Reading for Sunday 8th May 2022
John 10: 22 - 30
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered round him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’
Reflections on John 10: 22 - 30
In our reading from John 10, verse 24 tells us that the Jews gathered round Jesus saying, "How long will you keep us In suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly". That really is the predominant question throughout the birth, life and death of Jesus. Who is this man ??
The disciples spent 3 years with him and were still discovering the answer. His death threw a spanner in the works. There was still so much they didn't understand. All they had was a tomb with a massive stone across the entrance. Today we put headstones on graves giving some details of the person whq has died, often finished off with the letters RIP or Rest in Peace. What might the disciples have put on the stone sealing his tomb? The words from the cross perhaps The King of the Jews followed by RIP? But of course we all know what happened when they visited the tomb on Sunday!! Everything had changed and they still had so much to learn about who Jesus was and is.
When we are faced with the death of loved ones, as we all do at some time, it's quite understandable that we want them to Rest in Peace, but what struck me quite forcibly was that RIP in no way applied to Jesus. Jesus resting in peace is not what the story of Easter is about.
So what I’m going to share with you are some alternative suggestions for those initials so that they can signify the essence of who Jesus was and how that influences us now. So getting a stonemason to inscribe RIP on the stone in front of Jesu’s tomb could mean, not Rest in Peace but rather ‘ RISEN IN POWER’. We can’t be in any doubt at all that the resurrection of Jesus is anything other than a display of God’s power. Not resting but Risen. Death could not hold him. Any power that satan had was and is, totally inferior to the power of God who gives life, that is the life we have now and the life we will have later. It is a marvellous thing that incredible though it is, the resurrection of Jesus carries with it the promise of God that the same can happen for us.
Paul spells it out in 1Cor 15, that we too will know victory over death. You know the passage….. v.42 The body which is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonour it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
So we too will know victory over death by the power of God. But that promise isn’t for everyone, it is for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and have turned to Christ as the only way of knowing God’s forgiveness and receiving the Holy Spirit. Easter brings all this into focus.. Being confident in God’s power is reserved for those who have responded in penitence now. So RIP is appropriate for a Christian grave not representing ‘Rest in Peace’ but rather ‘Risen in Power’
But there is another way of translating RIP for Jesus’s tomb because we know that in returning to Heaven Jesus is also ‘Reigning in Power’. So from Risen in Power, to now, reigning in Power. This is the present reality of Jesus. This is where he is now, reigning in power. Paul wrote to Timothy:-
2 Tim 2v11 ‘ Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; If we endure, we will also reign with him’
And John’s Revelation speaks in terms of our Lord reigning for ever and ever. So not only has Jesus gone back in power, he has also gone back to reign for ever, and for those who are his disciples there is the promise that we will reign with him. In the context of our world, as it always has been and still is, power corrupts and spoils being both selfish and unjust. To reign with Christ will be perfect because it will be power based on 100% love and justice.
Now there is one other suggestion I have for these initials RIP. I wonder if you can guess what it might be ? It concerns the bringing about of all the promises that God gives us about Jesus. We have explored being Raised in Power followed by then Reigning in Power, but in Acts 1 we find another promise.
Acts 1v.11 Why do you stand there looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken into Heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into Heaven.
Matthew 24 describes the event as “The Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” So RIP can also mean ‘Returning in Power’ That’s what we can look forward to. The return of the one who was raised in Power, who reigns in Power and then returns in Power to put an end to the rule of Satan. In Matt 24 we also readlhat when that day happens) all the na¬tions will see it. A real statement of God's power. Can you see the common de¬nominator in all of this? It's the word POWER, that is, God's power. Recognising the power is something we must not lose sight of or take for granted.
So how does all this affect us now? Does it mean that we can, Rest in Peace? That we can sit back and let it all happen because God has the power to sort it all out? That we can live our lives, just Simply aware that this all hap¬pened and showing our gratitude at Easter ??
I think you know the answer. We were created by God in His image, created to praise Him and rejoice in belonging to Him. Created to take delight in serving Him and following His law of Love. So for us, the fact of the resurrection means that while we wait, those initials RIP can mean different things for us. Firstly we can follow the example of the first disciples by Rejoicing in Praise. Easter is the central plank of the whole of our faith and is the most important festival of the Christian year. We can be unashamed as we Rejoice in Praise to the God who made it all happen.
For the disciples, as time went on, they began to remember, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the things that Jesus had said, the predictions he had made, and they soon recognised that everything Jesus had said was trustworthy, that the promises he gave to them could be depended upon, especially in the sending of God's gift of the Spirit. And so it can be for us as we 'Rejoice in the Promises'. The promises are dependable because they emanate from the God who has proved His love and power. It's good for us to take time to be reminded of those promises both to rejoice and anticipate our future after death.
When we remember on Good Friday that Jesus died, we read that the thick curtain in the temple was torn in half portraying the truth that God is now accessi¬ble to everyone. We can approach Him direct, talk to Him, share with Him. In Acts 1v14 after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, Luke tells us that the disciples devoted themselves to prayer. So my third and final suggestion for living as a Christian with the initials RIP is 'Rejoice in Prayer'. We add that to 'Rejoice in Praise', 'Rejoice in the Promises' and now 'Rejoice in Prayer'. It is indeed a privilege to be able to approach God in prayer. Not something we deserve but which God allows and seeks. Prayer is the life force of our Christian lives and the disciples devoted themselves to prayer and we neglect it at a cost.
What wil be on your headstone? If it includes R.I.P ... Will it be a statement that you have Risen in Power, and that you are Reigning in Power? Will it also reflect that in your life you have Rejoiced in Praise, Rejoiced in the Promises and Rejoiced in Prayer? I hope so.
In the Resurrection we have the final piece of the puzzle as to who Jesus was and still is. Risen .. Reigning .. and Returning in Power.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Readings for Sunday 1st May 2022
Acts 9: 1 - 6 - Saul's Conversion
Meanwhile, Saul (Paul) was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
John 21: 1- 19 - Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish
Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
Reflections on Peter and Paul
Well, after 2 Bible Readings like those, there’s only one theme to reflect on this morning, and that is our own individual – unique – journeys of faith. And I use the word “unique” quite deliberately, because its dictionary definition is this …… one of a kind.
I guess that if you asked any group of churchgoers to name the characters they considered the most important players in the New Testament part of the Bible, apart from Jesus, most folk would put Peter and Paul in their Top 3. But as people, they were very different. About the only thing they actually had in common was their nationality – they’d have ticked the box “Jewish” on any census form for both nationality and religion. But even on this they had a difference. Paul – or Saul to give him his birth name – had dual nationality; he was also a Roman citizen.
And if you’d have had to score them on a scale of 1 to 10 as “likely to become a follower of Jesus of Nazareth”, let alone a church leader…. Well, I’d have put Peter at a 5, average, the sort of bloke who would put C of E or Christian on an English Census form because it fitted better than anything else. Yes, he'd have been brought up in the faith of his family, yes he would have observed the main religious festivals and requirements, and yes, he wanted a Messiah to come to get rid of the Romans. But first and foremost he was….a fisherman. Paul, however, well he’d score 0 out of 10 as likely to become a Christian, wouldn’t he. He was what the tabloids would now call a religious fundamentalist or extremist. Yes, he did have a profession – he was a tentmaker – but primarily he would have defined himself as a devout keeper of all the Jewish religious rites and laws, and a member of the religious hierarchy. A defender of the true religion against heathens and blasphemers. That’s why he saw the “new” sect founded by the itinerant preacher from Nazareth as such a threat.
And in our readings we meet Peter and Paul at very different points in their faith journeys. Paul is on a mission to Damascus to stamp out the spread of the Jesus heresy, while Peter has been with Jesus from the start, has seen him raised from the dead as Jesus promised, but has gone back to the one place where he felt safe and which defined his life …… fishing. Both men, to progress in their faith journeys, needed 3 things, which were unique to them, and deeply personal.
1. A unique meeting. With Jesus. In Pauls case, he had to be literally stopped in his tracks by a vision of Jesus. It was the only way Jesus could get through to him; a debate with Christian theologians would never have done it. He went from persecutor to champion of Christians in one go. And there are many examples down through the centuries to the present day, where Jesus has appeared to non-Christians in similar ways. With Peter, however, the need for a special meeting with Jesus, face to face, was very different. He’d been in the team from the start, he’d made all the big promises of allegiance, and yet when the pinch point came he had denied he knew Jesus 3 times. Those denials were as much a betrayal as that committed by Judas – and Judas had not been able to live with himself. Then Jesus had been raised; Peter had seen him, together with the rest of the disciples, BUT Peters own individual faith had stalled. There was still a shadow, which could only be lifted by a one-to-one with Jesus, and Jesus chose the time and location most suited to the meeting.
So, where are we? I can guarantee that each of our faith journeys will have been unique. Some will talk of being aware of God from a young age, and that awareness having grown with the years. Some, like me, will speak of going from 0 on the faith scale to at least 8 or 9 “out of the blue”. If the speaker – on the occasion I was pestered into a church meeting by a friend – hadn’t looked the spitting image of the comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor of The Goodies, I wouldn’t have listened to him and I wouldn’t have given Christianity another thought. God knows the best way to reach us. But there’s another phase on our faith journeys which most, if not all, of us go through at least once, and often, if we’re honest, more than once. We wander off the faith track – either deliberately or by default – or we just get stale, and stuck. Faith doesn’t seem to drive us the way it used to……. To all of us let me say that – either today or at any point in our lives here on earth – Jesus is waiting for us. To use a British idiom - he’s got the kettle on; he’s got 2 armchairs, one for him and one for us, and he’s ready to listen and talk. All we have to do is meet with him.
2. A unique forgiveness. Its one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith that all have sinned and fallen short of Gods standards, but that Jesus came and died at a specific point in human history, to take on himself the sins of the whole world – past, present, and future - and offer a permanent way back to God for all who ask. Thats Forgiveness with a capital F. That’s what confronted Paul on the road to Damascus and what he accepted during his 3 days of blindness which followed his meeting with Jesus. But theres also another aspect of forgiveness. Each Sunday we say what used to be called the prayer of “General Confession”. It’s a recognition that, even as followers of Jesus on a faith journey, we aren’t perfect and get things wrong on a regular basis; we recognise we need to know his ongoing forgiveness to keep our lines of communication with Father God fully open. But some of us, or perhaps all of us on some occasions, reach a point where we feel that something we have done, or something that has been done to us, is a boulder blocking our faith path and might not/cannot be removed by the forgiveness of Jesus. That was where Peter was at, and I believe this episode is recorded for our benefit if we find ourselves in a similar situation. Note Jesus approach. He understands where Peter is at and how painful it is. He doesn’t dwell on the past or expose Peters failure piece by piece. He simply draws out Peters hurt and guilt, his heart attitude of remorse, and then leads him on. Peters place in the Christian family is assured – it was never in doubt; but the burden he wrongly held onto has been lifted. Are we in Peters shoes at present? Have we been? Will we be in the future? Jesus is waiting for us, to lift the burden, and to restore us.
3. A unique commission. At the end of their one to ones with Jesus, both Peter and Paul are told that they are called to a particular job within the growing church, a job that they are uniquely equipped by God to do. In Peters case it is pastoral “Feed my lambs” ie help fledgling Christians and fellowships to grow in faith. He did so, and ended up as head of the Christian church, dying in Rome, the centre of the Roman Empire. In Pauls case, it was to be THE great church planter across the Roman Empire. As Jesus explained to Ananias in Acts 9.15. “This man (ie Paul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles (ie non-Jews) and their kings and before the people of Israel.” With both men, it was Gods initiative. He called them, he brought them into right relationship with them, and he equipped them for the job that they were uniquely designed to do. And it’s the same with each one of us…………across the whole spectrum of callings from church leader, church planter to welcomers, showers of hospitality – and in our present technological world, constructors of power points and YouTube videos. No role is more or less important – Jesus just needs each of us to do the role he's equipped us to do. And that role may change or vary – many of you will know that Marion and I are part of the team that host a weekly after-school drop-in at the primary school on Haywood Village. Our role – to serve tea, coffee and biscuits ….. with a smile of course. And it releases the Haywood church members to establish relationships with the parents and children who come.
Please also note that when Jesus commissioned Peter and Paul, he didn’t say…… do your job and in 30 years you can retire! From the letters that Peter and Paul wrote, we can see that they always had one eye on training the next generation of church leaders, planters, and members. There is no such thing as a retired Christian! For instance, no church can remain strong and evolving without a strong and continuing foundation of prayer. So that includes us all. Are we thinking we don’t know where we fit in our fellowship? Let me suggest we can start by praying daily for the fellowship – that in itself is a lifelong role.
So, whatever our individual faith journeys, we are all called to our unique meetings with Jesus, our acceptance of his ongoing forgiveness, and our commissioning for our place in showing his love to the world. Actually, at the end of his meeting with Peter, Jesus sums the whole thing up in 2 words….. FOLLOW ME.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 24th April 2022
John 20: 19 - 31 - Jesus Appears to His Disciples
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Reflections on John 20: 19 - 31
We are no sooner out of Christmas than we are into our present season of Easter. We have already had that sad and terrible remembrance time of Good Friday with all its pain humiliation and sacrifice born by Christ on the cross for our sins. Then that gloriest resurrection on Easter Sunday what a wonderful service that was here at St Augustine’s and I guess in countless other Christian churches throughout the world. So, what’s next on our calendar?
Well, it must be Ascension Day in 40 days time. But why the wait? Surely it would have been better if Christ had gone straight from the grave back into heaven much less hassle and confusion for everyone. But remember and never forget, God never makes mistakes or gets it wrong. So, let’s look at the reason for the way it happened the way God planned it.
Have you ever had someone tell you a story or relay to you an incident that they say they witnessed? And at the end of their story, you are bound to say I just can’t believe that what you have just told me can be true, it’s too farfetched to have a grain of truth in it Well I’ve read a story about a man whom said just that. Maybe you’ve heard of him, I will tell you his name later, of course you may be miles ahead of me with this story.
I don’t know if you have ever watched a series of programmes on the TV about man’s first walk on the moon in 1969, maybe you remember watching it on TV. This programme is about a number of sceptics who fervently reputed the moon landing, they say it’s too outlandish to be true, and that we just did not have the technology to have done it in 1969. What they wanted was hard evidence to justify the claim that man had walked on the moon in 1969, maybe you’re a sceptic you just need more evidence to justify the claim. And that’s exactly what Thomas the man in our reading wanted
And in our Gospel story he wanted hard evidence that Jesus had risen and was alive, nothing else would convince him that his fellow disciples had seen Jesus alive and had spoken to him, after all he had seen Jesus taken from the cross and placed in a stone-cold tomb with a large stone covering the entrance, and to be fair how many people do you know who have returned from the dead
So can we blame him for being a sceptic? We will see what Jesus says nearer the end. Let’s look at the situation the disciples were in when this happened. Jesus had been crucified on a cross at Calvary. The disciples were in hiding fearful that the authorities were after them because they were followers of Jesus. Doors were locked, and then Jesus appeared standing there right in the middle of them. They knew Jesus was dead his body has gone from the tomb, but they still have no idea of just what this might mean. Had it been stolen body snatchers someone had taken it out of a sealed tomb, no other explanation will fit the circumstances. But believe it or not there he was standing right in front of them
What do you think his first words to them might have been? 'Where have you lot been just when I needed you why did you desert me?'. NO, it wasn’t anything like that. No, he did not question their actions or indeed their disloyalty but calmly says 'Peace be with you'. This statement from Jesus can only be interpreted as saying I forgive you. What does this say about our Lord and saviour? - what a forgiving Father we have in Jesus. Yes, the disloyal disciples are returned to the fold just as a shepherd brings back a strayed lamb just as the parodical father welcomed back his strayed and lost son.
But he’s not finished with them yet, this is a group of frightened men who I believe have little to know idea what is happening to them, a group of men still in a state of shock after witnessing Christ death on a cross, but now he’s right in front of them looking fit and well, but bearing the marks of that crucifixion. And now Jesus is going to send them out to continue the work. The work that he himself Jesus, has started, that of bringing others to know God. No extra training needed they have seen all they need to see, they have heard all they need to hear, they have felt the present of the Lord yes, they were ready.
So, my friends here this afternoon are we ready, that is you and me? Jesus knows are capabilities he won’t give us more than we can handle, he knows what we are capable of achieving. So, he says to us all 'As the father has sent me so now, I send you'.
Now let’s return to his man who doubted, Thomas, or as he has become known, Thomas the doubter, and may be on reflection a bit unjust, think how we might have reacted given the same circumstances, I guess we shall never know. Hang on I think that statement may not be entirely true . We know that many have been introduced to Jesus but still can’t believe that he’s real and alive is that a bit like Thomas. Yes, Thomas doubted.
So, what did the Lord say to him when they eventually met up 8 days later? 'Feel and see the nail holes in my side and my hands'. So, 'Thomas', said Jesus 'don’t be faithless any more just believe'. Then he Jesus made this statement 'Thomas, you believed only because you have seen me and the evidence. But blessed are those who haven’t seen me yet believe'.
My friends here this evening my final statement is Which one if these two options do we fit into?
Are we only believe if we can see for ourselves
We believe in the risen Christ without seeing. I leave that choice up to you
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 3rd April 2022
John 12: 1-8 - Jesus Anointed at Bethany
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Reflections on John 12: 1-8Reading John 12 : 1 - 8
In the opening words in Genesis chapter 1 we read "In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth", and I think he did a pretty good job of it. Don't you? He gave us ever thing that we could possibly want for a wonderful life. Water, food, minerals to transform our lives in fact nothing was left out.
So, what happened next? Well God wanted us to have choices in the wonderful life he had given us, so he gave us free choice. He started with Adam and Eve and we know what happened they succumbed to temptation. It seems we can't handle free choice and we see what's happening across our world today people get greedy and they want more and more. Remember God's first commandment Love the Lord your God in other words put him first and then secondly everyone else. But too many people put self-first and forget God. Have you ever thought much about Freedom of Choice? It's something that most in this country take for granted. Freedom to make right or wrong choices. But there are many, many countries where they do not have such freedom and recently we have seen that in Russia God-given choice has been taken away from them.
So now I want you to exercise that freedom for a few moments. If I were to ask you to write down the 5 most precious things in your life, I wonder what you'd write. You have total freedom to put them in which ever order you consider their importance. Don't worry I not going to ask you to do it, but it's a good soul¬searching question or maybe you would like a few moments to discuss it with someone next to you or maybe even that is difficult? Maybe it's an exercise we can do in the privacy of our own homes. I guess the answers I'd get from Christians like us here this morning would be very different from those who do not have Jesus in their lives. What does Jesus teach us about getting our priorities correct? Well, he's quite clear in what he says, and that is that we are to place him at the very top of our list before family or friends. Is that not a most difficult choice to make for both Christians and non-Christians? But here it is in Matthew 22 "The first commandment is this Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind". So, we have to realise that unless we place him above all else it will be impossible to give him our full heart mind and soul in devotion And then Matthew says put everyone else next i.e., in second place.
So, do we see that command being played out in our bible reading this morning? Yes, I think we do. Let's remind ourselves of that reading "Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead". Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. We see from this selfless act that Mary valued Jesus above all else. Maybe she realised something that few others had thought about that he had little time left on earth and therefore she had but a short time left to show ner love to him that was her choice. And that's why Mary showed her love by giving the best that she had to the one she loved most the one on the top of her list. Note the BEST. Not the rest. Not the leftovers. The BEST that she had. Mary doesn't hold back either. She wants all to see. Maybe there is a lesson for us all that we should not hold back in showing our love for the Lord. None of us know just how much time we have left in which to show our love for our Lord, so maybe todays a good day to start.
But as I am sure most of us have found out when we start really serving the Lord truthfully something or someone gets in the way. Yes, it always happens when we start truly serving the Lord with open hearts and minds focused on his teaching and his ways. I guess we've all come across it something or someone tries to put a downer a spanner in the works just when things are going well. So never forget the devil not far away. Well, it's a fact that when we're working for Jesus the devil is always very close looking for a weak spot to do his dirty work. No, point him (that is the devil) targeting those that are already on his side although many don't realise it. No, the devil is after You and me those of us who love and do our best to serve the Lord in accordance with his word. And sure, as eggs are eggs, the devil is there ready in our bible reading to bad mouth the kindness that Mary shows. He's there to scupper Mary's act of love, her love for the Lord.
Yes, the devil needs someone to do his dirty work and he doesn't have far to look, he's right there at the dining table with everyone else. You've got Judas Iscariot. Why ever did Jesus pick Judas as one of his first 12 disciples? Well, that's another sermon for another day I'm sure there is an answer. Remember Jesus doesn't make mistakes he leaves that to you and me in our choices. I was looking for an appropriate word with which to describe Judas Iscariot in this episode. It's as I said just now when someone does something good you can bet another person criticizes it and that person is working for the devil. Let's remember It is far easier to criticize than to build up others, or to do good yourself. I guess we all can learn from that lesson. So, Mary had used a pound of expensive ointment for a good thing - anointing the feet of Jesus, but Judas argues that something better could have been done with the ointment! It could have been used to benefit the poor he argues. Just What had Judas ever done for the poor? I guess very little. He was a thief. Listen to verse 6 from the NIV "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it".
The love of money above all else is as the saying goes 'The root of all evil'. Not money itself but one's love for it. And Jesus made that very clear in verse 7 His reply to Judas was "Leave her alone she did it in preparation for my burial". Jesus gives a strong indication that he very soon will be leaving them. I'm sure that perhaps other that Mary they all failed to understand the significance of his remark .
Let us remind ourselves of what Paul says in our first reading he is speaking in a letter to the Philippians. Paul says "I once thought all things were so important but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done." It took Paul many years to come to Christ, but the Damascus Road proves that Christ never gives up. Christ can look deep into our hearts and minds and see thing that we ourselves are unable even to dream about. He did it with Saul, he turned him into the Paul we now read about in our bibles. So, let us pray that he will be turning many hearts and minds this coming week towards him especially as we near Easter time when we remember Christ sacrifice on the cross for our wrong choices.
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 27th March 2022
Exodus 2:1-8 - The Birth of Moses
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket a for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water"
Reflections for Mothering Sunday on Exodus 2:1-8
Twenty years ago, a BBC broadcaster and journalist Kate Adie published a book, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. In it, she recalls her life as a BBC reporter, from war zones, disaster areas, political uprisings and other reportable events to which she and her camera crew were sent by the BBC. She meets and interviews lots of interesting characters and in so doing, is struck by the kindness shown to her by complete strangers, often in the most difficult circumstances. So the title of her autobiography is totally apt, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’.
‘The Kindness of Strangers’ could also be a good title for this morning’s reading from Exodus.
Many years previously, Joseph, who, with God’s guidance, was a good interpreter of dreams. He had risen in favour and status in Pharaoh’s court and had overseen the storing of grain in advance of a famine which had now struck the land. Joseph’s dad Jacob and his family had travelled to Egypt to escape the famine in the land of Israel, as they had heard that there was food in Egypt and they stayed there. Years passed and the Israelites had lots of babies and became a large people group within Egypt.
There was now a new Pharaoh who knew nothing of the history of the good that Joseph had done. He was worried. These Israelites, God’s people, were becoming extremely numerous and this new Pharaoh was concerned for national security, as in the previous chapter of Exodus, he says ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’ The modern day parallel to this was sadly shown happening back in February with Russia invading Ukraine to counter their fear of Ukraine joining NATO. So what does Pharaoh do? He puts the Israelites under forced labour, but they still continued to multiply, so Pharaoh worked them even harder. Then the king of Egypt came up with an idea. Get the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew boys when they are born and let the girls live. Sorted! Well, not quite. The Hebrew midwives were resourceful and caring, they let the Hebrew boys live, as they had a great respect for God and knew what they had been asked to do was wrong. So they got hauled up before the king of Egypt and asked to explain their actions. Hebrew women, they said, are strong and feisty, unlike Egyptian women, and have given birth before we arrive. So the Hebrew people, God’s chosen people, increase even more.
On hearing this, Pharaoh is even more incensed and ups the stakes. He orders all his people to throw the new born Hebrew baby boys into the river Nile. This is where we pick up the story this morning.
