30th April 2023 Thoughts
- Psalm 23
- John 10:1-16
In the Old Testament. when God commands Moses to go to his people, Moses asks who should he say sent him? The response is' I am who I am
In John's Gospel, seven times Jesus claims this title, this name for himself.
This passage contains the claim that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, God was often seen and referred to as the Shepherd of his people.
Jesus’ teaching about the nature of himself as the true shepherd of Israel is conveyed especially through the two statements, ‘I am the gate for the sheep’ (10:7) and ‘I am the good shepherd’ (10:11).
Jesus uses the imagery of the sheepfold to illustrate His message. A Sheepfold was a circular wall about 10 feet tall with a single opening that served as a door. Several flocks might be placed into the sheepfold at night, with one of the shepherds lying in the opening to serve as the door. Nothing could get into, or out of the sheepfold without having to go through the shepherd. Jesus is telling His audience that only thieves and robbers seek to enter the sheepfold by another means besides the door. The shepherd, however, always comes in the right way! The good shepherd knows his sheep by name and so by character, he provides what is needed to flourish, safety, food, water, see Psalm 23. He provides safety because like any good eastern shepherd he would lay down across the only entrance to the enclosed walled sheep pen.
There would be different flocks in the sheepfold and when a shepherd wanted his flock to come out of the fold he would give a unique and distinctive call, the flock would rush to answer that call. That was how shepherds proved ownership in Jesus' day. They didn't have brands or marks. Each shepherd had his own distinctive call and sheep would only respond to that call. The sheep knew their shepherds' call.
I came across this tale:
A man in Australia was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. But he claimed emphatically that it was one of his own that had been missing for many days. When the case went to court, the judge was puzzled, not knowing how to decide the matter. At last he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom. Then he ordered the plaintiff to step outside and call the animal. The sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened. The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused man began to make his distinctive call, the sheep bounded toward the door. It was obvious that he recognized the familiar voice of his master. "His sheep knows him," said the judge. "Case dismissed!"
When we become Christians we learn his voice And, the more time we spend with Him in prayer and Bible study, the better we hear his voice, the more we are able to follow in trust and confidence.
So what are we waiting for? Let's be good sheep!
23rd April 2023 Thoughts "Palm Sunday"
Our reading from Luke's Gospel is placed in a chapter which is all about proving that Jesus was alive and had appeared to the disciples.
Two of the disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, said to be about 20 miles away, perhaps they were walking home to pick up their lives. There are questions as to exactly where this village was, various sites have been identified as being the Emmaus of the Bible.
As Cleopas and his companion were walking, they were deep in conversation, deep in discussion and they were joined by a third person, who they didn't recognise.
Do we recognise Jesus when he walks alongside us in the guise of friends and strangers, do others see Jesus in us as we walk alongside them?
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.
The conversation lasted all the way to Emmaus, without them realising who was with them. When they arrived, at their invitation, he went in with them and when he took an ordinary piece of bread and broke it, they realised who he was.
Why didn't they realise before?
In the communion do we recognise Jesus in the bread and wine, do we realise that Jesus is revealed to us as the perfect spotless Lamb of God, revealed as the one sacrifice that can take away our sins and the sins of others,
Do we realise that Jesus walks with us through our lives, if I were to ask you to do a time line of your life would you be able to say, that is when Jesus walked with me as such and such a person.
The two companions on realising who they had been speaking to 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.
Can you imagine how this group of people were feeling?
They had been through a roller coaster of emotions in such 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. Only royalty and Romans rode in Jerusalem
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 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. Had they heard the rumours that they were supposed to have stolen the body of Jesus from under the very noses of the guards?
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. For us, you and me, communion, ordinary things made holy .
We find Jesus in the ordinary in the everyday mess of our lives. Jesus comes alongside us as we walk through life, he explains to us, he shows us the love God has for us and for those we meet.
He gives us his love to pass onto others, not to keep to ourselves.
2nd April 2023 Thoughts "Palm Sunday"
Reading: Mark 11:1-11
All of the Gospels, including John, tell us about the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey, at the start of what we call Holy Week, the week leading upto the crucifixion.
