his disciples.
On this occasion the disciples have returned from their journeys, exhausted but exhilarated, eager to talk and discuss recent events. Initially Jesus tries to find them some rest but then as usual he had compassion on the crowds, started teaching them until it was late. For the crowds who follow Jesus, he is still a healer and teacher and they follow him for healing and teaching. Jesus sees them as sheep because they come for their immediate needs with no concept of the bigger picture, no idea of what is going to happen or what it would cost them if they were to truly follow him. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd, blindly following him for what he can provide now not in the future.
He teaches the crowd, the disciples try to get him to disperse the crowd to find food but he feeds the crowd before dismissing them and then he goes to pray in a quiet place. In this passage we see the human side of Jesus, we see him as a physical being understanding hunger, tiredness, stress all the things we experience. He came to be one of us to experience the things we go through, only through doing this could he bridge the divide between us and God. Only through becoming both God and Man could his death and resurrection create a way back for us to God.
We see as well that he, like his disciples, like us, needed time to recover, to be rejuvenated, where did he go?
He found a quiet place and spent time with God in prayer. This is what we need to do, we don't have to go up a mountain, we don't have to go out into the countryside, we don't have to even leave the house we just need a quiet space. Sometimes that can be hard to find, sometimes we need to go right back to basics and pray that God will provide the time and space for us to have a conversation with him, or to be able to just sit in his presence undisturbed and free from distractions.
11th July Thoughts
Readings: Amos 7 (7-15), Mark 6 (14-29)
Amos was an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, he was around between 760-755 BCE. He was from the southern kingdom of Judah but was sent by God to preach in the northern kingdom of Israel. He was preaching a message of doom and gloom mainly in a time of peace and prosperity. He spoke out against the growing gap between the rich and poor, against injustice and the reality of divine judgement due to the neglect of God's laws.
Israel had long held the belief that God was always on their side whatever they did or failed to do because they were his chosen people, Amos however preached that there were consequences to their actions. He spoke against an increased disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. His major themes were of justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgement. He said that God would judge the nation for their actions, they were not immune.
He was not a popular figure and was accused of treason.
The reading from Mark is sandwiched between the sending out of the twelve on their first mission and their return. It reads like a flashback in a modern TV drama. It's starts with Herod's belief that John the Baptist has returned from the dead in the form of Jesus and this explains his power and miracles. This is the assumption made by Herod's guilty conscience. We are then given the back story. Herod had found John puzzling, but interesting, and from time to time would have him released from his prison cell so he could listen to him. John had been critical of the relationship between Herod and Herodias and had made an enemy of Herodias hence his sojourn in the prison.
Herod had a party for his birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced, pleased him and he rashly promised her a reward which turned out to be John's head on a platter. It would seem, rather like Macbeth, that he was haunted by his actions.
What do these passages have in common?
John was criticising the personal morality of the royal court. Amos was critical of international and domestic policies and was viewed as a traitor. Both suffered for their words of moral criticism. Amos and John both preached a message of repentance, both said that their hearers needed to turn away, to actually stop what they were doing and do something entirely different. Both suffered because their listeners did not want to hear their message both continued in spite of opposition.
The disciples on their mission were sent to preach repentance. The message we have is one of love but also one where people need to repent and to turn to God who loves them and will accept them because of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is perhaps easier to talk of love without talking of repentance, but is this being true to the message of Jesus? Do we need to repent of something in our lives, of some attitude? Some action, inaction?
4th July Thoughts
Reading Mark 6(1-13)
This passage actually contains two separate stories, both stories concern the acceptance or rejection of Jesus and his representatives. The first story is about the way the people of Jesus' birth town rejected him and the second is about the call of disciples and the proclamation of the good news.
Mark puts these stories after the sandwich of Jairus' daughter and the woman with the haemorrhage both of which demonstrated his power and those who witnessed it had been amazed. Then he goes to his home town where, perhaps, they would have heard of these events. Should he have expected a warm proud welcome?
Local boy made good?
Following verses in this chapter tell of the death of John the Baptist, so the call of the disciples to go out and preach is sandwiched between the rejection of Jesus and the rejection of John the Baptist, the bottom layer of the sandwich is the report by the disciples of their successful mission.
So Jesus goes to his home town and on the Sabbath he goes to the Synagogue with his disciples and begins to teach, we are not told what he said, only that his words caused amazement and questions. Jesus had come with disciples, implying status as a Rabbi, but these folk knew all about him, they knew he had no formal training, no Bible college, no ministerial training, no Lay Preaching course to back him up, no Synod acceptance or commissioning. They also knew his background, his family, they knew his siblings, they knew his parents. Instead of referring to him as Joseph's son they refer to Mary as his Mother, this would have been seen as a slur, an insult on his character, his honour hinting that he was illegitimate with no recognised paternal line. And yet they had heard of his miracles, they had heard the authority with which he spoke, they had seen the way his disciples followed and respected him, what more did they need to heed his words?
Jesus realised that nothing he could do or say would convince them that he was anything more than a local carpenter with ideas way above his station in life and so we are told he could not do any miracles there except to heal a few sick people. There are at least some who seek him out in faith, just as Jairus did on behalf of his dying daughter, just as the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years did.
So does this mean that God can't act unless we have faith, does everything depend on our belief? Or is it rather that we hinder God's action because we don't ask? He can’t answer our prayers unless we pray them. He can only change our lives to the extent that we allow him to. Jesus’ ability to do great things in Nazareth was only limited by the fact that nobody bothered to ask – except for a few, and they were healed.
Perhaps we sometimes restrain God's actions individually and as a church because of the things we cling onto, or because of an unwillingness to trust God completely, to let him take control, to pray
' You lead Lord, we will follow, show us where you want us to go and what you would have us do'
27th June 2021 Thoughts
Reading Mark 5 (21-43)
On the 6th June we looked at Mark chapter 3 and we saw how Mark uses a sandwich technique, it involves dividing a story into two parts around a middle section to which the surrounding story relates in some telling way. Today’s passage is the most famous example of this storytelling device.
Jesus is approached by Jairus, a synagogue leader no less, asking for healing for his daughter, on the way to Jairus' home an incident occurs where Jesus, almost unwittingly, heals a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. The first story resumes with the daughter dying and being raised to life by Jesus.
The daughter of Jairus had been alive for the same time as the unnamed woman had been ill, 12 years. We know very little about the woman, we don't know her name, age, background, she is not even acknowledged as the daughter of, or wife of, she is defined by her condition. Verse 26 says that she had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had. Attention from the professionals was reserved for elite people and it is implied that she spent all her money, this is a lady who had resources all of which were eaten up by her illness.
