Find below thoughts from our minister, Rev Chris Watson.
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.