Jesus was a Jew and so he came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Like all the festivals in Judaism it was a way to remember an event in their history. It was celebrated to remember the time when the Israelites were in slavery and God was using various plagues to persuade Pharaoh to let His people go. This was the last and harshest of all the plagues, the firstborn of all the Egyptians, including their animals would die. God's people would be spared because the Angel of Death would literally pass over them on seeing the blood of a lamb on their doors.
The Jewish nation were instructed to celebrate their deliverance from both this plague, this devastating loss and their freedom from slavery, so they gathered in Jerusalem to do so.
The Romans had a fort built to oversee Jerusalem, especially during such celebrations, and they controlled everything, even the robes of the High Priest were kept by the Roman Procurator. The celebration happened with their permission. Before the celebrations the Romans would have moved into the fortress in a triumphal procession with much pomp and ceremony with the Governor riding a magnificent war horse.
Jesus entered Jerusalem through a different entrance and riding a donkey. His actions were a deliberate contrast to that of Pilate.
The people strew branches in his path something considered a high honour in the Middle East. An action worthy of a great person or visiting royalty. The donkey was used to symbolise a king riding in peace not war. But it was still a triumphal entry in a time of oppression.
There is a very short timescale between the cries of 'Hosanna!' and 'Crucify!, was it the same crowd or were the second crowd recruited by those determined to see an end to this troublesome Rabbi from Nazareth?
Why was there such a radical change? In one breath, so it seems, the cry is 'Good news – the Messiah has come!' And the people acclaim him. But they wanted a conquering monarch, a military leader, not a peacemaker riding on a donkey, on the way to a cross. Expectations can distort vision, so for many – those who want quick solutions rather than the revolution of the heart – Jesus is a disappointment. In a culture that worships power, celebrity and heroes, Jesus is seen as a failure.
How do you see Jesus, are you still asking the questions
'Who is this?' Who is this King that comes as a servant? This anointed one who dies a criminals' death?
This, my friends, is our God.
26th March 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The reading is taken from a book in the Old Testament which contains writings from a prophet called Ezekiel . He is thought to have lived during the time when the Kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of Babylon. The then king, Jehoiakim, revolted against the Babylonién overlord, Nebuchadnezzar Il. This led to a siege of Jerusalem lasting over two years. The Babylonions eventually overcame Jerusalem, destroyed the first Temple and deported many of the citizens, especially those with any clout, to Babylon and its territories. Ezekiel was one along with Daniel and his Friends.
Ezekiel had his first vision before the exile, in Judah, and continued to prophecy during the exile in Babylon. His prophecies are thought to span a twenty two year period and are centred around three themes. Chapters 1-24 are about judgement on Israel, chapters 25-32 Judgement on the nations and chapters 33-48 Future blessings for Israel.
So judgement has been pronounced and carried out, God's people have as usual turned away From God and the result is their exile in Babylon, but they have not been abandoned by God even though all seems lost.
Ezekiel is given a vision in which he sees a whole valley full of bones, they are scattered across a large area. The bones aren't connected to each other and they have been picked clean of any flesh by birds and wild animals. It is a scene of horror, of the finality of death.
As he stands there, in the vision, God asks him a question “Can these bones live?”
The answer that I think you or I would have given would be a resounding No, Ezekiel however answers more cautiously with “O Lord you know”.
God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, to speak to them directly, to tell them that he was going to breathe new life into them, that he was going to restore them to life.
The passage explains that these bones represented God's people who thought they had no hope, no life because they has been cut off from their home, from their God. Here God promises them new life and restoration to their land.
So what does this passage say to you?
Sit quietly with it, read it through once what words, sentence do you notice?
Read it again and imagine yourself in that valley, can you hear the bones coming together?
Read it a third time and ask God what he is saying to you directly.
For me, it says that even when we think nothing is changing, that we are stagnant, God is still working, still changing us, putting new flesh onto our spiritual bones, new life into our tired spirits.
19th March 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Luke 13:34
Have you watched the wildlife programmes on the television?
Sometimes we can wince at the savage behaviour of predators, the lion that brings down a vulnerable animal, separated from the herd. The actions of a polar bear around a seal, the way a school of whales surround a shoal of fish and yet all these hunt to provide food for their young. The mother protects her young fiercely, sometimes at the cost of her own life or well being. Animal parents also know, instinctively, when to let their youngsters go. Babies of all kinds need special care and attention as they grow, but eventually they all need the freedom to explore the world around them.