A boy has been born to a Levite couple, who are one of the clans of Israel. They see that he is different, that he is a fine child. They are living in fear that his cries will be heard and that he will subsequently be drowned in the Nile. After deciding that they can’t shield him any longer, his mum gets a reed basket, makes it waterproof and also dark, places the baby boy in it and puts it among the reeds in the river Nile. She is caring and resourceful. She also trusts in God that somehow something good will come out of this terrible situation. She sends the baby boy’s sister to watch from a distance to see what happens.
I suspect that what happened in the next few minutes, or it could have been hours, were beyond her wildest expectations. In the past, God had put Jacob into a position of influence in Pharaoh’s court and it looks like that God is at work again, that something unexpected is going to happen. Help has come from a completely unexpected quarter, Pharaoh’s daughter. God can work through people who don’t believe in him or even acknowledge him. Here is another caring woman, Pharaoh’s daughter, who has come to have a dip in the River Nile. She has her servants and slave girls with her, so it was an all woman group. Pharaoh’s daughter has seen the basket and probably heard the cries of the hungry baby. So she instructs her female slave to go and fish the basket out of the reeds. Here is another woman who shows love and care by retrieving the basket with its precious cargo. There are no men about to enforce Pharaoh’s orders to drown all the baby boys, so the baby is safe, although crying as the daylight has disturbed him and he is probably hungry. What to do? Another resourceful woman, the baby’s sister, appears and suggests that a Hebrew woman could nurse him, unbeknown to Pharaoh’s daughter, who is the baby’s mother and who is going to be paid for doing the job!
So the baby is safe, under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter and the family have an important income stream for the time being, straight from the court of the oppressor. Then eventually, when the child is older, he becomes Pharaoh’s daughter’s son, is named Moses and grows up learning the ways of the Egyptians, which will be put to good use later on in his life, but that’s another story.
Today is Mothering Sunday. This story from Exodus is one example of women showing: love, care and resourcefulness. It is the kindness of strangers. Men are often out to kill, destroy and get their own way. Women, on the whole are different. A quote came up on Facebook recently which I tend to agree with, by the actress Meryl Streep “I do honestly think that if women were running the world there would be more investment in peace, because basically as women we do not want to see our children killed. Maybe I am completely idealistic, but until we see women in equal positions of power in the world, I just think that we are doomed.” The world needs good women to keep it under control.
As humans, we are all made in God’s image, or in Latin, the Imago Dei. We often address God as ‘Our Father’ but going on the fact that we are all made in God’s image, God also has feminine qualities. Here are some verses from the Bible to reflect this: Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. Matthew 23:37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing.' Zephaniah 3:17 He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Ruth 2:12 May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’ Psalm 36:7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. In Proverbs Ch 4, The word wisdom, which is likened to the Holy Spirit, has a feminine ending in Hebrew. In William Paul Young’s book The Shack, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a big friendly woman of colour. The English Mystic, Julian of Norwich, in the late 1300s, after having a vision of God, wrote about God as mother. I have a good friend, who is a vicar’s wife and who used to head up reader training in a diocese up North once said that if people have a problem referring to God as Father, maybe from bad experiences with an earthly father, then refer to God as mother.
As a church, we want to reflect the positive feminine qualities of God as listed in Galatians Ch 5 : But the fruit of the Spirit (and remembering that the Spirit is feminine in the Hebrew language) is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. These are all good fruits to show and develop. As a church, there will be people who come to us looking for the love usually shown by a mother and which is lacking in their lives. As a church, we need to welcome these people as God would. We are the ambassadors of Christ here on earth that he uses to show his love to others. So by living out the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we are showing the abilities to be a mother church to those who need us.
To our earthly mothers, those women who showed us love and tenderness, compassion and patience, whether they were or are our biological mothers or those who adopted or fostered us, to all those mothers who brought us up, living or who have died and live on in our memories, we want to say ‘Thank you’.
I am also aware that the mother figure in your life might not have been all that you wished or hoped for and that there has been pain and suffering. Our prayer for you is that God the Holy Spirit will come and fill up for you all that you need, that over time, gently and lovingly, there will be wholeness, healing and peace.
So to sum up: God can use unexpected people to be our mothers, as Pharaoh’s daughter became Moses’ mother. God can also be seen as a mother to us. As a church, we can show God’s female qualities to others through the fruits of the Spirit. We want to say ‘Thank you‘ to our mothers but where a mother has caused pain and hurt, then we pray that the Holy Spirit will bring wholeness, healing and peace.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 13th March 2022
Luke 14: 25 – 33 - The Cost of Being a Disciple
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Reflections on Luke 14: 25 – 33
Counting the cost is something that we probably do every day – even subconsciously. Can I really afford that new dress, I want to get a new car but can I afford it, or also what is the best way to spend my time – having coffee with a friend or watching the telly, or maybe what is the cost to the environment if I keep using my car? We count the cost when we shop, what we do with our time, the decisions we make each day.
This morning we are thinking about the cost of following Jesus and being his disciple. We have some tough and challenging words here from Jesus. To truly follow Jesus Christ, we must consider the cost and put Him above everything else. Salvation is both absolutely free and yet it costs you your very life. You might think “That’s a contradiction! How can something be both free and costly at the same time?” Imagine a friend who offers you a free ride in his airplane. He invites you to come along at his expense. In accepting his free offer, you’ve just committed your very life to him. If he flies safely, you are safe. If he crashes, you die. The instant you say yes to his free offer, you am totally committed to him. you have entrusted your very life into his hands. Jesus Christ freely offers us the free gift of eternal life – abundant life now and eternal life after we die.
But, we need to understand that when we receive His free offer, (and it must be received) we are no longer our own; we have been bought with a price. To truly follow Christ, we must consider the cost and not begin to follow Him superficially, only to turn back later when things get tough. That is what Jesus warns against in our text. It is possible to follow Christ superficially. In verse 25 it says “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus.” He knew that many were following Him for selfish or superficial reasons. So Jesus tells them what it means to follow Him. You can’t separate believing Jesus as your Saviour and following Him as your Lord. Paul wrote “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16).
Before we look at the costs that Jesus spells out, think about the phrases that are used, “sit down and calculate the cost,” referring to the man building the tower; and, “sit down and take counsel,” referring to the king considering going to war. Both refer to careful, detailed, rational thinking about all aspects of what you’re getting into before you make the commitment. It’s the opposite to making an impulsive decision made in a moment of emotion, without much thought about the consequences. Jesus spells out three costs:
Firstly we must hate our families and ourselves. Jesus says this to shock us and to make the point that our love and commitment to Him must be so great that it makes our love for our families and ourselves look like hatred. Usually there is no conflict between the two – but sometimes there is when a family member clearly dislikes the Christian in the family going to worship. Many Christian converts in Muslim countries have to choose between Jesus and their families. Commitment to Jesus must come first.
Secondly Jesus says that we must carry our cross. This is not about carrying problems or some other form of suffering. The cross is a symbol of dying and so carrying the cross means dying to self each day – what we want rather than what Jesus wants. This involves how we speak – refraining from gossip and bad language, how we behave – how we spend our time, how we spend our money. Every day we will be pulled in the direction of what we want. Following Jesus 24/7 will involve cost – cost to us because we want our own way and also sometimes cost in that if we are truly being Jesus’ followers and are doing His work and talking about Him with others – then this will attract opposition. It will be costly as it was costly for Jesus.
Finally we must give up all our possessions. Jesus finishes by saying ‘Any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’ Does Jesus mean this literally, that we must get rid of everything we own and take a vow of poverty in order to be a Christian? What does He mean? Jesus is getting at the fact that there are two possible lords that we can serve and the two are exclusive: God or Mammon. Most of us think that we can combine them, with God taking the lead: “I’ll serve God mostly, but I’d also like to serve money.” But Jesus says that won’t work. We can’t just add Jesus to our already materialistic lifestyle as a way of meeting our spiritual needs. To be a Christian means that you have been bought with a price and you are not your own. Nothing you own is your own. You become the slave of Jesus Christ and He owns everything.
Jesus told a story about a man who sees a pearl and really wants it. Have you ever wanted something? The story says that the man sold all he had to buy it. The pearl in the story is God’s kingdom, eternal life, forgiveness from our sin and a new start. When we follow Jesus He is Lord over everything that we have – He doesn’t take it away but it is no longer ours but His. Our lives are no longer ours but His. It’s about following Him to the end of our lives – when Jesus talks about the man who starts building a tower but doesn’t finish it and people ridiculing Him He is talking about continuing the race until the end. Jesus’ words here are tough! We all fall short, but we must honestly work at applying them to our hearts. Is there any relationship that comes ahead of Christ in your life? If He is first, then obviously you will be spending time alone with Him in His Word, in prayer, and in devotion. You won’t allow any other relationship to draw you away from obedience to Him. You will turn you back on anything that hinders or harms your relationship with Jesus. Is He the Lord of your plans, your thoughts, and of all that you do? Is He Lord of your finances and possessions? Are you faithful in managing these things for His purposes? Do you give generously and faithfully to His work? Salvation is absolutely free, but once you receive it, it costs you everything. To truly follow Christ, we must consider the cost and put Him above everything else. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 6th March 2022
Luke 4: 1- 13 - The Desert Days: Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Reflections on Luke 4: 1- 13
Well, I don’t think I’ve ever known such a start to Lent. I turned up the C of E webpage for this first Lent week. In its slot for families and children it says this …….. “Lent is a time when Christians journey towards Easter. We try to turn away from doing wrong and ask God to help us become more like Jesus in how we treat other people and our world.” Us and God. Shrove Tuesday and pancakes. Ash Wednesday and symbolic marks on our foreheads. For many Christians, the start of special devotionals, study courses, periodic fasting ……. Distancing ourselves from the world around us for 40 days.
And then Russia invaded Ukraine. 2 countries that form the heartbeat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. 2 countries which, according to census info obtained by Wikipedia, have a large Christian affiliation – Ukraine 87%. Even Russia, the cradle of atheist Communism for most of the 20th century, records 47% of its people as identifying as Christian – that’s not much less than the UK!
How to link this season of our spiritual journeys with what is shaking our world?
Karl Barth, a well-respected theologian of the last century, once said this – “We must hold our Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” And as I read through Luke4 again, I realised there is a very obvious link – and that is a single word – CONFLICT.
Between Luke 3.21 (Jesus baptism) and 4.13 (the climax of His temptation by the devil), Jesus draws back the curtain of what we all see around us day by day, to reveal another world entirely – that of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit descending at Jesus baptism was very real – but only seen by Jesus himself and possibly John, not those around them – and Jesus encounter with Satan in the desert was also very real – but only “visible” to the 2 protagonists. If you’d been a shepherd leading your flock around the desert during those 40days, you’d have seen Jesus the man, but I doubt you’d have had any hint of what was happening spiritually.
Luke 4 v1 is very clear. Jesus, newly empowered by the Holy Spirit, was quite deliberately sent by God to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days, so that he would be ready to start his Ministry. It also acknowledged that the real source of the opposition he would face in his ministry would not be the religious leaders, would not be the Romans, but the spiritual figure lurking behind them in the shadows, Satan himself, the fallen angel. What fascinates me is that none of the Gospel writers give much away as to what happened in most of those 40 days – just what happened at the end. We are told that Jesus fasted, that angels and wild animals were with him, but not much else…..until the final period when Satan confronts Jesus 3 times, on the issues which he assesses will be the crucial ones to thwart Jesus mission. Hebrews 4 v15 tells us that Jesus can sympathise with our weaknesses because he was tempted in EVERY way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Satan was out there in the desert for the whole 40 days, watching Jesus fast, meditate, speak to his Heavenly Father about his purpose……I wonder if Satan tried to disrupt the process by throwing various temptations Jesus way throughout the period? The Bible is silent – because it wants us to focus on the final temptations. I want to pull out a few elements and then see how we can relate them to ourselves.
Firstly, Satan challenged Jesus to doubt his own identity. In each temptation, he uses the weasel word “If”. If you are the Son of God. Father God had spoken the words This is my beloved Son, at Jesus baptism. Jesus had heard the words. He knew who he was. But Satan continued to nag at him.
Secondly, the temptation to prove himself by doing a miracle. Tell these stones to turn into bread. Could Jesus have done so? Yes, remember this is the same Jesus who would soon turn water into wine at a wedding reception. But he knew that God would provide all he needed, both materially and spiritually; note that after Satan left, angels came and ministered to Jesus. At the wedding feast Jesus would act in service to OTHERS who were in need.
Thirdly, the suggestion that he could take a painless short cut to fulfilling his lifes work – without the help of God. Basically the same temptation that Satan offered – successfully – to Adam and Eve. “Come and worship me and you can have power over all nations”. Satan knew only too well that on the fulfilment of Jesus mission HE, JESUS, would be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and therefore Satan would be fighting a lost cause.
Jesus responses? Each time, he doesn’t argue the toss with Satan, he simply and directly quotes the only part of the Bible existing at the time – what we know as the Old Testament. He quotes from Deuteronomy. During the 3rd temptation Satan tries to mis-apply a verse from the Psalms, but Jesus immediately counters it. And note that each time Jesus quotes scripture, Satan has no answer; after the 3rd failure, Satan withdraws. All the time since childhood that Jesus had spent hearing, understanding, and applying the Bible had been time well-spent.
So, what about us? We face temptations and testings all our lives, but we have a mixed record of success and failure, don’t we? How can Jesus desert experience help us?
Firstly, like Jesus, don’t doubt who we are – we are beloved children of God, whatever anyone or any event might say to the contrary. One of the clearest summaries is the passage from Romans 10.v8-13 that Sue read this morning.
Secondly, worship the giver not the gift, the creator not the created. Boy, have we as a nation gone a long way down the wrong path here. Look at advertising; look at TV programmes. Escape to a better life in the country. Build a Grand Designs House. Look forever young. Buy houses at auction and make a mint of money. The list goes on. Even worship the wonders of the natural world………without worshipping the one who created it. But that’s not the way for us friends; only God merits worship
Thirdly, use the gifts we’ve been given – both naturally and spiritually – to serve others not ourselves. Have you noticed the number of times the word “celebrity” comes up on TV and in the papers? How folks on Social Media are desperate to increase the number of people who “follow” their every posting? How we now have a new profession – called “Influencer”? Me, me, me. As a counter, I’ve been thrilled by the massive reaction – both spiritual and practical – to the catastrophe in Ukraine. And we can be part of that response via Samaritans Purse today, by the vigil this afternoon, etc etc.
Our response as Jesus followers to testing and temptation? Just like our leader, know your Bible! Home groups are doing a Lent Course on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount – or blest attitudes as a friend of mine once explained. And one of the most important passages to keep close at hand – particularly at the present twist in human history – is Ephesians ch6 vses 10-18. The armour of God. There is only 1 OFFENSIVE piece of armour – the Word of God; and the passage ends with the command to pray at all times. It needs to be our SPIRITUAL response to events in Ukraine; our brothers and sisters there deserve nothing less.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Readings for Sunday 27th February 2022
2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Luke 9: 28 – 36
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2 & Luke 9: 28 – 36: Pray !
This morning I want to bring two points. Both of which are taken from the Bible readings we have just heard.
In our second Bible reading we heard about Jesus taking some time out from his ministry. I’d like to ask you some questions: What does taking ‘time out’ mean for you? Do you go anywhere different or do anything special? Do you need time out or is your life manageable as it is?
For Jesus, taking time out meant getting away from the crowds, from everyday people, to spend time in prayer. He took with him his closest disciples: Peter, James and John. They went up a mountain to pray. This was a decisive act and had probably been planned a few days in advance as one doesn’t suddenly say ‘Come on, let’s climb a mountain’. It is a decisive act, deciding to spend time alone with God. It doesn’t just happen, but needs to be planned. We had a quiet day coming up this Saturday, but have postponed it for a few months due to lack of interest. When we announce the date again, and it is likely to be May / June time, I would encourage you, brothers and sisters, to sign up and come to spend time out with God. Details will be in Stay Connected.
OK, back to Jesus and the disciples. Prayer changes people. People who pray are people who are open to change. Spending time in God’s presence can be risky. There is a saying that God loves you just the way you are, you don’t need to change to be loved by him. But, the saying goes on to say that because God loves you, he wants you to be changed into the likeness of his son Jesus. One of the ways that this transformation can happen is through prayer. Look at Jesus, as he prayed, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Radiant, glorious, sparkling, magnificent, wonderful, pure, holy. Jesus was changed from glory into glory.
Many years ago, when I was in my late teens, I went on a Crusader New Year house party in St John’s College, Nottingham. As I was a young Christian, I wondered how I could best grow and learn more about God. I looked around me and even though I didn’t understand it at the time, there were some other people my own age there as well as some of the leaders, who looked different. Their faces sort of glowed. I wanted some of what they had. I know this to be true now as well. There are some people I meet who radiate God’s glory. All these people have one thing in common – they spend time with God. The result is that they are changed, or to use another word, transfigured. They are changed to be more like Jesus. Changed to be more like what God wants them to be, so that the image of God is reflected in them and this is seen by others.
In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul also writes about the glory of God and how it can be reflected in people’s faces. When Moses had received the Ten Commandments, which were written on tablets of stone, he had been in God’s presence and his face shone. Some of God’s glory was reflected in Moses’ face. But it faded. It didn’t remain. Moses covered his face, so the Hebrews didn’t see the glory fading. The glory of the old covenant, the rules that God would have his people live by, wasn’t lasting. It was engraved on stone. Even though it showed God’s love to his people, the Hebrews, it was like stone. Cold and hard. The Ten Commandments had the power to protect God’s people, because they were his chosen people and he had called them out to be different from the other surrounding races. God wanted a relationship with them because he loved them and didn’t want them to follow or worship other gods. So God gave them the law, the Ten Commandments, but it was not to last for ever. Paul writes that when this law is read, a veil is still there over the minds of those who read it. Their minds are hardened.
But good news! This all changed with Jesus. It changed with his death and glorious resurrection, his victory over sin and death. This changed everything. The veil was removed, forcibly and dramatically. When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. This was something done by God and not by man. The curtain was torn from top to bottom. The way into the holy of holies, or in other words into God’s presence, the place where the ark of the covenant was kept, which signifies God’s presence with his people, was now open to all, not just the high priest once a year. The veil was removed. God was now accessible to all. The law on the tablets of stone was superseded. God now writes his law on human hearts. This law is one of love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4 v19), or as Jesus said: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). We want to bring glory to God because he loves us and laid down his life for us. We want to worship God and say thank you for the freedom that new life in him brings. We want to worship him in prayer, and also worship him in service, doing good works so that people around see our good works and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5: 16). The result being that our faces reflect God’s glory. We will shine! Shine for God.
This is my first point: Spend time in prayer with God, it will change you and others will notice the difference.
Now for my second point. Let’s go back to Jesus’ transfiguration on top of the mountain. His face is changed and his clothes become shining white. He is not alone. Moses and Elijah turn up. Wow! Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. What a powerful combination. I would like to suggest that they were there to encourage Jesus as they were speaking about his departure and what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus knew that he was going to face the crucifixion, but also that he was going to rise again on the third day. We know this, as it is the previous Bible passage to Luke’s reading we heard this morning. At this point Peter, James and John are fully awake and Peter, being his usual impetuous self, speaking before he thinks, suggests making a shelter for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter wants to hold onto this moment, not wanting to move forward, as that would mean going back down the mountain and back into the world. He wants to keep the mountain top experience. Then something else happens. A cloud comes down and envelopes them. The disciples were terrified. They would probably have known their Old Testament and what happened when Solomon dedicated the temple, in that God’s glory filled the temple so much so that the priests couldn’t enter (2 Chron 7: 2) or when the Hebrews came out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, God’s presence went with them as a pillar of cloud by day (Ex 13). The disciples knew that this was God. So they were there with Jesus, Moses, Elijah and now God. Imagine how you would feel if you were there too! Probably like the disciples, terrified!
Then a voice from the cloud speaks. ‘This is my Son, my chosen one, listen to him’.
Imagine you have gone to a quiet place to pray and all this happens. Certainly memorable indeed!
God spoke then, and I believe that he still speaks today. Anne and I have a time of prayer before we get up in the morning and are currently reading the book ‘Jesus calling’. It is all about being expectant of hearing Jesus in our everyday lives. We read a number of set Bible verses and then the supporting passage. It is good and I would recommend it.
So how does God speak to us today? In many ways. Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. So one way is through reading the Bible. God speaks to us through other people: Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. God speaks to us through an audible voice: At Jesus baptism: Mat 3: 17 ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Or with the calling of Samuel, where Eli says to Samuel, when he hears the Lord speaking to him, to respond ‘‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ This is so important, be expectant for God to speak. God can speak in dreams: take the magi, after visiting Jesus, Matthew writes that they were ‘warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.’ God speaks through nature: Romans 1: 20 ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’ Do you look at the stars, or a beautiful sunset, or dramatic countryside and go ‘wow!?’ God can also speak to us through music and song – listen to some praise and worship songs, they can be used by God to speak to you.
So God speaks to us, do we listen? Do we expect him to speak? Do we obey? We are told to test the spirits, is what you have heard from God? Is it in line with his will? Does it bring him glory? If you are not sure, ask Anne or another mature Christian for their advice. Talk it through with a Spiritual Director.
This is my second point: God speaks, do we listen? And do we obey?
So to sum up: Firstly: Spend time in prayer with God, it will change you and others will notice the difference.
Wouldn’t it be great if people stopped us and said ‘What makes you different?’ and we could reply that it is because we spend time with God in prayer. Wow!
Secondly: God speaks, do we listen? And do we obey?
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Series of talks on the Psalms during January / February 2022
Reading for Sunday 13th February 2022
Psalm 51 - A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Saviour, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous; In burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Reflections on Psalm 51 - When we mess up
All of us mess up in life. It can be small silly things like forgetting to put the sugar in the cake or putting your best white shirt in with the colours wash and it turning your shirt pink or how about dropping that cup that you really love. Then there are the more serious mess ups – here are some of mine – turning right at the junction when the light went green and not seeing there was a green turn right sign – on turning I met a 17-tonne skip lorry. My fault! Then the time doing a funeral when I just kept saying the man’s second name despite the family calling out his first name – I was suffering from chemo brain but my fault! Messing up is sadly part of being human. Sometimes we mess up by accident – we forget an appointment or a birthday, we accidentally say things that hurt people, we joke and it comes out wrong and hurts someone. We mess up! Or what about the times when we knowingly mess up – we know in our heart that what we are saying is wrong, or that action is unkind or we are not telling the truth. Both of these are reflected in the prayer of confession ‘We have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.’ Also, in life there may be large mess ups’ that have repercussions for ourselves and for other people – often our families and friends – habits like gambling can lead to terrible debt or alcoholism can lead to the loss of a job or drink driving or stealing can lead to arrest. Relationships are a big one – people’s words, actions and behaviour can ruin a relationship. A moment of lust can lead to unwanted pregnancy and sometimes abortion which can lead to a lifetime of guilt and shame. Mess ups in our past can haunt us for the rest of our lives. This morning we are going to look at 2 men who messed up big time.
Today we are looking at Psalm 51 – the last one in our series. It was written by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. It’s as bad as Eastenders. David sees beautiful Bathsheba bathing – the wife of Uriah – and he wants her and sends for her. He sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. Uriah her husband is in the army and David tries to get him to go home so it would look like the baby is his. Uriah won’t go so David gets Uriah sent to the front line so he will be killed in battle. Bathsheba mourns but then becomes David’s wife. God sends the prophet Nathan to tell David that God is not pleased with the evil he has down. As a result, the child dies and Bathsheba mourns again. She becomes his wife and they have another child who is Solomon. David is now deeply troubled by what has happened and after Nathan has come to him he writes this Psalm – verse 3 ‘I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.’ In other words he can’t stop thinking about it. This Psalm shows us what repentance is – deep sorrow and determination to lead a new life. He uses various words to describe his actions – transgressions (knowingly breaking the law - rebellion), iniquity (evil inside us), sin (missing the mark), evil (going against God). David recognises that his actions have not only hurt others but have gone against God. Verse 4 ‘Against you, you only have I sinned.’ In response to all this he pleads for God to blot out, wash away, cleanse, wash him, hide his face. From what he has done he feels dirty, ashamed and he longs to be made clean. ‘Verse 7 ‘Cleanse me with hyssop’ which was used to make lepers clean with the sprinkling of blood and then the washing of clothes and body. Verse 7 ‘Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.’ This alludes to scrubbing filthy clothes until they are clean again. He knows that only God can do this. David came to God with all this shame – he has looked in the mirror and seen himself as he really is – a broken man.