The bleeding was either continuous or very heavy, either of which would have prevented her undergoing the usual monthly purification rites and so this would have rendered her permanently unclean. She would have been shunned by all who knew her as unclean, she would have been weak and ill, struggling to get through each day. She heard about Jesus and worked her way through the crowd until she could touch his clothes. This touch would have been enough to render Jesus unclean in the eyes of those around him.
She was healed and Jesus called her Daughter. Not only did he restore her health but also her status as a daughter of Israel, no longer an unclean outsider but a restored member of the family. Then Jairus is told his daughter had died whilst this conversation had been going on. Jesus and a few of the disciples go to the house and Jesus tells the girl to get up and he tells the family to feed her.
He restores the girl to her family and normality.
So why does Mark link these stories in this way?
Both are about daughters of Israel considered unclean, the woman because of the blood, the girl because of death and Jesus ignores the social norms and boundaries to touch them and to heal. Jesus is approach in two contrasting ways, Jairus comes, a male, a respected synagogue leader, who puts his position aside to plead for healing for his dependent daughter. The unnamed woman, without a male sponsor, comes in secret, she creeps up and touches his clothes and only acknowledges her actions when Jesus demands to know who in the crowd had touched him.
Jesus is open to any form of approach, there is no right or wrong way. He crosses all boundaries and barriers, all social norms in his care for all.
God is no respecter of persons but is interested in all. Can we say the same about ourselves, about our church?
20th June Thoughts (Father's Day)
Readings Matthew 1 (18-21) & Luke 15 (11-24)
Sunday 20th June is designated as Father's Day this year. Celebrating Fathers Day is a fairly recent idea, the first officially recorded one was in 1910 partly as a backlash from Mothers Day, and it is a tradition started in America. In some theological and church circles there is a move away from ideas of God as Father, a leaning towards the feminine side or to no gender at all, this sometimes stems from poor personal relationships with a Father figure. The Bible teaches us about God as a Mother and Father, but today is after all Father's Day so.........
The reading from Matthew chapter 1 is usually read during the Christmas season concentrating on Mary's role as the mother of Jesus but today we shall concentrate on Joseph, the man chosen by God to be the earthly Father of his son, what an honour, we sometimes refer to Mary as being blessed and honoured of God, but what about this man. He was a righteous man, obedient to the law, he did his best, he was compassionate.
Under Jewish law he was within his rights to have Mary stoned for adultery, because although only promised in marriage it was far more binding than our engagements, it was a legal contract broken only by divorce. Mary told him, or perhaps someone else told him, that she was pregnant, Mary claims that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit but many a man would have stormed off, demanded their rights, would have suffered from a hurt ego, would not have believed her tale. Joseph however considered how he could divorce her quietly to save her from public disgrace.
Then the dream and all was ok, was it? In the eyes of the world, his neighbours ,friends he was a fool to take on another man's child but he did it. He protected Mary and her child, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to be registered but he could have left Mary to the mercy of the gossips
He took them to Egypt away from Herod. He took them to Nazareth. He taught Jesus his trade. He went back to Jerusalem to find Jesus in the Temple. That is the last mention of Joseph............Jesus was now 12 an adult in terms of Judaism.
Did Joseph influence Jesus as a Father?
The relationship described in the Bible between God and humankind is that of a loving parent towards their somewhat wayward children.
So what makes a good father, if God is the ideal Father what does that say to us?
Jesus told a story about a Father , he didn't say he was a good Father just a Father but the implication is that the Father in the story is God. It is found in the reading from Luke's Gospel.
There were two sons, one stayed at home, one left to enjoy life. The one who left squandered all he had, realised his mistake and came home in repentance. The Father looked everyday for this boy to come home and when he saw him he ran to greet him and the celebrations began. There was no reprimand, no I told you so, no period of probation, there was no holding back of forgiveness. What there was were arms open in welcome and restoration.
What does a good father do?
Fathers love. Fathers protect. Fathers teach
13th June Thoughts
Be still for the presence of the Lord is here
Reading Mark 4 (35-41)
This incident took place at the height of Jesus' preaching career. At the beginning of this chapter we hear of the enormous crowd which had gathered to hear his words. There were so many people that in order to be heard, seen and not crushed, Jesus had to get into a boat and be pushed away from the shore. The disciples must have been thrilled to be a part of this, perhaps they felt they were part of Jesus personal bodyguard or perhaps like Jesus they recognised the danger of a large crowd easily turning into a mob. So Jesus and his disciples move to the other side of the lake where it s quiet.
Lake Galilee was and is noted for its sudden storms, the winds can sweep down from the surrounding hills with little warning and with surprising suddenness. This time it must have been more ferocious than usual because it made even these seasoned fishermen panic. In their panic they wake Jesus and bewildered by his ability to sleep, in these circumstances, demand to know whether he even cares that they are about to sink and presumably drown.
Jesus in response takes control of the situation, he doesn't just say 'there, there it will be alright!' but takes action. He is there with the disciples in the midst of the storm and as soon as they turn to him he takes the action he needs to take.
This incident would probably have been related many times in the early church as it faced persecution and opposition. It was a story to relate how Jesus was with his disciples in the worst and best of times, how he never left them to face situations alone, how he was always there, how he always knew the best course of action, how he took control, how none could stand against him, not even the weather.
If you were facing persecution, were in fear for your life what better story to cling to.
Jesus calmed the storm, the word he used literally translated means 'be muzzled' he restrained the power of the storm, then he calmed his disciples, he took away their fear and gave them peace.
Each and everyone of us has storms to weather. It may be some event or change in circumstances, job loss, redundancy, illness, bereavement isolation, worry. Your storm will be different to anyone else's and perhaps only you and God know what it is and how it came to be. Perhaps it is one that has been a long time coming or a sudden squall, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that Jesus is in the storm with you, by your side and he waits for you to turn to him, perhaps in panic, perhaps in fear, perhaps in desperation, but turn to him you must.
The storm will hear his voice saying 'Be still!' and to you he will say 'My peace I give you!'
6th June Thoughts
Reading Mark 3.20-35
In this passage Mark uses an interesting device, he uses a sandwich! The top part is seen in verse 20-21 which tells us that the family of Jesus are concerned about his mental health and they come with the intention of taking him away to care for him.
The middle of our sandwich is the teachers of the law accusing Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul and of using this power to drive out demons. The passage continues with Jesus refuting this allegation.
The bottom layer is the arrival of the family who send a message to Jesus to say they are outside and Jesus asking and answering “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
This is sometimes taken to mean that Jesus was rejecting his biological family and we are not told whether he actually went to see his family and reassure them, perhaps he did later.
What did he mean?
Perhaps he was expanding the definition of family from a small circle to a much larger one. From a biological family to a one based on obedience to God. He defined his family as everyone who does the will of God, they are his mother and brothers. This comment is to let his listeners know that there was a new way that everybody was going to relate to each other because of their faith in him.