In the reading from Luke we find these words:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
These words were spoken by Jesus over the city of Jerusalem, a city which had resisted God so many times, which had rejected and killed his prophets over the years. He likens himself or God to a mother, to a hen which gathers her young under her wings for protection, for safety and warmth. God longed to be allowed to love and nurture his city but they refused to be loved by him.
Today is Mothering Sunday a day which traditionally saw those working in the 'big houses' returning to their families for the day. This rare visit would see the family visiting their 'Mother Church' as well as their parents. This has morphed over the years and become less about Church and more about Mothers and carers.
We celebrate Mothers and those who care or have cared for us in the past. We remember Mothers who have died, we remember their legacy, the love, the care, the way they nurtured us and the way they encouraged us to live our own lives.
We celebrate the Mothers we still have, we buy/make cards, we give them flowers, we take them out for lunch, some have been known to provide breakfast in bed for their parent.
All this to thank them for what they have given us.
When we think though of how much love and care God has given and gives to us, even this special love, from a mother, pales in comparison.
God has promised that even if our own mother's were to forget us he never would.
So how can we show God our appreciation our thanks?
Micah chapter 6 verse 8 tells us what God requires of us
'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God'
Just as children strive to win their parents' approval so we should strive to please God by loving him and by loving our neighbours as ourselves.
12th March 2023 Thoughts
Reading: John 4
We take water for granted, we turn on a tap and fresh clean water is available, hot or cold. We have showers, kettles to make a hot drink, access to water is so easy. Of late with all the rain and flooding we have experienced across our lands with all the damage caused by seas and rivers breaking their boundaries it is hard for us to fully appreciate what it is like not to have an abundance of water.
Israel is a dry and dusty land. Long rainless summers means rivers dry up, even the river Jordan becomes shallow, narrow and muddy. Early peoples of Palestine and the surrounding areas depended on the rainfall of Spring and Autumn for their annual water supply. This rain filled wells, springs and cisterns, people became adept at storing the rain they did get for the hot dry summers.
Cisterns were dug out of rock and used to store water. In Jerusalem the temple area alone had 37 of these covered cisterns , gutters, pipes, and man made waterways directed the water to these underground pools. Drinking water was carried in goatskins and washing was reserved mainly for feet as the roads were always dry and dusty. Households would send their younger women and girls to draw water from the communal well, usually in the cooler part of the day.
We read in John chapter 4 that Jesus was travelling from Judea to Galilee and to do this he went through Samaria and he came to a town called Sychar which of course had a well. He was tired so he decided to wait at the well whilst his disciples went into the town proper to buy food.
Whilst he was there a woman came to the well with a water jar. She came at the 6th hour, during the heat of the day not during the cooler hours when the other women would come meet each other, socialise and exchange gossip. This woman was looked down on, firstly by Jews, because she was a Samaritan, secondly because she was a woman and thirdly because of her reputation. There had been many men in her life, we aren't told why, or who, perhaps she was reliant on them for financial support, perhaps she was widowed at a young age and had to then marry the brother of her first husband? Perhaps she was divorced for displeasing a husband?
Whatever the reasons she had got through five husbands and was now living out of wedlock. Jesus doesn't condemn her, he just states the facts.
Jesus astounds the woman by asking her for water, he actually talks to her, they have a conversation centred around water. He meets her where she is and talks to her about something she can relate to, he takes the ordinary and finds the deeper meaning.
This is the first time Jesus comes close to admitting to being the Messiah and says he can give water which will satisfy her thirst, spiritual water for spiritual needs. They discuss the different approaches Samaritans and Jews have in their theology, in their approach to God.
The woman was so taken by this conversation, by his knowledge of her that she went and told all she met about him. Instead of hiding away she sought out other people and urged them to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Because of her words others listened and came to their own conclusions. They urged Jesus to stay and he talks to them for two days.
This woman had an encounter with Jesus , we are not told how her life changed but then Jesus had not condemned her or told her to change. She was transformed from someone ashamed, hiding away to someone willing to tell anyone who would listen what had happened to her, how she had met a Jewish man who didn't care that she was a Samaritan woman of ill repute, but who treated her as a person of value and worth. She met someone who could give her the gift of life, of spiritual life.