I wonder what we honestly see when we look at our lives. Have there been mess ups that we haven’t dealt with and we still live with the shame and guilt which affects our present lives? Are there things in our life now that we want to keep a secret but we know that God knows? David comes to God just as he is with honesty and humility. David acknowledges what God is like. His love is unfailing (verse 1) which is a covenant word – David knows that although he has messed up, he is still one of God’s own and that he belongs. That is good news for us too as God does not reject us but longs and waits for us to come to Him – just like the prodigal son did with the father waiting with outstretched arms. David appeals to God’s love and compassion but knows that God is also judge. David knows that repentance is more than saying sorry but is a complete change and transformation. He knows that God wants truth and wisdom – for David to see as God sees and to know the right thing to do. He wants to know joy and gladness – often guilt and shame bring deep unhappiness as we are living with that burden. David knows that he needs spiritual renewal – verse 10 ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’ John Goldingay says ‘Dealing with the past makes it possible to begin a new future.’ David knows that he needs God’s presence and Holy Spirit to do this. David knows that God desires a broken spirit and heart – in other words real humility. Then when this change has taken place, he has a story to tell others ‘I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners turn back to you.’
This is a truly wonderful Psalm as it gives us hope that however much we have messed up God can bring cleansing, forgiveness and a new start. We see this in the second reading about Zaccheus who rather than having a one-off mess up had a life of messing up and was a habitual cheat. He was hated by the people because they all knew what he was like and what he was doing. Yet he meets Jesus and something happens – Jesus invites Himself to Zacchaeus’ house and from that meeting he becomes a new man and puts right the wrongs he has done in the past. Both these men found forgiveness – one pleaded for it and other was sought out by Jesus. These accounts both point forward to the time when Jesus will be crucified on the cross for our transgressions – the things we do knowing they are wrong, for our sin – when we have missed the mark and disobeyed God, for our iniquity – the bad things in our character that cause us to do wrong. We all mess up because we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The good news is whether the mess up was big and had consequences like David – or whether it’s a lifetime of messing up like Zaccheus – there is forgiveness and a new start because God’s desire is that we live no longer a slave to that thing. Paul writes in Romans 6: 11 ‘Count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.’ We can use Psalm 51 to express our cry to God for forgiveness. Sometimes it is helpful to pray with a trusted Christian as it can help break the power of what we are confessing to God. Whatever we have done the Lord loves you, remember that Jesus died for you and for this, that the Holy Spirit is there to bring new life and new hope for the future. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 6th February 2022
Psalm 42 - A psalm of lament
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, or I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long ,‘Where is your God?’
Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.
Reflections on Psalm 42 - When we need to lament
Today we are continuing our short series of talks from the Psalms. If you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, you’ll know we’ve been mainly in a reflective rather than upbeat vein, as we look at how the Bible can help us as we experience the lows and highs of life. This week we look at, in our Rectors words “when we need to lament”.
As you know, I have a problem with religious words, because so many of them are now either completely unknown outside of church circles, or are used with different meanings. Lament is another of them – you’re not likely to find it used on Facebook or Twitter, or indeed on the BBC. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as follows – “to feel or express sorrow, remorse or regret. A poem or song in which a death is lamented”. And in these terms, the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments – has some prime examples. Think, in the Gospels, the shortest sentence “Jesus wept” as he looked at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus, surrounded by grieving friends and family; think our 2nd reading this morning, when Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he emotionally faced his impending torture and death for mankind. Think, in the OT, the opening words of Ps 137, now known best by our culture for the 1970s reggae pop song “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion”. We even have a whole OT book entitled Lamentations, expressing sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem, and believed written by the prophet Jeremiah.
So why does Father God include in the scriptures such significant passages on the subject? Arguably more verses than about caring for the planet. Can I make 2 suggestions.
1. On a personal level, the need to express sorrow, remorse and regret is a given in the course of everyones life here on earth, and no-one and nothing , be it mindfullness teachers, breathing exercises or well-being courses (good though they may be), can match the comfort and healing that Father God can bring – the God who designed us as unique individuals, knows us intimately, and made us for a personal relationship with Him as we navigate this lifes ups and downs. He alone can see our lives from beginning to end; he alone has all the resources necessary for our support and sustaining. What we do need to do is talk to Him – in other words, to pray.
2. On a community, national and international level, the determination of mankind to go its own way – separate from God – from almost the dawn of creation, breaks his heart. It breaks his heart because he sees how much suffering we thereby bring on ourselves as communities …….. and the further we drift or deliberately walk away from his life principles, the more that unnecessary suffering is. We have to look no further than the turmoil in the United Kingdom, turmoil that has been increasing over the last 60 years. And as in OT and NT days, God asks us as his people, to stand in the gap and lament/intercede to him on our communities/nations and Governments behalf. Jesus did so, in Matthew ch23, as he looked over rebellious Jerusalem and foresaw its destruction by the Romans within a generation. God has promised that our laments will be heard. In fact, our next song will be a modern lament for the nation, written by Graham Kendrick.
But back to Psalm 42, which, like many of the Psalms, is an intensely personal one. The writer was in a dark place, emotionally and spiritually, a place where most – if not all – of us here find ourselves on occasions. But in his turmoil he offers us some God-inspired guidance, guidance you can find in a number of the Psalms, including Ps 13 which was written by King David himself. And the guidance comes under 3 headings – Realism, Remembrance, and Resources.
Firstly, be real -we need to cry out to Father God and name what is wrong. The Psalmist states that his soul is downcast, he feels God has forgotten him, and those against him are constantly taunting him. There is no place here for bottling things up inside, for being the strong, silent type; we need for our own healths sake to offload. This is us and our loving Heavenly Father, and if it involves sobbing, groaning, just silent grieving… well, so be it. And like any of us would, the Psalmist repeats himself - several times, in the course of just 11 verses.
Secondly, though, he remembers his past blessings at Gods hands (v4) “These things I remember as I pour out my soul”. His life is in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father, whose nature does not change, and he recalls all the times he has known Gods help, guidance and closeness. We all have a past history with God that we can turn back to in times of trouble.
And the positive and negative, the hopeful and the hopeless, the confident and overwhelmed, ebb back and forth; the “God is my Rock” and the “Where is your God/what use is your faith”? And friends, please note from the way he describes the spiritual highlights of his life so far (v4), this is not someone at the start of their faith journey…….this is a national worship leader! And yet the feeling of sometimes being estranged from God and a faith that is wobbling is still there. And isn't that just the experience of most of us in life. It might be just where we are this morning.
So, thirdly, what are the resources our Psalmist draws on? What I love about this Psalm is that its not neat and tidy – it doesn’t end with “I’ve got that off my chest, everythings back to normal now”, but in the midst of the continuing turmoil, like bookends in verses 5 and 11, is the same determined refrain – “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God”. And the first desire that the Psalmist expresses is not to give up on God, but a positive thirst to connect with God intimately. All of us have special ways to make that connection; for some its reading the words of scripture, for some its prayerfully sitting in silence, for some it’s a walk outdoors, being surrounded by the natural world, for me its listening to worship music. For you it might be a combination, but it is the way to comfort, peace and healing …….. and we have one big advantage over the Psalmist – the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us, given to us as believers thanks to Jesus life, death and resurrection. We don’t have to strain to reach out to a distant God who is somewhere up in the sky; no, we make time to allow his Spirit within us to bring his love, comfort and hope to the places where all of our anguish has been. Think the wonderful picture “Footprints”, where 2 sets of footprints are walking along the sand and then merge into one? That Jesus carries us when we’re in a dark day or sad season. As I read the Bible, for me the 2 things that stand out as mega-themes are the never-changing love of God, and the constant hope for those who believe and just in him.
A few minutes ago I said that I loved the fact that the Psalm doesn’t finish by saying “thank you, God, that’s all sorted”; it leaves us with the Psalmist still in a difficult place, reaching out in hope. I could actually have included in the writers guidance to us a 4th word beginning with R. It's Repetition. In my experience, when I’ve been in a difficult time, the pattern of being real, remembering Gods goodness, and using his resources is one I’ve had to repeat on the way to restoration.
Let me finish where we began our worship service this morning – with Brian Doerksen, the writer of 'Come, now is the time to worship'. He was at a very difficult time in his life, both regards his family and his ministry. He was out walking, turning everything over in his mind yet again, and some words came to him, whispered by the Holy Spirit. A song formed …. Come now is the time to Worship, Now is the time to give your heart, One day every tongue will confess You are God, one day every knee will bow. Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose You now …. Did his issues change overnight? No. But he knew afresh, come what may, he had a loving God who would never leave him.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 30th January 2022
Psalm 145 - A psalm of praise.
I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Reflections on Psalm 145 - When we need to praise
This past week Chris has been working on an essay which has been really interesting. It’s looking at different personality types and also different ways that people learn and relating that to worship in church. I don’t know if you have ever heard of Myers Briggs Personality Indicator which tells you what type of personality you are and how that relates to how you behave, what job you should do etc and also how you worship. The fact is that we are all different and we all need to worship in different ways and also learn and grow in different ways. I wonder what you do when you are alone and you want to praise God – do you put some worship music or hymns on and have a really good sing – the car is a good place for doing this. Or do you put music on and have a good dance when nobody can see you – the kitchen is good for that. Or do you just go outside and take in the beauty and stay silent. Or do you read a set prayer out loud. Maybe in church you feel the need to kneel in worship and reverence, or raise your hands in praise, or call out spontaneous praises, or read set words that we call liturgy. We are all different – we all express ourselves differently which is why it is good to offer different sorts of worship in church.
I called this sermon ‘When we need to praise.’ Which is not really right, as praise isn’t about when we feel like it or feel the need to do it or not. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It will be clear from this Psalm that praise is an every day thing not just something for Sundays. I wonder when you pray each day do you start with Praise or do you come with your daily list of requests? There are various words that we can use to structure our prayers PRAY is one – PRAISE, REPENT, ASK, YIELD. It starts with praise. So, you might be thinking now – how do I praise – well the answer is to use a Psalm and 145 is a praise Psalm. Breeggemann – a great theologian wrote ‘Praise is the duty and delight, the ultimate vocation of the human community; indeed, of all creation. Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One whose we are. Praise is not only a human requirement and a human need; it is also a human delight. We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self, to return our energy and worth to the One from whom it has been granted. In our return to that One, we find our deepest joy.’ So, let’s look at Psalm 145. It could be called an Alphabet of Praise as each verse starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order – clever stuff! It begins verses 1 and 2 - I will exalt you, I will praise your name – it says this twice. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. It begins with I – it’s personal.
Our daily time with the Lord should start with praise. Look around you and you will see things to praise God for. Think back on yesterday and you will find things to praise God for. Praise is not about feeling in the mood, you can still praise if you are feeling fed up and low. I think of the women in North Korea whisper singing Amazing Grace in the toilets and of Paul and Silas in prison singing, causing an earthquake and their release and the jailor coming to faith through this. Praise changes things – there is power in praise. David writes ‘I will meditate on your wonderful works.’ I will again. He is thinking about and remembering the words and works of God in the past. We can think about the works of the Father and of Jesus in the Bible and we can also think back at the works that He has done in our lives. The past deeds of God are preserved for the future – it is one big story that we are part of. History is his – story – our story is part of His – story. It’s wonderful. In fact, it is so wonderful that David doesn’t keep this for himself. Verse 4. ‘One generation will commend your works to another.’ This was essential for the Israelites. Today in our society we have failed to hand on the good news of Jesus to the younger generations – the church has not engaged with them in a way that they can relate to. That is why we do Messy Church. This Psalm is about passing on the good news and is about praising together.
David quickly slips to the use of they. He uses the words – tell, speak (3 times), proclaim, celebrate, sing, praise (3 times) and extol. Being church, the people of faith is about proclaiming the good news of God and what He has done in Jesus – we do it in church but we also do it each day in our words. Mission and outreach and sharing the gospel is a form of praise. When I share my story then I am praising God for what he has done – do you get it? In this Psalm we read so much of God and what He is like – it is jammed packed with words to describe God’s character and deeds. Let’s just go through this wonderful list – He is great – in that His deeds are amazing, there is talk of His majesty – He is a King with a Kingdom which is glorious and everlasting. He is good to all – good meaning not OK but holy and pure. In Genesis after each day God saw that it was good. Despite being a King God is still gracious and compassionate – His heart is big and so is His love towards all he has made. He is rich in love – mentioned several times. Majesty and goodness always go together. He is slow to anger. He is faithful to His promises. Verses 13b – 20 talk about God as provider. Verse 14 Giving help to the inadequate, verses 15 & 16 feeding all creatures. Verses 18 – 19 answering those who pray. Verses 20 – protecting those who are His but also bringing judgment on wickedness.
This Psalm is all based on Israel’s history but also on personal experience. Many times, in the Bible people burst out in praise to God. Mary’s song reflects these self-same themes ‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.’ Today is Candlemas and we think of the child Jesus being brought to the temple meeting the old man Simeon who bursts into praise. As we leave the Christmas story we remember the song of Mary, of Zechariah, the praise of the angels, the worship of the wise men. Elsewhere in the Bible we have people worshipping in different ways as I mentioned at the beginning – the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. In 2 Samuel David worshipped the Lord in dance. It doesn’t matter how we do it – we just must. So, if you need the words to praise then use a Psalm to do this – 145, 146, 40, 8, 65, 98, 150. Make praise a part of each day. ‘My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.’ Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 23rd January 2022
Psalm 23 - Psalm of David The Lord is my shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Reflections on Psalm 23 – Trusting in the middle of darkness
Over the next few weeks, we are looking at a different Psalm in order to help us to pray better. The Psalms give us the words when we struggle to find them. This week we are looking at the most well-known psalm that there is – you probably know most of it by heart – Psalm 23.
In the new year Chris and I went for a walk on the Strawberry Line starting at Winscombe and instead of turning right we turned left and headed off in the Axbridge direction. Along that part of the line is a long tunnel that I wasn’t too keen on. In the middle it was very dark and I did feel scared. Not as bad as another tunnel we walked through in Derbyshire which was a curved tunnel and, in the middle, you couldn’t see the light at either end. Psalm 23 is for those in the valley of the shadow of death – in other versions it says in the darkest valley – which makes it more than just bereavement or death and dying. I don’t know what being in the darkest valley means to you – but it could be a place of lostness, depression, hopelessness, anxiety, fear, being overwhelmed. Whatever it was for the Psalmist who was probably David, it was certainly a time of struggle and darkness, but it also offers us amazing comfort and hope.
David was once a shepherd and uses this image in this Psalm. ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.’ With Jesus we lack nothing. In Him we have everything that we need – we have no need to worry because He will provide for us in the same way that a shepherd will make sure that his sheep have good food, good pasture, clean water, be cared for when they are sick or injured and if necessary carried home on the shepherd’s shoulders. I wonder what things you need today in your life – what sustenance, what refreshment – where are you hungry and what for? Love – to love and to be loved, security, significance, belonging, fulfillment in life. ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures.’ A shepherd would get up early to seek out good grass for his sheep. Jesus leads us to good places in order to rest and to feed. Sometimes that is real, food and real rest – because that is what we need – healing for our bodies, minds and souls. Sometimes it is to stop and rest with God and to be fed by Him through His word and be with Him in prayer. ‘He leads me beside quiet waters’ – there is nothing more calming than gentle water lapping on the beach or in a stream. Sheep are afraid to drink from fast running water, so a shepherd would dig a pit by the fast-running water and when it was full, he would block it off so that the sheep could come and drink from it. Jesus promises us living water – the Holy Spirit. ‘He restores my soul.’ Life batters and bruises us more often than we care to admit. We get damaged and hurt.
These last two years we have been in an onslaught of pain, suffering, terrible loss, fear, confusion, anger and tiredness. We need our souls restoring. Like a broken vase there will also be the cracks. The Japanese mend their pots with gold – it is called kintsugi meaning golden joinery. The pot is restored but is more beautiful than it was before. That is what Jesus can do with us. The Psalmist clearly has been going through a tough time – that dark valley I mentioned. Many have walked that darkest valley in the last 2 years. But here we are told that we never travel there alone – ‘For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ When I walked through that dark tunnel I did not go alone – but Chris was holding my hand reassuring me that it was OK. In fact, on the way back through it he put the torch on his phone on.
Shepherds in Jesus’ time never left the sheep – ever! I will never leave you or forsake you – Jesus promises. A shepherd carries a rod and staff – to ward off wild animals and to rescue the sheep from danger. Also, when he was taking them in along tricky paths, they would go in single file with the shepherd leading them. He would bang his rod on the stones to reassure the sheep because they could not see him – it was a way of telling them that he was still there – it was comforting. If you are in a dark valley then ask Jesus to be real to you – that you can sense His presence and know His promises. Sometimes we have to just walk through that dark valley because we have no choice. Sometimes though there is an escape route and we have to choose to leave it – to get ourselves sorted, to leave the sorrow, to seek healing and the light of Jesus. At the end of the Psalm, we are shown a time of goodness – a table of food, a head anointed with oil, our cup overflowing, goodness and love filling our life. It’s that abundant life again. It closes with the assurance of eternal life in the Father’s house.
Today is an opportunity to meet with the Lord – the Good shepherd and to ask Him for His help, healing and blessing in our lives. He is there for all our needs, for all who are weary and need rest and feeding, those whose souls are damaged and broken – He can mend, for those who need guidance in His way, for those in a dark valley – He promises His presence. So come to the good shepherd – He loves His sheep – you and me – more than we can ever imagine. Psalm 23 is an excellent Psalm to read as a prayer and a reminder that we have someone with us, looking after us when life is uncertain and we need his reassurance. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 16th January 2022
Psalm 30 - Psalm of David for dedication of the Temple.
I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said ‘I shall never be shaken.’ LORD, when you favoured me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
To you, LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help.’
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you for ever.
Reflections on Psalm 30
I don't know if you read your 'Stay Connected', I hope you do as people put a lot of effort and work into producing it. If you do then you may have seen a short paragraph from Anne to say that we will be for the next few weeks looking at one or two of the psalms from the Bible. And so, I start this morning with Psalm 30 as we heard read to us a few minutes ago.
It's been a funny couple of years. I think we would all agree with that, but thanks to the Lord we are still here. And that's the theme for this morning - saying thanks to the Lord for bringing us through safely. And I guess that's what was running through David mind when he penned this wonderful Psalm 30.
David was a very suitable author for he had much to say sorry for, but he also had much to thank the Lord for Just as we all here this morning do. It's a well-documented fact that David had not led a blameless life, but he now realized that God had forgiven him. As the first 3 verses of this Psalm tells us he needed to give thanks “I will exalt you Lord for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me”. Yes it's a psalm of saying sorry and it's also a psalm of thanks giving
Here we are, 2022 in what has amounted, for many of us, to be the strangest and most unnerving couple of years of our lives, well it has for me. Think back that is if you can just 2 years ago. How much has changed? Psalm 30 has a message that we need to hear in 2022 for we as a prosperous and prideful generation have been humbled.
In Verses 6-7 David writes - "When I felt secure, I said ‘I shall never be shaken.’ LORD, when you favoured me, you made my mountain stand firm” in other words my life is secure. And there are many who sincerely believe that nothing can shake them but we here the morning know that it can. The Psalm goes on to say “but when you hid your face, I was dismayed” Maybe he meant that He David had turned his eyes away from God not the other way round. David had much to say sorry about. Yes, for me that seems the more likely reason. I experienced that situation myself turning my eyes away from God and trying to blame everyone else.
How many of us would have thought in our security or maybe in our complacency just a couple of years ago “We can never be moved"? We can never be shaken. We may have thought our NHS system, our police, and our economy are the best in the world and they will not be challenged. But they have been and challenged to the very core in a matter of 2 years. We shall never we moved - yes, we have been moved. And as Christians we know that there is only one avenue to turn too and that's Christ and by God's favour, our life still stands strong but only in and through God’s hands. But we also need to realise that when we turn our faces away from God our life crumbles in front of our eyes. "Earthly prosperity is not a sign of God's eternal favour to us; nor is poverty a sign of his disfavour." As is made clear in our other reading from Luke 17 verse 14. Lepers were considered the lowest of the lowest but were healed and helped by Jesus.
One question that Psalm 30 raises for us in 2022 is: How should we as Christians think about earthly prosperity? How many of us now, looking back just a few months ago, would say life seemed better then, easier then, more comfortable then, more prosperous and maybe less stressful? How many of us have felt the strain put on our amenities like health and financial and personal freedom? Yes, for many of us here this morning in Jan 2022 we may feel we are not living in the same felt sense of prosperity and freedom we took for granted as recently as 2 years ago.
Psalm 30 is what many have called a psalm of thanks. David, the psalmist, has been through it all and now he wants to thank God for rescuing him from death. David almost died, and he cried out to God for help, and God rescued him, and now David writes this psalm to thank God and to draw others into thanking God with him. Even though we are living in a time of tension we must never forget that everything is in the hands of God. Nothing is outside of God otherwise he is not God over all. In and through all his experience of life, David did not abandon God but he brought everything to God.
Verses 6 and 7 show us the complacency we can so easily fall into. Everything is fine with me, all is well, my life is secure and God is in his heaven blessing me. Where was David's security? Where is ours? Is it in our plans for the future; is it in our material things that we have? I used to think it was in my job my property, but I don't think that now - how about you? Well, if our security is not in any of the above and I pray that it's not. Is it in the Lord our God, who has delivered us from death and judgment in death of his son Jesus Christ? I guess David thought that his security was in his status his position, but he found out that it was not. So, when things suddenly took a turn for the worse David was dismayed - many wanted him dead including his son, and aware of that fact who wouldn't be dismayed at that thought?In his dismay he turned to God and cried out to him, because there was his only hope for security.
The tension that we live under today can be relieved by accepting that God is in control - that is if we let him and ask him to come into our lives. Like David I've learnt that the hard way. Nothing is outside of God otherwise he is not God over all David certainly learnt that lesson. This psalm reminds us that as Christians we don't have a right to everything going smoothly. Life isn't like that, it often catches us out. God has given us free will let's use it wisely.
Psalm 16 says - do not forget to thank God when life goes well. And that's exactly what David has done through this Psalm 30. So do not forget to turn to him not only in times of trouble but at all times - yes keep our eyes fixed on the Lord
Peter 1 verse 7 says - These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it, and our faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So, if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day of his return. True words from Peter indeed.
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 5th December 2021
Luke 3: 1- 6 John the Baptist Prepares the Way
It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see he salvation sent from God.’”
Reflections on Luke 3: 1- 6
PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD…IN 2022
If you’ve got bibles with you, perhaps you’d like to keep fingers in both of our readings, Luke 3 and Philippians 1, as we’ll be reflecting on both of them in turn.
But first. Almost 45 years ago, a film appeared on cinema screens, the first in what has turned out to be a series of 9. Any guesses what? Who apart from me saw it at the cinema? The screen was black and then, suddenly, not a picture but words in yellow text appeared – rising from the bottom to the top- explaining the scene into which we were about to be immersed. “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.”
However, what always struck me was the title….the first yellow text words that appeared on screen. They were these – Episode 4. A new hope. And I thought – what had happened to Episodes 1-3? And why did whoever the goodies were, need a new hope? But the words that followed were enough to set the scene for my questions not to need answering……. immediately
For me Luke 3, our first reading, evokes similar questions. At the end of ch1, we have the simple statement that John the Baptist, having been prophesied over, went off into the desert to grow up, living the life of a recluse. For how long? I would guess at least 10/15years. And at the end of ch2, when Jesus is 12 years old, there is another simple statement… that Jesus grew in wisdom and favour with God and man. That’s it. No more comment on his next 18 years.
How I would love to know more about the lives of those two men in the “hidden” years. But it prepared both of them for their unique God-given roles.
And then ch3 opens, like Star Wars, with a dramatic setting of the scene, years away from chs 1 and 2. Remember Luke was writing his Gospel for a primarily non-Jewish audience ie like you and me, with no background knowledge of the OT prophecies and expectations. So he describes the political and religious leaders, a hierarchy with which his first readers would have been more familiar. Luke wanted to reinforce that this was not in any way a myth, not a bedtime story, it was a dramatic event fixed in a specific time period, in a specific geographical area.