Entry to this family is also by birth but it is rebirth through the Spirit, through accepting Jesus as our Lord. Through this rebirth we become members of God's family, part of his spiritual body, part of his Church.
As members of God's family we learn we are very precious in God’s eyes. But so is absolutely everyone else. In God’s kingdom there is room for absolutely everyone – misfits and all. As humans we learn that the birth of a first child leads to a great outpouring of love, a new kind of intense love, a love which we fear can not be given to any other child, but then we learn that subsequent children can be loved just as much. Our love expands to cover all our offspring. If we can do that, as beings made in God's image, how much more can God, who is love, extend his love to cover all. Jesus rebuffed the narrow boundaries of family and widened the boundaries to accept all. We who know we are part of this family are tasked with inviting others to join, we need to move over to make space to include others into our community. This family has no boundaries, no cliques, no unacceptable members.
Our membership of this family is shown in our love for each other, Jesus commands us to love each other, even those we don't like, the ones with whom there is mutual irritation, seeing them as loveable through God's eyes, in this family we are brothers, sisters, mothers and children to and for one another, we are to care for each other physically and spiritually, we are to learn together to teach each other, to nurture each other, the mature, teaching and learning from the young, the young teaching and learning from the mature.
A family of disciples, walking together, connected through their love for Jesus.
30th May Thoughts
John 3 (1-17)
I quite enjoy doing word searches and crosswords, I have to admit though that I am not very quick at them, I can look and look for a word and just not see it. In my defence the words can be in reverse order and placed diagonally.
There are times when we can look at something in front of us such as word searches and no matter how hard we look we just can not see it. How many times have you looked for keys, for glasses, that elusive piece of paper. Sometimes our eyes see it but our brain doesn't translate what we are looking at.
It's always in the last place you look, often right in front of you. Quite often we need fresh eyes to see the object, someone else to tell us where to look. The reading was from the Gospel of John and it is the story of Nicodemus a man who looked but didn't see.
He was a member of the ruling council, a religious leader coming to Jesus under the cloak of darkness in secret or perhaps at a time when Nicodemus knew he would get his full attention, he came to learn from him. There was something about Jesus, this wandering Rabbi which was different, which caught his interest. I would like to draw your attention to verse 14 of this passage where Jesus says: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life “
The background to this statement is that the people of Israel were in the desert and were having to go round the land of Edom rather than through it. They were very nearly at the land promised to them by God but the King of Edom refused to let them go through his lands and so they had to make a detour. They were well and truly fed up and so they started moaning. They were fed up of the food provided and God was fed up of them.
According to the account in Numbers chapter 21 God sent fiery serpents into the camp. People who were bitten by the snakes and there were many, died. God's people realised that they had angered God, that this time they had gone too far so they went to Moses and asked him to pray to God to take the snakes away.
So Moses prayed to God, and God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so it could be seen all round the camp, anyone who looked on the bronze serpent would live. The problem was caused by serpents and the people had to look at the image of the problem.
Jesus says that just as the bronze serpent was lifted up for healing of the physical bites so he the Son of Man must be lifted up. Looking at the serpent in belief, provided healing from a physical problem. The serpents were the cause and an image of that cause was also the method of healing.
Jesus, the Son of God became a man for us, we, you and me, human beings caused the problem, the bite, and to be healed someone akin to us, a human being, but perfect had to be lifted up for us, to show us the way back to God, to our spiritual bites.
It is interesting to note here that God did answer their prayer, but not in the way they wanted. The Israelites wanted the snakes removed but God didn't remove the snakes, what he did was provide a cure for their bite. All the people had to do was to look at the bronze serpent.
We often pray God to provide a particular solution don't we? And then when we get a different answer we sometimes don't even realise that we have had an answer. We often think we know what we need but we so often get it wrong, we only see the small picture.
God however looks and understands the big picture, He knows exactly what each person needs and he knows each person here listening, he knows all our problems, worries and concerns.
How do I know he cares? John 3 verse 16 says so when we read “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”
How do we get to know this love for ourselves?
All we have to do is follow the example of the people in the desert, we have to look to the figure lifted up on the cross.
This is the good news in a nutshell, that God loves us so much that he gave his all for us, we just need to accept it and look to Jesus.
23rd May 2021
Acts 2 (1-21)
Christmas needs Easter, Easter needs Pentecost.
Pentecost was originally the time when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were gathered in and offered to God. This festival was put in place so that the people would remember how, as a nation, they had called on God in Egypt for help. God had then spoken to Moses through the burning bush and had led his people with pillars of cloud and fire, from Egypt to a new land. They celebrated that, as part of this journey, Moses had taken them to a smoke wreathed, Sinai and had given them God's law written on stone tablets.
This festival of weeks was given the Greek name of Pentecost meaning 50th because it took place 50 days after the end of the Passover festival.
At the first “Pentecost celebrated by the church, there were 120 people together in a large room, in a house near the Temple. They were together waiting, just waiting, they were waiting for something to happen, for some sort of power, power that Jesus had promised them. They were together waiting and praying for what they were not sure.
Then it came, the sound of a wind filling the house and then flames and on each of them settled a tongue of fire.
Wind is often used in the Bible to symbolise the Holy Spirit and flames for the presence of God. Here we have wind and fire together!
The flames came and set the early followers of Jesus alight with faith and power, they didn't just sit there, they ran out into the streets and started telling anyone who would listen about Jesus and what he meant to them. About 3,000 were added to their number that day. But it didn't stop there! The Apostles went from village to village, from town to town teaching local people about Jesus. The local people told their friends and family and they in turn told their friends and families. It was a simple sincere faith that spread with the momentum of an unchecked forest fire.
But that was the early church, a lot has happened in the 2,000 years since then. That simple faith has become complicated, the church has become so complicated, we have Roman Catholics, we have Protestants, we have Orthodox, we have non conformists to name but a few! Life is so much more complicated.
Our faith, our calling should be simple! 2,000 years ago, God walked among us, as Jesus, he gave his life for us and when he ascended back to his Father he sent the Holy Spirit to be a comforter, a guide.
Let's look again at this Holy Spirit, it is this power that God used in creation, it is this power by which Jesus was conceived in a virgin, it is this power that Jesus used to heal, to still storms, to raise the dead. This is power, the power of God.
At Pentecost this power fell on the church, the church became the embodiment of God, it is the church, the people of God, that now are the channel God wants to use for healing, for bringing justice and liberty, for feeding the nations.
I started by saying that Christmas needs Easter needs Pentecost. Without Easter Christmas is a nice story about a baby born to poor folk, with some angels, shepherds and wise men thrown in to the mix. The story only has meaning because the baby grows up, dies and is resurrected. So Christmas needs Easter. But why does Easter need Pentecost?