We too need to have an encounter with Jesus because just as water is essential for our life so the spiritual water which Jesus gives is essential for our spiritual life.
Jesus offers to all of us living water, in verse 13 Jesus says “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We need to accept that water, allow it to fill us and then become channels of God's living water to the world. This is not a passive thing but results in actions to show God's love to others, watering his garden, his people so they can grow strong and sturdy.
5th March 2023 Thoughts
Reading: 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.
The reading is 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 who comes to Jesus at night 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. There is a lot we could say about this passage but let's look at verse 14 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 again.
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.
In John's Gospel Jesus tells his hearers 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.
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. There is something of a double meaning here. Jesus had to be lifted up, physically on the cross, we have to lift our eyes to look at him for our salvation.
Without the cross we have no means of returning to God, of having a relationship with him and so it is the cross that we should stand for.
Churches have crosses on or outside their buildings for a reason!
26th February 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
Lately we have been looking at Covenants in the Bible, from the time of Abraham through to the New and final covenant. We have seen how throughout the ages God has been faithful to his promises to redeem his people.
It began with a promise to preserve the land, then to a promise to preserve a people, to bring from that people a single person, a Messiah from the house of David.
In the reading, from Matthew’s Gospel, we see the beginnings of the mission of this Messiah. Jesus has been baptised by John in the river Jordan, the heavens have opened, the dove has appeared and there was that voice affirming Jesus as God’s Son in whom he was pleased. Who heard the voice? Was it just Jesus?
After this experience of God’s pleasure and favour Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he stayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan.
How often do we have a similar experience? Everything goes well, we feel close to God who answers our prayers, we are on a ‘spiritual high’ but then something happens or some remark is made and we come tumbling down and that sense of being so right with God fades.
Jesus goes from being blessed by God to being tempted by Satan. These temptations are about what kind of Messiah would he be, would he use his power to make sure he had enough to eat, would he be a super hero knowing that God’s angels were charged with looking after him, would he go into politics proper so as to rule the world around him.
Who would he be? What would he stand for?
Throughout his ministry, the three years that we read about in the Gospels he must make these choices time and time again. The temptations were not a one time only choice but each action, each miracle, each teaching had to align with his understanding of who he was and what his purpose was. The forty days in the wilderness were for Jesus a time of self reflection, a time to examine who he was and what he stood for.
What can we learn from this passage in Matthew?
Jesus tells us that we can not live on bread alone, that there is more to us than a physical body, we need more than physical food to thrive and grow. We need spiritual food as well as bread or pancakes. We need the Word of God, either understood as the Bible or Jesus himself, we need food for our spirits as well as our bodies.
We also know from this passage that Jesus was not immune from temptations, from going into a dark place. We can rest assured that anything we go through Jesus has already been there before us. We can know that he understands and has overcome everything that stands against us.
Lent, like Advent, is a period of preparation both leading up to a celebration of God’s love and power. Both celebrate God breaking through into our world in a new and earth-shattering way, one by his birth, one by his death and resurrection.
God’s covenant with his people fulfilled, a Messiah from the house and line of David redeeming his people, restoring the broken relationship of the Garden of Eden through his New and eternal Covenant.
19th February 2023 Thoughts "Covenants"
Reading: Jeremiah 31
We have looked at the Covenants made between Noah, Abraham and Moses. There was also a covenant made with David, whereby he was promised that there would be a ruler from his house whose kingdom would have no end.
All of these promises, agreements built on each other, revealing more of God's purposes with each one. The other side of the coin was that there were consequences for the people if their side of the agreement was not kept. We can see that throughout the Bible the people failed time and time again. However every time God persevered with his plan to redeem a people to himself through which he would bring all mankind into the relationship with himself which was always intended.
The last covenant which we looked at in more detail was that with Moses, a covenant of law where the laws were external and were written on tablets of stone. These laws were to be memorised and passed down from generation to generation, taught by parents to their children.