The Jewish people – unlike most in the UK today – were steeped in their national religion, with their history of being a chosen people, specially favoured by Yahweh, the Creator God of the universe, who had promised through a string of prophecies that a Messiah, a Saviour, would come and restore their fortunes. But it was more than 400 years since the last acknowledged national prophet had spoken, and although some of the people had returned from exile in Babylon, they still were not masters of their own country – their latest rulers being the Romans. Like the rebels in Star Wars, they were looking for A NEW HOPE. And then John the Baptiser came…………
And what did he say? Not sharpen your swords, but clean up your lives. Remove the obstacles to the Saviour from your lives. He didn’t mince his words – he called them a brood of vipers - and yet it was a message that triggered a response in peoples hearts. Look at v7 – crowds were coming out to be baptised by him. But John recognised that a single event of washing in water would not CLEAN UP PERMANENTLY THE MESS IN PEOPLES LIVES, IT WOULD NEED SOMETHING THAT ONLY JESUS COULD GIVE – a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Why was Johns baptism not enough? Because it couldn’t deal with the core problem suffered by every member of the human race – a 3 letter word, SIN. It’s a word not in use much these days outside of religious circles; when it is used it tends to be in the context of either the doing of horrific things or, at the other end of the scale, doing “naughty” things. But while both those categories fall within the classification of sin, they miss the true biblical point of the word. Because the whole root of the word – around which everything else pivots – is a single letter ….. I. It’s the inevitable tilt in every human life towards living every day for the benefit of I. My interests. Its what caused the original estrangement between man and God, and its what still does. Its what nailed Jesus to the cross. Have you ever thought why the 2 stories that Jesus told which are still widely known in a Godless country like the UK ARE …… The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan? They both expose the working out of the I FIRST principle. In The Prodigal Son, its I want money etc NOW so I can go off and live my own celebrity lifestyle. In The Good Samaritan its I want to focus on my own – in that case religious/social – interests and self-preservation, rather than give attention to those hurting in a messy inconvenient world. They represent the opposite of Jesus clear command to “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself”. BUT can I also suggest that the reason both stories are still widely known is that all humans are created in Gods image, AND THEREFORE the desires to love God and our neighbour are hardwired into us all. All it needs to let them rise to the surface is the breaking of the sin principle.
John couldn’t do it with his water baptism and preaching – he could only prepare people. As he himself recognised. Only Jesus could break the sin bondage …. which he did 3 years later on a Roman cross. As 1 speaker illustrated years ago, Jesus took the I on that cross and crossed it out – he broke it – for all those who will give their lives to Him and live for Jesus instead.
Fast forward 30 years. St Paul is languishing in prison, in Rome, awaiting trial. His future is uncertain. He has planted fledgling churches all the way across Asia Minor. But he knows he needs to hand on the running and growing of the churches to the new wave of local leaders. He had great affection for the Christians in the church at Philippi, which was an important trade centre at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. So he writes to them, encouraging them and pointing them forward as to how to keep going, to grow as Christians, to “finish the race” in a world infinitely more precarious than one coming to terms with Covid 19 and its Omicron variant! In fact, you could fast forward another 1950 years; if St Paul were penning a letter to us, the Locking-ians, NOW, the 3 principles he lays out are still the same……
LOVE (ONE ANOTHER). Well, well, it’s the first word Paul uses. Jesus said, remember, that the world would know we are his disciples… how? By the way we love one another. Something which has kicked in big time over the last 2 years of the pandemic. No, I’m not going to discuss the wearing of facemasks, vaccine jabs and social distancing! Just to say that in times of fear, uncertainty, conflicting advice and pressure on mental health, the natural human instinct is to man the life jacket and keep your head down. Jesus life and words displayed pretty much the opposite – look to God to take care of us personally through the guidance and peace from Gods Holy Spirit within us, and from that secure standpoint reach out to those around us who are struggling. Remember John in Luke3 promises Jesus baptism would be one of the Holy Spirit AND of fire; the last 2 years have shown, among other things, that when things get fiery, we need Gods Spirit more than ever! And He is there for us.
INCREASE IN KNOWLEDGE AND INSIGHT. Of what? Well, I’d suggest primarily, the knowledge and insight of the way God looks at the world, its people and problems, and his plan for mankind. And how do we increase in this? There are 3 main ways – delving into the Bible, spending time quietly in prayer, and taking what we learn into our day to day lives. Lockdowns have given us rare time for study and prayer – have we made the most of it? Who is our teacher? Gods Holy Spirit, promised by John the Baptiser and given by Jesus to all believers since the first Pentecost. And how? Principally by the Spirits whispering to us directly and through fellow believers
PRODUCE THE FRUITS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Knowledge and insight, if it stays just in the head, is of use to no-one. It needs applying. “Fruits of righteousness” means living lives at home and out in the world which are increasingly characterised by the qualities of which Jesus spoke…..and described by St Paul in Ch5 (particularly the last 5 verses) of his letter to the Galatian Christians. And many people will tell you that the times they felt God working the most deeply in their lives were just those periods that feel like “baptisms of fire”.
Does it all sound a bit of a slog? Well, the reason Paul can say these things – to ordinary Christian followers, just like you and me - can be found in v6 “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. In other words, when we first became followers of Jesus, it was He working in our hearts who brought us to the point of discipleship………..and by the gift of his Holy Spirit within us and his Presence walking beside us day by day, HE sustains our faith journey. It worked for Paul, it worked for the Philippians, it works for us. Its never down to just all our own efforts – thank the Lord.
Finally, look at the last 6 words in v6. “Until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul uses the phrase twice in this passage. The early Christian church actively lived expecting Jesus return to be in their lifetime – but at a day and time only known to Father God. Jesus urged his first disciples to live with that mindset – and left His words in the Bible so that all generations up to now and beyond would live in the same way ….. and spread the good news with urgency. That is why many Christian songs – like our first one this morning, and the one we will sing at the end of our service – start with a baby in a stable and end with a returning King of Kings. In that sense, we don’t need a NEW hope for 2022, just a re-affirmation in our spirits that Jesus IS coming, and we need to live lives ready for that.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 21st November 2021
John 18:33-38 - My Kingdom Is Not of This World
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
Reflections on John 18:33-38
Two men stood facing each other in the door way of the governor’s residence. One knew he was a king but not of this world and the other probably thought he was the king of all that he surveyed.
In our text for today, we meet both of these men the one who thought he was a king is a man that represents many in our world today. His name Pontius Pilate. People of his day looked up to him to solve their problems they look on him as their king. Yes, By the world’s standards, of that time he was pretty great – he was a governor of a Roman Provence. He had power. He had wealth. He could tell people what to do and they would do it. Whether from fear of respect I don’t really know. He had financial security. He looked very kingly I guess dressed in finery.
But the event that was about to confront him showed his weakness. Because standing there before him was a heavenly King, Jesus Christ, the day was Good Friday. A crowd had brought Jesus to Pilates house, the idea was for Pilate to condemn him to death, and as was the Roman tradition to put him on a cross. I guess Pilate was a little taken back, not the sort of situation he wanted to have to deal with maybe it was his day off. So Pilate asked Jesus, this question “Are you the king of the Jews?” Why did Pilate ask Jesus this question Are you the king of the Jews?
Well, I started by saying that Pilate represents many in our world today. I stated this fact because Pilate and millions like him today believe that Jesus was nothing more than a humble Jewish teacher and most certainly not a king. Jesus didn't look like a king, that’s for sure. Look at him standing there, in front of Pontius Pilate, just like all the other criminals who get into trouble and are brought before the governor. Pontius Pilate looked like a king. But Jesus - not at all, born in a humble animal stable raised by a carpenter would you class that as the mark of a king? How if you were Plate how would you have judged him?
So how did Jesus’ answer in reply to Pilate’s question Are you a King? Do you admit to saying you are the King of the Jews. In verse 36 we read Jesus’s reply I guess I would have expected his reply to be YES but I would have been wrong Jesus replied “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. My kingdom is not of this world. Now Jesus is the King of the United Kingdom. He is the King of Earth, the King of Heaven, the King of the Universe. He is everyone's King, whether you believe in him or not. He has been and always will be our King. Today on this Christ the King Sunday we're going to highlight the greatness of Jesus Christ, why we worship him, why we trust him, why we place him on the throne of our lives. He is our King, and today we honour him as we look at this section of the Bible. My kingdom, he says, is from another place.," That other place is Heaven, a place that is more beautiful, more safe, more enjoyable, better than any place on this earth. Jesus is the King of that place. He is our king, the greatest king ever to walk the face of this earth.
We get a glimpse of his greatness in those words to Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world." His kingdom is not about palaces made out of decorative brick, or surrounded with security guards. His palace is not about money or any kind of earthly trappings. He has no address no post code where you will find his throne on this earth. If it were," Jesus said, "my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews." But there were no armed guards rushing to prevent his arrest and of course no one to speak for him at his farce of a trail no one to prevent his death on a cross at Calvary and we can be so thankful for that for that was his destiny to die for our sins And that we must never forget. So, we must ask ourselves this morning Is he, our king?
When Pontius Pilate looked down at Jesus, and questioned this average, ordinary looking Jewish man, Jesus said, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone says Jesus who is on the side of truth listens to me." Who then can we trust? Who has our best interests in mind? Who will help us?
Jesus is the King of Truth. We can trust him. We can rely on him. He never makes a promise he cannot keep. He never changes his mind. Someday we will stand before the holy throne of Jesus Christ, the day when all eyes will see him. And on that day Jesus’s majesty power and holiness It will be displayed for all to see. Don't be afraid, the Bible says, because he is also the King of Forgiveness. He's the King of Love. He stood before Pontius Pilate to suffer as our Saviour. He allowed sinful people to shed his blood to take away our sins. When we stand before the throne of Jesus Christ someday, will he recognize us as one of his children
There were once were two paintings. One was a picture of Pontius Pilate, sitting on the governor's throne, well dressed and well fed, surrounded by his soldiers - and the caption below read, "The Failure that initially looked like a Success." The other painting was that of Jesus Christ, bowed down low before Pontius Pilate, the crown of thorns on his head, barely surviving the torcher the scourging that he took to pay for our sins. And the caption on that painting read, "The Success that looked initially like a Failure."
And to finish words from our first reading revelations words that I believe sum up our scripture this morning words that should leave us in no doubt that Jesus Christ is king. John isolated on the Isle of Patmos in a vision from GOD wrote "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” The king of Kings. Amen
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 31st October 2021
Mark 12: 28 – 34 - The Greatest Commandment
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Reflections on Mark 12: 28 – 34
Have you like me felt deeply disturbed by the news recently – like a lot more than normal. News about the situation in Afghanistan with people starving and women denied the right to work and education. News about the vile and toxic words that people post on social media to others -women especially. News on how nations are trying to change what is in the UN report for COP 26 on the use of fossil fuels. News on how women and now politicians don’t feel safe. The root of all these disturbing news items is people’s lack of love for their neighbour – whether that be someone on – line they have never met, someone in their own country or simply another human being. And that lack of love stems from a disregard for God and His ways.
The background of our reading today is something akin to what we see the likes of Laura Kuenessberg or Andrew Marr do to politicians and it’s called grilling. In chapter 11 we have Jesus in the temple being questioned by the chief priests and the teachers of the law – ‘by what authority are you doing these things?’ He then tells the parable of the tenants which really riles them, because it’s about them. Then the Pharisees and Herodians are sent to ask about paying taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees were a religious group, the Herodians a political one – they didn’t like each other – but it was like a coalition against Jesus because they both wanted to get rid of him. Then next we have the Sadducees questioning Jesus about marriage at the resurrection. Every time Jesus answers wisely and brilliantly. But there is no let up and, in our reading, today we have a teacher of the law asking the big question – of all the commandments which is the most important?’ This man who was sent was an expert on Jewish law. But he was different though and not at all antagonistic. He had noted that Jesus had answered the Sadducees well. This was the most debated question amongst the Jewish rabbis – they had loads of laws – 613 commandments – but which were the most important. Some of them liked to break down the law – real hairsplitting, while others just generalized. Jesus answers wisely – with words that are so familiar to us – they are read at every Communion service. ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Basically Jesus is saying that the whole law and our whole calling as people of faith is to love.
Paul writes this in Romans 13 ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law’ and in that well known passage in 1 Corinthians 13. In Jesus’ response he combined two verses – the first from Deuteronomy 6:4 ‘Hear o Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ It’s what the Jews call the shema – which means hear. Jews wore this on their heads and put it on their doors. It is precious because it says there is just one God and that He wants to be loved and He wants to love us. Do you remember as a young person falling for somebody who didn’t love you back? My teenage years were full of such things. Remember the pain that was involved? Well, that is a little bit like what God feels when people don’t love Him – when they ignore Him, hate Him, misunderstand Him, use His name as a swear word. So how do we love God?
1. By being in relationship with Him. Being a Christian is not about being religious – no it is about being in relationship with Christ the Son and Father God. It’s not about going through the motions of church but about God being involved in your life 24/7 – guiding you, speaking to you, comforting you, forgiving you. Like any relationship it’s an adventure. It is about working with Jesus to bring in His kingdom. Have you asked Jesus to really come into your life?
2. The most important way that we love God and be in relationship with Him is through prayer. Like in human communication it takes many forms – we share, we listen, we just be and allow God to love us, we can be silent. Like a child in its father’s arms – there is no need for words.
3. Our love for God should be total – notice the word ALL – all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. ALL of us – ALL the time. To love God with all your emotions – to laugh with Him, cry with Him. The Psalms are a wonderful example of that – they contain everything from great joy to great despair. Loving God is about being real with Him. With our soul – to bring our real selves to Him. With our minds – thinking on Him and reflecting on His word. The Bible is God’s love letter to you. All our strength – we give God our best, all that we have. If we have been a Christian for a long time it is easy to get complacent – like a marriage that has gone stale. We can be like the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2: 4 ‘You have forsaken the love you had at first.’ And to the church in Laodicea Jesus says ‘So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’ We can easily become lukewarm in our love for the Lord. It can happen slowly or because of a difficult time in our life, or a tragedy and we withdraw from God. If we feel that our love is lukewarm we need the 3 R’s – remember, repent and return. Remember when you were on fire for Jesus, repent – ask for forgiveness, return – because He is like the Father in the story of the prodigal son. Also remember that we should love totally because God has loved us totally and gave His Son for us. John 5: 13 ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ God is love – love is not God – that is wrong – but God is love and He longs to love us and longs for us to love Him.
4. Through our worship – we come to worship in order to draw close to God and to love Him. The word worship in Greek is the joining together of 2 words – toward and to kiss. So worship means – to come toward to kiss. Worship is about coming close to God, adoring Him and being lost in wonder, love and praise? Have you ever felt that? But that is what it should be. And once again it should involve all of us – our minds, bodies, emotions. We need to give each other permission to express our love for God.
The second part of Jesus reply comes from Leviticus 19:18 ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.’ In other words, no point in loving God if you don’t love others. Loving God must come first and then from that we can love other people. Jesus showed by word and by action what it means to love God and to love neighbour. Many people find it hard to love others – because they have not known love themselves from God and from others. It becomes a vicious circle. But it can also become a beautiful circle – the more we feel loved by God and know we are loved by Him (because it’s not all about feeling) then we will be able to and can’t help ourselves loving other people. Other people can’t love others because they don’t love themselves. People who are grumpy, critical and unkind are often like that because they are hurting and insecure and not happy with themselves. It is not wrong to love yourself – to know that you are a son or daughter of the King. To hold your head high – not because you are better than others – but because you know that Jesus died for you, that you are you, loved and forgiven. Out of that will be a desire to love and serve others – even our enemies. A wonderful example of loving your neighbour was on the news this week with the pastor in Burnley loving and supporting those in despair with mental illness – he listened to them, held them, tried to get them help.
The teacher of the law agreed with Jesus’ answer. He saw that love was more important than outward show. To which Jesus said ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ This man saw that love opened the door to the kingdom of God – God’s love for sinners, our all – our love for God and for our neighbour. This man has to take one last step – to believe and trust in Jesus as His Saviour and Lord. We don’t know if that man became a follower – did He stand by the door – or did He walk through it? Where are you this morning – on the doorstep, far away from the door, wanting to step in or are you well and truly inside. Let’s pray….
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 24th October 2021
Mark 10 : 46 – 52 - Blind Bartimaeus received his sight
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Reflections on Mark 10: 46 – 52 (Evening Prayer 4pm Service)
A week ago last Friday I was on a train journey to Salisbury. It was my first overnight at Sarum College, for Reader training. At one of the stations, a blind woman and her sighted companion got on. The guard showed them to their seats and all was well. At Bristol, they, and myself, had to change trains. I was standing behind her when alighting from the carriage, so I could see first hand the difficulty she was facing. Her companion had got off first, the guard was also on the platform and they were guiding her off the train. It was not easy. Her companion held one hand, her other was on the train door, which was also holding her guide stick. He then held both her hands and said that it was a big step onto the platform. Did she make it? Yes, but even I was holding my breath and was expecting to lend a hand. Being blind is not easy. It is a life limiting disability. I want you for a moment to shut your eyes tight. It’s dark, nothing can be seen. Well that’s what it is like being totally blind.
It was the same for Bartimaeus in today’s reading. He was blind. He wasn’t on a train going to Bristol, but was sitting by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho, begging. It doesn’t get any lower than that, begging, dependant on others for survival, marginalised, an outcast. As he was blind, I expect that his other senses were heightened, to make up for his disability. He was aware of the crowd of people and had probably asked them what was going on, either that, or they had tried to tidy him away out of sight, as Jesus was about to go past, and he was lowering the tone of the place.
Bartimaeus was made of strong stuff, well; he had to be, to survive. So he drew a deep breath and shouted ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’. You can feel the embarrassment of the crowd, what’s this blind beggar doing, shouting for Jesus. ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’. Many in the crowd rebuked him. ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Shut up, or else... ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’. Total embarrassment. Shut up.... no, says Bartimaeus! ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Jesus stopped..... He heard him..... He heard Bartimaeus’ cry for help over the noise of the crowd. I bet the crowd weren’t expecting the next bit though.
Jesus turned to the crowd, who had previously been telling Bartimaeus to shut up, and he said to them ‘Call him’. I wonder how the crowd felt now, as they had to interact with Bartimaeus, so they called him. ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Bartimaeus, whom just a few minutes previously was being shunned and whom they were trying to silence, was now the centre of attention. Jesus had heard his cry for help and acted on it.
Now it wasn’t like the lady on the train, where she had a helpful companion who was guiding her, no, the reading doesn’t say that they took Bartimaeus by the hand and lead him to Jesus, I feel that there was nothing kind and gentle about this crowd, no, there was no helping hand, Bartimaeus had to go to Jesus on his own. He might have been in a crowd, but in reality, he was on his own.
‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ With great joy, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. Brothers and sisters, this is a significant act. Bartimaeus’ cloak was his security; it was his security against the cold. It gave him protection. Without it, it was as if he was naked. He is saying to Jesus ‘I have thrown off my security, here I am now totally dependent on you and I know that I can trust you’.
I have a suspicion that the crowd, by this time, were silent, watching, waiting. What was Jesus going to do? They had tried to shoo this blind beggar away, as in their eyes he was worthless and just an encumbrance, but Jesus had told them to call him.
Jesus had invited blind Bartimaeus into his presence. Jesus had called him to himself. Has Jesus ever called you to himself? Invited you into his presence?
Jesus gave Bartimaeus worth and value as a human being. He gave him his identity (because I guess he called Bartimaeus by his name) and Jesus cared for him. Jesus loved him. He didn’t act like the crowd and push him away, but he drew him into his presence.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to vocalise his need and request Jesus to help him. ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight.
It was a simple as that. By hearing that Jesus was coming his way, by not letting the crowd squash him, by shouting persistently to Jesus for mercy, by being called by Jesus and responding, by making himself vulnerable throwing off his cloak, by coming into Jesus presence, by responding to Jesus question of ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus’ faith (and all these actions were because of Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus) resulted in him receiving his sight.
Bartimaeus didn’t ask for riches or fame, just his sight. So Jesus made him whole, he could see, he could work, he could get out of the gutter and support himself. He could play a part in society. He could flourish. He didn’t have to rely on peoples’ scraps and loose change but Bartimaeus could now live fully being himself, the person God made him to be.
‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Bartimaeus had gone from being blind and static, from sitting in one place, to being able to see and as a result, he followed Jesus down the road, and I bet that he wasn’t quiet either!
If you are happy to do this, I would like you to close your eyes. Now, I want to go back a bit in the story. I want you to imagine that you are like Bartimaeus. There is a part of your life that isn’t whole and you would love Jesus to sort it. You cry out to Jesus, but there is something, like the crowd, holding you back from responding to his call and coming into his presence. Jesus stops and says to you ‘Come’. You have now thrown off whatever it is holding you back and are standing in front of Jesus. He looks at you with a loving look, and says ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
What would you like Jesus to do for you? In your heart and mind, ask him silently.
I am going to spend a few moments in quiet and if you believe that Jesus is saying to you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ask him to do that thing that you desire.
Then hear Jesus say ‘Go, your faith has healed you.’
Let’s pray: Jesus, you say to those who know their need of you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Lord, we pray for wholeness and healing, of body, mind and spirit, so that we might go and follow you along the road. Come Holy Spirit. We ask this in your name Jesus. Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Climate Sunday 17th October 2021
Psalm 104 and Mark 4: 1 - 9 The Parable of the Sower
Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Reflections on Pslam 104 and Mark 4: 1-9
Our readings from Psalm 104 and Mark 4 vary in many ways: their purpose, their setting, and when they were written, are all noticeably different. But they also have a lot in common. Both passages demonstrate an intimate 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 knew creation intimately: 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 we've heard this morning, it says God rejoices in his creation. The beauty and variety of all he's made brings God joy!
Similarly, in our New Testament passage from Mark, Jesus demonstrates his own detailed 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 has an intimate knowledge of the workings of creation.
This shouldn't be a surprise to us; 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. It's not a surprise that Jesus considers it important to observe the creation around us. But Jesus shows us something else too. He teaches us that not only does he have an intimate relationship with creation, but that also we can learn about our heavenly Father through it. Whether it's through the relentlessness of weeds, the character of birds or the power of a mustard seed, time and again, Jesus points to the Father and the way he works through creation.
We live in a busy world and often fail to take time to observe creation, but as the writer of Proverbs advises, 'Go to the ant... consider its ways.' From the psalms to the gospels, we see the ways creation can reveal more of God's character and inspire us to worship, and we see how God delights and finds joy in all he's made! But when we look at the world today, we can see the many ways that we've damaged this beautiful gift God has given us. The ways that we live and work and consume have pushed creation to breaking point. Whether it's plastic pollution tittering 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. We're feeling some of the effects in the UK, but the impacts are hitting people in poverty the hardest.
Orbisa is a 35-year-old mother who lives in the Afar region of Ethiopia. A few years ago, she could rely on the rains: now, because of the changing climate, they are far less predictable. So she walks up to ten hours a day, every day, to find water for her family to drink. Her livelihood depends,on selling livestock - but drought has killed nine of her ten cows. She's lost nearly half her goats too. The stark reality is that Orbisa is paying the price for emissions which have mostly been generated by developed nations like ours. This is what she said to Tearfund: 'We used to get rain every four to five months; the area was very fertile and green. But it hasn't rained for six months and I don't know when it will rain next. I feel worried whenever I think about the future.'
Around the world, millions of people like this are being pushed back into poverty because of climate change. In 2016, world hunger started to increase for the first time in a decade and has continued to increase every year since. And that's because of climate change and conflict, with climate change exacerbating the risk of conflict. The science is clear: the climate crisis is being caused by us, especially us in developed nations, and the impacts are accelerating. We are running out of time to prevent the worst effects. We have to act fast and change the way we live, and governments have to be much more ambitious. But right now, we have a unique window of opportunity. How the government chooses to rebuild after the pandemic will shape our economy, climate and society in the decades to come. This is a crucial moment.
In the Bible Jesus tells us the most important commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbours. Tackling the climate crisis is vital to both of these - honouring God by protecting his creation and loving our global neighbours who are hit first and worst by what is now a climate emergency.
So how can we respond? To answer that question, let's turn to Esther in the Old Testament. In the face of a crisis, she responds with faith and courage.