If the Holy Spirit had not come with power on that day the early church would not have spread, it would not have survived. The disciples would have gone back to their ordinary lives and all that had happened would have been confined to the memories of a few. Without Pentecost the early church would have been left to face the world with memories, rather like holiday tales without any photographs. The fulfilment of the promise to send the Holy Spirit meant that Jesus was saying' Hello' not 'Good bye' to the church.
We sometimes call ourselves Easter people because we believe in the resurrection but we need to be Pentecost people, we need the power of the Spirit to live our lives the way Jesus wants us to.
It is so easy to live on the edges of Christianity, to paddle but not swim but this Day of Pentecost, is it time for you to take the plunge? To ask God for more of this power so you no longer need to cower, to hide your faith but be like Peter proclaiming the Good News to everyone.
16th May Thoughts
Jesus Christ, born among us; God with us:
you have shared our life.
Jesus Christ, teacher; healer; worker or miracles:
you have walked among us.
Jesus Christ, broken, bruised and bloodied:
you have shared our pains.
Jesus Christ, risen from death and glorious in majesty:
leave us not comfortless.
Acts 1 (1-11)
Ascension day is celebrated 40 days after the Resurrection, it marks the end of the Easter season and occurs ten days before Pentecost. The Bible tells us that during the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus appeared many times to his followers to instruct them on how to carry out his teachings, and on the 40th day he led them to the Mount of Olives where they witnessed him ascend to heaven.
This was the final day of goodbyes between Jesus and his disciples, everything would be different now. We all know that good byes are very difficult, some more than others, the ones we know will be final, the ones we know herald a long parting, sometimes the even short ones can be painful, the child left at nursery, or a new school. Partings have to happen so that the welcomes can be so much sweeter and so other things can happen.
Jesus had to leave, there had to be an ending to the earthly Jesus so he could become the Heavenly Christ, so he could send the Holy Spirit, to empower the disciples, to be with us always.
The coming of the Spirit ushered in the beginning of the Church, without the Spirit there would be no Church, it would never have lasted beyond the lifetime of the earliest followers of Jesus.
As the disciples stood on the Mount of Olives that day they watched Jesus ascend, a cloud came and hid him from them, when the cloud went Jesus had gone. They were joined by men in white who said that Jesus would return the same way they had seen him leave.
They then returned to Jerusalem to wait as they had been instructed.
Some 2000 years later and we are still waiting for the return of Jesus but we are not just sat waiting or gazing up at the clouds in the sky, we have all been given a task to do.
Quite a few of the parables Jesus told stress the importance of working for the kingdom, of spreading the message of God's love, of being good and faithful servants, of using our gifts and talents in his service.
Some day the Lord will return or take us home and we will never have to say goodbye to Him ever again.That is a promise we can count on – day in and day out; when things are good and when they are bad.
There is also a stress on being ready for when that happens, are you ready?
If Jesus were to come today are you ready to meet him?
9th May Thoughts
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of our King!
Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
Acts 10: 34 – 35 & 44 – 48
Throughout the history of the Christian Church there have been reformers who have wanted to return the Church to the way it was to begin with, to do away with the pomp, the ceremony and the man made divisions. Rose tinted glasses have always been available. However there were problems even in the early church just as there are today, there was a problem with diversity and inclusion. At the beginning of Acts it emerged that widows who did not have a Jewish background were being neglected when it came to the daily distribution of food. Perhaps because they were from a different background or culture?
In the reading from Acts above the question addressed is whether to become a Christian do you have to become a Jew first? The story ends with the acceptance that non Jews could become part of the Christian movement.
The life of Jesus, the things he did and the people he spoke to, caused problems for the early church, which began its' life in Judaism. Jesus didn't respect the normal boundaries, he spoke to people of different ethnic groups and social positions, he dealt with the Samaritan woman, wrong on two counts at least, he healed the Centurion's servant and Jairus' daughter. He didn't confine himself to any expected norm or social custom, he didn't obey customs surrounding the Sabbath, Jesus didn't show any bias against anyone based on their race, culture or gender., and so the church had to find their new way forward.
In the book of Acts, the story of the early church, this trend continues thanks to the work and persuasion of the Holy Spirit, Philip baptises an Ethiopian and Peter baptises a Roman called Cornelius, along with his household.
When the leaders of the early church saw that the Holy Spirit was not confined to the Jewish race, that the new movement was not going to be just for the Jews, they had to adjust their thinking, their theology, they had to adapt to a new and wider horizon. They had to be willing to follow where the Spirit led, to see where the Spirit was working and to play their part.
Our thinking, perhaps even the way we think about God, may have been challenged of late, that is a good thing as it makes us think about what we believe and why we believe it rather than a blind acceptance and it enables us to grow in our Christian life. As churches we too have to be willing to follow the Spirit, wherever that takes us, however new and different, we have to be willing to adjust our thinking and our ways.
As we emerge from the restrictions of our lives, from the darkness, God has a new adventure for us.
Are YOU ready?
2nd May Thoughts
God is Love
God stands with arms wide open,
ready to welcome us home with an enormous hug.
God sits with hands held out,
ready to listen to our troubles and sooth our worries.
God whoops with hands punching the sky,
ready to delight and celebrate all that we can be.
So come, worship the God who first loved us.
Psalm 22 ( 1-5, 25-31) & 1 John 4:7-21
The set readings for this morning include the whole of Psalm 22 and part of the letter known as 1 John.
The Psalm starts with words of despair but ends in triumph, if you read it carefully you could be forgiven for thinking it was an eyewitness account of the crucifixion, but it was written some 1000 years before the crucifixion, perhaps even before crucifixion as a way of execution had been invented.
As the Psalm starts with a cry of despair so does the crucifixion. As the Psalm ends on a note of triumph so Jesus cries on the cross, in triumph,' It is finished!'. Perhaps we too over recent months have cried out to God in despair over the pandemic and all it has meant and changed in our lives. As times begin to change again, as the light glimmers more brightly at the end of the long tunnel so our despair can turn to joy and praise.
Our reading from 1 John chapter 4 is said to be a letter or a written sermon to a church that was in conflict within itself, there had been a problem with false teachers who had now left the church, but their influence lingered. Part of their teachings seem to have included the idea that Jesus had not been truly God or truly human and so this cast doubt on the value of the crucifixion. It called into the question the whole notion of a loving God redeeming his people through the willing sacrifice of his Son.
So the author of 1 John writes to emphasise and explain to those in doubt that God is love, his essence is love, He is love. Love is not something that God does, it is something that he is, so to know love is to know God, to be a child of God means one has to love, our link to God is through love.
Paul agrees with this in his letter to the church in Corinth, when he says that without love everything is worthless, a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal, without love we are nothing and our actions are empty. (1 Corinthians 13,1). Everything we do in worship is 'much ado about nothing' if it does not lead us to love.
It has been said, that for us, as Christians, these three words are the most important, they sum up all we believe and rely on, quite simply God is love.