The prophet Jeremiah promised a new covenant, written not on stone tablets but on hearts of flesh. This covenant will fulfil all the others and succeed where the others have failed. Those involved in this agreement will be transformed from the inside out. This new covenant will also be the last one because it is an everlasting one which will bring together and fulfil all the elements of the others. It will be a new covenant in the sense that there has never been anything like it before, God will do a new thing for his people.
The basic foundation of this covenant is the need for the forgiveness of sins, of past wrongdoings being wiped out and erased. Jeremiah sees a time when instead of animal sacrifices representing the idea of sin being forgiven through the death of the animal, there would be a sacrifice sufficient for this really to be the case. The Jewish sacrificial system was a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
Sacrifices were offered, scapegoats were sent off into the wilderness representing the idea of forgiveness, through the death of a sacrifice but it had to be done time and time again.
The animal to be sacrificed had to be without blemish, it had to be perfect.
Jesus came as the perfect lamb of God, without fault, without blemish, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect substitute. His sacrifice, his death on the cross sealed the New Covenant and fulfilled the Jewish sacrificial system.
At each Communion we celebrate the New Covenant sealed with his shed blood as we drink the wine to remember his death and resurrection.
God's covenant promised made with his creation and his people are all brought to completion in this sacrifice of love.
12th February 2023 Thoughts "Covenants"
Reading: Exodus 24
We have looked at the Covenants with Noah and Abraham, so this time it is the turn of Moses. If the Covenant with Abraham was one of promise, the one with Moses, is one of law. This agreement, this covenant spelled out for the people of Israel just what was involved in being God's own people.
God brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery to Pharoh into a covenant relationship with God himself. This covenant with Moses was a way to renew God's commitment to his people, a commitment established under Adam, confirmed under both Noah and Abraham. It is an ongoing living relationship, each covenant a new layer to the understanding between God and mankind. This covenant lays bare and in detail what God requires, he is a holy God and his law, his Torah, is designed to produce a people who are, at the very least, aiming to be holy.
But what is meant by his Torah, what did God give to Moses, to his people?
In Hebrew Torah means guidance, teaching, instruction rather than laws. The first five books of our Old Testament are sometimes referred to as the Torah, indicating that here is teaching, here is guidance given to Israel and us through the ongoing revelation of God's character and purposes. Throughout these books a story is being told it starts with the creation of the world, goes through the lives of Abraham and Moses including the spelling out of the basis of God's relationship with his people. Throughout there is a conviction that present in every moment is God. The Torah is more than that, it is also a story of good news, a Gospel, good news which is world changing. This is about a God, who is not a remote deity sought out by desperate people, not a deity constructed as a last ditch crutch, but throughout God takes the initiative in the relationship, he is the one always reaching out in spite of numerous rejections and disappointments.
The commandments are given after God has delivered the people out of slavery, he loves first and then gives guidance on how to live according to his will. God gave the Torah to this people because he loved them. Obedience to the rules and regulations come as a response to the love of God. Israel often failed to live up to the standards set for the people of God. By the time of Jesus some religious groups, such as the Pharisees, had surrounded the original rules with more rules to make sure the original ones were not inadvertently broken!
For Moses the covenant rules were set on tablets of stone, it was an external covenant. Jeremiah, a prophet living after the time of Moses promised a new covenant which would be written on our hearts, an internal covenant.
More about that next time!
5th February 2023 Thoughts "Covenants"
Reading: Genesis 15
Last time we looked at the covenant brought in by God between himself, Noah, his descendants and all of creation. This covenant is sometimes referred to as a Covenant of Preservation, God promised to preserve the earth and basically not flood it as much as he just had done!
The covenant with Abram or Abraham is referred to as a Covenant of Promise in that God makes promises to Abram.
For this covenant to be established Abram is told to leave his land and family and to go on a journey. God promises that Abram will inherit the land, will be rewarded. Abram understandably points out that as he and his wife are both old the person who would inherit any land he gained would be a distant relative.
God gives the assurance that it would go to a child of Abram and enters into a formal covenant arrangement with Abram.
Under God's direction Abram takes a heifer, a goat and a ram. He divides them all into two halves and placed them opposite each other, then as the sun was setting Abram falls into a trance and God shows him what will happen to his descendants. After this a smoking fire-pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces, God made the covenant not Abram. Only God passed between the two halves of the animals.