In the book of Esther, the Persian king makes plans to wipe out the Jews, but Esther's uncle, Mordecai, warns her about the plan. Esther's response to the news of the threat to her people is remarkable. She tells Mordecai to gather people together to pray and fast. While they do so, she will approach the king and ask him to reconsider- even though she knows that it is against the law and she could lose her life. In chapter 4 she says to Mordecai: 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.' Esther teaches us that following Jesus requires us to speak up against injustice, even when it's costly to ourselves - and that we should act from a foundation of prayer.
So we invite you this morning to commit to both of these things: to prayer and to action, so that we can address the huge injustice of climate change and its impact on the poorest people around the world.
Rev Geoff Hobden (with thanks to Tearfund)
Reading for Sunday 10th October 2021
Mark 10: 17 -31 - The Rich and the Kingdom of God
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit
adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Reflections on Mark 10: 17-31
Our opening verse in the reading from Mark 10 say that a man came running up to Jesus with this question - "Good teacher what must I do to get eternal life?" This young man was a man of position; a man of great wealth. He undoubtedly had a great mind for business, and was most likely schooled in the ways of the Pharisees. According the standards of Jewish society, he was rising star and a great role model for all other young people in Israel. He was a man among men, having earned what recognition was given to him through hard work and long hours not easily flustered or disturbed But it was Jesus's reply to his question that disturbed the young man greatly. We often do not want to hear the truth,and this young man was for certain hearing the truth from Jesus. Jesus concluded his reply with these words. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
So how good are you at threading a sewing needle? if you're like me not very. I know many youngsters will ask "what's a sewing needle?" When I read these words, I was reminded of my dear old grandmother Dredge. I can see her sat in her rocking chair darning clothes, and she could thread a needle almost without looking. Every weekday during my time at what we used to call big school Grandma Dredge fed me with lunch and tea. And often would say how's your socks, because often they would have holes in them. Mother couldn't afford lots of socks, the ones I wore were kitted on 4 needles by my other grandmother. Yes, thank the Lord for grandmothers. So out would come the darning needle and they would be expertly sewn up.
So, what's all this talk of rich men not being able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Does this mean that all you rich lot are in big trouble and only little old poor me will gain entry? We all know that it's impossible for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, so it appears at first glance that Jesus is saying that it's impossible for a rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven. But that's not what Jesus meant. What he was saying is not about the amount of money you have but rather what you do with it and the sort of person having lots of money makes you.
After I read through this morning's reading, it made me look at money with different eyes. There are many people who were rich with money and wise on earth that are today in heaven and these are the people who obeyed firstly the laws of Moses and put God at the forefront of their priorities. But on the other hand, there are many rich people that succumb to greed, who are vain, full of lust and unrepenting with no obedience to God always wanting more at someone else's expense. I think these are the kind of rich people Jesus was referring to. Remember, Job, and David and Solomon they were rich yet God loved them and I am sure they are with him now. Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back from the dead, was very rich and we know that Jesus loved him, although he was a very rich man, he was a man of God and I am sure is in heaven. These are not the rich people that Jesus was referring to in this morning's text.
The disciples it says in verse 26 were astounded at Jesus reply to the man. But they had got it all wrong, and they asked Jesus who then can inherit eternal life? In other words who can be saved. Jesus of course had the answer humanly speaking he said with man it's impossible but with God all things are possible. What Jesus was saying was that we cannot save ourselves, only God can save us and we today know that it was through his sacrificial death on the cross and his rising again that we have the privilege of being saved. If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shalt have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me. In other words get rid of that which you now worship, and come follow me. Hard words from Jesus, but true words and the young man knew that. But it was all too much for him so he bowed his head and turned away. He loved his material things over his love for God.
You see it's not just the love of money that may hinder us following Jesus, it's the love of material things over our love for Jesus. That's the problem - ones first love which must be for Jesus. A hard lesson for us all but a vital lesson that we must all hear and act upon. We have the choice be like the young man and turn away or listen to the words of Jesus and follow him. If we want to have eternal life, we will have to pass through the eye of the needle. The only way through is through the power of Jesus Christ and trusting in him to do the work. No person can pass that way without Jesus leading the way.
Bill Dredge (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 3rd October 2021
Mark 10: 2 -16
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
The Little Children and Jesus
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Reflections on Mark 10: 2 -16 and on the Samaritan's Purse Shoebox Video
We have just watched a powerful and emotive video clip about the shoeboxes, Operation Christmas Child.
Can we just take a step back in the next few minutes……I’d like us to reflect on why we take part in this enterprise each year.
TO START WITH, we as Christians celebrate and worship every week the ultimate Christmas Child, Almighty Gods Operation 2000 years ago to achieve the salvation of mankind. That child was born in poverty, in an agricultural outbuilding, miles away from his parents normal home, in a country occupied by the imperial masters of the day. The birth was not celebrated by a large family gathering, just some manual labourers. No presents that we’re told of in the Bible until the Wise Men came – the giving of which resulted in a murderous backlash from King Herod and in Jesus and his parents becoming refugees. Do we hear echoes of the situation in all too many countries today?
THEN, as we heard in our reading from Mark 10, children had a special place in Jesus world. This episode in His life is also reported in Matthew – ch19- and Luke -ch18- , and we know that an incident that is reported in all the first 3 Gospels means it is something we should regard as specially important. Can I suggest that, for Jesus – a man who loved equally every member of humanity regardless of age, gender, race or religion – children were a picture of at least 2 things. Firstly, their importance equalled that of Pharisees and rich young rulers – the stories told either side of this passage. Characteristics of children include that they instinctively trust the actions and believe the words of those close to them who care for them. Parents entrusted their children to Jesus for Him to bless them because they saw in Jesus that level of care – unlike His disciples, who once again got it wrong, by assessing children to be of no importance compared with Jesus getting on with His “real mission”. And note Jesus rebuked them for it!
Also, Jesus hints by His words that when he saw a child coming towards Him, He saw a picture of a true disciple – someone who might not understand all the mysteries of the universe, but DOES understand that God loves us, welcomes us unconditionally, and wants us to live a life close to Him. That’s the sort of confidence and trust he wants to see in us. In our hyper-technological world, people often sneer about “simple faith” or that church is only for “women and children”, but such cynics are as wide of the mark and clueless as were Jesus disciples in this encounter.
LASTLY, to link discipleship, children and the Shoeboxes together, can I read another Gospel passage. It’s a very familiar one – from Matthew ch25. Vses 31-40.
We could add “When did we see you at Christmas without a present?”
We are His hands, we are His feet, we are His Shoebox fillers.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 12th September 2021
James 3: 1-12 - Taming the Tongue
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Reflections on James 3: 1-12
Do you ever wonder how long it took God to plan what our bodies would look like and how they would function? I mean, could there have been some alternatives that we narrowly escaped? We can certainly see some alternatives in the rest of the animal kingdom. Eyes facing the front or on the side of the head or even on top of the head on stalks? You get the idea. Did he do some drawings and were there any areas that he particularly deliberated over? How about an extra arm or a crinkly forehead like that guy in Star Trek ? We do see on our screens sometimes some very imaginative ideas for alien creatures. Here’s a thought that I considered, thinking of the words in James chapter 3. I wonder if God at any point might have had second thoughts about giving us the ability to speak? Most of the other creatures have a tongue but none of them can use it to speak. James is very strong in his wording about the tongue. He uses the illustration of a small bit controlling a horse, a small rudder dictating the direction of a large ship and a tiny spark setting of a forest fire. In that context he says v6 the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell”. V8 also does not hold back “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.
So if it is as bad as that, and presumably God knew that it would have that potential, why did he still decide to include it as part of his perfect creation ? Well that question is no different at all to the question of why he created us at all knowing that sin would be the result, and we don’t have an answer to that, at least I don’t.
The fact is we have tongues, we are able to speak , and so contained in all of us is the potential for us both to cause damage and also to be damaged by it. As we hear from James the results can be disastrous and you can’t help thinking that James must have had some personal experience to feel so strongly about it. I would be very surprised if that is anyone here who hasn’t had some experience of hurtful words in the past. Things said in anger or thoughtless ness which have embedded themselves In our memories. Words lead to wars, divorce, mental breakdown, long term grudges, anguish and at times embarrassment and misunderstandings. Words said in jest that were too near the bone or caught you on a bad day. Words that come back to you during a sleepless session at night.
So James is right in his warnings to us because we all have the capacity to use words in bad ways causing pain or upset for others. So yes, these warnings are appropriate for all of us as Christians so that we may hopefully be more thoughtful, more ready to listen than to speak, more willing to say sorry if we offend, more ready to forgive. If you are writing a card or note to someone who has been bereaved it takes time to think about what to say but that approach needs to underline our words in every situation. Sometimes situations provoke us to say things we might regret.
A lady was finding it difficult to find a parking space in a carpark. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Well she saw a couple about to load shopping into their car so she stopped and set her indicator to take their place. Eventually the couple got in and the car began to exit the space. At that precise moment a car came up from behind and took the space! The lady was livid. She went straight across to the car and vented her feelings to the driver. Her relented and she got her place but afterwards was deeply ashamed with some of the words she had used. We are all at risk to different degrees and Jesus would warn us that thinking is as bad as saying it!
My original question was why God took the risk of giving us speech with all the potential for this negativity? The animals seem to manage ok with grunts, screams and body movements but that’s not very attractive is it? I think we need to take a positive approach. We have been reminded through the illustrations of bits and horses, rudders and ships of how something really small can have a huge effect. Think of how a small amount of yeast gives life to flour to produce bread. A tiny candle can give direction to folk stranded in a dark cave. So one Christian in a large office or company full of non -believers can be the yeast or small candle to bring life and hope to others. I heard this quote about size :-
“If you think that you are too small to have an impact or be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”
This is why we have a tongue. Yes it is very small but whilst it does have the potential to cause trouble, it also has a huge potential for good.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Sunday 12th September 2021
3.00pm Memorial Service to those who have recently died
Today we remember and give thanks for the lives of these 5 men. We mourn their loss, we celebrate their lives, we entrust them to the Lord and we allow ourselves to be inspired by them. Each of them was totally unique.
I will remember them for many different things – as I am sure you all do too. I have a mental picture of Alex in his chef hat and how he loved to cook at Somewhere to go with whatever ingredients he was given. Then Tony I always picture with his hands open in prayer – he was indeed a man of prayer as well as a man of music and worship. I know that the song ‘I’m coming back to the heart of worship – it’s all about you Jesus’ meant a lot to him. Brian was always there ready to help and was passionate about sharing with others about Jesus. He did this in an Alpha course I was running and shared that it was through Alpha that He had come to know the Lord. The people who he was sharing with thought Brian was a plant, but we persuaded him that he wasn’t. Peter was a man of great faith and also with a dry sense of humour. He really scared me once – at a PCC social he came up to me with a deadpan face and said very slowly - never – never…… in all my years…… have I ever seen a vicar……look so chic. It was very funny but he had me worried. Then Dave – a man who got people together, raised money and was very community minded. He was always ready to stop for a chat. Losing all these 5 men has been really tough – we lost Brian and Tony within days and we couldn’t come together to mourn and to give thanks for them.
Over these past 18 months I think we have all come to appreciate that life is very fragile and that each person is very precious and that we should never take life or people for granted. I think we have learned to tell people how much we appreciate them and how much we love them. We have also been forced to think about death – that taboo that we all avoid – and to think about our own death and that of our loved ones. The words from the readings offer us truths to hold onto in all this. In Romans we read that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – not even death itself. So for those of us who are left we are still loved by God – despite the loss and sorrow. And for those who have died death has not stopped God loving them because they are experiencing that love now in a way that they couldn’t experience on earth. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes ‘Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’ Do you have hope and if so what for? The wonderful truth that we can hold onto is that we can have hope – not pie in the sky or wishful thinking or that we leave this earth to be angels or spirits in the sky. We can have real hope because it is based on something real. That Jesus died and rose again from the dead – with a body – not as a ghost – but a body that people touched, he ate, he appeared to 500 at one time. Jesus was resurrected that we too might be resurrected.
So we do not need to grieve without hope. As Christians we grieve with hope. It is not wrong to grieve – it is the cost of loving someone. But we grieve with hope – hope because we know what Jesus did to be true and that we have accepted it for ourselves. We do not know what life after death will be like exactly – but we do know that we will have new bodies, free from pain and suffering, that we will see the Lord face to face, that there will be worship like we have never experienced. So today yes let us be inspired by these men – let us say thank you for them, let us see each day of life as a gift from God and let us make sure that we have accepted Jesus into our lives that we may meet him there in eternity. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 29th August 2021
Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23 - That which defiles
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’
He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.’
‘For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’
Reflections on Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23
Once again the Pharisees attack Jesus on his and the disciples lack of hand washing. Washing our hands has been drummed into us this past 18 months – hands, face, space was the strapline. We were told to wash our hands for 20 seconds and were told that singing Happy Birthday was the right length of time – somebody also said that saying the Lord’s Prayer was the right length too. I don’t know how far you went in keeping things clean. For many months we would wash all the shopping that would go in the fridge and freezer and then isolate all the larder groceries for 3 days – Saturday was the day they came out of quarantine. We stopped doing that a short while ago. But if I have been out anywhere, I wash my hands when I get in. Washing hands is basic hygiene – especially when handling food.
So are the Pharisees being fair in taking Jesus to task about the lack of hand washing. Not long before Jesus had fed the 5,000 men plus women and children – there is no way they could have all washed their hands before eating – they didn’t care they were so hungry. What the Pharisees were concerned about was not the lack of hygiene but that they weren’t ceremonially washing their hands and that they weren’t following tradition that had been handed down to them. Coming back from the market- place where they may have brushed by Gentiles and other unclean people, they would have felt the need to wash. Jesus on the other hand didn’t care about touching people who their society deemed to be unclean – lepers, bleeding women, prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick. He did not care because He knew that being unclean was not about outward appearance and not going through the motions. The Pharisees genuinely believe that going through all these rituals – not just of washing hands but also of cups, jugs and kettles – in fact the Old Testament is full of rules about being clean and the Jews have other cleansing traditions on top of those – they believe that by doing this then they will be clean. Tradition is very important to the Jews - in the musical Fiddler on the roof Tvye sings the song called Tradition. Tradition and having rituals seem to be a thing that all people do. Tradition and ritual though can just be empty gestures if they have lost their meaning and we just go through the motions, relying on those traditions and rituals for our being clean and for our salvation. Jesus was very direct with them and quoted the words of Isaiah ‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” In other words it is all outward show and that their hearts are far from God. Their hearts were in a bad state despite all the washing and bowing and scraping. There are many references in the Bible to having a hard heart.
This leads us to think about 2 things – how much do we follow tradition and rely on it for our being right with God? Do we ever just go through the motions of say coming to church, singing hymns, saying the words of the service – the confession for instance – but actually it is water over a duck’s back – it is on the surface and inside we have other stuff going on in our thoughts, feelings and lives. Tradition can mask a hard heart. The other question that relates to this is – what is the state of our hearts? If you have a car, you know that every year you have to book it in for an MOT – to check that it is safe and road worthy. I often take mine in thinking all is OK and then they call to say this needs mending or replacing – I had no idea as all seemed to be well. It’s the same when you go to the GP with some symptoms and they send you for an CT or MRI to have a look inside – because the GP doesn’t have x- ray vision. It’s then that they can see what your inside is like and why you have these symptoms.
So, what’s the heart equivalent for us then – how do we know what state it is in? Firstly, ask yourself some tough questions – does the public me resemble the private me. If all the words you say at home were recorded and played in church how would you feel? How do you behave with your family, your friends, at work, with your neighbours? What are your thoughts like in the week? The state of our heart is shown in the words we use, our behaviour, what we do with our money, our leisure time. There are several things that we can use to help us have a good think and a good look – the Bible is the best guide. Jesus talks about God’s commands – the 10 commandments for example – but know the teachings of Jesus. Our conscience is another tool – and I will add the Holy Spirit to this as He prompts us and shows us what is wrong in our lives. I don’t want us all to go away feeling bad this morning – but let’s be honest if what we are on the outside is what we are on the inside then we are going to be happy, have better mental health and be great witnesses for the gospel.
In Matthew 26 Jesus had a real go at the Pharisees – this is just one verse which sums it up well. ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23: 25 – 26. In Greek the word hypocrite was used in acting for someone wearing a mask and pretending to be someone they are not, which is a bad thing. Jesus later goes on to teach more about the heart. It is often said that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Jesus then teaches that what comes out of a person makes them unclean and then gives a list of what these could be. ‘’For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.’’ It is easy to think ‘none of those applies to me – I’m quite a good person.’
There are 12 things – the first 6 are actions and the second 6 are drives - states of the heart or speech. These actions include sexual sin – which could include a whole range of destructive things – pornography, upskirting, telling and listening to coarse jokes, adultery. Theft – stealing from work, shoplifting, cheating on our taxes, withholding from God the things that are God’s. Murder – remember Jesus taught that hatred is murder in Matthew 5: 21,22. Adultery – which breaks the marriage bond – again remember Jesus said a lustful look at another is like adultery. Greed – our whole society and economy is based on greed – we are consumers. It’s the wanting of possessions, another person, wanting more than we actually need. Malice – anything unkind – actions, words and thoughts – gossip, back- stabbing. We then have 6 states of being which drive the evil actions – deceit (not telling the truth, tricking someone), lewdness – giving into twisted and evil impulses, envy – wanting what is not yours and that you hate that person because of what they have. The last 3 are all related to the tongue – slander – saying something bad about someone. Arrogance – thinking you are better than someone else- often shown in speech and lastly folly – having no fear of God. So I would challenge anyone here to say that are totally innocent of any of these. As Christians we are still sinners – but forgiven sinners – and we need to strive to be right with God – and that begins with our inner life. So take time to have a whole life MOT – read through this list and the 10 commandments and allow the Spirit to point out anything that He wants to sort. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 22nd August 2021
John 6: 56 - 69 - Many disciples desert Jesus
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.’ He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Reflections on John 6: 56 - 69
A few weeks ago I watched a 3 part TV drama called “Time”. It’s about a disgraced teacher, played by Sean Bean, imprisoned for killing a cyclist in a hit and run incident. There is a fascinating exchange between a Prison Officer (PO) and the Bean character (SB) as he is being “booked into” the prison –
PO “What religion are you?”
SB “Haven’t really got one, don’t go to church or anything…..”
PO “I’ll put you down as Anglican then”
SB “S’pose I’m more like a lapsed Catholic”
I can’t think of a better modern intro to our reflection on the final part of John 6 – which in essence asks a question…….. are we followers or drifters? Let me focus on just 3 sentences
1. FROM THIS TIME MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES TURNED BACK (v 66) Please note those who turned back were DISCIPLES, NOT members of the crowds following Jesus. Why would they turn back at this point? Well, probably for a variety of reasons; but if you read the whole of Ch 6, Jesus is taking his identity and words to a whole new level – feeding 5000 men (plus their families), walking on water, saying I AM the bread of life (I AM being the way God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush), saying He could give bread that was better than the manna the children of Israel ate in the wilderness (which touched the very core of the Jews national history), and finally that eternal life was only available to those who ate/drank His flesh/blood. They also knew that the crowds “intended to come and make Him King”(v 15). Warning bells would have been ringing – this is not the latest (and best so far) teacher-in-town, this is either a lunatic/dangerous revolutionary…….. or the Messiah promised throughout Jewish history! That was a HARD question to answer – remembering they didn’t have the Holy Spirit living within them to witness to Jesus truth – and many of them LAPSED – turned back and/or no longer followed. But what about us? Jesus DID say some hard things, DID say some counter-cultural things, DID urge people to believe things (such as Him being the only way to God) which no longer fit comfortably in the societal norms of UK 2021…….. a country where less than 10% of people are regular members of a church worshipping community.
2. TO WHOM SHALL WE GO (v 68)? Peters honest response to Jesus direct question as to whether the 12, the inner circle, were leaving as well. And as the UK has progressively, decade by decade since 1945, decided to turn back from actively following Jesus, this is arguably the question that each individual, each family has had to face. For some, the “answer” has been to duck the question by filling life with things/activities/people, until the inevitable day when all that is stripped away. But for more, let me quote from a recent article on pop astrology, written by a 30-something, Dolly Alderton, in the Times….. “our obsession with star signs is simply a desperation for a belief system. In the absence of organised religion, we have turned to …something inexplicable to give us a sense of rules, order and outcome in a world of unpredictable chaos.” It’s a desperation – which I see so often in people I know and love – which drives me to my knees to pray daily that they will come/come back to the Saviour of the World, who described Himself elsewhere as the one who leaves 99 sheep safely grazing, to seek the 1 who has wandered off……who has lapsed.
3. YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE (v 68) Peter’s answer to his own question. At this point in His ministry, what Jesus needed in disciples was AUTHENTICITY NOT NUMBERS. He promised in another conversation that, on the foundation of Peters expression of Faith, He would build His Church; the numbers would come as a result …… just read Acts Ch 2! There was a time not that long ago when, in the UK, the default position for more than half the UK population was “Christian/C of E” to the Religion question – we were a nation of “Cultural Christians” even if we went to church occasionally/never. Just like we are all “Cultural Football Fans” during the Euros, even if we never go. What our country needs now, after Covid, are groups of Jesus followers up and down the nation, who are authentic, prayerful and unafraid that He – and He only – has the Words of Life now and for eternity. Amen.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 15th August 2021
John 6: 51 - 58 - Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.The the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Reflections on John 6: 51 - 58
As Christians, how much are you looking forward to eternity? How clear are you about this promise from Jesus of living forever? It seems to me that the notion of eternity is not such a strange desire as we may think by many in the population at large. I have in mind a film from 1965with Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins where the search for living forever resulted in them finding a flame that turned blue every thousand years or so, and when it did, to jump in was to become immortal. A young woman was also involved , and when she jumped into the flame she aged in seconds and crumpled to the floor. The internet shows a huge number of other films with an emphasis on gaining immortality.
There is it seems a certain fascination with staying young, of living beyond our normal lifespan. Cryonics for example where folk can pay to be deep frozen when they die and then brought back to life when their disease has by now been cured. Have you heard about James Bedford who died in 1967 and is still deep frozen ready for future experiments? Or, on a lesser scale, what about Botox and other surgeries to keep us looking young, and even some face creams make fantastic claims! I don’t think there are too many 90 year olds who want to live forever at least not in a physical sense.
What we are confronted with in Scripture is a very dynamic and supernatural promise. From John 6 and v. 51 Jesus says “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever”; In V.54 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” and v. 58 “He who feeds on this bread will live forever”. These are significant statements in the context of Jesus claiming that he is the Bread of life. V51 again He says “I am the living bread” and also “This bread is my flesh..”
Now Jesus is not just talking to the disciples in the whole of this long discourse, which covers vs 25-65, he is teaching a huge crowd and the Jews really didn’t know what to make of it all. So V52 “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” A literal translation of that would mean cannibalism, so of course they questioned and being honest, that is hardly surprising. These were ‘off the wall ‘concepts and we wouldn’t have been any the wiser than they were would we ? The question for us is, are we the wiser now?
Jesus then follows it up with some repetition and explaining also adding V53 “Drink my blood” and “unless you eat and drink you have no life in you”. He repeats this 3 times. Obeying Jesus is clearly the key to’ having life in us ‘and for ‘gaining eternal life’. This might all sound a bit ghoulish to folk outside the church. Remember from v 55 “this flesh is real food and this blood is real drink”. What are we to make of it and how do we explain it?
As Christians we are all so familiar with the truths which we revisit every time we take Holy Communion. But do we really grasp what it means or do we avoid thinking about it? We do need to be clear about one thing which is fairly obvious, that the promise Jesus gives us to live forever is not in the physical world in these bodies. In v 49 Jesus refers the Jews back in history to when God provided life giving Manna as food , to the Israelites in the desert But the fact is that they still died eventually. It was a purely physical miracle. What Jesus wants to do is lift their minds to a spiritual realm where living forever demands not manna but a different kind of food altogether, which is Jesus the bread of life who shed his blood on the cross. So physical food for physical life but spiritual food for eternity with new bodies. That spiritual food, Jesus is telling us, is the flesh and blood of Jesus himself. We need to remember that the people listening were besotted with the figure of Moses, whom they revered, but Jesus is pointing out that Manna was a physical preamble to what God now offers through Jesus. If we skip over to V.60 however, we see that the reaction of many was to find this teaching hard.