This is why God sent his son to die for us, this is why on the cross Jesus took everything on himself, this is why Jesus felt himself abandoned, this is why he called out in the opening words of Psalm 22 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?'
The cross has largely become a symbol, a piece of jewellery, something that stands in churches, often so familiar that we no longer see it. We have forgotten or have never really known what a truly terrible thing it was, a ghastly degrading form of execution. In these words of Jesus we are reminded of the true horror of his sacrifice. If the very character of God was not love Jesus would not have been willing to stand in our stead. God's love is unique, it is not directed just towards those who love him but even towards people who reject or ignore him.
As his children, as his redeemed people, we begin to take on his character of love, indeed we are commanded to love each other as he has loved us.
We love because God first loved us, that love is boundless and overflows from God to us to each other. God's love however is not reserved for those who respond favourably to it but he loves regardless of the response and so we are told to love those who are hard to love, we are told to love the unlovely, to love those we don't necessarily like or get on with.
God is love, we are to show this love by the way we live, by our actions, by our words and in our motivations.
25th April Thoughts
Thank you that God’s power is available for all who trust in you,
I will be with you always
Whatever we face this coming week, God says
I will be with you always
Wherever we go in the coming days, God says
I will be with you always
However alone and afraid we feel, God says
I will be with you always
Reading Acts 4 (5-12)
In the previous chapter in Acts, Peter and John had gone to the Temple and in the courtyard had healed, in the name of Jesus, a beggar who was lame. On receiving this healing the man had gone with them into the Temple, leaping and praising God and the disciples had witnessed that it was through the power of Jesus that the man was healed. Whilst they were telling the crowd this, they were arrested and put into prison overnight. The story resumes in chapter 4.
Peter and John were brought before the same High Priest who had questioned Jesus, who had been instrumental in his death. The last time, Peter had denied Jesus three times, but now, he boldly proclaimed that the man, Caiaphas had condemned was the Son of God, the Messiah. The religious authorities were powerless, in the face of the facts, to do anything other than to warn Peter and his companions about their behaviour.
Peter claimed the power to heal was in the name of Jesus. I have just become a Great Aunt for the second time, to a boy named Samuel James, both good Biblical names.
We choose names on two or more criteria, firstly that we like it and secondly it goes well with the surname and thirdly what happens if it is shortened and what do the initials spell, or perhaps we name the child after someone we admire or respect. Some times we take into account the meaning of the name but that is more of an added bonus than the norm.
In Old Testament times and indeed in other cultures, the meaning of names were deemed to be far more important, and great emphasis was placed on the meaning and significance of a name. We only need to look to the Prophets, Hosea called one child Jezreel because God was going to punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel. A second child was called Lo Ruhamah which means “ God will no longer show love to the house of Israel”. A third child was Lo Ammi for you are not my people and I am not your God.
I wonder if they had other names for everyday use.
In 1 Samuel chapter 4, when Eli's daughter in law heard that her husband and Father in law were both dead she went into labour. She named her son Ichabod saying “ The glory has departed from Israel”
When Moses met God, he asked Him what his name was, what should he say when the Israelites asked who had sent him, God said his name was' I am who I am.'
It is a name expressing his character as eternal and present.
Names in the Bible are sometimes changed, Abram became Abraham, renamed by God as the Father of many nations. Jacob, (Schemer) became Israel, (One who wrestles with God) after his all night wrestling match.
The name of the person meant something, it sums up the character of that person, the name Jesus, means 'God saves', not in a passive way, but God actively, takes action to save. He was called Emmanuel, 'God with us”.
Matthew 18 (20) says 'Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I with them"
John 14(14) 'Anything you ask in my name I will do it'
This means praying but in accordance with the character of Jesus.
Peter could use the power of Jesus' name to heal because it was in accordance with his will and character. How often, as God's children, do we act in the name of Jesus, in accordance with his will and character?
18th April Thoughts
God of resurrection, ever renewing, ever reviving,
we adore you for your life-giving presence.
Son of Man, newly risen, sorrow made joy,
we adore you for your sacrificial living and dying.
Holy Spirit, breezing among us this morn,
we adore you for breathing new life into us.
Reading Luke 24 (1-43)
The reading from Luke's Gospel comes in halfway through a tale. Just before the reading starts two people were walking along together, only one of which, is named, Cleopas. They were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, said to be about 20 miles away, perhaps they were walking home to pick up their lives. As they were walking deep in conversation, they were joined by a third person, the conversation continued with this stranger explaining the scriptures and telling them what was predicted about the Messiah, he explained how events in the past showed what would happen and how they could understand the events of the last few days. Perhaps he mentioned Creation, Abraham, Moses and the prophets. Perhaps he said that in the beginning the Word was with God, and all things were created for and through him, perhaps he talked about Abraham who very nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, only to be stopped by an angel pointing out a lamb nearby, Abraham said God would provide his own sacrifice, perhaps he talked about Moses who placed a bronze serpent on a pole, any who looked on it and believed were saved from the poison of the serpents, see Numbers 21, perhaps he mentioned the words of the prophets, a virgin shall conceive, a king from the house of David whose reign shall have no end, or perhaps he quoted verses about the suffering servant.Whatever he said, and the Bible doesn't tell us, the conversation lasted all the way to Emmaus, when they arrived he went in with them and they realised who he was when he took an ordinary piece of bread and broke it.
The two companions immediately went back to the others to witness to what they had experienced, they didn't wait till morning, didn't wait til they had had time to reflect, time to learn the right doctrine, or words but they set off right away, they were too excited to wait.When they got back to the others they find that Jesus had appeared to others, to Peter for one. Whilst they were discussing all this behind their closed doors, Jesus appears again.This is the third resurrection appearance in Luke. We have the appearance at the empty tomb, the one to Cleopas and now this one.
Can you imagine how this group of people were feeling?They had been through a roller coaster of emotions in a short space of time. Just a little while ago they had been full of anticipation, of excitement, of joy and vindication as they followed their leader into Jerusalem as he rode his donkey through the streets. Now, they must have thought, Jesus will stand tall and tell everyone, prove to all the authorities, that he was the Messiah they had all been waiting for, now the Romans would be sent packing. Their ears and hearts must have rung to the sound of the people shouting Hosanna to the King. They heard the local populace cheering and waving palm branches. Elation and joy.
But and what a but, just a short time later how things have changed...... now the crowds have turned hostile, no palms, perhaps fists and no cheers but jeers and cries of not Hosanna but crucify. The disciples had seen Jesus taken away, given a sham trial, mocked, whipped and crucified, they had all fled in terror apart from Peter who at least stayed on the fringes watching and then denied knowing him three times. They had fled with their tails between their legs only to gather together behind locked doors . Now they knew despair, confusion and terror. But now look again, despair maybe giving rise to hope, incredulous hope. Rumours and speculation were rife, different people were saying they had seen Jesus after his resurrection.