God the Creator binds himself to man by a solemn blood oath, he chose to commit himself to the fulfilment of the promises he has made to Abram.
By chapter 17 of Genesis God has decided that Abram and his descendants need something to remind them of this covenant, to remind them that they are his people and so the injunction is laid on all generations that on the eighth day of life all males were to be circumcised, this was then the seal of the covenant. Being uncircumcised meant they were not part of God's people, there was no choice it had to be done, it was and is the sign and seal of the covenant between God and his people.
But why circumcision ?
It was a physical sign of the covenant but it also indicated the need for cleansing. Removing the foreskin was seen as a hygienic practice and was used to show the need for purification, and was how people were purified so that a covenant could exist between a holy God and an unholy people.
The covenant with Noah was symbolised by the placing of a bow in the sky the covenant with Abraham is symbolised by the rite of circumcision.
The covenant with Moses will be symbolised by the law written on tablets of stone.
More next time.
29th January 2023 Thoughts "Covenants"
Reading: Genesis 9:1-17
One of the gifts Methodism gives to the Christian Church is the Covenant service. This was first held in 1755 and was introduced by John Wesley. It is an annual service held in all Methodist churches and chapels, a key element of it is the Covenant prayer which says
I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
The original idea was that there would be a series of meetings about the Covenant leading up to the service itself. There would be a day’s retreat for people to prepare themselves in prayer, fasting, reflection and self examination before joining in the service itself, which as well as containing the prayer would be centred around Communion, which in turn celebrated the New Covenant.
The Bible tells us about various covenants that God has made with his people and they are always initiated by God. There is the covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with David and finally the perpetual covenant made through Jesus.
The reading from Genesis chapter 9 tells us about the covenant with Noah. The chapter starts after Noah, his family and all the animals in the ark have been released from their lockdown. Noah has built an altar and has offered whole burnt offerings in thanks for their deliverance. God is pleased with Noah and makes a covenant with him, but not just him, it is also with his offspring and all the living creatures that were with him, birds, domestic animals and wild beasts. A lot of what is said to Noah is very similar to the words spoken to Adam ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have dominion over it’. Alongside this injunction to increase and multiply is the introduction of the importance of all life, there is the command not to eat meat which has blood in it. The blood equals life anyone who sheds blood must lose theirs. This seems somewhat harsh to us, eye for an eye etc. If each of us are made in the likeness and image of God then to kill one of us is a direct insult to God himself. Noah represents a second beginning, a second attempt at enabling human beings to have the kind of relationship with God that they were intended to have. As a reminder of this covenant God promised to put a bow in the sky so that he himself will remember the covenant he has made with all living flesh.
There are other covenants for us to look at, next time will be the covenant with Abraham.
22nd January 2023 Thoughts
The discussion group this month is looking at the Book of Ruth, so I thought I would share some thoughts which have arisen from that.
We are probably all familiar with the story of Ruth but I would encourage you to read this small book through in one sitting, only four chapters.
No one is sure who the author of this book was but the events in it happened in the time before there was a monarchy, in the time of the Judges.
The story starts in a large town called Bethlehem, usually this area produced plenty of food, in fact the name of the town means ' House of Bread', unusually there was a famine. Elimelech was from Ephrath so probably belonged to one of the chief families in Bethlehem and he decided to take his family, wife and two sons, to Moab which was on the opposite side of the Dead Sea and was a separate state. It was not somewhere that knew Yahweh.
Whilst the family were in Moab, Elimelech died, as did the two sons. Naomi was now without any man from her family to look after her, and she was in a foreign country with her two daughters in law. Naomi heard that the situation had improved in Judah, that God was providing again for his people so she decided to go back home. Ruth and Orpah both started the journey with her. She must have been a special Mother in Law. Orpah was persuaded to go back to her own people but Ruth proclaimed that she would adopt Naomi's ways, even her god.
Ruth and Naomi arrived at Bethlehem to be greeted by the townswomen who knew Naomi but were surprised at her appearance. Naomi explains that she left full and has returned empty, no longer did she want the name that meant her life was pleasant, but' Mara' because her life had become bitter.