Their reaction should not be ours now. We have the benefit of understanding the words of the Lord’s Supper given to us in Scripture and the promises are repeated as we prepare to take the bread and wine as symbols of this teaching .From one of the Eucharistic prayers :-
Gather into one in your Kingdom all who share this one bread and one cup, so that we, in the company of all the saints, may praise and glorify you for ever through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We also have in the Bible the whole passion story leading to the death of Jesus. We have the Gospel story in full. We have a Jesus who gave his flesh and blood so that we might be forgiven and have life in all its fullness.
The symbolism at Communion is intense but at the same time taking care, as we must, to separate the physical from the spiritual with the elements being treated as purely physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot allow the notion of the bread or wine in any way changing from being simply bread and wine because that path leads to superstition and idolatry. The key to the act of us receiving bread and wine is the state of our hearts and how we receive them, in both humility and gratitude for God’s forgiveness and His promise of eternity.
So to draw towards a conclusion, what does Jesus really mean by asking us to eat his body and drink his blood? Is it simply taking Holy Communion ? Well, only partially, because I believe it also happens as we are obedient to his teaching in our daily lives. So the Eating and drinking (or partaking of Jesus) also happens when we pray, when we confess, when we read the scriptures, when we sacrifice our time and money in his service, when we take up our cross and follow him. It happens when we confront problems and stress by calling out to God for help looking for strength and comfort. It also happens when we approach the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ and reach for his hand. Without being obedient in all of these things the sacrifice of Jesus’ body will have been rendered utterly.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 8th August 2021
John 6: 35, 41 - 51 - Jesus the bread of life
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’
‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Reflections on John 6: 35, 41 - 51
It’s really hard isn’t it when people don’t understand what you are talking about? When they have one idea and you are talking about something completely different. Jesus had recently fed the 5,000 and that was still on people’s minds. The people are pursuing Jesus because they are after more of this food – like Jesus is some travelling meals on wheels or food cart giving out freebies. They are thinking of their stomachs and that Jesus can feed them. Jesus turns this conversation round and uses it to talk about something else – to talk about Himself and that He is the bread of life. It is clearly something that they don’t understand as they are remembering the time that God sent bread to the Israelites in the desert. They were thinking of literal food and bread – Jesus was talking about something very different.
Jesus says that He is the bread of life and that because of that then we never need to be hungry or thirsty again. He is not saying that we will never need to eat or drink, but He is talking about spiritual hunger and thirst. He is addressing that emptiness that we can feel as humans – maybe a sense of feeling lost, hopeless, scared, wanting something but we don’t know what, needing to feel loved, safe and secure, looking for meaning in life. This is spiritual hunger that we often try to fill with material things – cars, holidays, adventures, hobbies, food, clothes. Sometimes people fill that hunger with unhealthy things – gambling, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships. The whole advertising industry thrives on the fact that people are always wanting the next thing to make them feel better about themselves and about life in general. As we all know all these things are either dangerous or they are short – lived and they make us feel good for a time but that feeling soon wears off.
The bread of Jesus is so much different from any of these. Jesus fills that hunger that we have inside because that hunger is a hunger for God and to be in relationship with Him. The bread that Jesus offers is Himself – it is in knowing Jesus and being in relationship with Him that we will be satisfied. In that we will know who we belong to, who we are, that we are forgiven, that we are loved, that God has a plan for our lives, that we can know peace that the world can never give. Most importantly Jesus says ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever.’ Through Jesus we can know we have the gift of eternal life – not because we have obtained it ourselves or been good people, but that Jesus gave His life for us on the cross in our place.
So how do we receive this bread – who is Jesus. He says ‘He who believes has everlasting life.’ Jesus does in a sense give out free food and He gives of Himself freely. We must simply believe in Him, His death and resurrection and say yes to Him in our lives. If we come to Jesus every day to be filled, then we will no longer feel that unsettled feeling, that nagging emptiness that will never go away.
St Augustine said these famous words about this:-
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Here is a prayer for you to pray if you feel that hunger in your life.
Dear Jesus thank you that you are the bread of life. I come to you today feeling hungry and thirsty and needing you to fill me with your love. Lord help me to believe in you and to find in you new life for today and new life for after I die. Thank you that you died for me and rose again. I come to you now with open hands and asking you to fill me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 1st August 2021
John 6: 24 - 35 - Jesus the bread of life
Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Reflections on John 6: 24 - 35
I enjoy making bread. It can come in all shapes and sizes, sweet and savoury. I have had a bread maker for years, and it certainly takes the effort out of producing delightful dough. I usually make a run of the mill 70% wholemeal 30% plain. This turns out a pretty reliable loaf. If we’re having homemade burgers, then rolls are called for. If I have time and the inclination, Chelsea buns are the order of the day. In my mind, bread is an essential food.
It was also essential food in Jesus day too. The previous day, Jesus had fed five thousand men, along with women and children, with five loaves and two fish. It is now daytime the following day and the crowd have realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples are there.
The crowd must have seen the disciples leave in their boat the previous evening without Jesus. I believe that it’s Jesus they wanted, as they didn’t follow the disciples, as Jesus had just performed a miracle and fed them all – free food – and lots left over. They didn’t have to work for it, it just appeared. So they searched and found Jesus and I can hear them saying ‘How did YOU get here?’ We thought you’d gone up a mountain, but here you are, with your disciples on the other side of the lake!
They were mystified, perplexed and decidedly curious. Was there going to be a repeat performance? More bread, ’cos that’d be great! Well, no. Jesus saw straight through them and their motives. I’m not here just to fill your stomachs and relieve your day to day hunger, but now, I’m going to introduce you to my kingdom, the kingdom of God, not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom, where all your hungers will be satisfied. There is more to life than just bread and fishes, working and eating. I can come and give you much more than this.
Jesus now reveals something of his heavenly nature to them. He says ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ But they still don’t see it. Jesus has developed the conversation and led it on to a different plane. He is trying to get the people to raise their thoughts and vision above the ordinary hum-drum existence of working and eating to something else. Something that is much more long lasting and enduring. Something that Jesus, the Son of Man can give them. It’s something that Jesus can give. It’s a free gift, it’s there for the taking, for the unwrapping. It’s there as a present from God for You. It’s there with your name on. Just for you!
But the people miss the point; they think that they have to work for it, as they ask him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus replies very simply ‘the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ People, Jesus is saying, you only have to believe in me. But they want to work at it. No, Jesus says, ‘the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
The people still don’t get it. As they now hark back to their history and talk about when the Israelites were trudging round the wilderness and moaning at Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16 to give them something to eat. I feel that the people don’t see Jesus as the one sent by God. I think that their reaction is more one of ‘Well, this happened in the past, is it going to happen again?’ Is God going to send manna from heaven? Yes, says Jesus, God has sent manna from heaven... the true bread from heaven has been sent, he is standing right here in front of you today, now, It’s me! I give life to the world.
Life giving bread. Now this sounds good. Can we have some? Always.... please?
Jesus replies with one of his ‘I am’ sayings. He declares ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
What does that mean to you? Jesus says to you here today ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Do you know Jesus as the bread of life, satisfying hunger and thirst? If not, come to him and ask him into your life. If you want to know more, please email me for a ‘Why Jesus’ booklet and I will send you one.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 25th July 2021
John 6: 16 – 21 - Jesus walks on the water
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Reflections on John 6: 16 – 21
In the last few weeks readings boats have been cropping up. Boats are a mode of transport from A to B across the Sea of Galilee. But I think the boats were so much more than that – many of the disciples were fishermen and boats for them were their place of work. They would have been used to the delights and dangers of being in a boat on the water.
I wonder what boats you have been in in your life?
For the disciples and Jesus the boat acted as a sort of bolt hole – getting them away from the crowds with all their demands and needs. Giving them some peace and for Jesus a chance to rest and get some sleep.
The church is like a boat and as members of the church we are all in the same boat.
Like many of the other days we have heard about recently it has been another long and hard day – they had just fed 5,000 men plus women and children. Now it was evening and once again the disciples get into a boat and set off for Capernaum.
Notice 2 things – it is dark and Jesus is not with them.
Setting off on a journey in the dark is dangerous – especially on the water. So the disciples are not just in the dark, they are in the dark without Jesus.
I wonder if you have ever had times in your life when you are felt in the dark and without Jesus too. When you don’t know which way to go and you feel uncertain and maybe a bit scared and then just as you feel it can’t get worse it does.
It says that wind started to blow and the waters grew rough. Their reaction was not to panic but to keep calm and carry on and to keep rowing. They were in a dangerous situation. In the account of this in Matthew 14 we read though about where Jesus is - up a mountainside all by himself praying. He is there praying for them while all this is going on.
When we find ourselves in difficult situations that feel like being in the dark in a storm – and it feels like Jesus is not there with us – and we are working hard to get to the other side, to get through it – he is actually aware of the situation praying for us. Doesn’t that fill you with hope – he knows what you are going through and is praying for us. Remember that the next time when a storm hits and you are wondering – where are you Jesus? That he is there.
Despite all the rowing the boat was just in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus now turns up walking on the water. The disciples can’t make out who He is – they are very tired and it’s stormy – it says that they are terrified. Jesus knows and see their fear and reassures them ‘It is I, don’t be afraid.’
Jesus can’t come to us in person today, but I do believe that He sends people to us when we most need it. It is good not just to pray for someone but to also realise that we may be the answer to someone’s prayer. As the body of Christ, we can bring the reassurance of Jesus to another person.
Once the disciples realised that it was Jesus they allowed him into the boat. Once he was in the boat another miracle happened, as if walking on water wasn’t enough. When they saw Jesus the boat it was in the middle of the lake, now it was at it’s destination.
When we have allowed Jesus into our boat, then we will get where we are heading quickly and safely. We often have no control over the storms in our life but we do have control as to who is in our boat. Let us as individuals be willing to invite Jesus in – let us trust in Him and see Him for who He really is – Lord of all creation and Lord of our lives if we allow Him.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 18th July 2021
Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56 - Return of the Apostles
The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried those who were ill on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed those who were ill in the market-places. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Reflections on Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56
Frequently, when either Anne or I have been out, whether this be gardening for people, shopping, a funeral, interment, church service, a visit or whatever, when we get back together again, we’ll spend time sharing our experiences, showing the other what we have bought and talking about how we found it, which can range from good and exciting, to awful and wanting things to change!
It’s good and healthy to share experiences and feelings. The other person can learn from it and begin to understand what the person speaking has gone through and hopefully able to empathise with them as well. It also helps the person speaking – to be listened to is a gift. It helps sort out feelings and emotions, the best course of action to take and maybe even solve problems.
I wonder what it was like when the apostles came back to Jesus, after their first missionary foray into the surrounding areas without him. He had sent them out in pairs with authority. They preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them. It was good that they were in pairs, so they could support each other, share stories with each other, minister to people together, share the Kingdom of God with others together, talk together and probably cry together as well.
When they came back, the apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. I would love to have been able to eavesdrop on the conversations. Would they have been: happy, exhausted, jubilant, sad, excited, full of banter etc. I don’t know. But what we can read from this passage is that it was a very busy time. So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat. Jesus would know how they were feeling and what their needs were as he says ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ They have been out on mission for the first time without him and were probably exhausted. They needed time to refresh themselves and relax, share stories and learn from Jesus.
Our leaders today need to have time to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ I was on a CPAS webinar recently, where there was a poll taken as to how people were feeling. The majority were exhausted. As a church and as a nation we are entering a time of recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. It is a time when we can look back at what we have been through, take stock of where we are and then with prayer, listening to God and a time of reflection, decide where we want to go, as a church and as a nation. I would encourage you to pray for our leaders, both nationally (Boris Johnson and Sir Kier Starmer) and locally (John Penrose our MP and for Terry Porter and Mike Solomon our local councillors) but do pray not only for those in the secular world, but also for those in the church: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, our Bishop Ruth Worsley, Arch Deacon Adrian Youings, Area Dean Tom Yacomeni and Rector Anne. They all need our prayers and support and to hear the words of Jesus ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So what happened to the apostles and Jesus? Did they get away to a quiet place and get some rest? Well, it nearly happened, it was nearly a solitary place, but unfortunately, ‘many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.’ Have you ever had the experience of spotting a quiet park bench, or a nice spot on a beach, start to head for it and someone else get there before you? Or for that matter a parking space in a popular car park? Does this ring any bells? How do you feel? What do you say to yourself? Cross, frustrated, angry, put out? So I wonder what the disciples might have felt? Probably frustrated, that their rest had been snatched away from them at the last moment!
So to finish, could I ask that we pray for our leaders, that they will find a quiet place and get some rest, as well as an empty park bench and a car park space, should they need it!
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 11th July 2021
Mark 6: 14 - 29 - John the Baptist beheaded
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’
Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’
But when Herod heard this, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’
She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ ‘The head of John the Baptist,’ she answered.
At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: ‘I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a dish.’
The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a dish. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Reflections on Mark 6: 14 - 29
The Bible tells lots of wonderful stories. This story of John the Baptist being beheaded is not one of them! It seems a very sad story, an unjust and early end to the life of a man who had simply followed his calling to prepare the way for the Messiah. I don’t have an answer to the question of why God allowed that to happen. Of course we don’t have answers to many things that happen in life which we might think of as unfair to the people involved. There are regular catastrophes happening that affect the lives of sometimes hundreds of folk, like the recent collapse of a block of flats in Miami with over a hundred still unaccounted for. We cannot begin to find any justification for why that has happened, and importantly we have no basis for either blaming God or asking why He didn’t stop it. Hopefully we don’t have a vision of God as someone who organises and overrules all the details of human life on a daily basis. Everyone of us has the freedom given to us by God to make decisions, good or bad, which can and will affect others, sometimes in a very bad way. That is why we need to pray for our leaders regularly with the decisions they have to make.
Herod was such a leader who had the power to do good or evil. He was clearly afraid of this unusual man John and also nervous of the reaction of his subjects if anything happened to him. He loved to have a party and his birthday gave the opportunity to have one with invited guests. All would have eaten and drunk well, and the seductive dance of the daughter of Herodias led Herod to wield his power on an alcohol fuelled promise to the dancer. Gone is Herod’s fear of John and his fear of the public response, all swept away by the moment, and we know the result, that John was beheaded. That’s a clear warning to all of us about our decisions in life and their likely effect on others.
If we accept the view that Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30, we can conclude that John was around 27. The similarities between them both are stark. The cause of John’s death was very similar to the cause of the death of Jesus, brought about by leaders who began to live in fear of this man because he taught with authority about God and they refused to let him live. Their anger may not have been fuelled by alcohol, but it was driven by their fear of losing their control of teaching and worship in the Temple. Theirs was a calculated and deceitful plan with the result that Jesus died on the cross.
There is one more similarity between them both, because they both told the TRUTH. John told the truth about how wrong it was that Herod married his brother’s wife Herodias, which is why he was in prison. Jesus told the truth about God’s love for us and our need to say sorry. Both men featured in prophesy in the Old Testament and both fulfilled their mission and died young.
The Bible encourages us always to “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4v15) and how many times did Jesus say “I tell you the truth”? I haven’t counted but there are loads of times. We are all personally responsible for our actions and words, because thy will influence others in a huge variety of ways. That gives us good reason to be close to God and start each day by submitting all our plans to Him in prayer. With the help of His Holy Spirit we can more effectively show love in all we do and say being disciples in the name of Jesus.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 27th June 2021
Mark 5: 21 - end - Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered round him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed round him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned round in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’
‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”’
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Reflections on Mark 5: 21 - end
During the pandemic, we have heard that the gap between rich and poor has widened. Some people have benefitted financially and their jobs and businesses are safer. These include supermarkets, flour producers and manufacturers of garden furniture and loungewear to name a few! Other people have lost their jobs or been furloughed and struggled with less money. Likewise, during the early stages of the pandemic, ethical conundrums arose as to whose needs should be prioritised. We asked who would get hospital beds and treatment in the face of ICUs becoming overwhelmed and there was a lot of discussion over whether vulnerable people should be prioritised for vaccines and grocery deliveries. Of course, there have been allegations over the awarding of government contracts… but I won’t pursue that line of enquiry.
These two passages sit together because the circumstances of the nameless woman and the young girl radically contrast with one another. Jairus and his daughter enjoy significant advantages, whereas the woman is amongst the most disadvantaged in society. It would have been very easy for Jesus to have ignored the woman and to have done Jairus’ bidding and then taken the credit. However, both individuals were loved by Jesus and his compassion did not allow him to prioritise the person who shouted the loudest. Having a personal relationship with Jesus, we realise how important we are to him – he has the whole world on his heart and he is well able to juggle everyone’s needs and concerns!
First, we have Jairus’s twelve year old daughter. Jairus was among the religious elite of the local area. Educated, well off, entitled. It would be interesting to know what Jairus thought about Jesus before his daughter became unwell. I speculate, that he may have considered Jesus a trouble-maker. But with his daughter’s failing health, he sought Jesus’ help, and Jesus agrees to accompany Jairus to his daughter’s bedside.
Second, we have the woman with the haemorrhage. The 21st century reader probably does not appreciate how vulnerable this woman is. This woman was considered ritually unclean and therefore was expected to separate herself from others so that they would not come in to contact with her. She was supposed to stay away from her family (if she had any) and was excluded from participating in worship. She was required to shout “unclean, unclean” when anyone approached, to warn them of her presence. Furthermore, being an unaccompanied woman, in a public space, broke the rules of propriety. She has been deprived hugs and conversation. In some respects, this woman has been self-isolating for 12 years, but without the lifelines of phone or Zoom! Her desperation has led her to put her faith in charlatan doctors who have taken all her money. The only possible livelihood available to her would have been in hovelling dung, or handling dead animals or human corpses. She lives in poverty, lonely, and her self-esteem must have been at rock bottom!
Jesus is on his way to visit Jairus’ daughter, when the woman creeps up behind him and touches his cloak. She appears to have full confidence that touching Jesus’ garment will heal her, but she is scared because the act of touching him will also make Jesus unclean. Jesus realises that power has left his body and looks around to see what has happened. In all this hurry, Jesus takes the time to hear this woman’s story, commends her faith and calls her “daughter” indicating that she may now re-enter mainstream Jewish community life.
While the task of visiting Jairus’ daughter was urgent, Jesus was not going to ignore the circumstances or needs of this homeless, disadvantaged woman – particularly when she showed bravery in approaching him. By prioritising this woman Jesus demonstrated that he was not the Messiah who would give precedence to the wealthy, the pious or the privileged.
One the other hand, it is very annoying when you are having a conversation and someone else interrupts and pushes you out. But Jairus had much more reason to be vexed. His frustration must have been painful! When his friends come to tell him his daughter is dead, he must have been so angry with Jesus and the woman. To top it off, after all that study at rabbi-school - Jesus tells him to have faith like that woman who’d been excluded from the synagogue for 12 years!!
Thankfully, we know the happy ending of Jairus’ daughter. She is brought back to life and all is well!
Both the women were associated with death. Jairus’ daughter because she literally died, and the woman because her condition was linked to a social death. Jesus is the solution - bringing eternal life and liberation from death. Those deemed to be social outcasts will have equal (and maybe priority) access to the Kingdom. This, therefore, places responsibilities on the church community to treat those in vulnerable situations as beloved “daughters” and sons of God.
In a few months, when I am ordained deacon, (that is the first year of being a curate) the Bishop will set out the Church’s expectation (a bit like a job description) and included in it is:
“They are to … search out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.” This is also the calling and task of the church. Please pray for me as I seek to be faithful to this calling, as I will continue to pray for you. Amen.
Larisssa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 20th June 2021
Mark 4: 35 - 41 - Jesus calms the storm
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Reflections on Mark 4: 35 - 41
One of the things I love about Bible passages is that when you read them – however well you know them – the Holy Spirit often highlights parts that you’d previously only thought of as supporting sentences to the main thrust of the narrative.
So when I started reading this passage from Mark 4, I thought “Oh yes, Jesus calms the seas and thus shows His mastery over the elements of nature.” But I was brought up short in my reading, because another verse stood out from the page as I read; it was the second half of v38……’ The disciples …..said to Him “Teacher, DON’T YOU CARE IF WE DROWN?”’
Now His disciples knew a fair bit about sudden bad weather on the Sea of Galilee – and a number of them were fishermen. All fishing communities have their stories of sudden bad weather which end in tragedy (we’ve just come back from Cornwall, and there are plenty such stories there), and for Jesus disciples – using their local knowledge – the sight of waves breaking over their boat was not a good sign.
AND YET THEY COULD SEE JESUS, APPARENTLY UNCONCERNED, FAST ASLEEP IN THE STERN – presumably with the spray drifting over Him.
A force of nature, apparently running riot and out of control, threatening lives, and Jesus apparently oblivious of it or unengaged.
Starting to ring any bells?
This event clearly had a massive impact on Simon Peter (who dictated his remembrance of Jesus life to Mark to compile his Gospel)……he even remembered Jesus was asleep on a cushion! This all probably happened on Peters boat, as he was the senior fisherman-disciple. So what might Peter and Jesus want us to take from the event, as we look to answer our own questions of where is Jesus? And what use is faith? as we face stormy episodes in life.
1. Jesus IS always with us in our “boat” when the storms suddenly hit, when we feel we are going to be overwhelmed …….. when he appears to be disengaged, and doesn’t appear to be answering our prayers. The disciples in the boat had 2 options. The first – and most natural for them as locals – was to look at the storm from their own natural perspective and think…..boy this one is bad even by Galilee standards; its going to be touch and go whether we make it. The second – not easy as this occurred quite early on in their journey as disciples – was to look at it from the perspective of having Jesus in the boat with them, and the fact that he appeared to be unperturbed and was fast asleep. He clearly thought that however stormy it was, they would make it through.
2. It’s ok to shout at God and say “Don’t you care”. Remember Jesus himself did it on the Cross, in the one moment that his perfect communication with God, his own Father, was cut off, as he offered himself to take the punishment appropriate for all the wrongdoing done by the human race past, present, and future.
3. Look for God’s response; thy will be one. What did the disciples actually expect Jesus to do in response to their cry of panic? Knowing Peter at this point of his faith journey, it would have been “All hands on deck and lend your strength to keeping the ship afloat “ – after all, Jesus was a manual labourer and in the prime of life and strength! But Jesus response clearly came as a massive shock; he just got up and told the elements to behave themselves and settle down, just like an authoritative teacher to an unruly class! The disciples were terrified! “Who is this?” they said. Notice that the passage suggests that Jesus didn’t answer this question …….. they would only realise the answer as they continued on with Jesus to Easter Sunday and beyond. But does the Bible as a whole suggest that EVERY time we experience the storms of life, God’s response to our prayers is for all things to suddenly become calm and resolved? Some times …. but not always. Read Paul's life story (including his shipwreck in Acts 27!), and the “Heroes of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11. What we CAN know, as His followers and children, is the inner reassurance by His presence through the Holy Spirit day in and day out, that we are not alone and that all things will pass.
Which brings us back to the pandemic …… in all its variants. If we want a spiritual perspective, lets see that from the dawn of Creation, Gods plan has always been that, together with Him, we care for and tend this earth and all humanity as His good stewards, part of which since the Fall has been dealing with the calamities which periodically afflict us. He has given us the tools of science AND faith, not BLIND faith, and not faith IN science ALONE. We are His hands and feet, whether praying or giving a jab.
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 6th June 2021
Mark 3: 20 - end - Jesus accused by his family and by teachers of the law
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’
He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’
Reflections on Mark 3: 20 - end
Before Lockdown One, I had set up a new group called Board Games Galore, we met monthly on a Sunday afternoon in the church centre. One of the games that we played was called ‘Risk’. It was a game of strategy and luck. Players placed their armies on the countries they owned. How many armies that were to be placed on the countries was up to the player and involved a bit of strategic planning. The aim was to win opponents countries by the rolling of dice, but not to spread one’s armies too thinly to leave them vulnerable to attack and defeat. The game finished when there was world domination and one’s opponents were wiped out. United we stand, divided we fall.
Division leads to weakness and losing countries and ultimately losing the game, but if an army is united and strong it will ultimately win. As one army begins to take over, there is an edgyness, things change, it feels uncomfortable, the winning army can feel unstoppable and things are not as they were.