After all they had been through, would they dare to believe?
Jesus comes to them and they stand and stare not knowing whether to trust their senses or not. They are convinced when he eats a piece of fish, not by an empty tomb, or what Cleopas tell them, but by an ordinary act of eating made extraordinary, for them fish, for Cleopas bread. Jesus told them that they were witnesses to all the things that had happened. If you read from Luke chapter 24 to the end of Acts chapter 3 you can see for yourselves how the disciples develop as witnesses. In the third chapter of Acts we read the story of Peter and John going to the Temple and healing a lame beggar as witness to the power of the name of Jesus.
But that is not the end of it all because, just as Jesus told his disciples then to be witnesses to all they had seen and experienced, so you and I are witnesses to all we know and have experienced and seen in our own lives. We are witnesses to the ongoing story, it is something each and everyone of us is called to do, not just Ministers, Readers, Preachers and stewards but all of us. We are witnesses to the ongoing, to the unfurling story of God's kingdom here and now. We often pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven” do we know what we are praying for? We are praying for a kingdom to come whose king is God, a kingdom where all are equal, where social justice is the norm, where all are fed, clothed, none is deemed superior or more worthy, where each is respected and loved as a neighbour, where others needs are put first and where needs are met without judgement. A kingdom based on the love of the ruler for each of his people. Gods kingdom is above all about how the world, how our community would be if God were truly king.
We are witnesses to the most exciting story ever told, we are witnesses to the most exciting love story ever told. A love story where the main characters are God and each of us, each of us and every single person you see. This is exciting, this is as the gospels tell us Good News which we need to pass on. We don't need to be clever, be able to preach, be able to tell a long story, we don't need to know all the right doctrines, we don't need to know all the right answers, we just need to know in our hearts that God loves us and we need to tell others that God loves them and wants to know them better.
11th April Thoughts
Lord, you accept our doubts and embrace our questions
like a wise parent encouraging your children to express themselves;
hiding your hurt at our scepticism,
always hoping for the best and seeing our potential.
We worship and adore you for believing in us.
The events in this passage take place shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection. At this point there would have been rumours of sightings, rumours of unrest within the circles of the religious authorities, hence the constant fear of the known followers of Jesus, perhaps they were expecting to be arrested and interrogated about the whereabouts of the missing body. No doubt they were unsure as to what had happened, nobody had risen from the dead before so why would they be expecting that to have happened?
The disciples are in a locked room and Jesus appears. The first time this happens Thomas is not with the other disciples and because he wanted his own sighting of Jesus became known as 'Doubting Thomas'. What a nickname!
Thomas is given a bad press but like Peter he is a necessary component for our faith journey. Peter tells us it is alright to be impetuous, to get it wrong, to miss the point and Thomas tells us it is alright to doubt, to ask questions, to wonder about the truth, to not accept things at face value. Thomas has been one of the most misjudged disciples and when we read this story we tend to forget the other appearances Thomas has made in the gospel narrative.
It was Thomas who urged the other disciples to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem so they could die with him. It was Thomas who was willing to voice the pertinent questions that would lead to deeper understanding and faith.
In fact Thomas was no different to the other disciples except that he wasn't there when Jesus first appeared in the locked room where the others were hiding. Jesus appeared to the disciples and so they believed him to be risen and passed the news on to Thomas, they also believed because they saw him, Mary believed, not just because of the empty tomb but because she saw and spoke with Jesus. The beloved disciple believed because he saw the empty tomb and the burial wrappings, Thomas comes to believe in the same way, he sees Jesus and although the offer is there, to touch the wounds, he believes without doing so.
Thomas is cast in a bad light because he asked questions, but progress in any field is dependant on people asking the right questions. Science and medicine progress because questions are asked
'What will happen if we do this?' 'Why does this action have that effect?'
When Thomas gets his answer, when he sees the wounds, when he knows it is really Jesus he whole heartedly believes and commits he declares Jesus as his Lord and God. With Thomas there is no grey it is all black and white.
In the reading Jesus says that those of us who believe without seeing are blessed, we don't have the advantage of seeing Jesus of being able to touch the wounds in his hands, feet and sides. What we do have is the written accounts of witnesses who were there, of those who spread the Good News far and wide.
If we look, if we trust we can respond as Thomas did with all his doubts
'My Lord and my God!'
4th April Easter Thoughts
Today is the day of promise.
Today is the day when our hopes find their focus.
Today is the day when the cross stands empty
and we see the stone rolled from the tomb.
The word 'Easter' comes from two old pagan spring festivals. The old European pagan festival of 'Ostara' that celebrated new life and Arabian Sun festival of 'Ishtar'. The early Christians took over the festivals and turned the pagan festivals of new life to mean the new life that Jesus gave the world when he rose from the dead. Easter is celebrated around the Passover when Jesus was crucified.
Passover itself was instituted to remember the events that led to the children of Israel being freed from their slavery in Egypt.
The first Jewish Christians added Easter celebrations to the Passover festival and because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, so Easter became the first Sunday after Passover.
The official period of Easter starts with Lent on Ash Wednesday and ends with Pentecost so it actually ends 49 days after Easter Sunday. So that was the history lesson for today.
Easter Sunday is a day of celebration, it is the day all of the beliefs and meaning of Christianity hinge on. It is the day of resurrection, the day of new life, of possibilities. It is the day that begins the ending of the darkness and despair the disciples had experienced and we commemorate.
It is hard to believe that this is the second Easter that we have not been able to celebrate together in our churches but because we can not celebrate it in the normal way does not mean we forget it or that it loses its' meaning, Jesus still rose from the dead, the darkness still does not overcome the light.
The past year has been dark, there have been times of despair, there have been times when we could echo the words of Jesus on the cross
'My God why have you forsaken me?'
Perhaps this time can be equated to the darkness of the crucifixion and the future to the light of the resurrection.
In the reading from Johns' Gospel Mary goes to the tomb early in the morning whilst it is still dark. She sees Jesus as a gardener and it is only when he calls her by name does she realise that it is Jesus. Jesus sends her out from the garden to tell the others that he has risen.
The writers of the Gospels use their words and information with care, with their particular point of view. John's begins with the words
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. John 1( 1-5, NIV)
Mary comes whilst it is still dark, Jesus is the light of the world, the darkness has not over come the light.
All things were made by him, in him was life. Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener, a gardener brings new life, grows and creates.
Easter is a time of resurrection, of new life, of light overcoming the dark, of hope becoming reality.
This Easter, as we look forward to the easing of restrictions, we can look forward to new life, we can know that the Light of the World is with us and will never be overcome.
Hallelujah! He is risen!
28th March 2021 Palm Sunday Thoughts
Rejoice, my sisters.