But in all that she had suffered, Naomi did not stop believing God. She did not understand why her life was sad. She only knew that God was in command.
The story moves on. Ruth goes to glean in the fields, according to Leviticus 19 (9-10) when the harvest was gathered in those in need, the poor and alien, were allowed to gather grain left at the sides or dropped by the harvesters. It so happened that the strip of land Ruth went to was owned by Boaz, who it so happened was a relative of Elimelech. Coincidence or God 's direction?
There was another law laid down by God which said that if a man died his nearest male relative had the right of redemption of his lands and property so that the land God gave the tribes would not be lost. Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz and claimed his protection as a relative through marriage to Elimelech. Boaz knew of a closer relative that had to be given the right of refusal and although this man was happy to buy the land was not happy to take on Ruth as his wife. Perhaps, he already had a family, or because the first son they had would carry on the name of Ruth's deceased husband and he would own his land not the step father. (see Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son called Obed, but it is Naomi who is congratulated and adopts Obed as her son. In time Obed became the father of Jesse who was the father of David and the line descends to Joseph who was of the house and lineage of David.
So why is this book in the Bible? It's a story about an ordainary family wh are living as members of God's family because they respect and obey him. It' s about resilience and trust in grief. Naomi in spite of all she loses never doubts God, she doesn't understand his actions but doesn't lose faith and in the end is rewarded and provided for.
15th January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: John 1:29-42
There is something special about a personal invitation to something it makes us feel special and valued, it makes us feel wanted. When someone invites you for coffee or a meal because they want your company it makes you feel special doesn't it, warm inside?
Invitations are important in the Bible as well and are extended by both God and Jesus. There are apparently 55 verses in the Bible which deal with an invitation of some kind. Psalm 34 reads “O taste and see that the Lord is good”. Seeing goes beyond physical sight it is more understanding why things are as they are,come and learn, understand.
The reading from John is at the start of Jesus ministry, the affirmation of his calling, embodied in the form of a dove. We know little or nothing about the childhood of Jesus. The reading opens with John the Baptist testifying to the people around him as to what he had seen. When Jesus was baptized by John, John saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove and remain on Jesus. This was a sign to John that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. The next day John sees Jesus and identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Two of John’s disciples hear this and follow Jesus and begin to ask him questions. Rather than have a long discussion with these disciples, Jesus issues a simple invitation, “Come and See.”come and experience it all for yourselves After a few hours with Jesus, the disciples were telling people that they had found the Messiah.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said to his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God. When John’s disciples followed Jesus, they expected to see the Messiah. The Pharisees, Sadducees and Chief Priests anticipated threats to their power. When they saw Jesus, they didn’t see the Messiah—but only a challenge to their power and authority.
Jesus asked the first disciples, “What do you want” or “What are you looking for?”
It is one of the fundamental questions of life.
What are the people who live in the homes surrounding this church building looking for? What do they want? Isn't it something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim their adoration and praise.
Are they not looking for challenge and purpose?
Are they not looking for God?
“Come and see” is how the disciples’ story begins.
This is an invitation to catch a glimpse of God, and if we catch a glimpse of God we will catch a glimpse of who we can be!
The people who follow Jesus end up doing many of the kinds of things that Jesus did.
They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the brokenhearted, bandage those who are wounded, and do more than is expected.
Jesus invites each one of us to come and see. Come and see what he can do in your life, come and see just what he is capable of and willing to do for you. Jesus invites you to a new life, a new understanding but you have to accept the invitation, you have to be willing to “Come and see”.
We are called to see what God sees when God looks at the world, to abide with God in the places where God lives, and to share that passion by being God’s presence in this world and bringing others to Jesus. Accepting Jesus’ invitation we follow him and in doing so we see, hear, touch, taste and smell what life, mission, and ministry are like with Jesus. We are immersed in the experience of God not of church. When we meet God when we go and learn, when we go and listen and understand our lives have to change, we have to become more Christlike the more time we spend with him the more he influences us.
There are occasions, though, when we look but do not see, and seek but do not find. We often blame God and say that God has left us or is not listening to us, when this happens. But actually our spiritual eyes are playing tricks on us.