Change can bring an uncomfortable feeling to one’s life. There can be the desire to return to how things were. One’s frame of reference can be suddenly put out of focus and the ability to know where one is heading in one’s life put into doubt.
Two things are happening in this reading. I feel that the first thing is about change.
Jesus is changing people’s understanding of himself. They used to know him as Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, a carpenter by trade. But now, they seeing him as a healer, a teacher and someone who can forgive sin and this is upsetting their understanding of him. People are flocking around him, so much so, that in the reading Jesus is not even able to eat in the house where he was with his disciples! His family have decided to take control of the situation. This really is getting ridiculous and out of hand. Where is the quiet life we all used to know? When things were predictable and ordered? So Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive. Jesus was told this fact but he doesn’t stop what he is doing. He is focussed on something else – telling people about God’s kingdom and that there is a bigger family to belong to. This is a change of outlook and relationships.
What are the steps needed to be part of this family? Anne wrote about this last week about being born again. That is the first step into God’s family here on earth. It is not a family in which one can be passive and just an onlooker. Jesus looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’ What is God’s will? I guess the easiest answer is from Matthew 22: 37 where Jesus says ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The second theme in today’s reading is about being united and being divided. This is where the illustration of the game ‘Risk’ came in. The teachers of the law had arrived from Jerusalem and said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ I feel Jesus’ frustration in his reply. ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. United we stand, divided we fall. Of course, Jesus isn’t on Satan’s side. Jesus came to restore people’s relationship with God, bring wholeness and healing and reconciliation with one another and all of creation. Satan is quite the opposite, He is out to divide and destroy, bring darkness instead of light and despair as opposed to hope. He is the ‘strong man’. Only Jesus can tie up the strong man to be able to bring people from the chains of darkness in to the kingdom of light. Through Jesus, we can ask and be given forgiveness, but to those who continually reject God, there can be no forgiveness from God and they will remain in the strong man’s house for ever.
So to sum up the two themes in the reading: God’s kingdom brings a change in relationships as Jesus says: Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother and the second theme is one of strength in unity ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 30th May 2021
John 3: 1 - 17 - Jesus teaches Nicodemus
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Reflections on John 3: 1 - 17
I have rather a soft spot for this Sunday’s Gospel reading, as it was the theme of the first Anglican church service, I attended aged 14. I had recently decided to be confirmed and, somewhat unwillingly, started attending church!
Like Nicodemus, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with describing myself as “born again” which remains uncomfortably un-Anglican, but as we see in verse 3 “no-one will see the Kingdom of God unless he (or she) is born again”.
Nicodemus is an influential Pharisee and has come to discreetly meet with Jesus – and well might he be cautious of being seen with Jesus! The Pharisees regarded themselves as God’s gatekeepers - controversial figures like Jesus were treated with the utmost suspicion. The Pharisees kept themselves apart from others and did not eat with those outside their circle of equals. Hardly surprising that they gained a “holier than thou” reputation!
Despite the many reservations Nicodemus must have had, he saw meaning and promise in Jesus’ speech and works, probably considering the possibility that Jesus might be a prophet, or even the promised Messiah. However, Jesus is entirely un-flattered and unimpressed by Nicodemus’ hesitancy, dismissing the fact that Nicodemus has been quite brave in approaching him!
Jesus begins this riddle, to the irritation and bafflement of Nicodemus, specifying that he needs to be “born again” in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
“New birth” meant starting again; moving from an old way of life to a new one - this would have been quite a challenging thing for a Pharisee to hear. (His confusion is evident when Nicodemus, at first, thinks that Jesus is speaking literally!) This is the crux! Jesus was inviting Nicodemus to make a decision over whether or not to place his faith in Jesus, and commit himself to lifelong discipleship. Jesus was asking Nicodemus to step away from his peers and turn away from his high status. The Pharisees believed themselves to be the ultimate authority on God’s Kingdom, and so the idea that his spiritual practices needed revision and re-direction would have been shocking to Nicodemus.
This is also true today – we are also perturbed that God expects us to rethink our lifestyle and re-orient ourselves towards Jesus’ values. Like Nicodemus, we are being asked to look beyond our culture and to put our trust in Jesus. In baptism, we are called to love and trust Jesus, to pray, and to further the Kingdom as far we are able.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (3:16.) In his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished the salvation of humankind; when we die Jesus promises us eternal bliss spent in his company. This passage with Nicodemus is used on Trinity Sunday, because we acknowledge that following the coming of the Holy Spirit, commemorated last week at Pentecost, we also now have the spiritual support of the the third person of the Trinity. When we are baptised and reborn of water and Spirit, we can enjoy the spiritual fruit deriving from the Holy Spirit. (More details of these can be found in Galatians 5.)
So what of Nicodemus? At this point Nicodemus’ faith is lacking. He is leaning on his status and learning. Well, we can fairly safely say that he correctly identified Jesus in the end. At the end of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus is reported as preparing Jesus’ body for burial with myrrh and aloes, a burial that would have befitted Jesus the King. (John 19: 39-40.) This was a taboo thing for a Pharisee to do, due to the ritual purity laws. This suggests that Nicodemus had let go of his life as a Pharisee and accepted Jesus as the Son of God, embracing the personal and participative love that all Jesus’ disciples are offered: perfect parenting in God the Father, freedom through Jesus the Son and a fulfilled life through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 23rd May 2021
Acts 2: 1 - 21 -The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Peter addresses the crowd
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Reflections on Acts 2: 1 - 21
It strikes me that Pentecost was a day of liberation and freedom. For the Jewish nation Pentecost was known as Shavaot – the feast of weeks or the feast of harvest. It is really interesting that the coming of the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. What was a celebration of an actual harvest became a celebration of a spiritual harvest and of all the spiritual gifts that would come through the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Who or what came to change things and make this harvest take place? The disciples were in a place of captivity. In the last few weeks after the death of Jesus they had been captive to grief and to fear. They staying together in a room was somehow an indication of what was going on inside them. ‘The doors locked for fear of the Jews.’ Then Jesus returns from the dead and they leave that place and the meetings with him are outside. They are free from their grief.
Then at the beginning of Acts they are once again captive as Jesus ascends into heaven. After he ascends, they go back to a room in Jerusalem. It is here they prayed and waited. Something needs to happen to change them. They needed freeing, liberating, they need to be given power and confidence (not in themselves but in Jesus), they needed to learn to get on and do Jesus’ ministry for themselves. They needed to become bold – they needed supernatural power.
I wonder what we need to be liberated from? Whatever it is, Christians are people who are and who can be freed by the Holy Spirit. Today is a day of liberation. That power came in different ways. Firstly through wind – the sound of a violent wind came into the whole house. You can’t see the wind but we can see its effects. That is how we know. We can’t see the Holy Spirit but we can see its effects on people – people’s faces change, they feel peace or great love, some feel warmth or electricity. And in the day to day, we see change in people as they grow more and more fruits of the Spirit – it is evident. We need the wind of the Spirit like a boat needs to put the sails up and catch the wind. In the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans near the equator is a place they call the doldrums. It is a dangerous place because at times all wind ceases and boats go nowhere. We use the term to mean when we have stagnated or aren’t going anywhere. I wonder if you are in the doldrums and need to put up your sails and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you?
When the Spirit came there were also tongues of fire on them. The presence of fire in the Bible often means the presence of God. The last thing that happens is that they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. Notice the wind fills the whole house, ALL are filled, the promise is for all people – sons and daughters, young men, old men, servants, men and women. And when they are all filled they then all speak in other tongues. The important thing is that they all proclaimed in languages that others heard as their own. And what they spoke was the wonders of God.
The truth is that we all need this filling of the Holy Spirit if we are to tell others effectively about the good news of Jesus. The church by definition must be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to work. And remember that being filled resulted in a harvest of souls. That is why we are here – to bring people to Christ. On this day of Pentecost we say come Holy Spirit, come wind of God, come fire of God and liberate us to be the church. Amen.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 16th May 2021
John 17: 6 - 19 - Jesus prays for his disciples
‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Reflections on John 17: 6 - 19
After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed.’ John chapter 17 opens with these words. Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples and then turned in prayer to God, his father. Jesus knew the power of prayer. He prayed for guidance in places of quiet solitude: he often took himself off, into nature, away from others. He prayed in praise to God the Father. He prayed prayers of thanksgiving. He prayed for the children. He prayed with others. He was persistent in prayer: in the parable of the persistent widow in Luke, Jesus makes it clear that we should keep on praying. Jesus taught his followers how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus prayed in times of trouble and anguish, in Gethsemane and on the cross. Jesus prayed, knowing that his prayers would be answered in all kinds of ways. So when we read Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, for his followers, we know that Jesus is absolutely certain that God will respond to him.
This prayer in John 17 comes just as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, and although the context here is the crucifixion, it also encapsulates Jesus’ leaving the disciples at Ascension. At the heart of the prayer is Jesus’ love for the disciples, but also the certainty that the Father too loves these people who have accepted Jesus as the Son. Jesus prays for protection, not just personal protection, but protection ‘so that they may be one as we are one’. Jesus prays that they will share the same joy that Jesus has had in doing the Father’s will and spreading the kingdom of God.
Jesus prays that his disciples will be protected from ‘the evil one’ whose purpose is to destroy Christian unity and witness. He prays that the disciples will be protected while staying in a world that hates them, mocks them, ignores them as they work towards the kingdom. He prays that they will hold on to each other under all circumstances while witnessing to the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, never allowing the world’s scepticism or hostility to divide them, just as it did not divide Father and Son in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Jesus is praying that the disciples will bring witness to what he has done: bringing the active, loving, redeeming presence of God into the human situation. ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’ This is the pattern for all of Jesus’ followers, for us, to continue His mission, surrounded by his prayers.
Jesus’ wonderful prayers are an inspiration to us all. Between Ascension and Pentecost we should take time to pray for ourselves, for the world and specifically for five people who have yet to know the love offered to them through Jesus, using the resources ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ offers. Like Jesus, we pray in love, in faith and in trust, praying that He will help us to ‘transform, revive, and heal society’, knowing that He is always with us. Prayer is powerful: how will each one of us use that gift?
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 9th May 2021
John 15: 9 - 17 - The vine and the branches
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.
Reflections on John 15: 9 - 17
What a riveting and extraordinary passage this is! Yes, it’s Jesus speaking and that always adds an extra dimension to the text, but in this passage he includes a phrase which I don’t think that you will find anywhere else in the Bible. You may be ahead of me by now. It comes twice, firstly in v.12 and then v. 17. The phrase is the COMMAND to LOVE. So, “My command is this “Love each other as I have loved you” and “This is my COMMAND:LOVE each other”. As Christians we are commanded to love. Did you know that? Loving others as Jesus loved us (v9) is not it seems an option. Command is a strong word which we don’t usually associate with being followers of Jesus. And the meaning of the word ‘love’ both in a Christian context when we meet together but also as we cope with the world at large, rather illuminates the challenge of obeying the command to love. I want to briefly explore how great that challenge is but first need to point out that there is one huge benefit to following the command. It comes in v.14. which is another spectacular verse. Jesus says to us “You are my friends if you do what I command”. As a Christian I want to be counted as a friend of Jesus and hope you do too. We know how to achieve that don’t we? In practical terms how does loving others challenge us in a general sense when living in the world? Being a loving person remember, is not a weakness but a strength. You could come up with ideas the same as me. Loving means being slow to anger, an absence of criticism, willingness to forgive, offering support, sensitive to circumstances, plenty of humility, giving the benefit of the doubt, being a peacemaker. It’s having an attitude the same as Jesus had towards everyone. Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do”. Loving in a Christian context includes all the above plus Ephesians 4 v 15 Speaking the truth in love, in the context of growing in our faith. Loving includes delighting in worship and praying together. Loving avoids gossip but offers spiritual support. Loving, rules out selfishness or pride. There is no place for pretensions or superior attitudes.
Let me ask you this. Can any of us ever question our need to say sorry to God daily? The challenge of obeying that command to love is simply too great for us. Having said that I still want to be friends with Jesus and God’s love for us allows that to happen. You know the answer. It’s Repentance and receiving the gift of His Spirit to help us grow in our faith.
So we have a passage here which is full of wonderful words about love, which we can all agree with, but a passage which at the same time confronts us with a challenge we fail at every day. Yet the truth is that can still be friends with Jesus resulting in an absolute conviction of eternity with our Father for ever.
A riveting and extraordinary passage ? I think so and hope you do as well.
Jesus said,"This is my command: Love each other"
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 2nd May 2021
John 15: 1 - 8 - The vine and the branches
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Reflections on John 15: 1 - 8
As a lot of you know, I enjoy gardening. Last year during lock down one we did a lot of gardening at The Vicarage. Areas of brambles were cleared, buddleia, which were growing in the wrong place were cut down and weeds were pulled up. It was a good transformation.
Not only was dead stuff cleared away, but some of the living plants that remained were pruned and fed. This had quite an effect. The most stunning one was the rose which is growing over the bomb shelter; it flowered for the first time in ages. The camellia also responded by putting on a lovely flowering display this Spring.
Pruning is good. Pruning is necessary. Pruning brings unexpected benefits.
This week’s reading is about pruning. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches and the Father is the gardener. Branches need pruning. Is something not growing into fruitfulness? It is pruned and cut off. Is something fruitful, but maybe is growing out of shape or growing in the wrong direction? It is pruned and cut off. What is the result? It will be even more fruitful. So something in you or in your life might already be fruitful, but to make it more fruitful it might need to be pruned to increase the yield. Pruning leads to positive growth and fruitfulness.
This week’s reading is also about remaining. Jesus says ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ In this passage, the word ‘remain’ appears eight times. When Jesus repeats something, it is to emphasise its importance. So to repeat something eight times must be very important. ‘Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’
So the message is one word ‘Remain!’ Remain in Jesus. As pruning happens, remain in Jesus. We are dependent on Jesus. We need to remain in him. As a branch we can’t exist on our own. We can’t grow and bear fruit on our own separated from the vine. The vine can exist without the branches, but we can’t exist and grow when separated from the vine. We need to remain in Jesus and him in us.
What are the best ways to remain? There are four ways: Prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship and Fellowship. Or as Luke writes in Acts 2: 42 ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’
Let’s look at the four ways to remain:
● Prayer. What’s you prayer life like? Is it just coming to God with a shopping list? Is it more than this? There are different strands which can be used: Adoration – telling God we love Him, Confession – saying sorry for wrong thoughts, words or deeds, Thanksgiving – saying thank you to God for all the good things he gives us and finally Supplication – or asking. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication form the mnemonic ACTS, which is an easy word to remember.
● Bible reading – do you read the Bible daily with Bible reading notes or with a commentary? Anne and I use ‘Fresh from the Word’ which we would recommend.
● Corporate worship – coming to church each Sunday and finally
● Fellowship – meeting up with other Christians midweek – maybe at a homegroup via zoom, or meeting outside for a coffee and cake, or making a phonecall. Fellowship is important. It is getting to know one another.
If one doesn’t remain in Jesus and him in you, what happens? Jesus says ‘You are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.’ Well, that’s pretty clear, what has withered and is not part of the vine is cleared away and burned. Full stop. The End!
But what are the benefits of remaining in Jesus and him in you? Jesus says ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ What is the fruit which the Father is looking for? The list in Galatians 5: 22 – 23 is a good place to start ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’
The Father who prunes us sees the results in our increasing fruitfulness and this brings him glory. He hears us ask for things which are good and in line with producing fruit and loves to give them to us. Remaining in Jesus and him in us shows the world that we are disciples of the one true and living God. So let us remain in Jesus and him in us, allow the Father to prune us to be more fruitful and let us show the world that we are disciples of Jesus to the glory of the Father. Amen.
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 25th April 2021
John 10: 11 - 18 - The good shepherd and his sheep
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
Reflections on John 10: 11 - 18
Last week I was in deepest Somerset doing a day’s gardening for my cousin. It is idyllic where she lives. The cottage is on the South facing slope of the Mendip Hills, surrounded on two sides by green fields and the other two by woods. The woodpeckers were drumming and the buzzards were up circling on the thermals in the warm Spring sunshine.
Over all this peaceful loveliness came the sound of bleating sheep. The low pitched baaa of the ewes and the high pitched bleating of the baby lambs. Lambing was in full swing. At one point, the farmer arrived in his 4x4 mini farm vehicle and tooted his horn. The sheep came running to him for their food. The sheep knew the sound of his horn and what is signified. The farmer knows the sheep and the sheep know the farmer. There is trust and understanding. Likewise the mother sheep know their babies – their voices and their scent. There is a bond between them and this bond is life giving and life sustaining.
To be known by and to know someone is wonderful. It is life giving. It is healthy and lovely. Being loved and to love someone is strengthening and fulfilling. It is a mutual two way relationship that leads to flourishing and growth.
In this week’s reading, Jesus describes himself as ‘The Good Shepherd’. He is someone who can be trusted, who can be relied upon and who knows his sheep. Jesus is someone who would do anything for his sheep, even to laying down his life for them. Jesus is the opposite to ‘The Bad Shepherd’, who, as the reading says, would abandon the sheep and run away at the first hint of trouble, resulting in the sheep being attacked and scattering. So with the bad shepherd, there would be chaos and confusion at the first sign of a wolf, no care and consideration for the sheep under his care, with the sheep being isolated and vulnerable to more threats of predators because the bad shepherd had legged it.
If Jesus is the good shepherd, then who are the sheep? We are! We are known by Jesus intimately and lovingly. There is an interplay in the relationship, just as there is a similar relationship between Jesus and his Father in heaven. Does Jesus know us that well, and do we have the same opportunity to know Jesus in the same way as he knows his Father in heaven? Well, that’s what Jesus says, so it must be true! Nobody, and I feel not even a husband / wife relationship, can know each other as fully and intimately as this. This sort of relationship with Jesus is on a different level.
In the reading, Jesus says that there are other sheep, not of this sheepfold that need to be brought into the fold. The original sheep are the Jewish nation, we, the non-Jews or also known as gentiles are the other sheep. Jesus also longs for us to be brought into the fold. Jesus will call us into the fold, a place of safety, of being known, of being cared for and cherished, loved and wanted. One flock and one shepherd.
We all have the opportunity and invitation to come into Jesus’ fold and be part of his flock because he laid down his life for us, which is what we remember each Easter. In laying down his life for us, we have the opportunity to take his free offer of forgiveness of the things that we have done wrong and which cause a barrier between us and God. This ‘doing wrong’ or ‘sin’ puts us outside the sheepfold, outside a place of safety and of being known and loved by Jesus, it puts us on our own in what can sometimes be a cold and dark place, isolated and vulnerable to attack.
So this Easter time, where are you? Has Jesus called you to be in his sheepfold? Do you know his safety and protection, his love and care for you? Or are you outside, alone in the wilderness and vulnerable to attack and injury? Jesus calls you to be known by him and to be able to know him, he is waiting to welcome you into his sheepfold where he is the ultimate Good Shepherd. How will you respond?
Chris Wilkins (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 18th April 2021
Luke 24: 36 - 48 - Jesus appears to the disciples
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Reflections on Luke 24: 36 - 48
Are you, like me, sometimes tempted to at least take a peak at the last chapter in a book, to see how it all works out? Well, as I looked at this week’s passage from Luke – which is of course the last chapter of his Gospel and packs in a summary of the whole time between Jesus resurrection and ascension – a different question came to mind….If this is the way he ends his account, what does Luke say AT THE START about the motivation for his writing?
And in Ch1 v3, we find the answer. ”I decided to write an orderly account for you, Theophilus (which translates as God-lover), SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THE CERTAINTY OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE BEEN TAUGHT.” Teaching speaks of things which are handed down to us by others as true and important; knowing the certainty, however, speaks of us PERSONALLY taking ownership of the things we have been taught. In terms of Christianity, therefore, there is no such thing as a second-hand faith – it is for you and me to be convinced of the truth of the Jesus story, and to surrender our lives to him to be “witnesses of these things”(v48). Our parents faith, or their parents faith, or our partners faith, will not do.
So what are some of the things that Luke writes in this passage, that he wishes us to know for certain?
JESUS SAYS PEACE BE WITH YOU. It’s the first thing he says to His troubled and anxious disciples. It’s the same thing he says to disciples like you and me, today, as we live through the easing of lockdown, the still-uncertain and still-unknown next few months. It’s the peace, the inner peace, that only He can give; totally different from the feeling after 2 jabs of vaccine! And notice something else in Jesus words. Luke records in Ch2 v14 the words that the angel host sang that first Christmas to the terrified shepherds “…on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” Jesus in CH24 didn’t need to say the words “on whom His favour rests”. However troubled Peter and the other disciples were, they WERE His disciples; and His favour rested on them. The same applies to us, whether we feel it or not.
JESUS SHOWS HE IS NOT A GHOST. He gives a glimpse of our life after death. We will NOT have some ethereal spirit bodies, floating around the cosmos. We will have bodies which are recognisably human, we will even enjoy a fish meal! But in other ways our bodies WILL be different. Remember that Mary at the empty tomb, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, recognised a man but not THE man Jesus ……… until He spoke and broke bread. He could be in a certain place and time, but then not be; he was no longer constrained by the things which constrain us. Most of all, he confirms that there is life after death for those of faith; something that all those of us who have lost loved ones in the last 18 months need to hear.
JESUS OPENS OUR MINDS TO THE SCRIPTURES. When I was an atheist, I dismissed the scriptures as irrelevant and meaningless – at best they contained some nice poetry and some nice stories. But when we bow the knee to Jesus, and choose to follow Him, something changes as we start to read and study the scriptures – both Old and New Testaments. It’s as if we enter a different way of seeing the world, its history, its future ……. and each of our places in it. It’s why the C.S. Lewis image of the children going through the wardrobe into Narnia is so powerful. The different books in the Bible address all the core questions about God and human meaning, purpose and identity. Want a good tool in your box to counter pandemic fear and weariness? A regular dose of scripture reading will do nicely. I’m reliably informed that the words “Do not fear” appear enough times to cover every day of the year (including a leap year!)
There is a modern worship song, which includes the refrain – You became a Man of Sorrows/That we might know joy/You have treasured every teardrop/And said that you’d restore; You will not forget your people/You will make all things new/Until you do/We choose to trust in You/ Until You do/We choose to worship you
PS. Our passage ends with a final certainty – JESUS PROMISES THE HOLY SPIRIT. To indwell and empower all we who believe in Jesus, day by day. But that reflection is for a few weeks time ………….
Cliff Dumbell (lay leader)
Reading for Sunday 11th April 2021
John 20: 19 - end - Jesus appears to his disciples
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’
Jesus appears to Thomas:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
The purpose of John’s gospel:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Reflections on John 20v 19-end
This is such a well known part of the story of Jesus. After His resurrection, he shows himself to his disciples in quite a dramatic way and we find Thomas missing out. He has unfortunately become known as ‘doubting Thomas’ but we need to be clear here because his doubting was not about Jesus, it was doubting what his friends had told him. His response to them was about what they said they had seen. V. 25 “Unless I see the nail marks and put my fingers where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” When you think about it, is that really something the other disciples would lie to him about? I wonder what Thomas really thought? Was it simply that he was feeling a bit miffed? Let’s be honest, it was a fantastic piece of news but I have no doubt that the disciples would have seemed very genuine as they told him. As a result of Jesus’ generosity however, Thomas was later able to say, ‘I have seen it with my own eyes’, which was probably going to be very helpful to all of them as they shared their testimonies in days to come. Believing what others say seems to me to be quite important bearing in mind that in v.29 Jesus said “Because you (Thomas) have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen (that’s us) and yet have believed”.
I would suggest that it’s very common for us to regularly take something said by others and believe it especially if we don’t have the chance to witness it ourselves. If I told you what New York looked like just a couple of weeks after 9/11 you would believe me I think because Hazel and I were there. What a friend tells you might be as simple as witnessing a brilliant sunset or perhaps something more serious, and you would believe them. When John wrote these things down, or Luke, Matthew, Mark or Paul and all the others , they had no reason to write it down unless it really happened. They had no reason to tell lies or make it up because it really happened. It’s there for us to accept and believe. The biblical writers, all of them, are our witnesses. They are our eyes and ears about how things were when they were alive. Scripture gives us the added reason to believe them by telling us that what has been written has been inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. (2Tim 3:16).