Shout in triumph, my brothers.
Our king is coming, victorious and righteous,
yet humbly riding on a donkey.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
Reading: Luke 19 (28-39)
The events of that day, Palm Sunday, are well known to us. We know all about the donkey, the palm branches, perhaps in the past we have waved branches in church or at the very least we have held palm crosses aloft. We have sung the hymns and shouted Hosanna, or Hallelujah at the appropriate times. For us, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps there is a tinge of sadness that this great day of rejoicing is so quickly followed by the baying of the
mob for crucifixion.
But what did it mean to the people there, to the followers of Jesus, this Rabbi from Nazareth, to the crowds, to the religious authorities, to the Romans?
All four Gospels have accounts of the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem riding a donkey or colt or both, they all place the event somewhere around the beginning of the Passover festival.
In Luke's version rather than palm branches, cloaks are spread in the road. The tradition of celebrating a new king by throwing your clothes on the path before him went back to the days of Elisha. It first appears in 2 Kings 9.13, where people spread their cloaks under Jehu when Yahweh anointed him as the King of Israel. Jehu want on to liberate Israel from the heirs of Ahab and Jezebel, he destroyed all traces of that regime and the worship of
Baal associated with it, there was violence and bloodshed.
Was this in the minds of the people the day they put their cloaks under the hooves of the donkey? Were they expecting Jesus to liberate them from the regime of the Romans with violence and bloodshed? Every part of the day, every action was full of meaning and significance. The words they sang "Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord" is taken from Psalm 118 and Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies of Zechariah It was all written in the scroll of Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey. Jesus was doing his part to fulfill the prophecy by riding into town on a donkey colt. Not only that, but Jesus’ parade route had begun at the Mount of Olives. Again, just like Zechariah said it would happen: On that day he will stand upon the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem (Zech. 14.4).
The disciples led the singing and rejoicing because of what they had seen Jesus do, they had seen his generous actions, his healing, his miracles, they had heard his teachings, they had lived and travelled with him for nigh on three years. They were confidant that everything had led to this day, this day of triumph. So they shouted and sang "Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus to check his disciples, why? Was it that they didn't agree, that they were miserable people just trying to spoil the atmosphere? Jerusalem was part of a land under a foreign rule and as Jesus and his disciples were coming in from the Mount of Olives through the eastern gate of the city, the Roman governor Pilate would have been riding into Jerusalem from the western gate, with a battalion or two of Roman forces with him. Every year, hundreds of thousands of
worshippers came into Jerusalem for the Passover, from every corner of the known world.
It was the festival that every faithful Jew had to attend at least once in their lifetime. It was difficult to ensure safety and security in such conditions so the Romans were their in force. Passover had and has huge significance for the Jewish people. Passover was the Jewish holiday that celebrated the time their God had liberated them from another empire—Egypt. A time when their God had defeated the ruler of Egypt who had enslaved them, now they were under the rule of Rome could it happen again? The Jews believed it and the Passover brought all the simmering resentments and hopes to
the surface, it would only take a spark for a riot or rebellion to begin. The Pharisees and other religious leaders would be held accountable by the Romans for any trouble, so they asked Jesus to control his followers.
To keep the occupants in their place Pilate rode in with pomp and ceremony riding a war horse, there would have been chariots and weapons on display.
Look at the contrast, Jesus as so often turns things upside down, there is no war horse for this king but a donkey, a farm animal, this is what a king who comes in peace looks like, his followers are on foot, they come from the lowest strata’s of society, they are the rowdy peasants, the ordinary everyday folk people like us. Pilate rode into Jerusalem with a show of force to remind people that Ceasar was in charge, his tactics were to use violence and intimidation.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem with humility on a donkey, his tactics are to show love, to show generosity in love and forgiveness, to give us a choice.
God has been generous to us John 3 (16) proves it when it says "God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life." The owner of the donkey repaid Jesus in a simple way by loaning his animal, we too can serve Jesus can show our love and gratitude in simple ways, by loving others by spreading his kingdom values in how we live, how we react to the world and
circumstances around us.
21st March 2021 Thoughts
Lord, transform us by your grace,
that we may welcome rich and poor,
large and small, and together rejoice
in your salvation. Amen
Reading: Luke 19 (1-10)
We all know the story of Zaccheus, the little man. We know he lived in Jericho We know there are sycamore trees in Jericho so we know he was a short man, We know he was a tax collector, in fact we know he was the chief tax collector, We know he worked for the Romans we know then that for his occupation it would be assumed that he was a cheat, that he was seen as a traitor to his own people, that for his occupation he would be despised and shunned.
We know he was unpopular, we know that he ran ahead and climbed a tree to see Jesus. We know that Jesus called him by name so that he could go to his house. We know that as a result of that encounter with Jesus the life of Zaccheus was changed, so we know that Zaccheus was a short, rich, and lonely sinner. But how much do we know from the Bible, how much do we know from our children's chorus, "Now Zaccheus was a very little man, a very little man was he" and how much do we assume?
Rather like the way we know there were three wise men at Christmas when that is based solely on the description of three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and no in the Bible they are not named as Melchor, Caspar, and Baltasar. Was Zaccheus the one who is short in stature or could Jesus not be seen in the crowd because he was not the tall 6 foot, blonde haired, blue eyed western man we sometimes imagine? If Jesus was normal height the only way then to have been able to see anything of Jesus would be from above. So who is the HE who is short?
Jesus would have to have been a head and shoulders taller than the crowd to have been seen from outside the crowd. So if we have that wrong the image of Zaccheus with short stumpy legs climbing a tree what else do we have wrong about this story. It is usually assumed that this story is about repentance and forgiveness leading to a new life through the encounter of Zaccheus and Jesus but some scholars aren't so sure it is that straightforward. A quick look at the story again In verse 5, Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down and invites himself over for dinner. In verse 6, Zacchaeus scrambles down the tree and welcomes Jesus with joy, but in verse 7, the crowd grumbles about how inappropriate it would be for Jesus to be the guest of this man who is a sinner and Zacchaeus responds in verse 8 by saying either “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”Or “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any
one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
In the second option it is something he already does before he has met Jesus, if the second reading is right it is all a matter of tenses and interpretation.
One reading is in the present tense; the other reading is in the future, but what tense you read it in makes all the difference in the world. Zaccheus in present tense defends himself against false accusations and assumptions. He has no need of repentance and Jesus doesn't on this occasion
ask for repentance or to sin no more. The RSV, the King James version use the present tense not future, it is something he does, not something he will do. So instead of being a dishonest, rich through others misery tax collector, he is telling Jesus and the crowd that he is a good man, a righteous man doing a job that is necessary, that few would take on because of the stigma and he is a a man who already gives half of what he owns to the poor and if he ever finds that he has wronged someone, always pays them back not just what he owes them, but four times more.