We often see God in only the good things that happen. When we are comfortable, content, and secure we view ourselves as blessed by God and have no trouble seeing God. If our comfort, contentment, or security are taken from us, when we feel ourselves threatened, we frequently focus intently on the problem. We examine it so closely that we can see nothing else—not even Jesus. Pausing to step back and look around we may discover that Jesus was right by our side all the time.
8th January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Luke 2:1-21
The 8th day of January holds special meaning for myself and for my family. It is the day, our daughter was born. Like all mothers I remember it well. If you ask me where or what I was doing on a certain date I would have trouble telling you, but this day, along with dates such as my wedding day and the birthday of my son, I can recall with clarity.
Why am I telling you this?
The 8th of January falls soon after Christmas and there seems no time between Christmas and the celebrations for her birthday, presents have been bought for both events at the same time, sometimes excess Christmas presents have been re-wrapped as birthday presents.
I remember the Christmas before she was born, I was heavily pregnant and even celebrating Christmas Day was a real chore, but it did make me think more about Mary, and I really empathised with her that year more than any other before or since.
My bag was packed, I knew where I would give birth, I knew I would be in a warm building, with a bed, with professionals trained in aiding birth, with people who could help if there were problems. I even had the advantage of this birth being a second one……but Mary!
How different was her story, a young girl, a first birth and to a virgin. A birth that would come after a long journey (there is no mention of her riding on a donkey by the way) in a strange place. Did she really have to go with Joseph, or was that a way to protect her from the local gossips.
When they arrived at their destination they couldn’t find anywhere to stay, just like many people today who are forced to flee their home lands, through war, droughts and famine. Where do you go in that circumstance.
Joseph and Mary had nowhere to go until they were allowed to shelter with the animals in an outhouse/ stable/cave.
We are spared the details of the birth, did God have pity on Mary and allow an easy quick birth or did she labour for hours, did Joseph find a local village woman to help Mary? Did Mary have any baby blues or postnatal depression? Or was she always as serene as our nativity stories and plays depict.
Mary gave birth and laid her baby in the feeding trough used by the animals.
I wonder how the animals felt about that!
Part of the process of welcoming a baby into the family is to choose a name for them, a name which is attached for life. The name our daughter was given means star. The name Mary's child, Jesus, was given means the Lord is Salvation, he was also called Immanuel, God with us.
God is with us through all aspects of our lives, the good and the bad and all between.
Mary's child has been born, history has been fulfilled and we can rejoice.
1st January 2023 Thoughts
Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
The reading is taken from a book in the Old Testament which is in a group called the Wisdom Literature or Writings. The name of the author is uncertain although some attribute it to King Solomon, writing in his old age. One of the basic ideas in this book is that there is a time and a season for everything. Just as we expect certain weather and events in the seasons of the year so there are seasons in our lives.
When we were younger our peers all seemed to be getting married, then they all seemed to be having children, then grandchildren. We move from celebrating weddings to a period when all those around us are inviting us to funerals. One generation gives way to the next. We go from being children enjoying Christmas lunch cooked and prepared for us to the ones cooking for parents and then to having our children prepare the meal for us, just one example of seasons and tides.
Ecclesiastes encourages us to see that there are many different times ‘under heaven’, some of them very dark indeed.
We all have different experiences of the various times and seasons of life. Some of us have experienced the joy and trials of children, some of us have lived fruitful happy lives as independent self sufficient people. All our lives have come for different points, we all have different stories and experiences to share.
Ecclesiastes has a list of actions which are both positive and negative, in the last few years the experience we had with Covid taught us that embracing is not always appropriate. We have all had times in our lives which have been positive and negative, perhaps with an overlap but not always. Sometimes those periods have been short-lived sometimes they have lasted for longer. The experiences we have are all different and unique to each one of us, no one can fully understand how someone else is feeling, sometimes there are no words we can offer.
We can only be aware that others are in a different season to us.
Part of the list in the reading is ‘a time to build and a time to tear down’. There is challenge within the words ‘a time to build and a time to tear down’. And the new year seems a good opportunity to consider prayerfully where we are as a church community. Are there things we do that need to stop because they are not or no longer fruitful? Are there things such as the Tuesday Club or the Discussion Group that have been started but could and should grow, that need to be built up?
Are there other things we can do to support each other in the different seasons and chapters of life.