In the lives that we now lead in the 21st century, progress often depends on the experiences of the few being believed and taken up by the majority. It’s just not possible for all of us to experience the same things. We do need to believe and trust in experts to help us through something like the pandemic. Clearly there are times when it’s right to question the detail but overall we have to exercise trust.
In John chapter 20 we have the story of something that actually happened. Jesus did come back to life and spoke to his disciples, not just once but on many occasions. We can believe it because we can believe the disciples and as a consequence, that truth can lead us to believe the powerful message that Jesus died so that might know forgiveness and God’s promise of eternity with Him. Thomas was there and witnessed it at first hand and as John wrote in V.31 “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name”
Praise God that we have all these witnesses without whom, we would be totally lost and which give us every cause for hope and praise to God.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Easter Sunday 4th April 2021
John 20: 1 - 18 - The empty tomb
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’
'They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Reflections on John 20: 1 - 18
It always amazes me that you can read a well-known passage and then something new jumps out at you that you have never seen before. In John 20: 1 it says ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.’ If Mary went there when it was dark then it must have been very dark when Jesus rose from the tomb. For me this symbolises that Jesus rose when everyone was still in deep grief and sadness, the disciples (and I include the women in this) must have felt totally hopeless about the future and scared as to what was going to happen to them. Mary somehow epitomises those feelings in that she needs something to do and so goes to the tomb to anoint the body and to spend time just being near Jesus’ body. Maybe she is unable to sleep and feels restless. She goes there in the dark alone, not wanting to be seen and wanting to be private in her grief. So, in the night – time, when people were asleep, or awake tossing and turning, feeling scared, hopeless and lost – Jesus rises from the dead. They did not know that anything had happened, there was no earthquake or signs in the sky, for them it was just another night of sorrow.
This speaks to me of the fact that the risen Jesus still lives and walks amongst those who are grieving, hopeless, fearful and lost – which many people have been this past year. They may not know that Jesus has risen but it is our role to show them that.
Also, when Mary got to the tomb, she saw the stone rolled away and jumped to the logical conclusion that someone had come and stolen the body. She is already in grief, now that grief has been doubled and she is in tears. Often we can look at a situation and see it totally wrongly. We look at it with human eyes and fail to see that it might be God’s doing and that He is involved. The moved stone was not about the loss of a body but was instead about the rising of a new body. Easter Sunday means so many things – that Jesus rose again in the midst of grief and loss, that things might not be as they seem and that God might indeed be doing a new thing. Jesus rising from the dead brought healing to their pain and loss, he brought hope to the fear of the future, he brought them new vision. Mary wanted to hold onto Jesus but he told her that she must let go of him and go to the others and tell them the wonderful news.
And so for us Jesus is there, risen and alive in all our grief, bringing healing and peace. He is there to bring us hope for the future, especially when there is fear. As Christians we need to let go of the past and go forward with vision and the good news that must be shared. Spend time this Easter Sunday reading this passage and allow it to speak to you afresh. It is good news for our nation, it is good news in the sadness and it is good news for you and for your neighbour.
Rev Anne Wilkins
Reading for Sunday 28th March Palm Sunday 2021
Mark 11:1-11 - Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Reflections on Mark 11:1-11
I must admit that I am not very keen on cleaning windows inside our house. What can happen is that Hazel will ask “Any chance of cleaning the windows dear” to which I will always answer “Yes of course”. What can happen next is that my determination to fulfil the task is honestly quite weak and after a delay , the idea somehow gets lost. My procrastination doesn’t get me anywhere of course because Hazel will remember in the end. I don’t expect any of you ever do anything like that? Really! However, I am aware that when asked by God to do something it is all too easy to respond in a wide variety of ways. We might question why it needs to happen at all. We could, as I do, say yes and then delay. We can simply refuse or we can suggest that someone else does it. Does any of that ring bells to anyone?
The reason I am taking this line is because in the story we are so familiar with about Jesus entering Jerusalem, we are told about the preparation needed for Jesus to arrive includes two of the disciples being given some instructions by him about a donkey. The group are still some distance away from the city and Jesus spells out a task for these two men to carry out. “Go to the next village where you will find a colt which has never been ridden” How did he know that? He goes on “If anyone asks why you are doing this, you tell them Jesus needs it, and you will get it back”. Slightly strange instructions really and the two disciples may have wondered how it would work out. They may have wanted to ask him ‘Why’ or ‘how do you know’, but it simply tells us that they went and everything turned out as he had described. They went because they trusted him. Their journey with him over the last three years had shown them that he never said or did anything that wasn’t necessary or helpful. They went not knowing how important that day was going to be with the crowds greeting Jesus. Theirs’ was a small task as a prelude to the final days of Jesus being amongst them. Jesus asked them to find a colt and bring it to him which they did.
I wonder when Jesus last asked you to do something for him and what your response was. Of course it’s not always right to say yes to everything but we need to be sure that our response is for the right reason. The request may come from anyone, a neighbour perhaps or someone in the church. It may come from a challenge when reading the Bible or the prompting of the Holy Spirit after a conversation or even watching a T.V. programme. Do we just say no or more likely put it off and then forget it? Perhaps we feel inadequate for the task, but however we feel we need to consider that it may be a request from Jesus and lead us to pray.
However long or short our personal journey with Jesus has been we know that he can be trusted and we can, knowing God’s love for us, approach him for guidance in everything. The two disciples obeyed thinking “What if we can’t find the colt, what if the people there don’t want us to take it?” When we are humbly following directions we know that all will be well.
What was that Hazel? Yes I’ll do it now dear!
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 21st March 2021
John 12: 20 - 33 - Jesus predicts his death
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’
Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
Reflections on John 12: 20 - 33
The request from these friendly, faithful Greeks, marks a sea change in Jesus’ ministry and focus. We are familiar with Jesus telling his followers: “My hour has not yet come.” (Examples of this are John 2:4, 4:21-3, 7:30 and 8:20.) However, the arrival of these Greek, Gentiles who want to become disciples, indicates the final stage of Jesus’ ministry and culmination of his salvific work, “when I am lifted up” on the cross. (Verse 32.)
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus announced: “I am the Good Shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice.” (John 10:14-16.) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is determined to establish his claim to all those outside his sheepfold, including both his Jewish and non-Jewish followers. The scope of Jesus’ ministry needs to be wider to incorporate more people. The only way this can be achieved is for the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for all the sheep. The work of gathering all people, regardless of their background, into the sheepfold, will be accomplished on the cross. And the time has come for this.
In this passage about the kernel of wheat, Jesus re-consents to death to fulfil God’s work. The kernel of wheat must fall to the ground, be trampled and buried, its husk broken open to release the seeds within, that will regerminate other kernels of wheat. This is a necessary death and life cycle, that takes place within nature. Likewise, in spite of his trepidation, Jesus re-affirms that his death is necessary and asserts that it will result in the glorification of God (verse 28), producing “many seeds” (verse 24) for the benefit of all humanity.
Because Jesus has taken on human form, he dreads death and fears the pain he must endure. He wants to be delivered from death. But he knows his death cannot be avoided. In sacrificing his life, Jesus will enable forgiveness and a loving relationship between God and the whole of humanity.
The voice from heaven reinforces Jesus’ righteous authority. While Jesus contemplates his own destiny, he also solemnly reflects on the sacrifices that will have to be made by his followers; both his companions in his earthly ministry and those who will come to know him through the power of his Spirit.
He is comforted in the knowledge that those called to sacrifice their lives in his father’s service will be honoured; and they will be gathered to him in the Kingdom. (verses 26 and 32.) Like the kernels of wheat, their witness, and the sacrifices they make, will yield benefits for the whole world.
We don’t hear what happened to the Greek disciples after they approached Philip and whether they ever got to meet Jesus. Perhaps they had all the information and understanding they needed, when they heard the voice from Heaven. Or perhaps they made a swift exit on hearing what was expected of followers of Jesus. Who knows?
Like the Greeks we too have the choice over whether or not to serve and follow Jesus. We too need to be prepared to walk the path of service. If we make sacrifices, we too will participate in and partake of Jesus’ glory. “Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (Verse 26.) That’s Jesus’ promise to us. Let’s be like the kernels of wheat. Let us live for God’s service, in the sure and certain hope that we have life through Jesus’ death. Amen.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 14th March 2021
2 Corinthians 1: 3 - 7 - Praise to the God of all comfort
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Reflections on 2 Corinthians 1: 3 - 7
Last week I watched the conversation between Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, and Adrian Chiles at the launch of the Archbishop’s new book ‘Dear England: Finding Hope, Taking Heart and Changing the World’. The book, which I have on order, is written in the form of a letter, it, addressed to the country at this time of division and pandemic, asking the questions about what sort of world we want to live in and what it needs. In the conversation, Stephen (as he likes to be addressed) said that the Christian story is a way to live differently. The New Testament is a vision about how we inhabit the world, how we live with each other and how we bring hope to the world. The hardships of the pandemic and its consequences give the world the opportunity to reset its compass and the Christian story shows what life could look like. We all need to show love through our actions.
Similarly, Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Corinth at a time when they were struggling. There were divisions and and a lack of trust. It was a difficult time. Paul wrote to them to remind them that no matter how hard things were, God, the Father of compassion, would come alongside them, bringing comfort and healing. And having been comforted by God, they could then comfort others. Christ knew what it was like to suffer; He was there in their sufferings. Christ was also full of comfort, the comfort and hope that overflowed into Paul’s life and the life of the church in Corinth and it needed to be shared.
Paul’s letter continues to speak to Christians of today: ‘for just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our own lives, so also through Christ our comforts overflow.’ We know that Christ is with us in hard times, there to comfort and guide. Therefore we, in our turn, can come alongside others who are going through hard times. Christ’s comfort gives us ‘patient endurance’, a resolve to trust in Him and to bring that comfort, love and hope to others.
As I write, schools are re-opening to all pupils, the first part of the roadmap for lifting lockdown. There is hope that things will be getting ‘back to normal’. What is that ‘normal’ going to be? Throughout the pandemic period, we have become more aware of people who are lonely, who need help of some sort, who have suffered loss. In this time we have become more aware of parts of society who lack basic needs: the homeless and the hungry. We are more aware of how much we depend on the health service, on the caring sectors, on schools, on council employees. We are more aware of how we need to reverse the damage we are doing to our environment, to God’s creation. Will going back to ‘normal’ mean the same as it was before or, because of all we’ve faced and all we’ve learnt, that we will commit out ourselves to working towards a world in which love for each other means a fairer, more compassionate, less selfish society, just as Christ calls us to do?
This Sunday is Mothering Sunday, when we give thanks for our mother church, for our mothers and for all those who have mothered us. The way to show our thanks for what we have received is to come alongside others in good times and hard times. We have to be ready to bring God’s story, our story to others and to be the change we talk about. The Archbishop finished his conversation with these words: ‘You can find yourself and all that you long for, for yourself and your world, in Christ: have a look.’ Let us take that vision into a world that reflects Christ’s comfort, compassion, hope and love for all.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 7th March 2021
John 2: 13 - 25 - Jesus clears the temple courts
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Reflections on John 2: 13 - 25“Zeal for your house will consume me” (v17)
We don’t use the word “zeal” very much these days do we? Yet for me this is the pivotal sentence in our passage this week. So I looked to Mr Google for a DEFINITION OF ZEAL – “fervour”, “ardour” and “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective.”
What was Jesus “cause or objective”? To draw individuals back into connection with Father God and to enable them to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. And Jesus certainly pursued that cause with great energy! Remember that John the Gospel writer quite deliberately sets out his account to understand Jesus story as an unfolding one, and here straightaway in Ch2 we have “parables” of the two halves of Jesus objective …….. the CHANGING (or Conversion) of the water into wine, and the CLEANSING of the Temple in Jerusalem (the place where Gods presence with man dwelt for 1st Century Jews, and where the celebrations of Gods journeying with them were centred year after year). The Changing/Conversion occurred in a back room, with Jesus and the water jars – just as the Conversion experience of the majority of Christians takes place, quietly, between us and God; the Cleansing, however, took place very openly, before the devout and the merchants, Jews and Gentiles/non-Jews alike – just as the Cleansing/Clearing-out-of-the-rubbish in Christians lives, takes place in the midst of our everyday, in full view! Someone once summed up the process as “Jesus takes us JUST AS WE ARE, warts and all, but loves us too much to LEAVE US AS WE ARE”.
Notice that Jesus does this act of cleansing in the Temple Courts – the places where women and non-Jewish God-fearers were allowed ………and their opportunities to worship God were being minimised in the interests of commerce! It conveyed the suggestion that, however God-fearing, they weren’t in the same league as true-born Israelite men. With one – literal – crack of the whip, Jesus destroys that separation; He came that all would know we have equal access to God. (And remember by John Ch4 Jesus has taken it much further, by deliberately arranging an encounter with someone who would have definitely been given the thumbs down by true blue Jews – a despised Samaritan, with a dodgy personal life, and a woman. Yet Jesus changed her into his first evangelist!)
In modern popular culture Lent, if it is thought of at all, is a time (after “dry January”) to temporarily give something up …….. before having a food and drink binge at Easter. Superficial, ceremonial, and of no lasting effect. Just as Jesus, in the final days of his ministry on earth, had to clear out the merchants from the Temple Courts again – they had gone back to their old ways when they thought He wasn’t looking! For us as Jesus followers, however – particularly in lockdown – Lent gives us an opportunity to review, through prayer, reflection, reading, quietness (or whatever means you draw closest to God) the extent to which we are co-operating with Jesus in driving out of our lives (and keeping out) those things which hinder OUR true worship of God and our witness to a currently very frightened world, in which after the Covid Emergency will come the Climate Emergency.
Let me finish with another thought from this passage. It’s this …… where do people expect to find the Presence of God? For the Jews, it was the Temple; good, but only accessible at certain times and for certain people. During Jesus time on earth, it was fully in himself (as described in a modern worship song “The greatest love song, the greatest story/The King of Heaven poured into a man). A single life. And since Jesus ascended to Heaven? In His followers on earth, individually and together being changed into a reflection of Him by GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT – this “treasure in jars of clay” – for all the world to see, until Jesus returns.
And that’s why Jesus calls US to have the same zeal as Him this Lent and beyond. Maranatha!
Cliff Dumbell (Lay Leader)
Reading for Sunday 28th February 2021
Mark 8: 31-end - Jesus predicts his death
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
The way of the cross
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
Reflections on Mark 8: 31-end
This section of the readings taking us through Lent is headed ‘Jesus predicts his death’. Lent is our annual opportunity to give particular thought to this basic truth about our faith, that Jesus died. This necessarily involves a personal honesty towards the truth that our sin has brought this about. So how are we supposed to feel during Lent? I would suggest that rather than feeling dour and full of guilt, we can in fact feel quite the opposite. Let me explain what I mean. Going back to the opening words in verse 31 we read “Jesus then began to teach them (his disciples) that…..” and he spells out the future of his suffering, his rejection, leading to his death and then importantly his resurrection. All in one verse! Let me introduce an illustration at this point. There are times when we are waiting for news from someone and when they return they might say “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” In this passage of scripture as Jesus and the disciples are in conversation with them asking him questions, he could have said “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Well, no matter what they might have answered Jesus begins with the bad news, and that is the right way round because the Good News needs to come at the end. The point I want to make here is that even the bad news is good news. The bad news is good news because the sin which makes the bad news necessary has a cure. The bad news is good news because Jesus had to go through this to give us a way out. It is good news because it reveals God’s great love, offering forgiveness and eternity to all who choose to say sorry. It is good news because Jesus chose, of his own free will, to take that journey on our behalf. The truth is that without the apparent bad news announced by Jesus in verse 31, all of us are utterly and unchangeably without hope.
So I suggest that everything about Lent is positive, even our awareness of our sinfulness because as Jesus was careful to include in verse 31, He would rise again. That, final wonderful truth completely renders everything negative inconsequential for the Christian. Now look at verse 32. Peter’s reaction to what Jesus has said is lacking in understanding and he refused to accept it, and speaking no doubt for all the disciples says “No, this cannot be” and he rebuked Jesus. Jesus needed to give him a strong reply. It seems clear that Peter’s response was in effect a temptation to Jesus not to let it happen, so “get behind me Satan”. Jesus also said to him” you don’t have the mind of God.” In truth this response by Jesus is a magnificent sign that he was determined to be on a collision course with the hold that Satan had over the human race. Nothing was going to change his mission, and for the whole human race that is the best news possible.
So Lent is a time, yes for repentance but especially also for praising God for His love and the Good news he holds before us . So for the Christian even the bad news is also Good news and reveals to us a book, the Bible which is positive at every turn. So Lent helps to prepare us for Easter when we will celebrate both the resurrection and the fact of forgiven sins. Hallelujah.
Rev Geoff Hobden
Reading for Sunday 21st February 2021
Mark 1: 9 - 15 - The baptism and testing of Jesus
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
Reflections on Mark 1: 9 - 15
This week at (virtual) college, my fellow students and I have been considering interfaith relationships and the role of Christian ministry in a multi-faith society. We are encouraged to offer friendship and hospitality to people of other faiths and none and to work in collaboration with other faith groups to serve our local communities. We are encouraged to dialogue as much as possible with people of other faiths, allowing their understanding of God to enrich our own faith and vice versa.
However, there is a need to hold this in tension with those things which are fundamental to our own faith. I would say it is crucial that we do not “water down” or apologise for how important Jesus is to our faith. We believe he was the Son of God, that he offers us the opportunity of a relationship with him through prayer, and that salvation was secured through his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism and is the focus of the first Sunday of Lent. It marks the transition from Epiphany to Lent. Epiphany establishes Jesus’ identity, Lent marks the beginning of his mission. The verse “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (v.11) consolidates this new focus. These words also direct us to Good Friday, and the similar words of the centurion attending Jesus’ crucifixion: “Surely this man was God’s son.” (Mark 15:39.)
You may ask: Why Jesus was baptised when he was without sin? Firstly, his baptism endorsed John’s practice of baptism and established the expectation of baptism for Christian followers. Secondly, Jesus demonstrated his commitment to us; his intention to sustain us with his Holy Spirit, to advocate for us and to secure our eternal life.
In spite of the splendour and transcendence of his baptism, the next destination of Jesus’ ministry was the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry included experiencing all the hardships of being human, including death; so that he could stand in full solidarity with humanity, and to be the best refuge for humanity in times of trouble and despair. Jesus’ baptism supported him for his future ministry, but it did not protect him from the injustice of the cross.
Likewise, at baptism we too are equipped. Our baptism establishes our identity and assures us of Jesus’ commitment to us. Baptism is a public witness to God’s adoption of us, claiming us as his children. We have accepted a unique one-to-one relationship with him that flavours everything we do.
One of the main things I have learned this week is how much people of other faiths value our theology about who Jesus is, even if they do not agree with it. ‘As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ (1:10-11.) Jesus’ baptism set him apart, God’s authority was confirmed in him. In living out his mission we believe that he brought heaven and earth closer. Understanding who Jesus is, is life-changing. While there may be a need for sensitivity or explanation, our faith in Jesus makes us who we are; this distinctiveness is something to be open about and to celebrate.
Larissa Trust (Ordinand)
Reading for Sunday 14th February 2021
Mark 9: 2 - 9 - The transfiguration
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Reflections on Mark 9: 2 - 9
The phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ has been used a lot over the last few months. Sometimes it’s been proved to be a receding light, as lockdowns became longer and death rates from Covid rose. Then the light got brighter with the news of the vaccination programmes and the astounding numbers receiving their jabs. The lockdown at this time of year has been hard with dark days and poor weather. But now the days are getting longer and the spring flowers indicate the coming of the spring. We can start to look forward with a mixture of hope and some trepidation.
Approaching Lent can seem like that: forty days of being in the wilderness with Jesus and ‘with the wild animals’. We are invited to reflect, to read, to deny ourselves some of things that we enjoy, that make life easier, in order to focus our attention on what Jesus did, and does, for us. This year we are invited through #LiveLent to participate in God’s story and to make it part of our own stories. We, and all followers of Jesus, need constant help to understand more, even if that understanding is not complete and to learn how we can respond.
In Mark’s gospel for this week, we see Jesus offering his closest followers a glimpse of his glory. He takes them away from the hubbub of their lives and in the transfiguration they see Jesus dazzling in clothes ‘whiter than anyone in the world could beach them’. They see Moses and Elijah, who had both looked forward to a new state of relationship with God and his people and who were both expected to return before the coming of the Messiah. And they heard God’s voice saying: “This my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Peter, James and John were confused, were frightened: it was so much to take in. And then there was just the four of them on the mountain, making their way back to the hubbub. During that journey, Jesus told them what had to come before his coming to the glory that they had seen: that the Son of Man had to rise from the dead. Jesus was about to make his journey to Jerusalem where he would be executed and the disciples would be with him in that dangerous journey. As they listened to Jesus, this glimpse into the truth of who Jesus is was just what the disciples needed to have hope for this journey.
One of the things that Jesus told the disciples was not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the resurrection. His resurrection would be the completion of his work, showing his true and full character as the Messiah. Those first disciples and believers, who witnessed so much, did what they were told: to go and tell. They had travelled with Jesus, they had listened to him, they had seen what he did for all kinds of people and they had learnt from him. They took what they had learnt into their lives and they made a difference. During Lent we have that opportunity to read, to listen, to learn and then go forward into world, with its joys and its challenges, with the glory of Jesus in our lives, bringing it to others in whatever way we can.
The disciples’ experience at the transfiguration reminds us that no matter how powerful a spiritual experience is, the time comes when we have to come down off the mountain and rejoin our everyday life. But when we do so, we need to do it as changed people. So this Lent, as we look towards the light at the end of this tunnel we are in, let’s journey through it with the Light of the World to guide us, teach us, inspire us and change us so we emerge as Easter people, ready to serve God’s world as He calls each one of us by name to do so.
Jane Barry (Reader)
Reading for Sunday 7th February 2021
John 1: 1 - 14 - The Word became flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Reflections on John 1: 1 - 14
Good beginnings are so important, whether it is the start of a book, or the forming of a group to do some training, or meeting a new work client etc. I can remember being read to as a child, and hearing the start of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell “July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaded August sky. A sharp stinging drizzle fell....” or Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev W Awdry “Thomas was a tank engine who lived at a Big Station. He had six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome.” They are all beginnings which lead the reader to want to continue with the story and learn more. The imagination is fired and curiosity aroused.
It is the same with this Sunday’s Gospel reading. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. I don’t know about you, but with an introduction like that, I’m hooked and want to read more.
Some years ago, I went on a course where, among other things, these verses were studied. The leader said that another name for Jesus was the Greek word Logos, which means word or speech. We then replaced the word “word” with “Jesus”, so it reads “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. He was with God in the beginning...” It all made so much more sense to me. Jesus is the light of the world, which is one of his attributes which we celebrated last Sunday at Candlemas and of which he said about himself in John 8: 12 ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’
There are lots in this reading which I love and could write about, but the verse which I want to focus on is verse 12 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” When I made a decision at the age of 14 to ask Jesus into my life, I became a child of God. When anybody asks Jesus into their lives, they become children of God. This is amazing and awe inspiring. The light shines in the darkness of our lives, and the darkness has not overcome it. We have the light of Christ guiding and helping us. This light of Christ is the Holy Spirit, who brings light and life to us and is a deposit in us, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession (Ephesians 1:14) and is also a seal of ownership on us, with his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5). As children of God, this deposit of the Holy Spirit which God has put within us is not a static thing, but one that gives life and energy and fire within us. Paul gives a good description of the power available to us in Ephesians 1: 18 – 20 “I pray that .... you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”.
As dearly beloved children of God, how do we go out and show this love of God, which we have, to others? I have just finished reading “Scattered Servants” by Alan Scott. On p161, Alan writes about every believer in Jesus knowing their adoption, authority and assignment. So far, I have written about knowing our adoption, in that we are children of God. Our authority comes from Matthew 10: 1 “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness,” and our assignment in vv 7-8 “As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
So my prayer is that we all know who we are, who has commissioned us and the task he has set us to do. What will be the result? The light shines in the darkness, the Kingdom of Heaven advances and the blessing of God will come to those around us.
Drop me an email or call me (on 01934 823556) if I have fired your imagination and aroused your curiosity and you would like to read more about how to take Jesus to those who don’t know him, and be encouraged by Alan’s book “Scattered Servants”. I can lend it to you!