So which version is right? Was Zaccheus a good man vilified because people were jealous of his wealth, his position.The name Zaccheus means innocent so perhaps he was. Jesus rather than forgiving him says salvation has come because he is a son of Abraham, Jesus restores him into society takes him back into the family. If he was a good man but excluded by others and shunned then instead of this being a story about an evil corrupt person repenting, being forgiven, perhaps it is about the so called good people in the crowd who need to repent and be forgiven.
It is the “good religious” people who judged him on the basis of what he was rather than who he was, who need to repent. Perhaps this story is more about the sin of us all when we judge others as being less than us, when we exclude others because they are not like us or not how we think they should be. Zaccheus in spite of the position he held as the chief tax collector was willing to forego his dignity, was willing to run and climb a tree to just see Jesus, not to demand his time or to have a conversation, he didn't want Jesus to notice him he just wanted to see him.
For me this raises the question of how much effort am I, are you, willing to expend to see Jesus to spend time with him, to seek out what he would say to
each, he is willing, waiting to spend time with us are we willing to spend it with him?
7th March 2021 Thoughts
John 2 (13-22)
Cleansing of the Temple, Lent week 3
Alongside the feeding of the 5000 and the crucifixion, this event is actually recorded in all four gospels. The other three Matthew, Mark and Luke place it at the start of Holy Week. John however places it at the start of Jesus ministry, just after he has been to the wedding in Cana and famously turned water into wine.
The Gospel writers didn't just recount events in the life and ministry of Jesus they placed them carefully, they used them to according to the point they wanted to make, so for John it was important to place this at the beginning. In the generous provision of wine the indication was that God was a generous God, a loving God, in the cleansing of the Temple we are told that God is also a God of justice and righteousness and can be an angry God as well, one not to be taken lightly. John saw Jesus coming to renew the Jewish faith, to bring purity back into the worship of God and this event highlights what John sees as an essential part of the mission of Jesus.As in all the accounts Jesus goes to Jerusalem and finds himself in the Temple precincts where there were people selling animals for the required sacrifices and there were money changers ready to change coins into the required Temple currency. The problem with these practices were the monopolies in place, the animals had to meet a certain criteria and so any brought from outside the Temple could and would be rejected, so any price could be imposed. The Temple tax had to be paid in the Temple currency and again the exchange rate would not benefit the supplicant but rather the Temple treasury.
We tend to think that Jesus lost his temper and reacted immediately, with a degree of violence to the situation he found himself in but verse 15 says he took the time to make a whip out of cords, he took time to reflect and think what he was going to do, then he threw them out! This was a act of disruption, a wake up call for the established practices, a time to think about the why and how things were done.
Perhaps our time of disruption is this pandemic. The churches are closed, the way we have always practised our faith and worship are no longer open to us, when we go back will we just carry on in the same way? Will we go back? Will we think about how we use our buildings, do we even need buildings with on line services being so popular? Now is the time to evaluate what we do, do we serve our communities or our own little gathering, what can we do better, differently?
In the Temple precincts Jesus was saying that the Jewish religion had been overcome by their rituals and they needed to get back to the basis of their faith. He was in line with the prophets who often berated the people for offering empty sacrifices. In the last 2000 years there have been many would be reformers of the Christian Churches who have called for a return to a simple faith divested of unnecessary pomp and ritual.
To a faith that follows the teachings of the prophets such as Micah who said “Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with 10,000 rivers of oil…God has told you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
The actions of Jesus went on to lead to questions about his authority to take these actions,actions that the Jews, the religious authorities, would have recognised as a prophetic, possibly messianic acts so they wanted a sign to prove his authority his right to act in such a way and he replies “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” His hearers took this reply, logically, as referring to the Temple they were stood in and the disciples only realised what he really meant after the resurrection. Jesus was however referring to the Temple in the sense that the Temple was where God was with his people, his presence was understood to be within the Temple in the Holy of Holies, the Temple was where God and Man could meet. The Temple was believed to be a space where heaven touched earth, but Jesus speaks of destroying it and rebuilding it in three days. Jesus came and he was God incarnate, God with us, God was meeting with man in the form of Jesus, he was the new Temple, the place where God was to meet with his people so in saying destroy this temple he was referring both to God's dwelling place and to his body, the two were the same. In his death and ressurection the whole world will become the place where Heaven meets earth as the whole earth becomes God's Temple.
So what is this saying to us today?
God is not confined to our church buildings but they are places where as the people of God we can meet together and in his presence. His presence is with us always through Jesus who is both fully God and fully man. True worship is not about the rituals, what we do and how we do it but rather about motives, more the why than the how.
We need in this time to evaluate what we do and why we do it, does it really bring glory to God, is God actual pleased with our offerings with our contributions, what are we doing to bring about his Kingdom of love and justice?
28th February 2021 Thoughts
Prayer: Lord Jesus, open our eyes to your word and our hearts to your call, that we may join with you in living out your manifesto of justice, hope and peace. Amen
Readings: Isaiah 61 (1-2) Luke 4 (16-19)
Today is the second Sunday of Lent. Last week we saw how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days and how during that time through the temptations and relying on the Spirit and Scriptures he was able to work out what kind of Messiah he was to be. In this week's reading from Luke's Gospel he sets out publicly his manifesto, what he stood for, what he was about, what he intended to do. Jesus went to his childhood home of Nazareth, to his local synagogue. The synagogue service consisted of prayers, reading from the law and prophets and a sermon. The leader of the service would have stood to pray and read and sat to teach. Any competent person could be invited to take part. The readings from the law would have been set but Jesus could probably chose his own reading from the prophets.
So Jesus must have been invited to take part, he stood up to read and he sat to teach. He found the part in Isaiah which we find in chapter 61 verses 1 and 2. This would have been a familiar reading to his listeners but Jesus applied it directly and bluntly to himself, He claimed that Isaiah had written about him, a local carpenter's son, and this along with the assertion that God could and did work outside of Israel led to a certain amount of anger among his listeners. But what did the so called Nazareth Manifesto say?
It starts with 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me', he is working for God, not on his own merit but has been called, anointed by God himself as his representative, to do what? He is called to service, not fame or fortune but to serve, to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. This was his manifesto. We often refer to the saying “Actions speak louder than words” and we judge the actions of people, especially politicians and leaders against their words, their promises. Do they mean what they say or do they say what people want to hear, are they making empty promises to win our support and following? Jesus made no empty promises, no promises he couldn't fulfil and his life and actions always fulfilled his words, he more than anyone else has proved himself trustworthy. He lived up to his manifesto and as his followers, with his help that should be our aim. To bring good news to the poor, to work for justice for equality, for freedom from oppression and to lead others from spiritual darkness to God's love and Kingdom. We are to be servants of the Servant King, walking in his footsteps.